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Columnus Metallicus

Horns Up Ya Shitters! The Best Recent Metal Reviewed
Toby Cook , November 7th, 2013 06:52

Riffs, riffs and more bloody, bludgeoning, groove-laden riffs? That's right, it's that time again - Toby Cook returns to drag you kicking and screaming through the best metal of the last few months

And we're back! Yes, Like the hot-rock holes in your Electric Wizard t-shirt or 'that' picture of Ozzy that is so deeply, painfully and permanently burned into your mind's eye, you just can't get rid of Columnus Metallicus.

I'm told that taking a break from things is good for gaining perspective. I find, rather, that perspective tends to hit you in the face like a Meshuggah riff – awkward and unexpected. About a month or so ago someone asked me: "Why do you care so much about music? It's just, y'know, music innit" and I think I gave them a pretty flippant answer about how if I didn't I'd have had my first sexual encounter to the shipping forecast, and life would be even more mundane that it already is. And then about a week later I spent some time talking to a former work colleague about the effect music was having on the behaviour of her severely disabled infant son – that's when you remember exactly why you care so much about music. Amongst other things, apparently music, specifically radio-friendly pop – something with a slow, repetitive beat – helps to calm him during his wildly self abusive fits, so much so that she wanted to know if there was some sort of music therapy treatment she could enrol him in – really, that's why music is so important. Music has been shown to improve the social behaviours of Alzheimer's patients; to alleviate some symptoms of amnesia; to reduce the number of seizures in people with epilepsy; and has allowed people with major depressive disorders to better express their emotions. In reality music affects us in a deep and almost primal way – the feelings certain songs and certain albums give us are the real reason why we all fell in love with it in the first place. That's why it's so important.

I've no doubt that I'm preaching to the choir here and I'm not suggesting that we stop appreciating the other, more aesthetic and esoteric aspects associated with music – I don't see the problem at all with treating vinyl collection as you would art collection and appreciating it as such – but with the interminable download debate raging ever on, tribal divisions and format festishing, I just think it's something worth reminding ourselves of from time to time.

And on that cheerful note, let's get stuck into the best of those releases that have passed by in Columnus Metallicus' absence…

The Body – Christs, Redeemers
(Thrill Jockey)

The Body are heavy - brutally, brutally heavy - but then, I probably don't need to tell you that. No, what makes The Body (pictured, top) such a frighteningly impressive and unique prospect is that if you really dive into Christs, Redeemers you realise that their supreme heaviness is actually pretty incidental; they're heavy, but heaviness is not their aim, it's simply the most appropriate and effective method of communicating their abject sense of loathing and hatred, and this, their third LP, is perhaps their most fully realised accomplishment yet.

From the beautifully haunting choral vocals courtesy of the Assembly Of Light Choir, to the relentless and unyielding torrents of sheer noise and sludged-beyond-all-recognition guitars, what the core duo of Chip King and Lee Buford have masterfully done is to create something that at the right time, in the right place, taps into those ineffable emotions and thoughts you'd rather not have. It's how you feel when for what feels like the millionth time you're walking past the same homeless guy in the street and the same hopeless drunks in the park and you know you're closer to where they are than to where your friends, family and work colleagues are, that's the sound of Christs, Redeemers. When Chip King's anguished wail and pained howls drive in low in the mix, it's that same, panicked cry you hear screaming in your own brain when you stand in the kitchen and think about the inescapable inevitability of your own death; that's the sound of Christs, Redeemers. And yet, beyond everything, beyond the haunting string augmentations of 'Night Of Blood In A World With No End', the mechanised gun battery drum work of 'Denial Of The Species' and the vaguely doom-hued guitars – what ultimately sets it apart from their equally affecting previous LP, All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood is the increased amount of pure noise, feedback and swathes of decaying static that permeate and envelop every pore. Bleak, distressing, very challenging and probably one of the records of the year.

Saint Vitus – C.O.D.
(Season Of Mist)

Maiden and Dickinson, Priest and Halford, Van Halen and Roth – there as some bands and some vocalists that just go together. Regardless of other line-up changes, certain personalities and the oddly ineffable qualities they wield - ones that often go far beyond just their vocal nuances and delivery - are, in a very irrational way, more a part of the band than the band itself; sorry, but you know that no one gives two shits about Maiden with Blaze Bayley and the less said about Tim 'Ripper' Owens the better. But then there's the Dio factor – Ozzy will always be the original Sabbath vocalist, but tell me that Sabbath weren't force to be reckoned with when Dio was in the ranks; tell me that Heaven & Hell isn't one of the most dynamic and fully realised albums in the Sabbath cannon. Scott 'Wino' Weinrich will always be the Vitus vocalist, but the man who replaced him for 1992's C.O.D., former Count Raven (and current Goatess) vocalist Christian Linderson, is no 'Ripper' Owens, and Dave Chandler's riffs throughout C.O.D. are some of the heaviest, darkest and most claustrophobic in the Vitus back catalogue. This timely reissue is the perfect opportunity to remind yourself of that. C.O.D. might've been the only album Linderson made with the doom legends, but it's not one you can ignore – whip out the skull bong, chew some low quality mushrooms and wallow in the soulful dirge of 'Plague Of Man' and the way Chandler makes his guitar sound like Cthulhu breaking an aircraft carrier over his knee; lock yourself into the pure Sabbathian groove of 'Imagination Man'; and submerge under the stagnant, doomy swamp of 'Bela', where Linderson's emotive yet bizarrely maniacal vocals oppose Chandler's viscous licks perfectly.

