Even a cursory glance of our biweekly “What Heavy Blog Is Really Listening To” posts (last week’s update here) 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,” another biweekly segment that takes place between playlist updates. We randomly select two of the participants from each update, have them 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 staff members Eden Kupermintz & Nick Cusworth and Noyan Tokgozoglu together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Noyan’s Grid and Eden & Nick’s Comments
Eden: Noyan and I collaborate pretty much daily; inevitably, plenty of musical recommendations pass in both directions. However, saying that our tastes converge would be a mistake, as we both explore pretty different niches of the metal spectrum. Even more interesting perhaps it the fact that we tend to like the same things for different reasons. We often find ourselves liking the same band or album but to approach it from wildly differing angles: Noyan often puts emphasis on instrumentation for example and technicality, will I go for emotional impact and vocal performance. This is why such a swap as this can be interesting, to see how we both approach acts the other likes and from what angle. Add in Nick’s diverse tastes to the mix and you get what I think is one of our strongest playlist swaps yet.
Nick: Given that this feature is all about mashing together Heavy Blog staff with pretty radically diverse tastes and potentially opening up new areas of music to each other, it was really only a matter of time until Noyan and I got placed together. Though our tastes certainly come together at times, overall there are few people on staff I can think of whose end of the year list will wind up more different than mine. That said, I hugely respect the man’s musicianship and opinions on most matters, so I’m really interested in listening to the things he’s got in store for me. As quite possibly least “metal” of the Heavy Blog editors, I am a bit ashamed to admit that although I know of pretty much all these bands in Noyan’s grid, I have not listened to more than a song or two from each. Thankfully I can see right off the bat that there’s no slam, so I will at least be spared of that (for now).
Born of Osiris – Soul Sphere – “The Composer”
Eden: Noyan tells me that Born of Osiris are “back” and I’m prone to believe that based on this track. Honestly, the band were never my cup of tea, as I skirt the whole fading “djent” scene from the opposite side. That being said, this song has some serious groove on it and its appears as if some intelligent has been brought back into their composition. The artificial strings are pleasingly sweet, lending the repetitive riffs that much more heaviness and verve. Honestly, I love the electronic breakdown near the three minute mark; it really saves this track from being somewhat forgettable. It shows me this band are about much more than just chugging and harping on that besmirched first fret (if frets are used at all). The vocals are better than I remembered as well, much more tight both in production and in delivery. This track makes me want to check out this album, even when considering their reputation from the last few albums. Color me intrigued.
Nick: This synth motif introduced in the intro is pretty damn nifty. Lots of tasty, proggy riffs happening throughout that don’t sound too forced. And when that chorus kicks in, it’s pretty damn blissful. The EDM transition (which, what the fuck, did not at all expect to use the phrase “EDM transition” in this) might be a bridge too far for a track that’s already quite packed, and since it comes right at the end it can’t help but feel a bit shoehorned in for the hell of it. Regardless though, this was a lot more out there and proggy than I was expecting. Might need to give this album a proper spin based on this and Noyan’s glowing review of it.
Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas – Feeling of Unity – “Cast Your Shell”
Eden: Honest to god, I love this band so much. I really appreciate irreverence and just getting down and having some pure, clean fun. This is exactly what Fear, And Loathing In Las Vegas have always been about and I can’t thank them enough for existing. Sure, there’s nothing too new on the latest album: the vocals are auto-tune to the point where they need to be considered as another instrument, the harsh vocals are deathcore-y and the synths are so blatant, they blast everything else out of the water. But why the hell would you change any of that? Bottom line, I press play on this band to have a good laugh, to immerse myself in break neck beats and to enjoy a contrasting, ridiculously out of place breakdown. This track has all of those, so I’m literally dancing in my chair right now. Mission accomplished.
Nick: Given Noyan’s description of this band in the past, I had a pretty decent idea of what I was getting myself into here. Here’s the thing though: I fucking HATE J-pop (and K-pop…and probably any other capital letter-pop). I just can’t deal with it. So, needless to say, this didn’t do too much for me. Some of the riffs were neat I guess, though nothing that impressed me too much, but beyond that….the video was cool I guess? In a rarity for me I actually vastly preferred the harsh vox and screams way over the cleans, which were mostly overdriven autotune. But, yeah, don’t foresee myself listening to more FaLiLV anytime soon.
