Metal’s princes of darkness
f you know your metal then you’d know it responsible for the tour. Finding a safe haven among
doesn’t get much bigger than this. Megadeth the pre-show smoke, sound-checks, obligatory
roll into town. AT brings its and Slayer – they’re two of the big four metal merchandise stands (‘got ’em in black?’) and
acts of rock history. Most fans would crawl over
daughters to the slaughter. broken goats’ horns to witness just one of these
pyrotechnic test-runs, Spud showed me around the
FOH crib. Immediately I was assured that this was
Text: Brad Watts leviathans in full flight… let alone both. out-and-out rock – not a digital console in sight.
Having both Slayer and Megadeth on the one big WALL OF SOUND
double bill is even more amazing if you know Brad Watts: Hey Spud, as we all know, metal is
anything about the long-running acrimony between about volume. Talk to me about the subs.
these guys. Dave Mustaine of Megadeth and Kerry
PO’L: Well we’re touring with 32 subs, but in the
King, one of Slayer’s founding guitarists, have
Hordern [for the Sydney gig] there were another
never seen evil-eye to evil-eye. So much so that
eight subs sitting around as part of the house system,
getting these two bands to tour together seemed
so we thought we’d use them as well. Last night at
about as likely as the Hell’s Angels and the Gypsy
the Hordern was probably one of the loudest gigs
Jokers attending the same Christmas barbeque.
that will ever happen in this country.
Faggeddaboutit. But the power of filthy lucre
shouldn’t be underestimated. Differences have been BW: What sort of levels were you reaching?
put aside and weapons have been holstered… for
PO’L: I dunno if I want to say on record, we might
get in trouble! But, hey, it was about as loud as I’ve
BACKSTAGE PASS heard in a long time.
Enter Melbourne’s Festival Hall on the day of the gig BW: No noise police were in attendance then?
and you’re immediately ushered into the extreme
world of heavy metal. Scrutinised thoroughly from PO’L: Well there are no limits inside, and the
top to toe, as is customary these days, I half expected Hordern is well and truly locked down. The big
to be strip-searched. Thankfully I was spared – thing with Slayer, especially with [Tim Quinby]
maybe my black Slayer T-shirt passed muster. Passes mixing, is that his mixes are so physically loud. It
had to be unearthed for our photographer and gets to those levels because there are so many subs,
myself, and I was suddenly made aware of the near but the mix is still crystal clear. If it wasn’t for the
military hierarchy these seemingly hardened rock subs you wouldn’t actually need earplugs. Some
dogs adhere to. Once anointed with the required metal bands will play and they’ll be so ear-piercingly
backstage passes, I made a bee-line for the FOH loud it’s ear-shredding, physically damaging,
console(s) and made myself known to Peter ‘Spud’ whereas this is the complete opposite. It’s such a
O’Leary, the systems tech from Johnston Audio beautiful crystal clear sound, and that’s where the
Services, the Australian production company V-DOSC really come into its element [the show was
PO’L: The subs are getting fed via an auxiliary, that
way you get a lot more horsepower out of the subs
because you’re not putting a lot of unwanted source
in there that simply isn’t going to be used.
BW: Can you elaborate?
PO’L: Here’s how it works: you’ve got your left and
right mix – in 90 percent of cases the mix comes
solely from that left and right mix. The problem
with that scenario is you can end up with feedback
problems from toms or vocal mics, because they’re
all being amplified through the subs. Because these
acts are running so much sub power, we run them
off an auxiliary, so therefore the only things we want
to be in the subs are routed there. That way – let’s say
you only put kick and bass into the subs – you don’t
have all those other mics in there causing feedback
problems. You’re also maximising the horsepower
on your sub because you’re not putting extra sources
in there that the sub isn’t going to reproduce.
BEASTLY STAGE VOLUME
BW: So no in-ear monitoring I’d imagine. Is it all
wedges for monitoring up on stage?
