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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Your Heavy Metal Roundup For February
Louise Brown , February 22nd, 2018 22:55

Green Druid, Black Moth, Visigoth, Saxon, Vojd and Judas Priest: hold on and holler!

Green Druid

Excuse the misery, it's Valentine's night, we’re in alone, with a bottle of cheap Malbec and a comedown from interviewing the one and only Rob Halford. There's only one thing for it, crack on with this month's tQ metal rundown and see if we can find solace in the might and power of heavy metal. Who would we swipe right on? Would it be Tribulation's gothic death metal, or Black Moth's classic rock imbibed doom. There is so much great metal out this month alone, it seems like 2018 is already making up for what seemed like a pretty slow 2017. We didn't even get around to giving albums like the new one from French black metal avant wanderers Chaos Echoes or straight-up heavy metal glory from Sacred Leather a crack of the whip. Too much time was spent just putting the new Priest on repeat. That's our Valentine, for now and evermore. Roses are red, violet are blue, Halford is God, you know this is true.

Tribulation – Down Below (Century Media)

Sombre seductive organs chiming out the devil's notes, green light, dry ice – this is what drew you close to the stage if you were fortunate enough to see Tribulation on their recent tour of Europe with Arch Enemy. Four pallid figures approach the footlights, deathly thin as if living only on blood for centuries, and the ballet begins. The death metal ballet. What? You cry. Seriously. Die Fledermaus dance. The gothic figurines cast long shadows as they theatrically deliver all the sepulchral death metal chaos in their rickety bones. It's a sight to behold. These bats from hell put on a show, but there's no gimmick. Tribulation, now on their fourth album, support every pirouette and ghastly guitar interplay with ever-addictive guttural horror metal, carefully composed and faultlessly executed.

The band have found their sound over the decade since they formed, and since signing to Century Media they’ve had time and space and impetus to go beyond their already fetid imaginations. Much like Sentenced, Paradise Lost and Dissection, who realised that melody was not the enemy of the extremist, Tribulation have discovered that their death metal beginnings need not lose out to their gothic dalliances and that they can in fact weave around each other like a pair of snakes, one deathly pale and venomous, one as black as an underground chasm with jaws ready to sink into flesh.

Those 'Munster' theme tune tones tango with Swedish death metal orthodoxy while frontman Johannes Andersson's necrotic, tortured rantings cut through the mix. There are moments of glistening beauty that beckon you down a subterranean path, towards more anguished malevolence, but prog-laced instrumentals and uplifting, hopeful moments on tracks such as 'The World' almost being sweet relief. The addition of Oscar Leander from oversexed gothic disco merchants Deathstars perhaps bought the sexuality of Tribulation rushing to the fore, or perhaps his joining the band simply attuned our ears to what was always there. Either way Tribulation have found their Dionysus on Down Below and they're beckoning you to dance with them.

Saxon – Thunderbolt (Silver Lining Music)

Saxon should have asked Tribulation to come hang out with them in the studio. There's a song on their new album called 'Nosferatu (The Vampire's Waltz)' and it's as spooky as a church picnic in July. Sure it spins a good yarn, real Jackanory o'clock, but come on Biff and boys. Look, we realise it's blasphemous to give Saxon a kicking. They're the masters, plain and simple. No Saxon and this column would look pretty empty – they set the spirit free. Let's see what new album Thunderbolt has to offer.

The band celebrate their 40th this year and they're way past pensionable age, but would you know it from the music here? Heck no. Saxon, for all is said and done, play and write heavy fucking metal with the enthusiasm of that same band in Barnsley in the late 70s. But yes, things have moved on and the subject matter of Greek, Norse and Germanic mythology is a bit, well, old hat. If you're gonna sing about Zeus, Icarus or Odin, be Saxon about it. The test for all bands of certain vintage is to close your eyes and imagine this was a new band from Sweden scooped up by High Roller Records. Would you run down to the front? Yes, a thousand times yes. There's no '747' or 'Denim And Leather' on Thunderbolt and it's shlocky and a bit keyboard-heavy at times but it's fucking metal. It's fucking Saxon. We're honoured they're still around, still touring and still getting back to the studio.

