Fellow Melbournian Heavy Blogger Karlo was one of my very first Playlist Swaps back when I joined the Blog in 2017. A lot has happened since then, but we’re still here, Blogging away. So, since it’s almost AOTY time, we thought we’d take another crack at this by sharing some of our favourite tracks from throughout 2021.
Josh’s Grid with Karlo’s Comments
Don Broco – “Manchester Super Reds No. 1 Fan”
Despite sleeping on Josh’s fervent Don Broco recommendations for much of 2018, I finally checked out Don Broco’s previous record, Technology, in early 2019, and boy had I been sleeping. In hindsight Technology was easily a top 3 AOTY in 2018, as the UK band perfected the combination of thick tones, bouncy riffs, and ear worm vocal melodies with one of the best pop rock albums you’ll find. Fast forward a few years and the hype train was flying past F1 cars as I, an avid Manchester United F.C. supporter, laid eyes on the lead single to the recently released Amazing Things, “Manchester Super Reds No. 1 Fan”.
On first listen I was a little thrown by the structure of the track as the vocals and rhythms zig-zagged between near spoken word, rapping, singing, and a vocoder all in the space of a minute and a half. On second listen I knew where the verses and choruses were and was content that I wasn’t going to be disappointed and that I did in fact like the song. On third listen all I could think was “YEAH, YEAH, ULTRASONIC PEOPOOOOLE” as I realised this wasn’t just a good song, it was a fucking banger and they had picked up right from where they left off on Technology. Despite some stiff competition from Normandie’s Dark and Beautiful Secrets, Don Broco remain the kings of pop rock in 2021 so grab your car keys, turn those speakers up and “sing it fucking loud”!
Todrick Hall – “Rainin’ Fellas”
This is the only song in Josh’s list that I hadn’t previously heard. I first came to know of Todrick Hall through his choreography on RuPaul’s Drag Race (I write as my partner’s Katya, Trixie, and Vanjie merchandise stares down at me from our bookshelf), and the only song of his I’ve previously heard is the highly memorable video clip for “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels.”
While the lyrical fare on “Rainin’ Fellas“ is much the same (“it’s raining dicks and ass”), musically we’re in much more conventional pop territory here. Right off the bat we’re hit with a saccharine chorus hook via layered a capella harmonies whilst a pulsing beat joins the party throughout the verses. Bring back the vocal hook and some laser-through-club-smoke synths for the chorus and we’re hitting club anthem status. Not a style of pop I particularly care for, but it’s catchy as hell and I’ll have this stuck in my head for a few days no doubt (thanks Josh) and probably months if my partner hears about this.
Moonspell – “Common Prayers”
Every year, every album I listen to finds its way into a google doc charting my favourite albums of the year. There are four main categories the document is divided between. “Albums I want to revisit” is my top 15-30 albums of the year, those I see myself gladly returning to time and again over the years. “Albums I enjoyed“ are the honourable mentions, albums 30-100 that I enjoyed while listening to them, but were outclassed by other releases in the genre or didn’t leave much of an impression once they left my weekly rotation. “Fine” lists those albums that are nice enough and by no means bad, but don’t leave much of an impression even when listening to them. Finally, “No thanks” is the records I didn’t enjoy and am confident I would not enjoy even if I spent a lot more time with them.
Why this tangential preamble? Moonspell’s Hermitage was one of the earlier entries into the “Fine” category this year. In fact, when Josh suggested “Common Prayers” I had to check my doc to see if I’d heard the album before because I remember absolutely nothing about it (a good sign I categorised it correctly to begin with). 30 seconds into this song I started sweating. After an introductory swell we’re met with pounding toms and then a barnstorming melodic and groovy riff. I love pounding toms. I love barnstorming melodic riffs. Had I made some kind of mistake? The momentum continues to build as keys enter the mix and the riff continues to ingrain itself before the vocals enter stage around the minute mark. And then I realised, again, why this record landed in the “Fine” category. The vocals simply suck the life out of the track like some kind of energy vampire, which isn’t helped by the lack of any substantial riff in the verses. Even when the aforementioned barnstormer makes a post-chorus comeback it’s too little too late. All in all, re-listening to “Common Prayers” has left me with no desire to revisit Hermitage, but in saying that I understand why Josh is digging it. If the vocals don’t bother you then climb atop the bandwagon with Josh and let him regale you in tales of vegetarianism and science fiction as you blast some Moonspell together.
