Today we've got a much more refined battle, compared to yesterday's bloodbath.
Kicking things off is Soilwork's double album The Living Infinite. And it is a stunning achievement for these already accomplished melodic metal veterans. The album takes Soilwork's arena pretentions to their logical and very-well-produced pinnacle. And while I normally frown upon the categorical excess of a double album (well-produced live albums and classics from 70s prog rock bands excepted), The Living Infinite makes its size work for the band's allusions of grandeur, without much in the way of perceptible filler. By my reckoning, this album contains no fewer than 10 anthemic tracks that are among the best songs Soilwork has ever crafted. If there's a weak link in Soilwork's armor, it's the relative sameness of the album's 20 tracks. I've listened to The Living Infinite at least a dozen times all the way through, and I'm still not entirely sure there isn't a duplicated track on here. Still, a very strong album, and a pleasure to listen to repeatedly.
Intronaut shoots back with their latest, Habitual Levitations. It's a gorgeous document of their dark wanderings, and while the album as a whole sounds more progressive rock than metal, the two veins come together beautifully in The Welding (or as I like to call it, Larks' Tongues in Aspic (Part V). This album grabbed me from my first listen, and to be very honest I've had it on a short list for highest honors for most of the previous year. But it's far from flawless. For one thing, Intronaut suffers from an editorial problem of a different bent: the riffs and progressions throughout the album tend to go on a little long. It's a bad sign that an album half as long as The Living Infinite is at least as much work for the listener. For another, the album's production is hopelessly muddy. It's certainly better than previous albums, but the buckets of reverb are exhausting (and the soupy vocals make this sound like a Fleet Foxes mashup). And so it's with a heavy heart that I have to conclude that an album I spent much of 2013 adoring is quickly dispatched.
Congrats to Soilwork! We'll see how they do in their next bout in three weeks. Tomorrow, two very different bands face off: Sevendust and Exhumed. This could be interesting.