Angry Metal-FiWritten By: Alex-Fi

Angry Metal-Fi is a series of articles that are cross posted on Angry Metal Guy and Metal-Fi as a collaborative effort to evangelize dynamics in metal.

One would think that around the late 17th century, with the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, we would eschew all our subjective tendencies and rely on Cartesian logic as our primary cognitive guide, basing our decisions solely on a discrete set of self-evident axioms and irrefutable lemmas. Our lives would be without statistical error or fanciful delusion, and all of our personal subjective social realities would combine into one common objective utopia.

If this doesn’t sound like your day to day, I’m not surprised. The fact is, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves, we are all subjective beings. We have our likes and dislikes, our favorite bands, our favorite songs, our favorite genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres – you get the point – and they all have a profound effect on our point of view.

This installment of Angry Metal-Fi was inspired by another AMG classic article entitled On Objectivity. If you haven’t read it, you should, since it’s a fantastic, down to Earth treatise on the issue of aesthetics. But if you’re lazy, the general take away is this: All reviews are subjective, and that score you so loathe or agree with at the bottom of each review is simply an opinion – nothing more, nothing less. To quote, “objectivity is a logical impossibility in regard to art.” [Or put more pompously: “De gustibus non est disputandum.” You’re welcome. AMG] Ah, Nietzsche would be so proud. Well, maybe.

But what about DR scores? Aren’t they a quantitative metric, not a qualitative one? In other words, a DR score is based on the waveform of the material in question, not the reviewer’s intrinsic bias or taste, so isn’t it an objective methodology to gauge production? Undistorted peak over RMS. Lower scores sound terrible, higher scores sound better. Right?

NietzscheWell actually, no, it doesn’t quite work that way. Even though the DR score is an objective metric unto itself, once you tie it to an album’s production value, you’ve just thrown a subjective wrinkle into the reviewing mix. For example, no matter how much I think that the latest Fallujah record sounds like utter non-sense, there are probably an equal number of folks who think I’m deaf. And if you think that’s bad, then riddle me this: The record that is widely regarded by most industry experts as one of the worse sounding albums in modern music history, and the one that is literally cited over and over again as the record that brought the attention of the Loudness War debate to the mainstream, Metallica’s infamous Death Magnetic, debuted on the Billboard chart at number one and went on to go double platinum. Couldn’t have sounded that bad now could it?

Heck, even one of the most talented mastering engineers on the metal scene today, Colin Marston, said in a recent interview I did with him that “..if a good recording gets a bad mastering job, it can often still sound good. Low dynamics mastering doesn’t necessarily prevent everything from sounding good at all.” The fact is even when the DR number is dreadfully low, the music usually still finds a way to eek through1.

So in the spirit of the original article this one is mimicking, why would I (a) undermine my own ‘authority’ by writing this post and (b) do it in the first place? Again, good questions.

First, as Dave and I have both written about in the past, DR scores are just guideposts, and that on face value, only offer some insight into what a particular record is actually going to sound like. Trust me, over the course of Metal-Fi’s short history, I have listened to plenty of DR5 and DR6 recordings that both delight and disgust me. That’s why I’m a big advocate of level matching your listening session and measuring the DR score only after your ears have had a chance to peruse each and every brutal note.

Moreover, even though the impetus behind the Loudness War itself is dubious at best, and that hypercompression clearly degrades certain parts of the frequency spectrum, that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the music any less. In fact, I’m quite aware that the majority of the metal listening community at large as well as the majority of people reading this article right now couldn’t care less about dynamic range compression, mastering, and fidelity in general.

DR ImageThese epiphanies bring me to the second half of the above two part question: I believe that when your ears and mind are given a choice, you will almost always, subjectively speaking, pick the higher dynamic recording versus its louder, brickwall-limited counterpart — regardless of DR scores, TT meters, spectral analysis, bit and sampling rates, etc. — and that the only reason why the industry continues to perpetuate this aural madness is inertia. If artists, engineers, and labels just took a few minutes to educate themselves on the subjective gains a record achieves by retaining a modicum of dynamics during the recording process, the overwhelming majority of them would pop out higher dynamic masters. It really is that simple.

The takeaway here is this: even though many of you are only mildly interested in this obscure topic, I hope you’ll stay with us on this journey anyway, and discover for yourself, subjectively speaking, how dynamics in metal can play a vital role in your own personal enjoyment of music. And at the very least, by exploring some of the technologies and philosophies behind the production of your favorite metal albums, you’ll hopefully have a deeper appreciation for just how hard it is to write and record, subjectively speaking, kick ass metal.

Show 1 footnote

  1. I would point to both the most recent Turisas and Ayreon records, neither of which were “good” DR scores, but both of which sounded great to me. – AMG

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  • sssgadget

    “In fact, I’m quite aware that the majority of the metal listening community at large as well as the majority of people reading this article right now couldn’t care less about dynamic range compression, mastering, and fidelity in general.”

    This the reason why the sound engineers have gotten away with poor mastering. Good DR and mastering are absolutely critical when listening using audiophile equipment especially headphones. For badly mastered records I leave them to listening in the car or through desktop speakers. Also why is that many of the Vinyl releases of the same album has Dynamic Range of more than 10 while at the same the lossless CD is at 5-6? AMG is the only blog I know which mentions DR in their reviews which is admirable.

    • *Ahem* It’s not the ONLY blog. LOL. But yes, totally agree!

    • We actually started doing DR measurements after hooking up with the guys from Metal-Fi. It’s their thing to begin with and you should absolutely read that blog.

      But yeah, I completely agree. It’s ridiculous.

