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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For July Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , July 22nd, 2020 06:29

Kez Whelan is back with reviews of the good, the bad and the ugly from the world of metal

It’s a strange feeling to be entering festival season with not a single festival in sight. It’s anxiety inducing enough watching regular life start to resume as normal whilst the death toll keeps rising, but even more so when we’ve got no idea when we’ll be able to bask in the warm, sweaty glow of live riffs again.

I don’t know about you, but live music is invaluable for taking the edge off of real life for me; real life resuming without that pressure valve will… not end well.

Still, we continue to be spoilt for choice when it comes to recorded music right now; this month sees the return of heavy-hitters like Boris, Jesu and Paysage d’Hiver, bold steps forward from exciting new acts like avant-garde black metallers Imperial Triumphant, Hawaiian necro punk outfit Kūka'ilimoku and filthy post-apocalyptic lunatics Khthoniik Cerviiks, and even Inter Arma drunkenly covering Prince…

Boris - NO
(Self-Released)

The 2010s were a strange time for Japanese avant-metal trio Boris. You couldn’t really call it a creative drought as they were still as prolific and experimental as ever, and for a band that prides itself on its chameleonic nature, the sporadic and eclectic qualities of their later albums didn’t really feel like an identity crisis either – but there was just something missing, be it a lack of focus or passion, which made the release of a new Boris album seem like much less of an event as the years rolled on. After all, this is the band that helped to sculpt and define the burgeoning drone-doom genre in the late 90s with extraordinary records like Absolutego and Amplifier Worship, before branching out into greasy proto-punk, shimmering post rock and all points in between through the early 2000s. 2005’s Pink was a creative and commercial breakthrough, leading to a fruitful period that gave us collaborations with Sunn O))), Merzbow, Michio Kurihara and, bizarrely, The Cult’s Ian Astbury.

But ever since 2011’s bewildering trio of albums (including the underwhelming sequel to the classic Heavy Rocks), the trio seemed to have run out of steam somewhat. Albums like Noise and Dear are perfectly functional, heavy, bombastic Boris records, but felt a little by-the-numbers for the band, and last year’s double album LφVE & EVφL was maybe a bit too sparse and detached for its own good.

NO, then, is basically the shot in the arm Boris needed at this point – a no-nonsense forty minute riff fest that just gets straight to the core of what made them such a force to be reckoned with in the first place. The sludgier stuff on here is some of the most convincingly heavy material they’ve released in years too, from the flattening riff worship of opener ‘Genesis’ to the dense Melvins abusing dirge that is ‘Zerkalo’, whilst the punkier tracks are absolutely savage, with ‘Anti-Gone’ and the uncharacteristically aggro ‘Temple Of Hatred’ whipping past in a righteous whirlwind of hardcore ferocity. There’s even an insane, feedback drenched cover of Japanese punks Gudon’s ‘Fundamental Error’ that feels positively feral, squeezing your ears into tight little fists and refusing to let go.

That atmospheric edge hasn’t disappeared completely – check out the gorgeous ambience of closer ‘Interlude’ or the ethereal but extremely volatile ‘HxCxHxC -Parforation Line-’, which sounds like a melodic hardcore band playing through Kevin Shields’ pedal board – but for the most part NO finds Boris at their hardest, heaviest and loudest. ‘Loveless’ combines the best of both worlds, ending with one of those enormous Wata solos that feel like the universe collapsing in on itself. There’s a rawness and immediacy to these songs which feels more in tune with the likes of Akuma No Uta than the more polished sound of their more recent records, and whilst it might not scale the same vertigo inducing heights as Boris did in their prime, NO is easily the riffiest, most focussed album they’ve released in the last decade.

Jesu - Never
(Avalanche)

Justin Broadrick announced the return of Jesu completely out of the blue a few weeks ago, offering up the project’s first new material since joining forces with Sun Kil Moon again for 2017’s 30 Seconds To The Decline Of Planet Earth (and the first non-collaborative material since 2013’s Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came!) in the form of this short EP. More so than a lot of other metal artists, Broadrick has always been able to get the most out of the EP format, with both Jesu and Godflesh’s discographies loaded with short releases that feel like essential milestones in each band’s history in their own right, rather than quick filler releases or contractual obligations, and Never is no exception.

