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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Your Heavy Metal Roundup For January
Cheryl Carter , January 23rd, 2019 07:44

Start your year right with chaos, malevolence and bittersweet desolation from Altarage, Veldes, Swallow The Sun, Astrophobos and Soilwork

January is a quiet month for new music, and February is already looking huge, so we’ve included a couple of releases from next month in this column. Deal with it. These mighty releases straddle the most horrific black metal, beautiful atmospheric sounds, industrial and what may be the most mainstream metal record we’ve covered this side of Ghost.

Altarage – The Approaching Roar (Season Of Mist Underground Activists)

Spanish band Altarage revel in the maelstrom of their chaotic metal, and their third album is a swirling pool of noise you’ll never escape. ‘Urn’ takes us on a journey of discovery, beginning on a calm note before the silence is broken to reveal an inner horror, with vocals dredged from the very pits of hell. ‘Hieroglyphic Certainty’ pulls us into the abyss with fiery guitars, and its scant running time is unnerving: there’s the nagging thought that this terror will never end, and Altarage play with this feeling deftly, creating a moment of relief before dragging us back into the whirlpool of horror.

Astrophobos – Malice of Antiquity (Triumvirate Records)

Astrophobos play punchy orthodox black metal that pays a distinct homage to the early 90s masters but is firmly a modern record with much cleaner productions values than those that came before. Aggression is core to the Astrophobos sound and their second album bounds straight out of the gate with Mikael Broman’s rasped vocals the first thing you hear, laced with malevolent intent. The ferocity doesn’t let up throughout the record.

Taking lyrical inspiration from HP Lovecraft is hardly a new idea on the metal scene but these Swedes never fall into parody, creating narratives and allowing the lyrics to be as important as the music – and the music is fantastic. It’s furious when needed, doomier when the mood calls for it and at all times it’s strangely melodic, often within the same song – such as on ‘Abattoir for Flesh and Faith’.

Imha Tarikat – Kara Ihlas (Vendetta Records)

Hailing from Turkey and Germany, Imha Tarikat play a style of super-fast black metal that shares as much with punk/hardcore as it does with Darkthrone. This is their debut album and opening track ‘I-I: Çökmüş Mühür (The Broken Seal)’, with its punchy drums and bellowed vocals, gives an immediately raw vibe to the occult subject matter. The album is a torrent of emotion from beginning to end and in Ruhsuz Cellât the band have a powerful frontman, who can swing from deep registers to shrieks during ‘I I-I: Omninihai Çözümü (Omni-Final Solution)’ and play pulsing guitars that chime with a richness and simplicity that is often missing in modern black metal.

Mo’ynoq – Dreaming in a Dead Language (self-released)

You might be forgiven for thinking that you’ve hit play on the wrong record when Dreaming In A Dead Language begins its assault on the ears – the parallels with Deafheaven are clear in these opening moments but there’s much more to uncover in this debut from the North Carolina quartet. That opening track ‘Empyreal Decay’ soon forges ahead on discordant guitar riffs that fall away from any discernible pattern before you have a chance to hold on to any melody. Mo’ynoq push the boundaries of black metal with sudden segues into rich, deep guitars that seethe with sadness and vocals that scream against the melancholy backdrop – any trepidation you may have had is now completely dispelled.

Puppy – The Puppy (Spinefarm Records)

Look, we’re not here to be cool. There’s no shame in liking a record because it’s catchy as heck, and if you like Ghost then there’s no reason not to like Puppy, a thoroughly modern metal band with hooks for days and a frontman, Jock Norton, who can carry a tune into next week.

They’re a young trio from the UK and they’ve already played huge festivals despite the fact that this debut album, The Goat, only came out this month. ‘Black Hole’ starts the record as it means to go on – huge choruses, deadly melody and guitars that carry the songs with just the right amount of heaviness. The lyrics hide a certain darkness and the juxtaposition between the words and the otherwise peppy music is interesting in itself. It’s not a new tactic for a band to use but many fail where Puppy are clearly succeeding.

Saor – Forgotten Paths (Avantgarde Music)

Founded and executed by Andy Marshall, Saor is a one-man project with guests who ensure that Marshall’s vision is laid down. On Forgotten Paths he uses gorgeous strings, traditional folk instruments and vocalists to add texture to the black metal here. First track ‘Forgotten Paths’ features Alcest’s Neige while the chorus on ‘Bròn’ leads with Sophie Rogers’ pure voice, giving clarity and depth to a song that speaks of long lost forefathers and traditions – as does much of Saor’s music. Marshall is proudly Scottish and his black metal is tinged with history and folklore from his country and the music features many elements – including bagpipes – that wouldn’t normally be found within the genre.

