We continue our trek through the production of Damnation’s Hammer’s latest album: did all that pre-production effort pay dividends in the studio?
In Part 1, I described the painstaking pre-production work for Unseen Planets, Deadly Spheres, a modern metal album by Damnation’s Hammer, which aimed to ensure that the songs and performances were absolutely studio-ready. This time around, I want to take you through the recording sessions themselves.
We’d re-headed, re-tuned and damped the drums prior to the last rehearsal before the recording sessions. As well as allowing the heads to bed in, this avoided wasting studio time. The kit was dropped off the day before the first session, to allow the shells and heads time to adjust to the studio’s humidity and temperature. But before setting up the drums, I wanted to find the best spot for them in the live room. The controlled, bright sound we wanted is seldom found in the centre of a room, so I hit a floor tom as I walked around to get a sense of how various positions emphasised or attenuated certain frequencies. Having found a pleasing location, I placed the snare drum there and erected the rest of the kit around it.
Finding the best spot is only half the battle, though. Typically, drums react differently in the studio than where the tuning and damping took place; the more controlled studio acoustics quickly reveal drums that sound choked or sustain excessively. So my next task was to assess the kit’s tuning and interaction with the room via a spaced pair of overhead mics. I placed these approximately two and a half feet above the cymbals, roughly above the hats and ride; this setup wasn’t used for the actual tracking, but it painted a broad initial picture of how the kit would translate when recorded. Monitoring this array in the control room whilst drummer Gary played, I could hear the snare ring undesirably and too much sustain for the faster patterns we’d be recording, and there was an unwelcome ‘growl’ from two of the toms. Tuning the snare’s batter head down slightly and tightening the offending toms’ resonant heads resolved these problems, and this was far easier to do with no spot mics in place!
Metal music demands particularly consistent kick hits, with minimal or no dynamic variation, other than perhaps during quieter sections. As the kick is always struck in the same place, it’s already more consistent than other drums, and thus the easiest component to reinforce/replace successfully with samples. All the same, recording high-quality kick sounds is good, basic recording practice: whatever your post-production plans, good recordings are important to your reputation should anyone access your session files in the future; drummers know their sounds and performances have been properly captured; and it provides a stronger, more inspiring foundation when tracking overdubs.
For these sessions, I used a three-mic approach (see pictures 1 and 2): a Yamaha Subkick outside the resonant head; a Sennheiser e602 placed half-in/half-out of the port; and a Sennheiser e901 as an internal ‘attack’ mic, roughly six-inches from the batter head contact point (this last mic was positioned on a piece of reinforced cardboard suspended inside the kick shell). Three mics may seem excessive, but this approach ensures not only that the source is well captured, but that you have useful, easy control when mixing. For instance, different subdivision speeds can often be better conveyed simply by adjusting the balance of the three mics. No one mic was intended to give me the whole kick sound on its own, though, so while...
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