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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For October Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , October 20th, 2021 09:42

Kez Whelan is back with all that is righteous in the world of extreme metal

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I feel that first chill of winter approaching, all I want to do is hole up in my little hovel and blast loads of filthy, disgusting metal. Not that that makes a drastic change from the rest of my annual schedule, of course, but the feeling is certainly heightened. Luckily there’s a load of great new metal records on the way this month.

Following last year’s triumphant Utgard and the plethora of live records they released a few months ago, Enslaved are back with the Caravans To The Outer Worlds EP. The title track is the star of the show here, an absolutely ripping slice of proggy black metal that’s worth the price of admission alone. The rest of it feels a little scattershot by comparison; although the martial acoustic feel of ‘Ruun II – The Epitaph’ blends cinematic Wardruna style folk with the pulsating psychedelia of early Hawkwind pretty damn successfully, both the ‘Intermezzo’ tracks find the Norwegians indulging their love of Kluster-esque electronics over cyclical, throbbing riffs, but come across more like discarded ideas than fully fleshed out, cohesive cosmic voyages. All those ideas are really good, mind, and this EP is definitely worth eighteen minutes of your time, especially to hear a slightly looser, more playful Enslaved than the one you usually find on their full-lengths – it just feels like such a tease!

Remember when Converge teamed up with Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm and Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky for a series of collaborative shows under the name Blood Moon back in 2016? Well, they’ve finally announced that the project will yield a studio album, and we’ve only got a month to wait for it. For now though, the lead single and opening track gives a good idea of what to expect, with both Wolfe and Brodsky’s voices intertwining above the kind of taut, grinding groove that Converge do so well.

After releasing the unexpectedly shoegaze-y Porcelain Slightly/ Into A Life single in September, underground hip hop legend Lil Ugly Mane has another surprise in store for us this month as he resurrects his lo-fi black metal project Vudmurk for a full EP. It’s been a whole decade since he released the Sleep Until It Hurts You demo (although a Vudmurk track did surface on Lil Ugly Mane’s sprawling archival masterpiece Third Side Of Tape in 2015), so you’d be forgiven for assuming the project was a one-off. Obedient Forms expands the project’s sound out beyond the dingy lo-fi trappings of that demo, incorporating an upbeat punk influence on the disarmingly happy sounding ‘Unending Century’ and the Bone Awl style ‘Altar Of Apology’. The title track meanwhile pairs aggressive hardcore grunts with sinister keys and icy blasts, like Agnostic Frost crashing an early Emperor rehearsal.

There are plenty more albums I didn’t have room for this month too, like sludgy Kansas noise rock trio Bummer’s pummelling new offering, which is covered in depth elsewhere on tQ. There’s a new Kayo Dot full-length due right at the end of the month, and whilst I don’t want to make any pre-judgements without hearing the full thing, the preview tracks are sounding very promising indeed, marrying the melodic new wave stylings of some of their later records with a dramatic, progressive black metal feel. It’s almost like an Adrian Belew fronted Ved Buens Ende and I can’t wait to digest it in full.

Torche drummer Rick Smith has assembled his war metal project Caveman Cult again for a second album, which is even more unrelenting and savage than the first. There’s a knowing quality to Caveman Cult that a lot of more straight-faced war metal acts lack – that’s not to say there’s anything jovial or light-hearted about Blood And Extinction of course, only that its subtle inversion of the genre’s tropes combined the absolute conviction with which it’s played makes for a pretty entertaining listen.

Full Of Hell – Garden Of Burning Apparitions

The pandemic may have put the brakes on for a lot of bands, but it seemingly hasn’t affected Full Of Hell’s insane work ethic at all. Following on from their last two Kurt Ballou produced records (2017’s Trumpeting Ecstasy and 2019’s Weeping Choirs), the quartet have joined forces with The Body producer Seth Manchester for this latest album. Whilst the last two records both boasted a smorgasbord of guests, Garden Of Burning Apparitions feels like more of a return to the band’s roots, whilst still building on all the experimentation they’ve explored in the meantime. The death metal flavour that typified Trumpeting Ecstasy is still there in the blistering, technical riffery of tracks like ‘Burning Apparition’ and ‘Urchin Thrones’, but the band’s earlier hardcore sound resurfaces here too, most notably on the driving, punky ‘Reeking Tunnels’ and closer ‘Celestial Hierarch’, which feels almost like a nod to Rudiments Of Mutilation with its gleeful fusion of grindcore speed, powerviolence battery and skin-flaying noise. This being a Full Of Hell record, there are still several surprises here though. The unexpected blast of skronky sax that closes the aforementioned ‘Urchin Thrones’ is fantastic, as is the way ‘Asphyxiant Blessing’ seamlessly transitions between thunderous hardcore grooves, dizzyingly fast blasts and a doomy, genuinely unsettling outro. The juddering, fluctuating effect on the guitars in ‘Industrial Messiah Complex’ helps this tightly controlled chaos to feel like it’s just on the edge of collapse, whilst that bizarre phased riff that comes out of nowhere in the middle of ‘All Bells Ringing’ is baffling in the best possible way. For the most part, Garden Of Burning Apparitions is just Full Of Hell doing what they do best. It’s far from their most experimental record, but it feels like a celebration of everything they’ve achieved thus far, belted out with the confidence and finesse of a band operating at the top of their game.

