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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For June Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , June 23rd, 2021 08:59

Who wasted their time in lockdown? Not the metal acts currently putting out live recordings and concept albums, says Kez Whelan


With the shining oasis of live music drawing ever nearer on the horizon, several bands are wisely taking this opportunity to release their live streams from last year, helping to tide us over these last few gig-less weeks.

Enslaved’s ambitious four-part Cinematic Tour is out now as a lavish vinyl box set, or available in separate parts if you don’t fancy forking out for the whole thing. Below The Lights is, unsurprisingly, a performance of their 2003 classic album in full from Beyond The Gates, whilst Utgard – The Journey Within is an abridged version of their most recent album from Summer Breeze. Both The Rise Of Ymir and Chronicles Of The Northbound draw mostly from early 2010s records like Axioma Ethica Odini and RIITIIR, but the latter also makes room for ‘Fenris’ from their iconic second album Frost, a nice little homage to their roots amidst the more stately, progressive newer material.

Mr. Bungle went one step further last year by re-recording the entirety of their 1986 demo The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny, with the core trio of Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance joined by Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. Despite the all-star cast (and the undeniable cool factor of a band who grew up worshipping Slayer and S.O.D. getting to play their old material alongside the musicians that inspired it), I was a little disappointed by it at the time. Given how much the band had evolved during their original run – from the deranged circus funk of their debut to the psychedelic, avant-garde soundscapes of Disco Volante and the warped, sun-kissed pop of California – I was excited to see where a reunion would take them, and a return to the less adventurous thrash of their first demo seemed a bit regressive for a band like Mr. Bungle.

Evidently this new line-up of the band was assembled with live shows in mind however; their new CD/DVD The Night They Come Home, a physical release of their Halloween 2020 live stream, is the next best thing at the moment, and it’s an absolute blast. They sound ridiculously tight racing through these early songs, with Ian’s taut, muscular riffing and Lombardo’s ruthlessly powerful performance behind the kit gelling perfectly with the Bungle originators. Alongside the Easter Bunny material, we’re treated to covers of crossover heroes like Corrosion Of Conformity and Circle Jerks, and a hilarious but oddly righteous medley of ‘Hell Awaits’ and ‘Summer Breeze’.

The quintet bring just as much energy here as they would to a live gig, but lean in to the inherent awkwardness of the live stream format by opening with an excruciating Neil Hamburger performance in front of an empty room, and cutting out to confused, solitary fans during their own set, including Henry Rollins, Josh Homme, David Yow and even It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton. Sounding just as crisp as last year’s album but played with much more fury, this is arguably the definitive way to experience The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny.

The long-awaited new Darkthrone album Eternal Hails…… finally lands at the end of this month too, but it’s still being held strictly under lock and key until then. Suffice to say though, there’s more enough here to keep you going until then.

Amenra - De Doorn

Following 2017’s well-received Mass VI, Amenra have broken their naming tradition with this new opus, opting for De Doorn rather than Mass VII. This is largely due to a significantly different writing process this time around. Whilst previous Amenra material was written very much with the purpose of creating an album in mind, the songs that comprise this one were created for various large scale events in Belgium the band were commissioned to perform at before the pandemic, including a huge fire ritual in Ghent where people were invited to come along and burn personal items beneath a six feet tall bronze Amenra statue. Whilst there’s a certain irony in Amenra’s first non-Mass full-length being written for a very mass-like occasion, it’s also resulted in arguably their most powerful, cathartic record to date. Despite being written for different events, it’s amazing how well these five pieces tie together as a coherent, thematic whole. The band’s trademark crushing weight is still there, but the more vulnerable quality they toyed with on Mass VI has really blossomed here, with frontman Colin H. Van Eeckhout’s clean vocals sounding absolutely haunting on the soaring, beautiful ‘De Evenmens’. Oathbreaker’s Caro Tanghe is a huge part of the record, contributing vocals throughout, her harrowing, vitriolic shrieks and wounded, fragile chants complimenting Colin’s vocals perfectly and adding a whole new emotive layer to the band’s music. At the same time, De Doorn still very much feels like an Amenra record through and through, rather than an Oathbreaker collaboration. Whilst the band plan to eventually deliver a Mass VII, De Doorn shouldn’t be written off as a mere tangent or experiment – to these ears at least, it’s one of the most dynamic, affecting and mature pieces in their whole discography.

