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Before we begin, this article isn't about cranking up your stereo; it's about the music itself and the media it's etched or printed onto.
Ever since the dawn of humanity, it's been a known fact that people respond more easily to louder audio stimuli. Thus the illusion that "LOUDER = BETTER". With the advent of music recording technology, the music industry sought to capitalize on this; if our album is louder than their album, and the listeners don't adjust their volume dials to compensate (or can't, if they're hearing it in a bar, a gramophone with no volume dial etc), our album will sound better! But, they hit one tiny obstacle along the way: vinyl records have an absolute limit on how loud they can be. The search for loudness became easier with the introduction of the compact disc in 1982, which besides a larger storage space also boasted an improved dynamic range (about 90 dB).
Any recording medium has an absolute limit when it comes to amplitude, and compact discs are no exception. Once audio engineers managed to max out, the only solution to go even more Up to Eleven and out-loud those other CDs was to break out the dynamic range compression, which squashes every bit up to the same volume level, causing listener fatigue. The often-used analogy here is that of attempting to read a text written entirely in capitals with a huge font. In movies, Orange/Blue Contrast has a similar effect; since the contrast is pleasing to the eye, producers will push at as far as possible, often over-saturating the film in these colours and squashing out more subtle colours entirely.
Compression is not inherently bad. Used with a light touch, it "smooths out" recordings to remove unintentional volume spikes, caused by random fluctuations during recording or by layering the "loud moments" of two instrument tracks on top of each other (not unlike using sandpaper to minimize jagged edges on a wood carving). This can give an album a fuller sound and more consistent volume across tracks. But when taken too far, it can result in severe clipping, unpleasant and harsh-sounding distortion that happens when the signal is pushed to the saturation point.
The absolute peak of loudness started slowly creeping up in 1995, when Owen Morris mastered Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? to -8 dB RMS. Since then the tendency has been to make records louder. The resulting loudness war is due to a variety of factors, such as commercial concerns, stupid executives, following the leader or listeners / musicians who are unaware of this phenomenon, can't tell the difference and don't care, actually LIKE how it sounds, or are taking advantage of it for artistic purposes.
One of the most egregious aspects of the industry's reliance on increasing loudness is that hundreds of albums that originally had good dynamic range are now being "digitally remastered" with almost completely brickwalled peak levels.
By contrast, one of the sadder aspects that Nick Southall highlighted was the belief that if you master the songs loud, they'll be played more on the radio. It doesn't work like that: radio stations (as well as TV stations) have their own compressors and equalisers to squash everything up to the same volume, with the result that any CD will get loudness war'd for broadcast and an already hyper-compressed CD will just sound like shit squared.
This is the main reason why people say vinyl records are "higher quality" (besides personal taste reasons such as the crackle and hum of records). The inherent quality of CDs is far better than records, but since "records are for audiophiles", there is far less incentive for audio engineers to trade-off quality for loudness on records. Additionally, vinyls have a smaller dynamic range, and any attempt to pull loudness war stunts on them will usually just throw off the needle or make them unplayable. The Irony in all this is that digital formats like the CD finally made it possible to make audio as quiet as you wanted without any analog hiss obscuring it, but with a lot of equipment out there accommodating the audio levels of the War, exploiting this quality will often make things simply too quiet to hear.
For further information, Imperfect Sound Forever is required reading. More informationisavailable online, including thesetwo videos that do a great job of providing abbreviated explanations. There's also a 20-page forum thread dedicated to poorly mastered albums for examples. See also this, to show things are more complicated than they seem. This website allows you to use offline software to measure the dynamic range of a CD, express it as a number and add it to its ever-growing database.
There are algorithms that can be used to repair clipped audio to a certain extent; none of them are perfect, but they will generally produce end results that sound better than the commercially released versions with clipping. More info on one of them is available here. (Note that the next page of the forum thread in this link contains rather disorganised information on Adobe Audition's declipper, which is much more sophisticated and produces much better-sounding results but does not have the benefit of being free software. Also note that you will need to register an account to view the thread).
(Alternatively, a quick, cheap partial solution, using a program like Nero Wave Editor, is to simply reduce the bass using the graphic equalizer, since bass-boosting is usually part of the loudness enhancement process. If done properly the bass-reduced version will sound only marginally 'thinner' than the original, while having more peak fluctuations; the "Normalize" function can also be used to adjust the volume of sections of the song, although care must be taken to avoid sudden jumps in volume between sections.)
One potential way to find non-loud versions of songs is that video clips posted to video services like Youtube often avoid the loudness issue as they are mastered separately. In many cases, versions of albums that are specially mastered for iTunes (which are often advertised as being such) also have more dynamic range (although frequently you can only buy these in lossy versions, which carry their own problems; fortunately, the compression algorithm used to sell iTunes music in .aac format is very, very good, to the point where many people will not be able to tell the difference from a lossless source). Failing that, people will Keep Circulating the Tapes of whichever version is the least clipped, or even look for places to rip masters from (full-band Rhythm Games are one source) so they can try their hand at mixing themselves.
When loud music is used as a weapon, that's Loud of War. Not to be confused with Lodoss War
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The worst offenders
Australian artists are among the worst offenders. The people who mastered Tame Impala and Wolfmother's CDs need to be brought before a war crimes tribunal.
Oasis' 1995 album (What's the Story) Morning Glory? arguably was the catalyst for increasing abuse of this trope. Nick Southall himself agrees, saying that "If there’s a Jump the Shark moment as far as CD mastering goes then it’s probably Oasis."
Some have cited this as a result of excessive cocaine use by all parties involved. Cocaine can apparently affect your hearing and as such probably shouldn't be used by recording engineers. Though in all fairness, working with the Gallagher brothers in the studio would drive anyone to narcotics in the end.
Some also say the mixing was for the record to be heard better in loud environments (such as cars and crowded pubs).
All of Oasis' work qualifies, really. Even Definitely Maybe was pretty damn loud (especially by 1994 standards), although it isn't as badly clipped as anything they released after it.
A Place To Bury Strangers have actually been trying their damned hardest to be one of the loudest bands in the world. This becomes a problem when the sonic noises bursting your eardrums overpower the artistic quality of their albums.
It looks like they've settled down a bit with the brickwalling if Onwards To The Wall is an indicator of anything.
Most Shoegazing bands that released an album after My Vitriol's Finelines suffered from excessive loudness. This is why a lot of the albums get acclaimed for the song writing, but dodge perfect/ near-perfect scores because of the poor productions quality. Shoegazing used to use loudness as a means to make all the effects pedals in the music more audible, but a lot of the more recent producers are Completely Missing the Point and wind up brickwalling everything.
To be fair, the brickwalling on Finelines was the result of a bad producer and Executive Meddling, as many live recordings mixed by the band don't have this problem.
Red Hot Chili Peppers' album Californication is loud (maxed out at 5.6 dB) and has excessive high-frequency clipping, to the point that even non-audiophile consumers complained about the atrocious mastering and people even recommend a very popular "unmastered" version of the album that's floating around on the Internet over the actual album (see Metallica below for a similar issue). Vladimir "Vlado" Meller is officially The Scrappy of audiophiles everywhere - we could put up an entire category just for the albums he was involved in ruining.
The vinyl and cassette versions do not have the distortion the CD has, so it is fair to say it was done intentionally. The 'unmastered' version of the album (which has several different tracks to the final version) has about the same fidelity as a vinyl rip, but it comes from a prerelease CD of an early version of the album. Because of this we can see more was done later on, or this isn't Meller's mix. Rubin was quoted as saying that he regularly has four people master an album and he chooses which one he likes best. Meller's always wins, apparently.
Contrary to the information above, the vinyl of Californication appears to be clipped too and appears to use the exact same mix as the CD. This is averted with RHCP's later albums — Stadium Arcadium did use a demonstrably different master on the vinyl and it sounds leagues better than the CD version. Luckily, the unmastered version of Californication, as mentioned, is not clipped and is not terribly difficult to find on the internet.
Indeed, the vinyl Stadium Arcadium was mastered by audiophile favorite Steve Hoffman.
John Frusciante was noticeably upset with the mastering of "Can't Stop" and "Universally Speaking" on the follow up album By The Way, and remixed the tracks for their single releases. They were a vast improvement.
Also, Frusciante's solo albums To Record Only Water For Ten Days and Shadows Collide With People also have this, which is why he insisted on releasing his albums on indie labels who would not meddle with his mastering from that point on.
This actually started before Californication. I just listened to One Hot Minute for the first time in awhile and it could have been called One Hot Master - it's really compressed as well, although not as badly as the commercially released mix of Californication was. Looking at the waveform bears this out; it's almost a solid brick wall except for a couple of acoustic tracks. Is anyone surprised that this was a Rick Rubin production?
Californication was re-released on vinyl in 2012 in a remastered and apparently substantially less clipped version, so maybe there's hope. According to initial reviews, it doesn't cancel out all of the flaws of the album (like muddy production, distortion of the recording, and so on) but most people have nonetheless declared it a substantial improvement.
Almost all of Cirque du Soleil's soundtracks since Varekai have a noticeable degree of clipping (though KOOZA has a smooth-as-hell dynamic range). However, Amaluna is the worst of the lot. The sound is pretty much a solid brick wall and has zero dynamic range- in fact, the album's dynamic decibel gain is -4.90. And this is an artsy circus soundtrack, mind you.
Paul Simon's Graceland was remastered and re-released in 2012 and has extremely noticeable clipping, especially on "You Can Call Me Al".
Manic Street Preachers releases (albums and compilations) since Know Your Enemy. The worst offender is the second CD of The Holy Bible (10th Anniversary Edition) which is remastered so badly that it practically has no dynamics, and you can hear the noises caused by clipping. Also, quieter sections (such as the quotes before songs) seem to be mastered much quieter than rest of the songs themselves, which means that if you are listening to this for the first time and don't realise it, prepare to be shocked. Forever Delayed, Lipstick Traces and the remaster of Everything Must Go also have this, but it's not as bad. For the latter it almost suits the album, for instance on A Design For Life.
Hypocrisy's album Virus has a total album gain of -14.09 dB, and one of the songs looks like this◊. Fucking hell.
Peter Tägtgren is infamous for this type of thing.
Modern death metal has a serious problem with this in general, but Hour of Penance's releases have been ridiculous even by those standards. While all of their Unique Leader releases have had major issues with this, Sedition, their most recent, takes this to truly extraordinary levels. The loudest track is at -3.04, which is truly absurd and hurts the music so much that the album would have been unlistenable if it weren't for the underlying strength of the compositions themselves. This is not unique to Ho P, either; the album's producer, Stefano Morabito, does this shit all the time and is arguably even worse than Jason Suecof or Erik Rutan, two other very major offenders in the death metal loudness wars.
