BOOK REVIEW: “Into The Black: The Inside Story Of Metallica 1991 – 2014”

 photo MetallicaBook_cover_zps4d652f18.jpg My interest in Metallica was not as one of their earliest fans, but someone who started with Master Of Puppets. I had seen their name in a number of magazines I was reading and in time I got the album. I loved it and had to buy what they had released, which up to that point was just two albums and an EP (and the 12″ for “Creeping Death” which I’d get later). I bought the VHS comps, the documentary on the making of their Black Album and kept my interest in the early 1990’s but then I just got bored with them. While Metallica would remain one of my favorite bands, I didn’t like the fact they had become superstars, they were no longer “my favorite band”. When I was made aware of this book on Metallica by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood, I wasn’t sure if I would be into it but since the subtitle stated it was The Inside Story Of Metallica 1991 – 2014 (Da Capo), I was intrigued. What I wasn’t aware of was that this was part two of a book Brannigan and Winwood had done before, which made me reconsider. I would’ve preferred the first part of the group’s history between 1981 to 1991, so would I want to read the years I felt I hated? I then reconsidered again: this would would have to cover what the group would become and everything that happened to them in the last 24 years. In other words, I assumed I would be reading about their “inevitable downfall”, and I say this despite the fact I know the group are still together. Just the idea of reading about their downfall was enthusing in an odd way, although I knew it would be a good read anyway, so I went in.

Into The Black begins in 1991 where Metallica (a/k/a The Black Album) is released, and we get to find out what happened when James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Jason Newsted discover themselves to be within a storm of unexpected popularity. They were receiving attention with Master Of Puppets, The $5.98 EP/Garage Days Re-Revisiited and …And Justice For All, which was heavily pushed by their debut video for “One”, but what happened with The Black Album was totally unexpected, thus we get a chance to read about the live shows, the radio and TV airplay, and the media blitz that came from writers who weren’t aware The Black Album was not their debut. The book is pulled from interviews done with the band members plus managers and others close to the group, although this is not considered an official autobiography. Branningan and Winwood also don’t get too technical so don’t expect to read about the recording studio, effects they used or the kind of gear they brought on tour, but just perspectives from the men who lived the experiences personally.

It is great to read on the excitement of popularity, massive album sales and fantastic royalties and ticket sales. Reading on the lengthy touring Metallica did to support The Black Album is insane but once the tour is over, the group begin new chapters that find the group going through its share of troubled times, not only musically but amongst one another. It seems the group were more than happy to reach a level of success never expected by anyone, especially themselves, but now they must challenge themselves for a mixture of reasons. The interesting thing is that while not every project they’d do post-1991 receives press, the criticism those projects do receive here is a blend of critical views and public perception, and a part of me was taken aback by it, even though at times I may have felt the same way. In other words, I expected a book like this to be about praise and yet there enough digs within Into The Black that made me wonder if they were fans or just too happy to remove their critic hats.

The guys in Metallica start families, deal with substance abuse, all of which leads to the point when Newsted decides to leave the group. These moments in the group’s history have been documented in articles and of course documentary videos and a film, but it’s nice to read it in a way that captures what went on in their minds and whether or not their views and decisions have changed since then. During the first half of the book, Ulrich and Hammett were the most talkative of the group with Hetfield usually being reserved if not silent, but once he goes through rehab and a bit of therapy, Hetfield is no longer afraid to remain silent, thus adds a voice to the story that is much more than the lyrics in their songs.

Into The Black covers the making and release of Death Magnetic, the Big Four tours and the Lulu project with Lou Reed and while some praised or were skeptical about them, one is able to look back and perhaps listen to or watch again what these things were about to perhaps experience it differently. In between these stories is a sense of pride and honor from a bunch of guys who love what they do for the sake of friendships and music. It doesn’t avoid the fact they became multimillionaires and the effect the cash has had on their lives, which is described on not so much how they travel from venue to venue (which is covered), but also how they have treated employees and former band members during their projects and tours. Overall, Into The Black is a great book about one of the most influential bands, heavy metal or otherwise, in my lifetime, and I am glad to live during their existence, even during the periods I passed on. While the only parts of the book I looked at negatively were those where the writers spoke about other bands in a not-so-elegant manner (I would have written it in a different way), the book is written and edited quite well. One of the few errors I came across was the reference to Rick Rubin producing Death Magnetic and mentioning that Run-DMC was a part of the Def Jam family, which is false. Otherwise, a worthy book for those who like and love Metallica.


