Horns Up Ya Shitters! Columnus Metallicus Albums Of 2014 So Far

He is return'd! Slay the fatted lamb! Fill the monkey skull goblets with Jager! Toby Cook is back with his favourite metal albums of the year so far

"Dearest friends,

"It has been many months since my last communication, but I trust you worried none – winter can be the harshest of times for a marching army, and whilst we have made steady progress northwards the bitter cold has taken more than a fair toll on our runners. Equipment, especially our clothing, is of poor quality and our tunics are ill made for such winter climes, and thus many men have succumbed to the most aggressive bite of frost. Further, since we were last engaged by those damnable colonials our lines have been infiltrated too frequently, as to make all but essential runs impossible, and left us near cut off, stranded here ‘pon this altar of madness. The shelling of Petersburg has commenced again, too, more vigorously than ever. I suppose Cornwallis has found that he has gained nothing by his occupation of the Weldon. We still use the road, but have to wagon our supplies further than we did before. On the morrow will shall begin our counter, to wit, I send this, lest the hand of doom strike out forth unto me, sending me far south of heaven. Spirits are low, dear friends, and I fear that someday before long the rank odour of mutiny will pervade our days, but I write in hope that the ghosts of war will nay haunt us yet.

"I would write for longer, friends, but the candle light grows ever dim. Tell me, what news of the farm and my beloved Christie Lee? Oh, how the lingering memory of her smile and warm bosom still haunt my mind for nary but a few moments a day. And the old horse – is he doing well? Last I did hear there was something wrong with his neck, and he could not put his head down to drink. Verily, I hope this letter reaches you before this abominable war does; should those red coated dogs surge ‘pon you, run to the hills. I shall return, screaming for vengeance.

"Horns up’eth. 1775."

And by that, of course, I mean: Columnus Metallicus has returned!

As we’ve been away so long (and because we’re roughly halfway through the year, so, y’know, why not?!) it seems appropriate to gently lower ourselves into the gaping chasm that is Columnus Metallicus by rounding up, in no particular order, the best metal and harsh esoterica from the past seven months that you may have missed. However, before we do I just want to say a massive ‘hails’ to the redoubtable Mr. Mat Colegate for stepping in to take up the Columnus mantle during my absence – horns up, ya shitter!

Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
(Century Media)

Like pretty much every other teenager who took GCSE art, had an unhealthy appetite for metal and suffered delusions of talent, their youthful angst manifested in a deliberately formed but utterly naïve sort of nihilism, I was for a long period completely obsessed by the art of HR Giger. (And, I suppose, to a degree I still am.) I remember adorning my homework diary with a purposefully scratched photocopy of his 1962 painting Mother With Child and regularly attempted to twist any topic we were given so as to be able to clumsily produce a mostly monochrome work, full of misshapen foetuses an vaguely mechanical, extra-terrestrial looking sex organs. As a 15-year-old the work of Giger was like nothing I’d ever seen – to say it had a profound effect on my understanding of what ‘art’ could be is probably an understatement. Even now I can’t help but fawn over my mother’s copy Brain Salad Surgery. There was something about the overtly sexual nature of Giger’s work – the utter abandon and confidence that seemed to allow him to produce such images, contrasted with the warped and often violent nature of the images themselves, was at once so confusing and yet liberating, almost affirming, for a teenager awkwardly fumbling his way through adolescence.

The close relationship formed between Giger and Celtic Frost/Triptykon main man Tom G Fischer was a long and productive one for both parties. Frankly I can’t think of a more fitting album to carry one of the last of Giger’s works on its cover than Melana Chasmata, which is quite possibly one of the most disarmingly diverse, varied and expansive pieces of work that Fischer has created. At once cold, mechanical and hissing under the sheer weight of his brutal riffs and throat-shredding vocals, there is still, somehow, a fleshy vulnerability to this album. The range of emotions on display are narrow, and yet Triptykon express them with such diversity: the anthemic choral vocals at the close of ‘Boleskine House’, what sounds like R.E.M.’s lute undercutting the brooding slither of ‘Aurorae’ and the sullen, dark minimalism of closer ‘Waiting’ are all underpinned by the same, headbanging, ‘none more metal’ ethos. And yet despite the broad range of augmentation to that ethos, nothing feels over-thought or ill-conceived. Like a severed cyborg alien penis, there’s something quite uncomfortable and threatening at its heart, yet there is also a confusing familiarity.

