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Sorry Metallica, We Would Rather Play Guitar Hero

Recently Sterling Sound’s head engineer Ted Jensen has come under fire for mastering Metallica’s latest album. Naturally, he refuses to take the blame for the intense clipping distortion, claiming that the mixes were already finalized before reaching his studio. "Suffice it to say I would never be pushed to overdrive things as far as they are here," he said in a response posted on this forum. "Believe me I’m not proud to be associated with this one, and we can only hope that some good will come from this in some form of backlash against volume above all else."

Within the last decade, perhaps even longer, music-publishing companies such as Sony Music and EMI have pushed to maximize the output of each track without distorting the overall volume. Called the Loudness Wars, these companies strive to not only stand out against their competitors, but to stand out in volume over the previous year. Usually this is accomplished by reducing the overall dynamic range, pushing the lower-level material higher and diminishing the loudest peaks sounds. Some compression filters can also help increase the loudness as well.

In the case of Metallica’s recently released Death Magnetic album, the lower levels were heightened, but the peaks were not reduced, causing the much-debated distortion. Some analysts say that the recording is just too loud, ranging from -2,93 dB RMS to -7 dB RMS. There’s also speculation that there are many different levels of distortion that could have occurred during the actual recording, the mixing, or perhaps introduced during the mastering portion.

So why does Death Magnetic sound so clean in Guitar Hero? It’s quite possible that Neversoft received the raw tracks before final mixing, and adjusted the levels to better suit a general audience, and not just Metallica fans. And because Death Magnetic is downloadable content, PlayStation 3 (or Xbox 360) owners are already scheming to rip the files off the console’s hard drive and create their own distributable CD (over BitTorrent, newsgroups, etc).

It’s unfortunate that consumers end up as victims when it comes to corporate competitiveness as shown with Metallica’s latest release. Disgruntled artists in the music business breathe a sigh of collective of grief when it comes to the ongoing "loudness wars." Yet somehow, gamers seem to have come out on top with Guitar Hero. It wouldn’t be surprising if sales of the game start rising dramatically simply because of its version of Death Magnetic.

Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then, he’s loved all things PC-related and cool gadgets ranging from the New Nintendo 3DS to Android tablets. He is currently a contributor at Digital Trends, writing about everything from computers to how-to content on Windows and Macs to reviews of the latest laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more. 

  • "Disgruntled artists in the music business breathe a sigh of collective of grief when it comes to the ongoing "loudness wars." "

    of collective of grief?
  • Infinitea
    Ouch, that kinda hurts for Metallica. Now after they got out with another album, maybe it's time to learn how to make the album mix right?
  • MEtallica is way overrated. After the black album it has all been down hill for them... they need to retire we all know they are just in it for the money now esp. after the napster incident.
  • bounty
    I have to think Metallica is rich enough to have their own studio and could produce it themselves... and I would think they still had enough balls to say hey, this sounds like crap, turn it down. Sadly, they probably can't hear that well and don't know it sux. Plus I think Hetfield has developed a lousy signing style. It's like he developed some wierd accent after the Black album. Yeah-e-ohh-yeah-ohh-uhh-owwee yeah.
  • Caffeinecarl
    I can always turn up my volume, but once the music is on the CD, I can't turn up the quality! Give the consumers quality and let us turn up the volume!
  • This new album is fantastic. It's right up there in quality along side with "Master Of Puppets" and "... And Justice For All". I'm not sure what this whole "loudness" business is all about. The distorted feel is great for a metal album like this one. Don't knock this album until you've heard the whole thing the whole way through. It really forces bands like Slayer and Godsmack to take a good look at themselves, and realize the bar has been raised yet again by Metallcia with their new album.

    Metallica is not overrated. They are in the top 5 of all time greatest hard rock/metal bands in my opinion. How many bands do you know of that make a song sound good and heavy in the key of 'E'? Not many. Most bands have to resort to screaming and tuning their music to drop 'C' and 'B' to get that sound they want. Not Metallica. They're still rockin it out in 'E' with the occasional drop 'D' tuning, and it sounds terrific and melodic like the glory days of the 80's.

    Yes, Metallica is my favorite band ... haters.
  • hey, you are all missunderstanding how the rec, mix and mastering process are done.
    There´s no way a premix could reach any person outside the mixstudio. an unfinished mix is a different track.
    nobody knows the truth in this cases. the only possible escenario is that the guitar hero crew had receive an unmastered version so they can make all the tracks that they use sound at a certain level.
  • mtyermom
    hemi_7382Yes, Metallica is my favorite band ... haters.
    We're not hating, you're just being a fanboy. You refuse to believe that your immaculate metallica can ever sound bad.

    I agree with 'this guy' that the black album was the beginning of the end for metallica.
  • gm0n3y
    Metallica should just retire, with their terrible past few releases and Lars being a douche (about music downloads) I'd be happy to never hear from them again.
  • customisbetter
    This album sounds terrible. The songs are decent but whoever produced it was on crack. Its truly a chore to listen to.