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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For September Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , September 30th, 2020 08:45

Kez Whelan is back with all that is good, bad and ugly in heavy metal, covering new releases from Napalm Death, Sumac and Uniform


It’s been a pretty shitty month for metal fans, in all honesty. At the end of August, Power Trip announced that their vocalist Riley Gale had passed away at the tragic age of 34, in what felt like a huge blow for the community. In true crossover spirit, Power Trip were a band that brought people together and it felt like they were just reaching their peak – their 2017 opus Nightmare Logic was an absolute beast, a powerful combination of the crushing riffing heft of Beneath The Remains-era Sepultura with the brash, youthful intensity and catchy song-writing of early D.R.I. It’s one of those records where you can’t read the track list without your brain shouting back refrains like “IF NOT US… THEN WHO?!” at you.

When that album landed, it seemed like everyone – from the balding ’80s thrash lifers to the young kids in Lamb Of God hoodies propping up the front barrier at Download, from the death metal demo tape hoarding elitists to the spin-kicking hardcore die-hards – everyone was totally in love with it, and rightly so. For as much as we like to think the gap between metal and hardcore has been completely sealed over, there’s still definitely an element of tribalism left there – and Power Trip were one of those bands who said, “Hey, we all love blasting massive riffs at ludicrous volumes and running around in big sweaty circles, so why don’t we all just do that together?”

But Riley didn’t just embody that crossover ethos on a musical level – he always used both his platform and socially conscious lyrics to highlight the world’s injustices and call out a lot of the conservative, macho bullshit and regressive ideologies that have crept into metal lately, which, in a time where ageing thrash icons are more likely to share pro-Trump memes on their Instagram pages than they are to drop a classic, generation-defining record, felt like a huge breath of fresh air. Whilst Riley’s death is devastating, the fire he lit shows no signs of dying down and it’s safe to say the band’s musical and ideological legacy is assured.

This month also saw Holy Roar Records folding in the wake of numerous testimonies from brave women detailing abuse they’d suffered at the hands of label owner Alex Fitzpatrick, behaviour that is never remotely acceptable but seems especially egregious given the outspokenly feminist ethos of the bands Fitzpatrick surrounded himself with. Thankfully the response from acts like Rolo Tomasi, Ithaca and Svalbard (whose excellent new record is deserving of an in-depth review elsewhere on tQ) was swift and efficient, cutting ties with the label and standing with the survivors.

Now, this should go without saying, but it’s always worth repeating; there is no place for rapists in this scene, or anywhere else. If you ever open this column and see me unknowingly praising a band or a label helmed by someone who is an abuser, drop us a line and they’re gone. To be able to travel the world and play your music for hordes of fans is an enormous privilege, as is being able to release, promote and profit off records by your peers; we will not support anyone who misuses this privilege to prey on others instead of spreading joy and making the world a better place through the wonderful, unifying power of music. Fuck that shit forever.

Ugh. Speaking of the wonderful, unifying power of music, this new Napalm Death record couldn’t have arrived at a better time…

Napalm Death - Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism
(Century Media)

It’s been a full five years since Apex Predator – Easy Meat, which is the longest we’ve ever had to wait between Napalm Death records. That album was something of a benchmark for the band too, a razor sharp, vitriolic explosion of everything that made them great and one of the most immediately vicious and confrontational records they'd released in years. Given both that and the ongoing confusion regarding the band’s guitarist situation after longstanding riff-monger Mitch Harris’ hiatus in 2014, it was difficult to imagine how they were going to top that. They’ve wisely changed tack a little for Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism. There are still loads of traditionally savage Napalm bangers on here. Raging opener ‘Fuck The Factoid’ wastes no time at all in belting out gonzo grind riffs backed by Danny Herrera’s ludicrously tight blastbeats, whilst ‘Zero Gravitas Chamber’ is one of those delirious satisfying chug-fests the band have excel in. But they frequently step outside their comfort zone too, pushing the limits of the Napalm Death sound and experimenting with styles they haven’t really touched on before. Usually when people use the term “experimental” about a modern Napalm record, they mean it just sounds a bit like Swans, but Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is arguably the most genuinely experimental record the band have released since their ground-breaking late 80s heyday, without compromising or sacrificing their core sound too much.

The churning, bass driven industrial stomp of ‘Joie De Ne Pas Vivre’, for instance, is unlike anything else in the Napalm back catalogue, with frontman Barney Greenway trying out abrasive new vocal techniques and bassist Shane Embury really getting a chance to shine, laying down stomach-churning grooves without being buried underneath layers of guitar. ‘Amoral’, meanwhile, is a cacophonously rhythmic post-punk workout, with an aggressive chanted vocal pattern that’s bizarrely reminiscent of Hawkwind’s ‘Hassan I Sahba’, whilst dirge-like closer ‘A Bellyful Of Salt And Spleen’ eventually snaps under its own weight, giving way to a chorus of shimmering, My Bloody Valentine style guitars. It feels like these elements are mixed in with their usual grinding fare far more seamlessly and efficiently than previous records too. The band’s use of clean vocals has been very hit-and-miss, for example – for every genuinely surprising track like ‘Identity Crisis’ in the past, there’s been a jarring dud like ‘The Wolf I Feed’ – but their sparing use on this new record is very effective indeed, especially on the moody ‘Contagion’. Throes Of Joy isn’t as aggressive or visceral as Apex Predator, but its more adventurous, dynamic nature makes it a more than worthy follow-up.

Venomous Concept - Politics Versus The Erection
(Season Of Mist)

Shane and Danny have been busy this month; not content with just dropping a new Napalm record, they’ve also dished out another Venomous Concept LP, once again delivering a host of short, sharp jolts of frantic Poison Idea-esque hardcore wrapped up in the ugliest cover art they can muster. Despite a slight line-up shuffle (bassist Dan Lilker is no longer playing with the band, leaving Shane to handle the low end whilst Napalm Death touring guitarist John Cooke takes care of all the guitars), not a huge amount has changed in terms of the Venomous Concept sound here. Whilst the band themselves may swear this is just straight-up, old school punk rock, their collective pedigree ensures there’s still a hefty amount of grindcore influence here; whilst not as blasty as the new Napalm Death, tracks like ‘Broken Teeth’ and the raging, sub-one-minute-long ‘Hole In The Ground’ feel noticeably more metallic and face shredding than traditional punk. Of course, former Brutal Truth vocalist Kevin Sharp’s immediately recognisable primal roar helps tether their sound towards grindcore too, and he’s in his element here, evidently having a ball howling through cuts like the acidic ‘Mantis Toboggan’.
There are a few surprises however; the dreamy, atmospheric chords and driving mid-paced stomp of ‘Promise’ make for a nice break from all the lightspeed power chords and D-beats surrounding it, without feeling too alien or “out there” to pull focus and disrupt the record’s flow, whilst the title track is a churning, Swans-aping dirge that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the new Napalm Death record, but makes for a suitably oppressive closer here. Politics Versus The Erection won’t change your world, and is certainly nowhere near as adventurous as Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism overall, but it’s a sufficiently entertaining onslaught of no-nonsense, piss & vinegar doused hardcore, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Sumac - May You Be Held
(Thrill Jockey)

Aaron Turner’s Sumac have come a long way in the past five years. Their debut The Deal felt almost like a return to Isis’ Celestial-era sound, with more emphasis on ball-busting heaviness and less on atmospheric textures, but since then the trio have just gotten more stark, minimal and free-form with each successive release, eventually culminating in two largely improvised releases with Keiji Haino and 2018’s almost impenetrable Love In Shadow opus. This latest offering, however, certainly doesn’t abandon that path, but it does find Sumac reacquainting themselves with the simple power of truly massive fucking riffs in amongst all the weirdness. The sprawling 20 minute title track is a good case in point, immediately feeling more triumphant and uplifting than the bleaker material on Love In Shadow with Turner’s distinctive riffing taking on a somewhat brighter quality. It’s still absolutely crushing though of course, with the piece gradually slowing to a crawl as bassist Brian Cook and drummer Nick Yacyshyn provide a sparse but watertight rhythmic bed for Turner to unleash all manner of noisy, zonked out guitar squeals.

Tracks like the droning, low-key ‘The Iron Chair’ and subtle, disarmingly quiet opener ‘A Prayer For Your Path’ feel like they could have been born out of the same improv sessions as the Haino material, but the gargantuan ‘Consumed’ blasts off into driving, propulsive space rock territory before giving way to one of the album’s most gripping, swaggering grooves. The creepy, clean midsection is especially notable too, as Cook lays down some seriously heavyweight basslines whilst Turner contrasts his guttural roar with feverish high-pitched howls, to genuinely unnerving effect. May You Be Held doesn’t reinvent the Sumac sound by any means, but it’s another solid addition to their discography with enough depth, nuance and physical force to satisfy both the free-improv nerds and post-metal fanatics.

Skeletal Remains - The Entombment Of Chaos
(Century Media)

Over the course of three full-lengths across the past decade, California’s Skeletal Remains have proven themselves to be an extremely reliable source of good ol’ fashioned death metal, despite being written off as just another bunch of shameless Florida death metal clones by some. That’s a criticism you’ll likely be seeing less of after The Entombment Of Chaos however; whilst the collective spectre of Death, Morbid Angel and Obituary still looms heavily here, this new album is easily their most focused, cohesive and confident effort yet. ‘Illusive Divinity’ is an unreasonably savage opener, with session drummer Charlie Koryn (of Ascended Dead, VoidCeremony and Funebrarum) immediately taking the band to a whole new level of speed, precision and technicality with extremely solid, speedy blastbeats and thunderous double kick rolls. This newfound ferocity is felt in tracks like the dense, laser-focused riffery of ‘Synthetic Impulse’ too, and the constantly shifting, labyrinthine ‘Torturous Ways To Obliteration’, complete with majestic, melodic James Murphy style leads (there’s even a cover of ‘Stench Of Paradise Burning’ by the legendary guitarist’s Disincarnate too, just in case there was any doubt as to where the band’s influences lie).

But The Entombment Of Chaos has more to offer than just pulse-racing speed alone. ‘Tombs Of Chaos’, for example, is a monstrous chugger in the vein of early Pestilence, right down to frontman Chris Monroy’s pained, throaty Martin van Drunen-style howl, but the glorious explosion of soaring, crystalline guitar harmonies that erupt later on in the song really showcase how far both the band’s instrumental muscle and song-writing skills have come along. It segues seamlessly into the luscious yet eerie instrumental piece ‘Enshrined In Agony’, affording your ears a quick breather before the record’s latter half dives headfirst into even more menacing territory, with ‘Eternal Hatred’ slamming on the breaks to really squeeze the most of the band’s thick, swampy groove.

Skeletal Remains have refined their sound into its most potent form here, without detouring into progressive whimsy or losing sight of what made them so appealing to begin with, and the result is an impressively well-realised album that manages to sound both convincingly old school and refreshingly cutting edge.

Void Rot - Descending Pillars
(Everlasting Spew / Sentient Ruin Laboratories)

Minnesota’s Void Rot seemed to come out of nowhere in 2018 with their Consumed By Oblivion EP, a fifteen minute dose of punishing death/doom in the vein of Krypts or Spectral Voice. This full-length debut has certainly been worth the wait, boasting an even thicker, more suffocating sound and sustaining a genuinely disquieting, other-worldly aura throughout. The quartet have an uncanny knack for crafting riffs that sound like big viscous blobs of black slime, gradually but inevitably oozing down dank cavern walls, and when drummer Will Bell switches between lumbering percussive punctuation and thunderous double kick grooves beneath as on tracks like ‘Delusions Of Flesh’, it creates an authentically disorientating feel. “Grooves” is perhaps the wrong word as Void Rot don’t really “groove” in the traditional sense, but the leaden, pounding rhythm of ‘Liminal Forms’ still manages to swing like a solid stone pendulum.

The sprawling, sinister closer ‘Monoliths: Descending Pillars Pt. 2’ is one of the album’s most immersive and extraordinary moments, as rumbling, tremolo-picked death metal riffs are repurposed as droning, subtly shifting walls of sound, patiently building to a stunning sensory overload of a crescendo with an admirable amount of restraint.

For the most part, Descending Pillars doesn’t do a whole lot that the death/doom classics haven’t already done, but it does it so well that it’s hard not to be sucked in by it. Compared to the likes of Spectral Voice, it feels like Void Rot are still in the process of finding their own voice, but this is an extremely promising start – if they can push this sound into even grimier, murkier places from here, we’re in for a treat.

The Infernal Sea - Negotium Crucis
(Apocalyptic Witchcraft)

The Infernal Sea’s 2015 sophomore record The Great Mortality is probably one of the grimmest, most evil sounding albums to ever emerge from East Anglia, but the plague mask donning British black metal quartet seem determined to outdo themselves on this third record. Featuring an even more abrasive, frosty production, Negotium Crucis is a much darker, harsher experience, really harking back to that early Norwegian sound without being beholden to it; there’s a lot more going on here than pure second wave worship, despite how convincingly the band manage to pull that off. It would be a stretch to call a track as primal and pounding as ‘Field Of The Burned’ progressive, but the way it morphs from icy blizzard-like blasting to a hypnotic, deeply textured pulse feels more akin to the likes of Urfaust than your average Immortal clone. The same goes two-fold for the desolate ‘Rex Mundi’, which even finds vocalist Dean Lettice utilising a similar wailing howl to mesmerising effect. Dean really pushes himself on this album, deploying theatrical Attila Csihar style croaks on ‘God Wills It’ and even clean Enslaved-esque chants on ‘Destruction Of Shum’ in addition to the usual high-end shrieks. That’s not to say Negotium Crucis is a largely cerebral, ethereal experience however; songs like ‘Unholy Crusade’ and ‘Devoid Of Fear’ are boisterous, blistering blasts of blasphemous black metal, whilst the title track itself is a rip-roaring black & roll rager that sounds like Celtic Frost doing shots with Motörhead by moonlight. ‘Befallen Order’, meanwhile, reeks of very early Gorgoroth, with blasts and raucous D-beats rubbing up against brittle blackened riffs and Dean’s caustic, throat-shredding screech, before belting out a euphoric Maiden-esque lead to finish. If you’re currently in the market for an evil but imaginative black metal record that’s as dynamic as it is demonic, look no further than Negotium Crucis.