Metallica's 2008 album Death Magnetic is so distorted and clipped that even mastering engineer Ted Jensennote A man who has has brickwalled his fair share of albums in the past has criticized it, adding that he couldn't do anything since the preliminary mixes came in already "brick-walled". Interestingly, the version made for Guitar Hero 3 was based on a "rough mix" that features far more range, and those tracks have been subsequently ripped and distributed via peer-to-peer services. To sum up: Metallica, the anti-Napster poster boys, now have an album that can only be truly appreciated via piracy, and a video game featuring a guitar with 5 buttons on the fret-board is the best way to enjoy an album... the irony boggles the mind.
It's worth noting that even the vinyls of Death Magnetic were horribly clipped, and Metallica charged $100 for the 5LP version. The Guitar Hero 3 version is definitely the only way to go.
Queen's latest compilation, "Absolute Greatest", has the dynamics sucked right out of it. You know how the first verse of "We are the Champions" is really quiet, then the loud chorus comes blasting out? Prepare to be severely disappointed.
Rush's album Vapor Trails suffers from constant peak distortion◊. You can barely hear any of Neil Peart's amazing drumming because it's a huge mess of white noise. Improved remixes of 2 songs from the album appear on the compilation album Retrospective 3, and more remixes have not been ruled out either.
Audioslave's eponymous album is another victim of the Rubin/Meller treatment. This is especially disappointing given how meticulously produced Soundgarden and Rage's material had been (the posthumously released Renegades, mentioned further below, being an exception, which shouldn't be surprising since it was also produced by Rubin).
Hypnotize was definitely the worst of them; the guitar solo during "Lonely Day" has very noticeable clipping, even on poor speakers. Rick Rubin (of Death Magnetic infamy) would seem to be a likely culprit, until one notes that he produced all of their albums (starting to notice a pattern with Rubin productions here?). Maybe he just stopped caring around 2001 or so.
Steal This Album! is even worse, with a near constant DR of -4 dbfs.
Foo Fighters' One By One, with its muddy guitars and drums which bleed into everything else.
Especially of note is the track Overdrive, which is heavily clipped to the point of distortion and audible artifacts. Given the title this is probably intentional.
Wasting Light both plays into this trope and averts it. The regular CD version is max out, but the special edition vinyl downloadable MP3 versions are normal. Possibly lampshaded by a label found on the CD, "Please play at maximum volume."
Echoes, Silence, Patience And Grace has several 'quiet to loud' songs that start off dynamic and end brickwalled.
Slipknot's Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. Not only is it pushed to the limit of modern-day loudness, it doesn't even peak. And I'm not just talking about below-zero flat-lining or extreme soft-clipping here either. I'm talking about rampant straight diagonal lines, suggesting that the mix was even worse than usual in the maxed-out clipping department, and the mastering engineer had to turn it down post-processing, just to meet today's ridiculous standards. And guess who was behind the production helm? That's right, Rick friggin' Rubin.
These also contain extended quiet passages, so that the brick-walled bits hit you EVEN HARDER.
Every single Mars Volta album contains some degree of clipping, although Octahedron is significantly less clipped than the rest. Then again it's supposed to be their "acoustic" album (although, true to form, it's not entirely acoustic). However, Nocutourniquet is bad enough that even the mastering engineer has disowned it, indicating that she was forced to master it that way by either the label or someone in the band. At least some of the vinyl editions, contrary to popular belief (including the previous form of this very entry), are also clipped. This also affected many releases by Bixler Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez' previous band, At the Drive-In, so it's not a new problem.
Pop music is not immune to this either. Heart in Motion by Amy Grant and Stripped by Christina Aguilera are the most commonly cited examples. Brandy's Full Moon has also been singled out.
This trope covers most DM releases starting with Ultra and its singles, unfortunately. Besides the new releases (albums, singles, and LiveHereNow releases of shows from the Touring The Angel and Tour Of The Universe tours), this also includes the 2 singles compilations, Singles Boxes 4-6 (1-3 were straight-up re-releases of the 1991 boxes, thankfully. If you need the singles from Strangelove through In Your Room, get the individual versions released in '92-'93 as they're properly mastered. You can see a comparison of the waveforms of the 2 different versions of the Strangelove single here◊.), Remixes 81...04 in its various forms, The Best of Vol. 1, and the '87-'94 DVD-only bonus tracks accompanying the remastered albums (Sourced from the 2004 boxed set versions instead of being re-done with the albums). The remastered versions of Ultra and Exciter weren't fixed.
The exceptions are the MP3-only Remixes 81...04 Rare Tracks Bundle that was briefly available to buyers of the three disc version of the main compilation and the pre-Ultra remastered albums, which are louder than before, but still with dynamic range and don't clip nearly as much as the other releases (Alan Wilder, a vocal opponent of the loudness war, supervised the remastering process on the albums from his period with the band, and the previous two albums are at similar levels). Thankfully, you can get most of the problematic releases on vinyl, but some (like the 2 bonus discs from the Sounds Of The Universe boxed set and most of the Peace remixes) are unfortunately CD-only.
Speaking of Sounds of the Universe, it thankfully appears to mark the end of this trend for DM. It's certainly more compressed than early DM releases, but even tracks like the intentionally overdriven "Wrong" have a pretty wide dynamic range.
Except the disc is almost as loud as their previous release, with a ReplayGain value of -10.20 dB (Par for the course for rock, but outright fucked up for synthpop).
Keane's Hopes and Fears, as well as their second album.
Especially daunting since their debut album was widely considered a breath of fresh air from this.
Black Holes and Revelations by Muse. The difference is immediately clear when compared to live versions of the songs.
All of their albums since Absolution, really, even when they mixed/mastered, and even on the vinyl editions. The 2nd Law is just as bad, but luckily, a 24 bit HD version was released which is far more dynamic and doesn't clip at all.
Anything after Demanufacture, really (and even that album could get rather clippy at points). Case in point: "Shock" starts up with a blast of distortion that clearly should not be there.
The Killers' Day and Age. Horrible clipping and compression.
See also: their first and second albums, so it's not really surprising that their third one should follow this trend.
Day and Age is actually slightly less loud than the other two albums (according to ReplayGain), but it sounds much more distorted (especially the drums on "Spaceman").
It might very well be that this was what they were going for (you never know with Brandon Flowers...)
Intentionally invoked by a number of Noise and early Industrial artists, most notably by Whitehouse on Birthdeath Experience (1979) and Right To Kill (1984), on which everything is "in the red". Hell Is That Noise, indeed. Averted by legendary harsh-noise artist Merzbow, whose production tends to be frighteningly clear.
Someone hasn't heard the man's mid-1990s works, particularly Pulse Demon and Venerology, the latter having ReplayGain values in the negative twenties(and a DR of 0), and also contains what might be the loudest track ever put to compact disc in "I Lead You Towards Glorious Times"
Apparently the new Joy Division collector's edition albums are squished. I bet Martin Hannett would have been furious.
Everything mixed by Howie Weinberg since 1999, including some New Zealand albums (sadly).
Edguys latest album Tinnitus Sanctus gets this one badly.
"Holy Ringing Ears" indeed.
Ben Folds' 2008 album Way To Normal was badly compressed in its initial release — and fans complained so much this time that the studio actually reversed course. The album was rereleased barely a year later as a deluxe 2-disc set, Stems and Seeds, with all the tracks "demastered" and some other goodies included to justify the purchase.
This wasn't exactly new, as 2001's Rockin' the Suburbs was victim of the same fate.
At least one reissue of Renaissance's Scheherazade and Other Stories is so distorted that the climax of the title track sounds substantially better in a medium-bitrate MP3 of the original vinyl. Or So I Heard.
The Boy Will Drown's debut album Fetish
Despised Icon's The Ills Of Modern Man.
Iron Maidenseems to be suffering from this (the video's author is shocked to see how balanced is the mastering of their recent song "Different World"!).
This happened to the 1998 and 2002 reissues of Powerslave, too. Dynamic range = out the window. It sounds rather muffled, and the vocals are now too loud compared to the drums. Ditto for most of their other reissues, eg Number of The Beast.
However, the balance in mastering from "Different World" and the other A Matter of Life and Death tracks carried through to The Final Frontier. Frankly, both albums are among the best-sounding of Iron Maiden's career.
Lacuna Coil's Karmacode. It's a particularly egregious offender given that their earlier albums were characterized by dynamics that you could practically breathe in.
Even poor Weird Al isn't immune to this. Compare "That Boy Could Dance" from his 1984 album In 3-D (one of the more arrangement-heavy songs on that album) to, say, "Hardware Store."
Despite the fact that Bob Dylan harshly criticised this entire trope (famously declaring "You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like ... static."), this has befallen his latest albumsModern Times and Together Through Life. Luckily enough, they were also released on vinyl, which just seems to confirm that it was the record label's fault and not his.
Luckily, it appears Dylan has gotten control back over his production process - the CD of Tempest is mastered at a much more reasonable level, with a fairly respectable ReplayGain level of -5.99 dB.
Rise Against are basically war criminals in the loudness war. War criminals with an army and tanks and CDs. Very compressed, very loud CDs.
Most amateur live performances seem to suffer from this. How it usually works is the sound check starts with setting the volumes at an acceptable level in the audience. The performers then complain about not being able to hear themselves and, rather than adjust their foldback, jack the volume up.
Back in 2001-2002, his 10 Years in the Life singles compilation also got loudness war'd, although to a lesser extent.
Gorillaz' Plastic Beach and Spoon's Transference have been "mastered" by Vlado Meller, so there's a very high chance of this bullshit.
The Secret Machines' Now Here Is Nowhere. It's a real pity, because it has some good songs but listening to them on a good pair of headphones is headache-inducing.
Eurobeat producer Magic Hammer's Most Extreme Ultimate Thunder album. It's supposed to be loud, because he's from a heavy metal background, but the brickwalling is just plain tinnitus-inducing, ruining otherwise awesome tunes. The Super Eurobeat series, as well as Hi-NRG Attack, SCP, and Dima Music's own releases, are also guilty of this as of late.
It's not just Magic Hammer; Rainbowdragoneyes, Eric W. Brown's other electronic project, is just as bad in that regard.
Many Industrial artists have become casualties or combatants of the loudness war as of late, especially Front Line Assembly's Artificial Soldier (and most of the remix album Fallout), Decoded Feedback's Combustion and Aftermath, and everything by Funker Vogt since 2000.
Musicians in noise and affiliated genres (noise rock, noise pop, et al.) intentionally use this as an aesthetic.
