Depending on your ear, modern metal isn't very "heavy"

There's a lot to be said about brickwalling, most of it negative. Having a larger dynamic range in music accentuates the extremes. Having everything up front at all times just dilutes it all. Much like how you need the bad to appreciate the good, you need the quiet to appreciate the loud.

 

It's actually part of the reason I'm such a big euphoric trance fan.

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Yes, I myself really enjoy the peaks and valleys of certain forms of dance music. It can really get you moving. I've largely lost interest in modern heavy music because it's so rare that a producer will make even the slightest attempt to increase dynamic range.

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Metallica's Enter Sandman (1991) vs Metallica's Judas Kiss (2008)

v77RsCD.jpg

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eh, as someone who has recently started delving into more advanced music production like mastering, I thought waveforms of mastered tracks were supposed to look like solid walls, heh. I couldn't really achieve it without ridiculous compression ratios which sounded awful*, and I thought I was doing something wrong. Judging by this thread, it seems I don't need to waste my time trying to figure that one out, fortunately.

 

* which is the whole point of this thread I guess :P

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I'm confused, how does this make metal sound less powerful? Because of a lack of dynamics? When it is mastered, the sonic power becomes consistent throughout the entirety of the track. And yes, the modern day practice is to use compression because it makes things sound bigger, but it's been like that for a long time now, and it's not just present in metal. The loudness wars has been going on for the past 20+ years. I would argue that this doesn't take away any power from the actual song though, and it also depends on who is doing the mastering. You also have to look at certain bands because Neurosis works with Steve Albini (formerly of Big Black, who is now an audio engineer) and they seek to capture a natural sound. The latest Neurosis album (Fires Within Fires) doesn't have the beefed up compression and effects that most modern metal albums have, as they went for a more natural sound

 

I would also argue that this version of Paranoid that you posted looks more like a 90's remaster version than the original version from the 70's, because most music from that era isn't "loud af". I've been listening to Diana Ross' greatest hits and they remastered everything to be compressed to the loudest but it still has that OOMPH to it, but normally the music of this era wasn't so in your face. So I argue that modern compression methods and overly beefed up effects don't necessarily take away from the power at all. Maybe it's the actual execution of the metal band itself, because most metal to me is boring and repetitive anyway. Maybe it's the ideas of these newer metal bands that fall flat on your ears and not the actual production, because that doesn't make sense to me. Dynamics don't always make things seem more powerful.

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This isn't limited to modern metal. The Black Sabbath remasters from 2004 (Black Box) were extremely compressed. Same with lots of other modern remastered CDs featuring music from older artists.

 

Yet I've heard plenty of modern metal/remasters that sound really heavy and awesome too. You have to judge (re)mastering on a case by case basis. Some of it sounds great, some sounds terrible. I've heard compressed music that still sounds pretty good, so long as there is *some* dynamic range and not just a solid brick wall. Brick wall mastering is generally frowned upon, even by people who favor loud music. It's not too common anymore, at least not in my experience.

 

Most of the music I've sampled in Adobe Audition CS6 (modern and old) from remasters look similar to the top picture waveform Cupboard posted. That is, not too quiet (CDs from the 80's often had too much dynamic range and lacked punch). But also not too loud... ideally you want something that takes advantage of the extra headroom space but doesn't completely clip the peaks on the waveforms entirely. Or at least, not to the point of causing distortion and listening fatigue.

 

If you dig around on YouTube and Discogs you can usually hunt down the best sounding CD/digital versions. But yeah, I agree that brick wall mastering is utter shit and always sounds terrible. Thankfully I think we're starting to move away from that more now. And not every modern remaster is a brick wall.

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I just don't think loudness wars and beefy compression is a bad thing. Sure, it can be a bad thing. But for some artists, this is the desired and intended effect. Like with a Boris song, they WANT to sound powerful and overwhelming, and they do. Because they're able to execute their sound in a fresh and exciting way instead of just Cookie Monster banging on a trash can like Cannibal Corpse over there. 

