The 11th Hour Studio Diary – #3

So here’s a special fucking treat if ever there was one. Ed motherfucking Warby (as he’s known to friends) is writing for this blog to give updates on his HIGHLY anticipated (by this Angry Metal Guy) follow up to Burden of Grief which is one of my favorite doom records ever. He’ll be periodically checking in with the written word as watching him in his studio would be about as exciting as watching Ihsahn was in his (i.e., not fucking entertaining at all; watching flies fuck; paint dry; corpses decay without time-lapse). Enjoy! – AMG

Saturday, September 24th

Hail of BulletsWow, 3 months have passed since my last update and I’m still not done with the album… in my defense Hail Of Bullets had a very busy summer schedule including Wacken, Party.san, Summer Breeze and many more megafests, but somehow I did manage to miss the end of July deadline rather spectacularly.

Let’s start with the biggest news, Rogga will not be featured on the album. When I was still convinced I could and had to meet the initial deadline Rogga was incapacitated by a flu from hell, rendering him unable to deliver the guttural growls needed for the album. He made a more than valiant effort, but we both knew it wasn’t good enough. So I asked Pim Blankenstein, already a member of the live incarnation of The 11th Hour for 2 years, to step in and he did a tremendous job at filling Rogga’s shoes. That was 2 months ago. I got lost somehow. It happens. Officium Triste, Pim and Bram’s band, have managed to record an entire album in the meantime, which makes me feel more than a little bad…

But I’m back in the saddle, we’ve set a new deadline and release date and I’m confident it’ll work out this time. For the past few days I’ve been going over the songs, checking every little bit, making minor adjustments where necessary, checking hundreds of crossfades, and taking that dreaded final step, the point of no return: consolidating the files (well, I could always undo the changes after consolidating but I’ve decided enough is enough, I could work on this album for another 2 years and still find stuff to improve, but I’m well into the realm of “nobody hears the difference but me” so it’s time to move on). Yesterday I finalized all the drum tracks and sent them over to Sweden (ah, the wonder of the interwebs), today I did the same with Pim’s vocal files.

In the meantime Ronnie Bjrnstrm of Enhanced Audio Productions] has already set up a basic mix of one song, and if you thought Burden of Grief sounded pretty heavy you ain’t heard nothing yet! Overall these songs are a bit more layered, so I think we’ll be spending some time getting everything just right but we have time for that.

Speaking of the new songs, 2 of them have actually made their live debut already at the Dublin Doom Day and they went over real well. We hadn’t played together since December, so it took a few rehearsals to rebuild the wall of doom, but it was a fine gig in my opinion. I’m still nervous as hell to be up front as opposed to safely behind my drums, but the enjoyment far outweighs the slight discomfort. We’ve got Hammer Of Doom and the Dutch Doom Days coming up, and I’m massively looking forward to both.

The 11th Hour - Burden of Grief

Ok, back to the work in progress. As I said we’ve set a new release date: January 27th which means I have to meet an October 31st deadline for master, artwork, promopics, the works. I expect to finish up all the checking, crossfading, consolidating and exporting tomorrow or the day after and then I can finally concentrate on laying down some vocals of my own. Last week I fixed a part that wasn’t quite working for me by adding a cool “descent to hell” bit, sounds pretty awesome combined with some screams I made Pim do (my neighbors must’ve thought I was killing someone), and it feels good to be able to take another thing off my mental “things that bother me” list (damn thing keeps me up many a night).

Artwork is as good as finished, we just need to make some minor adjustments to the cover image (which turned out rather striking I must say) but the CD lay-out and booklet are about done. Helping me out again is my good friend Mick who also did Burden Of Grief and all 3 Hail Of Bullets releases, and he always does a great job.

Sunday, September 25th

Last night my computer froze up just as I was saving the last bit of work and to my horror the session is now missing 3 complete files, 2 twin leads and Pim’s entire vocal… normally I’d go back to one of the back-up sessions but those are all missing the same files, guess I shouldn’t have renamed them. Fortunately, I did export them for Ronnie before the crash but for some reason the session won’t save anymore either, so I’m gonna have to be creative here. The rest of the day is spent on doing a final check on all bass, guitar and vocal parts and then they’re off to Sweden for Ronnie to work his magic.

