Josh’s Grid with Jon’s Comments
Crypts of Despair – “Being – Erased”
The first feeling that enters my heart upon listening to this track is shame. How in the hell did I miss this? The album art for Crypts of Despair’s latest record All Light Swallowed (which is awesome, by the way) has been popping up all over my periphery as of late, but I never took the opportunity to give any of the tracks on this record a go. I’m an idiot, because this shit is fire.
If you like your death metal doom-laden and blackened to a crisp, this track is as delicious and malicious as you’re going to encounter. The more black metal-influenced opening of the track smacks of early Gaerea, with ascending and descending tremolo picking over an absolutely ferocious assault on the drums. As the track progresses, hints of Incantation and Hooded Menace also rear their ugly heads, churning a blast beat frenzy into something much slimier and far more murky. But one of the most impressive aspects of this track is its consistency within these changes, attacking the listener with a sonic lashing that’s every bit as consistently awesome as it is various. Josh hit it out of the park with this rec. Bravo..
The Design Abstract – “Data Shield Attack”
Hm. This sure is synthy. My first couple listens of this track netted me little definitive perspective on whether or not I like or am incredibly annoyed by this. I think I fall into the former category, especially the more I listen. This type of progressive death metal is always a 50/50 shot for me. Synthetic/symphonic elements can come across to me as ambitious and stately (think Fleshgod Apocalypse, Septicflesh, Opeth, etc.), or downright cringe-worthy and miserable to listen to (insert more bands than I can count here). It’s a tricky style to pull off, but The Design Abstract are leaving a positive impression with time, and I’ve gotta say I’m digging it.
One think I really enjoy about this track is how the band undergirds its synth-heavy warblings with chug-heavy guitar work. Rather than choosing to utterly overwhelm listeners with a barrage of balls-to-the-wall freneticism, The Design Abstract understand that there is such a thing as sensory overload and do a great job in the songwriting department allowing each unique element of the track to shine without being drowned out or beaten to death by other aspects of the track. I think this is an immensely underrated skill in the metal community that even some of the genre’s best fail to employ, so hats off to some fantastic songwriting chops here.
Yeah, this is cool. I’m in.
Angelus Apatrida – “Indoctrinate”
Damn. Josh is throwing me straight heaters here. This is my first brush with the music of Angelus Apatrida, but if I ever have a crossover thrash itch that I need to scratch, I know where I’m headed. With the passing of Riley Gale and the uncertain future of Power Trip, I’ve been interested to see how the genre grows and develops in the absence of one of its most brilliant practitioners. If Angelus Apatrida are to be used as an example of the subgenre’s future, I’d say we’re in good hands. This track rips.
Melding the sounds of crossover hitters like Iron Reagan, Black Breath, and Enforced with the darker, grittier vibes of Gatecreeper or Toxic Holocaust, Angelus Apatrida belong square in the middle of the crossover conversation if the quality of “Inodctrinate” is indicative of the band’s overall output. The riffs here are thick af, coming at the listener at a break-neck pace that wastes no time and takes no prisoners. The vocals here are also quite enjoyable, channeling a 1980s thrash vibe that makes me want to pump my fist and punch something squishy. It’s exactly the type of track I’m going to gravitate toward when I’m pissed about the state of the world (which is essentially daily at this juncture). Great stuff.
Trillionaire – “Yes, Mistress”
Then, just as quickly as it swooped in, the hitter streak vanished. This is the first track on this list that has failed to grab me on the first few listens, which is a shame. On paper, I feel like this should compel me much more strongly than it has. Trillionaire is the kind of band I’m rooting for, but perhaps I need to give their unique brand of progressive metal more time and attention. It’s not at all “bad”, and I would not be opposed to hear this record in its entirety. But it’s a “meh” on the instantly gratify-o-meter.
I’ve been trying to pin down why this isn’t clicking with me as strongly as I would have suspected, and strangely enough, the vocals are keeping me from loving this. The music itself is fine if somewhat unflashy, but the vocals here feel more alt rock than they do metallic, which for this type of music really just doesn’t work for me. They’re not even unpleasant to listen to! It’s the amalgamation of their approach with the music that just is not driving me towards enjoyment. Maybe this will benefit from some more time under the hood, but we shall see. On first impression, this one didn’t stick with me.
Cry – “闇に溶ける静脈” [Veins that Melt in the Dark]
OH SHIT WE’RE BACK. Never heard of this band, but god DANG does this shit rip. Goodness gracious. Cry apparently hail from Japan, and their first record should be an absolute doozy based on the music included here. The link below is a collection of snippets from various tracks on the record, and I strongly encourage you to give it the time of day. This is the type of stuff that should make fans of Unfathomable Ruination and Benighted quite happy.
