Welcome back to Heavy Buys, our column (mostly) dedicated to physical media and soft merch paid for out of the pockets of Heavy Blog writers themselves (no paid / free promo materials here!). The last few months have been relatively dry out here, thanks in part to the vinyl bubble, global pandemic, and materials shortage contributing to a huge backlog in vinyl hitting shelves when they were supposed to.
Earlier in the year, I feel like we were collectively getting dozens of records per month, now we’re piecemealing these albums slowly. It would appear that the mid-year bottleneck of albums is starting to come to a close, and in the two weeks of this post being drafted behind the scenes, I’ve suddenly began getting notification after notification of shipping alerts, so look forward to more consistent breakdowns of our music purchases for the rest of the year.
We’ve talked about it before, but the whole vinyl situation is looking a bit dire. Labels left and right are giving notice to those who purchased pre-orders of long delays, and albums coming out before the end of the year have vinyl shipping dates as far out as next summer! It makes me anxious, for sure, that the hobby I’ve invested so much time and money into appears to be reaching a breaking point. Hopefully things will improve over the next year.
But as for now: we’ve got highlighted purchases this month from the legendary post-metal unit Isis, as well as new releases from Halsey and Deafheaven on top of some other odds and ends. Read about those below.
Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
Seaglass | First pressing; limited to 1000
Is there a thrill greater than catching a preorder announcement within minutes of it going up? I’m talking about the pulse-racing frenzy fueled by bands who have both 1. a ravenous following and 2. the size, stature, and crossover appeal to pull in considerably more disc-loving eyeballs than your average black metal band. Deafheaven all-but ensured such mania when they dropped lead single “In Blur,” so I considered myself extremely fortunate to nab a copy before waiting around for a second press. Given the current state of vinyl production times, I feel like I might start to bow out for preorders I’m not going to have in-hand for another six-to-nine months and grab ‘em on release day the old-fashioned way.
Anyway, obtaining a copy of this became a little more cumbersome than my initial speed-clicking foretold. This begins my personal gripe-a-thon. Preorders, in my humble opinion, should take a bit of priority in the grand scheme of vinyl distribution. Fuck logistics, fuck “rules,” the people shelling out for your record immediately after you announce it should be treated with enough respect to have a copy in-hand on release day. Is that so much to ask? I don’t feel like this is a ridiculous request, I’ve gotten a number of preorders sometimes even a week prior to the release day. It’s nice, it makes me feel good, it’s a positive customer transaction. This one? Eleven days after it’s release on August 20. I could be more crabby about this – fortunately I had access to stream it while I was waiting – but it didn’t even hit the mail until a week after release. Bummer. I get there’s a number of backups everywhere because of the pandemic, but it’s irksome to wait beyond the street date for a presale. Like, that just doesn’t compute for me. Still, it could be worse!
And it was. The whole deal arrived at my home snapped in half, basically flopping over as I picked it up off my stoop. USPS conveniently ignored the fluorescent green “FRAGILE – DO NOT BEND” sticker Hello Merch (the third party who handles Sargent House’s online sales) placed on the mailer. So I hammered out a quick email to explain what happened, and Hello Merch responded promptly and was very helpful. I had to cover shipping costs for a replacement (oh, the irony…), but they were great about accepting a Venmo payment to get things moving quickly. I got a new tracking number that same day and received it another two weeks later. All things considered, the situation was handled about as good as one could ask (thanks, Chris!), and I scored a couple mildly damaged poly-lined sleeves in the transaction and a download code for a friend.
The record itself? Well, it’s exactly as dreamy as I’d hoped it’d be. It sounds great throughout – the synths tickle, guitars shimmer and flash brightly, and the flow of the album plays nicely with the format. Others have reported some surface noise on other variants, but I’m not experiencing such troubles. [Note: there’s a second(?) press of this variant available for preorder now, shipping in November.] As sublime as the audio is, the package and design are pretty disappointing. I’m a big fan of the design aesthetic of this record, the ambiguous cover art and attention to typeface design had me thinking there’d be something more of substance in the physical presentation, but it’s literally just a single pocket jacket with a very simple lyric sheet. No photos. No booklet. No poster. The sleeves are nice and I like how they broke down the gear they used to record the album in the notes, but other than that, this is really bare bones. For $30, it’s not bad, but it’s not great, either.