There's a few WTF moments, like getting Amon Amarth's Johan Hegg to completely ruin a perfectly good song with his death growls – especially when the very next song is called 'Sons Of Odin'. Literally, the next song. Why get a nine-foot Viking to growl over a song about a night crawler, when he could add some well-placed barks to a song about warrior clans and battles valiantly fought and lost? (Great Valhalla scream, by the way, Biff.) Mind you, the song is a bit 'Perfect Strangers'-era Deep Purple so maybe Johan would have ruined that one too. There's a nice nod to 'Wheels Of Steel' with 'Speed Merchants', classic Saxon with classic guitar interaction between Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt. There's also some great choral “whoah”s on 'A Wizard's Tale' that will go down a treat should they add it to their festival live set. But really the crown of this album is the two tributes to Motörhead. 'They Played Rock And Roll' is a little bit tear-inducing. What's that? No, no, it's dust in my eye. An all-killer-no-filler tribute to “the boys to beat”. And the album ends with 'Roadies' Song', a nice little ditty about the crew which immediately makes you think of the Heads' 'We Are The Road Crew'. Nice touch Saxon. Maybe not a thunderbolt but a refreshing shower. Saxon, we love you.

Green Druid – Ashen Blood (Earache)

If you think Saxon are predictable, then there's equally nothing special about Green Druid. Wait, don't go. What that means is there's no obvious gimmick, no catch, no reason for the existence of Ashen Blood and it's confusing. How can a band from Denver, with no previous, no ex members of, no masks or wacky outfits, no endorsements from doom alumni, not even that much of a live reputation, grab the attention of Earache Records, then get signed to a Worldwide deal and end up in The Quietus' inbox? Do you know how many emails we get each week from bands with “For fans of Electric Wizard” at the end of their biog? The ones we notice are the ones with the cult demo that's done the rounds on the elitist messageboards, or hail from crowded scenes that have already had a few hip hitters, or the bands dressed like a psycho biker gang with songs named after VHS movies from the banned section of your local grimy video store in the 80s. So why Green Druid? We lurked them, they look like nice kids. Their album is produced by a mate, the artwork is done by someone whose biggest client to date is Year Of The Cobra. It's just all so homegrown and innocent. And then we remember that Earache signed Sleep on the basis of their first album, and have been responsible for some of extreme metal's most exciting bands based on instinct and an ear for the next great frontier of metal. It's been a while since we've had to trust Earache – they forsook us metalheads for hard rock these past few years – but they're asking us to trust them again. Some things to note: Green Druid hail from the first state to legalise weed, and that's no surprise.

Their music is drowning in bong water and there's a lethargic sludge to each long drawn out eight-plus minute song. There's the atypical Lovercraft references and psychedelic visuals – although the music itself is more ploddy and straightforward doom than astral-reaching a la Yob or Ufomammut. Mind you the song 'Rebirth' goes a bit Velvet Underground/Doors and the finale 'Nightfall' is all crow squawks and electronic soundscapes. Unless Earache are pulling our leg and this is a really a Matt Pike/Liz Buckingham jam, Green Druid have a lot of work to put their head above the parapet of the acres of bands already doing this Electric Wizard schtick but it's a good effort and really exciting that a big indie label have taken a risk on a band that's so green. Literally green.

Black Moth – Anatomical Venus (Candlelight/New Heavy Sounds)

Now here's a doom band who have worked and worked to get their major signing. Two albums for tiny indie New Heavy Sounds finally got Black Moth attention from Universal Music's metal subsidiary Candlelight/Spinefarm – who also signed the recently defunct Purson, for whom Black Moth fill a void, and Electric Wizard and Orange Goblin, for whom they owe a drink or two for opening doors for British, dirty, fuzzed-out filth rock. And what's cool is they've not ditched NHS either, keeping them in the fold and making Anatomical Venus a split release. The band are driven by frontperson Harriet Hyde, a venomous harpy and femme fatale in the space of just a few bars, and here she whips up a witches brew that sees doom, hard rock, sludge, riot grrl, classic metal and grunge thrown in a bit alongside some good old-fashioned divine femininity. Heading up her cult is guitarist Federica Gialanze, while Jim Swainston (guitars), Dave Vachon (bass) and Dom McCready (drums) do their bidding. That's how Anatomical Venus feels anyway. Like its primal force comes straight from the uterus and men should cower.

