Re:Format

In years past, we’ve tried our hand at a column whereby staff were able to discuss physical media in its various forms and any other music-related purchases, and that was Heavy Buys. The column was used sporadically, but we felt that it was time to bring it back for 2021. In the past year at Heavy Blog, we’ve been toying with our format and our place within the broader internet music community. We were able to successfully roll out a complete overhaul and redesign of our website and shift focus on monthly magazine-style drops instead of persistent day-to-day posting. We think it’s worked out for the better, and it seems that our readers are all-in. Sure, persistent engagement is cool and all, but between social media algorithms becoming less reliable every day in the sheer task of just being seen and the ever-evolving lives and relationships of the people pulling the strings here, this shift has ensured that Heavy Blog continues to maintain its place in the world by focusing on the quality of the content rather than the quantity. Through this end, we’ve carved out a niche and gained an audience who are less interested in consuming press releases and more interested in discussion, dissection, and discourse. 

This has been quite freeing for us as content creators, and we want to use this change in rhythm to explore more ways to engage in these discussions that I so wanted to have back in 2009 when I opened the WordPress account that would become Heavy Blog Is Heavy. Of course, I’m not the same person I was in 2009. Motivations, tastes, and interests change. My time management has certainly changed. In those nearly twelve years since founding Heavy Blog, personal relationships formed and/or fell apart. All that free time in college is now occupied by a career and family. As a social work major at 19, I could listen to multiple albums in a day and had loads of time to consume music. I checked Metalsucks every hour on the hour. But at age 30 with a full time job in community mental health and two kids of my own, I’m lucky if I have the time and the headspace to get a full album or two in by the time the sun goes down. Where does that leave me and my relationship with this website? I’m still trying to figure that out, and I’m blessed to have a friend like Eden who was capable of picking up where I left off and made Heavy Blog bigger and better while allowing me to continue to contribute when I can.

But all of these life changes doesn’t mean I’m any less passionate about music. Studies show that our music tastes generally peak as teenagers. With my whole heart, I wanted this to not be true of myself and I continue to make efforts to expand my palate, and always made a point to put energy into my evolving musical tastes. So much so that I underwent an unconscious denial of my teenage musical preferences for a period of time. I’m sure those of you who also came up under the reign of nu-metal and post-grunge might have also gone through a phase where we looked back in shame at those years of listening to Limp Bizkit and Breaking Benjamin. But coming out the other side, those bands were and still are incredibly valuable, and it’s worth going back from time to time. It’s also incredibly neat when new artists reference these years of music and expand upon them (looking at you, Bring Me The Horizon). But fortunately, the majority of my listening habits, whatever is left of them, is new music. That Verve article cited above states that on average, our most important musical developments occur by the age of 16. At 16, I couldn’t stand death metal’s aesthetics and thought it was needlessly edgy and largely unlistenable. Now, looking at my discogs account, it would appear that about 60% of the music I purchased in the last quarter could be reasonably considered death metal. Also of note: I’ve added four country records to my collection in the past year, which has been a feat of its own. 

All of this is to say that yes, I’m absolutely still as passionate about music as I once was. Looking at my Discogs account tells me that about 20% of my vinyl collection was added in 2020 (and even wilder, up to 27% if you include the last two months when those late 2020 purchases started rolling in!), and I’ve been collecting vinyl since 2009 when I purchased Between the Buried and Me’s Alaska at a show in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve spent more money on music in the last 14 months than I ever have in my life. Yet I’m jealous of my friends and fellow writers who post weekly 4×4 grids (or more!) of what they heard in the last week. I was lucky if I got in five albums spun front to back. What a strange paradox. I’m purchasing more music at 30 than I ever have in my life, and yet I listen to way less. Does this even mean anything? Music has become so devalued on a monetary level in my lifetime as p2p music piracy evolved into artists accepting pennies for their music streams on YouTube and Spotify. I’m guilty of this as well for carrying a Spotify premium account. 

But 2020’s homebound nature certainly provided opportunities for the music industry despite setbacks elsewhere. Reuters reports that the pandemic fueled record sales with leading vinyl manufacturer CZ media reporting an 11% increase in sales in 2020.

CZ Media CEO Michel Sterba reflects:

“Lots of people started to buy their own audio systems and started to buy vinyl records as well. Probably because they stayed home and there were not that many other options such as concerts, pubs, bars. The home entertainment was basically the right thing for them to spend money on. I would say that right now the vinyl records is moving from very niche markets of music collectors, music lovers, audiophiles to the wider consumer base representing the young generation who found their way to vinyl across the traditional music listeners.”