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Those images are kinda pointless without a timeline.  If you zoomed in on a cannibal corpse song you'd see similar hills and valleys.
Metal is super hit or miss for me anyway though.  Colors (by between the buried and me) is probably the best metal albums I've heard, and the entire thing is fantastic.  Either that or Fortress (by protest the hero)...

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I thought this was going to be about BPM and riff style based on the title. A good mix is a good mix and a bad mix is a bad mix, regardless of genre. Any producer worth anything should know to make sure every instrument has "breathing room" in it's given frequency range. Too many instruments turned up too loud and all shoved into the same range is gonna sound like total crap on everything from country to dance music.

 

It would be nice if more smaller scale bands bothered to take just a few days to learn the basics about this stuff. You can have the greatest riffs in the world but your album is gonna be poo if it's not properly mixed.

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For whatever reason, it is generally accepted that bigger and louder is always better.  That may be true for some things...but final mixes in studio songs is not one of those things.  If I am getting hit with a wall of sound, I should be able to clearly pick apart every instrument being used.  If I can't tell roughly what frets are being played, what drums are being hit, or what the bass is actually playing...there is a problem.  In modern metal there is simply too much going on which is why I tend to stick to the classics.  At least back then each member of the band had a definite role and was key to the overall sound.  Can you imagine the first five Sabbath albums without Geezer?  

Edited by Tracer
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You're lucky if you can even hear the bass! It's been a long fight for us bassists to be heard in extreme music. Can you imagine production like this being done today?

 

 

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Bass is awesome when done right.  I enjoy shadow bass playing during choruses and other parts meant to be especially heavy...but outside of that, I love when the bass plays something completely different than the guitar and you can actually hear it.  It's such a great sound.

 

And holy shit that is a cool tune you shared.

 

Freeze, I definitely suggest you check out Acid Bath.  They are very extreme, and their bass is very audible!  I think as a bassist you will appreciate their sound.  

 

Pardon the obnoxious video, but the song in it is called Finger Paintings Of The Insane off of their "When The Kite String Pops" album.

 

 

Edited by Tracer

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Eris Falling, whether you want to brick wall your production is a matter of personal taste, even if it's seen as a cardinal sin in some circles. I personally feel that RUSH nailed it with his comment about "listener fatigue," which is what I want Neurosis to understand. Loudness can become less novel, and thus less interesting, if there is not something to contrast it. Some people are unaffected by this and will enjoy the recording regardless, but others will be craving more dynamic range. I personally can't get through entire metal albums anymore except once in a blue moon. I keep craving a loudness I feel isn't there, due to the lack of soft moments. And yeah, it definitely affects a number of genres of music. It's more than likely a trend. In the 80s it was gated snares and shitloads of reverb.

Edited by GoatLord
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Since we're on the topic of awesome, audible bass. Here's a good one from Zeppelin. Keep in mind this album was produced in 1969. And it still sounds awesome today:

 

 

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6 hours ago, GoatLord said:

For the last few years, I've been asking myself, "Why the hell does modern metal sound so...dull? And not heavy at all?" My initial response was, well, the riffs suck, no one's coming up with decent riffs anymore. But that's blatantly false. There's more than enough creativity to go around and new sub-genres still pop up once and awhile. Then I remembered the time I was editing a video for a local metal band and noticed the MP3 I was provided with, in terms of its waveform, was just a solid brick. No dynamics at all. It was also clipping pretty bad, too. To my astonishment, I was told this was the final mix.

You hit the nail on the head. No dynamics. This type of compression literally elevates any sound into square waves, which, scientifically speaking, the speakers cannot faithfully reproduce. Each and every pick scrape is brought up to the level of everything else. It's like listening to a vacuum cleaner for 30 minutes. I will fucking return CDs mixed like this. By the way, a "production" like this will destroy your speakers (and ears to boot).

 

3 hours ago, Neurosis said:

I'm confused, how does this make metal sound less powerful? Because of a lack of dynamics? When it is mastered, the sonic power becomes consistent throughout the entirety of the track. And yes, the modern day practice is to use compression because it makes things sound bigger, but it's been like that for a long time now, and it's not just present in metal.

