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Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For July Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , July 6th, 2022 08:10

Kez Whelan marks the arrival of Summer with another batch of doom, death, black and grind releases

Imperial Triumphant

It’s been a good month for skronky, avant-garde metal (as this column’s bountiful selection will attest), but one of the albums I’ve been returning to the most over the last few weeks has been pure comfort food. Given how confrontational and extreme sludge pioneers Grief sounded when they were active, it almost feels weird to describe Come To Grief’s long-awaited debut like that – maybe it’s just me getting all nostalgic for a time when sludge metal wasn’t totally over-subscribed, but the partially reformed band (featuring drummer Chuck Conlon and long-serving guitarist Terry Savastano) really do scratch the same itch as all those classic 90s sludge records.

At the same time, it’s not just a carbon copy – vocalist Jonathan Hébert wisely doesn’t try and imitate Jeff Hayward’s iconic tortured croak, opting instead for a higher register shriek, and the band’s song-writing is perhaps a little more buoyant and up-tempo than Grief’s dirgier approach (especially on the savage ‘Devastation Of Souls’). This very much feels like a continuation of where Grief left off, rather than a pale imitation of their early days, and it’s essential listening if you like it low and slow.

Speaking of 90s nostalgia, the new EP from Collapsed Skull finds Full Of Hell members worshipping at the altar of first wave power violence, and it fucking rules. Full Of Hell often get tagged as a power violence band despite not really being one, and the difference is clear as day as soon as you hit play here. The squealing noise and bottom-heavy thump of the opening title track are pure Man Is The Bastard, whilst the moody hip hop beats that punctuate tracks like ‘Pigs On The Hunt’ would have felt right at home on a Spazz record. At the same time however, there’s something very modern about Eternity Maze; it feels like that classic power violence blueprint brought kicking and screaming into the present day, and it’s an absolute blast, all eleven minutes of it.

One-woman black metal project Hulder’s sound continues to evolve on new EP The Eternal Fanfare; following her solid debut album Godslastering: Hymns Of A Forlorn Peasantry, the EP boasts an even richer, more expansive production, with some subtle extra instrumentation to liven things up. Check out the haunting organ preceding the blistering lead at the end of ‘Burden Of Flesh’ for instance, or the choral intro ‘Curse From Beyond’. Despite the fuller and more elaborate sound, that raw feel which made Hulder so appealing to begin with hasn’t been compromised at all. It’s all over in a brief 25 minutes, but it could well be the best thing she’s released so far.

We’ve had plenty of good splits of late too. The Terminal Nation and Kruelty split The Ruination Of Imperialism that just landed on 20 Buck Spin is one of the most satisfyingly ignorant hardcore releases I’ve heard all year. That’s ignorant in terms of sheer knuckle-dragging riffing, mind you, not ignorant on an ideological level – far from it, as Terminal Nation’s incendiary anti-capitalist opener ‘Curators Of Brutality’ finds vocalist Stan Liszewski taking aim at the 1%, screaming, “We have the numbers!”, with eye-popping intensity. The thumping ‘Embalmed Crucifix’ hammers the point home even further, as Liszewski barks ”the only way you get to see heaven is if we stack the bodies that high” over a gigantic Entombed-on-steroids groove.

Japan’s Kruelty, by contrast, are like a more hardcore Coffins, playing deep, down-tuned death metal riffs but with an attitude that’s far more mosh-ready than morbid. The formula hasn’t changed a whole lot since their 2020 debut A Dying Truth, but it’s certainly been refined – both of their tracks here hit like a freight train, with the thick production emphasising just how ludicrously juicy those bass frequencies are.

After Petrine Cross’ split release with Tower Of Filargyria last year, Esmé Louise Newman’s other band Penance Stare are back, sharing wax with London prog-death lunatics Atvm. With Petrine Cross heading in an increasingly more atmospheric, delay drenched direction, Penance Stare are sounding more caustic, organic and abrasive than ever on this split, with the clear, roomy production giving their distinctive black metal sound an even more confrontational approach. There are hints of early screamo and early 2000s noise rock throughout, but perhaps most notably on the sparse, harrowing ‘Sanctimonia’ and anxious, bristling ‘Black Cat Petunias’. Atvm, meanwhile, made quite a splash with last year’s debut Famine, Putrid And Fucking Endless, and their fiddly, progressively minded death metal makes a fine companion to Penance Stare’s more brittle, aggressive approach. There’s definitely a blackened undercurrent here and a thoroughly punk energy, providing a common thread between both bands, even if they’ve both taken that approach to very different extremes. Great stuff all round!

Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses
(Debemur Morti)

You can never quite be sure what to expect going into a new Blut Aus Nord album and, true to form, the French outfit’s latest album somehow feels like both a continuation and a total inversion of their last, 2019’s Hallucinogen. Disharmonium keeps that record’s distant vocals and feverish, psychedelic atmosphere, but replaces its brighter sound and soaring, comforting guitar leads with harsh dissonance and an ominous, nightmarish hue. Whilst many of the solos on the last record could have been comfortably transposed onto a Pink Floyd record, the harrowing squeals that guitarist and band leader Vindsval wrenches out of his guitar at the end of apocalyptic opener ‘Chants Of The Deep Ones’ sound more like the dying yelps of some Lovecraftian interdimensional being than strings vibrating across a fretboard. The undulating rhythm and threatening chord swells of ‘Into The Woods’ make it one of the most genuinely disorientating tracks the band has released for a while too, whilst the droning wails of ‘That Cannot Be Dreamed’ sound more and more deranged as they continue, almost as if you can feel your own mind unravelling as the song progresses. It would be all too easy to hail this as the psychotic comedown after Hallucinogen’s dizzying high fades, and in some ways that would be accurate, but it’s not the whole story. Disharmonium is just as psychedelic as its predecessor, albeit in perhaps a less traditional way, and its harsher, more abrasive approach doesn’t come at the expense of its intoxicating, hallucinatory aesthetic at all. I loved Hallucinogen and it’s unexpectedly elated feel, but it’s great to see Vindsval hasn’t lost his ability to create music that sounds like it comes from a completely different universe here. This in many ways feels like a return to form, but with the lessons learnt during Hallucinogen deployed in similar but simultaneously eerily unfamiliar ways.

Orthodox – Proceed
(Alone Records)

Despite the name, Spanish doom outfit Orthodox have never been a band to play by the book. After dropping their monolithic debut Gran Poder (a record that can still go toe to toe with Sunn O))) or Corrupted’s finest), the trio had morphed into something resembling a free jazz band just one year later for its confounding but equally as hypnotic follow-up Amanecer En Puerta Oscura. Whilst the band had been operating as a two-piece (as well as getting increasingly more bizarre) since 2015’s Axis, new album Proceed finds original guitarist Ricardo Jiménez returning to the fold, and is probably their most overtly doomy record since Gran Poder, with much of the sonic experimentation of later records giving way to thick, pulsing waves of distorted guitar and sub-rattling bass. That’s not to say Proceed is a step backwards, or a mere re-tread of the groups’ past. The off-kilter rhythmic tangents that bassist/vocalist Marco Serrato and drummer Borja Díaz have been exploring of late feed back into this album in remarkable ways, with songs like ‘Rabid God’ bristling with an urgent, jazzy tension, far removed from the more meditative pace of their early days. There’s a hint of the dizzying percussive flavour of Filth-era Swans in ‘Starve’, albeit with those infamously caustic clouds of guitar noise fashioned into more metallic riffing patterns. Jiménez keeps things interesting throughout, resisting the urge to be either too flashy or too minimal – the way the vast, droning chords in opener ‘Past Seers’ gradually give way to electrifying jolts of dissonant skronk and slithering, serpentine licks is brilliant, and sets the tone for where this record is going to take you very well indeed. Proceed may not be quite as bold or untamed as some of the records they’ve released in the interim, but it’s arguably the heaviest thing they’ve done since their debut, and one of the most satisfying and surprising drone/doom records I’ve heard in quite a while.

