Published Jul 17, 2018Goderich, ON is a rural town: beaches, farms, cottagers in summer. Not the kind of place you'd expect to find a thriving Scandinavian death metal scene. But that's exactly what Icehouse Studios owner Thomas Ireland has turned it into.
"It's what I listen to, it's what I like," he laughs. "I do it because I like recording metal."
Ireland is a quiet, humble guy who has become something of a recording guru to the flourishing Ontario melodic death metal scene. Bands like Crimson Shadows, Primalfrost, Vesperia and the recently reformed Blood of Christ have all made a pilgrimage for the mix-and-mastering treatment at Icehouse Studios over the past decade.
Ireland was born near Goderich, in the even smaller town of Teeswater. Armed with knowledge he gained from several years of classes in London (Ontario, he clarifies) and already playing in a metal group called Countermind, he founded Icehouse Studios in 2006.
"I think it's a common story," says Ireland. "I just wanted more control over my own band's sound."
Countermind didn't stick around, but the experience in getting Icehouse Studios off the ground proved invaluable. The recording setup started out as a "cheap" Behringer 8800 converter, a pack of Apex microphones and a single 8-channel Digi 001 running ProTools. The current space (which, according to Ireland, is built in an old Goderich train station), hosts a 40-channel Midas M32 console running Steinberg Cubase software. "I guess I don't necessarily have a whole bunch of gear to brag about," he says sheepishly. "Just a board and some SM7B mics."
Ireland can downplay all he wants — the results speak for themselves. His production manages to hit the difficult target of being ragingly heavy, yet also controlled and polished. "For years, especially when I was starting out, I looked up to Andy Sneap," he says, referencing the legendary British metal producer, especially his work on Arch Enemy's Anthems of Rebellion. "I also liked the early In Flames stuff," he adds, "like Fredrik Nordström. Just that Swedish melodic death metal sound from the mid-2000s."
A typical session with Thomas Ireland starts with guitar. "What's the point of recording a track you aren't going to use?" he asks, questioning the common practice of recording "scratch" tracks for the drums to follow on their first few takes. "We always do the guitars first.
"One thing I've learned is to always mix with a reference track," he explains, "If you have a band that says 'We really like this album,' then that's the bar of what they want it to sound like. So you throw one of [that album's] songs into the session. You can A/B your mix with that mix and figure out how they got that sound, if you're on the right track or not. It keeps you from losing perspective."
Since recording has become easier (and more affordable), the market is awash with bands thinking they can cut a few corners by self-producing. "You're really paying for the ears," says Ireland. "You can do a lot with a cracked version of Pro Tools in your bedroom, but if you're coming to my studio, a treated room? It can make a big difference between an amateur album and professional-sounding one."
The one thing Ireland urges bands to consider is writing and rehearsing their parts before recording begins. "Nothing's more frustrating than when a member of the band comes in and goes 'Oh, I don't know how to play this part.' It's not the time to learn your song. Anything else I can handle — changing drumheads, changing strings. But I can't swap out your knowledge."
"Build it and they will come" can be a risky foundation for any business, but when one churns out records of such consistent quality as Icehouse Studios, the adage seems to be working. His newest release, Blood of Christ's comeback LP The Unrelenting Declivity of Anguish (Anthology IV), promises to be a rager. Through it all, Ireland has kept up his own melodic death metal band, Battlesoul, who released Sunward and Starward earlier this year. "I've also got a day job," he laughs.
Only time will tell if the little scene Thomas Ireland has been cooking up in Goderich manages to capture the attention of the Scandinavian big league. But so far, that's where things appear to be headed.