BLOG: Death Magnetic sounds better in Guitar Hero

Death Magnetic has been widely hailed as the band's best work in 17 years but it seems that Metallica just cannot escape controversy.

What began with fans complaining about the audio quality of lead single The Day That Never Comes has snowballed following the release of the Death Magnetic CD, which seems to mark a whole new level in the Loudness War.

Mastering engineers sacrificing dynamic range in the pursuit of louder and louder sounding CDs is nothing new, but the general consensus amongst fans and critics on hundreds of internet forums seems to be that Death Magnetic has taken this a step too far.

"The mixes were already brick-walled before they arrived at my place. Suffice it to say I would never be pushed to overdrive things as far as they are here." Quote attributed to mastering engineer Ted Jensen

Indeed, on purchasing our CD copy the day before the official release date we gave the disc a spin and couldn't help wondering if our office headphones were faulty as the kick and snare drum seemed to be audibly clipping, along with some of the palm-muted guitar parts.

Most people's first instinct was to blame the mastering, although it seems astonishing that anybody at Metallica's label, their management, the band themselves or indeed producer Rick Rubin would sign off a master with audible digital clipping throughout.

Jensen speaks out

As the internet debate raged on, the following comment was posted by oneway23 on the Metallica forum - attributed to Ted Jensen, the head engineer at Sterling Sound who mastered the album:

"I'm certainly sympathetic to your reaction, I get to slam my head against that brick wall every day. In this case the mixes were already brick-walled before they arrived at my place. Suffice to say I would never be pushed to overdrive things as far as they are here.

"Believe me I'm not proud to be associated with this one, and we can only hope that some good will come from this in some form of backlash against volume above all else."

This seems to lay the blame for any clipping squarely at the door of mix engineers Greg Fidelman and Andrew Scheps, while 2467 fans had signed an online petition to have Death Magnetic remixed or remastered at the time of writing.

Video game killing the radio stars?

Ironically, the last 48 hours have seen claims emerge that the Death Magnetic mixes available for the Guitar Hero video game sound much better and with less audible clipping than the CD, with an illegal Guitar Hero album rip even doing the rounds on torrent sites.

Sceptical? This blog by mastering engineer Ian Shepherd provides the science by directly comparing waveforms from the CD release and Guitar Hero.

UPDATE: Check out this YouTube video to hear the difference between the Death Magnetic CD release and Guitar Hero III versions for yourself.

Neither the band nor their management were available for comment, but pressure is growing from fans who feel short-changed by the CDs they've shelled out for.

Come on Metallica, what are you going to do about it?


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Chris Vinnicombe worked with us here on the MusicRadar team from the site's initial launch way back in 2007, and also contributed to Guitarist magazine as Features Editor until 2014, as well as Total Guitar magazine, amongst others. These days he can be found at Gibson Guitars, where he is editor-in-chief.