Marek Ashok Smerda Interview:
"I expected the drum tracks to be very similar to what i’d heard on the mix, imagine my surprise when they were actually really decent...."
Talking to Marek Ashok Smerda about working on a recent, very special re-release of Cradle Of Filth's, Cruelty And The Beast, album. We will take an in depth look on what the creative process looked like and what proved to be the biggest challenge on this project. We will talk about the equipment used in the process of mixing and mastering, we will go deep into the process of mixing drums, guitars and vocals, we will also go back to the original version of the album and talk about the differences between its sound and production.
We will also talk about Scott's collaboration with Colin Richardson and Daniel Bergstrand on the 2009 Behemoth's opus, Evengelion. We will talk about the concepts for the sound of the latest Vader album, as well as about the methodology of studio work, mixing and mastering techniques, In The Box and VST plugins, and the philosophy of Grindstone Studio and Scott's recipe for successfully getting into different shoes while working in the studio....
My guest today is Scott Atkins, guitarist, producer, mixer and mastering engineer, owner of the Grindstone Studio, which has been gaining a solid reputation in the modern metal industry since 2005, producing albums for established record labels including Nuclear Blast, Earache and Metal Blade.
Although in his studio Scott is not afraid of digital, and most of his mixes are made with the help of
In The Box environment, his productions are characterized by great, very fresh and instantly recognizable sound. His work ethic is to push for great performances rather than to digitally create them, so that the recording sounds like a living thing rather than a cold, robotic version of one. With the rest, his
discography speaks for itself.
Over the years Scott has worked alongside heavyweight producers such as Andy Sneap and
Colin Richardson on bands like Amon Amarth, Behemoth and Cradle Of Filth. And it is on the subject
of Cradle Of Filth that we gonna talk the most about today, all on the occasion of the recent release of the extraordinary new version of the Cruelty And The Beast album, which, despite some sound controversies, is considered by many to be the band's opus magnum.
We will take a very close look at the individual stages of working on this album. We will analyze the process of mixing and mastering, get to know the equipment base and find out what were the goals and obstacles, We will go deep into the process of mixing guitars and vocals. We will also talk about the drum tracks and try answer the question if it's really the drums were actually the main cause of the controversial sound quality of the original album.
In the further part of the interview we will also talk about other albums Scott worked on, including 2009 Behemoth's opus, Evengelion, as well as the latest album of another metal legend, Vader. We'll also talk about plugins and In The Box environment, about studio work methodology, modern mastering and and the philosophy behind Scott's Grindstone Studio....
Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: Hi Ashok, thank you so much for finding the time to talk. I really appreciate it!
Marek Ashok Smerda: My Pleasure Adrian Thanks for inviting me here!
Where do you think is the source of the Cradle of filth phenomenon? This question does not seem to be a complex one, but I would like us to try to answer it a bit more in depth... I mean Cradle of Filth as not only a musical, but also a social, sociological phenomenon on the music scene...
Well, when we look at what was happening in my, and in fact I should rather say our part of Europe between 1996 and 1999, we quite quickly come to the conclusion that for a huge number of people across Europe, Cradle Of Filth was much more than a band, and much more than music. For many young people it was a lifestyle. A band that, despite its genre, changed people's lives, opened up their imagination, directed to classical English literature, poetry... Cradle's albums not only provoked people to reach for instruments, but also for books about history, philosophy or mythology... I think you remember what happened to us then.... So for me, in the case of Cradle, as with the rest of other influential bands, not only from the metal scene, but also from any other genre of music it's not only about music, it's about an image and the vision, the strategy, lyrical concept as well so it all makes like, you know big complex piece of puzzle.
So it's more like there are a lot of bands that focus on music only, which is not bad, but we also have a specific genres as a you know, like a bit more classical, theatrical orchestra metal extreme metal music came along with image concept stories and so, and I think it might influence people so it became a lifestyle and Dani is writing really conceptual and really complex lyrics, which a lot of people really like and I believe it could became a lifestyle for and it became a lifestyle for many people.
Dani often changes the lineup of the band, I remember in one of the classic interviews he said that if someone from the band starts to put other things above the band, if someone starts to doubt, disturb the dynamics and energy in the band he has to take into account that he will have to leave. What does it look like right now? Aren't you afraid you won't make it? You must have a strong character?
Oh, if you take a look on a current lineup, yeah, Lindsey already left earlier on this year but this lineup has been together for six years which is I think the longest lineup in the band's history. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I it looks like it, so I think we are doing really good and it looks like we really clicked together on the music as well as on a personal level.
