Episode Excerpt: Mike Gilbert (Severed Savior) On Recording Guitars for Servile Insurrection

Severed Savior’s Servile Insurrection is one of the classic releases from the California Death Metal scene. Released in late 2008, it is, according to guitarist Mike Gilbert, the first death metal album to be recorded using a Fractal Audio pre-amp/effects processor. However, the story behind the guitar recording on the album includes even more history, as Mike explained to us in Ep. 3.


Josef Kay (2:03:09): Can you guys talk more about the recording of Survile Insurrection and the tones you got for it: what guitars did you use, what amps etc.

Joel Horner: Did you fractal it?

Mike Gilbert: Yes. So, even though I’d like to think I’ve lost the majority of what ego I’ve had in the past, I – I’d like to think i’ve lost most of it – I’m not a narcissist anymore – I would still like to toot my own horn and say that as far as i know, Servile Insurrection was the first death metal album recorded with the Fractal Axe-Fx.

The Original Fractal Axe-Fx.

Joel Horner: Nice.

Mike: This was in 2007, and that’s when I had the very first Fractal Axe-Fx standard. There wasn’t the Ultra yet. It was firmware version 4.05. And halfway through – or actually, um for those of you that don’t know…

I finished recording the album – I recorded all guitars and bass at my house. And then I turned it on one day to start working on leads, and realized that I lost every single file, except for maybe 15 seconds of Inverted and Inserted.

Joel: Because of the firmware update?

Mike: I was learning how to use Cubase as I was recording. And somehow, I had set the location that all of my files, all of my tracks, were being stored in, as the documents folder on my desktop, instead of the folder that i had set aside for all these tracks. So, I was somehow recording or saving project files… and all the tracks were actually being recorded in a random folder in my documents.

And I just remember being stoned one day, and going through ‘my documents’ and saying, “Why do I have 30 gigs in my documents on my desktop? And I just fucking deleted all the music.

Yeah, so I actually paid a service to pick up my hard drive and try to recover all of the files. And the only thing that they were able to recover were some porno pictures I had. That was it – I got my hard drive back, and like 150 nudie girl pictures, and some of the tracks from Inverted and Inserted.

So what tracks were left were maybe 15-20 seconds of Inverted – the second song on the album. And that was recorded with version 4.05 of the original Axe-Fx. I had upgraded to 4.06 and recorded the rest of the album, not knowing or even thinking that the sound would be changed. So there’s a couple of sections in Inverted, if you’re listening with headphones, where there’s a little bit less high end on the guitars. Those were the original only surviving original tracks.

Editor’s note: Can anyone determine which guitar parts are from the original tracking?

Joel: How did you find out about Fractal?

Mike: I was a hardcore gear nerd. In the early 2000s I spent more time with gear and researching gear than actually playing the instrument.

Troy Fullerton: Oh no, that started in the 90s.

Mike: Okay, well –

Troy: Yeah, you were always on a mission.

Mike: I had a GSP 2101. Yeah that was the original. It looked just like the original Axe-Fx, but it was a Digitech unit. Yeah, it tastes crunchy even in milk. Yup that was a killer tone. So I was always a gearhead. I had the Behringer V-Amp 2, which was just a cheap version of a pod, but it was 99 bucks and it sounded killer. And I thought it sounded better than the pod sounds that i was hearing. That’s what I recorded some of those clips on harmony central with.

And then I got ENGL stuff for the [2004 Cannibal Corpse] tour. I had the ENGL E580. It was the chrome plated preamp that was a midi controllable, but all the dials were LED lights around them. I remember that it looked like kind of like the terminator without skin. And then I sold that and bought the ENGL E570 special edition preamp, which is an awesome preamp.

But when Fractal first came out, I was so impressed with the technology. And the dude, Cliff Chase, who designed it, was coming out with updates all the time: you buy this one unit, and twice a month, you’re getting new amp models, new cabinets, microphones. He was constantly improving the technology, which I really appreciated. I got one in mid-spring – it was really close to when it first came out – and was able to get some pretty decent tones out of it. The flexibility, the variety of tones you could get from it, was vastly superior to the the behringer v-amp that i had been using.

Joel: We actually recorded the Odious kitchen demo with a Behringer preamp. It was that the blue Behringer, and it sounds actually killer.

Mike: At the time, mid 2007 or early 2007 or whatever, I was so impressed with the idea of a modeling unit that could sound pretty good and that I could just record with. We’d just done the the demo version for Servile, the song Servile Insurrection, at a studio and my rig was the ENGL E570, a VHT 252 power amp, and a Mesa rectifier cabinet. And the tone was good, but I thought I was getting better tones at home, just plugged in direct. And I also knew I’d have more time and luxury while recording if I wasn’t under the time crunch in a studio – if I could do it at home on my own.

So with the Fractal unit, I found the amp that I liked to record with was the Solo 100 which was based on a Soldano. The cabinet was a Mesa vintage 30 cabinet mixed with a T-75 cab. They’re totally two different sounding cabinets that blend really well together. I used a model of an SM57 mic and a Royer 121, I think it was. And I pretty much set the EQ flat. I knew I didn’t want to set it too close to how I thought it should sound, because I figured once we got it in the mixing process, we’d have to re-EQ the shit out of it. So I just set all the knobs at 12 o’clock for the most part. And by itself, I didn’t think the tone was that good. But once I tracked a separate track, and panned them hard left and right, I thought it sounded pretty good.

Joel: What kind of pickups are in that guitar?

Mike: So the guitar I used for that album was this Jackson SLSMG, which is a Japanese made Jackson that is also neck-through. It has a great heel. I’ve recently stripped off all the lacquer and oiled it, just because that feels better to me. They are APC pickups. I was a member of the Jackson/Charvel forum back in the day and I saw a bunch of people raving about these APC pickups that were made by Mel Lace, the guy who designed the original Lace pickups, and I guess his brother actually owned the patents for them. So there was like a falling out or something, where his brother kept the Lace sensor designs, and Mel the original designer came up with his own company. And they were the first passive pickups that I thought rivaled EMGs for the output and clarity and tightness. And they’re very low noise too, somehow. So the bridge pickup is a persuader lead, and the neck is a syrinx, which I only used for the solo on Deadspeak. Everything else on the album was recorded with this pickup.

We recorded the drums with Zach Ohren, I recorded the guitars and bass and acoustic guitars at my house, and then we brought all that back to Zach. And me and him mixed everything together and we recorded Anthony’s vocals with Zach.

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