Yes - lack of dynamics. Think about what you said: "Compression" makes it "sound bigger". "Compressing" something makes it smaller. The waves can get only so big, before they hit a plateau. When you compress it, you compress the good stuff, making all the noise (singer breathing, pick scraping, general noise) up to the level of the "good" sound, effectively making the good sound that much less defined. Multiply the issue if any of the source had been converted to digital before the final mix. Digital recordings suffer from aliasing noise at the lowest A-to-D stairstep. Normal incomprehensible noise in the 0-volt to the first positive or negative amplitude value in a digital smaple becomes amplified to high levels with compression, reproducing truly random, undesirable square wave noise in the output. Yuck.

 

Furthermore, when the full volume sounds are compressed, you either are chopping the heads and tails off of the waveforms, or, if you're lucky, the peaks are effectively replaced with fakeish sine waves. Either way, it becomes distorted - not the cool guitar fuzz distortion. Rather the "my stereo sucks ass" type of distortion.

 

For compression to work, it must detect that a peak is of higher amplitude than the compression maximum setting. Problem is, by the time it is detected, the peak has already happened. So the compressor "turns down the volume", but it misses the first couple of peaks. Eventually, it brings the volume back up, after a preset amount of time. This greatly alters the original sound.

 

Now, some of this can be alleviated by doing it in multiple passes, or by inducing a delay, especially feasible with a computer.

 

 

2 hours ago, Neurosis said:

I just don't think loudness wars and beefy compression is a bad thing. Sure, it can be a bad thing. But for some artists, this is the desired and intended effect. Like with a Boris song, they WANT to sound powerful and overwhelming, and they do. Because they're able to execute their sound in a fresh and exciting way instead of just Cookie Monster banging on a trash can like Cannibal Corpse over there. 

When an album is mixed this way, you're not getting the artist's intended effect. The only benefit is if your stereo sucks, one of these albums may be able to sound louder with your volume of your 5-watt amplifier turned up to 10, when compared to a properly mixed album, where you get to hear what the instruments sound like. It definitely isn't "cool" - it's the result of amateurs mixing music - period. There's no benefit, whatsoever, to exceed the capability of the medium you are recording on, or to clamp it all down with compression.

 

It's like pouring chocolate syrup on everything you consume: ice cream (yum), coffee (maybe), pizza (hmm), soda (yuck), turkey and ham sandwich (I guess). A bad analogy, I know. But making everything load does not make it good, just like adding chocolate syrup on everything does not make it good.

 

If you could hear them side by side (the lower-volume-recording without compression, vs. the too-loud-compressed version), you'd have no problem hearing the power in the former (after turning the volume up a bit), and wanting to turn off the latter. But, if your ears don't tell you, I can't convince you.

Edited by kb1
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This is more of an issue of making your ranges work with each other, but look at this song:

 

WUKe3RU.jpg

 

Can you get more compressed than that? Probably not.

Now give it a quick listen and tell me if that doesn't sounds powerful (I put it so the video starts a few seconds before the song hits that wall)

 

 

I'll admit the version on Youtube sounds extra tinny compared to my disk, but you can blame Youtube and people uploading mp3s at 128kbps for that.

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5 hours ago, Neurosis said:

I'm confused, how does this make metal sound less powerful? Because of a lack of dynamics? When it is mastered, the sonic power becomes consistent throughout the entirety of the track. And yes, the modern day practice is to use compression because it makes things sound bigger, but it's been like that for a long time now, and it's not just present in metal. The loudness wars has been going on for the past 20+ years. I would argue that this doesn't take away any power from the actual song though, and it also depends on who is doing the mastering. You also have to look at certain bands because Neurosis works with Steve Albini (formerly of Big Black, who is now an audio engineer) and they seek to capture a natural sound. The latest Neurosis album (Fires Within Fires) doesn't have the beefed up compression and effects that most modern metal albums have, as they went for a more natural sound

 

I would also argue that this version of Paranoid that you posted looks more like a 90's remaster version than the original version from the 70's, because most music from that era isn't "loud af". I've been listening to Diana Ross' greatest hits and they remastered everything to be compressed to the loudest but it still has that OOMPH to it, but normally the music of this era wasn't so in your face. So I argue that modern compression methods and overly beefed up effects don't necessarily take away from the power at all. Maybe it's the actual execution of the metal band itself, because most metal to me is boring and repetitive anyway. Maybe it's the ideas of these newer metal bands that fall flat on your ears and not the actual production, because that doesn't make sense to me. Dynamics don't always make things seem more powerful.

