About once a week I pull out my super-fangled High Resolution Audio Music Player and headphones, which together cost me a frightening amount of dosh, and I listen to Armoured Angel’s anthemic Thy Blood Eterne; which I transferred direct to my player from the Hymns of Hate collection—no ripping or compression of the original track, straight drag and drop of the original CD file to the HRA MP hard drive.
Hearing grinding death metal guitars and coarse growled vocals in high resolution is immediately exciting, then relaxing, and then—finally—enervating. (I would listen to the entire Hymns collection but I am at heart a track-skipper—or disc-changer—and want to hear dance-pop, post-punk and whatever else that catches my stylistic fancy at any given moment.)
Progress in portable digital audio equipment has made listening to great bands in high resolution an option for discerning audiophiles. Anyone can choose to be a discerning audiophile though. With the best quality audio equipment, and highest available audio source files, a listener’s experience of their favourite band’s music—via digital equipment—can reveal depths of sound, production and instrumentation that are likely to be obscured or diminished while hearing lower quality audio-source compression formats that don’t fully reveal the range of sound that was originally recorded. But the cost of portable HRA players, such as my own, are woefully prohibitive—with one less expensive entry-level option apparently offering not much better audio quality than that of an advanced MP3 player (due, at least in part, to the lack of a quality amp module).
People tell me that they’re not fussed about sound quality—it doesn’t matter—as long as they can hear the sound and it’s clear (whether played on an MP3 player, through a cell phone audio output or via some alternate system), and folk justifiably baulk at spending hundreds of dollars on a portable music player that (certainly, in my HRA MPs case) does little more than play audio files. It’s a losing battle: that is, the argument that people should preference sound quality when listening to their music is a losing battle. That battle has been lost.
I don’t begrudge anyone’s choice (and I can’t comfortably debate anyone on the issue of price given that HR MPs are typically sold at a luxury-status price point) but I am selfishly disappointed in a present-day that requires me to spend a motza to achieve sound quality levels that were much more financially accessible, and available, to everyone decades (literally decades) ago. (I own a cheerful 70s/80s orange-box portable suitcase turntable—the orange portion serving as the speaker, which detaches from the black turntable base—which, to this day, provides richer sound than any MP3 I can recall hearing.)
Perhaps, to better understand how we arrived at this present state, it is fruitful to briefly turn back the clock and examine the events of the not too distant past. After the dawn of the 2000s, the attitudes and behaviours of music consumers changed significantly in response to events that were developing or occurring in the technology and music industries. A shift in the public perception of popular music—as a commodity, an entertainment source and a medium requiring a technological go-between to access—occurred, happening as the result of a convergence of factors, including; pressure on consumers due to prohibitive CD price points, a creatively stagnant mainstream industry entertainment product (I’m talking about the failure of A&R—Artist & Repertoire services—here), the introduction of convenient digital audio player options and the rise of online piracy (buoyed itself by the rise of the internet) which was often fuelled by the desire of music fans to simply share and expand their own music libraries. Priorities and the attention of music consumers (casual or otherwise) were clearly shifting. Free from the prohibitive constraints of music industry pricing, and with the advantage of networks of distribution heretofore unimagined, consumers could demand and receive volumes of product through instantly accessible mediums at (sometimes) reduced or no cost. The music industries (both content and technology producers) were left reeling. But the trade-off, right from the start—whether in terms of content or technology—was audio quality.
In the past, being into your favourite band meant sharing your enthusiasm with like-minded people (whether passing on a new find or discussing a common musical interest). Post-2000 those behaviours continue to exist as staples of our music-culture interactions, though they’re now supplemented by (or they take second place to) internet interactions (comments, ratings, social media, online vendors and blogs—to name some of the ways in which we source music, and discuss or discover it). Do some of those present day interactions question the quality of what we hear and the quality of the mediums through which we hear it, or is it more likely the case that we simply accept what we’re sold, with no consideration given? Is there a clear audio quality benchmark that we can aspire to or doesn’t that standard matter at all, anymore?
Access to high quality audio fidelity was always the goal in the days of my youth, influenced heavily by hearing thundering Led Zeppelin, Creedence, Doors, Sex Pistols etc on a vinyl stereo system well into the early/mid-nineties—and, at least, partly as a result of spending equal time having to suffer listening to taped music on Sony walkman rip-offs (of wildly varying quality) through dollar-store bud earphones. Stepping up was always a desire, limited only—to this day—by a requirement to remain within the portable option range (I’d love to have a wall-sized stereo with speaker stacks but that option only exists in my daydream fantasy-land of a ’70s inspired lounge suite with an orange shag rug, lava lamp and chill cane furniture).
Vinyl is back though, even if only as a boutique option (despite steady, increasing sales it still is only a boutique option). And there is a growing awareness of the benefits of audio fidelity emerging across the music retail market, perhaps driven by consumer access to better fidelity portable digital audio toys (wireless speakers, players etc.) and the growing realisation that their sound improves upon—or reveals—the over compressed limitations of mp3-type audio files. Maybe a brighter HR audio future is just around the corner, though—it should be noted—we had that very future 20—30 years ago (and at a more reasonable price).
Personally, I miss my Sony walkmans (plural, I had several—I was particularly fond of the green slimline one that I bought in 2000), upon which, up until two or so years ago, I still listened to CDs—flipping discs out willy-nilly whenever I wanted to change it up. It was my last discman’s eventual failure—and Sony’s decision to stop making them a few years prior—that finally forced me into a year and a half long trough of purchasing second hand discmans (or third rate rip-offs thereof) and portable digital audio players whose design emphasised the commercial pillars of convenience and ease of use over audio fidelity. Discovering the burgeoning world of portable high resolution audio players was an enormous audio lifeline—an expensive lifeline, but a lifeline nontheless. I had so missed listening to the immersive wall of thundering drums, guitar fuzz and John Garcia’s perfect rock wail vocal that is Kyuss’ Gardenia (a track that’s been a favourite of my own since its initial release decades ago) that, when I first heard it pump through my brand new HRA MP, it was like being reintroduced back into the vivid wild—in full colour—after being cooped up in a wooden crate box for a year and a half.
But… back to Thy Blood Eterne. A rich, heavy immersive sound is what makes the track. It’s what keeps me coming back for more, again and again. The lyrics are well worth reading in full too, though I won’t summarise them here; suffice to say that they could be interpreted as a punkishly philosophical response to the conundrum of living under the yoke of Christendom (or any organised religion for that matter). Even if metal tunes aren’t your bag, you have to admit, it’s damn catchy stuff. All credit to the band for being the full package: impressive of sound, style, performance and lyrics. Armoured Angel haven’t been an active band for decades but that’s no excuse not to listen to them. Whether you’re into heavier music or you’re just adventurous in musical taste, the rewards of hearing Thy Blood Eterne are well worth the effort.
Purchase Hymns of Hate via Raven Clothing ebay: Armoured Angel | Hymns 2CD
And, get a taste of My Blood Eterne via youtube (it’s the first track up).
As an addendum, I suggest listening to James Hetfield’s appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast. The whole thing is entertaining from start to finish and includes Hetfield discussing the moment he opened his children’s eyes to better audio quality by giving them a decent pair of headphones.
Clearly, a metal-heads work is never done.