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Columnus Metallicus

Taking Communion With The Metal Monk: A Columnus Metallicus For May
Toby Cook , May 9th, 2011 07:47

Painting roofs and researching Monks who are devoted to thrash: it's been a busy month for our Toby Cook, but he also found time to give his verdict on the most vital metal releases currently doing the rounds

Having once again spent the last six weeks or so avoiding the sun and attempting to preserve my corpse paint-without-the-paint complexion, here are a few things I've learnt:

1) The world needs more people like Cesare Bonizzi, or 'Brother Metal' as he's known to other residents of his monastery. Yep, that's right, he's a Monk - a full on, habit-wearing Capuchin fucking Monk - and he's a metalhead.

The 66-year-old former Ivory Coast-based missionary actually hit the news a couple of years ago fronting the admittedly rather ordinary thrash band Fratello Metallo and has since retired from performing metal, but if anyone embodies the true notion of what metal is, and serves as proof that people need to stop banging on about how it's like some sort of religion and instead concentrate on the fact that it's arguably one of the most diverse and expressive forms of music on the planet, then it's this dude. "I don't play to bring people closer to religion," he stated in an interview in 2009. "I do it to convert people to life... to savour life, to experience life and enjoy it, full stop." That said, the reason he retired from metal was that he felt the Devil was attempting to corrupt him via fame, so, y'know, perhaps his faith pervaded his music more than he let on.

2) If there's one band not mentioned in this column that you should check out as soon as humanly possible, then it's Gaza. The only thing louder, more chaotic and aggressively anti-religious would be Varg Vikernes being thrown into an active volcano.

3) Aluminium roof paint gets you really fucking high... which is not good if you happen to be on a roof painting with it at the moment you realise.

Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising (Metal Blade)

The eighth LP from 'Viking metal' behemoths Amon Amarth might seem like an odd place to kick off this month's column. But if you'll permit me a brief moment of soporific nostalgia, the group's last full length – the genre classic (and remember, Viking metal is a pretty bloody small genre) Twilight Of The Thunder Gods – was the very first thing I reviewed for the Quietus. Ahhh... There, that's enough of that.

Back to the job in hand: Amon Amarth are not a band prone to messing with a tried and tested formula, and anyone expecting great leaps and bounds in the band's MO since Twilight... is either lying about knowing who Amon Amarth are, or has got them confused with someone else. Luckily for us, though, the group's particularly savage approach to welding classic, melodic death metal riffs to stories about Norse gods battling giant sea monsters and laying fire-y waste to civilisations is so expertly honed that they're one of the few bands where it matters not that each album is essentially interchangeable with every other one in their canon. 'Destroyer Of The Universe', especially, could have been lifted from any AA album released in the last 10 years, yet with messrs Söderberg and Mikkonen's guitars duelling to the death and Johan Hegg channelling his bellows from the very deepest depths of a fjord of fire, it sounds every inch the live classic it will doubtless become. This is not to say that Surtur Rising is totally devoid of variety, though; the flirtations with slower instrumental breaks that arrived on Twilight... have been honed to great effect, whilst the addition of cellos (previously those of Apocalyptica) has been sensibly pared back to a brief appearance on closer 'Doom Over Dead Man'.

Children Of Bodom - Relentless, Reckless Forever(Spinefarm)

For some weeks now, myself and Quietus Ed John Doran have been bemoaning between ourselves the current lack of any decent metal – I'm not saying that there's not been a slew of shit-hot crust albums, brain haemorrhage inducing back metal/noise LPs and the odd stoner/sludge record so, er, sludgy that it's like drowning in stagnant bong water, but we're talking METAL, M.E.T.A.L! Y'know, stuff like what Maiden used to release: faintly ridiculous, OTT escapism, with unnecessarily lengthy passages of guitar wankery from three guitarists and songs built for stadiums, but that would work equally well blasting out of a tank on the way to flattening a shopping mall... Surtur Rising notwithstanding, where is it? Where?

Maybe Children Of Bodom will save us? (Never thought I'd type that sentence). Yes, Alexi Laiho may be self confident to the point of needs-a-punch-in-the-cock arrogance, and the smouldering homosexual tensions between him and keyboardist Janne Warman makes them metal's answer to Ross and Rachel, but they craft some pretty fine metal, don't they? Well, no, not on RRF, they don't. Not really. Whilst there's moments of suitably superfluous tremolo arm abuse, pinched harmonics up the ying-yang and hyper-sonic guitar and drum work, it all feels too forced, too caught up in Laiho's desire to constantly prove that he's the hardest livin', hardest drinkin' of them all - which, however based in reality it may be, just makes his whole band look like a dickhead's stag party. Ok, so it's not all bad; 'Pussyfoot Miss Suicide' cuts out most of the shit in favour of destroying everything with one of those riffs that commands you to headbang your grey matter out of your nose, as does the awfully titled closer 'Northpole Throwdown', yet when style outweighs substance of this quality so heavily... well, it's a fucking tragedy.

Weedeater - Jason... The Dragon (Southern Lord)

If you were a cynical old shit, you'd probably attribute the recent and considerable buzz around Weedeater more to the fact that their bassist, 'Dixie' Dave, made headlines in metal circles last year when he managed to shoot his big toe off while cleaning his shotgun. You could say that, but you'd be wrong, and should probably stop reading this column. Well, OK. You're partially wrong.