PO’L: A bit of both. Slayer use d&b M2 wedges and
Megadeth are all on in-ears. Megadeth haven’t got
the stage volume as such, there are no wedges on
stage but their guitar cabs are still blaringly loud. So
the FOH area still gets affected by the guitar cabs.
Whereas Slayer have your standard wedge setup.
BW: What’s the difference in the sound between the
PO’L: One of the things about Megadeth is they’re
not as loud on-stage because the singer [Dave
Mustaine] is very quiet. Obviously if you can’t hear
the singer, people aren’t going to be very happy, so
they’re not able to turn everything else up so loud
[the irony of this statement will be revealed later].
That’s one of the drawbacks of the Megadeth sound,
so there’s a limit on how loud you can turn his mic
up before you’re getting feedback. Whereas Slayer is
BW: Are the shows recorded so you can do a virtual
PO’L: No. That’s fine if you have a ProTools rig
connected. But we tune the rig with CDs and a mic,
Dave Mustaine trips on a then we time align it using Smaart Tools. That’s
guitar lead... either that
or he’s a heavy metal the industry standard. I reckon a lot of people
guitarist par excellence. over-analyse the system. They run noise for three
hours and try and get the whole spectrum exactly
flat – which I don’t entirely agree with. I use Smaart
for time alignment. You know the physical time and
using JAS’s V-DOSC rig]. There are other PAs that phase alignment of the system and then you stick
on your CD and go from there – just listen and use
After the first gig the band can be more suited to metal – but they’re often a bit
harsher, a bit edgier. your ears to tune it. A lot of people blast it out for
were like, ‘We want more BW: So Tim has the upper range riding nicely on
top of the sub bass then…
hours, which makes it extremely difficult for anyone
to work in the venue with all that noise going on,
subs!’ So we put in 32 PO’L: Yeah. When you hear the gig you’ll see what
and I don’t think it provides the same result. It’s like
getting a computer to do a human’s job.
and then they were saying, I mean; it’s all in the sub. Every kick drum feels like
a punch in the guts. That’s why we put this system
DETH WARMED UP
‘Yeah, it’s getting there’. together with 32 subs. Our standard for arenas is
With a good idea of the system setup I decided to
track down the two men responsible for the house
typically only 24 subs. I did the last Australian Slayer
mix for both Megadeth (Doug Short) and Slayer
tour and after the first gig the band were like, “We
(Tim Quinby). Both were keen to talk shop, with
want more subs!” So we put in 32 and then they
Doug divulging his past life as monitor engineer
were saying, “Yeah, it’s getting there.” So it was 32 for
for Van Halen and FOH engineer for David Lee
the rest of the tour.
Roth (he swore me to secrecy… but hey, what’s to
BW: Do you have to work hard to get the most out be embarrassed about?), and Tim revealing his
of the subs? ‘other life’ mixing for the legendary Kool and the
Tim Quinby (foreground) stands
transfixed while Doug Short gets
blinded by the exploding drummer!
And no, that’s not a punter
reaching for a mic input, that’s
‘Spud’ from Johnston Audio.
Gang! Each engineer openly offered their distaste maintainability is a huge bonus! Harmonizer, and two Yamaha SPX990 effects units.
for mixing metal via digital consoles, asserting that That’s what I own, and those are my weapons for just
BW: I couldn’t help but notice how many guitar
this was a “real rock show.” Their preference for, nay, about any gig that comes my way.
cabinets there are on the Megadeth stage; how
requirement for an analogue console, is paramount
many of those are actually being used, and what’s BW: What are you doing with the Smart C2
to such shows. It’s balls-out rock – guitars, bass and
your miking preference for that proverbial wall of compressor?
drums – seriously pushing the envelope of sheer
force and brutal musical power. DS: It’s on my left and right output. You could say
DS: Let’s see: we’ve only got 12 guitar cabinets this that’s one of my tricks, I like to compress the left and
BW: Doug, what are some of the secrets to a
time, whereas we usually have 24. They’re all live, the right mix just a little bit.
but I only mic one cabinet for each guy of course. I
BW: I was listening to soundcheck earlier where you
Doug Short: Microphone placement is the key take a Shure SM57 and a KSM32, and I also take a
were putting that full-on grotty process/distortion
ingredient. That’s the first thing everybody should DI line out of the preamps. So there’s a DI from each
over the vocals. What was that all about and where
learn. And to learn what mics perform the best in a Digitech preamp, and two mics on each guitar and
the hell did that come from?
specific role. the bass.
