Rekkid Swap: Vladimir Poutine vs Jimmy McNulty
Ah, record swapping: a sport that’s been around for long as people have been able to literally swap records. A sport that measures the merit of any good music critic or active Disqus user. Join Vladimir Poutine and I for a competition that spanned over a year, tested our friendship, and unsuccessfully tried to pound the alarm. Our story begins in the second month of last calendar year…
- February 2018:
I propose a Record Swap with Mr. Poutine, which he graciously accepts. Each of the contenders understands that the purpose is to introduce the other author to an album which he/she normally wouldn’t seek out, in attempts to broaden the other’s horizon. Vladimir’s selection: An Antidote For the Glass Pill by Lychgate. Jimmy’s selection: Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet by Thy Darkened Shade. We both start work on our respective homework assignments.
- March 2018:
It was with extreme sadness and regret I had to inform Vlad that I could not complete the assignment given, for Lychgate did absolutely nothing for me. The proposed swap would have been extremely one-sided in that he took the time to do his homework like a good TovH author and I had thrown in the towel.
- June 2018:
I get burnt out on heavy metal and decide to quit writing for the blog to focus my efforts on finding a life partner. In hindsight I can now confidently report that Life Is a Struggle, [and it’s better to] Give Up.
- October 2018:
Vlad sends me what could possibly have been a drunk text comparing the lyrical abilities of Nicki Minaj to Deathspell Omega (it’s a long story) and so I ask if he wants the great challenge of Nicki Minaj. He agrees! The new assignment then becomes her debut 2010 album Pink Friday.
- November 2018:
My adversary (/good friend) regrets to inform me that he simply cannot complete the assignment, and asks what good could I have possibly ever have seen in Nicki’s music (a valid question from non-fans for sure). I explain that I understood his concern and that her music only gets better with time, maybe he would be better suited reviewing her junior album The Pinkprint (which had the most street cred of her discography at this point in time).
The kind editors of this blog allowed me back into the authors circle (after weeks of begging).
- December 2018:
My esteemed colleague reports to having tried several times to listen to The Pinkprint but could never get past the first couple of songs. This was a valid concern, considering how difficult it was for me to take in Antidote For the Glass Pill so many moons ago. The new agreement: pick new assignments for each, start from scratch. Vladimir Poutin’s new assignment: Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet by Thy Darkened Shade. Jimmy McNulty’s new assignment: Annihilated by Sectioned…
Disclaimer: this was not the original assignment I was given. I was supposed to work on Pink Friday by Nicki Minaj, and I did listen to it in its entirety. The Pinkprint as well. Yet after a few weeks of trying, I couldn’t get more than three or four sentences out. It was not a fun experience, and eventually I gave up and begged for mercy. Hence, this.
Technical black metal. The term first came to mind when I discovered Dodecahedron back in 2013. While this, in one sense, doesn’t at all resemble those weird fellas from The Land ov Myriad Tulips, it’s undeniable that this album makes a point of showing the players’ chops, both in composition and performance. And man does it work. This is an absolute behemoth that I’m sad to have missed when it debuted a few years back, but so glad to have discovered now.
Generally speaking, aside from the borderline-rote Satanic theme, there isn’t a huge amount here that explicitly designates this as black metal. It is black metal and that’s not in dispute, but it’s hard to find many elements that wouldn’t be equally at home in death metal or even prog, whether that be the clean production, the rapid tempo and time signature changes, or the exhibitionist guitar and drum work. Maybe the emphasis on all things Satan is the clincher here. In any case you just know. Moreover, the amorphous genre classification here works in its favor, as it’s pretty clear to the listener that the group doesn’t seem to care too much about conforming to tropes. It hits hard, it hits fast, and it keeps you on your toes.
Albums of this length- nearly 80 minutes- often start to strain my attention span toward the end. Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, for example, is one of my absolute favorite black metal albums of all time, yet its running time makes it a challenge at times. This is only slightly less lengthy, yet I rarely found my attention wavering at all. Only once, as it happens, but I was undercaffeinated at the time.
