Even a cursory glance of our biweekly “What Heavy Blog Is Really Listening To” posts 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 has staff writer Matt MacLennan face off against senior editor Nick Cusworth.
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Matt’s Grid & Nick’s Comments
Nick: It’s pretty telling that the most common response to Matt and I agreeing to do a playlist swap was “This will be interesting.” If ever there was proof of just how diverse and eclectic Heavy Blog is musically, the two of us are it. As far as I know there is very little that the both of us actively listen to and enjoy, me being the more nerdy prog/post/jazz type and him being the blood, sweat, and puss grind/slam/-core type. And yet – and I don’t even know if he realizes and appreciates this – Matt is unquestionably one of my favorite writers we have on staff here, and I make a point in reading just about everything he puts out even if I have no interest in the music. He has a razor-sharp wit to him that he’s able to translate into text in such a way that, even when he’s at his most vitriolic, pretty much always comes off as more entertaining and self-aware rather than petty or pretentious. It’s a rare skill to possess, and he has it in spades. So I’m happy to endure whatever it is he’s about to throw at me and put my best face on about it because I have a feeling it’s going to be just about as difficult for him, and he’ll probably be way more hilarious writing about his distaste for it than I will.
Matt: One of my favourite tracks from my teen years, “untitled” was my introduction to the often forgotten but forever in my heart Scarlet. The math/metalcore band flourished and faded before enough people paid attention and I am forever pushing them on anyone who will listen. Now Nick has to! Way ahead of their time, this is a creeping beast of a track.
Nick: As Matt could’ve guessed, math and metalcore are two areas I don’t listen to much or have much to say about. That being said, this actually has some pretty good shit in it! Unsurprisingly, my favorite part was the grungy, clean vocal-laden bridge, but the rest I found to be pretty high on the listenability scale, if not exactly something I would choose to listen to on my own. I can definitely imagine a universe where I got over my immense distaste for screams as a teen and jammed to something like this. Honestly would’ve been better than most of the shit I actually listened to back then.
Napalm Death—Utilitarian—”Analysis Paralysis”
Matt: The great grandparents of grind turned heads with some decidedly non grind elements on Utilitarian but this is a more straight forward Napalm Death track. It’s got the tortured screams, barrage of riffs and spitinyourface attitude that makes Napalm the rightful holders of all the titles bestowed upon them.
Nick: Oh boyyyyyyy here comes the grind. Look, there’s going to be a lot of me saying this in the coming blurbs, so rather than just repeating myself each time to say that I don’t really understand grind in any form, you can assume that if it’s grind I will not understand it, and instead I will try to find one thing I find interesting or enjoyable about the track. In this case I do appreciate the energy and some of the riffs, and the way that Barney bounces off of the guitars in the choruses is cool and definitely headbangable.
Rendered Helpess—Entities of Transdimensional Emergence—“Entities of Frenzied Masturbation”
Matt: Some sci-fi cyberslam for Mr. Cusworth to get his ears into now! This ridiculously over the top one man project is one of my favourite new finds of 2017. It’s absurdly heavy and totally shameless. Tasteful as fuck though, if you ask me.
Nick: Fuck me, slam too? Matt, you’re killing me here. I know I just said I would try to find one positive thing to say about every track, but….man, I really dislike slam. Like, vehemently. It is literally all of the parts of metal that I do not enjoy smashed together. This was pretty short at least, I’ll give it that. I actually listened to this twice just to see if I could pick out anything nice I could say about it. The drumming is pretty good at least (Matt note: pretty sure it’s programmed drums!)? That’s about all you’re gonna get from me on this.
Analepsy—Atrocities From Beyond—“Vermin Devourer”
Matt: More brutal death but this one is more concise and punishing than the previous effort. Analepsy are disgustingly heavy and I hope Nick thanks me for letting him know to bring clean underwear for this venture. He will need it after this dose of machine gun blasts and gutturals. Another great 2017 record, another great example of heavy is as heavy does.
Nick: A bunch of the Heavy Blog crew were losing their shit over this album when it came out, so at the very least I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to hear some of it just to know what they’re talking about. Beyond that, there were a few riffs in there that I could pick out that sounded cool. The problem with things that are just this level of “heavy” throughout is that it doesn’t actually sound that heavy to me overall because it just turns into indecipherable sonic mush. It’s basically just brown noise, which is fine if you’re into it. It just causes me to space out and not pay attention.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes—Modern Ruin—“Lullaby”
Matt: I loved Gallows when Frank Carter was a member. Now not so much. Doesn’t matter because the ginger goliath fronts this act now and the new record is British rock dynamite. “Lullaby” is a pure radio rocker and I don’t care. I don’t listen to fart noises and feedback all the time, you’ll eggs.
