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Columnus Metallicus

Horns Up Ya Shitters! July's Best Metal Reviewed
Toby Cook , August 8th, 2013 05:23

'Like having your limbs ripped off and being beaten to death with the soggy ends'? Yes, it can mean only one thing - Toby Cook returns to take you by the hand and lead you through the month's best heavy metal

As if it hasn't already done enough to improve and enrich our lives already, metal might just have saved print journalism too… sort of.

For a while now, music journalism has been in a state of flux – old models are becoming increasingly less sustainable while new models seem to be arriving sporadically and inorganically. The holy grail of finding a means of delivery that is both accessible and attractive to the masses, yet retains a level of profitability and prestige that ensures publications are able to employ decent writers that produce insightful and engaging copy, still seems elusive. There's always going to be the Classic Rock demographic that want to read and are happy to pay for weighty, glossy magazines (as evidenced by the recent success of Iron Fist); titles like Metal Hammer that are now spread out over multiple formats (print, online, tablet, etc.) are seeing marked success; while sites like the Quietus (with the obvious exception of this column) prove that web journalism isn't just asinine YouTube interviews and pointless 'articles' on heavy metal sandwiches or similar shit, and that compelling, intelligent and provoking writing does exist in the online model.

Earlier this month I went to the launch of new metal-leaning zine, Relic (I highly recommend that you find them on Facebook). It's not cheap, it's not mass produced and it is definitely for the music/literary fetishist, and that's why it works. Aside from the aesthetic quality of the zine itself and the calibre of the writing in it – with contributions from the likes of Darkthrone's Fenriz and Grinderman's Jim Sclavunos – each copy contains a bizarre array of objects donated by various bands that range from beard trimmings to dandruff (I might have made one of those up). It's not throwaway, it's an object to keep, to explore, to share and, importantly, entertain and inform. iPad editions as a format won't last, but print will endure, because much like vinyl records, publications like Relic give you a type of content and overall package you just don't get in any other format, and by giving readers more you ensure that there will always be a dedicated enough audience to keep it alive. So, horns up Relic, ya shitters!

Coffins – The Fleshland

Doom? Death? Doom/death? Death/doom? Sludge/death/doom? Call it whatever you like because, Coffins being Coffins, what you know The Fleshland won't be is yet another gore-splattered platter of death metal branded sonic battery that so completely concerns itself with technical proficiency and overly burnished production that it becomes almost totally indistinguishable from the 10,000 other bands that figure the way to get on is to harvest the best parts of Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse, then contrive to weld them into a piss poor facsimile that has about as much soul as a marketing executive trying to sell machine guns to child soldiers.

Although The Fleshland marks the Tokyo based group's Relapse debut, this lot have been oozing out slabs of filthy, deranged early-Autopsy-covering-early-Cathedral style punishment for over a decade, and any fans concerned that their move to one of metal's more prestigious labels - and their expansion from a trio to quartet, with the addition of a second guitarist - might have caused them to deviate from their established MO need worry not. Here, amongst Ryo's sewer-dwelling, porridged vocals, threatening to burst the banks of the impenetrably dense production at any moment, is still that gloriously clawing sense that they haven't forgotten that Winter's Into Darkness is one of the most influential death metal albums ever made for a reason – because sometimes the best metal is the aural equivalent of having your limbs ripped off and then being slowly beaten to death with the soggy ends. It might be the laconic, blastbeat-based attack of 'No Saviour' that'll do the damage, but it's the slow bludgeon of 'The Colossal Hole' that'll finish you off.

Ramesses – Misanthropic Alchemy
(Ritual Productions)

When you start receiving e-mails from one of your editors saying things along the lines of "this Ramesses reissue/compilation is the best thing I've heard in ages, which is kind of a downer given that it's all old stuff!" you start to get a sense of the impact that one of the most criminally underrated and underappreciated doom bands actually had, and whilst the permanent Stateside relocation of guitarist Tim Bagshaw brought about their untimely demise, this reissued and expanded version of their debut album (completed by the inclusion of the previously vinyl only EPs We Will Lead You To Glorious Times, The Tomb, and The Glorious Dead) is a brutally timely reminder of just how compelling, even in their formative years as a band, Ramesses were. Far from the lo-fi, Austin Osman Spare-channelling trip into psychedelic doom hell that was their final LP Possessed By the Rise Of Magik, Misanthropic Alchemy captures the trio's most primitively sludgy side, moving from elemental dirge-doom to flesh-flailing death and almost black metal and even, as during 'Black Domina', to warped, anthemic melody too. As we touched on last month, the UK doom/stoner/sludge scene is in perhaps the rudest health it's ever been in at the moment, and far from being a damning indictment of its mediocrity, Misanthropic Alchemy just serves to remind you just how good Ramesses were. Even if it is no Take The Curse, which you should really already own.