Radiohead has an interesting example: In Rainbows. The album wasn't brickwalled as Hail To The Thief was, but all the tracks have been peak limited so there are no dynamics in the songs, or at least, not any great amount of it. Averted by the vinyl edition, which is pristine like all their other LPs.
They started be major perpetrators of this with the highly-lauded Kid A. To quote an old audio review "'Everything in its Right Place' is so loud it's almost behind you!" Artistic License may apply, but it's certainly a pitfall from OK Computer, and certainly Pablo Honey. OK Computer brickwalls in its loud sections; The Bends is mastered loud by 1995 standards, but is quiet by today's.
Rage Against the Machine's final album Renegades suffers from this, most likely due to the fact that A) the band had already split up, B) it's a collection of covers that aren't all from the same recording session, and C) Rick Rubin "produced" it. Interestingly, the track "The Ghost of Tom Joad" appears here in only slightly altered form from its previous release on a Brendan O'Brien-produced single, and the difference is quite evident when it's played directly opposite audio sludge like "How I Could Just Kill A Man". The trope had started to creep in somewhat to their previous album The Battle of Los Angeles as well, and to an even lesser extent to Evil Empire, but neither of them are anywhere near as bad.
Dismember's "Pieces" EP has an album gain sitting at -14.4 dB. This was released in 1992.
Even game soundtracks can become victims, such as the Redbook CD music to Descent 2, released in 1995. It got worse with the 1997 Updated Re-release, The Infinite Abyss. Ironically, the version of Type O Negative's "Haunted" featured on this soundtrack is less compressed than the original (see below).
This accusation has been leveled at Jeremy Soule quite a bunch from the nonaudiophile crowds. (He doesn't brickwall, but you can be forgiven for believing he does. The soundtrack for Total Annihilation was especially bombastic.)
Starflyer 59's 2003 reissues of Silver and Gold, while not as objectively bad as some examples on this page, were still decried by a vocal portion of the fanbase. Silver wasn't that different, but Gold was declared "ruined". Notably, when both albums were re-re-released on vinyl, the record labels involved insisted on using the original mixes, rather than the 2003 remasters.
Every single release by Shiina Ringo. Muzai Moratorium was tolerable, but Shouso Strip is probably her worst offender: pretty much 55 minutes of dynamics-less white noise, which really ruins enjoyment of the otherwise good music.
To be fair, considering the amount of control she has over her music and her... eccentric personality, she did that on purpose. And besides, Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana has some pretty wide range.
Spiritualized reached a peak point of loudness while still keeping dynamics with 1997's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, and then proceeded to throw away the dynamics with every album since.
Bleeding Through's Declaration is so badly compressed that the kick drums drown out everything else whenever they're played. Which happens a lot. It can be a painful listen, even though the production isn't that bad, other than the godawful compression. Have a listen.
For the audiophiles, that song is mastered to -8.9dB, which drops to -8.6dB if you cut out the ending.
Coheed and Cambria's albums have always been loud and compressed to an extent, but were still listenable. Then Year of the Black Rainbow comes along, which is entirely brickwalled to death and has a DR of 5. The songs sound so compressed and distorted to the point where they become a big mess of white noise. Sadly, even the vinyl isn't safe from this, and it uses the same audio source as the CD, except the distortion is horribly obvious and will make you feel like something is wrong with your turntable.
While The Afterman: Ascension is an improvement, Descension is almost as bad as Year of the Black Rainbow. The "wall of sound" is back and at times you can't even hear Claudio's voice,
A rare example of Loudness Wars actually enhancing an album is the original 2002 issue of The Second Stage Turbine Blade, as the album very much has a garage rock feel and the shitty production helps improve that feel.
Both of Apoptygma Berzerk's albums after their Genre Shift to indie-emo electro rock. The Black remix EP's aren't much better.
Venus Hum's Sonic Boom. Imagine hearing this with a severe ear infection and front row seats. You may cringe now.
New Order's Singles compilation utterly destroyed the dynamic range of its songs, such as the original version of "Blue Monday", which can only be purchased digitally via this release. The albums Get Ready and Waiting for the Siren's Call didn't fare too well either.
Why Is Angels & Airwaves album LOVE so normal-volume, but if you play I-Empire it's twice the volume? Imagine, you're about to go to sleep, I-Empire in your CD player just about to start up at what you deem a normal volume, then WHAM! Your ears hurt from the dB count. So you end up adjusting it so I-Empire sounds normal and everything else all quiet-like.
Every release by Funeral for a Friend apart from their first two EPs. Most notorious example is the tracks on their Greatest Hits. The waveforms of the four exclusive tracks form perfect rectangles that fill up the whole window. In an album example, there is Memory And Humanity, with distortion so evident as to make the album exhausting to get through. On their other albums the tracks are loud, but they are not distorted. Bizarrely, this album was released on the band's own label, which they set up to avoid Executive Meddling.
The The Pet Shop Boys started to get louder with 1996's Billingual, and the loudness war reared its ugly head on Yes, whose dynamic range is a paltry 6 db. Conversely, the remasters of their older albums gained in volume, while retaining most of their dynamic range. Elysium slightly improved to DR 7 (and also has a vinyl edition with DR 14), but Electric is completely ruined, with DR 4-5.
Rihanna's "Only Girl (In The World)" is quite obviously brickwalled, being actually distorted during parts of the chorus.
Armin van Buuren's Mirage. Not as brickwalled as the aforementioned These Hopeful Machines by BT, but still quite squashed.
Signum's For You, also on AVB's Armada label, is even worse. Is it trance, or unlistenable wall of white noise anti-music?
Katy Perry's Teenage Dream is louder than Megadeth. Let that sink for a moment. Especially "Peacock", and "California Gurls", where the drums constantly clip.
In fact, Blumchen exhibited this trope way back in 1996 with Herzfrequenz, which has an overall range of -5 dBFS.
Genesis' entire catalogue was remastered in 2008. It was not an improvement.
DragonForce are loudness war criminals overall, but Sonic Firestorm, particularly the reissue, is brickwalled to the point of being unlistenable. The vinyl release of Ultra Beatdown seems to be mastered a little more responsibly, however.
If we're talking original releases, Valley of the Damned was significantly more guilty of this, with the following two being surprisingly reasonable in this regard, especially compared to their genre peers. In fact, Sonic Firestorm is probably one of the best-produced and best-mastered songs of the decade. That said, Inhuman Rampage is easily the worst-sounding of the three for completely different reasons (fatigue-inducing overproduction and searingly harsh upper-midrange dominant EQ, just to name a couple).
All of VNV Nation's recent albums are casualties; while the overall compression/brickwalling is less than most examples here, the loud passages still have a crapload of clipping, with Transnational being the worst, at a near-solid -5 dbfs.
Even the prog rock underground is not immune. The two albums by the Japanese jazz fusion group Machine and the Synergetic Nuts are brickwalled to a painful degree.
Ditto Japanese zeuhl band Koenji Hyakkei, which apart from the compression are pretty much the closest thing to Magma apart from Magma's side projects. But that still hasn't saved their albums, or at least the U.S. versions of their albums (there are previously released Japanese versions that are incredibly hard to find that may avert this trope), from being noticeably clipped. Recent albums by related project Ruins have also fallen into this trope, although the older ones avert it.
Speaking of Magma, a few of their releases fall into this trope as well. K.A. and Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré got this treatment pretty badly, as did their live DVD release Mythes et Legendes Epok I. Their usage of this trope has dropped off over time, though — Félicité Thösz and the later Mythes et LegendesDV Ds are still clipped, but just barely (and probably not audibly to all but the most obsessive audiophiles), and their latest release Rïah Sahïltaahk comes in at a very respectable DR10.
Pixie Lott. For example, listen to "Boys And Girls", which painfully blares in your ears from beginning to end. Also lampshaded with the album titled Turn It Up Louder.
Blackguard's major-label debut, Profugus Mortis, was pretty badly compressed (to nobody's surprise in particular). But the follow-up, Firefight, has extremely conspicuous compression and clipping. The parts that clip are in red.◊
Animals as Leaders' Self-Titled Album. The drums are mixed loud, and they'll clip even during the passages with clean guitars. Turn on the distortion, and you get a sea of red. Looking at heavier songs like "CAFO" in Audacity is quite jarring.
Bad mastering must be a trend in djent (then again, a lot of djent is self-produced), because Periphery's self-titled debut long-play record has the same (and extremely audible) clipping issues. The part where the whole band comes in at once in "Ow My Feelings" (or, rather, "Ow My Ears",) looks like this◊ in Audacity. It gets worse- "Buttersnips" managed to do this◊ without any bass guitar. The flat parts are clipping. What the hell, Bulb?
Rise Of The Tyrant by Arch Enemy. This◊ is the waveform (clipping in red)- a song should never, EVER look like that unless it's noise. Maybe.
Surprisingly, their 2003 album Anthems of Rebellion averted this trope somewhat, a daring move for the time (let alone now).
R.E.M.'s Collapse Into Now, particularly the songs Discoverer, All The Best and Mine Smell Like Honey. The vinyl version of the release is much better and, when equalised properly has about the same fidelity as the Lifes Rich Pageant LP.
This was also the case with their previous album, Accelerate, so it's not entirely surprising.
See also: In Time: The Best of R.E.M. Limiting all over the damn place, giving formerly lively songs a much duller feeling. Good luck trying to find an authentic, pre-digital fuckery version of "Bad Day" (unless you count "It's The End of the World as We Know It...")
Well, demo and live recordings of Bad Day from 1986 were bootlegged long before the song's official release, but despite being exempt from the loudness war, aren't as good transfers as the official (but brickwalled releases).
Their 1994 album Monster is an early example of this trend, though it was probably invoked deliberately to give the album a more raw sound.
Peter Buck noted that they wanted to show they weren't just a jangle band, and they were also inspired by the grunge of the time.
Every Electric Six album, but it's most noticeable on Senor Smoke which has some pretty audible 'whispering' on the vocals.
Crash Test Dummies' 1996 album A Worm's Life is an interesting example in that some of the tracks are like this ("Overachievers", "He Liked To Feel It") and some aren't ("My Own Sunrise"). The two tracks mentioned as being like this were the intended singles, so there may have been a compromise somewhere.
The trope is discussed by former Country Weekly critic Chris Neal in this article, mainly referencing Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke's production on Miranda Lambert's Revolution album. (Liddell said that he tried to make "Only Prettier" obnoxiously loud on purpose, which actually fits the song's attitude, but the rest of the album has no excuse.)
Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke are very guilty of this on their work with David Nail and Eli Young Band, too.
Many tracks on Thompson Square's two albums are so loud that they're fuzzy and distorted. The sound is likely due to their being produced by neophytes (namely, Jason Aldean's road band).
