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Distortion/overdrive, and separating individual voices

Like the oft-noted issue of bass being washed out by the guitars in most later metal music, one of the main problems noticed about distortion and overdrive is that when all of the instruments are bathed in noise, it becomes more difficult to discern which is which in a song (except for drums in most cases), unless great care was taken to mix them properly in separate ranges.

For example, if one had two distorted/overdriven guitars playing a power-chord based segment with some counterpoint between the two instruments, would it work to have one guitar have a boost in the high and mid ranges, and the other a boost in the low ranges? Or perhaps separate tunings, one lower than the other?

How would you accomplish this without drowning out the bass guitar? Downtuning it more? Keeping it clean instead of distorted?

It would be nice to achieve this, mostly to avoid too much dissonance so that the chords don't cancel each other out, or melt into one big, messy chord. Also, having activity on all sound ranges: low, middle, and high; seems (in theory) like it would make for a more dynamic wall of noise effect.

Like the oft-noted issue of bass being washed out by the guitars in most later metal music, one of the main problems noticed about distortion and overdrive is that when all of the instruments are bathed in noise, it becomes more difficult to discern which is which in a song (except for drums in most cases), unless great care was taken to mix them properly in separate ranges.

For example, if one had two distorted/overdriven guitars playing a power-chord based segment with some counterpoint between the two instruments, would it work to have one guitar have a boost in the high and mid ranges, and the other a boost in the low ranges? Or perhaps separate tunings, one lower than the other?

How would you accomplish this without drowning out the bass guitar? Downtuning it more? Keeping it clean instead of distorted?

It would be nice to achieve this, mostly to avoid too much dissonance so that the chords don't cancel each other out, or melt into one big, messy chord. Also, having activity on all sound ranges: low, middle, and high; seems (in theory) like it would make for a more dynamic wall of noise effect.

I am no sound engineer, but I know this much: Downtuning will probably only increase the very phenomena you're describing. The tendency to downtune below even "D" is definitely a contibutor to much recorded mush. Also, the bass is often simply too low in the mix - a poorly direct-recorded bass sometimes creates a very brittle sound that simply cannot compete with a fat, distorted guitar mix. Finally, while the tendency to scoop out nearly all the mids in metal creats a very huge, heavy live sound, it also doesn't tend to cut through a dense mix very well, especially with multiple guitars etc. A layman's perspective...

I've thought about this myself. I agree and the equalization points. I think the important thing is to distinguish the tone of each guitar from the other. For example/concept-sake, if you were to have say, a scooped sort of tone like Cryptopsy's on Blasphemy or Suffocation's on Effigy, and a more mid range focused tone like that of Entombed or Demilich, this combination I think would make for more distinguished voices (leading metal into more possibilities for counterpoint, complex harmonies, etc.). I'm currently looking into this with my own music.

Another important factor  I'm sure is the stereo spread. Seperate the fucking guitars more between left and right stereo.

The last factor I can think of is voice leading. In traditional counterpoint and harmony, voices (in this case guitars) are usually separated by their range. Generally the more spread out two voices are on the musical scale, the more clear each one is. At the same time though, this can take away harmonic effect (ie, sounds more like a solo or a voice on top, rather than two working together) if they're too spread out. Depends on what effect you're going for.

This does depend purely on the style in many cases. If you're looking at lots of complex interweaving melodies then you would want more of a spread with more sterio seperation. But is you have a more downtuned heavy sound then sterio seperation would be important, but you wouldn't want the guitars to have too much variation in pitch, otherwise one would overpower the other. Bass is an odd one, its half a rhythmic intrument and half a melodic one. In most cases it does not compete with the guitars in terms of dynamics, but you would definetely notice it if it wasn't present.

1) Don't downtune.

2) Use less distortion.

But most of all,

3) Write better counterpoint.


The last factor I can think of is voice leading. In traditional counterpoint and harmony, voices (in this case guitars) are usually separated by their range. Generally the more spread out two voices are on the musical scale, the more clear each one is. At the same time though, this can take away harmonic effect (ie, sounds more like a solo or a voice on top, rather than two working together) if they're too spread out. Depends on what effect you're going for.

Not really a factor in this case, because the lower the pitch, the more inherent harmonic tonal resonance it has. Guitar in standard tuning is already a very low instrument, so in most riffs you won't have to worry about this phenomenon, as the resonance between a compound interval in the tenor and bass ranges is sufficient to "fill out" the texture. This is why it is much more common for a composer like Bach to exceed an octave between the tenor and bass for long periods of time, whereas he rarely sustains such a distance between any other pair of voices for more than a few beats.

I can't think of any examples of counterpoint in metal between two guitars. In what sense are we using the word?

