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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For April Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , April 21st, 2021 07:52

April is the cruelest month... unless you like gore-fixated death metal, weed infused doom and heavy as all hell avant rock, says Kez Whelan

Big Brave

With an end to lockdown seemingly in sight, things are feeling slightly less bleak this month. Whilst live music is still a little way off (judging by how many of the big June/ July festivals have already opted to postpone for another year), Roadburn has certainly helped ease the pain with their Roadburn Redux, offering a wealth of live streams, documentaries and exclusively recorded sets you can enjoy from the comfort of your own couch.

As per usual, April has delivered more necessary metal records than I could possibly squeeze into this column. I’ve already written about Paysage d’Hiver's Geister and Body Void's Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth elsewhere, but rest assured both are essential purchases; the former is one of Paysage d’Hiver’s most ferocious, focussed and immediate releases, almost a complete inverse of last year’s sprawling, hypnotic Im Wald, whilst Body Void’s brand of thick, viscous sludge has never sounded gnarlier, dishing out four captivating doom epics whilst railing against capitalism, white supremacy and anyone who can feel apathetic about these subjects given the shit storm of a year we’ve just endured.

There are several releases I haven’t had the chance to fully digest yet either. Detroit hardcore collective The Armed seem to have been deliberately obtuse since day one, and their third album ULTRAPOP sounds like it’s going to take several spins to fully reveal itself, a frenetic, technicolour amalgamation of artsy post-Jane Doe style hardcore, early 2000s noise rock like The Locust and shimmering pop song craft that I still haven’t fully wrapped my head round.

Dead Neanderthals seem to have come full-circle with their new EP Rat Licker too, dispensing with the jazzier long-form pieces of recent releases and returning to the jarring grindcore of their early days. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but there seems to be more of a powerviolence influence to the song structures this time round; this is what I imagine Naked City would have sounded like if John Zorn had become obsessed with Infest instead of Napalm Death.

There’s also the stuff I haven’t heard yet – you can blame the relentless linearity of time itself for that. Denver based doom trio Oryx are gearing up to release their fourth full-length, featuring guest contributions from Primitive Man’s Ethan Lee McCarthy and Blood Incantation’s Paul Riedl, which sounds extremely promising. The third album from Portland based microtonal black metal solo project Victory Over The Sun is due right at the end of the month too, and judging by the disorientating, deeply unsettling vibe of preview track ‘Nowherer’, that’s going to be another must-listen if you’re into Gorguts, Ved Buens Ende and sounds that make you feel a bit sick.

For now though, you’ve got comebacks from legends like Cannibal Corpse and Bongzilla to sink your teeth into, alongside stirring leaps forward from exciting younger bands like Big Brave, Wode and Ageless Oblivion, plus promising debuts from newcomers like Universally Estranged, Perilaxe Occlusion and Vomitorium…

Cannibal Corpse - Violence Unimagined
(Metal Blade)

