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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Your Heavy Metal Roundup For October
Kez Whelan , October 26th, 2018 11:55

Winter is coming: time to celebrate. With spooky bleak releases from High On Fire, Windhand, Moloch, Deathhammer and more

Shrykull artwork by Luke Oram

Maybe it’s just my obsession with the genre colouring every aspect of my waking life, but I’ve always thought there was something very metal about the advent of autumn. The nights draw longer, the trees all start to look like black metal logos and the streets are littered with bits of decaying tree corpses (or ‘leaves’, as your non-metal pals call them). As the temperature drops, we’ve all got a perfect excuse to kick back in front of an open fire and spend our evenings catching up on all the great new metal albums that have come out recently. And yes, I know I end up saying this every time, but what a month for metal it’s been! As always, it was a real challenge to fit everything I wanted to in this column, with records dropping from both big names and underground darlings left, right and centre (hell, even I ended up releasing an album this month, although unless you have a keen interest in hearing tired music journalists throwing tantrums over half-inched Darkthrone riffs, the less said about that one the better), but you can rest assured that the following records are all more than worthy of your time. So, what are you waiting for? Crack open that mulled wine, pull out your turntable and get ready to hibernate…

High On Fire - Electric Messiah (eOne)

Not content with dropping one of the year’s best doom albums – Sleep’s triumphant The Sciences – the shirtless smoke-wreathed riff wizard that is Matt Pike has also found the time for another High On Fire record – who says stoners never get anything done? And whilst Sleep’s surprise return may have garnered more hype, let’s not forget that High On Fire have been steadily churning out awesome albums for almost 20 years now, with nary a dud among them. Ask seven random metal fans what their favourite High On Fire LP is, and chances are they’ll each name a different one – a testament to the strength and variety of their discography.

Give it a month or so, and eighth opus Electric Messiah can be added to that list of favourites. It is absolutely furious. After scratching the slow itch on The Sciences, Matt has really put the pedal to the metal on this one – songs like blistering opener ‘Spewn From The Earth’ and the D-beat laden title track rank among the band’s fastest and most visceral moments to date. ‘Freebooter’ takes that punk influence even further, with an outro that could have come straight off a Tragedy record. Even the slower moments, like towering 10-minute epic ‘Sanctioned Annihilation’, are bolstered by galloping, thunderous war drums courtesy of Des Kensel. His powerhouse drumming has always elevated High On Fire to the next level, and he puts in a breathtakingly aggressive performance here. In fact, the whole album is bristling with acerbic rage, right the way through to impassioned closer – and perhaps the most politically driven song the trio have written yet – ‘Drowning Dog’. As Pike howls “God damn you!” over driving, emotive chords, we can proclaim another sterling success!

Windhand - Eternal Return (Relapse)

If there’s one major criticism that could be levelled at Richmond doom squad Windhand, it’s that, outside of a handful of acoustic tracks, their sound hasn’t really changed or evolved over the past six years. Not that it necessarily needs to, of course, as they do that booming, anthemic mid-period Electric Wizard-style doom much better than most, but after three albums it had perhaps begun to feel more like diminishing returns than Eternal Return. This fourth album does find the band treading outside their comfort zone a bit – songs like ‘First To Die’, 11-minute belter ‘Eyeshine’ and pounding opener ‘Halcyon’ are textbook Windhand, all deep fuzzed-out riffs, blaring, wah-drenched leads and soaring, impossibly catchy vocal refrains, but ‘Grey Garden’ and moody, low-key closer ‘Feather’ find them playing with dynamics more than usual, contrasting that thick, saturated guitar tone with sparser, ethereal passages that would sound equally as at home on an early 4AD record as they would a Rise Above one. ‘Pilgrim’s Rest’ continues their tradition of sprinkling acoustic breathers amid the doom, but feels more like a fleshed-out song and less like an interlude, featuring some beautiful Low-esque vocal harmonies, and there’s even an unexpected but genuinely great Nirvana style grunge banger in the form of ‘Diablerie’ (which is perhaps unsurprising given that Seattle legend Jack Endino produced this thing).

Eternal Return may not feel as revelatory as their debut did when it landed, but it’s a thoroughly gratifying slab of doom nonetheless, and proof that Windhand still have enough creative fuel in the tank to keep things interesting.

