Columnus Metallicus: Bleak November's Best Metal, By Louise Brown
, November 22nd, 2016 09:23
Louise Brown manages to drag herself out of the pit of disappear this terrible month has pushed us all into to find hope in the rancid art and galumphing noise of Witchwood, Robert Pehrsson's Humbucker, Testament, The Eddy Malm Band, Spiritus Mortis, Tower, T.O.M.B
There are few words to describe the past few weeks. No matter where you sit on the political, or apolitical, spectrum things are frankly bonkers and to top it all off Leonard Cohen is dead. A new Metallica album does little to comfort the metal community in 2016 and although it's fine to curl up with the new Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow DVD and think back to the summer when things were sunnier and simpler, at some point you're gonna have to get out of bed and face the real world. In good news Iron Fist finally put out a new issue with metal queen Doro on the cover and how can anyone be unsure of the what's happening in the world when her constant positivity and pluck is beaming down at you from the shelves in the newsagents when you've dragged your sorry self to the shop for bread and fags?
We here at Iron Fist have once again been asked by tQ to pen a column celebrating the brazen makers of metal music who have offered up platters of steel over the past few weeks and it was the jolt we needed. We found punk rock that inspired us to be more revolting, time travelling heavy metal to take us away from the madness and if things get really bad, we found new bands to drop out to. It was Henry Thoreau who said “When I hear music I fear no danger”, and we're pretty sure he was talking about Martyrdöd when he said that, or maybe The Great Old Ones. In fact, he definitely looks like a The Great Old Ones fan. It's the cravat that gives it away.
Martydöd – List
Pissed off? Disenfranchised? Scared? Of course you are. Things got a little bit surreal last week to say the least, so much so the usual comments of “Oh well, punk will get good again” didn't quite seem to cut through the fear. Of course it will, angry, riotous, political, establishment-bashing alternative culture always seems to thrive under right-wing rule but it seems like this time around it will take a little bit more than snotty punk to ride the tide of a Trump/Teresa powerhouse. That's not to say don't use your guitar as a weapon, we need bands to provide the soundtrack for a new era of dissension and discord and if you call your band either of those words that'll do nicely too. D-beat Kängpunk bands are the perfect antidote to the current political landscape and it's almost as if Martyrdöd – featuring members of crust royalty Skitsystem and Agrimonia – had a crystal ball when deciding the release date of new album List. Providing an almost inhuman backdrop, it is the martial motörbeat of Jens Bäckelin that drives List onwards to Valhalla. No matter which musical path the Swedes take, the robotic rhythm pulsates under glistening black metal, American hardcore angst, Swe-death crunch and even Scandinavian folk melodies. Fast and furious, List is unrelenting and is a masterclass in metalpunk for anyone thinking of creating an riotous racket right about now.
T.O.M.B – Fury Nocturnus
Speaking of a racket. One word: Harrowing. There, review done. Unfortunately journalistic principles require one to expand on such monosyllabic critiques. T.O.M.B are No-One, B. Zimimay and Samantha Viola but along with collaborators Hellhammer (Mayhem), Erik Danielsson (Watain, who produced Fury Nocturnus austere artwork), John Litchko (Goreaphobia) and Grant Richardson (Gnawed) have created a despicable, despairing audio transcript. This is to be expected, the agonising brainchild of No One are in their 18th year of despicable, despairing audio transcripts, however expect this one to resonate further than before.
While T.O.M.B, or Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy if you want to be polite, have worked with cult labels such as Crucial Blast and Todestrieb in the past, Fury Nocturnus is coming out on Peaceville, the legendary British label who brought us tormented shrieks of suffering from Darkthrone, DHG and Mysticum. Essentially T.O.M.B are Musique Concrète for the depraved, and while you picture Schaeffer and Stockhausen in shiny studios with futuristic knobs and buttons, T.O.M.B prefer abandoned asylums, damp basements and cobwebbed crypts.
