The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: January's Heavy Metal Reviewed By Toby Cook
Toby Cook , January 29th, 2015 08:53

Toby Cook reviews all the metal that's fit for your shell-like: Napalm Death, The Body, Thou, Xibalba, Lotus Thief and Necrocanibalistic Vomitorium

A confession…

A New Year, a new you, that's what you tell yourself, right? This time, this year, you're going to do it the right way. 'I'm going to become more professional' you'll say, 'I'm finally going to nail down this being-a-vegetarian shit and drink more water; cut out the fags and the booze – or at least move on to gluten free beer. And no more staying up until 4am, smoking weed and watching YouTube videos of house flies being eaten alive by a praying mantis – I'm going to get up early, and write in daylight hours… Sober. And these Columns are going to be fucking great.' That I sit here writing this at 6:17 am, staring at a full ash tray and several mugs of congealed coffee whilst frantically searching through a bin full of crumpled and stained press releases for the only one I really need, and know I don't have, is perhaps testament to my failure – although, I haven't touched meat since Christmas and am already halfway towards finishing a coffee table book of which meat substitutes to avoid… (Number 1: Tofurkey, 'roast beef style'. Yes, somehow that is a thing).

It's panic is what it is, every January it's the same – as a music reviewer I'm in the incredibly privileged position that each and every month I get sent, for free, an almost literal mountain of music, but this time of year it's always the same, every year, for the three to five days before I actually sit down to write this thing I panic – 'What the fuck am I going to write about?! Has anything good actually come out?! Do I even know what I'm fucking talking about anymore?... No Toby, of course no one else likes the new EP by Necrotising Camel Strangler. And oh shit, I've used the word 'bludgeon' 486 times already?? FUUUUUUUUCCCCCKKKKK!!!!'

And then, BAM! You realise you're listening to a new Napalm Death record, or you become obsessed with Bog Oak – a band that eight days ago you didn't even realise existed – before later having all your embarrassingly existential frustrations leeched out of you by Xibalba. So you know what, for a change, let's start the year on a positive note, because on the strength of the music released over the last five to six weeks, in the realm of all that's heavy at least, it's going to be a pretty fucking good year, even if we have reached 2015 and I still have to tie my own laces.


Napalm Death - Apex Predator – Easy Meat
(Century Media)

As far as I'm concerned Napalm Death are one of the most important British Bands ever formed – there ought to be a fuck-off giant statue of them in place of the burnt-out shell of the long neglected Mermaid pub in Sparkhill, Birmingham, because whilst the likes of Iron Maiden are dragging their tired pantomime around the globe Napalm Death are playing to virtually one fan at a time in every sweat box you've never heard off, writing another record and continuing to push themselves as artists. And it's that last fact in particular that is often overlooked… Apex Predator – Easy Meat, however, might just be about to change that. It's pretty clear form their post-Napalm projects that the group's original three members, Justin Broadrick, Nik Bullen and Mick Harris, possessed a musical scope that looked far, far beyond the horizons of hardcore punk and grindcore, but this idea that the 'current' line-up (yeah, 'current', as in 'the line-up that's been together for the last 22 years'!) has somehow only ever been capable of churning out record after record of “good old dependable speed” is totally flawed: collaborating with ceramic artist Keith Harrison (by playing though a tiled PA in order to completely destroy it via the physics of sound alone), working with avant saxophonist John Zorn on Utilitarian's 'Everyday Pox' and playing sets of slow, almost Swans-esque dirge at Roadburn, these things seem quickly forgotten. But you simply don't last as long as Napalm Death have without being open to new ideas and continuing to challenge your listeners, and to that end Apex Predator – Easy Meat (a concept album of sorts commenting on the many horrendous truths of modern, worldwide slavery) is perhaps the most experimental LP the band have produced. Whilst the likes of 'Cesspits' and 'Stunt Your Growth' blast and grunt away in typical Napalm fashion, the droning, near-musique concrete of the title track or the discordant sway of 'Dear Slum Landlord' contain perhaps some of the most left-field moments the group have ever committed to tape, the latter's darting and discordant refrain being especially jarring… And that's not even mentioning the piano intro to bonus track 'G Anx', which radiates a warmth as sickening as anything I've ever heard since An Innocent Man.

The Body & Thou - Released From Love/You, Whom I Have Always Hated
(Thrill Jockey)

Last year saw some particularly spectacular collaborative records emerge – The Haxan Cloak chopped and screwed the Body's I Shall Die Here, Full Of Hell and Merzbow produced perhaps the year's most sonically sulphurous record, the Bug and Earth somehow summoned the startling Boa/Cold 12”. And there was that Paul Simon and Skat Injector tape too. Perhaps part of what made those releases so successful, though, was that each of the artists involved mostly operated in worlds that rarely overlapped. The Body and Thou, however, exist in similar realms and last year's Released From Love 12”, which comprises the first four tracks of this CD/digital release was a bit like being chocked and stabbed in the lung at the same time – the following six tracks of You…, whilst slightly disjointed and lacking the sense of overall cohesion of either bands previous full lengths, offers far more varied rewards. I say rewards, I mean, by comparison the likes of the tribal, static-drenched 'Her Strong Holds Unvanquishable' and the Neolithic riffing of 'The Devils Of Trust Steal The Souls Of The Free' are more like having your foot sawn off as you chew broken glass out of the carpet. Undoubtedly the real highlight, however, is the barely recognisable cover of Nine Inch Nails' 'Terrible Lie'.

