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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For May Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , May 20th, 2020 07:10

Kez Whelan is back with more skull vaporising riffs and eyeball bursting blastbeats, not to mention reviews of Triptykon, Vader and Old Man Gloom

Triptykon

Another pandemic month rolls by and, man, I’m really, really missing gigs. Whilst the whole social distancing thing hasn’t really interfered too much with my usual schedule of hiding away in my cave and obsessively listening to metal records, I really am missing the ability to punctuate those stretches of solitude with the kind of catharsis you can only get from having a giant riff blasted in your face whilst being jostled around in a huge, sweaty throng of like-minded fiends.

The recent (and surprisingly lavishly shot) Oranssi Pazuzu live stream went some way to scratching that itch, however, as does this month’s new Triptykon live CD/DVD.

Whilst we may still be some way off getting mashed in a field surrounded by festival atmosphere and the soothing roar of live music, there’s nothing to stop us getting mashed in our underpants and binging metal albums until this all blows over.

And we’ve had some belters this month…

Triptykon - Requiem (Live At Roadburn 2019)
(Century Media)

The inimitable Tom G. Warrior returns with Triptykon’s first new release since 2014’s Melana Chasmata this month, a live album like no other. After Celtic Frost’s storming comeback record Monotheist featured a piece called ‘Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three)’ as a sequel of sorts to Into The Pandemonium’s haunting ‘Rex Irae (Requiem)’, fans were left wondering what the second chapter of this trilogy must have sounded like when Celtic Frost split up in 2008. Until now!

The answer was found (as a lot of answers often are) at Roadburn, when Triptykon were commissioned to play the full ‘Requiem’ in its entirety backed by the Dutch Metropole Orkest last year. Thankfully the performance was captured here so we can all finally discover that mysterious and long-forgotten ‘Requiem, Chapter Two’.

Honestly, the rendition of ‘Rex Irae’ that kicks this off might just be superior to the Into The Pandemonium studio version. Not only does it sound heavier than ever with that infamously crushing Triptykon guitar tone, but guest vocalist Safa Heraghi delivers a far more melancholy, emotive performance than original vocalist Claudia-Maria Mokri’s more operatic, portentous wail.

This leads nicely into the long-awaited second chapter which, it turns out, is split into a further six parts and runs for over half an hour. And, not to beat around the bush, it’s fucking great. ‘Rex Irae’ winds down with an extended doomy outro, before guitarist V. Santura unleashes a spacey, unexpectedly David Gilmour-esque solo, building to a soaring peak alongside Heragh’s intense vocals. Her presence really brings a lot to this performance, with part two descending into stark, crawling territory not a million miles away from early Bauhaus, with Tom G. drawling in his deep, gothic baritone and Heragh backing him up with remarkable tenderness. Parts three and four plumb even creepier depths, really showcasing the orchestra and building an irresistibly dark ambience, before part five rebuilds that suffocating gothic atmosphere until the sixth and final part dishes out thick waves upon waves of doomy, forlorn riffage, leading us right up to the beginning of ‘Winter’ and bringing the whole thing full circle.

Don’t write this off as a typical live album; for any fans of Into The Pandemonium and Celtic Frost’s more avant-garde tendencies in general, this is pretty much essential. It’s like the missing key that finally unlocks a mysterious, decade-spanning piece of music that’s been steadily ruminating in one of metal’s most pioneering and visionary artists’ minds until right now. I mean, come ON! This rules!

Old Man Gloom - Seminar IX: Darkness Of Being & Seminar VIII: Light Of Meaning
(Profound Lore)

We truly do not deserve Old Man Gloom. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, whilst dealing with the tragic loss of their bandmate Caleb Scofield, the band were still trying to come up with ways to outdo their mischievous stunt for the release of 2014’s The Ape Of God, in which they secretly dropped two completely different albums with the same name, whilst baffling journalists with a Frankenstein-ed together third record that was sent out as an early-access promo. Having prepared another two records for a similar purpose this time round, the band opted to come clean in the wake of COVID-19 pissing on everyone’s parade and release one early instead this time, the sprawling Seminar IX: Darkness Of Being.