DS: What you heard was my ‘Demon’ patch, so ‘hell’
BW: What are you miking the drum kit with, for BW: Can you show me through the outboard you’re
is perhaps the right choice of adjective! I only use
example? using? You’ve got racks of dbx 160 compressors, for
it for two measures in the middle of one song. The
example. Is that your choice?
DS: Shure Beta 91s on the kicks and 98s on the sound is coming from the Eventide. I only use it
toms. I haven’t had any problems with those. They’re DS: You know what? If I’m not carrying my own once for the whole show and then it’s gone.
not my favourite mic, but they’re very durable. The racks on tour, I use the 160s because everybody
BW: How’d the shows go in Sydney and Brisbane?
overheads are AKG C214s; I don’t feel that Shure has them available and they’re generally very
I’m told there were 40 subs in the Hordern for the
really makes a good overhead option – they all consistent. They’re not anything spectacular, but
sound too brassy to me. As you might have already they are consistent and plentiful. Sometimes that’s
noticed, we’re using four mics for overheads here what you’ve got to go for if you’re not carrying DS: Brisbane was okay. The PA sounded good but
tonight. On our normal touring kit the cymbals your own gear. If I carry my own stuff I use Aphex there was a decibel limit there so I couldn’t really
spread 270° around the kit, and I simply can’t get 661s – which are a single rack tube compressor. mix aggressively that day. It was like 100 A-weight at
two overheads to represent them evenly in the mix. Those things are lovely, but they’re expensive, and FOH – which is not level friendly.
Using only two makes the kit feel like it’s leaning consequently not many people have them. BW: What do you call ‘level friendly’ for metal, in
forward, so I’m using four. But when it comes to either A or C weighting?
BW: So what else does the ideal ‘Doug Short’
overheads I really like the AKG C214, the little
processing rack of choice consist of? DS: Well it doesn’t matter what the weight is, it’s the
brother of the 414. They’re much more rugged as
well – an excellent touring mic. If it gets dinged DS: My regular touring rack has 12 Aphex 661s and number in front that matters! I like to mix metal at
by ‘Bubba the stagehand’, you can remove two four Aphex 622 gates. There’s also a TC Electronic about 105 to 110dB A-weighted. A hundred is just a
screws and reform the windscreen yourself. Field 2290 delay, an M6000 reverb, the Eventide H4000 little bit weak. It lacks impact for this kind of music.
You want subs? You want
Marshalls? The Slayer/
Megadeth show had it all!
BW: So what happens when you cross that intern at a sound company for a summer or so. the Slayer touring posse is full of old-hands and
threshold? You’re not going to make any money, you’re going pretty close knit as a result. I kick off by asking Tim
to have to go out and lug boxes for awhile. You gotta about a few unusual items in his rack.
DS: Well, below that you’re just not getting that force
know how things work before you’re allowed to
– it’s not in your face like it needs to be. It feels like BW: I noticed some Radial Phazor units in the rack.
touch a console. Even though that’s not a popular
you’re listening to the stereo on your couch, only a What duties are they taking on?
theory these days, it gives you a great grounding for
little bit louder. Hopefully we won’t have those issues
the work that’s involved. TQ: I’m balancing the guitar signals with them. Our
at the remaining shows. We’ve got five all up and
guitar rigs have three heads a side running through
tonight is number three. Then we’ve got Adelaide Recording schools think they can teach a kid how
six cabinets, and from the three heads I take a DI off
and Perth. It’s been a pretty rushed tour. I mix a to mix an arena, and they’re glad to take thousands
one, and a mic on each of the others. So I’m using
show each night then fly the next morning and hope of dollars of their parents’ money for a year of that
those units to phase adjust the guitar DI with the
my ears are ready by showtime. My hearing is still education. Those kids then think they’ll get a gig
funny from flying today. I don’t fly that well; it really mixing Janet Jackson – all because of a piece of
messes with my ears. paper. BW: To keep them bang in phase?
