Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For November Reviewed By Kez Whelan

As the nights grow longer, Kez Whelan delivers your essential guide to brand new heavy metal, featuring reviews of Cloud Rat, Worm, Dead Neanderthals and more


As committed as I am to funnelling new music into your ears every other month, sometimes it’s important to kick back and revisit some classics too – and you don’t get more classic than Celtic Frost. Noise Records have just reissued their first two EPs and albums in full as part of the lavish Danse Macabre boxset, alongside a 40 page book with new interviews and photos. These records are a vital part of not just extreme metal history, but musical history as a whole, representing some of the most forward-thinking and uniquely dark metal of the ‘80s. With each release lovingly recreated as gatefold digipaks here, this is certainly the best way to pick up these essential albums on CD right now.

The real deal-breaker for die-hards who already own these classics on numerous different formats, however, is the inclusion of the Grave Hill Bunker rehearsals. Recorded just before the band’s seminal Morbid Tales EP in the summer and autumn of 1984, this embryonic recording represents the missing link between the murkier sound of Hellhammer and the crisper, crunchier sound of Celtic Frost – there’s even a version of ‘Messiah’ here to really demonstrate how much the band’s approach had evolved. The sound here is obviously extremely raw, but it’s surprisingly clear too, with Martin Eric Ain’s bass tone in particular sounding enormous.

Speaking of essential reissues, Sacred Bones has just reissued both of Ukrainian solo black metaller Këkht Aräkh’s albums, which should hopefully help them find the wider audience they deserve. Last year’s Pale Swordsman was understandably hyped upon its initial release on Livor Mortis, but debut Night & Love is arguably just as good, injecting a curiously romantic ambience into harsh, Darkthrone-esque black metal.

As for newer stuff, there’s still far too many great metal records landing at the moment than I could ever hope to squeeze into this column. The debut album from Canada’s Gutvoid, Durance Of Lightless Horizons, is well worth checking out. I’ve been seeing a lot of Blood Incantation comparisons thrown at it but that’s perhaps a bit deceiving – their sound has a similar vibe but is way less technical and intricate, focusing more on atmosphere and occasionally leaning closer to death and doom with its ominous melodic leads over dense, leaden grooves.

On an even spacier death metal kick, the second full-length from Texan solo project Universally Estranged manages to sound even denser than his 2021 debut. The production is even dirtier, the riffs are more robust and the psychedelic interludes are even more disorientating and hallucinogenic than before. If he keeps evolving at this rate, the third record is probably going to tear a hole in the space-time continuum.

Scarborough based black metallers Ante-Inferno have really come into their own on second album Antediluvian Dreamscapes too – their 2020 debut Fane was an enjoyable if fairly basic slab of atmospheric black metal, but this one feels far more substantial, with lengthy ten-minute epics like ‘Celestial Mirage’ not only pushing their song-writing chops into more expressive, interesting places but also delivering even more evocative and sinister riffs.

Cloud Rat – Threshold

It’s been a busy year for Michigan grinders Cloud Rat, having already dropped their darkwave remix album Please Just Let Me Off The Cliff and contributed a cover to the Thou tribute album Heavier Than Thou, in addition to the numerous stand-alone singles they’ve released. Somehow they’ve still had enough material left for another absolute belter of a full-length, with Threshold picking up exactly where 2019’s Pollinator left off. The trio sound even more lethal here, striking a perfect balance between chaotic, discordant riffing, gigantic mosh grooves and unsettling atmosphere on songs like opener ‘Aluminium Branches’. The band have always had a remarkable ability to inject a genuine emotional weight into grindcore without losing any of the genre’s raw, invigorating venom, and on songs like ‘Imaging Order’, the screamo influenced ‘12-22-09’ or the stirringly melodic ‘Kaleidoscope’, that skill feels more refined than ever.

The production here is arguably their best yet, boasting a devastatingly thick, gristly guitar tone and an organic, roomy sound that helps the drums in particular feel as if they’re blasting away right beside you. Given how much the band have experimented with their style on those non-album singles I mentioned earlier, it’s almost surprising how straight-forward Threshold is – but Cloud Rat’s sound is so distinguished and powerful here that it doesn’t matter at all. It helps that they’re still able to keep each song on here feeling fresh, distinct and memorable – the Slayer infused riffing and skull-crushing beatdowns of ‘Porcelain Boat’, for example, make it one of their most ferocious songs to date. I was fairly sure Wormrot’s recent genre-bending Hiss was a shoe-in for grindcore album of the year, but Threshold gives it some extremely stiff competition indeed.