Ditto for The Band Perry's first album. It's not as noticeable since they tended to play more subdued ballads, but on the song "Double Heart," they just let 'er rip, and it always sounds like it's being listened to on a radio in another room.
Mark Wills' "Take It All Out on Me" has a lot of clipping in the intro. To be fair, this seems to be a rookie mistake from Brett James, who is primarily a songwriter and made his production debut on that album.
Jake Owen's Barefoot Blue Jean Night has a lot of noise issues. "Alone with You" in particular is quite fuzzy in parts.
Tony Brown does this sometimes, too. Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson's duet version of "Because of You" (from Reba's Duets album) is a bombastic mess — ultra-compressed guitars blaring throughout, and the instrumentation of the bridge mixed so absurdly loud that Reba is nearly inaudible.
"Wanna Make You Love Me" by Andy Gibson also has noticeable clipping in the intro and a total brick wall of a chorus.
Brent Rowan can do this in a song with only three instruments. "Don't Make Me" by Blake Shelton is a good example.
This review points out that Jimmy Wayne's "I Will" suffers from this pretty badly, with a ton of reverb and an obscene amount of instruments in the credits.
Many songs by Lights fall victim to this, such as "Second Go", and even worse "Saviour", where the chorus is completely brickwalled. Her sophomore album Siberia has taken this trend further, being distorted to the point of unlistenability. Little Machines has noticeably better dynamics than her first two albums, but at least two of the tracks, namely "Up We Go" and "Same Sea", still have horrible clipping during their choruses, which appears to be intentional overcompression.
Alice in Chains' most recent album, Black Gives Way to Blue was hit hard by the loudness war. For example, this◊ is what "All Secrets Known" looks like. Somewhat justified, in that it was also released in vinyl format, which requires the maximum volume level just to be half as loud as the CD. Unfortunately, the vinyl is also pretty clipped.
Subverted with Rachael Please, whose tracks are ridiculously clipped in order to get the effect he wants.
Covenant's Modern Ruin is brickwalled and clipped through the roof (ruined, so to speak), going so far as to show the waveform of one of the songs on the cover. 2002's Northern Light was also pretty badly smashed, although Skyshaper(2006) is a minor improvement.
The trance label Hook Recordings has been digitally rereleasing its classics, and many of them, e.g. "Neuro" by X-Cabs, have been subject to the loudness war treatment.
KMFDM's post-reformation albums do this to varying degrees, the worst being Tohuvabohu and Blitz. Most of the remasters of their earlier albums also got brickwalled. They had this trend going as far back as 1995 with Nihil, although that wasn't quite as brickwalled as their contemporary material.
Noisia's Split the Atom, or shall we say "Split The Eardrum", has its dynamics almost completely obliterated, averaging about -3 DBFS.
The Chemical Brothers have been brickwalling since 1997's Dig Your Own Hole, which was extremely compressed even by today's standards.
Ditto for The Prodigy starting with The Fat Of The Land also in 1997, their worst offender by far is 2004's Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. FOTL and Invaders Must Die do have vinyl editions which avert this.
Both these artists released most of their best-known material on vinyl editions which, fortunately, avert this. For instance, all of the Prodigy's main albums are available on LP and at least the first three have pretty good dynamic range. Same for the first two Chemical Brothers LPs. There are rips circulating the internet which should be pretty easy to find.
You didn't think Adele would be so loud, right? Wrong! Several of the tracks on 21, including the signature single "Rolling in the Deep", are brickwalled down to -5 dbfs. Luckily for audiophiles, this had a vinyl version.
One-album wonder Gearwhore's Drive is brickwalled beyond belief, e.g. constant clipping of percussion on "Accelerator" and "11:11", and "Train" is almost a perfect rectangle. This was 1998, mind you.
Frequently intentionally invoked by Hellektro bands such as Suicide Commando, whose Implements of Hell album is almost solidly brickwalled as well as having horrendous clipping on par with Death Magnetic.
Anything produced by Yasutaka Nakata: technopop group Perfume, capsule, MEG, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, etc. Nakata's production has steadily been pushing the limits of what compression can do with every successive release he's worked on. His 2011 albums, capsule's WORLD OF FANTASY and Perfume's JPN, hit Californication levels of distortion, to the point where melody lines that are supposed to be dead centre are wobbling around the stereo field from all of the other instruments momentarily hogging frequency range. Things also have a habit of ducking out of the mix for split seconds all over the place, much like the music ducks out when a voice speaks during a radio commercial, due to Nakata's ongoing quest to make every second of a song hit 0db.
The White Stripes' 'Icky Thump' album is a particularly bad offender, the drums being VERY noticeably distorted on many tracks, to the point of the album being unlistenable on most speakers
Stitches of Eden, Helalyn Flowers' second album, was ruined by this trope, after their first album, A Voluntary Coincidence averted it. Inexcusable. For comparison, here's "Digital Blood" from the first album, and "Your Killer Toy" from the second. White Me In / Black Me Out is also rather compressed, although definitely less clipped than Stitches.
Black Metal band The Axis of Perdition's early releases were horribly clipped. Their first official release, The Ichneumon Method (and Less Welcome Techniques), is particularly clipped with a dynamic range of DR1 and a RMS of -2.4 dB (making it even worse than Iggy Pop's notorious Raw Power remaster, which had a RMS of -2.5 dB. According to Audition, 10.5% of the recording is clipped). Fortunately, this tendency of theirs has abated with each subsequent release, to the point where their most recent releases, Urfe and Tenements (of the Anointed Flesh), are aversions of this trope - both of these are mixed extremely quietly for black metal albums (although there are also extended ambient passages on these recordings), coming in at around DR11. According to the band, the clipping on their early albums was apparently because they didn't know much about mastering at the time, though it is particularly strange that their second full-length album has clipping at odd amplitudes like -6 dB, depending on the track.
Green Day's American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown are both pretty clipped. The HDTracks versions have significantly more dynamic range than the original releases (DR9 compared to DR5 and DR6, respectively). There were also vinyl editions which, judging from the dynamic range scores, may have been mastered from the same source as the HDTracks versions.
Live's Throwing Copper still has a good deal of dynamic range, especially when compared to most of the albums on this list, but significant portions of the album are brickwalled and clipped. Notable that it predated (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, which is usually regarded as the point where this trope got really, really bad, by about a year (released in 1994).
Most rock records from that year, as well as the following two, are like that; loud enough to peak consistently at the limit but still have most of their dynamics. Morning Glory took this way, way further, constantly pegging the peak limit and beating all surrounding albums by at least 3dB (not a lot to the human ear, but makes a lot of difference to a CD at this stage). It wasn't until 1997 when albums like that became commonplace, and the 2000s (after another notoriously loud disc that starts with a "C") that they became more or less standardized.
Notably, both Californication and Morning Glory were Vlado Meller masters. Meller wasn't the first person to ruin portions of an album with clipping, but he may have been the first person to ruin an entire album with clipping, and he took it further than anyone had before (and probably further than anyone other than Iggy Pop has since).
The Downward Spiral, also released in 1994, has the same deal as Throwing Copper - overall there is a lot of dynamic range, but the loudest portions of the album are brickwalled and clipped. This would continue with most of Nine Inch Nails' releases throughout The Nineties and in fact dates all the way back to their 1992 EP Broken (although the version of this that I have may not be the same as the original release). However, knowing Reznor's perfectionistic tendencies, it's quite likely that he intended the clipped parts to sound exceptionally distorted, so your mileage may vary as to whether this counts as a straight example of this trope or whether it's a subversion.
The Fragile took Downward Spiral's loudness Up to Eleven, going from Throwing Copper to Morning Glory levels within the span of a single album. Guess those dastardly mid-'90s standards wouldn't let Trent realize his "true vision".
Notably, even the vinyl editions of both TDS and The Fragile were clipped. Which is a shame, because almost everything else about the vinyl of The Fragile was pristine.
Hesitation Marks (2013) comes with a download code for an "audiophile master" version, which was supposed to have greater dynamic range than the standard version's DR5. The audiophile master measures an incredible DR6. Reznor claims it has more bass, which it does, but he also makes it sound as if it forsakes the quest for loudness entirely, which it definitely doesn't. For a long, balanced look at the differences between the two masters, watch this. The European vinyl version however, which was cut from an alternate version of the audiophile master, does reach DR10.
Both of retraux-electro artist Lazerhawk's albums are offenders to some degree, but the brickwalling and distortion on Visitors is downright atrocious. Too bad, this was an otherwise great album.
Mindless Self Indulgence used compression rather perversely: their album Tight is not quite that brickwalled, which gave them the opportunity to mix the song "Diabolical" so that it crescendos during the last bar, suddenly deafening you.
Ildjarn made extreme compression an essential element of his style, except in his ambient works. Averted with side project Sort Vokter, whose sole album comes in at DR10.
Venetian Snares & Speedranch's 2001 release Making Orange Things destroys the competition when it comes to brickwalling. One of the tracks, Pay Me For Sex has a ReplayGain of -19.92dB and is currently the least dynamic album ever released according to the unofficial dynamic range database. In fairness, this is very much an intended effect as the album is made up of very distorted synths and harsh noises.
Little Boots's Hands is another tragic victim of brickwall mastering. However, she seems to be pulling out of the loudness war judging by the sound of her newer singles, and Hands also has a vinyl edition that has better dynamic range.
Played horribly straight by the CD/digital versions of all three Lady Gaga albums, although averted by the vinyl editions.
Ferry Corsten has hit a new dynamic low with the fourth album under his own name, WKND. All of the tracks have a dynamic range of -4 dbfs or less and have enormous amounts of clipping. Basically the Death Magnetic of electronic dance music.
Ayria's Hearts for Bullets. Her first two albums were mastered somewhat loud, but not brickwalled to $#!+ like this one.
Synthesis by The Break Up, a Seattle darkwave outfit, appears to intentionally use compression for a gritty vibe, but many of the songs overdid it, resulting in unlistenable solid brick walls for waveforms. Especially "Who's Crying Now" with its shrill overdriven synth lead, and "Trapeze". This is still an improvement over their self-titled first album, which was both brickwalled to death (except for "Tread Softly) and had audible clipping in many places.
Cut and Coil by Cylab, an industrial group also featuring Severina X Sol, was compressed near par with Synthesis, again possibly intentionally.
Certain Type O Negative albums, such as October Rust, are similar to Throwing Copper and The Downward Spiral in this regard; they have decent dynamic range, but the louder peaks are clipped.
DJ Tiesto's first two artist albums didn't have the best dynamic range, but Elements of Life is a total mastering disaster. Ditto for Kaleidoscope.
