July 1, 2017

Dynamic Metal Roundup

By Calen Henry. Metal is loud and abrasive, but metal fans like it that way. Over the past 25 years, there has risen a pernicious side to the loudness of metal (and music in general). Dynamic range compression has
By Calen Henry.

Metal is loud and abrasive, but metal fans like it that way. Over the past 25 years, there has risen a pernicious side to the loudness of metal (and music in general). Dynamic range compression has drastically increased in a phenomenon called the Loudness War.

Simply put, during mastering much contemporary music is altered to raise the volume of all parts to the same level as the loudest part, often the drums. The resulting loss of dynamics decreases the overall impact of the music; when you turn it up everything gets super loud, instead of some parts being accented.

A loud master doesn't necessarily ruin an album, and poorly produced dynamic albums can still sound terrible, but there are essentially no examples of more dynamic masters sounding worse than the louder version, provided other factors are not also drastically altered.

Thankfully, since I started paying attention a few years ago the trend has been toward more dynamic masters for metal, though it's far from standard. That being said, a few artists really stand out in both their commitment to dynamics and their excellent music.

I'm a sucker for concept albums and Vainaja take it even further; they're a concept band. Comprised of The Preacher, The Cantor, and the Gravedigger they play absolutely crushing death doom, in Finnish. The concept revolves around Wilhelm, a mysterious (and fictional) cult leader believed to have risen from the dead to corrupt the townsfolk with his blasphemous sermons. The albums are based upon unearthed excerpts of his writings.

Musically, their first album Kadotetut is pretty straightforward death doom while the second Verenvalaja expands the sound with more interesting arrangements and some guest guitar work by Hooded Menace's Lasse Pyykko. On music alone Vainaja have made a name for themselves, but going above and beyond, they've released digital versions of the vinyl mixes for both Kadotetut and Verenvalaja and they sound incredible. Vainaja was the catalyst to write this roundup.

Death doom is far from the first genre one thinks of in relation to dynamics, but the dynamic mixes sound incredible. The drums in Verenvalaja are absolutely thunderous and every filthy guitar note is clearly audible. Plus the dynamic master makes it positively easy to blow through the whole album in one sitting. It will make you yearn for a vinyl mix of every album

Bordering on a household name, at least in the metal community, Horrendous inject just the right level of "progressive" into Old School Death Metal to make super interesting albums without leaving the bounds of "OSDM". In contrast to full on progressive death metal Horrendous stick to the OSDM sound but shake things up with truly interesting melodic compositions. Their two most recent albums, Anareta and Ecdysis were some of the earlier of the "New Wave of Dynamic Metal" and they sound fantastic. Everything from the buzzsaw guitars to the powerful drums and lush acoustic passages sounds phenomenal.

Like Vainaja, Be'lakor made a name for themselves based on their music, then released vinyl masters of older albums. Widely praised for injecting new life into the somewhat stale Melodic Death Metal scene, the vinyl masters of Stone's Reach and Of Breath and Bone sound stellar. Each individual part of the music, right down to the individual drum and cymbal hits comes through with amazing clarity adding another level to already fantastic albums.

Kuaun's latest album, Sorni Nai, sees the Finnish singing Russian band craft a concept album about the Dyatlov Pass incident. In 1959 a group of 9 skiers in Russia disappeared then were found dead with bizarre injuries and the whole story is still unknown. Sorni Nai is a cinematic album flowing through doom, black metal, post rock and even sections broaching on classical. It's all delivered with a huge dynamic mix and is Pay What You Want on Blood Music's Bandcamp (like all their releases).

Auric are another fantastic anomaly on this list. The Arkansas based band play blackened sludge with echoes of early Mastodon (they use the same tuning) and Pallbearer. Their most recent full length, Empty Seas, is absolutely jaw dropping and criminally underrated. They employ an Elder-like ability to incorporate aspects of Stoner metal, sludge, black metal, and post-rock into a cohesive whole, and bless it with a hugely dynamic mix. The drums, though have an oddly compressed character which stands out strangely during slower passages, but helps preserve clarity during the some of the lightning fast sections. Of particular note is the track "Backlit", where they take a filthy sludge riff and build all sorts of levels of melody over top of it. So good.

If this list piques your interest in dynamic metal it's worth noting that Earache records has a large back catalog of classics ranging from the death metal triangle (US, Sweden, Britain), to grindcore available as Full Dynamic Range versions; digital versions of the vinyl mixes. It's worth revisiting classics like Carcass' Heartwork and Entombed's Left Hand Path to hear the dynamic mixes.
  1. AnonymousJuly 02, 2017

    Wow, that Auric album is amazing!

  2. What is odd for me is how some bands seem to do the opposite. i.e., their recorded albums sound much better than their live sound.

    ATRIARCH from Portland has a really strange and eerie vocalist that makes their albums unique. Live, they completely bury his vocals in a "wall of thunder" effect. Did not like them live.

  3. Thank you all for reading and listening. Besides Auric (because yes, that is a GREAT album) my own big takeaway is the reason why Horrendous are so good. As Calen hints at it's not a revolutionary new take on death metal (though very well done). But they're elevated simply by sounding really, really good.