Albums mixed in 5.1 surround sound (that’s five speakers plus a subwoofer) have always been hard to come by in the metal scene. The 5.1 album has been a niche product in general because of the format’s higher price and limited playability (it’ll only play on your DVD player, but you’ll still have to buy the CD version for anywhere else). And that’s not to mention the geeks-only factor of being an audiophile format in a compressed-mp3-is-good-enough age.
With its low sales and high production costs, the format has been mostly relegated to mainstream, classic releases like the Beach Boys and Phil Collins – most metal bands just don’t have the budget to mix an album twice. Still, there are metal artists with the technical chops, high production and careful attention to their craft that deserve the high quality 5.1 treatment. We present to you some absolute must-own 5.1 surround sound metal albums.
With vocalist/mastermind Steven Wilson’s dedication to the format, Porcupine Tree gets first mention on this list. Nearly every P-Tree release to date, including this fall’s The Incident, has received the 5.1 treatment (and not just as a hastily put-together throw-in for deluxe/limited editions).
Wilson takes full advantage of every channel on his surround sound editions, but tastefully keeps the mixes from overusing each channel and becoming too schizophrenic. The most recent album, Fear Of A Blank Planet, is one of the band’s most ambitious and spacey records, lending itself perfectly to the format. Clearly, Wilson’s affinity for the format rubbed off on Opeth while he produced their pre-Roadrunner work, as the band would go on to make their own 5.1 releases.
The format lends itself to prog-leaning metal bands and none deserve the 5.1 treatment more than Opeth. Normally, hearing a 5.1 mix is like seeing The Dark Knight in IMAX; it’s the same experience, but with heightened senses and some new bells and whistles. At the end of the day, it’s still the same piece of art.
But, Watershed is the kind of album you appreciate in surround as if you’ve never heard it before. All the nuances and layers of guitars and keyboards now have an unbelievable amount of room to breathe. The album’s sudden heavy/light contrasts are jarring, and even more so when blasting at you from five angles. Watershed is as must-own as this list gets, as the experience is nothing short of cinematic.
Why Mastodon’s latest two masterpieces, Blood Mountain and Crack The Skye, haven’t received the 5.1 treatment is beyond us. In fact, Leviathan‘s deluxe edition doesn’t even feature the full album in 5.1. But the surround mixes of “Naked Burn”, “Aqua Dementia” and “Hearts Alive” are worth the price of admission alone.
By far the most static of any mix on this list, these songs still manage to shine, helping you appreciate the 5.1 format without needing any sudden front-to-back, jumpy gimmicks. Matt Bayles (production/mastering) and Alan Douches (mastering) did an amazing job with this one. You can move around different parts of the room to pay closer attention to Brann Dailor’s drum technique or Brent Hinds’ guitar histrionics.
Refused, The Shape Of Punk To Come
Originally released in 1998 (years before DVD and surround sound equipment became affordable and ubiquitous home theater components), The Shape Of Punk To Come was destined for 5.1.
When the band announced they would not be reuniting, but instead working together for reissues of the band’s classic catalog as well as a documentary in 2004, you knew they would be serious about putting out a quality product. These are the guys who proudly exclaim “Refused are fucking dead,” after all.
This is one mind-fuck of an album, and one mind-fuck of a surround sound album, too. If you thought Dennis Lyxzen’s vocals were in your face before, imagine what it’s like when he’s running around your room and jumping right behind your ears as massive riffs swirl around. The completely re-constructed instrumental “Bruitist Pome #5″ is a hell of a lot of fun, too. Revolutionary, ahead of its time, etc… you’ve heard all the hyperbole about this album, and it’s well-deserved. The same goes for the 5.1 edition.
Grindcore on this list? Of course! Originally released as a 5.1 throw-in on the Terrifyer album, this one-track, 37-minute epic was good enough to get its own release. It also threw fans for a loop, as the song features slow, punishing doom more reminiscent of early Melvins or Godflesh than the usual PD fare.
Producer/Guitarist Scott Hull is another one of those genius minds that guarantees a release made with painstaking care. This release is one long song – no track skipping here. This was meant for you to sit in the middle of a room (preferably dark) and soak it all in.
It should be noted that we only took studio albums into consideration for this list. With the rise of DVD, 5.1 mixes of live concert footage have become standard, but that usually entails just taking stereo audio from the soundboard and mixing some crowd noise in the rear channels. A couple of our favorite live releases, however, are Nine Inch Nails’ Beside You In Time and Iron Maiden’s Flight 666 on Blu-ray.
What do you think? Did we make any major oversights? Got some favorite metal surround sound albums of your own? Let us know in the comments!