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 Scott Murphy and Joshua Bulleid together to peruse each other’s tastes:
Scott’s Picks and Joshua’s Thoughts
Dysrhythmia – “Twin Stalkers” (Terminal Threshold, 2019)
Scott: I won’t spend too much time here, since my glowing review can certainly speak for itself. On an album chock full of highlights, “Twin Stalkers” is one of the most essential tracks due to its fantastic progression and memorable core riff. Truly essential listening for any fan of experimental metal.
Josh: This is sick. It also sounds exactly like I would expect a band called Dysrythmia to sound like. I’ve been aware of this band for a while, but I’ve never really bothered to check them out. I’m not sure why, but I’ll definitely be jumping on this album when it comes out. There’s lots of Death going on here, and a bit of Gorguts (I’m aware that Kevin Hufnagal and Colin Marston are in the band). Oddly, however, what this song most reminds me of are the industrial tracks off Morbid Angel’s Illud Divinum Insanus (2011) – specifically “Destructos vs. The Earth / Attack” and “Too Extreme!” – except actually good. It can take a bit for purely instrumental music to hold my interest, but this keeps me engaged the whole time and I can even “hear” where I think the vocals would go. Good stuff.
Have a Nice Life – “Lords of Tresserhorn” (Sea of Worry, 2019)
Scott: In all honesty, this track eased my doubts about Sea of Worry after the title track left me feeling lukewarm. Don’t get me wrong – “Sea of Worry” is a perfectly solid post-punk track. But what I’ve always loved about Have a Nice Life is the fact they’re far from your average post-punk band. Thankfully, “Lords of Tresserhorn” is more along the lines of what made me love the band. Now that I’ve heard the full promo for the album, I’m glad to share that Sea of Worry can stand toe-to-toe with the band’s first two albums.
Josh: This reminds me of Daughters, or even Wear Your Wounds or some of the more atmospheric sections from the last couple of Converge albums. Actually, there’s a specific song, along those lines that it reminds me of, although I can’t quite place it (although I believe a ticking clock may be involved?). It’s pleasant, but I don’t really find it that interesting. I imagine it would work well in an album context, although if the whole album’s going to be along the same line, I can see it getting a bit grating. Having checked out the other song that is available from the album, “Sea of Worry”, is more of an upbeat post-punk song – again, along the same lines as Daughters – it seems like that isn’t going to be the case. I’m tentatively intrigued and will probably check out the album when it drops.
Hiss Golden Messenger – “I Need a Teacher” (Terms of Surrender, 2019)
Scott: Easily one of my favorite tracks of the year. I’ve always loved Hiss Golden Messenger, but from the the moment this track kicked things off, I knew this would be the group’s finest album yet. As I wrote in my recent Editors’ Picks blurb, this album is an impeccably produced collection of warm, earnest tracks that sounds like Tom Petty playing top-notch Americana. There’s no better example of this formula firing on all cylinders than “I Need a Teacher.”
Josh: As someone who’s recently been grappling with the administrative side of the tertiary education system and who is looking down the barrel of having to deal with an ever-decreasing job market for the foreseeable future, I appreciate the sentiment of this song. Having said that, it doesn’t really do anything for me musically. The song just never really seems to go anywhere. It’s just kind of… nice? I don’t know.
This isn’t all that far removed from the kind of things I usually listen to (compared to some of the other stuff on this list anyway), and I occasionally dip my ears into country and folk music (Johnny Cash, Neil Young, etc.), but I don’t really have a specific point of reference for this. What it most reminds me of is The Doobie Brothers’ version of “Drift Away” and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Stand My Ground”, which probably speaks more to my ignorance than the song itself. It just seems a bit insubstantial; like it could really use just one extra element to help it stand out. …and why is it “Hiss” not “His”? That’s bugging the hell out of me.
JPEGMAFIA – “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot” (All My Heroes Are Cornballs, 2019)
Scott: While it took me a few spins to appreciate Veteran, the latest project from JPEGMAFIA clicked with me immediately. The main thing that sets him apart in the “experimental hip-hop” scene is the way he crafts a bricolage of styles on every track, jumping from glitch-hop to alternative R&B to gritty, hardcore rap. It can be a bit jarring, but tracks like this show how genius the combination can be.
