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Opeth's music has fallen victim to the Loudness War

Discussion in 'Opeth (Archived)' started by Seance, Aug 3, 2007.

  1. Seance

    Seance Still Writes in Crayon

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    "The phrase loudness war (or loudness race) refers to the music industry's tendency to record, produce and broadcast music at progressively increasing levels of loudness to create a sound that stands out from others. This phenomenon can be observed in many areas of the music industry, particularly broadcasting and albums released on CD and DVD. In the case of CDs, the war stems from a desire to create CDs that sound as loud as possible or louder than CDs from competing artists or recording labels.

    However, as the maximum amplitude of a CD cannot be increased, the overall loudness can only be increased by reducing the dynamic range and distorting or clipping the waveform of the recording."

    http://www.stylusmagazine.com/articles/weekly_article/imperfect-sound-forever.htm
    http://www.cdmasteringservices.com/dynamicdeath.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war



    A few examples of Opeth songs...

    The Grand Conjuration:
    [​IMG]

    April Ethereal:
    [​IMG]

    Morningrise is the release affected least by this.

    Advent:
    [​IMG]

    Opeth's music should be full of such life with their dynamic style. I've felt for a long time that Opeth's music has had that life sucked out of it via their production, and now I have proof.

    So what do you guys think of this?

    What do you think of this, Mike? It's your music afterall. You may be able to prevent this on future releases, like the upcoming new album.

    (I know these imageshack pictures I've uploaded are probably going to hit some kind of bandwidth limit eventually, so if anyone can tell me a more reliable place or can upload them somewhere else themselves and I'll edit the links into this original post, I'd appreciate it.)
     
    #1 Seance, Aug 3, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 20, 2015
  2. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    Ugh.

    Have you taken a look at the actual waveforms you've posted? It's quite clear that dynamic range is still being utilized when the quieter sections of the songs kick in. It's only the heavier sections that are starting to brickwall, and even so I can't imagine them being much louder than -9dBRMS.

    I'd say the only reason that Morningrise appears 'least affected' is because the frequency content is so out of whack. Rather than looking at graphs and waveforms try to use your ears and listen to the comparative volume between something like Nectar and The Grand Conjuration. On the heavy section both are roughly the same perceived volume. Some heavier sections of Morningrise are louder than the start of 'Master's Apprentice' which is arguably Opeth's 'heaviest' riff. Morningrise certainly wasn't immune to the effects of limiting at the mastering stage. I'd hazard to say that poor frequency balance led Morningrise to appear quieter, while in essence there are some spectral peaks which do pop up above the average perceivable volume of the newer albums.

    What I think of this is that another listener has once again latched onto the latest fad going around music circles, which in this case is to criticize modern masters for their relatively 'loud' program material. It never fails to amaze me how rampantly your more-than-casual music listener, and in particular, musician, tends to latch onto the latest 'hot topic' phrases and tends to spurt them ad nauseum as if they've dawned on some huge revelation. As you might gather at this point, I've heard this argument presented many times in the past, by many different people. The one consistent factor was that hardly any of them really understood what it was that they were saying. What I find extremely funny is that when these same people are presented with masters that retain greater dynamic range (more transients on drum attacks etc.) they often criticize them for sounding 'small' in comparison to 'professional' (ie. brickwalled) masters. The RMS levels we teeter toward these days have actually been adapted to by modern listeners, and actually sound quite 'natural' to most people. The thing is that all that limiting evens out the frequency content, and makes the tracks more dynamically constant, which creates the feeling that the mix has meshed into the one tapestry, rather than being a collection of individual parts.

    If one is to criticize the effects of the loudness war, then the judgments must be applied across the whole web of musical genres. Opeth certainly aren't leading the pack here. If anything they're showing that dynamics can still exist (if you look at those parts in TGC where the amplitude backs off for blocks of time).