Purchase: Hello Merch | Discogs
Isis – Panopticon
Black | Fourth press; Limited to 200
Ipecac / Robotic Empire
Panopticon was pretty high on my wish list, so I was gutted to miss out on the 2021 repress (more on that below). Fortunately for me (muahahaha), I was scrolling through the social media-verse at the exact perfect time soon thereafter and came across an announcement from Hydra Head (…I think?) that included many rarities and early pressings of a number of early Isis records. As luck had it, there were a number of different copies of Panopticon available, and I opted for a spend comparable to the repress (about $40). I wasn’t really concerned about color, I just wanted to lock down a copy because these suckers go notoriously fast (I’d know, I’ve missed out on Sumac posters/prints a few times before).
I was genuinely surprised by what I found when I opened the mailer. The glossy aerial photography I so strongly associated with the record was not to be found, but I was instead greeted by some interesting alternative artwork featuring a shadowy figure walking through the night, pairing nicely with the standard black wax. The cover gives a similar but different vibe, taking the “watcher” gaze to a much more personal and seedy headspace, to the point where it actually colors my connection to the music. It sounds darker, grimier, and more confrontational than before. Am I misremembering things? I always felt there was a sort of distance that existed on this record, more in tune with the beloved aerial photos I was so familiar with (which find their way into the presentation via the gatefold, labels, and insert).
This does, however, sound wonderful. The dynamics on display make me feel like my turntable is working magic. Delicate and sparse moments are as eerie as ever, they have this way of almost creeping up on you as they build, like their presence can be detected before you can really hear it. And when things get massive, it becomes a wonder how these two worlds can exist in just one groove. Even if you aren’t going to (or can’t) pick up a physical copy of this, it’s soo worth revisiting.
Purchase: Sold out (for now?) | Discogs
Isis – Panopticon
Red and Clear Swirl | 2021 Repress – Online Exclusive; Limited to 300
Back in July, Ipecac Recordings and post-metal legends Isis announced a run of represses for classics Panopticon (2004) and Oceanic (2002). Panopticon was my favorite of the two, so I immediately went in for the online exclusive before they sold out later that day. With that same announcement came a promise of a generous pressing of other variants which would be available come September (here we are!) at record stores, and I was able to get Oceanic from my local indie record store (more on that below). I’ve been fan of Isis for a while, but as I only ever managed to pick up Mosquito Control and Wavering Radiant (their first and last releases, incidentally), filling out more of their essential works (and their peak era!) was exciting.
The red and clear swirl takes the splash of red in the album title and pushes it further. The discs are actually gorgeous, but a blue/clear swirl might have have been the move. Some more superficial criticisms: inner sleeves aren’t poly-lined. When approaching $40 and the rest of the packaging being such high quality, why are paper sleeves still being used? It’s a pet peeve of mine, because paper sheds and scratches up discs. There’s also a seam split in the inside of my gatefold, but again, I’m just being petty in this paragraph.
Beyond that, the packaging is thick and sturdy, and with glorious presentation. The record plays relatively clear after a deep clean, as expected from the band and label. Could Isis get away with putting out a subpar pressing? Unlikely, with their fanbase and prestige. I’m just happy to have this one, finally.
Purchase: Sold out, sorry! Other editions available through indie record stores | Discogs
Isis – Oceanic
Clear with black and gold splatter | 2021 Repress – Indie Store Exclusive; limited to 1700
Now on to Oceanic. This indie store exclusive is stunning, and I think I like the variant better than the more limited Panopticon pressing above. The black streaks are striking against the clear, and the gold splatter looks like gold flakes dispersed through the record. It’s also more visually consistent with the album cover, which is always nice to see!
As expected, the album sounds phenomenal, with a relatively quiet remaster that pays mind to dynamics; you’re gonna have to crank the volume on this one. There’s very little noise from my copy, and anyone who has read this column before may understand that this is a problem I deal with all too frequently. My only complaint about the media: the labels on the records don’t specify what side you’re spinning (unless I missed something), so you’re going to have to look at the runout etchings to find out where you’re at. The packaging is nice, with a heavyweight gatefold. Everything about this pressing is substantial and high quality, as with Panopticon. Unfortunately, there’s a large scratch on my cover (which you may see in the photos above), but that doesn’t break my heart so much.
