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On the Plague of Modern Production
by Noctir (Sept. 2011)

One of the worst things about modern metal is the soulless, plastic sound that most bands strive for. A large number of bands do their best to attain the exact same type of production, using the same technology and thus draining any potential character out of the music. For whatever reason, many bands have been conned into thinking that this disgusting sound is a positive thing. In the past decade or more, the typical “wall of sound” production (complete with clicking bass drums) has come to dominate most metal. Though it has become most unbearable in recent years, the roots of the problem go back quite some time.

On can look to the early 90s, when many Swedish (and some foreign) death metal bands were traveling to Studio Sunlight, in Stockholm, hoping to capture the same sound that was achieved on Entombed's Left Hand Path. Not only were most of the bands playing a very similar style of music, but they wished to stamp their work with the same buzzsaw guitar tone, as well. This resulted in countless records that had no real character of their own, as most people would just compare them to Entombed anyway. This particular production was not bad anyway, but it got old after hearing a dozen or so records with little or no alteration in their approach.

Around the same time, a similar situation was developing in the American death metal scene, particularly in Florida. A plethora of bands were going to Morrisound Studios and trying to get what was then considered to be the ideal death metal production, with many of them losing their identity in the process. If one were to take a handful of albums from 1990-1992, from such bands as Deicide, Malevolent Creation, Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death and Pestilence (the latter so obsessed with getting the Florida death metal sound that they traveled across the Atlantic to do so), one can cut and paste various sections from one album to another and the result would be hardly perceptible. A lot of this falls on the shoulders of people like Scott Burns, who had no concept of albums needing to maintain their own identity and raping brilliant records, like Blessed are the Sick, and giving them a sterile feeling. This type of mentality has persevered to the present and is like a cancer upon various forms of metal.

For the most part, in the 80s, each release had its own character. Even several bands that were playing a similar style would sound completely different due to the recording techniques and the type of equipment that was used for the albums. Because of this, metal seemed much more diverse and bands of the same sub-genre could still appear different enough to warrant attention since each had their own way of doing things. Unfortunately, many musicians prefer to use the best and latest technology at their disposal, and the results are atrocious. The slick, modern sound means a total absence of real atmosphere and character.

There are many reasons to dislike modern bands, whether it's the fact that they are simply rehashing what has been done before or maybe adding in alien elements that don't belong. However, the prime reason for newer bands to lose any chance of credibility right out of the gate is the utilization of fake, modern sounds that leave the music bereft of any feeling, whatsoever. This does not mean that one should opt for only garage-quality recordings, as this may be taking things to the opposite extreme; however, bands should get the right sound to compliment what they are doing. In most cases, going for the trendy plastic production is the wrong move.

There are bands, currently, that are doing their best to achieve an older sound, adding great depth and character to their music. Rather than being seen as retro acts, these bands should be hailed as examples that the rest should follow. Returning to a more natural style of production broadens the possibilities for atmosphere and for bands to distinguish themselves from one another, a bit more. Then they can work on improving the generic riffs, and the fact that a large percentage of their songs are driven forward by overdone double bass, instead of the guitars.

In the end, bands need to focus more on creating atmosphere and making meaningful music, rather than releasing a polished product that is ready to appeal to the majority, seeking instant gratification and not wanting to be challenged in any way, at all. In the words of Darkthrone's Fenriz, “the only time I saw something raw and wrapped in plastic was when it was dead meat”.

Copyright 2006-2021, Noctir