Lamp Of Murmuur - Submission And Slavery
(Black Gangrene)

Following hot on the heels of his incredible 2020 debut album Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism, Washington black metal solo project Lamp Of Murmuur makes his love of 80s goth and darkwave even more apparent on this follow-up LP. As if the Sisters Of Mercy aping cover art wasn’t a dead give-away, the spooky synths in mammoth opener ‘Reduced To Submission And Slavery’ make it immediately clear – as do the reverb swamped post punk riffs in ‘Dominatrix’s Call’, a rare glimpse into an alternate universe where Robert Smith ended up joining Darkthrone. ‘Deformed Erotic Visage’ offers plenty of the dark, energetic riffing that made Heir such a gripping listen, but also makes room for an extended outro with a ripping solo over a bombastic Fields Of The Nephilim-style stomp. Submission And Slavery may be very different sonically to its predecessor, but it follows a pretty similar structure. It kicks off with its longest and most elaborate song (the aforementioned ‘Reduced To Submission And Slavery’, which traverses ripping black/thrash riffery, morbid gothic soundscapes and even some young Tom Araya-style falsetto in the space of eleven minutes) before delivering some ambient pieces alongside more straight-forward cuts and closing on a cover (this time round it’s Christian Death’s ‘An Evening Falls’, which, much like the Dead Can Dance cover on Heir, manages to slot right into the album’s aesthetic without feeling like a tacked on bonus track). It’s a good fifteen minutes shorter than Heir, which does leave it feeling a bit more top-heavy and slightly less cohesive. I certainly wouldn’t call it a disappointment though – it expands on the sound of Heir whilst also taking it in a totally different direction, proving Lamp Of Murmuur is much more than a one-trick pony and making me even more excited to see where he takes this project next.

Alda - A Distant Fire

It’s been a full six years since Washington atmospheric black metal quartet Alda released the gorgeous Passage, a record that found their wistful, folky leanings sounding brighter and more prominent than ever. A Distant Fire is a very different beast, leaving the warmth and optimism of Passage behind in favour of a much colder, more forlorn approach. Much like Wolves In The Throne Room’s latest offering, this feels like music for crisp, misty mountain tops rather than damp, luscious forests. That’s not to say the band sound any less organic here; far from it, the guitar tone might be their earthiest yet, opting for a brittle jangle rather than enveloping fuzz. A Distant Fire is still as immersive as the band’s best work, with songs like the epic ten minute ‘Drawn Astray’ feeling like Agalloch with more blastbeats, and the beautiful ‘Forlorn Peak’ dishing out Iron Maiden style dual guitar harmonies, albeit in a terminally depressed manner instead of soaring and triumphant. This album may be a harsher listen than Passage, but Alda’s style remains incredibly accessible for the genre – there’s definitely a post rock influence here, but it never overpowers the band’s Cascadian style black metal sound. Clean vocals are used much more sparingly than the last album, but they’re certainly effective; the way the disarmingly fragile midsection in ‘Drawn Astray’ is gradually raised up by moribund chants until it explodes in a flurry of frosty tremolo is definitely one of A Distant Fire’s highlights. Whether you’ve been patiently waiting for this for the last six years or are just in need of some sombre, heartfelt and enthralling black metal to see you through the colder months, this is highly recommended.

Kowloon Walled City - Piecework

Kowloon Walled City are also returning after a six year absence this month, and whilst Piecework isn’t a quantum leap from their earlier work, their distinctive fusion of portentous post metal and acidic, Unsane-esque noise rock still sounds as unique as ever. The band have always made interesting use of negative space, but they sound even more confident and assured in embracing the nothingness here – the moments of unexpected calm and stillness in the sparse title track only make it feel even heavier, for example, making for a great opener and a clear indication of the direction this record is headed. The quartet have never really sounded cheery, but there’s a palpable weight and despondency that runs throughout Piecework, making it one of their bleakest and most downtrodden outings yet. Despite this, there’s still an air of brash resilience, mostly from guitarist Scott Evans’ anguished, frustrated howl. Just shy of 32 minutes, it’s also the band’s shortest record to date, but the efficiency and space in the song-writing makes it feel much longer, in a good way. Recorded live by Evans himself, there’s an urgency beating at the heart of these slow, dejected songs that really elevates the record. Lead single ‘Oxygen Tent’ is a great example, building from bare, anxious chords to a fragile and oddly beautiful tapestry of melancholic guitar lines before erupting in one of those humongous grooves the band do so well. The restraint shown across Piecework certainly helps it hit harder however, with songs like ‘When We Fall Through The Floor’ relying more on haunting minimalism than brute force heft. A bleak record for bleak times, Piecework is one of the most powerful statements Kowloon Walled City have made thus far.

