The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: September's Metal Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , September 18th, 2019 09:45

Kez Whelan is here with the rights and wrongs of metal from Ghold and Witch Vomit to Tool and Slipknot

Hype is a funny old beast, isn’t it? Don’t build enough of it, and your new project won’t find its way to the same amount of engaged listeners as you might have hoped; build too much of it, however, and watch as the project’s legs buckle and collapse under the weight of expectation before it’s even had a chance to walk.

Summer was strange for metal, with a host of big names returning to deafening fanfare before falling flat on their faces, and several unexpectedly amazing surprises swerving in out of the blue and stealing the show. We’ve got a lot of gristle to sink our teeth into this month, riff fans, so let’s dispense with the navel-gazing and just get stuck in…

Tool - Fear Inoculum
(Tool Dissectional/Volcano/RCA)

It’s with no small amount of trepidation that we approach a new Tool album in 2019. After thirteen years of silence, the levels of hype surrounding this thing have reached critical mass, a testament to the profound impact this band has had. To say a lot has changed (both culturally and in terms of the surrounding musical landscape) in the intervening years is an understatement, and the wait for this record has become a kind of running joke. In the meantime, the band has been unfairly painted as a bunch of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual new age snake oil salesmen by certain critics, a harsh and oddly revisionist take that ignores the scathing wit, razor-sharp self-awareness and intense, cathartic darkness that made records like 1996’s Ænima and 2001’s Lateralus such enduring and ground-breaking classics. Given the band’s penchant for in-jokery and pranks, when they finally announced the new record with such a daft, obviously fake sounding title as Fear Inoculum (lest we forget Lateralus was originally teased under the cumbersome moniker Systema Encéphale) alongside cover art that looked like something the original Playstation’s CD visualiser would spew out, it all seemed like just another wind-up; it was hard to believe any of it was real. And even now, with the finished product in front of us, it feels less like a real Tool album and more the result of a very sophisticated piece of A.I., forced fed the band’s back catalogue and programmed to randomly generate staid, lifeless simulacra in its image ad infinitum.

Yes, somewhat unsurprisingly, Fear Inoculum fails to live up to the unreal expectations laid upon it. The title track is a solid opener, and there’s a certain giddy thrill to hearing Adam Jones’ heady, spiralling riffs, Justin Chancellor’s deep resonant bass and Danny Carey’s bewildering rhythmic onslaught all in unison once again, but it’s not long before the problems set in. Somewhat bizarrely given his status as one of rock’s most expressive and enigmatic vocalists, Maynard turns out to be one of them, opting for a subdued, strangely flaccid falsetto instead of the wild-eyed, primal intensity of yore and turning in some of the laziest, most uninspired lyrics of his career. At best, you could say he sounds ethereal, but at worst he sounds detached from the rest of the band, as if his vocal lines were a hasty afterthought rather than being woven into the fabric of the songs themselves. There are several moments here (like the ending to the otherwise powerful and stirring ‘Descending’) that seem to cry out for more of a presence from him that he just doesn’t deliver.

The song writing is another issue in general – too often the material here plods where it should soar, or stumbles through meandering and leaden passages that don’t seem to add anything to the overall experience. Older songs like ‘Pushit’, ‘Forty Six & 2’ and ‘Parabol/Parabola’ (to name but a few) felt custom-built for maximum emotional impact; sure, they were lengthy, transitioned through multiple different suites and veered off on wild tangents too, but they were all penned with terrifying precision, working towards incredible, white-knuckle climaxes and allowing no dead air whatsoever. By contrast, songs like the stunted, awkward ‘Pneuma’ and absolute non-starter ‘Culling Voices’ just sort of drift off, providing a lot of build up with none of the sense of tension, pay-off or purgative release that the band used to excel in. ‘Invincible’ is one of the only songs here that delivers a suitably intense, emotive finale, but even then, there’s a lot of flab on it, and on-the-nose lyrics about a “warrior struggling to remain relevant” don’t help either – compare that to the knowing, witty lyrics addressing fan expectations of ‘Hooker With A Penis’ or ‘Ticks & Leeches’ and, well, it just doesn’t cut the mustard, quite frankly. The towering closing epic ‘7empest’ finds the band sounding more comfortable, focused and passionate, summoning some of the same vitriol as ‘93’s Undertow and opening with a riff that feels like some kind of glorious hybrid between King Crimson’s ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ and Neurosis’ ‘Stones From The Sky’, but even then the song fails to stick the landing, feeling more like a clumsily thrown-together collection of admittedly great riffs rather than the result of over a decade’s worth of seasoned song writing.