Changing tone and EQ is one method to create a comparitive sound between two identical guitars but really, if you are using two guitars and then using an identical tone for both, you are missing a trick to begin with.

The best  and easiest (so often the same thing) method for this is to physically isolate the signals from one another - especially if they are, as you say, chord progressions and therefore thicker to begin with. Record both as mono channels so there is no stereo bleed-through and then hard pan them left and right. The bass should then sit dead centre (bass should always be recorded in mono anyway).

As for having a thicker, "wall of sound" mix and then trying to find room for the bass, it is usually better to use the bass percussively not melodically. I don't mean like slapping & popping, but played normally, though with severe compression that makes the listener "feel" the bass rather than hear it. When the sound is less saturated, the tone/pitch of the bass will sound through and will contrast nicely with the denser sections of the track.

The only non-percussion instrument I own is a bass guitar, so this is something I deal with often when writing music for 3 or more voices.

Solutions, in no particular order of importance:

1) Panning -- I like to pan the leading voice 50% to the right, the counter voice 50% to the left, and leave the accompanying voice(s) directly in the middle.

2) Volume levels -- I like to place the leading voice at a fairly loud volume (though not so loud that it creates clipping), then I drop the counter voice 3 decibels lower, and the accompanying voice(s) 6 decibels lower.

3) Distinguishing each voice with unique tonal qualities -- if you have some sort of processor/pedal to create effects, this is easy. If you just have an amp, you have to do a little more knob-turning to give each voice a unique tonal character.

4) Avoid voice crossing -- Always try to keep at least an octave of space--preferably two or more--between any two voices in your music. Too many pitches at or around the same frequency leads to the  infamous "wall of sound" effect.

I can't think of any examples of counterpoint in metal between two guitars. In what sense are we using the word?

My assumption is counterpoint in the sense of two distinct melodies being played at the same time, the effect being they play off of each other but could easily be played on their own as well.  Counterpoint in metal between two guitars?  Demilich, At The Gates, Crimson Massacre all have examples of this in their music.

Those other bands do, but for the most part, Crimson Massacre doesn't.

Luster's... second guitar replicates the lead guitar in every song except "Of Perverted Hope and Fragmented Suffering."

It just sounds like counterpoint because the riffs are so disjointed and the second guitar has a different tone + lower volume + opposite panned position when compared to the lead guitar.

This is true, and I'll admit I was thinking largely of  "Of Perverted Hope and Fragmented Suffering" when making that statement.  However, on the first 2 At The Gates albums and first EP, and Nespithe by Demilich,  there is much use of counterpoint, as you have granted.

Those other bands do, but for the most part, Crimson Massacre doesn't.

Luster's... second guitar replicates the lead guitar in every song except "Of Perverted Hope and Fragmented Suffering."
 
Upon further review, untrue, you may want to give "Catalyst's Tongue" a closer listen.

EDIT:  You might want to give the whole album a closer listen, there's some in "Epoch" as well.

I'd like to thank everyone for the wealth of information here.

I suppose it would help if I mentioned how the guitars are set up. I plan on experimenting with distortion and range boosts and cuts.

The 'lead' guitar (using the term loosely here) has the first 3 strings tuned CGD so that it mimics the lower two strings of a drop D tuning for easy access to power chords up and down the neck. I intend to boost the higher ranges of this instrument on the amp, and just play higher notes than the rhythm in general.
The rhythm guitar is tuned to a regular drop-c and so far I've had it function as a really basic rhythmic accompaniment to the lead sections because it just has thicker chords.

Here's a sample of just two guitars with these tunings. I had made this weeks before, so I hadn't counted on mixing the tracks out to different sides or changing the ranges of both guitars.
http://www.mediafire.com/?5ofemwujmkq

And here's a version with better stereo separation.
http://www.mediafire.com/?up4qvh7awfm

The main problem I have with this so far is that middle segment where it becomes unclear what the guitars are playing. I've decided to rewrite the lead part instead because that didn't work out as intended.

The bass guitar, I have no idea where it's going to fit into the equation at the moment, but it's a 5 string tuned to a B. I just have it written down playing parts that mimic the rhythm guitar right now, plodding along with the drums.

As far as counterpoint, I wasn't thinking of taking the easy Carcass way out (like the tracks on Heartwork) by just putting the second guitar parts down two steps or so from the first guitar. I'll be getting a bit more serious with the counterpoint though instead of the occasional note divergence, and then going back to playing the same thing on both guitars.

Thanks again.

There is decent counterpoint on Arsis' first album. Although I say decent, it is really much better than any other metal band, but is moderate in comparison to say, Schumann.

Write better counterpoint.

I have only ever heard once an actual attempt for counter point in metal, it was by Primordial done very badly.