The Reuters piece also reports that 27.5 million LPs were sold in 2020, up a whopping 46% from 2019. So it looks like I’m not alone here after all, and if you’re here now, you’re probably in the same boat. 

So as my relationship with music continues to change, I ask myself how I can be valuable to the blog in any way. It was recently suggested by Eden that I turn my passion for physical media into its own column. The old Heavy Buys column seemed like a good starting point for this discussion, and had opportunity for expansion. I picked out a few noteworthy records that arrived in the last two months, and asked others to pick out any music-related purchases of their own worth showing off and talking about. You can read about those below, but we ask you: what kind of content related to physical media and merch would you like to read about? Let us know, and we’d be happy to have these conversations with you and workshop this space as we go along. Thanks for sticking with us! 

-Jimmy Rowe

Contents:
Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide (ultra-clear 2xLP)
Bring Me The Horizon – POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR (recycled black LP)
Defeated Sanity – Passages Into Deformity (picture disc)
Horrendous – Ecdysis (blue/orange merge LP)
Undeath – Lesions of a Different Kind (bone white with maroon and black splatter LP)
Stone From The Sky’s Break A Leg shirt


Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide

Clear 2xLP
Rhymesayers Entertainment 

It’s been a few years since we’ve stopped pretending to only care about heavy music in these pages. Off the record (heh), our collective album of 2020 was Phoebe BridgersPunisher. Elsewhere on the list, we saw high numbers for quite a few hip-hop albums, including Run the Jewels, Clipping, and of course, Aesop Rock. Much could be said about his legacy in underground hip-hop, but to keep it succinct, he’s long been a critically acclaimed rapper and producer with renowned vocabulary, and his increasingly personal lyrics including his struggles with mental health and reflections on his life have helped Aesop break through from this long standing and widespread take that his novelty stemmed from being verbose and cryptic. He could have peaked in 2007 with None Shall Pass, which some still point to as being his magnum opus, but he didn’t. 2016’s The Impossible Kid was an incredible window into confronting mental illness and the looming threat of aging, and 2020’s Spirit World Field Guide lands in a more playful place while expounding upon Aesop’s perspective on navigating life.

Read more: Review

Shortly after the album’s release in November, the label Rhymesayers Entertainment ran out of stock and prices skyrocketed on aftermarket sales on Discogs. In fact, somebody paid $75 USD for a mint copy in early January, barely over a month beyond its release date. I was fortunate enough to grab a copy from an indie record store on the platform on February 6th for $27 and I thought I lucked out. Days later, Rhymesayers updated their store with a restock, where it’s currently available for $30 at the time of publication, though you may be able to obtain it from an indie record store for cheaper, even considering shipping. 

The 2xLP gatefold alone makes this record worth owning due to the quality of the artwork done by Justin Kaufman, but the quality of the media put broadly is quite good and surpasses expectations for a standard non-limited release. The records are ultra-clear, and are some of the most transparent and crystal-clear pressings I’ve ever seen. This is accentuated by the fact that there’s no sticker in the middle of the records, and that the labels on the LP are printed directly to the discs, which isn’t something I’ve seen before in my collection. This allowed the product designer(s) to be a bit playful with the design, with the orientation of the text indicating what side you’re playing on; for instance, if you’re on Side A, the tracklist for Side B will appear backwards, and vice versa. 

While the record disappointingly doesn’t include a lyric sheet, it includes a sheet of stickers, and they’re pretty nice. Almost too nice, and the thought of actually using them makes me anxious. No poly bag lining in the sleeves (can we make poly-lined bags standard?), but they are printed in a way that suits the artwork and aesthetic of the record, so it’s hard to be mad at it. As far as presentation goes, Spirit World Field Guide is satisfying.

Playability and sound quality are as expected. This record had some striated layers to begin with sonically, and the basslines really shine through on vinyl. Some folks online have complained about surface noise and popping while playing, but my copy turned out relatively fine. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the odd pop or crackle just comes with the territory. Brushing and cleaning records should be standard practice anyway for any serious collector, and in my case, it cuts down on most of the problems.

Spirit World Field Guide was surely one of the most creative records we heard last year, and the physical representation doesn’t cut corners. Don’t miss this pressing now that the label pressed more copies after they sold out the first time.