Trivium – Silence In the Snow – “Blind Leading the Blind”
Eden: Trivium is one of those big names in metal that I’ve never really gotten into. It has plenty to do with their music but also with coincidence and the path I’ve taken from band to band. Somehow, I’ve always skipped them. To be honest, I tried to artificially get into them several times and nothing ever stuck. This track is no different; if I want bigger than life guitar riffs and soaring vocals, I have power metal bands that do this a million times better. The guitar shreds did nothing to salvage it either: I found them lackluster and not executed to their full potential. That’s sort of my critique of this entire thing. There are some interesting ideas here but they’re not delivered with the power and tenacity that I would have expected. They’re all obviously talented but something about the whole package just falls short.
Nick: Way back in the day when I used to occasionally lurk around in the metal thread (and knew literally nothing) of a site forum for a gaming/video content community I was really active in about a decade ago, I remember seeing a lot of people shit on Trivium, so I always carried that association of them with me and find it kind of humorous now to see so many people I know now be so genuinely into them. Anyway, so “Blind Leading the Blind” is way more anthemic and not nearly as heavy as I was expecting. I dare say this might even be a bit tamer than I’d like. It goes down pretty easy though with a catchy chorus and lead, and I do really appreciate the very tongue-in-cheek nature of both the song and the video. Not really my speed or style, but definitely not objectionable.
Trivium – The Crusade – “Contempt Breeds Contamination”
Eden: This is old school Trivium right here, so if anything should get me into them, it should be this. I remember this album cover from patches on backpacks and CDs stacked in my metalhead friend’s room. While it’s slightly better than the new track up above, it’s still not quite there. I like how much faster this is but again, are they a power metal band? Are they thrash? Are they heavy metal? It seems like they’re struck in the middle and it’s not a good middle like Blind Guardian for example. I need more of everything here, once again: if you’re going to write fast riffs, make them super fast. If your vocals are going to have this larger than life capacity they were obviously going for here, they need to be insanely huge; they barely take off here and in the previous track. At least the guitar playing was more convincing and certain passages near the middle of the track did their trick for me. I guess Trivium will never be a band for me although it’s certainly nothing offensive; I’d mosh to this live.
Nick: Once again, we got a track with solid vocal melodies and hooks that goes by surprisingly quickly. I’m probably a bit more into this older track than I am off of the new one, though don’t know how representative each are of their respective albums. Same as before though, it’s pretty easily digestible stuff, with just enough technicality and flashiness to keep things interesting, and same as before, probably not something I’d seek out on my own but certainly not something I’d recoil at hearing if it came on somewhere.
Lost Soul – Atlantis: The New Beginning – “Atlantis”
Eden: Ever since I reached out to the label to get this promo, I’ve been jamming it now and again. Honestly, it’s not my style but I appreciate the hell out of this: this is unapologetic death metal, delivered with the true grandeur that this genre can pull off. The most endearing quality as far as I’m concerned is the production. Everything is so massive and yet somehow, co-existence is coaxed from the wealth of ideas happening here. The second quality that really grabbed me here are the almost whispered, understated vocals that burst into these drawn out growls that undulate across the track. They’re really abrasive and even in their clean, quiet form they hold a whole lot of aggression and power. The lyrics aren’t even terrible, which is a high accomplishment for a band of this genre and style. End of the day, this is some blistering death metal and you need to get on this if you like even one band in this genre.
Nick: Now this shit right here, this I can really get more into. Opening riffs are blistering and sick as hell. Lyrics and vocals might edge on the overly campy side at times (that moment of shouting “AT-LAN-TIIIIIIIIS” is just dripping with it), but the instrumentals are great, particularly 2/3 through. Yes, I’m a sucker for I-bII progressions. The jazz nerd in me always has been and always will be. All in all a pretty engaging and fun track. Might need to listen to the whole album once it comes out next week.