Of the two, it’s definitely the more immediate and visceral, with the churning, repetitive pulse and grinding guitars underscored by frantic keys of opener ‘Procession Of The Wounded’ sounding like Godflesh trapped inside The Stooges’ Funhouse, whilst ‘Heel To Toe’ plunges headfirst into brash noise-rock riffery, and ‘The Bleeding Sun’ picks up into a Tragedy-esque melodic hardcore assault. The haunting acoustic ballad ‘Death Rhymes’ eases off on the tumult to hit some truly gorgeous peaks, but it’s twelve minute ‘In Your Name’ that really steals the show. Based on an unfinished demo written with Caleb back in 2010, it’s turned into this huge behemoth of a song that feels like a really joyous, uplifting tribute to their friend, with the whole band belting out impassioned verses over buoyant, jubilantly groovy riffs. Not that it sounds anything like it whatsoever, but it feels like the sludge metal equivalent of Pennywise’s ‘Bro Hymn Tribute’ in a way, a song written for a fallen bandmate that opts for joyous, communal release rather than gloomy reverie. ‘Love Is Bravery’ follows it perfectly, a triumphant and deeply moving ode to staying strong in the face of tragedy backed by huge, melancholy chords, stirring gang vocals and some of the most uplifting lyrics the band have ever written.

Darkness Of Being is a pretty dense record, but Seminar VIII: Light Of Meaning is even more difficult and impenetrable, really teasing out moments of fury amidst a lot of surprisingly minimal soundscapes. ‘True Volcano’ offers up waves of thick, enthralling feedback, suddenly and violently breaking into burly sludge metal before dropping back out as quickly as it arrived. ‘Final Defeat’ is even weirder; after opening with nearly four minutes of incredibly subtle, barely even there ambience, it suddenly starts alternating between new bassist (and Cave In man) Stephen Brodsky doing his best wailing Ozzy impression and passages of straight-forward Boston hardcore chug, before collapsing into one of the most convincingly hypnotic drones on either record. This one contains recordings that Caleb had previously laid down too, giving songs like the contemplative ‘Calling You Home’ even more of an emotional pull.

Release schedule japery aside, these two records do function really nicely as a double-album and seem to act as the inverse of one another in some ways. Overall, it’s a more mature Old Man Gloom and a really fitting tribute to Caleb. The band’s trademark sense of humour is still there but even drier and more understated than before, managing to bring levity to some seriously weighty compositions without making them at all whacky or lessening their impact, and the moments of genuine, heartfelt catharsis they hit on this are palpable. It feels like a bit of the free improvisation that Sumac have been experimenting with of late has crept in here, making both of these albums relatively impenetrable to begin with but keeping them constantly surprising, unpredictable and expressive. Well, that’s if the copy I’ve been listening to is actually the album, after all. Who knows, maybe at the end of the month they’ll reveal this was all another elaborate ploy to distract us from the real album. Those rascals!

Vader - Solitude In Madness
(Nuclear Blast)

Considering they’ve been a band in some form or another for 37 years now, it’s a wonder Vader can still sound this ferocious. This fifteenth album feels very much like a return to the non-nonsense, deathly sound of Polish legends’ 2000 classic Litany; the more streamlined thrash approach they’ve settled back into over their last few records hasn’t disappeared entirely and there’s still plenty of Slayer influence running through this album, but short, brutal tracks like ‘Despair’ and raging opener ‘Shock And Awe’ have a far more robustly death metal feel to them. ‘Sanctification Denied’ peels out frantic Morbid Angel-isms over a stomping, dark groove, whilst ‘Stigma Of Divinity’ pushes the tempo even further with some of the album’s swiftest blastbeats and flashiest lead guitar.

At 29 minutes, Solitude In Madness doesn’t have time to take its foot off the gas, and whips past at white-knuckle speed – even chuggier tracks like ‘Incineration Of The Gods’ and ‘Emptiness’ belt along at a wild pace. It’s nothing you haven’t heard many times before, but if you just want Vader going like the absolute clappers, this is a very potent and distilled blast of everything that makes them great.