It may not seem fair to compare Fear Inoculum so painstakingly to the band’s older work instead of judging it on its own merits, but the album is so directly in thrall to the band’s history whilst failing to really add or say anything new at all, that it’s difficult to view it in a vacuum and not as a strangely toothless, languid footnote on an otherwise flawless discography. Everything here just feels like a stodgier, needlessly drawn out variation of something that Tool have already done to a much higher quality in the past. This even extends to the utterly pointless segue tracks which don’t add anything to the album at all – the skits and interludes on Ænima all had clear purpose and were not only entertaining in and of themselves, they helped sew the album together, providing necessary breathing space, bleeding into other songs and generally bolstering the listening experience to the point that it’s impossible to envision the record without them. By contrast, the interlude tracks here amount to little more than a collection of aimless, tasteless ambience that weren’t even deemed important enough to be included on the physical edition.

Alright, so Fear Inoculum isn’t a terrible record – there are a handful of genuinely haunting, beautiful moments here, the musicianship (especially the drumming) is absolutely astonishing throughout and the band still manages to sound unique and distinctive. On the other hand though, it’s easily Tool’s most bloated, least focussed and – let’s be honest – worst album by a country mile. Where previous records sought to pry open the listener’s third eye with breathless determination and stare unflinchingly into it, Fear Inoculum is content to intermittently shine a laser pen into said third eye before looking away and nonchalantly whistling when the damn thing finally bats itself open.

Slipknot - We Are Not Your Kind
(Roadrunner)

Whilst Tool have had the decency to fade from relevance in private for the past decade, Slipknot have been doing it very publicly, with a host of legal squabbles, inter-band drama and increasingly limp and schmaltzy albums all gradually eroding their carefully cultivated image as nu-metal’s most unhinged, parent-bothering and downright dangerous group. Their sixth and latest We Are Not Your Kind (an album title straight out of the Nails book of try-hard tough-guy nonsense) has been praised in some quarters for its less predictable nature, and to be fair, there are certainly moments here where the band stretch out beyond their comfort zone. The problem, however, is that none of these experiments actually work. From the bland, overly polite ‘Spiders’ (why is it that when ageing nu-metal bands inevitably start pillaging from the ‘80s synth-pop rule book they’re suddenly deemed “experimental”?) to the sparse, moody ‘My Pain’, a drab ballad that spends almost seven minutes building from the world’s most morose campfire singalong to an entirely nondescript haze of rudimentary art school noise, none of the emperor’s new clothes donned here suit the band at all.

What remains is their trademark (and increasingly insincere sounding) stompy tantrum-core, with Corey Taylor’s cringeworthy lyrics and awkward half-grunted-half-rapped delivery making the whole thing sound especially dated and stale (“I haven’t smiled in years”, Taylor barks with a straight face during curiously anti-climactic closer ‘Solway Firth’, and based on the amount of time it’s taken to assemble this joyless collection of half-baked nu-metal throwaways, we almost believe him).

His stunted delivery simply doesn’t gel with the sickly, meandering choruses of songs like ‘Nero Forte’ either, and the attempt to incorporate a choir on lead single ‘Unsainted’ renders the song a bloated, ineffective mess, aiming for both grandeur and depravity but falling short of each and landing in that confused, unintentionally hilarious ground between the two. OK, so it’s not all bad – the doomy riff that comes in midway through this song is killer, and the keys are pretty explosive throughout, probably being the album’s liveliest component besides Jay Weinberg’s frenetic drums – but on the whole, this is the sound of an band bereft of ideas clumsily trying to force their dated signature style into avenues it simply doesn’t fit.

There’s been a lot of cheering about this record knocking Ed Sheeran off the number one spot, but it’s a shallow victory; deep down, beneath the masks and distortion pedals, these songs are just as sentimental, mundane and flavourless as the UK’s favourite guitar toting ginger pillock. Next!

