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 editors Jonathan Adams and Simon Handmaker together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Simon’s Grid and Jonathan’s Comments
Jesus Piece – “Punish” (Only Self)
Oh yeah, baby. Simon charging out the gate with the heavy hitters. Nice. Of the hardcore-influenced releases of 2018, this is one of the few that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. It’s as blistering and fully realized a full-length debut as you could expect from a band this devoted to audio punishment. “Punish” is the track that put me over the edge on my first listen, and I’ve returned to bathe in its sinister light more than a few times since.
When it comes to hardcore, I’m a bit of a groove fiend. The first few seconds of this track satisfy that craving with merciless effectiveness. Taking cues from Cult Leader and Harm’s Way, “Punish” mixes suffocating, low end-heavy production with a total beatdown approach to songwriting. The breakdowns here are thick as all hell, with guitar work complimenting the rhythm section note for brutalizing note. This is metallic hardcore at its finest, so prepare to get wrecked.
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Heavens Die – “Listless Spirit” (The Hands of Man)
Back at it again with the metallic hardcore, this time from Heavens Die. This is my first exposure to this band, and I must say it lends itself to more of a throwback feel than the previous track we just explored. If this track were my only sample of the band’s work, I’d say they were on the verge of breaking out into a doom metal band at any moment. This is carefully paced, grinding hardcore that’s quite delicious.
There aren’t many frills here. “Listless Spirit” trudges through its sequence of sticky, molasses-covered riffs with efficiency and deliberate pacing. At least until the 2:00 mark, where the track breaks into a fierce gallop, only to return to an even slower overall pace. The guitar work is effective, the drumming feels very organic and meaty, and the vocals bark, growl, and howl with as much energy as one would hope to expect. It’s nothing fans of this style of music haven’t heard before, but it’s certainly well-crafted and is an enjoyable romp throughout. Excited to see what a full-length from this group will sound like. Probably monstrous. Which is good.
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Skeletonwitch – “I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)” (Serpents Unleashed)
If I had a quarter for every time someone recommended Skeletonwitch to me, I’d probably have $5.50. Perhaps it’s my own laziness, but I’ve yet to give their full discography a listen. Which seems odd to me, because every track I’ve been recommended I’ve listened to, and every one of them I’ve liked. “I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)” is no exception. It doesn’t wow me on a purely technical level (though it is most certainly a notch above mere proficiency), nor does it sound like something I haven’t heard before. But none of that matters. My head was banging on the train into work regardless.
From my more limited listening experience, Skeletonwitch are most at home when mixing manic speed and quickly evolving, cyclical sequences of hard-hitting thrash riffs. This track most certainly does that, and if it doesn’t get the juices pumping you’re probably bereft if juices. Because you’re dead. Sad. Being a speed-filled juggernaut of a track, it’s fitting that it clocks in at under three minutes as well. I tend to get bored with this level of speed in longer tracks, and Skeletonwitch have most certainly applied the wisdom of “less is more” here to great effect. Definitely makes me want to give the rest of the record (and their discography) a thorough look-see.
The Fall Of Troy – “Mouths Like Sidewinder Missiles” (Doppelgänger)
I’ve heard this band mentioned a lot in blog circles, but much like Skeletonwitch never took the time to fully invest in their back catalog. Let it be stated, here and now, that if the quality of their work is half as good as “Mouths Like Sidewinder Missiles” I’m an idiot for sleeping on this band. Pure and simple. On initial pass, The Fall of Troy combine my favorite elements of mathy bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan with the highly melodic and punky sonics of Every Time I Die. Needless to say, I like it. A lot.
This track is chock full of goodness. The jittery, dance-like guitar work is both consistent and disorienting, leaving the listener what could possibly come next. Everything that does is truly fantastic, with each new segment of the track fitting somehow seamlessly into the foundation laid by its predecessor without feeling jarring or melodically inconsistent. God, this is just so damn tasty and I love every second of it. Definitely giving this band the ol’ deep dive.
Elder – “Deadweight” (Lore)
It’s shocking how good Elder are. Record after record, track after track, they prove themselves absolute masters of progressive, stoner doom songwriting. Their music is elaborate without feeling overstated; intricate without inaccessibility. Lore was the first album of theirs I gave a proper listen, and I was spellbound from the first few moments. “Deadweight” is the unsung hero of this record, and is one of my favorite tracks the band have yet written.
