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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Your Metal Roundup For July
Kez Whelan , July 26th, 2018 13:13

Immortal! Blasphemy! Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters! This is all the new metal you could possibly need this July

Ahh, the scent of an old tent, the taste of a freshly cracked-open tin, the distant sound of blaring guitars, the sight of sun-burnt arms sizzling in the heat... Breathe it in, reader, for festival season is now well and truly upon us, and in the midst of the kind of heatwave that makes your brain feel like it’s steadily melting and seeping out of your pores, no less. Whether you’re beginning the commute to three days of open air intoxication or slinking back from your fest of choice to curl up in the foetal position and regret all your life decisions, one thing’s for sure; you’re going to need several ounces of brand new metal to keep you going, stat!

We’ve got you covered, of course. Though July is typically a fairly quiet month with regards to new releases, in this new bizarro universe we accidentally slipped in to at some point over the last few years, this one’s actually turned out to be pretty busy, with new releases from old guns like Immortal, Blasphemy, Axegrinder and Yawning Man, genre-straddling behemoths like Deafheaven, Bongripper and Skeletonwitch and promising newcomers from the UK’s fertile metal scene, like Ona Snop, Jøtnarr and the exquisitely named Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters. But enough faff; slap on your sun lotion, remember to drink plenty of fluids, and let’s begin…

Immortal - Northern Chaos Gods
(Nuclear Blast)

It’s surprising that a new Immortal album even exists in 2018, let alone an Immortal album that’s this good. Following the band’s acrimonious split with infamous frontman Abbath in 2015, it looked doubtful as to whether guitarist Demonaz and drummer Horgh would be able to carry the Immortal name by themselves, especially given that Demonaz has been battling acute tendonitis for the past 20 years and hasn’t actually performed on an Immortal album since 1997’s Blizzard Beasts.

And yet here we are, clutching arguably one of the best Immortal records to date in our grubby little mitts. Northern Chaos Gods wisely eschews a lot of the pomp of Immortal’s later records to focus on that wild, ferocious energy they had on early works like Pure Holocaust and Battles In The North, as the opening title track makes abundantly clear. No-nonsense bangers like ‘Called To Ice’ and ‘Grim And Dark’ just feel like classic Immortal, firing off chilling tremolo picking and effortlessly bombastic riffs atop a bed of blisteringly efficient blastbeats. That’s not to say the album ditches the grandiose feel of records like At The Heart Of Winter entirely though, as ‘Gates To Blashyrkh’ utilises clean guitars amidst its thunderous riffery and chest-beating bravado to genuinely stirring effect, and nine-minute closer ‘Mighty Ravendark’ manages to feel legitimately epic without ever meandering; it features arguably the catchiest chorus on the whole album, and somehow feels a lot shorter than it actually is, despite transitioning through numerous different sections.

There’ll still be cries of “no Abbath, no Immortal” of course, but honestly, Northern Chaos Gods is leaps and bounds better than anything the former frontman has put his name to since. The Abbath solo record felt like a cartoonish exaggeration of a band that had already drifted way beyond self-parody, and the shambolic live shows that followed didn’t exactly sweeten the deal. Abbath himself may always represent the larger-than-life personality of Immortal, but Northern Chaos Gods is instead the band’s beating heart, the raw, vital songcraft that smoulders beneath all the corpse paint, spiky arm bands and other extraneous bullshit. And spectacle be damned; that’s what we really wanted all along.

Blasphemy - Victory (Son Of The Damned)
(Nuclear War Now!)