    • The “boost” in DR measurement for needledrops isn’t always (usually?) attributable to a more dynamic master. Just a bit of EQing can cause a significant spike.

      I recall the last Immolation album being DR3 or 4 for the digital versions whilst my needlerop measured DR10-11. I even believed it must have been a separate master when listening. The engineer stated that he did not create a separate/less-compressed master for the vinyl so it was done by the cutting engineer (ie: simple EQing.)

    • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

      I talked about this a bit in the Fallujah re-review but vinyl isn’t physically capable of reproducing low-DR music at the same volume as digital. Expanding the dynamic range actually allows it to be mastered to vinyl at a louder volume.

  • cirkus-lizard

    Although I am of the general position that most modern metal recordings sound pretty terrible (loudness & pro-tooled to death). At the end of the day it is the songs that count. I’d rather listen to great songs with a poor production(whatever your definition) than crappy ones that sound immaculate. Far too many reviews focus on the superficial of “production” & far too many listeners equate heaviness with production values (that includes guitar tone) than riff and song writing.

    I understand a band to want their music to be presented in the best possible light, but it should really only be judged on the quality of the song.

    • I totally agree with the first paragraph but I totally disagree with your second one. Production matters. See sssgadget’s post below.

      • cirkus-lizard

        Here is why I disagree…all art is truly only judged by one factor, and that is if it holds up over time. So in thirty years, when production values will be different than today (better, worse who knows) an album or song will be remembered for if it is any good, not how it was produced.

        Personal example, one of my favorite album of 2012 was Rush Clockwork Angels. I generally think it sounds pretty, bad…but it doesn’t matter, the songs rock. And really the biggest crime is too many albums sounding the same, rather than sounding bad.

        • I love some records with shit DR scores and mediocre-to-bad production. Great songs don’t always get killed by production (though they can). I think the problem is that most music isn’t great, combine pretty good music with bad production or a crappy mastering job, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.

      • cirkus-lizard

        And i am probably agreeing with you by disagreeing. If bands, labels etc, were less focused on the superficial, we wouldn’t get super loud recordings that “sound” heavier.

    • Production is what makes songs work or not. Good production can let music live that you’d never expect to be fantastic and can kill stuff you think otherwise is amazing. I actually think that if you listen to live versions of Iron Maiden’s X Factor, for example, you can hear an energy that is simply not transmitted due to bad production. On the other hand, excellent production (like the new Opeth record or Steven Wilson’s own material) makes for extremely enjoyable listening, not just because it allows the music to shine, but because it does it in stylistically interesting ways.

      As far as I’m concerned we should only need to talk about good production. Bad production should be a thing of the past: low budgets and bad access to quality equipment. These days, the gear available, and the cheapness of production should at least give everyone who does it professionally a “non-invasive” production quality. But then, of course, mastering is the problem.

      • Great points all around.

  • TminusEight

    I really appreciate the continued discussion and education around this topic. To me, the quality of the recording and the final presentation – through mix and master – matters. I do my serious listening ‘in the room’ (rather than in the ‘cans’) and my system is revealing. Which is a wanky way of saying that it causes me to notice what I’m missing from one recording to another (and enables me to experience and appreciate the recordings that get it right). And so while I can still enjoy all of my favourite albums, I’m also aware of how much more fucken amazing some of them would sound with a dynamic presentation. So, let’s all keep the dialog going and hope to see greater dynamics as a matter to course in future. And in the meantime, savour the exceptions that are available… (TminusEight thinks back to his late-night audio-session on Friday with Surgical Steel on the turntable…).

  • AnnieK13

    I am perhaps one of the few who cares passionately about this subject. So thank you for the article.

    I do listen to primarily metal on audiophile equipment and DR, though not the only factor, really does make a huge difference. I do not however have any interest in going back to vinyl…still having an attic full of vinyl from the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. So, I am stuck with the CD or digital releases though I am getting to the point where some of the music I want is just so poorly mastered that it is completely ruined and that is a shame. Thank goodness the loudness war has not hit so hard in all types of music. You can still find great sounding classical and jazz releases…which I turn to when I get really fed up but Metal is my true love.

    On a side note, I really wish SACD or DVDA (stereo mix preferred) had become the default standard but now it seems we are almost past CD as well.

    • Realkman666

      Not everyone has audiophile equipment, but whatever the support is, castrated drums and crackly guitars are never welcome. No booming, no tingling, just a sludge of sound.

  • Leon6666

    As a wider discussion that article could have been a good read.

    But that was basically just another excuse for the author to vent about that bloody Fallujah album.

    Reminds me of those oddballs on audio/visual forums getting their clits moist over THE most petty things.

    Fact is no matter how ‘perfect’ that Falkujah album could have sounded, it wouldn’t be able to hide the fact it’s an overly-wanky mess of a record. With a few really, really good bits..

    • Just for the record (roll drums please), I only mentioned the Fallujah record since it is a fairly recent example of Loudness War mastering that many AMG’ers are already are familiar with.

      • JWG

        I like to think I’d have caught that pun even if you hadn’t drawn attention to it.

        But I probably wouldn’t have. Well played.

  • Josef Donner

    Apart from great reviews, Yer Metal Is Olde!, Grymm and Mr. Fisting comments, Angry Metal-Fi is what makes angrymetalguy a joy to read. Metal-Fi and Angry Metal-Fi make well thought out and valid points regarding music production in general, not just metal.

    Thank you, and keep them coming.

