Interview Preview: Metallica's Kirk Hammett on Death Magnetic's Sound

Nov 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Update: Check out photos and a review of Metallica's show last night at the Scottrade Center! (11/18/08)

Metallica fans are among the most devoted music fans in the world. The band’s online forum racks up dozens of topics with hundreds of threads daily – maybe even hourly. These people love the band with a passion that occasionally borders on the frightening.

One of the hottest topics on the forum is the new album, Death Magnetic. Widely hailed as triumph by most fans (me included), not everyone is completely thrilled. A very vocal, very persistent group of them feel that the production was completely botched – and they’re demanding the band take action.

Through online petitions and frequent debate on the forum, these fans have made it clear that they want Death Magnetic re-mastered as soon as possible. Their most recent attempt to get the attention of the band is an orchestrated plan to mail the album back to Metallica to prove how many people are dissatisfied.

Make no mistake, these fans love the music on the album -- they just hate the sound quality. Their argument is of an audiophile nature. Mastered at an incredibly high volume, Death Magnetic, according to the unhappy fans, features brickwall soundwaves (see here for graphic comparisons) and digital clipping (unintentional distortion of the music caused by the high compression rate used by producer Rick Rubin).

(Courtesy of user "redthahat" and this post, two wave-form graph simulations of Death Magnetic songs. Click for full-sized images.)

"My Apocalypse"

"Broken, Beat & Scarred":

Adding insult to injury for these fans is the fact that apparently no one will ask the band about the issue using these specific terms. If the band isn’t pressed on the issue, how can Metallica effectively address the grievances?

So, given the opportunity to interview the band, I made it a point of asking Kirk Hammett specifically about the issue of clipping. Hammett was easygoing and friendly during our interview, and he offered only a moment’s hesitation before answering this question, and expounded briefly on his feelings about the sound of the album. Here’s a teaser from the interview, which will run in next week’s RFT.

Paul Friswold: The online discussions about Death Magnetic’s production and digital clipping/brickwall soundwaves have become pretty heated – do you think there’s anything to that? Can you hear clipping when you listen to Death Magnetic? Do you think it needs to be re-mixed?

Kirk Hammett: Well, it’s like this: There are people who just expect perfection from us. And I totally get that. And when it falls short of their standards of perfection, they’re going to complain. And I totally get that, too. I do hear a bit of clipping here and there.

Not to ruin the suspense or anything, but Kirk had more to say about clipping specifically, and how he feels about it.

-- Paul Friswold