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Columnus Metallicus

Horns Up Ya Shitters! A Columnus Metallicus For October
Toby Cook , October 6th, 2014 12:38

Nay! Cast down those crotch-torn jeans, stop worshipping your favourite band and hear ye: it's time for Toby Cook's recent metal releases rundown

"Whoa, dude, you interviewed Carcass?! Damn – what were they like?"

"Well, they were kind enough not to draw attention to the massive hole torn in the crotch of my jeans…"

For more reasons than there are infinite Led Zeppelin best ofs with the same 14 fucking songs on many of us, I think, go through periods where our drinking becomes excessive, even dangerous. The black-outs, the embarrassments - you'll tell yourself that it's not a problem, but it really is. Least of all of your problems during these periods, though, is the hugely detrimental effect your drinking has on your decision-making and your ability to operate in a world that starts at 9 am and finishes at 5 pm.

Having been a Carcass fan for almost as long as I've been a fan of metal, the Liverpudlians - Jeff Walker and Bill Steer particularly - are one band I've wanted to interview since I first started cutting my music writing teeth with this very website some six-odd years ago. Despite their seven-year reunion tour the closest I'd gotten to either man was literally bumping into Bill Steer in The Crobar in central London some years ago, and doing little else than mumbling a sheepish apology, slightly embarrassed at the fact that by sheer fluke I happened to be wearing a bootleg Carcass T-shirt. Imagine my joy, then, when I was asked late last year if I'd like to interview, face to face, Messrs Walker and Steer in a pub in East London before they adjourned to their practice space across the road. This small detail, and the fact that I'd have to travel halfway across London, meant an early start on the day on the interview – "but it's cool, I've got, like, 85/90 percent of my questions worked out", I thought. Why not, then, stay up half the night with my then-flatmate and drink our way through several bottles of discounted red wine? Eventually arising sometime in the late morning to pick the grape peels out of my teeth, with barely an hour and a half to make it to the interview, however, meant that my journey to Denmark Hill Overground station was going to have to include a cut through the nearby Ruskin Park. And, importantly, a small fence climb too. You'll tell yourself that you can still gracefully bound over small fences and railings just as your 12-year-old self did, but you really can't.

There's no feeling quite as terrible as that of the cold, rusty tip of an iron railing as it briefly grazes your inner thigh; time seems to slow down as you descend to terra firma, your brain blocking out all noise except the slow, dreadful "crrrrrrrriiiiiiipppppppp" of cheap denim being torn in two. The pressure drop of the realisation at what's just happened and the ultimate acceptance that you have neither the time nor the means to fix it is utterly nauseating.

It's one thing to spend the next 40 minutes on a surprisingly busy train trying to nonchalantly position your bag over the offending hole, wondering if there is any look you can give that says, "Yeah, I know, I've got a gaping hole in my crotch that you could fit your head through - what of it?", it's another entirely to come to a decision as to how you are going to play it off when you meet two men you have been waiting so long to meet. It's a fucking social minefield, in fact! Do you bring it up straight away? "Hi Bill, Jeff, good to meet you - can I just direct your attention to this huge hole in my groin?" Do you wait until they notice it? What if they notice it, but don't mention it? What if they didn't notice it, but my clumsy attempt to cover it with my notepad in fact draws more attention to it?! What if when I sit down I show off a little more than I realise?! And, of course, by the time you've tried to logically work your way through these scenarios, you're already 15 minutes into the interview and, really, it's too late to mention it. "What you're saying, Jeff, about Crass and the death metal scene in the north of England in the mid-80s is very interesting, but can I just tell you about my crotch?" is not something you can really say a third of the way into an interview. I've asked myself a lot of questions over the years, but "is Bill Steer staring at my groin?" is not one I ever thought I'd be cannoning around my brain.

As it was, it remained unmentioned for the duration, and for the first time in a long time I really didn't want to stay in the pub after the interview. But Jeff, Bill, if you're reading this (and I doubt you are) I just wanted to offer this explanation, and to say thank you for having the discretion not to draw attention to the fact that I looked like I'd borrowed my jeans off of Albert Steptoe.

Yob – Clearing The Path To Ascend
(Neurot Recordings)

Perhaps the greatest gift that any of us get from music is its ability to alter our whole perception of what life is about; to open us up to new ideas and new ways of thinking. I don't think it's a stretch to say that many metal fans are fans of metal precisely because they are, in a multitude of unique and different ways, slightly ill at ease with the world. It's tough trying to work out who you really are and what you're really doing here, and it can feel like a lonely and futile fucking journey sometimes. When you hear an album that not only makes you feel less alone in this pursuit but, in whatever way, pushes you in directions you never before thought existed, there's no feeling in the world quite like it. But it's easy to get carried away.