Purchase at Rhymesayers | Discogs

-JR

Bring Me The Horizon – POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR

Recycled Vinyl
Columbia Records

Last year’s highly acclaimed POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR from UK metalcore / alt rock giants Bring Me The Horizon finally saw a physical release in January after dropping digitally back in October. This album was a late entry to a year and quickly dominated my listening habits for the final quarter, and I was blown away by the album. In my review, I said that SURVIVAL HORROR was, “the most infectious and well-written and produced material the band has ever released,” and praised its ability to pull all of the nostalgic influences — from industrial to nu-metal to metalcore — together in a way that sounds remarkably invigorated and modernized. If you’re a millennial rock and metal fan who cut your teeth on acts like Linkin Park and Three Days Grace and later worked your way through metalcore and djent, this album promises quite the trip. Production and synth work from DOOM’s Mick Gordon was also a treat that served the style very well, and elevated a band that were previously poised for pop stardom with a bit of an aggressive edge.

Read more: Review

I was quick to pre-order the record through my local record store in the US, as the prices through indie US distro was slightly better than the UK exchange rate with shipping from the band’s website. The band had promised to put their money where their mouth is in terms of the climate change narrative within the record and decided to utilize recycled materials for the vinyl and the packaging where possible while utilizing vegetable and soya based inks. Great move; while I love the format, it’s undeniable that the manufacture of vinyl cannot be great for the environment and resources. Recycled materials is a nice way of trying to undo some of the damage, but this can often have poor results. See: The 1975’s use of recycled cardboard sleeves on last year’s Notes on a Conditional Form, which contributed to some incredibly noisy playback. Fortunately, that doesn’t appear to be a problem here.

Original mockups of the vinyl depicted during pre-order was of a grey marble color variant, but the end result wound up being flat black. This was initially disappointing after I picked up my copy on release day expecting the marbled color, but to be fair, the pre-order page did say that due to the nature of the recycled vinyl, that color would vary. They’ve since updated the image on their site, but that was a lesson in never trusting mockups. 

Presentation is otherwise standard: black vinyl in a printed sleeve with liner notes and lyrics. However, there are immediately noticeable differences in the album’s mix and master for the format that offers a different listening experience. Though after doing an A/B on the vinyl compared to digital, I can’t say it’s all for the better. The vinyl release feels a bit crushed sonically, with a sacrifice made to dynamic. Of course there are variables here at play between the stylus and the speakers, but it’s not a dealbreaker. 

Ludens” does feature some new lyrics in the second verse, adding some value to the new listening experience. Where once was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but soon the sting will pass / But names can dig so many graves, won’t know where to stand,” the line now ends with, “But names will make me blow the brains out of all the kids in class.” Edgy for sure, but definitely interesting to hear such a change between the digital and physical release. 

Despite some very minor disappointments, it’s personally hard to be angry about owning my personal album of the year for 2020. Remember though: never trust the mockups. 

Purchase at BMTH | Discogs

-JR

Defeated Sanity – Passages Into Deformity

2020 repress on picture disc. Limited to 500 copies.
Willowtip Records

I’ve been a fan of Defeated Sanity for a long time, and Passages Into Deformity was a longstanding gap in my collection. Late last year, Willowtip dropped a picture disc repress of the album, and it was an immediate purchase. Typically I shy away from picture discs, as the novelty is pretty thin and so is the sound. But at the time, I took this drop as a sign that if I didn’t grab this one, I might never actually get to own the album. Funny enough, for Bandcamp Friday in January, Willowtip had uncovered a box of first press Passages Into Deformity in vinyl and at that point I couldn’t justify the purchase. Oh well.

Despite being wary of picture discs, I’m actually quite pleased with this version of Passages Into Deformity. The artwork looks incredible, and the sound isn’t terrible. Perhaps if I knew a “proper” or standard LP version would be made available, I wouldn’t have made the purchase, but that’s a part of the gamble of the hobby. Fear of missing out drives an embarrassing number of purchases over here, and I needed this missing piece of the collection, and I don’t regret having added this one to the shelf. I still need to grab Disposal of the Death / Dharmata. Hey Willowtip, give that one a repress too, please?

