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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: October's Metal Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , October 21st, 2019 07:52

Kez Whelan is back with Teitanblood's long game, the reliable death doom of Coffins, the bee-keeper themed extreme metal of Wallowing and much more

Lyrics can often be an overlooked part of metal, with the genre often being unfairly painted as nothing more than a hive of mindless gore, fantasy clichés and macho bravado by those who have never taken the time to delve beneath the surface – not to mention that age-old response of “what, there are lyrics for this?!” when a listener unaccustomed to harsh vocals is suddenly introduced to the incomprehensible guttural burble of, say, Demilich, for example.

And whilst there’s nothing wrong with using vocals as a wordless, purely expressive textural instrument (and metal can often excel in this regard too), it’s a shame that so many of metal’s most accomplished wordsmiths often go unsung, drowned out by the din of their bands or, indeed, the intensity of their own delivery.

To all those trying to argue this point to the non-believers out there, I say thrust ‘em a copy of this month’s new Dawn Ray’d album Behold Sedition Plainsong, one of the most lyrically astute black metal records ever recorded. I haven’t delved into detail here due to covering it elsewhere, but rest assured it is essential, and its eloquent and moving lyrical takedowns of everything from corrupt leaders to inhuman immigration laws and even the inherent ridiculousness of black metal itself are incredibly refreshing, and an ample reminder that metal still has an important and articulate voice.

Then again, this month also saw Machine Head return with some of the most abysmal lyrics in the genre’s history, in which a 52 year old man somehow delivers lines like “I hear you motherfuckers talk, talk, talk/I’ll bless your body with some chalk, chalk, chalk” with not only a straight face, but an astonishingly misplaced sense of smug superiority. Oh well, one step forwards, two steps back… Can we all just agree that any band that acknowledges the existence of internet memes in a song has not only jumped the shark, but catapulted their lifeless, flailing body so far over the aforementioned great white with such velocity that we should never speak of them again and just move on with our lives instead? Deal? OK, cool, now get this in your ears pronto…

Teitanblood - The Baneful Choir
(Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

Despite this only being their third full-length in the decade that’s passed since 2009 debut Seven Chalices, Spanish duo Teitanblood have come to be one of the most revered acts in that subterranean middle ground between cavernous death metal, esoteric black metal and feral war metal. It’s a testament to their quality over quantity approach that, without any extensive marketing campaigns or media hype, the release of The Baneful Choir this month has been greeted by the same rabid enthusiasm that met 2014’s impenetrable yet masterful second opus Death. Unlike Death however, which opened with the immediately explosive ‘Anteinfierno’, The Baneful Choir begins on a much more subdued note with the terrifying dark ambience of ‘Rapture Below’. Even first song proper ‘Black Vertebrae’ is curiously slow and reserved, with primordial doom licks wrapped in tar and warped into repulsive new shapes. It suits the duo’s sound though, simmering their usual fiery bluster into an almost unbearably tense crawl, before shit finally hits the fan with ‘Leprous Fire’ and the dense, resolutely furious whirlwind that is ‘Ungodly Others’, flying past in a blur of brutal blasts, terrifyingly fast clusters of mutated black/death riffery and NSK’s otherworldly growl, not so much speaking in tongues as howling, drenched in delay and a truly evil aura. The title tracks veers between the two approaches, constructing a similarly hellish soundscape to short lived Sunn O))) side-project Pentemple before unleashing an eviscerating rumble that sounds like every Blasphemy song playing simultaneously in a wind tunnel. It’s disorientating in the best way, and hypnotic whilst aggressively confrontational. Whilst a lot of modern acts ploughing the same kind of war metal inspired vein can sound almost comically thin and flimsy, Teitanblood have always stood out with a thick, imposing sound that has a real physical presence to it, like a towering, grotesque pillar constructed of human flesh, offal and the skin of some unknowable cosmic horror. The Baneful Choir does not disappoint in this regard, and whilst it may not have the same immediately primeval impact that Death has, it feels more dynamic and mysterious, with layers upon layers of immersive, atmospheric textures seasoning its barbaric bludgeon.

