Over the past 10-15 years, the music industry has steadily increased the volume. They want product that is loud and grabs your attention immediately. And true to their nature as capitalists, they cannot see anything except the bottom line, to the point where music today is almost completely unlistenable.
Compare the two waveform samples. Can you understand when I say this new Metallica album is almost completely unlistenable? This is the reason why the music business is going bankrupt. Sales of CD's have plummeted for years, and sales of mp3's on such sites as Apple's iTunes, while increasing, have not made up the difference. The reality is that more and more people are simply being turned away. The talent is lacking. The quality is poor. The product is shoddy. The music is nonexistent.
What we're getting today is not music. It's haze, distortion, and something barely resembling a backbeat. It's as though we're all listening through straws and getting headaches in the process. I can't believe my ears would hurt from sitting on a couch, ten feet away from the speakers, from D-Mag. I can blast any number of heavy rock or jazz albums at high volume, and never feel the pain. Your ears are built for that. That's what they are evolved to do. You don't hear distortion everytime an airplane flies by, or anytime you are stuck in traffic. You can handle loud. You cannot handle the Loudness Wars.
There are, thankfully, people working in the music industry who decry this trend, and are true defenders of the music. They are still very much in the minority at this time. And one of the very worst offenders, a musical zen-guru who has never touched a mixing board in his life, has just handed us the worst-sounding album in Metallica's career. Thank you very much, Rick Rubin!