Hey, everyone! RobBarracuda here, and it is once again time to talk about music stuff!
Adult Swim’s musical identity is typically defined by hip-hop and various electronic music acts, but as Williams Street Records’ various releases have shown, the block’s knowledge of the current music scene extends far beyond just those styles. This review will be discussing a compilation that falls conveniently in my w
The Metal Swim compilation was released on September 20th, 2010, containing 16 songs from a wide array of metal artists from all across the spectrum (though sludge definitely dominates here), primarily consisting of songs that are either exclusive to it, unreleased at the time, or tracks from difficult-to-find releases. Influential metal icons of old, more modern contemporary heavy hitters, and some of the more eclectic metal bands out there all join forces on this compilation, so without further ado: Metal Swim. If you want to own it for yourself, you can download the compilation right here.
1. Death Angel – “Truce”
The first track on Metal Swim comes from the band Death Angel, no doubt the oldest band featured. The group formed in 1982 in San Francisco and were one of the more prominent bands in the Bay Area thrash scene, which also encompassed other legendary thrash metal groups such as Testament, Exodus, and of course Metallica. The group was originally active from ’82 to ’91 before splitting up, but they reunited in 2001 and have continued to tour and release music ever since. “Truce” appeared on the group’s Relentless Retribution album which came out a couple of weeks before Metal Swim was released, and it is as quintessentially metal as you can get. Fast-paced pounding drums, heavy dynamic guitars that are appropriately bombastic and can shred like no one’s business, and the vocals are appropriately metal as well, with plenty of wailing gang vocals singing about the need to stand your ground in the face of adversity (the typical macho-ass metal fare). It’s amazing how much energy this song brings for a group that’s been active since the 80’s, and there’s simply no other way to describe this song than “metal as hell”. It’s an awesome start to the compilation from some undeniably great metal veterans.
2. Skeletonwitch – “Bringers of Death”
Moving into something more recent, Skeletonwitch are a thrash group formed in 2003 who also take a great deal of influence from black metal, especially in the vocal style employed which is quite hard-edged and rough like sandpaper. “Bringers of Death” is a song exclusive to the Metal Swim (complete with an Adult Swim-produced music video), and is quite typical of their sound. The opening riff and drums evoke a certain old-school death metal vibe (I’m tempted to call it a slightly less-heavy version of material from Cannibal Corpse’s first album) before segueing into the rest of the song, which is appropriately dark and harsh, including how the guitars play off each other throughout. The song as a whole sounds like the soundtrack to an intense fantasy battle, and definitely one of the finer tracks in the entire Skeletonwitch catalogue.
3. Torche – “Arrowhead”
Up next, some hometown heroes: Torche, formed in 2004 in the city of Miami, Florida. The group predominantly plays sludge and stoner metal, but tend to have different musical sensibilities compared to other bands in the genre, with generally shorter songs and somewhat poppier feelings to their songs. This isn’t meant to sell the group short, however, as they write some of the best music in the genre, and “Arrowhead” is a particularly great example of their style, being released on the Songs For Singles EP which came out a day after Metal Swim’s release. As the song name would imply, “Arrowhead” has an undeniably Mesoamerican vibe to it. The pounding intricate drums (Rick Smith Jr. is no doubt one of the best drummers currently active) and Steve Brooks’ vocals, which just echo and soar above the entire song, convey the feeling of ancient civilizations like the Aztec people from before modern times. The guitars and bass are appropriately sludgy and fuzzy, reinforcing the constant beat which also has various time signature changes and switch-ups, proving that there’s no skimping on technique here. “Arrowhead”, as a whole, just sounds big and grand-scale, like the Aztecs are about to go to war with some unknown invading enemy, and it makes for a great song from one of the best bands currently active now.
4. Ludicra – “Path of Ash”
Ludicra was an experimental metal group from San Francisco that was active from ’98 to 2011. While their style carries a great deal of black metal influence (especially in the vocals), they incorporated other styles and more complex songwriting than other bands in the genre. “Path of Ash”, which originally appeared on their self-titled 2006 EP under the title “Walk The Path of Ash”, is a good litmus test for their sound. The song immediately hits you with some incredibly technical drumming before getting into some massive-sounding guitars and decently guttural vocals that are typical of the black metal style, feeling like the soundtrack of a Satanic ritual. The song segues into a somewhat light bridge with melodic vocals before going back into the heavier segments, even speeding things up in the last three minutes of the song. Admittingly, I’m not the biggest fan of black metal, but the excellent production and complex songwriting helps push “Path of Ash” ahead of most other black metal bands, especially in the drumming which is no doubt some of the most dynamic in the entire genre.
