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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Your Heavy Metal Hits For October
Louise Brown , October 19th, 2017 14:51

Winter is coming, says Louise Brown, give in to the darkness. With just Amenra, Bell Witch, Audn, Batushka, Hällas, Mork and your own shrivelled soul for company.

Twin Peaks season three is over and there is a dust cloud obliterating the sun. Life's pretty grim right now. Not even the glimmer of a new Electric Wizard album can lift the spirits of the heavy metaller on a comedown from summer festivals. But if there is one thing we rockers know how to do, it's wallow in our own fear and loathing and settle in with some real introspective doom, the sort that will dust out those cobwebs from the gloomy crevices of our soul and offer up the cathartic solace that somewhere, someone with a guitar is feeling as dreary as you are and has poured all that misery onto tape for our ghoulish enjoyment. This month, new Columnus joy-thief Cheryl Carter and regular fun-smasher Louise Brown summon the darkness with some doozies of albums set to suck the last remnants of life from your withering carcass.

Your playlist for October is draining, depressing and utterly unmissable. Get yourself some St John's wort and a cuppa and settle in for some of the best new extreme metal.

Hällas – Excerpts From A Future Past
(The Sign)

It wouldn't be a Louise edition of Columnus Metallicus without some far-fetching Swedes who've listened to too much Uriah Heep. This month's column opens with an evangelical plea to listen to Hallas' debut album Excerpts From A Future Past. Typically with these things there are songs about seers on epic quests but this great tradition of heavy metal is steeped in imaginative storytelling and Hällas are proudly striding into their new role as troubadours for a new generation of rockers with their ear tuned to Wishbone Ash, Jethro Tull, Ashbury and Blue Öyster Cult. When a young band is compared to the mighty Maiden it's due to those galloping basslines and tinnitus-causing screams, but Hällas deserve the nod for borrowing from their minstrel meanderings and even their much-dismissed progressive urges; those evocative first few bars are a love letter to the infamous intro to 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'. Standout track 'Star Rider' propels the band into that must-hear category with melodic, warm vocals courtesy of the luscious-lunged Tommy Alexandersson and those driving Vangelis keys from Nicklas Malmqvist. If you need an album to listen to on the way home from watching the new Blade Runner, this is it. LB

Amenra – Mass VI
(Neurot)

Pain has long been the point of reference for Belgium’s Amenra, and for Mass VI that pain is beautifully rendered in Colin H Van Eeckhout's expressive voice. His tone reaches from deep, guttural cries to harsher screams and the occasional clean break that only serves to add to the absolute despair that is present on the record. Amenra have broken out of the hardcore-led sludge of their early days and can now be seen to lead a genre of their own. Mass VI is the extension of all they have done and despite each record being better than the last, their sixth mass seems worlds away and even more meaningful.

Highlights are many and there’s not a moment on Mass VI that feels unnecessary; shorter interludes bridge the work and give small enough pauses to draw in breath, to shore up your mind against the oncoming onslaught of emotion. It’s a method that is required for this record - it’s so desperate, so hopelessly human that it’s a genuinely affecting journey. The gorgeous textures of 'A Solitary Reign' are enough to bring tears to even the most hardened of listeners and the sorrowful guitars that lead the piece are sublime in their grief.

Familiar guitar motifs fall into view during album closer 'Diaken' but it’s something that brings Amenra’s sound full circle, to allow the band to touch on those memories and draw strength where otherwise there is none. The song is divine and brings the opposing forces of Amenra together wonderfully. Subtle, delicate passages allow tiny cracks of light to shine in the darkness, their power equalling the stronger sections and the rising walls of sound that encompass it all. Mass VI is a work that will leave you empty; it’s cathartic and draining and you’re left feeling hollow, as though Amenra have looked deep inside you and excised your own exquisite desolation. CC

Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper
(Profound Lore)

Pain, desolate solace, absolute despair, harrowing catharsis; these themes transfer from Amenra's sixth to Bell Witch's third, and with reason; early in the writing process of Mirror Reaper, Bell Witch's drummer Adrian Guerra passed away. Wanting to craft a tribute and legacy that would honour his friend, bassist Dylan Desmond – the other half of this Seattle based duo – tapped drummer Jesse Shreibman along with frequent collaborator Eric Moggridge to create what has become an 83-minute funereal dirge that, while challenging, is ultimately hopeful.

Hour-long songs are no shock in doom circles, from Sleep to Boris to Corrupted we are dared to commit wholly to an immersive listening experience. Mirror Reaper joins that holy canon. The composition, which is split for vinyl purposes straight down the middle in an As Above/So Below mirror image, is not for dipping in and out of, and that is where it may be a barrier of entry for the passer-by, but should you be willing to fully invest in the experience you are tossed about in a sea of grief and desperation that empties the soul. That isn't as harrowing as it sounds on paper. With emotional meditation, as Mirror Reaper offers, comes the bloodletting needed to sow the seeds for hope, reflection, acceptance, forgiveness and relief. The 83 minutes are a slog, and they are provocative, but the shimmering cymbals, tantric basslines and ghostly vocals (some of which are Adrian's, a beautiful and tactful inclusion using vocal lines unused on previous recordings) offer great reward.

