Best and Worst Sounding Records of 2015 [Angry Metal-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.

By: Alex-Fi

Angry Metal-FiIt’s that time again where we extol those releases that exemplify high caliber production and condemn those which exact tyranny on all of our collective volume knobs. 2015 was a break out year for production in metal if you ask me. Not because the percentage of releases had higher DR scores mind you. Quite the opposite actually. But because you guys have made production a real talking point across the web. I can’t tell you how many times I stumble over some online conversation condoning or condemning some production choice made behind some random metal release. And I truly believe that this trend of treating production as a first-class citizen when talking about metal has a lot do with the movement started right here with the Angry Metal-Fi series of articles! So I thank you!

Just a reminder, our little list here is by no means definitive and I’m sure some of you will think Dave and I are clinically deaf after reading it [What was that? – Dave-Fi]. I know I’ve said this before but I can’t belabor this point enough: this list is meant to start a conversation about production, not finish it. Angry Metal-Fi’s chief goal is not just about promoting great sounding metal but to promote the idea of production itself having real value, and to cherish those artists and engineers who truly understand that fact. So without further ado, let’s begin.

The Best

Horrendous - Anareta

In L. Saundersinsightful review he states, “Production-wise Anareta boasts a sound that somehow outdoes the critically acclaimed work on Ecdysis, featuring an equally dynamic yet somehow bigger and punchier sound that is both authoritative and comforting.” Nailed it. Damien Herring did an absolute stellar job producing Anareta since not only did he preserve all of the dynamic goodness found on Ecdysis, but somehow managed to give this record even more oomph, infusing it with this sonic sense of unbridled aggression not really felt on Horrendous‘ previous two masterworks. As I stated in my review, I lived, breathed, and shat Anareta for a good two months straight on a myriad of listening setups and it always sounded fan-fuck’n-tastic to me – a hallmark of every great sounding release.

Trivium - Silence in the Snow

Say what you will [Oh, I will – AMG], but both Dave and I feel that Trivium’s Silence in the Snow is one of the best produced metal records on the planet. It is not only just wonderfully dynamic, but really showcases how big budget production can work for music instead of against it. And this was no accident. In an interview with Blabbermouth guitarist Corey Beaulieu stated, “…because we felt like metal bands really don’t make records like that anymore, unless you’re bands from that era; you just don’t have the uniqueness in the sound and the songs. Everyone uses the same fucking drum samples and this or that, and they mix everything the same way; there’s no dynamics, ’cause they master it so loud that when you turn it up, it hurts. And we just kind of used it as… What everyone does now for metal, or the way they make metal, it was kind of, like, [let’s] not do that — let’s do the exact opposite and make a record that breathes and has dynamics and has the variety in songs, from your short, straight-to-the-point song to something that has a little bit more elaboration in it.” So it’s no wonder Snow sounds extremely punchy when you turn dat volume knob up! Yeah, I know, it’s not Shogun 2.0, but given their popularity, it takes a lot of cojones to produce a record like this. In fact, most of the big record labels would probably reject this record outright for being this quiet, and I really respect Trivium for sticking to their guns and stressing quality over quantity (with respect to production at least).

Kauan - Sorni Nai

Back in 2013, my partner in crime ranked Kauan‘s Pirut as the best sounding record of the year. Well, Kauan is back with a new release entitled Sorni Nai, and it sounds just as glorious. Granted, this isn’t really a metal record in the traditional sense and is more in line with Tenhi than Tryptikon, but here we are nonetheless. If you haven’t yet heard of these talented Russians, they play a mix of folk, doom, and now post-rock apparently. Their latest record, Sorni Nai, attempts to reconstruct the tragic events that led up to the Dyatlov Pass incident, where nine students died under mysterious circumstances camping in the Ural Mountains [Clearly a Yeti! – Dave-Fi]. This whole record is about texture and atmosphere, and the production serves these purposes well but letting the music breathe and envelope your auditory senses as you embark on this horrifying mental DR10 field trip. Best of all, it’s free via Blood Music’s Bandcamp page.

Native Construct - Quiet World

Think Dream Theater meets Haken meets Unexpect, all wrapped in a glorious DR10 Jamie King mastered package. Native Construct‘s breakout debut is actually a concept album that tells the story of an unstable, eccentric mute who falls in love with a girl who doesn’t share the same feelings for him. He decides to deal with her rejection by creating his own fantastical world in his head where he has complete control over everything and everyone is like him, i.e. mute. Hence the album’s title, Quiet World [Oh snap! I thought the title was a play on the DR score. My bad. – Dave-Fi {You’re fired – AMG}]. And though musically this record is outstanding, what’s even more impressive is that it was written, produced, and recorded all while the band members were attending the Berklee School of Music and on a college student budget. This just goes to show what Dave and I have been preaching to you all along: a record’s fidelity has a lot more to do with the production choices made in the studio than having access to high-priced gear. This is bar none one of, if not the best progressive metal record of the year. Buy it.

Intronaut - The Direction of Last Things

Intronaut‘s The Direction of Last Things is one of those records that is truly more about its sonic journey than its ultimate destination. The net result is an album that isn’t quite greater than the sum of its parts despite the fact that the parts in themselves are at times spectacular in both design and execution. To sum up Doc’s fantastic review, it lacks cohesion, which really hurts the album’s overall staying power. However, with all of that said, man this journey sounds sweet. From Doc’s review, Thankfully, Intronaut magnified all of this by hiring Devin Townsend on mixing duties. This decision was well worth the money as every instrument comes to life in the mix and the record is a truly dynamic listen.” I couldn’t agree more. Devin’s mix is not only very balanced but does an impeccable job of showcasing Intronaut‘s incredible virtuosity in the process. I almost feel that this record is some kind of penance for the debacle that was . I’ll take it.