BOOK REVIEW: Scott Ian’s “I’m The Man: The Story Of That Guy From Anthrax”

 photo ScottIan_cover_zps99038eb0.jpg One of my favorite guitarists since high school now has an autobiography to call his own, and if he has been someone who had felt like he could’ve been your buddy at high school (or the cool guy at the record store who would always know not about the cool stuff, but the “next” stuff), you will definitely enjoy reading I’m The Man: The Story Of That Guy From Anthrax (Da Capo). If you became familiar with Ian in the 1980’s through Anthrax or maybe with the Stormtroopers Of Death, you’ll know that Ian is a fan of New York City for life, and he talks about his upbringing in Queens. He talks about his childhood, his relationship with his parents, his interests as a kid and what lead to some of his first musical influences. One thing lead to another and he knew he was hooked, but he didn’t realize how hooked he would become to the point where it would become a major part of his life, even though that’s what he wanted. Making music discoveries came a number of ways, with one of the biggest being that of his Uncle Mitch. If there is a moment where the seeds were planted, Ian describes it as being introduced to Black Sabbath’s first album in his uncle’s collection. On this album that he described as acid rock (a term he had not heard of before), he looked at the cover, heard the music, and knew he had to have more. Along with an uncle who appreciated comic books, that also started his fascination with superheroes, which would develop not only into Ian’s own interests in comic book collecting, but also songwriting.

The book continues about getting involved in sports a bit, dealing with friends at school and also discovering the wonder of girls. He touches on problems his parents had but knowing that his music could allow him to get his mind off of the domestic issues and carry him to a new places. In time he’d have his own guitar, an acoustic one at that, before having his own electric, and it was as if you could visualize the transformation from Scott Rosenfeld, Queens rocking kid to Scott Ian, rock’n’roll guitarist. These things lead to him going to clubs, finding new music and bands at record stores, and getting involved with hardcore and punk rock during a time when headbangers and punks would never mix together, especially in New York. These gatherings would eventually head to him gathering his bands together to form a band and in time would help form Anthrax. Even though we know Anthrax as being one of the sources of thrash and speed metal, Ian talks about it as an eventual development, not just through hard rock, heavy metal, and NWOBHM influences but whatever he had felt like bringing into his playing style. The sound was rough yet abrasive and with a level of confidence that didn’t involve him in saying no to anything or anyone, he went out to get his music throughout the city, not being aware that his music would travel much further.

Interesting moments in this include meeting up with the members of Metallica for the first time, getting to know bassist Cliff Burton and becoming a deep friend with Kirk Hammett; meeting up with Johnny Zazula; flying to Europe for the first time to do shows; and meeting with some of his musical heroes during the 1980’s, which included everyone from Lemmy of Motorhead to the guys in Iron Maiden. Outside of the personal friendships, Ian reveals the inside information about the recording industry, how things began as a band releasing their first record on an independent label to being a group-in-demand by a major label to getting advances that were beyond what they were expecting. The thrill was exciting and when Ian brought in his love of rap music into Anthrax’s world for a few minutes, that only helped open the world for them a bit more.

While the 1980’s were very much a peak for the band, the 1990’s began as a world of fantastic adventures for the group but in time, Ian found that not everything turns to gold and that if one thing can get worse, it might lead to what feels like an endless thing of other bad things to happen. He touches on how Anthrax were signed with the same label as Metallica (Elektra Records) with a new singer, had faith with the label only to realize his decisions were disapproved by the label heads, only to lose faith when the label’s decisions lead to less-than-impressive results in terms of sales. One thing leads to another, and it becomes a blame game, trying to maintain the integrity of yourself and the band while trying to let the label know you are the band worthy of the contract. Then for the label to let you know they’re letting you go. While Ian didn’t come from a wealthy background, he admits he had never been rich when Anthrax were at their highest point but to hear him talk about how he was literally scrounging to make ends meet is devastating, especially when I had assumed they were getting attention and selling fairly well. They were selling decently but to be caught within the period when the almighty grunge and alternative music was the biggest thing around, anything metal-related wasn’t doing good for everyone within the community, unless you were Metallica and Pantera. Dealing with the personalities within Anthrax are brought up a number of times, and as someone who was the face of the band and the main lyricists of most of their songs, he was putting his life on the line every day, only to find things around him were falling apart.