There’s not a whole lot to say outside of this melted my face right off. The production value eschews the more polished nature of many of Cry’s sonic contemporaries, feeling more akin to a record written by an up-and-coming band with raw equipment and aesthetic that often helms closer to early Pig Destroyer than any of the above-mentioned bands. I love it. There’s almost nothing here that feels oversaturated or shot to hell through manic compression. The instruments pop, with the blazing guitars never overwhelming the drumwork (both of which are fantastic), and the vocals blend brutal death metal grindcore in a brilliant way, making the whole thing feel both intensely chaotic and thoroughly enjoyable. This might be my favorite thing Josh has shared thus far on this list. Let’s GO.
Vinegar Strokes – “Surrender”
Big time musical whiplash going here. Needed to take a minute to let what was happening sink in after Cry fucking beat me to a bloody pulp. Vinegar Strokes, to my knowledge, is the stage name of a contestant on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I don’t know anything about this individual or their career prior to this musical exposure, but I gotta say… they’ve got some pipes.
When it comes to pop this is 100% NOT my style at all. I will never choose to listen to this brand of pop, just because my preferences tend further toward the indie-rock influenced variety of popular music. With that said, Vinegar Strokes can flat-out sing and that voice is far and away my favorite part of this track. The beats are fine, the production is polished, professional, and serviceable, but the aspect that punches you in the face is that voice. Fun, full, vibrant, and brimming with pizzazz and life. It’s a treat to listen to, and for that reason alone I dig what’s going on here. Get that voice over some more interesting music and I’m all aboard the Vinegar Strokes train.
Architects – “Goliath” (feat. Sam Niel from Biffy Clyro)
Oh boy. Now this is a band that I have some history with. Architects’ first few albums are among my favorite metalcore records ever. The intensity, sense of melody, and outright passion that they bring to their songwriting and performances is unparalleled. I wish I could say that their last few records only bolstered that opinion. Unfortunately I found both their last record Holy Hell and their latest, For Those That Wish to Exist, to be far inferior to their predecessors. The movement of metalcore toward anthemic, cinematic pop is baffling to me and, frankly, sounds generally terrible to my ears. Though, to Josh’s ever-plentiful credit, this track is by far my favorite on the record and one of the best examples of how to mix those more pop-oriented elements with the appropriate amount of metallic intensity.
From the chug-heavy opening seconds to the symphonic closing, this track is extremely engaging and enjoyable to listen to. The blend of clean and harsh vocals works here far better than it does in other places in the band’s discography. I can imagine a stadium going nuts to this track, and no lie I’d be right there with them. This is metalcore in cinemascope, widescreen anthems for a large audience. If that’s what they’re going for, they succeeded in spades with “Goliath”. I won’t complain if this tracks hits the speakers. Just wish the rest of this record was as engaging for me as this track is.
The Ruins of Beverast – “Ropes Into Eden”
I’m just going to say it now to avoid any confusion. The Thule Grimoires is AOTY material and there isn’t a single track on the record that helms anywhere close to a dud. But of all the tracks on that titanic, truly incredible piece of work, “Ropes Into Eden” may be the most unexpected and bold of the bunch. Serving as an introduction to one of the best records of The Ruins of Beverast’s career, it’s a stunning opening shot that sets the tone for the rest of the record brilliantly. It’s unconventional and awesome.
One key change that TRoB bring in Grimoires is the incorporation of a more pronounced penchant for goth rock. This emphasis is felt throughout the record and appears relatively quickly into “Ropes Into Eden”, as does the focus on woozy, psychedelic black metal elements that were found most readily in Exuvia. If you like your drum work propulsive, your guitars layered and multi-textured, and your vocals a blend between black metal barks and goth rock cleans, “Ropes Into Eden” will make you a happy camper indeed. If not… what’s wrong with you? Kidding, but just barely. This track is a complete package of excellence in the same way that the record it sits in is. Listen and be transported.
Enforced – “Kill Grid”
Enforced are not to be trifled with. Their short career so far consists of nothing but complete and total bangers. Their latest record Kill Grid is no exception, nor is the title track from the record. I’ve always loved crossover and thrash-oriented tracks that bring this level of intensity and skill to their blistering few moments of fame, and if you feel the same way “Kill Grid” is going to pillage your insides. One of the best bands working in this space today, and an amazing track that clearly demonstrates their insane skills.
