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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For April Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , April 22nd, 2020 08:40

Kez Whelan is back with the rock down in lockdown - Columnus Metallicus with reviews of Testament, Oranssi Pazuzu, Gnaw Their Tongues and more!

Oranssi Pazuzu

Can you believe it’s only been a month since we last served up another metric fucktonne of new metal releases for you to gorge upon? It feels like so much has happened during that time, and yet, for those in the midst of self-isolation, so little has happened at all.

But whether you’re stuck at home counting your ceiling tiles and watching as time melts away into nothingness, or bravely striding through empty streets each morning for another day of “essential” work, there’s one thing I’m sure we could all benefit from right now: abundant, properly sterilised PPE.

We can’t really help you on that front though, but we can get you the next best thing: a great big greasy grab bag of piping hot new metal records to stick in your ears and drown out the incessant screech of 24 hour rolling news. Buckle up, lads…

Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin Kynsi
(Nuclear Blast)

Of all the weird and wonderful places metal went to over the past decade, there’s a convincing case to be made that Oranssi Pazuzu’s Värähtelijä was one of the most genuinely psychedelic metal albums of the 2010s. The Finnish quintet’s first three records were all great too, each fusing sinister black metal, enveloping doom and unsettling hallucinogenic flourishes in increasingly volatile and unpredictable ways, but Värähtelijä was just something else, the kind of stuff that feels psychedelic in potentially dangerous, reality altering ways, not just in a “Let’s whack a load of delay on these keyboards and call it day” sense. I don’t think I’ve ever put that record on in front of anyone, no matter their musical persuasion, and it not elicited a response of, “Holy shit, what is this?!” (with varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on said persuasion, of course). All of which makes the arrival of the group’s fifth album pretty damn exciting – even more so when we discover they’ve got even weirder in the interim.

Whilst the influence of dark, minimal pulsing electronica seemed to echo around the edges of Värähtelijä, it’s been brought into a sharper focus on Mestarin Kynsi, with opener ‘Ilmestys’ welcoming the listener with waves of throbbing synths and stark, repetitive rhythms like Cluster’s evil twin. ‘Kuulen Ääniä Maan Alta’ hides a thoroughly malevolent riff behind sparkling John Carpenter style melodies and a stuttering, techno inspired drum beat before it finally erupts into a blizzard of filth, but ‘Uusi Teknokratia’ is even more bizarre, as it dashes madly through cascades of erratic bleeps and pulsating keys, what sounds like a skipping Neurosis CD played at an uncomfortably high frequency, galaxies of twisted Lustmord-ian ambience and sparse dubby basslines, and a crazy lead passage that sounds like Ron Asheton cracking open the Ark of the Covenant and peeling out one final ear-bleeding solo before he melts away. It is wild, and manages to flow really organically and confidently, as disorientating and obtuse as it undoubtedly is.

The core of the band still revolves around riding gigantic riffs into oblivion however, as they do nicely on tracks like ‘Tyhjyyden Sakramentti’, which intersperses spiralling interdimensional riff worship with screeching great shards of noise that sound like tears in the fabric of space and time itself, or ‘Oikeamielisten Sali’, a space rock-esque cut that binges so hard on a particularly dense, doomy riff that it eventually collapses in on itself completely in a blur of cinematic, technicolour textures and searing, euphoric keys that beam down like blistering sun rays on the earthy, ragged tom drums pounding away beneath.

It’s difficult to compare Mestarin Kynsi to Värähtelijä; whilst it may not arrive on the same level of monolithic, bewilderment-causing lack of precedent that its predecessor did, it manages to reach out into new directions for the band whilst invoking a similarly surreal atmosphere and, if you’re willing to give yourself over to it, will scramble your brain all over again.

