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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For August Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , August 25th, 2021 08:52

Kez Whelan is here to see off Summer with all that is unholy and rotten in the multiple worlds of heavy metal


It’s a good month to be an atmospheric black metal fan, with several long-awaited releases all landing at once. Of course, the big one is Wolves In The Throne Room's latest, Primordial Arcana, which I've already covered elsewhere but suffice to say it's great. Recorded entirely at their own Owl Lodge Studios, it’s one of their most focussed, personal and introspective records yet, perfectly balancing their earthy, primal power with an airier, crisp atmosphere and some of the tightest song writing the band has – gah, look, I’m doing it again!

Whilst WITTR have just released their most robust and powerful LP yet, fellow post-black darlings Deafheaven have just dropped their softest and most serene. This isn’t a bad idea in theory; in fact, when I covered their uneven but occasionally captivating Ordinary Corrupt Human Love in this very column a few years ago, I found myself wishing they’d eschew the increasingly perfunctory black metal passages and really dig into that wistful indie rock vibe instead. Well, somewhere out there, a single finger curled on a disembodied monkey’s paw and I got my wish – but at what cost? Infinite Granite is the band’s most drab, soulless outing yet, a conveyor belt of clean, perfectly pleasant but entirely unexciting jangle pop that sounds uncannily like an assortment of American Football B-sides – but with an even less charismatic singer. I never thought George Clark’s harsh vocals were particularly special, but his clean vocals here are even worse, sounding like that one overly earnest lad who’d always kill the vibe by shyly mumbling his way through ‘This Charming Man’ at student karaoke nights.

‘Villain’ is one of the more successful tracks here, building steadily and intently to a fairly cathartic climax that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, and closer ‘Mombosa’, whilst somewhat more meandering, at least manages to capture some of the syrupy, hypnotic atmosphere that once flowed through the band’s softer moments. For the most part though, Infinite Granite is hopelessly bland – love them or hate them, Deafheaven used to have a pretty unique sound, but I can’t really see any reason to recommend this over any number of similar sounding landfill shoegaze acts.

Germany’s Lantlôs fare a bit better on their first new record in seven years, but not by much. After shedding all of their black metal influence on 2014’s gorgeous Melting Sun to become a fully-fledged shoegaze band, Wildhund now ditches most of the shoegaze vibe to become a fairly generic alt-rock band. I’m wary to say it’s “heavier” than Melting Sun; the guitars are certainly crunchier, there’s a darker atmosphere and the songs are far more driving, but there was a real weight and sense of pathos hiding beneath Melting Sun’s languid soundscapes that the more straightforward Wildhund is sorely lacking. It’s not a total wash out – ‘Lake Fantasy’ is a great opener, kicking off with the album’s most infectious hook and pulsing, burly grooves, whilst ‘Dog In The Wild’ contains some of the album’s most powerful riffs (but conversely, some of its weakest vocals). Overall though, Wildhund feels fairly mundane and lifeless, and is definitely not the successor to Melting Sun that I’d hoped for.

Lantlôs and Deafheaven’s new indie rock directions may feel fresh for them in isolation, but they seem pretty basic and uninspired when compared to that genre’s deep, storied history; in the same way that certain pop bands sometimes adopt metal’s aesthetic but only in a very superficial, surface level way. One band that you certainly couldn’t hit with the same accusation, however, is the truly chameleonic Ulver, who present yet another side of themselves on their new live album Hexahedron. It was recorded live in “a multidimensional hypercube” installation at Norway’s at Henie Onstad Kunstsente Studio back in 2018, right in the middle of their current luscious gothic synth-pop phase. That sound is present here, but in a much more spaced out and hypnotic style – ‘Aeon Blue’ feels like an Erasure rhythm track broken down and stretched out into a joyous, devotional hymn, the glistening ‘Bounty Hunter’ unfolds from a Burial-like ambience into a gently throbbing slow-motion synth wave banger and 20 minute closer ‘The Long Way Home’ is a steady, psychedelic workout in the vein of The Future Sound Of London. ‘A Fearful Symmetry’, the only track featuring Kristoffer Rygg’s vocals, is the most straightforward song here – but even that eventually unfolds into a blissed out jam by the time it ends. It must have been quite an experience being there, with the audience roaming freely around a pretty cosmic looking light show.

Although Hexahedron can’t replicate that, it’s definitely captured something special, marrying the sensual sonics of their last two records with the more exploratory, adventurous spirit of albums like ATGCLVLSSCAP or their Sunn O))) collab Terrestrials (especially on the droning opener ‘Enter The Void’). Speaking of entering voids, let’s tuck in to the filthier side of what August has to offer…

Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell
(Season Of Mist)

Although 2015’s oppressive, extra slow Darkness Drips Forth was former duo Hooded Menace’s first full-band effort, it was 2018’s Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed that felt like a true rebirth, with the inclusion of Horse Latitudes frontman Harri Kuokkanen allowing band mastermind and former vocalist Lasse Pyykkö to really focus on getting the most out of his crushing death/doom riffs. With Hooded Menace turning into an exceptionally hefty sounding live band not long after, I had high hopes for this follow-up, and although it’s certainly a different beast to its predecessor, it’s definitely lived up to them. With its brighter, booming sound and crisper, more focal guitar harmonies, The Tritonus Bell might just be their most accessible offering yet. Like Ossuarium Sihouettes Unhallowed, the artwork feels very fitting too; whilst that album had a murky, obscure and dingy aesthetic, by contrast this one feels like a blaring, full-bore rock record, designed to be blasted out with the volume and tenacity of the huge demonic church bell adorning its sleeve. ‘Chime Diabolicus’ makes this all apparent from the off, dishing out plenty of Lasse’s trademark doom riffs but welding them to a pounding stadium rock backbone and liberally sprinkling soaring, anthemic guitar leads on top, whilst the nine minute ‘Blood Ornaments’ goes even further, managing to marry the crowd-pleasing stomp of Draconian Times-era Paradise Lost with the more evocative, macabre riffs of Gothic. This bombastic quality pervades the whole record – the bonus track being a deathed up cover of W.A.S.P.’s ‘The Torture Never Stops’ is probably a good indication of where the band’s heads were at here – but despite this more accessible feel, it’s hard to imagine long-time fans being disappointed with The Tritonous Bell as it still manages to bring plenty of pure doom to the table too. ‘Corpus Asunder’ is a great example of how deftly Hooded Menace balance their more morose side with the hard rockin’ vibe here, contrasting some steroid pumped NWOBHM riffs with moments of desolate, Candlemass style misery, with Harri alternating between his usual guttural roar and a more wounded, introspective moan that’s a dead-ringer for Tom G. Warrior’s more gothic vocals on Into The Pandemonium. For both newcomers and die-hards alike, this is a feast of hearty, full-bodied metallic riffery – and it’s delicious.

Nunslaughter - Red Is The Color Of Ripping Death
(Hell’s Headbangers)

Nunslaughter have been belting out snarling, blasphemous death metal since 1987, and are still very much planted in that era stylistically, taking their cues from the evil thrash of Possessed, the sinister murk of Necrophagia and, of course, the raucous, punky energy of Venom. The band have been able to keep this simple formula sounding remarkably fresh over the years, but given how prolific they are, it’s inevitable we’d feel some Nunslaughter fatigue after a while. This may be their first full-length since 2014’s patchy double-album Angelic Dread, but they’ve granted us over 60 releases since then anyway, in the form of splits, EPs, live albums and so on. Self-editing may not be the band’s strong point, but thankfully Red Is The Color Of Ripping Death is one of their most focussed and incendiary records in some time, dispensing the bloat of Angelic Dread and returning to a no-nonsense half-hour running time in the vein of classic earlier records like Goat and Hex. If you’re expecting musical evolution, you’re probably in the wrong place, but there’s enough variety here to keep the album interesting whilst remaining true to Nunslaughter’s distinctively grotty, snotty & shlocky brand of death metal. You’ve got plenty of sub-two-minute ragers like ‘Beware Of God’ and ravenous opener ‘Murmur’, but there are also slimy mid-paced stompers like the chugging, Autopsy-esque ‘Banished’. ‘Black Cat Hanging’ and the title track throw in even more doomy textures, although the band’s trademark breakneck pace is never far away – check out the way that lumbering intro to ‘Dead In Ten’ segues into raucous, Master style vintage death. Throw in a vibrant, razor sharp production and the fact that this very much feels like an album rather than yet another collection of songs, and you could comfortably call Red Is The Color one of Nunslaughter’s best records yet.

Fetid Zombie - Transmutations
(Transcending Obscurity)

Mark Riddick’s Fetid Zombie is back with a new album-length EP. If you somehow missed his previous six full-lengths and umpteen splits, you’d be forgiven for expecting a crustier, filthier sound given the famously stark, decrepit black-and-white aesthetic of his artwork, which has adorned numerous old school death metal sleeves over the years, but Fetid Zombie is far from just another bog standard OSDM act, aiming for a crisper, more melodic and dynamic sound. As with their previous records, Riddick handles rhythm guitars, bass, synth and drum programming, whilst enlisting help from his presumably enormous death metal contact list. Transmutations features vocal contributions from the likes of Skeletal Remains’ Chris Monroy, Revel In Flesh’s Ralf Hauber and Clare Webster of Cheltenham folk metal project Yylva, who lends her ethereal voice to the gloomy, gothic ‘Dreamless Sleep Awaits’, a track that effectively fuses the sound of The Cure circa Disintegration with soaring Dark Tranquility style melo-death. Transmutations is very much a guitar orientated release however, with a smorgasbord of scorching leads from Arsis’ James Malone, Beyond Mortal Dreams’ Jamie Whyte and Inferi’s Malcolm Pugh, to name a few. Far from the disparate wank-fest this could have devolved into, each of these uniformly dazzling leads really enhance this EP, fitting the mood and vibe of their respective songs perfectly whilst adding variety and a sense of gleeful guitar heroism that’ll take you right back to the first time you played along with Randy Rhoads on a tennis racket. There’s very definitely a nod to 80s stadium rock on tracks like ‘Beyond Andromeda’, which combines strutting rock’n’roll swagger with space-faring psychedelic prog-death riffs. This might make it sound less coherent than it actually is, but Transmutations really hangs together nicely, a satisfyingly varied half hour of surprisingly rich, accessible and melodic metal.

Decrepisy - Emetic Communion
(Chaos / Life After Death / Seed Of Doom)

August’s best pure death metal release has to be Decrepisy’s debut album, which, with not even a demo tape to their name, seems to have sprung out of nowhere. It probably helps that they’re all in other great bands too – guitarist/vocalist Kyle House plays in the perpetually underrated Acephalix, and drummer Charlie Koryn plays in Ascended Dead, Funebrarum, VoidCeremony and a host of others – but Decrepisy definitely have a distinctive style of their own here. No wheels are being reinvented, and it still fits firmly in that dark, dirty type of old school death metal that’s really taken off again in recent years, but the balance between lumbering, doomy grooves and skin-flaying speed is pretty much perfect. Take opener ‘Dissipating Form’, which kicks off in a typically morose fashion before blasting into some frantic, genuinely twisted lightspeed riffing. It also demonstrates how inventive the leads are on this record, possessing a warped melodic sensibility and feeling like sonic portals to other worlds in the way Trey Azagthoth’s wild, untamed soloing does. ‘Embodied Decomposition’ brings in a little bit of that crusty flavour that made Acephalix so thrilling without letting it overshadow the band’s grimy, Incantation-esque sound, whilst the ten-minute ‘Abbatoir Of Sorrow (Flesh Crucifix)’ pushes the BPM count way down whilst delivering some of the record’s ugliest, most unnerving guitar harmonies, before ramping things up with a supremely bouncy, brutish finale. This is absolute filth and it fucking rules.

Qrixkuor – Poison Palinopsia
(Dark Descent)

London’s most unpronounceable black/death outfit’s debut album is finally ready this month, although the band now exists in a significantly different form to the one that recorded their lauded 2016 EP Three Devils Dance. After the dissolution of that line-up, guitarist/vocalist S. recruited Grave Miasma drummer DBH and New Zealand’s VK, most widely known as the brains behind Vassafor, and the result absolutely wipes the floor with that first EP. For a start, the audio quality is a huge step-up; whilst this kind of murky metal really benefits from that cavernous sound, the production here is thick and oppressive enough to replicate that but also clear and colourful enough to easily distinguish what’s actually going on, and visceral enough to pack much more of a punch. Of course, none of that would matter if the music itself wasn’t up to par, but the two mammoth pieces that comprise this album feel like a perfectly natural evolution for the band, taking the long-form song-writing of Three Devils Dance to its logical conclusion – and as much as the band cherishes chaos, there’s most definitely a method behind the madness here. ‘Serpentine Susurrus – Mother's Abomination’ builds gradually but is hardly what you’d call a “slow burn”; after a lengthy, tense introduction in which S. unleashes all manner of hellish, contorted guitar textures atop VK’s subterranean low-end, the track explodes in a confrontational flurry of Teitanblood-esque wall-of-noise theatrics and twisted, Morbid Angel inspired riffs, with DBH blasting like there’s no tomorrow. The track eventually collapses under its own weight, spiralling out in a bleak, hallucinogenic void that transitions perfectly into ‘Recrudescent Malevolence – Mother's Illumination’s stark intro. This track plumbs even danker, more nightmarish depths, allowing for both more claustrophobic, harsh battery and more spacious passages too – the huge doomy riff in the middle section is amazing, and allows some much needed breathing room before pummelling you with bewildering, blast-laden brutality once again.

Fluisteraars - Gegrepen Door De Geest Der Zielsontluiking

Following hot on the heels of last year’s Bloem, Gegrepen Door De Geest Der Zielsontluiking (which translates roughly as Gripped By The Spirit Of Soul Awakening) dispenses with its predecessor’s cleaner sound and returns to a gritty, earthier production, but expands on it’s more experimental qualities threefold. The first half of it is taken up by two long pieces, with filthy opener ‘Het Overvleugelen Der Meute’ kicking right off with the album’s most evil, aggressive material. By contrast, ‘Brand Woedt In Mijn Graf’ is absolutely beautiful, dragging ritualistic black metal murk kicking and screaming into brighter, shinier pastures, with the hypnotic beat, swirling synths and B. Mollema’s dramatic, wailed vocals bringing to mind Urfaust, albeit it in a much less dark but equally sinister way; Urfaust if they were to score Midsommar, for example. The second half consists of the gargantuan, full-side-of-vinyl filling ‘Verscheuring In De Schemering’, a thoroughly enveloping piece of driving, minimal and psychedelic black metal that pushes into space rock territory at times, especially the sparse, Sun Ra style freak out in the middle and subsequent lapse into glistening, pineal gland squeezing riff worship that follows. I was pretty damn satisfied with Bloem but this record is even better, simultaneously feeling more focussed and more expansive. It’s transfixing, powerful and the raw sound and exultant vibe combined really set it apart from both the more polished, shoegaze style and the darker, more despondent forms of atmospheric black metal out there at the moment.

Wormwitch – Wolf Hex

This Canadian quartet have been generating a reasonable amount of hype with their blend of crusty hardcore and cold, Dissection-esque black metal, and this third full-length finds them blending the two styles far more harmoniously than before; just check out the way the searing tremolo riffs in tracks like ‘Hammer Of The Underworld’ and ‘Abracadabra’ seamlessly break into boisterous, Discharge aping punk sections. It’s also their most melodic to date, with the inclusion of secondary guitarist Kyle Tavares allowing the band to include more epic guitar harmonies and more expressive leads too. After the obligatory atmospheric intro, appropriately titled opener proper ‘Canadian Denim Mountain Attack’ quickly and expertly demonstrates Wormwitch’s new dual guitar approach with some smoking hard rock solos and huge, windswept melodies. Despite the album’s generally triumphant tone, there are some more sinister moments too, with the dark, evocative feel of ‘Leering Crystal Effigies’ recalling early At The Gates. The interlude tracks like the sullen acoustic ‘Grail’ and grandiose, Enslaved-esque ‘The Crimson Proof’ help add variety to the album but feel a little underdeveloped, seemingly finishing before they’ve had the chance to evolve beyond a mere palette cleanser. The band’s driving, punk infused black metal has never sounded more invigorating, however, so it’s hardly a major concern being thrown back into it so swiftly – and the gnarly, filth encrusted cover of Metallica’s ‘Hit The Lights’ that closes the album is the icing on the cake.

Grandeur - Aurea Aetas
(Halo Of Flies)

For a similar but far more lo-fi fusion of black metal and crust, this debut EP from Austria’s Grandeur is well worth checking out – think Dödsrit but with fewer D-beats and even more grandiose, windswept melody. ‘Acatalepsia’ is an immediately arresting opener and gives a pretty good indication of what you’re going to get for the next 17 minutes, with its yearning, heartfelt blackened crust riffs and furious, passionate drumming. Whilst the production on Aurea Aetas has a charmingly abrasive quality, it’s still perfectly clear and sounds enormous for a solo project too. Erech’s multi-tracked guitars sound really full and powerful, whilst his hoarse, hardcore inspired scream brings a lot of personality to the project. ‘Exordium’s brief excursion into twinkling post rock atmospherics aside, there’s not a whole lot of variety here – but then there doesn’t really need to be. This is a very promising start for a first EP, and if Erech can retain this energy whilst expanding its scope for a full-length, he’ll be onto something special.

Wasted Death - Ugly As Hell II – Uglier Than Hell

Featuring Charlie Davis (bassist/vocalist of Sheffield sludge act Beggar), drummer Tom Brewins (of London post punks USA Nails) and Wayne Adams (of tQ faves Big Lad and Petbrick), Wasted Death are one of those bands you know are going to be good before you even hit play – but even with that proviso, Ugly As Hell II – Uglier Than Hell (the sequel to their debut EP from April of this year) is an absolute monster, a frothing, snot covered lunatic of an EP that throws noise rock, hardcore and sludge riffs into a blender and then guzzles them all down with the tenacious glee of a scuzzed out, alcoholic garage rock band. Frenetic opener ‘Tomorrow’s Children Will Eat Algae’ fires off High On Fire riffs at Lightning Bolt tempos, whilst the tense, menacing grooves and cathartic bursts of noise that punctuate ‘Telling People What To Wear’ reek of You Fail Me-era Converge – but any of that record’s lingering sense of melancholy has been firmly replaced with a more deranged, dysfunctional feeling. Closer ‘Nothing I Want Less’ is the longest track here but is no less manic, with its distorted howls, ominous riffs and frantic pace bringing to mind early Today Is The Day on a sugar high. Even more than the sum of its parts, this EP is a total banger.