There is very much a positive side to I’m The Man, for despite the downside to being part of a rock band and dealing with the business of the industry, he talks about some of the parties and celebrating he did with different bands, finding sexual lust with ladies while trying to balance it with wive #1 or wive #2, and discovering that doing certain drugs is not good for him. There was a time when Anthrax always came off as a very clean band, not exactly Straight Edge or anything like that but unlike Metallica who were the Alcoholica boys, Anthrax seemed to be like their younger fans: comic book readers, movie buffs and nerds, and headbangers who may have done stupid shit at high school. It seems Ian’s primary vice was drinking beer, and it was never heavy. However, the person that changed him as a drinker was Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, and that chapter in a book is worth reading from paragraph to paragraph. In time, he met up with the woman who would become the love of his life, which also happened to coincide with Anthrax’s new level of success.

Throughout I’m The Man, Ian talks about changing perspective not only of his music and career, but his own life, changing priorities and understanding that age and maturity can lead to good and better things. His work regimen was always strong, but it’s balancing it with everything else around him is also what keeps him going, even when there were low points along the way. You might read the book thinking it will be nothing but inside stuff about the band and the recording industry, and it does touch on all of this quite well. It also has Ian looking at the world from a personal perspective, to show how he loves his music but is also someone with a mind and a sense of humor. He isn’t afraid to tell everyone he is still a man-in-the-works, someone whom he will continue to work on throughout his life, and now will pass on his experiences in his life to his son.

As the lyric said, “now we’re Anthrax and we take no shit/and we don’t care for writing hits” and in I’m The Man, we learn how Ian didn’t take shit from anyone, be it his life or his career. It’s a wonderful book that has its share of wonderful peaks and depressing valleys, but it does lead to something positive and eventual good morals to the stories shared. To the man who made me want to find NOT shorts and actually lead me to shaving a rectangle in my stomach so I could have a half-assed version of the NOT shaving on his chest, thank you for your music and efforts behind Anthrax and S.O.D., your efforts will always be honored.


REVIEW: “Re-Machined: A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head”

Photobucket There was a time when I was obsessed with tribute albums. Didn’t matter if it was Sonny Bono, Love, The Damned, Alice Cooper, R.E.M., Captain Beefheart, The Outsiders, The Troggs, Leonard Cohen and I can go on and on and on, I loved them because it was one way to not only hear new interpretations of songs, but a way to hear your favorite artists covering a song that may or may not have been one of their own influences. For awhile, it seemed Sonic Youth was everywhere. Marking the 40th anniversary of Deep Purple’s Machine Head, Re-Machined<: A Tribute To Deep Purple's Machine Head (Eagle Rock Entertainment) is a way to revive the greatness of that album by having a number of artists record it, song by song.

Since “Smoke On The Water” became the big FM radio hit, the song is covered here twice, first by Carlos Santana & Jacoby Shaddix. Santana’s guitar work is still top notch while Shaddix does the song respectively. Sammy Hagar: say what you want but regardless if its his own band, joining a group that needs a replacement, or hooking up on a new project, he remains one of the best rock vocalists of all time. He gets to do what he does best with Chickenfoot as they take on “Highway Star” in a live setting and make the crowd literally piss on themselves from the excitement.

Glenn Hughes & Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith handle “Maybe I’m A Leo”, Black Label Society punch up “Pictures Of Home” with grace, while Kings Of Grace get “Never Before” into a bluesy Bryan Adams-type motif. Flipping to side two…

The second cover of “Smoke On The Water” is handled by Flaming Lips, and if you know what these guys have been capable of doing for almost 30 years, then you know that you must expect the unexpected. Wayne Coyne and crew flip the song into an mushroom-tinged political manifesto, complete with thick and fat Moog’s and… this would be that record you’d find in the back of a used record store, praised not by the owners but mold and ring wear.

The wicked “Lazy” is turned up to 11 when given into the hands of Jimmy Barnes & Joe Bonamassa, and the late Jom Lord would be extremely proud by the B-3 solo that dominates this version.

Iron Maiden offers up the album’s proper ending with their cover of “Space Truckin'”, and hearing Bruce Dickinson singing this definitely takes the song back home to the grittiness of England, where it originated.

