Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For September Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Your guide to the best in brand new metal returns, as Kez Whelan surveys a summer of heavy festivals and reviews new releases by Autopsy, Boris, Sigh and many more


Despite the sun’s best efforts to incinerate us, we had a pretty good festival season this year. For my money, Supersonic is still the UK’s most consistently engaging and surprising festival, and this year’s edition boasted one of their strongest line-ups yet. Saturday was absolutely crushing; kicking off with a drone-doom double-whammy, Nadja showed how serene the genre can be before Bismuth demonstrated the style at its most tortured and harrowing, with bassist/vocalist Tanya Byrne hurling herself shrieking into the crowd amidst a wall of feedback as their cathartic set drew to a close.

Thou were fantastic as always, with newer songs like ‘Into The Marshlands’ and ‘The Changeling Prince’ sounding absolutely monumental – and there wasn’t a stationary head in sight during the heavier version of ‘The Hammer’ (from the acoustic Inconsolable EP). The band harked way back to their first album with a stunning ‘Fucking Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean’, and even delivered a rendition of ‘Monolith’ from their recent Emma Ruth Rundle collaboration, with new guitarist KC Stafford putting their own spin on Rundle’s vocal line. Aaron Turner pulled double-duty too, leading Pharaoh Overlord through a set of sparkly Kraftwerk-aping synth worship, as he stalked the stage shirtless and howling like a wounded bear. It’s one of those combinations that probably shouldn’t work but somehow does – but it’s Old Man Gloom that really brought the house down, with new songs like ‘Simia Dei’ slotting in seamlessly among classic crushers like ‘Skullstorm’. After ending with a thunderous ‘To Carry The Flame’, Turner’s admission that “it’s been a hard few years – find joy in whatever you can” felt genuinely inspiring.

The UK’s open air fests certainly weren’t slacking this year either. It was an absolute joy to witness Mercyful Fate blasting through a set of bona fide classics at Bloodstock. With the exception of a new and surprisingly doomy ten-minute song called ‘The Jackal Of Salzburg’ (which bodes extremely well for their upcoming album), the set was culled entirely from their first two albums and eponymous 1982 EP, with King Diamond’s soaring falsetto sounding just as vibrant, eerie and powerful as it did back then.

As for the rest of the weekend, Inhuman Nature ably demonstrated why they’re being hailed as one of the UK’s best new thrash acts, Venom Inc. blasted through the entirety of the Black Metal album under blistering sun with Nick Barker pounding the kit, and Eyehategod seemed to have fully settled into their new single guitar line-up. Whilst their sound definitely isn’t as thick without Brian Patton’s extra riffing weight, the now-quartet still sounded incredible, with a ferocious punky energy that really emphasised their Black Flag influence. Pupil Slicer’s calls for unity and inclusiveness amidst their dizzying, grinding mathcore felt especially heartening on the Sophie Stage, whilst Killing Joke’s late Sunday placement proved to be a genius bit of booking – after three days of drinking heavily in the heat, the band’s hypnotic stomp felt particularly shamanic and otherworldly. Beaming from ear to ear throughout, bassist Youth is clearly having the time of his life, contrasting nicely with Jaz Coleman’s intense, quasi-messianic stage presence.

Elsewhere, ArcTanGent really outdid themselves with this year’s lineup – I could fill a whole other column with highlights, but the main takeaways for me were how bizarrely well-suited Imperial Triumphant’s champagne drenched skronk is for a party atmosphere, how much more powerful the new Zeal And Ardor material sounds live than on record and how consistently fucking great Godflesh are. Oranssi Pazuzu were spectacular too; their decision to plunge even further into electronic depths evidently paying off as their theremin backed weirdness sounded positively transcendental. Seeing Pallbearer play all of their debut Sorrow And Extinction directly after witnessing Emma Ruth Rundle perform Engine Of Hell was an emotionally draining experience in the best possible way, and something that will probably stay with me for a long time.