Lotus Thief - Rervm

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" said that bloke who once sang in the coffee shop in Frasier – which is bollocks, obviously. And yet, if I tell you that Rervm is a translation based retelling of 'De Rerum Natura' (or 'On The Nature Of Things') by the 1st century BC Roman poet and philosopher Titus Lucretius, set to a musical score that sounds something like what Hawkwind would've produced if Dave Brock had attended the Darmstadt school in the time of Olivier Messiaen, then that sounds like an answer on fucking University Challenge, and you might wonder what place Lotus Thief have in this column… But, what if I was to tell you that, in fact, Lotus Thief are a duo comprised of Botanist's Otrebor and his one-time touring bassist Bezaelith – who you might remember also lent her exceptional musical talents to the collaborative second disc of Botonist's Doom In Bloom – and that the six tracks of Rervm seamlessly and serenely ebb and flow between moments of spaced-out, blackened doom, gently penetrating ambience and blissful field recordings? What if I said that Otrebor's perfectly cacophonous drumming and Bezaelith's vast and almost choral vocals envelope the widely differing musical elements in such a compelling way that, even weather you get it or not, you're going to be coming back to this record again and again over the next 11 months at least?... Or do I need to get back to practicing my Frank Gehry two-step?

Lord Dying - Poisoned Altars

\Marxist alienation and wage slavery, left-field collaborations and didactic poetry and Epicurean philosophy – I don't think Portland based riff-mongers Lord Dying are going to be too upset if I suggest that they probably aren't concerned with such things. No, and judging by the strength of Poisoned Altars, the follow-up to 2013's Mastodon-meets-High On Fire stampede Summon The Faithless, their primary concern is crafting one stomping riff after the other and stringing them together in a way that'll put hair in your ears, make your beard quiver and twist your hands into unusable claws. Whilst Poisoned… retains some of its predecessors High On Fire-like stomp – and during the likes of 'A Wound Outside Of Time' Erik Olson's throat-shredding vocals are particularly reminiscent of HOF's Matt Pike – Lord Dying are no High In Pyjamas. With Toxic Holocaust general Joel Grind behind the desk the quartets sound throughout, and especially during 'Suckling At The Teat Of A She-Beast', has taken on a subtly increased thrash quality – not so much in tempo, but in the tight, minimal instrumentation and sparse production… And then, just when you think it's reached its bong-smashing zenith 'Darkness Remains' comes on like a caffeinated Carcass, with a solo you can officially file under 'face melting'.

Bog Oak - A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife

It might only be February, but already Finland based Svart records are staking an early claim for the label of the year title. Already home to the likes of the cerebellum frying Domovoyd and the cataclysmically colourful black metal enigmas Oranssi Pazuzu, in these last months alone they've dropped LPs by Lotus Thief and, now, Californian power trio Bog Oak as well. Menacing, frayed and blackened crust riddled doom, over its relatively short 25 minute span and mere four tracks, as you're propelled through A Treatise… it's a little like dragging through a peat marsh, dredging up some ancient, ossified tree and then beating it open with your head to find an exquisite corpse contained within: Apart from the lumbering riffs and moments of fuzzed noise, as during 'The Resurrection Of Animals', it's the range and depth of tone possessed by vocalist Julie Seymour that proves so hypnotically powerful, switching from strained, rasping death growl to rich, soaring bellow seemingly effortlessly. And never with more effect than during the sitar ignited closer 'A Sea Without Shore'.

Xibalba - Tierra Y Libertad
(Southern Lord)

I could talk about how I never really got on with the likes of Cro Mags or Madball, about how Brujeria, for all their guttural ferocity, always just seemed a bit silly and about how my ears have been crying out for a band that slam dances somewhere between the two and is at least 23 percent more death metal-y. But the reality - the real reality - of it is that, whilst they fit that bill perfectly, it doesn't matter – we all need a Xibalba in our lives because sometimes you just want to smash the living shit out of something; sometimes you have days where you get spat on and threatened at work and go home to find out you're being evicted, and you just want to go outside and kick a hole through your fence and smash up the tool shed. Having further honed rather than massively developed their attack on Tierra…, the Californian sextet's third full length, through the likes of 'Guerrilla' and 'En Paz Descanse' Xibalba continue to pummel away in an ungodly, yet oddly groove-infused battle that stiches together the best of Cro Mags, Crowbar and Obituary… and when you finally collapse, exhausted and bloody-knuckled, there's still the idling sludge of 'El Vacío' to contend with.