Inspired by Abruptum, Morbid and Beherit (the weird years), T.O.M.B have created immersive accompaniments when opening for the likes of Watain and Sunn O))), using percussive bones and Shamanistic principles to bring the audience to the right state of mind for such brutal, albeit contrasting, performances and with Fury Nocturnus have provided a living testimony to their daring, wretched art.
Tower – Tower
This writer has been hiding away from impending doom courtesy of Freaks And Geeks on Netflix, and that may have some way found its way subconsciously into this column's selections as most of these bands could have been played in Nick's basement. It's safe to say that we're as bereaved over the passing of poet laureate of doom, Leonard Cohen as the hapless wannabe Neil Peart was about the death of Bonham and so it's to Tower that we turn to take us away from all the pain and despair. Singer Sarabeth Linden was in a covers band called Holy Diva, which despite making our Dio-loving scribe green with envy that she didn't think of that first, sets the scene for what Tower are all about.
They sound and look like the keg party band in any 80s teen flick; it's just unashamed freak metal that proudly wears its Sabbath, Rainbow and Priest love on its fringed sleeve. Sarabeth is a modern metal queen, with a wail and a wardrobe Halford would approve of. When not going hell for leather, the band behind her bring things down to a make-out groove on Mountains and songs like Hold On To Me have a Meatloaf/Bonnie Tyler pop finesse to them, proving that this new band could go beyond hesher status if they wanted to. But for now it seems they're more than happy playing scuzzy bars, snarling in alley ways and playing dirty rock & roll to dyed-in-the-wool heavy metal fans.
Spiritus Mortis – The Year Is One
If you need more than Netflix to protect you from the scary outside world, Stranger Things made playing RPGs acceptable again, so if your room mates, or parents, are willing you can finally dust off that tabletop game you've been eyeing up in the attic and escape to another world where you can worry about demogorgons instead of demagogues. But what to listen to as you vanquish that pig faced orc? Spiritus Mortis, who formed in 1987, say they're the first Finnish doom band, that may be up for debate but they've lured Albert Witchfinder, Finland's First superstar of doom to their ranks. Albert, or Sami Hynninen to his mum, has been part of Reverend Bizarre, The Puritan and Lord Vicar, to name but a few and his mournful lamentations are the gloom nonpareil.
On The Year Is One the focus is on low and slow horror tales, perfect for story time around the fireplace. Whether it's gory yarns about necrophilia or ghostly accounts of cosmic infinity, Sami is a magical raconteur while the brothers of doom, Teemu and Jussi Maijala, provide a dismal drone that proves Spiritus Mortis should be uttered in the same breath as Candlemass and Cathedral. As the acid drenched organs of World Of No Light ring out, the world slowly fades and we with it.
The Great Old Ones – EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy
(Season Of Mist)
The Cthulu Mythos is another comfort once the new winter of discontent rolls around. There's nothing better than turning yourself into a blanket burrito with a good book and Season Of Mist have the perfect musical accompaniment. The Great Old Ones are a French black metal band formed in 2009 and their third album EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy is once again steeped in Lovecraftian lore.
Having released their first two albums on underground label Les Acteurs de l'Ombre, The Great Old Ones have always been something of an oddity, and it's been utterly undeserved. In a post-millennial black metal landscape where dark monks perform “rituals” behind altars dripping with candle wax and obnubilated with nag champa, TGOO stand out in their camo shorts and Flying Vs. They're from France but Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega they are not. They're on Season Of Mist – home of Watain, Destroyer 666 and Craft – yet those are bands who they will never call their brothers. But this is almost unfair as TGOO play good, dare we say, real black metal. They've fallen into the blackgaze camp but there is way more bite to their art than Alcest or Wolves In The Throne Room. On songs like The Ritual they captivate with levels of BM orthodoxy few bands grasp and on the moments where they integrate keyboards and symphonic elements you can tell it's done with love for the second wave groundbreakers Emperor and Enslaved.
There's a grandeur to what The Great Old Ones offer that is as enthralling as the tales that come direct from their HP source, showcasing that Season Of Mist were right to sign a band that, while not paying attention to the black metal rulebook, are worth a punt on.