Whilst the incident may have garnered them some much needed attention, it's the stoner-ific quality of records like God Luck And Good Speed and now Jason... The Dragon that have made people stick around, and that saw them play to a full house at this year's Roadburn. Ultimately, you know the score: riffs that sound like what Sabbath sound like when you've got your head in a bucket of tar, yet are so uniquely southern American that you can almost feel the fog of weed smoke cutting through the humidity as it rumbles over the murky waters of the bayou.

Bong - Beyond Ancient Space (Ritual Productions)

A wise man once said: "If you can't do it without the drugs, then man, you shouldn't be doing it at all", and although speaking from a smoker's perspective it's hard to think of a better combination than a Bong record and enough ganja to make you forget what day it is – or that you're stuck in the back room of a grotty flat in South London – the wise man's got a point.

Ironically, the supremely doom-y yet oddly blissful meditative drone of Beyond Ancient Space only serves to back up his point. You really don't need drugs when you've got an hour and twenty minutes (three tracks!) of reverb-laden harmonic bass dirges, space rock beats and noises that sound like a sitar or tanpura being played by the goat-headed spawn of Satan.

Acid Witch - Stoned (Hells Headbangers)

Any album labelled 'occult stoner doom' (are you starting to see a theme here?) is pretty much going to find its way into this column by virtue of that fact alone, so that Stoned may as well be the doom equivalent of a 1970s Italian horror B-movie (and contains riffs that sound like they've come from Matt Pike in the middle of a debilitatingly bad trip) only serves to make it more worthy. And with that said, there's very little left to say... But, if your doom claw needs a good work out, you believe that Electric Wizard have become too polished and have enough weed left after Bong – as well as having a cannibal's skull lying around to fashion a lung out of – then this is definitely for you.

The Atomic Bitchwax - The Local Fuzz (Tee Pee Records)

Equally, any album that makes its way across my desk with words like 'one track', '42 minutes' and '50 riffs, back to back' plastered all over it is also likely to worm it's way in. The game plan set out by The Atomic Bitchwax might sound like an exercise in vanity, and it probably is – but who really gives a shit? Especially when it's 42 minutes of riffs, 40 of which veer from stoner-y blues rock to psychedelic, funk infused jams; eight bleed out as chilled, space rock meanders; and two of which I'm pretty sure have been lifted from chase sequences in Cannonball Run, or possibly Cannonball Run II? Not me.

American Heritage - Sedentary (Translation Loss)

"Labels, man. Fuckin' labels, pigeonholes an all that shit – like, what's the point? Why does everything have to be categorised until you end up with shit like 'neo-Marxist-afro-cuban-minimal-post-grind-acid-techno-crunk-step-core'?" A sentiment continually expressed by many, I'm sure, and one I'm inclined to agree with, which is annoying, because I kind of have to do it - like here, for instance. So, it's refreshing to find a band like American Heritage who I haven't a fucking clue what to say about. This time out, they've mostly dispensed with the math-metal leanings of the past, instead opting for 40 minutes of what you might file under crust, but is so, so much more: heavy - really fucking heavy - yet with brief moments of almost epic, almost math noodling.

Liturgy - Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey)

When you're a New York based black metal band that imbues their sound with hardcore sensibilities, dresses like a shit garage band, and has things written about them like: "They truly embody the ghosts of New York... They play metal like it's a minimalist downtown art/life/religion project", it's a safe bet that a lot of metalheads are going to think you're cunts. That would be massively harsh on Liturgy though. At the risk of being burnt at the stake, the idea of 'true Norwegian black metal' these days is just that - an idea - and the only way the genre will survive with any credibility is via albums like Aesthethica, that, whilst stunningly capturing the hypnotic and hypnagogic relentlessness of black metal of old, is so firmly rooted in the now that it doesn't sound like it was recorded in an oil drum half full of piss with a tone-deaf shepherd on production duties.

Primordial - Redemption At The Puritan's Hand (Metal Blade)

Inhabiting the other end of the sort-of-black-metal-but-not-really-that-black-metal spectrum from Liturgy entirely lives Ireland's premier (well, only) purveyors of folk-tainted BM, Primordial. While it was always unlikely that the group would better their 2008 magnum opus, To The Nameless Dead, you might think you're on to a winner when you hear quotes from front man Alan 'Nemtheanga' Averill referring to Redemption... as their "death album". And well you might, as although it's nowhere near being the heaviest thing in this column, the prevailing sense of despair and resignation throughout – notably during 'Bloodied Yet Unbowed' – makes it the most emotionally heavy by a country mile.

Paradise Lost - Draconian Times (Music For Nations)

I, like lot of metal fans I know, like The Cure, which is fair enough I reckon. I'm partial to a bit of Disintegration myself, but the same fans don't seem to like Paradise Lost, which is odd, isn't it? I mean, c'mon - if you're going to go goth, go goth. Get your Fields Of The Nephilim t-shirt on and throw a shitload of flour at yourself or go home, right? For those of you ready to again embrace your inner glue-sniffer, Paradise Lost's 1995 opus has been given the here's-an-extra-disc-of-bonus-bollocks reissue treatment; plenty of fret wanking, a typically powerful yet suitably 'woe is me' vocal performance from Nick Holmes and, actually, just pretty great songs... Oh, and Charles Manson. No, really!

'Til next time, keep them horns up ya shitters!