Saint Vitus – Die Healing
(Season Of Mist)

Of course, Vitus made one more album before their seventeen year hiatus and eventual Wino-fronted return, and in a curious twist welcomed back original vocalist Scott Reagers for 1995's Die Healing. C.O.D. might've been Vitus' most out and out 'metal' LP, but you won't find one darker than Die Healing – supposedly this is the one the band themselves consider their finest work too. Slower, filthier, more destructive – there is something at once purposeful and utterly hopeless about the slow cascade of dense, reverb-swathed riffs that make up Die Healing; the whole thing sounds like some sort of paranoid funeral procession, not least thanks to the range of Reagers' vocals, which veer wildly between clarion-like wails, throat-shedding screams and demented howls. The relentless sludge of 'One Mind' is the reason you like Electric Wizard so much, whilst the strangely funky, groove-heavy doom shuffle of 'Just Another Notch' and Chandler's frequent, wah-wah-slathered solos are reason enough alone to pick up this reissue, but the real reason Die Healing is such a classic is the brutally soulful stomp and foggy, vaporous ascent and decline of 'Sloth'. Vocalist snobbery be damned – Vitus rule, and frankly are the reason everybody has decided that they like doom after all. Long may it continue.

Årabrot – Årabrot
(Fysisk Format)

Life in abandoned isolated churches, an obsession with the Devil, French Surrealism, Alejandro Jodorowsky movies, and the sort of afflicted, feral vocal discharges that sound like Bobcat Goldthwait having a stroke – it could only be Årabrot really, couldn't it, the most deceptively erratic yet supremely honed noise rock around at the moment. Plundering any and all disturbing items of interest they may have found in the Norwegian trash heap from which the take their name and fashioning them into distinctive yet wildly varied pieces of horrific outsider art, over their recorded career the duo, whist always retaining a sort of Melvins covering Unsane in Neurosis' basement vibe, have often veered intentionally chaotically into pretty different territory with each release – recently from the creeping, narcotic sludge of I Rove, to the caustic fury of Revenge, and the direct, largely riff-heavy assault of Solar Anus. Årabrot, however, is more like a jarring coalescing of the all three. From the tribal, Cro-Magnon stomp of 'Blood On The Poet', to the almost anthemic grind that closes 'The Horns Of The Devil Grow', to the skin-crawling, pump organ and harmonium backed drone of 'Mænads' – tag it under noise rock or any other bracing subgenre you like, Årabrot are un-fuck-with-able right now.

Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole
(Southern Lord)

The punishing, feedback laden anarchy of Brutal Truth; the warped riffsmanship of Insect Warfare; the throat shedding vocals of Converge; the low-end, crusty sludge of Skitsystem; the righteous indignation and blast beat nihilism of classic Napalm Death – Atlanta's Dead In The Dirt have basically made the year's best grind album. I first listened to this while waiting to board a flight in the departure hall of Heathrow's Terminal 5, and about eleven minutes in (half the album) all I wanted to do was set fire to everyone in Gordon Ramsay's 'Plane Food' (largely because that pun makes me want to vomit) and pump gas into the Louis Vitton store. The Blind Hole is grind as grind should be, and it's proof that it doesn't have to stick to one formula either – 'Strength Through Restraint' is more anguished squeals of feedback than riffs, 'Cop' fades out to some spoken word poetry, and comparatively sludgy closer 'Halo Crown' is like taking bad drugs in an abattoir. Except not for these three dudes, as they're vegan/straight edge… Not that that matters.

Centuries – Taedium Vitae
(Southern Lord)

"Latin-y album title, Southern Lord… Crust, right?"

Wrong! Well, sort of – whilst these four annoyingly youthful Floridians are clearly no stranger to the ways of the d-beat, Taedium Vitae owes more to the bristling, statically charged and rabid assault of early Converge than it does to the system-smashing blasts of full-on crust. Visceral, blood and spit hardcore it might be, yet far from being solely filled with stomping, down-stroke battery (sorry, fans of any and all abysmally awful, knuckle dragging hardcore bands who are sponsored by an energy drink, there's nothing for you here). Centuries have captured that same feeling of personal anguish and emotional inarticulacy as France's Celeste, particularly in the desperate vocals of 'Metus'. Elsewhere the relentlessly abrasive and gut punching 'Servisse' is rather like having your ball sack scrubbed with a cactus - brief, distressing, but somehow also rather awesome… or maybe that's just me.