August Burns Red – Found In Far Away Places – “Majoring in the Minors”
Eden: Look, if you haven’t listened to this album yet, you’re doing something wrong. This right here is one of the strongest releases of the year. It takes metalcore to new heights, channeling the aggression inherent in the genre and mixing it with all sorts of influences and interesting ideas, country music included. “Majoring in the Minors” is one the strongest tracks, fusing those nasty, down tuned riffs you’d expect from August Burns Red with an approach to bass that reminds one of Textures, vocals that hark to the old, glorious days of Misery Signals and a chorus that wouldn’t shame any melodic hardcore band. If this isn’t enough to sell you on this track, consider the off-kilter lead replete in this track which bleeds over into a bluegrass expedition that will set your leg a-stomping, your face a-smiling and your heart a-racing. Am I being silly? Perhaps but that’s only because August Burns Red lead me there; they obviously take their music seriously enough to not take it too seriously at all and inject it with new and exciting directions. This is a return to form, this is a reinvention. This is one of the bet albums of the year.
Nick: I’ve seen SO many Heavy Blog staff members raving about this album in such a surprised and delighted way that I’m really glad to finally get around to listening to a bit of it. If there’s a pattern I’m noticing in the music from this list, it’s that it’s all pretty damn immediate and catchy as hell, which is honestly not the quality I would have pegged to be the defining feature of a list from Noyan given his love of much filthier and less accessible stuff than this. This track is unexpected and great though. The chorus is obviously a banger, but the southwestern-style guitar interlude in the middle was definitely the most surprising and delightful touch to this. Not at all something I’d expect to work in a track like this, and yet. Think this is probably going to be the thing that finally gets me to listen to Found In Far Away Places in full once and for all.
August Burns Red – Thrill Seeker – “The Seventh Trumpet”
Eden: Old school August Burns Red is the sort of stuff that would have antagonized me back when I was a Prog Snob™ and boy, am I glad that I grew out of those days. Melodic hardcore is something I got into pretty late but have loved ever since I first spun Controller. This right here, this is the good stuff: the vocals go hard and unapologetic, the main riff structure is simple and is maintained for most of the track until the time comes to build it up near the end for that last crescendo, littered with fantastic drums and finally collapsing into the end of the track. Not much more to say; it goes hard and thank god for that.
Nick: I gather this sort of metalcore is a bit more standard fare for the band, which is fine, but not nearly as interesting to me as what I just heard. The push towards the climax towards the end with that particular set of chords is pretty effective though, even if it does seriously milk it for all its worth. So yeah, this is fine. Not anything I’d seek out myself, but I could definitely see this being fun as hell to see live.
August Burns Red – Messengers – “Composure”
Eden: To echo my fellow editor and mind-twin Nick, much of what I have to say about this track is reminiscent of what I had to say about the previous one. This perhaps shines a light of a weakness of August Burns Red’s career; it often feels as if they had a core concept and latched on to it just a bit too hard. That is, until their release of this year, which shook everything up. But this track is just as good as its former and for the same reason: it’s furious and that’s what we’re looking for here. Honestly, clips of people getting beat up for metal bands should die but let’s not judge a book by its cover. This track is once again heavy, melodic and what we needed from August Burns Red of the time.
Nick: At the risk of repeating myself, my feelings are pretty much the same for this as “The Seventh Trumpet.” It’s a sound that the band are doing well, but it just doesn’t really resonate with me a whole lot. Never been particularly interested in breakdown-core, which I realize eliminates a pretty large percentage of the music we cover here, but, eh, fite me etc. etc.
Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology – “The Spiritual Relief”
Eden: Wow, this album came out this year, right? 2015 has been so intense that it seems like it did last year. I’m actually really glad this track is here to remind me of good this album is and how much I need to figure it into my regular rotation. What’s not to like here? “The Spiritual Relief” really lives up to the blackened power metal moniker: those drums wouldn’t be out of place on any old school black metal band but those clean vocals are so damn epic and pleasing, they lend the whole thing this melodramatic quality that’s simply irresistible. Nor is this track a one trick pony: it goes to really interesting places, like the super emotional, slower passage near the middle that has me imagining crowds, waving their hands in unison. Bottom line, this album needs and deserves more attention and I’m going to make sure it gets it.