Nick: Okay, this I can definitely fuck with. It’s definitely more radio-friendly than pretty much anything else on this list, but it’s well-constructed and catchy hard rock done right. Even though I know it’s an easy trick I’m almost always a sucker for chord chromaticisms like the one used in the chorus. It’s just a reliably good way to create a sinking, off-balance feel that’s still melodic. Good song, I approve. (Matt note: something something senpai)
The Heads Are Zeros—The Heads Are Zeros—“VI”
Matt: I don’t know where to start with this band. Dunno where Nick will either to be honest. Insane grind without any of the usual gore and grime or shit production. There’s an uncomfortable air around “VI” with it’s undiluted attack of blasts and shifts. Skronky as fuck.
Nick: Seen a few Heavy Bloggers rave about this, and I’ve always been attracted by the cover art because it’s really nice. But yeah, more grind. The guitars are pretty interesting here though, and not what I’d expect from a track like this, which tends to be breakneck from all instruments all the time. Instead there’s actually some space for held chords and a contrasting groove between the periods of pure fury. To me that’s at least way more interesting to listen to than just non-stop walls of sound.
Prisoner—Beyond The Infinite—“Event Horizon”
Matt: This is one I think Nick could get into. Blackened hardcore meets sludge with a middle section that builds up superbly into a crushing finale. Another big find for 2017, let’s hope Nick doesn’t scoop out his own eyes after listening to this.
Nick: Well, I don’t hate this. The middle, more post-y section is pretty cool, and I found myself nodding along to it as it went by, which is usually a good sign. From there on out reminds me of some Tombs stuff, which I can dig. So 2/3 of the track I enjoyed! That’s pretty good, right? (Matt note: Good enough)
Emmure—Look At Yourself—“Flag Of The Beast”
Matt: HAHAHAHAHA, sorry Nick.
Nick: Slam: There is no way Nick can dislike music more than this.
Emmure: Hold my beer.
In truth, this is whatever. At least this is the new stuff with a solid backing band, even if the constant djenty breakdown shit they play I could honestly do without hearing ever again.
Piss Vortex—Future Cancer—“Default Face/Filtered Rot”
Matt: I fucking love this band so I hope Nick can find something to appreciate in this. The best example of where grind can go if someone takes the time to jazz it up, quite literally in this case. There’s no band like Piss Vortex around just now and this is maybe one of the best tracks to introduce someone with.
Nick: I know Matt loves the shit and piss out of this band, so it’s cool to finally listen to some of it. That album art is enough to make my stomach seriously churn, and the music definitely matches the aesthetic. Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily. If what you’re looking for is this kind of utterly unrelenting shit-kicking holy terror sound, then I can see why someone would recommend this. I didn’t quite hear the jazz influence, but I probably just missed something! This is pretty much the music I always imagined Matt sitting down and choosing to listen to most often though, so at least now I have proof (Matt note: You’d be 100% right there Nick). Also, I’m writing this mere hours after the US House of Representatives passed the most unnecessarily malicious healthcare bill in the nation’s history, so, to be honest, this pretty closely matches how I’ve felt on the inside most of the day.
Nick’s Grid & Matt’s Comments
Matt: Nick and I have been around for roughly the same kind of time at Heavy Blog but we’ve never really had much discourse outside of scheduling and shit posts. This is probably because Nick is a media professional and I’m a filth wizard. Seriously, check out his prognotes and album reviews. Man is a cold killer with his clinical diagnosis and examinations of music and I mean that in the nicest possible way. I don’t think you could find two Heavy Blog staff with more polarising tastes so I’m really looking forward to reading Nick’s thoughts on my playlist. His selections caught me off guard because I did in fact enjoy some of them. I definitely wouldn’t normally listen to any of it (eight out of nine of them anyway) so I’m glad I got to jump into his shoes for a New York minute.