Testament - Titans Of Creation
(Nuclear Blast)

With their 40th anniversary fast approaching, I think we can comfortably admit now that Testament have aged far more gracefully than any of the Big Four. Granted, they’ve never had a peak as high as a Reign In Blood or a Master Of Puppets, but then, they’ve never sunk as low as a St. Anger either. Even their mandatory Naff ‘90s Groove Metal Phase™ had more bite than their peers, with records like the James Murphy and Dave Lombardo featuring The Gathering holding up a lot better than either of the Loads, for instance. Since returning to their straight-up thrash roots on 2008’s The Formation Of Damnation, the Bay Area quintet got darker, heavier and more introspective on records like 2012’s Dark Roots Of Earth and 2016’s Brotherhood Of The Snake whilst retaining that same bombastic, foot-on-the-monitor glory that made records like 87’s The Legacy such classics.

New LP Titans Of Creation is pretty much business as usual then, maybe easing off on that darkness ever so slightly in favour of more huge, stupidly satisfying thrash riffs, but still delivering the same level of quality we’ve come to expect from the band. That’s not to say this thing is all sunshine and rainbows however; despite presumably being written before this current crisis and vocalist Chuck Billy’s diagnosis with COVID-19, songs like ‘Symptoms’ and the barnstorming, anthemic ‘WWIII’ feel alarmingly prescient for these times, the latter especially warning that “Everyone is gonna die / There is no escape / Your lungs turning black / No one can save you / It’s Armageddon!” At a solid hour, there’s definitely some signs of bloat in the middle of this thing (songs like the over-long riff salad ‘City Of Angels’ do little aside from padding out the tracklisting, for example), but it’s book-ended by some of the most immediate, catchy and joyously ferocious tunes Testament have penned in years. ‘Dream Deceiver’s soaring, infectious chorus is destined to be hollered back at the band by rabid festival crowds the world over next summer, whilst tracks like ‘The Healers’ and the rip-roaring, no-nonsense ‘Curse Of Osiris’ demonstrate guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick’s appreciation for more extreme forms of metal, with deathly riffage seamlessly weaving in and out of brash thrash battery. Titans Of Creation isn’t world-altering, by it’s a very solid slab of thrash indeed.

Cirith Ungol - Forever Black
(Metal Blade)

Despite never truly getting their dues whilst active, the legend of unsung metal pioneers Cirith Ungol has only grown as the years roll past, with the band attaining a kind of cult status these days. Formed in the early 70s, the Californians were always something of an acquired taste (in no small part due to frontman Tim Baker’s outrageous banshee wail, sounding like Bon Scott gargling acid whilst hosting a D&D game), but the role they played in helping metal transition from its bluesy, hard rock origins into the harder, more robustly metallic sound that dominated the ‘80s is not to be underestimated. Having disbanded after the release of their fourth album, 1991’s Paradise Lost, the band reformed back in 2015, with the tantalising single Witch’s Game leaving fans curious to see what a 21st century full-length from the band would sound like.

The answer, thankfully, is a lot like Cirith Ungol. The production is expectedly a lot thicker and more contemporary whilst retaining a nice organic feel to it, but aside from that, Forever Black could have quite comfortably been beamed directly from their mid 80s heyday. Even Baker’s unique howl sounds like it’s been frozen in ice for the past three decades, before being chipped off into blocks and dropped into an aged glass of bourbon. The band cover a lot of ground here, ranging from groovy 70s-esque anthems like ‘Legions Arise’ and ‘The Fire Divine’, driving bluesy cuts that would have felt right at home on their debut Frost And Fire, to more involved, progressive and unashamedly metal epics more in tune with their doomy 84 masterwork King Of The Dead, like the serpentine licks and Maiden-esque pulse of ‘The Frost Monstreme’ or the soaring, theatrical and moody ‘Stormbringer’. ‘Before Tomorrow’ sits somewhere between the two, stomping around like a sedated Judas Priest with grandiose harmonies and thick fist-in-the-air chugs.

Forever Black isn’t completely free of that stodgy paunch that hangs around the majority of post-reunion albums, and it may not break any new ground for Cirith Ungol, but with something here to please fans of each of the band’s distinct eras all tied together into a rich, punchy and joyously classic heavy metal album experience, it’s as good a reunion record as you could hope for, really.