At nine minutes, “Deadweight” could easily live up to its name. It doesn’t. Not even slightly. The track opens with a melodic line that’s as unique as you’ll hear in this brand of music. The drums, slightly muted in the mix, dance around the triumphant riffs present here with an energy that’s borderline mesmerizing. By the time the track gets going you’re already hooked. If you haven’t given this album a listen you are truly doing yourself a disservice. Bound to reach classic status.
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Zozobra – “Heartless Enemy” (Bird of Prey)
Caleb Scofield’s death was a significant blow to the heart of the metal community. Through his excellent work with Cave In, Old Man Gloom, and Zozobra (not to mention guest spots with bands like Converge and Isis), metalheads can readily see the indelible mark left in his absence. Listening to “Heartless Enemy” brought me back to all the incredible work Scofield committed to tape, and fills me with gratefulness for a life dedicated to the art that moves me most deeply. It’s a good track from a good album, and you should give it a listen. Then dive into the rest of the music he helped create. It’s worth the investment.
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Kronos – “With Eaque Sword” (Colossal Titan Strife)
When I’m in the mood to just punch something, it’s hard to go wrong with a hefty slab of brutal death metal. Kronos’ Greek mythology-inspired slap-fests are just the ticket to those necessary rage trips while sitting in rush hour traffic. Colossal Titan Strife is their best album, and “With Eaque Sword” one of the best of the bunch.
One aspect of brutal death metal that tends to rub me the wrong way is it’s constant reliance on technical death metal tropes. While the two subgenres certainly do have similarities, I don’t come to brutal death metal for noodly guitar work. I come to it for audio pulverization. This is what Kronos does so right. Rather than focusing on speedy, brain-warping instrumental wizardry, the band build riff towers specifically to crush listeners into primordial ooze with their sheer, relentless violence. Slower, more deliberate, and precisely as punishing as it needs to be, “With Eaque Sword” is a perfect example of what Kronos does well. Dig this track and band hard.
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SeeYouSpaceCowboy… – “Absolutely Absolute Absolution” (Fashion Statements of the Socially Aware)
So far, Simon hasn’t given me a single track I dislike. SeeYouSpaceCowboy… doesn’t change the hot streak. This is some weird, off-kilter “sasscore” that scratches all kinds of itches for me. It’s more abrasive than Converge, as wild as Full of Hell, and is fronted by one of the best new vocalists in the game in Connie Sgarbossa. “Absolutely Absolute Absolution” is as punishing a minute as you’ll find this side of a Napalm Death track. The guitars screech and chug with an impressive, slightly technical madness, and the drum work keeps pace with an equal amount of intensity. The whole affair has a distinct DIY charm to it, both in the looseness of the performances and in the production. It’s exactly the kind of music you want to hear from a young band furious with the world. A band not being talked about enough that deserves your undivided attention.
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Time Walk – “Fury of the Sands” (Beyond Eternity’s Grasp)
Okay… wasn’t sure how to feel about this one at first. Perhaps it was the vocals, which just didn’t quite do it for me (I’m 50/50 on punkish barks in death metal), but the first 30 seconds or so of “Fury of the Sands” felt pretty bland to me. Then it happened. Those drums kicked into high fucking gear, with the guitar muscling its way to the forefront, going straight-up POSTAL in the most classically hardcore fashion imaginable. I got super stoked, and was ready to blast off into death/hardcore Heaven. It’s a great sequence of music that’s unfortunately over all too quickly, as the remainder of the track left me with quite a bit to be desired.
My main issue with this track is its lack of consistency in the songwriting department. Time Walk most certainly isn’t a band bereft of good ideas, as there are plenty to go around here. But the flow from one idea to another within the track feels far from seamless to me, leading me toward the sensation of being jerked around rather than guided toward the track’s ultimate conclusion. I’m going to consider Time Walk as a band I am very curious to hear more from. I’m intrigued to see what they can do in a full-length format. There’s loads of potential here, and with a bit more time hitting the songwriting playbook I think this band is capable of some real gems. This track is just too scattered for that status currently.
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Jonathan’s Grid and Simon’s Comments
Current 93 – “The Policeman Is Dead” (The Light Is Leaving Us All)
Well, I didn’t expect this playlist to start out like… this. Every time I think I have a read on Jonathan’s taste he pulls something like Current 93 out of thin air. For some reason, the only thing I can really think of while listening to “The Policeman Is Dead” is The Exorcist and I really have no idea why. I’m going to chalk it up to the background piano, which, by the way, is fucking genius. For the most part, it tracks the main guitar melody – a short, twee little fragment that repeats and forms a spindly little wheel that goes in on itself ad infinitum (imagine Robert Vigna of Immolation swinging on a hammock) – but occasionally ventures into little single-note stabs of dissonance that hint at something much, much darker lurking behind what’s presented at first glance. Although this is pretty far out of my wheelhouse, I might just have to give The Light Is Leaving Us All a good listen. I really appreciate the way that the different instruments engage with each other on this track; the intricacy and exponential increases in lushness that come with their interplay makes this a superbly beautiful piece of music.