Blut Aus Nord - Hallucinogen
(Debemur Morti)

It’s amazing that French black metal outfit Blut Aus Nord can be so chameleonic from release to release, but still manage to retain the same distinctive vibe each time. You never quite know what you’re going to get from a new Blut Aus Nord record, and sure enough, after finishing off his epic, windswept black metal trilogy with 2014’s Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry and delving back into murky industrial territory for 2017’s Deus Salutis Meæ, Hallucinogen once again finds mastermind Vindsval embarking on a new direction; this time, perhaps the most drastic reinvention yet. As the name implies, Hallucinogen takes a much more psychedelic approach to the band’s dark, atmospheric sound, with songs like opener ‘Nomos Nebuleam’ and ‘Sybelius’ offering up vast, mind scorching psych-rock guitar leads atop rolling blastbeats, wrist-aching tremolo riffs and eerie, forlorn melodies, like some strange fusion of Ozric Tentacles and the first Ulver record.

These solos never feel gauche or tactless though, often acting as irresistible hooks and swirling through the blackened morass to create genuinely heady, disorientating soundscapes. Vocals take a backseat throughout, relegated to distant chants rather than deafening screeches, but this works wonders in context. Songs like ‘Anthosmos’ manage to make rich choral swells feel distinctly inhuman, lending them a bizarre hypnagogic quality and allowing the song’s vibrant musicianship to take centre stage. When more traditional black metal riffs do enter the fray (as in closer ‘Cosma Procyiris’), they neither feel hamfisted nor perfunctory, complementing and grounding the churning psychedelic vortex surrounding them in a very natural, organic way. It’s difficult to single out individual songs however, as the whole album flows astonishingly well as one long, uninterrupted piece, drifting like a seemingly infinite well of cascading, bittersweet melody in the same way Transylvanian Hunger did – albeit with a much more diverse and esoteric sonic palate. Don’t be deterred by the dauntingly dense ‘shrooms adorning the cover; this is one trip that’s definitely worth taking.

Coffins - Beyond The Circular Demise

Unlike Blut Aus Nord, you know pretty much exactly what you’re going to get with a new Coffins release – namely, dank, filthy and impossibly thick death/doom in the vein of Autopsy, Winter or Hooded Menace – but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. It’s been a full six years since their last LP, the functional but somewhat by-the-numbers The Fleshland, and only long serving guitarist Uchino and drummer Satoshi remain from that line-up. Beyond The Circular Demise finds the new incarnation of Coffins sounding rejuvenated, despite not deviating drastically from their tried and tested formula. Sure enough, the deliciously primitive one-two punch of d-beat laden opener ‘Terminate By Own Prophecy’ and the slimy, crawling, wah-bass infested ‘The Tranquil End’ (new four-stringer Masafumi Atake really shines on this one) feel fresh and invigorating but instantly familiar. ‘Forgotten Cemetery’ and the big, bouncy ‘Insane’ are classic hooky Coffins bangers in the vein of ‘Evil Infection’, whilst ‘Hour Of Execution’ delves back into more doomed climes, complete with wailing dive bomb leads, before erupting in a flurry of blasts and gnarly detuned chugging.

Coffins will probably never top their 2008 magnum opus Buried Death in terms of sheer sonic force, but it’s good to have them back anyway – there aren’t many death/doom acts about nowadays who manage to combine this kind of catchiness and disgusting, abject filth with such grace. Well, maybe “grace" is the wrong word for a record that ends with the snail paced, stomach churning dirge of ‘Gateways To Dystopia’, but hey, you get the picture.

