Columnus Metallicus: September’s Heavy Metal Reviewed By Toby Cook

Like drainpipe jeans and pneumonia, Toby Cook is back! And he has all the metal that's unfit for review with him. Myrkur portrait by Rasmus Malmstrom

Hails my Column-nic disciples. Yes, just as you’ve finally bleached the filth from your eyes and futilely attempted once more to Ajax the stains from you mind, Columnus Metallicus is back for the second time in as many months to crow yet more slurred and meaningless opinions from the piss-stained park bench from the corner of tQs’ otherwise pristinely kept digital park, deeply upsetting the occupants of the tennis courts (which I suppose would be the ‘serious’ reviews section or something?) whilst it’s at it. Still, could be worse…

“Dear Mr. Cook,

Clearly, despite our continued insistence in the many, many letters sent previously, our request is still going unheeded. Therefore we would ask once again that you immediately cease and desist in your frequent attempts to correspond with Mr. Joel. As previously stated Mr. Joel thanks you for your initial letter as he is always happy to hear from fans – he thanks you again for your praise of An Innocent Man, but asks that I reiterate once more than he has no plans to let ‘The Body’ or ‘Merzbow’ remix it. Similarly Mr. Joel has no interest in experiencing the “throbbing sax punishment and psychedelic nihilism” of Sex Swing. I have also been asked to once again categorically state that, although admittedly there is a striking resemblance in appearance and vocal stylings, Mr. Joel and ‘Pest’ are not the same person and he has never heard of Gorgoroth. He also seriously doubts that the solo from ‘Dead Skin Mask’ “syncs up perfectly with his song ‘Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)’”.

And no, Mr. Joel will NOT “listen to Bongripper”.

Please refrain from ever contacting my client again.”

Well, at least I tried. Let’s get on with it shall we…

Pentagram – Curious Volume

Bobby Liebling should be dead, long dead, and Pentagram should be little more than a coke-smeared scribble in the margins of rock history. And yet they’re not, and thanks largely to the surprising brilliance of 2011’s album Last Rites and documentary, Last Days Here – a film that sits somewhere between Anvil and The Panic In Needle Park. For the last half decade the band Liebling started 44 years ago have been experiencing their most commercially and critically successful period to date. But a new Pentagram album raises a curious spectre: does anyone really care? Humanity is fundamentally sick, ruined by poverty porn, rendered bloated and ill by watching reality TV nobodies living out (and often struggling to reconcile) the multitudinous complexities of life under our drooling gazes. As such Pentagram are arguably viewed totally through the prism of Liebling’s personal demons; we’re reminded that their impish leader was an entertaining, destitute drugs mess, we stick on Be Forewarned and we’re done…

Well if that’s your attitude you can get the fuck off of this bus right here – I don’t care if we’re stopped in the middle of a fucking field, Blakey, off! Yes Pentagram are no longer the pioneers they were when they initially released Pentagram/Relentless to the ears of virtually no one; the raw, drug-fucked, paranoid and neurotic dirge of the likes of Sub-Basement came from a place that no longer exists for Liebling, but what is so often overlooked about Pentagram is the entertainment factor. And Curious Volume – which takes its title from the Edgar Allan Poe poem ‘The Raven’ – is doom-addled entertainment from start to finish. Does the bombastic, hook-laden stomp of ‘The Tempter Push’ redefine the doom template? Of course not. But are you going to be fist pumping like a homeless Freddy Mercury when they play it live? Are you going to screw your face up like you’re getting ECT when the solo in ‘Sufferin’’ drops? Are you going to be totally unexpectedly moved and rocked in equal measure by the epic alt. balladry of closer ‘Because I Made It’? You bet your bent spoons you will. So, is Liebling back on the skag? Have his wife and child left him? Personally I don’t what to hear about it, I want to hear Liebling’s demonic croon, sounding like a healthy man half his age; I want to hear Curious Volume, perhaps the most diverse, if not altogether challenging, collection of doom bangers that Liebling has put his name to in 44 years.