Imperial Triumphant - Spirit Of Ecstasy
(Century Media)

Much like Orthodox, I respect Imperial Triumphant’s commitment to the unexpected. 2018’s Vile Luxury completely caught me off-guard with it’s bizarre blend of avant-garde minimalism, no-wave and black metal, and I didn’t see the retro-futuristic aesthetic and jazzy undertones of 2020’s Alphaville coming either. I certainly didn’t expect to see Kenny G, of all people, featuring on the New York group’s fifth album, but here we are – and perhaps the only expected thing here is that, somehow, Imperial Triumphant make this ungodly fusion of sounds sound like the most natural thing in the world. The song in question, ‘Merkurius Gilded’, is undoubtedly one of the album’s highlights, as unnerving orchestral samples blur into lightspeed blasts and tangled, knotty tech-death riffs before Kenny’s histrionic saxophone wails burst out alongside guitarist Zachary Ilya Ezrin’s squirming leads, the two dancing around each other with such vigour and frenzy that it eventually becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Ezrin’s leads in general seem even more elaborate and emotive on this record, often grounding the listener when the band’s jittery, anxious sprawl becomes too much to handle (take ‘Tower Of Glory, City Of Shame’, for instance, as the suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere created by those tense synths is suddenly punctured by smooth, luxurious licks). Not that Imperial Triumphant are a band that really care about the listener’s comfort levels, however, as taken as a whole, Spirit Of Ecstasy is just as dense and impenetrable as they’ve ever been. Songs like ‘Death On A Highway’ are amongst the most frantic and delirious the band have ever penned, a firm reminder that these guys are still an extreme metal band beneath all the bells and whistles. ‘Bezumnaya’, meanwhile, leaps headfirst into dark ambient rumbling and pounding industrial noise, like Einsturzende Neubauten desperately trying to jolt themselves out of sleep paralysis, and ‘In The Pleasure Of Their Company’ is an unashamed vault into jazz-fusion territory, with squealing horns and silky Allan Holdsworth-esque leads rubbing up against some excellent falling-down-the-stairs style drumming. Whilst the influence of artists like Gorguts and Glenn Branca is clearly evident here, there’s still nobody else that really sounds like Imperial Triumphant. It’s not only the jazzy flourishes and esoteric instrumentation that lend their sound such a unique aura, but also the sinisterly theatrical manner in which it’s all put together, further heightening that unhinged, fever dream atmosphere they excel in. Spirit Of Ecstasy is another gleeful mindfuck of a record, a seemingly chaotic but tightly controlled love letter to absurdity that has to be heard to be believed.

Scarcity – Aveilut
(The Flenser)

Speaking of Glenn Branca inspired extreme metal, this debut album from Scarcity makes a great chaser to Spirit Of Ecstasy. Brendon Randall-Myers took up the baton as conductor of Glenn Branca’s orchestra after the pioneering guitarist passed away in 2018, but was compelled to explore more metallic terrain here, recruiting Pyrrhon vocalist Doug Moore to bring this dense 45-minute-long composition to life. Despite being born out of two people rather than a full ensemble, the scope and complexity of Aveilut belies Randall-Myers’ penchant for elaborate, cinematic compositions, with the wall of churning guitars gradually building and expanding as the piece progresses. There’s such a rich amount of texture and melody here, steeped in a yearning, pensive pulse that feels far more introspective than combative. Moore was a perfect choice of vocalist here, opting for a higher register than the guttural approach he mostly utilises in Pyrrhon and lending Aveilut a tortured, howling anchor for the listener to cling to as waves of microtonal tremolo picking seem to spread infinitely, fractal-like, into the distance. It’s surprisingly dynamic too, progressing subtly and slowly but never stagnating. It really picks up in the second movement, with a propulsive, almost motorik beat giving the piece a palpable amount of forward motion. As this gradually morphs into a more traditional black metal blastbeat, there’s a curious stillness that starts to descend, the reams of spiralling guitar all merging into a singular, all-consuming force. When the third movement hits, that wall of guitars has fully congealed into an enveloping, almost bagpipe-esque drone, as thunderous double-kick patterns send it hurtling forward again at breakneck pace. Aveilut won’t be for everyone, but it’s invaluable not only as a testament to how malleable extreme metal can be when moulded into more abstract, long-form compositions, but also as an incredibly emotive and gripping piece of music in its own right.