Bossk - Migration

We’re blessed with not just one, but two great post metal albums this month. Their first material in the five years since Audio Noir, Bossk’s second full-length is a very different beast, making for a much starker, darker and bleaker listening experience than it’s luscious, kaleidoscopic predecessor. The shimmering post rock sections have been largely replaced with ominous drones, moody downbeat electronica and even cold, harsh ambience, provided by Japanese noise duo Endon throughout. Cult Of Luna vocalist Johannes Persson pops up to lend some vocals to ‘Menhir’ too, whilst Palm Reader’s Josh McKeown contributes to ‘HTV-3’, although both are in danger of being drowned out by the band’s colossal, thumping sludge riffs. It works though; Bossk have always used vocals sparingly and let the riffs do the talking, and Johannes adds a significant layer of menace to the former, whilst McKeown’s ethereal croon and scratchy yelps bring a lot of energy to the latter. Much like the Amenra record, Migration is a genuinely cathartic album, albeit in a slightly different way. De Doorn feels like an experience born largely out of sadness, whilst Migration seemingly comes from a much more angry place, with the two arriving at similar conclusions in the end.

Iceburn - Asclepius
(Southern Lord)

Before Eagle Twin and Ascend, his collaboration with Sunn O)))’s Greg Anderson, Gentry Densley played in Iceburn, a band who steadily evolved from angular post-hardcore oddities to a full blown avant-jazz collective during 1991 to 2000. For a band who count records like Meditavolutions, a 70 minute long palindromic piece, amongst their discography, this half-hour reunion album is fairly restrained. Well, comparatively; that half hour consists of two mammoth tracks, but they’re both meticulously well-crafted, feeling like tightly plotted songs that make room for wild jams and off-the-wall tangents without descending into self-indulgence. It feels like a neat distillation of the band’s sound down to its purest, weirdest essence; think Lungfish but with the DC hardcore gene in their DNA spliced out and replaced with Seattle grunge and a generous portion of jazz. Gentry’s time in Eagle Twin has evidently rubbed off here too, with the band sounding a lot riffier and doomier than before, but that sense of spontaneity makes it sounds most definitely like an Iceburn release, rather than Eagle Twin’s, erm, twin.

Red Fang - Arrows

I’ve always felt that Red Fang (somewhat atypically for a metal band in this day and age) excel at big, infectious singles but falter when it comes to crafting a full album experience. Unfortunately Arrows doesn’t do much to sway me, although it is a marked improvement from 2016’s toothless, forgettable Only Ghosts. The Fang’s definitely a lot sharper here, with gristly opener ‘Unreal Estate’ indulging in some unabashed Melvins worship and the driving ‘Two High’ sounding uncannily like the boisterous, lager soaked bounce of Orange Goblin at their peak. The title track is a fairly safe, uninspired choice for a single, but it’s the excellently titled ‘Fonzi Scheme’ that’s the stand-out here, marrying the band’s sunny melodicism to some of the heftiest, doomiest riffing they’ve dished out in a long time, and even some unexpected ‘Spiral Architect’-style orchestral flourishes. The slightly rawer production this time round also helps this one feel more visceral than Only Ghosts, but for a 40 minute record, there’s still too much filler on Arrows. There’s enough here to satiate fans, but if you’re on the hunt for a balls-out, no-bullshit rock & roll record to soundtrack your summer BBQs, this probably isn’t it.

Stöner - Stoners Rule
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

That might be the laziest name ever for this kind of band, but desert rock legends Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri have earned the right to kick back a little by this point. Enlisting Ryan Güt on drums, there’s a very laid back vibe to this debut LP, slightly heavier than Brant Bjork’s solo material but nowhere near as thunderous as Kyuss. It takes a while to get going, with ‘Rad Stays Rad’ making for a fairly muted opener. Bjork’s guitar tone is oddly thin on these first couple of songs, all fuzz and no body, crackling away atop Oliveri’s earth-quaking bass like sausages in a frying pan. Brant’s twangy, glassy leads cut through sublimely on the jammed out ‘Own Yer Blues’ however, and his tone is significantly amped up for the punky, Oliveri-fronted ‘Evel Never Dies’. Bjork takes the mic for the rest of the album’s six songs, and he sounds fantastic, the smooth talking braggadocio of his youth having fully weathered into a warm, soulful drawl. By the time sprawling closer ‘Tribe / Fly Girl’ rolls around, the band sound enormous, driving through huge desert grooves in style.

