Thrash Producers: The Sound And The Fury
1981 punk compilation Hell Comes to Your House, produced by Randy Burns
In the mid Eighties, metal and punk merged into a fractious fusion of riffing and rage that lives on in today’s music subculture. 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.
When the music of the Eighties comes to mind, people often think of hair bands and one-hit-wonder new wave groups. In fact, the mid-to-late Eighties was a hotbed for the evolution of metal and punk music. Both genres were born in the Seventies, but it was during the Eighties that they morphed into hardcore, speed/thrash/death metal and numerous other genres and subgenres, spawning the diverse scene that typifies metal and punk in the first decade of the 21st century.
In the mid Eighties, for every Metallica that led the charge there existed innumerable smaller, if not more interesting, bands trying to get their music out into the world. There were also several go-to guys working behind the scenes who understood the music and knew how to record it right—guys like Randy Burns (Megadeth), Scott Burns (Sepultura), Casey McMackin (Randy Burns’ engineer), Alex Perialas (Anthrax) and Colin Richardson (Carcass, Machine Head). Anyone who wants to understand why extreme metal sounds the way it does today needs to start here, with the men who shaped the sound of the music heard on countless metal- and punk-influenced records. In this Guitar World exclusive, each producer and engineer speaks for the first time about his career and tracks the development of metal- and punk-based music from the Eighties to today.
If you were a thrash/speed/death metal fan back in the Eighties, you saw the names Randy Burns and Casey McMackin on the back of a lot of albums, including releases by the Crumbsuckers, Dark Angel and Megadeth, to name just a few. Burns usually produced, while McMackin engineered. Their partnership was born on what is among the most defining albums of Eighties metal: the Megadeth classic Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
Before their merger, Burns played guitar in bands and had a little home studio. He wasn’t looking to be a producer, but as a favor he recorded a neighbor’s punk band. Soon, word got around that Randy Burns knew what he was doing. His next assignment was in 1981 as the engineer on a punk compilation called Hell Comes to Your House (the album reportedly cost $550 to make and featured Social Distortion, among many other L.A. punk bands). Burns’ production work on Hell got him another engineering gig, the self-titled 1983 debut from Suicidal Tendencies. The band had just added guitarist Grant Estes, who had long hair and played a Les Paul through a Marshall—characteristics that even then had been long associated with rock and roll. On Suicidal Tendencies classic track “Institutionalized,” Estes soloed throughout, making for an even more unconventional approach to punk.
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