Witchcraft - Black Metal
(Nuclear Blast)

It’s been a strange journey for Witchcraft – their first three records are still some of the most imaginative and authentic sounding of that whole early 2000s retro doom craze, but after the original lineup fell apart it feels like frontman Magnus Pelander has struggled to put together another convincingly heavy vehicle for his incredible, expressive vocals. Legend and Nucleus, both recorded with different lineups, found Pelander embracing a much more modern hard rock sound with varying degrees of success, before offering up his first solo album, 2016’s gentle and intimate Time.

Rather than summoning forth a new Witchcraft lineup for this fifth album however, the somewhat inappropriately titled Black Metal is another acoustic solo affair, and feels even more stark, stripped back and minimal than Time did, at times even uncomfortably so. There are no bells and whistles here, just Pelander’s fragile, gorgeous voice and an acoustic guitar – that’s it. There are some great songs on here (opener ‘Elegantly Expressed Depression’ is absolutely beautiful and has a convincing air of heartache surrounding it, and ‘Take Him Away’ recalls Townes Van Zandt’s more downbeat, lyrical moments) but there’s not a whole lot of variation here and some of the tracks have a tendency to blur together in the middle especially. It’ll always be a joy to hear Pelander singing, but unfortunately Black Metal doesn’t feel as cohesive or fleshed out as Time did, and is a far cry from the Witchcraft of yore.

Burial - Satanic Upheaval
(Apocalyptic Witchcraft)

Do not adjust your set, tQ readers, you haven’t slipped into another dimension where London’s most mysterious future garage producer has suddenly dropped an album’s worth of blistering black metal. Well, not yet at least. No, this is the third release from the Mancunian extreme metal power trio of the same name, who are probably wondering why clean cut dudes with backpacks and overly large headphones keep turning up and sharing confused glances at their gigs. Over the last fifteen years however, this Burial has built up a very robust, powerful take on black metal that manages to capture the genre’s eerie atmosphere whilst putting their own lairy, pissed up stamp all over it. Songs like opener ‘Encircled By Wolves’ nail that sinister Norwegian riffing style but imbue it with a raging punk vitriol, without coming off as either too staid and po-faced or crusty and light-hearted. It’s grim without being ethereal, and packs a very visceral punch. Tracks like ‘Void Of Decay’ and ‘Destruction Absolute’ offer up more atmospheric, melancholy riffs, but they’re delivered in such an authoritatively brash way that it still feels abrasive and intense rather than hypnotic or trance-inducing.

There’s a definite death metal feel here too, especially on the crunchy ‘Decayed By Time’, or ‘Devour Your Soul’ which reeks of early Deicide with its demonic guttural vocals, lightspeed double-kick and blasphemous riffage, whilst tracks like the rambunctious ‘Hellish Reaping Screams’ are punk as fuck – perhaps not too surprising given the crustier nature of bassist/vocalist Dez and drummer Dave Buchan’s other band Wolfbastard. These influences definitely add a lot of vibrancy and energy to this album, but they’re tastefully implemented and the core of Satanic Upheaval is still very much no-nonsense, blasting black metal, and definitely the most cohesive, complete sounding album the trio have crafted so far.

ACxDC - Satan Is King
(Prosthetic)

From Burial to ACxDC, another band that must frequently be the victim (or perhaps beneficiary) of mistaken identity – imagine the shock your local aging For Those About To Rock… back-patch sportin’ rocker would get after accidentally stumbling into this racket. ACxDC (or Antichrist Demoncore, to give them their full lawyer-dodging title) have become one of the biggest names in contemporary powerviolence over the last few years – even though on this, their Prosthetic debut, the LA quartet leans more into a straight-up death-grind sound with weird structures, with the metallic riffs and dual screeching and guttural vocals feeling more like Nasum than No Comment this time round.