Open Mike Eagle – “Every Single Thing” (What Happens When I Try To Relax)
I love Open Mike Eagle, but when I found out he was releasing a new EP the year after putting out an album that worked because it was very clearly the product of years of fine-tuning, I was understandably (I think, anyway) lukewarm on the idea. I just really was not sure if he could live up to Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. Now What Happens When I Try To Relax is here and I can finally assess it for myself and answer the question of whether or not he lived up to my expectations with a rousing “well, sorta, I guess.”
I don’t know. WHWITTR (What Happens Wolves In The Throne Room? Collab when) is not bad, but it’s not anything particularly sterling, either. “Every Single Thing” is definitely its best track, though. I think OME is at his best as a lyricist when he’s using some really quick, sharp rhetoric to whittle complex issues down to their bare essence, and “Every Single Thing” has a really good example of that when it comes to the way the mainstream tends to equivocate the demands of the left and right in America: “You should be on the floor cryin / How it both sides, we ain’t both dyin.” Bars like these are, I think, the pinnacle of his work, and I’m always happy to get more of those. Is WHWITTR OME’s best release? No, I definitely don’t think so. But I’m never going to complain about Open Mike Eagle putting out new stuff.
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Tauk – “Recreational Outrage” (Shapeshifter II: Outbreak)
Woo. Oh yeah baby. Oh yeah. Listening to Tauk’s new album makes me feel like I’m watching of a version of Ex Machina that has a Rocky-style training montage in it. It’s like listening to Return to Forever while also watching Kung Fury. It’s like the one scene in Kill Bill Vol. 1 that whips ass where Uma Thurman is just fighting like a hundred dudes but she’s wearing the headband that the kid from the Karate Kid wears and fighting them with a keytar instead of a katana. Okay, yeah, you get it. Shapeshifter II is a super solid slice of prog rock-meets-jazz fusion that has an excellent sci-fi tinge to it and “Recreational Outrage” is really no exception to that. I doubt this is gonna end up being one of my favorite albums of the year, but it’s a really enjoyable listen nonetheless and if you like things that are really slick while also unabashedly cheesy I heavily recommend it.
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Mongol – “Takhil” (The Return)
This… confuses me. I can’t really tell if I shouldn’t like this at all or if I should like it a lot more than I do. Right now “Takhil” is just fine to me. More than anything it just makes me want to listen to Takasago Army or Seediq Bale by Chthonic. I think what it’s missing for me is a sense of dynamism; everything else it would need is present. It’s got decent riffs, some pretty catchy melodies, and a solo that has a sufficient number of notes in it, but it’s all played a little too straight. I’d love for a band like this to give me some surprises, and maybe there are some on other tracks on The Return, but “Takhil” is a little too by-the-numbers to really grab me much.
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Gorod – “Bekhten’s Curse” (Aethra)
I had to do a double-take and see if this was actually Gorod after I first heard that intro melody. It sounds like something Protest the Hero canned because it was in 4/4. Make no mistake, it’s not bad, it’s just… well, it’s just not Gorod, you know? I’m sorry, it’s just hard for me to dissociate this band from how fucking good their earlier stuff is, and it’s genuinely hard for me to believe they wrote something this straightforward. Like, this is pretty much a metalcore song. What? I’m too confused to even be upset. Maybe I’ll come around to this, but right now I’m so perplexed by hearing this from the same band that wrote Leading Vision that it’s hard for me to even wrap my head around what’s going on.
Outer Heaven – “Vortex of Thought” (Realms of Eternal Decay)
Okay, I’ll readily admit that I wasn’t much of a fan of Realms when I first got the promo a couple months back. I felt like everything Outer Heaven was doing on their debut LP (and debut big-label release; Realms was put out on Relapse Records) was stuff other bands had done better in 2018. I didn’t really see much point in putting this record on when the brand of hardcore-infused, splatterpunk death metal they trafficked in was outshone by Genocide Pact’s Order of Torment and the fleshy surrealist atmosphere they created was one-upped greatly by Tomb Mold’s Manor of Infinite Forms (it’s not a real death metal album without “of” in the title, folks). I didn’t really see Outer Heaven doing anything on Realms that made it really stand out from the pack.
