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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Your Heavy Metal Hits For September
Kez Whelan , September 27th, 2017 11:09

Stride past the turgid patriarchy, says Kez Whelan, and rejoice in this autumn's righteous, furious, glorious metal offerings.

Remember back when you were a fresh-faced, mullet-sporting teen and the idea that metalheads were all a part of some big community, or family even, seemed less like a throwaway Manowar lyric and more like a fully fledged raison d’etre? Well, without meaning to come across too pious or embittered, internet comment sections have completely annihilated any romanticised 'metal brotherhood' for me; I have never felt so far removed from my hirsute, Bathory-shirt-clad peers than I do now. In the wake of a horrific sexual assault scandal involving a particularly high-profile metal band, and rambling, misguided NSBM sympathy from musicians, labels and publications that should really know better, the last few weeks have seen no end of apathy (at best) and blind bigotry (at worst) spewing from this so-called 'community'. Why is it that so many who claim to adhere to the 'innocent until proven guilty' axiom are so quick to question the innocence of victims themselves? Why is that so many self-described 'apolitical' metal fans will passionately defend Nazi bands, but get mad when a group like the excellent Dawn Ray’d espouse leftist ideals, crying that they “have no place” in black metal? It’s enough to make one view this 'community' as a bunch of petulant, entitled children rather than the unshackled, open-minded individualists they portray themselves to be.

Anyway, with that off my chest (and now that I’ve almost certainly lost all the closet dickheads who may have stumbled in here), it’s worth noting the things about metal that I do still find life-affirming. Bands like Venom Prison, for example, who continue to fight the good fight and donated £200 to Rape Crisis this month, or the aforementioned Dawn Ray’d; their October debut, The Unlawful Assembly, is as refreshing musically as it is politically, re-invigorating black metal tropes with dashes of punk, folk, and that bold anti-authoritarian vigour that has informed the genre from day one. It’s the kind of record that renews my hope and faith in metal, that the genre will continue to burn brightly without succumbing to and languishing in strict orthodoxy, either in an artistic or ideological sense. Thankfully, it’s not alone; the following albums have all had a similar effect on me this month, so I suppose I should hop off this soapbox and just get on with it…

Wolves In The Throne Room -Thrice Woven
(Artemisia)

Rejoice! After hinting that they were done with black metal for good with 2014’s admittedly glorious ambient excursion, Celestite, and then suggesting they were done with music entirely in interviews shortly after, Wolves In The Throne Room have finally returned to their blackened best – and what a return it is. Thrice Woven features some of their most outwardly aggressive material to date, as well as some of their most mesmerising atmospheres, often within the same song; check out the blizzard-like assault and intoxicating string bends of ‘Angrboda’, or the way the furious Mayhem style riffing of epic opener ‘Born From The Serpent’s Eye’ abruptly breaks to allow room for Anna von Hausswolff’s ethereal vocals. The guest appearances here came with no shortage of hype of their own, but they work brilliantly within the context of the album and don’t detract from the band’s unique style at all – the unmistakably wizened growl of Steve Von Till is a perfect addition to the meditative ‘The Old Ones Are With Us’ for example, feeling like the arrival of a village elder from deep in the woods instead of, well, that bloke from Neurosis. The band sound rejuvenated throughout Thrice Woven, returning to their previous Cascadian black metal style with renewed vigour and fresh ideas, resulting in some of their best performances and most imaginative, direct songwriting to date. At a punchy 42 minutes, this is everything we’ve come to love about Wolves In The Throne Room (plus a few genuine surprises) wrapped up in a very palatable package indeed. Pretty much a perfect comeback album, in other words.

Yellow Eyes -Immersion Trench Reverie
(Gilead)

If you still haven’t fully scratched that atmospheric black metal itch, then you’ll want to snap up the latest Yellow Eyes LP too. That’s not to tar the New York quartet as just another WITTR clone though, as their style is markedly different; whilst it retains a similarly transcendental quality to their Washington based peers, it’s a bit more visceral, angular and minimal. Although saying that, Immersion Trench Reverie, their fourth full-length and second for Gilead, is probably their most layered and detailed yet, with the labyrinthine structures and twisting melodic patterns in songs like ‘Blue As Blue’ and ‘Old Alpine Pang’ recalling Krallice at their most obtuse. The album was recorded shortly after the Skarstad brothers (guitarist/vocalist Will and fellow six-stringer Sam) had returned from spending a winter in Siberia, armed with a fresh batch of evocative field recordings that have been worked into the record’s flow seamlessly. The sound of crackling camp fires, distant owl hoots and eerie bells in ‘Jubilat’ make the songs’ coiling black metal riffs seem even more powerful, as do the rich tones of the town’s women’s choir that bring ‘Shrillness In The Heated Grass’ to its unnerving finale, for example. If you’re looking for a prime example of how black metal bands can continue to innovate and keep the genre sounding fresh whilst staying true to its roots in 2017, look no further.

