Revved Up Tracks With The Rev – Breaking Benjamin’s “Diary Of Jane”

Album: Phobia
Producer: David Bendeth
Mix: Chris Lord-Alge
Mastering: Ted Jensen
Released: 2006

Chris Lord-Alge is a genius. Whether you’re one of the folks on the internet who love to hate on him because of tons of reasons that might even seem reasonable, or you’re one of the thousands of audio guys out there who would give anything to know his secrets, there is no denying that he is one of the biggest of the big guys. It may very well be because he’s gotten the most important skill of this record-production business 100% right: rather than just giving the listener some good audio, he knows how to sell emotions. He might come across as walking a super fine line between confidence and arrogance but just in the way that he talks about the records he works on you pick up that he is SUPER excited about what he does and that translates to his mixes. He seems to squeeze every ounce of energy and emotion out of whatever song he’s working on. Breaking Benjamin’s “Diary Of Jane” is the track where this first hit me. All the hours of effort I may put into what I try to achieve as a producer/engineer/mixer are pointless if what I deliver doesn’t make the listener feel the way I feel when I hear this.

Now, obviously the beginnings of this record were crafted masterfully by the band and producer David Bendeth. They captured beautifully thick guitars (which apparently had them retuning baritone guitars every 8 bars) with soaring lines that still stay thoroughly out of the way of a vocal performance with energy that most of us can only dream of, supported by some of the most cleverly constructed backing vocals I’ve ever heard. The bass line does that melodic thing where it makes the guitars almost sound “sad” in some parts, while laying down the low end so hard that it feels like it’s about to bloat everything up, yet never does. The drums strike that perfect balance of providing a backbone so that the song never seems to lose any power while still being extremely intricate. It’s almost like, since the kick and snare have basically zero dynamics through the bulk of the song, the toms and cymbals add the dynamic back in by being wonderfully exciting and complex without ever becoming overbearing. And I love the use of atmospheric soundscape-y type stuff that they bring in to offset the blunt-force groove of the rest of the track. The source is friggin’ everything!

Thing is, I’ve heard the other tracks on the rest of the album that was not mixed by CLA and, while by no means bad, they just didn’t do nearly as much for me as “Diary Of Jane.” Not even close. They don’t seem to have the cohesion that this mix has while still jumping out of my speakers (even a pair of small el-cheapo PC speakers) and they don’t make me want to pump my fist in the air and growl that guttural “noooooooo” like Diary Of Jane does. But there are more than a few of his mixes that do fit these criteria, so: Chris Lord-Alge.

Maybe CLA cheats or gets super lucky. Many times. I know he uses that one kick sample and that one snare sample that you’ve heard on a bunch of “his” hits a lot. Maybe those just worked really well with the guitars and bass in this track. His use of what is probably be the original snare for just a few bars in the beginning before that snare sample kicks in is the kinda thing that makes me walk around for days asking myself “who does that?”. The bass sound is something I strive for in every rock mix. That thing where, when I drive in my car, it sounds like the bass line is being sent up from the road below the car. Not many mixes do that without becoming muddy and bloated. No, I can still hear every single note that’s being played. Then there’s the way that the vocals sit in everything, or the way everything sits around it – I struggle to make up my mind. It seems like everything is super aggressive and it almost feels like Benjamin Burnley is fighting to be heard but also not really because at the same time his vocals are being carried by this massive force that will plant it right in your face. And everything is clear and bright, but not overly so, to the point where it seems like the mix is extending way beyond what any speaker should be capable of. The cymbals are so smooth they could’ve been made of that ice cream Heston Blumenthal makes at Christmas.

There is massive space behind/around the mix but it sounds like it’s a transparent and dry space that never softens its brutal force. CLA’s use of delay is masterful. I wish I could carve a snare reverb the way this guy does. The depth in the guitars during the verses literally pounds me in my chest even at low volumes (I never listen to music at super loud volumes) and feels like it goes “whoob whoob” without it ever feeling like anything is breaking loose from the tightness of the overall mix. And with top and bottom end like that it’s not like the mids are so scooped that the mix ever loses its energy and stops flying out the speakers. No, it’s as if they were carved with a scalpel. For a guy who constantly overcompresses, according to lots of folks in audio-forum-land (what serious, busy studio dude has time for that BTW?), this mix is stupidly punchy and dynamic, from that atmospheric intro, through the 2nd part of the intro where you think “hot dang, this kicked like a mule” to the parts after that which left you without teeth. Hurrah for the one dude who taught me what automation can do!

I think my favorite thing about this track is that it’s like a good Mel Brooks film – you can either just sit back and enjoy something that’s so good that you can’t help but be excited about it, or you can dig deep and discover layer upon layer of genius that went into making it. This is one of my reference tracks so I’ve listened to it hundreds of times. I’ve been listening to it on repeat since I started writing this. Every time – every single freakin’ time – that breakdown/bridge happens where the whole production comes to a head, with Burnley screaming “what have I becoooooome”, sending it into that final chorus – I get goosebumps and I have to stop typing for a bit. Hoping that one of my mixes/productions can have that kind of effect on someone is what makes me get up and open my studio every morning.

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