Gnaw Their Tongues - I Speak The Truth, Yet With Every Word Uttered, Thousands Die
(Consouling Sounds)

If you’re after something more harrowing and apocalyptic to suit the current vibe you can, as always, rely on Gnaw Their Tongues (AKA Maurice de Jong) to provide some of the most torturous, obscene and thoroughly fucked up music around. It’s amazing that even after so many releases (Gnaw Their Tongues is but one of his many projects and their discography alone is longer than your local panic buyer’s last Tesco receipt), Maurice is still able to scrape new depths of audio depravity. I Speak The Truth, Yet With Every Word Uttered, Thousands Die (another title that was presumably construed before this mess but seems uncomfortably fitting) is another deep dive into a disquieting blend of harsh noise and extreme metal that somehow manages to sound both fresh and uncomfortably familiar. ‘Here Is No Corruption’ centres unsettling bass frequencies and painful shrieks around a dark techno pulse, like Regis locked in Helvete’s dungeon and forced to fight his way out through hordes of black metal vocalists, whilst ‘White Void Black Wounds’ pushes into even more extreme territory, blurring the lines between black metal and gabber with a smog of distorted filth and pounding, incessant beats at confrontational tempos.

Skeletal, fractured rhythms peer through the gloomy, skin crawling murk of songs like ‘A Sombre Gesture In The Faint Light Of Dusk’ and horrific closer ‘Shall Be No More’ too, as shards of cut-up cymbal hits slice through dramatic pads and gut wobbling bass drops, but a lot of I Speak The Truth dwells in more formless, beatless territory. ‘Abortion Hymn’ is an uncomfortable industrial soundscape built on swells of clanking, clattering noise and Maurice’s terrifying howl, whilst the title track allows a deep, dissonant bass rumble to grow into an anxiety inducing drone. ‘Purity Coffin’ is even sparser, with piercing high-end horror soundtrack synths snapping away at the ears whilst cavernous swathes of hellish metallic scree crumble away beneath. If your world isn’t bleak enough at the moment and you want to plunge even further down the rabbit hole, then this will take you on one wild ride – just proceed with caution.

Black Curse - Endless Wound
(Sepulchral Voice Records)

I know we’re only four months into 2020 (and as these four months has proved, a lot can happen in that amount of time), but in Endless Wound, I reckon we’ve got an early contender for death metal album of the year. The album is Black Curse’s debut, but with members of Spectral Voice, Blood Incantation, Primitive Man and Khemmis amongst their ranks, there’s no doubting their pedigree. Don’t mistake this for one of those hastily assembled “supergroups” however, as this band is as real as they come, with an enormous, caustic and bristling sound that stands alone from their other projects. It’s more comparable to a leaner, punchier Teitanblood, with moments of chaotic, all-out Revenge-esque blasting bolstered by thunderous double-kick grooves and punishingly thick, weighty doom passages. The faster sections are absolutely savage, with the sumptuously crisp production accentuating every skin-flaying snare hit and aggressively tremolo picked note, whilst the slower sections feel genuinely oppressive, the suffocating bass tone keeping a tight hold of you whilst the guitars seep out into a myriad of murky, desolate textures. Check out the vast, hypnotic expanse that concludes ‘Enraptured By Decay’, for instance, complete with some truly harrowing, animalistic howls.

Black Curse never dwell on these slower moments for longer than they need to however, and shorter, more violent tracks like the insanely hostile opener ‘Charnel Rift’ or the skull-scrapingly abrasive ‘Seared Eyes’ are terrifyingly efficient. The title track, meanwhile, is absolutely lethal, delivering both ridiculously fast, precision blastbeats with dive-bomb leads that sound like a horse being torn in half and some of the album’s most desolate, sparse riffery in its midsection. The band seem to know exactly when to shift gears for maximum impact, whilst maintaining a palpably evil atmosphere and engagingly nasty riffing throughout. There’s not a dull moment on it, or even a moment that dips below “supremely fucking intense” – unless you’re counting the necessary atmospheric breather ‘Lifeless Sanctum’ halfway through, but even that manages to keep your rapt attention. This is a must-hear!