The EP returns to a much more electronic sound, which is curious after Broadrick had said that Jesu had drifted too far from its guitar driven roots after forming Pale Sketcher to scratch that electronica itch. Mind you, that was a whole decade ago, and a lot can change in that time. Regardless, this is relatively unchartered territory for the band, with the stuttering, cut up vocal samples, slow, pounding beats and emotive, stirring synths feeling more akin to what James Kelly has been doing with his WIFE project lately than anything else Justin has touched on before with Jesu. His yearning, washed out vocals are unmistakable however, and the melancholy, nostalgic atmosphere is certainly befitting of a Jesu release. Given Godflesh’s triumphant return over the last few years, the future of Jesu seemed unclear, but Never is a sombre, enthralling sign that there’s still a lot of life left in the project.

Inter Arma - Garbers Days Revisited
(Relapse)

Metal cover albums can either feel like joyous, celebratory and exploratory jaunts through a band’s collective record collections (think Metallica’s original Garage Days) or godawful, ill-advised pub tier slaughterings of classics the band in question has no right fucking with (think any of Six Feet Under’s Graveyard Classics records), with seemingly no room in between. Despite a slightly eyebrow raising tracklist, this new offering from Inter Arma thankfully falls into the former camp, with the Virgina quintet burning through an eclectic mix of covers in their signature swampy, post-black-death-doom style. Most of them are very faithful, with the band sounding fantastically sludgy stomping through Ministry’s slow-burning ‘Scarecrow’ and convincingly brash on Cro-Mags’ ‘Hard Times’. Their version of Venom’s ‘In League With Satan’ is structurally far more similar to the original than Midnight’s rendition, which seems funny given that Inter Arma are usually all about weird, unexpected structures and Midnight are usually all about, erm, Venom. But Inter Arma still manage to stamp their own sound pretty firmly on these songs, especially the ones they take a bit more liberty with. Hüsker Dü’s ‘The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill’ is transformed into a blistering black metal churn, whilst Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ ‘Runnin’ Down A Dream’ becomes a swaggering stoner rock workout. Their ‘Purple Rain’ is the big showstopper here though; what could easily have been a ridiculous pissed-up mockery is performed with enough conviction and genuine bombast to really make it work, imbuing the lighters-aloft sincerity of Prince’s original with the extra sonic force of a contemporary sludge metal band. I mean, it is ridiculous, but charmingly so, and it’s a fun way to end this little set.

Garbers Days Revisited is obviously nowhere near as cohesive or developed as any of the band’s other releases, but it doesn’t need to be. After three sprawling, in-depth 70 minute odysseys in a row (plus the mammoth 40 minute EP The Cavern), it’s a blast to hear the band just kicking back and clearly having the time of their lives with some of their favourite tunes. It’s that relentless enthusiasm that really holds this album together, and whilst it might not have as much staying power or replay value as last year’s incredible Sulphur English, it’s a well-deserved and very entertaining victory lap you should hear once at the very least.

Paysage d’Hiver - Im Wald
(Kunsthall Produktionen)

We’re not exactly starved for sprawling, in-depth odysseys this month either, with this humongous two hour long opus from Swiss solo black metal outfit Paysage d’Hiver finally emerging from the wilderness. Despite having released umpteen fantastic full-length demos and splits since 1998, this is technically the project’s first proper album release – though thankfully his refusal to call this one a demo too seems to be due to its more epic scope rather than any shift to hi-fi production techniques. Paysage d’Hiver have always been one of the most effective lo-fi black metal projects to my ears, managing to instantly evoke such a rich, wintery atmosphere and using that subtle hiss and gorgeous textural blur to really heighten the music’s hypnotic power rather than subtract from it. Im Wald sounds absolutely perfect in that regard – everything is crisp, clear and audible, but bathed in that same beautifully musty fug that made his demos feel so mysterious and alluring.