Infected Mushroom's Legend of the Black Shawarma and Army of Mushrooms are both brickwalled well into the red, averaging about 4-5 dbfs.
Blutengel's Seelenschmerz, dear god. About half the tracks go down to as little as 1 dbfs.
Given the perfectionistic clarity with which Soundgarden's earlier recordings were mastered, it is particularly distressing to see how clipped King Animal is. At DR6 and with a ReplayGain of -9.54 dB, it's far from the worst example of this trope, but it's still a far cry from their earlier recordings.
Mastodon's The Hunter is brickwalled to the point of being headache-inducing on low mid- to high-end speakers; even the LP suffers from this.
All of Mastodon's work, really, although it got a lot worse when they moved to a major label; the stuff before that was just brickwalled, but starting with Blood Mountain they were also clipped. At least the LPs from before The Hunter use different masters from the CD that aren't clipped. If you can find good vinyl rips of Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye, they will sound much better than the CDs.
The CD and DVD remasters of Massive Attack's Blue Lines, while not horrendous, are compressed to point where they occasionally brickwall and are generally fatiguing and lacking in spaciousness. This is especially true if you're familiar with the original master, which is a bit quiet even by 1991 standards and arguably could have used a bit of compression to add some punch, but you're seriously better off with an original pressing. To get the vinyl remaster you have to buy it as part of set that includes the DVD and CD!
Boris's CDs are some of the all time worst offenders, reaching DR ratings as low as 2. Even a vinyl rip of the "noise" version of the limited edition Vein has a DR of 3! To put that in context, a vinyl record with a DR of 9 is considered loud by today's standards.
To be fair, some of their records are far worse than others. There are portions of Flood that are really brickwalled, but the album has a lot of dynamics overall, which makes sense since it's basically an hour-long post-rock song. The album overall gets a DR rating of DR8, which isn't great but is far from the worst example of brickwalling ever.
The standard retail version of Van Halen's A Different Kind of Truth has a constant DR of 5-6. The limited-edition vinyl has a DR of 9, loud by vinyl standards, but still better off than the CD.
ProgressiveBlack Metal band Enslaved have this problem on nearly every CD they've released, with most of them being audibly clipped, although there are still dynamics on some tracks on most of the recent ones. The recent vinyl releases of their albums on Indie Recordings avert this, being separately (and sensibly) mastered. As a comparison, the CD of Riitiir has a DR value of DR5; the rip of the vinyl version currently circulating the 'net has a DR of DR11. The release of Isa by Back on Black, by contrast, appears to have been CD mastered, as there are several passages with obvious clipping.
Atheist's Jupiter. While the band's 1980s and 1990s stuff is mastered at reasonable levels, Jupiter is egregiously loud; while Jason Suecof, who produced it, is notorious for this in general, this is a special case. Word on the street was that he was going for a "raw" production, but his idea of a "raw" production involved horribly inconsistent instrument levels that varied from song to song, leading to such wonderful things as the rhythm guitar track almost completely drowning out the lead. To add insult to injury, the bass, one of the chief elements of Atheist's sound, was almost completely inaudible. Oh, and the whole thing was brickwalled to Death Magnetic levels. Jupiter as a whole was fairly divisive, but one thing that everyone agreed on was that the production was inexcusably awful.
There really is no God!
It would probably be simpler to list the Death Metal and Grindcore releases from the last ten to twenty years that aren't plagued by this trope than the ones that are. They're almost all brickwalled, and unfortunately they're also almost all clipped. Repeat offenders include Portal, Immolation, Incantation, Ulcerate, Nasum, Rotten Sound, and Kill the Client, but this is nowhere close to being an exhaustive list.
Vital Remains' 2003 album Dechristianize is unsurprisingly quite loud given that it's a 21st century Death Metal album, and because of that a bit of clipping would go generally unnoticed underneath all the noise. Unfortunately, not only is it tracked at a ridiculous level (-12.92 avg RGnote new version) but there is noticeable dynamic compression all over the place. The guitars themselves are compressed to hell and back (even distorted guitars have some dynamics, but these have all of them stripped away) and, when they are playing by themselves, peak as if the rest of the band were playing, who ducks the guitars when they begin playing, who are then ducked and unducked whenever Glen Benton gets on and off the mic. The overall volume almost never changes; any time an instrument stops playing, the other instruments are turned back up to compensate and vice versa. It literally sounds like you are listening to a commercial radio station and Glen Benton is the announcer. The whole album is an exhausting, noise-ridden, pumping and breathing experience, and [insert God replacement here]] help you if you can make it through all 60 minutes.
While Immolation is already mentioned above as a "repeat offender" of the Death Metal loudness wars, 2013's Kingdom of Conspiracy deserves its own entry. Practically the whole album is pegged at a Death Magnetic-esque DR3 (one track logs a hardly more acceptable DR4), pretty much everything in the mid or high frequencies is blatantly clipped, (especially the cymbals) and the guitars are so badly compressed as to render many of the riffs indistinguishable from one another, while being mixed so loud as to drown out the bass altogether. Oh yeah, and it ducks and unducks in a fashion similar to Vital Remains' Dechristianize. If there was any doubt about producer Paul Orofino'snote Orofino's worked on all the band's releases since 1999's Failures For Gods; not coincidentally, that album started their reign of loudness, coming in at DR6, while its predecessor Here In After (1996) came in at DR10 place at the bleeding, ear-splitting edge of the loudness wars before this, it's been put to rest now.
When Wolves At The Gates' debut EP We Are the Ones was first released, it was self-distributed digitally. Mastering-wise, it wasn't disastrous (we are talking some pretty intense, thrashyProgressiveMetalcore here) but still pretty over-the-top (-11.61 avg RGnote new version). However, when the band signed to Solid State Records, they decided to give it an extra "push" for the CD release. At -12.55 RG avg, it is as loud as Californication. Sadly, their full-length follow-up Captors has done little to remedy this, although that's nowhere near the biggest problem with that album.
Robyn's Body Talk is heavily clipped on almost every peak.
The Crüxshadows started to fall victim to the loudness war with Ethernaut in 2003. Their latest, As The Dark Against My Halo, is a total brickwalled mess, especially the lead single "Valkyrie", which has almost continuous clipping.
Noxious Emotion's Symbols(no relation to the KMFDM album) isn't brickwalled per se, but many of the songs are clipped at their loud points.
Skinny Puppy's Too Dark Park (yes, the original, not a remaster), although dynamic by today's standards, was heavily compressed for 1990, with a DR of 8, the same as their contemporary albums TGWOTR and Mythmaker and lower than the 1993 remaster of Rabies. 1992's Last Rights had pretty heavy clipping on some tracks as well. However, their modern albums are pretty dynamic for industrial music, although that's mostly because industrial music as a whole has gotten so much less dynamic in the intervening two decades.
Project Pitchfork started boosting volumes with Alpha Omega in 1995, were outright brickwalled by Daimonion in 2002, and hav hit rock bottom with 2013's Black, which is mostly a solid wall of distortion with barely a decibel of breathing room, even by Hellektro standards.
The original CD version of Bob Mould's self-titled debut solo album was mixed at a high level that resulted in squashed dynamics to begin with, but mastered quietly. The 2012 remaster looks as if very little compression was applied and the volume was simply turned up. As a result there's little loss of dynamics because it wasn't very dynamic to begin with; it's DR7, whereas the original was DR8. The same is true of The Last Dog and Pony Show to a lesser extent.
The remaster of Sugar's File Under Easy Listening that came out at the same time is a frustrating one. It adds some noticeable and much needed bottom end (EQ tweaks fall under the purview of a mastering engineer as well as a mixing engineer) which many would find preferable to the tininess of the original, but it's also compressed to near brickwall levels.
Black Metal band L'Acephale's first album, Mord und Totschlag, is extremely clipped. Some tracks come in at DR0. Others still have a fair amount of dynamic range left, but they're still clipped. Most likely, as with the Axis of Perdition example above, this is a case of a band simply not knowing what they're doing when mixing/mastering an album, because the remainder of L'Acephale's work is reasonably dynamic.
Burzum. His '90s stuff is mastered reasonably but ever since he got out of prison he's been brickwalling everything to death, even Fallen, which he claimed was going to be mastered "as if it was classical music" (it's actually more clipped than the album that preceded it). Reissues of his earlier material thus far remain reasonably mastered.
The Wallflowers' albums have been getting steadily louder since Bringing Down the Horse to the point where Glad All Over basically had no dynamics left to speak of (album gain of -10.27 dB).
All of Ladytron's discography has various degrees of brickwalling, but Velocifero is the worst of the bunch. Notably, even albums like 604 that were recorded in the pre-loudness war era are still incredibly loud.
Juno Reactor's latest two albums, although sporting above-average (for today) dynamic range, have a sizable amount of clipping.
The backlash Daft Punk's Human After All met when first released wasn't helped by its ridiculously clipped mastering, reaching an overall DR of 6 on the CD edition. This made for a really harsh contrast with the comparatively more dynamic and pleasantly mastered Discovery.
While Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are very talented artists, the album mastering of their album The Heist is...a lot less so. Strangely, "BomBom" has a DR of 10, while every other song has a DR of 5 or 6.
Awolnation's Megalithic Symphony. Even though the interlude tracks SOUND lo-fi, they have better mastering than the rest of the songs on the album.
Krewella's song "Come & Get It!" has a peak of 11.7 DB.
Considering it was produced by Rick Rubin, it's probably not too surprising that Black Sabbath were a casualty of this trope with their reunion album "13".
Clan of Xymox's In Love We Trust(or maybe "In Loudness We Trust") is a constantly clipped brick wall throughout, with "Judas" reaching Death Magnetic levels. Fortunately, the follow-up, Darkest Hour, backed off on this trend, although it still has some clipping, which may be intentional.
Kavinsky's debut album Outrun is extremely, extremely compressed. This is probably intentional, considering his fondness for cars, and the fact that a song on this very album was used as the theme song to a film about them, making the album perfect for car speakers. Once again, this is averted with the fantastic vinyl version, which has a DR of 11 compared to the CD and MP3 versions' DR of 5.
Vicious Pink's self-titled album became a casualty with its 2012 remaster.
The Janitors, a Swedish shoegazing band, definitely qualify for this trope.
Midnight Resistance's The Mirror Cage suffers dearly from brickwall limiting and clipping, despite the preceding album, Remote, being at least a partial aversion.
Led Zeppelin's "Mothership" compilation; the dynamics are still mostly there, but HOLY BALLS IS IT LOUD ("Good Times, Bad Times" actually goes into the red within the first 30 seconds. Not even "No Quarter" is free of this with audible clipping during the piano solo).
