Audioslave – “Sound Of A Gun”: Critical analysis of production elements and the emotional impact of musical performance and sonic attributes

This song was performed by Audioslave (Chris Cornell, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk) on their 3rd studio release “Revelations” in 2006. This album was produced and mixed by Brendan O’Brien and engineered by Nick DiDia/Billy Bowers.

This article brings a critical analysis of the multiple aspects that make us connect emotionally to a certain song in the Alternative genre. By understanding the important elements of these highly valued performances and their emotional impact on us as listeners, we might learn what it takes to make a truly valuable musical piece.

I highly recommend reading this article while listening to your copy of the song, then watching the video on the bottom where I play the bass part with ultimate attention to the nuances of timing, articulation and dynamics in Tim Commerford’s performance.

Critical analysis was performed using Ultimate Ears reference custom in-ear monitors.

Intro (15 bars)

The song starts with a high register 1/8th notes guitar part. This guitar sounds a little mysterious, and makes you have that “what’s going to come next?” feel. The guitar is initially panned center, but is sent to a 1/8th note delay with a decent amount of feedback which returns to the extreme right. This delay seems to be sent to a short reverb which returns on the left side, what makes it sound like a stereo delay, but the initial return of the delay obviously returns on the right, and then spreads across the stereo image. Another thing that adds to the sense of movement is that the guitar is sent to a slow speed panner or even manually panned to the left and back to the center, right before the drums enter.

The drums enter with a heavy, laid back feeling groove.

Drum sound:

The kick sounds very boomy with a lot of ring and tone but not a lot of hi-mid attack, and is panned center. The initial sound of it feels very natural and unexaggerated, but the big long sustain is emphasized either by reverberation or by cranking up the stereo room mics, or both. Notice that the big roomy sustain of the kick is a little bit longer on the right side, which might happen due to room shape or the position of the drums in the room.

The snare is somewhat on the bright side, with good crack and attack, but also rich in body and tone. Its sustain is emphasized by the stereo room mics as with the kick drum, but is much prominent at the center of the stereo image, where the snare is panned. This could be achieved by the mono room mic or even a mono reverb.

The Hi-hat is panned towards the right side. it has a good body, but its sizzle seems to not be concentrated much on the super high frequencies but on the crisp range between the hi-mids and the highs. It sounds a little bit closer than the rest of the kit, but somehow the room mics or even a stereo reverb helps it spread across the stereo image and not being a narrow disconnected point.

The crash cymbals have a very long sustain and a somewhat extended high frequency content. They do not appear on the extreme left and right, but somewhere in the middle, what makes them sound cohesive to the rest of the kit and not too wide. The ride cymbal appears a little towards the left but closer to center. I suspect that the ride serves as the second crash, making the cymbal setup minimal. On most crash hits, they sound very dominant and forward in the mix.

The toms, which are introduced first before the guitar solo, sound full and big with good tone and sustain, with just the right amount of hi-mid stick attack and “boxiness”.

The whole drum kit seems to be heavily compressed and overdriven, rich in room spatial cues.

Notice the interesting movement that is created by the Hi-hat playing the second 8th note of each bar a little laid back, and the heavy compression that brings it down with every kick drum hit.

At the 3rd beat of the 3rd bar after the drums enter, the guitar is gradually getting more and more overdriven, probably as a result of gradually raising the volume knob of the guitar. A double track of the guitar also gradually appears on the left side. At the 4th beat of the 4th bar after the drums enter, the guitar is fully overdriven, and plays an upward-downward glissando with the bass which enters there, kicking in to the main song’s riff.

Bass sound:

The bass sounds overdriven and heavily compressed with a full low mid growl but not much of definition or sub bass frequencies. Seems to have a little less low end than the kick drum, what clears the space for the kick’s long sustain. It blends well with the guitars and the kick drum and glues the whole riff together.

Guitar sound:

The double tracked main guitar sounds crisp and crunchy overdriven, with good note definition and body. It sounds relatively dry and is the closest element in the mix. It seems like it also has some gentle modulation effect on it, which adds to the sense of movement in the riff, as well as the spread in the stereo image.

On the 3rd and 4th beat of the second bar in the main riff, there seems to be another guitar tucked in the center of the mix, which emphasizes these chords, along with the crash cymbals. It returns every 2 bars when these two chords are played.

1st verse (16 bars)

“In the here and the now I wait,
down among the young and the old.
With the moon and the ground I play,
with my children in my home.
This is for the daughters and sons,
of forgotten ones.
learning how to stand.
This is for the innocent unknowns,
buried in the sand.”

The main riff guitar reduces to only the right side, playing whole note chords gently along with a new acoustic guitar part that appears to be panned towards the left side. This acoustic guitar is heavily compressed and filtered in the low end, and has a somewhat “boxy” quality. The bass plays a quarter note oriented groove (with the even numbered 1/8th notes rested).

At the same time, the lead vocals are introduced. They sound relatively bright and dry, even though they might have a light touch of mono reverb added (buried under the other elements in the mix). These vocals are also heavily compressed to the point of even being a little overly sibilant. Notice how the ss’es and t’s stick out of the mix much more than the vocals. This is most prominent at the end of the word “wait” on the 3rd bar of the verse.

