Opeth: 'Record Production in the '70s Was Just Better Than Today'

"Instruments today don't sound human, especially drums," says frontman Mikael Akerfeldt.

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Seeing that Opeth have heavily drifted into the sonic vibe of classic '70s prog rock masters, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the group considers the production of the mentioned era as far superior to what's happening today.

Chatting with Roadrunner, frontman Mikael Akerfeldt and guitarist Fredrik Akesson were asked to single out the most fascinating factor of the '70s production.

"It sounds good! The music from the '70s, that's what I listen to on a daily basis," Mikael kicked off. "And I think those record productions are just better than what they are today."

Pinpointing what he considers wrong about modern production values, Akerfeldt continued, "Metal production today sounds so loud that they're clipping. They try to get every instrument to break through in a wall of sound, which makes many bands and engineers adjust the instruments almost to the point where they don't sound human anymore.

"It sounds machine-y, especially drums, and to a certain extent guitars. And then you record the album digitally and everything's fixed and perfect and then you master it really loud ... And back in those days, that didn't happen."

The frontman went on to explain that not all '70s record sounded great, naming KISS' "Hotter Than Hell" as an example, but concluded that "overall, I would take any '70s or early '80s production over what started in the '90s and now."

Opeth are set to unveil their new album "Pale Communion" on August 26 via Roadrunner, pre-orders are available here. Meanwhile, you can check out the latest single "Eternal Rains Will Come" below.

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52 comments sorted by best / new / date

