Thunder Audio Retains Tight Ties to Slipknot
Slipknot returned to the road this past fall, supporting its latest album, The Gray Chapter, a collection that reaffirms the band’s place in the metal world after a lengthy, turbulent hiatus spurred by the death of founding member Paul Gray in 2010.
The current Prepare for Hell tour is taking the famously masked musicians around the world—they’re in Europe and hitting a string of Australian festivals this month—but the live campaign kicked off in October with KnotFest, a two-day festival held at the San Manuel Amphitheatre and campgrounds in San Bernadino, CA. Providing all audio for that, the ensuing U.S. tour which followed and now the European leg is Livonia, MI/Nashville, TN-based Thunder Audio.
Speaking two days before the end of the U.S. trek, monitor engineer Rob Lightner found that the tour was in good shape. “It’s been go- ing really smooth; everything’s fallen into place,” he reported. “We’ve added some things that we didn’t start with on the technical side, but it’s just some more channels to a couple things and some changes for different effect pedals that we’re using on bass. We’re always trying to improve the things we can."
There’s plenty to keep track of, as Lightner mixes monitors for the seven band members, plus two touring musicians on bass and drums, using a Midas Pro9 desk. “It’s got everything I need on board,” he said. “I only use a delay for Clown [percussionist/backing vocalist Shawn Crahan], who likes one on his vocal. I’ve got an internal plate reverb that I use for the snare drum, and otherwise, I just use the on-board gates and comps. The comps already have five different types of compressors that you can choose from, so just depending on what input it is, I’ll switch the mode of the compressor to better accent what it is I’m compressing."
Lightner looks after tons of RF, including 12 channels of wireless just for percussionists Clown and Chris Fehn. Situated stage left and right, each one stands atop a riser with four drums and two empty beer kegs (which are played using baseball bats.) Audix D4 mics connected to Shure UR1 wireless packs are used on all the percussion, including two marching snares that Clown and Fehn wear at times to move around the stage. The need for wireless on the percussion risers, however, is due to a major gag where both platforms rise 12 feet on three scissor lifts; once they’re up there, they can rotate infinitely 360 degrees in either direction.
“We used to have a similar percussion rig, but it was cabled and the cable would twist to the end,” Lightner recalled. “There was no returning from that; it would just get ruined. Going wireless was planning for the future, basically, because they’re going to keep doing this for a long time; I’d continually have to buy small sub-snakes for both of them, so we just decided to cut the cables out of it.” Other miking complications arise from the percussionists, since they sing backup vocals; they and lead singer Corey Taylor all use AudioTechnica 5000 series wireless mics with AE6100 capsules. Said Lightner, “I have two for each person and they’re all run through a switch that I can flip from A to B if one gets broken or the capsule’s dying throughout the night or they throw it underneath the set and it can’t be found easily.”
The catch is, all those vocals are captured through the bandmembers’ trademark masks. “The center vocalist, his mask is two pieces—one part attaches to his jaw, so it moves,” said Lightner. “The first night of the tour, at KnotFest, the mask wasn’t allowing him to get the mic up into his mouth, so both FOH and I struggled a little bit, but he had the mask adjusted for the second night and he was right up on the mic again. At stage left, Clown’s got a very wide, open hole around his mouth cut out, but the stage right percussion, Fehn, has a zipper on his mask for a mouth, so that can be tough. If he’s not really pushing the mic right into it, it can create a chamber that causes a lot of low mid to gather in there; that’ll come through the mic and change his voice a little bit, depending on what type of vocal he’s doing at the time.”
Two-thirds of the band opt for in-ear monitors in concert, all wearing Shure PSM 1000 systems with JH Audio JH16 ear buds. “I’ve used JH Audio for seven years and they take great care of us,” said Lightner. Meanwhile, the stage left and right guitarists, Mick Thompson and Jim Root, rely on sidefills in the form of two L-Acoustics SB28s and two Arcs IIs on each side of the stage. M2s also provide supplemental feel for the bassist and drummer, and turntablist Sid Wilson, up stage left on a riser, gets his own pair as well. “I’d say that he is probably pumping a good 103 easily out of his wedges; our DJ tech asked me to put it on tech mode when we’re checking because it’s so loud."
Of course, powerful monitors are only part of the overall system Thunder Audio’s provided to Slipknot. Dave “Shirt” Nicholls’ nightly mix on a Midas XL8 console at FOH delivers the band’s brand of bombast with added detail via a new L-Acoustics K1 line array system comprised of 48 K1s and another two-dozen K2 enclosures, plus 16 K1-SB and 28 SB28 subs, providing more than enough firepower to fill an arena.
“The performance out of the K1 is probably the most impressive I’ve heard a system so far with that kind of music—pretty stunning actually,” said Paul Owen, vice president at Thunder. “The separation in the mix is just phenomenal, and I think this system does it better than anyone. Unbelievable amount of fidelity and energy and horsepower our of it. It delivers it so well that you actually have to stop and go, ‘That’s 105 dB right there and it's not really taking a breath.’ It’s quite impressive.”
Then again, overkill is exactly how you take care of a legacy client. “It’s been a 15-year relationship with Slipknot,” mused Owen, adding with a chuckle, “Slipknot’s touring system is identical to the one we deployed for KnotFest. The system playing arenas is the same one we used to cover 30,000 people at the festival!”