Columnus Metallicus: Your Metal Roundup For April

Spring is here, time to get heavy with Septic Tank, Hoof Glove, Aura Noir, Dagger Lust and the Melvins

The days grow longer, birdsong fills the air and those lucky enough to score Roadburn tickets start prepping for festival season: the unmistakable scent of spring is upon us. What better way to celebrate than by blasting a shitload of brand new metal records? As is becoming a bit of a running theme, there was just too much great stuff out this month to squeeze into a single column – both Panopticon’s double-disc The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness and French grind trio Whoresnation’s Mephitism land this month, but unfortunately arrived far too close to deadline for me to muster any kind of analysis beyond an enthusiastic “holy fuck, this is good!” Next month looks to follow suite, with new releases from At The Gates, Bong, Knelt Rote, Split Cranium, Witchsorrow and especially The Body, who have created one of the most original and thrilling extreme metal records I’ve ever heard in I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer.

But, speaking of things I have fought against but can’t any longer, I’ll stop rambling and get on with this column. Grab your favourite pair of ear plugs and ready yourselves for a cavalcade of the month’s finest riffs in 3… 2… 1…

Melvins – Pinkus Abortion Technician (Ipecac)

Another year, another Melvins album. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but let’s be honest, recent albums like 2016’s scattershot Basses Loaded and last year’s fairly forgettable album-cum-soundtrack A Walk With Love And Death were only mildly diverting at best. While it’s always fun to hear new Melvins, there’s no reason even the most ardent fan would reach for any of these records over, say, Houdini or (A) Senile Animal after a cursory listen. Pinkus Abortion Technician, however, feels a lot more solid and fleshed out than their last few records, despite feeling more like a weird Melvins/Butthole Surfers hybrid than a Melvins album proper (similar to The Fantômas Melvins Big Band album, in a sense, but more stripped back).

As you’ve probably already surmised from the title, former Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus joins Buzz and Dale again on this one, playing a much more focal role than his previous appearances, on Basses Loaded and Hold It In. Shorter numbers like ‘Embrace The Rub’ and ‘Break Bread’ fuse the Melvins’ classic rock fetish to the gonzo avant-punk weirdness of early Butthole Surfers, and they even cover Surfers classics like ‘Graveyard’ and ‘Moving To Florida’ (which is stitched into a medley with James Gang’s ‘Stop’ to become ‘Stop Moving To Florida’). ‘Prenup Butter’, meanwhile, is like a vintage Melvins song that’s been left out in the sun for too long, all warped and washed out until it resembles the kind of hazy textures found on Locust Abortion Technician itself.

Current Melvins bassist (and member of OFF! and Red Kross) Steven McDonald hasn’t gone anywhere either, making this the first Melvins album to feature two bass players, and given that, it’s not as heavy as one might expect. Rather than simply ramping up the low-end and dooming out, Pinkus and McDonald weave together sublimely squelchy grooves amid kaleidoscopic leads and subtle banjo twangs on breezy centrepiece ‘Don’t Forget To Breathe’ and blissed-out psych workout ‘Flamboyant Duck’, creating something unlike anything else in either the Melvins or Butthole Surfers’ back catalogues. If you’re a fan of either band, this is a blast, and for my money, the most interesting Melvins record in years.

Septic Tank – Rotting Civilisation (Rise Above)

They formed back in the early 90s, but only now have Septic Tank had a chance to belch forth this crusty debut. Not that they’ve been slacking: vocalist Lee Dorrian, guitarist Gaz Jennings and Repulsion bassist Scott Carlson had their hands busy with Cathedral, among other bands, while drummer Jaime Gomez Arellano has become quite an in-demand producer, leaving little time for this project, their humble love-letter to the heyday of 80s hardcore. Any doubts that these grizzled veterans would no longer be able to muster the energy required to play this kind of stuff are quickly abated as the fervent self-titled opener makes this record’s intentions crystal clear from the off. Dorrian’s vocals sound harsher and gnarlier than they have in years. There’s a notable grind flavour here too, with Gomez’s blastbeats and Carlson’s instantly recognisable bass tone coming together to devastating effect on ‘Fucked’, ‘Whitewashed’ and ‘Treasures Of Disease’, which breaks down into a sickeningly doomy dirge towards the end.