The band’s punk roots are still incredibly evident, especially on boisterous tracks like single ‘Copsucker’ or the numerous gang vocal refrains that pepper these minute-long blasts of rage, but tracks like ‘Turncoat’ and the chugging ‘Propaganda Of The Dead’ are amongst the most metal sounding ACxDC have ever got. The title track (a gleeful response to Kanye West’s Chick-fil-A flavoured dud Jesus Is King) dishes out deathly riffery, crowd-thumping breakdowns and a sardonically catchy screeched chorus in just over a minute and half, whilst ‘Matapacos’ comes across like a less technical, drunken Discordance Axis before fully devolving into IG-dropping caveman chug within seconds. Nice!

Twilight Fauna - Foundations
(Self-released)

Former solo outfit Twilight Fauna returns this month with Foundations, his third with Slaves BC drummer Josh Thieler behind the kit and perhaps most ambitious to date, an hour-plus voyage through wistful atmospheric black metal and American folk and bluegrass. On the surface, they have a very similar vibe to Panopticon, but it feels like a somewhat lazy comparison to make when both bands incorporate these influences in such different ways. Whilst Panopticon feels like black metal with folk influences, Twilight Fauna can sometimes seem like folk with black metal influences, especially on this album which is a far more sedate, pastoral and serene experience than Panopticon’s busier, more frenetic sound. A lot of Foundations is very subtle and low-key, with gentle, forlorn acoustic guitar passages stringing the whole thing together in an almost dream-like fashion. Even heavier, more abrasive cuts like the howling ‘A Voice In the Wilderness’ and ‘Into The Hands Of Night’ have an oddly still, melancholy feel to them, especially as the latter winds down into an absolutely beautiful, minimal mid-section before its final hypnotic, depressive stomp kicks in. ‘Tavern Hill’ is a highlight too, a huge, steadily evolving piece that walks a fine line between Bergtatt era Ulver and the most recent Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. The latter half of the album dives even further into folky territory, before culminating in the startlingly gorgeous acapella piece ‘West Virgina Mine Disaster’, sung with wounded fragility by guest vocalist Kelsey Maye.

Foundations feels even more lo-fi than 2018’s Where Birds Sing My Name, but it gives the album an additional intimacy and vulnerability that makes it even more alluring. It also feels like more of a cohesive, well-realised journey, and maintains this real yearning, washed out ache throughout, making it a very trusty companion for these long lockdown nights.

Xibalba - Años En Infierno
(Southern Lord)

Californian sluggers Xibalba were pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to the whole ‘death metal tinged hardcore’ thing that’s blown up in recent years. Of course, right now you can’t move without bumping into a hardcore band ripping off Bolt Thrower, but Xibalba’s seamless fusion of ‘God Of Emptiness’ style death metal atmosphere with detuned hardcore beatdowns seemed pretty novel when Hasta La Muerte arrived in 2012, and definitely seems to have paved the way for a lot of stuff that followed. After a few years of silence, Años En Infierno is a triumphant return for the band, finding their burly metallic chug sounding denser than ever. Whilst a lot of hardcore bands that start bringing in death metal influences eventually end up fully morphing into OSDM bands, Xibalba have managed to conjure more of a convincingly decrepit, ancient death metal feel here whilst keeping one foot firmly in chest-beating hardcore territory – just check out opener ‘La Injusticia’, which offers up ridiculously primitive, knuckle-dragging breakdowns alongside eerie, subtle metallic leads, or ‘Corredor De La Muerte’, which makes fantastic use of spine-tinglingly morbid, ominous guitar harmonies.

Alongside the usual deep, guttural vocals we’ve come to expect, there are some more hoarse, throaty shouts on this record too which really fit the mood, and feel like a gravelly mixture of Karl Willetts and Derrick Green – and speaking of Sepultura, ‘Saka’s thunderous tribal drums and crawling grooves feel uncannily like listening to ‘Roots’ at the wrong speed. Most surprising, however, is the final twelve-minute two-part behemoth ‘El Abismo’ that closes the record, dropping the pace down to funeral doom tempos and really exploring those creepy, sinister guitar harmonies atop plodding, skeletal beats and macabre clean chanting that’s way more Thergothon than, say, Hatebreed. It’s quite a departure for the band but they pull it off really well, and it doesn’t feel too tacked on or disparate at the end of the record either, there’s a definite trajectory over the course of Años En Infierno as the riffs get more and more morose, the breakdowns ever slower and the mood more apocalyptic until it all comes to a torturously deliberate, melancholy finale. This is one of those rare records that feels like it will appeal just as equally to the pot-addled death-doom misanthropes out there as it does the straight-edge hardcore kids.