    i get what he's saying, and nearly everything is recorded digitally these days. Would be going back to tape be better? It would definitely blow out the cost of production, not to mention the time it would take to record an album.
    It's less about going back to tape and more about the need to stop pitch correcting and quantizing everything to machine precision and then compressing the **** out of it until it doesn't sound like it was ever played by humans.
    It doesn't necessarily have to do with analog vs digital. It has more to do with making everything sound perfect. People record the songs in parts and add dozens of overdubs. Everything sounds too clean. Everything needs to be overproduced. It kind of sounds "better" but it doesn't. I mean, the sound quality is definitely a lot better than in the 70s. But that doesn't mean we feel it sounds better.
    But progressive metal is (in large part) about precision. I can understand if Mikael has problems with the fidelity of digital formats vs. analog formats and the amount of compression that goes into the recording process, but he's playing progressive rock/metal, not the blues.
    I agree that Progressive Rock/Metal is about precision, and that a good clean production helps bring out the best in the music. However there is a fine line between making something clean and precise, and then making it sound a bit robotic and almost unnatural, some bands like Fear Factory benefit from this sound as it is entirely intentional, but for the most part it does sound jarring to me. Take a listen to Atheist, this record came out in 1991, the production is very clean and precise, but at the same time it feels natural as well, at the end of the day it's all about striking a balance.
    As a producer of low budget project it doesn't mean that we have to go back to tape, I have a rule of if you can't play the song then don't record it. I've only done one project were i said no i will edit this drums but if you align everything to be perfect it will sound dehumanized and fake. There isn't a single drummer that can play a song 100% perfect. When it comes to sound i prefer tape since digital sounds just terrible compared to analog, bass guitar and kick drum is the part that is lacking the most in digital but also guitars, instead of having 1-2 guitar tracks you now have records with 8 and more just to make it sound like tape..
    "There isn't a single drummer that can play a song 100% perfect." -Neal Peart, I don't even listen to his music but he's a machine.
    Personally, I think digital is better as a format (lower cost and faster) but I don't like the fact that you can abuse performance enhancing technology. I was planning on recording an album on digital, but limiting myself to only using techniques and effects that were around in the analog days ( so no melodyne or beatmaster etc. allowed). I think music is best like that, because you get realistic performances, but it's still relatively cheap and quick
    That just depends on the record you listen to. A good example of spectacular modern production is Altered State by TesseracT : they didn't take part to the loudness war and the record shows a very nice sound spectrum. Akerfeldt maybe just listens to the bad records or in a bad compression form. I don't really understand those guys who try to live out of their time. "Modern" production has nothing bad when it is nicely done. You just have to search for the "good" productions rather than listening to the easiest things out there. But going like "70' were better blablabla" just sounds hipster-ish and dumb.
    I'm kind of in the middle of the spectrum, or maybe just a bit on the "vintage" side. However, I know what you're talking about. While I love the same 70's prog records as Mikael, I also love Devin Townsend's records which sound like a spaceship. Huge, exaggerated wall of sound production where you always find new sounds during each listen. Devin's more recent records, having been recorded completely digitally, certainly don't sound like they lack emotion or power. It's up to the musician and how he utilizes technology to present his ideas. "Clean" production itself doesn't make records sound good or bad. There's more to it.
    You got it right buddy it all comes down to the musicianship and talent.....back in the 70's & 80's there were vast amounts of it....nowadays....very little.....
    You really think the ratio of talent in the 80's to that of modern times is that large?
    Mikael's a fan of prog, death and heavy metal so he's probably been listening to the latest Rush, Metallica and Black Sabbath and they all sounded the way he describes. Not that Clockwork Angels sounds anywhere near as shitty as Death Magnetic but it's clear that Rush has become a victim of the loudness war.
    There have always been albums that are badly produced and well-produced, and while modern albums have compression, older albums often suffered from a weak, lo-fi sound that hardly helped to carry an atmosphere. It's not news to me that Mikael is very into the '70s, but I'd expect a bit more insight into such matters from him.
    I totally agree. I love the sound of drums on older records but I can't stand the high hat on most modern songs. And the Loudness War has really hurt otherwise good records.
    In unrelated news, Opeth recently rocked a festival in my hometown. They played only 6 songs - and introduced themselves as Van Halen - but it was the best sh1t ever.
    "We are Van Halen" haha can totally picture Mikael saying that
    from what ive seen he does have a really great sense of humour and seems like a genuinely nice guy
    Mikael Åkerfeldt eats a Big Mac
    Here's your proof.
    When playing here back in 2010, he said they'd go glam rock the next album and that he would be Mikaela. It's 2014 and there's still no glam Opeth and no Mikaela. What is this.
    He has a point but you can still get some great modern sounding albums. The empyrean by john frusciante is probably the best sounding album I've ever heard (production wise) and that came out in what? 2009?
    I think some modern production is really interesting, like Tame Impala's records. They have this really sweet "new-Cream" vibe. But drums sounded so much better decades ago. Digital-recorded drums just sound ugly. Listening to John Bonham's drums on albums like LZ IV and Physical Graffiti just show that.
    I'm pretty sure everything Tame Impala has done was recorded digitally, including the drums, they just use some really weird/cheap/quirky equipment to get a lot of those sounds, plus the choice of mics and mic placement helps out a lot too. The main difference between a lot of drums recorded nowadays and what a band like Led Zeppelin were doing, is that modern drum recording usually involves separating the different parts of the kit (in the case of Metal, triggers/samples might get used as well, which I think it's what you're referring to), whereas Led Zeppelin most likely took the approach of recording the whole kit, if you get what I mean, they most likely didn't try to separate all the parts of the kit. You can still get good sounding results recording digitally, it just requires a bit of know how, my friends and I can get some fairly good results using just two or three mics on a kit.
