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Thread: An audiophile ranks and reviews every MM album solely on sound quality. [NERD ALERT]

  1. #31
    fractured Skull's Avatar
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    I think especially in the case of the Tryptych albums this is important because they are meant to be listened to as one piece, so if you have an album that is loudness wars right to hell, you get listening fatigue. Could you imagine if ACSS sounded like GAOG, I find it hard to believe it would have sold what it did. Despite the amazing song craft and themes, it would have been hard to sit and listen to and by the time you got to songs like Antichrist Superstar, you'd be mentally tuning out the harshness. Instead the album is just ramping up then. Agree completely about the beauty of the chorus kicking in for ACSS and how effective the loudness is there because everything else before it hasn't been brickwalled to shit.
    Exactly! Although I love GAOG, I hardly ever manage to listen to it in one go.

    By the way, what is with the people not hearing the 4,3,2,1 in that song? To me it was as clear as day the first time I heard it and in subsequent spins (and because I'm a tool) I would quietly use my fingers to count that down. One day a friend asked me why I was doing that and I said I was mimicking the countdown and they were like what countdown? so I showed him and it was like pointing out the Northern Lights to someone, he had never noticed it before. Since then I've seen countless people across Manson sites ask what countdown people were talking about.
    Honestly, I have no idea what the fuck you guys are talking about ?!

    And thanks for your reply A Gruesome Discovery!

  2. #32
    Man Who Fell From Earth A Gruesome Discovery's Avatar
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    #6 THE GOLDEN AGE OF GROTESQUE
    Dynamic Range: 6 (Buzz-buzz)
    Overall Production Score: C

    THE LOWDOWN: Here's another release coming in at DR6 and it's got all the inherent problems with severely limited music. Its saving grace is that stylistically it sort of almost survives the onslaught; this is a very “electronic” sound and can handle a little more limiting than a straight-up rock album. Just not this much.
    It should be noted that while this comes out to a DR6, the same as Holy Wood and EMDM, it's pushing into DR5 territory. Now, dynamic range isn't technically expressed in decibels, but its derived in part from the average level in decibels (dB RMS) to the point where a correlation exists. The thing about the decibel scale is that it's not linear, it's logarithmic (base 10). This means that the power of the sound level increases tenfold for every 10dB; 20dB is ten times more powerful than 10dB, and 30dB is one-hundred times more powerful than 10dB. So a decibel is a fairly big step; doubling the power of a sound only adds three decibels, so losing one DR unit of dynamic range is significant. This is indeed DR6, but comes very close to the ludicrous DR5 level and ends up sounding louder and more compressed than the other DR6s on the list.

    THE MIX: The mix is pretty good, at times very good. Now, it's quanitzed and edited to death and doesn't really have a lot of life to it, but it's clean and “expensive”-sounding; overall, a very slick production. Nothing's terribly obscured, and each element is identifiable, with one major exception that I'll get into later.
    What helps is the reliance on drum machines. That's nothing new on MM releases, but here they're embracing them to an extent that we've yet to hear prior to TGAoG. Much of the time, these are severely equalized hits, allowing each drum sound to only occupy a small area of the frequency spectrum. Kicks are bandwidth-limited enough to only really fill out the ultra-low end, with a bit of thud and click in the highs to guide the ear. The snares are mostly mid-crunch with a top-end sheen, and all cymbals and hats and such - squashed as they are – are pretty much filling out just the top end. There's a few instances of “real” drums here, sure, but they're treated a similar way from an EQ perspective. This gives the mix more space for other elements, and it admittedly does allow for some hits to sound pretty powerful at levels where a full-on traditional kit would be hopelessly smashed.
    This is a guitar-heavy album; they're pulling double duty in their typical rhythm role as well as filling out what would normally be handled by synths and keyboards. They're also handling a lot of the bass range, with bass guitar and synth bass only supporting the lowest frequencies. These guitar tones are mostly high-gain, but extremely smooth – maybe a little too smooth for this much gain, but that's just the amplifier snob in me editorializing.
    Vocally, TGAoG begins the era of “dry doubles”, where Manson's vocals are at least doubled, fairly free of spatial effects like reverb, and loud. They're also extremely strident in the high frequencies and lack a natural sound, but that works with Manson's voice up to a point.
    Overall, this is an electronic album with a heavy reliance on guitars instead of synths. In addition to a lack of level dynamics, there's a lack of tempo dynamics; we're rigidly locked in at fixed beats-per-minute and don't really have any sense of groove or musical “performance”. This is clearly a stylistic choice, and you either like it or you don't. Personally, I like the illusion of “Marilyn Manson: The Band” and not “Marilyn Manson: The MIDI File”, but now I'm giving a subjective opinion and I said I wasn't going to do that. I just had to throw some shade. I got it out, and I feel better now. Let's move on.