To tell you the truth, I still think that, but I’ve also listened to Realms of Eternal Decay a good bit more since then and it’s struck me that it almost doesn’t really matter. Outer Heaven isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they’re trying to make some good tunes that make you go “oh fuck, listen to THAT riff,” and by and large, they succeed. There’s a pretty decent number of “stank face” riffs (you know exactly what I mean) on Realms and while I don’t really think that this record is going to hold much water in comparison to the myriad of future classics that death metal has seen this year, I think it’s certainly decent and would have been a pretty notable release for the genre in a year without such a bumper crop.
“Vortex of Thought” is, by and large, the smartest track on the album. I’ve spent a lot of time with this song and praying to whatever deities there are up there that this style is, more than the straightforward sound of the rest of the album, where they want to go in the future. The little bit of Demilich-fed-through-a-woodchipper melodicism that shows up in the intro riff is fantastic, and the way it reappears slightly across the rest of the track right when you always think they’ve dropped it completely fucking rules. If you’re going to take one track away from Outer Heaven, definitely make it this one.
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Matt Calvert – “12051” (Typewritten)
I love this, and after looking this guy up and seeing that Matt Calvert is in phenomenal post-/math-/jazz-rock band Three Trapped Tigers, I am exactly 0% surprised that I love this. “12051” deftly combines some really smart and well laid out electronics with a large dose of acoustic instrumentation and while I’m not sure I have much to say about the result other than “this is really nice,” it’s really, really nice. Very strong Gogo Penguin vibes, albeit a bit more mechanized and less minimalist than those guys are. Really loving this. I know saying something is good background music sounds more like a snide remark than a compliment, but this is absolutely perfect background music. Can’t wait to make this a new essay writing or apartment cleaning go-to.
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Outre-tombe – “Aberration” (Necrovortex)
Much like their death metal brethren in Outer Heaven, I really did not enjoy Outre-Tombe’s Necrovortex when it first graced my ears like a nuclear-grade buzzsaw covered in bees being thrown out of the depths of Hell. I’ll be honest, I’m not really a huge fan of Swedish-style death metal; I listen to a couple Dismember or Grave songs per month and that’s pretty much my quota for the genre. I definitely prefer the weirder, less structured stylings of the American and Finnish veins of death metal; bands like Convulse and Demilich and Timeghoul are my cup of tea.
Outre-Tombe is… different, though. Different how? They certainly do not try to hide their influences. They follow very clearly and with zero hesitation in the Swedish tradition, throwing their lot in with Entombed and the aforementioned Grave and Dismember and Asphyx and what-have-you with their white-hot, pyroclastic melodies and hyper distorted brittle guitar tones. I’m not exactly sure I can even pinpoint what Necrovortex does that I like so much, honestly. Perhaps it’s the Bolt Thrower inflections they play around with, interlacing d-beat sprints with groovy, visceral mid-tempo stomps. Perhaps it’s the harmonies and twin guitar interplay that they cleverly use the Swedish-style death metal production they so slavishly imitate to hide, as if it’s a treat for discerning listeners. Perhaps it’s their perfunctory style of writing, where no song is longer than it absolutely needs to be. I’m going to guess it’s probably all three.
The track Jon has chosen for me, “Aberration,” is about as perfect of a statement piece as you could reasonably get from a band like Outre-Tombe. I don’t really have a whole lot to say about it specifically other than that it exemplifies exactly why Necrovortex works on a very fundamental level, but yeah, Necrovortex rules. Death metal rules. Fuck yeah.
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mewithoutYou – “Another Head For Hydra” ([Untitled])
People are gonna be mad about this one, but here goes: I have never listened to mewithoutYou before because their name made me think they were gonna be a really lame third-wave post-rock band that heard The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place once, totally missed the point, and inadvertently got really big overnight while seeing how many delays they could fit on a single pedalboard. After hearing “Another Head For Hydra,” I can conclude they are definitely not this. What they seem to be, from my two-minute-43-second foray into their sound, is a band that finds emotional bombast by neatly straddling a high octane form of slacker-core indie rock with classic post-hardcore, some chimeric variation of At The Drive-In by way of Dinosaur Jr. I don’t really know how accurate this is, but what I do know is that I really dig the sound they’re peddling on “Another Head For Hydra.” I will admit that I was wrong to judge this book by its cover. You may throw rocks at me for this one now.