    Not to rag on you in particular, as this happens quite frequently, but it seems a bit ridiculous to come onto a band's official forum and hold their competitiveness in the commercial market as a drawback of some sort. Opeth aren't doing anything to exacerbate the situation... they are merely staying competitive. They likely don't have all that much input as to how loud their masters come out in the end anyway. It's usually the label pushing the mastering engineer to get it up there and 'as loud as all the other stuff out there'. It's very much unfair for one of us to call Mike out on it like it's some personal affront against us.

    The loudness war has been an on-going issue for decades now, but we seem to have hit a point with levels which we simply can't break through. Anything above -8dBRMS as a rule sound like complete turd. At the very least, we have the solace that we won't be going any higher.
     
  3. TehLeperAffinity

    TehLeperAffinity TehLeperAffinity

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    Don't listen to this terrorist Mikael. This is the loudness war and the only way we could win is to make sure the mix is compressed as much as possible.
     
  4. schenkadere

    schenkadere Obey my dog!

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    Wow...way too much time on your hands.
     
  5. metalhead416

    metalhead416 New Metal Member

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    very informed post Moonlapse....!!!!.....yeah Ive read teh same asme articles teh oringial poster cited numerous times.....!!!!!...and actually Opeth's music is too dynamic to be relaly affexted by this ......their quieter softer parts sound as mellow as ud want'em to be...adn even at full on death monments....everythign is clear and Mike has the most articulate growl in Death metal.....so that helps....either way....if u really wanna check out some Meshed up records...try the new KILLERS record....its sonds rubbish coz of teh Loudness.....also anything from a pop rock band....those are teh first victims of this trend....as far as opeth is concerned.....I havent really noticed any super low quality sounds in thier recent records.....if anyhting...GR is their most clear and dynamic sounding record....and I think everoyne will agree here...!!!!.....PEAC EOUT
     
  6. Seance

    Seance Still Writes in Crayon

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    And what of the heavier sections then? Just look at April Ethereal, for example. Look at Wreathe from Deliverance. Look at a lot of songs. Nothing can be accentuated, nothing can breathe or move, everything is already as loud as it can be. There is no power. Everything is suffocated.

    I know Opeth isn't the best example to use for a discussion about this. I could use Arctic Monkeys much more effectively, but what better way to draw attention than relating it to Opeth's music and making a title like the one I made?

    I got interested in this topic because it offered an explanation to ear fatigue, or "listening fatigue", whatever term they use. I understood immediately what they meant. What is your take on that?

    I disagree with that last statement, but other than that you pretty much described the problem as it's described elsewhere.

    I recognize this.

    I don't meant to sound like I'm calling anyone out - it's not my intention. I just want to read people's thoughts, agree or disagree, whether I'm making myself out to be a complete idiot on this topic or not. I was anticipating your response very much, so thanks.
     
  7. TalesOfTerror

    TalesOfTerror MetalHotSauce

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    Yea, thanks.
     
  8. KingFelagund

    KingFelagund New Metal Member

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    Just got done post-producing my own album, and had to confront a lot of these issues myself. There's a ton of engineering knowledge involved in understanding the causes for the loudness war, but it's as much a social expectation as anything else. For whatever reason, the music consumer has come to equate "professional" sounding production with loud volume output. There just simply aren't as many recording connoisseurs who understand dynamic range and recognize it buying albums in the world at large.

    It's a moot point to compare Opeth's earlier work (Orchid, Morningrise) to newer produced audio like the material on Ghost Reveries... a great deal of the digital processing that is available in force now was not effective or practical when those earlier albums were released. Additionally, bands typically have less budget/resources to produce their initial and sophomore efforts than when they have become sucessful at large.

    Opeth has also shifted labels a few times in the past, and occasionally the label in charge of producing the album has a different stance/approach to the "loudness war" issue. I agree with Moonlapse in this assertion.
     
  9. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    When I do live sound for heavier bands without any compression, their average volume level teeters around the one average mark for the entire song, if they're a good band. Any decent heavy act will be dynamically controlled, and heavy music, more than many other forms, doesn't actually need to breathe all that much.