The Body – I Shall Die Here
(RVNG International)

It was with good reason that The Body’s Last full length, Christs, Redeemers was our top metal album of last year – it’s not just that there aren’t really any other bands doing what The Body do; it wasn’t just that The Body do it with such singular vision and such broad scope. And it certainly wasn’t – strange as it may seem – just for the fact that it was ‘heavy’, and induced in me the same sort of debilitating internal screams I hear inside my head when I panic about my own death. No, the heaviness was merely incidental – as the duo themselves say: "We’re not trying to be scary. We’re just sad." Very sad.

Christs, Redeemers represented the zenith of The Body’s ever expanding scope. If it showed the broadest, most varied ranges of their despair – their doom-based tribal bludgeon expanded equally by walls of harsh, claustrophobic noise and the often serenely dark presence of the Assembly Of Light Choir, then I Shall Die Here plunges to even greater, more remote and isolated depths, stripping back most of these existential adornments to leave behind something altogether far more nightmarish. With The Haxan Cloak’s warped bass and electronic undulations bleeding through the Portland duo’s actually rather restrained, but no less punishing assault, it’s actually the comparative lack of clutter (not to mention the sound bites of people talking about suicide, as opens ‘Hail To Thee, Ever Lasting Pain’) that makes the record so much more threatening. And so painfully rewarding.

Godflesh – Decline & Fall
(Avalanche Recordings)

Way, way back in 2009 I interviewed Justin Broadrick for this very site about Greymachine, a one-off project he was involved in with ex-Isis man Aaron Turner (as well God’s Dave Cochrane and fellow Jesu-ite Diarmuid Dalton), in which I lamented the fact that I’d basically missed Godflesh’s active years and that there would "never be another Godflesh"…

I’m frequently proved wrong, but I’ve never been happier about it than when, a little less than twelve months later, Godflesh promptly reformed to play Hellfest, followed by a triumphantly flattening headline performance at Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival. At the time this seemed like only a brief resuming in hostilities; there’s only so many times you can essentially play Streetcleaner in its entirety, right? I interviewed Broadrick again in 2012 for Metal Hammer, this time about his JK Flesh project, only to spit out a mouthful of Hobnobs when he revealed that new Godflesh material was soon to be laid to tape. Half a decade, then, after the duo’s unexpected reunion, Decline & Fall is that new material, a gateway EP before A World Lit Only By Fire detonates later this year.

It’s one thing to play your old songs at festivals, it’s another thing entirely to write new material that fits into the existing canon without sounding forced, stale, regressive or, worst of all, a mere pastiche, especially when, as Broadrick has, you’ve spend the last twelve years dragging metal into territories so disparate you can hardly continue to call it ‘metal’ at all. And there rests the brilliance of Decline & Fall: its four tracks manage to capture the despairing, almost impotent anger and brutally minimalist pounding of, say, Streetcleaner or Pure without it ever feeling insincere or sounding like an ersatz JK Flesh. The four minutes of ‘Dogbite’ particularly, with its jarring, nerve shredding dissonance and almost breakbeat bludgeon, is exactly the sort of thing that’ll finally make you view your Twitter account with the sort of suspicion a voluntary Telescreen deserves.

Floor – Oblation
(Season Of Mist)

Look, I don’t know when ‘melody’ became such a dirty fucking word, but I love a good melody. Seriously. I mean, look, there’s a time and a place for perching on the corner of the hard, feculent single bed in your cramped, darkened grief-hole of a bedroom, wandering what the fuck has gone wrong with your life as you indulge in the curious/horrible pleasure of Whitehouse’s Great White Death, but you can’t fucking sing ‘You Don’t Have To Say Please’ in the shower. ‘Oblation’ on the other hand, the title track from the comeback LP from almost forgotten 90’s bludge-o-pop-o-nauts Floor, you can most definitely sing in the shower. And, as with mainman Steve Brooke’s other band, Torche, his brilliantly canny ear for sweeping, luscious melodies almost disguises the fact that what you’re listening to is actually still heavier than an osmium elephant shitting cannonballs.