Worm – Bluenothing
(20 Buck Spin)

After significantly upping their game with last year’s humongous Foreverglade, this murky Florida outfit are striking while the iron is hot with new EP Bluenothing. It’s also their first with a new guitarist supposedly named Wroth Septentrion – but you’ll probably recognise him as Philippe Tougas, the man behind bands like Chthe’ilist and Atramentus. If you thought the leads were spicy on Foreverglade, you’ve heard nothing yet; Tougas’ dazzling solos add an even more expressive dimension to both the cavernous title track and ‘Centuries Of Ooze II’.

As that title suggests, the first half of this EP very much feels like a continuation of Foreverglade’s death/doom sound, but final track ‘Shadowside Kingdom’ hints at what form their next record might take, returning to the more black metal inspired sound of their earliest work but with the layered, melodic and atmospheric approach of their last album. It’s unfortunate that the term ‘symphonic black metal’ has become synonymous with naff keyboards and pompous theatricality, as this is the kind of the stuff that really deserves the tag, building an enveloping and elaborately orchestrated soundscape out of nimble guitar licks and soaring riffs. Bluenothing manages to be both a gleeful victory lap after the heights of Foreverglade and a satisfying springboard into whatever form this band decide to take on next.

Vacuous – Dreams Of Dysphoria
(Me Saco Un Ojo/Dark Descent)

London death metallers Vacuous have been going from strength to strength lately, and whilst their Katabasis EP was already a big step up from their 2020 demo, this debut full-length is arguably the closest they’ve come to replicating the untamed ferocity of their live show on record. Whilst ostensibly a part of that murky, Incantation worshipping wave of contemporary death metal, Vacuous definitely put their own spin on it, perfectly balancing atmosphere and brutality. Their sound has really come into its own here, with each of these warped compositions feeling like a mini-epic in its own right – take ‘Paranoia Rites’ for example, a track that begins with some of the most pummelling, visceral riffs on the whole record, before gradually slipping into a sparse, sinister and almost dream-like passage towards its conclusion.

Max Southall is a phenomenal drummer too, with his energetic, consistently interesting beats adding a lot to the band’s twisted songwriting (the stomping intro to ‘Matriarchal Blood’ features the most menacing use of a cowbell you’ll hear this year). The band’s fascination with human psychology also lends this record a really eerie, unsettling feeling, even if you’re not reading along with the lyric sheet – check out the way the cavernous ‘Stigmata Scourge’ transitions into the chilling interlude ‘Lucid’, for example. Dreams Of Dysphoria is a great example of how to make an inventive and original death metal record in 2022 without fusing the style with other genres or relying too much on tried and tested clichés.

Acausal Intrusion – Seeping Evocation
(I, Voidhanger)

This US duo’s debut Nulitas was one of last year’s most surreal and jarring death metal releases, an abstract take on the genre that felt truly psychedelic in execution. For this second album, they’ve unfortunately reined it in a bit – but given how utterly bizarre their starting point was, they’re still sounding more unhinged than most of their peers. Whilst Nulitas’ strange compositions always felt slightly out of reach, with song structures trickling away like water in the listener’s hands, Seeping Evocation has a more grounded, organic feel to it. It’s still very much steeped in the latter-day Gorguts style of abrasive death skronk, but there’s perhaps a more human feel to this one, allowing their style a bit more breathing room. Take the surprisingly melodic introduction to ‘Formless Conjoining Chaos’ for example, or the groovier riffs that seemingly burst in out of nowhere in the song’s more chaotic midsection.

The production has a much warmer feel to it this time round, with the guitars possessing a comfortingly roomier quality compared to the colder tone of the last record (that snare is still as pingy as ever however). It’s arguably a much more accessible record, often eschewing more hectic tempos for pulsing, hypnotic dirges like ‘Ostensible Implanted Inheritance’, without sacrificing any of the band’s otherworldly atmosphere or abrasive nature. It may not be as immediately confrontational as Nulitas was, but the more time you spend with Seeping Evocvation, the more you’ll find it seeping into the darkest corners of your mind and taking roost there. Highly recommended.