The worst offender on that CD is probably "Achilles' Last Stand". The whole track is horribly brickwalled.
Jake Kaufman's otherwise excellent OST to Double Dragon Neon is completely wrecked by overcompression. Especially the famous title theme, which is reduced to a solid brick wall of clipping.
Almost all of his soundtracks suffer from brickwalling to an extent. It may not ruin, say, the Shantae or Boot Hill Heroes OS Ts, but it definitely makes them more tiring to listen to. For an accomplished and talented composer and producer, Kaufman seems to have a poor understanding of dynamics.
Cold Steel World from Power Noise project Terrorfakt is an album that is already ridiculously loud to begin with (and of course, this trope is intentional in the Power Noise world), but the song Ich is loud by Power Noise standards. And by loud, I mean HAZARDOUSLY LOUD. It is highly not recommendedto listen to this song with headphones on at full blast. Seriously, even if this song is about 3 1/2 minutes long, you will suffer from hearing loss if you play this repeatedly at full volume. And the worst and strangest part about this song? It does not even peak.
Every Basshunter album since Now You're Gone.
The Hunting Party by Linkin Park is nearly completely brickwalled and full of clipping.
Fifth Harmony's "Bo$$" is almost headache-inducing with how loud it is.
The entirety of the TohoEurobeat series is guilty, especially the later volumes. Most of the songs are sheer brick walls with near-zero dynamic range, along with clipping aplenty. Even the songs by Odyssey, who normally avoids this trope, as mentioned below.
Fallujah'sThe Flesh Prevails is mastered at DR3. In an interesting turn of events, the album's mastering engineer Zack Ohren joined in a discussion following a review of the album that was very critical of the production and even linked to an audio track combining volume matched samples from an alternate quieter master and the release master for comparison. Judging by documented conversations that fans have had with the band, they've acknowledged their role in it as well and admitted to wanting a bombastic, "larger-than-life" production, but realized that they went way too far in that direction.
Luckily, this was released on vinyl with a different master. The vinyl is DR10.
Holy Ghost!'s self titled album, although having relatively decent dynamic range, has constant hard clipping on the drums of most songs, especially during the choruses. The mastering engineers definitely screwed up here.
One of the first examples is The Rolling Stones' single "Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow". Although it's never been explained why, contemporary recording standards suggest that it must have been deliberate.
One of the most infamous examples is Iggy Pop's 1997 remaster of Raw Power by The Stooges, being constantly in the red and occasionally averaging -4 dBFS. The album was intended to sound loud, blunt, and unsubtle, but there's a difference between "exhilaratingly loud" and "headache-inducing, unlistenable sonic mess". Even his bandmates James Williamson and Ron Asheton think he fucked up horribly here. This is often cited as an example of an artistic use of the phenomenon, as Iggy Pop has been cited as saying he wanted to "recreate the feel of an old, worn-out vinyl". Given the overwhelming amount of crackling, distorted midrange on the disc, it's easy to say this goal was at least somewhat accomplished. However, given that the results often cause listener fatigue, most people wish he had used some other method of creating this feel.
There is hope, however: Sony released the "Master Edition" in April 2010 with the original David Bowie mix reinstated and slightly beefed-up to fix some of the valid criticisms of his original mix (inaudible bass and the like). It just might be the first step towards reversing the trend in general. Even better was a 2012 vinyl remaster, which is discussed further under "Aversions".
Many acts on Ed Banger Records, like Justice, SebastiAn and Vicarious Bliss, who use absurd amounts of compression◊ to create a signature sound, and in Justice's case, using digital noise and clipping as an instrument.
Virtually any recent act that psych-rock producer David Fridmann has worked with, like The Flaming Lips, MGMT and Tame Impala. It can be traced back to MGMT's Oracular Spectacular: They asked Fridmann to turn up the gain to make it sound "dirty", turning "Kids" in particular from this to this.
In defense of Dave Fridmann, Kliph Scurlock, The Flaming Lips' drummer has this to say, implying that it's the bands who push for brickwalling instead of Fridmann himself (taken from this post):
"I've seen things written here and there that it's all Dave and that he a 'habitual ruiner' of recordings, but I'll go on record right now as saying that Dave never tries to 'pull a fast one' over on bands and we know exactly how things sound when we leave his studio. In fact, he's fought for this song or that song to be quieter overall on more than one occasion."
For the curious: album gain -10.88 dB. And Rated R two years earlier has an album gain of -9.92, which casts doubt on the "car stereo" theory.
This is likely due to the fact that Songs for the Deaf has an extremely dark, bass-heavy mix, and ReplayGain uses loudness contour analysis to determine how loud an album actually sounds vs. how loud it actually is. Lower-end frequencies don't trigger higher values nearly as much as upper-midrange signals—Songs for the Deaf is notably abundant in the former and lacking in the latter. Recent updates to the ReplayGain system have leveled out in this area, becoming closer to the absolute-volume RMS standard.
Intentionally invoked by a number of Noise and early Industrial artists, most notably by Whitehouse on Birthdeath Experience (1979) and Right To Kill (1984), on which everything is "in the red". Hell Is That Noise, indeed. Averted by legendary harsh-noise artist Merzbow, whose production tends to be frighteningly clear.
Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, inexplicably, is really badly clipped, especially considering it's a folk album. May be a side effect of the lo-fi aesthetic Jeff Mangum was going for (the band actually lists "white noise" as a musical instrument), but it's still really, really weird. Despite the fact that a rather substantial portion of the album is just acoustic guitar and voice, if you look at the zoomed-out waveform of the album there are almost no dynamics to be found.
Experimental hip-hop group Death Grips. Exmilitary, their debut album/mixtape has an album gain of -13.04dB. One song, "Spread Eagle Cross the Block", has an insane ReplayGain value of -14.64dB. No Love Deep Web, their third album also uses very heavy distortion but not quite to the extent of their debut (album gain of -11.62dB, the loudest song at -13.13dB). Their other album, The Money Store is still loud but not as loud as the other two.
They've also released the stems for Exmilitary on their website (as Black Google) to encourage remixing (with the side effect that people can make their own de-loudness war'd mixes) and released an "unmastered" version of The Money Store which is nowhere near as loud.
Incidentally, they apparently aren't too fond of the loudness war, because back when they started out, their music being as loud as it was made it pretty much unique, whereas now their music sounds almost normal. It's also worth noting that Jet Generation came with a sticker saying, "Warning: this is the loudest album ever recorded. Playing at normal volume may cause irreparable damage to stereo equipment. Use at your own risk."
Ulver's Black Metal album Nattens Madrigal has a ReplayGain value of -16.22 dB, which indicates a gigantic amount of volume compression (especially considering that there are probably five minutes' worth of ambient passages between the tracks dragging the values down somewhat). This was likely a deliberate aesthetic choice to make the album's production even colder. It's also worth noting that, while Nattens Madrigal is notorious for having horrible production (there is an Urban Legend that it was recorded in a forest, which the band has dismissed as impossible), the band took care to avoid any clipping when mastering it. Unfortunately, they were not as careful with the band's later album Blood Inside (recorded in a completely different style, as Ulver are wont to do), which is significantly less compressed but still has clipping. Most of the rest of Ulver's discography averts this trope, being mastered at more reasonable levels.
Because the dynamic range of most digital music is squeezed right near the top of the format's capacity, the available volume settings in many modern mobile devices such as the iPod are literally incapable of playing correctly recorded digital audio at the proper volume. This means that even with the internal amplifier at maximum volume through the included headset, what should be normal passages are quiet, and intended quiet passages are inaudibly soft.
It seems half the comments on the YouTube showing of Star Trek: The Original Series (only available to Americans) are about the advertisements being way, way, WAY louder than the low-levelled audio. Video advertisements being infamously louder than TV programs (with much of the same brickwalled audio quality that even the uninitiated can recognize as 'sounding like a commercial'), and the TV program being leveled at about what you might get in the 1960s (or maybe a DVD), suddenly the advertisements get perfectly normal people screaming to all-out boycott the products advertised.
This comes up in Australia every few months.
Recent NHL Hockey games have touted being able to import custom audio for use as in-game music or sound effects. Unfortunately, the pre-existing audio is amplified so much that the feature is nearly useless. While you can increase the game's music volume in order to hear the imported songs, not all of the pre-existing sounds can be replaced, meaning you run the risk of blowing out your eardrums.
In the early days of the CD format in the '80s there was, if anything, a softness war, since one of the selling points of CDs was actually how quiet they were in comparison with the surface noise of vinyl, the hiss of tape, etc. This was exacerbated by the popularity of noise-reduction processes like Sonic Solutions and Cedar when mastering older titles.
For the most part, this phenomenon is not present in the less commercial genres, such as classical, opera, jazz, orchestral movie soundtracks, and most musicals, due to the loudness of the sound (and lack thereof) being, in itself, a crucial element of the music. Ditto for the more "rootsy" genres such as folk and bluegrass, which put an emphasis on having a natural organic sound versus a slickly-produced one.
Only holds true for Old Europe classical/opera. Some of the Russian masters appear to have been 'remastered' by Rubins. The Black Dog remaster of Prokofiev's Alexandr Nevsky flings itself from silent to blistering with barely any padding in between. Generally speaking, the more 'nationalistic' the tone of the piece, the more likely it gets brickwalled. Insert snarky puns about Berlin here.
GunsNRoses, of all bands, managed to mostly avert this trope. Other than "The Spaghetti Incident?",note (which may be stylistically justified: with covers of early punk bands like The Damned, New York Dolls, The Stooges, and Sex Pistols, it is supposed to sound loud and dirty) their studio albums were always a healthy DR9 or higher. It helps that Axl began working on Chinese Democracy before the loudness war reached full steam, and only finished when there was a strong backlash against it.
We all know that the 1997 remaster of The Stooges' Raw Power is atrocious, but the 2010 Legacy Edition is a hell of a lot better. It's a remaster of the original David Bowie mix. The remix Iggy Pop made for the 1997 remaster turned everything up to match the lead guitar, after which everything was turned up even louder. The original mix has the lead guitar standing out in the mix in order to be intentionally unpleasant, but with a merciful master it's audio ambrosia compared to the 1997 version. There are times when it sounds like you're listening to a skilled cover band. An ideal version would turn the lead guitar down and use the 2010 master.
The 2012 vinyl remaster of Iggy's mix removes all the clipping while keeping its improvements (better levels for the instruments, more punch to the guitars, better midrange and bass presence, etc.). This is now the definitive version.
The new stereo Beatles remasters received a minimal amount of peak limiting: not to make the songs louder, but to keep a consistent overall volume across the albums while maintaining the original dynamics. The mono remasters did not have any peak limiting used on them.