    STANDOUT MOMENT: It continues to get harder and harder to point out moments that “sound great” on these albums with severely limited dynamics. I mean, this mix is good in a technical sense, but it's so slammed that the would-be great moments all suffer. I will say that “This Is The New Shit” has some great editing and ear candy; the cut-up beats and stuttering guitar bits add a lot of excitement. That first chorus would be a fucking fist-pumping moment of triumph if it weren't so squished; instead, the excitement goes to the words “ARE YOU”, while “motherfuckers ready for the new shit?” gets slammed down in volume and sounds polite in comparison. That's ass-backwards.

    WEAK POINTS: The biggest forehead-slapper is at the beginning of Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz-Ziggety-Zag. Now, higher up on the list, I've pointed out multiple instances of the lack of dynamics robbing power from what should be impactful moments, but here we have a whisper that ends up being louder than a band in full swing. Listen to the whispered “Godmod grotesk burlesk drag”, and compare it with the next measure's downbeat; it gets smacked down pretty hard, making it less loud than A FUCKING WHISPER. This is absurd; we have a heavy, upbeat, rocking song here, but what should be an exciting moment is rendered – literally – whisper-quiet by limiting.
    The title track is probably the most heavily-compressed Marilyn Manson song ever released. It's a fairly sparse arrangement instrument-wise, which is what I believe makes the heavy levels of compression so obvious and inappropriate. The vocal is present and up-front, but the backing track is barely audible. We've reached karaoke-level with this one; I defy you to truly be able to focus on individual mix elements back there. What a fucking mess. This single track is what a dynamic range of 4 (!!!) sounds like, by the way. In case you're curious.

    FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a slick, clean, fancy-pants sounding production. It's so rigid that it can be kind of monotonous, adhering to basically one tone and color throughout the running time, with one or two exceptions. This would be fine, but the heavy compression only compounds that monotony. This results in what should be an exciting and fun listen turning into a bit of a droning slog.
    Last edited by A Gruesome Discovery; 01-12-2017 at 06:31 PM. Reason: Clarified a point that was pretty fucking vague
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  4. #33
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    #7 THE HIGH END OF LOW
    Dynamic Range: 5 (Smash into your face like a plane)
    Overall Production Score: D+

    THE LOWDOWN: After the trip down the TGAoG and EMDM cul-de-sac, this represents a return to the sound of Marilyn Manson as a sort-of “band”. It's looser and less polished than the previous two outings, almost aggressively so; amp noise, feedback, string squeaks, unidentifiable buzzes and such are abound, as if lashing back against the tight editing of the aforementioned albums. It's not a slick mix, and it times it's a lousy mix, but it sounds alive. Or, rather, it sounds like it was alive at one point, and then it smashed to occupy a narrow range of about five decibels. Have you ever had an audio receiver with a segmented LED display that shows a bar graph? Do kids even know what a “receiver” is? Well, if you do, then you could throw on a CD from the 80's or early 90's and watch those bars dance around as the music chugs along. This album pins those fuckers like a light bulb.