Immortal aren’t the only classic black metal band returning with new material this month – well, I say “new material”, I actually mean “one new song on a rehearsal demo”. But hey, we get two different versions of it! Besides, even a single new Blasphemy track is reason to get excited, especially since we haven’t heard any fresh songs from the Canadian war metal pioneers since their 1993 LP Gods Of War. The cult of Blasphemy is still going strong, with their influence inspiring gas mask clad tribute acts the world over, but no other band has really been able to match their chaotic, barely restrained fury. For the uninitiated, their ungodly assault of wild blastbeats, shredding tremolo riffs and almost inhuman sounding barks can initially be pretty bewildering, sort of like trying to listen to the first Bathory album and Napalm Death’s ‘Scum’ simultaneously whilst driving a tank through a hurricane, but this genuinely disorientating first impression belies their sharp song-writing skills, something that very few of their disciples remembered to rip off.

Victory (Son of The Damned) was captured about a month after the band’s first hastily recorded live album, Live Ritual: Friday The 13th, on the same MiniDisc recorder sat atop a washing machine in the band’s rehearsal space. Given that, you might expect this to be inaudible mulch, but it actually sounds razor sharp; the guitars blaze away with crystal clarity, the vocals ring out in all their throat puncturing glory, the drums are suitably booming and if you crank it up loud enough, you can even hear the bass! In fact, despite (or maybe because of) the lack of …Friday The 13th’s sometimes overbearing crowd sounds, this is arguably a better snapshot of Blasphemy’s ferocious live energy. The band are on top form here, with many of these songs actually sounding more savage and deranged than their studio counterparts. And that new song, the titular ‘Victory (Son Of The Damned)’, is easily as good as anything on their two studio albums, capturing the band’s astonishingly primal blur of noise and dishing out a supremely catchy chugging riff in its middle section. Fans will already have pounced on this thing, but it’s so infectiously vicious that I’d heartily recommend it as an entry point for newcomers too – just remember to bring a towel to mop the remnants of your brain up with afterwards.

Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

If it feels weird listening to Immortal or Blasphemy in this weather, then Deafheaven’s skewed take on black metal is infinitely more suited to these sunnier climes. Without meaning to sound like the proverbial basement dwelling genre police however, it would be fair to say that Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is easily their least black metal opus so far, instead largely drawing from ’90s alt-rock. That sound, along with strains of indie, shoegaze and emo, has always been present in Deafheaven’s music, but this album especially ramps up that influence, and it’s a breath of fresh air (especially after 2015’s more aggressive but distinctly underwhelming New Bermuda). This is immediately clear from the lilting, lyrical strains of opener ‘You Without End’, a wistful and slightly whimsical ballad that could have come straight from Melon Collie… era Smashing Pumpkins. ‘Honeycomb’ kicks off with blastbeats and tremolo picked riffs, but it isn’t long before it breaks into an optimistic post-hardcore groove à la Quicksand, and the hazy vibrato guitar drones in the song’s latter half are eerily similar to Deftones’ ‘Minerva’, of all things.

With Ordinary Corrupt Human Love spending much of its time in some of the lushest, most elaborately orchestrated sonic terrain Deafheaven have ever wandered into, the more metal elements of their sound actually feel like its Achilles heel in some ways. For example, ‘Glint’s intro is beautiful, weaving reversed guitar swells amongst a delicate but urgent Slint style pulse, but the middle of the song drifts through fairly stodgy black metal passages without much excitement. Vocalist George Clark’s perfunctory shriek can’t help but feel a bit one-dimensional too, lurking below the arena rock sized guitars in the mix without ever really matching the luxurious, washed out grandeur of the music – on ‘Canary Yellow’, they’re even outshined by the chanted backing vocals. It’s a shame, especially when shorter transitional songs like the sombre, Low-esque ‘Night People’ and the glistening nugget of sadness that is ‘Near’ use clean vocals much more effectively, with the former even featuring a duet with Chelsea Wolfe.

Shortcomings aside, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is probably the most ambitious thing Deafheaven have put out, and it’s mostly successful. It’ll be interesting to see where they take it from here – this album seems to be the logical endpoint of the band’s sound in many ways, with the more metallic elements of their sound phasing out as they elaborate on their lighter, more atmospheric side. This definitely feels like they’re playing to their strengths though, and on the basis of this, Deafheaven would still be an effective band if they dropped the black metal shtick entirely and morphed into a summery ’90s college rock band – maybe even more so.