The Worst

Baroness - Purple

Some days after listening to poorly produced metal I really just want to throw up my hands and scream. Other days I want just sit down and cry. Unfortunately, Baroness‘ latest release, Purple, makes me wanna do both. This record was utterly, categorically, destroyed in the production process. Purple clocks in at an embarrassing DR4, with many, many tracks hitting DR3. But the score itself is really only the tip of the iceberg as this record just sounds dreadful. Drums are utterly lifeless. Bottom end, what’s that? There is zero imaging to really speak of as every track sounds like a garbled sonic mess. The reason why this record makes me wanna cry though is because the material on it is obviously top notch, and it’s clear that if this sounded like any of their previous records, it would probably be on my overall top ten list. Here’s the thing I just don’t get: Baroness is not a boy band. Fuck, they aren’t even a metal band really at this point. There, I said it. So why the hell is this record being produced like it’s the next Ke$sha album? To add insult to injury, reports are coming in that the vinyl was most likely sourced from the same master. Oh, same is definitely true for the 24-bit/96kHz “high-res” version us Pledgers received on the day it was released. I pray the band does a postmortem analysis and really think hard about fidelity before they decide to go into the studio and record yet another homage to a random frequency range in the visible electromagnetic spectrum [My money is on orange! – Dave-Fi].

Swallow the Sun - Songs from the North

Not only does Swallow the Sun expect you to sift through 153 odd minutes of their unique brand of melodic doom/death mix, but do so with an extremely fatiguing production. Let’s break it down: the first record and arguably the only one that should have been released, clocks in at a stupid DR5. It is clearly overly compressed, but frankly, I have more problems with its god awful mix. Just listen to the drums which sit so far back that I’m not even sure at this point if that’s Juuso really playing or some session drummer warming up in the next room over. Same is true for the third album, as it too follows the same terrible production path as the first. Guitars are completely overpowering throughout, even when the source material doesn’t really warrant it. Yes, the second record which is a mix of folksy gothic rock clocks in at DR8, but I submit that its mix is just as problematic. Now the vocals dominate everything and drown out the lushness of the acoustic melodies sitting in the background. Even though I give Swallow the Sun a lot of props for having the confidence (and contract) to release a mammoth undertaking such as this one, the production of Songs from the North leaves a lot to be desired in addition to its questionable girth.

High on Fire - Luminiferous

In Grymm‘s most excellent review, he points out, “In terms of sound, Converge‘s Kurt Ballou did an impressive production job here. Matz’s bass is always audible, Kensel utterly destroys and yet the drum sound is still quite powerful and not overly bright. Pike still very much cuts through like a battle-axe, thank the gods.” Totally agree. However, as Andy777 astutely points out, “If the DR score for the past 9 albums they have released is any indication I’d say a DR5 is spot on. Plus if there was any doubt go look at the waveform on Soundcloud for the uploaded tracks, they suffer from Sausage Turd Syndrome. As one of my favorite bands it breaks my heart, but we keep on fighting.” Bingo. High on Fire records have been poster children for the Loudness War for some time now, and Luminiferous is no different. I still don’t understand why this band doesn’t warm up to the idea of adding a few points of dynamics just to give the music some modicum of realism to it. I understand they are going after an aesthetically oppressive sound, but I firmly believe that hyper-compressing each track into oblivion is the wrong way to go about it.

Melechesh - Enki

Melechesh‘s Enki is another fine example of when volume runs amok. This record suffers from Anaal Nathrakh syndrome in that Ashmedi decided that if he “pushed everything to 11” Enki would have an even greater impact on first listen. I’m here to tell you (and him) as a listener, it doesn’t.

In fact, it has just the opposite effect. Unfortunately, what he falls to grasp is that if everything is loud, nothing is. Grymm‘s great review makes the case beautifully, “Another beef I have with the album is how squashed it is sonically. While George Bokos (ex-Rotting Christ) did a good job in capturing the richness of the guitars and the pummeling of Lord Curse’s drumming, Jonas Kjellgren’s mix compressed things way too much, with bassist Scorpios taking a major hit. This wouldn’t be too big a deal if their sound wasn’t so heavily based on their tuning their instruments to 432 MHz instead of the standard A440, which is perceived to leave deeper sonic vibrations within your psyche and make the listener more attuned with the universe. Of course, when you brickwall the music so much that Nergal is shaking his head at you, it becomes moot, and it’s such a bummer as there’s a ton of rich instrumentation to be had.” What I would like to see Ashmedi do is offer the vinyl master as a digital download since it has a less crushed and a much better overall sounding master. Who’s with me?

disarmonia mundi - Cold Inferno

Meet this year’s Fleshgod Apocalypse release. Disarmonia Mundi‘s Cold Inferno sounds like hot garbage and that’s because volume was clearly the primary motivator behind every production decision made in this DR3 release. Production woes have always plagued these Italians ever since their 2004 breakout record, Fragments of a D-Generation, which clocked in at an abysmal DR4. I’m at a loss on how Ettore Rigotti, the Italian mastermind behind this project, can release a record that sounds this bad; I mean it’s literally like listening to an album recorded through a paper cup. I’m going to go out on a limb here and make the case that Rigotti seems to be more musician than producer and for whatever reason, can’t accept that fact. His last reasonably acceptable master was on his debut, 2001’s Nebularium, which clocked in at DR6 before it went all downhill from there. Cold Inferno is exactly that, production wise, and it’s a damn shame too since I think Rigotti is an extremely talented chap and if he could just let say, oh, Dan “The Man” Swanö produce his next release, it would literally be a match made in melo-death heaven. Hint, hint.


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