These Isis records are genre staples and, dare I say, mandatory. As of writing this post, indie stores are selling their copies on Discogs for about $40, which is consistent with the sticker price off the shelf at my own local store. Don’t miss out on this one while you can still nab some post-metal history. Connect with your nearest shops; they’ll be happy to check distributors and order copies for you if you get to them in time!
Purchase: Not available online, check with your independent record store | Discogs
Ingurgitating Oblivion – Vision Wallows In Symphonies of Light
Gray Opaque; Limited to 500
It’s become a tale as old as time: Willowtip records miraculously finds a box of records that have long been sold out and puts them up on Bandcamp for Bandcamp Fridays. For September’s, they happened upon copies of avant garde death metal act Ingurgitating Oblivion‘s 2017 opus Vision Wallows In Symphonies of Light on white and black merge. I got the email and hopped on over to Bandcamp to completely pass on the $35 rarities in favor of the $21 gray edition I did not know were still available. I had attempted to buy this album years ago but must have caught them between pressings as I was experiencing some unexpected car troubles, I felt it appropriate to settle and save that $14.
To my mind, Willowtip has never done me dirty. The label is one of the most prolific and consistently high quality death metal labels around, and their vinyl output is no different. Fairly standard 2xLP gatefold packaging; no complaints there. The record sounds pretty clear and massive. I’ve always said death metal flourishes on the format, particularly dynamic stuff like this. The grey also looks very nice against the monochromatic cover, yet I mourn the swirl that could have been. As you might have read above regarding Isis, that’s the sort of thing I tend to care about when funds allow.
Luckily for you, as of drafting this post, the page still advertises 8 remaining copies of the more rare white/black merge, so if you’re more inclined to splurge on one of the last remaining copies of an avant garde death metal masterpiece that looks mighty fine against a collection that also features Gorguts, Defeated Sanity, Ad Nauseam, Blood Incantation, Ulcerate, and Pyrrhon, by all means get it while you can. The gray is also evidently still very available for cheaper, as well if you want a certified classic on a budget.
Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Translucent Red | Urban Outfitters Exclusive
Not to be flippant or dismissive, but I’ve never cared about Halsey before in my life. The songs they played on the radio in the past were largely inoffensive, but I’ve never felt any particular way about them before 2021, which saw the “New Americana” singer and one-time Chainsmokers collaborator teaming up with two time Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails for their album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. Read more of my thoughts in September’s Editors Picks, but this record is one of my favorites of the year, taking Halsey’s pop songwriting and sensibility and elevating it with shades of shoegaze, industrial, and punk for a powerful album with themes on motherhood, femininity, and sexuality and how these ideas interact with each other.
If you haven’t seen the original cover of the album, it’s a bit NSFW due to an exposed breast. Even with having kids, this isn’t so much of a hang-up for me, but when I saw the alternate cover for the Urban Outfitters Exclusive, I just thought it was cooler and had to have it. For what it’s worth, I’ve purchased this album twice, with the Walmart exclusive transparent grey sitting right next to this on the shelf. Truth be told, I haven’t played that one yet.
The translucent red looks nice, but has some persistent problems that you tend to get with releases like this: it sounds fine enough, but with a thin, low quality paper sleeve housing the record, you’re gonna get some debris and noise. It’s not the thickest piece of vinyl ever. I didn’t expect a level of clean audiophile quality that one would get out of a Nine Inch Nails record (you’re really only going to get that with a thick, standard black pressing), so this pressing is fine. It comes in a standard sleeve with lyrics insert. No frills beyond the limited pressing. As usual, to get the most out of all of your purchases, you’re going to want to do a deep cleaning and throw out that paper sleeve for something like a MoFi antistatic sleeve. Should we do an edition of Heavy Buys about cleaning, storage, and protection? Let us know!
At the end of the day, the alt cover and novelty made up for some of the pitfalls of the pressing (like a crackling on quiet tracks like “Tradition” and “Darling”), but perhaps NIN fans coming into this record with certain expectations could benefit from a different variant, particularly the black, which has had great reviews. Don’t bother with the scalper prices on Discogs in order to experience the record.
Purchase: Sold Out at Urban Outfitters (sorry!) | Discogs | Other pressings may be available.