Then things get interesting. When I had heard Metallica were offered a chance to cover a song, I actually thought “watch them do the B-side that was recorded during the Machine Head sessions”, and they did. “When A Blind Man Cries” had always been a song some fans found difficult to find, especially Americans. It was the N-side to “Never Before”, released as a single in the UK and other European countries, but U.S. radio had taken to “Smoke On The Water”, “Highway Star”, “Lazy”, and “Space Truckin'”. James Hetfield becomes a sweet balladeer in the song’s first half before he, Kirk Hammett, Rob Trujillo and Lars Ulrich deliver the crunch that fans have loved for 30 years. As shown in the Cliff ‘Em All home video, Metallica have been Deep Purple fans since the beginning so hearing them do this (and expecting for them to do the non-LP track many still have never heard) is a treat.

The album ends with another cover of “Highway Star”, this time the team of Glenn Hughes and Chad Smith returning with guitarist Steve Vai who, I have to say, is just fucking wicked when he honors Ritchie Blackmore with his solo. I also want to say that I’m glad that he wasn’t given the task to do “Smoke On The Water”, because while everyone knows of his origins with Frank Zappa, it would have been too appropriate for him to play in the song that features the line “Frank Zappa and The Mothers”. Yet when it’s his time to do the solo in “Highway Star”, the former “stunt” guitarist flies into space (as many fans did when Machine Head came out) until the right moment.

While there are a few covers on this that could’ve been better, I still feel Re-Machined was organized properly and executed in fine fashion. Having name artists also helps give this a push, making this more than a casual tribute CD attached to a copy of Mojo magazine. I’m also glad that the producers behind this album didn’t go overboard by asking artists who would have messed up the integrity of this recording, although I’m someone who generally doesn’t mind that but this is a record that means something to hard rock and heavy metal, along with generations of guitarists, singers, bassists, drummers, and organists who made this one of their personal favorites. The twists from Metallica and Flaming Lips are great, and Iron Maiden ending with a bit of pride for the United Kingdom seems only right.

SOME STUFFS: Metallica’s complete performance at Orion Festival, June 23, 2012

Not sure how long this will remain up, but this is the complete performance of Metallica from last night, where they played a number of tracks but was a highlight because they played the Ride The Lightning album in full. Enjoy.

RECORD CRACK: P.S. I Love You – Metallica’s “One”

In honor of 11/11/11, I bring forth the Metallica song that helped to break them big. The band had released three albums, each one becoming more successful than the previous one. When Elektra Records signed them, it would start a barrage of bands who wanted to get some of that major label glory. Master Of Puppets was released, and its popularity was slow and steady, but once the buzz elevated, it was hard to stop. At the height of their popularity during this period, they were involved in the bus accident that lead to the death of bassist Cliff Burton. They eventually found Flotsam & Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted to become a part of the band, and that lead to them jamming at their home studio as a way to inaugurate him into their world. That ended up becoming The $5.98 EP/Garage Days Re-Revisited (or $9.98 for those who bought the CD). The success of that record would lead to the band creating And Justice For All.

Looking at the attention Metallica had after the success of Master Of Puppets, along with the band’s post-Burton status, Elektra decided to treat them like a hit band and release a few singles for the group. In 1988, most mainstream radio stations still avoided anything harder than Judas Priest, but most metal did quite well on album-oriented radio and any stations that had metal formats, usually college stations. “Eye Of The Beholder” was released as the first single in both the US and UK, with the song barely making a dent in the US. It faired better in the UK, where releasing heavy metal singles was part of the norm. When “Harvester Of Sorrow” was suggested as the second single, the US skipped it in order to avoid another failure, while the UK would offer it to fans. Instead, the US would release “And Justice For All” to radio as a promotional 12″ single in the hopes of gaining more radio exposure. It barely did.

MTV played heavy metal videos on a regular basis, including highlighting it in a show called Headbanger’s Ball, and while Megadeth and Anthrax would make it onto the network, many thrash and speed metal fans were curious about the lack of a Metallica clip, especially since they were discussed more than anyone. That changed in early 1989.

Elektra released “One” as a single, which was supported by a music video that immediately put them in heavy rotation on MTV. It wasn’t the first time the band had been on MTV, they were often seen in news clips when they were on tour, but it was their music video debut and no one knew what to expect. The song was based on the book and movie l Johnny Got His Gun, and the video featured shots of the movie edited with the band lip-synching their way with a vengeance. The idea of seeing a music video about a man with no arms or legs, who could not see or speak, but could only communicate by moving his head in Morse code, was far from what was going on in the majority of heavy metal videos. If you were a metal band, you either showed some mythical voyage into the unknown territories, replaced basic acting skills with sexy women, or did a live performance video. The video was a bit heady for MTV, but because it was such a big event for the band and the network, it played as is. A special short version of the song, which eliminated the intro, chopped up all of the good parts leading to the point where the band played the fast riffs, took out a chunk of Kirk Hammett‘s first primary solo, and faded it way too early, was a way for Elektra to make the song “radio friendly”, but because fans soaked up the video, radio was forced to play the full-length 7:24 mix, which immediately gave the song “Stairway To Heaven” status.