The future looked uncertain for Cannibal Corpse back in 2018, following guitarist Pat O’Brien’s dramatic arrest on a burglary charge after breaking into a neighbour’s house and ranting about the “rapture”. Thankfully, the death metal legends were quickly back on their feet, recruiting Hate Eternal mastermind and in-demand producer Erik Rutan on guitar – and not to sound glib, as Pat’s breakdown is obviously tragic and hopefully he can get the help he needs to regain his mental health, but this line-up shuffle seems to be exactly what Cannibal Corpse needed, with the band sounding utterly rejuvenated on this fifteenth album. They’ve always been remarkably consistent, of course, but recent records like A Skeletal Domain and Red Before Black had started to feel fairly uniform, with little change to their tried and tested formula. Rutan slots into the band perfectly though; his grandiose, regal riffing style is immediately apparent on ‘Ritual Annihilation’, without ever overpowering Cannibal Corpse’s gristlier, viscera splattered sound. This extra flavour really helps Violence Unimagined feel fresh whilst also sounding quintessentially like Cannibal Corpse. It must help that Rutan knows the band’s approach well – this might be the first Corpse record he’s played on, but it’s the fifth he’s produced – and he’s done a great job of putting his stamp on their sound without detracting from what defines them. The more measured, thoughtful soloing on tracks like ‘Bound And Burned’ add a sinister new dimension compared to the more frenetic Slayer-isms of old, for instance. It seems Rutan’s chops have inspired the rest of the band to push themselves too. I’ve always felt like the criticisms levelled at drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz for being too simplistic are pretty unfair – whilst he may not be as flashy or technical as a lot of other death metal drummers, his pounding, no-nonsense groove is a big part of the Cannibal sound. Nevertheless, he delivers one of the most vicious, elaborate performances of his career on Violence Unimagined, with his frantic rolls and nimble fills really standing out on tracks like ‘Surround Kill Devour’. The band sound just as tight and venomous on blisteringly fast cuts like aptly named opener ‘Murderous Rampage’ as they do on chuggier, mid-paced slammers like the taut ‘Follow The Blood’, an irresistible headbanger anchored by a squelchy detuned riff that sounds like a rhinoceros’ death throes. Violence Unimagined is hands down the best Cannibal Corpse release since 2006’s classic return to form Kill, sounding suitably crushing but with a newfound vitality that no self-respecting death metal fan should deprive themselves of this year.

Bongzilla - Weedsconsin
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Re-united stoner doom legends Bongzilla dropping their first new record since 2005’s Amerijuanican just in time for April 20th? Load up that bowl, Tiny Tim, it’s a 4/20 miracle! Whilst you can’t flick the ash off a joint these days without it landing on another bong themed sludge act, back in the early 2000s Bongzilla’s fusion of Sabbath riffs with harsh, aggressive vocals seemed far more novel, and it’s satisfying to see them return to show your local doom band how it’s done. With the band now a three-piece, Weedsconsin has a charmingly stripped back feel to it – Amerijuanican already felt rawer than the dense, layered sound of their 2002 classic Gateway, but this one goes one step further still, sounding very much like a band just kicking back in their garage and unleashing the fuzz on a smoky Sunday afternoon. That’s not to say it sounds badly recorded, or even lo-fi really – the bass is enormous, the guitar tone has that characteristically dank, squelchy feel to it and the whole thing will make your chest rumble if you blast it loud enough – but there’s a very organic, unpretentious and natural feel to the record, with greasy bangers like ‘Sundae Driver’ and ‘Free The Weed’ feeling fresh yet instantly familiar. Despite the stripped back sound though, Weedsconsin’s latter half eases off on the distortion somewhat and delivers some of the most psychedelic, ambitious material in Bongzilla’s oeuvre. The dynamic, patient ‘Space Rock’ builds steadily on a foundation of laidback, smoked out licks and the kind of breezy, sun-kissed soloing you’d find on a Kyuss album, whilst the fifteen minute ‘Earth Bong / Smoked / Mags Bags’ opens with surprisingly melancholy sheets of wistful guitar atop an infectious bass groove, like Slint covering Sabbath’s ‘Hand Of Doom’, before soaring off into the cosmos with righteous Sleep-esque riff worship and some of guitarist Spanky’s most expressive lead guitar yet. There’s a really endearing, jammed out quality to Weedsconsin. It doesn’t feel like a typical comeback record made for commercial purposes or burdened by stodgy, nostalgic bloat, but instead a record born out of a simple desire to get blasted and jam on big, fat squelchy riffs all day – and I don’t know about you, but that’s all I really need right now.

Big Brave - Vital
(Southern Lord)

Whilst recent albums from this Montreal trio have explored longer, more orchestrated pieces (2017’s Ardor) and sparser, minimal material (2019’s A Gaze Among Them), Vital feels like a return to the booming, joyous but impossibly heavy sound of their 2015 breakthrough Au De La – a sound that combines the raw catharsis of early PJ Harvey with the lavish, devotional tone of A Silver Mt Zion and the dense, voluminous approach of latter-day Swans, topped off with guitarist Robin Wattie’s unique, soaring, almost Björk-esque vocals. Her voice sounds incredibly expressive here too, especially on the huge, instantly gripping opener ‘Abating The Incarnation Of Matter’. ‘Of This Ilk’ delivers one of those stuttering, hypnotic riffs the band are so adept at, really using space to their advantage to make sure every crunching note comes pounding down like a sack of hammers. Even at their heaviest though, there’s a brightness and optimism radiating at the core of the trio’s sound. Their folky roots really shine through in the wounded feel of the patient title-track – albeit amplified to chest rattling volume, producing a similarly haunting effect to Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista records. Vital is a fitting moniker, as this could well be Big Brave’s most focussed, well-realised record to date.

Wode - Burn In Many Mirrors
(20 Buck Spin)

Wode have been one of the UK’s most promising black metal acts for a full decade now, so it’s gratifying to see them picked up by 20 Buck Spin for this third full-length. It could just well be their strongest yet too, with their unique blend of Dissection-esque aggression, ominous occult atmosphere and classic NWOBHM inspired riffs coalescing into an even tighter and more powerful whole. Just check out the glorious foot-on-the-monitor guitar heroism of ‘Serpent’s Coil’, a supremely satisfying combination of stompy Celtic Frost rhythms, cold tremolo riffing and the kind of wistful, ancient guitar harmonies you’d find on a Pagan Altar record. That sense of classic metal song craft really shines through on this record, with songs like ‘Fire In The Hills’ and the driving ‘Vanish Beneath’ successfully nailing that rock & roll swagger whilst still managing to sound palpably, uncompromisingly evil – even the record’s nastiest, blastiest, most straightforwardly savage track ‘Sulphuric Glow’ is infectiously catchy. There’s no flab on Burn In Many Mirrors whatsoever, with Wode’s sound being honed and refined to a razor sharp point. The band still challenge themselves here however, especially on the three-part, ten-minute finale ‘Streams Of Rapture’, a sprawling epic that finds the quartet successfully incorporating creepy, hypnotic synths without stunting any of their raw, elemental power. If there’s any justice in the world, this album should finally see the kind of frothing praise people throw at bands like Winterfylleth directed towards Wode as everyone realises they’re one of the best black metal bands the UK has to offer.

Ageless Oblivion - Suspended Between Earth And Sky
(Apocalyptic Witchcraft)

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full seven years since Hampshire tech-death quintet Ageless Oblivion released their breakthrough second album, Penthos. The band’s fusion of progressive, precise contemporary death metal with eerie, dark atmospheres turned more than a few heads at the time, and despite the prolonged period of silence, this third full-length proves their sound has been steadily evolving and maturing this entire time. It’s arguably their most confident sounding release to date, allowing their sound a little more breathing room in a similar manner to last year’s spectacular Ulcerate record Stare Into Death And Be Still. Tracks like lead single ‘From Ash And Sulphur’ and the caustic ‘Cohesion’ deliver the kind of blistering, robust tech death you’d expect, but elsewhere, ‘All Was Froze’ finds the band dropping down to doomier tempos and really letting their knack for crafting sinister, bleak melodies shine through. Stunning nine minute centrepiece ‘Anvil Chorus’ goes even further down that route, with menacing bursts of sporadic double-kick punctuating some of the darkest, most emotive riffing the band have ever conjured. Labyrinthine closer ‘Eldmessa’ is similarly spacious, letting huge ominous chords ring out and making the blastier, riffier passages seem even more abrasive and claustrophobic by comparison. Suspended Between Earth And Sky is a worthy successor to Penthos and was certainly worth the wait, pushing the band’s sound far beyond conventional tech death trappings into more abstract and expressive territory, without ever compromising their cold, brutal approach.

Spectral Lore - Ετερόφωτος
(I, Voidhanger)

It’s been seven years since the last official full-length from Greek solo black metal outfit Spectral Lore too – although given he’s dropped several album length EPs in the interim (not to mention last year’s mammoth two hour split with Mare Cognitum), the wait has seemed a bit less excruciating in this case. That doesn’t stop the prospect of a new record being any less exciting however, especially when ‘Ατραπός‘ kicks it off in such an incendiary manner, with ferocious, razor-sharp riffage and nimble bass work. Despite the twelve minute length, it’s remarkably focussed, and its proggy, emotive final section feels especially poignant following such a rabid, intense onslaught. ‘Initiation Into The Mystery’ is alarmingly busy, with all manner of different riffs weaving in and out of each other in an incredibly disorientating fashion. Just when it threatens to become too overwhelming or hectic, however, the final refrain is one of his most stirring, accessible moments yet. ‘The Sorcerer Above The Clouds’ is even more melodic, with its elegiac, medieval sounding harmonies feeling like an earthier Obsequiae. ‘Apocalypse’, meanwhile, is suitably named, dispensing with melody in favour of harsh, swarm-of-angry-bees style black metal that eventually collapses in on itself in a morass of seething noise. Ετερόφωτος may not quite scale the same heights as last month’s Mare Cognitum release, but then in all honesty, not much else this year has. Diverse, dynamic and imaginative, it’s another great addition to the Spectral Lore discography.

Vomitorium - K.O.T.M.S
(Chamber Of Emesis)

Hailing from Leeds, this crusty black/death outfit’s debut demo has a satisfyingly filthy sound. Minute long ragers like ‘Vile Halls Of Hades’ and ‘Sadobestial Possession’ sound like the Blasphemy war metal template filtered through the city’s lineage of great grind acts like The Afternoon Gentlemen or Ona Snop, whilst longer tracks like ‘Incantation Stealing The Wretched Portal’ come off like a drunker, more unkempt Black Witchery, blurring loose, noisy soloing into barbaric hammer blasts. ‘Merciless Perpetuity’, meanwhile, is built around a lumbering Drunk In Hell style bassline before erupting into a flurry of mean, lo-fi black metal. At just under fifteen minutes, this is a very promising start; if you’re enamoured with Leeds’ distinctive hardcore punk bands but wish they had more Sodom riffs, this is for you.

Evile - Hell Unleashed

Eight years after their last full-length Skull, Huddersfield thrashers Evile are back with a brand new record and a slightly altered lineup. With frontman Matt Drake no longer in the band, RipTide guitarist Adam Smith has been recruited on riffing duties whilst long-serving bassist Ol Drake has picked up the microphone. Ol may not be the strongest vocalist, but his gruffer, more aggressive bark makes a refreshing change from Matt’s Hetfield-inspired drawl. Vocals were never really Evile’s strong point, after all, and you’ll be pleased to hear that the band’s taut, vintage thrash riffing sounds leaner than ever – with Ol’s vocals aiming for heavier, gnarlier pastures this time round, Hell Unleashed follows suit musically too. Whilst the shadow of Metallica still looms large over the group’s sound, the brute force chugging of ‘Incarcerated’ has more in common with early Exodus, whilst the crisp, rousing crunch of opener ‘Paralysed’ has more than a hint of Gothenburg style death metal. Even more surprising is the cover of Mortician’s classic ‘Zombie Apocalypse’, and it’s interesting to hear the song’s ultra-guttural, knuckle-dragging riffery transplanted into Evile’s cleaner, thrashier style – curiously, the intro riff sounds more like forgotten funk legends Iron Knowledge’s obscure gem ‘Show-Stopper’ here than it does the gut-punching churn of the Mortician original. Whilst Hell Unleashed may push Evile’s sound into more vicious places, the band haven’t lost their knack for elaborate, epically tinged thrash song-writing as the dense, melodic and intricate ‘The Thing (1982)’ proves. As different as this incarnation of the band is, it’s hard to imagine longtime fans being disappointed by this one; Evile’s classic thrash worship definitely felt like it was beginning to run out of steam on Skull, so this heavier, more energetic approach is exactly the shot in the arm the band needed.

