Friday, January 18, 2013

Masters of the Universe.

So, I doubt no- one thought this album was finished when we got out of the studio? Quite on to contrary, to be honest. But what I did was that I didn´t listen to it for two weeks when it was ready. Why? Because I knew we have to tweak stuff, add stuff and better stuff before the mastering. 
And the best way to actually judge what is actually needed is to give your brain a rest first.  The more you "forget", the more clearer and realistic picture you will have later.


So, just before Xmas I dug the files up and gave them a spin.
While I liked what I heard, I could instantly say that we need definitely more keyboards and less guitars. And tons of more "punch", which was already known as we left much room for the mastering to have many options available. So I put them through a master compressor and limiter quickly in order to emulate the final master sound a bit more closer.

[Studio Jargon]
The reason is that the final compressing (which is always done to every single album in the world at the mastering) is changing the balances of the instruments a bit. For example, in metal music most likely guitars will rise a bit from the mix and the drums tend to lower as well. And - depending on the EQ- melodies tend to go lower and overall "pad keyboards" rise. The easiest way to think is that all the sound that has an "attack" will go down and everything else will rise. So, if I wanted to hear how the balance is in reality going to be after mastering, I needed to listen to the album compressed and a bit EQ´d instead of listening to the pure mixes.
[/Studio Jargon]

After one listening, I gave another week thinking about the tracklist. Which was pretty much the hardest in any album I´ve done. I- or we- didn´t have any clue of it, you see. We had thought to open with "Nexro", followed with "Kyyppari". And then something, something, and finally ending the album with "Soutu".
But the more we listened, the more everything else didn´t fit to the album. Like "Piraatti" which the middle- part sounded so shitty right now that should we actually drop the song totally off from the album? So many question- marks with so little answers.
After a week, it suddenly struck me in the middle of the night. We´re having the wrong opener! After realizing that we should start with Blodsvett (like we were discussing at some point) everything kind of "snapped" to right places and I was really happy how it turned out to be. So I posted it to the other guys with a shy "Uhm...yes, it´s completely different song order we thought, but give it a spin without prejudices and I think you´ll be positively surprised".
You can probably imagine my surprise, as Tundra wrote back that "You gotta be kidding me, I´ve been trying the EXACTLY SAME tracklist here :D". For our excitement, everyone else bought the order as well with enthusiasm. So we were ready with that!

Enter a week more for me without listening it again, and I took one sunday evening with pen and paper and wrote all the things we needed to tweak and add. I used my trusty home hifi, which had been serving me for 15 years so I knew their sound completely. And then I wrote things down.
Main concerns were that the melodies weren´t partly audible enough, some rythm pianos and extra guitars were way too low and some little vocal extras would be needed. Add sound FX to this part, enhance that booming tom there...all little things that I felt were needed but didn´t now appear loud enough or were missing completely.
After writing this into an email and sending it to the guys, I got mostly feedback that "yeah, all these are needed and valid points". Which was good, because now I knew that those were actually justified and needed.

So, at monday I started to work with things. First I molded the 20- second intro for FOUR HOURS but it was totally worth it. :D I was a bit scared how the guys will take it, but for my relief, they absolutely loved it. You see, I had only told them about my idea, and if they wouldn´t liked the actual product, we had to go without one, because there would had been no time to start thinking of something else. It´s a bit different for what we´ve done before, but suits the album start perfectly in my opinion.
Then I spent some hours adding some extra rythm guitars to some places where there was only one guitar playing, giving Marilyn the extra pair of jazz- horns it needed, and doubling many melodies. Even actually adding a new one at one song! Tundra, Virta and Vreth got to my office at 5 PM and then we tweaked more stuff, added this and that and then finally started to have fun when all the "boring instrument shit" was done.

Marilyn got the kazoos again (which were in the demo but not in the studio version) and it started to sound incredible... Piraatti´s middle- part was treated by my boy choir and Tundra´s a- cappella jazz singing (!!!) and Vreth did some more backing vocals to double the old ones which had been left too quiet. Finally the album sounded like it was meant to be! Just look on the left of everything we added and tweaked after the mix. :)

Then it was time for the last sound FX. "Soutu" got the according dragons to the background with some wind, Piraatti got some squeaking, intro got tweaked a bit with more snorting (!!!) and everyone was really happy about the result when we left my office at 10:30 PM. Next day I took all the new versions out from Cubase, did backups and put everything on two different USB sticks and a cloud drive as well for Wednesday.
And because you can never be so sure about your decision, each song got basically three versions for the master:


This was because if we would had thought that "this one extra thing is now too loud" or something, we could had combined the original versions with the tweak- only track and adjust their balance to fit better. You can NEVER have too many backup plans, seriously. :D


One would think everything would be dancing on roses from this onwards, yet we´re talking about Finntroll here. So, as I mentioned briefly, I had been ping- ponging some files with World´s Best Masterer (TM) Mika Jussila who had done some excellent work already with some test files. Mika´s been my trusted mastering engineer for 10+ years and I simply cannot appraise his skills enough here. He´s a very professional, easy- going guy who always listens to the customer and has excellent ideas of his own as well. And the sound he makes is always incredible.
So, I wanted the mastering to bring out more of the keyboard pads and bass and less guitars, and his first master was exactly the vice versa ( :D ), as I hadn´t told him yet that I wanted something different this time. So I took his first version, tweaked it with EQ to go more into the direction I wished and bounced it back to him. It took him a couple of hours to do a goddamn excellent new version, and I posted both to the guys. And then it started.