It’s been a great month for death metal too. Triumvir Foul’s third album Onslaught To Seraphim is their most aggressive yet, eschewing the more cavernous production of their first two with a crisper, more discernible guitar tone and vocals that sit right up in the front of the mix. This clearer sound hasn’t come at the expense of the band’s rigorously filthy atmosphere however; if the rumours are true that this is to be their last release, it’s a hell of a note to go out on. California’s Acephalix are sounding equally as abrasive on Theothanatology; whilst their last album Decreation saw them toying with lengthier, more elaborate song structures, this one returns to the crustier no-nonsense approach they made their name on, with raucous bangers like ‘Godheads’ flying past in a blaze of grimy glory.

Autopsy – Morbidity Triumphant

A new Autopsy album is always cause for celebration, but doubly so when it’s their first release to breach the 40 minute mark since 2014’s Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves. The following mini-albums and EPs Skull Grinder and Puncturing The Grotesque were both great, but the aptly titled Morbidity Triumphant is a far more well-rounded and fully realised experience. Opener ‘Stab The Brain’ wastes no time whatsoever with its punchy, Slayer inspired riffery, albeit doused in exactly the kind of gnarly, grotesque atmosphere we’ve come to expect from Autopsy, immediately showing off the album’s fantastic production. Adam Muñoz has done an admirable job of capturing the band’s sickening churn with huge, organic tones – this is one of the best recorded sounds Autopsy have ever had, which for a band with so many classics under their belt, is really saying something.

The band sound rejuvenated musically as well as sonically, with Morbidity Triumphant offering some of the most ravenous material they’ve dished out in years. It may not reinvent the Autopsy sound, but it’s refined it to a diamond-sharp degree; the riffing and deranged lead guitar are both consistently imaginative , writhing around in a surreal and unpredictable manner and making faster tracks like ‘Final Frost’ or the barnstorming ‘Maggots In The Mirror’ sound utterly feral in execution. New bassist Greg Wilkinson (of Brainoil fame, not to mention Deathgrave, Graves At Sea etc) already sounds right at home, bringing a powerful amount of low-end to lumbering, doomy cuts like ‘Flesh Strewn Temple’ and ‘The Voracious One’, or the deliciously Iommic riff that closes ‘Born In Blood’. It’s not only impressive that Autopsy are still here 35 years after their inception, but still managing to release records that can easily stand up to their cherished classics. A triumph indeed.

Boris – Heavy Rocks

Boris’ mission to amass the world’s most confusing discography continues with their third album of all-new material to bear the Heavy Rocks title – but if 2011’s dark, moody Heavy Rocks didn’t really feel like a true successor to the high octane Stooges worship of the 2002 original, this explosive opus has far more in common with it. That’s not to say this is a step backwards – far from it, in fact, as this is arguably the most expressive and imaginative record Boris have released in years, even more so than 2020’s ferocious but single-minded No or this year’s subtle, atmospheric W.

The darkness of 2011’s Heavy Rocks hasn’t totally disappeared either, but this time it manifests in more abstract ways, be it the deep drones of ‘Nosferatou’ or even the sax addled no-wave menace of ‘Blah Blah Blah’. True to the title however, this third Heavy Rocks also showcases the band’s more driving and accessible side, with some unexpected results. The industrial stomp of ‘Ghostly Imagination’ recalls Nine Inch Nails at their most arena ready, whilst the curiously upbeat bounce, wonky horns and snotty vocals of opener ‘She Is Burning’ sounds almost like ska punk from another dimension. Somehow, however, it all works and gels together into one extremely compelling album.

Sigh – Shiki

Much like Boris, you never quite know what you’re going to get from fellow Tokyo residents Sigh. Whilst there’s certainly no shortage of weirdness on this twelfth album, Shiki also contains some of the most powerful, no-bullshit heavy metal they’ve put out in years. Take opener proper ‘Kuroi Kage’, with its deliciously doomy main riff and passages of grim, blasting black metal – if it wasn’t for that curiously Jethro Tull-esque folk break in the middle, it probably could have slotted quite snugly into a more blackened record like their debut Scorn Defeat. ‘Shoujahitsumetsu’ definitely could, with its frantic black/thrash pace and some of the most harsh, unhinged vocals Mirai Kawashima has delivered in recent memory.