Rotting Civilisation certainly wears its influences on its tattered, phlegm-encrusted sleeve, with shades of Siege, Discharge and Motörhead throughout (Motörhead especially on the hard rockin’ ‘Digging Your Own Grave’) and even the occasional Celtic Frost banger like ‘Living Death’ and monstrous chugger ‘Death Vase’. Rather than just being a bunch of half-inched riffs, however, there’s no shortage of memorable tunes here, with supremely catchy shout-along choruses that will nestle snugly in your brain for weeks on tracks like ‘Social Media Whore’, ‘Divide And Conk Out’ and the hilarious ‘You Want Some’, a lurid caricature of tough-guy hardcore complete with Lee barking “’ere, do ya want some?” like a Beano villain. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before of course, but that’s not the point; this is an authentic, eminently gratifying slab of primordial punk attitude from four dudes who lived it the first time around, and it’s an absolute riot.

Aura Noir – Aura Noire (Indie)

Has it really been six years since Aura Noir’s last album Out To Die was released? Fuck, I need to stop drinking… but not until I’ve had a few brews to this little beauty, of course. The Norwegian hellraisers are back with this almost-self-titled album, and as rip-roaring opener ‘Dark Lung Of The Storm’ tears remorselessly out of your speakers, it’s as if they’ve never been away. ‘The Obscuration’ and ‘Cold Bone Grasp’ are absolutely furious, with spiky thrash riffs positively chomping at the bit, careening out of the fretboard like rats pouring from a sinking ship. Even the more mid-paced stompers like ‘Shades Ablaze’ and the towering six-minute ‘Hell’s Lost Chambers’ chug along with a bristling energy, so the album feels lean and focussed throughout.

They’re widely noted for their savage speed and rabid approach, but the other thing that’s always made this band so great is just how interesting and unique their riffs are. These aren’t just your clichéd metal chord patterns whizzing past at ludicrous speeds, but twisting, writhing shards of obtuse notes that manage to enthuse that primal reptilian part of the brain while stimulating the grey matter’s upper echelons too. Aura Noire delivers in spades in this regard, with ‘Grave Dweller’ and ‘Shades Ablaze’ in particular warping classic thrash and black metal flavours into lively, abrasive new shapes. It’s more than two decades since their debut, and there’s still no other band who can claim to have mastered the art of black thrash quite as authoritatively as Aura Noir.

Violation Wound – With Man In Charge (Peaceville)

Just a few months after the last Autopsy release, Chris Reifert is back with his grotesque gutter punk outfit Violation Wound, a power trio in which Reifert relinquishes his drum throne and picks up a guitar. If Abscess was like a punkier version of Autopsy, then Violation Wound tone down the death metal dial pretty much entirely, in favour of snarling punk ferocity. There’s the odd bit of double-kick and the occasional tremolo riff, and tracks like ‘Unhinged World’ have a hint of early Master to them, but belligerent d-beat laden bangers like ‘Dangerous Idiot’ and ‘Smoke And Flames’ have more in common with Discharge or even Poison Idea, with Reifert peeling out righteous leads and gargling snot in a gleefully brash manner.

If you somehow missed the three full-lengths (one of them a double album) and splits with Bastardhammer and Skullhog that these guys have released over the past four years, this is a good entry point to the band in the same way that a brick to the face is a good entry point to the concept of physical pain. With the fullest production of any Violation Wound release so far, these 20 tracks rip past in a blur of raucous, booze-drenched adrenaline with not a minute of its half-hour run time wasted: a very satisfying blast of high-octane filth indeed.

Dagger Lust – Siege Bondage Adverse To The Godhead (Invictus/Vrasubatlat)

If you find a filthier metal record than Siege Bondage Adverse To The Godhead this month, please let me know immediately. Okay, so technically it came out in January as a super-limited tape run on Vrasubatlat, but for all us mere mortals who missed out on that pressing of 30(!) copies, this will be the first time we actually get to hear the thing – and rest assured, it is disgusting. Featuring members of the usual cast of Vrasubatlat luminaries (Ash Borer, Utzala, Triumvir Foul, etc), Dagger Lust are a whole new kettle of fish, fusing harsh, noisy grindcore with bestial war metal and a healthy side portion of power electronics; the middle ground between Full Of Hell and Revenge, if you will.

This debut full-length makes good on the promise of their demos and then some, ranging from blasts of immediate, furious savagery like arresting opener ‘Augury’ and the paint-strippingly putrid ‘Capitulation’, to macabre soundscapes like ‘Perverse Divine’ and ‘Antediluvian Battery’, which comes complete with bowel-juddering bass frequencies, piercing feedback sweeps and powerviolence-style caveman vocals. Elsewhere, the title track and ‘Black Blood In Mockery’ sit somewhere between the two extremes, with the latter especially sounding like Bastard Noise’s Eric Wood crashing a Blasphemy rehearsal armed only with a noise box and a bad attitude. This whole mad whirlwind is done and dusted in a disorientating 24 minutes, but if you’ve a taste for the uglier recesses of extreme music, these are 24 minutes you’ll be reliving compulsively.