Botanist - Collective: The Shape Of He To Come
(Avantgarde Music)

Speaking of innovation in black metal, San Francisco’s Botanist have been pushing the envelope since 2009 with their unique set-up (replacing guitars with distorted hammered dulcimers) and introspective, melancholy sound. Following five full-lengths and three EPs, Collective: The Shape Of He To Come is, as the name implies, the project’s first full-length as a collective, rather than being solely the work of mastermind Otrebor. As a result, the album immediately feels more expansive than previous works, dancing between a large variety of different moods. Utterly gorgeous interlude ‘And The World Throws Off Its Oppressors’ is a case in point, with its breezy, pastoral atmosphere and numerous soulful voices conjuring up a similarly communal feel to early Amon Düül. It’s a perfect prelude to the next track, ‘Upon Veltheim’s Throne Shall I Wait’, which finds vast, Wardruna-esque choral harmonies and spiralling dulcimer arpeggios soaring atop a steady double-bass battery. These grandiose, melancholic sections provide a great contrast to some of the more harrowing passages here, like the album intro ‘Praise Azalea The Adversary’ or ‘The Reconciliation Of Nature And Man’, which gradually unwinds into a squirming atonal nightmare, trading tortured shrieks and unsettling whispers over piercing, Psycho-esque stabs.
If Otrebor was in any danger of exhausting the possibilities of dulcimers in a black metal context, then this collective approach was exactly what was needed to revitalise the project. This is definitely one of Botanist’s most successful records to date, and a bold step forward for the band that hints at even more expressive and evocative work to come.

Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
(Sargent House)

Following 2015’s crushing, doom-laden Abyss, tinnitus suffering patrons of this column will be thrilled to hear that Chelsea Wolfe has continued down that heavier road for Hiss Spun, with an even crunchier, more guitar based direction and a thick, weighty Kurt Ballou production making this her most sonically flattening and most “metal” album yet. Songs like the driving, emotive lead single ‘16 Psyche’ and the alternately tender and destructive ‘Twin Faun’ sound absolutely enormous, with the pounding thump of powerhouse drummer Jess Gowrie striking through the ominous miasma of pitch-black distortion and deep bass tones with both clarity and chest-pounding force. Aaron Turner of Isis/Sumac/Old Man Gloom fame even shows up on the turbulent ‘Vex’, as a propulsive industrial beat unexpectedly gives way to his guttural roar, creating a spine-tingling counterpart to Chelsea’s haunting croon. Wolfe’s songwriting is as infectious as ever, and her voice sounds incredible throughout, soaring to ever more expressive heights especially during the spectacular crescendo in the gripping, slow-burning ‘The Culling’ and intensely cathartic closer ‘Scrape’. One of the many immensely satisfying things about Hiss Spun is that it seems like an entirely natural progression and extension of Chelsea Wolfe’s sound, continuing the doomier direction of Abyss but also staying true to that weathered, classic songcraft that made albums like Apokalypsis so memorable; just check out the sombre, folky strains of ‘Two Spirit’ or the dreamlike ‘Offering’. Chelsea Wolfe’s music has always felt like some form of sanctuary, a place to escape and heal from the pressures of the world, and despite the outwardly heavier tone, Hiss Spun is no different; it’s just that when faced with an even crueller world, that sanctuary’s walls have to be reinforced that much further.

Myrkur - Mareridt
(Relapse)

Those prepared to look past the hype (both positive and negative) surrounding Myrkur’s debut M found a record rich with ideas and potential that was also a bit underdeveloped in places – there was a captivating rawness to it, but also the suggestion that the best was yet to come. Rather than building directly on M’s foundations however, follow-up Mareridt is bit of a curveball. Most surprisingly, the black metal influence is greatly diminished here, veering its head mainly on ‘Gladiatrix’, the Gorgoroth-ian stomp of ‘Elleskudt’ and lead single and album highlight ‘Måneblôt’, in which sheets of ice cold tremolo and stirring strings collide with a steady blastbeat as Myrkur intones a vocal melody that’s uncannily similar to PJ Harvey’s ‘Grow, Grow, Grow’. The other tracks venture into even more ethereal or doomy territories, with mixed results; the sultry late-night vibes and grandiose gothic chorus of ‘Crown’ are fantastic, coming across like the missing link between Lana Del Rey and Dead Can Dance, but ‘The Serpent’s stunted, clunky doom riffs are more sluggish and plodding than they are crushing or hypnotic. It’s perhaps no coincidence that one of the album’s strongest tracks, ‘Funeral’, also features the inimitable Chelsea Wolfe, as the pair’s different vocal styles intertwine quite spectacularly to sneer “it’s your funeral” over a bombastic, funereal march. The album trails off somewhat after this though; penultimate track ‘Kætteren’ feels a bit like background music for a tavern in an RPG, but still would have been a better outro than final track proper ‘Børnehjem’, with Myrkur’s pitch-shifted ‘spooky’ helium monologue making it feel like a segue that even Cradle Of Filth would have rejected for being a bit too pantomime. Though a frustrating listen in places, Mareridt is still definitely worth hearing – there are some genuinely great moments here, and it’s cool to hear Myrkur continuing to experiment with and push the limits of her sound, but it also seems like a shame that so much of what made M so interesting has taken a backseat this time.