Ulcerate - Stare Into Death And Be Still
(Debemur Morti)

It’s been a good month for death metal all round really, with New Zealand tech-death kings Ulcerate finally returning with the follow-up to their resolutely vicious sixth album, 2016’s Shrines Of Paralysis. Never a band to rest on their laurels however, Stare Into Death And Be Still is perhaps the biggest curveball the trio have thrown us yet; rather than their usual oppressively dense, clustered wall-of-sound approach, the album has a lot more breathing room, opting for a far more patient slow-burn than the calculated chaos of their last few records. A song like ‘Exhale The Ash’, for example, dwells in much slower, more atmospheric climes than the band’s usual fare, allowing their sinister, evocative chord patterns more space to spread out, and when the track does eventually explode in a flurry of hyperblasts and ludicrously speedy dissonance, it feels all the more powerful and punishing for it. ‘Visceral Ends’ is even starker, slowing the pace right down to a crawl and pulling guitarist Michael Hoggard’s dark, majestically beautiful guitar lines into sharp focus, whilst the title track veers close to post-metal, with sweeping, melancholy guitar swells kept afloat by thunderous double-kick and incredibly intricate cymbal work. The song-writing is as strong as ever too, with tracks like ‘There Is No Horizon’ managing to be oddly catchy, despite the seemingly impenetrable layers of eerie guitar and the song’s outrageously fiddly, multifarious crescendo.

Stare Into Death And Be Still is probably Ulcerate’s most accessible offering to date, but that’s not to say this thing is simplistic by any means; the trio are still more than willing to flex their abstract, complex musical muscle, and whilst some fans may miss the overwhelming sensory overload approach of a record like The Destroyers Of All, there’s a stillness and unnervingly meditative quality to this record that allows it to hit emotional peaks and convey sensations that no other Ulcerate album has done before. It’s a record that rewards multiple listens too, unveiling new facets and nuances with every spin. Flowing smoothly and cohesively as one imposing hour of fearless, inventive extreme metal, this should be another essential item on your listening list this month, whether you usually have the stomach for tech-death or not.

Auroch - Stolen Angelic Tongues
(20 Buck Spin)

If you’re still missing the faster, more overtly brutal elements of that contemporary avant-death sound though, then this belting new EP from Canada’s Auroch has you covered. Evolving out of thrashier roots, Auroch’s sound has often felt like the missing link between the classic Morbid Angel school of death metal and the modern dissonant, obtuse tech sound championed by the likes of Mitochondrion, Ulcerate etc., and Stolen Angelic Tongues does a lot to affirm that. After a brief intro, first song proper ‘Hideous New Gods’ hits like a scalpel to the pineal gland, firing out epic, darkly melodic riffs before erupting into an Origin-esque clusterfuck, with ludicrous blasts and gut-rumblingly guttural vocals threatening to obscure the frenetic fretwork beneath. ‘Carving The Axis Mundi’ slows things down into more abstract territory, a creeping double-kick pulse forming a bedrock for some really sinister, atonal chord patterns and a bizarre blend of vocal styles in the middle, whilst the more blackened ‘Coffin Nails’ alternates between creepy, vaguely Swe-death guitar harmonies and goat-fuckingly fast war metal tempos.

Stolen Angelic Tongues may be a bit of a tease at just under twenty minutes, but this also helps keep it face-shreddingly intense the entire time. Blurring the lines between state-of-the-art technical brutality and that more esoteric, occult strain of the genre, this is some righteously powerful stuff that should appeal to death metal fans of all persuasions.

Live Burial - Unending Futility
(Transcending Obscurity)

Next up, we’ve got a potent double-whammy from the UK’s own fertile death metal scene, with Newcastle’s Live Burial unleashing the long-awaited follow-up to their 2016 debut Forced Back To Life. Whilst Forced dropped a lot of the doomier riffage that had defined the band’s self-titled EP to focus on a thrashier, more intense sound, Unending Futility goes one further, sounding more like something from Florida circa 91 than another death/doom act. That slow, morbid creep hasn’t disappeared completely (just check out the deliciously sinister closer ‘Cemetery Fog’, a morose nine minute epic that comes across like a fusion of The IVth Crusade era Bolt Thrower’s lumbering rhythmic heft with Incantation’s penchant for eerie, spine-tinglingly chilling chord progressions), but for the most part, this second LP’s brutish yet calculated ferocity has more in common with Massacre or Death’s Leprosy than, say, Autopsy’s Mental Funeral.

