The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Columnus Metallicus

Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For February Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , February 6th, 2024 09:24

Kez Whelan returns with your regular guide to a metal scene that shows no sign of a winter hibernation, reviewing essential new releases from Spectral Voice, The Obsessed, The Body & Dis Fig and more

Spectral Voice

Barely a month into 2024, and I’m already overwhelmed by the amount of fresh new riffs jostling for entry into my ear canals. Whilst fellow tQ scribe Noel Gardner recently bemoaned the lack of punk bands releasing music in January, metal, it seems, never sleeps; and apparently neither does Chinese black metal solo project Ὁπλίτης (or Hoplites, if you’re not versed in the Greek alphabet). Not content with releasing three half-hour albums last year, he’s kicked off 2024 with this almost hour-long behemoth, easily his weirdest, wildest and most imaginative yet. Building on the blackened mathcore vibe of his last three (imagine Serpent Column with more panic chords and mosh riffs), Παραμαινομένη is not only more chaotic and abrasive, but also adds some extremely prominent saxophone, oddly rhythmic spoken word sections and ritualistic grooves. It feels like it’s teetering on the edge of collapse the whole time, and in some ways is kind of a mess, but a very exhilarating mess nonetheless.

If you’re into that, don’t miss US quintet Infant Island’s latest album Obsidian Wreath either. Whilst their previous records fell under the blackened screamo umbrella, they’ve significantly increased the black metal influence this time around, resulting in their most abrasive and metallic opus so far. Truthfully, some of the more post-rock indebted sections (like the weepy climax of ‘Veil’) can be a bit too saccharine for my taste, but when they’re on point, they’re sound fucking intense, with tracks like ‘Fulfilled’ and ‘Clawing, Still’, fusing the visceral intensity of Orchid with the pensive atmosphere of Wolves In The Throne Room.

Speaking of atmospheric black metal, perennially underrated Portland duo Obsidian Tongue have just released their first new material in four years, in the form of the three-track The Stone Heart EP. Despite the tantalisingly short length, it feels like a great companion piece to 2020’s Volume III, furthering the pair’s mournful yet powerful Agalloch-esque sound. With guitarist/vocalist Brendan Hayter also taking care of bass duties here, it’s some of the most sonically robust stuff they’ve ever released too, boding well for their next full-length.

The Infernal Sea’s latest Hellfenlic is also worth a punt, a loose concept album based around self-proclaimed witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins. As opposed to the usual schlocky, Hammer Horror-esque approach metal usually tackles this subject with, the UK black metallers delve a bit deeper here with a much bleaker tone, perhaps more fitting of a man who wrought untold brutality upon women under the misguided belief he was doing God’s bidding. Sure, there’s a boisterous, classic metal bravado behind songs like ‘Witchfinder’ or ‘Black Witchery’ (the latter complete with dive-bomb solos and gang vocals in the chorus) but the sickly Hellhammer style riffs of ‘Lord Abhorrent’ paint a much more menacing picture of the man. Sombre closer ‘Messenger Of God’ is the biggest surprise however, with its achingly melancholy violin hewing closer to Dawn Ray’d’s more introspective moments than The Infernal Sea’s usual caustic blasting – it’s a sound they wear well though, and proves the band aren’t just a one-trick pony.

Spectral Voice – Sparagmos
(Dark Descent)

After teasing a comeback with last year’s split release with Undergang, modern death/doom legends Spectral Voice have finally ended the seven year wait for a proper follow-up to their 2017 debut Eroded Corridors Of Unbeing, and it’s an absolute monster. Given that three of the band’s members also play in the increasingly hyped Blood Incantation, it’s hardly surprising they’ve been busy – but funnily enough, it’s drummer/vocalist Eli Wendler, the band’s only non-BI member, that makes the biggest impression here, with his unhinged vocals adopting an even more deranged, demonic quality this time round, and his humongous fills on songs like the creepy opener ‘Be Cadaver’ sounding like the galloping of cloven hooves echoing throughout the deepest bowels of hell.