On the second half of the verse the lead vocals go to the high register, as a filtered mid-range oriented quarter note mono delay is added, tucked behind them in the mix, adding depth.

Open Hi-hat hits on the last 1/8th note of every other bar add to the sense of development and movement.

On the last bar of the verse, the main riff double tracked guitar is introduced, replacing the acoustic guitar part. These two half note chords and the glissando on the last beat are louder in level than the rest of the verse. This prepares us to the vibe of the chorus.

1st chorus (8 bars)

“Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Till you’re weary.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.”

This chorus is based on the song’s main guitar riff, with the high register delayed vocals singing on top, tucked well in the mix as the other instruments play louder and with more attitude. In the middle of the chorus, there is a 1\16 note snare fill which adds to the drive. Occasional open-close Hi-hat hits add to the movement.

2nd Verse (16 bars)

“From the crack in the blackness I wake,
it’s getting closer every night.
In my city the playground is a battleground,
between the wrong and the right.
I could run as free as a child,
I was safe and wild,
naked and unarmed.
Now I’m grown and safe in my home,
but some will never stop.”

This verse is pretty much a repetition of the 1st verse with different lyrics.

2nd Chorus (8 bars)

“Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Till you’re weary.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.”

This chorus is also a repetition of the 1st chorus, except of a weird modulation on the vocals on the word “gun” in the second bar. A tom fill leads us to the guitar solo.

Guitar solo (8 bars)

The drums play a more open syncopated kick pattern with 1/8th notes on the ride, while the solo guitar that can only be described as a Tom Morello signature solo guitar is introduced a little off center to the left. A short mono reverb is added to it, panned to the same spot, helping to make this guitar’s own space in the mix. This reverb could also be recorded along with the guitar.

Accompanying the guitar solo is the bass guitar, which now has another overdriven\distorted signal added to it on the right side, as well as a modulation effect which widens it and spreads it across the stereo image. This processing on the bass helps it fill the gaps created in the mix with the instrumentation here being only bass, drums and solo guitar, and hold everything together with interesting movement.

There also seem to be an added stereo reverb on the snare, again to fill the gaps in the mix.

Bridge (17 bars)

“The open mouth of the city swallowed up the town,
with that same old concrete that I still walk down.
And it seems they put a shine on this place when I was young,
maybe I just don’t see it now.

Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Till I’m weary.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.

Hey.”

The same high register guitar from the beginning of the song is introduced, playing the bridge part, while the solo guitar fades out on the first bar. The vocals dry out and the bass processing from the guitar solo section is cut, making it dry mono and dead center. On the 3rd beat of the 4th bar of the bridge, there is a half note ascending cymbal swell, which accentuates the beginning of the 5th bar and cut abruptly. The bass plays a high register part while the drums keep quarter notes on the Hi-hat with a gentle pedal motion.

A snare and tom fill on the 8th bar brings us to the next section of the bridge, which consists of whole note length chords on the guitar and some 1st inversion bass chord notes, this gives a sense of elevation before the breakdown. The vocals are delayed again, and the acoustic guitar replaces the left double track of the main guitar. On the 15th bar all instruments including the Hi-hat and Floor Tom are playing the 1/8th notes, as the left guitar replaces the acoustic guitar again. This builds up the tension before the next part. On the last bar we have a sextuplet snare fill along with a delayed desperate shouting of the lead vocals, building up to the breakdown. On the 3rd and 4th beats of the last bar, the right guitar goes up an octave and plays the D chord aggressively, while the bass plays a downward glissando on the 4th beat. Notice that the guitars and bass do not play the first beat of the breakdown.

Breakdown (4 bars)

A new broken fuzzed filtered guitar is introduced on the almost extreme left, playing the main riff, while the feedback of the vocal delay fades out. The Hi-hat keep the quarter notes on the pedal until the last bar, where on the first beat, there is an extreme open Hi-hat hit. This hit is the loudest element in the song and is played intensely out of proportion. For me, this is the most exciting part of the song (if not the whole album). When I first heard it I was so blown away, that I remember that feeling until this day. It blew me away how such a small element as a Hi-hat hit could have such a strong effect on my feelings, when it is played at the right time and with the right attitude.

On the next beat, another guitar is filling the opposite side, while a kick and snare fill is played, along with a bass downward glissando. Notice that the bass plays the downward glissando on the second 1/16th note of the second beat, which falls exactly on a kick drum hit.

Outro (8 bars)

“Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from the sound of a gun.
Running from, running from the sound of a gun.”

The vocals aggressively sing the chorus’ lyrics, but now they’re not delayed, but double tracked. All instruments play with ultimate aggression and attitude, building up to the end. The song ends with an open chord on a tom roll. All instruments stop on the last snare hit.

I don’t know the reason, nor that I think it matters to anyone, but it’s interesting that the overhead and stereo room tracks are cut while you can still hear the cymbal bleed from the mono snare or mono room mic track for the last second of the recording.

Feel free to let me know what you think, and if you liked it, don’t hesitate to share…

For personal inquiries, questions or suggestions, please contact me via E-mail: theshtikfactory@gmail.com

One thought on “Audioslave – “Sound Of A Gun”: Critical analysis of production elements and the emotional impact of musical performance and sonic attributes

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