Monday, September 26th

Today I’m making a trip to the Tilburg cemetery with photographer Hannah Anthonysz who also did the Burden of Grief deathbed shoot. It’s a small but atmospheric cemetery and I think we got some good shots. Trying to avoid the “here’s me in the cemetery” feel and hopefully capture some of the mood, although it’s a rare sunny day. Figures.

Tuesday, September 27th

But father, I’d rather just… sing!” That gratuitous Monty Python quote will be lost on most but it makes me smile so there. After procrastinating and putting it off for weeks today I finally start recording my own vocals! I decide to start with an up-tempo (well, sorta, it’s still doom) one that has a rather demanding vocal line, might as well get that one out of the way. It takes me a while to find the voice (this one’s in the higher registers), but once I do it goes well. I do a few takes so I can select the best bits and then I get an e-mail from Ronnie: 3 new mixes! Earlier I expressed some worries about the drum sound so Ronnie went back to the drawing board and came up with a magnificently punchy sound that really fits in with the bass and guitars, I was hoping for “as good as Burden Of Grief” (which I’m still very happy with) but this album is actually going to sound better. Guitar level seems a bit low to my ears but Ronnie assures me this will be fixed once he applies master compression (and boy is he right, more about that later).

Wednesday, September 28th

More vocal histrionics today, starting off with the closing song on the album which features another soaring vocal line, partly doubled with Pim’s growls. It’s a very emotional melody and it takes a while to deliver it with the right amount of passion, but after spending some time on it the final result is definitely satisfying. After that I tackle a slow, elegiac one, with a mournful vocal and probably my favorite chorus. This one’s all about mood, and again it takes a while to find the right approach. I feel I have something to prove to those who felt the vocals were the weakest thing about Burden Of Grief, and while I realize my voice is firmly in the “love it or hate it” area I’m hellbent on giving the best performance I can. The vocal arrangements are much more varied this time, as are the songs themselves. And just as I finish the second song there’s a massive file from Ronnie containing 7 new mixes! The 3 mixes from yesterday were pretty good, but what I’m hearing now blows me away, I’m a picky customer but the sound is absolutely perfect. Every instrument has plenty of space, yet it sounds like a huge wall of doom, love it! I pick one song to send to the other guys, one that has a lot of Pim (my own vocals aren’t there yet) and they’re all equally impressed with Ronnie’s achievement. Good day!

Thursday, September 29th

For some reason someone else’s mix always brings out stuff that has gone unnoticed in the 7-8 months before, so the first thing I have to do is make corrections. I import the mix of each song into its own session and get to work. Most of this stuff is very minimal, but to me it makes all the difference. Ronnie will probably hate me for having to replace a lot of parts, but in the end it’s the album that counts. Once I’m done I find time and inspiration to do one more vocal for the bleakest song on the album, This one has a starring role for Pim and I only come in halfway to deliver a dying man’s lament and some cool harmonies before Pim takes center stage again. And how!

Friday, September 30th

I start the day by trying my hand at the opening track, when halfway I notice a lot of noise above my head. I look out the window and it turns out my new upstairs neighbors have picked today to start working on the house, just my luck. I go over for a chat and to ask them what their planning is, explaining I can’t work with the noise they’re making, but they’re not quite sure. I wait for a few hours while they stomp around over my head and then I give it another go. Frustrated by the interruption I have a hard time focusing and I delete all takes I did earlier. Eventually I get the parts I need but I’ll have to check them at a later time with fresh ears to see if it’s up to par.

Saturday, October 1st

Woke up to the sound of hammering, doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to get anything done today. Oh well, at least I have time to write this journal and after that I’ll do some vocal editing. We still have a full month until the deadline so unless something disastrous happens we’ll be done way ahead of time. Should be nice after Burden Of Grief’s grueling week of “work until the sun comes up” sessions…

Sunday, October 2nd

Hammering again, so I decide to take the day off and go to a birthday part. Not very doomy I know, but otherwise I’ll end up killing my new neighbors. In the evening I go over all the vocals I’ve done so far, make some final adjustments and send 4 of the 5 tracks to Ronnie. The 5th one needs some harmonies so I wanna hold on to that one for a bit. Should be cool to hear the mix with vocals added!

Monday, October 3rd

Felt some pressure to record the last 2 vocals but I gave up after wasting several hours trying to get just one verse right. Guess one should know when it’s just not a good day, even if the neighbors from hell have given me a night off from their infernal noise. Think I’ll try again next week, I’ll be gone all weekend playing Way Of Darkness with the Bullets anyway.

To be continued…

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