Weren't you afraid you couldn't make it? You know, you're going into the circle of Cradle Of Filth knowing that you have to give your all....
You mean if I stay with the band or not?
You see Adrian, our situation with Richard was a bit different because we were originally hired as a touring guitars as a spare guitarists just for one tour in 2014. But things turned in a different way. And we stayed. So, in that sense, no, I think we both didn't think about it then, we were just trying to play our best, and I don't think our stay in the band was planned from the beginning. But, yeah, as I said earlier, we really clicked on personal and musical level so we stayed with the band till nowadays.
And that's great! For many people you are now creating an extraordinary lineup. Very much liked and great when it comes to plying live! the fan reactions are great so...
Oh Thank you! Yeah, the responses are almost always really positive both in terms of lineup and recent records so I think it looks well and we are doing good!
I also wonder if the media sometimes demonize Dani in this regard, how do you see it now that you have some time to met Dani?
Oh yeah, you know, media it's media. When you want to make a picture of any event or description of any event or even people you probably need more sources, more information sources so you can analyze and come with really complex and complete description information such as your interviews. You're an exception in this regard because, as far as I know, you go into the details and prepare yourself very well for your work as a journalist. but there are media that are often interested just in the sensations and not really in depth informations. I think that in the case of Dani, often this is the case, many things are taken out of context just to make readers more interested.
Does he really keep such an ironclad order in the band? What kind of leader is he? Is he an authoritarian personality, in the type of, let's say, Roger Waters? You know, media often write about what sells, controversy, quarrels sell well, while frequent personal changes in Cradle Of Filth, don't have to be always Dani's "fault", It might as well be that he saves the band every time…
Well, you know, I think that when it came to breakup or separation, my personal opinion is that the fault is not only on one side, it's usually both sides more or less. So. Cradle of Filth is Dani's band without a doubt. But, we really talk about tough and personal things. So I think we are having very good relationship and musically I think we all got a really great amount of freedom in writing material, so I can't see a problem here. Unfortunately, I don't know Roger Waters personally so I can't compare. I think the things we talk about aren't easy nor that simple. It's just not about to make the band worse or not working. You just can't simply fire the people because of one our fault or mistake, or maybe you can but it's kind of counterproductive to me.
Yes, you're right. I fully agree with you. Let's move on then, what do you think is the strongest side of Cradle Of Filth today?
Oh, the strongest side of Cradle of Filth today? Having a killer lineup of great people as well as that our members are not only great musicians but also great composers and I think we prove it on numerous shows. Quite a few of them were live streamed, so everyone can get a current field picture. So I would say yeah, the musicality of this band today.
Okay, and what was your way to the band? I gather you were a fan of Cradle of filth before you joined the band?
Oh, yes! I heard Cradle for the fist time around year 1997 or 1998. How did I find them? I already used to play with Martin in one local band. So he introduced me to Cradle Of Filth music. And I've been a fan since then!
Your story is great proof that if you want something, if you know what you want and work hard, anything is possible….
Were you the type of fan who had all the songs mastered when coming to audition or did you have to learn the material?
Oh, I knew some of the songs but for the audition, there was specifically chosen songs. I don't think I knew these before,
so I had to learn them and yeah, there was some work to do on it. If I remember correctly they were, Cthulhu Down and
For Your Vulgar Delectation.
Oh, that's interesting! And How long did you fit in to get along with the rest of the band?I mean, this first audition....
I think it was quite immediately. Yeah, I mean, we haven't really played together before but, now when I'm thinking about it, I still remember some flashbacks from a first query ourselves in 2014. And I think after a few bars, it was something in the air that I mean, it wasn't at the stage as it's now, because we did the numerous tours and show together, but going back to the first feelings and emotions, after a few bars It was obvious that something really interesting is happening. You know the magic, this chemistry, which is necessary to create something great and unique!
Is there room for a little bit of your identity and character in such meticulously arranged works? Do you try to play the parts of previous guitarists one to one, or do you play some rhythmic things a little differently, if you give examples and describe the differences in the way you play them….
Oh yeah, I mean, different people have different approaches to such topics, but for me, because as a guitarist I often interpreted the material of other bands as well, I always keep an eye to play the parts how they were recorded. I mean, I always prized the originals and maybe I might modified some solos, some little lead guitar parts, but, I always tend to play everything as it been recorded, including various small technical and articulation related things. Really! Till nowadays I'm paying attention to smallest details on which not everyone is doing.
That's a great feature! Great respect for your approach! So it seems that during one gig you often have to play with at least three styles, because both Paul and Stuart had very distinctive styles of playing....