BW: I understand you feed the subs via an aux send. You gotta push the boxes and pull the feeder, and TQ: Yeah, it literally brings my guitars together.
What’s that bringing to your mix? you gotta burn your hands soldering for a couple of It’s a night and day difference, to the point where
years. That’s what I did. I worked at the local sound Doug was asking me about it when we did a tour in
DS: Yep, that’s the only way I’ll do rock music –
companies when I was younger and then hit the Canada. I just popped the process in for the answer
with subs off an auxiliary – because that way I’m
clubs hard. Go in and mix for free just to get your and he was like, “Wow! It does that?!” Being able to
not working the high-pass filters much on all my
name out there – it’ll help you in the long run. not simply time-align, but actually phase-align the
channels, and the subs get what they need exactly.
two main sources that are obviously happening at
I mean, vocals aren’t producing a lot of stuff down BW: At a recent gig I saw the FOH guys using
different times – because one feed is a direct cabinet
there. It’s essentially bass drum, any strong keyboard ProTools to play the previous night’s show for
simulator and the other’s a live mic.
stuff, floor toms, maybe some bass guitar stuff soundcheck. Have you guys ever tried to run a
occasionally – if I’m working with a five-string bass Megadeath soundcheck via a recording? BW: What cabinet simulations are they using?
I’ll generally throw some down there. It’s funny to TQ: We’re using Radial JDX cabinet simulators
DS: Hell no. I’ve seen that done, but whatever.
talk about this in some ways; I’ve been doing this so – made by the same company. I talked to them
Virtual sound-checks? I really wouldn’t like to risk
long, I just act instinctively. I don’t even think about about it five years ago and said somebody needs to
that. I personally think sound-checks are a complete
it. I’ve had some students come and watch me and make a phase adjustable DI box. So they sent me
waste of time. I think a line check is all you need
they’ve learned more by watching what I do than pictures of the JDX cabinet simulator with the phase
once you know the act well enough.
talking about it. adjustment on it and I was like, “That’s exactly it!”
SLAYER IN THE AISLES Then the production model arrived without the
BW: What are you telling the kids?
Tim Quinby, Slayer’s FOH mix engineer, has been phase adjustment! So they sent me some especially
DS: I tell them first and foremost to go out and part of the team for years – 12, in fact. Sounds like for our rigs with the continuous phase adjustment
BW: Spud, what’s the rig consists of? agrees it’s one of the best. getting it in and out of every show,
Peter O’Leary: It’s a V-DOSC rig, so BW: So why are you running analogue and you’ve got racks of effects to
we’re trying to put as many V-DOSC systems rather than something with a deal with, but it definitely works for
boxes into the venues as possible little more re-callability? these bands, and works really well.
because it’s Slayer obviously. PO’L: Both bands are old-school BW: So who’s on each board?
BW: Why V-DOSC? metal bands, and their mix doesn’t PO’L: We’ve got Slayer on the Midas
PO’L: V-DOSC? It’s the best! It’s change a hell of a lot. Everything XL4 and Megadeth on the Midas
definitely one of the best sounding sits in basically the same dynamic H3000.
systems – there’s not a sound range. Because of that they’re able to BW: How many channels on each act?
engineer on Earth that would object use a Midas XL4, which is generally
accepted as sounding better than PO’L: There’s about 35 channels
to using it. Plenty of people would say on both boards, so it’s a fairly big
‘no’ to other sound systems, but when most of the digital consoles on the
market. Of course, it’s a lot harder setup with a huge stage changeover
it comes to the V-DOSC, everyone between acts.