Nick: I know this is one of Noyan’s top albums of the year, so definitely interested in hearing what this one’s all about. First thing I’m struck by are clean vocals! Clean vocals abound! Got some nice and powerful harmonies going on here, and the drumming is damn impressive. Also was not expecting the move into a slower groove midway through. Not far off from the classic prog-inspired grooves we’ve seen from the likes of Ghost this year. All-in-all a very delightful track and really not at all what I was expecting. I’ll definitely have to add Epistemology to the list of albums I need to listen to from this already absolutely insane year of music.
Eden’s Grid and Noyan’s Comments
As Eden said, he and I have some common foundation of taste, but we diverge on the specifics, so I wanted to subject him to my listening, and force myself to check out these artists he’s been talking about but I never got around to. Turned out to be a particularly metalcore-heavy week for me, but thankfully the more nuanced albums from Eden and Nick are here to balance that out.
GoGo Penguin – v.20 – “Murmuration”
Such a low-key song, I didn’t know what to expect from the name but this was not it. This track is basically subdued jazz with a silent but strong quality. The fretless bass line, the piano, the snappy drumming, it’s all very neat. In fact, this reminds me of the OSTs from Japanese text adventure games. Even though it starts off softer, by the end everything builds up for a powerful release, and I didn’t even see it coming, this was a cool track.
The Devin Townsend Project – Ghost – “Blackberry”
While I appreciate Devin Townsend, my relationship with him is limited to his heavier stuff like Strapping Young Lad, Ziltoid and Deconstruction. Generally, I listen to music to be empowered by the energy within it, so I tend to not gravitate towards music that is more soothing. Though, of course, there’s a moment for every type of music, just need to find the right moment. This track is particularly different from how I see Dev, as it has a bluegrass-y line and ethereal female vocals. Towards the end of the song it’s more recognizable to me, and while the first two-thirds of the song builds up to that, I would have preferred if the build-up was the first third and the rest was Devin and the lady trading off. Though this shows me that maybe I don’t understand him as well as I do, so I should pay more attention.
Clutch – Psychic Warfare – “Our Lady of Electric Light”
Clutch are one of those bands that I know are good but can never really get into, as stoner-type music (for lack of a better term) isn’t really my thing, for the reasons I detailed above. I also generally dislike blues influences in music as they feel overly cheesy to me. Though I have to say, this song does better with them than usual, as it has kind of a Western movie feel. I can see the appeal of this, as there’s a hypnotizing quality to it, but overall there are too many elements that I’m not a huge fan of, which in the end lead to this song not really clicking with me.
Arms of Tripoli – Dream in Tongues – “Canna”
This song is interesting, as it feels like it comes from a post-rock sensibility, but it’s a lot more “active listening” than post-rock, as it seems to have an emphasis on riffs to some extent. Due to the strong reverb on the instruments, there’s a dreamy quality to the song, almost like someone’s chanting along to the instruments. Interestingly, the song starts very energetic, but halfway through it goes half-tempo and surprisingly it works. The slide guitar in the background near the end is also a nice touch, and definitely gives this whole song a dreamlike feeling. I enjoyed this more than I was expecting to.
Ulver – Shadows of the Sun – “Vigil”
Now we’re talking my language. Sure, this Ulver album is also quite subdued, but Kristoffer Rygg has been in two bands that I enjoy very much, Arcturus and Borknagar, and thus I’m very familiar with his work. There’s some quality to his music here that is hard to zone in on, some sort of darkness. The piano line in the song keeps changing tone, from melancholic to brooding and a disturbed upbeat mood. Honestly, there’s something about the Nordic regions that makes their brand of progressive metal uniquely appealing, and Ulver definitely take from that as well. Anything Rygg, or as I know him, Garm, does is good in my book.