    I think what's important is that Opeth/the engineer/the label have recognized that the quieter sections need to back down and breathe a little. The fact that when everything kicks back into overdrive again, the limiter starts slamming the mix, adds an even starker contrast to the mellow sections. Some degree of mastering compression/limiting is part of the modern heavy metal sound IMO.

    I deal mainly in rock/metal genres with my work, and I don't really have much against limiting all the way up to about -9dBRMS. To me, it's part of the sound I've grown accustomed to. A good mastering engineer can get a mix sounding good at those average levels.

    My main issue with the thread was that it was calling out Opeth as an offender in this war, whereas I just see them as staying competitive whilst still allowing their music to breathe. If this issue needs to be presented... it should be presented in a general music forum, and aimed at a wide variety of releases/artists/labels/engineers/producers etc.

    Your playback reproduction system plays a major role in this. I would first look at what your signal chain is for listening to music. Speakers have an inherently high level of relative distortion upon playback. They also have acoustic compression as a side-effect. If your speakers are doing something weird, your ears are going to notice.

    Short of that, yes extreme limiting can cause ear fatigue. However, the only Opeth album I've experienced this with is BWP, which IMO, has abysmal stereo mix compression that pumps the entire mix nearly constantly. Deliverance is actually quite backed off. Still Life is fairly backed off. Ghost Reveries is about smack bam in the middle of how a modern production 'should' sound. Damnation isn't hard on the ears, even though it is quite loudly mastered (if it's a big problem that a mellow album such as this is so 'loud', you can blame SW for it). Orchid and Morningrise would sound like shit regardless, so as far as I'm concerned they could've had a herd of cows trample the mix to flatten it out.

    So, apart from BWP (and orchid and morningrise, but that goes without saying), I think that the Opeth albums have been quite tastefully treated. They remain competitive in a marketplace that demands hot music, but still back off and allow it to breathe when it counts.
     
  10. metalhead416

    metalhead416 New Metal Member

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    DITTO...!!!!....hot the nail right on teh head here......Ive always thougth delievernce had the most ear piercing sound.....i always had trouble with it...specially at high levesl...where others records were jsut fine....BWP gave me a very anxious and ear piercing feeling.....!!!!!.....I thoguht they were goin for max volume there too.....but yeah I competely agrre on that...!!!...PEAC EOUT
     
  11. roadtonowhere08

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    Hey all,

    I am a constant lurker, and a rare poster. This topic is interesting to me, and I think it is very important to discuss it. The way I see it, the reasons for the horrible compression of almost all modern (last 10-15 years) releases in rock and other more popular genres are the desire to gain attention in a crowded marketplace and to cater to the portable market.

    I am of the philosophy that all music should be as high quality as possible. Taking a very talented and dynamic band like Opeth, this adherence to the high quality goal is even more apparent and should be stressed. Opeth have the ability, through their song structure and inherent dynamics, to record pretty much reference albums. Mike obviously cares about Opeth's music, and Opeth is one of the few bands that at least sounds close to reference considering the genre. I have to agree with Seance in that Opeth albums are mastered to hot. This is not a knock against Opeth; their material still is absolutely brilliant, but I also hold them to a much higher standard than almost all other bands.

    I think that it is a crime that music is slammed to the ceiling in an effort to stay competitive in the marketplace. The end result is that all modern music sounds like shit, and anyone with a dedicated 2ch setup knows this. If all of it is loud, it will fail to gain attention. Why should all modern music have to cater to people with iPods and the like with a 5-60mw headphone output with absolutely no current behind it? All of us who have a love for great music reproduction suffer as a result. I would rather have the music shoot for the highest common denominator and have the DAP and amp industry have to step up its game instead of making the record as hot as possible. One can always amp the signal more, but one cannot create a more dynamic album if it is slammed to the ceiling.

    I also think that the mentality that metal music has to be crappy in quality and loud as possible is silly. Listen to the difference between BWP (an album with terrible compression and audible treble distortion) and Virgin Black's Elegant... and Dying. I will say that VB's album is not without fault, but when cranked, Elegant... and Dying crushes BWP in dynamics. The difference is that BWP was compressed like crazy and Elegant... and Dying was not.