Opener ‘Seeping Into The Earth’ wastes no time at all, launching into a rabid old-school assault as vocalist Jamie Brown belts out high register throat lacerations like a young John Tardy drowning in quicksand, whilst the duelling guitars of Richard Codling and Rob Hindmarsh are evidently steeped in a reverence and appreciation for death metal’s long, storied history without being too bound by trying to emulate their heroes or fixating on one style. Lee Anderson’s frenetic bass deserves highlighting too; rather than simply rumbling away in the background like a lot of death metal, Anderson’s nimble, busy fretboard runs add a lot more depth and character to these songs, without ever pulling focus in a needlessly showy, unnecessarily technical way sort of way. He’s given the spotlight on moribund interlude ‘Winds Of Solace’, a fantastically macabre little breather that provides a welcome breather from the frantic death metal surrounding it, whilst the furious ‘Swing Of The Pendulum’ makes room for a very effective bass break amidst ominous, evil riffs and taut, pulverising drums. ‘The Crypt Of Slumbering Madness’, meanwhile, eases off on the breakneck pace somewhat to let grandiose guitars leads rise up to the surface, before culminating in a creepy atmospheric climax, whilst ‘Rotting On The Rope’ shifts gears into prime Bolt Thrower territory with rumbling double-kick, gnarly grinding tremolo and epic yet knuckle-dragging grooves. If you’re just after some straight-up, bullshit-free death metal, this will certainly hit the spot.

Cryptic Shift – Visitations From Enceladus
(Blood Harvest)

After eight years of delivering forward-thinking yet defiantly old-school technical death metal, Leeds quartet Cryptic Shift’s debut album has finally landed, and it more than lives up to the promise shown on their demos and Atheist-esque 2016 EP Beyond The Celestial Realms. Boldly, the band choose to scare off anyone who isn’t totally serious about delving headfirst into a realm of wild, sci-fi inspired death metal by opening the record with the absolutely monstrous epic ‘Moonbelt Immolator’, a 25 minute voyage through spacious atmospheric ambience, disorientating Nocturnus style riffage, abrasive discordant soloing, Voivod-ian vocoder vocals and vertigo inducing tempo shifts. Despite the length, the song manages to feel tightly plotted and avoids noodling for the sake of it, whilst still making room for some truly head-spinning instrumental tangents in amongst the recurring themes and phrases. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect Timeghoul would be doing today if they hadn’t disappeared in a shroud of mystery, and whilst it orbits a similar cosmos to contemporary proggy death acts like Blood Incantation and Chthe’ilist, Cryptic Shift have enough imagination (not to mention a sonic clarity and bright, thrashy tone all of their own) to put their own distinct stamp on this style.

Of course, the danger of kicking your album off with such a massive, ambitious piece of music is that it risks overshadowing the B-side entirely, but the three punchier, more compact songs that comprise the rest of Visitations From Enceladus are just as progressive, thrilling and powerful in their own way, and flow together so well they could almost be one continuous song anyway. ‘(Petrified In The) Hypogean Gaol’ relishes in fiddly yet blistering and relentlessly chunky death/thrash riffing à la Testimony Of The Ancients-era Pestilence, before gradually winding down to make way for some triumphant, emotive leads that manage to sound simultaneously jazzy and metallic in a similar fashion to the most transcendental moments from Cynic’s cherished magnum opus Focus. Not only does it make for a spectacular, dazzling climax, it flows perfectly into ‘The Arctic Chasm’s subtle, atmospheric introduction, before the band plough straight into slabs of dissonant Killing Technology-esque chugging, gradually ramping up in intensity until ‘Planetary Hypnosis’ wraps the album up with the impact of a nuclear bomb, blasting off to ludicrous tempos for some of the most limber, fluid and mind-bogglingly technical riffery on the whole record. Visitations… isn’t just recommended; it’s damn near essential, and proof that this dismal isle has a valid contribution to make to this new wave of progressive death metal.

