Even a cursory glance of our biweekly playlist updates will reveal that there is a great deal of variety among our staff’s musical tastes. Due to this, we brainstormed the idea of Playlist Swap, where two of our contributors pick their favorite track from each of the nine albums in their grid and then send the list over to the other person to listen to and comment on. Within these commentaries occurs praise, criticism and discovery, and we hope that you experience a few instances of this last point as well. This week’s post brought Josh and Karlo together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Karlo’s Grid and Josh’s Comments
In Flames – “F(r)iend” (Soundtrack to Your Escape)
I get the impression that, for a certain generation of melodic death metal fan, Soundtrack to Your Escape has become somewhat of a cult classic. While I’ve always liked the record, it’s not one that I reach for regularly, so listening to this song for the first time in a while served as a pleasant reminder that, even during their supposed mid-period slump, In Flames were still pretty damn good. There’s still a lot of the band’s songs I’d put on before this one, and I’m probably still going to be reaching for Colony or Come Clarity (or even A Sense of Purpose) the next time I need my In Flames fix, but “F(r)iend” makes for a surprisingly refreshing change of pace which further inspired me to revisit a record I really enjoyed that probably would have remained overlooked otherwise. Thanks, Karlo!
A Perfect Circle – “So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish” (Eat the Elephant)
The reaction to the new A Perfect Circle record has been mixed, to say the least. My less than receptive feelings about it have been made known but I’m aware that the album also has its fans—Karlo included. I was interested to revisit some of the material in isolation, as the sluggish pace of the record was (and continues to be) one of my major gripes with it. I’m not sure I’m getting that experience with “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish”. The track is so out of character for the record, and APC/Maynard’s broader output as a whole that it already stood out, and I even highlighted it as one of the album’s more rewarding numbers in my review. It’s definitely different, I’ll give it credit for that, but my personal jury is still out on whether it’s actually “good” or not, and I suspect it’ll take some time to come to deliver a final verdict. I actually think it would have made for a really good closer to the album but, while it’s definitely one of the more interesting tracks on Eat the Elephant, there’s something about it—as if it’s being overly sincere and ironically detached at the same time—which I haven’t quite come to terms with yet.
Gibonni – “Libar” (Mirakul)
I was expecting to be completely out of my depth with this one only to be surprised by how familiar it was. The opening chords immediately reminded me of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and, while I don’t understand the lyrics, the vocal lines are more or less identical to Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”. Those weren’t at all the comparisons I (or Karlo probably) thought I’d be making, but I love both those bands and I absolutely adore the overblown cheesiness of this song. I haven’t yet investigated whether the rest of Gibonni’s songs sound like this one, but if they are I’m so in.
Ihsahn – “The Paranoid” (Eremtia)
Eremita isn’t one of my favourite Ihsahn albums; which isn’t to say it’s not a masterpiece. It’s just always felt more disjointed to me than his other records and I find it hard to stomach in a single sitting. Individually, however, its tracks are staggering, and “The Paranoid” has always been a highlight. You can definitely see the through line between this and what Leprous wound up doing on Coal, and remains just another example of Ihsahn’s seemingly endless brilliance. And Karlo’s right: “Introspection” is totally a Mastodon song in hiding.
Caligula’s Horse – “Songs for No One” (In Contact)
At the risk (for a second time) of being kicked off of Heavy Blog: I never really thought In Contact was all that. It’s an album full of undeniably great compositions. However, there’s a certain sterility about the production and lack of emphasis on the lower end that just holds me back from ever truly buying in. This is one of those times where I feel like I am the problem rather the music itself and I regularly check back in to see if it will finally just “click” with me. Unfortunately “Songs for No One” doesn’t seem to be changing that, for many of the same reasons. While I agree with Eden that playing prog music fucking loud usually makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience, I also feel like the track and album’s clean, modern style production robs it of a lot of the expected atmosphere and impact and the bass just seems so inconsequential to the proceedings. I don’t know, I feel like this is a track that I really should like but the material from In Contact continues to come off to me as less than the sum of its parts. I might still go see them in a couple of month when they play the album live and see if that changes things. Until then, I’ll keep trying.