"I like the first version better, it sounds like a real metal album"
"The other version was too muddy"

After a couple of days of discussing the matter via email, Facebook and phone, I convinced the doubtfyul guys that the album will sound terrible if we use the first version, as "then it´s basically all guitars and that´s it- this particular song is a bad reference for the whole album as there are not so much keyboards and melodies. A wonderful sound for a modern Thrash Metal album, but not for us." I asked Mika to put more hi- end back with a screenshot of my new EQ tweak, "but watch out the guitars while doing it". After the third version everyone was happy and we were ready to go to the actual mastering to lay down the overall sound, put the tracks to correct order and print the final master out of it.
Wednesday the 16th we tweaked it at Mika´s studio more, laid everything in right order and left the mastering session with a finalized product! Everyone was very pleased with the overall sound and we thought it´s the best album ever. I resisted the urge to listen it on my car, went straight home and gave the CD a spin. I loved it, but somehow it lacked...I don´t know, violence? I went to my computer and used different speaker system and then it struck me: we had still been too careful with the treble.
I called Tundra and he said that they had thought the same with Virta in his car but thought it was just because of the shitty car stereo.

After comparing the sound to Nifelvind and Nattfödd and then twiddling with the EQ I realized that the sound was indeed needing brightness. So I called Mika and explained the situation. He promised to do the new versions on thursday. Then I sent Jens, our chief at Century Media Records an email:
"The album is mastered and Mika should have sent you the files now.


I noticed at home that there´s a chance the sound need a bit more "hi- end". Compared to the earlier albums, it´s now a bit darker, and might be too dark. I will check the files at my office tomorrow and compare them with proper speakers.
Next morning I fiddled with the hi- end at work and compared it to our other albums. Then I sent Mika a rather apologizing email that "yeah, we really need to do that hi- end tweak" and included once again a screenshot of the EQ setting I had used. We got the new versions and they were WAY better. Then I went home later and gave them a spin in my car. And I felt it´s grinding my teeth out now. FUUUUU.
So I sent the band and Jens another email:

Jens and the band! I need your output here.

Listen to the final versions which Mika sent us today and TAKE NOTE if there is too much treble. They sounded very good at my office, but at my car there was quite stinging hi end at the sound. Both of these versions have their positive and negative aspects, but I´d still rather go with the new ones UNLESS everyone is against it.
So, let me put it this way: Listen to the new and final versions and IF they are too "treble"- ish, listen to the earlier ones and check if you like those better.

This is very important, as I need more ears here than my own to know exactly which version we should use.



And what a fucking can of worms that was. :D At the end, everyone except for Beast Dominator from the band were voting for the new versions. But also, everyone was a bit doubtful if it´s too bright now. Emails and other online conversations combined, we had close to one hundred comments on the matter, so it was very hard to figure out the best way.
And then, as the last confusing element, Jens voted for the first version. He thought it´s more punk and vintage and liked it because of the "old school element". Fuck. We were tearing our hair off with confusion. However, being the awesome guy he is, he wrote last that "...I know it’s not an easy decision for you. We are not the kind of record label that is telling bands what to do. I believe in artist freedom because real art is coming from heart... [snipped by Trollhorn].....Let’s sleep it over for one night and listen to both version a few times more."
And this is what we did. And when I woke up today, I knew exactly what´s wrong. Everyone who had doubts was concerned about the "whistling" frequency in the cymbals and that´s it. 
So, what if I....what if I....WHAT IF I.

And soon, a wild email appears:
I figured it out last night. Gonna drill a sharp hole to the hi- end EQ of the second version. Two test songs coming up in an hour for you guys! That could nail it for everyone.
[enter two hours]
Ok, here´s the stabbed version of Blodsvett. I dug that certain frequency which is responsible for grinding your teeth out, and dropped it down.
 This sound should have the hi- end of the Version 2 without that most irritating frequency from the drums.
Picture attached for audiophiles. Please let me know your opinion, would this be best of the both worlds?

And then what? While I was anxiously tweaking ambience tracks for a game of ours, a familiar sound appears and the first email dropped in from Beast Dominator:
"This is much more gentle to my fragile ears I´d say. Thanks for the pic ;)".Two minutes later from Virta: The fixed one is the shit! :D Much better than the old new one." Then Vreth: "Ka-tsching! Henri for president." Skrymer: "YEEESSSS! Brighter without that shitty stuff....awesome :) " and finally, Jens. "Sounds great- perfect middle way of punchy and punk!".

"Punchy and punk". You heard it here first!

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