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06 November 2012


November is brought to you by the letter M. No, not for 'moustache' (although a fuzzy top-lip indicates cancer awareness), but for 'metal'. Yes, it's Movember, hence time to grow a 'tache, contribute to Cancer Research UK and take in Toontrack's Metal Month, which heralds seven HM-related product announcements. The first arrived early here at MuzoBlog, giving time to cop a feel for what's erupted from the Swedish developer's HQ and summon a considered review on this very day of launch.

What we have is Randy Staub Rock Solid EZX, an expansion for percussion plug-in EZdrummer (£89.95 / €119) and which can also be accessed by the rather more trick Superior Drummer 2.0 (£207 / €259). It presents the engineering expertise of famed rock producer/engineer Randy Staub, alongside sampling from ex-Nickelback sticksman Ryan Vikedan.

The pair have assembled ~800MB of content comprising three complete drumkits, plus extras, aimed at muzos putting together classic-rock and heavy metal performances. Before we leap, like a deranged frontman, into the kits themselves, here's a typically tasty Toontrack vid for an overview of how the rock solidified…

Randy's name already graces an expansion for Toontrack's EZmix 2 signal-processing plug, a product for which a number of other rock/metal packs already exist. So what can he bring to the developer's AU/VST/RTAS, 32/64-bit, Mac & PC percussion engines? You'd imagine a fair bit, considering a client list that includes Nickelback, Mötley Crüe, Alice in Chains, Bon Jovi, Evanescence and… Michael Bublé?

Ah well, he did work on Metallica's Metallica (or Black) album back in 1991 and has since been nominated for nine Juno Awards, clinching a win as Best Recording Engineer in 2002 for his contribution to Nickelback's How You Remind Me and Too Bad. Impressive rock and metal credentials, then.

Also impressive is the desirable drum and scintillating cymbal hardware we have, a list of which can be seen at Toontrack's Rock Solid EZX product page, as well as that of UK/Eurodistributor Time+Space. Let's take a video walk through what they did with the goodies...

Before you bathe your ears in the audio captured and dream up possibilities for DIY rock production, take note of that Dunnett Ludwig kit, as pictured when opened in Superior Drummer. It is rather special, the configuration reminiscent of Ian Paiste's super-size Ludwig pieces of old. His drums may have been large in dimension, but not in quantity.

Listen to the live drum solo from The Mule, on Deep Purple's 1972 album Made In Japan, to hear what an uber-drummer can do with just a kick, snare, overhead, floor tom and a handful of cymbals - not the most titanic of kits to grace a rock band's stage. Sure, the drum timbre on this 40-year-old recording is way different to that of the samples featured in Rock Solid, some of which are from titanium pieces. But the essence of Ludwig is there (to these ears, at least), even though the EZX represents non-vintage rock and metal production values.

On a historical note, Paice switched from Ludwig to Pearl in the early '80s, but his new kit is modelled on the old. Batter-headed kit bits from Ayotte and Gretsch also fare exceedingly well, as does the crisp, clear sound emanating from a spray of all-Zildjian cymbals. OK, with everything louder than everything else, a-one, two, three, four...

What we don't have is that very metal sound of a heavily damped, ground-wobbling sub-thud with accompanying midrange click to help the drums cut through, oft down-tuned, guitars murdering Marshalls, or similar none-more-metal backline. Nor is the frequency range attenuated to suit pop or vintage flavours.

What we have in Rock Solid are expertly recorded kit pieces full in range, with a nice boing on the drums, versatile cymbals and lively ambience. Add in the generous helping of bundled MIDI performances and we're all set to rock out. Or, with a scoop of EQ, mosh. And 'tache, if you're able to grow one.

Some may wish for even drier, more deadened hits but, as you heard from the first three tracks with library in situ, they fit just fine in a full, modern-rock mix. Minor EQ tweaks and perhaps rhythm-sensitive reverb can be used to maximize for metal and there's more than adequate control over ambience, thanks to room presets, and dynamics, as mentioned in the walkthrough video, to avoid muddiness. Meanwhile, dragging and dropping MIDI fill files into the sequencer make for a classic, all-around-the-kit rock drum solo (quite a novelty in this day and age).

Do bear in mind, however, that if you've already hooked up with the EZX of your dreams and only want the MIDI files, they are available separately as the Rock Solid MIDI Pack (£19.99 / €25). Wanna hear how a few more of them sound as applied to, not only Rock Solid, but EZdrummer's own rock/pop kit, plus Metalheads and Metal Machine EZXs? Thought you might...

Staub and Vikedal have provided a promising start for Toontrack's 2012 Metal Month and here's looking forward to yet more mayhem. There's already been some at Time+Space, which has wielded an axe on the price of bundle deals on Rock Solid with EZdrummer and with a Superior Drummer crossgrade bundle (both £78.95). While we wait for what are promised to be one or more announcements per week, take a look back at how we got here with this metal-laden video playlist. And remember, no shave till Hammersmith…