By the way, do you play the parts composed by Paul Allender or Stuart Anstis easier?
How do you deal with Paul's technique? He has an amazing and very unique right hand picking....
Stuart, on the other side had an incredible speed, and attack....
Do you remember something from the Hammer Of The Witches recording session? I mean gear setup, instruments, other equipment? On which gear did you record that album?
Oh yes, sure, we can start with guitar. It was a Schecter guitar with Seymour Duncan Full Shred in bridge position and there was a Sustainiac® pickup in neck position that I'm frequently using not. There was a Floyd Rose tremolo and that was pretty much it. I'll record all parts on just this one guitar. As for the amps, I remember we used Randall including the modules, the modulation amps that I'm about to tell you more about in a moment,. but I'm also pretty sure that our producer Scott Atkins reamped some guitar tracks or even majority of rhythm guitar tracks through some other amps. Unfortunately I don't know what he used and if he later mix them with the several other tones to get the full album sound.
Why did you choose the Full Shred pickup? What's in it for you? Why not let's say, regular EMG?
How long did you track the parts?
I think I was spent something around six days for all my parts.
Oh, that's pretty quick. Your parts on this album aren't the easiest...
Oh yes, it was hard work. But on the next record we took a bit longer time!
Did you record whole songs or take by take?
It depends, As I remember we took them by the sections, you know, because there are a lot of things happening inside, loads of tempo changes. and things like that. I think in this days probably every band is doing it that way.
This makes a little more possibilities to make record really sound killer.
Oh, I think that you have answered the next question because I was gonna ask did you have the sound set earlier, or was it clarified during the mix?
Yeah, a bit of both. We recorded through the real tube amps but, I'm sure that a loads of guitar tracks were reamped later on during the mix.
What do you put a special emphasis on when composing a song?
Well, it's a tough question. I never think about composing in a let's say, classical way. I just want to make a really good song with a great riffs, strong chorus, and I'll just put two pieces together so it nicely flows. Maybe not too complicated. It depends on whatever track you're working on. Sometimes you need more notes or complicated stuff for an expression of feelings and sometimes just three chords are enough. I don't really have a formula.
In my opinion, your appearance in Cradle was felt quite strongly by the fans. I would even venture to say that apart from the classic COF lineup, I don't think any other new musician has influenced the positive energy in the band so much.
Oh, thank you! I think the main point is that, since 2014, there are over six people with the similar vision and with the same or similar feelings, so I think that factor is the huge part of that strength of the band. And when you have a six people or I mean whole band tuned on the same on the same vein and the same mood, then this difficult to write energy, a kind of chemistry starts to produce and everything starts to be like a well-oiled machine. The band starts to be more creative and more vital. And now we are at that moment, which we are very happy about.
The first three studio albums of Cradle Of Filth were characterized by unusual arrangements of guitars, you know, these evolving, alternating double guitar parts, like, these violins like arrangements on Cruelty And The Beast, for example, you know, the interaction between the two guitars. Is this element still present in today's carnation of the band?
I'm a big fan of Cruelty And The Beast album. So yeah, we are trying to and I mean, we really tried to keep those elements but not necessarily to plagiarize them or just copy them. But I think everyone in the band love for example, Crulety And The Beast, so I think it's deeply in us. It's a kind of our musical homeland.
Coś tutaj dodać jakieś pytanie odnośnie obecnoścni tego stylu na Hammer i Cryptorianie..
Do you have a home studio, and if yes, can you reveal what it looks like and what kind of equipment you have there?
Oh, I'm very simple with these things, at least for the moment. I would like to build a proper one in the future but right now my setup is just basic. I have the basic stuff here for recording demos but I already did a few interesting guitar solo guest appearances recorded in my home studio. So I'm just using basic Pro Tools. I think it's a stripped down version seven,you know, the old one, the simple one, it's just works for me and honestly, I've never tried any of the newer versions. So, I'm using
Pro Tools. I think it's Se 7, as I said the stripped down, absolutely basic version, but for me, on what I need its more then enough, you know, to record with it and send to the others. when it comes to the audio interface, preamps and that kind of things, I'm just using M Audio Firewire Solo as my interface. It is also the old one, I think it came with the Pro Tools. And that's it.
Okay, when you work on your demos, do you use any drum software like Addictive Drums, Supperior Drummer or something like that?
Yes, but I did it just a few times because most of the time I'm working with the skilled drummers, so I don't really need to program the drum parts by myself, or to use the pre programmed drums, but I did a few demos where I used Addictive Drums and I must say I quite liked the results.