Bent Knee—Land Animal—“Land Animal”
Nick: Despite this group being around for a few years now, they only came to the attention of several of us here pretty recently, and, man, what the hell have we been missing out on? And how lucky are we to be just getting into them as they prepare to release a new, absolutely ass-kicking album (Note: I may be speaking on authority about the nature of their new album Land Animal in its entirety, but you’ll just have to wait for our full review to read more). This is one I think Matt could be into for the wild dynamic and rhythmic changes, but I could see him not fully buying into Courtney Swain’s vocals, which are perhaps a bit of an acquired taste for some.
Matt: These guys are the talk of the town at Heavy Blog HQ and I can see why. Hard to categorise so I’ll just go with “dark pop”. I love the almost Patton-esque changes in key and the playful rhythm changes throughout. I gave this quite a few listens to get my head round it and the repeat plays were definitely worth it. This would be perfect in a Tim Burton movie; sinister but kinda charming too. Not super hot on the vocals but hey, this was a pleasant surprise for sure! I might even listen to more Bent Knee after this…
Arms of Tripoli—Daughters—“Spider Newscast”
Nick: As far as post-rock goes, Arms of Tripoli are probably somewhere in the middle on the heaviness scale. They’re not light per se, but no one is going to confuse them for a post-metal band ever. That said, I picked this song in particular because it’s probably the knottiest track on their excellent sophomore album and also probably my favorite overall. There’s a lot going on throughout this, enough so that at the very least I don’t think Matt will be bored to tears like he would with a lot of other post-y stuff.
Matt: Lots of gazing at presumably well tied, brown leather shoes on this one. Instrumentation is nice and vibrant at first but there’s not enough shift in tone or actual volume for me. I could easily have this on while I was reading or writing though. If the xylophone [Nick note: it’s actually vibraphone, you swiiiiiiiine] plonks didn’t hypnotise me into a light slumber. Can’t fault the production however as everything is clear and pushes through the mix when needed. Nice try Arms of Tripoli but a new fan you have not created.
Ulver—The Assassination of Julius Caesar—“Rolling Stone”
Nick: Man, this fucking album though. I feel like Ulver‘s latest masterpiece could honestly be the great uniter across the Heavy Blogosphere. It’s dark, it’s devious, and it fucking GROOVES. I think there are very few among our ranks who have not been seduced by The Assassination of Julius Caesar. This track in particular is just so damn great. It’s like the best of danceable Talking Heads mashed with Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and more. It’s the sunglasses emoji translated into music. It is indeed too fucking cool for school.
Matt: I like this lazy beat style of electronic pop shit. It’s pretty seedy and reminds me of Massive Attack in its finer moments. Nice lethargic build up and a chorus (the little sister bit, if that can be called a chorus) that slides in smoother than me into someone’s DM’s after a night on the idiot juice. Not familiar with Ulver at all so I’m not sure how this fits with the rest of their back catalogue [Nick note: It doesn’t. At all.] but I’ll stick this on again. Probably when I’m about to have sex, to be honest.
Mark de Clive-Lowe—Church—“The Processional”
Nick: As I wrote in our most recent Jazz Club column, I only got into producer/pianist Mark de Clive-Lowe recently, and I’m so mad that I haven’t been listening longer. His most recent full-length, Church, has been on heavy rotation for a while now. It’s a mixture of cosmic and spacey jazz with hints of electronics and other flourishes that hits the same sweet spot that Jaga Jazzist‘s Starfire did for me. This track is probably the closest to that Starfire sound overall, but the rest of the album is also incredible. Frankly, I have no idea how Matt will feel about this as I honestly don’t know how he feels about jazz and electronics. I guess we’ll find out!
Matt: More of the same Massive Attack style on this one for me. Some more exotic flourishes with the brass instruments but I couldn’t honestly tell this apart from any other trip hop act around. Too one dimensional for me, I’m afraid. This is the first real let down out of Nick’s selections though, so good going Nick.
Bent Knee—Shiny Eyed Babies—“Way Too Long”
Nick: Not gonna say too much to intro this one since I led off with Bent Knee already, but this cut off of second LP is Bent Knee at their wildest, and I love it. To be honest, these kind of total dynamic outbursts are what I love about the band the most, and “Way Too Long” is pretty much just that. Courtney Swain is either on the cusp of totally losing it with barely-contained snarls or just letting loose. This is also 100% the song I would recommend to Matt to start with if I wanted him to enjoy them.
Matt: More Bent Knee! Complex time signatures haven’t sounded this pleasant in a long time. Definitely more Patton vibes on this one. To the point where I could probably pass this off as Fantomas. “Way Too Long” is a bunch more unhinged than the first Bent Knee track I’ve listened to and I like it. Has even more sinister undertones and I love the band jam/breakdown to open the final third. I think I could genuinely get into this band if the vocals didn’t get on my tits so much. Only negative aspect of this band, so far.
