Sweetening Metal Drum Tracks

Contemporary metal drum tracks sound pretty far from natural, they usually sound more like heavy grade pyrotechnics. When one first sits down to reproduce this sound it can be fairly daunting. Whether mic’ing a drum set or using software samples, raw drums are going to sound thin compared to what ends up on modern metal albums or in concert acts that mic the set and apply processing on a per channel basis. I’ve found a couple tricks that seem to work well for getting closer to the ‘over the top’ punch and smack adored by metal fans. My experimentation has all been performed on Hydrogen with LADSPA effects.

The Kick
Metal mixes will often synchronize the kick attack, a bass guitar attack, and a staccato attack on guitar simultaneously for a super non-syncopated punch effect. The kick is often on top of all this in the mix and that takes a ‘big’ kick that’s ‘perceived’ as ‘deep’. There are a couple do’s and don’ts here.

First, chorus works miracles on kicks. Apply it to the kick and only to the kick. Play with the settings until you achieve the desired size of balls. I’ve successfully used a multi-voice chorus LADSPA plugin to this end. The A-B difference is extreme. Mixing the chorused signal with the dry signal will help preserve the kick punch/attack. A 50/50 mix has worked well for me.

Next, I think it’s generally good to avoid reverb on a kick as it can kill the attack. I’ve heard it used effectively on older ’80s metal but it seems uncommon in modern metal, where the ‘fist in the face’ punch takes precedence. If it is used then the wet signal should be mixed with the dry as to preserve attack.

The snare seems much more variable, even amongst a sample of closely related metal bands. Tuning can vary quite a bit as can the level with respect to the overall mix. However, I’ve found that the careful application of plate reverb can effectively spice up a snare hit, specifically in sampled kits. I’ve used a LADSPA plate reverb that includes some filtering allowing for adjustment of sonic characteristics as well. A formerly ‘stock’ sounding snare blast now possesses an almost ‘gunshot’ like quality. And that’s what we metal folks like; the drums that sound like the 4th of July.

Cymbals and Hats
Thus far it’s my experience that cymbals sounds good relatively unprocessed. Some EQ may be in order depending on the situation, but I don’t see much point in toying with the natural resonance with reverb or anything else per say.

Toms are still a bit of a mystery to me. I’m not particularly happy with results I’ve achieved thus far. The toms seem to lack in pitch characteristics and sound ‘flat’. I’ve experimented with reverbs, which didn’t provide good results. Perhaps something to broaden the frequencies like pitch shifting would help. It’s also possible that I simply have poor tom samples. Anyone who would like to chime in is certainly welcome!

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