Anathema – Distant Satellites – “Distant Satellites”
Alright, confession time. I have a very weird bias against Anathema. Growing up partially in Turkey, I was exposed to a different side of Anathema fandom. Back in the late 90s/early 00s when no metal band came to Turkey, Anathema did extensive touring in the country, especially in less central cities. I’m talking tours every year that last quite a while. Due to this, a segment of the Turkish rock listeners, a lot of which can be kind of analogized to the goth/emo scene in the west, but with a distinctly less socially acceptable flavor to it that can’t really be explained to non-Turks, were extremely into Anathema, and to anyone observing from the outside (pretty much any other normal rock/metal listener) the band was considered basically a joke for pandering to these so-called weirdos. Hence I could never take the band seriously, and never went back to listen to them. This song is honestly fine, having a distinctly British underground feeling to it, with a slight retro tinge and an overall very introspective quality. But I don’t think I can ever shake off years of weird experiences with the band’s cultish Turksih fanbase.
Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – Never Were the Way She Was – “The Sun Roars Into View”
While I’m familiar with Colin Stetson to some extent, I haven’t heard this song before. While technically the song contains a singular-ish line that alternates between a few notes, which would make the descriptor “monotone” incorrect, it can be applied to the general tone of the song. While that word is often used in a derogatory way, it doesn’t have to be. Something that is singular and proud of it can also be called monotone, and that is the case here. This song has a rather meditative quality, as the aforementioned nature of the song, combined with the fact that it was recorded live in the studio as I understand. The fact that a player as skilled as Stetson chose to tone his sound down to this extent also goes to show the intent here, and doing that the right way actually takes considerable effort. The end result is soothing and entrancing in just the right way.
As Tall As Lions – Can’t Take It With You – “Duermete”
This band is hard to describe, perhaps something like “post-rock with British alt-rock vocals” is as close as I can get? Very subtle and methodical, this song alternates between bouts of near-silence and strong instrumental hits and very emotional vocals. There’s something oddly compelling about how everything is structured here, the off-kilter rhythm of it all combined with the uplifting-sounding-yet-melancholic quality of it. This song is definitely more than what it initially seems to be, and it’s pretty cool.
Arstidir – Hvel – “Unfold”
The name clues me into the fact that this band is probably Icelandic (turns out I’m right!), and I’ll refer you to what I said above about Nordic countries. This has more of an indie tone, but again there’s a distinctly Nordic feeling to it that elevates it way above other artists who make similar music. The drumming is tight, the vocals are soothing, the instrumentation is just where it needs to be. The melodic quality of it, the slight accent to the singing, how everything comes together, I love this.
Nick’s Grid and Noyan’s Comments
Nick listens to a lot more eclectic stuff than what I normally listen to, so I really wanted to use this chance to expand my horizons and force my admittedly one-note week of mostly metalcore on him as a light-hearted troll, but he seems to have enjoyed it more than I thought he would, so the joke’s on me. Well, I’ll use this opportunity to discover a bunch of stuff, a lot of it most likely jazzy and/or post-y, and I think I’ll find some really cool stuff.
Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! – “Never Catch Me”
I definitely did not expect this sound given the artwork. A smooth jazz piano line combined with an aggressive hip hop beat and rapping, this song is quite an experimental journey. The frantic yet subdued bass line in the middle of the song was quite nice, and the juxtaposition of chill elements with aggression makes this song a very rich, complex experience. I appreciate free jazz when I’m in the mood, and this borders on that genre with its avant-garde feel. While the general characteristic of the song is abrasive, the individual elements being familiar is what makes it interesting, and the careful, deliberate mixing of disparate sounds is no easy task, yet Flying Lotus has achieved it here.
So Hideous – Laurestine – “Relinquish/The Keepsake”
The main melodic line in “Relinquish” reminds me of Spaghetti Western movie scores, as the powerful melancholy combined with upbeat playing and the reverb on the instruments make it sound like Ennio Morricone’s work at times. The heartfelt screaming definitely add to the power of the song, turning what’s already a moving piece into something truly special. It all builds up into a huge climax, which gets released in the opening of “The Keepsake”. The follow-up track continues the epic feeling, and it has a catchy line that gets developed throughout the song. Again, about halfway into the song the screaming comes in, and the song keeps building up to a strong climax – I can see the pattern here! Overall this was a solid set of songs, yet they clearly work better as a whole album, so I’ll have to check this out.