Josh: The term “experimental hip-hop” gets thrown around a lot, and I’m usually disappointed whenever I follow up on it. This song, however, certainly delivers on its promise. It was truly disorienting when I first listened to it, which I think had a lot to do with the video. Taken on its own, it all fits together pretty smoothly and is far more consistently aggressive than the video’s harsh cuts to pink silk and mountain tops might suggest. I don’t know if I’m particularly inspired to listen to more of JPEGMAFIA or All My Heroes Are Cornballs but I’m surprised by how well it hangs together given how deliberately disjointed it is. It’s a good reminder of the kind of interesting things going on in hip-hop that you don’t really get within heavier, rock-based music. I’m impressed, if not exactly intrigued.
Casimir Liberski – “Cosmic Liberty” (Cosmic Liberty, 2019)
Scott: Albums like this remind me why jazz has remained one of my favorite genres. In what other style can you go from a classy, jazz club atmosphere to an album like this full of prog-fueled, spaced-out keyboard jams? This was one of those “came for the cover, stayed for the music” kind of situations, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite jazz releases of the year. Since it was difficult to pick a standout song, I played it safe and chose the title track.
Josh: Ok, so it’s at this point that I’m really starting to feel pretty self-conscious about how one-dimensional my playlist is in comparison to Scott’s, but I digress…
I’ve struggled with Jazz in the past, but this is pretty cool. It managed to keep my attention the whole way through and didn’t really feel like it was nine-minuets long. It never keeps still but it always feels like it’s developing naturally as well; I guess that’s just good jazz for you, but I’m surprised by how immediate and engaging this track is. It reminds me a lot of video-game music, and I can definitely see this as the soundtrack to a level in some kind of pixel-art throwback platformer or something like that, which allusion is definitely helped along by the cover art. I’m not in love with this, but I definitely like it. I can see it being good background music to put on while I’m working, although it’s probably not something I’d put on just to listen to.
The Messthetics – “Better Wings” (Anthropocosmic Nest, 2019)
Scott: There aren’t a ton of parallels between Fugazi and The Messthetics other than their lineups, but hopefully the connection will encourage some people to check out one rock’s best new bands. The trio touch on elements of jazz, noise rock, and post-hardcore with plenty of subtle experimentation thrown into the mix. While I loved their self-titled debut, Anthropocosmic Nest sees the band refining and expanding their sound, hopefully setting up a fruitful, adventurous career.
Josh: I don’t have much to say about this one, but it’s cool. The guitar playing gets pretty intense, especially towards the end, and the track as a whole has a lot more energy to it than its shoegazey beginnings suggest. I don’t know if I’m more or less intrigued after finding out that The Messthetics are made up of members from Fugazi. Fugazi are a great band and this is some fun, well-written music, but it’s no Repeater (1990) or The Argument (2001), if you know what I mean. I feel condescending simply saying that it’s “good for what it is” and I’ve definitely seen punk musicians age less gracefully but, while I think it’s well executed, I can’t really see myself returning to it – especially when I could be listening to The Argument instead.
White Ward – “Love Exchange Failure” (Love Exchange Failure, 2019)
Scott: This might not be the most traditional black metal albums of the year, but it’s one of my top picks from the genre this year. Obviously, the use of saxophone will be the most popular focus of this album’s strengths, but White Ward demonstrate exceptional progressive songwriting with every instrument. The record feels continuously fresh and maintains a high level of quality throughout, which is why I chose the title track to make my selection easier. In all honesty, every song is a highlight.
Josh: This album is incredible! In fact, I had it on my list as well, but I took it off so as not to double up. As with my recent post-metal binge (see below) this isn’t usually the sort of thing I listen to, but it’s just done so well here. The use of saxophone has become pretty cliché within progressive metal recently, but it’s always nice to hear the instrument used effectively and I don’t know if I’ve heard it used within a metal context better than it is here. The saxophone additions sound so sinister, which is something that sets them apart and, along with the rest of the music. The guitar solo is also pretty awesome and, overall, it feels like a perfect blending of the post-black metal sound with the progressive template laid down by Ihsahn’s After (2010) and (to a lesser extent) Enslaved’s Axioma Ethica Odini (2010), which are my two favourite black metal albums. Love Exchange Failure is a shoo-in for my “albums of the year” list and this song shows exactly why.