Hissing - Permanent Destitution (Profound Lore)

After teasing us with an incredibly dark, abstract split with Sutekh Hexen last year, Seattle’s Hissing have just released the full-length follow-up to their jaw-dropping 2016 demo. The trio inhabit the same nebulous murk as bands like Portal and Teitanblood, where the lines between black and death metal blur together into anxious, disorientating new forms, but they season it with a decent amount of uncomfortably slow death/doom, very much in the vein of early Corrupted. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty potent combo, and guitarist Joe O’Malley has inherited his brother and Sunn O))) overlord Stephen’s ability to craft riffs as haunting as they are punishingly heavy (erm, albeit in a much faster manner). It’s almost a shame the production isn’t a bit clearer, as although the muddy style they’ve opted for can definitely compliment this kind of music, some of the nuances in these particular riffs can take a while to reveal themselves and could probably benefit from punching through the din a bit more.

But, my, what a glorious din it is; this is the kind of disgusting, unkempt chaos that makes conventional death metal sound jolly by comparison, a vividly nightmarish vision of Lovecraftian proportions that will stain your mind irrevocably once you finally unearth it.

Outer Heaven - Realms Of Eternal Decay (Relapse)

Not that I’m knocking conventional death metal, of course. As tantalising as the abstract stuff is, sometimes you still need to wash it down with a tall, refreshing glass of old-school filth. Pennsylvanian quintet Outer Heaven (and yes, fellow nerds, that is indeed a Metal Gear Solid reference) understand this, and their debut full-length Realms Of Eternal Decay is a perfect blend of inventive contemporary death metal and more traditional, time-worn elements of the genre, resulting in an album that feels fresh and invigorating but exudes a classic, timeless quality at the same time. Songs like ‘Pulsating Swarm’ relish in vintage Death style guitar harmonies and thunderous Bolt Thrower grooves, whilst tracks like blistering opener ‘Vortex Of Thought’ and the punky ‘Multicellular Savagery’ are more like a less noisy incarnation of current touring partners Full Of Hell, racing through intricate, cavernous riffs at disorientating grind tempos before lurching into gleefully primitive slow sections.

Much like peers Gatecreeper and Genocide Pact, there’s definitely a subtle hardcore flavour here too, with some of the slower breakdowns especially owing as much to Cro-Mags as they do Autopsy. In what has been a standout year for the genre, Realms… isn’t the most groundbreaking or mind-boggling death metal album of 2018, but it is one of the most eminently satisfying – and it’s got some of the best riffs to boot.

Crimson Throne - Of Void & Solitude (Apocalyptic Witchcraft)

2018 has been a good year for black metal too, and that looks set to continue with the release of Crimson Throne’s debut full-length. The UK quartet managed to capture that early Norwegian sound on last year’s demo tape with uncanny accuracy, and they’ve kept that same energy whilst blossoming into something far more unique on Of Void & Solitude. There are still shades of Immortal’s sense of grandeur, Emperor’s sinister mysticism and early Gorgoroth’s wide-eyed ferociousness here, but the band are certainly more than the sum of their influences this time round, injecting the album with a rich progressive sensibility and forging their own distinct identity over the course of these seven labyrinthine tracks (plus the obligatory atmospheric intro). Songs like ‘Scattered’ and sprawling opener ‘Dalit Lineage’ showcase the group’s evolution, fusing intricate acoustic passages, nightmarish plunges into dissonance and hypnotically textured vistas with no-nonsense blasts of bitter, frosty black metal, whilst ‘Indignant Slumber’ introduces some very tasteful piano before building to a stately, eerily beautiful crescendo. This is a very impressive step up from their demo, and an album that firmly establishes Crimson Throne as one of the most promising black metal acts in the UK right now.

Ultha - The Inextricable Wandering (Century Media)

As for European black metal, if you haven’t been paying attention to Germany’s Ultha already then now is a great time to start. This is the quintet’s third album, following 2016’s suitably epic Converging Sins, and it’s a perfect example of their aggressive yet trance-inducing spin on the genre. Songs like ‘With Knives To The Throat And Hell In Your Heart’ and humongous eighteen-minute closer ‘I’m Afraid To Follow You There’ mix chilling Dissection style riffs with the impassioned and atmospheric long-form fury of bands like Ash Borer and a bit of the esoteric, other worldly mysticism of fellow countrymen The Ruins Of Beverast. These tracks all justify their length too, building to incredibly satisfying and affecting climaxes; with the exception of synth-driven mid-album breather ‘There Is No Love, High Up In The Gallows’, they all feel like well-crafted songs, rather than exercises in endurance in the name of atmosphere. Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach in and of itself, mind, and opener ‘The Avarist (Eyes Of A Tragedy)’ even manages to make room for a mesmerizingly minimal mid-section that uses primitivism and sheer bloody mindedness as a virtue, but there’s something very gratifying about Ultha’s carefully considered and fearsomely precise approach. If you’re looking for some enveloping, state-of-the-art black metal, this one’s a keeper.