    everything this man says is true.
    Now look, Lamb Of God has what, 6 albums, not one of which is overproduced. They all sound like someone beating the sh-t out of a real drum kit, and a couple folks going to town on some monstrous midrangey guitars. TesseracT's Altered State is a bit more 'produced' with overdubs and synth programming but nothing sounds fake and it's all mastered with dynamics preserved. Not to mention, some bands (I'm going to single out Angels & Airwaves and 30 Seconds To Mars) have some great albums which are arguably overproduced since synth parts abound and they're reasonably compressed, and yet nothing sounds fake or manufactured or quantized. It annoys me when bands use a million overdubs, turn their kick into a click, cut all the guitar mid frequencies and the brickwall limit the ****ing thing to +100000 db, but come on, at least drums don't sound like they're recorded through potatos anymore.
    i have never seen such big posts on UG... ^
    Lol this ignorant bellend again. Just stop making excuses for your boring-ass band. 70s production sounded better yeah yeah my ass. What exactly? The awful drum tones with paper-thin snare and undefined, lousy kick? The guitars which basically had no proper distortion and no power behind them? And im pretty sure modern producers are quite aware of clipping when making loud records. With the shit Opeths been churning out for the most of their career, this guy should withhold from giving any commentary on metal. Bad production of the old days was one of the main reason i couldnt get into pre-90/80s guitar music, apart from teh music itself being mostly half-decent at best.
    Listen to any of Steely Dan's albums. Easily some of the best produced music I have ever heard.
    Second Rate
    Witt, if a time warp opened up and transported Mikael back to September of 1977 (when Steely Dan's "Aja") was released, he would complain of it being overproduced. Steely Dan are not exactly the best defense of 1970s production, as their techniques were much more in line with modern production, particularly on "Aja." They made extensive use of overdubs, obsessed over every note, beat, fill, and chord change. They would even hire as many musicians as possible so that they could have multiple groups record the same song and pick and choose the best takes. While Steely Dan's albums do have excellent sound quality, they exemplify everything that pathetic, aging members of generation X (like Mikael Akerfeldt) complain about. The only thing Akerfeldt has a little bit of a point on is drum sound. Even still, this is a minority of metal records. Particularly those produced by the likes of Zeuss and Jason Suecof where it sounds like they trigger the batter heads on the bass drums, but don't mic. the resonant heads to pick up the low frequencies.
    Can't argue a word of what you said there. It may well be overproduced like you said because I know they were notorious perfectionists, but still the sound quality and clarity of every instrument is pretty amazing by the standards of any era. Over/under produced or what have you its a damn fine sounding album. I loved the Classic Albums episode on this one. Obsessive may be an understatement lol... Well said sir, I'd give you two upvotes if I could.
    That makes no sense. All the equipment from then still exists, and so do the techniques, so he is full of shit.
    What a moron. 'Metal production today is clipping' Maybe on Rise Records but the technology today outweighs the technology from the 70s without question. It's like saying metal sucks today forgetting that there are amazing talents. Opeths new song sucks, it's boring to listen to I don't care. Pointless prog that people who aren't formally trained in music are convinced is 'real music mannnn' get with the program.
    He really is right, though. The popular music industry has changed dramatically since the 70s, with the focus being shifted to making hit singles that are louder and stand out beyond others on the radio/in the club/what have you. In the 70s there was a lot more focus on the record as a whole because people couldn't just go to iTunes and download a single. You had to get the whole record on vinyl and as a result if you did a shit job putting together a record you were risking it not selling very well. Now after the loudness wars and the ability to take all sorts of digital shortcuts you can churn out music that sells well from untalented artists and still make a buck. That's not to say that there aren't great sounding records coming out in modern days; there definitely are. But they're getting rarer and less prominent in the popular music world.
    only a gay would say that bcause it was a pain in the *ss back then...
    it was a pain in the ass but it was the right way to do it, without shortcuts. now it's almost too easy so a lot of BS is getting produced. This stuff wouldn't have been produced back then because nobody would do all that work for crappy work.
    Actually there was much more sloppy playing back then for instance. Jimmi Page's guitar playing in some songs is an example of that.
    you are partially right, but today's sound quality is much better and the effort put into mixing is significantly less...
    I could be mistaken but wasn't live recording a lot more prominent for records back then as opposed to songs being pieced together track by track? I feel this would largely attribute to the overall 'feel' of the recording as well. Maybe I'm just crazy but I feel there are certain recordings where you get a stronger sense of music being played by a band right then, right there on the recording.
    albums that I think sound great post 1985 -Mr Bungle's California (recorded with analog, sounds amazing)Mars Volta's Frances the Mute (recorded with analog for drums I believe, but not the rest, as far as I remember)Dillinger Escape Plan's Ire Works (recorded digitally and I'm sure it's mastered super loud but it sounds great)Death's Symbolic (does anyone claim that this album sounds bad? Also, recorded digitally I believe)Faith no More's Angel Dust (I think this one's digital, but for sure it sounds great, with very natural drum tones)Those are just off the top of my head I could go on for a lot longer but I won't. But seriously we could use a little less loudness war in the music, but otherwise a lot of modern production is pretty good, especially when that's what works for the bands. Just saying, Dillinger Escape Plan doesn't need 70's production, as one example.
    i think it's simply a matter of getting tired of the modern production style, not whether one is better than the other. i bet it was an amazing thing when people just started getting that monstrous modern metal sound, but naturally that stuff can be tiring to listen to all the time.