Between the Buried and Me – “Never Seen / Future Shock”
There was a time where Between the Buried and Me was one of my favourite bands and Colors (2009) one of my favourite records, but that love has waned over time. I’ve been content to let us slowly drift apart. Having been a huge fan I understand the appeal of the band, but that particular brand of prog – with its gratuitous album lengths and exteeended instrumental breaks – no longer appeals to me the way it once did. And so Colors II found itself in my “Albums I enjoyed” category.
Coming back to this track I’m reminded of what I love about BTBAM and about why I no longer listen to them. Killer riffs abound, from the twisting and serpentine intro riff, to the smooth, floor stomping chorus riff, to the powerful mid-song breakdown. The use of some alternative instruments (e.g. the acoustic and fretless/EBow guitars) deliver mostly hits, the brief flirtations with other genres mostly misses. Further, Tommy’s harsh vocals have never really sat well with me, something about the tone just doesn’t hit right, but the song really shines in his clean sections. The chorus melody is a fantastic hook and I wish they’d reigned in some of the instrumental excess and allowed room for more than just two iterations of the chorus – the ideas there were worth building the whole song around. There’s a fantastic nine-minute song hiding in these twelve minutes and that sums up my experience of the band’s work as a whole.
Employed to Serve – “Universal Chokehold”
I lean a lot heavier on the “metal” side of metalcore and Employed to Serve are a lot further on the “hardcore” side of the spectrum for my usual tastes. But damn this record hits fucking hard and it has well and truly won me over. Opening track “Universal Chokehold” is no exception. Don’t let the opening melodic riff and string section fool you for we’re dealing with some whack-a-mole experts here, except the whack is their riffs and the mole is your face. It doesn’t matter where you pop up, which song or passage you’re listening to, they’re onto you faster than Bullet Bill with a donkey’s kick of a riff, rhythm, or venomous vocal. And if the last minute of this track doesn’t have you banging your head, clenching your fists, stomping the ground or flipping nearby furniture than take a good, hard look in the mirror.
Panopticon – “Moth Eaten Soul”
Panopticon is a band I’ve never been able to get into. Folk music and atmospheric black metal are not among my preferred genres and here we are combining those two elements together. Granted, this is the record that by far and away came closest to bringing me over. While the distance traveled was great, unfortunately it was nowhere near great enough and they too landed in the “Fine” category. While not particularly to my tastes, you’ve got to hand it to them on the composition of “Moth Eaten Soul”. The double kick is constantly unleashing a barrage of heavy artillery fire, rapid-fire tremolos raking the soundscape like machine guns among doom-laden tones, foreboding bells, and pained violin to name but a few elements. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this is a fantastic release, and this particular song is among its highlights, but the songwriting and production choices didn’t have me in mind. Sorry Panopticon; it’s not you, it’s me.
Frontierer – “Corrosive Wash”
Employed to Serve: *exists*. Frontierer: that’s cute. If you like your music abrasive and heavier than a sumo wrestler at a buffet than say no more, Frontierer have you covered. The Genre Genesis crew should be thanking their lucky stars that they’re on hiatus at the moment because I don’t they’d appreciate being aurally assaulted by blast beats, harsh screams, atonal samples and feedback, and riffs firing salvo after salvo of hardcore brutality, noise, and laser beams. I applaud the creativity and the sheer destructive energy of Frontierer and their contemporaries, but it’s too abrasive for my tastes and anything more than an EP’s worth of music is too much to handle.
Fucked Up – “Year of the Horse – Act Two”
Come on man, a twenty-six-plus minute song, seriously? While Fucked Up are notionally a post hardcore band, 2021’s Year of the Horse is probably best surmised as a rock opera. The core sound on “Act Two” is a sludgey, bluesy guitar with rumbling growled vocals as the band channel Rob Zombie as their starting point. From there they explore a litany of styles and genres, from choral female chants and vocals, to a Western film’s likely soundtrack, to shoe gaze and even to hypnotic, drone-like build ups. It’s a testament to the band’s creativity and craftsmanship that they’re able to successfully draw upon such a wide variety of sounds whilst maintaining cohesion and seamlessly transitioning between one track and the next. As strong as they are at putting these pieces together, sadly the pieces themselves leave little impression on me. I can see the appeal of this song and the record as a whole, but it just doesn’t draw from a toolkit I am particularly interested in.
