Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For March Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Kez Whelan is back with all that is good, bad and ugly in doom, grind, thrash, bm and more

As 2022 continues to hurtle onwards, the release schedule shows no signs of slowing down. With loads of artists either using the last two years’ lockdown as an excuse to write more material or sitting on new albums until they’re able to tour again, it feels like the floodgates are now well and truly open. The next few editions of Columnicus Metallicus are already looking rammed, and I’m still catching up on stuff I’ve already missed from this year.

The new Voivod album Synchro Anarchy, for instance, totally passed me by last month – and it’s pretty damn good! I wasn’t too enamoured with a lot of the Canadian legends’ post-2000s material but, much like 2018’s The Wake, this album feels like something of a return to form. Opener ‘Paranormalium’ does a good job of emulating weird Piggy-esque chords atop blistering thrash battery, whilst songs like the title track have a slightly more considered pace and mysterious feel that’s reminiscent of Norway’s prog metal titans Virus.

The current death metal revival is still in full swing too, with Denver’s Astral Tomb being the latest hyped new band to finally deliver a full-length. Soulgazer is an oddity in more ways than one – it’s absolutely not the cohesive, focussed debut album I was hoping it would be, and many of the looser, muddier and scruffier aspects of their demo material still haven’t really been ironed out. But despite that, it works; the trio have got even more psychedelic in the interim, with songs like ‘Ascending A Pillar Of Light’ boasting wild, unexpected lead sections, and ‘Be Here Now…’ delving into full-on ambient territory. These psychedelic tendencies are very endearing (if not entirely coherent) when combined with the band’s messier aesthetic. If Blood Incantation’s Starspawn felt like taking DMT in the furthest reaches of space, this is more like chugging on your mate’s homemade bong and staring slack-jawed through a telescope for half an hour – but hey, sometimes that’s just what you need.

The new Desolate Shrine LP Echoes In The Halls Of Vanity, meanwhile, is an absolute monster. Over the last decade, the Finnish trio’s name has become synonymous with dark, murky and doom-laden death metal, and their abyssal sound is as enveloping as ever on this one. The production is noticeably cleaner, however; not to the point that it intrudes too much on their bleak atmosphere, but it certainly gives the grizzly, propulsive riffing in tracks like ‘The Dying World’ even more of an impact, and could make this a particularly palatable entry point for newcomers.

It’s been a good month for new bands too. I’ve already written about Absent In Body’s debut elsewhere, but needless to say it comes highly recommended – what else would you expect pairing Amenra members with Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and ex-Sepultura/ current Pet Brick drummer Iggor Cavalera? If you’ve ever wondered what a more industrial Amenra might sound like, then have at it. UK sludge duo Tuskar finally dropped their debut album Matriarch too, boldly opening with almost twelve minutes of harrowing slo-mo doom. The record opens up a lot as it continues, with anthemic, riffy cuts like ‘To The Sky’ coming across like an even heavier, more strung out take on early Baroness and more expansive, psychedelic tracks like ‘The Trees, The Trees, The Trees’ adding some very effective contrast.

After self-releasing last year, Finnish black metallers Hexerei have had their debut album Ancient Evil Spirits picked up by Sentient Ruin, and it’s a beast. The first three tracks are top-notch Darkthrone worship in the vein of Germany’s Katharsis, but it’s all about the 15 minute closer ‘Unholy Ceremonial Invocation’, in which the band stretch that classic evil black metal sound out into hypnotic tantric exercise without losing any of its unholy power.

Crowbar – Zero And Below

(MNRK Heavy)

After delivering a solo record just before the world was plunged into lockdown, sludge metal lifer Kirk Windstein has finally granted us a new Crowbar album. 2014’s Symmetry In Black and 2016’s The Serpent Only Lies signalled a return to form for the band, but whilst both of those records modelled themselves after the more dynamic, melodic and introspective template laid down by the band’s classic 98 opus Odd Fellow’s Rest, Zero And Below seems to draw more from the band’s more single-minded early output like Obedience Thru Suffering and Time Heals Nothing. Maybe Kirk got all the experimentation and bluesy noodling out of his system on his solo album, because Zero And Below is the most straight-forwardly sludgy Crowbar record in some time. The bottom-heavy crunch and hardcore indebted groove of songs like ‘Bleeding From Every Hole’ could have come directly from the band’s self-titled 93 album, were it not for the significantly meatier production.

There are still introspective moments here, like the sparse, cleanly sung verse in ‘Denial Of The Truth’ or the wistful, ominous finger picking the closes out the title track, but even then they’re mostly buried beneath waves of molasses thick detuned churn. Though there may not be many surprises here, it’s impressive how succinctly the band has settled back into their classic sound after such a long break. Zero And Below isn’t exactly a revelation, but it’s solid reminder of just how powerful Crowbar can be at their densest and most primordial.