  • Kevin Dillon

    I think Devin Townsend is a good example of preference/subjectivity when it comes to mixing/mastering. His albums are often pretty high in terms of DR but create mixed reviews when it comes to people liking/disliking his wall of sound production style.

    My headphone of choice is the HD800 + Lyr by Schiit fed via my ZxR. Before that I owned both LCD2s and Tesla T1’s for a little bit. Despite being told by many people that HD800’s are the worst out of three for metal, I personally find it the best. Albums with good mastering sound incredible on it. This site’s recent review of Gazpacho’s Demon is literally probably one of the best sounding records I’ve ever heard on these headphones. New Opeth also sounded incredible.

    Anyway I wish more bands would care about the mastering quality. Listening to a well mastered record loud in my car sounds just as good as a shitty one. If Fallujah lost the programmed drum sound + didn’t sound like crap I’d enjoy it a lot more.

    • Hate Townsend’s production most of the time. But yes: Gazpacho and Opeth both sound fuuuucking amazing. Especially that Gazpacho record.

    • Kevin, owned the HD800 for quite a while before settling on the LCD3. That is a top can, no doubt about it.

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    This whole two favourite blogs in one place thing never gets old! Another great article, Alex. I recently read an article that said that the brickwalled mastering jobs were an aesthetic tool to get people to not think and just enjoy the music, as the loudness and lack of dynamics makes the critical thinking part of our brain wince, so we shut it off when that sort of music is on. Not sure of the veracity of it, but that’s at least approaching a sensible explanation for pop music, but not metal.

    • That is very interesting. Can you point me to that article?

  • eloli

    The Loudness War may be the only issue I can honestly say that I have no real opinion, and consider both sides’ arguments equally valid.

    Having studied audio production and editing in my college years, and having worked editing audio for commercials and documentaries in my youth, I know how critical dynamic range is for mood setting purposes in music, but on the other hand, I don’t really see that reducing said dynamic range via compression is necessarily a bad thing in all cases.

    Some points to add to the discussion and think about:

    1) Heavy metal music has always been heavily compressed compared to other musical styles.

    2) Metal records started being mastered at lower drs in the early to mid 90s, as a response to cds in pop, dance and rock getting louder, and it makes sense… heavy metal is supposed to be loud, and a wimpy Mariah Carey song shouldn’t pop out of your speakers louder than a Pantera song.

    3) In the early 00s, when computer assisted recorded and editing became the norm in metal records, most metal records became mastered at even lower drs, this time, as an aesthetic choice, to reflect the “unnaturally perfect” sound most bands go after these days.

    4) Is a low dr mastering necessarily a bad thing in today’s recording climate, where a record is edited on a computer, guitars and bass are recorded using di and amp modeling, drums tracks are recorded with triggers and assembled as a pastiche, and every sound signal is doctored up to the wazoo? How much sound are we really loosing on albums that are literally as artificial as any pop/r&b single you hear on the radio?

    5) Are we considering the circumstances surrounding music listening for most people? Take my case, for example. As much of a serious heavy metal collector I consider myself (I own over 2,000 original albums on CD), truth is, about 70% of my listening hours are at work, 10% while jogging, and about 15% while commuting on my car. That means that, even if I consider myself a serious music lover, truth is, in only about 5% of my listening hours audio quality is an issue… in the case of casual music fans of any genre, I think nobody even cares about audio quality.

    6) Because I’ve been collecting metal since the mid 90s, I have some really old (mid to late 80s) and contemporary cd editions. Most reissues are remastered with a significantly lower dr than the old editions, and, to my ears, in most cases, this remasterings sound better because of the higher volume levels. Case in point: Slayer’s RIB, SOH and SITA. In the older editions, the volume levels are really low, and no, you don’t really fix it with turning the volume up on your stereo. In fact, one day I was listening to War Ensemble at full blast, when the track ended, my wife changed the CD to Sugar Ray, and at that level, Someday sounded far louder and punchier… something that would never happen with the remastered edition. In fact, the only album I own that I can feel a noticeable (not significant, btw) drop in audio quality because of a lower dr is in Tiamat’s Wildhoney reissue, but that’s kind of understandable, taking into account the style of music in that album.

    7) Yes, reduced dr and artificially high volume levels can be tiresome, but IMO, there are mostly exceptions… in more than 25 years, I’d say the only album that I can’t bear to listen because of a dr issue is Metallica’s Death Magnetic, and it’s not really much of a big deal.

    I’m very thankful about this series of articles, but I don’t see myself really committing myself as a fighter in the Loudness Wars… since I don’t own any audiophile quality equipment and most of my listening is done in situations where audio quality is not a big issue, I don’t see the point in being fussy about dr levels on our music, but I can understand people who care about this issue.

    • You mentioned a lot of things that are just not true or a misrepresentation of the issue.

      1) Not true at all. Historically speaking, pre-Loudness War mastering was very dynamic, metal included. Don’t believe me? Cross reference what I’m saying with the unofficial DR database and your own collection. Show me a well known, metal record at DR4 in 1991,

      2) And Mariah Carey and Slayer on the same radio station….when?

      3) In the early 2000’s we saw unprecedented levels of loudness, with DR dipping into the 3’s and 4’s! We haven’t seen a period of mostly dynamic material for over 20 years!

      4) You are conflating a lot of issues here. DR and general purpose plugin use are all part of the overall mastering process. Knowing how to use these tools together effectively is what makes a GREAT SOUNDING and COHESIVE master instead of the hyper compressed nightmares I have to review on a daily basis.