Worm - Foreverglade
(20 Buck Spin)

I enjoyed this US death/doom duo’s second album Gloomlord when I covered it back in 2019, but found myself wishing the band would step outside of their influences a bit and grow into their own sound more convincingly. Well, I’m pleased to report that Foreverglade does that and then some, standing out as not only the band’s best effort to date but one of the most complete and satisfying death/doom listening experiences of the year. There’s still a strong Disembowelment influence here, but Worm push that sound into even more funereal territory this time, taking it to some extremely oppressive and psychedelic places. The sinister, otherworldly atmosphere that comes pouring out of ‘Murk Above The Dark Moor’ demonstrates how far both the band’s song-writing nuance and sheer physical weight have come since the last record, building to a huge climax with some wild lead guitar work. The guitar sounds fantastic throughout; the riffs are much thicker, squelchier and more evil sounding than before, and the leads are more expressive, imaginative and melodic. ‘Empire Of The Necromancers’ is a great example on both counts, as evocative harmonies ring out atop irresistibly primal, lumbering grooves. The cosmic strains and shimmering, shredding solos of ‘Subaqueous Funeral’ are surprisingly beautiful too, a quick glimpse up at the stars from beneath the band’s usual grime encrusted murk. They may have taken a while to really hit their stride, but with more elaborate songs, a more vibrant, colourful sonic palette and a much more focussed, heavier approach, Foreverglade is emphatic proof that Worm mean business. My only real criticism of this is that it ends too soon…

Conjureth - Majestic Dissolve
(Memento Mori)

San Diego death/doom outfit Ghoulgotha may have called it a day right after their hefty 2016 opus To Starve The Cross but guitarists Wayne Sarantopoulos and Ian Mann and drummer Frankie Saenz are back with Conjureth. There’s definitely a strong hint of Ghoulgotha in the riffing here, although the approach is totally different; rather than desolate, murky doom, Conjureth aim instead for that fertile mid-to-late-80s period when thrash was morphing into death metal. With a booming, organic warmth and a frantic, breathless energy, they manage to nail that sound without slipping into hero worship. Sure, there’s plenty of Morbid Angel and Possessed influence here, but also several nods to early Finnish acts like Abhorrence too, all wrapped up in the band’s own distinctive, bludgeoning riffing style. This debut album sounds even brighter and more visceral than either of the band’s well-received 2020 demos; any lingering gloom left over from Ghoulgotha in those releases has been jettisoned in favour of a vibrant sonic quality that really captures the manic intensity of tracks like rambunctious opener ‘Wet Flesh Vortex’ or the snarling, Deicide-esque ‘A Terror Sacrifice’. Majestic Dissolve is well paced too; despite largely racing along at breakneck pace, there’s still time for some massive grooves in tracks like ‘Black Fire Confessions’ and the churning closer ‘The Unworshipped’. If you came to this column looking for no-nonsense death metal, this is the best this month has to offer.

Petrine Cross & Tower Of Filargyria - Split
(Panurus Productions)

Petrine Cross was one of the most exciting solo projects to come out of lockdown to my ears, allowing Penance Stare’s Esme Louise to explore even more lo-fi and abrasive black metal with a distinctly hypnotic edge. Following on from both the demo and Centuries Of August full-length last year, the three tracks on this split feel even more desolate and haunting – the intoxicating smog of Velvet Cacoon is an obvious reference point, but there’s a distraught melodic sensibility here that feels pretty unique. Check out the way those yearning, emotive riffs in ‘Sobriquet’ cut through the harrowing swathes of pitch black tremolo fuzz, for example. Rather than relying on the soundscape to do most of the legwork, there’s some great song-writing hidden beneath the dirge, with the song building to a genuinely cathartic crescendo without breaking that mesmerising tension. ‘The Grecian Bend’, meanwhile, feels closer to funeral doom in some ways, but instilled with a bristling anxiety that makes the song feel far more uncomfortable and tense than the more meditative, still effect produced by much of that genre. On the other side of the tape, Tower Of Filargyria is another project from US artist Cicatrix (also of Nodus Tollens and Exsanguinated Shade), offering up raw black metal with overtly anti-capitalist lyrical themes. Making heavy use of eerie, dissonant guitar combined with cut-up vocal samples and found sound recordings, it almost sounds like early Xasthur after going on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor binge. Sonically, it’s not as dreamy or deeply textured as Petrine Cross, but the harsh, brittle sound and bleak, repetitive riffs really fit the vibe Cicatrix is aiming for. There are lots of left-wing black metal bands currently making music that feels like the soundtrack for a glorious uprising (and more power to them), but Towers Of Filargyria instead feels like the sound of being actively ground down by capitalism, the simmering bitterness quietly but consistently bubbling away during the 9-5 grind rather than the fanfare of the revolution.