The first words are “Oh Aphrodite” and Hyde sings them as if she's calling down a fury from on high to guide her and her listeners through the next 40 odd minutes. The Anatomical Venus, which refers to a female medical model which was fetishised and dissected in early medical science, takes us through a journey that covers mental health, objectification and gender politics, all through the prism of doom rock. Gialanze is the musical key here, we suspect. It's her first album with the band and we know she's a classic doom aficionado having played with Centurion's Ghost and playing at being Iommi in London's greatest tribute band, Rat Salad. She's also always the first one on the tables at any London bar should Thin Lizzy ever come on the jukebox so we blame her for the genius classic rock licks peppering this album. There are songs that remind of post-grunge supergroup Handsome, a bit of Melvins, a bit of Helmet, a lot of Sabbath, some Whitesnake, some L7 and Garbage, some Pentagram and High On Fire, but were just listing bands for the sake of it because while all of the above are added to the cauldron, the potion is completely unique and Anatomical Venus is a driving, pulsating, furious, invigorating trip and if Hyde is thinking of starting a coven, she can start recruiting right here.

Atlas Moth – Coma Noir (Prosthetic Records)

From Black Moths to Atlas Moths. These Chicagoans have emerged from their cocoon with a fourth album of crushing, sludgy, blackened hardcore and it's no wonder all and sundry are calling album-of-the-year so early. The genius of Stavros Giannopoulos, David Kush, Andrew Ragin and Alex Klein (now with Mike Miczek of Broken Hope on drums) has been present since 2009's A Glorified Piece Of Blue-Sky, even though back then they were unwillingly pushed into that Neur-Isis pigeon-hole that was en vogue at the time. Atlas Moth were always more than that, and with a pedigree that spans black metal, metalcore and grindcore it's no surprise there was more on the boil than just post-hardcore.

With an industrial battery as its backbone 'Coma Noir' kicks off the album of the same name with a vengeance, quickly rising to an early Converge-esque beatdown that would have had limbs flying a decade ago. The cleverness of Atlas Moth comes from it's two wings; the blackened spite and punk rock snarl. The two vocalists, in Giannopoulos and Kush, trade these two styles creating dual sides to a band that coalesce Emperor style keyboards with progressive guitars, martial drums, Voivody dissonance and Cave-In-esque metalcore crunch. While the band self-produced their three albums to date, they've cannily invited Sanford Parker to record this album, and the sideburned master of noise (working with Yob, Voivod and Eyehategod among many) has guided these caterpillars to winged greatness. Album highlight 'The Streets Of Bombay' is a stoned, electro trip that takes the band to new frontiers – a touch late-era Pink Floyd and perhaps even Jean Michel-Jarre. The double vocals here remind of their pals in Viking prog-metal overlords, Enslaved, which we're pretty sure would be a compliment. 'Smiling Knife' is Mike Patton bonkers and there's a smidgen of Tool in the mix too. There's plenty going on on Coma Noir and each twist and turn is an aural delight. To end with Yakuza's Bruce Lamont on his unmistakeable sax is joy to end a joyous romp and just goes to show, when these Illinoise-makers invite their local pals in Parker and Lamont around for a jam, it turns moths to butterflies.

Visigoth – Conquerors Oath (Metal Blade)

At a glance, the Kris Verwimp (Moonsorrow, Absu) painted cover of a female knight astride her steed contemplating storming the castle up high is enough to make you part with your pocket change. And that's before even hearing a jot of Visigoth's fantastic sophomore album. While their moniker may make one think of Cyberdog in Camden Market on a Saturday afternoon, these Utah Saints of Steel are in fact named after a medieval European tribe, who along with the Ostrogoths (not the Belgian metal band), didn't much like the Romans.

This isn't the natural progression of the mid-2000s Viking metal craze, although had Conqueror's Oath come out ten years ago Visigoth would have been on any number of Pagan Metal touring packages alongside Alestorm and Ensiferum, inflatable swords aloft as they play the likes of 'Hammerforged'. Coming out of the gates with a classic metal guitar squeal means it's straight to business, and 'Steel And Silver' is as victorious and valiant sounding as the cover art makes you feel.