Rivers Cuomo of Weezer once made the observation that Weezer's first record (The Blue Album) was mixed low, so as to sound better when turned up through a stereo, and said that it "Our album sounds like crap if you have it low". This was most likely due to the influence of audiophile producer Ric Ocasek, as most of their records since have various degrees of clipping - even Pinkerton, which has a good dynamic range, still has some clipped peaks. The Green Album is infamous for having a completely flat, claustrophobic mix except for "Island in the Sun" (the only song on the album with some sense of space!), Maladroit is similarly brickwalled, Make Believe, The Red Album and Raditude suffer from Rick Rubin being involved, and it seems that their move to an indie label with Hurley hasn't weaned them off loudness warring their albums.
Pinkerton is a rare example of an album's sound actually being improved by clipping. It's not nearly as egregious as on later Weezer releases, but it's just ugly-sounding enough that it complements the bitter, angry tone of the album, giving it a punk feel.
The Cure's Disintegration mentions in its liner notes how it was mixed to be played loud and that one should start turning up the volume. The remastered version was much louder than the original, which was criticized on its release.
It is worth noting that even the DVD-Audio version of In Absentia is horribly clipped. Seriously, who the hell thinks clipping a 5.1 DVD-A mix is a good idea?
Hot Hot Heat have songs such as "Jingle Jangle" with impressive dynamic range, going from a quiet acoustic feel to a loud, jangly, catchy-as-hell song and back again. They've said in the past that they try to take control of making their albums to avoid having any label induced sourness.
All but the last 2 remastered Depeche Mode albums avoid this...partially. Like the Beatles remasters, they're louder, but still have their dynamic range. The clipping is minimal...for the most part. This is presumably thanks to Alan Wilder supervising the remastering of the albums from when he was in the band.
With Devin Townsend's new(er) album Ki (which he also produced), he announced "I officially pull my hat out of the loudness wars."
He's still making good on that promise with the follow-up, Addicted!, despite it being a ton heavier than Ki.
I find these claims kind of strange, because Addicted and Deconstruction in particular are brickwalled, and in fact audibly clipped. They're less clipped than a lot of his earlier recordings, but Deconstruction has a ReplayGain value of -10.14 dB, which indicates quite a bit of compression. Addicted is -9.86. Ki is -7.57, which is better, but there is still clipping on a few parts. Even the "ambient" album Ghost (ReplayGain -6.23) has clipping on a few tracks, although it's nowhere near as prevalent. Ki and Ghost at least actually have dynamics. Most songs on Deconstruction and Addicted, by contrast, do not.
While Ki is at times dynamic, as its worst, it is far worse than even Deconstruction. The ReplayGain on the last 45 seconds of the title track comes in at -13.47 dB!
Sadly, Epicloud his newest album also, like the name suggests, is loud. Just listen to the first few seconds of the remake of Kingdom
He finally actually averted the Loudness War with Casualties of Cool which is a DR 10 master and sounds great.
Soundgarden's career (before their reunion) ran its course before this trope really came into its own, but it was beginning to creep up. Superunknown, the band's first major mainstream hit, has a higher overall volume than any previous Soundgarden albums — which is to be expected — but also higher than that of the follow-up, Down on the Upside. This makes sense when you find out that DOTU was largely self-produced and that the band members generally favored minimalistic production (they frequently mentioned their annoyance with Superunknown's producer Michael Beinhorn, calling him "anal" about sounds and being frustrated at taking days to record a single song).
Superunknown is actually a rather notorious aversion to this trope in that it was a few decibels below the surrounding rock albums of the time. Whereas most had been amplified to the point where they would consistently peak, Superunknown stayed true to the standards of the past several years with noticeable headroom and minimal clipping.
Averted by Los Lonely Boys on their debut album. Producer John Porter intentionally tried not to make it too loud, and it worked. Their later albums, on the other hand...
Cult pomp-rock band The Enid generally avoid brickwalling, although some of their more recent remasters have used a bit of it on peaks. The CD reissues of their first two albums from 1976-7 (long-delayed for legal reasons) avoid it altogether.
The Doors' 40th Anniversary remasters generally avoid it, although there are one or two odd exceptions like "The Wasp".
Swans. Loud enough to get banned from Switzerland, yet always recorded with perfectionistic clarity, thanks to front-man/producer Michael Gira. Some of their albums have brickwalling issues, but knowing Gira, it was almost certainly an intentional attempt to create a harsher, more abrasive sound.
Skinny Puppy's The Greater Wrong of the Right is fairly loud, but retains decent dynamic range, in contrast with most contemporary industrial albums, which are brickwalled to hell, as mentioned above. Mythmaker, while not totally brickwalled, is somewhat more compressed. Also averted with the remasters of their 80's albums, including Rabies, whose original was accidentally mastered with Dolby Noise Reduction (not so much the "re-remaster" from the early 2000's). Likewise for OhGr's solo albums.
Even better are Handover and Weapon.
The Seldom Seen Kid, along with most of Elbow's discography, has managed to roughly keep volume at a reasonable level. This may have something to do with the fact they've self-produced all their albums since 2005.
In fact, it has a message on the back saying to play it loudly.
Nine Inch Nails, for the most part. Trent Reznor has always walked a fine line between audiophilic auteur and pop musician, so most of his 1990-2010 output is compressed enough to maintain consistent loudness and maximize the potential of the CD format without brickwalling or distorting anything (that wasn't supposed to be distorted). There was, however, some controversy over the 2010 re-master of 1989's Pretty Hate Machine, supervised by Reznor and Tom Baker (no, notthatTom Baker). First impressions of some of the preview clips suggested that it may have been brickwalled. But it turned out that while it was undeniably louder on average, and a select handful of moments were made less dynamic (like the twice-as-loud-as-everything-else synth burst in "Sanctified"), Reznor & Baker were still careful to ensure that it didn't become an indistinct, brickwalled mess.
To be fair, while Trent does like to keep the overall dynamics of his songs intact, he also likes boost them to clip-happy levels. Broken and The Downward Spiral averted this somewhat due to the more modest standards of their time, but once time for The Fragile came around, boy did he let loose.
The European vinyl edition of Hesitation Marks (2013), which was cut from an alternate version of the "audiophile version", comes out to DR10. The downloadable audiophile version is DR6.
Frontline Assembly's Improvised Electronic Device, like the previously mentioned Skinny Puppy albums, is loud, but avoids clipping for the most part, unlike Artificial Soldier. Ditto Echogenetic.
One weird early example: the 1973 album Wizzard Brew by Roy Wood’s Wizzard was deliberately subjected to heavy amounts of compression and distortion, with VU meters pushed heavily into the red. Early consumers thought this was some sort of audio defect, not an artistic choice. It actually sounds less distorted than many commercially produced CDs these days!
Sunn O))), in order to retain fidelity at their substantial low end, defy their live reputation by mixing their albums quiet. Their mantra, "Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results", is basically an instruction to the listener to turn the CDs up themselves.
The Cult's Beyond Good and Evil may appear to have only the vocals mixed high in the mix, but listeners who turn up the volume even more to really feel the bass will have their ears ringing the next day.
Iced Earth, a heavy metal band, has thankfully bucked this trend. Their album remasters do not have any compression applied (but minimal normalization to make the sound even) and have improved sound quality due to being recompiled from the original multitracks, with previously subdued being made louder in the mix, but the overall tracks not being that much louder than the original recordings.
Horror Show and The Glorious Burden have it, but the rest of their albums, including remasters, are ok.
The 2011 Legacy Editions of the Peter Tosh albums Legalize It and Equal Rights avert this with by retaining all their dynamics and having waveforms that look like they come from 80s CDs.
Overclocked Remix demands a reasonable level, regardless of whether the song was produced by instruments or computers, to the point that high-demand piano mixes have been delayed\rejected due to distortion problems.
The 2008 expanded remaster of The Prodigy's Music for the Jilted Generation.
Binary Finary averted this with their Lost Tracks digital compilation and their recent collaboration singles.
The 2011 remasters of The Smashing Pumpkins' Gish and Siamese Dream adverted this. They're plenty loud while preserving the dynamics and original mixes while being brighter.
Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness also averted this trope upon their respective releases by being mastered with the intent of having a good amount of headroom left while the band's contemporaries were content to hammer the 0 line with each snare hit.
While Vlado Meller is reviled by many audiophiles nowadays due to his excessive brickwalling, it's interesting (and almost hard to believe) to note that he was responsible for mastering 1994's The Sweetest Illusion by Basia. Pretty much no clipping to be found. Example here.
For the most part, the 2011 Queen remasters try to avoid this, trying to remaster the albums in a similar manner to The Beatles, and they are mainly bought for the newly discovered demos on the second discs on each album. Most reviews are favorable because of the way the sound clarity in the older albums are now
The 2011 Pink Floyd remasters avert this trope almost as adeptly as the 2009 Beatles remasters.
They're still compressed, though. "When the Tigers Broke Free" on CD has much less dynamic range than the version used on the DVD of Pink Floyd: The Wall.
They've continued averting the loudness war with their latest album, The Endless River, which comes in at a glorious DR11.
Jerrod Niemann and producer Dave Brainard mixed Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury analog. Between the lower mixing and heavier reliance on acoustic instruments, the album is noticeably quieter and less processed than most other country music.
Squarepusher CDs are always mastered at a sensible level. Many electronic artists (or their mastering engineer or label) simply assume their "real" fans wouldn't buy a CD.
Yuki Kajiura's music is usually relatively loud, but it does employ dynamic range and its loudness is a conscious artistic choice that's accounted for by other elements of the production.
A large many video games will actually have the default audio settings set up to where the player can barely hear the background music, unless they turn up the volume on the TV so loud that the sound effects are deafening. The intent of this is roughly the exact opposite of the trope; music that distracts from gameplay is usually a Bad Thing, and lowering the volume is a quick-and-easy way to make it less distracting.
EA's Frostbite Engine has audio mixing features that drown out sound effects the game deems are unimportant, like the radio from a car, when something like an explosion occurs.
Video games in general actually avert this for some strange reason. At least, PC games do. Fire up any modern music you have and adjust the volume to taste. Then play a game. Chances are, the game's rather quiet.
There are several engineers who outright refuse to brickwall anything they touch. Steve Hoffman, Doug Sax, Vic Anesini, recent Bob Ludwig, and Kevin Gray are some of the best known. Any remaster by one of these, you're probably good.
George Marino's work was, for the most part, anything but brickwalled. Sadly, Marino died in 2012.
Colin Marston's mastering is almost always incredibly dynamic by modern metal standards, usually being around DR8-DR10.
Pretty much all of Kraftwerk's remasters avert this.