Over the course of their seven-album career Portland doom trio Yob, led by guitarist Mike Scheidt, have delved heavily into Eastern mysticism, Eastern philosophy and abstract thought - their abrasive, tantric excursions have traversed everything from parinirvana, the "final nirvana" (throughout 2009's storming The Great Cessation), the Buddhist concept of atman, the complete, spiritual self, on 2011's Atma and have regularly used samples of the British philosopher and writer Alan Watts. Perhaps because Atma, Clearing The Path To Ascend's predecessor, was such an astounding achievement - and probably in no small part, too, because it received high praise from The New York Times of all places - the tendency with Yob now seems to be to deliberately focus too completely on Scheidt's spiritual underpinnings, sometimes forgetting that what makes albums like Atma or The Great Cessation or The Unreal Never Lived from 2005 is the music - the riffs and the doom.

Scheidt has spoken at length about the fact that Clearing The Path To Ascend is perhaps the least abstract and most direct and personal album Yob have made to date, acting for him as it did as somewhat of a catharsis after his divorce and his struggle with clinical depression, and yet Clearing… is by no means a dark album; if anything it's redemptive, hopeful even, right from the moment Alan Watts utters "time to wake up" and opener 'In Our Blood' chugs out of your speakers. The relentless tsunami of taiko-like drumming in 'Nothing To Win' later reminds you of the first time you heard Through Silver In Blood, and yet, like the slow, honest and gulping breaths after a primal scream, it's the mournful, dynamically shifting fragility of closer 'Marrow' that is really going to stay with you.

Bongripper - Miserable
(Great Barrier Records)

That is all probably way too serious. So, let's have some fucking Bongripper, who I'm fairly certain are the least serious doom band in existence (discounting Stoner Kebab of course, because they're shit)….

I fucking love Bongripper. But, then, if you've ever read even one of these columns or had the particular misfortune of bumping into me drunk at a gig, you'll already know this. But it's not just the riffs, it's not just the fact that they seem to have perfected the almost mystical and ineffable art of making those riffs both skull-crushing and of the sort that compel your spine to involuntarily jerk in time whenever and wherever you hear them. No, it's because everything they do seems like one giant piss-take; every doom and stoner cliché is coughed out, every bong-addled riff sounds like they've nicked it from someone else and then made it effortlessly better. I mean, their last full LP was titled Satan Worshiping Doom, and they followed that up with an (admittedly poor) EP called Sex Tape/Snuff Film just because they liked the idea of "people typing 'Bongripper Sex Tape' in to Google".

So, Miserable. Expecting an ersatz Satan Worshiping Doom, then? As if only to fuck with us, the Chicago quartet have gone and made not only one of their finest records but also - and try not to choke on your chalice here - but a serious one at that! Miserable, as its name suggests, is particularly abject - whereas Satan… morphed rapidly from 'that kinda black metal part to that Sabbath-y part to that drone-y part', through its three tracks - 'Endless', 'Descent' and 'Into Ruin' - Miserable has consumed all that made Bongripper Bongripper - the doom, the drone, the punk-ish intensity - swallowed it like the gaping, angler fish-from-Hell-like mouth on the cover and disgorged it in one, cohesive mass that is about as much fun as watching a family pet get sucked through a lawnmower. And I fucking love it.

Vampillia – Some Nightmares Take You Aurora Rainbow Darkness
(Candlelight)

I was going to start this review by talking about black metal. I was going to talk about how affirming it is that this Japanese "brutal orchestra" (their term not mine) formed by Yoshikawa Toyohito, formerly of Boredoms, and featuring Ruins drummer Yoshida Tatsuya, are continuing to beautifully illustrate that there are few branches of metal that have provided such gloriously divergent experimentation in recent years, despite many people's preconceived ideas of kvlt and conformity. And despite the existence of Deafheaven. But then…. One night while taking a rare opportunity to play Some Nightmares… at a blissfully extreme volume, gazing out of the window at the South London landscape, imagining endless pine trees, and wishing the vodka sloshing around the bottom of my chipped mug was instead the thick claret plasma of a recently vanquished foe; as I rolled another miserly cigarette, ignored my Gauloises envy and sunk into a warm melancholy, I realised just what a load of fucking bollocks that all was. Because, you see, Vampillia aren't really black metal at all.

