Horns Up Ya Shitters! August's Best Metal Reviewed
, September 17th, 2012 03:50
What is as good as Behemoth, asks Toby Cook. Not much, but anything close is reviewed in Columnus Metallicus this month
Last month the Quietus and I once again made the trip to Catton Hall in Derbyshire for Bloodstock (as sensible and insightful an account as you're likely to read in a column written by a man who recently forgot what broccoli was called and spent 20 minutes on Google trying to work it out). Once again we found a righteously individual festival that continues to prove itself to be one of the absolute best in the UK. And here’s why:
1) Behemoth. I don’t care if Metallica were so good at Download that you’ve decided that you did like them after all or if you thought that the Foo Fighters’ 27th appearance at Reading was #amazeballs @ Dave lol (actually if you genuinely think that then why are you reading this column? It’s not for you), because no band on any festival bill anywhere in the UK this year was as brutal; as intimidating; and as powerfully inspiring, with such imposing stage presence, as Behemoth. It was one of those performances where you immediately want to go out afterwards and buy every record they’ve ever made.
2) The atmosphere. Despite the fact that at Bloodstock the likes of Orange Goblin and Corrosion Of Conformity virtually constitute indie bands there were no fights and no one tried to blow up the toilets. I didn’t get pissed on; no one tried to set me on fire and no one accused me of being a “fucking Nazi” for wearing a Napalm Death t-shirt (no, really, that last one actually happened).
3) The fact that it’s the largest congregation of people who are clearly getting even less sex than I am. Like the dude who genuinely looked like Karl Pilkington’s denim clad doppelganger with a skullet, for fuck's sake!
Old Man Gloom NO (Hydra Head)
If only one good thing has come from the demise of Isis then that good thing is undoubtedly the reconvening of Old Man Gloom. (Ok, so the project featuring the Deftones’ Chino Moreno and former Isis men Aaron Harris, Clifford Meyer and Jeff Caxide, called Palms sounds intriguing, but we’ve yet to hear any music from them and with a new Deftones LP on the way I doubt we will anytime soon. Until then it’s just a Schrödinger’s Cat scenario, except with the possibility that when you open the box instead of finding a dead cat you find a crap record that’s just Chino Moreno talking loudly over some Isis tunes).
Deride OMG as avant-metal for graphic design students at your peril. This is more music in the vein, structurally, of its predecessor, 2004’s Christmas. Whether it’s simply down to time or renewed focus NO is arguably OMG’s strongest and most coherent record to date. Which is not to say that it’s any less expansive or warped – veering from brutal, hypnotic sludge and Neurosis-esque levels of tribal heaviness and Zu like riffs, to jarring, narcotic noise-scapes, the whole LP has the feel of some sort of harrowing, distorted message bleeding out through the Emergency Broadcast System from a Soylent Green like future.
[At the time of publishing Hydra Head have just announced that after nearly 20 years they are to shut up shop. If you don’t know what a fucking tragedy that is, then buy this record. And something by Pelican, Jesu, Isis, Khanate, Cave In, Torche, These Arms Are Snakes or indeed any of the countless alt. metal albums you’re fortunate enough to know about thanks to Hydra Head. This money will help them to complete their planned release schedule for the next few months.]
Eagle Twin The Feather Tipped The Serpent’s Scale (Southern Lord)
“How great is the sum of thy thoughts? If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.” And yet still slightly less than the list of influences, ideas and inspirations contained within The Feather Tipped The Serpent’s Scale. Ornithological haikus; Tuvan throat singing; the poetry of Ted Hughes; snake and crow creation myths; the 1971 ‘acid western’ Zachariah; legendary jazz drummer Elvin Jones; standard issue prison literature We Are All Doing Time by controversial ‘interfaith humanitarian’ Bo Lozoff; it’s all there. And yet you could strip away all of it, because if Eagle Twin are about nothing else they’re about groove. It’s the power of the riff that compels you here, plain and simple. Well, being that Gentry Densley is a man who’s composed 70 minute avant-jazz musical palindromes, it’s never exactly ‘simple', yet much like you can’t explain how it is that Meshuggah so precisely manipulate your neck to jerk, metronome-like, throughout their often baffling assaults, so too do Eagle Twin accomplish the same result through the unbelievable tightness and understanding between Densley and drummer Tyler Smith, despite the myriad of confusing rhythms. I fucking love it when power duos get it this right.
Locrian The Clearing & The Final Epoch (Relapse)
There simply aren’t enough bands like Locrian. There aren’t enough artists that create such habitually unique yet continually fluctuating and stylistically malleable records like Territories, The Crystal World or The Clearing, which, as some of the more observant amongst you will know, came out last year on vinyl but has now been expanded re-named and pressed to CD – hence its inclusion here. One of the few bands experimenting with alt. folk-ish set-ups and jarring ambient electronics in the same way as label mates Horseback now are, this expanded version beautifully illuminates all that Locrian are about; from sublime, undulating and often pummeling frequencies to raw and brittle meditations that simultaneously envelop and penetrate the very pores of your psyche.
Nihill Verdonkermaan (Hydra Head)
If Wolves In The Throne Room are black metal for transcendence, if their brittle chaos evokes the calming expanse of the wilderness, then Nihill are black metal for that growing sense of resentment you feel towards almost every person you encounter when you venture outdoors. Look at them with their Diesel jeans and their fucking haircuts, enjoying their lives. Cunts. Going to buy loads of shit from House Of Fraser, yeah? Going to carry the bag around everywhere afterwards like some sort of existential fucking tumor, yeah? I bet you didn’t fish your chair out of a skip and get your mismatched crockery for £6 in a charity shop, did you! What’s that? You didn’t hear me because you were too busy Instagraming a picture of your cat with a slice of bread around its fucking head? ... (Yeah, cat-breading; I’ve heard of it.)