    THE MIX: Well, the mixes aren't great here, but they're appropriately sloppy and work within the album's aesthetic. It's a pretty bare bones affair; a drum track, dual-tracked rhythm guitars or a stereo acoustic, bass, vocals. I think the basic instrumentation and raw production make for a strong album, but goddamn is this too loud.
    The guitar tones are junky, sometimes in a cool way, sometimes not. Take the intro chords to “Pretty as a ($)”; this isn't the Mesa Rectifier-esque heavy tone of TGAoG, but more of a small low-wattage tube amp (actually kind of reminds me of a Fender Champ) being driven to the point of possibly blowing a fuse. This is a cool sound, though it doesn't sound like much care was taken to “clean it up” for the mix. That is most likely an artistic choice, so whether it's good or bad is subjective. But it can be a little grating.
    Bass is back as the main driver of the songs, though it's also among the worst casualties of this crazy loudness. Drums are nice and trashy, but lack punch.
    The vocals shine; we've dropped the overly strident style of TGAoG and EMDM in favor of a looser, more natural tone. Even Manson's performance is a bit looser and more natural, spreading out to add little flourishes and not sounding so rigid.
    What makes a triumphant return is the use of “color” and “contrast”, though a lot of it is lost or at least dulled in all the loudness. “Into the Fire” attempts to sound big and grand, “I Have to Look Up Just To See Hell” hearkens back to the dissonant chaos of, dare I say, Antichrist Superstar (while also sounding nowhere near as good), and “Wight Spider” grinds along like a poorly-oiled machine.
    It's a shame that an album that seems to be aiming to sound “big” ends up sounding so small.

    STANDOUT MOMENT: “Devour” actually almost has some decent dynamics, at least until the drums show up. It manages to build towards something. But my favorite bit is in “Blank and White”; the little breakdown followed by the guitar solo. Yeah, that bleep is annoying, but the full band coming in with Manson screaming “Yeah Yeah Yeah!” is a great moment; they're throwing everything they have at you, the wheels are coming off, smoke is blowing out the speakers, shit's falling off shelves. It's as if it's saying, “yeah, we've killed the dynamics here, but we might as crash this thing into the fucking ground”.

    WEAK POINTS: Man, is this thing smashed. I almost want to go easy on it because it pales in comparison to the horrors that await us at the bottom of the list, and to be fair there's not a whole lot of clipping here – some, but most of the squashing sounds more like misuse of traditional compressors versus the destruction wrought by brickwall limiters.
    Four Rusted Horses, believe it or not, is the “loudest” song of the bunch, but it almost gets away with it (relatively speaking) due to the sparse instrumentation (this can go either way; the song "The Golden Age of Grotesque" is also instrumentally sparse, but suffers for it. It comes down to how the frequency spectrum is "filled out"). When a song really loads up with parts, like "Arma-goddamn-motherfuckin-geddon", you can't ignore the lack of vibe.
    And this one doesn't count, since it's on the bonus disc, but the acoustic version of “Leave a Scar” has a huge problem with the low end. It sounds like nobody bothered to high-pass the acoustic guitar, or maybe there's some low resonance in there that should be EQ'd out, but it's almost headache-inducing. I'm not sure that anyone actually listened to this before the album made it out the door, because that's, like, Mixing 101.

    FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a mess, but parts of it work. I think it's a strong production overall, but boy does it get a beating. Sadly, it's a beating that the album doesn't survive.
    Last edited by A Gruesome Discovery; 01-12-2017 at 06:38 PM. Reason: I invented a verb, apparently. Also clarfiication on a contradictory point.
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  6. #34
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    The last two will be posted simultaneously since revealing the runner-up also reveals the winner of this Ugly Contest. That'll be later. First...