    I compare metal music to a person talking to you. If one were to shout at you for every word spoken, you would either walk away or eventually tune them out. Now if the person is a very dynamic speaker, you are more inclined to listen or at least pay attention. I have albums that are from both approaches. I place Opeth in the latter approach. Most of my favorite bands are of the latter approach. Dynamics and restraint with the compression make metal sound better. The problem is people are used to the balls to the wall approach. It really gets boring and tiring listening to all that compressed music. I want to hear each instrument playing.

    I think that Seance was not singling out Opeth. I think that he was merely expressing his frustration with the trend in general and the fact that a band like Opeth is a part of it. I believe that Opeth's music allows it to stand out, regardless of the volume level. They should not have to follow the trends.

    As far as Mike not having the power to maintain the integrity of Opeth's music, I would hope (and think) this is not the case. I think that the reason why music is mastered so hotly is not because the artist does not have the ability to stop it, rather, it is because they probably do not care about that fact. All they have to do is take the retail product and play it to see that it sounds bad. Opeth is about as good as it gets in this genre, but there is room for improvement.

    Mike, if you ever read this, I am confident that you will come up with great music for the next album, but please keep an eye on the person who masters the album. Slap him or her if they go nuts with the compression for me:p
     
  12. ufomagnet

    ufomagnet Metal photographer

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    I used to like Depeche Mode.
    Until they released this:

    [​IMG]
    Precious (Playing The Angel, 2005) [cdstumm260] CD

    Look at the vinyl version of the same song:
    [​IMG]

    The CD gives me a headache, can't stand it.

    /d.
     
  13. twilightsrobe

    twilightsrobe evil eye

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    I don't think the original poster was blaming Opeth in any way, just pointing out the fact that recent engineering practices are limiting the possible dynamic range of their music.

    Look at it this way, if the soft parts are not "artificially" brought up in mastering, people will turn up their speakers to hear them. Well, when the loud parts come.... Wham-o! Blown away by loudness beyond belief :loco: Isn't that more exciting?

    By the way, the only music genre relatively unaffected by the so-called loudness war is classical music. Ever hear Beethoven symphonies on great speakers?

    Just a thought.
     
  14. Seance

    Seance Still Writes in Crayon

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    Regardless of how much more the quieter sections of the songs are allowed to breathe, the heavy sections are still suffocated within themselves and sound like ass to me. I don't see why any natural/accidental/intentional shifts, subtleties, nuances, accents, or emphasis of any kind should be barred from heavy sections just because they're "heavy". It doesn't sound realistic.

    Deliverance (album) looks just as bad as any.

    Wreathe:
    [​IMG]

    Looks like the wave of a droning whirring noise, not a band playing a song. Unfortunately, it feels like the former when I listen to it - unexciting and ignorable, the lot of it. And it isn't even loud. It's like they went through all the motions of compressing and sucking the life out of the album and forgot the original intent behind doing such a thing in the first place - making it louder. Am I wrong? So, in that respect, I don't see how Deliverance is backed off.
     
  15. Sheckles14

    Sheckles14 Member

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    Maybe I'm just stupid, but wikipedia's explanation did not help me understand what any of this means. Anyone care to simplify it for those(like me) who are not sound engineers?
     
  16. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    Well it is Deliverance, after all :)

    I think the beef you may have there is with Andy Sneap's mixing style. I personally hated that he had treated Opeth's mix like any other vanilla metal band that may pass through his studio. It may be more than likely that he applied all that compression as he was after the sound, rather than the loudness. Whether or not you appreciate that same sound, there are a lot of people out there who do.

    I hang out on his forum very often, and they recently had a thread where this same topic was brought up, with audio examples. A lot of people there actually preferred the compressed ones.

    As I said, the heavily compressed sound is an element of modern metal music, for better or worse.

    In regards to your earlier statement about shifts, nuances etc. being barred from the music... heavy compression and limiting does the exact opposite. It actually brings to the forefront all the little quirks, noises, noise floor, background studio noise etc. I agree that it doesn't sound realistic... but neither does putting your head inside a bass drum to listen to it, which is where the kick mic is commonly placed.
     