The single was released in a number of ways, but it was sold as a single with a picture sleeve featuring the artwork of Pushead, known for the covers he had done for Corrosion Of Conformity, Necros, Hirax, and tons of appearances in skateboard magazines. The illustration was a perfect depiction of what the song was about, Pushead style, and it would become the start of a number of collaborations between him and the band. While Pushead’s artwork has been in demand by punk and metal fans, he would eventually create the artwork for the U.S. version of the first album by Dr. Octagon.

The song eventually lead to the group becoming superstars, having their own video game, and doing a crappy project with Lou Reed, but we’ll never forget the “One”.

Inside me I’m screaming, nobody pays any attention
If I had arms, I could kill myself
If I had legs, I could run away
If I had a voice, I could talk and be some kind of company for myself
(Why don’t they get it over with and kill me?)
I could yell for help, but no one would help me
I’ve just got to do something, I don’t see how I can go on like this
S… O… S… help… me…
S… O… S… help… me…

RECORD CRACK: Metallica “Garage Inc” to be reissued on vinyl two different ways

Garage Inc. was Metallica‘s album of coverse released in 1998, with a great cover shot by Anton Corbijn. The album is being reissued on March 1st by Because Sound Matters, and you’ll be able to buy it two different ways.

One version will be a 3LP edition pressed at 33 1/3 rpm on white vinyl. The other will be a massive 6LP pressing on 45rpm, and will cost a bit more than the regular 33 1/3 rpm version. Both have the same music, but one will be for the audiophiles and collectors who know about the potential of great collector/resell value. Both of these will be released on Tuesday, March 1st. You can pre-order both through Amazon by clicking the boxes below, or at your local record emporiums.

RECORD CRACK: New label brings vinyl releases to metalheads

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My Metal Club is a new label dedicated to bringing quality heavy metal to today’s vinyl junkie. The focus of this label seems to be to bring heavy metal to the fan who wants them, and more specifically to bring it on vinyl. The label is scheduled to release exclusive releases by Metallica, Pantera, Monster Magnet, and Anthrax among many others, and all of them are legitimate, nothing unauthorized. The metal community is very supportive of vinyl, as there seems to be an overwhelming amount of new metal albums released on a regular basis, especially in 2010.

Each release will be available directly from the label, or through stores that regularly stock quality vinyl. What’s also interesting is that while My Metal Club is associated with Caroline/EMI Label Services, the labels who plan to participate with them range from cherished indie labels like Century Media, Metal Blade, and Nuclear Blast, but also Island Def Jam and Warner Bros., so it seems that these labels are uniting together (in spirit at least) with My Metal Club to bring the music to those who still show support by spending their money on it.

Labels of all genres: take note.

RECORD CRACK: Metallica reloads “Load”, and that’s vinyl

Image and video hosting by TinyPic reports that the band will continue reissuing their albums on vinyl, with Load about to bust out of its sonic urethra on May 18th in North America.

The official Metallica website states there will be two different vinyl pressings: a 2LP pressing on 33 1/3 with gatefold cover, and a 4LP pressing at 45rpm packaged in a box, for the audiophiles. Bernie Grundman handled the mastering on this one from the original master tapes.

Re-Load is scheduled for a similar reissue at the end of June.

RECORD CRACK: No. 004 – Vinyl and the audio myths / Just Say No To Brickwall Limiting