Monarch - Never Forever
(Profound Lore)

For superlatives like “hypnotic” or “crushing”, French drone/doom outfit Monarch never disappoint. Eighth full-length Never Forever is an absolute monster, offering up over an hour of enveloping funeral doom, neatly epitomised by devastating centre-piece ‘Cadaverine’, in which mournful guitar harmonies and vocalist Emilie Bresson’s tortured shriek slowly trickle through a thick smog of dense, distorted chords. Emilie’s clean vocals sound stronger than ever here too, especially on the almost unrecognisable Kiss cover ‘Diamant Noir’ (‘Black Diamond’), a glimmer of hope amidst an otherwise bleak record that culminates in a wailing, triumphant classic rock guitar solo (albeit played at a third of the speed). That’s not the only surprise here, either: the sombre chants, industrial noise and martial beat of ‘Song To The Void’ is like Sunn O))) gone neo-folk, whilst gargantuan 20 minute finale ‘Lilith’ supplements its cavernous riffery with chilling Goblin style horror soundtrack keys and hushed, Corrupted-esque spoken word. It probably won’t be enough to convert those who don’t get on with double-digit BPM counts, but if you like your metal as slow and gloomy as possible, definitely pick this one up.

Ufomammut - 8
(Neurot)

It looked like Italian psych-doom legends Ufomammut were in danger of dropping off the deep end a few years back; whilst the “one long song” approach had worked wonders for 2011’s magnum opus Eve, the meandering Oro double album that followed wasn’t anywhere near as engaging. All of which made 2015 LP Ecate’s return to simpler, more direct song structures feel so powerful, and now 8, their (you guessed it) eighth full-length, feels like an even punchier, more refined take on that sound. Maybe it’s because this is the first time the band have opted to record live in the studio, as songs like ‘Warsheep’ and the bludgeoning ‘Core’ are easily amongst the most immediate, thunderous numbers in the band’s oeuvre, the latter especially sounding like mid-period Godflesh having a nervous breakdown at the back of a Terminal Cheesecake gig. Bassist Urlo even eases off on his infamous vocal effects to indulge in something approaching a hook on songs like barnstorming opener ‘Babel’ and careening eight minute freakout ‘Zodiac’. Psychonauts needn’t worry that the band are losing their edge when it comes to long-form epics however, as whilst each of these songs sound mighty enough on their own, consumed as a whole they become fucking gigantic. The journey this album takes feels like much more than the sum of its parts, and the flow between tracks is fantastic, slipping smoothly and almost imperceptibly between grooves at times (between ‘Core’ and ‘Womdemonium’ for example) and creating a thrillingly jarring effect at others (check out the way ‘Warsheep’s frantic final coda is suddenly and unexpectedly obliterated by the brash stomp of ‘Zodiac’s intro). Simply put, this is one of Ufomammut’s most energetic, dynamic and downright crushing albums, promising nothing less than all-out sonic annihilation from start to planet-shaking finish. Yum!

Cannabis Corpse - Left Hand Pass
(Season Of Mist)

Let’s just take a minute to appreciate the fact that Cannabis Corpse, a band that could have easily been some half-baked one-off novelty, have not only reached their fifth full-length, but also created their own distinctive sonic identity in the process. The influence of their name-sake is undeniable of course, but it’s like looking at Cannibal Corpse through a fun-house mirror, all warped and twisted into unfamiliarly cartoonish contortions. It was a shame then that 2014’s From Wisdom To Baked (written after the departure of guitarist Nikropolis and long-serving vocalist Weedgrinder) seemed to lose a bit of that identity, with Gwar guitarist Brent Legion bringing quite a different riffing flavour to the table. On Left Hand Pass, Brent’s place is now taken by The Black Dahlia Murder’s Brandon Ellis and Six Feet Under’s Ray Suhy, and whilst this switch has again resulted in quite a different sound (with a notably thicker, meatier guitar tone), this album definitely feels more in line with the vibe of the first three records than its predecessor did. The fiddly riffing and idiosyncratic song structures of the title track and no-nonsense ragers like ‘In Dank Purity’ and ‘Effigy Of The Forgetful’ are classic Cannabis Corpse, and Landphil sounds much more confident doing vocals this time round too, even if his authoritative growl still lacks the same personality that Weedgrinder’s deranged grunt possessed. Despite that, his nimble bass playing remains one of the band’s strongest points, with dazzling runs scuttling away beneath tracks like ‘The 420th Crusade’. All things considered, this is something of a return to form, even if the band’s punning muscle isn’t quite as limber as it used to be – you’ve gotta admire the sheer audaciousness of the Nile aping ‘Papyrus Containing The Spell To Protect Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is In The Bong Water’, but opting for ‘In Battle There Is No Pot’ when the clearly superior ‘In Battle There Is No Draw’ was ripe for the taking? Poor show, lads, poor show…