Tim Quinby, Slayer’s FOH
engineer (left) and Doug
Short (Megadeth) just
prior to showtime.
built in and I was like, “Alright!” Now Radial have one song, and I have a second guitar delay that I’m
made these with the adjustment, it’s the best thing not using at all because that song isn’t in the set.
that happened to analogue since the digital delay! It’s just a matter of spec. And the drum reverb gets
pulled in only where it needs to be, and that’s only
BW: So how long have these units been around?
occasionally. In reality this band sounds best raw. I
TQ: I’d say I’ve had them about a year and a half. I mean that’s what Slayer’s about. They don’t need a
used them all last summer. I took them out on all whole lot of effects.
the festivals last year. I’d show up at the European
BW: Would you agree with Doug: that 100dB is too
festivals with a mic package and those two inserts –
low for this sort of music?
that’s all I carried with me.
TQ: Yeah, well Spud could tell you about last night.
BW: What else do you like to see in your rack?
He said, “You’re the only guy I’ve ever seen do that!”
TQ: I love the Distressors, the Avalon stuff is great – I was like, “What are you talking about?” Then I
it all sweetens things up. realised he was talking about the SPL. We were at
BW: What are you enjoying about the Distressors? about 103-104 A-weighted, and 124 C-weighted,
They’re such a bread and butter compressor these which I thought sounded about right. I had a system
days – what’s your attraction to them? tech tell me that at one point I was 107dB A-weight
at FOH, and we tipped the meter at 136 C-weight. I
TQ: Exactly, they’re everywhere now. You can can’t help it, I love my subs. Again, it fits the band.
put them into your rack for a stack of different
situations, but the thing is they do colour the sound, DETH OR GLORY
but in a way that really works well with this band. After thanking Doug and Tim, I had a couple of
hours to fill before heading back into Festival Hall.
BW: I gather the Avalon 747s in the outboard rack The dedicated show-goers are filing in, with Double
are patched across the left and right bus? Dragon, the Australian support, soon to kick off
TQ: That’s correct – it doesn’t do anything most of their set. This is a gig for the true believers. There
the time, but its there because it adds that little bit of are even families with two generations of metal fans,
fairy dust when it’s just set to nothing. Then the EQ all getting in early to see what should be one of the
section is really smooth if I have to do something highlights of the Australian metal calendar.
really quick, it’s there. Megadeth truly rocks the place, with the PA
BW: It’s interesting to see studio outboard delivering countless blistering body-blows before
increasingly going out on the road. I take refuge for some respite. Then, not long into
Slayer’s set Tom Araya’s voice gives up the ghost –
TQ: I had the same conversation with our tour
his voice is shot and nobody seems too happy. To
manager recently, because the band’s just spent
add insult to injury, impromptu singers are dragged
the last six months in the studio recording an
onstage. It’s at this point that I decide to bail.
album, recording 13 songs [Actually the 747SP was
originally designed for live keyboard players – Ed.]. As it happens, the following night’s Adelaide show
Basically, I’m doing the exact same thing the studio is cancelled, and the next night’s Perth show has
engineers there did during that six months: I’m issues with sound abatement (who’da thought?).
mixing 13 songs and producing stuff out of a set of It’s not until the final Sydney show that Tim
speakers. With the album they just happened to put Quinby tells me via email that they had a genuinely
it to tape. successful gig. There again, this isn’t Britney
Spears… you can’t press ‘play’ and let these guys
The only difference is: I have to get it right the first
lip sync or go through some choreographed dance
time. The band goes in and plays, and I mix the
moves. This is metal, where hearts are on sleeves…
show. So it’s doing the same thing to my mind.
it’s blood, sweat and tears. It feels like everything is
BW: Any other effects to talk about? on a knife’s edge, on the brink of disaster even. But
TQ: I have a vocal delay, and a vocal reverb. Neither when things fall into place? Well, you best be lining
is on all the time. I have a guitar delay that I use for up early to witness it.