Midnight – Let There Be Witchery

(Metal Blade)

Athenar, the man behind Cleveland scuzz-mongers Midnight, is also sticking firmly in his comfort zone this month, with the fifth Midnight full-length adhering strictly to the formula that has made his other records such a blast. Remarkably, however, Athenar is still managing to keep this formula fresh, with his distinctive fusion of sleazy Motörhead style rock & roll, snarling Cronos-aping vocals and debauched lyricism sounding thoroughly energised here. Boisterous cuts like ‘Nocturnal Molestation’ and ‘Snake Obsession’ feel like classic Midnight through and through, and the booming, crisp production packs one hell of a punch whilst thankfully not sanitising the band’s filthy onslaught too much either. That’s not to say there’s no musical growth here whatsoever, mind. Opener ‘Telepathic Nightmare’ begins the record on a curiously macabre note, harking back to the slower, more sinister riffing that peppered 2017’s Sweet Death And Ecstasy, although it doesn’t take long before the band’s usual raucous D-beat powered self bursts forth from the gloom. There’s been an obvious Tom G. Warrior influence on Midnight from day one, but the lurching ‘More Torment’ is arguably the most unabashedly Hellhammer-esque Midnight have ever sounded on record. ‘Devil Virgin’, on the other hand, aims for an early Mercyful Fate vibe, with the eerie guitar leads and stomping, almost disco beat reeking of the Danish legends’ classic 1982 EP. For the most part though, Let There Be Witchery is exactly what you’d expect, and all the better for it.

Abbath – Dread Reaver

(Season Of Mist)

Speaking of “fun”, it seems former Immortal frontman Abbath has fully leaned into his larger-than-life persona on this third solo record. In the same way it was interesting to analyse High On Fire and Om in the aftermath of Sleep’s break-up to see who brought what to the table (with Matt Pike providing the blaring, hell-raising metal riffery to Al and Chris’s more meditative, slow-burning approach, at the risk of oversimplifying things), it’s perhaps telling that Immortal’s 2018 opus Northern Chaos Gods, their first since parting ways with Abbath in 2015, was a much darker, faster and riffier affair compared to the swelling pomp and showmanship of Abbath’s solo work. If Demonaz had grounded the frontman’s more flamboyant tendencies in Immortal’s early days, at least, with a more sinister and abrasive musical sensibility, Abbath’s now free to be as over-the-top as he likes, and Dread Reaver feels like him really embracing this.

It’s still very much a black metal record of course, and still has more in common with Immortal than the more overt heavy metal of his short-lived project I, but there’s a bombastic quality to songs like opener ‘Acid Haze’, with its pounding fist-in-the-air riffing and scorching, almost psychedelic lead guitar, that brings the mind the spectacle of stadium rock more than it does, say, the majesty of the night sky or the eerie vibe of a moonlit forest. This isn’t to say Abbath has fully sacrificed atmosphere for full-blown KISS theatrics, however, but even darker moments (like ‘Dream Cull’s haunting acoustic intro) are never far away from more driving, foot-on-the-monitor rock shenanigans (like, erm, all the rest of ‘Dream Cull’). This feels like Abbath playing to his strengths though – whilst many of his peers excelled at creating otherworldly or unnerving ambience, Abbath has always been more about old-school metal bravado. Dread Reaver delivers plenty of that; the fact that a relatively straight cover of Metallica’s classic ‘Trapped Under Ice’ slots neatly into the middle of the album without disrupting the flow whatsoever says it all.

Falls Of Rauros – Key To A Vanishing Future


After softening their sound somewhat on 2014’s Believe In No Coming Shore, this Portland quartet really hit their stride on 2017’s Vigilance Perennial and 2019’s Patterns In Mythology. For my money, they certainly deserve to be in the conversation alongside Wolves In The Throne Room, Panopticon and Dawn Ray’d when discussing contemporary leftie black metal flag-bearers. This sixth full-length keeps the momentum going, and whilst it continues to round off the harsher edges of their rawer first two records, there’s a really anxious, unsettling undercurrent to a lot of these songs that separates them from the dreamier climes of their last two. The tension between the pretty, shimmering licks and taut, angular bass-line on opener ‘Clarity’ keeps the song bristling and urgent even at its most melancholic, whilst ‘Known World Narrows’ combines some of the record’s most direct, aggressive riffing with a distinct death metal aftertaste and a melodic edge more akin to crust bands like Tragedy. At the same time, there’s a lot of hope and optimism beneath the album’s turbulent atmosphere. Key To A Vanishing Future contains some of the most beautiful stuff the band have delivered so far in songs like ‘Survival Poem’, an ode to human resilience backed by fluttering Opeth-ian acoustics, furious drumming and soaring guitar harmonies oozing out triumphant but tender licks. ‘Daggers In Floodlight’ finds the band at their proggiest, augmenting their sombre riffs with shining, autumnal mellotron, elastic lead guitar and shifting, twisting rhythms, whilst rousing closer ‘Poverty Hymn’ feels like a punkier Agalloch, belting out longing chords with righteous vigour. At a lean 44 minutes, Key To A Vanishing Future remains focussed and energised throughout, broadening the band’s sound whilst capturing the same urgency that made them a force to be reckoned with in the first place.