Endless Swarm - Imprisoned In Skin (Mind Ripper Collective)

Having spent the past five years releasing a steady stream of splits and EPs, touring incessantly and making people collide into one another at high speed while frantically waggling their fingers in the air, Edinburgh’s hardest working fast lads Endless Swarm have at last dropped their debut full-length – although, this being grindcore and all, “full-length” in this context means “about the length of a classic episode of The Simpsons”. Still, there’s absolutely no time wasted on this thing whatsoever, as 35 second opener ‘Ether’ hits the ground blasting and sets the tone for the whole record. Taking classic powerviolence sounds (lightning speed hardcore riffs, disgustingly overdriven bass tones and that gruff, angry caveman vocal style) and combining it with elements of old school grindcore and death metal, Endless Swarm’s furious, hyperkinetic style ticks all the right boxes without falling into cliche, with songs like ‘Maladaption’ and ‘Prototype’ coming across like a drunken bar brawl between Infest and Assück.

Imprisoned In Skin is relentless from start to finish, with only a handful of tracks dropping below ludicrous BPM levels. ‘P.T.M.’, for example, lurches into a thick, Neanderthal chug, even allowing room for some kitsch ’50s sci-fi style keys to sneak in towards the end. It doesn’t last long however, followed by a song like ‘Psuedo Shell’ which has all the subtlety of a nailbomb going off in a car alarm factory. Boasting their punchiest, heaviest mix to date (just check out the way that crisp, taut snare slices through the rich full-bodied guitar distortion on tracks like ‘Grief’), this is easily Endless Swarm’s finest work, and one of the most exhilarating 20 minutes you’ll experience this year.

Fórn - Rites Of Despair (Gilead)

Boston quintet Fórn are absolutely in their prime right now. The band made a big impact with their 2014 debut The Departure Of Consciousness, taking mournful funeral doom melodies and playing them with the immediacy and vitriol of a sludge band, but this is undoubtedly their magnum opus, a sprawling hour long odyssey that flows with such grace and potency that it feels only half the length. Both in terms of mood and structure, there are similarities between this and Thou’s recent Magus, with a number of shorter atmospheric segue tracks that help to glue these hulking detuned monoliths together, many of which have an almost Dead Can Dance feel to them.

Rites… is even more dynamic than The Departure…, with songs like ‘Manifestations Of The Divine Root’ and the astonishing ten-minute ‘Scrying Below The Wolf Moon’ journeying through both jet-black walls of distortion and some pulse-stoppingly beautiful softer sections, whilst ‘Ritual Ascension Through A Weeping Soul’ introduces more of a death metal influence, supplementing its doomy chords with some truly thunderous drumming. These songs are surprisingly catchy too, with the lumbering Noothgrush-esque ‘(Altar Of) Moss, Lichen & Blood’ featuring the kind of gigantic, irresistible riff that won’t just get stuck in your head, it’ll entrench itself in there on such a long-term basis that it’ll have to start paying a mortgage – and that’s before I’ve even mentioned the song’s heart-wrenching climax, a stirring melodic crescendo that reaches the same lofty heights as bands like Asunder used to. If you’re even slightly interested in doom, then just go and buy this thing – you will not regret it.

Moloch - A Bad Place (Feast Of Tentacles/Howling Mine/Tartarus)

Rites… isn’t the only essential doom album this month however, with Nottingham sludge gang Moloch finally unveiling the follow-up to their 2011 debut album Possession. Not that they’ve been slacking by any stretch of the imagination; between the eight (count ’em, eight!) splits they’ve released since then, they’ve easily put out enough material to fill a couple more full-lengths, but it’s nice to get another unified, cohesive album experience from them nonetheless. A Bad Place certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard, offering six weighty slabs of harsh, pounding negativity that seem to get even more desolate and skeletal as the album progresses. The dense, almost impenetrable dirge of ‘Deadweight’ is highly reminiscent of Grief’s plodding misanthropy, but broken down in an even more minimal fashion, and you can feel the vehement, palpable anger coursing through every stunted cymbal crash and tortured, harrowing shriek of songs like ‘Bad Gift’. The still, dissonant chords of ‘Beast’, meanwhile, stretch just beyond the point of comfort, fraying at the ends and warping into the girthy rumble of the bass in a fantastically disorientating way.