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  • As more artists are dabbling into vinyl for the first time, a suggestion: just say no to brickwall limiting. On some music and audiophile boards, one complain that is in common throughout is the cluster of sound that comes from an album that is poorly mixed or mastering. We are in 2010, anyone and everyone can record at home with software that you purchase. You can go the analog route of course, but if you already send out a lot of e-mails and Tweet your life away, then you can create a song or two, or a full album, or a collection of three CD’s worth of music and release it in anyway you want. You can mix it well, master it yourself, and sell it within hours. You can represent yourself with a nice discography in a week’s time.
  • The attention towards records in the last few years has turned it from something niche to something that’s “cool” to have and listen to, and of course to collect for profit. But even when vinyl was king, there have always been myths and misconceptions about audio and specific formats. When the compact disc made itself known in the early 1980’s, it was primarily for classical music. The first two pop CD’s that received a lot of attention were Michael Jackson‘s Thriller and the soundtrack to Flashdance. When Kiss were going to release an album for the first time on vinyl, critics claimed that the sheer volume of their hard rock and heavy metal would damage stereos around the world. That’s how naive people were, but then again no one really talked about binary code and digital music in the mid-80’s, we were more fascinated with a computerized disc that had no grooves, but somehow played music. Little was known about computing because most people didn’t have computers, very few people said words like “data” and most people avoided the “@” symbol on a typewriter.
  • Another myth: since compact discs are meant to represent crystal clear sound, anything you program onto a CD will sound crystal clear. When record companies started to reissue older material from their catalog, fans were upset that songs like the garage-rock classic “Louie Louie” didn’t sound like Wang Chung. Fans learned with confusion that whatever was recorded on tape would be duplicated 100 percent on CD. Something recorded with crappy microphones and in a bad room in 1963 would not magically sound like it was recorded in an expensive studio with the most updated digital equipment of the time. In time, reissues would sound better with mastering engineers doing the best they could by tweaking things to sound better than the originals. By the early to mid-90’s, record labels who once thought the CD’s would be a short-lived trend were now releasing box sets and compilations by the boat load.
  • The mid-90’s also introduced the MP3 digital format, which initially could only be played on a computer through computer speakers. Then the first digital players came. Many MP3 decoders were not done well, and there was a time when an MP3 at 96kbps was considered ideal. At the same time, the CD’s of the 80’s seemed outdated in sound quality and there was a push for music to be louder, which for some meant better. There is a belief amongst some audiophiles that “the listener should be in control of the volume knob, but the record label” but that didn’t stop labels from remastering albums and songs to have them sound as vibrant and loud as new music. Unfortunately, the volume on CD’s became louder, and we’re not talking about bass frequencies on hip-hop and dance tracks. I think it would have been ignored if it wasn’t for the fact that with CD burners, fans were now able to extract songs from CD’s and create their own custom discs. By doing this, one was able to see the volume levels of these songs, and visually see each song by looking at a WAV file. It became obvious to some that there was a trend on a lot of current CD’s, a trend that was not a sonically healthy one.
  • It’s the phenomenon of what is called “brickwall limiting”. It a way to raise volume levels by digital compression, so anything that may have been in low volume would be boosted with the rest of the sounds in the song, so that they would be somewhat equal in levels. For a brief explanation, click here. Unfortunately, this trend has become an unfortunate method of mixing and releasing music to where everything sounds clustered and too loud. Some producers and engineers like to hear and mix music that has a lot of “peaks and valleys”, so that you can hear the drums sound as powerful as they should, hear the guitars ring if they want it to do that, and the vocals to sound like an actual person is singing it.
  • Even if you’re not an audiophile, brickwall limiting is of appeal to artists and labels (especially major labels) because it’s a quick remedy to boost volume levels on music that is primarily heard on portable digital players and cheap headphones. By compressing it in such a manner, it can add a level of distortion that can’t be removed unless it’s remixed from the multi-tracks. A perfect example of this is the Metallica album, Death Magnetic. The album leaked on the internet, rabid fans downloaded it and said it sounded horrible. Fans requested that the band release a new version of the album, one that sounded cleaner, yet still retained the band’s trademark sound. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened, but what happened was that the band approved of tracks from the album to be played on a Guitar Hero video game shining the spotlight on the band. Some music fans discovered that it was possible to extract audio from these video games for sound effects, but it also meant being able to obtain these Metallica songs in multi-track form, as designed for Guitar Hero. Someone leaked those tracks on the internet and fans soon discovered that not only were the Guitar Hero mixes made from the multi-tracks, but they sounded a lot better than the official album. When a CD sounds like crap, the mastering engineer can often be the one to blame (and many do). Ted Jensen, mastered Death Magnetic, was quoted as saying “mixes were already brick-walled before they arrived”, which means the songs already were clustered and claustrophonic, and nothing can be done from those mixes to make them sound better. When the Guitar Hero mixes were made, they created them from scratch. (You can read about the Death Magnetic mastering issue here.)