      5) There is certainly some truth to this. But why not cater to the crowd who does care than the one that doesn’t? If what you say is true, than high dynamic material would be enjoyed by the “layman” too right? (since he or she doesn’t care)

      6) You aren’t level matching and falling into the trap that louder initially sounds better. Honestly, some of the examples you gave are just textbook! :-)

      7) I think as time goes on, and you listen to more and more modern dynamic metal, your ears and mind will change! :-)

      • eloli

        Regarding 1), pre Loudness War metal mastering was very compressed compared to other music genres, or at least it sounds that way to me. Music to me is to enjoy, not to study, I’m not gonna argue about computer readouts, I just like what sounds better to my ears.
        Regarding 2), never. But even if they were broadcasted by different stations, Mariah Carey soundin louder and punchier than Slayer is just plain wrong. :D
        Regarding 3), I agree with you.
        Regardin 4), am I really? Are mastering dr levels that important on a contemporary metal record that don’t even remotely reflects the original source’s (be it guitar, drums, bass or vocals) sound? To my ears, contemporary productions techniques and sound manipulations are much more to blame for sterile, same sounding records rather than mastering.
        Regarding 5), the answer is very simple: the music business caters to the layman, and this happens in every genre. The production and marketing of high dynamic dr material adds complications that most labels don’t want to tackle with because the target market for said material is minuscle.
        Regarding 6), how do you level match CDs on a stereo? I do level match audio files ripped from CD, and most of the time, I can’t really hear the difference from files that come from higher or lower dr editions in this case.
        Regarding 7), not really. What really determines if I enjoy a record is the songs in it first, production second. Within production, dr is the last thing I think about. There’s no way in the world I would’ve enjoyed the Fallujah record that started this series of articles simply because I don’t care much

        • 1) Nope. Do some homework, it’s just not true. I gave you a challenge, man up to it! Just kidding. i.e. what I’m saying is that metal even back then was in the double digits. Check out metal records from the late 80s/early 90s, you be hard pressed to find even DR6.

          2) I agree, for older radio applications, there is something to be said about volume as a marketing tool. In today’s market, not so much.

          4) Re-read what you said. You are now agreeing with me!

          5) That’s not my point. I said why not just master for dynamics in the first place since the layman doesn’t care. Then, you get the best of both worlds.

          6) You can’t tell the difference between a DR4 and a DR11 record? Honestly?

          7) I understand, completely, and I’m not trying to change the way you listen and judge music either. However, I think that if you did make a concerted effort to listen and identify dynamic metal, you would over time feel much differently. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

          • eloli

            Regarding 1), no thanks! I got into metal as a teenager to avoid homework, he he he. Just kidding, I really appreciate your input. It’s not like I’m throwing away my old cds (I’m too much of a collector to do that), it’s just that I enjoy louder volumes.

            Regarding 2), your’e totally right on this one. I’m an old school guy, raised on broadcast radio (I even worked as a sound editor on a station in the early 90s), so even if I consciously know the industry model it was based on is long dead and buried, my brain seems to still be stuck on that time. Hey, it happens.

            Regarding 4), I guess we can both agree that pro tools heavy production sucks.

            Regarding 5), the layman (and woman) probably does care about dr, but only if it makes records louder. :D

            Regarding 6), on a thrash record, not really. On a classic hard rock/metal record, yes, if I really put my mind into it. On any extreme metal record, no. I have a really old edition of Neurosis’ Souls at Zero and a reissue, and I honestly can’t tell the difference between them, aside from a minor volume upgrade on the latter. Blame it on age (I’m 42) or the fact that taking care of two incredibly cute but nightmarishly loud girls has left my ears fried… at some point, I thought I might be having some hearing loss, but my hearing test last May came alright, and my ability to recognize pitches and tonality seems to be just as sharp as it was in my early 20s.

            Regarding 7), I totally respect your story, and I’m thankful there’s people like you out there… if your work results in better sounding records we all win, don’t we? :)

          • Amen brother! Well stay with us eloi, it’s gonna be a fun ride. Trust me.

    • Dave

      Oh dude, you’re so wrong. You’re killing me here. Those classic Slayer albums, especially in vinyl guise, are some of the best recorded and produced metal in history. South Of Heaven in particular is a production MASTERWORK. The drums on that album, as it was originally recorded and intended to sound, are out of this world. Just epic.

      The idea that a Sugar Ray album sounds better than that… I mean I don’t even know how to respond to that.

      If labels want to make a hyper loud master so people can easily listen on their earbuds while running, or on their laptop speakers or other terrible quality equipment, fine. Make that the iTunes/Amazon MP3 release. All we’re asking is that they make another version for those of us that actually care about what music sounds like. Don’t ruin it for us for the sake of casual listeners and their $2 earbuds that came with their cellphones.

      • Merijn Kooijman

        After all, loud masters don’t even sound any better than dynamic ones on cheap earbuds.

        • eloli

          They might not sound better, but they give you higher volumes and isolate you better from your surroundings when commuting, and that’s a huge factor for about 99% of the music buying public.
          Personally, I try to avoid high volumes when listening with earphones, but most people aren’t that conscious about the dangers of tinnitus.

          • Merijn Kooijman

            Then there s still a volume knob. Indeed most people do listen their music loud, but only few always max it completely.

      • eloli

        I didn’t say that Sugar Ray sounded better than Slayer, I said it sounded “louder and punchier”.

        I totally agree with you, Slayer’s unholy tryptich are production masterworks… my point is that production technique is a far more relevant towards great sounding records than mastering, and IMO, the main problem with contemporary metal sound comes from production choices from the get go, dr levels are not that relevant.

