The role of the producer within an album’s creation is often overlooked. A producer is like a director; they need to guide the band towards the end product. However, some producers can become over-indulgent and start to hijack the musical direction, causing tension and conflict. It is this I aim to explore in today’s blog; the second installment of a new five part series investigating the role of the producer.
Perhaps the most extreme, and certainly most documented, case of this was during the recording sessions for Metallica’s self-titled effort, produced by Bob Rock.
Rock has produced many notable records, including Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, Bon Jovi’s Keep The Faith and Lostprophets’ once hit, but now unspoken, third album Liberation Transmission. However, Metallica – Metallica is the album that will define his career; currently it’s Metallica’s highest selling; going 16x platinum in 2012, but the recording process had no resemblance to its positive reception.
Rock was brought on board for their fifth studio album, after Metallica were impressed by the sound achieved by Motley Crue on their aforementioned Dr. Feelgood record. He began his tenure by altering the band’s recording process, which involved bringing the members together as a unit and laying the track down live, as opposed to separately in different locations as had been used for their previous album …And Justice for All. Rock also wanted more from vocalist James Hetfield; first he suggested that Hetfield should take a more melodic approach to his singing, which was followed by a demand for better lyrics to be written.
The process came to a point where Rock’s vision for the band was causing massive conflict between the two parties and cracks began to appear. Guitarist Kirk Hammett, bassist Jason Newsted and drummer Lars Ulrich all entered divorces throughout this period, which would later be attributed to the negative atmosphere caused by Rock’s production. After Metallica was released the band announced they would never work with Rock again, which was echoed by a fans petition to remove Rock from Metallica’s future releases. However, despite the animosity towards him, the band continued to work with the esteemed producer throughout the 90s, with his final credit as producer being for 2003’s St. Anger.
The fact they continued working with Rock shows that sometimes being overbearing is what a band as big as Metallica needs. Rock knew that to produce their best album, he had to be prepared to rip the band apart and change how the band worked on a fundamental level. Once the band had progressed past the change and conflict, the brilliance of Rock’s production and guidance could finally be appreciated.
Other notable Metallica production woes:
- …And Justice for All has a production story almost as controversial as Metallica, which involves a change of production personal (from Mike Clink of Appetite for Destruction-fame to Flemming Rasmussen) and a troubled mixing process resulting in a thin drum sound and the infamous inaudible bass section.
- The final Bob Rock record St. Anger was heavily criticised for its stripped back, garage sound and solo-less, nu metal direction.
- Several petitions were signed in an attempt to have Death Magnetic (produced by Rick Rubin) remixed, because of the over-compression of its dynamic range.
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Look out for Part 3 on Monday 15th September