Elsewhere, ‘Satsui – Geshi No Ato’ dips it’s toes into the more theatrical, bombastic feel of their more recent work, with operatic wailing rubbing up against soaring Maiden-esque guitar harmonies and mysterious melodies – not to mention the bizarrely medieval sounding trip-hop interlude towards the end. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed by Shiki; this feels like a perfect blend of their metallic and progressive influences, without leaning too far in either direction. Later Sigh records can often feel a bit too whimsical for their own good, but Shiki maintains a keen focus and infectious energy throughout, taking its cues from classic first-wave black metal records without being beholden to them.

OvO – Ignoto

Following the unhinged industrial sludge of 2020’s Miasma, Italian duo OvO have changed tact slightly for the subtler but no less disturbing Ignoto. The album retains the processed drums of its predecessor (along with the seismic, filth encrusted bass and delirious vocals that have become the band’s trademark), but whilst Miasma was an explosion of ideas across numerous shorter tracks, Ignoto instead takes its time, building steadily across two lengthy pieces that hark back to the band’s more overtly doomy, ritualistic early days.

The first of them, ‘La Morte Muore’, is a droning behemoth that unfurls patiently, building from a sparse ambient introduction to a thick, distorted dirge not a million miles away from Khost’s last record. ‘Distillati Di Tenebre’, by contrast, is far busier but no less mesmerising, with its brutish blastbeats and buzzing, repetitive riffs coming across like Godflesh covering Transylvanian Hunger. In many ways, Ignoto feels like a culmination of everything OvO have touched on over the last twenty years, marrying the duo’s foundational hypnotism with the wilder sonic experimentation they’ve toyed with in recent years. It may not be as immediately revelatory or surprising as Miasma was, but if you’re prepared to give yourself over to its dark, trance inducing charms, you may find it leaves an ever greater impact.

KEN Mode – Null

It was difficult to imagine how Canadian noise rockers KEN Mode would top the unrelenting sonic depravity of 2018’s Loved, but within minutes of caustic opener ‘A Love Letter’, it’s clear they’ve outdone themselves once again. For one, this is the first record to count collaborator Kathryn Kerr as a full-time band member, and her squealing sax bleats add a whole new dimension to churning, semi-industrial soundscapes like ‘The Tie’. Her piano flourishes on harrowing ten minute centrepiece ‘Lost Grip’ are much more subtle but no less effective, sprinkling an extra layer of melancholy over gruesome slabs of Swans-esque bass as vocalist Jesse Mathewson screams “I don’t believe that you mean well” with increasing panic.

At its core, however, Null is still a seething, gleefully riff-centric noise rock record, armed with a level of vitriol bordering on the unhealthy. The dense, twisting riffs and hyperkinetic drumming on two-minute rager ‘Throw Your Phone In The River’, for instance, sound uncannily like In The Eyes Of God era Today Is The Day, whilst Mathewson’s tortured howl and Darryl Laxdal’s clanking bass go full Unsane on the cathartic ‘But They Respect My Tactics’. At the same time though, it certainly doesn’t feel like the band are just ticking off their “noise rock clichés” bingo card here; there’s enough vitality and imagination to make Null somehow feel like both a classic KEN Mode record and a big leap forward for the band. If you thought Loved was an uncomfortable listen, proceed with caution with this one.

Razor – Cycle Of Contempt

Canadian speed metal legends Razor return this month too, a full 25 years after their last album, and guitarist Dave Carlo’s taut, muscular riffs are sounding more powerful than ever. There’s no mistaking the frantic picking on raging tracks like ‘Crossed’ and ‘Punch Your Face In’, whilst the title track makes room for some chuggier riffing before ramping up to more furious speeds.

Vocalist Bob Reid has never quite had the same presence as original shrieker Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren, but he puts in a solid performance here, with his huskier, gravellier bark sounding like a less intense version of Dwid Hellion from Integrity at numerous points. There’s always been a somewhat cartoonish quality to the band’s exaggerated take on thrash, and whilst ‘Jabroni’’s laughable chorus might tip slightly too far into comedic territory, tracks like ‘Off My Meds’ manage to nail that brash, OTT hysteria that always elevated Razor above their more restrained peers. Cycle Of Contempt may not be quite as vital or incendiary as classics like 1988’s Violent Restitution, but it’s an enjoyable romp nonetheless, and should hopefully turn a whole new generation of thrashers onto this unique and invigorating band.