  • In some instances, an album will be remastered for vinyl by someone and it sounds better than the original first pressing. Red Hot Chili Peppers released Stadium Arcadium in 2006 and while it did sell well and had a number of hits, those with a keen ear felt that the album as mastered by Vlado Meller sounded horrible. Extracting the songs into WAV files proved that it was brickwalled. Months later, the album was to be pressed on vinyl but instead of using the CD master, they would have the album remastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, known for their individual and collective mastering work for over 25 years. Even as they were putting together this new remaster, producer Rick Rubin, along with various members of the band, were called into the studio to listen and approve of the mixes. The overall verdict was that it sounded a lot better than what came out on a CD. It is the vinyl version of Stadium Arcadium that has received approval from all parties of interest, but it has not been released in a digital format (although you are able to obtain it in the vast digital underground.)
  • If these brickwalled albums are being singled out, why hasn’t anything been done? There has been a lot of complaining, but very little significant change. There was once a level of quality control amongst labels, that that arguably started to go away in the late 70’s/early 80’s, as the industry changed from selling records to “selling units”. Even on new releases, be it hip-hop or indie rock, brickwall limiting still plagues endless releases. If you have a good ear, you know it as quick as spotting a vocal with Auto-Tune. A small number of artists will record and mix in analog, and will only be mastered in digital at the last phase of the process. When mastered in digital, artists and producers will insure that it is not brickwalled.
  • Someone in TapeOp, a magazine catering to home and studio recording,once stated that a helpful tip in the digital era is to record and mix an album as if it was to be on vinyl. When vinyl was the primary means of music distribution, engineers had to deal with the limitations of the format. The compact disc removed many of those limitations when it came to volume, highs and lows, and various frequencies. Keep in mind that when The Beatles recorded “Paperback Writer” in 1966, some engineers at EMI Recording Studios didn’t believe that that much bass guitar could be transferred onto a record. There was a fear that Paul McCartney‘s bass work would cause needles to jump, making records unplayable. McCartney told engineers that it was possible, and his bass experimentation in the studio came from listening to a lot of pop, jazz, and soul from the United States where the bass was in the forefront. Acetates were made for “Paperback Writer”, and upon playing it on a turntable, they discovered that the “high volume of bass” did not make the record skip. It was released, becoming a #1 hit. From that point on, records were mastered differently and every artist, producer, and engineer were pushing the limits, especially as electronics in music were used. Nonetheless, mastering engineers still understood the limits of vinyl but because of this, the end result are records that sound incredible. That comes from not only mastering engineers understanding the technology, but producers and engineers getting the most out of the technology in the studio.
  • The compact disc broke down those walls, and while the CD has its own limitations too, it was less restrictive. Unfortunately, being less restrictive also has made countless albums in the 90’s and 00’s sound like crap.
  • I mention all of this because in various forums, blogs, and on Twitter, everyone seems to believe that music sounds better on vinyl. Yes, I love my records, I’m a vinyl junkie for life, but just because something is released on vinyl doesn’t mean it automatically sounds better by default. Yes, vinyl has the warmth, it sounds cool, it sounds great, but don’t get lost in the vinyl myths that exist. If an album is produced, mixed, and mastered well, you will have an incredible listening experience. For years, I have often bought or received a CD and if the album is good, I’ll want it on vinyl. Many younger record buyers are learning about this too, but again, it has more to do with how it’s mixed and mastered, not the format. If you enjoy an album on CD or MP3, and want to know if the vinyl pressing is better, go a Google search. There are fans who are no doubt analyzing the album song by song, note by note. What you should get is the overall sense that the vinyl pressing is top notch and worth… spending on. Any and all albums can be obtained for free, but people want to put their money on music, on art, on something they can hold. If you’re releasing music and want people to keep that record for years, mix and master it properly, or at least well.

    (The Brickwall Limiting Is Killing Music T-shirt shown above can be purchased here.)

  • SOME STUFFS: harp duo Harptallica are to tour Europe starting next week

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    Harptallica are a female duo consisting of Ashley Toman and Mollie Marcuson. True to their name, the play classical versions of Metallica songs using just their harps. Their album, Harptallica – A Tribute, has gained some critical raves in Europe and now they’re taking their music there starting next week. Here are the confirmed tour dates:


    You can hear samples of their Metallica covers, along with a look at a photo gallery (one of the pictures features the ladies with Billy Milano), and a store where you can pick up some nice merchandise, by heading to