For fans of Amenra, or Monarch, Samothrace and Loss, or bands that paint great swathes of illustrative instrumentals in their music such as Solstafir or Alcest, Bell Witch have created light from the dark. When they perform this in its entirety at Roadburn Festival in The Netherlands next April, we recommend you carve out an hour in your schedule and dive in deep. LB

Made Of Teeth – Made Of Teeth
(Red Sun Sounds)

And so we go from an hour-long song to a 26-minute album. Hey, it worked for Slayer. Short, sharp and to the throat (it opens with a caustic track called 'Citrus Fetus Potus'), this self-titled debut from the Valleys is the antithesis to Amenra and Bell Witch while encapsulating the very same influences - Pink Floyd, Neurosis, the 90s AmRep catalogue and an unhealthy dose of Melvins. Born from an unusual lull in the prolific output of Cardiff's psychedelic doom-mongers Spider Kitten, Made Of Teeth sees Chris West (also formerly of the much-missed sprawling post-hardcore ruffians Taint) and Steve Jones of Spider Kitten join forces with Lacertillia's Tom Cole to create a triumvirate of lunging, flailing, discordant loons. The meth-addled mania to Spider Kitten's LSD meandering maybe? The paranoia of the brutal comedown a few days later? It does seem like Made Of Teeth is Spider Kitten's polar opposite or perhaps just its mirror image. These low-end pedlars self-released these six tracks themselves via Bandcamp late summer and are gaining a savage reputation which will no doubt see them picked up by a reputable record label in no time, such is both the pedigree of the musicians involved and the tuned-down, punked-up, fucked-off racket herein. LB

R.I.P. – Street Reaper
(Riding Easy)

Esteemed rock hack Martin Popoff wrote a book a few years ago that asked the age-old question 'Who Invented Heavy Metal?' No spoiler alert necessary, the answer is Black Sabbath, those four scamps from Birmingham, England. But they're also tipped as the godfathers of doom, and rightly so. It's interesting because Amenra, and Bell Witch are most certainly doom, particularly in their cathartic exploration of the human psyche's most introspective depths, but so are Made Of Teeth, in that caustic, lumbering, clumsy manner. And so too are R.I.P. They are so doom, they are doom incarnate, but they too take a different path. Their doom is not urging you to dig deep, it's simply asking you to dig, you dig? It's urging you to do a pumpkin bong at a Halloween party and then go out skating. But it's oh so doom. It's Portland, WA doom, conjured up by four heshers raised on Pentagram, Vitus and 411 VHS tapes. Fuzz is the vocalist, and confusingly his name would be more suited to guitarist Angel Martinez, who is far from angelic. Jon Mullet is the bass player and if he does indeed follow in his namesake we know it will be a proper party-in-the-back do. Fuzz can sail effortlessly from Halford, to Bobby Leibling, to Ozzy and to Jello Biafra while backed by simple-but-effective heavy metal thunder. Even when they do psych out or wig-out on the keys, R.I.P. bring it back to the straightforward, don't-fuck-with-it doom rock that's programmed into anyone who ever heard Volume 4, and sometimes that's all you need. LB

Degial – Predator Reign
(Sepulchral Voice)

As the dark draws in, it's good to hear what the sewer rats of Uppsala are up to. For the uninitiated Uppsala is, for the most part, a quaint university town just outside of Stockholm, looked over by a striking cathedral on one side and a brutalist castle on the other. But its underbelly hosts a sprawling heavy metal network that infects almost every corner of extreme music from orthodox and occult doom to black metal to grinding death metal and goth rock. Buried within this tormented maze of precocious musicians who overlap, provide artwork for, act as guest musicians and producers on each other's work and ultimately act as an unholy brotherhood, is Degial. Fast, furious and no fucking around, third album Predator Reign is as proudly unapologetic as the previous two. At this juncture it's a moot point to suggest that these blood-soaked, feral wolves have torn rabidly at the flesh of Swedish death metal's corpse, whether that be Nihilist, Treblinka or even as contemporary as Repugnant and their brethren in Watain. Equally we wouldn't namecheck Darkthrone or the second generation of black metal or pre-sweatpants Floridian death. That is because Degial would never pretend to be game-changers. They just want to play death metal. But they do want to play what they perceive as the one true honest death metal, and so Predator Reign is dripping in a forceful arrogance. If you rate Divus De Mortuus as highly as Thy Kingdom Come then you're welcome. LB

Mork – Eremittens Dal
(Peaceville)