Various Artists – Speed Kills VII
(Music For Nations)
Ah, the heavy metal compilation LP; a sort of sanctioned mix-tape and a definite step-up from the NOW cassettes your Aunty Cathy got you for Christmas. Releasing six sonic smorgasbords between 1985 and 1992, the Speed Kills series from Music For Nations are now a bonafide document of the thrash era, proof eternal of the label's ear for heavy metal gold, whether that be the inclusion of genre staples Metallica, Megadeth or Slayer, right down to now-cult legends Hallows Eve, Bulldozer and Bathory. Mainly a vehicle to promote the bands they'd licensed from North America, MFN did go on to sign bands in its own right, like Re-Animator and Acid Reign (who are the only band from the old gang to reappear here) and these six records are a snapshot of how heavy metal evolved through the 80s into the 90s. Now fully-functional once again as a label, Music For Nations are making the most of the current heavy metal nostalgia and have re-animated the Speed Kills series with mixed results. This rules because travelling back in time is a sure way to avoid the future – providing you forget about small things like Thatcher and Reagan.
Seeing that logo is enough to get any trad metal revivalist throbbing where it counts but it's a fairly schizophrenic affair. If aiming for the denim and leather patch mob who have the original Speed Kills on their Discogs want-list then the inclusion of NWOBHM fanboys Amulet, feral speed freaks Dungeon and thrash cultists Desolator is just the ticket. But to get them through the door the album could've done with a bit of Toledo Steel, Asomvel or Eliminator to give it that real underground seal of approval. If sticking to the original Speed Kills ethos of showcasing the most exciting extreme metal bands around today then Celtic Frost-alike manicas The King Is Blind, besuited black metal gents Akercocke and avant weirdos Voices also make total sense being on the bill. However, having all those bands on one comp seems disjointed and disingenuous. The thread between the bands is not as obvious as it was on the first six volumes. Also, almost every band on the original Speed Kills series went onto achieve cult status, something we don't see in the future for Divine Chaos or Formicarius, but giving a platform for filthy punks like Dungeon makes Speed Kills VII okay in our book.
The Eddy Malm Band – Northern Lights
Heavy Load should have been on the Speed Kills compilations. They were just a little ahead of their time and finally imploded in 1983. Still, the band went onto achieve cult status, mainly for their unforgivable album artwork, which is so bad it's perfect (what is best in life? A polar bear fighting an axe-wielding Viking, obviously). The band also get a heavy metal footnote for befriending Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott and having him drop by the studio to lay down the bass tracks on their song 'Free'. Sadly, despite numerous attempts from truer-than-true heavy metal festivals, a Heavy Load reunion was not to be.
However, Load fan Per Hesselrud befriended frontman Eddy Malm in the late 90s and slowly but surely convinced him back to the mic. Enter journalist Janne Stark, who penned exhaustive tome The Heaviest Encyclopedia Of Swedish Hard Rock Ever in 2013. The book came with an accompanying compilation CD featuring a new track by Malm and Hesselrud, and never to miss a beat when it comes to a heavy metal comeback, Greek label No Remorse swooped in and convinced the duo to hit the studio.
Bearing in mind that most of these 80s retro-actions are less than welcome (not all bands can be Satan or Angel Witch), we look to the Northern Lights with trepidation. What we get is ten songs of good time hard rockin' heavy metal. 'Saturday Night' is an anthem for the days when you'd drive around town listening to AC/DC on a TDK90 while 'Heart Of A Warrior' is an ode to never giving up, which Eddy never did. Painkiller-era Priest is as modern a reference as you'll get on Northern Lights, but if Allman Brothers guitar licks, proto heavy metal and Whitesnake-esque lyrics about 'Nasty Women' and 'Danger Stranger' make you wish for simpler times, then Eddy's yer man.