Horseback – A Plague Of Knowing

It's been a particularly aggressive and doomy column so far, so I think it's probably about time we chilled out a little with some Horseback. Now, I've made no secret of my love for pretty much everything the North Carolina quartet do, be it contorted noise-scapes or thunderously monotonous cascades of riffs, but I'd be the first to admit that their records tend to work best when there's some sense of unity, of concept or direct musical narrative flow – the way The Invisible Mountain broods and builds to the sixteen-minute post orgasmic chill of 'Hatecloud Dissolving Into Nothing' is what makes that record so stunning. And yet somehow this three disk collection of singles, splits, rarities and live recordings still feels less a like mere collection and more of a journey than you'd think, displaying the myriad avenues Jenks Miller has taken his band down over the years, from the Loop-like repetitive groove of 'On The Eclipse' to the Roxy Music-gone-wrong opening of 'High Ashen Slab'. And there are moments, too, that could almost be described as warped glitch-pop, such as 'Stolen Fire', while the serene drone of 'Transparency (Murdered Again)' rests on a bizarre, almost southern rock refrain, and ensures that there are two albums in this month's column that feature the prominent use of a harmonium. Elsewhere there's a particularly threatening groove to the live version of The Stooges 'T.V. Eye', and in 'Murdered' two and a half minutes of static noise and field recordings so painfully deranged it sounds like someone starving to death one tempestuous night in a locked shed. Pretentious? Maybe. Essential? Definitely.

Gorguts – Coloured Sands
(Season Of Mist)

Back to the sonic bludgeon of 'proper' metal then… Now, I've admitted before that I don't cover anywhere near enough death metal in these columns - party that's because I'd rather spend an evening having melted down copies of 'Uptown Girl' poured into my ears than listen to yet another tech-death band who seem more concerned with how fast they can play their 17-string guitars than writing proper riffs, and party it's because I actually spend my evenings drinking cheap cider and listening to crust. Thank fuck then for Luc Lemay, who in returning to release the first new Gorguts LP in over decade has singlehandedly reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the technical extremes of the genre, largely thanks to the fact that unlike the last couple of Gorguts LPs, you don't have to equip yourself with a stack of logarithm tables before you start listening to it. Perhaps due in part to his downtime spent in more improvisational death metal outfit Negativa, with Coloured Sands Lemay has crafted something of a masterpiece. Still harnessing that familiarly discordant barrage they were always known for, here it's tempered not by bewilderingly technical solos or time signatures that make your frontal lobe bleed but riffs – viscous, bludgeoning riffs. Oh, and a five minute orchestral number.

Exhumed – Necrocracy

Doubling the amount of death metal we've seen in Columnus Metallicus not just this month but in probably the last six too, I couldn't really ignore a new Exhumed album could I? Far from Gorguts' technical extremes and concepts about the choosing of a new Dalai Lama (I'm not sure how that one works really, I've always seen Mr. Lama as more of a Rush fan - he'd appreciate the intricate yet functional drum work of Neil Peart, right?) Exhumed have essentially always kept their death metal to the classic, Carcass-obsessed variety. In fairness to Matt Harvey, Necrocracy does channel an anti-corporate, anti-consumerism political concept through the gore-grinder, but in truth that matters little when faced with perhaps the most groove-splattered and hook-laden Exhumed album, well, ever. Is 'Dysmorphic' about corporate greed and the expropriation of labour for profit? I don't know, but the solo sounds like the best thing that never made it onto Heartwork. Is 'Sickened' about the futility of parliamentary democracy in a country where only those rich enough can run for office anyway? I don't know, but at least it grinds like teeth on a kerbstone. And is 'The Rotting' about quantitative easing? Probably not.

Ministry – Enjoy The Quiet – Live At Waken 2012
(13th Planet Records)

Ministry were an at times great and massively influential band, but let's face it, Ministry live shows were never really so much about what songs they played or how spectacular their performance was, they were about how fucked up Al Jourgensen was – the last time I saw them, for example, the supposedly clean and sober Jourgensen spent most of the set drinking and smoking whatever drugs he could get the front row to give him, and then fell over. And it was fucking great. That said, that Ministry were even around to play Waken last year is a feat in itself, and whatever you think of the contradiction of a slick, professional Ministry show being any good, and however you feel about Jourgensen's relentless G.W. Bush bashing over three years since he left office, Ministry usually own pretty much any stage they're put on. This rather dizzyingly polished concert film not only captures them at their most professional, but acting as it does as a sort of 'greatest hits collection', it's also a better way to remember them in the wake of the passing of guitarist Mike Scaccia than the band's particularly average last (and apparently final ever) studio album From Beer To Eternity (which features a title and cover art so bad as to make most Scorpions albums look artistically viable).

And that's your lot for another month. Was it worth the wait? Probably not. But fear not, coming next month… Ihsahn, Carcass and eight other machines that kill fascists.

Horns up, ya shitters!