Katatonia - City Burials
(Peaceville)

I think it’d be fair to say Katatonia’s journey from murky death/doom to shimmering, downbeat pop has felt a lot more organic than the journey taken by some of their Peaceville peers. Whilst Paradise Lost’s late 90s dalliance with synth-pop stylings only lasted a few albums before returning to their doomy comfort zone and the distance between Anathema’s morose slow-mo death metal days and the pastoral Pink Floyd-isms of late almost feels like two entirely different bands, Katatonia have managed to keep their identity firmly intact whilst transitioning into softer, more melodic territory at a gradual pace. This eleventh album is one of their most unashamedly poppy to date, based around huge hooks and a rich, sullen melodicism rather than leaden, oppressive dirges. Opener ‘Heart Set To Divide’ alternates moments of stark, dejected calm and a huge, winding Opeth-esque groove, boasting one of the thickest riffs on the whole record, but from here much of the record dwells in a calmer, more fragile place. Songs like the humid, wistful ‘City Glaciers’ and ‘Behind The Blood’, complete with soaring metallic guitar solos, ply a neat line in moody alternative rock, not unlike a slightly more macabre incarnation of A Perfect Circle, but tracks like ‘Flicker’ and lead single ‘Lacquer’ are pure Depeche Mode-esque goth pop, easing off on the crunchy distorted guitars almost entirely in favour of emphasising delicate keys, processed drum beats, fluctuating bass rumbles and Jonas Renske’s wounded, sultry croon.

Katatonia wear this style very well, and although sometimes the hooks aren’t quite as strong as they need to be (the bland chorus in the otherwise engagingly riffy ‘Neon Epitaph’, for example) or things occasionally feel a bit Eurovision (the sugary candle-lit schmaltz of ‘Vanishers’), this is another solid record from these guys nonetheless. If you’re still pining for another Brave Murder Day, City Burials will probably just alienate you even further, but if you’re already a fan of latter-day Katatonia, or just want something metal-adjacent but not entirely crushing to soundtrack your days of sitting around the house feeling sad, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Elder - Omens
(Armageddon)

Having been gradually getting proggier and proggier with every release, culminating in 2017’s sprawling, ambitious Reflections Of A Floating World, it should come as no surprise that Elder’s fifth album Omens is another whimsical trip that emphasises elaborate, lengthy song-writing and evocative classic rock style harmonies over big, doomy riffs. The title track makes this clear from the off, with a deft lightness as it contrasts soaring stoner rock choruses with King Crimson-esque mellotron swells and sun-kissed, emotive lead guitar. ‘Halcyon’, the longest track on offer here, goes even further, constructing a luscious, intoxicating sonic tapestry out of calm yet yearning licks, subtle twinkling keys and hypnotically repetitive bass grooves. Even the riffier cuts on here feel less like stoner doom and more ‘90s alternative rock – ‘Embers’ is a case in point, with its wonky but driving rhythms, bright, optimistic chorus and warm, jubilant guitar harmonies that sound like they’ve been lifted from a Thin Lizzy LP that’s been left out in the sun all afternoon.

Omens isn’t quite the voyage that Reflections was – the songwriting isn’t quite as cohesive or powerful and the vocal hooks, never Elder’s strongpoint, can feel a bit flat at times – but there’s still a lot to enjoy here, especially if you’re a fellow prog nerd. Crack open a beer, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid soundtrack for your social distancing sunbathing sessions.

Calligram - The Eye Is The First Circle
(Prosthetic)

With their two EPs and an absolutely feral, sensory overload of a live show, London’s Calligram have built quite a buzz around themselves over the last couple of years, specialising in a menacing blend of dissonant modern black metal and crusty, vitriolic hardcore, similar to bands like Hexis, The Secret or Ancst. Not to knock those EPs at all, but this debut full-length is easily the closest the quintet have come to replicating their confrontational live presence on record yet, and it’s pretty fucking gnarly indeed. The one-two punch of ‘Carne’ and ‘Serpe’ makes for an absolutely vicious opening, the former firing out caustic, vicious blackened tremolo over a taut, buoyant groove to produce a palpable tension before the latter explodes in a flash of white-hot, grinding anger. Single ‘Vivido Perire’ is even meaner, a no-nonsense two minute blast of vitriolic filth that ends in the kind of unspeakably massive riff that’ll make you want to flip your desk over and hurl yourself out of the nearest window.

