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Drum Heads: Tracking Cryptopsy's Rapid-Fire Grooves

4/22/2010

Montreal-based Cryptopsy is largely responsible for the boom in technical death metal the world over.

Cryptopsy started in 1992, and ever since, they’ve been upping the bar in terms of extreme musicianship. At the forefront of the Cryptopsy mystique is drummer Flo Mounier—the band’s only remaining founding member—whose style, skill, and ridiculous drum kit setups have earned him renown, as well as endorsements from Pearl and Roland. In June 2008, Cryptopsy released its sixth full-length album, The Unspoken King [Century Media]. We spoke to Mounier and engineer Chris Donaldson (who is also Cryptopsy’s guitarist) about the monomaniacal approach they took to getting the sounds they wanted. Flo, how much control did you have over the recording of the drums on The Unspoken King?

Mounier: We recorded the drums in my home studio. It’s not a huge room, and the ceilings are pretty low, but I wanted to have the most comfortable situation possible. We recorded the drums in six days—even though we didn’t practice as much as for The Unspoken King as we did for the other albums. It was more improv this time, and the tracks flowed a little more.

You didn’t miss recording your drums at a commercial studio with a big room?

Mounier: No. Everything is sampled and replaced, so there’s no necessity for a great-sounding room. And anyway, our music is so fast and busy that any natural drum reverb wouldn’t be heard.

Did you trigger the drum samples?

Donaldson: Yes. After we recorded Flo’s performances, we took tons of samples of him hitting his drums at different intensities: left and right hand hits, hits with low- and high-hand placement, rim shots, ghost notes, and every other kind of hit we could think of. Later on, I chose what samples to use based on what he played. I worked like a maniac to get the triggers to sound real. This is where the editing comes in. You check the tracks, and if there’s anything wrong, you fix it.

You’d actually audition every individual drum hit and match each one dynamically with the right sample? Why didn’t you just use an automatic program like Sound Replacer?

Donaldson: If I’m writing a MIDI track to Flo’s playing, then I know precisely where he’s using his right hand to hit a rim shot, or his left hand to perform a ghost note. A program that replaces hits automatically based on the intensity of the note played won’t know what hand played what. If you do it yourself, it’s more accurate.

How long did this process take?

Donaldson: A month.

Why not just record the drums, not use sample replacement, and be done with it?

Donaldson:Because everything is clearer, and there’s no signal leakage. You get a huge drum sound.

What ratio of sample to acoustic sound did you use?

Donaldson: It was about 60 percent sample replacement against 40 percent original acoustic drum sound—except the bass drums, which are 100 percent samples.

Flo, did you play each song all the way through several times and pick the best bits for comping?

Mounier: I’m pretty big on perfection, so I didn’t play any songs all the way through. We had a scratch guitar track recorded to a metronome, and I went through the parts on each song about ten different times. It’s usually the easiest parts that give you the most problems, and the harder parts that get done in one take.

How many channels were needed to get the drum tracks down?

Donaldson: One for the snare, four tom tracks, six overheads, one for a second snare, and one for a submix of his two kick drums—a total of 13 channels.

What gear was used to record the drums?

Donaldson: I used Pro Tools LE 6.4, and we rented an Apogee Rosetta 800 8-channel AD/DA converter into which I routed two API 7600 channel strips. The API compressor puts the snare sound right in your face. I also used two Vintech X73 preamps and a Vintech 473 preamp for the overheads. They’re so crystal clear. As for mics, I used a Shure SM57 on the snare, Neumann KM184s for overheads—one mic for every three cymbals—and these beyerdynamic clip-on mics. My gear was very minimalist. My main gear was patience.

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