I have to admit that at concerts your guitars sound more powerful today than ever before in the history of the band. Is this analog, digital or hybrid setup? What do we find in your live rig?
Well, through years we used various stuff. In 2014 when we started our first tour together, we played through real amps and cabs. I think mine was Peavey 6505 with an unknown cabinet but a really special one, which sounds actually killer.
I Think at that time Richard used a Mesa Boogie Rectifier. Then, probably still in 2014 but somewhere at the end of the year we switched for Kempers and we used them pretty much till 2016. After that time, we were looking for something smaller, but reliable, because of a lot of traveling. You know, a lot of flying gigs and Kempers was extra luggage, so we found these really cool small micro preamps from Mooer which served really, really great. We use them heavyly, I think from mid of 2017.
After that, you probably know that, we start to work with the Radar, which is like more than amp simulation. You have IR impulses inside, you can upload your own IR into this. So we use that as a power amp and a cab and mic scenario, so, we just went through those micro preamps to Raider straight to the DI and mixing board. And pretty much all 2018 and last year we used Positive Grid. You know, their rackmount ones, the minis.
Oh wow, I didn't know that!
There you go! So, as you see our equipment changed a bit through the years, and I think the guitar sound is still evolving,
it's very hard to compare it to the situation, from let's say, 20 years ago, when the possibilities for digital were minimal.
Today we have all these amazing digital stomp boxes, software, it's like a digital milestone that we have nowadays.
Yes and it's interesting because it;s seams that digital guitar sound can only be better and better today and that's really, really fascinating thing. But, you know, you have, you have mentioned the Radar and the Positive Grid and it's quite interesting and surprising tools. Why this particular brand? I mean Mooer, what does Mooer have that the recently very popular Head Rush Boss or Helix doesn't have?
well, I have a one word here.Size! Look at the size of this unit!
Oh really! Amazingly tiny!
Yeah, and the micro preamp was this size. What I'm also using is a Mooer Pith Box, I did a mini review of it a little while ago on my websites, you know, my Instagram and Facebook, but the preamps and the Radar, which is as I said earlier cab sim, they are exactly this size, so you can put it into your pocket and have a complete stack, including cab sims and mics. So, it was the main reason because you can simply put it into your guitar case and travel with it.
And what about the playing factor? The attack of the of the pick, the dynamics while playing, the behaviour of these virtual amps.... it is something that is similar to the real analog thing?
In my opinion it's getting close, it's getting really close, you know, with my other band, Titanic, I play through a real amp and real cab, so all the way old school fashion. And of course I can notice the difference but it also depends on the music I think, because if you play jazz, blues, or really dynamic stuff, you can recognize the difference, which is more than if you play really busy and fast music. so the chose of equipment is also based on kind of type of music. So, I Think it is important to be able to choose the equipment according to the genre of music and needs, the style of playing is also important here. Anyway, it's good to have all these possibilities today, all these inexpensive possibilities to get very good, inspiring sound.
And do you need some any post EQs after this Mooer things? I mean, 'm thinking here of these specific harsh frequencies, which are practically always additionally proanounced by a digital amps.
Yeah, definitely our sound sound engineer did some post eqs because it's not only the sole guitar sound, but you need to bear in mind the rooms are changing evry night and also the other instruments So you, you have to eqing it more or less. And it's no matter what equipment on guitar you playing through.
You touched an important point, because many people complain about this kind of thing when it comes to digital, while in live situation, even analogue equipment has to be equalized practically every night and then we have frequencies that sound bad or are unnecessary, so it's not just a curse of the digital amp modelers....
Oh, yes, exactly!
Do you still remember Pod XT Live or HD 500X? Did you use them? If so, did you manage to get really good convincing sound on any of them?
Yeah, Line 6. back then was a kind of pioneer of this digital stuff. I remember I used the the first one. You know, we call it the bean.
Oh yeah, I had it too, the little red one yeah....
Well, actually, it was not that little. but yeah, the sound was not bad for year 2000 or something like this. Then I switched for Pod XT Pro which was the rackmount version, and I use it as a combo with, I think it was Peavey 5050, you know, the power amp to go into the cab and it wasn't bad, I think I got really good results but when mixing with real tube amps, the other guitar player always sound better, like he has more clear sound in the mix and I was a bit lost. But it was the beginning of digital. It was the first digital attempts Now, everyone is using IR impulses which are the samples of real speakers. Bear in mind the space as well with the mic. So it's totally different story.
What do you think about them today? Is it still worth to reach for them? Do you think that these types of devices age well?