Whilst the album’s first half is all about fury, things get a lot moodier and more atmospheric in the second half. ‘Kenosis’ rides some gleefully destructive d-beats straight into a massive, tectonic plate shifting sludge breakdown, whilst ‘Anedonia’ leaps off the deep end entirely, with its subtle but morose chords and sinister, steady build sounding like the sleep deprived and nicotine stained sibling of mid-period Neurosis – well, right up until a thoroughly grotesque hammer-blast backed black metal riffs tears through the whole thing out of nowhere, that is. Closer ‘Un Dramma Vuoto E Insanabile’ keeps the post-metal vibe with gloomy, understated chords and leaden, subtly shifting rhythms, but manages to keep the navel-gazing at bay by sounding utterly fucking monstrous at the same time, building to a toweringly morose crescendo. If you’re looking for something cathartically miserable and relentlessly intense to batter the anxiety out of you at the moment, then look no further.

Death Machines - Death Machines
(Self-Released)

If you’re looking for slower, amp worshipping forms of catharsis however, then this new demo from Mancunian trio Death Machines comes highly recommended. Featuring Ommadon guitarist/vocalist David Tobin and Dry Cough Records head honcho Andrew Bankes on bass, UK doom fans should have an idea of what to expect from this before they even hit the play, but Death Machines offer up something a little different to your standard sludgy fare. Sure, the gruelling nine minute ‘Disappearance’ is a gargantuan, droning behemoth that will feel instantly familiar to fans of David’s work with Ommadon, but elsewhere tracks like ‘Control?’ and the ferocious ‘Raise A Smile’ contrast humongous slow riffs with moments of brash, grinding intensity and feral hardcore bluster, feeling more like a heavily sedated His Hero Is Gone than anything in the drone/doom bracket. The closing title-track begins with an almost black metal-ish vibe, as aggressive blastbeats collide with eerie, dissonant riffs, before driving into an absolutely sickeningly heavy dirge to bring things to a close.

The whole thing has a very raw, rough & ready rehearsal room feel which suits the project very well and lends it a very comforting DIY feel – you can almost smell the dust sizzling off those valve heads. Definitely worth a spin, and with all proceeds going to Camp Album project too, “a multimedia platform for Xinjiang’s peoples to express themselves and raise awareness of the ongoing cultural genocide and abuse that confronts them”, you can rest assured that any cash you’re able to throw at this thing will wind up in good hands.

Helvella - The North Wind
(Self-Released)

An unexpected benefit of social distancing is that it’s not only giving artists more time to create, but more time to dig through their archives and treat us to unreleased goodies. That’s the case with this new release from Eliza Gregory’s Helvella project (who you may recognise from her excellent solo output or collaborations with the likes of Necro Deathmort), which is far too good to end up languishing on a hard-drive somewhere for the rest of eternity. ‘The North Wind’ is a lot more abrasive and aggressive than a lot of Helvella’s earlier work, which the opening title track makes abundantly clear with a truly gigantic sludge riff and Gregory’s primal, unrestrained howl kicking things off in an incredibly confrontational manner. Tracks like ‘No Clocks No Mirrors’ have a bit of a noise-rock feel to them, contrasting gloomy chords with stark, brutish riffing as Eliza alternates between gut-wrenching screams and sinister, unhinged falsetto, like Unsane fronted by Dry era PJ Harvey, whilst the plaintive, disquieting slow-burn of ‘And Then There Are The Saints (A Requiem)' will be like mana from heaven for anyone who still hasn’t gotten over Made Out Of Babies disbanding. Great stuff!