High Command – Eclipse Of The Dual Moons
(Southern Lord)

This Massachusetts quintet have a pretty intriguing style, marrying the boisterous pace of the new wave of crossover thrash (think Power Trip, Iron Age, Inhuman Nature etc) with the ancient atmosphere of epic doom metal and swords’n’sorcery lyrical focus of traditional heavy metal. It’s a combo that sounds like it shouldn’t work on paper, but absolutely does in practice, with the band expertly darting between ripping thrash sections and gloomy, mid-paced and extremely sinister riffs without losing either the blunt force of the former or the eerie vibes of the latter – think South Of Heaven era Slayer but with a more medieval feel (Kevin Fitzgerald’s harsh, throaty vocals even add a slight black metal flavour to the proceedings too).

This second album feels even more fully realised than their 2019 debut Beyond The Wall Of Desolation, excelling at both swift ragers like ‘Siege Warfare’ and the blistering title track, and lengthier, more elaborate tracks like ‘Imposing Hammers Of Cold Sorcery’ dishing out some more inventive, almost progressive song-writing amidst all the chunky mosh riffs and wailing dive-bomb solos. Twelve minute closer ‘Spires Of Secartha’ takes this approach to the extreme, incorporating duelling guitar harmonies, sinister spoken word sections, chilling acoustic passages and bombastic doom riffs into the band’s raucous assault.

The Lord & Petra Haden – Devotional
(Southern Lord)

In between releasing records from great bands like High Command, Southern Lord overlord Greg Anderson has also made the time for two albums under the name (you guessed it) The Lord this year. April’s Forest Nocturne was an entertaining dive through Anderson’s favourite film scores, but Devotional is an even more substantial and powerful effort. Petra Haden has worked with Anderson before (you’ll recognise her soaring, emotive voice from the Goatsnake classic ‘The River’, or, if you’ve got particularly attentive ears, her violin in the swarming morass of Sunn O)))’s debut ØØ Void), but their chemistry has never been this focussed and concentrated, with Haden’s vocals dancing between Anderson’s glacial riffs in a really organic, hypnotic way on pieces like ‘Yama’ and the opening title track.

Twelve minute centrepiece ‘What Lies Behind Us Lies Buried Because It Is Dead’ delivers everything you’d expect from this pairing in a particularly satisfying way, as stark violin drones build alongside a Sunn O))) style wall of sound with an ominous grace – but it’s the five minute ‘Ma Anand Sheela’ that arguably leaves the biggest impact. Named after the charismatic Rajneesh cult spokesperson, the track, fittingly, seems to promise a grandiose religious experience but with an unnervingly chaotic undercurrent lurking just beneath, as it’s lilting, almost Popol Vuh-esque intro gives way to chasmic guitar drones and some wild glossolalia from Haden. Devotional feels like a collaboration in the truest sense, with both artists complementing each other perfectly, nestled in harmony with neither overpowering the other. Don’t write this off as another lockdown project curio; this is a real treat for Sunn O))) fans.

Dead Cross – II

US supergroup Dead Cross are sounding even more like a cohesive unit on their second album. Whilst their 2017 debut was largely a ferocious, snarling affair (outside of that gloomy Bauhaus cover, of course), this second is a much darker and more expansive record. A lot of this is probably down to guitarist Michael Crain being diagnosed with advanced cancer in 2019, with the Retox six-stringer going through chemotherapy whilst tracking this record. Whilst there’s a more palpable darkness running through II than its predecessor, it’s also defiantly not a self-pitying or overly morose experience – there’s a real sense of self-empowerment in stoic, post-punk bangers like ‘Animal Espionage’, or the somehow simultaneously frantic and gothic ‘Ants And Dragons’, with melancholy chords echoing out over Dave Lombardo’s savage blasts and invigorating fills.

Mike Patton’s elastic voice sounds as unhinged as ever, and bassist Justin Pearson (of The Locust fame, amongst countless others) contributes even more vocals this time round, with his piercing shrieks providing a perfect foil to Patton’s authoritative bark on tracks like ‘Heart Reformer’ or the raging thrash-punk meltdown of ‘Reign Of Error’. II is an even more powerful, surprising and cohesive record than Dead Cross’ debut, and proof that this is a fantastically idiosyncratic band in its own right.