Well, I don't think there is a reason to reach for them nowadays because the Line 6 company evolve as well with their Helix stuff. So things are moving on. I think the whole digital sampling and processing of the guitar sound really went through a long, long journey during last couple years, because 20 years ago, you wouldn't tell somebody that you can play through this a serious live gig or making an album with only this kind of stuff. That was impossible.Today, everything is different.
Have you been playing more expensive things, for example, the new Kemper floor or the latest Fractal Axe Fx?
I never tried either of them personally, but a friend of mine recently purchased the Kemper Floor and he mentioned that he might need some help with settings because I've been previously experienced with a the classic rackmount Kemper.
So, soon I will have the opportunity to check if something has changed in terms of technology and sound in these devices.
You use quite modern equipment, so you probably also familiar with VST Amps? We have Helix Native, Amplitube 4, Mercuriall Spark and Reaxis... we have Bias Amp and Bias FX, we have great stuff from STL Tones, and Neural DSP, we have Brainworx, we have TSE X50, we have official software reproduction of Peavey, nicknamed Revalver 4.... What do you think about all this VST madness?
Well, I think today we have really a great time when it comes to amp modelling. You mentioned a lot of great stuff. Personally, I've been using Apmlitube for years. For my demos and not only demos actually, I think I did a few guest solos using Amplitude. I'm recently fiddling with the Bias FX , because we've been using Positive Grid recently. And most recently, I'm about to trying those stuff from Neural DSP, because my buddies from Cradle Of Filth, Richard and Daniel already using them and they are really happy with the results.
What is your favourite amplifier model on Amplitube?
The one I used the most, I think I don't know the real name but through design. It's obviously it was based on 5150.
Oh yes, you mean the original model from the old Amplitube? It's probably available in their so-called metal pack or something like this....
Yes, I think that's the one. I have an open project because I've been working on another guest solo at the moment so I have my Pro Tools on so you can see it, you can have a look. So yes, actually it's amplitude three that I'm using.
Yes, and this is the amplifier I was thinking about! For me it's probably the most real sounding high gain amp over there!
Oh yes, I would say so. I definitely use it most
And your favorite amplifier in Bias?
I'm still fiddling with that, but I spend quite a lot of time playing through a Power Plate, which by design I believe it's based on Engl Powerball. Which I played for many years. I have a real Engl, Powerball so I'm quite familiar with this one.
Do you also think that the amplifiers in Bias need a lot of pre and post Eq to sound good?
you know, you can think about it as I mentioned in your previous question we have to think there are, let's say, two different views. If you play guitar as a standalone, you can say yeah, this is a good sound, or no, this is a bad sound but when you mix it with the band, the sound might actually work really a lot better than the sound you liked when you play alone, but you know that you are skilled studio engineer and so, I think every sound engineer more or less need to use the EQ and its not that the guitar sound is bad but you know, you have a different PA systems, you need to check all the frequencies from all the instruments there, also bear in mind the room dimensions and acoustics.
How do you build sound inside your computer? Do you use different applications of this type depending on your needs? Maybe you prefer to create your chains? You know, something on principle, overdrives from one vst, amplifiers from another, speakers from another, surround effects from another and so on....
Yeah I'm using everything here and there, but, well, basically my basic setup is, is everything from Amplitube. And if I'm more specific, I'm using a 5150 and I have a Tube Screamer in front of that, also from Amplitube, I have also an graphic EQ but It's not used. So I might just switch it occasionally when it's needed to be applied. But sometimes I'm using an old analog pedals in front of that while recording if you need to achieve, some more kind of special tones and that's largely my main setting.
Okay, let's talk about treating the guitar from the core…. Frequency that you usually boost?
So you want to know my setting my currency? Uh huh. Yeah. sick. I think basically when I'm playing alone or with the band, my settings are somewhere between No worries, really not really extreme settings for you know photo photo EQ bass, mid, mid treble. It's between four and six. And if I look, I have a preset in my amplitude, which I'm using most of the time. Yeah, I have a bass three and a half. Mm hmm. Mix on seven actually, but it also depends on the guitar and pickups play. trip and treble on six and I have the gain at three and three and a half by I also have adult tubes tubescreamer in front of so.
And what about the key frequencies for the big metal guitar is in your opinion?
