LORD OF THE LOST - The Gospel Of Judas (Session Breakdown) | Napalm Records
Welcome to the third instalment of our Session Breakdowns... ...of songs from our latest Lord Of The Lost record, "Judas". The album is out now. This Session Breakdown is about the title track, if you will. I'm Chris, and you'd mostly know me as the singer of this very band. But I'm also an audio engineer and producer, mostly teamed up with Benny over here. Benny, alongside many other guys, is an integral part behind the scenes at Lord Of The Lost.
He has contributed to Judas in terms of songwriting, recordings and sound design from the very beginning of the production. He then took a break in order to come back into play with a fresh set of ears for mixing. Then it was my time to take a break, and I joined the game again by the end of the mix. That's our usual workflow. We produce many different artists from several genres.
So we always try to grant each other certain time frames to work with a fresh set of ears... ...by allocating responsibilities. That worked out perfectly in this case as well. In the previous songs, we've mostly tackled drums, guitars and bass. Today, we'd like to talk about all the instruments that are responsible for creating the atmosphere. Organ, piano, strings, but also all the voices that we've got here.
If you don't know "The Gospel Of Judas" yet, give it a quick listen now. The link is in the description. And if you're interested in the other episodes, look up the Session Breakdowns for "Priest" and "For They Know Not What They Do". So, let's have a look at the basic ingedients first before we go into detail.
On the left-hand side, we've got our edit window with all the audio tracks. On the right-hand side, there's the mixer. So each track can be found in both windows, albeit displayed in different ways. All the blue tracks are related to drums. The shells are dark blue, the cymbals and room mics are in a slightly lighter shade. The extra percussions from Nik are in... I guess it's turquoise?
All these light blue tracks are some extra things to which we'll get in a bit. An in-depth view into all this can be seen in the "Priest" Session Breakdown. The orange tracks are all the low-end things Class's bass guitar in various sounds, programmed fuzz and FM basses, and so on. The purple tracks are the guitars.
If you've listened to the song and you're wondering how to differntiate guitars, basses, what's played and what's programmed... ...or if the drums are supposed to be 80s or metal... ...then have a look at the other two episodes in which we explain our hybrid sound concept. "For They Know Not What They Do" particularly focusses on guitars and bass. Moving on to the elements on which we'd like to take a closer look today. These green tracks are the piano. Underneath that, there's the organ and strings. In various shades of red, we've got all the different choir voices...
...and down here, we've got mostly Chris's vocals, but also Pi's backing vocals here and there. Let's listen to the groups one by one. Let's check out the last chorus. These are all the drum kit elements. And here we've got the bass... ...which is joined by an FM bass in the verses. Here we've got the guitars.
Just play the entire orchestral group. And all the human voices. No sample libraries! Watch out for the choir. We'll go a bit more into detail on that later.
I'm still trying to figure out what's the name of that colour. It sounds like olive/oval/opal You know, this shade of green that the percussions are in. - Ochre? - Nah, that's too brown. Let me google that. Write it in the comments if you know what he means.
I'd like to quickly tell something about the light blue tracks, which are electronic beats and stuff like that. The keen observer might have noticed a track called "Combichrist". Let's listen to it, so you know why it's called like that.
Let's switch the rest back on and mute the "Combichrist" track. Now un-mute it. There's also an FM bass that adds to it. Maybe switch on the bass drum, too. So, how did that come about? I remember when Pi and I wrote this song, we just had a four-to-the-floor beat in the verse.
And one of us said, "We need something to give it some pace". So we took some generic Apple Loop, sliced it up, put distortion on it... ...and we thought that should do it for a demo. But we totally fell in love with that sound and ended up not even changing it. It's those quick ideas that just feel right most of the time.
And as you might have gathered from the other Session Breakdowns... ...you always end up keeping something from the demos. Even vocals, sometimes. Yeah, some songs have demo vocals in them.
For example, "Death Is Just A Kiss Away". I couldn't reproduce it properly. My performance might have been better in terms of technique... ...but it didn't sound better. The feeling just wasn't there. A more famous example might be "Angels" by Robbie Williams. They actually kept his demo vocals on that track. So, now that you know all the individual elements...
...let's talk about all the orchestral stuff. We wanted a big sounding grand piano on this album. Yes, we do have Steinway at Chameleon Studios and yes, the recording room is big. But it still sounds like a recording room. We were looking for concert hall sound. Preferably a concert hall with a big stairwell.