Moon Unit – Tuesday
I’m listening to this immediately after that Frontierer track because my ears are in desperate need for some respite and melody. Josh’s first and last picks have really hit home – first the Manchester United connection with Don Broco and now Moon Unit, a band hailing from my motherland of Croatia. These guys offer a wacky take on alternative rock/metal, think Faith No More territory, and “Tuesday” is about as good of an introduction as you could hope for. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of what Moon Unit have to offer, with a melodic chorus, genre hopping and diverse vocal styles, solid riffs, and dancing synths. I enjoy the song, and the record, but not enough to want to return to it time after time. Re-listening to this though I did enjoy it more than I remembered, so maybe I should spend some more time with them before relegating them to “Albums I enjoyed”. All in all a very diverse offering Josh, and while I’m still salty about that twenty-six-minute song, I had fun overall – thanks!
Karlo’s Grid with Josh’s Comments
Halsey – “1121”
Halsey is not someone I ever paid attention to outside of her collaboration with Nine Inch Nails‘ Ternt Reznor and Atticus Ross on this album, but I have to say I’m impressed. The record shows a true appreciation and understanding of Ross and Reznor’s sensibilities; she isn’t just jumping on the bandwagon of everyone’s current favourite Pixar composers. Having said that, I’m not really sure why Karlo picked this particular song. Tracks like “I’m Not a Woman, I’m a God” are totally my jam but I do with there were a few more of them on the record in among all the similar sounding soft songs like this one. I think it sounds good and I enjoy it while it’s on, but once its surprisingly scarce two-minutes-and-forty-six seconds are up, I can’t say it’s left much of an impact on me. Halsey’s vocals sound great and Reznor and Ross’s production characteristically thick and rich, and I’m sure there’s something interesting going on with the lyrics, but overall it sounds more like a glorified intro/interlude track rather than the main event.
Ophidian I – “Diamonds”
Karlo and all the other tech-death officianardos around here have been banging on about this record since it came out but, I have to admit, I don’t really get the hype. Don’t get me wrong, this track still kicks ass; There’s a lot more melody going on compared to your usual tech-death fare, without compromising on the shred, and even the lyrics are uncharacteristically and intelligible. The solo at the end is particularly impressive. It kind of reminds me of Allegaeon, albeit without all the crunchy groove and progresisve elements that really got me invested in that band. I’d be interested in giving this record a second shot but in a year packed with killer tech-death records from genre giants like Obscura and Archspire, (who we’ll get to below), I’m not sure this is quite matching up. Which is to say I think this is a good tech-death album release in 2021, but not one of the best.
Epiphanic Truth – “An Inescapable Verdict”
This song immediately has a bit more interest to me. The tones are pure Everything is Fire/Destroyers of All-era Ulcerate, which I love and the ominous, Lovecraftian vibe reminds me of mine and Karlo’s most mutally frustrating band Hadal Maw. There’s definitely something hypnotic about it, especially among the tom patterns and the bass lines which really come out when listening to it on headphones. Yet, while I love all the elements I do think this is a tad undercooked. I don’t know what, but it just needs that little something extra to tip it over the edge. Oddly, when the band do deviate into differing synth and guitar sections toward the end of the song is where it breaks my immersion and becomes a bit too meandery for me, so maybe I just want them to focus up and sit in the pocket a bit more. To echo Karlo’s comments on BTBAM above, I there’s a great six-to-seven-minute song trapped inside this somewhat meandering almost-ten-minute one, but the foundation for something really interesting is certainly there.
Billie Eilish – “Oxytocin”
This was one of two songs on Karlo’s list that I hadn’t heard before and the one I was most excited to check out. Just like Ophidian I, I didn’t really get the hype around her 2019 debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? but, as with Epiphanic Truth, I recognised the potential for something genuinely exciting to develop from it and was keen to check out how her sound had developed. The pounding bass riff at the start of this song never fails to grab my attention, but I was pretty disappointed to discover that she’s still doing the same, repetitive, disinterested, mumble whisper thing over the top of it—which I’m not a fan of, even at the best of time. This is the exact same song as “Bad Guy” is it not—except less dynamic and even more detached and repetitive? She’s clearly a very talented producer and arguably songwriter as well, but—Jesus Christ!—get someone who actually sounds like they can be bothered being there to sing your songs would you? I like a big fat bass tone as much as anyone else, (maybe even more) but you do need more than that and, while Eilish is both marketed and heralded as one of the most exciting, cutting-edge artists in modern music, I just think she’s really boring.