Luminous Bodies – Luminous Bodies
(Box Records)

Unless you’re, I don’t know, Feetwood Mac or Ed Sheeran or something, and the sole purpose of your recorded output is as a sort of aural Dignitas or just to remind people that Costa Coffee still exists, then surely the greatest challenge when entering the studio is to accurately capture the sounds and spectacle of your live show – if you’re Luminous Bodies, then, you’d think that task would be near fucking impossible. The last couple of live outings I’ve caught by the London based drunk-psyche-punk troupe have seen the crowd on the stage and instruments in the crowd, warped equipment and smashed minds, and venues turned into a pulsating pit of psychedelic chaos resulting in the sort of lunatic melee that comes from inhaling burning plastic – but then you’d probably expect little less from a band containing current and former members of Terminal Cheesecake, Gum Takes Tooth, Part Chimp, Ikara Colt, We Wild Blood and Blind Yeti, and who have a drummer on guitar and a guitarist behind one of two drum kits. So, have the quartet pulled it off?…

Well, err, no, not exactly. But that was never the point – trying to capture the ad-hoc insanity and instigate the same feeling of involuntary communal chaos that is summoned during their live outings was never going to translate into the necessarily rigid framework of a record. Instead, Luminous Bodies slurs together a schizophrenic mixture of all that is good about sludgy, heavy noise rock in 2015 and beyond; like journeying to the outer-rims of hook-heavy, riff-driven rock, where the Butthole Surfers and God Bullies collide and your only sustenance is a lunchbox full of poppers and peyote buttons. From the fried-psychedelic scramble of ‘Man’s Milk’ and the brilliantly mangled hybrid of the Butthole Surfers ‘Graveyard’ and Tom Jones’ ‘She’s A Lady’ – titled ‘Lady Graveyard’ of course (and no, seriously, it really, really works) to the deranged, noise pummel of ‘You Cheap-Arse Motherfucker’ and the Om-gone-wrong, mystical slop of closer ‘Om Naman Shivaya’, Luminous Bodies is the sound simply of freedom. Not through Dadaist, intellectual obscureness, nor through substance based annihilation, but through rock; through don’t-give-a-fuck, noise-rock ataxia.

Ahab – The Boats Of the Glen Carrig
(Napalm Records)

Ah, Ahab, the thinking man’s doom, sorry, ‘funeral’ doom band (because apparently that prefix makes a whole ocean of difference) return and continue in their slow and considered ascent from relative obscurity, building upon the Titanic majesty of 2012’s The Giant, to firmly anchor themselves in the realm of being doom’s answer to Mastodon – and managing to be better at being Mastodon than Mastodon have managed for the last five-odd years in the process. A concept album built around William Hope Hodgson’s 1907 tome of the same name, The Boats… loosely follows the surrealist experiences of the book’s stranded protagonists, but not in such a way that you need to actually read the book – much like Mastodon’s Moby Dick inspired Leviathan – the swirling, meandering torrent of its four tracks more than convey the source materials sense of hideously fantastical journey. So, although opener ‘The Isle’ might largely be more akin to punting on the Avon at sunset than to being caught in a thunderous typhoon of down-stroke doom, the skill with which the German quartet navigate the myriad of dynamic shifts, drifting, seemingly at the whim of the tides themselves, never lets the attention drop below the water line – never more so than during the epic ‘The Weedmen’, where stuttering, cetacean riffs drift effortlessly into tranquil, melancholic tide pools and back again as if they were born from the oceans themselves… Fuck, are you sick of all the nautical references too?

Gnaw Their Tongues – Abyss Of Longing Throats
(Crucial Blast)

Just to wash the salt water from your eyes (only to boil it and pour it directly into your ears)…

The prospect of a new Gnaw Their Tongues record from vino guzzling shut-in Mories is a bit like the prospect of bathing in sulphur and rusty razorblades as you cry-wank over Victorian amputee porn. And if that’s the case, draw me a bath and warm up Cali-o-scope, it can’t really be any worse than the world outside already is, can it? Coming three years after the last proper GTT album – which at the prolific rate it’s creator usually works at may as well be 13 years – Abyss Of Longing Throats surprisingly collects some of the Dutch audio villain’s more accessible and easily digestible material, that is if you consider the tortured, percussive battery and deranged string arrangements of the noise washed ‘Through Flesh’ in any way ‘digestible’. I actually had the rare, er, ‘treat’ of seeing Gnaw Their Tongues play live in a pub in Holland earlier this year; the bar staff looked very confused, and by the end of their set one mentally dishevelled gentleman started licking dirt and crushed glass off the floor – if you make it as far the maniacal and grotesque dirge of ‘And They Will Be Cast Out Into Utter Darkness’, which at times become reminiscent of Alec Empire having a mental break down, you’ll understand why… If you’re not already a naked, tear soaked mess eating dog food in a corner by then.