Esoctrilihum - Eternity Of Shaog
(I, Voidhanger)

I was wondering in this very column just last year how French solo outfit Esoctrilihum manages to be so prolific, and here he is again with yet another absolutely jaw-dropping hour-plus black/death opus to get stuck into. Something of a concept album focused around an imaginary beast named Shaog, “an omnipotent god living an endless and solitary existence outside of time and space” who reaches out to unwitting victims in dreams, Eternity Of Shaog has a similarly feverish, nightmarish quality to its predecessor The Telluric Ashes Of The Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods but manages to be a very different beast. It’s maybe a tad bit more accessible too; whilst certainly still intimidating in scope and structure, this one feels like more a relatively simple hedge maze when compared to The Telluric Ashes’s ancient Greek labyrinth. Whilst The Telluric Ashes was more aggressive and riffy as a whole, Eternity is a tad more atmospheric and ethereal. It’s definitely still got riffs (check out those absurdly satisfying vintage death metal chugs in opener ‘Orthal’, or the moment the title track abruptly busts out a fiddly, fist-pounding Voivod riff before smothering it beneath macabre, whining lead guitar swells) but there seems to be more of a focus on unorthodox instrumentation and subtly psychedelic soundscapes this time round.

Whilst tracks like ‘Amenthlys (5th Passage: Through The Yth-Whtu Seal)’ (oh yeah, it’s split into different “passages”, each with its own absolute mouthful of a title; there’s no expense spared here, folks) feature an orchestrated blend of emotive strings and atmospheric black metal, these elements are incorporated in a totally different way to say, Agalloch or Dawn Ray’d. It doesn’t really feel folky at all, that yearning human quality is replaced with a really otherworldly, unsettling vibe instead. The strings are sometimes even more aggressive and overpowering than the guitars too – the bewildering ‘Aylowenn Aela (3rd Passage: The Undying Citadel)’ is a case in point, sounding like Origin played by a string quartet from another dimension. Eternity Of Shaog might be my favourite thing he’s done so far – it’s another big, obtuse and bizarre album, but this feels like it would be a really good entry point to the weird and wonderful world of Esoctrilihum for newcomers as well as converted devotees. If you’re into The Ruins Of Beverast, Formulas Fatal To The Flesh era Morbid Angel and altered states of consciousness and want to find something that neatly ties all these interests together, you’ve just hit the jackpot.

Cosmic Putrefaction - The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers
(I, Voidhanger)

I, Voidhanger aren’t content with just giving us one dense, wordy, mind-spangling solo extreme metal release this month, and this second opus from Italy’s Cosmic Putrefaction is well worth a spin. As the name suggests, this is a project favouring that filthy, rotting style of death metal but with its sights firmly set on the stars. For a one man project, The Horizons sounds remarkably full and fluid, even more so than last year’s well-realised debut At The Threshold Of The Greatest Chasm. Opener ‘Between Awe And Fear Upon The Burst Of The Ominous Star’ sounds like the work of a full band rather than just one guy, complete with disciplined blastbeats, fiddly bass breaks and a gloriously spacey guitar solo. There’s a fantastic pause in the middle too which feels just ever so slightly longer than it should be for maximum effect, before the rancid churn comes roaring back in. The rest of the songs here are just as good too, from the syncopated, slithering morass and wonky tech-death riffs of ‘The Glooming Murk Of His Telluric Shrieks’ to the vast, doomier tapestries of ‘Abysmal Resonance Projection’. ‘The Arcane Soothsayer Carefully Sculpted His Demise’ has a bit of a black metal feel to it too, with dreamy, macabre chords and some pained higher shrieks complemented the guttural rumbles. If you’re in the market for death metal that relishes in gruesome, grimy atmosphere but retains a slight psychedelic twinge, tuck right in.

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