Entombed A.D. - Bowels Of Earth
(Century Media)

Speaking of legal troubles, it’s been five years since Sweden’s biggest death metal export splintered into Entombed (featuring original members Nicke Andersson, Ulf Cederlund and Alex Hellid) and Entombed A.D. (featuring original vocalist LG Petrov plus the other dudes from Entombed’s disappointing final album Serpent Saints…) and three albums in, A.D. have still yet to put forward a convincing claim to the name. Bowels Of Earth begins promisingly enough, with raging ‘Torment Remains’ conjuring some of the early Swe-death fire and new guitarist Guilherme Miranda shredding all over the shop, but the same old problems begin to rear their heads. Songs like ‘Hell Is My Home’ and ‘Bourbon Nightmare’ attempt a return to Entombed’s death & roll days, but with none of the impactful grooves or hook-laden song writing that made records like Wolverine Blues so memorable, and the less said about the bizarrely out of place cover of Hank Williams ‘I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive’ the better. Closer ‘To Eternal Night’ aims for the same kind of epic, eerie power as Left Hand Path’s title track but misses completely, wandering through wispy, ill-conceived tremolo lines and bloated HM-2 mulch with nary a whiff of atmosphere or menace.

Ultimately, the band's biggest problem seems to be that the name Entombed A.D. has become an albatross around their neck; in the arms race to be considered the “real" Entombed, they don’t dare deviate from the original group’s rigid sonic blueprint, but without the bulk of the musicians whose vision and passion made those records so thrilling, they’re forever doomed to remain in their shadow. Whilst LG’s other band Firespawn is allowed more freedom to experiment and explore new sounds, Entombed A.D. feel stuck in a rut. Just like Disney will be shitting out hollow retreads of classic Star Wars movies for years to come, it seems Entombed A.D. are destined to churn out the same faded Xerox copies of already existing Entombed records forever more. OK, so this isn’t the worst death metal record you’ll hear this year, but if you’re clamouring for a blast of Swe-death nostalgia, you’d be much better off picking up Entombed’s recent live recording of Clandestine instead.

Ghold - Input>Chaos
(Crypt Of The Wizard)

Whew, that was depressing, wasn’t it? Thankfully not every new release in this month’s column has been plagued by the same creative drought – London avant-sludge oddballs Ghold have continued to go from strength to strength, especially since the addition of guitarist Oliver Martin before the release of the former duo’s PYR album in 2016. That album was a glorious, barely restrained explosion of colour and mad, vibrant textures, and 2017’s Stoic presented an even further refinement of that sound, bringing out new qualities in the band’s rich sludgy sound and tightening up their song-writing muscle. Input>Chaos is less of a refinement though and more of a full blown reinvention, pulling the band’s sound apart and building an even wilder, more skronked out successor in its place. This is arguably the bands most ambitious record to date, doing away with the throaty bellows of yore and opting for crisp, theatrical and expressive vocal harmonies instead, whilst broadening the band’s already weird take on doom and sludge metal to encompass even more noise and psychedelia. Opener ‘Chaos Reigns’ makes these changes clear from the off, building swiftly from Merzbow-esque scree into a dense, ominous but soaringly anthemic doomscape. ‘Divine’ veers even further off the beaten path, pairing heartbroken vocal melodies with obtuse industrial pounding, like Einstürzende Neubauten doing their best to console a dangerously intoxicated Low on a disastrous night out, whilst songs like ‘Blindsided & Drunk’ and ‘Keep Fear, Forever Cold’ find the middle ground between Conan’s primitive bludgeon and Magma’s histrionic story-telling and proceed to camp out there glugging moonshine until the early hours of the morning.

Closer ‘Lift The Sweet Veil’ might be Ghold’s most ecstatic tune yet, with its giant bass tone, life affirming riff and infectiously sugary, reverb smothered vocal melody all coalescing into a beautifully psychedelic yet unashamedly crushing pop banger. It’s also one of their most focussed albums, clocking in at just over half an hour but managing to cram a lot into that time. There’s no second wasted here at all, managing to sound hypnotic without being needlessly repetitious, heavy without being joyless, and abrasive without being tactless. This is yet another vibrant, inventive addition to the band's discography, and suggests that, even on album number five, Ghold are still just getting started. With the band’s creative juices showing no signs of drying up yet, and this album pushing into even more unexpected areas, it’s going to be thrilling to see where they take their sound from here.

Uniform & The Body - Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back
(Sacred Bones)

Having just released their live Roadburn collaboration with Thou on vinyl and gearing up to drop a remix album this October, what else would sludge metal’s most mercurial duo The Body do during their downtime but release another collaboration? Considering the rate they put out music, it’s remarkable that each release keeps feeling fresh and invigorating, and their second hook up with stark New York noise outfit Uniform is no exception. Whilst last year’s initial collab Mental Wounds Not Healing felt more like an EP, a tentative hodge-podge of rough ideas and experiments, Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back is a lot more fleshed out and fully-realised by comparison, containing a much more organic flow and more elaborate, powerful songs. If Mental Wounds was both bands getting to know each other during an awkward first date before sheepishly kissing, Everything That Dies finds them fucking each other like animals and basking in the sweat drenched afterglow.