  17. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    @Sheckles: Basically all audio signals have a dynamic range. That's essentially the point from the quietest and loudest points in the track. Limiting or compression during the mastering stage commonly aims to reduce this dynamic range to a point where the quietest parts become louder, and the loudest parts become quieter. This way the dynamic range is reduced, and you get a greater average volume over time.

    The reason this is done is because it was noted that listeners tuned in to radio stations playing the loudest material. This is why everything run through radio sounds like a fetal abortion.

    In reality there's really no need to do it to the degree that we do on albums, as they aren't 'competing' against anything. However, I personally can't be arsed with the volume knob. Many times when im watching movies or listening to classical, it isn't in the optimal sonic environment and hence I lose track of what's happening during the quieter sections. With compression you're eliminating this, by getting all sections of a track to a similar volume level.
     
  18. Seance

    Seance Still Writes in Crayon

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    :oops:

    Could you link me that thread, please? I'm curious.

    Modern music in general, it seems to me? I don't listen to much modern metal, but I just have noticed as time has gone on with music in general that professionally recorded albums sound increasingly phoney, especially commercial/mainstream stuff.

    In fact, every album I've felt to have what I've always referred to as "lifeless" production have all checked positive for this compressed, flat, undynamic treatment. Albums like Deliverance, Enslaved's RUUN, Ulver's Blood Inside to an extent, Between the Buried and Me's Alaska, Sigh's new album, etc.

    That's kinda awful. :erk: That's a destructive mindset. If you aren't in the environment to be listening to music or to be watching a movie, why would you be? If the environment is too distracting to allow you to be engaged, it isn't the music's fault or movie's fault. However, even though it isn't the music's fault, it's the thing being butchered. If I buy an Arctic Monkeys album, it has apparently been mastered to be heard loudly and obnoxiously in a noisy environment, and that's honestly just fucking stupid, to put it bluntly. The sound quality is compromised for a non-musical gain. I mean, right now, I'm chilling in my quiet home, so what do I need a loud, noisey, undynamic, quality lacking album for? Why not an album with depth, space, and dynamics, and without unmusical production?
     
  19. KeithRT99

    KeithRT99 BOOSH.

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    ouch.:erk:
    I actually think that deliverance is a very dynamic album despite the brickwall limiting. listen to the interlude on "a fair judgement", i have to turn the volume up to hear it.

    also, everyone needs to pay less attention to what the waveform looks like, and pay more attention to how everything sounds. If it fatigues your ears, than i don't know what to say to you. IMO no opeth record is fatiguing to me, and some of my favorite sounding records are super smashed ( Dimmu - PEM, most Radiohead stuff, etc.)
     
  20. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    Because people are more likely to be listening to modern music on their iPods on the way to work, or in the car with fairly loud background traffic/engine noise.

    It makes commercial sense. They are catering towards the lowest common denominator. The majority of people aren't audiophiles, nor do they have great sound reproduction systems.

    I mean you seem to be throwing these questions at me as if I should be stumped, but I think you already understand *why* it happens. The sole reason that Opeth's, or any artist's music is available worldwide in hard copy format is because of the management/marketing etc. people involved in getting us to first know about the band, and then providing us relatively easy access to the records. Their goal is to reach as broad a market as possible, and that goal is reached by making the album hotter.

    About the Sneap forum thread, I've forgotten what it was called. I think it was featured on the main forum section (there's a ton of sub-forums now). You may have some luck searching strings like 'loudness war, mastering, squashing'.

    @Keith: I essentially agree with what you're saying. Opeth's records generally don't bother me, but then again I am accustomed to listening to the same song over 8 hours a day in my line of work. As far as I can hear, Opeth's records aren't obnoxiously squashed, nor does the mastering in any way hamper the musicality inherent to the records. I really think this entire topic is a bit of an exaggeration.

    As much as there is the occasional blatant offender in the loudness war, Opeth, IMO, isn't one of them.
     

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