Musically, it’s a lot more focussed around black metal as opposed to the pure ambience of releases like Die Festung, and for a 120-minute-long album, it’s remarkably consistent. Whilst managing to sustain a cold, enveloping atmosphere throughout, it’s got riffs by the bucket load too. Tracks like ‘Über Den Bäumen’ and ‘Alt’ dish out soaring, infectious and deeply evocative tremolo assaults like running water without ever disrupting or stalling the album’s heady, hypnotic flow. The whole thing progresses in such a natural, almost dream-like fashion, floating between tracks with short ambient pieces like ‘Schneeglitzern’ and ‘Eulengesang ’ (not to mention lengthier mid-way breather ‘Flug’) acting as the glue that binds all these dense, lengthy metallic pieces together. Each track manages to feel distinct and memorable in its own right whilst forming a part of the greater whole, and there are a lot of stand-outs here; opener ‘Im Winterwald’ kicks the album off with some of its most gripping, yearning riffery, ‘Stimmen Im Wald’ makes fantastic use of stirring, Bathory-esque chants atop galloping double-kick and some seriously deep, warm synth swells, ‘Le Rêve Lucide’ bounces gorgeous, lugubrious strings between clouds of torrential black fuzz, ‘Weiter, Immer Weiter’ has an almost doomy feel as huge, bleak chords crash against each other like waves against rocks and 20 minute closer ‘So Hallt Es Wider’ is an experience in and of itself, one of the coldest and most genuinely transcendental pieces he’s ever written.

Daunting length aside, this is arguably Paysage d’Hiver’s most immediate and accessible release yet. Listening certainly feels like a grand undertaking, but nowhere near the slog that plagues some two hour albums; the songs here are some of the most expressive and visceral in the project’s discography, and they’re weaved together so effectively and hypnotically that it seems to fly past. Given how cherished and unique this band’s legacy is, this could have quite easily fallen prey to its own hype but Im Wald actually manages to surpass expectations and become 2020’s most essential atmospheric black metal record. Forget the air con, experiencing this frosty behemoth in its entirety is the perfect way to cool down this summer.

Imperial Triumphant - Alphaville
(Century Media)

If you’re still hungry for more weird black metal after that, then Imperial Triumphant’s latest comes highly recommended. Whilst the band had been active for a full decade beforehand, it wasn’t until 2018’s breakthrough Vile Luxury that the metal world at large really began to sit up and take notice, with their bizarre meld of contemporary classical, avant-garde black metal and elaborate showmanship feeling like Portal if The Curator had relinquished the reins to Glenn Branca. Alphaville, their fourth and latest full-length, is their most high-profile release yet, not only being their first for Century Media but also boasting production from Mr Bungle’s Trey Spruance, mastering from Dysrhythmia’s Colin Marston and even a sinister Taiko drum solo from none other than Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake on the incredible ‘City Swine’. It’s a great track with a really odd, winding structure, that ventures through clean, wonky riffs that sound like passages from King Crimson’s Discipline played in reverse and brutally precise Gorguts style battery before the aforementioned Haake appearance, only to conclude on a distinctly Meshuggah-esque polyrhythmic chug with what sounds like a piano falling down a small flight of stairs accompanying it. It’s extremely disorientating but there’s a curiously idiosyncratic logic to the way it all fits together, and it really works.

Yes, if you were at all worried that the band would end up toning down their weirdness now that they’re on a bigger label, you can rest easy; Alphaville is arguably Imperial Triumphant’s most difficult, inaccessible outing yet, which is by no means a criticism. Compared to Vile Luxury’s opener ‘Swarming Opulence’ which was immediately, arrestingly bombastic, this album begins on a far more low-key note with ‘Rotted Future’ gradually fading in and unfurling in a very stoic, reserved manner. Though this album may take a bit longer to really get going, by the time ‘Atomic Age’ arrives, it goes far beyond anything else the band have attempted so far. Opening with a barber shop quartet crooning atop harsh, bristling feedback, it conjures a creepy retro-futurist vibe similar to the Fallout games before building a sparse Allan Holdsworth-style lead passage up into thick, writhing slabs of fiddly Immolation-esque riffery, until the low-end suddenly drops out and all manner of jarring, celestial synth tones fly up out of nowhere during the song’s feverish peak.