Whilst opening tracks ‘Gallows In Heaven’ and ‘Not Good Enough’ both start off with very Uniform sounding noise pieces transforming into very The Body sounding sludge-a-thons (complete with surreal interplay between Michael Berdan’s coarse, very human sounding shout and Chip King’s shrill, very alien sounding shriek), things get a whole lot stranger after the wistful new-wave banger ‘Vacancy’. ‘Patron Saint Of Regret’ unexpectedly blasts into creepy, haunted house trap as SRSQ (aka singer Kennedy Ashlyn) does her best Lisa Gerrard impression, and the woozy, disorientating 808 hits, pitch-shifted Memphis rap samples and seething high-frequency noise of ‘Day Of Atonement’ come across like DJ Screw let loose on the Whitehouse discography. By the time ‘Contempt’ rolls around, the album comes full circle with both bands uniting atop slow motion hardcore riffing, twinkling ‘80s horror soundtrack keys, uncharacteristically sleazy lead work and distorted drums that sound like buildings collapsing. Great stuff.

Hope Drone - Void Lustre
(Moment Of Collapse)

Australian quartet Hope Drone unveil the follow-up to their 2015 Relapse debut Cloak Of Ash this month too, presenting a further refinement of their fusion of gloomy post-metal with windswept atmospheric black metal. Opener ‘Being Into Nothingness’ is a slow-burner, building anticipation with creepy, Cult Of Luna-esque chords and lumbering rhythms, before gradually increasing the tempo until the song explodes into full-on swarm-of-angry-bees black metal. ‘Forged By The Tide’, the only track under the ten minute mark, is the most immediate offering here, a potent distillation of expansive Weakling style black metal into a neat, comparatively bite sized structure, but the band are just at home on the lengthy epics that make up the rest of the album. ‘This Body Will Be Ash’ focuses more on hypnotic, droning textures and captivating ambience, whilst seventeen minute finale ‘In Shifting Lights’ drifts through fields of yearning, blistering high-end guitar workouts before arriving at a furious, blastbeat addled crescendo.

Truthfully, beyond blending post and black metal, Hope Drone don’t do a whole lot here that hasn’t been done by a host of other bands prior, but they play with such gusto and conviction that it doesn’t really matter. If you’re not a fan of this sort of stuff, it’ll likely go in one ear and out the other, but for fans of either genre, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Russian Circles - Blood Year
(Sargent House)

In some ways, you could view Russian Circles’ discography as the inverse of fellow instrumental post-metallers Pelican; whilst the latter made a splash with a handful of gleefully heavy records before drifting off into overly civil post-rock drudgery, it’s taken Russian Circles several albums worth of bland aural wallpaper to arrive at the riffier, more visceral sound they demonstrated on albums like 2013’s Memorial. This new album could well be their heaviest, most immediate to date; the dense, taut chugging on songs like ‘Arluck’ and thick, viscous closer ‘Quartered’ could have come straight from Pelican’s magnum opus Australasia, whilst songs like ‘Milano’ and ‘Sinaia’ build to suitably low-end heavy climaxes. Indeed, Brian Cook’s driving, muscular bass lines are a highlight throughout, keeping the band’s celestial sound grounded and powerful.

Whilst there’s a lot to like about Blood Year, unfortunately the same issues that plagued earlier albums set in before the end of its almost 40 minute run time. There’s the nagging feeling that the trio’s sonic palate just isn’t dynamic, unique or expressive enough to stand out amidst the myriad of other bands currently playing very similar sounding music, and before long you’ll find yourself pining for a vocal hook, a wild synth line, a gnarlier guitar sound or something – anything – to inject a little bit more personality into the proceedings. Blood Year is by no means a bad record, and stands as one of the band’s more accomplished and well-realised works, but outside of the most dedicated post-metal obsessives, it’ll struggle to leave much of a lasting impact once it’s final portentous chords have rung out.