11 Paranoias – Superunnatural
(Ritual Productions)

Of course, those of us weeping into our bong water at the dissolution of Ramesses haven't had to wait long for the main protagonists to return to shatter our psychological wellbeing and eviscerate our mental hegemony, as bassist Adam Richardson and drummer Mark Greening (who, although he appears on Superunnatural, has since departed to re-join Electric Wizard) have teamed with Bong's Mike Vest to birth 11 Paranoias. As you might expect from a band featuring a member of Bong and, in Richardson, a man who once ingested the potentially killer plant Datura in a cave in Spain and spent six days in a state of delirium that caused him to fly out of his own body and left him with vastly improved conversational Spanish, 11 Paranoias have not convened to explore the members' love of radio-friendly, banjo-led toff-folk. While not as caustic as Ramesses, their soul crushing heaviness thunders out from a core of gruelling and repetitive drone and deranged groove. With Richardson's stated aim of it being a "combination of Loop, Monster Magnet and Hawkwind, plus of course a bit of Ramesses and Bong", if you've been kicked in the head by the same horse that makes UFOmammut sound like Pink Floyd, you'd probably say they've achieved it. And whilst the four tracks here - plus three demo versions and a cover of Loop's 'Black Sun' - only really serve as a taster of the evil to come, I for one can't wait.

Jucifer – за волгой для нас земли нет
(Nomadic Fortress)

Staying in the realm of cranium-crushing bleak psychedelia, husband and wife power-duo Jucifer's 2008 opus L'Autrichienne is, as you may have read somewhere, one of Dave Lombardo's 13 favourite albums. That's not only due to the fact that the pair somehow managed to craft a gripping and coherent record, even though it thrashes wildly between serene and elegiac, almost ballad-like, melodic meanders, hypersonic grind assaults and pressure-dropping sludge, but because of their "attitude of 'like it or not, we're going to play what we want'". Well Dave, if you're reading this, you're going to fucking love за волгой для нас земли нет. Barely recognisable as coming from the same people who crafted L'Autrichienne, even though its follow up Throned In Blood was incrementally more extreme, they've gone so far south of heaven here that it's truly disturbing. Conceptually based around the siege of Stalingrad and told from the point of view of the besieged city's residents за волгой для нас земли нет is, start to finish, wave after wave of desperate, mid-paced sludge, only dissipating briefly during 'Queen Of Antlers', where Gazelle's almost-choral vocals glide so majestically over the violent barrage below that they appear to remind you that all is not lost. Even though, of course, it is.

All Pigs Must Die – Nothing Violates This Nature
(Southern Lord)

Time for this month's mandatory crust injection; clench your teeth and spread 'em, because it's a fucking belter. And you might rightly have expected that it would be, given that a little over two years ago, in the shape of God Is War, these Massachusetts based hardcore/crust/death/grind/brain-fucking, buzzsaw-riff wielding bastards released easily one of the most righteous and visceral albums to have come out of the current new wave of crust scene (I actually feel pretty dirty terming it that, but I've had a lot of cider today, so it'll have to do). With the crust revival having gained significant momentum since God Is War landed, and with bands like Agrimonia already starting to tiller the crust boat into ever more expansive and experimental waters, you wouldn't blame APMD for repeating God Is War's formula wholesale for its follow up – and yet what makes Nothing Violates This Nature such a triumph is the fact that, by contrast, it actually represents an even further refinement of that brutal formula, at once featuring five minute plus, doom-hued dirges like 'Of Suffering' that in spirit call to mind the slow-death of cult legends Winter as well as wallowing in the same mire of thunderous desperation as Belgium's Amenra, as well as barely minute long grind assaults such as 'AQIM Siege' and 'Sacred Nothing' that savagely highlight their continued exposure of the evils of organised religion and the insufferable weaknesses of humanity.

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals – Walk Through Exits Only
(Season Of Mist)

The cynical amongst you might wonder just what the hell Phil Anselmo thinks he's doing here. "Doesn't he just spend his time telling everyone who'll listen how good Ghost are, smiling politely through Down gigs and gradually becoming more and more the most amiable man in metal – what's ol' papa Phil trying to prove here?" they'll say. Well, those people clearly ignored his split EP earlier this year with Warbeast and are also ignoring the fact that this is the man who fronted Pantera, Down and Superjoint Ritual amongst almost innumerable others; you're ignoring the fact that this is Phil fucking Anselmo! Those of you who didn't ignore the Warbeast split will have an idea what to expect here, yet whilst Anselmo's two tracks there, for all their brutality, were pretty straight forward thrash/dirge affairs, Walk Through Exits Only is anything but. Yes, it's relentless; yes, at its core it's still a sludge-heavy thrash grenade, and yet the whole thing is supplanted with such violently executed cogitations in dynamics and such insanely spasmodic shifts in direction and tempo that it's like a roid-raging Dillinger Escape Plan tearing apart and reassembling the very fabric of Vulgar Display Of Power.