Jake Roger has that JB from Grand Magus croon; a little bit Dio, a little bit John Bush – the perfect soaring trad metal vibrato – theatrical, over-the-top and unforgettable. The lyrics are preposterous, a usual US Power Metal swords-and-chains fantasy affair, full of warrior queens and blades being forged in the fires of vengeance, you know, that kind of thing. There's even the ever-present '80s fantasy film reference, this time it's Highlander just to mix things up. But it's almost like that makes Conqueror's Oath so charming and essential. It doesn't try to be clever, it just wants to be heavy metal, cliches be damned. Even glam rock party anthem 'Salt City Living' is a crystalline example of how to rock out with your cock out, despite bigging up Utah, a State known for its dodgy equal rights and strict alcohol laws and maybe not so much driving fast and knocking back a few local brews. The harmonised vocals, the galloping bass lines, the Jamison Palmer and Leeland Campana guitar duels, it's all been heard before, true, but Visigoth execute their brand of true heavy metal so perfectly, so respectfully, so triumphantly that you feel like they need to be preserved as an example of how pure American power metal was, and still is.

Vojd – The Outer Ocean (High Roller)

This column is brought to you by the Letter V. We've had Venuses, Visigoths and now Vojd, which sort of sounds like a cheap Polish lager, but we think should be pronounced Void, which is timely for fans of Netflix's The Good Place. Now, I know what you're thinking; “Louise, this is the heavy metal column, not the dad rock 'Steve Wright In The Afternoon' column.” But come on, Vojd get a hall pass for having members of Entombed and Enforcer in them. Besides they started life as Black Trip, a sort of Swedish supergroup love letter to Thin Lizzy.

Vojd is their new incarnation. Instead they now sound like a sort of Swedish supergroup love letter to Thin Lizzy, but the more bluesy, easy-listening Thin Lizzy. Black Trip was the classic rock nerd-out of Peter Stjärnvind, Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck from black metal misfits Nifelheim along with two speed metal poster boys, Jonas Wikstrand and Joseph Tholl from Enforcer. It was Pete's idea, to be fair. The former Entombed drummer was knocking around his bedroom with a guitar and a hard-on for hard rock. Two albums Goin' Under and Shadowline went down a storm, but they band rarely toured and seemed to wither into the abyss. Out from the void comes Vojd and it's all AOR production and radio friendly pop hits now.

Joseph, a remarkable guitarist in his own right, has picked up a bass. Pete is joined by yet another Swedish death metal alumni in Linus Björklund on guitars, and Jonas is off making film soundtracks so Anders Bentell is behind the kit. Black Trip was heading in this way anyway, they knew how to write a good song with a chorus you'd be singing for days. Songs like 'Break Out' and 'Delusions In The Sky' carry on that songwriting gold, with harmonised vocals and pristine guitar solos. The American punk vibe that peeked through on early Black Trip albums comes to the fore too, even a little bit Springsteen, a little bit Cheap Trick. 'Dream Machine' is the stand-out track here, a proggy interlude, with a bit of Humble Pie/Canned Heat boogie blues. The Outer Ocean could be one of the top-down driving hits of the summer – for those who don't live in London and have an oyster card, that is. Janet, take me to your Boundless Vojd please.

Master's Hammer – Fascinator (Jihosound Records)

Continuously being one of the curiosities of extreme metal, Master's Hammer are back with their eighth full-length. Active from 1987 until 1995 and hailing from the then-Czechoslovakia, they were one of the few active bands behind the Iron Curtain to make an impact in the West, even getting a nod from the likes of Darkthrone, claiming they inspired the second wave of Norwegian black metal. The band got back to the studio in 2009 and after playing live again recently have written Fascinator, which is, rightly, fascinating.

Mastermind Franta Storm – who is a globally respected font designer... fun fact kids – wrote the album while travelling around Europe on tour and while in India, where he spends most of his time. The album expectedly mixes caustic, martial, thrashing Scandinavian black metal with worldly, Eastern influences along with the out-there, electronic madness the band have become known for. Infamous for song and album titles such as 'Put Watering Cans Back in Place' and 'I Don't Want, Sirs, To Pester Your Ears', it's a pretty standard offering to get 'Satanská Nekrofilní Porna' (Satan's Necrophilic Porn') or 'Kletba' ('Curse') as song names, but who's complaining? It's only February and Fascinator already delivers this year's most vital, interesting, progressive, exciting black metal album, proving why bands like Watain, Darkthrone and Drudkh claim they paved the way. There's tambourine, timpani, organ, astral choir vocals, “froggish solos” courtesy of guitarist Blackosh (Franta's words, not ours) and of course, Necrocock. Who can forget Necrocock? Fascinator is manic, it's slightly bonkers, and it's bloody marvellous.

Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs (Century Media) Talking of metal curiosities, what about Orphaned Land, huh? 25 years this multi-cultural prog metal odyssey has been going. Consisting of both Jewish and Palestinian musicians, the band bridge culture, music, language, politics and religion through the medium of extreme music, often blackened thrash, sometimes crushing death metal, a soupçon of avant proggy meanderings. If everyone was forced to listen to Orphaned Land, World peace may just be within our grasp. On their sixth full-length they're angry. And with reason. In fact Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs could be renamed Twitter – The Opera with its barbed and canny attacks on “fake news”, celeb gossip, and censorship.

Orphaned Land, if you've not been introduced, sound like a Bollywood soundtrack written by Rhapsody or Blind Guardian (actually Hansi Kürsch guests on one track here) starring Demis Roussos and Corpsegrinder. Great, right? The band are ambitious in telling their stories through pomp and blusterous heavy power metal – think Nightwish, think Marillion, think Queensryche – but it's so politically motivating that they could almost pass for a Millennial Rage Against The Machine.

“Why are we still fighting?”, founder and frontman Kobi Farhi asks in his written introduction, and it's an age old question. He doesn't claim to have the answers but with lyrics like “The only prophet they trust is the profit from guns” and “Truth they will delete with merciless deceit” he's singing about the stuff that really gets to the core. Featuring a host of guests including Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Steve Hackett (Genesis) and Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates), as well as a 30-strong choir of singers from across the Middle East, the core group of Farhi, Uri Zelcha, Matan Shmuely, Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalem have created, yet again, a body of work that tears down dangerous policies and hatred on the world stage, while still offering a beacon of hope that can be enjoyed simply for its soaring, magnificence with master musicianship and evocative vocals. That you combine both would be their wish.

Judas Priest – Firepower (Sony Music)

It's sort of impossible to review the masters. You cannot compare them to anything, as they invented this sound. And words can't do justice to a 50 years career, and the experience that comes with it. But here we are, in, alone on Valentine's night, reviewing the newest Judas Priest. For those with an eye on our socials you wouldn't have missed the live Facebook stream we did with Mr Halford. We were meant to ask him about the new album but news of Glenn Tipton's retirement sort of stole the show. Okay, back up, he's not retiring, he's taking a step back. Ten years ago Glenn, the guitarist responsible for most of heavy metal's riffing history, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. He didn't let it slow him down, until now, where he's decided to take a break from touring, although he will play the occasional show and still be involved in Priest's writing process. Andy Sneap, from Hell and Sabbat, and who co-produced Firepower will step into Glenn's shoes on tour. What it does mean is that we didn't get any canon fodder for this review so you'll just have to trust us. Firepower is FIRE. Look, we all know that you end up paying lip service to the metal gods after time and they get a pass just because of songs like 'Hellbent For Leather' and 'Exciter', but that doesn't mean they're churning out any old cobbler just because they can. Priest don't do things by halves. With modern metal producer Sneap at the helm, the band brought back Tom Allom, who produced Screaming For Vengeance and British Steel for frig's sake, just to keep things on the right path. The sound is so slick, so crisp, and it starts, as all things should, with a classic Halford scream. Talk about start as you mean to go on.

The album themes seem to go from being invincible to never surrendering, all things we hope to be true. These defenders of the faith are constants in the pantheon of heavy metal and never let us down. They are playing a game of snap with Visigoth – both bands have a song called 'Traitor's Gate' on their albums and we can pretend both bands are paying tribute to the underrated NWOBHM of the same name. There's some Anthraxy thrash on 'Flame Thrower', a song that is bound for the live set, and some Edguyish power metal on 'Rising From The Ruins', but its ridiculous to say that as Priest inspired both those bands, and every metal band probably ever in one way or another, so let's not go there.

The solos are flawless too, who would think one of the guitarists here is ill in any way whatsoever. Plus Rob is soaring, his voice is unmistakeable and hasn't lost any of its infamous wail. The rhythm section of Hill and Travis are another masterclass. This review could just say Priest 300 times. Just go listen to it. Don't do that “modern production, old men” bullshit. Because if you think this is past it then (oh God, I'm going there)... you've got another thing coming.