INXS – “Mystify” (Kick)
INXS are another band I’ve always respected yet never fully bought into. I’ve never really been able to enjoy them at length, but they have a catalog of undeniable tracks that it’s impossible not to enjoy in isolation. “Mystify”, however, is not one of those tracks—for me at least. There’s a certain posturing I’ve always associated with INXS and bands of their ilk that really comes through on this track and, even beyond the first section, it just kind of sounds unfinished to me. I get why someone would like this, but it’s just not my cup of tea I guess.
Mashrou’ Leila – “Ashabi” (Ibn El Leil)
I will admit, I have mostly skipped this track when listening through Karlo’s playlist. I don’t think it’s bad, at all. I’ve just found it a bit dull and it’s failed to hold my attention on most occasions. What I will say is that it definitely has the coolest cover art of any of the albums on either of our lists (with the possible exception of Meshuggah), and the lyrics—or at least the dodgy Google translated version I looked up—were full of some really cool imagery that rather appealed to me. Although it’s probably telling that I found these peripheral elements so much more engaging than the song itself.
Marmozets – “Meant to Be” (Knowing What You Know Now)
Knowing What You know Now was one of my most anticipated albums of 2018. Yet, while I do enjoy it, it kind of fell a bit flat on arrival for me. Along with Marmozets dropping a lot of the heavier elements from their sound, there’s a noticeable lack of edge to the album’s production that I feel really robs it of its potential power. “Meant to Be” is not one of my favourite songs on the record but it’s still an enjoyable listen. As a friend pointed out to me the other day, there’s a certain Queens of the Stone Age quality to a lot of Marmozets’ riffing that certainly comes through on this track. Yet, also much like that band’s more recent offerings, while I can see and appreciate all the parts in action, this track just never quite gets me to where I want to go, or even where I feel like it wants to take me.
Hadal Maw – “The Olm” (Olm)
Ok, before I go getting all critical again, I want to say up front that I really, really like this song and that it’s probably my favourite on Karlo’s list. Having said that… I have real issues with the production on this album. I was ready to declare Olm my album of the year, based on the new material I’d seen Hadal Maw perform the lead-up to its release. Then the album came and, while all the same parts were there, it just lacked the impact the band brought to the live front. At the risk of harping on about production issues, this album just sounds really thin for what should be a colossal, world-ending, tech death album. Take, for instance, the drum build up at the end of the bridge in this song. The toms rattle where they should pound and when the rest of the song kicks back in the dynamics don’t really change. Live these tracks sound utterly apocalyptic, full of booming bass and Lovecraftian menace, but on record, they come off more like something trapped in the beyond—never able to fully cross over. Those riffs though…
Josh’s Grid and Karlo’s Comments
Parkway Drive – “I Hope You Rot” (Reverence)
I was mentally prepared for a metalcore song, only to find a European melodeath track instead. The somewhat theatrical vocals are a bit off-putting, and I’m not sure the gang vocal pre-chorus is really the kind of vibe Parkway Drive ought to be striving for – but hey, I’ve never properly listened to them so what do I know. What I will say is that there are some cool moments on this. The chorus is pretty good and there are some tasty guitar melodies floating around, whilst you know you’re never going to find yourself lacking groove with these guys. I don’t love this, it has the cheesy elements of melodeath that I really dislike, but it’s a solid track and an interesting twist on the standard metalcore sound.
Norma Jean – “Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else” (Polar Similar)
I had never properly listened to Parkway Drive, but I’ve never listened to Norma Jean at all. I hear these guys are kind of a big deal in their genre and I can see why. They’ve got groove, it’s catchy enough and there are some interesting melodic and atonal guitar passages interwoven throughout the track. Definitely a step-up on the previous track and I can see myself having a great time at one of their shows. Do I like it enough to want to check out more of their stuff? Probably not.