Uniform - Shame
(Sacred Bones)

After incorporating live drums and a much rawer aesthetic for their 2018 album The Long Walk, New York industrialists Uniform have adopted an even more organic, earthy approach for this fourth full-length. The duo are no longer backed by ex-Liturgy drummer Greg Fox, but have opted to enlist former Hatred Surge sticksman Mike Sharp instead of firing up the drum machine again. Sharp’s style is less flashy and more driving than Fox’s, which is actually a better fit for the more minimal, punky style Uniform are going for, whilst imbuing it with a lot more aggression than mechanical percussion – just check out the blasting, powerviolence inspired ‘Life In Remission’ or the way the lumbering ‘The Shadow Of God’s Hand’ abruptly breaks into seething up-tempo hardcore for proof of how well this combo works.

The piercing high-end hiss of The Long Walk has been replaced here too with a much fuller, bassier production that makes it sound more like a band jamming in a dingy, sweatbox venue than the harrowing, disembodied clank of yore. Indeed, for any die-hard industrial fans who’ve latched onto Uniform, the extent to which they frequently sound like a modern sludge metal act on Shame may be something of a sore spot – it’s interesting to note that whilst peers, frequent collaborators and, by all accounts, doom metal duo The Body have been leaning into an increasingly more electronic direction of late, the harsh industrial throb of Uniform has gradually given way to a much more directly metallic approach – but it’s a sound that suits them well.

The aching, turbulent chords and crushing, leaden pace of the title track are reminiscent of Today Is The Day at their most despondent and down-trodden, whilst ‘This Won’t End Well’ is pure Cop-era Swans worship but with more blastbeats. The sludgy palm-muted riffs and taut, pummelling drums in ‘Dispatches From The Gutter’, meanwhile, sound uncannily like early Melvins at their most upbeat. Shame could well be Uniform’s most straight-forward record, but it’s also their most visceral and immediately thrilling.

Deafkids & Petbrick - Deafbrick

If you’re missing that glitchier, industrial aesthetic from Shame, however, then Deafbrick ought to sort you right out. A collaboration between Deafkids, a Brazillian hardcore act who’ve morphed into a sprawling, noisy, genre-defying beast over the last couple of years, and Petbrick, itself a collaboration between Big Lad mastermind and in-demand producer Wayne Adams and original Sepultura drummer Igor Cavalera, Deafbrick is one of those collaborative records (much like The Body and Full Of Hell’s recent team-ups) that feels less like a simple melding of two existing bands and more a whole new entity in its own right. It’s more than happy to be intensely, confrontationally abrasive – tracks like ‘Força Bruta’ and ‘Mega-Ritual’ are an absolute kick in the teeth, seething blasts of mechanically enhanced hardcore that feel like Atari Teenage Riot and Anti-Cimex joining forces to fight off a swarm of android killing machines – but also isn’t afraid to hold back when necessary for maximum impact. The creepy ‘The Menace Of The Dark Polar Night’, for example, builds slowly and steadily from sparse, barely-even-there electronic fluctuations into an oddly grandiose sludgy elegy, before segueing seamlessly into the pounding Godflesh-on-steroids gabber of ‘Máquina Obssessivo-Compulsiva’.

As you’d expect given Cavalera’s musical history, there’s a strong rhythmic aspect to this record, but it doesn’t always manifest in the form of booming tribal drum workouts – just check out the unnervingly subtle ‘O Antropoceno’, in which a tight but surprisingly gentle percussive bed underpins distant, reverb smothered chants and musique concrète inspired aural detritus. Deafkids pay homage to their D-beat roots too with a mind-scraping cover of Discharge’s ‘Free Speech For The Dumb’, transforming the song into a vast, rolling space rock workout with the help of Casual Nun’s Matt Ridout and Terminal Cheesecake/Luminous Bodies’ Gordon Watson, before knowingly breaking the fourth wall with a stretched out, Steve Reich-esque sample of Discharge themselves tutting “Deafbrick? That was fuckin’ Deafshit! Metallica could do a fuckin’ better version than that…”

Deafbrick seems to exist right at the nexus where industrial, noise, metal and punk all meet, and mischievously blurs them all together to create a supremely heady and disorientating sonic stew. With a palpable undercurrent of uncertainty, existential dread and intense technological paranoia, it’s pretty much the perfect soundtrack to 2020.