While they are certainly a talented band, one of the most consistently awesome aspects of their music is its relentlessness. Enforced are unapologetically forceful, living up to their name by shoving riff after violent riff down our throats without a single shred of remorse. “Kill Grid”, contextualized within the rest of the record, is actually a more moderately paced and deliberate track than many of the other tracks it shares space with. Black Breath definitely feels like an influence here, with the guitars bashing and blending chug-heavy riffs and more doom-oriented passages together into a thrash-oriented stew that grows more and more sinister as the track progresses, leading to an absolutely blistering finale that’s just awe inspiring to hear. There’s nothing about this record or track that’s worthy of significant complaint. What a blast.
Jon’s Grid with Josh’s Comments
Empyrium – “The Three Flames Saphire”
It takes a lot for folk metal to grab me. Is this even metal? Not really. Not at all, really, apart from some sparse harsh vocals toward the end. Skimming through the rest of the album, it seems like they dip into more explicitly metal territories here and there, but only very occasionally. The main “riff,” or chord progression, reminds me a lot of something off Opeth’s Heritage (2011) or Pale Communion Records (2014), or even some of their earlier, folksier stuff on albums like Morningrise (1996) or Still life (1999), so I can see some connection there, but this is still a world away from what I’d usually listen to.
I can see the appeal and I think it’s done well, but I don’t think it’s for me, and nothing about it really jumped-out or stuck with me about this track, besides its overall texture. I find the following track on the record, “A Lucid Tower Beckons On The Hills Afar,” a lot more engaging and dynamic, but it seems like most of Über den Sternen is more in line with “The Three Flames Saphire,” so I haven’t delved any deeper.
Kings of Leon – “Charmer”
I know that, among some circles, Kings of Leon retain some genuine rock n’ roll cred, based on these earlier albums. I think it might be an American thing, because, out here (in Australia) their career more or less began and ended with “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” – or at least it did among my less-informed group of then-teen friends (apparently this record reached number 4 in Australia, so what do I know). Based on this reputation, the earlier Kings of Leon records are something I’ve always meant to check out at some point but never really gotten around to.
An early-Nirvana-style riff, punctuated by unsettling, intermittent screaming was not what I expected. It was an, if not “pleasant” then extremely intriguing surprise. This is a world away from the tired mum-rock I’d come to associate them with. My problem with “Charmer” is that’s really all you get. The song it really reminded me of is Pixies’ “Debaser” – which is a great song! But it’s also a dynamic one, that still manages to build and change across the course of its sub-three-minute runtime. There’s no real difference between the beginning of “Chalmer” and its end, which also made it feel a lot longer than three-minutes. I think I prefer “Sex on Fire”.
Judas Priest – “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”
Here we go! My respect for Judas Priest has increased exponentially since the release of the awesome Firepower (2018), to the point that it’s now become my go-to Priest record, so it’s nice to dip back into the band’s classic period and be reminded of how awesome they were back then as well.
“You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” Is one of the band’s better-known songs, which I’ve heard many times before, but it still remains as kick-ass and infectious as ever. This is the first time I’ve realised that the start sounds like a tougher version of Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded”, which sent me off to listen to Foreigner’s fantastic 1992 compilation The Very Best… And Beyond (“Soul Doctor” is a total banger!). So, between that and revisiting Screaming for Vengeance (1982) for the first time in a while, I’ve been having a pretty rockin’ week. Thanks Jon!
Black Country, New Road – “Science Fair”
I gave For the First Time (2021) a quick listen when it came out, because of all the hype it was getting. My suspicions that it wasn’t going to be for me were quickly confirmed, when I was greeted by something I immediately dismissed as a more cynical take on Idles. I’m feeling a lot more positive about it after revisiting this song and letting it sit with me for a while.
The music is a lot more varied and interesting than Idles, and the extra cyniscism and acerbicness comes across as a lot more genuine as well, so that I’m seeing a clearer connection to the darkness of Daughters last record, even if the auraul textures are a lot different. The way it devolves into the manic saxophone solo at the end is really cool and reminds me of Bill Pullman’s paranoid decline in Lost Highway (1997), which is something I definitely don’t get from Idles. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to dive head-first back into this one, but I am definitely intrigued. Maybe after a few more spins of the new Arab Strap record, which I’m really digging and has a similar (although much smoother) sort of vibe and I’ll be ready for a revisit.