        Regarding your “don’t ruin it for us for the sake of casual listeners and their $2 earbuds that came with their cellphone”, well, truth is, “we” are a minuscle minority that has yet to prove to labels that catering to our taste is good business, and I don’t think “we” are doing a good job at that… the day a sifnificant number of “us” commit ourselves on paying a, say, $ 20 premium on a special lower dr edition, maybe labels will listen.

        • Dave

          I absolutely agree about robotic programmed instruments, no question. When The Doors recorded “The End,” it was all of the guys together in the studio, and they did it in something like two takes. They just left the tapes running. NOBODY records that way anymore, and it’s a shame.

          On the rest of it though, again I gotta disagree with you. You can have a “modern” sounding thrash album with big, in your face guitars and still have loads of dynamics and great sound. Listen to the recent “FDR” release of Carcass’ Heartwork as an example. It’s way better sounding than the crappy, over-compressed original, AND is massively dynamic at the same time.

          Further, we have plenty of examples of two different masters being used, a compressed one of the CD, and a dynamic one for the vinyl. Whether it’s brutal death or thrash or whatever subgenre of metal you want, the dynamic vinyl master ALWAYS sounds better. Vader’s Morbid Reich is a great example. Exact same production techniques on both, the only difference is that the vinyl version has about double the dynamic range, and it sounds 10,000% better as a result.

          “well, truth is, “we” are a minuscle minority that has yet to prove to
          labels that catering to our taste is good business, and I don’t think
          “we” are doing a good job at that… the day a significant number of
          “us” commit ourselves on paying a, say, $ 20 premium on a special lower
          dr edition, maybe labels will listen.”

          Actually, there’s no business case for making a hyper loud album. As we’ve reported on M-Fi again and again, there is no, nor has there ever been any evidence that a louder album increases sales one iota. Further, there is zero evidence that a dynamic album hurts sales. Jack White’s last two albums have both been fully dynamic releases, and they’ve both been #1 debuts, so clearly there’s no “risk” to releasing a dynamic album.

          In most cases, the only way to get a dynamic version of the album is to buy the vinyl. Vinyl sales are way up despite prices that are much higher than CD or download releases, so I would say “we” are doing our part. CD sales on the other hand are way down, and I think at least a part of that is hyper loud garbage mastering that makes you exhausted 15 minutes in to an album. Throw away music is only good for being thrown away.

          • eloli

            Regrading this statement:

            “Actually, there’s no business case for making a hyper loud album. As we’ve reported on M-Fi again and again, there is no, nor has there ever been any evidence that a louder album increases sales one iota. Further, there is zero evidence that a dynamic album hurts sales.”

            What is then your opinion on the real reason(s) behind albums being mastered with lower drs?

            I mean, the good thing about living in a capitalist economy is that people can impose their preferences regarding products by buying or not buying.

            There must be some kind of relationship between louder cds and sales, or a relationship between louder mastering and airplay, otherwise, it wouldn’t have caught up.

            Maybe in the 90s, loudest music got more airplay, labels started mastering CDs that way and since the music industry is terrible at keeping up with current trends we’re still stuck with that, who knows.

            Regarding,

            “Jack White’s last two albums have both been fully dynamic releases, and they’ve both been #1 debuts, so clearly there’s no “risk” to releasing a dynamic album.”

            I’d rather say that “there is no “risk” on releasing a dynamic album when you know your audience cares about dr levels and actually appreciates it”, personally, I don’t think metal’s audience thinks that way, quite the opposite, IMO.

            Regarding this comment:

            “In most cases, the only way to get a dynamic version of the album is to buy the vinyl. Vinyl sales are way up despite prices that are much higher than CD or download releases, so I would say “we” are doing our part. CD sales on the other hand are way down, and I think at least a part of that is hyper loud garbage mastering that makes you exhausted 15 minutes in to an album.”

            Vinyl records are an extremely niche product that only a minuscle minority of the record buying public cares about these days.

            It’s ok, I love vinyl, but the real reason vinyl sales have been rising for the last few years is that they couldn’t have been any lower before… I mean, even if vinyl sales rise 1,000 % this year it’ll still be completely meaningless to the record industry as a whole, since they represent less than 1% of it’s revenue.

            Regarding this statement:

            “Throw away music is only good for being thrown away.”

            When I was a kid, a lot of the records I love and today are considered unquestionable classics were dismissed as “throw away music” by adults or simply teenagers who weren’t that much into rock/metal.

            Back in the day, albums like Back in Black, The Number of the Beast, Ride The Lightning, Reign in Blood, Melissa, Among the Living, Blizzard of Oz, Heaven and Hell, Apetite for Destruction, Screaming for Vengeance, Shout at the Devil, To Megatherion, were simply derided as “useless throw away garbage”.

            Some people who really love their music (I like to consider myself one) tend at first, to adopt an very elitist point of view thinking that their music is objectively better than other people’s music.

            Most of them, with time, realize that music quality is not something that can be measured objectively: as long as a song creates a strong emotional response on someone, it is art, and it should be respected as such, regardless if you don’t like it… the ones who don’t end up as laughable snobs.

            It’s not about being open minded, it’s about being respectful and understanding.

            My niece, who is 14, loves One Direction. As much as I consider whatever they do completely unlistenable, I have to admit that their songs make her just as happy as heavy metal makes me, so I wouldn’t dare to call them “throwaway music” because of that simple fact.

            Which ties with this statement:

            “Listen to the recent “FDR” release of Carcass’ Heartwork as an example. It’s way better sounding than the crappy, over-compressed original, AND is massively dynamic at the same time.”

