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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why are (heavy metal) vinyl records cool?

Some of us who are more or less "collectors" of heavy metal records, but still buy albums as physical releases, may still be buying only or mainly cd records. I know, I did for a long while. There's pros and cons with both formats. Why are heavy metal vinyls so cool?

While this may come as no news for most collectors, so those who are not familiar with vinyl records be more enticed to read on. If you in any case may feel like you're getting hemorrhage while reading then you may be better read something else instead.

(Two official Ample Destruction releases of which left sells anything between $50-100 - colored vinyls even more)

The sound, looks and nostalgia

Well it's sort of common belief that vinyl records sound better, or at least, different. And it's well true that vinyls have usually that "warmer", more living and breathing sound. Cd records on the other hand may be over-produced to made sound loudest possible. Of course many heavy metal fans want their music to sound loud as hell! But talking about old 80's and late 70's heavy metal there's also cool shredding, interesting melodies, more warm yet ripping guitar sound, and drums are often more than just a blastbeat after another.

This sort of an atmosphere requires sound qualities that at least I think vinyl record may allow to be produced better way than cd. While vinyl is not so over-produced, it allows instruments more space to breath and to my understandment it could be referred better that all instruments have "wider range of frequencies" in use - you can hear cutting treble of guitars and drums better. Hopefully I'm not too off-the-trails here, while trying to explain this in something else than in my native language. Of course you may need decent sound system in order to fully enjoy the great sound of a vinyl.

(Nowadays you can hook vinyl record player with in-built amplifier directly to computer usb if the model is right, but those are considered worse on quality, so you might want to get real turntable like this affordable Rega player right here which runs trough separate amplifier.)

Allright, so we got more vivid sound, then what? Vinyls also have something "nostalgic" that we love, and part of this we create in our own heads? Well maybe so, but in addition to the different kind of a sound, isn't the actual product also way cooler than cd and cassette? The artwork is something I appreciate. It creates the feeling to the album before you listen it. It's part of the albums feel and "look", and if not totally f'ed up, represents the album's values - it's part of it's "statement". Cover artwork in cd is so damn small (and even more in cassette). It's totally different satisfactory level in vinyl record when you view it. Cool heavy metal artwork "feeds" the cult status of a good album, and the records themselves are beautiful as hell as well. It all creates part of that "nostalgia" that we feel about vinyl records and what we appreciate.

(Finnish old heavy metal - 7" vinyl vs. cd record)

The value and piracy

Now there's also another view I'd like to bring up why I nowadays prefer vinyl over cd record at least in older album releases. Well heavy metal vinyls are getting valuable, in fact, several rarities of them already are worth of hundreds of dollars. Rarities like "Salem's Wych-Betrayer of Kings", "Virtue-We Stand To Fight", "Leather Nunn-Take The Night" or say.. "Savatage-Sirens (original cover with blue-vinyl)" to name a few. So the minus side is all used ones of them are not going for a cheap price - but once you get one you learn really to appreciate it. These records are over two decades old (80's and before) - decade or two decades more and some of them will be getting very rare! Now note that also original pressings of rare old cd releases are selling quite high price.

So to the point. I'd like to view this from point of piracy/bootleg'ery. What's your favorite place to buy those used cd's and lp's? Most likely many of us like to do it easy way and check Ebay, Amazon, and such online auction houses (but the problem persists also in many legal record stores selling new and second hand records! Even in legal record label's own stores). Places such as Ebay are full of bootleg cd's. Most of us own them, and don't even know it. Some of them are badly made yes but many are almost non recognizable as a bootleg unless you really know your way with cd's. You may have that suspicious cd lying out somewhere, which you thought to be rare and luckily found on Ebay for $10 (or if you were really ripped off, closer to $100). You always felt there was something fishy on that cd. "Worn out" or fishy looking print in booklet, spelling mistakes, cheap booklet material, no matrix number or other numbers on the backside of cd, or weird colored flip-side of the cd (may indicate of cd-r). Just some things to mention.

(A nice looking bootleg of never-officially-released-on-cd-album)

The problem is that people are getting very good at making bootlegs and pirate records. Many are almost as complete replicas of the original, sold on Ebay such as "Salem's Wych-Betrayer of Kings original pressing OOP $99!", and without good details on the auctioned album's info, we buy it and get ripped off big time. In some cases even the sellers don't know that they are actually selling "a bootleg / pirate", in which case I feel bad for them also. Be vary what you bid for, check sellers reputation, give negative feedback if ripped off.

On the other hand even though vinyl records are also bootlegged, they are not quite as easy to bootleg as cd's and it just doesn't happen that much (at least yet). This is my knowledge of the situation at least. With vinyl you are not safe but chances to hit pirates or bootlegs is lesser. Usually if vinyl record is used and has marks of wear and tear, it's either old bootleg (less likely) or used legit record (more likely). Your chances getting ripped off when bidding for second hand vinyls are far less likely than bidding on second hand rare cd in Ebay or Amazon.

This is why I buy 99% (well almost) of old used records of rare pressings as vinyls nowadays and if you still don't, I'd suggest to give it a thought. What do I buy some records as cd's? Well, many bit newer records  are usually cheaper, especially those who have been released for some years. I don't give value to newer records generally as much as to the 80's so I don't want to pay as much for them. On the second hand new cd's are perhaps bit less likely to be pirated than old obscure release, when you browse Ebay and find that "a deal that sounds too good - wow I didn't even know this was ever released for cd!". I tend to buy rarer nostalgic releases as vinyl records whereas I'm more likely getting my money's worth. Just remember to take care of your vinyls as they are more prone to the scratches than cd's!

(Another nice looking bootleg, but this time as a vinyl. note that it's "new"!)

One more thing. Is there any sense to buy cassette records other than if you're really die-hard fan who wants to own certain record in any format or weirdo (jokingly) who loves cassette sound? Well actually yes. Very rare amount of the records are pressed only as cassette, in which case you might want to get it. Most common thing of these are "demos". Unofficial self-financed records by the bands which they made in hopes to get record deal some day and make some name for themselves. Material from records like these may never been used in full-lenght record afterwards (it's possible), or the band may be a "demo band" who ever just released a demo or two before splitting up. Wouldn't it be cool to own early "Grim Reaper" demo or such item?

Few links and items you might want to check considering vinyl records:

The Collector's Guide to Heavy Metal: Volume 2: The Eighties by Martin Popoff - a really extensive album review book and your guide to 80's heavy metal record from one of the best heavy metal writers around.
Goldmine Heavy Metal Price Guide by Martin Popoff - one of the best vinyl record price guides focusing from early 70's to early 90's, but 95% are from 1980 to 1989 with some exceptions. The book is from year 2000 so price information is bit dated, but this book sure lets you know which are those rarities. Includes additional info like short descriptive comments and quantity of pressings of the album etc.
Nwobhm Encyclopedia by Malc MacMillan - a  great book discovering nwobhm bands, your bible if you like the genre (features over 500 bands that made it to release any official record, 800 pages, each page in two columns)!

Discogs - album information database. Just pure info. Check here what label released which. If the record can be found here it has better chances of being legit, however the database is not perfect..
Metal-Archives - internet's widest album information and review database purely ran by it's community. Tons of useful information of albums with often additional notes, also includes info of record labels, musicians etc.
Popsike - One more source to evaluate price of a vinyl record. Shows recent selling prices of auctioned items in Ebay. Highly useful! It has unfortunately limits for free account/guest how many albums you can search per day. (all rights reserved)

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