A random litmus test of whether a metal album is properly constructed and performed is whether, if it at all involves chanting, said chanting seems to work and doesn’t just devolve into undifferentiated cheese. Does this one pull off the chanting? Absolutely. In part because it’s used sparingly, and in part because it complements the harsh vocals rather than trying to Bogart the vocal side of the compositions. So well done; it managed to hit that balance between metal pretentiousness and self-awareness.
Wrapping up this somewhat disjointed thoughtstream: this is an eminently well-constructed and versatile album. It’s got grooves, it’s got blasts, it shreds with the best of them, it’s consistent front-to-back, confident without being arrogant, and had I listened in 2014 it would certainly have hit the top 10 of the year for me. McNulty’s more than earned his reputation as a metal connoisseur of the finest caliber; this is only further evidence thereof. I hope y’all give it a try.
Worth noting: Annihilated is the DEBUT ALBUM by Edinburgh’s Sectioned. It sounds like a band firing on all cylinders, one that has been able to tweak their formula over the course of several releases and years of touring. I would have to search my entire record/CD/BandCamp collection to find a debut this impressive.
That crafty Russian leader / delicious food dish! He knows my Kryptonite (at least the versions of Kryptonite which I can tolerate). While that Lychgate album would have been insanely difficult for me to critique, Annihilated falls into a category which I don’t normally seek out but embodies a few attributes that I truly do appreciate; thus making it an enjoyable challenge.
Hardcore isn’t an attribute of metal which I seek out. And when any metal album includes elements of that genre, I tend to skip it in favor of something else. (If it’s not clear by now, my favorite qualifier for any genre of music is progressive — something that can be at odds with Hardcore.) That’s not to say Sectioned is a progressive hardcore band, but they do bring enough elements to the table which I can appreciate even though it might be a bit of an odd duck among the others in my collection.
The first thing is aggression, which is presented in spades. Given that Strapping Young Lad was basically my gateway into music beyond 90’s nu-metal, I’ll never dismiss any band for releasing music filled to the brim with a pissed-off attitude (no matter what genre into which it falls). Keep in mind that I’m not an angry guy! But when the music to which I listen is angry enough to compensate for my easy-going nature, it immediately gains multiple points. Sectioned’s music is angry, possibly moreso than Devin Townsend was during the time spent with his infamous metal band. No matter how I’m feeling at any given time, I can find the value in driving around town, with the windows down, blaring some aggressive metal music.
Next is the skill of the musicians, and here we have some amazing dexterity on display. Though I doubt anyone would label this album as “Technical [Anything]”, the musicians are getting quite the workout. Their relentless assault on our ears barely lets up, and only for the rare moments of respite as with the piano outro of “Through the Trees” or the percussion-less, atmospheric final minute of “Victorious, Neverending”. I don’t think this will scary anyone away though, as every other minute has the maximum potential squeezed out of it with the aforementioned aggression.
Do I have any gripes about the record? Yes but they’re few and far between. First, I don’t think there’s any riffs which I haven’t heard before. Second, there’s no song structure which will surprise the listener. …and that’s it! Annihilated is expertly produced and mastered, every instrument sounds incredibly crisp and clear. The aggression is palpable, the skill undeniable. I cannot wait to blast it in the car once the weather welcomes doing so. And if I ever get the chance to see Sectioned live, there’s simply no way I could skip the opportunity: this kind of music was engineered for the live setting. Though our record swap is now over, I still find myself jamming this album on BandCamp every few days, I just love it.
The competition is over and we are both exhausted. Who is the winner here? It’s friendship. Over the course of the last 13 months, Vladimir and I have spent hours conversing over instant messenger and have grown as friends. You can’t put a price on that. We have each introduced his opponent to something challenging (just not egregiously so) but also palatable. It’s easy to envision a time in which we can each hand-deliver a record, cassette, or CD to a good friend and say “check this out, friend” and so we have the next best thing, the Toilet ov Hell Record Swap.
If any of you would like to participate in this long-running competition, just speak up in the comments section. In the meantime, feel free to check out the full assignment from each contender with the following links: