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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For August Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , August 24th, 2020 06:24

Kez Whelan is back once again like a renegade mosher, with news of all that is righteous and good in (extreme) metal

Another month rolls by and as ever, it’s a difficult task choosing which new releases to cover in this well-worn metallic compendium. It’s a question of volume in both a figurative and literal sense – in as much as there’s always, always too much new stuff to possibly cram it all in, it’s also tricky to judge whether bands that have turned down their amps in favour of more experimental tangents belong here or elsewhere in the luxurious vaults of tQ.

The new Ulver album Flowers Of Evil , for instance, is a continuation of the glamourous Depeche Mode worshipping sound of 2017’s The Assassination Of Julius Caesar. It’s been a long time since you could have comfortably tagged Ulver as a metal band of course, or any other rigidly defined genre for that matter, but for the last few years they seem to have settled in to this luxuriously poppy sound in spite of their chameleonic nature.

Neurosis’ Steve Von Till has a fantastic but distinctly un-metal new record out too, No Wilderness Deep Enough, that finds him veering away from the acoustic, folky Americana of his last solo record A Life Unto Itself into more sumptuous, dark and frankly beautiful synth-laden terrain. It also features some of his most expressive and confident clean vocals to date, bringing to mind Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry on the soaring, wounded ‘The Old Straight Track’.

Both are great, of course, and I’m sure you, oh exalted tQ reader of wide and eclectic taste, will have a grand old time listening to them, but that’s not why you came here, is it? No, you venture into Columnicus Metallicus in much the same way a precocious infant lifts up old stones in the garden; to see what grotesque, dirt ridden and subterranean beasties dwell in the shadows where most don’t care to look. If you’ve made it this far, I’ll wager you’re already satiated on the synth pop and neo folk front – you’re after metal and metal alone, and who am I to disappoint you? Let’s go rummage around in that big dirty pile and see what grotty oddities we can unearth this month…

Primitive Man - Immersion

It was difficult to see how Primitive Man were going to top 2017’s Caustic. Having honed their sludgy, desolate sound to perfection across a seemingly endless array of splits, that 77 minute behemoth felt like a magnum opus. It was certainly an exhausting listen, but for all the right reasons; every minute of that oppressive audio journey felt necessary and important, steadily and patiently bludgeoning the listener into dust, and then continuing to pound away at that dust until nothing remained whatsoever. Immersion is a perfect follow-up however, achieving a similar effect in less than half the time whilst managing to sound more energetic, aggressive and, ironically, caustic than its immersive predecessor.

The Colorado trio push their dissonant, grinding tendencies even further afield here; ‘Entity’, for example, is based around a terrifyingly harsh tremolo riff that sounds more like Dutch avant-garde black metallers Nihill than it does any contemporary sludge band, but it’s locked in place by Joe Linden’s uncomfortably sparse drums and Jonathan Campos’ jaw-juddering, Godflesh-ian bass lines to create an almost unbearably tense, crawling effect. The aptly titled ‘Menacing’, meanwhile, alternates between full-on black metal with face-shredding blasts and horrifyingly jangly, discordant sheets of guitar noise, and some of the album’s bleakest, most torturous doom passages, conjuring a similarly apocalyptic vibe to early Corrupted. Guitarist Ethan Lee McCarthy’s bestial roar and acerbic, biting lyrics have always added a lot to the band’s intense, hateful atmosphere, and he’s in fine form here, even when turning that bitterness on himself during the dejected yet vitriolic opener ‘The Lifer’: “Blood, pissy mattresses, and hard floors/ Monetization of the self/ You’re only one bad tour, one bad album, or one bad member/ From falling apart.”

Evidently though, there’s no sign of a “bad album” on this band’s horizon just yet, as Immersion presents a further refinement of their thick, punishing sound and proves yet again that Primitive Man are easily one of the heaviest, bleakest and downright nastiest sludge bands around today full stop.

Incantation - Sect Of Vile Divinities

New York death metal legends Incantation have had one hell of a second wind over the last few years. Not that they’ve ever really stumbled to be honest, but it was perhaps easier to take a new Incantation album for granted in the early 2000s, with the band seemingly settling into a comfortable formula. Ever since 2012’s Vanquish In Vengeance however, they’ve sounded revitalised, pushing their sound into doomier (Dirges Of Elysium) and even more psychedelic places (Profane Nexus). That winning streak shows no signs of letting up with Sect Of Vile Divinities, a record that features an oddly clean sounding mix for Incantation. Whilst it may not have the same oppressive physical weight as their earlier works, the mix allows every intricacy of the guitars to really shine through, which is handy as this album contains some of the most visceral, aggressive and technical material they’ve put out in a while in tracks like brutal, head-spinning opener ‘Ritual Impurity (Seven Of The Sky Is One)’ and the ferocious, spiralling pulse and blistering tom rolls of ‘Chant Of Formless Dread’. The two minute ‘Guardians From The Primeval’, meanwhile, is a knowingly Neolithic number, digging into simple but savage old-school riffs whilst new lead guitarist Sonny Lombardozzi really gets a chance to let rip.

The explicitly doomy flavour from the last few records still dominates the majority of the record however, which is by no means a bad thing when tracks like the pounding, mournful ‘Entrails Of The Hag Queen’ and towering six minute dirge ‘Unborn Ambrosia’ sound so intoxicatingly heavy. ‘Ignis Fatuus’ manages to be as catchy as it is lumbering, with main man John McEntee’s distinctive guitar harmonies pulling your ear in like quicksand, and ‘Shadow-blade Masters Of Tempest And Maelstrom’ has a genuinely epic feel, with sweeping double-kick propping up some of McEntee’s most grandiose and forlorn riffs. If Profane Nexus felt like the band were pushing out into unknown pastures a bit more, then Sect is definitely a return to the more traditional Incantation sound, but imbued with a freshness and imaginative touch that keeps it from feeling like just another album to chuck on the pile. Reliably great stuff.

Atramentus - Stygian
(20 Buck Spin)

This has been one of my most anticipated debut records of the year, and it definitely does not disappoint. Atramentus is a funeral doom act helmed by Phil Tougas, the mastermind behind Canada’s Chthe’ilist, whose debut album ‘Le Dernier Crépuscule’ remains one of the crown jewels of this new wave of weird and wonderful death metal we’re currently experiencing. I would say this new project is to Chthe’ilist what Spectral Voice is to Blood Incantation, but it feels like a lazy comparison when all four of these bands have really distinct sounds, and Atramentus certainly feel like a fully realised band in their own right – but it’s difficult to see how any fans of Tougas’ previous work could fail to enjoy this, even if funeral doom isn’t their usual genre of choice, as his Midas touch is all over this record. The riffs in the first lengthy piece of this triptych, ‘Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens... (Descended Forth The Ceaseless Darkness)’ feel almost like Chthe’ilist riffs played at a fraction of the speed, whilst Tougas’ subsonic galactic frog belch is recognisable from a mile away.

Atramentus conjure a far more celestial atmosphere when compared to Chthe’ilist’s earthier tones however, with the piece slowly and patiently broadening out into a vast, breath-taking vista as ethereal, haunting chants soar beneath weepy Mournful Congregation style leads and glacial slabs of sombre, introspective chords. The 23 minute ‘Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across The Perpetual Planes Of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)’ is even more melancholy, maintaining a vice-like grip on your attention even when plumbing some torturously slow tempos, augmenting its leaden chords with subtle piano flourishes as distant Thergothon-esque vocals collide with guttural Predator-like gurgles. There’s an absolutely stunning, calm midsection as whispy guitar twangs float through clouds of delicious dark ambience, rich, star-gazing synths and lugubrious vocal swells, and a stirring, blastbeat backed finale that brings the album to a truly enormous, overwhelming close, feeling like the culmination of the previous 40 minutes of intense tension finally releasing in a cathartic technicolour explosion.

Stygian is a remarkably focussed record that manages to feel epic whilst never overstaying its welcome or dragging things out for the sake of it – there’s a lot of restraint and efficiency in the song writing here compared to other recent releases in the genre. Combined with its wistful, evocative and ancient aesthetic (just look at that cover art!) and thoughtful underlying concept, this is an album that has “future classic” written all over it.

Venom - Sons Of Satan: Rare And Unreleased

If you’re looking for some genuinely ancient metal however, then this recently exhumed collection of early demos and rehearsal recordings from legendary Geordie scuzz-mongers Venom comes highly recommended. There’s a certain mystique surrounding metal demo tapes, and especially so when we’re dealing with the band that arguably invented extreme metal in the first place. However, if you’re expecting the earliest recordings here to comprise fully formed and unquestionably evil black metal, you’re in for a shock. The 1979 rehearsals captured here (in a church hall, no less) really demonstrate the band’s rock & roll influence, with classics like ‘Angel Dust’ played at a far more sedate, hip-swingin’ pace compared to the brutish ferocity of later studio recordings.

Original vocalist Clive “Jesus Christ” Archer has more of a traditional NWOBHM inflection at this stage too, eschewing Cronos’ guttural snarl in favour of a soaring, cleaner approach. The recording itself is anything but clean however; drowned out beneath natural church hall reverb and the deafening roar of cheap amplifiers, it’s expectedly murky, but if your ear is used to sifting through fuzzy, cassette-hiss smothered demo tapes, it’s really not that hard to hear what’s going on here. The next (also unreleased) demo, recorded a year later at Newcastle’s Impulse Studios for the bargain price of £50, is significantly clearer, with the band sounding much leaner, meaner and more overtly metallic than before. Cronos’ rumbling bass cuts through the mix perfectly, and Archer’s vocals have taken a significantly more evil turn, approaching the croakier rasp we’ve come to associate with the band – although he still can’t resist throwing in a few absurd falsetto wails in ‘Live Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil’. By the time we reach the tracks that comprise their first properly released demo, 1980’s Demon, the band have really come into their own, upping the speed and aggression, sanding off the cleaner rock & roll edges and fully basking in their brash, grotty new sound. Cronos’ bass is noticeably more overdriven and driving, and Archer’s voice has fully regressed to a throaty, demonic cackle, not a million miles away from Cronos himself. Finally, we get a 1983 demo of the band’s infamous, ambitious ‘At War With Satan’. Standing at a punchier 14 minutes as opposed to the 20 minute studio version, it’s arguably the superior recording; what it lacks in pomp and spectacle compared to the album take, it makes up for by being far more energetic and focused, keeping the pantomime-esque segues to a minimum and capturing a more vital live energy.

For any budding metal archaeologists out there, this is not only an invaluable piece of the genre’s history, but also fairly damning evidence of how the power of metal can corrupt and warp groups of nice, clean cut young boys into skullet-sporting, fire-spewing, codpiece-clad barbarians in less than 12 months.

Gulch - Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
(Closed Casket Activities)

You’d be forgiven for finding the astronomical levels of hype surrounding Gulch to be a tad off-putting – never trust a band with more merch designs than songs, right? – but I’m pleased to report that this Californian hardcore act are the real deal, as this nifty fifteen minute “full-length” debut ably proves. The band’s sound is more refreshing and unique than it may sound on paper; if I were to describe this as “aggro hardcore with big Entombed riffs”, I can already feel your eyes rolling into the back of your head, but Gulch don’t sound anything like any of the numerous HM-2-core acts currently kicking about. Despite the eerie Swe-death influence in riffs like the one that opens ‘Cries Of Pleasure, Heavenly Pain’, they’re most definitely on the punkier end of the spectrum, although frontman Elliot Morrow’s strangled, helium-addled screech makes a change from the generic hardcore bark, adding a deranged and hysterical fervour to these songs.

The opening title track is a neat encapsulation of everything that makes the band so good, offering burly, metallic chugs, raging oompah beats and a hulking, primitive breakdown in under two minutes. The breakdowns here are all uniformly massive, and manage to avoid sounding clichéd or rote; the moment ‘Self-Inflicted Mental Terror’s lightspeed, stop-on-a-dime blasts suddenly slow down to a brutal stomp, for example, is just ludicrously satisfying. Whilst Gulch certainly don’t skimp on this front, it doesn’t feel like the songs are primarily based around these breakdowns like some of their peers – most of these songs maintain an deliriously bratty up-tempo momentum that keeps the album tearing along at breakneck pace, feeling more like classic hardcore punk than down-tempo, beatdown stuff.

With the whole thing wrapped up in a bright, energetic production that really emphasises the booming power of the drums and the gritty crunch of the bass, Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress is highly addictive – by the time the cathartic closing cover of Siouxsie & The Banshee’s ‘Sin In My Heart’ (by far the longest track on here) brings the record to a moody finish, you’ll already be reaching over for a second play. In this particular instance, I guess you can believe the hype…

Luna’s Call - Void
(Self Released)

Lincoln’s enormously underrated Luna’s Call are back with their second album this month, building on the intricate, melodic and progressive death metal sound of their 2016 debut Divinity and then some. The band’s heavy Opeth influence is still apparent, with tracks like ‘Locus’ and opener ‘Signs’ offering up labyrinthine, atmospheric and luscious compositions that would have felt right at home on Blackwater Park, whilst guitarist Neil Purdy’s clean vocals are sounding even stronger and more expressive than the last record, backing up his throaty, guttural roars very nicely indeed. But Void isn’t just a case of hero worship, with the band sounding more confident and imaginative than before too. They’re now a quartet, with the addition of secondary guitarist Liam Underdown allowing them to tackle far more ambitious pieces like the thirteen minute ‘Solar Immolation’, complete with a huge, psychedelic lead guitar passage, or the epic nine minute closer ‘Fly Further Cosmonaut’, which begins with some of the album’s most furious, blasting death metal riffage before venturing through soaring, folky vocal harmonies and a dramatic, orchestral mid-section that’s similar in spirit to Emperor’s ‘In The Wordless Chamber’.

Shorter interludes like the sumptuous, pastoral finger licks of ‘Silverfish’ help the album’s flow and make the record feel more dynamic and voyage-like than their debut, despite clocking in ten minutes shorter. There’s a focus to Void that anchors these lengthy pieces and prevents the band from ever disappearing into the wilderness of prog rock indulgence, despite managing to take their sound to some unexpected and technically dazzling new places. This comes recommended to all fans of progressive metal, but especially to those still clamouring for Opeth to return to their death metal days – this stuff will be like Mana from heaven for you guys, mark my words.

Titan To Tachyons - Cactides
(Self Released)

If that hasn’t fully scratched your prog itch however, then this debut from Titan To Tachyons will certainly do the trick. The trio are led by Sally Gates, former guitarist for psychedelic sci-fi death metallers Orbweaver, but backed by Secret Chiefs 3 and Imperial Triumphant drummer Kenny Grohowski and Cleric’s Matt Hollenburg, the instrumental Cactides finds Gates really broadening out her sound and exploring a host of new textures and ideas. There’s almost no trace of death metal here, with Titan To Tachyons venturing into heady avant-prog-metal territory, but that doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of riffs. Take ‘The Starthinker Is Obsolete’ for example, which is built around an oddly timed but nevertheless ginormous sludge riff, or opener ‘Morphing Machineminds’, which kicks off with the kind of subtle, jazzy guitar licks you might find on a later Tom Waits record before opening up into a dissonant, jarring King Crimson-esque groove and then abruptly unleashing a volley of hyper speed blasts whilst Gates taps out dizzying, atonal leads.

‘Tycho Magnetic’ warps heroic classic metal guitar harmonies into awkward but stirring shards of spiky rhythmic chunks, and ‘Earth, And Squidless’ lunges headfirst into free jazz territory as fidgety, swampy bass riffs collide with Gates’ fretboard fireworks, until the whole thing collapses into an eerily sparse dub outro with Sally layering creepy Allan Holdsworth style leads on top of each other until the tension reaches breaking point and a huge, syncopated wave of grinding metallic skronk crashes in out of nowhere. Mr. Bungle’s Trevor Dunn turns up on closer ‘Everybody’s Dead, Dave’, one of the most apparently free-form tracks on the whole album, building all manner of bizarre, minimal soundscapes before letting them fall in on each other in an abrasive, cacophonous assault that sounds perpetually in danger of falling apart but somehow always manages to loop back to the same doomy riff each time. Cactides may be too out-there and amorphous for some, but if you’re partial to prog in any form, the album’s intricate, fluctuating layers and bewilderingly psychedelic feel make it one fascinating trip indeed.

Necrot - Mortal
(Tank Crimes)

Maybe you’re not a prog-head however, and you just want some straight-up, no-nonsense greasy death metal. Well, the second album from Oakland power trio Necrot has got you covered this month, offering up a solid 40 minutes of pure riff action: no atmospheric intros, no wild synthesiser tangents, no orchestral passages, no samples, just riff after riff after gruesome, festering riff. Whilst comprising members of bands like Acephalix and Vastum, Necrot’s sound is less doomy and detuned in comparison, coming across like a potent blend of Bolt Thrower’s rhythmic churn and Grave’s robustly evil riffing style. There hasn’t been any drastic change between Mortal and their 2017 debut Blood Offerings, although the production is even heftier now. It’s got a suitably booming and thunderous quality, but feels organic and earthy without feeling like a self-consciously “retro” sounding record.

The songs themselves are mostly bloody chunks of raging tremolo, propulsive skank beats and double-bass rumbles, with tunes like ‘Stench Of Decay’ and ‘Malevolent Intentions’ going like the absolute clappers as Luca Indrio’s dry, hoarse vocals howl away like a more guttural Martin van Drunen. ‘Asleep Forever’ has a more epic Those Once Loyal feel to it, whilst the surprisingly bouncy ‘Sinister Will’ reeks of late ‘90s Napalm Death, albeit with all industrial or post-punk influence drained out and replaced with a more straightforwardly deathly aesthetic. There’s something refreshingly no frills about Mortal, which might not endear them to those who want their death metal to be more inventive, artsy or surreal – but if you’re just hungry for a big slab of evil riffs, you can’t go wrong with this.

Siege Column - Darkside Legions
(Nuclear War Now!)

Still not primitive enough for you? Try this new one from New Jersey duo Siege Column, a gleefully knuckle-headed barrage of no-nonsense old-school filth. After a quick intro that sounds like a malfunctioning NES game, the pair waste no time at all getting stuck into barbaric walls of sound akin to the first Bolt Thrower album on ‘Devil’s Knights Of Hell’, before dropping into some Repulsion-esque D-beat sections and a heroically crusty doom passage. It’s probably the most elaborate track on here too, with the majority of this second album comprised of swift three minute head-nodders like ‘Echoes From The Underworld’ and ‘In The Stolen Tomb’, brutish nuggets of grotty fury built around a couple of riffs max and a seriously bad attitude. The vocals (courtesy of one Shawnslaught Skullkrusher; presumably not his birth name) are absolutely disgusting, ferocious Neanderthal grunts and add a lot of character to the band. There’s a significant punk influence here too, with tracks like ‘Funeral Fiend’ and the storming, pissed up belter that is ‘Gloves Of Fire’ powered by snotty oompah beats and obnoxiously simple chord patterns.

