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Columnus Metallicus

Horns Up Ya Shitters! Last Month's Best Metal Reviewed
Toby Cook , October 22nd, 2012 05:18

Tony Cook has been stuck in some kind of vortex of loo roll and beans, so the Columnus is a little late this month. No matter, for metal endures for eternity, and these are some of the best albums in the genre from last month

When, lately, the sum of your intellectual pursuits amounts to nothing more than a mild Mythbusters addiction, these intros get harder and harder to come up with – yet somehow I've still learned:

1) That it was fucking great to see Nasum return for one last time. Plenty of people far more interesting and cognisant than me have written at length about the culturally paralyzing trend for reformations over the last few years – but beyond the 'have you met our mate, Elton John' bore-a-thon that Alice In Chains long ago descended into and the 'well of course, we always wanted to play the songs we wrote in our twenties to an arena full of shallow 45-year-olds with too much disposable income' cash cow at which The Stone Roses are happy to suckle, Nasum's farewell tour, and specifically their London show, never felt like anything other than an honest and righteous celebration of the music of one of the most important and influential metal bands ever and their sadly departed leader Mieszko Talarczyk.

2) That OM should really stick to their old stuff live. Don't get me wrong, in and of itself the new album is great, but live it's hard not to feel like you're just hearing it. In London last month when they lurched into 'Bhima's Theme' from Pilgrimage the experience was somehow as equally flattening as it was near transcendental.

3) That Flask, alas, was a butterless man!

Down Down IV Part I – The Purple EP
(Down Records)

You'll all know what I'm talking about; that moment when you find yourself stood in the middle of your local off-licence staring at a cut-price selection of damaged tins and wondering what the hell it is you're even doing there: "Where the fuck am I? Why did I come in here and why am I looking at cheap beans?" – it's weird isn't it, but there are few feelings better than that wave of relief that passes over you when you realise that you actually came in for toilet paper, which you then buy as nonchalantly as possible, like everyone doesn't know why it is that you're buying nothing but bog roll at 1am.

Fundamentally it's exactly the same problem with sludge supergroup Down's new EP. Ostensibly there's nothing wrong with it, in fact parts of it are fucking superb – the lethargic, smoky riff that bleeds into 'The Curse Is A Lie', for example, has all the grit and gravel of something High On Fire would happily wallow in yet is steeped in the ineffable air of classic rock – but it's only in these briefest of moments that you're reminded that you're listening to the damn thing in the first place and that you haven't, in fact, just put on Corrosion Of Conformity's Deliverance at the wrong speed again. But fuck it – turn it up and get your skull bong out anyway, but if you find yourself thinking about discounted canned goods it's not a good sign.

UFOmammut - Oro: Opus Alter

If you're anything like some of the people I know you'll probably argue that I'm wrong about Down and that the new EP is all killer – it's just that as a society our attention spans are shorter than they once were because of fluoride in the water, chemtrails or the illuminati controlling us via subliminal messages hidden in Come Dine With Me. That's obviously bollocks, but if more proof were needed then that proof is Opus Alter, which not only manages to surpass its comparatively more subtle and tantric predecessor, Opus Primum, but so completely envelops you for its 43 minute duration that the environment outside of your cocoon of riffs and howling, head-fucking Moog swirls ceases to exist, despite the fact that frequently a single riff will go on for seven or eight minutes. There are few bands that utilise dynamics and texture as well as UFOmammut and this time they've surpassed themselves. 'Luxon' is heavier and gnarlier than a pack of prehistoric proboscidea yet with the lysergic creep at the start of 'Sulphurdew' this is as much Sleep worship as it is space odyssey. Compelling.

Hexvessel - No Holier Temple
(Svart Records)

Personally I'm still not quite sure of what to make of the increasing trend of delving into Britain's pagan past as a means of musical and aesthetic inspiration. On one hand it's great to see bands exploring the wealth and diversity of the UK's tumultuous history (no, not you Winterfylleth) rather than looking to America and pretending it's still the late 80s, but on the other hand a lot of the resulting music end's up sounding like 'Willow's Song' from The Wicker Man stuck on endless repeat and makes you want to set yourself on fire.

Not Hexvessel though. Whilst still coloured in the same sort of acoustic, slightly Celtic, 'forest' folk of their debut, now main man Mat 'Kvohst' McNernrey – who came up through the British black metal scene but now lives in Finland – along with his Finnish cohorts, has produced something diversely stunning, something that manages to contain the raw, brittle feel of a Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score ('Sacred Marriage'); a choking waft of doom riffs ('His Portal Tomb'); Norse like sea shanties ('Are You Coniferous'); and almost Earth like Americana ('Unseen Sun').

Enslaved RIITIIR
(Nuclear Blast)

"But muuuuuuum! There not even black m…." I know, I know! I don't know how many reviews of RIITIIR I've read now that focus on the fact that you can't really call Enslaved a black metal band any more – the title of this record needs to be type set and they cover Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' live, so of course they're not black fucking metal anymore. For fuck's sake, it's not exactly fucking cryptic is it! Why not instead focus on the fact that they're one of the few early 90s BM bands to have not just survived, but prospered. Focus on the fact that they've never really made a bad album. Focus on the fact that, as is abundantly evident on RIITIIR, they still know how to brutally wield a blast beat and excrete a death-grow. Although, don't focus on the fact that on this occasion their prog reach has perhaps exceeded their prog grasp, and the whole thing could do with being about 20 minutes shorter.