Cloud Rat - Pollinator

Michigan trio Cloud Rat’s ascent from one of the most interesting acts on the early days of Jay Randall’s Grindcore Karaoke label to become one of the one most original, inventive and cathartic modern grind bands has been an absolute joy to behold. After dropping two incredible full-lengths in 2013’s ravenous Moksha and it’s even more diverse, dynamic follow-up, 2016’s Qliphoth, the band spread their wings across various splits, experimenting with long-form doom epics (on the Disrotted split) and even moody, nocturnal synth-pop (with Moloch). All of which meant anything could happen on album number three, but after fully indulging their goth tendencies on the excellent new EP Do Not Let Me Off The Cliff, Pollinator finds Cloud Rat returning to a more organic, stripped down and furiously grinding affair, as songs like ‘Webspinner’, whiplash-inducing ‘Seven Heads’ and Discordance Axis style 40-second rager ‘Zula’ will attest.

That’s not to say this album feels regressive though, as Cloud Rat have never just sounded like your standard grind band anyway. The trio still get away with throwing in melodic punk licks in songs like ‘Wonder’, haunting, almost theatrical vocals in ‘Night Song’ and early screamo influences in, well, a significant chunk of the record actually, and it all gels together to form a sound that is unequivocally theirs. ‘Luminescent Cellar’ deserves a special mention too, with the moment the intro’s stark, fragile chords give way to one of the year’s burliest chug riffs being a particular highlight. Pollinator is the sound of a band, after almost a decade of existence, fully understanding what makes their sound so great and performing it at the peak of their powers.

No One Knows What The Dead Think - No One Knows What The Dead Think

Speaking of Discordance Axis, they’re back too! Well, sort of – No One Knows What The Dead Think finds vocalist Jon Chang reuniting with guitarist Rob Marton for the first time in eighteen years, with the drum stool being occupied by Cohol and Abort Mastication’s Kyosuke Nakano rather than former sticksman Dave Witte. Whilst it would have been easy (and perhaps more lucrative) for the band to dust off the old Discordance Axis moniker again for this, you have to respect their decision to preserve the integrity of that original lineup’s chemistry, even if No One Knows What The Dead Think make no secret of their intention to further that iconic Discordance Axis sound – just check out the blistering rendition of classic Ulterior opener ‘Dominion’ that closes the record, bringing the whole thing full-circle, for proof.

‘Yorha’ starts the album in suitably explosive fashion, and it’s a thrill to hear Marton’s dissonant, razor-sharp playing once again. Oft imitated, nobody has really come close to the compact, head-spinning and imaginatively precise riffing style he has – not even Chang’s cherished Gridlink project, which, whilst similarly ferocious, felt born more of a steady diet of early Slayer and old video game soundtracks. Marton’s style, by comparison, is far more alien and hard to pin down, and he’s on fine form here, whether racing through blistering fretboard workouts on tracks like ‘Dagger Before Me’ and the skin-flaying ‘Kaine’, or drawing out the uneasy, unsettling beauty in the discordant clang of songs like ‘Rakuyo’. Chang’s piercing shriek doesn’t seem to have aged a day either, and whilst Nakano’s style is a bit more clinical than Witte’s punk-indebted furore, he whips up a storm on the kit and blasts like an absolute manic throughout nonetheless, really taking songs like the lightspeed ‘Cinder’ to the next level. Sure, so No One Knows What The Dead Think may not topple the likes of The Inalienable Dreamless, but those are large shoes to fill, and if you’ve been pining after another eighteen minutes of wild, abrasive sci-fi grind ever since Discordance Axis called it a day, this will hit the spot and then some.

Mizmor - Cairn

Portland based one-man band Mizmor (AKA מזמור) made a big splash with 2016’s breakthrough album Yodh, landing a much sought-after spot at Roadburn off the back of its curious mixture of cold, harsh black metal and luscious, melancholy funeral doom. Cairn, the project’s third and latest album to date, presents an even further refinement of that sound, with opener ‘Desert Of Absurdity’ transitioning between righteous blasting and thoroughly miserable slabs of doomed out riffery. Main man A.L.N.’s vocals are better than ever too, with his otherworldly high-register shriek sounding genuinely inhuman and contrasting with his deep, resonant growl perfectly. There’s maybe more of an emphasis of doom this time round, which may disappoint fans of the more blackened Yodh, despite how convincingly devastating slow tracks like ‘Carin Of God’, the aural equivalent of falling into a black hole, or the Mournful Congregation-esque ‘The Narrowing Way’ are.