Darkside Legions takes a somewhat unexpectedly epic turn towards the end though, with ‘Speed Of Omen Winds’ feeling like the uglier, malformed cousin of Bathory’s ‘Enter The Eternal Fire’, with a triumphant, atmospheric lead section colliding with waves of bloody minded hammerblasts. Closer ‘Buried In Lava’ dishes out even more atmospheric and ominous leads, but it’s not long until the pair throw caution to the wind and unleash a dizzying storm of thrashing nastiness, culminating into a gruesomely slow, Autopsy-esque outro. It’s not clever and it sure ain’t pretty, but it’s a damn good time.

Temple Nightside - Pillars Of Damnation
(Iron Bonehead)

Australia’s Temple Nightside have been a reliable purveyor of murky, blackened death-doom for quite a while now, and this fourth offering is perhaps their murkiest yet. In all honesty, it’s a little too murky for its own good sometimes; whilst their 2016 album The Hecatomb struck a perfect balance between sinister, obscure and shadowy production values and visceral sonic heft, Pillars Of Damnation can often sound like you’re listening to it from a couple of rooms away. It’s muddy rather than murky really, which is a shame as riff-wise, this album delivers heartily. Songs like the ferocious ‘Death Eucharist’ offer pure gutter level riffery, attacking with even more vitriol and aggression than their previous records as sinewy and noisy lead guitar squeals writhe above grotesque, rumbling tremolo. The band’s doom influence is still very much in play though, with that particular track culminating in an oddly beautiful outro, the Slayer-esque leads suddenly exploding into these vast, skeletal echoes atop downtrodden Corrupted style chords. ‘The Carrion Veil’ and hulking nine minute closer ‘Damnation’ are doomier still, but on the whole Pillars Of Damnation is one of the band’s fastest and nastiest offerings. ‘Wreathed In Agony’ has more of a black metal feel, powered by some seriously blistering blasts, whilst ‘Blood Cathedral’ is vaguely reminiscent of early Deicide, albeit smothered beneath layers of reverb and assorted grime. Whilst it may not pack the same sonic punch as some of their previous outings, this is still certainly worth your time if you’ve got a penchant for this kind of doomy, cavernous death metal.

Thou - A Primer Of Holy Words
(Self Released)

Finally, whilst we lose our minds waiting for their upcoming collaboration with Emma Ruth Rundle, Thou continue their grand digital house-clearing with another streaming collection of covers, following their online-only compilation of Nirvana covers back in June. Most of this has been previously released so there’s not much for completists (the only brand new recording is a studio version of Shellac’s ‘Prayer To God’ which is cool, but not quite as intense as the version with The Body on last year’s Everyday, Things Are Getting Worse live album), but it’s handy to have all this stuff in one place if you haven’t been keeping on top of the band’s numerous limited releases. The Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains covers here date back to a 2015 record store day 7” for example, and are definitely worth hearing – the former’s ‘Spin The Black Circle’ is transformed into a barnstorming hardcore rager, whilst the latter’s ‘No Excuses’ is surprisingly faithful, albeit much, much heavier, with guitarist Matthew Thudium doing a decent Jerry Cantrell impression atop the band’s stomach-churning low-end punch. Thudium also sounds great taking lead vocals on Soundgarden’s ‘Fourth Of July’ from their 2012 split with Kowloon Walled City, with that droning gut-punch of a riff taken to even heavier depths and fitting right into the band’s sludgy sound. In hindsight, it makes you wonder if these covers were the catalyst for Thudium’s gravelly clean vocals being utilised more on Thou’s recent material, like the grungy Rhea Sylvia.

It’s fun hearing Thou thunder their way through classic hardcore tracks like Minor Threat’s ‘Screaming At A Wall’ too, but to be honest, the main appeal of this compilation is that the band’s legendary Black Sabbath covers EP Through The Empires Of Eternal Void finally has a wider release in its entirety. If you somehow haven’t heard it yet, it’s everything you could want from a Thou Sabbath tribute, with classics like ‘Into The Void’ and ‘Lord Of This World’ played in ridiculously low tunings, powered by a groove that swings like an elephant’s dick as vocalist Bryan Funck vomits forth those timeless lyrics with maximum gusto. Bliss.