Written By: Alex-Fi
2017 was an interesting year for metal. My partner in crime, Dave-Fi claims it was another crappy year for dynamics in general, and unfortunately given the entries below, it’s hard to argue with him. However, I would counter and say that they were still quite a number of good to great sounding releases too. In fact, Dave and I had a harder time weeding out the truly terrible sounding albums from the really great sounding ones which is always a good sign.
Now look: This is just our list. And it’s clearly the only one that matters since our word is law. However, if you have your own best and worst sounding year-end list, please post it below. We just want to know which one of you are actually deaf. That’s all.
Anyway, as usual, I’d like to thank again Steel, AMG, Unleash the Grier™, and the whole AMG crew for allowing Dave and I to be the site’s first real telecommuters. And of course, we’d also like to thank the AMG readership for being one of the best metal communities on the web, despite having a very, very unhealthy relationship with rainbow unicorns. There, I said it.
What do you get when you combine the absolute best melo-death of the year with an extremely dynamic and vibrant master? The number one spot on this list, that’s what. Aether Realm’s Tarot is a monster of a release, and a big part of that fact is due to its high caliber production. Clocking in at an extremely healthy DR10, with many tracks hitting DR11 and 12 territory, this album just explodes into your eardrums the very second you hit play. For me, the main highlights are the mix, which is pretty much pitch perfect and has the entire band on complete display throughout. And of course those drums, which are so fucking meaty they sound like Tyler Gresham set up shop in your ears during playback. Here’s something else to consider: Level match it with their last one. Go on, do it. Yeah, that’s what dynamics brings to the table. You’re welcome.
Kile Odell was the primary man responsible for all of Tarot’s dynamic goodness and if you see that man walking down the street, you give him a big bear hug without any hesitation – unless of course he has wisely filed a prior legal restraining order demanding that you stay within 100 drum sticks away from him at all times. Try to contain yourself in that case.
I’ll let Unleash the Grier™ do all the talking, “First, the songwriting and album organization fits the story like a fucking glove and, second, this record sounds fanfuckingtastic (all thanks to none other than Jacob Hansen… what?!). With dynamics like this, every riff, every drum pattern, and every vocal arrangement come straight to the front.” No argument from me. Unleash the Archer’s Apex is all “aboot” dynamics. In fact, I think a big part of Grier‘s love affair with this record is the fact that not only is it a stellar power metal outing in itself, but it sounds so fucking damn good to boot – which is rare for anything that has “power” in front of it. Ten thousand against one, eh? At DR9, you better believe it.
As I said in my review on this very website, Havok’s Conformicide is one of the best sounding thrash records I’ve heard in a really long time. And that has all to do with the concerted effort made by both mixing engineer Scott Evetts and mastering guru Alan Douches of West West Side Music to keep dynamics at the forefront in this recording. I mean listen to DAT BASS! Also, the album could serve as a clinic on how to record and mix drums properly. Here’s another thing: Alan told me that more and more bands are warming up to the idea of adding dynamics back into the mix (literally!), and Conformicide is a shining example of that fact. Hopefully, other thrash (and non-thrash) bands get the memo and start doing the right thing in the studio.
A disappoint for some, a masterpiece for others, the truth about Pallbearer’s Heartless is probably somewhere in between. But I will say this: “heartless” it is not. And Grymm‘s most excellent review was quick to point out that fact as he explains the album “…welcomes back the warm, organic production found on Sorrow and Extinction. Mark Lierly’s drumming sounds thunderous and clear, and Rowland’s bass presence is strongly felt and given a chance to shine. The songs breathe better, especially the airy “Lie of Survival,” giving the music color and depth.” What’s great about Pallbearer is that the band has made a concerted effort to preserve dynamics in this one compared to their last; a sure sign that these high DR scores are by no means an accident but part of the recording’s overall production calculus. Let’s just all hope that as they grow in popularity their dedication to dynamics does not waiver either.
Heavy? Like a Mac truck. Dark? Darker than Happy Metal Guy‘s ear end list. Misanthropy? Fuck you. Our very own Ferrous Beuller put it best when he reviewed Desolate Shrine’s latest hailing it as, “Black, death, atmospheric, call it what you will, this is music to drown in — emotionally unforgiving and perversely obsessional. Desolate Shrine are a band that elicit hyperbole and deservedly so, as their brand of darkened discontent is superlative in itself.”
Deliverance from the Godless Void is the very definition of a misnomer, and a lot of that has to do with Dan Lowndes’ awesome production job. This record is a whirlwind of Finnish death and doom all conveyed through this highly dynamic envelope, making it one of this year’s best sounding releases to boot. Lowndes is quite dedicated to the cause and almost all of his masters sound good to outstanding. This one is of the outstanding variety, as he able to both balance the band’s clear focus on sonic girth and general decay while still making it sound extremely dynamic and alive. Put simply, DR10 baby! DR-fucking-10 baby!
Since I know Trent is going to read this because he is not only a cool guy, but a well-read one too, I’m going to go a slightly different route.