Sylvaine – Nova

(Season Of Mist)

Whilst Falls Of Rauros’ sound has softened a bit, Kathrine Shepard’s Sylvaine seems to have done the opposite. The ethereal dream-pop of 2014’s Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart gave way to a much bleaker black metal sound on 2016’s Wistful, before 2018’s Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone combined the latter’s heavier instrumentation with the former’s infectious hooks to create a potent and unique form of blackened shoegaze that felt entirely her own. This fourth album, however, is a much darker and more atmospheric affair than its predecessor; the grungy ‘I Close My Eyes So I Can See’ is easily the hookiest offering here, and feels somewhat at odds against the longer, bleaker pieces surrounding it. ‘Mono No Aware’ leans more into brittle black metal riffing than ethereal, folky harmonies, with Shepard’s vocals adopting a more subdued, forlorn approach. The twelve-minute ‘Fortapt’, on the other hand, really demonstrates how effective the combo of her sweet singing and throat-wrenching howl can be. Closer ‘Everything Must Come To An End’ concludes the record on a particularly haunting note, stripping Sylvaine’s sound right down to just Shepard’s voice and acoustic guitar, before gradually and subtly introducing various strings and building to a captivating finish. Taken as a whole, Nova isn’t quite as memorable as Sylvaine’s previous records and is definitely nowhere near as immediate or cohesive, but there’s enough here to reward patient listeners if you let it seep under your skin. It’s a much more subtle and introspective experience, and it proves there’s more to Shephard’s sound than just soaring hooks.

Messa – Close


If it’s soaring hooks you’re after though, then this new Messa album certainly delivers. The Italian quartet’s first two records were pretty distinctive, pairing gloomy but anthemic doom with droney, ambient leanings, bolstered by the powerful, otherworldly vocals of frontwoman Sara. This third album is markedly more adventurous, however, as you’ll gleam instantly from the dazzling opening combo of ‘Suspended’ and ‘Dark Horse’; after ‘Suspended’ begins with a similarly subtle, nocturnal vibe to Jex Thoth’s second album Blood Moon Rise, it unleashes one of the album’s biggest, most infectious choruses. The song takes an unexpectedly smooth detour later on, effortlessly slipping into a dark, smoky jazz break without missing a beat. This leads seamlessly into the sleazy 70s occult rock vibe of ‘Dark Horse’, but there’s a frantic, unhinged quality here that threatens to break into something even gnarlier at any given moment – indeed, it finally does with a raging outburst of gritty, almost proto-death metal tremolo riffing, only to plunge into a huge, doomy groove to end on. This all feels remarkably cohesive, however, and Close manages to keep this organic yet unpredictable flow whilst visiting all sorts of sonic terrain, be it the hypnotic, Middle Eastern atmospheres of ‘Orphalese’ and ‘Hollow’; the dream-like ambience and opium infused saxophone wails of ‘0 = 2’; or the blaring, mournful doom riffage of ‘If You Want Her To Be Taken’ and ‘Serving Him’. The 45 second long ‘Leffotrak’ even dishes out a brief jolt of ripping black metal, complete with furious blastbeats, evil rasps and a storming thrash riff that’ll take your head clean off. Sara’s vocals are intoxicating throughout, whether she’s channelling Kate Bush on the histrionic hook of ‘Rubedo’ or Lisa Gerrard with the shimmering glossolalia of ‘Pilgrim’, lending the band a very distinct voice that helps to tie a lot of the seemingly disparate influences here into one very convincing whole. It’s Messa’s most ambitious offering yet, and whilst it may not entirely maintain the electrifying aura of those first two tracks for the entirety of its 64-minute running time, there’s a wealth of good ideas and even better performances here. An early contender for 2022’s most striking doom record.