So we recorded it in the school I went to as a kid. It was in that very auditorium where I had my first stage performance in front of a live audience in 12th grade. I played "Mack the Knife" in "The Threepenny Opera". So thankfully, we were able to record there.
Benny will show you how it's done with six microphones and one piano. We recorded the piano with three pairs of microphones. Let's hear how they sound all together. So we set up three pairs of mics. One was as close as it made sense, acoustically.
This close sound is mostly familiar to pianists themselves. That's the track up here, "Piano AB". "AB" is the name of the mic setup. Petrol! That's the name of the colour! We're such nerds. So that's the close mic setup.
Then we've got the room mics. "Room 1" was a pair of mics in the auditorium, roughly 8-10m away from the piano. It was two of these mics, actually. Set to omnidirectional.
That means they pick up sound evenly from any direction, which makes for quite an ambient sound. But this one is cardioid, right? This is an Audix CX112B, which is only cardioid. For the room, we used the CX212-B, where you can switch the polar pattern They were 3-4m high and set up in a wide AB of 5-6m.
To all the nerds out there: Yes, I know that's technically not an AB setup by the book anymore. Smartass. Anyway, they make for the rather ambient sound. Let's give it a listen. Compared with the other setup... The close setup sounds quite dry.
But most of you are familiar with the room sound of a piano... ...because you're used to the audience point of view. Of course, that "dry" sound isn't entirely dry either. The close mics pick up room sound, too, even when they're as close as 1m to the piano.
But that's negligible. In fact, we're having an additional room effect on all the orchestral elements. Let's switch that off. The piano was recorded in that school, the organ in a church and the strings in a studio in Bulgaria.
So this reverb plugin figuratively puts those three instrument groups all together in one room... ...in order to merge them together. This is not about the reverb itself, but about making everything a bit more homogeneous. The reverb came naturally while recording, which was exactly what we were going for. It's a matter of aesthetics.
- What do you know about aesthetics? - Nothing, really. Me neither. We both suck at everything, so if we were to join forces, we'd suck at even more. Together we are unbearable. Then we've got a third stereo pair, which we put into the school's stairwell, outside the auditorium.
Imagine me being the auditorum... ...and here's the inner wall with two doors in it. Both of these doors lead into the stairwell. We set up the two mics behind that wall, facing into different directions. And the diffuse sound bleeds out of those doors and around the wall, where it gets picked up by the mics. "Diffuse sound" means that there's no direct sound in the signal. You might say, the mics "can't see" the piano directly.
We went full rock 'n' roll and used two Shure SM57, because other mics would have been to sensitive to unwanted noises. For example all the clocks on the walls, which we had to take down because you could hear them ticking. So these mics enabled us to add big ambience to the mix, which came in handy for intros and outros. In some of them, we used nothing but those ambient mics. And it sounds like this.
That's really far away. So let's mix it with the other mic setups. First the close mics, then the first room mics, then the ambient mics.
You can really hear the piano moving away and how different the transients become. You can see in the waveform how the sound arrives at the close mics first. As we've established in episode two, the speed of sound is not infinite. That's why the ambient signal comes in a bit later. We should do a science show, without having the slightest clue about science.
That's basically what everyone does these days. No clue about anything, but still shouting their opinions into the world. And we should film ourselves while doing that. I believe that's called being a "YouTuber". Yeah, but then we'd have to emigrate to Dubai. Complex topic. Never mind.
Next up is the organ. Maybe you wanna tell where we recorded that one? That organ is located in the same church where we shot the "Til Death Us Do Part" video. Of course we could have used some software instrument for that. There's thousands of them out there.
But a real organ is so much better. Luckily, we got the chance to do it. And you record a church organ mainly for the ambient sound. Of course you could somehow manage to fit a church organ with 3.000 pipes into a room like this... ...but it just wouldn't sound big enough. You can see there's a track called "AB"...
...which doesn't have to mean it's a pair of room mics. But some of our mics were closer to the instrument than others. But even the sound of the close mics is rather diffuse. I think this particular organ has around 4.500 pipes. It's such a beautiful, large sound that really makes the walls shake. An organ like that easily goes down to infrasound, which you can't hear but only feel in your stomach. That's really impressive.
And it sounds like this. These are the close mics which, as mentioned before, aren't actually that close. And the other mics were set up far away on the gallery, right? Yeah. In this case, the organ was located in the back of the church. So we set up those mics on the gallery towards the sactuary. We positioned them so there was nothing around them in a radius of 4-5m.
