Friday, September 12, 2008

"Death Magnetic" Vinyl LP - The Permanent Loudness War Comes Home

Ow ow owww!!!!! I am so very upset I can't see straight.

I headed down to Best Buy at the Mall of America and scooped up D-Mag on vinyl. I was thrilled, happy, bouncing around. I've been listening to these songs for a week now, and I've ranted about it enough.

Finally hop on the bus home and switch on the stereo, warm up the Tube Box, clean off the records a bit, then start playing the beginning.

Ow ow owww!!!!!

What the bloody hell is this?! This LP sounds horrible! Within minutes my ears are hurting, like someone is jabbing needles into my ears. There's no dynamic range whatsoever, no depth of sound....hell, there's no damned music. All I'm hearing is noise. All my mind's eye sees is static and haze.

The sound of side one (first 3 songs) is extremely thin, with no depth and no punch at all. But it sure as hell is quote-unquote "loud." Not loud in any real sense, just some hack engineer's idea of noise. Everything is so horribly compressed and squashed, and the soundstage is so tiny.
I somehow managed to make it through the first three songs, but I immediately threw the record off my Debut and hurled the album on the shelf. I honestly don't know if I'll listen to the rest of the album.

As far as I'm concerned, this is just about the worst vinyl lp I've ever heard. Listening was actually painful. I've listened to countless loud rock albums since I was a teenager. I've never hurt my ears, and certainly not when spinning records and sitting ten feet away on the couch. What the hell is this scam?! The sound is nothing but static and foam, like a giant sponge floating in between my speakers.

I tried messing with my stereo knobs (bass, midrange, treble) but not much luck. I suppose I could completely cut out the midrange and make D-Mag almost listenable, but what's the point in that? I don't need to do that with any of my other albums; that sweet midrange (courtesy of the Tube Box) is why I love my stereo system so much. And that's not my job. That's supposed to be the job of the producer and engineers.

So by this point, I am clearly upset. I'm shocked, stunned. What the hell ever happened to quality control? I hope I'm not sounding over-the-top; this album genuinely sounds terrible on vinyl, and as far as I'm concerned, it isn't even listenable. I have no explanation for why this is. My other Metallica albums sound fantastic. ...And Justice For All sounds fantastic, has great rumbling, has depth in the lower end. Garage Inc sounds terrific, full of life. Heck, St. Anger sounds much better on vinyl than D-Mag, and that album was only barely compressed (by comaprison). This new album sounds so much worse. It's the epitome of everything that's wrong with the Loudness Wars, everything that Bob Dylan and Neil Young have been saying.

If this is the state of popular music, then to hell with the music industry. Why is everything in America crumbling into pieces all at once?

In my experience, the only vinyl lp's that have sounded this bad was the Sony Pearl Jam reissue from last year (ugh, avoid that one like the plague), and - ha ha ha! - the Metallica reissues (I got the 45-rpm Ride the Lightning, ouch ouch). I have heard digital masters on vinyl records that have sounded good. Most of the ones that sound terrible are just cheap bootlegs. The D-Mag LP kills 'em all. Ow! Bad pun!

Now for a couple updates. I needed to run a couple tests, so after rubbing my ears and getting my eyesight back (I really do see music in my head, like an extra filter over my eyes), I pulled out my beloved Robert Ludwig Led Zeppelin II. Let's try rock's loudest album. Zeppelin sounds fantastic, amazing, musical. It's a warm world you want to jump into and play with. And the music is loud as hell. Bonham sounds like he's about to smash my walls down. Jimmy Page is melting my candles. But my ears are fine. I want to crank the volume even higher. Thank God for Led Zeppelin. This is why I love music.

So now I'm here in the computer room, writing this report for everyone's benefit. I'm also listening to the D-Mag songs that are freely available on Metallica's website. I need to hear the songs again and see if I was just being hopeful and nostalgic for the band I loved as an 18-year-old. Would I hear the same wall of painful static I heard on the vinyl lp?

Actually, no. These songs sound pretty good. I'm surprised, and maybe a bit relieved. I have my headphones on, a good pair of Sony mdr-150's that have served me well. These songs have color to them, and I can make out guitar riffage; the vinyl lp was almost incomprehensible to my third eye. Everything is still insanely compressed, but at least it's tolerable. Don't even get me started on how the vinyl lp version sounded with the headphones on. Ow ow owww!!!!!

So this bodes well for the CD. I'm still far too upset to rush out to the store and get that version now. Being the diehard Metallica fan, I may do so anyway. I first want to bang down the doors of Metallica's HQ and demand a refund. This is a damned outrage. Is this the state of the music business today? No wonder all these record companies are going bankrupt. No wonder I can't stand of these new bands (Jack White remains a brilliant exception to the rule).

My conclusions? DO NOT get Death Magnetic on vinyl. The better your stereo system, the worse it will sound. It's like a small photo that has been optimised for a web page, which is then stretched out to a much larger size. All you can see is a frustrating mess of pixels. That's exactly what awaits you with D-Mag on vinyl.

But, seriously. What the bloody hell is wrong with Metallica? Do they not listen to their finished product? Do they just listen through iPods, or do they bother with a real stereo system. Goodness knows they have the money, and Metallica didn't become the heirs to Zeppelin's throne with tin ears. Somebody in the chain of command royally screwed up. We've got to start quizzing the old men on every opportunity. "What the hell happened?" "Have you even listened to your album?" "Who the hell decided this was acceptable?" "Was there nobody in the studio except yes-men?"

I want a re-mix. I want a re-mix. I want a damn re-mix! D-Mag is supposedly a great rock album. It's a pity I can't hear any of it. All I've been given is static and mud and haze.

Okay, that's enough from me. End of rant.


Raimundo Lagos said...

I want that re-mix too!
I did a remastered version of death magnetic... it sounds much better... deeper and very clear...

Daniel Costalis said...

"Apparently the brick-wall limiting and compression was done before it reached the mastering facility."


How sad. I've fallen away from Metallica since about the time I got sick of Reload, but I was excited about this one. I heard "The song that never gets interesting" on the radio, or whatever the real name is, and was disappointed, but the rest of the album is pretty decent.

This is one that would warrant adding on to my very limited vinyl collection... Listening to "The Fragile" on vinyl is an experience I can't even describe... You can hear colors that just didn't make it to the CD version. I'm glad I did my research online before just going and spending 40 bucks on this thing.

Do you have somewhere you like to go (besides Best Buy, heh) to pick up your vinyl? The price of it has gotten outragoeous (50 bucks for NIN's latest).

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Anonymous said...

I agree 100%