Owing as much to the plonking atmospherics and ethereal, epic reaching dynamics of Sigur Rós as they do to the symphonic blasts of Emperor and the lo-fi mentalism of Filosofem-era Burzum, the haunting, orchestrated dirges and bizarrely Scandinavian indie band sensibilities contained in Some Nightmares… somehow fuse together to create something both utterly fierce and deranged yet beautiful and almost childishly innocent - the way the chaotic squalls, death growls and muddled attack of guitars and orchestration of 'Rainbow On You' segue into the noir-ish, waltzing minimalism of 'Dream' being particularly astounding. Some Nightmares… is like some sort of 'Hansel And Gretel'-like fable, except one where Hansel stabs Gretel to death with a rusty screwdriver and then spends far too long gazing out to sea thinking about what he's just done.

Sólstafir - Ótta
(Season Of Mist)

Some Nightmares Take You Aurora Rainbow Darkness was actually recorded in Iceland, so it seems only fitting that we should now move on to one of that country's finest musical exports, and arguably one of the best post metal bands in existence: Sólstafir. I'm massively privileged to be able to say that my first experience of Sólstafir was at a small metal festival in a fjord town in the north of Iceland - so perfect was the amalgam of band, atmosphere and location, so captivating and enriching was the hour-long wash of their taught, glacially powerfully excursions and subtly wrought, almost folk-like atmospherics that the feeling of emerging afterwards into the disorientating near-perpetual dusk of the summer solstice has left me chasing the Lagarfljót worm trying to recapture that feeling ever since. As epic, uninhibited and adventurous as 2011's sprawling Svartir Sandar was, however, it somehow felt overly grand - escaping the tundra rather than embracing it. That the band have stuck someone who looks like the hermit subject from Two Years At Sea (find that film somewhere immediately, by the way) being battered by the indifferent force of the ocean on the cover of its follow-up, then, is particularly telling. Ótta finally captures the sense of isolation, that elemental expansiveness that has been so inextricably linked with their sound since they abandoned their more death metal leanings, and yet somehow manages as well to keep it tethered to a core of near classic rock that, far from being at odds with sparse tones, rather provides a tether from which to unfurl itself endlessly outwards. Never is this captured more perfectly than through the mourning strings and banjo-augmented gallop of the title track.

Martyrdöd - Elddop
(Southern Lord)

What do I love about this new Martyrdöd album? The death metal… Yeah, how does that grab you - tightly and around the throat? I hope so!

As much as there seems to be an abundance of decent crust bands continually seeping out of the cider-stained woodwork these days, so many who claim to adhere more to the Swedish Skit-school way of doing things frequently forget one thing: that what made bands like Skitsystem, particularly, so awesome was their deep love of death metal as well as hardcore punk and crust pioneers like Discharge, and the way in which they unashamedly allowed their deathly leanings to heavily imbue their music, especially in the early days. Within about five seconds of opener 'Nödkanal's deadly, downtempo dirge kicking you in the teeth you'll realise that this fact is something Martyrdöd clearly haven't forgotten. Or rather, they've remembered it (featuring as they do past and present members of Skitsystem and Agrimonia). Whereas its predecessor, 2012's Paranoia, was nothing short of a relentless, unceasing d-beat barrage that at virtually every moment threatened to collapse completely, ruptured entirely by its own unrestrained ferocity, Elddop stands as something altogether more considered - targeted, articulate rage not just the wild, frenzied variety this time.

Corrupt Moral Altar - Mechanical Tides
(Season Of Mist)

As far as I'm concerned, if you're a band creating a debut album of such breadth and depth of scope as Mechanical Tides and some bunch of scene-obsessed, spunk-bubble reviewers - you know the type, who say they love Death but don't know who Kam Lee is and pretend that the first record they ever bought was a Burzum demo tape (it wasn't, it was These Days by Bon Jovi… What, I was nine years old, gimme a break!) - are already crying into their Kerrang! that "it's not as good as their first two EPs…. whaaaa" then you're definitely doing something right. In the interests of fairness, the two EPs that preceded Mechanical Tides, Whiskey Sierra and Luciferian Deathcult, were the aural equivalent of having someone violently sandpaper through your skull and keep going, and since then these four Liverpudlian hate farmers have slightly cleaned up their act. But all things are relative after all, and broadening their sulphurous, Converge-in-pyjamas style attack to include mangled Botch-ims and moments of paradoxically delicate Russian Circles-like battery is exactly why CMA are one of the most exciting metal prospects in the UK right now. Don't believe me? Check out the Jeff Walker-featuring 'Die Glocke', then. Right. Fucking. Now.