Yawning Man - The Revolt Against Tired Noises
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

For the perfect heavy summer record however, look no further. Having formed back in ’86 and heavily inspired bands like Kyuss with their uniquely mellow sound and sprawling generator parties, Yawning Man are often hailed as the fathers of the whole desert rock scene, even though they didn’t actually get around to recording anything until 2005. This has always been a band that works at their own laid-back pace though, and it suits their luxurious, dream-like music down to a tee; rather than the fuzzy, overdriven guitar tone that has become synonymous with the genre, Yawning Man draw more from surf rock and old psychedelia than they do metal, with Gary Arce’s shimmering, spidery guitar licks darting across the band’s relaxed compositions like sun beams refracting off gentle waves.

The Revolt Against Tired Noises is their fourth album proper, and it works as both a perfect entry point for the unconverted and delicious mana for the old faithful. The band’s penchant for jamming and loose, largely instrumental approach has never come at the expense of memorable songs, and this record certainly delivers with tunes like ‘Black Kite’ and the beautiful, hazy drive of ‘Skyline Pressure’. The occasional inclusion of vocals (courtesy of bassist Mario Lalli, also of Fatso Jetson fame) works perfectly too, elevating squelchy earworms like ‘Grant’s Heart’ to even more infectious levels. And to top it all off, we’re finally treated to a studio version of the band’s classic ‘Catamaran’, arriving a good 23 years after Kyuss made the song famous on their final album, …And The Circus Leaves Town, with its ethereal, melancholy riff and that taut, pulsating bassline sounding just as intoxicating as they did back then.

Bongripper - Terminal
(The Great Barrier Records)

Regular readers of this column will already be well aware of our love for Chicago’s heaviest instrumental doom band, Bongripper. Those same readers will also be acutely aware of just how quiet it’s been on the Bongripper front recently, with a hefty four-year gap (their longest break between releases ever) separating this from their last LP, the towering dirge that was 2014’s ‘Miserable’. It probably stands to reason then, dear readers, that you’ve already fallen on this thing like a pack of hungry stoners on a freshly delivered pizza and are already several steps ahead of me here, but hot damn, Terminal is an absolute beast of a record.

Simultaneously more compact and diverse than Miserable, Terminal’s two halves, ‘Slow’ and ‘Death’, are a potent reminder of everything that makes this band great, offering up flattening riffs, a physically punishing bass tone, eerie ambience and interesting, progressively minded songs with searingly intense, sweat drenched crescendos in just under 45 minutes. If you were to take Miserable’s impenetrable density, Satan Worshipping Doom’s grand song structures and the more spontaneous atmosphere and penchant for experimentation that typified early records like Hippie Killer and focus it all into one humongous slab of triumphant, bludgeoning doom, it would probably sound a lot like Terminal.

Mutilation Rites - Chasm

New York’s Mutilation Rites are also returning after a four year absence, and the furious Chasm was more than worth waiting for, fulfilling the quartet’s early promise of a filthy metallic hybrid that previous records only hinted at. This isn’t a slight on their earlier works, as those last two records and EPs like Devoid are exhilarating chunks of nastiness in their own right, but Chasm feels a lot more cohesive and powerful. Whereas previous records would sometimes haphazardly dart between black metal, death metal and crust punk, Chasm smooths over the gaps, making the band’s sound a lot more focussed without really comfortably sitting in any of those genres.