Oh definitely the hands! haha!I I believe, not saying hundred percent, but I believe a big portion of a guitar song or any instrument, song play by hands are in actual hands. You know, I remember one story and I can recall from my past that are some of my friends tend to tell me that they always knew that's me playing, they recognize by sound and I've used various stuff through digitech to real amps to Pod or Kemper. I think almost everything is in the hands. I remember one old article I think it was with a Red beach of winger, now playing with Whitesnake as well. And he remembers the tour when Wingers supported Ozzy Osbourne and they used to jam with Zakk Wylde and one day they switch their equipments but nothing happened. They sound the same. You know, they switch guitars and amps so Zaak Wylde was using Redbitch equipment and RedBitch using Zaak's Les Paul's and Marshalls but they sound didn't change because it's in the hands.
and when it comes to speaker impulses... Redwirez, OwnHammer? Or something else?
I'm not really skilled with IR impulses, I mean, I'm new and I'm not using them yet for my recording, but I tried to fiddle with them quite a lot with the Radar stuff from Moorer. You have like 60 impulses inside and you can adjust the position of mics and things like that. You can use different cabs, you have a pre and post EQ. You can change the tubes as well.
Oh great, that's impressive!
Yeah, It's really worth checking this thing, if you don't know it yet, try it. It has many advantages, as I mentioned earlier, like size, anyway, I tried to fiddle with their impulses and I think I tried to upload the other people's impulses as well. But it's kind of tricky with other people IR's because it might not work particularly well with your preamp settings because you know, impulses were made in different conditions by using different amp and things like that. There is also a lot of fun with them, a lot of different possibilities, configurations so it's time consuming, and, as you mentioned yourself, also the companies that produce these impulses, there is a lot of them, so I focused on these 60 factory ones and they work really well.
What about Guitars? Do you use anything outside the Schecter brand? Any more classic models?
I do have some other guitars besides of Schecters, I think like two years ago I bought a really sweet guitar, a Richie Kotzen signature Telecaster. It's one of the best guitar I have played. I have a few other brands as well like Carvin, but nowadays I'm playing Schecter exclusively.
How do you setup your guitar? I mean strings, neck, pickups.... you know, all this what players usually want to know….
I told you about this before the interview, but let me say it in public. For me you are a very interesting figure on today's metal scene, I value you for a lot of things, but, especially for your work ethos and characteristic recognisable style of sound, which, in my opinion, is characteristic, largely due to the fact that you're not afraid to take on almost every element of the production yourself.... How do you look at it? And right away the second
question.... You have experience in both fields, mixing, mastering, also engineering, don't you have a problem
with separating the different jobs and work stages while working?
I think from the way I entered the recording business, working with unknown bands, there was no option other than me to do everything. There has been occasions where someone else handled the mix, or the mastering. It can go either way on if it works out well or not. My advice when I’m discussing with the bands is this, if someone else is going to mix or master, choose someone top of their game. When I get problems is when bands choose someone who is more of a step sideways
or even down, and I could have done it better. Wearing all the hats, its better when I get time to separate. So if I produced an album, its great to work on something else for a while to freshen the approach before I start the mix.
Today, more and more often, the differences between these two stages are blurred, young engineers treat them as a single stage. Is that a good thing? What impact does it have on the final quality and success of the project when we mix and finalize the project at once. What are the cons of this type of work?
It’s rare for me to do have anything I’ve mixed mastered by anyone else. When I finished Savage Messiah ‘Hands of Fate’ album I had already done a test master but the band were keen to explore other options. In the end we had some tests done and Dave Collins (Metallica Hardwired) beat everyone. He just made my mix sound so much better.
Godspeed On The Devil's Thunder it's an album whose sound is commonly attributed to Andy Sneap, I know you were involved in the production process of this album, as far as I know you engineered and mixed it.
I only recorded 75% of the guitars on that album, Andy Sneap did everything else. Andy had some gigging commitments with SABBAT in the US and asked me to cover for him whilst he was away.
Paul Allender was still in the band at the time. How, now - when he hasn't been in the band for a few years, do you evaluate his contribution then?
I’ll always be a fan of Paul and his playing. He’s a riff beast. Since I made 3 COF albums with Paul I know he chose to write pretty much on his own, I think in retrospect the albums could have been a bit more varied if another guitarist was brought in to write.
His playing style and his picking is quite unique, his right hand is very precise....
Yes Paul has the drilling / speed picking and scrubbing style down perfectly which is the COF sound.
What equipment did you use on this record? What kind of amps, microphones and effects did you use?
I don’t think i actually went into the room where the cab was set up!! I think we tracked with a Krankenstein but i couldn’t say if it made it onto the record.
Tell me something about your studio..... about acoustic adaptation, listening system and your main work environment....
I use Genelec 1031 and Yamaha ns10. I also have a 15” subwoofer under the desk. I can’t say I’m an expert on monitors,
but it seemed like a logical choice as I had worked in other studios in the early days and that's what they were using.
