This is a digital world, and somebody’s got to destroy it. A world so clean that tape saturation is something we now try to ADD to a mix, instead of eliminate. We’ve come full circle, but it remains a very wanted and needed task to add more “dirt” to our recordings. The Dark Side is a new instrument from EastWest that not only adds extra grit to your music, it dumps a wide bucket of sludge over a gear-shredded corpse, leaving mere remnants of instruments that you once knew.
Ok, maybe a tad bit extreme, but The Dark Side makes no qualms about it. It’s here to get you dirty. Not for the musically conservative or timid, The Dark Side uses distortion and effects liberally to a point where even the user interface wields a gas mask(no, really). But is it practical?
Entrance Into The Dark Side
You’ll need around 38GB of disk space for the full library, which is powered by the EastWest Play engine. Though many previous reports of instability plagued the Play engine, the current incarnation is definitely more stable. No crashes to report during our review process, and the general consensus seems to be that Play is fine for most people now.
As with other Play libraries, you’ll need an iLok. The installation/first-run process takes care of delivering your license to your iLok account, and we had no problems. The Dark Side will run on both Mac and PC, on either 32-bit or 64-bit machines. VST, RTAS, and AU versions are included, along with a standalone player.
Just A Good Old Fashion Rock Band
The instrument selection inside of The Dark Side isn’t exactly exotic. You won’t find too many rare and unique instruments here. Your standard fare of drums, keys, bass, guitar, and vocals are all present, along with a few ethnic treats. But that’s almost as far as the normality goes.
When I first opened The Dark Side, I was kind of skeptical. I listened to a few sounds, and remained that way. But the further I went into the presets, the more I realized that this is more controlled chaos than it is mindless sound-crushing. The Dark Side manages to destroy common instruments without taking away their relevancy.
Distortion and bit-crushing is a heavily used theme throughout The Dark Side. But they are by far not the only effects. Some sounds are covered with chorus, delay, reverb, phase effects, and more. You’ll find patches where the effects change as you increase velocity as well. Effects are used in different way as well, creating sounds ranging from creepy to all-out destructive.
You’ll find several different drum kits included in a variety of destruction levels. There really isn’t that large a selection of kits, but plenty of variations are there to be useful. Many of the kits do come with completely dry, unaltered versions of the kit. But the real fun is in the variations. Some kits have several variations. You’ll find everyday distortion, massive reverb, filtered hits, grungy flavors, and more. Some kits will sound brittle, while others offer slapbacks and gated verb to provide variety. Many hits dive into a very industrial, organic taste, while others would fit right into a Hollywood action score. You’ll also find three keyswitched kits that allow you to select the level of destruction using keyswitches to switch between the variations.
The detail in the drum kits won’t exactly rival the top drum samplers on the market, but there is enough to mention. You’ll find round robin samples being played, and on some pieces, a few different velocities. Most kits have all your typical drum kit pieces, but a few go beyond that and include flams, bounces, and other nuances that you wouldn’t expect to find in a non-drum instrument.
As with the drums, there are several different bass sounds to play with. You’ll find acoustic, electric, synthetic, and other typical varieties. I found the variation in the basses to be less than that of the drums. You do have the slappy, the smooth, and the bouncy, and all with some form of sonic mayhem applied to them. Unlike the drums, there are no completely dry patches. Many of the bass sounds sounded quite retro to me, from the videogame-esque sounds(we’re talking Nintendo days here) to pure ’80s, and none of the basses really ventured into the ultimate destruction category. But then again, that might be a good thing!
You WILL find a couple of extras like slides up and down, but those really seemed more filler to me. Still might be useful to have.
There is a variety of effects, from pick scrapes to body knocks to randomly ringing strings and more, and these are actually the highlight of the bass section for me. There are a half dozen keyswitch and/or modwheel patches here as well, including a patch that lets you switch between all the different bass models inside of The Dark Side using keyswitches.
Guitars are one instrument where it’s hard to be “different” in this library because, well, that’s what people DO with guitars already. However, you won’t find too many cliche sounds in here. You WILL find lots and lots of fuzz piled on top of a layer of fuzz. You’ll also find some creative filtering on the sounds to only bring out highlights of the sound as well as some sounds which seem determined to annoy your ears. You’ll find a couple of massive stack effects along with lots of delay in parts. You’ll find some reversed guitar samples which give nice subtle swells, along with some shorter notes on a couple of models.
The most surprising element for me is actually the guitar pads. There are only a handful, but those that are there, I found to be immensely useful. Even charming.
One thing I missed with the guitars was the FX. Unlike the basses, there were no pick scrapes or body knocks. But, if I may say so, this category saved itself with the coolest patch in the entire library: Guitar Orchestra. Wall Of Sound meets bigger Wall Of Sound and crashes into a patch that is great fun to play.
Keys And Strings
The Keys and Strings section is one of the more diverse sections. Most of the keys consist of organs or pianos, with some more ethnic instruments thrown in. And you’ll find everything from the enlightening to the drastically destroyed. Some very nice pads come along in this section, with liberal use of flangers, delays, chorus, and other typical pad effects. Throw in some extreme distortion(moreso than even on the guitars and drums), and you’ve got a good variety of sounds to choose from. There are seemingly broken sounds mixed with sound that make you want to scratch your eyes out as well. All-in-all, a pretty decent variety. And lots of great mod wheel patches are there to let you dial in just the amount of effects you need.