Amorphis – “The Way” (Tuonela)
Three songs in; three bands I’ve barely, if ever, listened to. Right off the bat, this sounds much more up my alley. I’m getting a bit of a prog vibe, with lovely clean guitars and more interesting composition. The vocals are fine, they keep things moving along, but it’s the guitars that are on show here. They’re memorable, melodic and keep me engaged in the song, whilst the double kick does a great job of building the track up towards its conclusion. I’m digging the spacey tones on display here, definitely a 70s prog feel in the composition and tones, and so it looks like Josh is onto a pretty good thing here. Get’s the Karlo tick of approval.
Machine Head – “In The Presence Of My Enemies” (Through the Ashes of Empires)
This track selection is an attempt at convincing me that Through the Ashes of Empires is a better album than The Blackening. Josh and I have had this debate before and he’s no closer to changing my mind. Is this a good song? Yeah. There’s some great tom-heavy drumming, groove aplenty to mosh to, a nice build-up throughout and a healthy dose of Robb Flynn’s trademark aggression to go with it. But it’s missing that X-Factor that makes the highlights from the latter albums so memorable. Everything here is good but, intro aside, there’s nothing that makes it truly great and worthy of standing alongside classics such as “Aesthetics of Hate” and “Locust”. I’m not sure why, but the whole just doesn’t seem to be as good as the sum of its parts here.
In Malice’s Wake – “No Escape” (The Thrashening)
Great band, great album, great song. It’s criminal that In Malice’s Wake have been able to maintain their level of obscurity for so long from overseas audiences because they’re far and away the best straight-thrash band I’ve heard in a while. The riffs are heavy as fuck and full of attitude, the vocals are strong and aggressive whilst the dark vibe just adds another dimension. It’s fast, furious and fucking fantastic.
Meshuggah – “Behind the Sun” (Koloss)
I’ll be honest here: I’m not huge on Meshuggah. I tried to get into them a while back and hated it. Fast forward a few years and out came The Violent Sleep of Reason. It’s the only Meshuggah album I’ve listened to front-to-back and I quite enjoyed it, but I never dug into their back catalog so I’m looking forward to checking this track out. At first, I felt like this song, much like Meshuggah in general, is to be appreciated rather than enjoyed. Sure, it’s incredibly precise and fucking heavy to boot, but the thick tones and the almost complete lack of melody make it a challenging listen. With time the syncopation between the guitars and the rhythm section came to become a real highlight for me and I began picking up on more of the nuance lying beneath the surface. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to the point where I’m a fan of this band, but this song has taken me one step closer.
Emperor – “The Prophet” (Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire & Demise)
It was only a couple of weeks ago, after seeing Ihsahn live, that I went back and listened Emperor for the first time, starting with this record. Whilst not as good as his solo work, I can see why they have garnered such a rabid fanbase. The menacing riffs, progressive song structure, and ever-present synths create an interesting, dynamic and full-sounding track. The contrast between the raw guitars and the progressive elements, and between the foreboding atmosphere and the clean harmonies, can be a little disorientating at first. However, on repeat listens everything falls into place and you come to realise how fantastic this track really is
Ashes Divide – “Sword” (Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright)
This is, by far, the track I was most excited to see. I absolutely adore this record, and in my eyes it’s head and shoulders above anything A Perfect Circle ever produced. Billy Howerdell really produced the goods when he didn’t have anyone else’s vision to cater for, with this record featuring absolute bangers such as “Denial Waits”, “The Stone” and, of course, “Sword”. There is so much to unpack in this song. The emotion dripping from every note and word. The recurring melodies and motifs. The layering and structure. The nuance and detail hidden in the back of the mix. It all coalesces to form an epic, an incredibly powerful song to close off a fantastic album. This song never fails to take me away to another world, and that’s something only the best music can do.
The Armed – “On Jupiter” (Only Love)
Why? It was all going so well Josh, until I heard this. I can understand why people would like this, but I doubt I will ever find myself among them. There are some interesting sections and the layering of the track is pretty neat, but at the end of the day I just don’t deal very well with anything as abrasive as this track. The first couple of minutes are tolerable, but it’s all downhill from there. Not really much more I can say, it’s just not a style of music which resonates with me.