I was very comfortable on these speakers and they complemented each other very well.
My studio is built with inside out walls, so that the plasterboard is next to the brick work of the building, and the internal stud partition is just material stretched over the insulation. Its very dead, and then I just use some harder surfaces here and there to liven things up. A guy called John Sayers has a wealth of information available on his website for people to build their studios with.
It is no secret that Cradle Of Filth is a band of which Dani Filth, has been the only permanent member for a long time. He is not constant towards the bandmates, but when it comes to the recording studio and the chief
engineer it's been quite different for a long time....What do you think Dani Filth values you the most for?
It definitely helps that the studio is local to where he lives. That said, we have a good understanding of each other,
and our vision and standards are very similar. We rarely have a difference of opinion, and are both happy to really dig in and push for the best performances, even if we’ve finished it 2 or 3 times already.
The biggest loss you think that Cradle of Filth experienced? I'm asking about the band members....
There was something very special about the Cruelty line up. I don’t think they really got a line up as pioneering as that again, although they had lots of really good line ups. It’s cliche in that although it was a very creative and ground breaking line up,
it was also turbulent and was destined to implode. The current line up is the closest they’ve got to harnessing a classic metal vibe like they had back in the late 90’s.
Let's leave Cradle Of Filth for a moment, let's go to, I think, also an important album for you, an album which, almost all the media cream in terms of sound, was drunk by Colin Richardson....
I mean, of course, Behemoth's Evangelion album, on which you also worked.
I bet you remember working on that album to this day.... You found yourself in the proverbial mouth of a lion....
on the one hand Colin Richardson, who usually has quite a clear vision of the sound of the album he is working on quite early, on the other hand Nergal, who is also a type of Control freak and likes to personally watch the effect of work... Was there room in such conditions for creative improvisation, for some changes? An element of coincidence?
There was a period at the beginning of the mix where Nergal was in Poland and we were in the studio in London.
It was very difficult to get the mix underway as Colin felt like his hands were tied in which sounds he had to work with.
Apparently you couldn't come to an agreement with the sound of guitars, they were recorded using completely different amplifiers than the ones we hear on the album. Why did you reamped them?
Colin didn’t like the microphone positioning as I remember. The tone had a lot of fizz which we couldn’t get rid of.
Nergal was firmly against reamping, but when he arrived at the studio we talked him round. We got a load of amps in the studio and he chose what he liked.
You used mostly Peavey, right? Everything seems to indicate that then Nergal's relationship with these amplifiers began? All because of, or thanks to Colin Richardson....
Actually no, we used a few different amps, and I remember there were 6 guitar tracks to make up the rhythms. I’m pretty
sure we used a regular 5150, an EVH and a Randall RM100. Nergal was a Mesa Rectifier guy at the time, and it was a lot
of work from me and Colin to convince him of trying different sounds. Once we got going he was very happy. The album sounds killer.
Are there any guitar tracks on the album that are left intact on the mixing stage?
Not sure, i cant remember!
If we're at Evangelion, you can't forget about the drums and the work that Daniel Bergstrand did at the tracking stage. This may be a bit of a surprising question, but how do you assess what Daniel does with the drums and
what he did with the drum tracks on Evangelion? I'm asking because you had the pleasure to hear the drums
before the mix....
I remember we didn’t change the toms at all, Colin thought they sounded killer. Daniel had blended samples with them already, as he had done with the kick and snare. I think Colin added something else to the sounds for the kick and
snare tho, maybe something for attack. On the whole, it was Daniels sounds just mixed by Colin.
On the cover of the album Dormant Heart by the band Sylosis you are signed as mixing and drum engineering,
Tell me more about the drums on this album.
For the tracking I took the guys to the studio I used for Cradle Of Filth's album ‘Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa’. It’s called Monkey Puzzle studio in Suffolk, England. It had a very large live room, and the guys were looking for a very ‘drum room’ type of sound. We placed room mics at various distances from the kit, as much as 10 metres away. I don’t think we used
all of them, but the super far ones may have been used for short sections here and there where they wanted some distance or no close mics at all.
Amon Amarth's, Deceiver Of The Gods, is an album where you played the role of an engineer for a change....
What exactly was your responsibility when you were working on this album?
I basically did whatever Andy Sneap told me to ha ha. To be honest, I helped lighten the workload. I would tune and maintain the drum kit in between takes, while Andy sorted the session and got everything ready. The band were cutting the drum as a band, all playing live together, so there was always something to sort out, like headphone mixes or straightening out the arrangements. If I had an idea I’d throw it in, sometimes it took both of us to convince the band to change something.