Comprised of four lengthy, supremely satisfying compositions, Sparagmos (named after Dionysian dismemberment techniques, if you were wondering) is even more haunting and otherworldly than it’s more combative predecessor. There’s still a primal aggression at play here (check out the ravenous ‘Sinew Censer’) on the whole this album is a lot more atmospheric, with the aforementioned ‘Be Cadaver’ culminating with grandiose, Asunder-esque clean vocals and gigantic swathes of melancholic distortion. ‘Red Feasts Condensed Into One’, meanwhile, eventually disrupts its cavernous blasting by reducing the band’s rolling darkness to sparse, violent stabs, letting the uncomfortably quiet spaces between overwhelm the listener instead. In many ways, Sparagmos is reminiscent of Swallowed’s boundary-pushing (and somehow now decade-old) masterpiece Lunarterial in that it reveals genuinely sinister new avenues of expression within the well-worn genre of death/doom metal, and is easily 2024’s first essential metal record.

The Obsessed – Gilded Sorrow
(Ripple Music)

It’s been seven years since we last heard from Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich’s legendary doom troupe The Obsessed, too, with this new record coming across as a much darker, moodier counterpart to 2017’s boisterous, hard rockin’ Sacred. Whilst there are still some more upbeat moments here (like lead single ‘It’s Not OK’ or the old-school swagger of ‘Jailine’), as the name implies Gilded Sorrow has a much more pronounced streak of melancholy running through it, with songs like the title track and ‘Wellspring-Dark Sunshine’ adopting a gloomier, more contemplative atmosphere. ‘Stoned Back To The Bomb Age’, on the other hand, is a bona fide doom banger, with Wino literally cackling with glee atop its lumbering low-slung grooves.

The addition of Jason Taylor on rhythm guitar gives Gilded Sorrow a full, thunderous sound too, bulking up the band’s churning sludge and giving Wino more room for dazzling leads, of which there are plenty. As is traditional for Obsessed albums at this point, Wino looks back to his roots with a re-recording of an old classic, this time the ominous chugger ‘Yen Sleep’. It may not have the same energy as the original, but there’s a world-weariness to it which adds even more weight to its leaden grooves. Gilded Sorrow isn’t the most original album you’ll hear this year, but it’s a solid showing from one of metal’s most resilient lifers.

The Body & Dis Fig – Orchards Of A Futile Heaven
(Thrill Jockey)

After teaming up with The Bug for 2020’s sparse, ethereal In Blue, Berlin-based post-industrial producer Dis Fig has joined forces with known collab enthusiasts The Body for an even more potent full-length, striking an uncomfortably effective balance between the moody ambience of her 2019 debut and the fiery, abrasive electronics of The Body’s recent collaboration with OAA. As abstract as it is though, there are genuine hooks here, with Dis Fig delivering some of her strongest, most impassioned vocal work yet, whether she’s wailing inside huge trenches of low-end on ‘To Walk A Higher Path’ or wrapping her ghostly drawl around Chip King’s unhinged shriek on ‘Eternal Hours’ or the eerie title-track itself, which would have felt right at home on Portishead’s doom-laden Third.

The Body largely hold off on their bludgeoning sludge, with the chilling use of negative space making it sound even more catastrophic when Chip’s thunderous guitar does come crashing in on the oddly anthemic ‘Holy Lance’. Both acts complement each other perfectly here, making this record feel like more than sum of its parts. Much like The Body’s recent record with Big Brave, it’s amazing how fully realised Orchards Of A Futile Heaven is – though they might be on opposite ends of the spectrum sonically, it’s clear a lot of work has gone into sequencing each so they flow as satisfying albums, and having the eviscerating nine-minute techno nightmare of ‘Coils Of Kaa’ lead into the emotional gut-punch of ‘Back To The Water’, as Dis Fig howls “I miss you” like Björk having a panic attack, ends this one on a particularly powerful note.