Sticking with the Darkthrone school of metal, Norway’s one-man band Mork don’t do much to deviate from the foundations laid down almost 30 years ago by their peers. Taking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach can be detrimental, but Mork’s Thomas Eriksen takes the essence of early-90s Norwegian black metal and gives it a little boost – it certainly sounds more powerful and full compared to those early days, but Eremittens Dal still retains a charming raw appeal - and you can even hear the bass on second track 'Holdere Av Fortet'. The third full-length from Mork isn’t breaking any barriers but the style is so classic that it’s difficult to dislike it. It’s a joy to listen to – whether for the rough screams, the plethora of riffs (they are everywhere), the crunched-down guitar tone on display or the cold, icy feel that emanates from the music. Eremittens Dal is the natural successor to a particular type of old school black metal and if you're yearning for those days, Mork has you covered. CC

Audn – Farvegir Fyrndar
(Season Of Mist)

From the old school to the new school. Audn, from Iceland, shoulder the burden of continuing a legacy laid down by the respectful and respectable black metal emerging from the land of ice and snow. Misþyrming, Svartidauði, Sinmara, Naðra, Rebirth Of Nefast have all had begrudging approval from the types of people who mutter incomprehensibly about false metal, and so eyes are on the North to see what they'll offer up next. Iceland is a remarkable country; there is so much space, it is clean, the air is fresh, the lakes are so turquoise to stare into them is almost hypnotic, yet the terrain is jagged and uninviting, the mountains look as if they're about to burst with molten lava and the landscape is riddled with steaming, sulphuric potholes that would rip your flesh from your hand would you get too close. And this is the land that is illustrated through the music of Auðn. Bratty little oiks, these smart, witty and music-loving young 'uns won, deservedly, a local battle of the bands that saw them catapulted to the stages of Wacken and Inferno Festivals and onto a signing where they could call Mayhem labelmates. Farvegir Fyrndar sees the band bowing in reverence at their forebears but unafraid to experiment with contemplation that perfectly reflects their surrounds. If Iceland were a sound, it would be the sturm und drang of glistening compositions like 'Veröld Hulin'. LB

Batushka – Litourgiya
(Metal Blade)

Gaining cult-like status after the limited release of 2015s Litourgiya, Poland’s Batushka have been setting the black metal world aflame with their ultra-orthodox take on the genre. Bringing in sights and sounds from Russian Christianity, Batushka have entwined themselves deeply within the spectacle (just look at those outfits) and in Litourgiya, a record still making waves now, the band had an album that was almost an instant classic. Ecclesiastical themes have never been far away from black metal but the way in which Batushka incorporate the elements is truly mesmerising. Gregorian chants, the heady scent of incense, the somewhat prophetic preaching from the pulpit – it all adds up to create a fascinating world.

But what of the music? Litourgiya is incredibly good; the traditional black metal style is present in the screams, the rapid response of the guitars and in the fiery, blasphemous nature of the lyrics (rendered in Russian and ultimately extremely anti-Christian, it’s beautiful) but the heightened aspect of the chants that weave between the expected elements is where Batushka find their niche. 'Ектения II' or, “Yekteniya”, as each track is called and subsequently numbered, is a brutal yet somehow gorgeous ode to the power of the self which is extrapolated to be that of a higher power while 'Ектения III' is a delirious diatribe on salvation. Litourgiya is still a record worth discovering and is a record that will continue to impress for years to come thanks to Metal Blade picking this up for a global release. CC

Taake – Kong Vinter
(Dark Essence)

Taake’s modus operandi and always been cold, raw, intense black metal and on their seventh full-length, we get exactly that. Taake is run by founding member Hoest and Kong Vinter (or “King Winter” if you can’t read Norwegian) is a record only Taake could make. It’s certainly a familiar sound and the elements of Taake that stand most proudly are harsh vocals, delicious grooves, cold soundscapes and somehow a healthy dose of fun – if you can remember black metal banjo then you know what we mean. 'Huset I Havet' switches tack on what seems like a whim, moving from slow, deliberate beats to quicker paced guitars before shifting back down a gear or increasing that speed ever further, a necessary trick for a song that reaches the seven minute mark and needs to keep the interest up. It segues nicely into following track 'Havet I Huset' and the trembling guitar fuels that 90s black metal wonderfully. They stand proudly forward and take precedence over Hoest’s fiery voice, something not many vocalists would allow but here it seems deliberate – Taake have been around long enough to know what they’re doing.

Riffs across Kong Vinter are deadly and build the icy atmosphere from the outset with 'Jernhaand'’s slick guitars feeding the driving beats of the drums into following track 'Maanebrent' and it’s unrelenting pace before 'Fra Bjoergegrend Mot Glemselen' and its fuzzy rawness take over. Intriguingly, the first vocals we hear are seemingly played backwards (let’s hope no devil summoning is happening here) but the true delight comes in the glorious riff that filters through the vast expanses at around six minutes – it’s really quite lovely and evokes a sense of mysterious sadness on its way through to the unforgiving elements in the remaining time. This last track is pretty much instrumental save for that one short vocal part and Taake truly shine in the closing moments and the gorgeous, sorrow-filled guitar line that lives there. CC

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