And this is what it sounds like. It's a bit more diffuse, less aggressive. And together, they sound like this. If we turn up the diffuse signal... ...you notice how note changes get blurry. You might think now, "I've been to a church and that organ sounded way more impressive, and Chris said something about shaking walls"...
Of course we've cut the low frequencies here because no rock band needs a boomy church organ. But in the intro, there's actually enough room for that. Sounds like the world is ending outside. That's one proper thunderstorm. There are these kicks in the beginning and at some point, this low pedal note comes in... ...which you actually play with your feet. It's indeed an isolated track.
Let's hear the organ solo. And while we were recording, we heard this weird boomy noise. Turned out to be the church bells, which rang every hour. But when you're sitting inside this church, you can only hear the ambient sound of it.
Now it turned into a hailstorm. Impressive. So, while I'm all alone, let me show you the strings. We already talked about them in the previous episode, but there are some nice things in here as well. This is our Bulgarian string ensemble again.
Do we have a contrabass in this song? No, we didn't need it for this one. Let's move on to the choir. We didn't hire some 100-piece church choir...
...but instead asked people from our circle of friends and colleagues. The wonderful Scarlet Dorn, Ronald Zeidler aka MajorVoice... ...as well as Corvin Bahn and Benjamin Mundigler, who are both part of our production and songwriting team... ...and Niklas Turmann. Everyone of them was able to cover at least two vocal registers. So for example Scarlet Dorn could easily cover everything from soprano to tenor. And MajorVoice could cover tenor and bass. So here we have the voices in individual tracks. Soprano, alto, a couple of tenors and baritones.
There's no bass voice on this particular song. Each of these tracks is already a submix of multiple voices. For example, this soprano track used to be 20-30 individual tracks. So each singer was recorded multiple times... ...resulting in a choir-like stack. That took us five days for five singers. Let's have a look at this part.
Let's listen to the individual voices. This is the soprano. Alto. Tenor. It's funny how we're able to pick out the individual singers, since we know them. It was so much fun to record the choir for almost every song on the album. It's a completely different ball game when you're able to have the choir sing actual words...
...instead of using software instruments that just go "Aaahhh". Okay, so let's talk about my voice, although it feels weird for me to describe it myself. It feels a bit like getting naked on camera... ...which I only do in private. As you know. Not now, please. Tell us what's going on. I've been following your vocal progression since the second album now.
Poor you. I'm so sorry you had to bear that. It's fine. I did it all for the "career". It's interesting if you look at... Thank you.
It's interesting how stripped-down the vocals are on this record. I didn't mean it like that. Your vocals are really reduced to the essential.
On the first albums, there were always up to five voices in the verses alone. Minimum! Main voice, a lower octave, a raspy voice... ...a L/R track and maybe some single words for stereo width. Do you know why? Because I just couldn't accept my voice as it is.
I felt the need to do more and more in order to like it myself and become confident. It's like using too many Instagram filters. Guess that's fair to say. With each album, there were less vocal tracks These days, I can fit them all in one window. Back then I really had to scroll through the vocal tracks. There's only one voice in the verses on this album, with very few exceptions. Of course that's a matter of taste, but I personally like it a lot more as it is now.
It's so much purer, for lack of a better word. But in all objectivity, I might say that I suck a little less at singing compared to back then. It was okay back then, I guess.
But I needed 100 takes until I was satisfied. These days I'm a lot quicker in delivering "okay" vocals. - So you control it a lot better? - No, I just practised. Yeah, you gained more control over your voice so you can deliver better results faster. Or maybe I'm just totally deluded and became easier to satisfy. These days, it's almost "one shot, one hit".
Whereas before it was more like "100 shots, one hit". And this one hit was comprised of eight takes. It's so much better now. I mean, this is all that we have in the verse:
Come on, let's show the people the completely dry voice. No reverb, nothing. Very uncommon. This is as dry as it gets. So, the reverb is there to put the vocals into the same room that is created by the organ, the piano, and so on. It's Benny's job to magically make it sound like we all performed in the same room.
Of course this is achieved with an artificial reverb. Otherwise I would have had to record vocals in the same church... ...which takes a lot of control out of the mix. Let's listen to it without reverb, but in context. Like that, it seems like the vocals are kind of detached from the rest. It feels like it's falling out of the speaker.