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Testament were also never on a Speed Kills compilation, which is criminal bearing in mind all of the Big Four were, not to mention Exodus, Razor, Voivod and Exciter. Is it all part of a New (World) Order to keep Chuck Billy co written out of thrash history? We doubt it, but seriously good luck with that if so. Testament have been keeping up a relentless pace of thrashin' battery since 1983 when they formed as Legacy and aren't showing any signs of giving up. Brotherhood Of The Snake is album number 12 and in a month when all thrash eyes are firmly focussed on what Messrs Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujilo are up to it's down to Testament to remind all that they've never stopped practising what they preach.
Testament are a goddamn supergroup of thrash metal; the musical equivalent of that film with Arnie, Stallone and Bruce Willis. You've got gentle giant Chuck Billy, the lightning fast fret-wizards of Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, Steve motherflipping DiGiorgio on bass and Gene fucking Hoglan on drums here. Seriously! And people are freaking about about a new Metallica album? Okay, there's room for both but if only these old dogs would get as many column inches. Chuck even finds time to pen a song about how great legalised weed is on this album. Talk about politics that matter! Testament are by no means nostalgic thrash by numbers, there are some modern touches – no doubt by way of DiGiorgio and Hoglan's time spent in any number of techy youthful bands who have no fear of the future – but the band have never forsaken their past and offer up yet another masterclass in old school thrash metal.
Robert Pehrsson's Humbucker - Long Way To The Light
So while the death metal masters Entombed were winding down their glory days, Entombed drummer Nicke Andersson went and formed rock machine The Hellacopters with Dregen from Backyard Babies. This much we know, because Supershitty To The Max is rarely off the turntable. But in 2005 he went back to his first love, death metal and formed Death Breath with guitarist Robert Pehrsson. Pehrsson had played with Runemagick and Masticator, who play the type of music you'd expect bands called Runemagick and Masticator to play, but he was hiding his love, and talent, for playing the music of Page, Schenker and Blackmore. Hence the eponymous Humbucker, a project he started in 2013.
Long Way To The Light is his second album and he's pulled together an all-star cast including Andersson as well as members of Imperial State Electric, Enforcer, Tribulation, The Hellacopters and High Spirits to help his AOR dreams come true. Vintage rock is all the rage in the metal world at the moment, but while most bands will nod their heads towards the first four Zeppelin albums, Pehrsson is proud to cite Presence as a fave, as well as borrow from any of the bands featured on any one of the Best Of Rock CDs you get at the tills in service stations up and down the country. Humbucker are effortlessly cool, but it's Steve Perry level cool. It's shades on inside, and suit jacket sleeves rolled up level cool. Humbucker are the band you need now you've admitted that you'd rather listen to ELO than that obscure noise record from Japan. Long Way To The Light is definitely replacing the best of REO Speedwagon in this writer's car.
Witchwood – Handful Of Stars
At the end of the day, if neither direct action or hiding works for you, there is always the option of dosing up to your eyeballs on psychedelics. And for that you need a soundtrack too, and there is no shortage of current bands happy to assist. While Pehrsson's Humbucker have a definitive AOR feel, there are countless bands dredging up inspiration that comes from more obscure corners. The magical internet has bequeathed us the option of finding out about so many unknown gems of hard rock from the late 60s on and bands like Witchwood from Italy are happy to take those dog-eared vinyls you paid thousands of pounds for only to upload onto YouTube and turn them into new music for a new generation of flower children. Still very much in the heavy metal world – thanks to their signing to cult metal distro Jolly Roger and fawning love of Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Rainbow – Witchwood have one eye on Laurel Canyon, Ricky Dal Pane does a fantastic Jim Morrison croon and songs like 'Mother' meets at the crossroads of Led Zeppelin and Buffalo Springfield. This isn't an unusual list of influences in 2016, Witchwood are one of many but Handful Of Stars sees a new band breaking through without the help of a big metal label or the backbone that a musical community like the one in Sweden can provide. It's at times naïve and at times feels like the band could wig out a bit more than they do, that perhaps they're holding back until they fully find their feet. But this album shows a new band with plenty of pathos and authenticity when it comes to their craft and their collective influences. It's always good to end a column of doom and gloom with a glimmer of hope and for that we look to this Handful Of Stars.