Knoll – As Spoken

Sounding like Full Of Hell and Portal having a fist-fight at a free jazz concert, this young Tennessee quintet have made quite a name for themselves post-lockdown, with two full-lengths full of chaotic, dissonant and extremely noisy grind to their names so far. This third opus is arguably their most well-realised yet, finding them stepping out of the shadows of their heroes and really embracing their own distinctive sound. The band themselves have dubbed it “funeral grind”, which makes sense given that, despite the frantic speed, this stuff doesn’t really grind in the same way that, say, Napalm Death does, with the sinister riffs hanging in the air like ominous black clouds above blastbeats that are more hypnotising than bludgeoning. Songs like the suffocating ‘Offering’ have an unnervingly still quality to them, whilst ‘Wept Fountain’ abruptly breaks from caustic blasting to a sombre, punishing dirge. There’s even a strangely shoegaze quality to ‘Mereward’ as huge waves of warping guitar collide against each other over stomping, lysergic beats.

Guitarist Ryan Cook’s blasts of skronky trumpet add a lot of character to the band’s sound too. It’s used relatively sparingly but sounds downright apocalyptic when it blares into earshot, ringing out with an otherworldly authority on ‘Revile Of Light’, shining through the band’s writhing black dirge like beams of sunlight, or sounding like a demented fanfare on the savage but weirdly triumphant ‘Fettered Oath’. As Spoken feels like a big step up for Knoll, and is one of the most nightmarishly unique fusions of grindcore and dissonant black metal I’ve heard in a while.

Panopticon – The Rime Of Memory

Austin Lunn, the man behind solo black metal outfit Panopticon, released this ninth full-length literally the day after I submitted my end of year round-up for the Quietus, and whilst I can’t help but appreciate the thorough disregard for music press at large, if he’d have dropped it ever so slightly earlier it would have been a shoe-in for my top five. The Rime Of Memory is arguably his most personal and atmospheric release since 2015’s Autumn Eternal, and perhaps his most mature and well-seasoned opus yet. Turning his lyrical focus towards the perils of ageing and eventual acceptance of death, there’s a profound weight and sombre sense of finality underpinning this album from beginning to end.

After a lengthy, gorgeous folk intro, the 20 minute ‘Winter’s Ghost’ eventually erupts in a flurry of blastbeats and ice-cold tremolo picking before winding down into desolate doomscapes more akin to Lunn’s work with Seidr. Panopticon’s fiery bluster hasn’t exactly cooled off here (see the ferocious ‘Cedar Skeletons’, which builds to perhaps the album’s most affecting climax as triumphant violin riffs soar across Lunn’s frankly ludicrously fast drumming), but The Rime Of Memory is generally more contemplative and meditative, with the rousing Maiden-meets-Agalloch guitar harmonies of ‘Enduring The Snow Drought’ or ghostly clean vocals that open closing epic ‘The Blue Against The White’ really driving home the melancholy feel of the album’s theme. It all sounds huge too, aided by a more organic, earthy production than 2021’s somewhat cleaner sounding …And Again Into The Light, and the 75 minute running time seems to fly past. Hopefully this won’t be the final Panopticon album, but if it is, it’s an extremely high note to end on.

Krallice – Mass Cathexis 2 – The Kinetic Infinite

December was a good month for surprise black metal releases, with experimental New York legends Krallice unexpectedly releasing a direct sequel to 2020’s Mass Cathexis, to my ears the best of the group’s recent flurry of output. The first half really does feel like an immediate continuation of the original, with the mysterious, wistful atmosphere of opener ‘Empyrean’ seemingly picking up exactly where ‘All And Nothing’ left off. Once again, Neurosis bassist Dave Edwardson lends his distinctively brutish roar here, injecting a serious dose of aggression into fiddly, technical riff-fests like ‘Liquid-Remembered Vessels’.

For the B-side however (and where the titular … Kinetic Infinite comes into play), the band switch instruments and delve into more abstract, synth powered territory, similar to their last album Porous Resonance Abyss but with a less overtly spacy, hypnotic flavour. It also strongly recalls the glossy, crystalline hyper-prog of Interstellar Overtrove, the album Colin Marston’s other band Behold… The Arctopus released towards the end of last year, albeit with a much riffier focus. Whilst this release may not feel as well-rounded and cohesive as the original Mass Cathexis (in many ways it feels like a pair of EPs stuck together rather than a fully-fledged album), it does a great job of harnessing its exploratory nature to push the already amorphous Krallice sound into ever more bizarre places.