Beyond the typhoons of melody, however, and enveloping the thunder of Antony Vialon and Brooke’s ludicrously low-tuned riffs and drummer Henry Wilson’s utterly compelling thump (thank you once again Kurt Ballou), what is so remarkable about Oblation is the almost ethereal sense of melancholy that pervades every note – from the sludgy noise of ‘Trick Scene’ to the juddering serenity of ‘Homegoings And Transitions’. Whilst Torche may have signed to Relapse on album number four, it’s going to have to be pretty fucking magical indeed to top this.

Trap Them – Blissfucker

It seems almost unbelievable that it’s been three years since Trap Them’s last LP, the feral face fuck that was Darker Handcraft; perhaps in some part due to the relatively steady stream of LPs, EPs, splits and limited run cassettes the band have previously put out. Blissfucker, then, is a bit like that scene in all the best worst zombie movies when some poor victim collapses lifeless on the floor: "Hello? Chris? Err, are you dead?" And then Chris sits bolt upright into un-dead life and rabidly tears all the flesh from the poor inquisitor’s face, before other brain-eaters arrive to rip all his remaining limbs off.

Having once again refreshed their line up – with Galen Baudhuin joining on bass duties as well as former Red Chord drummer Brad Fickeisen – and with Kurt Ballou’s production causing them to sound more frenzied and ravenous than ever, what Blissfucker is not, however, is simply another Trap Them blast. This is Trap Them at their most distilled and most complete. Gone is the superfluous ‘day 48, day 864’ stuff; even Blissfucker‘s cover art is uncomfortably disturbing in its very simplicity. Tangled in amongst the d-beat battery and caustic blast of ‘Former Lining Wide The Walls’, and dissolved in the brooding creep and grinding hell of ‘Ransom Risen’ are all the buzzsawing guitars, punk, hardcore and Euro death metal worship you’d expect, yet now it’s more of a rusty needle stabbed directly into your brain than a relentless sandpapering of your face until it hits grey matter. Fucking bliss.

Prizehog – Re-Uninvent The Whool
(Eolian Empire)

Once, many years ago in my late teens, and no doubt inspired by unconfirmed stories I’d heard about Mike Patton and Wayne Coyne, I decided to try to experiment with sleep deprivation (there’s really not an awful lot to do in rural Norfolk), which admittedly mostly consisted of eating Pro-Plus like Haribo and drinking instant coffee until my piss burned. After probably less than 48 hours, I was beat. But, by that point, pretty much every sound in my world had fused together to create a similar sort of strung-out, throbbing sonic melee to that produced by Prizehog. Imagine what the Melvins might sound like if Joe Preston was the main creative force and added galloping, squalling keyboards to everything, and insisted on washing everything in layers of disorienting echo. With vocals that sound like a gaping abyssal yawn slowed-down, and track titles that make less sense than the music (‘Awsme Bube’ and ‘Gnumskill, The Ruler’, anyone?), I don’t know who, what or where the fuck Prizehog came from, but Re-Uninvent The Whool has landed in my end of year list already. Easily.

Taurus – No/Thing

I don’t remember how, exactly, Taurus, the female power duo (featuring Purple Rhinestone Eagle’s Ashley Spungin and Stevie Floyd of the particularly excellent Dark Castle) came into my life – when Columnus Metallicus reviewed their previous full length, Life it was heralded as "equal parts the Melvins, Sunn O))) and Whitehouse. Upsetting" – but I’m increasingly glad that they did. Whereas Life, though, felt exploratory, borderless and almost free-form, No/Thing, whilst still being cripplingly psychedelic, feels less like the pair collapsing, strung-out, on whatever instruments happened to be in the room at the time, and more like a warped and deliberate manifesto. Opener ‘No Thing Longing… Human Impermanence’ falls painfully somewhere between The Body and Cop-era Swans while the elemental drones and juddering, abrasive guitar undulations of ‘Increased Aloneness’ seep out in a slow tidal swell of cunningly controlled chaos before the Gnaw-like riptide of ‘Recede’ pulls you under completely. Still very upsetting.