Not that I mean, by all of that, thatVerdonkermaan is black metal for Holden Caulfield or something, more that the Dutch group’s third LP is, at times, utterly nauseating, in a very meaningful and deeply unsettling way. And that’s what’s great about it. Progressive and skillful in their manipulation of noise the five relentless, shrill and lo-fi, static dirges have at their heart an abject bleakness and a rare sense of almost palpable danger.
Taurus life (Self Released)
Perhaps it’s a reaction to the suffocating air of positivity still lingering from the Olympic and Paralympic games, but we’re erring heavily on the bleak and abrasive side this month. But I suppose we need it, that post coital smoke. Of crack. In a ditch. And if it means unearthing records like Life, by the all female power duo Taurus (you might know Stevie Floyd as guitarist of the rather excellent Dark Castle) then it’s worth it. Two members, two tracks, 33 minutes and snappily daubed ‘subsonic psychedelic doom’, Life is arguably a little bit of almost everything that’s come before it in this column; eerie, manipulated static and found noises; abrasive, thunderous riffs; free improv and rather abstract concepts – equal parts the Melvins, Sunn O))) and Whitehouse. Upsetting.
Katatonia Dead End Kings (Peaceville)
It comes to something when you’re going to a Katatonia album for a degree of respite, yet that’s not to say that the Swedes ninth LP is any less heavy than anything we’ve had so far. I mean, yeah, obviously it is less heavy, but Dead End Kings is all about emotions and shit, and the overwhelming sense of melancholy that Katatonia utilize so well. It’s a tough thing to get right too: too far one way and all you’ve got is bleeding-heart, teenage-like, angst-y frustration; too far the other way and it’s just nihilistic misery – the Smashing Pumpkins did it superbly for two albums, but few metal bands have grown to harness it so effectively as Katatonia do here, whilst fewer still have married it so well to such a wealth of prog-ish tendencies and the sort of dynamic and textural shifts that might still, loosely be classed as goth-y doom. It’s not all emotionally ambiguous wailing though – the opening riff of closer ‘Dead Letters’ for example is by far the best thing Tool are continuing to not release.
Grave Endless Procession Of Souls (Century Media)
I’ll admit that I was a late comer to death metal and as such I feel like I’m always kind of reverse engineering with it – always trying to find the band I’ve never heard of that are the reason behind my love of Cannibal Corpse. I don’t cover anywhere near enough of it in this column either, which is criminal when people like Grave are releasing their tenth LP. I remember seeing Grave support Nile a few years back when mid-set guitarist/vocalist Ola Lindgren announced something like, “We’re Grave. If you don’t know what we do by now, then why the fuck are you here?” and that’s the thing about Grave: despite marginal expansions in their sound and gradually improving the production, they’ve remained stoically old school, and Endless Procession Of Souls is no exception. It’s raw, caustic death metal, and being Swedish, the guitar texture is crustier than ever – as are the drums. It won’t win a Grammy, but it will make you headbang and air guitar your way to arthritis. And why wouldn’t you want that?
Beneath Enslaved By Fear (Unique Leader Records)
Do you know what the most expensive Icelandic record ever bought was? It was the 1991 debut LP by a death metal act called Sororicide and it sold on E.bay for, wait for it… $3,800! Three thousand eight hundred fucking dollars! Other than the fact that Beneath feature former Sororicide bassist Gisli Sigmundsson on vocals I’m not sure that it’s really all that relevant, I just think it’s fucking cool. They may share a member and play death metal but there’s very little by way of comparison. Rather than old school DM, Enslaved By Fear is an exercise in how to properly handle hyper-sonic, maniacally brutal tech-death without it becoming an impenetrable, sulfurous wall of noise. Yes, the drums and the inhuman speed at which they’re played is key, but there’s just enough dirge and raw groove to keep you engrossed. I perhaps wouldn’t pay $3,800 for it though.
Bedemon Symphony Of Shadows (Svart Records)
Old rockers never die, they just get divorced, kick the skag habit and then write and record their band’s debut full length album some forty odd years after they first formed, arguably pre-dating doom legends Pentagram, with whom they shared members. Or at least that’s what you do if you’re Bedemon anyway. So, you’re probably thinking that this’ll sound like early Pentagram, but played by old men who are in some cases re-learning their instruments – and you’d be right, sort of. It took nearly a decade for Symphony Of Shadows to go from the drawing board to the record store shelf and in that time founder member Randy Palmer was killed in a car crash – which is a tragedy not just in itself, but because Bedemon's is arguably the one of most complete and well honed, authentically Sabbathian records of the year – where gritty old school values and modern approaches intertwine an acrid doom haze.
Mr. Peter Hayden Born A Trip (Kauriala Society)
Sometimes I worry if I ever really listened to some music properly before I listened to it whilst on drugs – and I wonder if that’s a terrible thing to admit, as I wouldn’t want to condone drug use. Well, actually, no, I would, because it can be fucking great. Just don’t be a dick about it; there’s a difference between listening to Bong with a, err, bong and being in an underpass in Peckham, ramming some indiscriminate, crystalline powder up your bugle that some Soviet looking fella’s just pulled out of his arse crack. Whatever your stance though, drugs are never, ever essential, as spectacularly demonstrated by Finland’s Mr. Peter Hayden over the 68 expansive, lysergic minutes of Born A Trip. From glacially slow and planetoid heavy post metal riffs to warm ambient passages to tantric space rock meanders, interwoven with delicate prog textures; it’d be equally transformative were you drinking nothing more bracing than tea.
That’s it for another month – coming next time: Down, Hexvessel… The Jolly Green Giants and The Shitty Beetles.
Horns up, ya shitters!