    I want to talk about compression a little bit, because that's pretty much the theme of this thread. I like compression, and as a recording musician I use it all the time. I own two analog compressors (one two-channel and one mono), as well as a compressor in guitar pedal form (ubk Fatso, Universal Audio 1176LN, and MXR Dynacomp '76 Script, respectively). I own a bunch of digital (VST Plugin) compressors as well; pretty much everything Universal Audio makes, which are primarily vintage emulations. So I'm big on compression. It does wonders for bass; evens out the tone, keeps certain notes from ringing out too loudly, and setting the attack and release controls just right can enhance a groove. Drums benefit greatly as well; you can make a snare hit with a good, stiff THWACK, or clamp down on it and let its overall tone ring out. You can run a whole drum kit through a compressor, and with the right settings, it can pump in time with the beat and make a flat drum track come to life. And used on the master bus of an entire song, it can glue the disparate elements together and make a song "breathe". They're fun to abuse, too; ramming the overhead mics of a drum kit through a compressor can really trash things up, or you could pin down a vocal so it rings loud and proud as the focal point of a mix.
    Compressors work by setting a "threshold" level; let's say -18dB as an example. If a sound (let's say a bass) is playing along and doesn't go over -18dB, the compression circuit doesn't do anything. But once the bass gets loud enough, say a hard pluck of the low "E" string comes in at -12dB, the compressor goes to work, because you've crossed the threshold. It'll reduce the volume of that louder hit by some amount, dependent on the compression ratio. A low ratio will gently lower it, while a high ratio will smack that shit hard. And it doesn't smack it instantaneously; you can control how quickly the compressor "responds", so it might let a lot of that hard hit through before clamping down, and you can also set how long it takes for the compressor to "let go" of the sound - these are the "attack" and "release" controls, respectively. They're versatile and neat boxes. I've got nothing against compressors. They're my friends.
    Limiters are a type of compressor, but by definition they have a high ratio - they'll smack down anything that crosses the threshold good and hard, and they do it quickly (they have a fast attack). These have their place in a mix; any time you want something to absolutely, never ever cross a certain level. They're used in mastering to keep stuff from hitting that awful 0dB ceiling, though they accomplish this by sort of acting like a "drop" ceiling just below 0dB. These are extremely useful as well, though the type we're talking about here are more utilitarian items and don't exactly have the "vibe" that a good, musical compressor has.
    So I use "compression" and "limiting" interchangeably in these reviews, and that is indeed accurate; all limiting is compression, but not all compression is limiting.
    My point is that I'm not ragging on compression, and I don't even hate the sound of "too much compression". The drums on "The Beautiful People" are insanely overcompressed, but they sound cool.
    The problem is the misuse of the limiter on the mix. These things should be used to squeeze some extra loudness into a song by only working on the hardest hits, like say a ridiculously loud snare hit in the chorus. You don't want to have to turn down the volume of the entire song just to make room for that one loud hit; it's better to let the limiter do its job and "turn down the volume knob" for the listener at just that moment, and then get out of the way. What's happening on these records is that in order to make it sound "louder", the engineers are lowering the threshold so that the limiter is constantly working, shaving sound off of every peak so that the rest of the song can be turned up. This is turning the whole thing into mush; when you limit all of the peaks, you're left with no peaks.

    I also want to clarify that when I say something is "too loud", I don't mean it in the way that Mom and Dad mean it. I like listening to my music loud. What's at issue is the overcompression/limiting is an attempt to make things sound loud at low volumes. Nobody wants to release a CD that sounds "quieter" than everyone else's CDs, because again, the brain equates "louder" with "better" up to a certain point. That's what started the Loudness Wars. But when you kill the dynamics of a song, you kill the feel; the difference between the loud bits and the quieter bits is what gives the music its life, lets it breathe. If you're only ever going to listen to music quietly in the background, then maybe a severely limited recording is the way to go. But if you're going to turn it up and rattle some windows, I guaran-fucking-tee you that a higher dynamic range release will sound better than something with too goddamn much limiting... 100% of the time.
    You can try this at home by grabbing an original mix of a CD released in, say, 1990, and then comparing it with a super-deluxe-20th Anniversary-digitally-remastered version released in 2010. Chances are, the 2010 version will be sorely lacking in dynamics, because that's the style these days. Side by side, the remaster is going to sound louder than the 1990 disc. But there is a cure: TURN UP THE VOLUME ON YOUR PLAYER FOR THE QUIETER CD. You might need the volume knob set to 8 to make the 1990 disc "sound as loud" as the 2010 disc does with the knob set to 5, but it's going to sound so much better; it's going to hit you in all the right spots, and you'll understand why hipsters everywhere claim that old music sounds better. They're only partially correct, though; dynamic music sounds better, no matter what the era.
    Last edited by A Gruesome Discovery; 01-08-2017 at 11:41 AM.
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  7. #35
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    #8 THE PALE EMPEROR
    Dynamic Range: 5 (Deep Five)
    Overall Production Score: ?