Maserati – Rehumanizer – “Rehumanizer II”
This is a cool one as well. Starting of with 80s-esque synths, then transitioning into rock reminiscent of the same era, this instrumental piece combines the retro feel with post-rock flavors, which is definitely an interesting and compelling mix. This could easily be the soundtrack to a cheesy action flick starring Dolph Lundgren or something. It’s upbeat and chilled at the same time, which isn’t an easy mix to successfully achieve. Not much I can say about this other than that, as it’s a rather singular track, but definitely an enjoyable one.
Kylesa – Exhausting Fire – “Shaping the Southern Sky”
Honestly, I’ve never been into sludge, as the mid/low-tempo, the muddy guitars and the generally loose instrumentation and songwriting (at least how I perceive it) never really appealed to me, but I get why people like it. Kylesa fall more into the psychedelic part of the spectrum of sludge, and I can definitely dig the more experimental parts of their sound, as it falls more into my comfort zone. But part of the point of doing this is breaking out of that zone, and I didn’t really dislike this song. Again it seems to have an oldschool vibe, maybe 70s-era proto-metal with the vocals and riffing. The long break in the middle with the atmospheric/trippy stuff was my favorite part of the song though, as stuff like that is quite meditative.
Caspian – Dust and Disquiet – “Rioseco”
I ask and I shall receive, as the next track up in the list is Caspian’s Rioseco, which is just pure ambience and instrumental chill. I’m completely unfamiliar with Caspian but can definitely jam music like this. Usually my appreciation of this style of music is enhanced further by it being sandwiched between extremely heavy sections by progressive metal bands, but this song is strong enough to stand on its own.
Dungen – Allas Sak – “Akt Dit”
Another artist I knew nothing about, and I got caught off guard by Dungen’s jazzy indie rock sound. Starting with a jazzy piano line, the song transitions into a more hard-to-define tone. The band have a neo-retro sound (if that makes sense) with psychedelic and jazz elements, and they sound quite interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard jazz combined with other genres in this fashion, so it’s definitely quite a ride for me. Despite the song being merely 3 minutes, it felt like it contained a lot more material, and this isn’t meant in the “this song is too long and boring” sense, but in the sense that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Intronaut – The Direction Of Last Things – “Digital Gerrymandering”
We’re back on the metal train with Intronaut, but this song has a completely different tone compared to anything so far. Opening with a very strong and grim feeling, the song turns into what almost sounds like deathcore with sludge clean vocals. The progressive nature of this song combined with its more technical playing immediately makes it more compelling to me than anything I’ve previously heard from the band. The middle sections turn into straight-up progressive metal with big chords and mellow singing, and then we have an extended instrumental rhythmic section that sits very well within the song. While the song doesn’t retain the powerful and dark mood from its intro, it carries it well throughout its course. I’ll definitely check out this album, as I may have misjudged Intronaut previously.
Monobody – Monobody – “Curry Courier Career”
Yet another band I’ve never really heard of, Monobody have a jazz jam vibe to their music, which is always entertaining to listen to. This type of jazz is especially compelling to me, as it seems to take influence from math rock to add more energy and groundedness to the sound. An 8-minute-long journey of improvisational-feeling jazz with a lead keyboard line, syncopated guitars, jazz drumming and bass, what’s not to love?
Afformance – Through Walls – “Cordyceps”
Closing off Nick’s list of songs, I had no idea what I was in for with Afformance. A 12-minute long song sounds intimidating, but there was constantly something intriguing going on. Unsurprisingly, it’s a post-rock song, which means it’s instrumental and atmospheric. There’s a driving force throughout the song though, mostly attributable to the drumming, and this keeps things moving and exciting. Long build-ups leading into satisfying releases are the name of the game here, and it’s all done very well. The oldschool space movie whirring part nearer to the beginning was the most surprising aspect though, and it upped my expectations for the rest of the song, but the rest was more standard post rock. The low-key groove section starting at around 8 minutes in made up for it though, as it reminded me of Leprous’s Coal album, which is one of my favorite albums of all time.