            Having been blown away by Carcass back when I was a teenager, having them make a great records when I’m in my early 40s make me so happy that I don’t really think my CD sounds like crap, I’m too busy enjoying it to even care about dr levels.

            So really, I appreciate what “loudness warriors” are trying to do, the problem I see with that is that the message they’re conveying has a lot more to do with technical geekery rather than the key element that makes music to everyone so endearing: it’s power to make us happy.

          • Dave

            I think the real reason why albums are so loud is a combination of perception, mis-perception, and inertia.

            There are some record labels that just won’t put out a dynamic album. Some execs *think* loud albums will sell better even though there’s no data to support that, or they are afraid about an album not being “competitive” in terms of loudness.

            There are are also a lot of new metal bands today that grew up listening to loudness war mastering, and so it’s all they’ve ever known. They think the mashed together crap sounds “right.”

            The loudness war has been going on for so long now that lots of people just think this is how it’s always been, and they equate ’80s style production techniques with thin and weak sounding guitars as “dynamic” and modern techniques with thick and heavy guitars as “compressed” even though they’re not at all related.

            There is recording and engineering, and then there’s mastering. You can have an album that was well recorded and engineered with a typically loud master, and it will sound pretty good. Never *great*, but good enough, and for most people that’s probably fine.

            What we want is for those albums to be GREAT, not just pretty good, and for that you NEED dynamics. There’s just no getting around that.

            Of course you can also have an album that was poorly recorded and engineered, and in those cases the mastering whether loud or not won’t be able to fix and bad recording.

            Just to give you some examples: Amon Amarth’s With Oden. Pretty good on CD, fantastic on vinyl. Enslaved’s RIITIIR. Pretty good on CD, fantastic on vinyl. Vader’s Tibi et Igni. Pretty good on CD, fantastic on vinyl. It goes on and on, and in all of these cases, it’s the dynamics of the vinyl versions that turns them from “not bad” to amazing.

            What’s a shame is that dynamic masters of these albums exist, but unless you own a turntable, you can’t have them. That’s not fair.

          • eloli

            Personally, I think that a minority that wants to change a well established music industry paradigm (that may or may not be true, IMO, that’s completely irrelevant) by trying to convince people that high dr masterings are better, are fighting a loosing battle from the start.

            IMO, a much better way to work on this would be to convince labels that this minority who cares about high quality audio are loyal consumers willing to pay a premium for low dr masterings.

            In this context, the “audio quality evangelization” route, is IMO, a dead end, no matter how laudable your intentions are. This is because it’s based on the assumption that the attitudes toward music consumption of a few audiophiles can be extrapolated to the general music consumer, and that assumption is completely wrong.

          • Merijn Kooijman

            It seems to me that you’re immunizing your own points of view in many ways.

            “I mean, the good thing about living in a capitalist economy is that people can impose their preferences regarding products by buying or not buying.
            There must be some kind of relationship between louder cds and sales, or a relationship between louder mastering and airplay, otherwise, it wouldn’t have caught up.”

            Paraphrased: There must be some kind of reason to loud masters because the capitalist system makes people impose their preference. Therefore there must be a relationship between louder masters and sales/airplay. Now you seem to use the capitalist system as a reason/validation for loud CD masters. That’s circular.
            I doubt if the preference of the crowd will be a loud master. Moreover, they never had a choice.

            “I’d rather say that “there is no “risk” on releasing a dynamic album when you know your audience cares about dr levels and actually appreciates it”, personally, I don’t think metal’s audience thinks that way, quite the opposite, IMO.”

            That’s too easy.. when a counterexample is thrown in, just say it’s an exception to the rule you proposed yourself. What about the latest Gorguts then? Or even “Happy”?

            “Having been blown away by Carcass back when I was a teenager, having them make a great records when I’m in my early 40s make me so happy that I don’t really think my CD sounds like crap, I’m too busy enjoying it to even care about dr levels.”

            You won’t listen to the FDR because dr rates won’t bother you? For me, enjoying a record so much, would be a big stimulance to check it out in the best possible way. And why is it you also say a compressed master fits metal better when you don’t care anyway?

            “Personally, I don’t think compression in heavy metal is such a bad thing, and, IMO, the biggest culprit when it comes to making contemporary records sound so sterile, soulless and samey are modern studio trickery, excessive source signal manipulation and an over reliance on computer editing, rather than dr mastering levels.”

            Brickwall limiting is a big part, if not the biggest part of this modern studio trickery. It also is signal manipulation and computer editing. I personally even think autotune, rhythmcorrection, drum replacement etc. could sound lively, original and nice IF it is used in an artistic way (like implicitly pointed out) and is given space in a mix and master (read: a dynamic master).

            Finally I’d like to quote Dave:

            “What’s a shame is that dynamic masters of these albums exist, but unless you own a turntable, you can’t have them. That’s not fair.”

          • eloli

            “I doubt if the preference of the crowd will be a loud master. Moreover, they never had a choice.”

            Hey, my reasoning might be circular, but yours is based on a the hypothesis that the attitude towards music consumption of a bunch of audiophiles can be extrapolated to the general public, so logic wise, you’re not that much better. :D

            Let me explain why.

            “That’s too easy.. when a counterexample is thrown in, just say it’s an exception to the rule you proposed yourself. What about the latest Gorguts then? Or even “Lucky”?”

            Might be easy, but a counterexample doesn’t disprove a proposed rule.

            Let me restate my line of thinking:

            -The music industry operates under the assumption that the general buying public values convenience over audio quality.