Purchase at Willowtip | Purchase at Bandcamp | Discogs

-JR

Horrendous – Ecdysis 

2021 repress on blue/orange merge. 
Dark Descent Records

Before landing on Season of Mist and dropping what could perhaps be their greatest album to date, Idol, in 2018, Horrendous were doing great work with underground extreme metal breeding ground and tastemakers Dark Descent Records. Idol spearheaded my foray into the OSDM wave of now, and as I’ve gone deeper into the genre, I likewise visited Horrendous’ early discography. 2014’s Ecdysis is iconic at this point, and anyone who poked around Bandcamp in the last few years has surely seen Brian Smith’s stunning artwork as a mainstay in the best selling death metal charts. 

In case you haven’t heard of Horrendous, the elevator pitch is that they offer an expanded and contemporary take on the kind of thrashy and prog-leaning death metal that Death pioneered in the 90’s, and Ecdysis was ahead of the curve on the OSDM revival that continues to peak. A dose of traditional heavy metal creeps in from time to time, and makes the record strangely fun. For instance, check out “When The Walls Fell,” a rock and roll banger of an instrumental that is a late-album delight.

The 2021 repress of Ecdysis was a must-buy for several reasons. First of all, the album is just simply incredible. Further, Dark Descent has an incredible track record; after all, this is the label that pushed Blood Incantation to the top of the conversation in 2019. In terms of physical product, they have a consistent quality to their output that conveys attention to detail and care for the product while remaining obtainable and affordable. When the price of vinyl is skyrocketing in recent years and it’s increasingly common to so LP costs upwards of $35 or more straight from the label, Ecdysis is available for $18 before shipping. It’s a steal, if you ask me. And it’s always a treat to have a colored LP matching the artwork, and the orange/blue merge looks incredible.

Purchase at Dark Descent | Purchase at Bandcamp | Discogs 

-JR

Undeath – Lesions of a Different Kind

Bone with maroon/black splatter. 2nd pressing limited to 250 copies. 
Prosthetic Records

Earlier I made a point to never trust a mockup, but this time it worked out in my favor. I was late to discovering Undeath’s debut album Lesions of a Different Kind, and by late, I mean about a month and a half. You’d imagine that’s not very late, but to the format of vinyl, particularly from an hyped-up OSDM band, the vinyl can move quick. By the time I arrived to the party with Christmas money to blow, we were left with pre-orders for a picture disc and scraps of the second pressing left, which included a cokebottle clear (eh) and a bone with maroon and black splatter that was sold out on Bandcamp but had stock left at Prosthetic at the time. If I’m being honest, the mockup wasn’t super inspiring and looked like it might be messy, but I settled on the variant because it was cooler than the clear and it seemed like it had fewer copies remaining (because that matters somehow). 

Read more: Death’s Door: 2020 In Review

When the vinyl arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the record actually looked. It complimented the artwork quite well and was much less chaotic than the mockup led me to believe. This record is yet another incidence where having the larger artwork and physical representation helps to sell the album. Death metal has always been great about thriving on the vinyl format, and Lesions of a Different Kind is no different. It simply looks and sounds phenomenal. Fitting for one of death metal’s best albums of 2020. If you enjoy catchy songwriting and wall-to-wall riffs in your death metal, look no further. Owning OSDM in a physical format feels nice, and if you’re a fan of The Riff, grab this one in another variant while you still can. 

This variant is sold out (sorry!) | Discogs
Other editions may be available: Prosthetic Records | Bandcamp

-JR

Eden’s Funtime T-shirt Column

Hello! It’s me, Eden! If you read the blog, you probably already know a lot about me; I tend to overshare (even if I do bury my secrets deep in 10,000 word articles that no one reads). But what you might not know about me, is that I really, really like band t-shirts! In fact, I have a closet full of them. So, each time we run Heavy Buys, I’ll be digging into my closet, drawing out a random shirt, and talking about it, why I bought it and when, what memories I have with it, and so on. Let’s get started!

Oh yeah, you’re getting the real deal; straight out of the closet, wrinkles included! This one is a really good first draw; Stone From the Sky are an incredible French psychedelic rock band and one of the first bands to get me acquainted with the excellent French psychedelic scene. Also, this t-shirt straight up owns: the drawing is amazing, the logo rules and has just enough of those trippy vibes inherent in the band’s music, and it’s super comfortable to boot. I love how it evokes distant and fantastical places, just like the band’s music does.

I think the best memory that this t-shirt evokes is blasting their album super loud on the way to work one day. It was sunny but there were sporadic rain showers and everything had that really bright and clean vibe. The air was crackling with it! The band’s music blended really well with that atmosphere and put me in an amazing, bright-hearted mood for the rest of the day.

Guess what? You can still buy this one right here!

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