    FUCK: This album completely fucked up my list. Originally, this was either going to be #3 or possibly #1. I had only nice things to say about the balances, the performances, the fantastic dynamics. But there's a problem: I only ever bought the deluxe vinyl with the included download. I'd never heard the CD version, because how different could it be from the digital download? But I needed to be fair to the other albums, so I picked up yet another copy of The Pale Emperor, this time on compact disc, specifically for this post. What happened next was traumatic.

    SHIT: Well, to my shock, the CD version of this is a disaster. It's a cataclysmic disaster compared to the vinyl that I love (DR11 – oh, it's glorious) and merely a garden-variety disaster even compared to the digital download that I have (DR6, still not great but a far leap from DR5). On my first (and hopefully last) listen to the CD version, I knew something was wrong during Killing Strangers, but thought it was perhaps just my memory of this album playing tricks on me. But when Deep Six started squirting out of my speakers, I knew what was wrong: somebody assassinated The Pale Emperor. Regicide is a serious crime.

    GODDAMNIT: The recording and mixing of this album are so great. Were so great. The separation and sense of space is up there with Mechanical Animals. The drums hit hard and with authority, and more importantly, they can hit softly and with precision at times. The guitar tones are classy as fuck. Manson gives his best vocal performance, period. All of this is either lost, obscured, or rendered moot on CD. I'm not going into any more detail on the mix as it's basically pointless, and if you've never heard the vinyl release, describing it would be like describing a perfectly-cooked medium-rare ribeye steak to a starving person.

    COCKS: “Warship My Wreck” and “Cupid Carries a Gun” get fucked the worst here; these are two of my favorites on vinyl but are unlistenable on CD. "Warship" in particular; the balance of light to heavy parts is critical to the song even working at all.
    You may be thinking I'm being overdramatic, and perhaps you're right; after all, I am a self-professed snob about my audio shit. But if you've only heard the CD or some digital release, then you haven't heard this album. What's more confusing is how many digital releases there are; the iTunes one is mastered differently from the one you get from the Manson store, which is different than the one you get from Amazon, which I guess is just ripped from the CD. Or something. Let's keep this simple: make one for the masses and one for the audiophiles. I know which one I'd buy.

    WHAT THE CHRIST: Bad sound quality can kill an album, and nowhere is it more clear than when comparing the different formats of The Pale Emperor. I wonder if I'd like some of my least favorite MM albums more if I heard them mixed and mastered at sane levels. The albums I have difficulty connecting with on an emotional level could just be too harsh and shrill to approach; if we could spend some quiet time together, maybe I could discover a beautiful relationship with them. It's the goddamned future, man, we should be able to get some decent versions of these from the man himself. Look what NIN is doing right now; seriously, go look - everything is now available on vinyl and/or high dynamic range lossless audio. Why are we settling for shit like this?

    EDIT: I did a second review of JUST the vinyl release later in the thread, because I really do like this album and the superior mix deserves some love.
    Last edited by A Gruesome Discovery; 04-23-2017 at 10:57 AM.
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  9. #36
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    Well, you're more tolerant with THEOL's mix than I would be, but it's more a stylistic, subjective matter altogether. But you're absolutely right about that record being squashed to death. Look at the audio "graphs" (sorry, I don't know how you call these in English...) for I wanna kill you... :

    This song's structure rests on a gradual build up, with more and more instruments and layers kicking in. Can you see any of that? Nope, the beginning is just as loud as the end, which sounds like a fucking mess. Now compare it to Minute of Decay :

    Space, peaks, details, and who would say that that bass is not loud and clear?
    Wight Spider, as you've pointed out, is another fine example of a botched mastering, the quiet parts are way too loud, which gives no space for the loud ones, which sound super mushy. Don't even get me started on Pretty As...and Armageddon. The first is a two-minute buzzing drone and the other is a blob. I've compared the graphs with that of its cousin The Beautiful People and it's striking how it's louder, while sounding so much weaker.
    Last edited by Skull; 01-08-2017 at 01:50 PM.

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  11. #37
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    #9 BORN VILLAIN
    Dynamic Range: 5 (Go fuck yourself)
    Overall Production Score: F

    THE LOWDOWN:
    This is a good album. It doesn't sound like a band who's been around for two decades; this sounds like the product of a younger, hungrier artist. It also sounds like shit.