‘Transmission To Mercury’ is even better and manages to be as oddly beautiful as it is abrasive, incorporating a host of jazzy instrumentation into its bewildering metallic overload that really has to be heard to be believed, whilst the title track eases up on the blastbeats to allow for some sickeningly off-kilter grooves and riffs that sound like a twanging door-stop running through a distortion pedal.

Aplhaville ends with two covers: a relatively straight-forward frolic through Voivod’s ‘Experiment’ with Wormed vocalist Phlegeton belting out filthy gutturals, and an even creepier, blastier rendition of The Residents’ ‘Happy Home’. Neither of these really fit on the album as a whole in all honesty, but the preceding 50 minutes are so strong it hardly matters; if viewed as a neat little bonus rather than an album closer proper, these are both a lot of fun and definitely worth sticking around for. Whilst it might not be as immediate, grandiose or orchestral as Vile Luxury was, Alphaville builds far more patiently and ultimately has a lot more payoff, reaching even more bizarre and intense heights than its predecessor once it finally hits its stride.

Khthoniik Cerviiks - Æequiizoiikum
(Iron Bonehead)

Speaking of Voivod-ian dissonance stretched to terrifying new extremes, German trio Khthoniik Cerviiks are back this month with their equally unpronounceable second album, Æequiizoiikum. Far removed from the cleaner, more academic style of Imperial Triumphant, this lot are just plain barbaric, but manage to include a surprising amount of depth and nuance within their ragged, war-torn aesthetic. Take the paranoid sci-fi bluster of Rrröööaaarrr-era Voivod, the devilishly evil thrash riffery of Possessed and the manic shoot-anything-that-moves-and-always-use-Ks-in-place-of-Cs mentality of Sadistik Exekution, leave it all out to simmer in the depths of some radioactive nuclear wasteland for a bit and voila, you have Khthoniik Cerviiks!

This second album is an even darker, more aggressive beast than their 2015 debut SeroLogiikal Scars (Vertex Of Dementiia) was, improving on what made that album so good whilst proving the trio to be more than a one-trick pony. Whilst shorter than its predecessor, it feels more ambitious and diverse. Songs like ‘Para-Dog-Son – Demagorgon’ and opener proper ‘Odyssey 3000’ are absolutely ferocious, no-nonsense blasts of gonzo death-thrash gristle, but the title track feels like it ups the intensity to breaking point, reaching an eerily calm plateau midway through reminiscent of the wistful, unsettling jazzy style of Norway’s Virus. ‘Δt (Recite the Kriitiikal Mæss)’ follows a similar structure with some bloody-mindedly brutal riffing giving way to a surprisingly melodic section, with crisp, icy guitar twangs crumbling atop a taut, stomping beat. It’s got a curiously triumphant but melancholy feel to it, like the chords from a soaring, solo strewn fadeout outro of a classic NWOBHM single frozen into a brittle, abrasive husk. This sinisterly melodic sensibility shines through in the total clusterfuck (or should that be Klusterfukk?) of ‘Kollektiing Koffiin Naiils (Délire des Négations Sequence 1.0)’, which produces an oddly kaleidoscopic effect with bleak, high-end tremolo riffs spiralling in and out of each other as new drummer Gharmonboziia unleashing some dazzling fills and ludicrously aggressive blastbeats. Æequiizoiikum is a raw, anarchic thrill ride, convincingly capturing an aggressive, old school extreme metal atmosphere whilst never being afraid to get really fucking weird with it too.