Cairn is something of a concept album too, focusing on the inherent absurdity of existence and the deep cognitive dissonance that comes along with that realisation. The lyrics here are well worth delving into, underpinning the record with a more thought-provoking and intriguing vibe than some of the more stoic, one-dimensional black or doom metal acts out there. This is another sterling step forward for Mizmor, and will make a superb soundtrack for your seasonal depression this year.

Alunah - Violet Hour
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Brummie doom quartet Alunah are back with a brand new lineup, with Violet Hour being their first full-length with Siân Greenaway on the mic and Diamond Head’s Dean Ashton on guitar. Siân made quite an impression on last year’s Amber & Gold EP, but she’s really come into her own here, elevating the band’s anthemic, doomy sound to a whole new level. Wisely, she doesn’t try and imitate previous vocalist/guitarist Sophie Day’s more eerie, melancholy approach, instead confidently stamping her own personality all over this record, whether unleashing crisp, soaring wails on songs like upbeat opener ‘Trapped And Bound’ and the gothic yet groovy title track, husky, dulcet intonations on the sultry ‘Hunt’ or angelic falsetto on the epic ‘Hypnotized’. Think of it like Black Sabbath’s switch from Ozzy to Dio; they’re both fantastic and unique vocalists in their own right, but not really directly comparable.

To keep that analogy going, you could definitely argue that Violet Hour is Alunah’s Heaven And Hell; a thorough reimagining of the band’s sound that incorporates more direct hard rock influences in a particularly bombastic, life affirming way. Songs like ‘Dance Of Deceit’ and the Windhand-esque ‘Unholy Disease’ are some of the most driving, catchy numbers Alunah have put to tape yet, with Dean’s ear for heavy yet extremely hooky riffery shining through. ‘Velvet’ and the morose, folky ‘Lake Of Fire’ bring more of the band’s older, doomier atmospheres, but with a newfound focus and righteous power about them. This is one of Alunah’s finest records to date, and an immensely powerful start to the second chapter of their career.

Torpor - Rhetoric Of The Image
(Truthseeker, Sludgelord, Medusa Crush, Smiths Food Group DIY, Moment Of Collapse)

Also returning after a vocalist switch-around this month are London post-metallers Torpor, with their hulking second album Rhetoric Of The Image. Their debut From Nothing Comes Everything arrived like a breath of fresh air in an over-crowded sludge scene back in 2015, with a genuinely distinctive and unique riffing style complimented by the inimitable vocals of frontwoman Nats Spada. Though Nats left to join Watchcries shortly after, the trio were undeterred, debuting a new but similarly crushing sound on a split with Bristol’s Sonance in 2016, with each member taking turns on the mic. That split was great, but felt like the best from the band was still yet to come, and sure enough, with Rhetoric that new sound has fully blossomed and flourished into something pretty spectacular indeed. The band’s tumultuous, churning riffs sound heavier and more characteristic than ever, with opener ‘Benign Circle’ offering more emotive chords that really tug on the ol’ heartstrings before crashing into the kind of immense, sickeningly huge groove that this band does so well. ‘Enigmatic Demand’ sounds even bigger, flattening the listener with waves of rolling, detuned chords and intoxicating high-end ambience. Guitarist Jon Taylor’s throaty bellow sounds devastating atop it all, coming across like a more guttural version of Cult Of Luna’s Johannes Persson. Aside from the three lengthy, doomier songs on offer here, the two shorter, more ambient tracks are just as vital, feeling like fantastic pieces of music in their own right rather than just a quick breather in between the suffocating weight of the songs surrounding them – ‘Two Heads On Gold’ in particular has an amazing sense of space to it, smothering mournful chord progressions in buckets of hypnotic reverb with an incredibly effective interplay between bassist Lauren Mason’s haunting spoken word and drummer Simon Mason’s harrowing, pained cries.

