There’s a raging debate in the metal community when it comes to how far-reaching digital influence has on modern recording. Purists yearn for the old analog sound, where drums were tracked unreplaced, guitars still had amps, and everything was recorded to tape. Like it or not, the digital revolution is happening; amps are modeled and drummers need no longer apply for bedroom products.
Programs like EZ Drummer and Superior Drummer have been a source of controversy since their inception. Meshuggah‘s caught some initial flack when Tomas Haake worked with Toontrack for creating Drumkit From Hell, an EZ Drummer plugin where Haake’s playing was sampled, allowing anyone to create drum tracks that sounded like they were played by Haake himself. Their 2005 album Catch Thirtythree was groundbreaking in its programmed drum tracks, using the Drumkit From Hell product they helped create. This paved the way for many other metal acts to obtain a painlessly perfect rhythm section, including Devin Townsend with his DKFH-programmed prog classic Ziltoid The Omniscient (2007).
Now, anyone with a guitar and some money to spare can afford a home studio capable of churning out some quality recordings. Periphery‘s 2010 self-titled album was finished way before Sumerian Records offered them a record deal because of guitarist Misha Mansoor’s home recording techniques, recording guitar parts with interfaces and modelers like Line 6’s POD and Fractal Audio’s Axe-FX and drum programming software Superior Drummer. Misha handled the production and mixing himself, and the record sounds quite polished; such a high quality recording was not so readily available and cheaply until the last decade or so.
I for one welcome the availability of these tools where bands can get their music to the masses much faster. However, with the creation of new guitar-sampling software by 8Dio centered around metal seeing release, it leads one to question how far this push for ease and digital perfection has gone.
8Dio’s new Progressive Metal Guitar sound library could make guitar tracking obsolete, much like the aforementioned drum sampling programs did for drum tracking. You see, with modelers like POD Farm and Axe-FX, you still have to be able to actually record the guitar parts manually; with 8Dio’s new software, all you need to do is pick the sound and the notes you want on your computer and you’re set. Much like Haake’s involvement with DKFH, 8Dio received help from Monuments‘ John Browne, Red Seas Fire‘s Pete Graves, and Jan Hoeglund of Mimesis in contributing guitar parts for the cause. The above video shows the plugin in action, and it sounds quite convincing. Impressive, but what does this mean for progressive metal?
There are clearly cut pros and cons here, and both sides of the argument are valid. In fact, I don’t think I could take a side as it stands right now. On one hand, musicians can use 8Dio’s library to aid in songwriting and demoing, making changes on the fly without bogging down the recording interface with extra and unnecessarily bulky .wav files of physical guitar recordings and piles re-takes. As long as the band can pull it off live, no harm; no foul.
But what about the well intentioned and aspiring songwriter who enjoys simply writing the music he can hear in his head, but lacks the physical technical ability to perform or can’t afford the equipment required to get the sound he’s looking for? Interfaces, guitars, pickups, strings—it all gets quite expensive. This is the tool he can use to express himself and write the music he wants to hear. Whether or not that is admirable or forgivable is up to you. Frankly, I don’t see many shows, and if the songwriting’s good and the songs are composed well, I wouldn’t mind too much. It’s certainly a route I would explore for my own enjoyment.
However, there’s obvious room for abuse. Imagine the wannabe rockstars who want to take the lazy route; taking the fast-track to a sound that is high quality and sounding technically proficient. It also puts the already shaky credibility on so-called technical and progressive music, where little to no effort can be put into something complex sounding that could once be a headache to produce. Songwriting is important, but so is musicianship. When you have an outstanding song that was well-written, but took no technical proficiency to produce, it can feel like a sham. The exact same thing goes for bands that wank but couldn’t write a song. Soon, the floodgates could open for poorly-written songs that are entirely soulless and talentless.
So as it stands now, anyone with the time to learn the programs and enough music theory to get by can write a decent djent album. This can discredit the whole genre, and to be sure, it won’t end here. Technology will only get more advanced. In ten years, it’s a fairly safe bet that no one will have to play any instrument to write an album in any genre. Sure, we can sometimes pick out acoustic drums from digital drums and hear which albums are sampled and which ones are not, but what about the future where the lines will inevitably blur? Could the art of playing an instrument be dead in due time? We saw it happen with pop music, and it’s starting to happen with metal.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a collection of demos created from 8Dio’s Progressive Metal library. Keep in mind that everything here is sampled:
I don’t know about you, but if I were not aware these tracks was sampled, I would not have noticed. In fact, much of the sounds were quite enjoyable. What’s next, a thorough sampling of human voices and phonetic sounds that could pass for realistic singing complete with lyrical delivery? This is absolutely fascinating (and frightening) what we can do with technology. Where do you stand on the issue? Is this a tool for aspiring musicians or a catalyst for the downfall of musical performance? Let us know in the comments section below.