Evisorax - Ascension Catalyst
(Self-Released)

Finally, if you’ve survived all the above, then here’s a potent triple bill of UK grindcore to finish you off, starting with Wigan power-trio Evisorax. With members of grind legends Narcosis amongst their ranks, the band specialise in a similar kind of abrasively technical, light-speed, stop-start grind violence. Following on from their 2015 release Goodbye To The Feast… Welcome To The Famine, this new full-length presents a big step-up for the band. From the abstract, curiously tranquil cover art and extended stretch of piercing but oddly calming feedback that starts the record, you can tell Ascension Catalyst is going to be something a little different to your standard garden variety grindcore. Sure enough, with lyrical themes exploring spirituality and mindfulness, this album feels more indebted to the The Inalienable Dreamless school of cerebral, poetic grind, as opposed to the more common crusty, punky variety.

Not that this thing is necessarily peaceful sounding though; when the shit finally does hit the fan, the pay-off makes it feel all the more intense, with tracks like ‘Midnight Is For Regrets’ and the ridiculous, sweep-laden ‘Hyperphysical Hyperarchy’ racing out of your speakers like a bull in a china shop. The title track introduces churning, sludgier riffs that feel a bit like Remission-era Mastodon, but chops them up into an utterly baffling structure just to make sure your ears don’t feel too comfortable, whilst ‘She-Mule’ drops a hulking great Sabbath-ian groove out of nowhere before ‘Vasuki’ blasts off into the stratosphere with dense clusters of dissonant, grating riffage and blistering snare rolls. Closer ‘Irkalla’, meanwhile, stretches the band’s sound out to breaking point, gradually collapsing into a swirling, feedback drenched soundscape that walks a fine line between meditative and harrowing. Ascension Catalyst is the most cohesive, well-realised and powerful thing Evisorax have put to tape yet, managing to sound both dizzyingly futuristic and alien, and simultaneously organic and very human – if you’re hungry for extreme music that’s as precise and technical as it is utterly violent and electrifying, don’t sleep on this.

Negative Thought Process - Hell Is… Much Better Than This
(Hibernacula)

Whilst Reading duo Negative Thought Process’ drum-machine powered debut Methylene Butterfly was a suitably nasty slice of crusty, pitch-black grind in its own right, the inclusion of live drummer Jordan Allard back in 2018 took the band to an entirely new level, with their live show turning into a far more raucous, high octane affair. That energy has translated well to their first recording as a three-piece, a gnarly EP that’s in and out in less than ten minutes. The title track makes for an atmospheric opener, showing off the band’s deliciously thick, gristly tone and teasing with sinister, serpentine licks atop a thuddingly ominous beat. It’s not long before all hell breaks loose however, with tracks like ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ and ‘Festering In Ignorance’ serving up ferocious shards of blast-happy madness and huge, crowd-moving chugs, as guitarist/vocalist Danny Page spits venom at the world’s injustices in an authoritative, guttural bark that sits somewhere in between Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway and the traditional hoarse powerviolence “caveman” grunt. Closer ‘Force Fed Life’ ends with Kyle Townsend laying down huge, unruly bass grooves, building into a gigantic Nails style breakdown riff that’ll snap your neck clean off. More please!

Lifewrecker - Isolation
(Self-Released)

Last but not least, London’s Lifewrecker let loose the follow-up to last year’s Atrophy, and you’ll be pleased to hear it’s another gloriously abrasive burst of noisy, abrasive grind – imagine a drunker Full Of Hell with more D-beats and you’ll be on the right track. ‘Trail Of Dead’ makes for an adrenaline pumping opener, launching into a whirlwind of burbling noise, searing grindcore, fist-pumping hardcore punk, a knuckle-dragging tom breakdown and a curiously melodic death metal riff right at its apex – and that’s all just within a minute and a half. ‘Endless Race’ is even leaner, bouncing between triumphant Discharge-esque battery and brutal death chugs & squeals with aplomb, whilst ‘Escape’ provides some of the most savage blasting on here before giving way to a rip-roaring Victims style guitar solo. Tracks like ‘Heartache’ and ‘Social Distance’ expand on the band’s noisy textures too, the latter being a full-on Whitehouse style ordeal, complete with cochlea-shredding high-end scree and churlish, aggro ranting. Perfect music to sit at home and hate your life to, in other words!

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