Fistula - The Process Of Opting Out
(Behind The Mountain)

It’s crazy to think that after two full decades and countless line-up changes, Fistula are still one of the heaviest, most aggressive and flat out nastiest sludge bands around. Whilst a lot of their contemporaries went on hiatus or burnt out entirely, Fistula have not only been incredibly prolific, but consistent too, with The Process Of Opting Out sounding alarmingly energetic for a ninth full-length. Whilst there are certainly thicker, sludgier cuts like the absolutely flattening ‘Evilspeak’ or lumbering ‘The Malignatorium’, most of this album has an abrasive, punky fury to it that borders on grindcore levels of intensity on d-beat bolstered bangers like ‘Ratpiss’. There’s even a slight death metal flavour to tracks like ‘Costa Doing Business’ and the marvellously titled ‘Morbid Incel’, which sound especially satisfying given the band’s vast, meaty guitar tone, which is sounding even thicker and more oppressive than their last few albums. It’s not quite as gut-pulpingly bulky as their Loser EP, but it’s honestly not far off.

At just under half an hour, this is a really tight, punchy album that has that classic sludge metal feel to it, whilst seasoning it with enough new ideas and sheer unbridled ferocity to keep it fresh and interesting. Pretty much a masterclass in how to make a vital, pissed off sludge record in this oversaturated day and age.

Dead Neanderthals - Blood Rite
(Utech Records)

If Forrest Gump’s ma was that amazed by the diversity offered by something as relatively uniform as a box of chocolates, imagine how she’d feel plumbing the depths of the Dead Neanderthals discography. From free jazz to grindcore to psych rock to industrial, when it comes to this Dutch duo you truly never know what yer gonna git. Blood Rite, a half-hour long drone/doom track, is another first for the duo, and certainly their most overtly metallic offering to date; any semblance of free jazz here is smothered beneath a suffocating, leaden dirge and drummer René’s cavernous, tortured vocals. Otto’s rumbling, blown out tone is enormous and, somewhat miraculously, all provided by synth. They’ve got a blaring, gritty feel to them and sound uncannily like distorted guitars to begin with, but gradually widen out into a cleaner, more celestial drone as the track progresses, whilst René’s beats regress to sparse, pounding toms and his screams shorten to swift, punctual grunts.

It gives the track a sonic quality quite unlike any other contemporary doom; the combo of crushingly slow beats and stately, organ-esque swells is reminiscent of funeral doom bands like Profetus, but with a far more rugged, rough and filthy atmosphere. Whereas Profetus makes you think of silky strands of moonlight beaming through stained glass windows onto ornate church pews, Blood Rite is the sort of stuff you’d expect to hear whilst chained to a damp, moss-hewn wall in a dank, lightless dungeon. Absolute filth.

Kūka’ilimoku - Ka Hui Hawai'i Aloha 'Āina
(Self Released)

This month’s rawest release has to be this new demo from Hawaiian solo outfit Kūka’ilimoku however, a lo-fi, grime encrusted blackened punk romp very much in the vein of Bone Awl or Ildjarn. Proudly declaring “death to all missionaries and rotten politicians,” Ka Hui Hawai'i Aloha 'Āina (which translates to ‘National Hawaiian Cultural Association’) not only has a fiercely anti-colonial stance, but a distinctively Hawaiian twang to some of the riffs – especially in highlight ‘1893’, with it’s fantastic middle section that manages to make spindly tremolo sound overbearingly humid rather than cold and frostbitten. The songwriting itself is nice and simple, mainly alternating between blasty black metal passages and up-beat, oompah driven punk rock – opener ‘Oni Pa'a’ is probably the most elaborate track, but even then it’s gleefully, destructively primitive in approach. The guitar tone is harsh but very organic, and whilst the drums have a tendency to get lost beneath it at times, this scuzzy, obscure sound really fits the music. The vocals are fantastic too, seeming to sit just behind the rest of the mix but projecting such a vitriolic, confrontational presence that they feel like they’re still somehow right up in your face anyway. A full-length of this would go down nicely.

