Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’: Better on ‘Guitar Hero’


In this week’s issue of the Village Voice, Rob Harvilla attempts to review (“Let us make rock-criticism history together”) Metallica’s new Death Magnetic purely via Guitar Hero—because, as our music editor further explains, “You don’t actually want to listen to a song called ‘The Unforgiven III,’ right?” Right.

There were some critical hiccups along the way (“let us start off by noting that every tune on this album is, like, 10 minutes long; for those of us with early-onset arthritic tendencies, this creates the first-ever scenario where you’ll find yourself saying, ‘Shit, I wish this Metallica record had more ballads,'” which indeed no one besides potentially Chuck Eddy has ever said), but new information, courtesy of Wired magazine’s Listening Post blog, seems to confirm Harvilla’s basic impression that this epistemological tack was in fact the right one.

“According to mastering engineer Ian Sheperd,” writes Wired’s Eliot Van Buskirk,
”Metallica’s new Death Magnetic album has a serious sonic problem: it has been compressed (in the audio sense of the word, not the file size sense) just about as much as it’s possible to compress audio.” The upshot? “Later analysis showed that the CD is 10 dB louder than the Guitar Hero version, which sounds about twice as loud to the ear. That’s some wicked compression.” Compression, of course, being what at high levels “massively” distorts audio signals, making them louder—good for commercials and rock radio—while making people who care about how stuff sounds shake their ringing heads in dismay. The article goes own to quote the record’s own mastering engineer as saying “I’m not proud to be associated with this one,” and ends on a sobering conclusion: “audiophiles would be better off recording the songs from the videogame than buying the album because the Guitar Hero version has far more dynamic range than the hyper-compressed CD version.”

Which is surely what Rob was talking about when he noted the superiority of his presciently chosen reviewing format: “It’s maudlin high-school poetry as always, but perfect in this context—every note assigned a candy-colored button, band and audience alike rendered as goofy cartoons.”

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