Universally Estranged - Reared Up In Spectral Predation
(Blood Harvest)

It’s apparent as soon as you hit play that this debut from Texan solo outfit Universally Estranged isn’t your average death metal record, as you’re met with a bizarre flurry of morphing psychedelic textures atop ghostly sounding blastbeats. Whilst the project’s proggy, space-faring approach is reminiscent of Blood Incantation or Chthe’ilist, there’s an authentically unsettling, otherworldly atmosphere here that really marks Universally Estranged out as unique. Maybe it’s the fact that this album was conceived entirely in isolation during the Covid pandemic, but there’s an almost outsider art quality to Reared Up In Spectral Predation, with a genuinely feverish, hallucinogenic flavour to its surreal song writing. The album’s lo-fi aesthetic belies the intricacy of its sound design. Listen to ‘The Visitor’ a few times through a good set of headphones and hear a wealth of subtle details and weird little flourishes that seem to bubble up out of the song’s gruesome smog – and that’s before I’ve even mentioned the seamless transition into shimmering, Ozric Tentacles-style synth madness that brings the track to an end. These songs are very compact too, resisting the urge to sprawl out into epic length but managing to evolve a lot in a surprisingly short time. The splendidly titled ‘Sentient Meatsack’, for example, squeezes a lot into two minutes, including gristly Autopsy grooves, cosmic Atheist worship and a genuinely bizarre mid-section that sounds like a planet imploding in slow motion. The more I listen to Reared Up In Spectral Predation, the more details I can make out in it, making it one of the most imaginative, inventive and unexpectedly adventurous death metal releases of the year so far to my ears.

Inoculation - Celestial Putridity
(Maggot Stomp)

It’s a good month for sci-fi themed death metal. Cleveland three-piece Inoculation are back with their first full-length for Maggot Stomp, after catching their ear with their independently released 2018 debut Pure Cosmic Dread. The band are much more technical than most of the label’s output however, with Celestial Putridity sounding even tighter and more efficient than their first record. The ruthlessly precise pummelling of songs like ‘Unmade’ and the bludgeoning title track have a hint of Origin about them, with their rapidly duelling guttural barks and acidic high-pitched shrieks, wall-to-wall blastbeats and dizzyingly intricate riffs. Tracks like ‘Verity Consumated’ and ‘Xerthaneus’ offer up some wild, mildly psychedelic lead guitar too, which compliments their rigid, no-nonsense approach quite nicely. ‘The Edge Of Town’, meanwhile, is more like latter day Suffocation, but with more of a high-end crunch compared to the New York legend’s bass-heavy wallop. Whilst the record does occasionally dish out more mid-paced moments (like the irresistibly chunky mid-section that breaks through the angular, frantic fret work of ‘Ovnis Triangulares’), Celestial Putridity isn’t particularly dynamic or diverse – but if you just want calculating, head-scrambling tech-death played at breakneck pace, this will certainly scratch that itch.

Perilaxe Occlusion - Exponential Decay
(Blood Harvest)

If you’re starting to burn out on sci-fi themed death metal however, then I can pretty much guarantee this Canadian duo will be the first metal band you’ve heard to use 3D modelling techniques as their lyrical inspiration. This debut EP originally landed in December last year, but is getting a wider vinyl release this month courtesy of Blood Harvest. The pair’s sound is an intriguing one, utilising both big, bouncy Demilich style grooves and sinister Portal-esque murk, buried in a dank, washed out sound that somehow manages to sound satisfyingly deep and cavernous whilst smothered in aggressive amount of high-end hiss. These three songs are all ambitiously structured too, taking all sorts of unexpected twists and turns without just feeling like random assortments of riffs. The way ‘Skeletal Bifurcation’s lumbering, doomy intro slips into that greasy, squirming groove about a minute and a half in is immensely satisfying, and the pummelling, off-kilter double kick that follows is just the icing on the cake. ‘Rigid Body Displacement’, meanwhile, is initially much sparser and more atmospheric, taking it’s time before unleashing a genuinely flattening volley of blasts and delirious, writhing tremolo. Top stuff, and definitely a band to keep an eye on.