Artificial Brain—Infrared Horizon—“Estranged From Orbit”
Nick: To be perfectly honest, I’m still not even sure how I feel about Artificial Brain and their highly-lauded sophomore album Infrared Horizon. Mind you, I am not against all music that is more brutal like this. As with most things though, context is key, and that’s where this album gets interesting for me. It’s brutal death surrounded with more experimental elements and passages of lighter, more atmospheric and post-y sounds, which is the kind of thing that has drawn me to bands like Gorguts and others as well. I doubt this will be an album I reach for frequently, but I definitely can appreciate it for what it is and agree that it does what it sets out to do very well.
Matt: This was easily the safest selection for me as I love Artificial Brain and Infrared Horizon will be up there in my end of year list hands down. “Estranged From Orbit” is a personal favourite from the record too. The sci-fi guitars pierce through the wash of blasts and toilet bowl vocals so well. I mean, they’re basically clean guitar tones but… not? The fake fade out on this track always gets me right in the happy place. The musical G spot if you will. This band are the future of death metal and I thank Nick for giving me yet another reason to listen to them.
Alfa Mist—Antiphon—“Keep On”
Nick: Another recent Jazz Club addition to my library. I love the intersection of jazz and hip-hop, and Alfa Mist excel at that laid-back chill jazz vibe with hip-hop influences flowing throughout. I actually just transcribed “Keep On” for a group I play in to perform during the cocktail hour of a wedding with the perfect prom gown for the wedding party. next week, so that should give you a pretty good idea of what kind of smooth jams to expect here.
Matt: Nick hitting me with some of that jazz action here. Easily the weakest area of music for me in that I have absolutely no idea what makes jazz good or not. It all sounds like café smoking music. But this is great café smoking music. I would genuinely sit out in the sun smoking cigarettes and squint into the sun for hours with this on. It does make me feel more cosmopolitan just for having it on for ten minutes. Pure background noise again though.
Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld—Never were the way she was—“The Sun Roars Into View”
Nick: With being right on the cusp of Colin Stetson‘s fucking superb solo album All This I Do For Glory, I decided to pull out Never were the way she was for the first time in the while the previous week. Predictably, the album turned me into an emotional pile of mush. There’s something truly magical about the combination of Stetson’s own brutalist schtick with Sarah Neufeld‘s otherworldly violin playing and vocal styling. The two fit into one another perfectly, which makes their being married even more adorable and precious. There is little that is adorable and precious about this album though. It is emotionally heavy as hell, and it brings me to my knees every single time. Yet another one I haven’t the slightest clue as to how Matt will react though.
Matt: Another blog favourite and subsequent first for one Matt MacLennan. I don’t know who either of these musicians are or what they do in their own regard but this combination, well. If Bent Knee is Tim Burton then this is definitely Wes Anderson. I don’t know where it’s going to but it’s definitely full of precise symmetry and garrish colours. It’s just seven minutes of strings going a bit nuts and a synth [Nick note: probably not the first time Stetson’s sax playing has been mistaken for synth] changing in it’s attack. The shifts in key make me a bit uneasy, but that’s okay. I can only imagine what some of my selections will have done to Nick.
The Physics House Band—Horizons / Rapture—“Teratology”
Nick: Another band whose newest album I was waiting to stream in such a way that last.fm would scrobble it, so I turned to their debut LP. These guys put in a deliriously fun mixture of instrumental prog, math-rock, and more. This is actually the rare track from them that goes above 5 minutes, but it’s probably my favorite from this album because it’s just such a tasty groove that I’m more than happy to live inside of it for longer than a few minutes.
Matt: As if we needed further proof that Nick is the professional and I’m the cretin, I missed this out and had Nick message me across the Atlantic first thing this morning to let me know so. Just as well too, because this might be my favourite cut from his playlist. All this needs is someone screaming over it and more distortion and this would fit right alongside some of the heavier math metal I enjoy. But it doesn’t need it to be totally engaging and genuinely pretty captivating. I’d be hard pressed to think of a tighter rhythm section off the top of my head. The Physics House Band may have a dumb name but their music is pretty fucking fascinating. So thanks Nick, I’ll throw this one on a playlist of my own for sure. Boy done good.