This is for those albums that sonically rule. Any system, any volume and they still hit hard, have great definition, and awesome clarity. This is not in any way, shape, or form related to the quality of the music contained within the album. In this piece, I am only speaking to the aural quality. Maybe the music on these albums rocks, maybe its crap, but that is immaterial to how it sounds. Try to keep that in mind while reading this!
- (tie) Impending Doom – The Serpent Servant and Born of Osiris – A Higher Place
Both of these albums were worked on by Chris “Zeuss” Harris. They are great examples of clean production without sounding sterile. Everything has its place and everything sounds great, but there is just enough looseness and liveliness to keep them from sounding fake. Occasionally some sounds will stomp on one another or mask each other, but it never detracts from the albums. In fact, I think it gives them a leg up because this bit of imperfection allows them to grasp that intangible thing that is missing from a lot of modern metal, feel. These albums just feel great.
- Job for a Cowboy – Demonocracy
Holy crap, a modern metal album where you can hear the bass clearly! That alone puts it above 90% of metal albums. Great tones all around though, super clean. This album sounds a tiny bit clinical and lacks some raw power (not volume, but emotion) and fire, but it’s so well produced, mixed, and mastered that I had to put it on here. I cannot find any fault with the sounds on this album. It’s the epitome of modern metal cleanliness.
- Slipknot – Self Titled
Grimy in a good way, you can hear everything without losing its power. This album is a great example of how to pull the listener to different instruments when they are important. There are a lot of disparate elements going on here, and this album is great at allowing whatever instrument is the focal point of the song at the time to overtake the mix a bit. It doesn’t always try to keep everything perfectly audible and balanced. It allows pieces of the mix to wax and wane to guide the listener along. I really think this helps the emotional intensity of the album shine through as it keeps it from getting bogged down in the amount of noise 9 people can make. I wish more complex metal albums would take this route rather than just trying to smash everything to 11.
- Septicflesh – The Great Mass
How is this album so clean? There are so many elements to the mixes, I don’t even want to think about it, but nothing ever gets lost. I mean, it very well could have just ended up as a great mass of mush (I’m looking at you Fleshgod Apocalyse!) but it’s not. The orchestra sounds huge, but never blocks out the other instruments, the bass tone is one of the best and sits perfectly in the low end without interfering with the kick and toms. The vocal layering is second to none and yet the massive nature of them never overshadows the rest of the mix. The space around the drums is fantastic and large without delving into massive 80’s reverb territory. I still marvel at how well the guitars interface with the strings so expertly.
- Massive Audio Nerve – Cancer Vulgaris
Near metal perfection. Not super dense with tons of overdubs, but everything that is there is absolutely clean and balanced. And it all sounds real as well. Everything has space and liveliness at every volume. I can’t say enough about all of the sounds achieved on this album. Just the right amount of roominess on the drums, the perfect amount of dirt on the bass, the thick mids on the guitars (without getting honk-y), crisp and up front vocals just riding the mix. And nothing sounds disconnected, it all sounds like its part of a whole. Everything sits in the mix like a piece in a puzzle. I honestly cannot think of a better sounding metal album.
Korn – The Path of Totality: I mean, it’s a big budget metal album with electronic elements, and it sounds amazing. I didn’t put it on the main list because of all the programmed percussion. Whatever you may think about the band or their music, this album is a masterclass in mixing and production.
Sylosis – Monolith: The production doesn’t “wow” me for whatever reason, but it’s an overall fantastic, if a bit workmanlike, sounding album. Just massive sounding without letting anything get lost.
Suicide Silence – No Time To Bleed: This is a great example of how you do “sterile” production. One of the few Machine albums that doesn’t totally lose the immediacy and visceral nature of the band, but still manages to make everything clinically clean.
Skindred – Kill the Power: See my 2014 Album of the Year post if you want the details on why I love the production on this one.