Songs like ‘Pierced Larynx’, the album opener and presumably an accurate description of how guitarist/vocalist George Paul must have felt after recording all of this, bolster the band’s sinister black metal riffing with thick, low-end heavy production and an anxious, rippling punk energy, whilst ‘Ominous Rituals’ dishes out twisting Azagthoth-ian chord progressions over a pulverising Bolt Thrower groove before collapsing into a claustrophobic, blackened nightmare, almost like a crustier Deathspell Omega. Closer Putrid Decomposition delves further into early Voivod style dissonance, but ‘Post Mortem Obsession’, on the other hand, begins with the most enthusiastic, vigorous Tom G. Warrior worship I’ve heard this year, and ends with a fiddly, serpentine riff that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Death’s Leprosy. At no point does Chasm sound like aimless riff salad, however, and it feels like Mutilation Rites really went the extra mile to make these compositions flow effectively and work as memorable songs, and it’s resulted in their punchiest and most lethal record to date.

Jøtnarr - Jøtnarr

Jøtnarr have just outdone themselves too with this self-titled debut album. The Colchester trio had been doing an admirable job of fusing black metal with crust, sludge and post-hardcore on EPs like 2013’s Divide The Growth And Stone and 2015’s Burn And Bury, but Jøtnarr ups the ante even further. So-called “blackened crust” is all the rage these days of course, but Jøtnarr manage to marry the two styles in a wholly unique way – rather than just pinching a couple of Darkthrone riffs and throwing in some mosh parts, the three-piece have tapped into a really distinctive style that defies easy categorisation, and it’s never sounded more cohesive, powerful and well-realised than it does on Jøtnarr.

Opener ‘Ever Further Mark’ is a great example of their sound, combining sheets of grim, icy tremolo with triumphantly sludgy grooves à la early Mastodon and emotive lead guitar in just over two minutes. Elsewhere, muscular D-beat powered tunes like ‘Spit The Taste/Vile’ and raging closer ‘Hermit’ come across like a corpsepaint clad His Hero Is Gone, whilst the angular chords and urgent pulse of ‘Nazgûl Youth’ has a definite hint of Fugazi (albeit with more metal guitar heroics) and songs like ‘Sleeper’ and ‘The Blissful Extinction’ are ripe with infectious yet melancholy melodies too. In just under half an hour, Jøtnarr contains significantly more great ideas than a lot of the other hour-plus black metal opuses released this month, and in this trio’s capable hands, they coalesce into one coherent, staggeringly impressive whole. This one’s essential.

Axegrinder - Satori
(Rise Above)

It’s always a gamble when a legendary crust band reunites for a new record a good thirty years after their heyday. Whilst Amebix managed to totally reinvent themselves with their atmospheric comeback Sonic Mass (and sow the seeds for Tau Cross in the process), Antisect failed to light the touch paper with last year’s turgid and uninspiring The Rising Of The Lights. London’s Axegrinder play it fairly safe with Satori, their second full-length following their 1989 classic The Rise Of The Serpent Men, which largely follows in the footsteps of that debut, updating the band’s dense, metallic churn with a shinier modern production. ‘Over’ pairs moody clean guitars with portentous spoken word, before unleashing a massive, thunderous wave of distorted thrash riffery, and songs like ‘The Unthinkable’ and brash opener ‘Halo (Snakes For The Bleeding)’ dish out thick, satisfying chugs, but noticeably slower and with less energy than before. Obviously that’s to be expected after so much time has passed between records, but the lack of new ideas combined with the less enthusiastic delivery surely begs the question: what was the point?

Ultimately, Satori is a solid if unremarkable record; whilst there’s nothing here that’s in danger of tarnishing the band’s legacy, there’s also nothing that will really compel you to pull this off the shelf over The Rise Of The Serpent Men once the initial novelty of hearing new Axegrinder stuff has worn off. By all means, give this thing a spin if you’re feeling nostalgic for that particularly metallic wave of late ’80s crust, but just don’t expect it to blow your mind like it did back then.