Though the future of Torpor may have seemed unclear after their debut, Rhetoric Of The Image reaffirms the band as one of the most powerful post-metal acts in the UK right now. It’s a very different beast to its predecessor, but also a perfect follow-up in many ways; what it lacks in the immediacy and vitriol of From Everything…, it makes up for with a slow-burning but supremely potent atmosphere and some of the most oppressively heavy riffs you’ll hear this year.

Opium Lord - Vore

Torpor aren’t the only distinctive UK sludge act to return after a lengthy gap this month either – everyone’s favourite Black Country miserablists Opium Lord are back! Their 2015 debut The Calendrical Cycle: Eye Of Earth stood out against the legions of pentatonic Eyehategod worshippers with its uneasy atmosphere, jazzy drumming and inventive and effective use of dual guitars, fusing meaty riffs with seething discordant textures. Vore seems to pick up exactly where they left off, whilst broadening their sound a tad and dropping some more surprises along the way.

‘WWCD’, for example, makes for a disarming opener, granting Nathan Coyle’s shrieked vocals centre-stage atop curiously clean sounding guitars, which, rather than kicking in with deafening distortion, eventually blur into a simmering mass of high-end crackle. It’s a particularly uncomfortable, confrontational way to start an album, and makes the thunderous stomp of ‘Lead Magnet’ seem all the more forceful by comparison. Elsewhere, ‘Suture’ manages to make an awkward, stunted groove sound bizarrely danceable whilst noisy Caspar Brötzmann style guitar acrobatics flail away beneath, and there’s a heart-stopping moment in ‘Sherwood Is Connector’ where the band’s punishing bludgeon abruptly cuts out, giving way to delicate yet profoundly sinister clean chords – Khanate would be proud. Vore finds Opium Lord pushing the envelope even further and reveling in their own prickly weirdness, and it’s all the better for it.

Wallowing - Planet Loss

Sludgelord Records score a hat-trick this month, with the exceptionally well-realised debut of Brighton quintet Wallowing making up their third must-have release in as many weeks. Drawing from doom, grind, noise and death metal fairly equally, the band’s sound is difficult to pin down, creating an unhinged maelstrom that doesn’t really feel directly comparable to anything else in the UK underground right now. Their eye-catching visual aesthetic is the icing on the cake, with live shows finding the group decked out in bee-keeper outfits, and Planet Loss’s evocative concept involving planetary destruction and human enslavement at the hands of sinister alien overlords illustrated fantastically by artist Luke Oram. Even without delving into the elaborate story underpinning it and holding it together though, the album feels ruthlessly coherent, flowing as one long, continuous piece with slow, drawn-out doom-a-thons like ‘Earthless’ transitioning effortlessly into the noisy, feedback tinged grind of ‘Phosgene’ – imagine some delirious, sleep-deprived collaboration between Dragged Into Sunlight, Full Of Hell and Bastard Noise but with more humongous, IQ-dropping caveman riffs. ‘Vessel’ feels positively transcendental, spiralling through psychedelic, emotive chords before crashing into thick torrents of morbid gloom.

The production is fantastic too, with a guitar tone that manages to sound inescapably filthy whilst retaining a lot of clarity and definition. Running at just 31 minutes, Planet Loss feels expertly plotted for both maximum destruction and immersion with no space for filler or dead weight, and bodes very well for future instalments of Wallowing’s nightmarish, dystopian riff saga.