Devourment - Obscene Majesty
(Relapse)

There have been many inconsistencies, strange occurrences and hints of late that we may have slipped into a parallel universe, but none more convincing than that, in August of the year 2019, Tool’s comeback album fell flat whilst Devourment’s was… actually kind of awesome? Yes, the cartoon kings of slam are back this month too, having alienated their core fan-base and failed to convert legions of death metal elitists with 2013’s less slammin’, more traditionally deathly Conceived In Sewage. Obscene Majesty is something of a return to form then, harnessing the knuckle-dragging slams of the band’s early days with more contemporary tech-death stylings. Everything on this record sounds fucking disgusting, from the ludicrously detuned guitars to the bitingly pingy snare and original vocalist Ruben Rosas’ guttural burble, but this belies the surprising level of technical proficiency on display here. Rather than just firing out identikit slam riffs left, right and centre, most of Obscene Majesty sounds like a Suffocation record played at half the speed, filled with dizzying tempo shifts and deceivingly intricate riffing. Songs like ‘Narcissistic Paraphilia’ and ‘Profane Contagion’ manage to evoke slam’s rhythmic heft in more interesting ways than simply going “DUN DUN DUN DUN DUNDUNDUN DUN DUN” over and over, dishing out head-spinning grooves and absurdly fast double kick patterns. Even on songs like ‘Cognitive Sedation Butchery’ where they throw caution to the wind and delve head first into gratuitous pinch-laden slams, it’s all performed with such vigour and child-like enthusiasm that it’s hard not to be swept up in it. Lyrically, the band have even sought to atone for the intensely off-putting misogyny of earlier releases whilst retaining their penchant for gore with ‘Truculent Antipathy’, a song about a woman dismembering and immolating a rapist that contains the line “misandy rules misogyny” after describing the man being forced to deep-throat his own severed penis in graphic detail. Hey, it’s a start, right?

If you’ve never dug Devourment previously, this probably isn’t going to change your mind, but for an exercise in how to make a fresh, cliché-free slam record in 2019, this thing is surprisingly solid.

Cerebral Rot - Odious Descent Into Decay
(20 Buck Spin)

On the subject of filthy, primitive and degenerate death metal, this Cerebral Rot record ticks all the right boxes – albeit in a totally different way. Following on from last year’s impressive demo, the Seattle based quartet’s debut full-length is an old school delight, drawing on the doom-laden murk of Autopsy, the wonky bounce of Demilich and the palpably sinister atmosphere of Convulse. It fits right in alongside the new school of old school death metal movement we’re currently experiencing (think Undergang, Tomb Mold, or that killer new Fetid album that landed a few months ago, which also features guitarist Clyle Lindstrom) but with enough of their own personality to keep things interesting.

There’s a certain progressive quality to these songs (particularly seven minute epics like the opening title track and ‘Sardonic Repentance’, a truly evil sounding number that makes particularly effective of booming church bells) without ever going into full flowery shirt territory, maintaining a thoroughly gruesome, macabre and direct atmosphere throughout. Whilst there’s no shortage of typically low, guttural sounds here (check out the moment in ‘Reeking Septic Mass’ where a pounding oompah beat propels vocals that sound like a snoring Kthulu into the stratosphere), the albums most distinctive sonic component is the high-pitched, grating guitar sound, the sonic equivalent of the piercingly unpleasant musk that seeps out of a freshly pried open coffin. Usually it’s reserved for leads, but on the title track it’s used very effectively as an extra textural tool, and it’s even weaved into the hook of ‘Swamped In Festering Excrementia’, one of the album’s stand out tracks and an accurate description of the record as a whole. If they can maintain this level of momentum and obscene riff craft, there’s nothing to stop Cerebral Rot rising to the top of this new OSDM scene.

Witch Vomit - Buried Deep In A Bottomless Grave
(20 Buck Spin)

Cerebral Rot face stiff competition from Portland’s Witch Vomit however, who’ve released an absolute belter in the form of second album Buried Deep In A Bottomless Grave. At just over a minute shorter than Reign In Blood, there is absolutely no flab on this album whatsoever, dishing out ripping, raw and thoroughly filthy death metal with callous disregard for minimal atmospheric intros, progressiveness or, well, just about anything that doesn’t involve staving your head in with sinister, hyper-aggressive Incantation style riffery. That’s not to say that this is strictly meat & potatoes type stuff, mind you, as the quartet manage to squeeze in a lot of angular, interesting passages in amongst the filth; it all just whips past at such ferocious pace that you’ll barely have time to appreciate their creepy, dissonant chord choices or eerie lead placements whilst banging your head to tunes like the raging ‘Dripping Tombs’. The swift, ruthlessly efficient title track is infectiously brutal whilst just oozing classic death metal charm, flying past in a blur of divebomb solos, Dismember-esque riffery and manic blastbeats, whilst the instrumental ‘Squirming In Misery’ demonstrates the band’s keen musicianship without getting too wanky. If you’re looking for a swift, sharp blast of unpretentious filth, this will not disappoint.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.