Dystopian Future Movies – War Of The Ether
(Septaphonic Records)

Nottingham based trio Dystopian Future Movies are sounding more cinematic than ever on their third full-length, with their unique fusion of doom, folk, shoegaze and post-metal taking on even more dynamic and evocative shapes. This is immediately apparent from slow-burning ten-minute opener ‘She From Up The Drombán Hill’, with vocalist/guitarist Caroline Cowley reciting an emotive spoken word piece over some of the starkest, folkiest chords the band have put to tape yet, before gradually building to one of their most powerful, cathartic climaxes. Whilst Amusement Parks On Fire guitarist Rafe Dunn contributed heavily to previous album Inviolate, he’s now a full-time member, and his swirling vortexes of guitar noise add a lot to these dark, atmospheric songs, especially on heavier cuts like ‘No Matter’.

Lyrically, War Of The Ether is perhaps DFM’s densest and most harrowing yet, with Cowley tackling some of her home country Ireland’s dark history, detailing the recently unearthed mass graves found at Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. War Of The Ether provides a fittingly sombre musical backdrop to explore these themes – whilst there are still more anthemic, driving songs like ‘The Veneer’, for the most part this is perhaps the band’s bleakest record yet. The title track, for example, is one of the record’s quietest and most introspective moments, but also one of its most powerful. It leads perfectly into the tense ‘License Of Their Lies’ too, which alternates between caustic, anxious bursts of distorted post-metal riffing and a taut, sparse groove that feels likely to explode at any moment. Great stuff, as always.

Abduction – Black Blood

Derbyshire black metal project Abduction has come a long way over the past six years, evolving from a bedroom-bound solo outfit to a full touring live band. Black Blood is their fourth full-length so far, and first for Candlelight – and it somehow manages to be both their most ambitious and accessible record yet. The crisp, clear production (courtesy of Stuck On A Name Studios’ Ian Boult) is a far cry from the murkier lo-fi smog that surrounded Abduction’s early work, allowing ferocious, razor-sharp cuts like ‘Dismantling The Corpse Of Demeter’ to hit extra hard. That track may feel custom built for live shows but Black Blood also features some of Abduction’s most elaborate song-writing too. The labyrinthine eleven minute centre-piece ‘Plutonian Gate’ is a fine case in point, building from ethereal, early Ulver-esque chants to some of the record’s most abrasive and unsettling riffing.

The hypnotic, mid-tempo ‘Lightless At The Grand Conjuration’ takes that more atmospheric approach even further, whilst ‘A Psylacybic Death’ brings the latent psychedelia that’s always lurked beneath Abduction’s ominous sound to the forefront, with dream-like keys clashing against frantic, spiralling leads in a gleefully disorientating manner. The increased sonic clarity doesn’t come at the expense of the band’s overwhelmingly evil atmosphere, and the wealth of fresh ideas deployed here add a whole new flavour to their distinctive approach to black metal.

Dead Neanderthals – Metal
(Utech Records)

Dutch duo Dead Neanderthals have come full circle with their new album Metal harking back to the brutal, bloody-minded approach of their 2012 classic Jazzhammer / Stormannsgalskap. Much like that record, Metal consists of two lengthy, minimal tracks that push repetition to its limit, beating you with the same patterns over and over until it breaks past the point of discomfort and achieves some sort of sublime, hypnotic rapture. Unlike Jazzhammer / Stormannsgalskap, however, Otto Kokke doesn’t play a note of his saxophone at all here, opting instead for harsh, alien sounding synths – coupled with drummer René Aquarius’ inhumanly pitch-shifted vocals, it gives the record a far more artificial, uncanny valley feeling when compared to the noisy but organic tones of Jazzhammer / Stormannsgalskap.

This works in its favour however, enhancing the album’s bizarre, disorientating effect. With both tracks powered by steady, black metal-esque blastbeats, this somehow feels less like a metal album and more like the viscous, primordial ooze that all metal albums must have grown out of. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you’ve made it this far through this month’s column, you’ll probably love it.

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