Acephalix - Decreation
(20 Buck Spin)

If you only spin one death metal LP this month, I’d plump for this one personally. Acephalix outgrew their humble crust punk origins to become a full-on, doom-laden, disgustingly down-tuned death metal band over the course of a few demos, an EP and a full-length, before catching the ear of Southern Lord and then promptly breaking up before their second album, 2012’s monstrous Deathless Master, had even hit the shelves. Most of the band continued carrying the torch with the even doomier Vastum, but the return of Acephalix is very welcome indeed, as the band definitely stood out amidst similar death metal acts. They’ve got that dank, cavernous vibe down to a tee, but Acephalix’s music has always been unashamedly catchy too, with plentiful hooks clearly audible amidst all the filth. New album Decreation picks up exactly where they left off, with crushing opener ‘Suffer (Life In Fragments)’ liable to be stuck in your head for days after a single listen. The quartet somehow manage to retain that evil, deathly sound whilst actually being quite lively and – dare we say it – fun, with songs like the driving ‘Excremental Offerings’ and the depraved yet upbeat ‘Mnemonic Death’ sounding like a drunken Incantation letting their hair down and partying like it was 1989. Decreation is as infectious as it is heavy, and makes for a refreshing change from the leagues of po-faced Onward To Golgotha copycats out there.

Helpless - Debt
(Holy Roar)

If you’ve been scanning this column for September’s most immediately savage release, then look no further. This debut LP from Plymouth trio Helpless is the kind of album that you’ll probably see receiving a lot of lazy comparisons to Trap Them, Nails and that whole school of grinding hardcore that’s really taken off in the last few years, but don’t assume they’re just another one of those bands as there’s so much more going on here. They’re certainly intense enough to warrant those comparisons, but there’s also a hefty early Swans influence at play (especially in ‘Moral Bankruptcy’ and the jarring but infectious closer ‘Denied Sale’), a dollop of Am-Rep abrasiveness, a lot of mid-90s noisecore (think Botch, Coalesce etc), a hint of post-metal atmospherics without compromising one iota of the record’s viciousness, and a keen ear for dissonance that’s more in tune (if you’ll pardon the pun) with the likes of Deathspell Omega than, say, Code Orange, for example. Ultimately though, fuck the comparisons; this is a prime slab of interesting, well-written and devastatingly heavy music that’s more than capable of standing on its own merits, and it’s certainly worthy of your attention and support.

Unsane - Sterilize
(Southern Lord)

Having previously released albums on Amphetamine Reptile, Relapse, Ipecac and Alternative Tentacles, it seems only fitting that these New York noise rock legends complete the set of ‘cool independent metal/punk labels’ by teaming up with Southern Lord for Sterilize. It’s also fitting that their debut for Greg Anderson and co is a marked departure into minimal drone, complete with Mongolian throat singing and a sinister singing bowl solo – well, OK, not really, but I had you going for a second there, didn’t I? This is an Unsane record we’re talking about, so you know exactly what you’re gonna get; clanking bass licks, tense, pummelling grooves, Chris Spencer’s raw, acerbic howl and riffs mean enough to shatter cinder blocks, all topped off with that uniquely caustic guitar tone that feels like pouring boiling water directly into your ear lobes. Oh, and an album cover drenched in blood, naturally. What’s remarkable about Sterilize then, isn’t that it bucks this trend at all (it doesn’t), but just how urgent and pissed off it sounds, especially considering the band have been wringing out this formula for eight albums now. In spite of this, this LP shows no sign of age whatsoever, with a palpable sense of frustration and anger bubbling away during the staccato clatter of songs like ‘Aberration’, ‘Distance’ and the blistering ‘We’re Fucked’, a sentiment that seems to sum up the vibe of this album so succinctly, it’s a wonder they didn’t use it as the album title. If keeping up with the news these days makes you want to put your fist through a wall, grabbing a copy of this should help to keep your appendages safe from any further damage for, oh, at least another month.

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