Lucifer - Lucifer II
(Century Media)

Lucifer’s debut ended up being one of the catchiest doom records of 2015, with former The Oath vocalist Johanna Sadonis teaming up with ex-Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings to write an album’s worth of unashamedly hooky riff-laden anthems that are probably still stuck in the back of your head somewhere. Johanna’s instantly recognisable pipes aside, this second album features an entirely different line-up, with Nicke Andersson (of The Hellacopters, Death Breath and, of course, Entombed and Nihilist) both drumming and sharing songwriting duties. Maybe because of this, Lucifer II careens off down a much more hard rock indebted road, largely leaving Lucifer I’s morose, doomy riffs behind in favour of blaring major chords, sleazy guitar solos and even some classic rock’n’roll piano stabs on the strutting ‘Phoenix’, an exultant widescreen banger that neatly encapsulates both the band’s blazing return and shift in aesthetic. When they do drop into doomier segments, like on the swaggering ‘Dancing With Mr. D’, they come with slide guitar, gospel-esque backing vocals and an up-beat Motown style chorus.

Johanna’s ear for a hook is as keen as ever too, with songs like barnstorming, lead infested opener ‘California Son’ and the soaring ‘Dreamer’, which sounds like a Stevie Nicks song played by Heaven And Hell era Sabbath, liable to elicit wailing sing-a-longs before you’ve even finished your first play-through. The majestic ‘Eyes In The Sky’, meanwhile, finds Joanna’s soaring falsetto chorus mirroring Robin Tiderbrink’s deep guitar swells almost like a duet. Despite a few lulls on side B (the plodding ‘Before The Sun’ has something of a rejected Bond theme about it), Lucifer II is a decent sophomore effort. The gear switch from spooky doom to bombastic hard rock might turn some heads away, but at its core, this is a fantastic follow-up to that first record. The song writing is just as strong, but they take more risks here, proving there’s more than enough creative juice to warrant the inevitable Lucifer III.

Skeletonwitch - Devouring Radiant Light

Ohio thrashers Skeletonwitch have had some line-up shuffles since we last heard from them too, having fired previous vocalist Chance Garnette due to alcohol abuse and recruited Wolvhammer’s Adam Clemens instead. Before you’ve even heard a note of this record, its more subdued, gloomy cover art practically screams “we’re reinventing ourselves!”, especially when compared to the lurid, pointy thrash logo and Repka-inspired skeletons and goats that adorn their previous albums. And indeed, Devouring Radiant Light is a self-consciously more “mature” effort, pointing the quintet towards a more atmospheric, black metal inspired sound and away from the festival ready thrash that had come to define the band.

When this new approach works, it really works. For example, ‘When Paradise Fades’ does an admirable job of placing their taut thrash riffing style within a much darker context, whilst ‘Temple Of The Sun’ delves into grandiose territory not too dissimilar to mid-period Enslaved – they even throw in some eerie clean vocals amidst the proggy yet grim riffing. ‘Carnarium Eternal’, meanwhile, worships at the altar of early Gorgoroth, complete with chillingly discordant tremolo and a driving Frost-ian breakdown. Unfortunately tracks like ‘The Vault’ aren’t as successful; after a stark, minimal intro, the song meanders through fairly rudimentary blackened riffery only to arrive at a jarringly jolly chorus that has the unpleasant musk of folk metal acts like Korpiklaani. ‘Sacred Soil’ is an attempt at an epic closer that never quite hits the mark, aiming for melodic Agalloch-ian textures without any of the emotional impact that made that band so special. This tension between the band’s more upbeat mosh-pit inducing past and the moodier sound they’re aiming for is ultimately what brings Devouring Radiant Light down, with the record never quite feeling certain of what it wants to be. There are some definite highlights here, and it feels like Skeletonwitch’s new lineup have a great record in them somewhere, but unfortunately this isn’t quite it.