Nuclear Death Terror - Chaos Reigns
(Southern Lord)

It wouldn't be a proper Columnus Metallicus without bit of crust; without something driven at breathless velocity by the d-beat and choking on its own blind rage; without something that conjures up Doom, Victims and Disfear and is as brutal as having your face dragged through broken glass and used needles. This then, fucking hell… This is a bit of crust! Say what you like about 'Southern Lord hipsters' and signing every crust band under the calcified sun – it's notoriously tough to find many, if any, releases by Denmark's NDT on the shelves thanks to their stoically underground attitude, and this shit is nothing less than vital. OK, so it is, slightly unfortunately, a collection of a few vinyl only releases stitched together rather than new material, but you should thank Southern Lord for bringing NDT into your life, I know I do. But then again, I sometimes catch myself joining in with the conversations happening on TV.

Obelyskkh White Lightnin'
(Exile On Mainstream)

As proved by the likes of Stoner Kebab (who I've probably mentioned here before because they're even more fucking terrible than their name suggests), despite its reputation and its basic requirements of 'smoke weed, down tune, play Sabbath', stoner doom is notoriously difficult to get right. White Lightnin' though… On White Lightnin' Obelyskkh get it all sorts of right. As imposing as their name suggests, this near mythical German quartet are something like a UFOmammut looking down from the cosmos or a Bongripper looking up for the drug sewer, occasionally glaring easterly at that now nearly ubiquitous tantric sun. And if that and the subtle, yet deeply unsettling closer 'Invocation Of The Old Ones' – that's five minute intro sounds like a field recording made inside a Buddhist monastery in hell – doesn't get your bong water bubbling then I suggest you find something else to do at 4:20pm from now on.

Serpentine Path - Serpentine Path

Whereas the rest of the doom on this list is of a decidedly psychedelic bent, by contaminating their core sound abrasive death metal sensibilities the only sort of psychedelic experience Serpentine Path is anywhere near is the time last year I accidentally took too many magic mushrooms in the woods near Peckham, South London, and had to get my best mate to come and rescue me because I thought every inch of the ground was trying suck me under and the elderly couple walking their dog were glowing red eyed demon spawn. Slightly terrifying in other words, much like Serpent Path. But then, what did you expect of a group that is essentially New York's Unearthly Trance plus former Electric Wizard and current Ramesses bassist/guitarist Tim Bagshaw – positivity? A Billy Joel cover? No, you expect malevolently evil riffs and suitably grotty, impenetrable production; you expect something terrifying and that's what you get.

Hooded Menace - Effigies Of Evil

From doom contaminated death metal to death metal that's been suckling at the poisoned witches tit of doom. Finnish duo Hooded Menace apparently base a great deal of their aesthetic and content on 70s Spanish horror b-movie Tombs Of The Blind Dead, where the Knights Templar rise from their graves as grotesque zombies whose eyes have long ago been plucked out by birds – as a concept alone that's fucking great, but when it's executed, sonically speaking, in a manner that veers from the crustier death metal that Grave have been slowly perfecting to what almost sounds like early Celtic Frost being played at half speed, backwards with vocals that sound like an Uruk-hai stuck down a well, the pay offs are immense despite its brutal simplicity. Plus, sampling Vincent Price talking about some poor, unfortunate maiden having been buried alive at the start of 'Crumbling insanity' is just genius.

Seremonia - Seremonia
(Svart Records)

Hawkwind. The Edgar Broughton Band. Blue Cheer. Cream. If you don't have time for these bands in your life the you don't really have time for life itself, do you. In fact you probably shop at Waitrose, and know who Jessie Ware is, don't you – you shower of bastards…. Anyway, look, I don't know what it is that they're spiking the water supply with in Finland at the moment but they need to keep doing it, because as we've seen already this month with Hexvessel (partially) and last month with Mr. Peter Hayden the Finns seem to be doing heavy-blues-psych-freak-out better than most these days and Seremonia are no exception. And yet despite how retro the reference points might be and how driving the rhythms are, there's the merest trickle of a dark, nauseating and narcotic undercurrent – largely due the deranged synths and it all being sung in Finnish – that gently steers it all away from being a dull, fuzzy homage.

Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud
(Heavy Devy/InsideOutMusic)

As if I haven't done enough in these columns over the last few tears to horrifically damage both my professional and personal reputation, then this admission will surely be what finally causes you loyal few to stop reading Columnus Metallicus for good. So here goes: I fucking love Duran Duran's Rio. And do you know why? Because it's slightly ridiculous; because it's not just over the top and escapist, it's also built around an abundance of sumptuous, lusciously produced pop hooks – you can't not like it! And the same goes for Epicloud, it's a pop album, it's a glorious over the top, shined and buffed, pop album – it just happens to occasionally have heavy as fuck guitars. Part of you will hate yourself for liking Epicloud but a bit of self loathing's good for you, and that in itself is only more proof that Townsend remains in a genre of one. (Plus, tell me that the re-recorded 'Kingdom' doesn't have a thousand times the impact it did on Physicist).

And that, my metal brethren, is that for another month. Coming next time: Neurosis, Pig Destroyer and Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.

Horns up, ya shitters!