A lot of people blame the popular and terrible combination of MP3s and tiny computer speakers for what’s being called the loudness war–artists, producers, and mastering engineers seem to be in an arms race, using heavier and heavier compression and mixes that keep everything cranked all the time. This has led to a loss of dynamic variation and nuance in a lot of recorded music, but supposedly nobody listening really cares because they’re all using such shitty gear they can’t hear the difference.
But this phenomenon has roots that go back further than the MP3 era. When Metallica released the Black Album in 1991, for instance, they boasted that it was mixed and mastered louder than any other record on the market at the time. Seventeen years later Metallica is again upping the ante in the loudness war, releasing an album, Death Magnetic, so supercompressed that its waveform looks like one fat line with no ups or downs. There’s even audible clipping in some drum and guitar parts.
Mastering engineer Ian Shepherd compared the CD version to the Death Magnetic songs on Guitar Hero III and found that the GH III versions are actually less compressed than the disc’s. There’s an online petition asking for a reissue of Death Magnetic with a less fucked-up mix, but the odds of that happening are approximately zilch. Which explains the impromptu wiki that’s formed over at the Pirate Bay in order to extract a definitive GH III audio rip–which they’ll seed and share, making the pirated version actually better than the retail product.
I have a good idea what Metallica will think about that.