Thrash Producers: The Sound And The Fury
Guitar World talks to the producers who crafted the sound on groundbreaking albums by Megadeth, Anthrax, Possessed, Death and other bands from extreme metal’s formative years.
Smart producers always pay attention to gear, and if a band had equipment issues, Burns would deal with them ahead of time. If someone’s amp didn’t cut it, he’d rent modified Marshalls from Michael Soldano, who was just starting out in L.A. before launching his own amp line. If a drummer needed a better kit, Burns often went to the Drum Doctor, a local percussion rental service.
Yet the secret to getting brutal sounds on record wasn’t rocket science. Burns put the most emphasis on the band’s performance. First he’d try to get the bass and drums live. “If there were little imperfections in the drums, I figured we could live with them. As long as they had a really good feel on the drum and bass tracks, then I’d go with that.”
Burns wanted to make the guitars wrap around the rhythm section instead of the other way around. Once the bass and drums were laid down, the guitarist had to perform two tracks of guitar as tight and clean and precise as possible. If mistakes were allowed for the drums and bass, Burns wouldn’t let anything slide when recording the guitar tracks. “I would really beat up on the guitarist and make ’em play the whole thing right,” he says. “Speed metal really has to be tight. It takes time and it’s very tedious, but if you get it right, it will jump off the speakers at you.
“My biggest problem was always making the guitars too loud, but that’s the way people like them. If you’re gonna make a mistake, making the guitars too loud probably isn’t the worst one to make.”
Yet the insights and experiences Burns gained working with the heaviest bands of the time almost never happened. Not long after working with Possessed, he dropped out of the music business and began studying computer science at a local school. Then he got another call from Steve Sinclair: “Randy, you’re the only guy I can trust with this band. You have to do this.”
At Sinclair’s urging, Burns went down to SIR studios in Hollywood, where he saw Megadeth rehearsing what would become their 1986 sophomore album, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? Burns’ hiatus from the music business was over then and there. When working with bands, Burns never predicted an album would be a hit, but with Megadeth he says, “I knew right then it would be a hit record. I was just blown away.”
Megadeth's 1986 sophomore album, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
Because Combat had high expectations for Megadeth’s next album, the label gave the band a bigger recording budget than the average thrash band (recording and mixing ultimately cost $22,500). Peace Sells was recorded at the Music Grinder, a now-defunct studio that was located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. It was the primary studio where Burns produced most of the bands on his résumé, and it’s also where he forged a strong partnership with Casey McMackin.
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