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Full Metal Racket!

Leader
By Paul White

It's easy to make fun of heavy metal music, especially as successive generations have tried to make it their own by changing the definition along the way. When the movie Easy Rider first appeared on the big screen in the late '60s, heavy metal was associated with any form of loud rock featuring distorted guitars, but today there are so many genres, including Glam Metal, Black Metal, Death Metal, Thrash Metal and Feeling‑a‑bit‑off‑but probably‑OK‑by‑Friday Metal — and that's before you've considered the elements that have leached out into other genres, such as hip hop and punk, to form new hybrids. If you're interested in modern metal genres, our cover feature this month is essential reading.

The movie Spinal Tap made the metal brigade an even bigger target for ridicule, some of it well deserved, but behind the daft clothes, the posturing, the amps that go to 11, the volume controls with ratchets that only go clockwise, the amplifier stacks with elevators up the sides and the codpieces with the studs on the inside, there lies an enduring musical form that can still fill arenas around the world. And for good reason — when done well it is very exciting stuff to listen to.

The problem is that the best rock music seems to happen live and is often diluted when brought into the studio, which may be why live albums are now so popular. Once you get into the studio there's that temptation to do everything in multiple layers so as to get the best separation, the widdliest solo, the perfect vocal and the impeccable timing, but all too often this results in a gutless recording that's just a pale shadow of the live show. You know how it goes: "Let's find the best bit of drum groove and loop it, quantise the bass, overdub five distorted guitars, squeeze the vocals through Melodyne until they're phase locked with the keyboard pad...”

Don't do it! Resist the temptation! I was just listening back to some rock stuff I recorded when my studio had all of four glorious tracks, and the only thing that ever got overdubbed was a replacement lead vocal and the occasional guitar solo. The sound quality is actually pretty good, despite the fact that I'd only ever seen a capacitor microphone in a catalogue and never considered the possibility of owning one. The secret was that the bands were just going for it, as they would live, and I'd generally bully them into leaving their big stacks at home and playing through more sensible small combo amps, which invariably give a bigger sound in the smaller studio. By all means change the sounds after recording, switch miked guitars for amp modelling if you must, replace kicks and snares with samples, and tune any vocal problems you can't fix by recording the line again, but whatever you do, keep that live vibe — keep that excitement!

Paul White Editor In Chief  

Published November 2009