Cerebral Rot - Excretion Of Mortality
(20 Buck Spin)

Comprised of members of Fetid, Caustic Wound and Crurifragium, this Seattle death metal squad’s 2019 debut Odious Descent Into Decay was an absolute banger, and they’ve only got murkier, nastier and more primitive on this follow-up. Gone are the chilling acoustic intros and outros that bookended the first album, with Excretion Of Mortality diving headfirst into dank, disgusting and doomed death metal right from the start. Curiously enough, this was recorded by Jack Endino, more well-known for his work with grunge heroes like Nirvana and Soundgarden, or more recently, sludgier acts like High On Fire and Windhand. It’s a winning combo as this record sounds completely disgusting in the best possible way, with Cerebral Rot’s ominous, decrepit slow passages ringing out with a vast, grizzled tone. Eleven minute closer ‘Crowning The Disgustulent (Breed Of Repugnance)’ is the most ambitious track here, breaking from the band’s relentless churn to incorporate phased B-movie guitars and thumping percussion that sounds like someone’s head being repeatedly smacked against a tomb stone.

Seputus - Phantom Indigo

Seputus is the brainchild of Pyrrhon drummer Steve Schwegler, who plays guitar here in addition to busting out his usual blistering blastbeats. With Seputus rounded out by bassist Erik Malave and vocalist Doug Moore, both also of Pyrrhon, the two bands have essentially the same line-up, minus Pyrrhon guitarist Dylan DiLella – but even then, he pops up to contribute some wild lead guitar to the pulverising ten minute ‘Tautology’. Given this, you might be wondering why this wasn’t just released under the Pyrrhon name, but there are notable differences between the two bands. For one, the noise rock influence that ran through Pyrrhon’s latest masterpiece Abscess Time is nowhere to be found here – I’m reluctant to call this a more “conventional” sounding tech-death record as there’s nothing really conventional about the jarring, atonal scree of tracks like ‘The Learned Response’, but it certainly feels more direct and straight-faced compared to Pyrrhon’s more acerbic, abstract approach. It’s still pretty damn bizarre though, and much more inventive than a lot of straight-up tech-death. Opener ‘The Will To Live’ is a finely tuned mini-epic, cramming a lot of ideas into six minutes and somehow still flowing really organically between them all. A lot of the tracks here feel similar in scope to Gorguts’ expansive half-hour EP Pleiades’ Dust, but condensed down into dense, laser-focused pieces. Honestly, after Abscess Time, I was already convinced that these guys were making some of the craziest extreme metal around at the moment, but this just seals the deal.

Wanderer - Liberation From A Brutalist Existence
(Entelodon Records/Bad Mouth Records)

This Minnesota quartet’s debut album sounds fucking mean, nestling snugly in that delicious not-quite-grind-but-not-quite-hardcore-either niche that’s taken off in recent years; think the ferocity of Full Of Hell mixed with the tough guy chunk of Nails and fiddly riffing of Trap Them. There’s a bit of a noise rock vibe in there too, especially in the clanking bass tone and slower, gnarlier riffs, that’s very reminiscent of UK trio Helpless. Whilst Wanderer are not particularly original and could probably stand to develop their own sound a bit more, this debut is a very promising start indeed and is vitriolic and nasty enough not to feel too cookie-cutter. It helps that vocalist Dan Lee’s guttural vocals add a bit more of a death metal flavour as opposed to the usual hardcore grunt, and they’ve got riffs by the bucket-load too – just try and keep your head still when that massive groove in ‘Hellhole’ kicks in, I dare you.

Dead Heat - World At War
(Triple B)

Following up their 2019 debut Certain Death, this second full-length finds Californian crossover crew Dead Heat sounding tighter, leaner and heavier than before. Their sound hasn’t changed a whole lot, but it’s been noticeably refined in the interim. With their firm, thrashy riffing, hardcore punk aggression and the youthful, reverb smothered bark of vocalist Chris, there’s a strong hint of Power Trip here, especially in circle-pit inducing ragers like ‘2 Cents’, complete with a thoroughly infectious gang vocal chorus. The title track, meanwhile, is clearly inspired by vintage Cro-Mags, with the band’s crunchy metallic riffage welded to a more direct, heads-down punk song structure. There’s a significant hard rock influence too, manifesting not only in the soaring lead guitar of ‘Interlude (Passions)’, but also ‘Last Call’, a surprisingly sleazy slice of swaggering Sunset strip style debauchery, which sits somewhat awkwardly amidst the chunkier, more savage tracks surrounding it but somehow still seems to fit the album’s overall vibe. World At War is an absolute riff fest, in all honesty, and the most satisfying thrash record I’ve heard so far this year.