Vemod – The Deepening

Whilst this Norwegian trio’s 2012 debut Venter På Stormene is hailed as a modern day classic in some circles, I’ve often thought it was a pretty lopsided listen, with the windswept majesty of its first two tracks crumbling slightly once the obligatory middling ambient track and demo-quality sounding outro wrapped things up – not that these tracks were bad, mind you, but it didn’t really sit well with me as a complete album experience. It may have taken twelve years for a follow-up, but The Deepening feels like the classic album they had in them all along; it’s structured in a much more satisfying way, with the band’s evocative ambience and chilling, stargazing black metal fused together seamlessly.

The production is much fuller and richer sounding too, and whilst this sort of atmospheric black metal can often benefit from a more lo fi approach, it’s really nice to be able to hear a lot of the little details in these songs (like the haunting, reverb smothered clean vocals that punctuate ‘Der Guder Dør’ or the smooth, almost dubby bassline running through ‘Inn I Lysende Natt’) so clearly. In stark contrast to the debut’s sequencing, The Deepening has a really hypnotic flow to it, with the glistening, early Ulver-esque closer feeling like a fitting finale and rounding the record off nicely.

Yxxan – Misanthropic Impulse
(Nuclear War Now!)

Swedish one-woman solo project Yxxan’s 2020 demo Satanic Fortification Overbalance was a breath of fresh air within the insular sub-genre of war metal, bringing all the feral aggression you’d expect from the style but mixing things up with surprisingly dynamic, memorable song-writing and enough D-beats to get mohawks flailing alongside the bullet belts. This debut full-length isn’t quite as seethingly intense, but it still smokes most of her peers. The likes of ‘In The Crossfire Of Annihilation’ and ‘Intellectual Standstill’ come out of the gate swinging with a barrage of brute force hammer blasts, vocals that sound like a wild animal in pain and gloriously primitive riffs, but that punky energy is never far away and prevents the whole thing from falling into the monotonous trap of wall-to-wall blasts that a lot of bands of this ilk slip into – ‘Påtvingade Aborter Till Katolska Präster’, for example, sits snugly in the sweet spot between Anti Cimex and Blasphemy.

Outside of blast-heavy tracks like the punishing ‘Baptized & Deluded’, there’s a surprising amount of variation here too, with ‘Headless Server Harvester’ augmenting its rabid bludgeoning with authentically filthy doom riffs, and ‘Till Anfall Att Förneka Korset’ slowing things down just enough to allow some charmingly knuckle-headed grooves to shine through. I feel like war metal fiends will already be all over this, but even if the genre usually leaves you cold, there’s enough vitriol and imagination here to warrant giving it a spin regardless.

Dipygus – Dipygus
(Memento Mori/Crypt Of The Wizard)

Last but by no means least, US quintet Dipygus are back with their third full-length of unhinged, cryptid obsessed prehistoric death metal. It’s tempting to describe this band as Impetigo playing at Autopsy tempos and call it a day, but that’s not the whole story – there’s a genuinely bizarre quality to this band’s sound that sets them apart from the legions of old school death metal revival acts currently doing the rounds. I’d be hard-pushed to call something this gristly, greasy and gory as being “proggy”, but there’s a real sense of other-ness to wonky compositions like ‘AquaGenesis’, as its evocatively fiddly intro collapses into primordial deathly ooze, or the curiously structured ‘Огромный Кальмар (Ross Sea Trawler)’, which flits between rancid death metal carnage, surprisingly melodic leads and unexpected blasts of hissing, decrepit noise.

It's the eleven-minute ‘Sacral Brain’ that really takes the cake though, a sprawling cut that sometimes sounds like old Paradise Lost with a severe head injury, augmenting lurching Sabbathian riffs with queasy cannibal movie keys. It’s proof the band’s idiosyncratic style of song-writing works just as well when applied to lengthy, doomy epics as it does mischievous sub-two minute rippers like ‘The Ochopee Skunk Ape’. If you’re looking for death metal that’s as visceral as it is cerebral, these sickos have you covered.