Monarch - Sabbracadaver
(Profound Lore)

Coming from someone who might have suggested that Conan are doing exceptionally well for themselves considering the fact that, to my ears, they continue to release incrementally more polished versions of the same record each time they put out a new album, you might well question my penchant for amplifier-worshipping French doom hipsters Monarch. The nightmarish atmospherics and tectonically heavy, almost disorienting percussive pummelling - not to mention the possessed howls of vocalist Emilie Bresson - that makes the group's live performances such gloriously oppressive and almost physically purging affairs often hasn't translated so well in their recorded output, no matter the volume threshold of your stereo. 2012's Omens pushed close to those boundaries, but it's here now, with Sabbracadaver, that they've come the closest to nailing it. While the combined 35 minutes of 'Pentarammes' and 'Mortes' drag themselves along in equally hellish drones of feedback and cataclysmic stomps of occult doom, it's the comparatively short 'Louves' in-between that seems to so demonically feed on that very insidious sense of rage and impotent frustration you feel with life because everyone else you meet has a proper job and all their own teeth. Yes, it really is that good.

Ommadon – V
(Dry Cough/Domestic Genocide)

"We record raw, heavy drone-doom by ourselves, all live in the forest in the Highlands," say Scottish power duo Ommadon, and it fucking sounds like it too. Unending, bleak, a strung-out cannonade of slothful percussive bludgeons, endlessly circling the drain at a narcotic crawl catching in its wake shards of feedback and capturing the primitive, elemental howl of the prehistoric woodland. Sounding something like an unholy concoction of the likes of Switchblade and Sunn O))), with the same twisted approach to doom riffs as Dark Castle or Moss - I want to imagine that the pair responsible for crafting V eke out their existence marooned amongst the permafrost, ensconced in some dark, dilapidated shack, adorned with innumerable animal skulls. I want to imagine that they both look like the old chap on the cover of Sólstafir's new record, but dope-sick. I want to imagine they don't know what electricity is. I'm probably wrong.

Haikai No Ku - Ultra High Dimensionality
(Box Records)

In the words of Barry Manilow: "Arrival is, like, so overrated man - just enjoy the journey, Mandy!" I couldn't agree more, Barry - all departure, no arrival; when it's done properly, it's fucking cosmic. And so it is with Haikai No Ku. But, then, you'd expect little else from a band featuring Bong and 11 Paranoias' Mike Vest as well as Jerome Smith (Female Borstal) and Sam Booth (Obey). Not so much blasting off as gradually seeping out of our atmosphere in a rocket-made fuzz, and powered by feedback and the first Black Sabbath LP, Ultra High Dimensionality ultimately comes to rest interminably stuck in Earth's orbit, eternally circling the globe riding the unperceivable and endlessly repetitive cosmic waves laid down by Monster Magnet circa Tab, and forever oscillating around the same, propulsive space-rock riffs, only tempered by the deafening galactic yawn of a nearby star collapsing. And that's just opener 'Dead In The Temple'! Despite what feels like the intergalactic reach of Ultra High…, there is still something earthy, and stoically monolithic about the likes of 'Blue At Noon' and 'Void In Aimless Flight' that keeps the controls set firmly away from sheer mindless, indulgent freak-out. If only it went on for 39 years, rather than the remarkably restrained 39 minutes.

Gnosis Of The Witch – Dauðr Burðr Þrysvar
(Iron Bonehead)

With all the weird, wonderful, expansive and brain-haemorrhagingly deranged ways that an increasing number of artists are utilising to push the basic concepts of black metal into evermore disparate and diverse areas, there are still those bands who sound like they live under the floorboards of a decrepit log cabin, and spend their nights wearing clothes made of cat guts and screaming demonically into a four-track held together by Sellotape. And it brings a stabbing, icy sickle of contentment to my frostbitten cardiac organ to find that some of those people, like American duo Gnosis Of The Witch, are still making records like Dauðr Burðr Þrysvar. Part hellish ambient drone and distant percussive thuds, part claustrophobic, folk-tainted nightmare and part lo-fi sulphuric blasts of shrill, primitive BM… what is, bizarrely, most threatening about Dauðr Burðr Þrysvar are the moments of relative tranquillity and the purposefully impotent attempts at reaching for the epic and symphonic. Basically how the 16-year-old Ihsahn would sound if they paved over his favourite forest to build a toxic waste dump.

And that's it for another instalment; send the Sherpas home, you made it. Coming next time: Godflesh, At The Gates and… Outlaw country, wooo!!

Horns up, ya shitters!

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