Ethnic And Choirs
In the Ethnic and Choirs category, things start to get fun. From dulcimers to zithers to LFO-twisted choirs, these aren’t normally items you try to destroy sonically. But EastWest seemed to take great pleasure in it. You won’t necessarily be able to tell which instruments or voices were used in some patches due to just how trashed they are. Like the previous section though, the range is from the heavenly to, well, the opposite of heavenly. Plenty of movement is applied to the choir patches, so you can have distorted or pulsating or just plain weird.
This section also includes by far the largest amount of combo patches. So the modwheel is your friend here, and keyswitches will play their normal part.
There is an “Instruments w/FX” section that doesn’t introduce any new sounds of it’s own, but instead takes the patches from different categories and shows some great examples of what you can do with the internal effects in the PLAY engine. You’ll see extra reverb, delay, doubling, and more added straight from the instrument’s player. This also means you can edit these patches quite handily. But in the end, this is really more of a “best of” section that I found inspiring. It took the context of the library and placed it into even more relevant sonic space.
Finally, there is the large miscellaneous section that includes, well, a little of everything you wouldn’t find elsewhere in the library. From broken church bells to glockenspiels to even just plain static. Distorted static. Yes, you heard me right.
You’ll also get a great variety of unclassified FX sounds that don’t try to be anything. Tonal to non-tonal, pads to grunge, you’ll find more of the same here, but yet different in many ways. From horror movie-like soundscapes to sci-fi bells, and even a small selection of arpeggiated stringed instrument strums(that you can change from major, minor, etc. with keyswitches). You’ll find sounds that you would hear in an old black and white terror movie to individual sound FX. This category really rounds out the library nicely.
Rounding Up The Sounds
In addition to the sounds included, you also have access to everything the PLAY engine offers. Notably, you’ll get a fair assortment of effects from an adjustable filter to envelope controls, a simple but great sounding reverb, and more. You’ll find an on-board doubler, delay, and a few other options inside the PLAY interface. You also have the ability to create your own multi-timbral multis, and PLAY includes everything you need to mix and match instruments from The Dark Side with any other PLAY-powered libraries.
While the variety of sounds in the library is very nice, I do think that considering the disk space required, I was slightly disappointed in the number of patches. But I do realize that the nature of destroying sounds without destroying usefulness is a fine art. I don’t want to make a big deal about this, because there ARE dozens and dozens of great patches included. What is included sounds great. And if you need some grit in your productions, you would be hard pressed to find a more musically relevant library of destroyed instruments.
This library is made for one purpose, to add uncleanliness to your productions. You could put together entire pieces using nothing but The Dark Side, but I get the impression that EastWest really intended for you to supplement your otherwise clean productions with these sounds. Let’s just say that these sounds would play the part of the bully in a crowd of preppy kids. These sounds will sometimes scare you, while other times whip you into an ethereal twisted wasteland, and other times might convince people that you just pushed the volume dial four levels too far up.
The PLAY engine really has come along. It’s not perfect, but the CPU usage on a semi-modern machine is low enough to not worry about it. I was testing using an Intel i5, and there wasn’t a glitch in terms of sound, even in a busy mix. RAM usage really isn’t too high, especially compared to other EastWest libraries. Some patches took a few MB of RAM, while others used in the hundreds. I do recommend using this library on a 64-bit machine though, if you will be using heavy samples. While The Dark Side is relatively lite on RAM, it does take up enough to steal away from your larger libraries.
I did find a few issues with the interface causing my mouse to jump around a bit, and often had to click multiple times to select a patch. I found this annoying, but it was minor enough that using the library was still enough of a joy to continue.
One thing is clear to me; The Dark Side isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy the digital edge with pristine sounds across the board, steer far away from The Dark Side. But if you need some grit, if you need some filth, or if you just need something to break up the lifeless coldness of your mix, The Dark Side will deliver. The Dark Side manages to mangle and twist sounds to a breaking point, but still keeping them musically relevant. It’s an interesting library, that’s for sure.
I have mentioned the word “relevant” many times, and this is important. The Dark Side is clearly put together by a talented team of sound designers who understand where the line is between useful and useless. The sounds are put together with specific themes in mind, and they will fit right in with many modern productions, hence the whole emphasis on being relevant.
The Dark Side isn’t perfect, and really, it’s not completely original or unique in it’s concept. But it is put together well. At the current price of $355, it’s a bit steep. So this won’t be an impulse buy just to have more samples for most people. And if you only need a couple of distorted instruments, you’ll want to look elsewhere. But if you need a good helping of in-your-face controlled chaos, it’s worth every penny.
Price: List- $395, Street- $355.50
Test System(s): Windows 7 64-bit Professional, Custom built Intel i5 Quad Core, 8GB Corsair DDR3 RAM, 750GB Seagate Barracuda SATA System drive, 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda SATA Samples drive, Focusrite Saffire Pro 24, Keystation Pro 88, Edirol PCR-M50