            I think this point is not really debatable. When cassettes came out, people started buying and partially abandoned vinyl because of its convenience, despite it’s reduced audio quality. Eight tracks never caught on, nor did mini discs, and digital files took once higher download speeds made it an incredibly convenient (and free) format compared to CDs, despite it’s reduced audio quality. Finally, I’m not gonna go into a digital vs analog debate, but a big selling point of CD format during their first five years was its convenience and durability compared to vinyl.

            -Following this assumption, it’s safe to assume also that dr levels are, again, when talking about the general music buying public, irrelevant when determining preference.

            -This second assumption is supported by:

            a) The majority of music consumption occur on social (clubs, pubs, celebrations, concerts) or private (car, commuting, exercise) contexts where audio quality is not important.

            and

            b) Decades of music marketing through broadcasting media (mainly radio, and, for about 20 years, specialized tv channels) have demonstrated that compressed mixes catch the casual listener’s year better than dynamic mixes.

            -So, we might safely state that the music industry operates under a paradigm that “louder – low dr is better than hig dr”.

            Now, if I understand correctly, you state that this paradigm is wrong and unsubstantiated from an empirical point of view.

            My opinion is that you are wrong: commercial mixing trends that resulted on higher sales of low dr mixes for years are, sufficient empirical proof that the general music buying public does in fact prefer this over high dr mixing.

            I don’t work in the music industry, but I have worked in Advertising for 19 years now, and I have worked with entertainment clients, both in music and cinema.

            One thing I learned from these clients is the importance of that really old marketing axiom of “know your product and know who can you sell it to.”

            Music labels know their product very well, and they know it who they’re sell it to.

            Even when it comes to niche genres, like heavy metal, the majority of the buying public bases their preferences on the emotional connection the artist builds with them, only a minority of listeners do care about overall sound issues as long as they’re not preventing them on maintaining and nurturing that connection.

            Outside this core, casual audience, there are more loyal fans, who have a much deeper connection with the artists.

            This loyal audience is always a minority, in pop music, its virtually negligible, in niche genres, it might be up to one third of the total audience… that’s why metal labels make so much “collectors” and “special” editions, to cater to them.

            I can accept that a significant portion of this “loyal heavy metal audience” would theoretically care about low dr masters, but I have my doubts that metal record labels are willing to take that gamble at this point because they still wouldn’t be the majority.

            When you say:

            “What’s a shame is that dynamic masters of these albums exist, but unless you own a turntable, you can’t have them. That’s not fair.”

            In marketing terms, niche products aim for small, specialized audiences, mainstream products aim for large, mostly undiferentiated audiences.

            Now, even if heavy metal is a niche genre, we can all agree that within it, you can very easily draw a line between artists who aim towards a mainstream metal audience and artists who aim to a specialized audience.

            Within this marketing logic, it’s understandable that high profile releases are mastered using low drs.

            IMO, a minority that wants to change this by trying to convince people that high dr masterings are better, are fighting a loosing battle from the start.

            Personally, I’d try to convince labels that this minority who cares about high quality audio are loyal consumers willing to pay a premium for low dr masterings, the “audio quality evangelization”, is IMO, a dead end.

            “You won’t listen to the FDR because dr rates won’t bother you?”

            Unless it’s an unlistenable monster like Death Magnetic, yup, it doesn’t really bother me that much.

            And I’m not exactly a lightweight fan or a newby when it comes to metal: I started my collection in 1984, and I boast more than 2,000 original titles in different formats.

            “And why is it you also say a compressed master fits metal better when you don’t care anyway?”

            I do care, it’s not the thing I care most about when it comes to sound quality.
            Recording technique, to me, is much more relevant,
            I don’t mind a highly compressed metal record that was recorded without amp modeling and with minimal drum sampling/quantizing, for example, and I tend to favor it with thrash records because it makes the music more “in your face”. That’s just my completely subjective appreciation, btw.

          • Merijn Kooijman

            “Hey, my reasoning might be circular, but yours is based on a the hypothesis that the attitude towards music consumption of a bunch of audiophiles can be extrapolated to the general public, so logic wise, you’re not that much better. :D”

            No. At least I didn’t intent to say that everyone would have chosen the high dr version vs the low dr one. Just that there never was a moment of choice (like you stated, convenience of the CD easily won over vinyl(on a format/medium level, not on a master level)).
            Summarized: there had never been an “imposing of preference” by the crowd. Just acceptance.

            “Regarding Gorguts, we can agree that only a small minority of heavy metal listeners care about this particular band. Before this discussion devolves into a true/untrue metal slinging tirade, let’s not forget that heavy metal, to survive from a business point of view, needs high sales, high profile acts like Five Finger Death Punch who pull listeners into the genre, pushing the sales of less known acts like Gorguts. We’re talking about business here, not artistic intention.”

            1) Ok. And “Get Lucky”? Or “HtK by Avenged Sevenfold”?

            2) Now you still seem to presuppose that those salecatchers like 5FDP needed loudness for their success.

            “Also, counterexample doesn’t necessarily disprove a proposed rule.”

            I can hardly disagree on that. Gheghe.
            But that’s not the crucial point here. The point is that there is no (or hardly any) example of a high dr LP that has proven the proposition “loudness sells better than high dr” to be true by selling worse.

            “Ultimately, society runs on written and unwritten rules that survive because they are proved correct most of the time, despite the occasional counterexample.”

            I also believe that’s true for society.
            I don’t think it’s true for a free market system. The music industry has got the power to determin the taste of the general public (even if this taste is unknown to the public itself). A power that works independend of the survivability of the rules it imposes.

            This way, the fact that high dr seems almost to have died (on digital format) nowadays, isn’t a sign of non-survivability, but a consequence of murder.