Loudness doesn't have any effect without quiet bits to contrast with. Even in a death metal album from the '80s, the spaces in between drum hits and notes from the instruments are fairly quiet, which makes the impact of a guitar chord or snare hit that much more intense. On the macro level it may be uniformly extremely loud, but on the micro level there are large swings between soft and loud several times per second. This is all lost when you brickwall an album.

 

Another issue is the extreme overproduction of most modern metal. Everything is all quantized and Pro Tooled and fucked with (and the drums often aren't even real). I hate it when people call the modern metal production style "clean", because it's actually cluttered and overcooked as all hell. There were beautiful-sounding, high-fidelity albums from the '50s all the way through the early '90s that achieved those sounds with much simpler production techniques. That's an art that deserves to be rediscovered.

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Thanks for the responses @Woolie Wool and @kb1 I will consider what you guys said.

 

And not to hijack the thread, but I'm curious. I'm thinking about going to school to become an audio engineer. What exactly would I be up against here? I have experience in production but I want to take it a step further, especially now that I have to consider the loudness wars and over compression. Like what kind of math and science is needed here and how much of a challenge would it be?

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As someone who went to school for Audio in one of the best schools for Audio on the east coast- don't do it. The big studios are all going under, and the entire industry will be operating out of indie studios and basements before long. You don't need to accrue debt to learn anything about production. Also it's all physics so I hope you paid attention in high school. 

 

3 hours ago, Woolie Wool said:

 

Another issue is the extreme overproduction of most modern metal. Everything is all quantized and Pro Tooled and fucked with (and the drums often aren't even real). I hate it when people call the modern metal production style "clean", because it's actually cluttered and overcooked as all hell. There were beautiful-sounding, high-fidelity albums from the '50s all the way through the early '90s that achieved those sounds with much simpler production techniques. That's an art that deserves to be rediscovered.

 

It's hilarious that metalheads slam Pop Music for being overproduced yet modern metal music is just as studio-dependent as pop. And pop artists can actually write songs- bands that have no dynamics between blasting and chugging have no room to shit on songwriting IMHO 

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5 hours ago, Albertoni said:

This is more of an issue of making your ranges work with each other, but look at this song:

 

WUKe3RU.jpg

 

Can you get more compressed than that? Probably not.

Now give it a quick listen and tell me if that doesn't sounds powerful (I put it so the video starts a few seconds before the song hits that wall)

 

 

I'll admit the version on Youtube sounds extra tinny compared to my disk, but you can blame Youtube and people uploading mp3s at 128kbps for that.

 

Ha ha. Actually, it's the atrocious compression in the original recording that makes the Youtube version sound like garbage. There's absolutely no dynamics left in the recording it's only loud, but as soon as you apply replay gain like any good computer based music player can do it will show its real colors and sound like crap compared to a song that plays at a lower volume with better dynamics.

 

And once you apply lossy compression to something without any headroom left to work with the compression artifacts will amplify the lack of quality even more.

 

In terms of pure sound quality there hasn't been anything recent that was able to surpass Helloween's "Keeper of the seven keys" albums, provided you get the original recordings of those and not some botched remasters. Every time I listen to them it's like hearing a fresh recording of pristine quality - and these albums are 30 and 29 years old, respectively. I cannot say the same about nearly everything from the late 90's or after.

Sad, isn't it?