Wilderun – “Far from Where Dreams Unfurl” (Veil of Imagination, 2019)
Scott: A classic example of why I love Bandcamp so much. I loved Wilderun‘s last album Edge of the Earth, but over time, it fell out of my rotation and I stopped paying attention to the band’s updates. Lo and behold, Veil of Imagination popped up on Bandcamp’s “Best Selling” page a few weeks ago, and I’ve been obsessed with this song ever since. After hearing the full promo, I’m beyond stoked to report that the band’s “Opeth playing power metal” approach has never sounded more impeccably produced and fully realized.
Josh: Opeth meets Sabaton? Ok. Sure. It’s kind of weird how this song seems to just start in medias res, but maybe that’s just an album-flow thing. It sounds like the kind of thing that might be part of those “the whole album is one big song” deals, and there’s parts of it that remind me of the more grandiose sections of Edge of Sanity’s Crimson (1996) and, especially, Crimson II (2003), which is probably a ridiculous comparison that has more to do with the Opeth vibes anyway (Update: turns out the album is mixed by Dan Swanö, so it’s not). It gets a little overwhelming by the end, and I’m not sure why it has to be eight-and-a-half minutes long – other than so that it could be eight-and-a-half minutes long – but, overall, I like what I’m hearing. This is another one I’ll definitely be picking up when it comes out.
Chelsea Wolfe – “Deranged for Rock & Roll” (Birth of Violence, 2019)
Scott: My love for Chelsea Wolfe peaked with Apokalypsis and Unknown Rooms (plus The Grime and the Glow is a solid debut). Frankly, the shift towards post-metal on her recent output hasn’t really compared to the brooding gothic folk on these albums, which is why I’m glad to hear her return to her roots on Birth of Violence. It may not be on the same level as Apokalypsis, but it’s still a solid album with good songs like this.
Josh: I feel like I’ve been fairly positive about everything else so far, so I don’t feel too bad about going on a tear at the end here, but I really don’t like this song, and I guess it wouldn’t be a proper playlist swap if I didn’t commit Heavy Blog heresy somewhere along the way. Chelsea Wolfe has always been one of those artists I’ve respected from a distance more than I’ve enjoyed up close. Having said that, I don’t really have a problem with her in general, it’s just this song in particular. I get that Birth of Violence is a bit of a change in direction, but I also think it’s a pretty ordinary album, from the few cursory listens I’ve given it and “Deranged for Rock & Roll” was a hard roadblock the first couple of times I attempted to get through it.
I can see how it would work on the soundtrack to a movie like Midsommer (2019) or the new Susperia (2018), or something like that. In fact, my issues with this are pretty similar to the issues I have with Thom Yorke (who did the Susperia soundtrack). It seems deliberately understated or restrained in a way that I guess is meant to suggest profundity but, to me, only screams pretension. Like, what does “deranged for rock and roll” even mean? The music I enjoy has more than its fair share of daft lyrics, but there’s not much more to this song than Wolfe’s increasingly strained repetition of its title phrase, and just because she sings it harder and more often doesn’t make it any more substantial. Anyway, let’s see what Scott has to say about Bad Wolves…
Joshua’s Picks and Scott’s Thoughts
Cult of Luna – “Inland Rain” (A Dawn to Fear, 2019)
Josh: Post-metal isn’t my usual go-to genre, but the new Cult of Luna album has really struck a chord with me and sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole with the genre. A Dawn to Fear is definitely one of those albums that needs to be taken as a whole, but I picked “Inland Rain” both because it’s probably my favourite track and I think it feels the most complete as a stand-alone offering as well.
Scott: Other than Isis (and later, Sumac), I find most post-metal to be either “good” or better but never quite “great.” Sure, I own and enjoy albums from genre legends like Cult of Luna, Pelican, and Neurosis albums (more on them later), but nothing compares to how Panopticon and Oceanic hit me every time I listen to them. With all this said, “Inland Rain” is a genuinely great post-metal track, with the quintessential build, climax, and guitar melodies performed with the finesse only a veteran band could execute. I can’t say it’s blowing me away, but it’s certainly strong enough to make we want to listen to the full album.