Hark – Crystalline
(Season Of Mist)

You might think Hark (or ‘H A R K’, for some reason) a slightly ill-fit for Columnus Metallicus; you might think Crystalline‘s inclusion is just an excuse to get phrases like ‘off-kilter riffing’ and ‘speaker shredding whatever’ out of my system. No, not even close. Fact is, that Swansea’s Taint broke up before Jimbob Isaac’s trio were the biggest thing in British metal is a bigger fucking crime than Def Leppard’s Slang. That he’s returned with a lither, more direct and more polished (don’t read that as ‘sanitised’) evolution of Taint’s basic formula is cause for celebration. Sitting somewhere comfortably between early 90s Clutch and First/Second-era Baroness, Crystalline has that unique sort of instantly accessible sound that makes you think you’ll have stopped listening to it in three weeks time, and then eight weeks later you realise that you’re still caught out by the, erm, not ‘off-kilter’, but, err…. cleverly cogitated riffs that make up the likes of the masterfully restrained ‘Black Hole South West’, and still floored by the breadth and scope of the twisting yet utterly miasmic riffing of the Neil Fallon featuring epic ‘Clear Light Of…’

Slomatics – Estron
(Head Of Crom)

With cover art that looks like a cross between something they forgot to include in Dune and a scene from the most awesome episode of Bravestarr ever made, it’s hard to fathom why Estron has so far been so overlooked. It’s a fact made even harder to get your bong-addled brain around when you see the high praise being heaped upon their scouse buddies Conan for basically releasing – in Blood Eagle – the same record as last time, and the time before that, only with marginally more sanitised production. Where this trio of Belfast based bastards of the bludgeon have triumphed, then, is in tweaking their sound just enough that Estron contains more than a few surprises when compared to its predecessor, A Hocht, whilst still dragging behind it the same monstrously sluggish slew of brain-injuring riffs that they’ve become known for. So, whilst the likes of ‘Tunnel Dragger’ might be built around the same crushing stomp as their battle-obsessed brethren, the moments of twisted noise and Theremin squeals say different. As do the Blade Runner-gone wrong ‘Red Dawn’ and the all-encompassing epic closer ‘The Carpenter’.

Hell – Trilogy
(Pesanta Urfolk)

Hell isn’t other people. No, Hell is a world in which Barclays think the best way to publicise its web services is to show themselves greatly improving the life of an unemployed Welsh coal miner by showing him how to send an email, and how utterly jolly the whole process has made him, it all clearly making up for the fact that he’s been totally abandoned by the government who once employed him. Hell is a world in which, according to Colgate, if you just try hard enough, we can all live in a world without tooth decay. Eradication of war and poverty? Nah, the real utopia is one where even that breadline dwelling ex-miner has a smile like a row of polished fucking piano keys. Hell is knowing that they only make adverts like that because they work.

Trilogy, then, is not so much a collection of the total recorded output (previously via cassette only, but now on ‘luxurious’ 4LP picture disc) of the hyper-secretive Salem, Oregon resident known only as ‘M.S.W’. It is not so much a terrifyingly lo-fi collision of doom, drone and black metal as much as it is the sound of the blood and dirt congealing in your ears as you slowly and repeatedly slam your head into the earth because it’s only going to get much, much worse….

And that’s y’ lot. Was it worth the wait? Probably not. Coming next month: Yob, Bong-fucking-ripper and… an age old evil, tireless and vigilant, cloaked from the masses by modern scepticism, yet still a potent force stalking the dark ways of the night.

Horns up, ya shitters.

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