Valkyrie - Fear
(Relapse)

After releasing two pretty strong albums in the mid 2000s, Virginia doom quartet Valkyrie were put on ice for a few years whilst guitarist Pete Adams joined Baroness in 2008, playing on everything from Blue Record to Purple before leaving in 2017. Valkyrie’s 2015 comeback album Shadows was decent enough, but with Pete now focussing 100% of his energy on the band, Fear is an even better slice of hazy, emotive stoner rock. The band’s breezy, anthemic sound feels very similar to Red Fang, with even Pete’s slightly nasal wail being a deadringer for Aaron Beam, but Valkyrie are a much darker, more emotionally nuanced prospect, relying less on massive sludgy riffs and party vibes and more on wistful, bourbon soaked atmosphere and glistening classic rock guitar harmonies.

There’s a wounded, melancholic air wafting through Fear that lends the album a lot of weight, with tracks like ‘Afraid To Live’ and ‘Brings You Down’ really nailing that smoky, late-night blues aura. ‘The Choice’ slows right down to a lumbering doomy tempo, but Valkyrie are at their best when they’re really letting those rich lead guitars soar, like in the glorious climax of the howling, Witchcraft-esque ‘Fear And Sacrifice’ or driving ‘Evil Eye’. Fear won’t win any awards for originality, but if you’re after some summery but profoundly despondent stoner rock to help you while away these hot, lonesome lockdown nights, delve right in.

Defeated Sanity - The Sanguinary Impetus
(Willowtip)

Germany’s Defeated Sanity have been at the forefront of the whole technical brutal death metal sound for well over a decade now, with their 2007 magnum opus Psalms Of The Moribund still acting as a benchmark for this genre, taking the blueprint laid down by Suffocation to dizzying new extremes without sacrificing any power or impact for technical excess. A lot of modern tech death bands feel like they’re buckling under their own immeasurable weight, but Defeated Sanity have always managed to be intensely listenable despite pushing the bar for musicianship in death metal to astonishing new levels. The last we heard of the band was 2016’s inspired double-album Disposal Of The Dead/Dharmata, a record that spent its first half reducing the sound to its most primitive, knuckle-dragging and aggressive, relishing in huge crowd moving slams and lightspeed blastbeats on absurdly pingy snares, whilst the Dharmata section focussed on sheer technicality instead, aping the early prog-death sound of bands like Cynic, Atheist and late Death whilst putting their own spin on this distinctive style. The album seemed to divide opinion, but I thought it was a really cool, well-executed idea that not only demonstrated Defeated Sanity’s range and skill as a band, but also highlighted just how diverse and wide-ranging the phrase “technical death metal” can be.

I would say that The Sanguinary Impetus is a sort of “back to basics” album following that, but I’m not sure if this sort of dense, intricate tech-death could ever be described as “basics” – it certainly feels like the two isolated styles from the double album have coalesced back into that classic Defeated Sanity sound, as huge detuned chugs and incomprehensible guttural belches blur past in head-spinningly ostentatious arrangements. It’s great to hear the band doing what they do best whilst still refusing to rest on their laurels; songs like ‘Conceived Through Savagery’ and the unbelievably frantic ‘Entity Dissolving Entity’ settle into a more rigid, traditionally bludgeoning brutal death style, but there’s something really jazzy about songs like opener ‘Phytodigestion’ and the spiralling, nauseous churn of the six minute ‘Drivelling Putrefaction’, as disorientating atonal leads slide through awkwardly timed but alarmingly fluid breakdowns with drummer Lille Gruber managing to throw in all kinds of busy, unexpected flourishes, never really sitting still whilst still managing to deliver all the pounding rhythmic heft this kind of music demands. Far removed from the lifeless, mechanical drumming that often plagues this particular sub-genre, Gruber’s hyperactive, passionate style is consistently engaging and exciting, maintaining total control under the illusion that everything could fall apart at any given moment à la Cryptopsy’s Flo Mounier in that band’s golden days. Whilst not as out-there or boundary pushing as the new Pyrrhon, for instance, The Sanguinary Impetus is a perfect example of how to make a traditional tech-death metal record interesting, fresh and engaging in 2020. If you’re looking for metal that’s inventive, jazzy and progressive but more focussed on tearing your head off with good old fashioned brutality rather than creating abstract soundscapes, this is for you.

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