Inhuman Condition - Rat°God
(Listenable Insanity)

Named after Massacre’s 1992 EP, Inhuman Condition finds that band’s bassist Terry Butler teaming up with guitarist Taylor Nordberg and vocalist/drummer Jeramie King, both of whom also served time with the Florida death metal legends in recent years. Maybe it’s because the burden of expectation is eased off a little with a new band, but Rat°God is infinitely livelier, punchier and more engaging than Massacre’s lacklustre 2014 comeback album Back From Beyond. There’s obviously a huge Massacre influence here (given the band name and the member’s histories, it would be kind of weird if there wasn’t), but Inhuman Condition manage to avoid sounding like a tribute band. Jeramie’s vocals definitely pay homage to Kam Lee at points, but wisely, he doesn’t try to emulate the iconic Massacre frontman, opting instead for a raspier, slightly less guttural approach. There’s more than a hint of Obituary too, especially in the swinging grooves of tracks like ‘Tyrantula’ and the Celtic Frost aping ‘Planetary Paroxysm’. Rat°God is nothing you haven’t heard before, but if vintage Florida death metal is your summer soundtrack of choice, have at it.

Noctule - Wretched Abyss
(Church Road/Translation Loss)

Whilst most of us just spent lockdown playing Skyrim for the umpteenth time, Svalbard guitarist/vocalist Serena Cherry wrote an entire black metal record based around the game instead. It’s easy to see the link; the vast windswept forests and snowy mountain peaks of Bethesda’s open world RPG definitely fit the black metal aesthetic, and Serena has nailed the game’s whimsical, arcane atmosphere here perfectly. There’s always been a subtle atmospheric black metal influence in Svalbard, but Noctule is much harsher by comparison. There’s plenty of melody here (check out that glorious, yearning guitar harmony in ‘Labyrinthian’ or the spacey ‘Evenaar’), but there’s a vicious, razor-sharp edge that gives tracks like opener ‘Elven Sword’ an almost Dissection vibe. Wretched Abyss is way more than just another lockdown project, it’s a brilliantly well-realised debut album in its own right. With Skyrim offering hours upon hours of inspiration, here’s hoping this project isn’t a one-off.

Cirith Ungol - Half Past Human
(Metal Blade)

Following hot on the heels of their storming 2020 comeback album Forever Black, trad metal legends Cirith Ungol are back with this nifty little four track EP. Fans may recognise the brash, anthemic ‘Brutish Manchild’ from a Decibel 7” last year, but it’s perhaps not the best indication of the EP’s direction as a whole, being the most straight-forward and direct song on here. ‘Shelob’s Lair’ harks back to the elaborate, progressive song-writing of King Of The Dead, whilst the dramatic seven minute title track is even more ambitious, making tasteful use of grandiose keys amidst the band’s robust, evocative metal riffing. It’s great to see that Cirith Ungol are an active proposition again, and if you’re after a swift, flab-free dose of unabashed sword & sorcery style heavy metal this summer, this will hit the spot.

Fluids - Not Dark Yet
(Hells Headbangers)

They may not have enjoyed the same amount of hype as some of their Maggot Stomp peers, but Fluids were one of the most entertaining bands on the roster to my ears, taking the bludgeoning, IQ-dropping sound of Mortician and really pushing that whole drum machine angle to its most absurd extremes. Not Dark Yet goes one step further; when they’re not going like the absolute clappers, the industrial throb of the kick drum and the jittery, stuttering hi-hats sometimes feel more like the kind of percussion you’d find on a trap record than a death metal one, especially during the anxious breakdown in ‘Hope Forgotten’. It’s effective but particularly disorientating during the skittish ‘Integrity Fabled’ or ‘Empathy Shed’, darting between ludicrously fast blasts and fidgety, impossible cymbals patterns. Not Dark Yet isn’t quite as viscerally pummelling as last year’s Ignorance Exalted, but it finds the band further carving their own unique little niche within this realm of knuckle-dragging caveman death metal.