Cormorant and the Search for Truth in Production: Vibrations on Tape
When you hear the phrase “Black Metal production”, it typically invokes either the casette-recorder-in-the-woods lo-fi screech of ill-recorded blast beats and 10 watt practice amps, or the symphonic, triggered, big budget extravagance of bands like Dimmu Borgir. I was privileged to spend some time with the guys from the Bay Area band Cormorant at Trakworx studio, where they were recording their 3rd full length, titled Earth Diver, under the guidance of producer/engineer Justin Weis. Although they have classically been labeled as some hyphenated version of black metal, I learned, from a production standpoint, why that label doesn’t really fit them anymore.
I got the chance to ask them about the gear they are using on the record and, most importantly, why. The answers they gave bore a stark contrast to both of the aforementioned approaches, and I was stunned by the depth of knowledge they possessed about their instruments, the reasoning behind their choices, and how it played into both the recording process and the world of metal at large.
Their production approach falls somewhere between the two extremes, and yet has really nothing in common with either. They are neither intentionally lo-fi nor over produced, just intent on getting quality sounds the old-fashioned way – with a microphone in front of a musical instrument, played by a human being.
What struck me the most was their dedication to authenticity – getting the sounds they wanted without compromising their integrity or potency. They’ve spent the last few years as a band chasing down their sound, and now they’re getting ready to hammer it home with this new album. They are again laying the majority of the tracks to analog 2” tape (which is then dumped into Pro Tools for some overdubs), and in the spirit of doing it right, they will record using no drum triggers or layered samples, no pitch correction software, no trickery or gimmicks, just frightful talent and crushing songs. In an age where every asshat with a MacBook and an AxeFX can program some ToonTrack drums and get a passable metal sound in his bedroom, Cormorant pride themselves on writing as a band and capturing the intangible spirit of rock’n’fuckin’roll that can’t be replicated in a computer.
If we take a second to think what drove Varg Vikernes to intentionally ask a recording engineer for the worst microphone and amp in the studio, or for Dimmu Borgir to record with a 100 piece choir and orchestra, we might come to the conclusion that they, too, sought authenticity. But what Varg could never have, alone in the studio, is the chemistry of a well rehearsed and artistically strong band, laying vibrations on tape.
Check out the video below to hear it in their own words.
You can support the album by contributing to their Indiegogo campaign, with some cool rewards, here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cormorant-s-3rd-full-length-album-release
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Here’s the gear list for this recording as I gleaned it:
Matt Solis (guitar, vocals):
Jackson Warrior w/EMG HZ passive pickups
Mesa/Boogie Rectifier 50 watt solo
Bogner 4×12 w/Celestion Vintage 30’s
Pedals: BOSS DD-3 Digital Delay, 80’s BOSS Chorus, BOSS RV-2 Digital Reverb, BOSS TU-2 Chromatic Tuner, Voodoo Labs Pedal Power
Nick Cohon (guitar):
Custom Warmoth Strat – walnut body, Pau Ferro neck, Ebony fretboard, Kahler bridge, Wagner Ironman humbuckers, CTS pots, stainless steel frets, Hipshot tuners
1985/86 Marshall JCM800 w/6505 tubes
1975 Fender Vibrolux (clean tones)
Pedals: Holy Grail Nano reverb, MXR Carbon Copy delay, DOD Digital Delay, BOSS Flanger, Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer, Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2, BOSS TU-2 Chromatic Tuner
Brennan Kunkel (drums):
Tama Starclassic Bubinga kit – 22”x18” kick, 10”, 12”, and 16” toms
Starclassic Birch/bubinga hybrid snare
Sabian AAX Stage Hats
Zildjian A Custom splash
Sabian Evolution 18” HHX crash
Sabian 19” AAXplosion crash
Meinl Byzance 22” Traditional Heavy ride
Sabian Holy China
Vic Firth 5BN American Hickory sticks, nylon tip
Tama Speed Cobra double kick pedals
Evans EC2 coated heads for toms and snare, EMAD kick drum head
Here’s the microphones used on each instrument:
Kick – AKG D112
Snare (top) – Beyerdynamic M201
Snare (bottom) – AKG 414
Toms – Sennheiser 504
Hi-hat – Shure SM7b
Ride – Earthworks SR25
Overheads – Earthworks TC25 (stereo pair)
Room – AKG 414 (stereo pair) and AEA R44CE
Royer R121 and DI
AEA R44CE (clean vocals)
Shure SM7b (harsh vocals)
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For a more in-depth interview with the guys on their recording experience, check out this video as well.