Hissing - Hypervirulence Architecture
(Profound Lore)

Whilst initially hyped due to their guitarist Joe being the younger brother of Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, by the time this Seattle trio had released their 2018 debut album Permanent Destitution they’d already become a respectable name in their own right. This follow-up does a great job of continuing their murky but abrasive blend of death and doom metal – rather than sounding like your run-of-the-mill death/doom act, the Hissing sound is more akin to locking Corrupted and Portal in a dingy basement together until they finally snap and attempt to cannibalise each other. There’s a real sense of aggression lurking beneath the band’s thick walls of distortion – the aptly titled ‘Hostile Absurdity’ is a great case in point, with ex-Addaura drummer Sam Pickel reaching ludicrous blastbeat speeds without overriding the creeping sense of menace and unease slowly oozing out of those discordant, unsettling guitar riffs. The ten-minute ‘Operant Extinction’, meanwhile, is one of the album’s doomiest and most crushing songs, as more ferocious drumming eventually gives way to an immensely satisfying chugging groove that feels as if it’s on the verge of collapse, holding together just long enough to pound you into submission before breaking down into a vast, disturbing gulf of seething drones and disembodied vocals so sinister they’d probably have even Attila Csihar furtively glancing over his shoulder. Hissing continue to defy easy categorisation, mixing elements of cavernous death metal and drone/doom together with the unbridled intensity of a grindcore band, and this could well be their most unhinged and caustic release yet.

Black Cilice – Esoteric Atavism
(Iron Bonehead)

After I sang the praises of Candelabrum’s latest just a few months ago, here comes another exemplary raw black metal album from Portugal’s fertile underground. This sixth album from Black Cilice continues the murky, obscure sound the project has become known for, whilst also subtly expanding the parameters of lo-fi black metal. Whilst this rawer, more abrasive form of black metal can certainly be an acquired taste, Black Cilice is one of the first things I’d play to people who dismiss it as a stubborn attempt to “sound bad on purpose”, instead of a very effective aesthetic choice. Given the lo-fi sound, it’s impressive just how colourful and varied this album sounds once your ears are accustomed to it. Whilst a lot of more booming, expensive modern metal production can have an unfortunate tendency to flatten out the guitars into a crunchy but bland mush, the textures here have a real vibrancy to them – not to mention an eerie, dream-like quality, rendering instruments you assumed total familiarity with in a new, vaguely unrecognisable light. Esoteric Atavism is a bit more aggressive and ferocious than 2019’s hypnotic Transfixion Of Spirits, whilst retaining that album’s misty atmosphere. The more pensive, transcendent pull of ‘Beyond The Veil’ makes for a great opener, lulling you into a trance-like state before the brutish blasts and searing tremolo of ‘Channelling Old Power’ feel like a glass of ice-cold water splashed directly into your face. There’s an oddly triumphant feel to Esoteric Atavism when compared to some of his bleaker earlier work too. ‘Atavistic Reconnection’ goes like the absolute clappers, for instance, but there’s still a stately sense of grandeur to it rather than unbridled aggression, with the melancholic chords and stirring lead guitar wails bleeding together to create an almost orchestral wall of sound. Closer ‘Towards Transcendence’, on the other hand, sounds positively upbeat, with its oddly punky intro riff giving way to mysterious, droning chords set against an uncharacteristically bouncy rhythm. It’s not quite as intoxicating as Candelabrum’s extraordinary Nocturnal Trance, but it’s far more bracing and aggressive, and sure to enthral if you have any tolerance for this stuff.