Now with reverb... ...and delay... But I wanna show one thing that we did on purpose. The "Judas, Judas" are indeed stacked multiple times by Pi and me in order to sound big. And they are bone-dry on purpose, so they are almost uncomfortably present.
So my voice is embedded in the rest and the "Judas, Judas" really stands out of the mix. This is what he's talking about. Switch the other vocals on so we can hear how they work together.
It gets almost claustrophobic. In this little break, everything is just gone. I think I even left the drums dry for that. Or you just cut off the decay. Then we got some screamed FX vocals with some distortion on them. You delivered that file with reverb already on it.
Sometimes over the months after songwriting, there's some creative work happening. This "Father" sounded like it's supposed to be in a huge room and get distorted. So instead of giving Benny a dry track, telling him to please put a reverb of a certain size on it... ...I'd just give it to him with the FX already on it. This is one of those sounds where the original reverb needs to stay. But other than that, it's common practice to deliver tracks that are as dry and as clean as possible... ...so it's possible for Benny to have full control over how to incorporate those tracks into the mix. There's a few levels to mixing: volume, panorama width, and spatial depth.
There can also be a three-dimensional level to it in terms of binaural mixing. Maybe we'll shoot a fourth instalment just for that. But the first three levels are the ones to keep in mind. Additional voices mostly come in for the chorus.
This is the main voice. And a L/R track that adds stereo width and size. I sang those a bit more raspy. Yeah, and in order to highlight that, I compressed it quite heavily so it's almost clipping. It's absolutely over the top and "wrong" from a technical point of view. Then there's Pi's "Ohohoh" and the "Judas" responses.
That gives us three layers in the chorus. You got the main voice, then there's this kind of "stadium chant", and the classical choir. It's similar in the verse, just without the stadium chant. Yeah. The choir is only in the second verse. So here's the main vocals.
And the bone-dry tracks together with the choir. The choir does have reverb, though. But not as much as in the chorus. Let's conclude this episode with a really nerdy thing some viewers might have wondered about. Let's have a look on the mix bus and the automations that you've made.
This could be interesting for the audio engineers out there. - Everyone else will probably turn off this video now. - Okay, bye. You mean this automation down here? I'm using this compressor on the stereo sum. This is actually an analog compressor which you can use as a plug-in and automate it.
I can really recommend this. There's an analog mix rack down here where the mix runs through before you get to hear it. And although it's analog, you can control it digitally. Analog equipment that can be used as a plug-in. This is an SSL clone, serving as a VCA-like compressor. I've come to love compression between 0 and 4dB, particularly around 2-3dB.
After that, it sounds kind of dead. Yeah, the sides are kind of closing in, and everything begins to sound smaller again. For drums you really shouldn't go over 2dB.
Unless you want this overkill on purpose. On a mix, however, that would take out all the energy and impact. Side fact: This record is the first where I've been working with a ratio of 1.5:1
You sicko. Don't know, I felt crazy that day. 1.5:1 is really gentle. With an attack time of 30ms, it keeps almost all of the transients. So, book Chameleon Studios if you want a gentle treatment.
I started doing it like this, because a verse is normally much emptier in terms of instruments. You see that gain reduction needle? It's constantly around 2 or 3dB Just so you know, that's not what a compressor adds in volume. This is just what it reduces in gain. And at the end you use the make up gain to add volume again.
And since a chorus is normally louder and fuller than a verse... ...the compressor would react much stronger. So in the verse, it would be perfectly around 2-3dB, but in the chorus it would go over 4dB. And this is what you can hear on badly mixed and mastered albums. Everything sounds nice and fat, and then there's maybe a rather quiet break right before the chorus. So it goes "verse verse verse BREAK chorus chorus chorus BREAK"...
Because all of a sudden, there's room for that to come out. That's where you can tell someone hasn't been paying attention in the mix. This is a big issue of all these algorithm-based mix and mastering assistents.
You still need a human for that. Or Benny. Okay, hurtful. - What? - Nothing. That's why I adjust the threshold according to how big the respective part sounds. You can actually see the knob position changing.
And even further for the chorus. That what keeps the needle in the 2-3dB area at all times. And I just kept up that habit once I had formed it.
I was really happy when they put out this analog compressor that gives me these possibilities. That's a big part of my work method. And with this, we're concluding our third session breakdown. If you liked this, just let it pass without comment. If you hated this, give us a proper shitstorm.
Thank you for watching and see you soon. Maybe we'll do this for some more songs. Thank you! Bye.