Wallowing, Thin, Slabdragger & Vixen Maw - 4 Way Split
(The Sludgelord)

That’s not the only essential, pond crossing split to drop this month; this gnarly four way extravaganza pairs UK sludge acts Wallowing and Slabdragger with New York grinders Thin and Vixen Maw. Both Wallowing and Slabdragger have kicked out the jams for the occasion too, delivering some of the fastest, most incendiary material either have put to tape. Wallowing kick off with ‘Orbital Detritus’, which seemingly has much more death metal influence than their Planet Loss LP, coming across like a punkier, more unhinged Incantation before collapsing into a thick, doomy void. ‘Forbidden Alien Tech’ is equally deathly, armed with savage blasts and huge, knuckle-dragging grooves, and it’s a thrill to hear the usually sludgy Slabdragger peppering hardcore chugs with some stop-start grindy mayhem on ‘Sharpnel City’. ‘Jennifer’ somehow gets away with belting out a dramatic melodic chorus over a thunderous Nails-esque stomp, and ‘Phobos’ is a no-holds-barred crusty banger that’s got “live favourite” written all over it. The New Yorkers are no slouches here either. Thin specialise in a particularly caustic style of technical grindcore, pitched somewhere between the dizzying psychedelic grind of Norway’s Psudoku and the murky dissonance of a band like Mitochondrion. They manage to squeeze the most amount of songs in here by far, even recalling vintage Three One G acts like The Locust on furiously busy 40 second ragers like ‘I Don’t Know Where I Am, I Don’t Know Where I’m Going’. Vixen Maw are even more off-kilter and vitriolic, with an Agoraphobic Nosebleed-esque abrasiveness and a confrontational, noisy approach. In just seven minutes, they manage to traverse deep drones, mind mangling grindcore and desolate industrial riffing. Great stuff all round!

Massacre - Resurgence
(Nuclear Blast)

Massacre’s classic debut, the vintage slab of pure Floridian death metal that is From Beyond, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and it still hasn’t been granted a satisfactory follow-up… yet! The band’s oft-forgotten second record Promise went down as one of the most baffling misfires in metal history, and whilst guitarist Rick Rozz and bassist Terry Butler tried to make things right with 2014’s unimaginatively titled comeback Back From Beyond, it never felt like ex-Diabolic frontman Edwin Webb really gelled with the band there – couple that with the obvious lack of fresh ideas, and it was pretty much dead on arrival. Now iconic vocalist Kam Lee has returned with an entirely new band to have a go instead – the Massacre assembled on Resurgence is completely different to the last record, with Kam enlisting Swedish death metal lifers Rogga Johansson and Jonny Pettersson on rhythm guitars (of Paganizer and Wombbath respectively, plus roughly a hundred other old-school death metal acts between them), as well as Memoriam’s Scott Fairfax on lead. It’s a winning combo, and the riffs here are notably more atmospheric than classic Massacre – just check out that festering, deathly ooze that seeps out of the morbid harmonies in ‘Ruins Of R'lyeh’, for example, or the eerie licks that punctuate the end of the otherwise rambunctious ‘The Innsmouth Strain’. There’s still plenty of no-nonsense, old-school Massacre style bangers too however, like storming opener ‘Eldritch Prophecy’ and the thrashy ‘The Whisperer In Darkness’, but Resurgence is at its strongest when it’s not as concerned with resurrecting the band’s past. If there are a lot of riffs here that sound like Swe-death veterans doing their best to imitate that classic early Florida sound, that’s because that’s exactly what’s going on – and whilst Rogga and Jonny do a much better job here of recapturing that magic than the last two Massacre records, the album really comes into its own when they play into that eerie Swedish sound, as on moodier cuts like ‘Book Of The Dead’. Kam himself is in fine form too, his trademark guttural wipe-out sounding more demonic and full-bodied than ever. Whilst musically, Resurgence may have a different flavour to its predecessors, Lee’s distinctive roar helps the whole thing feel like a Massacre record through and through – the best Massacre record that isn’t From Beyond, to be precise.