Record Swap – Rolderathis Vs Hans

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Welcome back to Record Swap, a bizarre courting ritual in which two life forms present one of their favorite albums to each other, in the hopes of being validated. The prediction for today’s match-up? PAIN. Who will take home the glory? The saucy Strigiforme, or the explorer of eons? In this edition, Rolderathis and Hans duke it out with albums from Disillusion and Seth.

Rolderathis’s Assignment: Disillusion – Back to Times of Splendor

I’ve seen this magnificent album tagged as both prog metal and melodeath (I lean towards the former), which I think makes it a very good pick for Rolderathis. Not that I’m not wont to shove it into people’s faces any chance I get anyway – I’m just a big ol’ nerd for this band. That, however, has led to the question of whether it would be the case if I came across them today – the album’s about 15 years old and its been almost as long since I first heard it. Not that it changes anything, but I’m interested to gauge whether the album holds up or if it’s the nostalgia that makes me crack a smile whenever its first notes barge in. -Hans

I’m lucky I can spin my head 270° without tearing tendons—otherwise, Hans’s choice of Disillusion‘s Back to Times of Splendor would’ve knocked me out within the first few minutes. Throughout the album’s hour-long runtime, the word feverish kept repeating in my mind; the speed with which genres, tempos and vocal styles change is immediately overwhelming.

The first track starts out strong with some thinking-man’s Jump Da Fuk Up riffage (so…Nevermore), backed by a tasty double-picked melody. In the time it takes to lawyer up against Loomis, the trajectory shifts into industrial climes replete with chugging rhythms and barked vocals. There’s a sense of delirious fun that rarely lets up; it’s refreshing to hear a prog-minded band having a good time rather than trying to invent new time signatures or writing double albums with three songs worth of material on them. Towards the beginning of “…And the Mirror Cracked,” in the middle of some industrial riffs, a synthetic plinking sound stabs up rhythmically through the guitars; not only is it goofy as hell, but it adds some serious groove to the proceedings.

While this playfulness is never too far from the surface, Disillusion are anything but a joke band. Along with their knack for emotional, catchy and complex riffs, they have a talented vocalist who effortlessly switches between harsh vocals and what I can best describe as a hybrid between Serj Tankian and David Gold (Woods of Ypres). Overall, I’d say there’s an emphasis on clean vocals, certainly more than I’m used to listening to. While I like this style, it was around halfway through the album that I started imagining a band that felt pressured (from within or without) to KEEP IT METAL, when they might’ve been stronger as a more traditional rock band.

Shorter tracks like “Fall” and “A Day by the Lake” easily outshine the epics (some of which approach the 20-minute mark) in songwriting and enjoyability. It’s during the longer songs that my gripes become prominent and my mind starts to wander. There’s a tinny, “stock symphony” keyboard patch that surfaces throughout, masking the music underneath that I’d rather be hearing; on top of the busy structures, the weight becomes too much and the songs start to sag. The epic runtimes are padded with some generic melodeath riffing, and I’m only fully engaged when the extended jams are in session, which seems backwards for prog…aren’t these moments usually the self-congratulatory snoozefests?

I can see why Hans threw this album into the ring; from the lush instrumental sections to the madcap vocal switches, there’s a lot here that I look for in my daily listening (being a fan of progressive black metal). In a cryogenically-frozen take, I’m going to say that perhaps 10+ minute songs are too long for most bands to tackle effectively (and I’m sure to catch some flak for this, given that I’m always trying to get him to sit through a 26-minute epic). That’s not to say this album is a dud, not by any means. While I might not end up purchasing this album, if I were a Spotify sort of bird, I’d certainly have the leaner numbers lined up for repeat listens.

Hans’s Assignment: Seth – The Howling Spirit

From what I know of Hans, he’s a grindy/crusty/deathy sort of lad, and I figured I’d send him something slightly outside of his wheelhouse with Seth’s theatrical black/death style. The Howling Spirit sums up everything I want from the genre: actual riffs, experiments with vocal styles, and songs that move through different textures and emotions, while still packing a nasty punch. -Rolderathis

I do think I see where our dear Owlboy was coming from with this pick, as Seth deliver black metal with progressive flourishes similar to other stuff he’s turned me on to and which I ended up liking. His love for Cormorant is well documented, and I’ve grown pretty fond of Earth Diver and intend to sit through Diaspora one day. However, I’m sad to report that this is not as good. Even after several listens, there’s very little that stands out or sticks with me.

Fittingly, I also have a hard time pinpointing as to why this is. Do they employ a less versatile toolset? Not really; throughout the record, they prove that they master many different tempos and registers. Do they write worse songs? Not really; in their often expansive scope, the songs manage to conjure a variety of moods – even though the overall impression is always that of a triumphant march – by seamlessly gluing together parts that fully utilize the aforementioned toolset. It’s readily apparent that a lot of thought went into the compositions, which are full of little details and flourishes. Seth really took care to flesh everything out.

I could go on and on like this, but my appreciation of the album always stays at that level – somewhat distanced, somewhat vague. Somehow, none of it really connects with me. There’s songs that I quite like, but I forget them almost the moment they’re over, and I think it’s no coincidence that one of them, “Ten Barrels”, is one of the shorter ones on here. I fail to see what the longer songs accomplish that this one doesn’t; it puts just as much on display and does it just as well, but quicker.

“Killing My Eyes” is the only song where I think the length is justified, as it mixes doomy bits with tremendous explosions of fury and connects them with pretty awesome buildups. And yet, even as I wrote that, I had to go back to the song to verify I remembered all that correctly. Similarly, all I remember about “One Ear To The Earth…” and the closer is that they’re long songs that go a bunch of places and end up slightly overstaying their welcome. I feel a little bad about this, but at the end of the day, all I can give this is a shrug.


Double KO. No winner today.

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