    THE MIX:
    From the very first second I knew this was going to sound bad. Whatever that chugging sound is at the beginning is a harbinger of the pain that lies ahead.

    I can't even properly analyze the mix here; it's too hard to discern what the fuck is going on. I don't know how the elements are mixed. I'm not sure what's going on with the tonal balances. I like the songs, they're just trapped behind a wall of BAD.

    The clipping is outrageous here. “Hey, Cruel World” is the bastard father of thousands of clipped samples and it's a fucking painful listen. In fact, every single song is a gross orgy of clipping. I do not need to use an audio program in order to hear this awfulness, but look at this shit (red means clipped samples):



    Clipping is one of those things that, once you know what it sounds like, you'll hear it every time. I don't want to ruin your life by pointing out a specific moment, but it's almost easier to just name the parts that don't clip on Born Villain.
    Just as a refresher, clipping is when you make something so loud that it exceeds the 0dB ceiling. Digital audio doesn't allow you to exceed the ceiling; it has no idea what to do with a value higher than this (since we're talking about 16-bit audio, the maximum binary value is 1111 1111 1111 1111; there's no such thing as 1111 1111 1111 1112). What it does instead is distort, and not in a pleasing way. If you look at a waveform of the song, you can see it actually “flatten out” as it hits the ceiling. You can see this in the following complex and highly-scientific diagram:



    It sounds terrible, and there's no excuse for this. You can clip here and there; you really shouldn't, but you can get away with it sparingly. This is just ridiculous though. Why would you do this to a song unless you hated either it or the listener?

    STANDOUT MOMENT: I don't know.

    WEAK POINTS: The first fourteen tracks. Every single exciting moment is beaten to death. It's a total flatline. “Lay Down Your Goddamned Arms” and “Murderers Are Getting Prettier Every Day” aren't the worst offenders (every song is the worst offender), but those are the two that really piss me off because they sound like they might be interesting if only they were of acceptable quality.

    FINAL THOUGHTS: This album's sound quality is unacceptable.
    Last edited by A Gruesome Discovery; 01-08-2017 at 03:05 PM. Reason: i spel gud
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  13. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skull View Post
    Well, you're more tolerant with THEOL's mix than I would be, but it's more a stylistic, subjective matter altogether. But you're absolutely right about that record being squashed to death. Look at the audio "graphs" (sorry, I don't know how you call these in English...) for I wanna kill you... :
    https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/zx...=w2304-h694-no
    This song's structure rests on a gradual build up, with more and more instruments and layers kicking in. Can you see any of that? Nope, the beginning is just as loud as the end, which sounds like a fucking mess. Now compare it to Minute of Decay :
    https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/gL...=w2304-h591-no
    Space, peaks, details, and who would say that that bass is not loud and clear?
    Wight Spider, as you've pointed out, is another fine example of a botched mastering, the quiet parts are way too loud, which gives no space for the loud ones, which sound super mushy. Don't even get me started on Pretty As...and Armageddon. The first is a two-minute buzzing drone and the other is a blob. I've compared the graphs with that of its cousin The Beautiful People and it's striking how it's louder, while sounding so much weaker.
    Ouch, yeah, those waveforms pretty much tell the whole story. "Blob" is a good word it! You have to be careful with how these are scaled when comparing two different songs, particularly if one is significantly longer, but they certainly look like an accurate representation of those two tracks regardless of scale. Excellent points.
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    ^Exactly. I always wonder why these pro mastering engineers, getting paid thousands and with top-notch gear, are doing this to a record... I mean, if we know it, they know it, right? It's confusing. Earlier on, I had taken the clipping out of my screen caps for the sake of clarity, but this is how I Wanna Kill You... actually look like :

    Crazy, but there's even worse with Pretty As A Svastika :

    No comment...
    And yes, the Pale Emperor Vinyl sounds so much better!

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    Also, for fun, this is the SAY10 preview file :

    Not looking good, is it? At first I was amazed at the quality of the mix and the atmosphere, but as soon as he hits the "Cash is the poor .." you can hear the ceiling being hit by that super cool sound, which should sound way cooler. And I'm not saying anything about the chorus....
    I'll be buying the CD out of collection's sake and to listen in the car, but I'll make sure the first thing I order is the deluxe vinyl version!

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