Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Haunted House Records Toxic Beats

Product: Toxic Beats Drum Sample & Loop Library
Developer: Haunted House Records
Format: Downloadable WAVs
Price: £14.99
Demo: 30MB selection of kits and loops available on product page.

The changeover in the sample library industry to a more download-centric format has, overall, been a good thing. The fact that there are no CDs or DVDs to press or ship makes releasing sample libraries much less expensive for developers and this, in turn, means they can take greater risks in releasing more "niche" oriented products. Toxic Beats, the latest release from Haunted House Records, is an example of that, purporting as it does to focus on the industrial and EBM scene, both of which, with the rare odd exception, are pretty obscure genres to a lot of electronic musicians. Although these genres largely pride themselves on being pretty DIY, it's nice to see them getting a little love. So does Toxic Beats deliver? Read on.

Toxic Beats is split between a selection of loops at various tempos, and the drum kits used to create those loops as individual hits so you can use them to program your own rhythms. The artwork advertises the collection as containing 840 loops, and while this is technically correct, it's a bit misleading. There are actually 140 different loops here, but they are offered at 3 different tempos (128, 135, and 145 BPM) and in versions that have kick drums and versions without kick drums. That offers a nice flexibility, but I think loop slicers and programs like Ableton Live have really eliminated the need for sample developers to include the same beats at different tempos. Prospective buyers should also know that those 140 loops aren't all distinct loops either - most every beat here is offered in 5 or so variations, putting the number of distinctly different beats under 30. Again, the flexibility is nice, but I think any buyer expecting 840 unique loops is going to be pretty pissed off. [EDIT: Stephan has corrected me that the beats at different tempos, despite sharing the same names, are not, in fact the exact same beats, they merely use the same kits... a bit confusing, but indeed there are more distinct beats here than was immediately apparent to me...]

Unfortunately, the problems for this collection don't end there. I'll grant that Industrial, EBM, and Techno are pretty wide-ranging styles, but I didn't hear much in this collection that would be appropriate for Industrial or EBM at all. Yes, the sounds are distorted/filtered/ring modulated as might be expected in those styles, but the source sounds themselves appear to be primarily Roland TR-505, 707, and 909 samples. Cool drum machines to be sure, but not especially common in the current flavor of industrial or EBM, and despite whatever effects are applied here, the original character of the sounds still comes through making this sound much more homogenous than it would've if a wider range of drum sounds had been used. The TR cymbals, thonky 80's tom sounds, and hyper-active claps might be a bit more at home in the techno scene, but given how this library is marketed, I don't think it's going to be techno people primarily buying this.

Stylistic authenticity aside, the beats on offer here simply aren't that impressive. There are occasional glimpses of interest here and there, but for the most part, the programming is stiff and lacks the dynamics and drive one might expect for those genres. The production quality is also a problem. There just isn't much oomph here for the most part. The loops and sounds would all benefit from judicious use of compression before further processing occurs. Many of the loops and sounds are also desperately in need of proper EQ - many of the distorted sounds in particular are very muffled sounding.

The individual hits are helpfully organized into both folders by sound type (claps/snares/hats/etc) and into kits named after the loops they were used to create. The same problems plague the kits here, though. Not enough variation in the source material and mostly not very well produced. There are some okay sounds here and there, but for the most part, it's hard to imagine anything here that most budding electronic musicians couldn't come up with in a few hours of experimenting in their plug-in folder.

Although I strive to be honest and frank in my reviews here, I always feel bad when I have to trash something that I know someone probably put a lot of work into (and believe me, as a musician, I know all too well what it feels to be on the receiving end of a brutal review). Stephen Haunts, the creator of this collection, has released some cool collections of circuit-bent and experimental sounds before (reviewed here), so I know he's capable of decent work. I just feel like he might be a bit out of his element here. This may indeed be Mr. Haunt's own take on the industrial and EBM sounds, but when marketing a sample library to a specific genre, a more "broad brush" approach fitting the more standard "expected" sound of the genre is probably a bit more helpful. [2/10]


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the "frank" review. Just stumbled upon your blog and bookmarked it. I feel your pain trashing something that you know must have required some work, but many music gear mags are afraid to be negative in their reviews and that's worrisome as well.

red said...

I really appreciate the honesty. I've purchased some of the other products you've reviewed based on the fact that I trust your reviews. This just makes me feel even more comfortable about that. I know its sometimes painful to be truthful about things like this, but it is much appreciated. Thanks Tom!

Anonymous said...

With MOST Industrial genres sounding like Electro, Hardstyle & Breakbeat nowadays this is the best of it's type. Even the Noize genres can get alot from this with a few simple mangling techniques. Usually these kits are littered with samples more useful to hard rock or metal than Aggrotech or Synthpop. It's not perfect but these kits will start any Industrial style production on the right foot. Unlike the clueless Industrial/EDM pack from PLP.

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