Invocation Spells - Spread Cruelty In The Abyss
(Hells Headbangers)

There’s no fucking about on this thing though. Chilean duo Invocation Spells have churned out several albums worth of decent black/thrash over the last few years, but this, their fourth, is probably their most accomplished. The energy levels never seem to drop below extremely frantic at any point here, from the blunt Sarcófago-esque pummelling of songs like ‘Rotting Sacrifice’ or the scorching Possessed-on-steroids tremolo of ‘Torment Of Obssessor’. They manage to evoke that mid-’80s proto-extreme metal sound without straight-up worshipping it – well, OK, they do, to a point, but they inject enough of their own personality here and they’re not afraid to delve into some more left-field territory when called for, like the short violin intro to the otherwise repugnantly aggressive ‘Obscure And Evil’, or the moment ‘Spread Cruelty’s primitive Bone Awl style bounce breaks into a curt post-punk stomp, complete with a sneeringly morose Peter Murphy impression atop. For the majority of Spread Cruelty…’s succinct 25 minutes however, this is gleefully primitive no-nonsense barbarism, and it feels great.

Ona Snop - Geezer
(Rip Roaring Shit Storm Records)

This has become something of a running theme in this column, but once again, it’s time to turn our attention to Leeds and another one of the umpteen awesome heavy records the city seems to generate every month, without fail. This month, it’s the turn of powerviolence crew Ona Snop, a quartet featuring members of The Afternoon Gentlemen, Famine and Lugubrious Children, and their blistering debut LP Geezer. Racing through 18 tracks in 19 minutes, this is the perfect introduction to the band’s irreverent, madcap take on the genre, chewing up elements of grindcore, hardcore punk and even the occasional classic rock lick (check out the heavily bastardised version of Black Sabbath’s ‘Evil Woman’ chorus that ends ‘In Pieces’) and spitting them back out in the form of this zany, hyperactive clump of face-peeling riffs, wild tonal shifts and impenetrable in-jokery.

Even though Geezer is crammed full of stop-start transitions and seems to pick up and cast aside musical ideas like a sugar crazed toddler in a toy factory, the band’s song writing skill, penchant for memorable choruses and larger-than-life sense of humour keep the whole thing feeling coherent and focussed, especially on songs like the driving, riffy ‘Hot Soup’ and snotty self-empowerment anthem ‘Don’t Tell Me What To Do’. It’s ludicrously tight throughout too, with the band’s jovial approach belying the dizzying technicality and pinpoint precision of songs like ‘The Scramasax’. Somehow faster, crazier and more vibrant than the EPs they’ve released previously, this is everything a self-respecting grindhead could have wanted from an Ona Snop full-length, and easily the most fun fastcore album of the year so far.

Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters - Come & Chutney
(Riff Rock Records)

The most ludicrously named band in the UK doom scene finally drop their debut album this month, trading their previous tie-dye and corpsepaint image for a more pastoral but no less psychedelic brand of whimsy. Don’t write them off as a novelty band based on their moniker or visuals though; featuring the greasy riffs and gravelly pipes of former Dopefight frontman and Grey Widow guitarist Owen Carty, Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters pack the same sludgy sonic punch as his previous outfits, albeit with more of a jubilant party atmosphere. Songs like ‘Doggy Bag Of Slurry’ and ‘Cojones Feos’ deliver huge, squelchy grooves as Owen’s distinctively melodic voice croaks overhead, pitched somewhere in between Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein and Spike from Gremlins.

Elsewhere, ‘Gutlads’ travels through softer psychedelic pastures to arrive at some deliciously brash rock’n’roll, and ‘Glue Ear’ is a great encapsulation of the band’s style, kicking off with a raucous, up-beat stomp and then dipping into thick, knuckle-dragging doom before culminating in a wild crescendo, complete with tripped out, kaleidoscopic lead guitar. Ten minute closer ‘Psychedelic Hallucinogenic Vagrancy’ finds members of Vodun, Ten Foot Wizard and Riddles joining the trio for an extended acid fried freakout, providing a suitably far-out finale to this particularly debauched weekend of a stoner rock record.