Looking For Some Exposure?

If you’re a struggling metal band looking for some exposure, what better place to get it than at a sham wedding?

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The Quality Of The Source Material

Care for it or not, sound quality can make a noticeable difference when it comes to listening to your favourite bands—OK, Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger might be an exception, pretty sure you could listen to that over a train station tannoy & you wouldn’t notice any difference from listening to it with a pair of good headphones. An easy way to see this for yourself is to grab a CD of classical music, and rip it to your computer twice; the first rip should be in a lossless format (try FLAC), the second should be in MP3 at 128kbps. Now try comparing the two with some decent headphones (iPod headphones do not a good headphone make—incidentally, neither do Beats); you should notice that in the MP3 version the song will sound flatter, and you might even hear crackling.

Why? Well, without getting into too much technical detail, FLAC is a ‘lossless’ format of encoding music, whilst MP3 is a ‘lossy’ format; that is, MP3 encoding cuts out a lot of audio data from the source (bits it doesn’t think you’ll really notice in the first place), which also explains why there is a huge size difference between the two files. As FLAC doesn’t cut out any audio information, the FLAC file should take up significantly more space on your hard-drive than the MP3. Audiophiles will tend to favour lossless formats because it gives you CD-quality, unlike MP3 which can only give you a good approximation at best. Personally I compromise at MP3 files ripped at 320kbps, for a stereo setup you’re unlikely to notice any difference (and, contrary to what audiophiles will tell you, double blind tests tend to agree). If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about audio formats and some of the science behind it, you might find the following two articles interesting: HERE and HERE

Listening to a rip which is of obviously degraded quality undermines the experience of listening to music. This is, of course, something of a personal preference. I’m something of a stickler for quality where I can afford to be and it’s not something that’s confined to music. Watching DVDs now borders on unwatchable, because watching films on blu-ray has made watching movies in anything less than HD-quality reminds me of streaming movie trailers back in the dial-up days when sites insisted on using the low-quality QuickTime format. I realise not everyone is like that, but it’s worth noting that the people who are sticklers for media quality tend also to be the ones writing reviews and critiques of that media (at least in my experience).

With that in mind, I find it curious that PR companies send album samplers in low quality rips (i.e. 128/160/192 MP3). When reading a review of an album, it’s not uncommon to read commentary on the production of the album; if you’re listening in stereo, does it sound like all the individual sounds of the instruments are smushed together—as if they’re all competing to come out the same speaker—or does it sound like, for example, the lead guitar is slightly to the left of you, the drums are all around you, and the singer is directly in front of you? Different production techniques can make the same song sound very different; if you can, try comparing the original release of Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine to the 2010 re-mastered version, or the original As The Palaces Burn by Lamb of God, to the recently re-mastered 10th anniversary version. Presumably if you work in PR, you want the person reviewing your band to hear them at their best, to show off just how great the record sounds. So what does it achieve by sending out something less than great to people who are the most likely to find faults? Especially considering that bad reviews can (I realise it’s not set in stone) hamper sales, and it also means that the band receives less attention from the press in the long run. Poor quality audio has the chance to negatively affect a review or misinform both the critic and the reader/potential buyer (is the bass lacking here because the file’s not great, or is it because the production is just bad?), & I don’t see any gain from consciously deciding to do it.

The only reason I can really think of is to discourage piracy. Ignoring the entire debate on whether piracy is or isn’t good for the industry, it skirts the fact that the songs are typically watermarked, which means that any PR material that then gets leaked can be traced back to the person who first got hold of it (thus catching the person responsible and striking him or her off Santa’s nice list). Nor is it the case that people simply don’t upload lower quality rip albums; they get uploaded all the time.

I don’t think it’s an issue of space, and keeping costs low, either; some of the lowest quality ones have been from bigger record labels.

On a personal note, I tend to simply delete material that is on the lower end of the MP3 rip quality once I’ve listened to it once or twice for the purposes of writing something about it. I can’t imagine I’m the only person that does this, either. Why does this matter? Well, if it’s deleted there’s very little chance I, or another music writer, will come back to that album later on. Be it to write about ‘that album I came across weeks/months/years ago, and it’s still excellent, here’s why!’, or to simply keep the band in the mind of people who get inundated with new music nearly every day of the year (whether it’s sent, recommended by others, or simply stumbled upon). There are many albums released each month, it’s very difficult to keep track of them all, and half the time you barely have chance to listen to stuff you’d just like to listen to but don’t have the time to (I can’t listen to X now, I’ve got an article to write about the new Y, and a review for Z I should be getting on with).

This shouldn’t be interpreted as a rant, overt criticism, nor a ‘Y U NO SEND ME LIMITED EDITION CD’S YOU CHEAP BASTARDS?!’ attack (though I am totally open to bribes, wink wink nudge nudge); I’m merely wondering aloud over an issue that doesn’t make much sense to me.

Review: Aborted—The Necrotic Manifesto

necrotic manifesto

Recently reviewed Aborted’s latest album’s worth of tunes worth listening to for About.com, which you can find HERE.

Long story short:

“It’s ridiculously unrelenting, every single member sounds like they’re playing their A-game, and there isn’t an obviously bad track on there. It’s addictive, head-banging fun from start to finish. … the album’s definitely worth getting. You can expect it on more than a few end-of-year lists, and long may they continue this winning streak.”

Aetherium Mors / Infirmary Split

There are very few perks of spending your time writing for free—what with the pressing need to buy food and other apparently essential things modern people need to do—but one very nice one is that I get sent new music to listen to for free. Writing for free = music for free. Could be worse.

One release I got sent not long ago was an upcoming split from the bands Aetherium Mors and Infirmary; admittedly I hadn’t previously heard of either, and as it’s always nice to hear new things I gave it a spin. Must say, I’ve been really enjoying it thus far, and the split works surprisingly well given that one half is an old-school style death metal act from West Virginia who’ve been around (ish) since 1992, and the other is an extreme metal band (though it arguably sails under a black metal flag) from the UK who started up around 2004. Their sound is distinctly different, but they complement each other weirdly well; I’m not even sure why.

The Infirmary side is a chunk of surprisingly catchy and memorable death metal, with some excellent guitar melodies, complemented by vocals you can actually understand—in that you can clearly make out what the vocalist is singing. On that latter front, the lyrics are actually pretty good, a notch more interesting than your standard affair at any rate.

Aetherium Mors has the squawking black metal vocal style (a la Transilvanian Hunger), complemented by guitars that sound like a black mass of swarming, angry bees. And yes, that makes sense in my head. Actually, I really like some of the guitar riffs, the track ‘Divine Order Without God’ reminds me of Akercocke—as I repeatedly try to drive home, Akercocke are one of my favourite extreme metal acts, so any comparison to them is a fundamentally good thing. It’d also be remiss of me to not mention the drumming, which really helps shore up the atmosphere on the tracks; unlike a lot of black metal (ish) drumming, it doesn’t sound like a kid twatting a Fisher Price plastic drum as fast as he possibly can.

You can listen to the first track of the Aetherium Mors side here.

The split is out on the 15th of May, courtesy of Bindrune Recordings/Eihwaz Recordings.