Lae - Break The Clasp
(The Compound/Battleground)

There's quite a back story to the slightly mysterious Montreal based troupe Lae (or Lae-Tseu as they were known before their decade-and-a-half hiatus, which occurred after the group had released precisely, erm, nothing) and the creation of Break The Clasp, and because we live in a world where apparently the only worthwhile information is disseminated in 140 characters I'll try to make it brief… So it goes like this: regrouping out of the ashes of Lae-Tsue the band drop a couple of letters and set about creating the bones of a record that takes in about every 'post' element known to man – shaping, stretching and morphing elements of Slint-like post-hardcore and Sonic Youth-ish experimentation into warped moments of Low-esque slowcore, whilst also implanting stabs, twitches, clicks and the sort of deeply unsettling atmosphere Swans captured around their The Great Annihilator period. They hire Today Is The Day leader and general audio terrorist Steve Austin to Produce. Austin and the band for such a mutually appreciative relationship that he ends up providing lead vocals for the entire album. Said album, Break The Clasp, appears, and is one of the most lucidly daring, affectingly melancholic and oddly accessible records released that year. The likes of the stained and disorientating 'Spare Me Logic' and the slow, emotional gut-punch of 'Cold Dark Drive' ensure it doesn't leave my stereo for weeks.

Usnea - Random Cosmic Violence

Sometimes a band will title one of their records something like Plotting To Kill Your Friends and you get quite excited, but it turns out to be shit emo bibble made by fringe-aficionados from Leicester. Thankfully however, every now and then, as Pantera did with Vulgar Display Of Power, a band hits on a title that actually makes good on its promise… Enter Portland, Oregon's (seriously, what have they been putting in the water there, and can I have some?!) Usnea and their ridiculously appositely titled Random Cosmic Violence. Random? Check. Although I suppose that largely hinges on your definition of 'random' – there's no bassoon solo by Don Rickles – but surly the way the quartet heave between claustrophobic, Neurosis-esque storms, scalding, almost black metal torrents and delicately warped Americana counts? Cosmic? From the swirling torrents of synth to the endless, astral build of closer 'Detritus', that's a definite check. And violent? Whilst used sparingly and wielded with unerring precision, the calculated Winter-on-a-very-bad-day-like charge at the start of 'Healing Through Death' – before it descends into a minimal funeral dirge – is aimed at doing one thing only: Squelching you grey-matter into a quivering pulp, before launching it into the cold indifferent cosmos.

Black Sheep Wall - I'm going To Kill Myself
(Season Of Mist)

Am I the only one who's wondering what Ronald Mc-Operation Yewtree-Donald must've done to Grimace to make him want to kill himself?... Anyway… One of the greatest crimes in heavy music was, without doubt, the horrendously untimely demise of Admiral Angry – their one proper full LP, the punishingly vile Buster, stands as possibly one of the heaviest records ever made (find it, hear it, borrow it, fucking steal it if you have to… [Don't steal it – Ed.]). But if you, like me, have been nursing an Admiral Angry shaped hole in your hart for the last 5 years then at last we may have found something to fill it. Finally, after so much early promise, chaos-embracing 'doom-dirge' quartet Black Sheep Wall may just have become that very band. Clocking in at just over one hour – with half of that being taken up by the soul-crushing, lethargic dirge of 'Metallica' – although not possessing quite the same barely contained anguish and strung out intensity as seeped through Admiral Angry's work there's a desperation lurking under the bludgeon of guitar and squalls of piercing feedback that'd melt glass and compress paint tins – most jarringly during the grinding 'White Pig', where you can almost feel bassist/vocalist Brandon Gillichbauer's (who coincidentally played bass in AA for a time) spleen splatter out of you speaker in a tattered, globule mess of sinew… Enjoy!

Bast - Spectres
(Burning World/Roadburn Records)

Alright, so I'm kind of cheating here, massively in fact, as Spectres was first released at least a couple of years ago, but it's being reissued this month on vinyl, bass disc or giant granite tablet or something… And besides it's my column and I'm pretty sure that not enough people have heard this record anyway. Taking fragments from the darker, more textural extremes of the post metal spectrum and melding them with elements of doom, black metal and the sort of southern-grunt riff attack that propelled Mastodon's Remission and was later picked up with such rabid aplomb by Black Tusk, the really remarkable thing about Bast is the restraint and maturity with which these rather disparate elements have been harnessed. From the Blackened ferocity of 'In The Beginning' to the chugging title track and the endless build of 'Psychonauts', Spectres manages to be considered and head crushing in a way you wish more bands were. Along with the likes of fellow Brits Meadows if there's any justice in the world Bast ought to soon be fucking huge.

And that's it for this month, it's all downhill from here on – I'm off to watch The Toxic Avenger Part II, again. Coming next time: Torche, Pombagira and Pat Boon reviews the new one from Necrocanibalistic Vomitorium.

Horns up, ya shitters!