Tension Span – The Future Died Yesterday

Given that Tension Span unites Dystopia guitarist Matt Parrillo with Asunder guitarist Geoff Evans, their lockdown-born debut album is a lot less sludgy than you’d expect. Rather than rehashing the doomy styles they pioneered in the 90s, here the pair dig into the dark 80s post punk that inspired them in the first place, backed by a drum machine and Neurosis keyboardist Noah Landis on vocals. They certainly nail that early militant Killing Joke sound on tracks like ‘The Crate Song’, but taken as a whole, The Future Died Yesterday is a bit more adventurous than your average “metal dudes go post-punk” project. The throbbing six-minute ‘Filaments’ for example, with its steady motorik pulse, gently undulating guitar licks and anthemic vocals, feels like the missing link between Neu! and New Model Army.

Tension Span are at their best when going straight for the jugular however, as on the Rudimentary Peni-aping ‘Ventilator’, as Landis does his best Nick Blinko impression atop a convincingly sinister riff that almost sounds like it’s melting. The Future Died Yesterday may not surpass any of the band members’ older, more iconic works, but it’s probably unfair to stack it up against those. This is a great post punk record in its own right, and whilst musically it may look to the past, thematically it’s very much in the present; ‘Covered In His Blood’ transplants a bleak, very Dystopia-esque tapestry of pandemic related samples onto a snarky Dead Kennedys style punk riff with fascinating results.

Terra – Für Dich Existiert Das Alles Nicht

This Cambridgeshire trio’s 2015 debut was fantastic, but 2016’s Mors Secunda really marked them out as one of the UK’s most exciting and powerful atmospheric black metal acts. It’s been a long wait for this third opus but it was evidently worth it; at 63 minutes, this is Terra’s most elaborate and labyrinthine offering to date. The dense, long-form epics of San Francisco’s Weakling are perhaps still the most obvious reference point, but Terra certainly put their own spin on this sound, with a subtle, unique melodic touch that is all their own. The way fifteen minute opener ‘The Beginning’ gradually and seamlessly transitions from traumatic, claustrophobic blasting to the expansive, yearning chords that ring out atop its churning climax is really something to behold, whilst ‘Gelbwerdend’ is perhaps the most thunderous piece the band have composed thus far, giving percussionist Luke Braddick a chance to flex his chops and demonstrate what a ferocious drummer he is. There’s something strangely beautiful about closer ‘The End, My End’ too, which manages to sound incredibly harsh despite featuring some of the dreamiest, most otherworldly chord progressions in the band’s oeuvre.

Unlike a lot of contemporary atmospheric black metal bands, there’s little to no post-rock influence here; there are no delicate build-ups or shimmering acoustic passages in earshot, with the three-piece’s abrasive volume sounding like a jet engine taking off throughout. Whilst that may sound exhausting on paper, it’s remarkable how Terra manage to make this dense, wall-of-sound approach feel dynamic and engaging for the album’s duration. It’s refreshing to hear such an inventive, gimmick free atmospheric black metal record in this day and age; if you have any interest at all in the mossy, windswept soundscapes of bands like Ash Borer and Fell Voices, this is essential.

Vermin Womb – Retaliation
(Closed Casket Activities)

Last but not least, Ethan Lee McCarthy’s Vermin Womb return with their second album this month, and I’d bet good money you won’t hear anything as relentlessly confrontational as this for some time. Whilst the trio ostensibly began as a grindcore band on 2014 EP Permanence, their sound has morphed into a hideous mixture that sits at the nexus of grind, death and black metal, blurring dissonant riffs and inhuman roars into a chaotic swirl so abrasive and hateful it transcends genre.

Most of Retaliation whips past at a pace that makes Revenge sound like a doom band, but when the band do drop into a slower groove (as on the brilliantly titled ‘Said What I Said (Grave Pissing)’), it sounds absolutely monstrous. There’s a real sense of fury here that runs through songs like ‘Art Districts Without Artists’ with eye-bulging intensity, lending an uncomfortable weight to an already savage record.

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