The 2009 Procol Harum remasters pretty much go the Pink Floyd route, compressed but not brickwalled, although their later albums appear to have less dynamic range.
Given the substantial role played by dynamics in Post-Rock, it's not surprising that many releases in the genre avert this. Crescendocore doesn't exactly work if there's no room for a crescendo.
The Can remasters. Compressed? Definitely. Brickwalled? Definitely not. Lacking in dynamics? Hardly. The SACD layer is quieter without being much more dynamic.
Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon works hard, really hard to make sure that the albums he records are only mixed/mastered by him as to avoid this. Seeing as how he owns his own record company now, it doesn't even seem to be an issue. Caldo Verde records has been acclaimed for holding a very high standard towards its mixing and mastering process and Kozelek has been considered as a godsend towards record producers in the 21st Century. For reference, listen to Sun Kil Moon's April and notice the great use of dynamic range.
Necrophagist bucked the trend of modern death metal by mastering Epitaph at a reasonable level. At DR8, it's not the most dynamic album ever, but by modern metal standards that is astounding. Almost no clipping to be found.
Origin has done much the same thing with their last two albums; while Antithesis still had issues with the production (it had dynamics but was quite muddy), Entity increased the clarity without sacrificing space. (Antithesis comes out to DR9 but, amongst its other problems, still clips constantly. Entity was given a bit more compression, coming out to DR8, but care was taken to avoid clipping on this album, and it sounds pristine).
Timeghoul is another case of a death metal band's material being released with enough space for the instruments to breathe. The band's material was mostly recorded from 1992 to 1994, but it was recently remastered for its first official CD release. People were afraid that the remaster would be a typical modern brickwalled shitfest, but when it came out, it had a staggering DR10. If only all modern metal releases were so lovingly mastered.
Unfortunately, this trend did not continue on the bonus disc of the reissue. The songs were all clipped and the disc came in at a DR5. Even worse, they also appear to have been sourced from mp3s, which is particularly vexing since the material is all sourced from analogue sources which could easily have been recorded to full FLAC.
Technical Death Metal band Gorguts' 2013 album Colored Sands is mastered at DR9. Good luck finding a more dynamic album in that genre, particularly in recent times. For comparison, their 1998 album Obscura was mastered at DR5, which makes this a huge improvement. (Note that War on Music's vinyl editions of Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate are both a much more sensible DR10). Since Colin Marston is a member of the band and presumably did the mastering for Colored Sands, though, the increased dynamic range probably isn't terribly surprising to anyone already familiar with his other work.
To be fair, Obscura very well might have been intentionally loud to have an even more abrasive, confrontational sound.
Most releases of material by Finland's Demilich have been free from loudness war shenanigans. Their 20th anniversary compilation 20th Adversary of Emptiness, released in 2014, comes out to DR11 on CD, which is staggering for a death metal release these days. (The LP version comes out to DR12).
Artificial Brain's debut full-length, Labyrinth Constellation, is another modern death metal album with a very agreeable mastering job. With an average of DR8, it manages to be loud and clear without sacrificing dynamics or coming anywhere close to clipping. Once again, it was a Colin Marston job, so it's up to his usual standard of quality.
Morbus Chron's 2014 effort Sweven is another example of a modern DR8 death metal album that doesn't have much/any clipping.
Swiss blackened death metal band Bölzer have been pretty good about this, too. Their demo Roman Acupuncture is questionable at DR6, but their first EP Aura is a much nicer DR11 and their second EP Soma is a still respectable DR8.
Wintersun's Time is another example of a modern metal album that was mastered at a decent level (again being DR8).
My Bloody Valentine. Their concerts may be ear-splittingly loud, but their albums not so much. It probably came as a relief to millions of fans when MBV came in with actual dynamics (DR11, to be exact, which is almost unheard of for an album in 2013). The LP was mastered separately but still comes in with similar dynamics.
Laura Marling's "A Creature I Don't Know" averted it narrowly, getting a DR10. That's pretty awesome, considering that her former boyfriend (and fellow folk singer) Marcus Mumford got a DR7 a year later for Babel.
According to youtube, her record store single "To Be a Woman" got a DR13. Now THAT'S unheard of for a modern song. Kudos to Ethan Johns for mastering it really well, (whose own song Whip Poor Will has an DR11.)
Progressive Metal band Orphaned Land. Their metal passages have a moderate amount of dynamic range compression applied to them, but by today's standards they're pretty light, and it's nowhere near enough to clip. The acoustic passages have pristine mastering with apparently no dynamic range compression whatsoever. Mabool comes out at DR9, although that's mostly due to a mix of metal songs coming at DR7 and DR8 and acoustic songs coming in at levels like DR10 and DR16. ORwarriOR appears to be a bit less dynamic on CD (DR6), although it also got a vinyl release that was incredibly dynamic. ORwarriOR was mastered separately for vinyl; Mabool was not.
Neil Young has never released an album that measures below DR 8, which is interesting considering he doesn't even like CDs. For the last decade or so his albums have been released in HDCD format and in special versions that include an accompanying DVD, and these tend to be slightly more dynamic.
Jeff Buckley's recordings, for the most part, are nicely dynamic, although there was a 2004 remaster of Grace that dialled down the dynamics somewhat and featured some clipping. There have also been vinyl editions that avert this nicely. Most notable, however, is the compilation So Real, which on many tracks has more dynamic range than the original releases (more info here).
Then we have the problem of his live albums, all of which are actually too quiet. Students who study record producing have been able to find very simple ways to fix this problem, which has left them asking questions as to why Sony doesn't try to boost the volume of Buckley's performances.
Daft Punk's 2013 release Random Access Memories has an album gain of -6.11dB and a DR of 9. Insanely good sounding for a (somewhat) mainstream release, and a definite improvement over Human After All.
The vinyl is even better, with a DR of 13.
Discovery had a comparatively reasonable DR of 10, while its vinyl version boasts an even better 14.
Jamiroquai's first two albums have really good DR's.
Diary of Dreams' 2007 album Nekrolog 43 has a DR of 12, which is almost unheard of in contemporary music, much less darkwave or industrial.
British Black Metal band A Forest of Stars's first two albums have amazing dynamic range. The Corpse of Rebirth is DR10 and Opportunistic Thieves of Spring is DR11. The band's third album, A Shadowplay for Yesterdays, was a bit louder, coming in at DR7, although the vinyl was a much more reasonable DR11.
Fellow British Black Metal band Fen are notorious for having all their CDs horribly clipped, but the frontman of the band personally remastered the band's first full-length album, The Malediction Fields, for its vinyl release. It is a tremendous improvement, being (almost) completely shorn of clipping and coming in at DR11.
Mark Morgan's soundtracks to Fallout 1 and 2 were remastered in 2010 as the compilation soundtrack Vault Archives. The volumes were boosted, but the dynamics remain intact.
Scott Walker's last three albums (as of Bish Bosch in 2012), despite being released over a period of twelve years, are all reasonably dynamic. Bish Bosch measures DR10, and that includes a song that measures DR5 (it's not especially compressed, but rather just not inherently dynamic on account of its repetitive nature).
American Black Metal band Panopticon has always had good dynamics. Colin Marston has done the mastering for the recent releases, so this probably isn't surprising, but even before he was involved there were lots of dynamics (the band's self-titled début is DR10).
Orbital, despite an increase in volume starting with The Middle of Nowhere, has mostly retained their dynamic range.
Beach House were wide recognized for escaping clipping with their albums, creating amazing dynamic range with their music, and refusing to work with producers that brickwall production... that is, until 2012 when Bloom was released with some of the worst clipping ever heard on an indie-pop album.
In one of the more surprising aversions of the the loudness war, metal band Avenged Sevenfold's Hail to the King (2013) is mastered at DR11 (or at least the leaked version is). All their other albums are at the DR6-DR7 range. Seriously though, this is one of the best sounding commercial metal releases in years.
Norwegian Metal band Kvelertak, though they're plenty loud and don't have a lot of dynamic range, mix and master their albums clearly and free of clipping or brickwalling.
American Black Metal band Vattnet Viskar have been pretty good about mastering. Their demo was pretty clipped and came out to a rather questionable DR6, but after that they wised up to audio quality and started mastering their albums with care. Their self-titled EP is DR8 on CD and either DR10 (12") or DR11 (10") on vinyl, while their album Sky Swallower is (reportedly) DR8 on CD and DR12 on vinyl. (Then again, the high dynamics on the vinyl of the latter shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, since their record label from Sky Swallower onward is Century Media, which is well known for putting out high-quality vinyl releases).
Canadian Technical Death Metal band Quo Vadis has albums "Forever..." (1997) averaging at DR10 and "Defiant Imagination" (2004) averaging at DR9, a highly impressive feat in the world of brickwalled death metal tracks.
Against expectations, the 20th anniversary reissue of Nirvana's In Utero is actually slightly more dynamic than the original. That goes for the 2013 mix, too.
Covenant's Leaving Babylon appears to mark the end of their participation in the loudness war. Although there is clipping on a few tracks, the album is definitely clearer and more dynamic than their previous three albums.
John '00' Fleming's 110 WKO does a good job at maintaining dynamics and avoiding clipping, although minor compression is used.
Another very surprising aversion: Jessie J's album Alive has a DR of 9, which is quite impressive for a pop album released in 2013, and almost twice the DR of her debut Who You Are. Some of the songs, like "It's My Party," have some slight clipping, but the album sounds quite clear compared to other pop music these days—which may be why it never was released in the States.
Convulse's 2013 effort Evil Prevails comes in with a DR of 11 and looks like this◊. This is absolutely AMAZING. Finally, a modern "Old School Death Metal" record done the right way.
Faderhead's The World of Faderhead is also surprisingly dynamic for a contemporary industrial album.
Thyx's Below the City is almost completely free of clipping and has excellent dynamics.
Pride and Fall's Of Lust and Desire.
U.S./Colombian Black Metal band Inquisition has mostly been good about avoiding loudness war shenanigans. Their latest album, 2013's Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, comes in at DR9. 2011's Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm isn't bad either at DR8. Some of their material from the mid-Noughties plays this trope straight, however.
King Crimson and associated projects, probably not a surprise as Robert Fripp hates modern recording industry practices. Fripp & Eno's latest record is actually quieter than their previous two.
All of Front 242's discography avoids brickwalling for the most part; the loudest they have reached is DR 8 on Headhunter 2000.
Despite the Alfa Matrix label's recent track record of brickwalling, such as the aformentioned Ayria and Helalyn Flowers examples, Krystal System's Rage has amazing dynamic range by modern Industrial Metal standards. Although the peak sections are intentionally mixed loud, they maintain clarity for the most part.