Golden Void – Berkana
(Thrill Jockey)

Because I don’t want any of you to slope off to lick shattered amorphous solids out of the carpet, and because secretly I’m a total sucker for sun-dappled, Californian blues rock (probably because I’m from Norfolk, and when you spend your early teen summers raking pig shit and pulling up dead turnips, Blue Cheer seems far more escapist than Nirvana) here’s the Isiah Mitchell of Earthless featuring Golden Void…

With Mitchell resisting the temptation to wash over everything with a 47 minute solo as he has been doing with Earthless of late, and with the band collectively having the intelligence and the requisite musical chops to realize that simply running crunchy blues riffs through vintage equipment doesn’t make you retro or particularly psychedelic, Berkana flows in a long forgotten vein originally picked at by the likes of the Doors and finally opened up by Sabbath’s Vol. 4. Warm pop melodies and breathy flute amble along under Mitchell’s perfectly awkward vocals during ‘Astral Plane’, whilst screaming Hammond organ noises underpin ‘The Beacon’, and it’s that that captures the haunting, imagined atmosphere of Californian pines and barefoot, 60’s isolationist existence… Just not in the John Linley Frazier way, yeah?

King Dude – Songs Of Flesh And Blood – In The Key Of Light
(Ván Records)

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, this isn’t metal, not even close – forget the darkly biblical, occultist imagery, forget that Mr. Dude (or Thomas Jefferson Cowgill to his mum) served time as a member of the death metal inflicted, hardcore leaning troupe Book Of Black Earth and forget that he played Roadburn and shares a record label with The Ruins Of Beverast and Urfaust…

‘Metal’ is more than just blast-beats and Marshall stacks, recycled Sabbath riffs and screaming until your corneas collapse and your spleen bursts through your rectum like something out of Hellraiser; metal, as far as Columnus Metallicus is concerned is a nebulous concept where all things exist in the dark, and underneath the pop melodies and scorched earth folk arrangements Songs Of Flesh And Blood is darker than a weekend grave robbing with Johnny Cash. And, no matter how many styles Cowgill and his deep, pain-inflicted baritone traverse – from the dust bowl alt. folk of ‘Black Butterfly’, to the Middle Eastern surf guitars of ‘Rosemary’; from the smoky, 70’s soul-heavy groove of ‘The Heavy Curtain’ to the lethargic, Boatman’s Call-era Nick Cave-isms of the anguished, organ backed of ‘I Don’t Wanna Dream Anymore’ – it’s the darkness that envelops every nicotine stained and divinely twisted note.

Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
(Sargent House)

Because at some point every year the sun disappears, an icy chill drops from the harsh, indifferent heavens like the slow, spiny advance of a nuclear winter, and you begin to realise that you’re spending an increasing amount of time contemplating the build-up of dead birds on your downstairs neighbours balcony; because your inner, melancholia soaked goth starts to seep through the torn stitching of your skin, (and because you’d rather I said all that than use the phrase ‘drone-metal-art-folk’, right?) there is Chelsea Wolfe. And because as soon as the cone-juddering bass-dirge that introduces opener ‘Carrion Flowers’ (and sounds more like something ripped from that Haxan Cloak and The Body collaboration) you’ll realise why Wolfe makes it into this month’s column. Darker, and more industrialised than 2013’s goth-a-rama Pain Is Beauty, moments of Abyss are more akin to the Cocteau Twins interpreting Killing Joke, at the wrong speed, backwards, than anything resembling the wrought, bedroom-born Scando-folk that characterized much of Wolfe’s earlier output. Elsewhere, the twitching, Björk-ish glitches of the initially minimal standout track ‘After The Fall’ later collapse into a pulsating, descending riff that wouldn’t sound out of place emanating from one of Kevin Martin’s (The Bug, King Midas Sound) projects. But, it’s the isolated, Nick-Drake-on-Quaaludes picking and neurotic build and crescendo of ‘Survive’ that’ll really make you want to shimmy down the drain pipe and start, I don’t know, reading war poetry to all those bird carcasses or something.