Esoctrilihum – Consecration Of The Spiritüs Flesh
(I, Voidhanger)

After releasing a great album every May since 2018’s vast The Telluric Ashes Of The Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods, I was a little worried when this 1 June came and went without any sign of the prolific French solo outfit. Had sole member Asthâghul’s creative well finally run dry? Of course not – it turns out that extra month this time round helped him summon by far the most vicious, vitriolic and aggressive material he’s ever put to tape. Whilst there were some pretty savage moments on last year’s Dy’th Requiem For The Serpent Telepath, that album as a whole felt defined by its gloomy, gothic atmosphere – by contrast, this one goes straight for the jugular and never lets up. The blasts in ‘Thertrh’ are absolutely ridiculous and, when combined with those larynx-shredding screeches and grinding blackened riffs, feel more like old Anaal Nathrakh than, say, The Ruins Of Beverast. The brutal death metal inspired riffing in ‘Tharseîdhon’, meanwhile, is closer to Nile, especially when paired with those theatrical guttural vocals and pulverising double-kick. That’s not to say Esoctrilihum have completely discarded that weird atmospheric sensibility that made records like Eternity Of Shaog so thrilling, as there are still all kinds of odd little details and psychedelic flourishes hiding away in here – but this time, they’re presented in a significantly more confrontational manner. The fantastically disorientating ‘Shohih’, for instance, manages to concoct a pretty heady stew of reverb-strewn leads, ominous chanting and sinister melodies, all whilst simultaneously assaulting your senses with absurdly fast drum fills, caustic screams and dense, dissonant riffs. For my money, Eternity Of Shaog is still Esoctrilihum’s masterpiece, but this is another great addition to his discography and a step in the right direction after the somewhat uneven Dy’th Requiem. If that record felt torn between melancholy and fury, Consecration Of The Spiritüs Flesh simply wants to tear your fucking head off in the swiftest way possible. It’s definitely the most violent, direct and abrasive record he’s ever made, which is certainly saying something.

Artificial Brain - Artifical Brain
(Profound Lore)

Meanwhile, New York tech-death squad Artificial Brain have just dropped their most spacious and atmospheric offering yet, and I’m very tempted to call it their best yet. I’ve always enjoyed the band’s intricate but organic take on the genre, but the extra breathing room they’ve allowed their sound here has taken it to a whole new level. I say “breathing room” relatively, of course – the band’s sound is still incredibly dense and complex. The opening title track (yep, Artificial Brain can now be welcomed in to that hallowed hall of Metal Bands With Self-Titled Songs On Self-Titled Albums) is one of their most frantic and intense yet, dishing out all the hyperspeed blasting, guttural roars and fiddly riffing we’ve come to expect from the band, but taken as a whole, this album feels both more accessible and mature than their previous work. The added space in songs like ‘Celestial Cyst’ or the curiously emotive ‘Cryogenic Dreamworld’, for example, not only emphasises the intensity of the album’s faster, denser passages, but also allows the band’s twisted melodic sensibility to really come to the fore. That’s always been there, but on this record it’s just that much more punchy and memorable, with bona fide hooks worming their way in amongst the band’s usually impenetrable assault. The frantic leads in ‘A Lofty Grave’ manage to sound bizarrely catchy, against all odds, whilst ‘Embalmed In Magma’ allows the band’s distinctive riffs to trickle slowly like lava oozing gradually downhill, compared to the more explosive, volcanic approach on their last two records, with drummer Keith Abrami utilising more tribal grooves on the toms instead of all-out blasting. It feels like technical death metal is having something of a revival of late, with a number of bands pushing beyond the “how many notes we can squeeze into a second?” mentality of some of the sub-genre’s more athletically inclined early 2000s practitioners – but even against this backdrop, Artificial Brain feels like a pretty extraordinary record.

Reeking Aura – Blood And Bonemeal
(Profound Lore)

Unfortunately, Artificial Brain will be the band’s last with vocalist Will Smith, who left the band before its release. Smith has hit the ground running with his new band Reeking Aura though, consisting of most of the bandmates from his other other band, grindcore outfit Buckshot Facelift, in addition to Ryan Lipynsky of cherished sludge trio Unearthly Trance. This resulting debut album is a pretty curious blend of technical death metal and doom which, somehow, is a lot more seamless than it may sound on paper. Opener ‘Remnant Of Obstinate Rank (Flooding Ratholes)’ is a great example, blasting right out of the gate with raging death metal riffs and pounding blasts, before dropping incredibly gracefully into a vast, mournful dirge, with sombre guitar harmonies accentuating leaden grooves. Remarkably, Blood And Bonemeal never feels too schizophrenic or disjointed, with savage circle-pit instigators like ‘Seed The Size Of A Spider’s Eye’ or the fantastically titled ‘A Vegetative Mush That Melts Among The Shelves Lined With Meats Of Indeterminate Origin’ sitting comfortably alongside more atmospheric cuts like ‘Harvesting The Hatchet’, a monstrous slab of rolling riffery akin to mid-period Bolt Thrower with sprinklings of Disembowelment’s distant, stargazing leads. This is a very promising debut; if you’re digging the new Artifical Brain, don’t let this one pass you by.

Grave Lines - Communion
(New Heavy Sounds)

I really feel like Grave Lines are one of the most distinctive and unique bands in the UK doom scene at the moment, with their dusky blend of gothic melodicism and burly, crushing sludge metal continuing to mix in interesting ways. Their sound is much more vulnerable and melancholy than that dreamed up by your average sludge act, but is also considerably grittier and more confrontational than weepier strains of doom played by the likes of Anathema, and it’s a sweet spot they seem to inhabit all on their own. After 2018’s impressively sprawling Fed Into The Nihilist Engine saw them broadening their approach even further than 2016 debut Welcome To Nothing, third album Communion wisely doesn’t attempt to out-do that album’s epic scope; instead, it takes everything that made that record great and refines it into a punchier, more efficient package. The opening one-two punch of ‘Gordian’ and ‘Argyraphaga’ are two of the most direct, immediate songs the band have ever penned, bringing a boisterous energy and more combative aggression when compared to the more morose strains of the previous record. Communion still makes plenty of time for atmosphere, however. Eleven minute centre-piece ‘Lycaenid’ is perhaps the album’s most striking moment, with its sombre neo-folk style guitars and spacious ambience giving vocalist Jake Harding ample space to deploy his heart-wrenchingly effective croon in addition to his trademark bellow. Guitarist Oli’s evocative guitar lines are sounding simultaneously more triumphant and forlorn than ever too, especially amidst the grandiose, Candlemass-esque drama of ‘Carcini’, a robust and classically inclined doom metal anthem that feels even more powerful coming out of the surprisingly harsh, almost industrial segue ‘Tachinid’. There’s never a sense of tonal whiplash though, with all these different sounds coalescing seamlessly beneath the band’s intoxicating gloom – if anything, the band’s identity sounds more assured and fully realised than ever, harnessing both the raw energy of their debut and the more mature, melodic approach of their last record to create perhaps their most well-rounded release yet.

Gozer - An Endless Static
(Trepanation Recordings)

It may have seemed premature for Sheffield post-metal quintet Archelon to call it a day just as they were really picking up some momentum, but on the basis of An Endless Static alone, their decision to change their name and strip things back to a three-piece was evidently a very good one. The cinematic scope of Archelon is still there in spades (just check out how patiently ten minute opener ‘Into The Grey’ grows from sparse beginnings to its thunderous conclusion), but there’s an urgency and immediacy to Gozer’s approach that helps it hit even harder than before. Tracks like ‘A Fading Light’ reach almost Neurosis-ian levels of heft, benefitting greatly from the band’s keener focus as vast riffs are belted out with brute force and a very direct energy. There’s still plenty of room for subtlety too; ‘Augur’s transition through cathartic noise rock howling and desolate black metal-esque blasting is made even more powerful by contrast to its delicate intro, as beautiful violin licks (courtesy of Ba’al bassist Richard Spencer) dance between guitarist Craig Bagshaw’s stark, pensive chords. The nine-minute ‘Desiderium’ is perhaps the album’s stand-out moment, as the band’s hypnotic riffing and that haunting violin bleed together perfectly whilst Torpor’s Simon Mason lends some genuinely tortured shrieks, coalescing into one of the most affecting tracks on the whole record. An Endless Static feels perfectly paced – at 47 minutes, it’s dense enough to provide an authentically mesmerising listening experience but never drifts into flabby chugging or self-indulgent navel gazing. There’s an attention to detail here that, combined with some sharp song-writing, really helps Gozer’s take on post metal stand out from the pack.