Iotuun – “Access All Worlds”
This is another one I’ve had on my radar for a bit and am glad for the push to finally check it out. I can definitely see why this album has been getting so much buzz. This track reminds me of Crimson-era Edge of Sanity or later Enslaved, mixed with the grandiosity of Wilderun and a bit of Be’lakor and Ne Obliviscaris maybe. This is pretty much the antithesis of Kings of Leon, so it’s no surprise that this is my favourite song on Jon’s list. The sheer breadth of what’s going on here makes things like that Empyrium track seem pretty slack as well. The solo around the nine-and-a-half-minute mark, in particular, is utterly incredible.
I don’t have much else to say about it right now, since I’m still letting it sink in. I haven’t had a chance to go fully-in on this album yet, but it’s definitely become a top priority and, if the rest of it matches this track in terms of quality, you can expect to this on my end of year list come December(/next February).
Julien Baker – “Faith Healer”
I struggle with this new wave of female singer-songwirters. It’s not that I don’t think they’re good musiscians, or even that I don’t enjoy listening to them all that much. It’s just that I find them all very similar sounding – song-to-song as much as artist-to-artist. Maybe I’m wrong to lump them all in together, or else maybe that’s just genre’s for you, but I clearly don’t have the reference points to distinguish what makes this song stand out from Phoebe Bridgers or Fiona Apple or whoever, and it’s not resonating with me emotionally either.
That’s probably unsurprising, since I’m an angsty thirty-year old man who likes thrash metal and Julien Baker is… not. The kind of female-led pop music I regularly listen to is also at the complete other end of the spectrum to this, which has far more in common with the Taylor Swift albums I don’t like than the ones I do. This kind of music is clearly striking a chord with alternative and metal listeners and critics lately, but it’s been passing me by completely and Julien Baker doesn’t seem like she’s going to be the one to change that.
Ad Nauseum – “Horror Vaccuai”
I absolutely love Gorguts and Ulcerate but, I have to confess, I’m really starting to loose interest in other dissonant death metal acts. This style has been iterated on so many times over the last decade, and even the best immitators (Ingurgitating Oblivion, Gigan), haven’t even come close to matching, let alone surpassing the originals. Even if I bounced of the last Ulcerate album pretty hard, there just seems to be an inherent level of quality and innovation there that their followers don’t possess.
I’ve seen this album getting a lot of buzz amid underground metal (and even above-ground hipster) circles, but I’m not really sure why. It’s obviously done well. But if thrash and metalcore bands are going to keep being criticised and dismissed for lacking innovation and being pale imitations of their forefathers, why not this? Originality need not be the be-all and end-all of a record, but there’s so many bands out there doing this kind of sound at the moment. Doing it “well” simply isn’t enough for me anymore, I really need there to be some kind of spin on it for it to stand out and stick with me. What’s really frustrating is that everyone else seems to think there is something special about Ad Nauseum that elevates them above the rest. What am I missing here?
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Suffering Hour – “Strongholds of Awakening”
This song only solidifies my feelings about Ad Nauseum. The textures are immediately captivating, and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard dissonance being used like that, or at least so prominently, as part of a melodic hook before. I do wish “Strongholds of Awakening” developed a bit more across its five minutes, or else cut its runtime down somewhat, but it still manages to keep me fascinated throughout. I don’t know if I’m quite in the right headspace for a whole album of this at the moment, but I’ve definitely earmarked it for future exploration.
Conway the Machine and Big Ghost LTD – “Kill All Rats” (feat. Ransom and Rome Streetz)
Here’s one I hadn’t heard of before. I’ll make my normie comparisons upfront and say the first thing this reminded me of was The Notorious B.I.G. with Ransom’s steady, story-telling delivery at the start. I’ve always been more of a Tupac man myself, which is to say I’ve always connected more with the overall vibe rather than the lyrics when it comes to hip-hop. There’s definitely a brooding darkness about this song that I connect with and – again, maybe I’m showing my ignorance here but – there also seems to be a clear Killer Mike influence on the three MC’s tone and flow. Yet, while Killer Mike’s lyrics are certainly the centrepiece of Run the Jewels, what draws me to them, over other modern hip hop acts, and what keeps me coming back to them, is the musical experimentation.
“Kill All Rats” is oozing with mood, but it feels more like a backdrop to me than something that jumps out and demands my attention. In fact, it kind of reminds me of the Quake II (1997) soundtrack or something like that, although I wasn’t able to find out what/if it sampled anything. I also don’t love the whole mouth-gun noises trend that’s become popular in modern hip hop these days, so that was a bit of a put-off by the end. I like this song, I just wanted more from it. I’m not sure checking out Conway the Machine’s other material is where I’m going to find it, although I’d be stoked to hear him showing up as a guest-spot somewhere, since I really like his vocal tone and delivery.