A couple of mini reviews

for artists trying to relive their past.

Very late on mentioning either album as they’ve been out for a number of weeks now, a combination of laziness and wanting to give them a proper listen, oh and one taking a while after release to be delivered.

Both Calexico and Metallica it seems having been looking at what they did in the past and thinking the fans liked that stuff a bit better than our recent stuff.

With Calexico’s “Carried To Dust” it’s the whole package, starting with the album’s artwork and the return of the Latino tinged images of the excellent artist Victor Gastelum that were all over previous releases such as “Feast Of Wire”, “The Black Light” and “Hot Rail” and goes all the way to the sound and style of music that brings back the feel of those three releases more than the last album “Garden Ruin”.

I really liked “Garden Ruin”, but there was something I wouldn’t say missing but not quite there, that something that makes a Calexico record, “Carried To Dust” has it. Joey Burns and Nick Convertino now how to assemble a group of musicians to put a band together and know what makes a good record.

15 tracks of pure Calexico that make it near on impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t heard the band what they sound like. Top stuff.

I wasn’t really looking forward to the new Metallica disc, “Death Magnetic”, most of the 1990s output and 2003’s “St. Anger” had made sure of that and things weren’t helped when I heard they had recorded “Unforgiven III”. But I still pre-ordered it, of course I didn’t win the Explorer competition for pre-orders.

Bunging it in the CD player I don’t know what I was really expecting, it couldn’t be as bad as “St. Anger” as I’d seen pics of Lars playing drums that weren’t made out of dustbins and I’d heard the solos were returning and that they were looking to their past, not the horrible “Load” past but the glory years of “Master” and “Ride”. Well the first track hit, just like the old days start off quiet they bang into it.

Yes this sounded better, real drums, stronger, faster riffing and then distortion. Not proper distortion, not musical distortion, not the stuff from a bunch of valves in an amp getting pushed to their limit. It wasn’t distortion from a crappy set of speakers, my B&Ws may be old but they’re still up to it. No this was harsh compression clipping, I hadn’t read up on the album beforehand, or any reviews, I didn’t know they were winning the “Loudness Wars” by a streak.

Quick interweb search for “over compressed Metallica”, ah late on this one as well, Ian Shepherd over at Mastering Media Blog had even shown that the “Guitar Hero” version didn’t distort the way the CD does.

Does anyone really like compression used like this, everyone I know hates it when it’s used something as meaningless as a TV advert, which makes you change channel of turn the sound off. So when you pay for an album and it’s almost made unlistenable it’s just another way for a record company when feeling the pinch as it is to shoot themselves in the foot. But who is to blame, surely Rick Rubin and the band themselves had some say down the line?

Yes a Metallica album is meant to be loud but that’s what a volume control is there for.

I knew all about this trend to boost the sound and cut the dynamic range, all the warnings about iPod listeners going mutt and remembered reading an interview with Joe Satriani talking about remastering his classic “Surfing With The Alien” for it’s 20th anniversary re-release…

The accepted amount of dynamic range keeps changing, year to year, decade to decade. When “Surfing With The Alien” was mastered the dynamic range was 15db to 20db on a CD – almost an audiophile record. A CD of any modern band has a range of maybe 2db to 3db, everything is loud, all the time.Joe Satriani

Did a quick and dirty test with the opening tracks from a few Metallica albums with similar styles start quiet then get going (click image to enlarge)…

Metallica Loudness Wars
Metallica Loudness Wars

Yeah they are different tracks and lengths so the tracks aren’t on the same scale time wise but it doesn’t half show the difference in dynamic range from the 80s early 90s to this new level.

I like “Death Magnetic” played it a lot since getting it, no it isn’t as great as “Master Of Puppets” or “Ride The Lightning”, it was never going to be but it’s by far the best thing they’ve released for a long long time, yeah I know not hard when you consider the recent output. It ticks almost all the right boxes and is almost a return to what they do well.

Now just need to go and sign that remix/remaster petition

2 Replies to “A couple of mini reviews”

  1. I quite like the new Metallica album. It’s not great, but it is good.

    I actually bought it off iTunes – the first time I’ve ever bought an album from there. I haven’t noticed much in the way of clipping from over-loudness – I wonder if the downloaded album isn’t so badly off? I haven’t actually had a chance to play it too loudly yet, though, so perhaps I’m just missing it.

    Not a bad return to form though. I just wish there were some stronger songs on there

  2. Yeah I like it, though I noticed over the weekend that I couldn’t really remember any of the tracks, or indeed many of the track names, which is very very strange.

    Maybe the iTunes download is a rip from the Guitar Hero version 😀

    Can still hear it when I’ve dropped the volume, I’ve had to it hurts my ears otherwise. When I did the waveform I only checked the first couple of tracks, didn’t get all the way to Cyanide which is ridiculous, don’t know if it can be called a waveform when it’s just a bar – Metallica – Cyanide waveform bar.

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