Hi! My name is Alex and I’m a big fan of yours. I own all of your records and one of my all-time favorite shows was when I saw NIN live at the House of Blues. I only mention that because I got the tickets from your band’s official photographer’s brother off of Craiglist. Seriously, no shit. He had two extra tickets and the show was completely sold out, and he wanted to unload them on some real NIN fans instead of scalpers trying to make a quick buck. After meeting with him and shooting the shit about the band, he sold them to me at a really reasonable price. I went with a long time friend and we had a blast. You forgot the lyrics to “Closer” that night too, which you admitted you tend to do a lot on tour. Good times.
I know what you’re thinking: I’m just some audiophile d-bag who won’t be happy no matter how you produce the next NIN record. And you wouldn’t be completely wrong about that. But even so, when you released your last EP, Add Violence, was the title some kind of full disclosure about the record’s mastering job? Because I’m telling you as a long time fan, it sounds like crap. And that’s because at DR4, with one track sitting at an abysmal DR2, you gave your music not a single second to breathe. The mastering job on this EP has more compression applied to it than the majority of death metal records released today as well as the last Katy Perry and Lady Gaga albums. To make matters worse, you even used the same hideously compressed masters to cut the vinyl as well. Ouch.
Look, you’re a smart guy. You know what the Loudness War is and how we got here so I don’t need to lecture you about it. I mean for Satan’s sake, you even tried to tackle it head on with the “audiophile version” of Hesitation Marks which though turned out to be a complete debacle in its own right, did land Metal-Fi on Wikipedia. So I guess I owe you a solid for that. Nevertheless, do me a favor: Talk to more engineers in the industry about dynamic range compression and why overusing it like you clearly did on Add Violence makes absolutely no sense. Understand why dynamics plays a crucial role in music and most importantly, understand why when everything is loud nothing really is.
I have faith in you to do the right thing on your next go around.
A big fan,
Where did Solstafir go wrong on Berdreyminn? Answer: Ted Jensen. Madam X said it best in her review, “Thanks go out to Mr. Ted Jensen for this sonic abortion. As the man in charge of the final step of Berdreyminn‘s audio post-production, balancing the various sonic elements for optimized playback, he done fucked up good! It’s never going to be alright taking an album built on beautiful vocal subtleties, gorgeous piano melodies and showstopping violins and mastering it to the compression level of Death Magnetic.” He literally mastered this record like it was the last Fleshhips Fisticuffs. For a band as expressive as these Icelandic rockers are, there was absolutely no reason to cut such a hot master with a lot of tracks dipping into DR4 territory. And the production job really does ruin the enjoyment of what could be another stellar release. Next time tell Ted to “get on with the butter” or something like that.
My favorite year-end metal list of 2017 might well be Stereogum’s list. In it, Doug Moore writes in sort of a tongue-and-cheek way the following about Morbid Angel’s Kingdoms Disdained: “The surprise of the year and possibly the biggest 180 in quality between two albums in death metal history. P.s.: complaining about the production is for cowards. –Doug Moore” Now you know why he wrote that, right? Cause Doug knows full well that this record doesn’t sound very good! And though I do agree with him that overall musically, this record is certainly a step up from the last one “Sounds of kittens being thrown in a woodchipper is also a step up musically from that one. Big deal. – Dave] [Note that no kittens were actually harmed in the making of this list. –Alex], it doesn’t excuse the fact that the mix is completely whacked. In fact, so much so, some tracks sound like they were engineered at two different times – just listen to “The Righteous Voice” and then “Architect and Iconoclast” back to back. Strange, right? Also, the vocals are so far back in the mix they might as well not exist. Same is true for the drums which sound hideous. Holy cow.
Decrepit Birth’s Axis Mundi sounds horrible. Clocking in at DR3 (not a typo), this record (no, seriously, not a typo) is one amorphous blob of sonic gobbledegook. I challenge anyone to not only sit through this record, which clocks in at a just hair over an hour, but then identify random tracks from it when played back. You can’t, because the butchered production job prevents anything from really popping out at you. I agree with Ferrous Bueller‘s excellent review that there is indeed a lot to like on this album musically, but sonically, not so much. And personally, I would have really taken another half point […or more. – Dave] for the lousy master you have to sit through to get to any of the good death bits.
Grymm did my job for me when it comes to Saille’s sonic abomination that is Gnosis, “But even if Saille crafted one of the best works of symphonic black art known to mankind, the Wieslawscy brothers’ (Behemoth, Vader) mix and master would kill it dead. Within seconds of opener “Benei ha’Elohim,” I was assaulted by the worst compressed guitar tone I have heard since Cradle of Filth’s abysmal Cruelty and the Beast. Somehow, it sounds both wet and fried, like someone threw a Peavey practice amp into a pool, took it out, dried it off by surrounding it in rice inside a paper bag, plugged a guitar into it, and told the producer to press “Record” while it was still damp. When the band goes into Blast Mode, any semblance of dynamics or cohesion is thrown out the window into a swamp. The DR4 score surprised me, as it doesn’t even begin to tell you how smothered, loud, and obnoxious this sounds. On a symphonic black metal album, where there are violins, keyboard melodies, and airy bits of fancy, there is no excuse at all for your album to sound this atrocious.” In other words, that idea (compressing everything down to DR4) is the worst. Seriously, the worst.