Marshall’s deep bellow gives the songs a defiant feel and while Saor has sometimes felt a little indulgent in the past, this fourth full-length shows that taking time to strip things back can work wonders. The words and music have time to breathe. On ‘Monadh’ the rich guitar plays against bittersweet strings and a galloping drum beat so the song can continually reach for the heavens. Each note is necessary and the tension builds wonderfully before reaching its crescendo and dropping into the cascading opening of ‘Bròn.’ Forgotten Paths is a strong and vibrant album that will only push Saor further in the black metal world and beyond.

Soilwork – Verklighten (Nuclear Blast)

Many try to emulate Swedish melodeath, but few succeed. Soilwork have been at the forefront of that genre for most of their career and while the death metal elements have subsided in their more recent output, the band still write massive songs. In Björn Strid Soilwork they have an incredibly versatile singer; his guttural death growl is devastating but it’s with his clean vocals that the band has found their niche. The first track ‘Arrival’ shows off both aspects of Strid’s voice and throughout the album the songs go from fiery melodic metal to gorgeous soaring choruses – they are essentially pop songs with a heavy twist and that ain’t no bad thing when the songs are this catchy.

Swallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light (Century Media)

Swallow The Sun’s last album clocked in at around two-and-a-half hours, with three discs each representing a different mood. How do you follow that up? Well, Swallow The Sun strip everything back to the personal, to speak of life, love, death and grief, and to write a record for someone in particular. In 2016, guitarist and lyricist Juha Raivio lost his partner Aleah Stanbridge to cancer and when it came time to write a new Swallow The Sun album, the title came from Aleah’s own words. When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light is a monument to a life that touched many. It is shrouded in darkness but it has many moments of hope; the music is as beautiful and emotional as you’d expect.

In Mikko Kotamäki the words come to life in deep growls and sublime singing. His voice brings warmth to the narrative while Swallow The Sun’s death/doom sound builds in delicate layers around it. ‘Firelights’ is a melancholy piece that begins on simple strikes of the guitar while Kotamäki brings intensity to the song and stately keys add further depth. The song is truly affecting – you feel it all within yourself, deep down in the recesses of the heart there is a pull and the song aims to bring you back to the surface, to see that in the greatest of darkness there will always be a light worth seeking out. When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light is genuinely heartfelt and Swallow The Sun are masters at these sorrow-filled laments, something that final track ‘Never Left’ proves once more with a rich sadness that leaves a trace of hope in its wake.

Veldes – Flameless (self-released)

Slovenia’s Veldes has been making atmospheric black metal for six years and this, their fourth full-length, is a beautiful work that revels in rich keys and shrieks, classic black metal guitar work and drums that are pushed forward to create a delicious sense of movement. Flameless is filled with sorrow and despair while somehow holding onto the innate wonder of pure emotion. The opening track is a scene-setting instrumental and then the storm breaks with ‘Keeper Of The Flameless’, all choral keys and furious screams. It’s breathtaking in its fury at the world, but the conviction that beauty can be found even in the deepest pits of desolation is apparent in the bittersweet closing moments.

‘Lore Of Forgotten Despair’ is warm and resonant, moving from subtle textures to explosive sounds in less than a heartbeat, keeping a sense of cohesion and wonder. It’s magnificent throughout and Veldes do much to keep an eloquence in the music while the vocals are torn with anguish. Instrumental ‘The Breeze Among Felled Trees’ breaks up the album nicely, giving the aggressive side of the record a moment to collect itself before bursting into life on the powerful ‘This Light Was Never Meant To Be.’

Yerûšelem – The Sublime (Debemur Morti Productions)

What happens when celebrated experimental black metal artists decide to run with the more industrial side of their band and create a new project to indulge those desires? Yerûšelem happens. Blut Aus Nord’s Vindsval and WD Feld have taken all that is good from BaN’s more mechanical sounds and incorporated them into The Sublime. It’s not a metal record deep down but the aesthetics of blackened music are certainly apparent. Brutal, twisting sounds form the main structures while Vindsval’s voice creates textures around towering beats. Echoing, haunting vocals throb through ‘Autoimmunity’ and its Godflesh-esque movements showcase the duo’s ability to turn their hand to almost anything.

Where Blut Aus Nord revel in the horror of black metal (depending on which record you’re listening to, of course), Yerûšelem use electronica supplemented by guitars to create a world of decay. Vocals are layered with feedback to create a feeling of destruction. ‘Eternal’ hypnotises as beats interlock with synth waves and guitars reach for space within the maelstrom. Similarities with Blut Aus Nord can of course be found; the tone of the guitars and the inflections created are classic BaN, and the project was apparently forged during the recording of 777: Cosmosophy – it’s true that a lot of the Yerûšelem riffs seem familiar. But Yerûšelem aim away from black metal elements, using synths and electronics to soundtrack their icy, post-punk vision.