            Those A7X, Opeth, Gorguts, “Get Lucky” examples seem to me as signs of an unnatural death of high dr. High dr seems to sell after all.

            “-The music industry operates under the assumption that the general buying public values convenience over audio quality.

            I think this point is not really debatable.”

            I agree again. Convenience over audio quality, so audio quality matters less.

            “When cassettes came out … compared to vinyl.”

            Now we’re at the moment that digital download is as convenient with high dr (which is actually smaller in terms of megabytes!) as with low dr. Moreover, this was already the case with CD.

            I’d like to add that loud masters aren’t neccesarily more convenient to make from an industry/producer perspective.

            “-Following this assumption, it’s safe to assume also that dr levels are, again, when talking about the general music buying public, irrelevant when determining preference.”

            Yes. Like it would be irrelevant to the big public if something has a low dr. As irrelevant as a high dr.

            “-This second assumption … is not important.”

            “b) Decades of music marketing through broadcasting media (mainly radio, and, for about 20 years, specialized tv channels) have demonstrated that compressed mixes catch the casual listener’s year better than dynamic mixes.”

            Can you show me a levelmatched example of such a research?

            “-So, we might safely state that the music industry operates under a paradigm that “louder – low dr is better than hig dr”.”

            Unfortunately yes..

            “My opinion is that you are wrong: commercial mixing trends that resulted on higher sales of low dr mixes for years are, sufficient empirical proof that the general music buying public does in fact prefer this over high dr mixing.”

            I tend to blame the afforementioned power of the industry and lack of levelmatch. Besides that: do you think the Beatles at their time were as popular as Coldplay is now? Relatively to the size of the total musicbuying crowd ofcourse.
            I think my hypothetical answer would be “yes”. A hard to defend answer if you think levelmatched low dr masters sell better intrinsically.

            “One thing I learned from these clients is the importance of that really old marketing axiom of “know your product and know who can you sell it to.”

            Music labels know their product very well, and they know it who they’re sell it to.”

            Yes. And general crowd + audiophiles is more than general crowd.

            “When you say:

            “What’s a shame is that dynamic masters of these albums exist, but unless you own a turntable, you can’t have them. That’s not fair.”

            In marketing terms, niche products aim for small, specialized audiences, mainstream products aim for large, mostly undiferentiated audiences.

            Now, even if heavy metal is a niche genre, we can all agree that within it, you can very easily draw a line between artists who aim towards a mainstream metal audience and artists who aim to a specialized audience.

            Within this marketing logic, it’s understandable that high profile releases are mastered using low drs.”

            IMO, High dr doesn’t exclude mainstream.

            “IMO, a minority that wants to change this by trying to convince people that high dr masterings are better, are fighting a loosing battle from the start.”

            I hope not.

            “You won’t listen to the FDR because dr rates won’t bother you?”

            Unless it’s an unlistenable monster like Death Magnetic, yup, it doesn’t really bother me that much.

            “And why is it you also say a compressed master fits metal better when you don’t care anyway?”

            I do care, it’s not the thing I care most about when it comes to sound quality. Recording technique, to me, is much more relevant, I don’t mind a highly compressed metal record that was recorded without amp modeling and with minimal drum sampling/quantizing, for example, and I tend to favor it with thrash records because it makes the music more “in your face”. That’s just my completely subjective appreciation, btw.”

            Fair indeed. IMO, a low dr master makes all this nice mixing and recording quite irrelevant (the perfection dissappears, reasonability/acceptabilitance can indeed stay), which is a shame.

            Finally I’d like to say that I’m quite enjoying this whole discussion and I hope I don’t come over as harsh in any way.

          • eloli

            Hey, I enjoy this discussion a lot too, and no, I don’t think you’re coming through as harsh.

            We’re both in the same side because we both desire better sounding metal records, our disagreement comes from two points:

            1) Which is the main factor when it comes to sterile, samey sounding records.

            2) Whether the general music public’s preference towards low dr developed naturally or was imposed by the music industry.

            Everything else are just details, but really interesting discussion points at the same time.

          • Merijn Kooijman

            Nice :).
            That’s an accurate and way more compact version of the discussion xD.

            About 1: recording and mixing can create a sterile “modern” sound indeed. I think I agree with you there. Nevertheless I think sterileness at this stage can be a stylistic choice.
            I would enjoy a modern sounding djent album in which the kick drum and bass have enough space to shine. Like on some vinyl djent. Any suggestions?

          • eloli

            Yes, I agree with you, sterileness can be a stylistic choice, just like sounding like a bad rehearsal recorded on an iphone, the issue here is how much people are willing to put up with either. :D

            Regarding your djent question, I must be the least qualified person to give a recommendation, since to me, djent band = lazy Messhugah wannabe’s. :D

            In fact, I’d like to ask you, besides everything by Messhugah, which are the djent 5-10 records a generalist metal fan like me should own?

          • Merijn Kooijman

            Well, I mainly brought up djent because it has such a typical “digital modern” aura around it. An FDR of Fortress by Protest the Hero I’d find nice, but that isn’t really really djent. Oh and as a Dutchman, I should mention Textures’ Dualism as well, which has a nice atmospheric vibe. About Meshuggah, I hoped the live DVD Ophidian Trek would have had some dynamics, but all the tracks sound like on the studio LP in a worse way. Plainer. A shame, because Meshuggah live for real is fantastic.

  • Jean-Luc Ricard

    It’s an interesting article about mixing, but the “brain” aspect is pure neurobabble

  • Thanks for this. I will certainly give it a read.