 

Edited by Graf Zahl
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@kb1, you mentioned "Digital recordings suffer from aliasing noise at the lowest A-to-D stairstep. Normal incomprehensible noise in the 0-volt to the first positive or negative amplitude value in a digital smaple (sic) becomes amplified to high levels with compression, reproducing truly random, undesirable square wave noise in the output. Yuck." Could you go into a bit more detail? I understand the square wave noise being a result of the signal hitting the ceiling, but I'd like to hear more about this stairstep and 0-volt stuff. This is a great thread. I'm learning some really interesting stuff about audio science.

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This isn't related to the loudness war issue, but I've found that by pushing the lowest frequencies up slightly and the high frequencies up a fair amount, I can get a munch more aggressive and punchy sound out of most music that I listen to.

Edited by Marnetstapler

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17 minutes ago, Marnetstapler said:

This isn't related to the loudness war issue, but I've found that by pushing the lowest frequencies up slightly and the high frequencies up a fair amount, I can get a munch more aggressive and punchy sound out of most music that I listen to.

I do this a lot for instruments or samples that need some extra oomph. However, when beefing up a bass track it's actually better to boost the mids a bit.

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10 hours ago, Mr. Freeze said:

It's hilarious that metalheads slam Pop Music for being overproduced yet modern metal music is just as studio-dependent as pop. And pop artists can actually write songs- bands that have no dynamics between blasting and chugging have no room to shit on songwriting IMHO 

It's important to note that metal-heads and musicians are a different breed altogether. I agree that metal-heads can be some of the most insufferable douche-bags on the planet, but in my personal experience from playing shows and discussing music, the people in successful metal bands typically have very diverse musical tastes and tend to be all-around musicians, not just metal-heads. Musical influences come from everywhere. There are successful and interesting metal bands that have a "blasting and chugging" sound to their music, and I guarantee that a great many of them pull influence from a wide array of music.

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What I don't get is why so many of these metal musicians aren't bothered by the squashed sound. I think it ruins their performance. For instance, I've always enjoyed Cannibal Corpse, but the for the last 15 or so years (probably longer), their mixes have been increasingly compressed and maxed out, with their newer albums being essentially unlistenable to my ears because it's like this constant scratching sound that never really goes anywhere, even though I know there's a lot of interesting musical information buried underneath.

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This shit has been going on for years and seems like kind of a lost cause at this point.

 

It's worth remembering that everyone listening to music already has a volume control. If you want your music louder then you can just turn the volume up. Instead music producers are deliberately distorting the sound to make it louder regardless of how you've set the volume dial.

 

It mostly comes down to an escalating arms race for attention on radio play, since if your song is louder then it'll get more attention and therefore sales; the whole thing is so ingrained at this point that any producer not doing this is putting their song at a disadvantage.

 

It seems like entertainment in general is going down this path of desperately seeking attention, since there's so much competition in the entertainment industry nowadays. Have you noticed how action movies are the same? The example I keep citing is Man of Steel, where the second half of the movie is an exhausting brickwall of non-stop action that just becomes incredibly boring to watch. It's the same thing all over again - in a desperate attempt to make the "actioniest" blockbuster action movie ever, they destroyed the dynamic range and made it thoroughly dull.

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I want to note that newer metal seems to be far less emotional for the most part, and even at times the Songs can feel a bit like a joke. I don't feel or hear a lot of the nuances or emotion anymore.

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For me 'heavy' is largely defined by the groove. Some metal bands, Sabbath, Pantera for example have very blues inspired music and i think they inherit more groove and natural rhythm from that, which makes their riffs and stuff way heavier. Noise/speed alone doesn't make something heavy, it makes it noisy and fast. Shit look at AC/DC, not even near metal in the classic sense but some of their songs are really pretty heavy cause they have fucking monster sledgehammer grooves running through them.

 

You know your riffs are heavy when:

 

 

Edited by Scotty
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18 minutes ago, fraggle said:

It seems like entertainment in general is going down this path of desperately seeking attention...

I find it especially frustrating when even the good stuff does that. Sometimes a movie can be really deep and well-made and yet still have that trashy sort of poster that just screams "look at me!" without doing anything interesting.

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