Demon Lung – The Hundredth Name

The best doom not only has the perfect doom riffs, but also has the perfect doom concept to back it up – and you don't get much more perfect a doom concept for a doom album that the idea of the long-begotten son of Satan being sent back to Earth to assemble the three parts of the Devil's bible so that the name of God can be spoken in reverse and all of creation undone. Despite its brilliantly doomy concept, you might assume from their name, and from the opening six minutes of opener 'Binding Of The Witch', that Demon Lung are another of these 'hipster doom' bands with a hash pipe stuck so far up their ass that they're incapable of thinking of anything else except weed and ripping off Electric Wizard. By the seventh minute, however, you're going to smash your grinder into your face for having been so judgmental, as Cathedral-esque riffs and Sleep-like tantric bludgeons writhe and pulsate throughout the remaining 40 minutes. The real marvel of The Hundredth Name, however, is the rich, soulful and epically powerful vocals of Shanda Fredrick, which sweep majestically throughout and take it all to whole other doom level.

GoatessGoatess (Svart Records)

As much a signifier of possible brilliance as concepts like Demon Lung's are, the dreaded utterance of "we just make the music we'd like to hear ourselves" is so often an equally strong signifier of repugnant self indulgence and, ironically, unimaginative genericism. Not so Sweden's Goatess who, despite a stated MO of, according to vocalist Christus Linderson (formerly of Count Raven and very briefly Saint Vitus), "to basically make the kind of music we would listen to ourselves", have created something so good as to make you feel the same way as you used to about Spiritual Beggars, before the overwhelming urge to punch Michael Amott in the cock ruined it for you. Full of lithe, nebulous doom riffs and kaleidoscopic blues meanders blanketed by Linderson's powerfully soulful vocals, the likes of closer 'Tentacles Of Zen' come on like a restless swell of Kyuss-meets-Vitus-meets-early-Sabbath-meets-Blue-Cheer. And who wouldn't want to make music like that!?

Palehorse – Harm Starts Here

What exactly a 'Full Power Anglo-Gambian Rinseout' is I don't know, although I suspect it's what used to go on in the barbershop across the road from my old flat in Camberwell that last Thursday of every month. What I do know, however, is that its tracks like it that are the reason why Harm Starts Here, the fifth album (and first for Candlelight) from south London noise-o-nauts Palehorse, finds itself forcibly inserted at number 57 on The Quietus' album's of the year so far list. If you're expecting something along the lines of its predecessor Soft As Butter; Hard As Ice though, don't. Sure, that same clawing sense of utter anguish hangs heavy throughout, but when the group added Mark Dicker on power electronics in the album's wake, a whole other, more frightening texture invaded their sound, and it's here, finally, that they've managed to capture and perfectly harness it – somehow permeating the brutally sludgy, doom-tempered dual bass riffs rather than competing with them, and channelling that sense of impotent frustration with life that we all feel from time to time to create something that, whilst relentlessly bleak, is tempered with an even bleaker sense of humour – like they get the joke, but know things are still fucked anyway. Imagine if Swans were from Peckham and Michael Gira spent his evenings listening to Iron Monkey and forcing pigs to smoke; funny yet deeply, deeply upsetting.

Black Tusk – Tend No Wounds

To end on an uncharacteristically positive note then…

I fucking love Black Tusk, so whilst this might only be a stopgap EP ahead of the Savannah, Georgia trio's next full length there was no way Columnus Metallicus could let it waft passed unnoticed, and if you think you already know what to expect from Tend No Wounds then you absolutely do: riffs. 23 minutes of riffs to be exact – crunching, propulsive riffs. Swamp-dredging, THC-imbibing, air-guitaring, headbanging riffs – this is the Tusk at their most immediate, most frantic and grooving. Here, the ferocity and drive that marked out tracks like Taste The Sin's 'Redline', or Set the Dial's 'Brewing The Storm', is condensed and coalesced into something that's over before your pupils have even started to dilate, and in the case of 'The Weak And The Wise' features a string section. Now be honest, you weren't expecting that though, were you?

And that, finally, is that, for yet another month. Coming next time: Watain, a double helping of Saint Vitus and seven other reasons drop out of life with bong in hand.

Horns up ya shitters!