Harrowed - Chaotic Nonentity
(Feast Of Tentacles/Superfi)

UK hardcore trio Harrowed are back this month too, with the long-awaited follow up to their raging 2013 debut Into Inferno. Any fears that the bands caustic blend of aggro punk battery, grinding intensity and sludgy riffery would have mellowed in the intervening six years are immediately put to rest as soon as opener ‘Stark Terrors’ kicks down the doors with absolutely ferocious blastbeats and the kind of impossibly infectious breakdown that’ll make you want to flip your desk over and spin kick yourself into oblivion. ‘Postmodern Prison’ continues in a similarly speedy vein, before songs like ‘Disconnexion’ and the desolate, paranoid sounding ‘Derelict’ dish out some sludgier, more ominous grooves, and ‘Inauthenticide’ injects a bit of brash, Cursed-esque swagger into the proceedings. ‘Disused Limbs’ even augments it’s hulking great riffs with a bit of a noise rock feel à la KEN Mode at their most pissed off, whilst the closing title track pairs frantic Slayer-isms against the kind of imposingly heavy riff that feels weighty enough to snap an elephant’s knees. This is suitably fucking savage and essential listening for fans of bleak, metal indebted hardcore. Welcome back lads!

Mortiferum - Disgorged From Psychotic Depths
(Profound Lore)

This Olympia death metal quartet surely take the award for this month’s bleakest album however, with their appropriately titled debut Disgorged From Psychotic Depths delivering fetid, nasty death/doom in the vein of diSEMBOWELMENT or Spectral Voice. The band’s 2017 demo Altar Of Decay showed a lot of promise, and this full-length certainly doesn’t disappoint, boasting an even nastier guitar tone, a much fuller production and a truly rancid bass sound that will really shake the dust off your subwoofer. The songs themselves feel more ambitious but tighter and more efficient too, with tracks like opener ‘Archaic Vision Of Despair’ conjuring a truly morose, funereal presence. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘Inhuman Effigy’ pick up the pace with intense blastbeats before dropping into immensely satisfying knuckle-dragging grooves, as guitarist/vocalist M. Bowman unleashes ungodly guttural belches that sound like Cthulhu with a chest infection. The eight minute ‘Putrid Ascension’ covers the best of both worlds, taking the wonky, intoxicated lurch of Mental Funeral era Autopsy and slowing it down even further to create a really unsettling, delirious sounding groove. When the song eventually erupts into more frantic tremolo picking, it has a palpably deranged quality to it, and the sinisterly melodic final coda will send a chill down your spine.

At just over half an hour, Disgorged… is long enough to let the full oppressive force of its cumbersome dirges truly take effect, but never overstays its welcome or lapses into drudgery. All in all, this is a very solid slab of morbid death/doom, and certainly marks Mortiferum as a band to keep an ear on.

Gatecreeper - Deserted

Finally, if you dug Arizona quintet Gatecreeper’s first album, you’re gonna love this new one. Songs like ‘Puncture Wounds’, the stomping ‘Ruthless’ and absolute anthem ‘Barbaric Pleasures’ deliver more of the brash, hardcore tinged death metal that made 2016’s Sonoran Depravation so infectious, whilst songs like ‘From The Ashes’ introduce more melodic, Dismember-esque passages and the lumbering ‘Everlasting’ channels the spirit of early Obituary, complete with some seriously throat scraping howls. Closer ‘Absence Of Light’ even dips it’s toes into grimy death/doom territory, carrying a strong Asphyx vibe with it’s thick, grim chords and torturous yet melancholy guitar harmonies. Sonically, this thing is mean as fuck; the guitar tone is huge, the drums are booming and punch through the mix with total clarity and vocalist Chase Mason’s deep, authoritative growl is sounding more menacing than ever. However, in what has been another banner year for contemporary death metal, there’s something very meat and potatoes about Gatecreeper’s more simplistic, basic sound, especially when compared to peers like Tomb Mold or Blood Incantation – but it’s difficult to begrudge them for that. These aren’t just your regular spuds and processed pig fat, after all, but some of the most succulent meat and potatoes on the market. Deserted won’t blow your mind or change your perception of the genre, but it is a very satisfying chunk of no-nonsense death metal – and sometimes that’s all you need.