Theories from Another World: Recording Techniques and Gear

I thought I would talk a little bit about different recording techniques from my experience and point of view, and also a little bit about gear, amongst other things. I have just released the debut album by Vallenfyre, and I am currently writing this column whilst holed up in the Chapel studios, UK while I record the new Paradise Lost album.

  • Both recordings were quite different because of a number of factors—budget and the type of vibe on both records being two of the main ones. Vallenfyre had a relatively small budget, and we wanted a dirty, raw sound recorded as simply as possible. Paradise Lost conversely has quite a sizable budget, and we are looking for a more polished production. What these two recordings DO have in common is the same ethos towards how things are recorded and put together. This ethos is something I learned a long time ago before Pro Tools and the like.
  • This can be put simply by saying: rehearse a lot before the studio. Once in the studio, don't over-think things. Stick to your guns, find the sound you want and COMMIT TO TAPE (this is just a saying these days as many studios don't have 2" tape machines anymore, but the principle is the same).

This sounds like teaching your grandma to suck eggs, I admit…But in my experience, producers and bands alike are becoming increasingly lazy and less confident in their own abilities. This is in part because of technological advancements. Don't get me wrong, Pro Tools and the like are fantastic tools and are a very cost-effective way to record an album.
But while years ago bands had their own sound, or a good idea of how they wanted to sound, and the producer captured that sound, it seems that in the last few years, bands go in the studio not very well rehearsed (it's OK because there is always copy and paste right?). The producer records it all DI'd (to replace those sounds with HIS sounds later), quantizes and sound replaces the drums with HIS samples (may as well use a drum machine), so what you get is a sterile version of a band using the producer’s "signature" production. Hence why the lion’s share of metal album productions today sound almost identical.

I think bands need to bite back. Rehearse, have confidence in your ability to know what sounds suit your playing style and stick to it. You may be thinking, "Hey, you're just some old, metal guy who doesn't understand the modern metal scene". Maybe you're right, but I can tell when a band has its own identity.

Ok, that's enough moaning about recording.

Now to mention some notable bits of gear I have come into contact with recently. First off, I have tell you about the Rivera Silent Sister. I was leant one of these by the distributor whilst recording the Vallenfyre album. It is essentially an iso cab, but it is the best iso cab you are likely to hear. I am usually used to recording with various cabs mic'd up with Paradise Lost, but because of the budget and the DIY approach to recording with Vallenfyre, I was looking at ways of doing this in the sound engineer’s house with the minimum of fuss and external noise. Queue the Silent Sister.

I must confess, I was dubious. I haven't heard good things about iso cabs. We put it in a different room than the control room and hooked it up to an Engl head and a Blackstar head. Two things to note about the Silent Sister are that it comes with two dedicated goosenecks on the 12" speaker (so you can have your two favorite mics hooked up at the same time), and it has an airflow system inside the cabinet (so that the speaker can still move air, which other iso cabs cannot do too well). We switched on and started playing. All I can say is wow. You would think we had a Marshall cab and an Orange cab in the next room. The sound was great. It isn’t, however, as silent as the name would lead you to believe. We had a 100 watt head on volume level 3 in the next room, and it was still pretty loud, but not enough to annoy the neighbors. We did the whole Vallenfyre album through the Silent Sister and afterwards, the sound engineer and I bought one each. A great 4x12 cab alternative if you want to record pro-sounding guitars at home.

Before I go, I just want to tell you about some new pick-ups fitted to a guitar we are recording the Paradise Lost record with right now. Some of you may be familiar with them as they are gaining quite a reputation. They are Aftermaths by the British Bare Knuckle company. They are amazing. Recommended for people who love the output and drive that you get from an EMG81, but with far more clarity and definition.

Well that's all for now.
Cheers from England!

Gregor Mackintosh plays guitar in both Vallenfyre and Paradise Lost. Vallenfyre released their debut album, A Fragile King, earlier this month on Century Media Records. Paradise Lost are currently in the studio working on their next full-length album, Tragic Idol, which is set for a tentative April 24, 2012 release, also via Century Media.

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