Myrkur – M

Normally when it comes to these columns my highly scientific in-no-way-marijuana-aided selection process is as simple as ‘right, which ten albums have I been listening to the most/have most piqued my interest over the last month when I’ve not been listening to Sex Swing?’, but as much as M falls easily into both categories I’ll admit to an unusual level of trepidation concerning whether I should cover it or not – I often feel like these columns are a particularly rancid sausage-fest, even though there are plenty of incredible women creating brilliant heavy music. However, put simply, I care less about whether Myrkur (or to use the Dane’s real name, Amalie Bruun) used to be a model (she didn’t), whether or not she’s appropriating black metal for hipster credentials (she’s not; she’s not Deafeaven) or whether she’s kvlt enough (seriously?! M is produced by Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg, and features Mayhem’s Teloch on guitars and Øyvind Myrvoll of Nidingr of DHG on drums for fuck sake!) than I do about your A-road preferences when driving to Prestatyn. Although covering a huge swathe of blackened ground, from the glacial, WITTR-like frenzy of ‘Hævnen’ to the folksy, Wardruna-esque ‘Nordlys’ and the Burzum-lite approach of ‘Mordet’, M mightn’t be the most original or challenging black metal releases of recent years, but its easily one of the most confident and genuine.

Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
(Metal Blade)

‘I Cum Soy-based Protein Drink’, ‘Baptized in Linda McCartney Vegetarian Blood Substitute’, ‘Where The Quorn Pieces Live’ and ‘Rotting Head (Of Lettuce)’ – these are not songs you’re going to find on The Anthropocene Extinction, the latest blast-filled, death-grind splatter-platter from the world’s most environmentally conscious death/grind band. Further expanding on the great leap that was 2012’s Monolith Of Inhumanity, The Anthropocene Extinction once again picks up the their all-pervading concept of man’s imminent extinction by his owns hands, this time focusing largely on the vile and hideous consumerist greed that has led to the formation of country-sized trash islands in the pacific. If their MO has changed little in the last three years, however, their song writing has evolved into the death metal equivalent of proto-future humans – having increased the melodious aspects that marked out Monolith… to the point of sheer epic-ness – as during the relentless, almost Carcass-like ‘Plagueborne’, where the violent blast-beats and tremolo’d-to-eye-bursting-fucking-extreme guitars most noticeably rear their ugly heads and during the warped and constantly shifting ‘Apex Blasphemy’ – and they appear all the more considered for it. Imagine being repeatedly flailed by Morrissey whilst George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher forces chunks of plastic flotsam down your throat and you’re probably getting somewhere close.

Vaee Solis – Adversarial Light
(Signal Rex/Mordgrimm)

The doom revival continues unabated, but just when you think we’ve reached peak-doom (which admittedly sounds like a ski run in Mordor), just when you’re about to chuck your Candlemass records in the sea, shrieking because DOOM IS ABOUT MORE THAN SMOKING WEED AND RIPPING OFF SLEEP and you think there can’t possibly be any more idiotic ways in which bands can awkwardly shoehorn ‘Bong’ into their names – “Yeah Dave, of course, ‘Bong-toaster’ totally works, I’m just not sure it’s better than ‘The Bongman Of Bongatraz’ that’s all” – arises, from Portugal of all places, pagan mythology obsessed, blackened doom quartet Vaee Solis. Like slowly scraping your face down the side of some ancient pine, whilst the Iberian coven clearly worship at a similar sonic altar to punishing Franco unit Monarch, much of Adversarial Light is equally reminiscent of the teeth-shattering, crust tainted blackened hardcore expectorated by Belgium’s Oathbreaker, not least via the anguished, feral wail of vocalist Sophia, whose deranged howls seem eternally on the verge of total collapse. And there is groove here, too, notably during ‘Libra’, albeit the sort of groove that’ll make you want to disappear into the woods to skin woodland creatures alive with a rusty sickle.

And that’s it, remove the nipple clamps and turn off Streetlife Serenade, we’re done for another month… Coming next time: Shining, Black Breath and, I dunno, The Bongman Of Bongatraz probably…

Horns up, ya shitters!

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