Crown – “Shades”
Getting to this song has been my favourite part of Karlo’s playlist every time I’ve listened to it. Not only because it means I don’t have to listen to Billie Eilish anymore but because I’m always taken aback by how much it truly slaps! The opening note sounds identical to the Royal Blood collaboration from the most recent Architects album, which I know Karlo loved as well, but rather than Bring Me the Horizon-aping melodies, what we’re greeted with instead here is a grinding industrial guitar riff that reminds me of 3Teeth at their best ans some gothy, new wave vocal overtones—none of which would sound out of place on the most recent (and unjustifiably overlooked) GosT record. What’s weird is that, as striking as this song is, I always have to check what it is, every time it comes on. I also remember spinning the album a bunch around the time it came out, but seem to have completely erased it from my memory since then. I don’t know why I find this song and album so forgettable but the problem clearly lies with me rather than the band themselves, who have a very cool Paradise Lost by way of A Perfect Circle and Katatonia thing going on that I’m all about. This is brilliant and I look forward to carving the record into my mind through repeated re-listens. Thank you so much Karlo for reminding me this is a thing!
Nubian Twist – “Tittle Tattle”
As I listen through this playlist I realise there’s something Karlo really appreciates—consciously or unconsciousness—that I simply do not, and that’s repetition. The main beat and funky riff to this are cool, but do I really hove to listen to them over and over again for a full five minutes? They main phrase to this song is only about two-seconds long, which makes for about one-hundred-and-fifty repetitions interjected only by what I find to be a pretty one-note and overused chorus. Oh and there’s a trumpet solo in there somewhere, but for all its ostensible complexity, when you really boil it down, I just don’t think there’s actually a lot going on here.
Maybe I just don’t like dance music and I’m showing my ignorance, but while this kind of music might be fun to listen to I find it pretty monotonous to actually listen to and it’s not making me want to get up and throw down. This was the others song on Karlo’s list I hadn’t heard before and, unfortunately, alI’d have to say this is also one of my least favourite songs on his list. I don’t dread or despise it the way I do Billie Eilish, but although I like all the individual elements that make up this song, they way they are put together is not doing it for me at all.
Psychonaut – “The Fall of Consciousness”
Ah, this is more my speed. I remember Pete pointing this one out when it first came out in 2018 and being really impressed. In my memory it sounded like a tasty combination of Mastodon and Tool, but this song has way more of a Cult of Luna meets Baroness vibe, which is just as awesome as it sounds. Seriously, is that not a John Baizley guest feature? Again, there’s a large amount of repetition in play, but, like Epiphanic Truth, I find it more hypnotic and enthralling engrossing than dull and off-putting. Unlike Epiphanic Truth, however, I think this is the finished product, which manages to be both ambitious and dynamic while also remaining efficient and concise. Like Crown, this is also an album I remember loving around the time it came out but had more or less slipped my mind since and I am forever indebted to Karlo for reminding me to go listen to it again and you should too. More people should listen to this band.
Archspire – “Drone Corpse Aviator”
Archspire have always been a band I respect more than appreciate. While everyone was loosing their mind over Relentless Mutation in 2017, I thought it was interesting but a bit gimmicky and unrestrained. Karlo and I also happened to catch them live, supporting Psycroptic, the year after and came away pretty unimpressed. Lest this be a repeat of Ophidian I, however, let me clarify right now that this song owns bones. In fact, I feel fully vindicated in my skepticism given just how much of a leap in quality this song and this album are over Archspire’s previous material. Everything about this is just better and better put together than anything the band have done in the past and has set the standard for modern tech-death incredibly high. This song and Bleed the Future are instant genre classics that it’s going to take something truly special to topple. I may have stood at the back of the pit with my arms crossed in 2018, but flash forward three years and this is me with my phone hooked up to the Bluetooth in the vans at work, blasting down the highway to the mighty “Drone Corpse Aviator.”
Be sure to check out Karlo’s awesome Prognotes post on the album if you haven’t already.
Terminus – “Dying to Breathe”
We’ve come off the back of some extremely high highs following a couple of equally extreme lows, but this is a track I honestly have no idea how I feel about. I checked out the singles back when Eden was first raving about this record and absolutely loved them, but the album as a whole left no impression on me after it came out and I’m struggling to find much to say about this track now. I love old-school Pallbearer vibes and the fuzzy Mastodon-style stoner riff that crops up here and there, but this song itself just isn’t exciting me at the moment. Maybe it’s just the juxtaposition with “Drone Corpse Aviator” but I honestly find it a bit slow. I get that that’s the whole idea with doom, but this song really seems like it could benefit from getting a bit of a move on. In order to leave this on more of a positive note I’m going to go ahead and say that the following two tracks on track on the record, “Black Swan” and “The Lion’s Den”, which I have bled over into while writing this and I’m pretty sure were the singles, are absolutely awesome and I’ll definitely be giving the whole thing another spin as soon as I get a chance, I just hope there’s more songs like those two than its initial hurdle. Thanks Karlo!