5. Kylesa – “Forsaken”
Time for some more sludge, this time courtesy of the group Kylesa from the city of Savannah, Georgia (sludge and Georgia will come up a lot in this compilation). The group has been around since 2001 and has released 7 albums total, including their newest one which came out in October of 2015. Kylesa definitely embrace the more psychedelic side of the sludge metal spectrum and are perhaps most well-known for their usage of two drummers for studio and live performances, a line-up that was embraced from 2006 onward. “Forsaken” made its first appearance on Metal Swim before showing up on Kylesa’s Spiral Shadows album a little over a month later. The dual drummer dynamic definitely stands out here, with one clearly pounding away on the toms while the other plays cymbals, but both definitely sync up when it comes to snare hits. The drumming alone warrants listening to the song multiple times to get a decent grasp on what’s going in; it’s a very interesting dynamic to dissect, and the way they play off each other sounds very tribal in nature.. Meanwhile, the guitars are thick and fuzzy with some trippy leads that, when combined with Laura Pleasants’ vocals, create that psychedelic vibe that’s an integral part of their sound. A little over halfway through, the normal vocals cut out for a bit and give way to the deranged tortured screams of the damned, which is definitely a nice touch.
6. Black Tusk – “Fatal Kiss”
“Fatal Kiss”, much like “Forsaken”, is another sludgy track from a Savannah-based metal band, in this case from the group Black Tusk. Their sound leans more towards the heavier and furious side of sludge metal, forgoing the psychedelic trippy vibes and lengthy songs embodied by others in the genre. “Fatal Kiss” originally appeared on a split release with sludgy hardcore noise rockers Fight Amp before being included on the reissue of Passage Through Purgatory. It starts off with pounding drums and massive guitars that create the sensation of being on a boat that’s passing through a vicious storm, and that feeling is maintained throughout the verses when a massive wall of gang-shouted vocals kicks in. There’s also a bit of a Southern streak to be found in places, especially with the cowbell near the end. “Fatal Kiss” is a very bombastic huge-sounding tune that’s sure to have any listener wanting to mosh in place for its whole duration.
7. Red Fang – “Hank Is Dead”
Moving away from Georgia for a bit, “Hank Is Dead” (where am I gonna get propane now?) comes to us from Portalnd metal group Red Fang, a group just as known for their music as they are for their gloriously ridiculous music videos. Red Fang’s style is heavily desert-esque and Southern: the kind of music you listen to while speeding through a long stretch of road in a pick-up truck with your bros while drinking cheap booze. “Hank Is Dead” didn’t appear on a studio release until the group’s 2011 album Murder the Mountains and is perfectly indicative of their sound, basically functioning as the metal equivalent of a party song, and it’s a pretty good one for what it is. While Red Fang isn’t one of my absolute favorite bands, there’s no denying that they write some of the most ridiculously catchy tunes in the current metal scene: short, sweet, and to the point.
8. Black Cobra – “Frozen Night”
Black Cobra is a sludge metal duo consisting of Acid King bassist Rafael Martinez on drums and guitarist Jason Landrian from the Florida group Cavity (which also happened to feature two members of what would eventually become Torche). Black Cobra’s sound, while leaning heavily on massive thick sludgy elements, also incorporates a fair amount of doom metal. Much of their catalogue has a highly foreboding unnerving atmosphere mixed in with all the sludge. “Frozen Night”, exclusive to the Metal Swim compilation, definitely emphasizes the doom aspect of their sound, constantly expressed through the fuzzy muddy production on the guitars, off-kilter drum rhythms, and general lack of any melodies of any kind. It’s definitely an unsettling track, though admittingly not one of the group’s best, mainly because the song sounds a little too monotonous compared to most other material they’ve written. It’s not a bad song, but I definitely recommend checking out the rest of their discography for much better tunes.
And that’s enough Metal Swim talk for now. Stay tuned for part 2 of this review, where I’ll cover the second half of the compilation.