The Ritual Aura – “Sunder III: A Reasonable Amount of Selfishness” (Velothi, 2019)
Josh: Again, Velothi is an album best taken as a complete experience, but “Sunder III” is probably its most immediate track and gives a good glimpse into all the different directions the album takes the tech-death sound in. I’m surprised this album hasn’t really caught on more with the rest of the staff, given the Heavy Blog pedigree associated with it. So, I thought now would be a good opportunity to find out what at least one other writer makes of it.
Scott: Well this was a rollercoaster, in the best way possible. The best way I can put it is “The Faceless in 2019,” expect…well, good. There’s all the progressive tech death wizardry you’d want, with a heavier, quasi-deathcore slant that leads to some really groovy vibes. Then you have some awesome twists and turns throughout, the best of which is some well-placed violin. I totally missed this album when it first came out, but I’m stoked to give the full record a shot.
Crashdïet – “Bound to Fall” (Generation Wild, 2010)
Josh: …and now for something completely different. Crashdïet are one of my absolute favourite bands from the hard rock/glam metal subgenre, and it was a blast dipping back into their catalogue for the recent Half-Life I wrote for them. I don’t expect Swedish sleaze rock/hair metal is the kind of thing Scott usually goes in for but, as I emphasised in the Half-Life, Generation Wild is one of the first albums I’d recommend to someone trying to get into the genre, and “Bound to Fall” has a bit of an extra metal edge to it as well. So, we’ll see how we go. Fun fact I found out recently: Tobias Forge from Ghost was Crashdïet’s original bass player, although I don’t think he ever recorded anything with them.
Scott: This might not be the type of music I typically go for, but it’s undeniably fun and does what it’s trying to do incredibly well. The gang vocals on the chorus and the overall vibe make this feel like Ghost diving into hair metal glam rock, which actually makes more sense the longer I think about it. Again, not my go-to sound, but it’s bringing me back to the summer I was obsessed with Def Leppard, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sidenote: “Save Her” came on autoplay right after this, and I actually like that track a lot more. It sounds more like a pop-punk ballad played through a hair metal lens.
Neurosis – “At the Well” (Honor Found in Decay, 2012)
Josh: While Cult of Luna may have inspired my recent obsession with post metal, it was Neurosis’s Honor Found in Decay that first unlocked the genre for me (beyond Isis at least), and this song was a big part of that. It’s a word that gets overused a lot, but “At the Well,” along with the album as a whole, is completely hypnotic and, after butting my head up against Neurosis and post metal for so long it felt good to finally get swept away by them. It’s not an album I see getting mentioned a lot, but it’s probably still my favourite album of theirs, along with Enemy of the Sun (1993), and I’m glad to see it still holds up after revisiting it recently.
Scott: Pretty much everything I wrote for my Cult of Luna write-up applies here, except Neurosis has always been the most difficult post-metal band for me to get into. Yup, you read that right. I know that they’re one of those metal bands you’re “supposed” to like, but every album just drags on for me. It’s like they nail an excellent EP with every album and then squeeze out every idea until they’re bone dry. “At the Well” is no exception. I love the band’s slow dirges on tracks like this, but by the end of each album, it feels more like a fatigued crawl. Still, on a song by song basis, tracks like “At the Well” are great. I especially love the bagpipes(?) towards the end.
Norma Jean – “Synthetic Sun” (Polar Similar, 2016)
Josh: Polar Similar was my surprise AOTY for 2016. I was a fan of Norma Jean already, but I thought they’d peaked with Meridional (2010) and, after the slight letdown that was 2013’s Wrongdoers, I was genuinely shocked by just how outstanding this album truly is and just how much it continues to grow on me with every listen. A big part of the album’s appeal is the added post-metal and atmospheric elements the band added to their sound. Having said that, I’ve picked one of its more traditional and chaotic numbers here, just because it’s the one that stood out to me most on recent listens – although you can still hear a bit of the post-metal influence towards the end.
Scott: This is a total throwback for me. I bought a copy of Redeemer after seeing Norma Jean play at a Christian music festival in Gilford, New Hampshire and spun it regularly for the rest of the summer (Fun Fact: The Christian metal bands played on the “Inside Out Stage”). I haven’t listened to the band at all in the last several years, but I might have to change that after listening to this track. I love how they strike the perfect balance between noise and melody with their brand of metalcore, all while hitting hard with some crushing breakdowns. Easily my favorite song of the bunch thus far.
Shadow of Intent – “The Dreaded Mystic Abyss” (Melancholy, 2019)
Josh: Jumping back to the present and Shadow of Intent have released one of my surprise albums of 2019. The band’s previous material has always been pretty solid, but by taking a somewhat-sharp turn toward more symphonic and melodic death metal territories has really helped them stand apart from the crowd – especially when Melancholy easily puts most, if not all, of the genres’ current heavyweights to complete shame. Even more surprising is that the album’s standout number is a ten-and-a-half-minute instrumental track. Then again, what better way to showcase their technical and compositional prowess?
Scott: Josh and I actually sparred about this album when it first came out. While he found it to offer some fun, varied deathcore, it just seemed to me like Shadow of Intent were trying to accomplish too much at once. There’s melodeath leanings in the vein of The Black Dahlia Murder and Darkest Hour paired with symphonic black metal and some pretty standard deathcore. “The Dreaded Mystic Acyss” embodies all these issues, with the unfortunate downside of being 10+ minutes long. It’s a bit too long and meandering, but even so, there’s definitely some potential here and on the rest of the album. I just don’t think it’s as fully realized as other people believe it to be.
SiXforNinE – “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining” (Parallel Universe, 2019)
Josh: Another surprise standout release of 2019 for me. Parallel Universe is an album that keeps getting better with every listen, and feels even more refreshing after I was struggling to pick a representative song from the new Opeth album – as good as it is. Parellel Universe has been my go-to “sunny weather” album since its release and has become only more potent as we (in the Sounthern Hemisphere) move out of what has been a fairly miserable winter.
Scott: I hate to say this, but I really don’t really feel much for this track. It’s both pretty straightforward and difficult for me to wrap my head around. It’s fun, catchy alt-metal that’s well-written for the style. But it just doesn’t stand out to me despite trying a few different slight tweaks throughout the song. They’re almost like a modern, tamer Faith No More, which is fine but not much more. Still, it’s definitely fun, and I’d like to hear what the full album might have to offer.
Bad Wolves – “I’ll Be There” (N.A.T.I.O.N., 2019)
Josh: Bad Wolves – a “supergroup” made up of ex-members from God Forbid, DevilDriver, Bury Your Dead and Divine Heresy (plus some dude from In This Moment) – turning out to be an awful American radio butt rock band who made their name playing terrible Cranberries covers has been one of my biggest musical disappointments of recent years. But this song ABSOLUTELY SLAMS!!!! Seriously; there’s a bit in the middle that sounds like modern Meshuggah. Unfortunately, all the other singles they’ve released off their upcoming album still sound like Five Finger Death Punch covering Nickleback, but if it helps them Trojan-horse a song like this onto mainstream airwaves then I won’t be (too) mad about it.
Scott: This might be a surprise, but I actually enjoy a dose of “nu-metalcore” from time to time. This track was a good reminder of why. The riffs are massive and blend well with the more melodic moments, The singing is pretty good, and the “rapping” is frankly pretty funny and harmless. Mainly, I love how hard the breakdowns and riffs hit, and overall its a fun, no-frills track. I’d totally be willing to put this on when I feel the need to headbang.
SeeYouSpaceCowboy – “Disdain Coupled With a Smile” (The Correlation Between Entrance and Exit Wounds, 2019)
Josh: SeeYouSpaceCowboy aren’t a band I’m super familiar with, but I’ve been spinning this album a bit recently. It’s also a good representation of the kind of music I grew up on and would travel hours on public transport as a teenager to throwdown to at all-ages warehouse shows and whatnot. The band appear to have lost a lot of the compelling variety of their earlier releases and, as far as this sort of thing goes, I still prefer the Ithaca album by a pretty wide margin. It’s still a lot of fun though and the pure aggression of a track like this is still pretty exhilarating. At the end of the day, I still can’t I can’t resist a good breakdown or three.
Scott: Oh man, does this bring me back. I wrote about this scene a couple weeks ago when I covered Not Your Friends, and SeeYouSpaceCowboy conjures the same kind of nostalgia for me. The panic chords, breakdowns, and throat-shredding vocals are just the kind of emotional heaviness I used to spin all the time in high school. I enjoyed the band’s last release, but I clearly need to jump on this one too.