Producer Ross Robinson brings life to the dead.
Dubbed the “godfather of nü-metal,” his raw, unvarnished production on albums by KoЯn, Slipknot, and Sepultura redefined heavy metal by stripping away the glitz and glamour of hair bands still partying on the Sunset Strip in favor of a new sound marked by anger, intensity, and honesty. Big rock-with-a-capital-R drums were replaced with the tight, dry crack of cranked up piccolo snares. Guitar solos were eliminated and replaced by repetitive pants-flapping downtuned riffs. Lyrical themes took a sharp twist as odes to partying and excess were traded for cathartic tirades on broken homes, mental illness, bullying, and addiction delivered with chilling intimacy. In recent years, Robinson has worked with artists outsisde the nü-metal genre, producing albums by the Cure, the Blood Brothers, Head Wound City, Dead Cross, and Glassjaw, but his knack for coaxing bloodcurdling all-or-nothing performances from artists — especially vocalists — hasn’t changed.
In fact, gut-wrenching heart-on-sleeve vocal takes are Robinson’s calling card. “I’ll make sure the lyrics are absolutely known,” says Robinson. A Telefunken 251 is his go-to vocal mic, but he’ll go to any depth necessary to capture the true meaning of a lyric. While recording vocals on KoЯn’s Follow The Leader, he placed singer Jonathan Davis on the floor and wrapped his hands around his throat, squeezing anytime he felt Davis hold back. During the sessions for Slipknot’s self-titled album, Robinson famously threw potted plants at drummer Joey Jordison to keep him in the zone and pushed vocalist Corey Taylor so hard he vomited during takes. “Ross pushed me every day to the point where, by the end, I was literally broken completely in half and wide open and bawling and I couldn't stop crying,” recalls Taylor. “The intention,” says Robinson of his unorthodox production style, “is to make you feel like you gave something.”
Despite helping to create a new high-gain downtuned seven-string guitar tone, Robinson leans on classic gear to capture the sound. “I keep it simple using stuff that’s old and vintage that’s made my favorite records,” he says while showing off the 70s Marshall JMP used by Sepultura and KoЯn and the Neve preamps used on every track of every album. “The things I really love listening to are 70s [records]. That’s why I started using pedals…to evoke those amazing feelings I would get listening to AM radio, and I put it in metal. There’s just this thing that happens.”