After years spent perfecting their craft, A Bad Place finds Moloch sounding remarkably self-assured and bleaker, nastier and more uncompromising than ever. They’ve never been one of those sludge bands to rely on rote groove sections or blues progressions, of course, but this could be the most confidently horrible thing they’ve created yet, an unflinching staring contest with the abyss in which the abyss nervously concedes defeat half an hour in and quietly slinks off, leaving only the cold, stark reverberations of Moloch’s hate-fuelled voidcore in its place. Tune in and drop out if you dare…

Under - Stop Being Naïve (APF)

Less than a year after releasing their debut Slick, Stockport oddballs Under are back for round two. The three-piece’s sound is still an awkward one to describe, taking in chunks of Melvins-esque sludge, sardonic noise rock, prog eccentricity and third eye gouging psych-metal, and if anything Stop Being Naïve is even weirder than its predecessor. ‘Malcontent’ is a fantastic opener and makes the band’s idiosyncratic manifesto clear from the get-go; “so sorry we had to mutate” the trio howl sarcastically in unison atop a nauseously descending guitar slide, that eventually ceases its relentless pull only to plunge the song into a wild, searingly noisy and almost free-form sounding cacophony. Jarringly, ‘The Climb’ follows immediately after with an unaccompanied and surprisingly jubilant Queen-esque vocal harmony, before exploding with what sounds like a Shellac riff played at half the speed – and somehow, somehow, it all works. “Mutate” is definitely the word, and it’s heartening to see the group reach for even more obtuse territory here, from the hypnotic, spaced out prog of ‘Big Joke’ and the anxious, jazzy skronk of the Don Caballero style ‘P. Irving’ to the barbaric High On Fire-meets-Butthole Surfers onslaught of ‘Grave Diggers’ and the hefty ‘An Inch Of Sun’, a sprawling six-minuter that incorporates twinkling keys, flattening doom riffery and intricately layered walls of intertwining guitar noise. This may be intentionally difficult music, but the “difficult second album” this certainly ain’t, with Stop Being Naïve managing to be both the group’s strongest and strangest work yet.

DungeönHammer - Infernal Moon (Me Saco un Ojo)

If you’re reading this column, there’s a very high chance that when you first heard Tom G Warrior’s rallying “Are you morbid?” all those years ago, you responded with a resounding “YES!” – but I’ll bet you didn’t as loudly or enthusiastically as the two members of DungeönHammer did. Based in Paris and Nijmegen respectively, the pair met whilst studying in Milan and bonded over their shared passion for all things Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. After releasing two seven inches worth of raw, old-school filth in 2010 and 2011, they’ve been dormant ever since, with drummer Rene testing the limits of free jazz with fellow two-piece and tQ faves Dead Neanderthals, but evidently the allure of DungeönHammer was too much to ignore.

And so, we’ve been blessed with this beast of a full-length eight years later. Not much has changed; DungeönHammer are still stuck in ’85 stylistically, with everything down to vocalist/guitarist E’s phrasing worshipping at the altar of Tom G. (his gruff bellow is noticeably lower than Tom’s, though not as deep as, say, Winter’s John Alman). There’s enough variation to avoid being too one-note however, with songs ranging from speedy, no-nonsense two minute bangers (‘Sworn In Blood’) to thick, imposing dirges (the ‘Necromantical Screams’-esque ‘Stigma Diaboli’), and despite being a duo, there’s a satisfying amount of low-end too, plus some killer leads on ‘Empire de la Mort’ and even a surprisingly effective acoustic section in the eerie ‘Perpetual Funeral Winds’. Sure, there’s nothing new here, but not everything has to push boundaries – sometimes you just need to hear someone barking “UGH!” over a big fuck-off riff.

Deathhammer – Chained To Hell (Hells Headbangers)

What’s that? You want even more big fuck-off riffs, plentiful “UGH!”s and bands with names that begin with a “D” and end in “…hammer”? Well, OK then, seeing as it’s you, here’s one more before I retreat to my lair to digest another month’s worth of metal records – namely, Chained To Hell, the fourth album from Norwegian hell raisers Deathhammer. Along with bands like Nekromantheon and Condor, these guys have been leading the charge for a new wave of untamed, high octane degenerate Norwegian thrash throughout the 2010s, a filthy, gleefully retrogressive take on the genre that dispenses with all bullshit and pretence in favour of attitude, fury and sheer unbridled force. Deathhammer are arguably the most rambunctious of the lot though, sounding like Venom at twice the speed fronted by a meth addicted pirate trying his damnedest to impersonate Rob Halford in between swiggin’ whiskey and garglin’ glass.

Chained To Hell is pretty much exactly as you’d expect musically, but somehow the duo sound even more ferocious and perched on the verge of collapse than they did previously. It’s quite a feat, to be honest – usually by album number four, most backwards-thinking caveman metal outfits have cleaned up their act if only a little bit, but Deathhammer have gone in the total opposite direction, sounding as hostile, messy and disgusting as they can possibly muster, resulting in truly exhilarating blasts of metallic righteousness like the aptly titled ‘Black Speed Inferno’. If you prefer your metal on the more polished side, you’ll probably hate this, but if you just want to get blackout drunk this Halloween and have the best night of your miserable life, this is your golden ticket.