Helpless – Caged In Gold

(Church Road Records)

This one has been a long time coming; Plymouth trio Helpless’ 2017 debut Debt was one of the finest records on the Holy Roar roster to my ears, delivering a fresh, angular and technical fusion of grind, hardcore and noise rock that felt much more vicious and abrasive than many of their peers. A worldwide pandemic hasn’t been the only thing standing in the way of a follow-up, with line-up changes leaving guitarist/vocalist Dan Couch as the only remaining original member. He’s wasted no time in assembling a stellar new rhythm section however, with Monolithian bassist Simon Walker and Human Cull drummer Sam Trenchard joining him here. Despite the personnel change, it’s remarkable just how fully realised and well-defined the Helpless sound still is here, with Caged In Gold following on very organically from the debut; furious, whirlwind-esque blasts of noise like ‘The Empty Gesture’ and ‘Focus Group Extraction’ would have felt right at home on Debt. This certainly isn’t just a retread of that first record though, and there’s a lot of progression to be found here. There’s a subtle post metal influence sneaking in, especially on ‘Another Sunlight’, with the song becoming thicker, more sinister and atmospheric as it progresses. It segues nicely into ‘Single File’, where the band’s sound is slowed down to a torturous crawl, with reverb-drenched pick slides and feedback echoes creating quite a heady soundscape. This more dynamic approach never comes at the expense of the band’s trademark vitriol however, but it certainly helps the record to feel even more colourful and varied than its predecessor. The sludgier, weightier riffing style that the band toyed with on Debt’s crushing closer ‘Denied Sale’ seems to manifest itself more frequently too, with tracks like ‘Suppression’ boasting huge, juicy grooves in addition to the more chaotic, blasty sections. Solidifying the band’s sound whilst simultaneously taking it to some interesting new places, this is a pretty perfect follow-up to Debt, and proof that the future is looking bright for Helpless.

Cryptworm – Spewing Mephitic Putridity

(Me Saco Un Ojo)

Caged In Gold isn’t the only long-awaited metal album to finally emerge from the south of England this month; Bristolian death metal duo Cryptworm’s debut full-length is here at last! Following up on the promise of their 2017 demo tape, 2020’s aptly titled Reeking Gunk Of Abhorrence EP positioned the two-piece as the UK’s answer to Undergang, and their brand of revoltingly detuned old-school death metal is even more guttural and fetid here. It sounds like they’ve been listening to even more Demilich in the interim too, if the slimy bounce of opener ‘Disgorged Chunks Of Life’ or writhing pulse of ‘Disembowelment (Draped In Gore)’ are anything to go by. There’s an even doomier quality to songs like ‘Immense Cerebral Decomposition’ and ‘Amorphous Transmutations’ too, boasting gigantic, lumbering riffs and pounding, leaden grooves. For the most part though, this album whips along at breakneck pace, with songs like ‘Septic Phlegm Asphyxia’ powered by a mixture of double-kick rolls, frantic hammer blasts and a distinctly punky energy. Whilst a lot of death metal of this murky, cavernous ilk can get bogged down in atmospherics and feel oddly static, there’s a vibrancy and intensity to Cryptworm’s material that really helps it stand out. That said, Spewing Mephitic Putridity won’t win any awards for originality, but for anyone who’s been following this duo and hoping they can capture the full brunt of their filthy, fetid sound on wax, this will not disappoint. It’s just a big, dank, nasty death metal record with no delusions of grandeur, and it fucking rules.

Gets Worse – Teen Wolf

(Self Release)

Last but by no means least, Leeds powerviolence kings Gets Worse are back with their first new material since 2019’s Snubbed, ready to vent all that pent-up pandemic frustration – and based on Teen Wolf, they’ve got a lot of it. The first half whips past in a blur of blastbeats, lightspeed riffs and brash caveman grunts, with ludicrously hostile sub-minute nuggets of rage like ‘Headbutt Specialist’ and ‘Soz ‘Ard’ proving the band have lost none of their potency over the last few years. Rather than simply being blasts of unbridled anger however, Gets Worse’s songs have always been memorable, and that’s still the case here. OK, so it might be a stretch to call songs like ‘Limb Dragger’ “hooky”, but the riffs are incredibly infectious, and the band’s songwriting is as tight and efficient as ever. One thing that’s always helped Gets Worse stand out amongst other modern powerviolence bands is the oppressive physical weight of their sound, and Teen Wolf doesn’t skimp on that regard at all. New bassist Paul Burns has slotted right into the band, bolstering that brutally thick tone with his crunchy low-end rumble and helping all those skull-thumping breakdowns to hit even harder. Almost seven-minute long closer ‘Scaffolding’ is one of the heaviest things the band have ever put to tape too, stretching their sound out into a punishing, sludgy dirge à la later era Man Is The Bastard and dishing out huge slabs of grizzled riffage and piercing high-end feedback squeals.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today