There was always too much double kick, and it was quite difficult finding alternative beats to cut that down. Myself and Andy
also recorded the guitars at the same time, I had Johan and he had Ollie. We’d exchange files and got the songs up pretty quickly. I also did lots of pre-mix stuff for the sessions so Andy was ready to mix super quickly.
Can you say something about the outboard gear used to mix Nergal's vocals on Evangelion?
It was just the compressor I believe. It was the Empirical Labs Distressor. I actually bought one right after the session was finished. The rest would have been plugins like Soundtoys Decapitator or some other Lo-Fi stuff.
What did Dani vocal chain look like when recording vocal parts?
I keep things really simple when recording vocals, I really like the Warm Audio range. I use their WA-47 mic and
the WA-412 mic pre. I always track with the Distressor on, usually distortion setting 3. It gives you more of a tape
saturation type smoothness.
How long does an average vocal session last? How big fragments of the track can he put together in one go?
With Dani, we are trying lots of different patterns and layers with different voices. Its very time consuming, we spend at least 2 days a song just on vocals. We don’t over edit because it always sounds worse, so it might be a case of getting the comp together and then replicating that in bigger parts.
How many vocal takes/tracks are on Cruelty And The Beast?
As the whole album was recorded on to 2 24 track reel, they kept Dani to a maximum of around 4 tracks.
What do you think about plugins and all this mastering applications like Ozone or Lurssen Mastering Console?
For me, the second mentioned is more a kind of toy then a serious mastering workhorse....
Whatever works really. Its more how you use them to your benefit. Ozone has most of what you need, as do most of their competitors. It’s all very well having expensive hardware dedicated for mastering, but its important to remember most bands other than established ones have a very low budget for it. At the very least I need an analogue bus compressor.
What about all these one knob mastering plugins? You treat them as an insult ?As a profanation of your profession?
I never use one knob plugins. I’m sure they are for home recordists who need simple ‘it sounds better’ on/off plugins.
You've recently had the pleasure of working with another great Polish band playing extreme music.
I'm talking about Vader. As far as I know, you've just finished mixing.... What, in terms of production, will this upcoming album stand out?
Peter wanted a sharper sound in the guitars, rather than muddy. A lot of the riffs seemed to get lost on previous albums and the drums seemed very triggered. I guess these were the 2 main factors Peter was keen to concentrate on.
Elements you tried to emphasize on this album?
I wanted to spend longer on the vocals, to get Peter to be more of a main thing, and of course to showcase more lead work. The solos are really shredding on this album.
Was there anything that you wanted to do differently than on previous Vader albums so far?
Yes - the main thing was to improve Peters English and his pronunciation. Vader had previously only worked with studio guys where English was their second language and i felt that Peter hadn’t been picked up enough on his wording in his lyrics. Another thing was that Peter had a big love of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and I wanted a slightly more Marshall classic tone for the sound rather than too modern.
I haven't heard the full album yet, but I have heard some fragments and I must admit that the album sounds more analogue than the last two Vader releases. You also managed to work out a very cool midrange, especially low midrange. I think it's a very important frequency range for this band. Do you agree with me on that?
The thing with Vader is that Peter has a huge voice. He really fills out the middle of the mix, and he sounds great with reverb. I mixed the whole album around that really. Peter has a very thick low mid range and from there you get the snare also being full, then the low chugs in the guitars etc...it all follows from there.
Peter, like the aforementioned Colin Richardson, like to keep his hand on the pulse. Either you're lucky to have such characters or you just attract such strong personalities.... there's also the option that you just have such a
Well, I guess anyone who is a survivor in this industry must be doing something right eh? Anyway, with Vader, I previously worked with James the drummer on a few albums, so he connected me and Peter and we went from there.
I mentioned that the album sounded analogue, but you mixed it In The Box....
I always mix In The Box, but for the album to sound more analogue, you basically just have keep the drums sounding as real as possible. There is a lot of blasting and as such you should never be tempted to use a harder snare hit to make it louder. Its essential to work within the dynamics of what is actually happening in the track. I do use tape simulation and other analogue processing to help glue the mix together tho. Its surprising how a bit of Soundtoys or Distressor here and there can de-sterilise things.
A few words to my readers? Any tips, tricks?
To anyone who wants to work in the audio industry, just get on with it and work hard. Remember to always be polite and listen to the artist!!
Thank you very much Scott. It was great talking to you!
Thank you Adrian, it was a pleasure! Thank you for your interest!