Mournful Congregation – The Incubus Of Karma (20 Buck Spin)

It’s been seven long years since Mournful Congregation’s last album, the excellent The Book Of Kings, and now seems like a perfect time for them to return. The funeral doom genre they helped develop has made a big resurgence thanks to bands like Bell Witch, Forn and Lycus, while their distinctive approach to writing mournful guitar harmonies has seemingly had a direct influence on acts like Pallbearer too. Their last release, 2014’s Concrescence Of The Sophia EP, found those trademark guitar lines sounding more rich and expressive than ever, and new full-length The Incubus Of Karma continues in a similar vein, containing some of their most lush, melodic and accessible compositions. Songs like ‘Whispering Spiritscapes’ and especially the title track showcase some extraordinarily evocative leads, and ‘The Rubaiyat’ is astonishingly tender, wrapping the listener in warm, silky chord clumps and subtle, undulating strings. On the other hand, ‘Scripture Of Exaltation And Punishment’ is absolutely crushing, with humongous sounding toms reverberating outwards like a giant’s footsteps.

Even at its slowest (and this is funeral doom after all, this thing gets fucking slow), the band’s sumptuous melodic sensibilities prevent The Incubus Of Karma from ever feeling like a dirge, as the album teems with colour and life for its entire 80 minute duration. Those who’ve waited for this for years will certainly not be disappointed, and if you’ve ever been intrigued by this most morose of doom’s subgenres but struggled to get it into it previously, I’d heartily recommend this as a great in-road.

King Goat – Debt Of Aeons (Aural Music)

Fans of melodic doom should have a whale of a time with this one, too. This Brighton quintet are a fairly unique proposition amid the UK’s current doom scene; there aren’t many contemporary slow bands tipping their hat to the grandiose, bombastic splendour of Nightfall-era Candlemass, and even fewer augmenting that sound with psychedelic outbursts, haunting scales and a whimsical progressive flair. There aren’t many vocalists like Anthony ‘Trim’ Trimming either, who brings a distinctive character to the band with his soaring, operatic bellow. Debt Of Aeons, King Goat’s second album following 2016’s Conduit, finds him flexing his pipes in ever more expressive ways too, deploying dusky croons, deathly screams and wailing Dio-isms with aplomb during the towering title track alone.

This album seems to up the prog influence considerably, with ‘Eremite’s Rest’ and ambitious closer ‘On Dusty Avenues’ journeying through a broad selection of moods during their labyrinthine structures, while interludes like the swirling, Pink Floyd-esque ‘Psychasthenia’ help the album to flow smoothly as one long piece. It’s not without its hooks either, with booming, anthemic opener ‘Rapture’ and the driving, Primordial-style ‘Doldrum Sentinels’ boasting some pretty catchy choruses amid their doomy morass. Darker, heavier and more elaborately composed than Conduit, this is another step in the right direction for a very promising band.

Hundred Year Old Man – Breaching (Gizeh)

Speaking of promising bands, sludgy Leeds sextet Hundred Year Old Man have been making quite a name for themselves with their visceral, ambitious take on post-metal and their pummelling sensory overload of a live show. Their debut full-length Breaching doesn’t quite match the intensity of their live sound, but it comes close, especially during the cathartic “you’ll kill us all!” refrain on ‘Long Wall’. It certainly doesn’t disappoint as a full-length listening experience, highlighting the subtler nuances in their sound that can sometimes find themselves buried within their on-stage bludgeon. ‘The Forest’ and ‘Disconnect’ offer up vast, deep tapestries of intertwining guitar textures and shimmering electronics, and sound just as inviting whether you’re blasting them at full throttle through your subwoofer or kicking back for a baked, late-night headphone session.

The whole post-metal thing may have grown stale in recent years, but it’s heartening to see that a band like Hundred Year Old Man can breathe so much life into the genre. Despite the rich, heady textures and atmospheric passages on display here, Breaching never descends into aimless, shoegazing fluff, as the brutalist stomp and restless riffery of songs like ‘Long Wall’ and bleak, cavernous ‘Black Fire’ will attest. These pieces have a very organic flow to them as well, resisting the tried and tested quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamic in favour of a dense, slow-burning assault. These songs gradually beat against you like waves against a coastline until you’re ground down completely, rendered a shivering, submissive pile of goo by the time ten-minute closer ‘Ascension’ has finished crashing down. A damn good time, in other words.

Hoof Glove – Hoof Glove (Don’t Drone Alone)

If you still need proof of Leeds’ status as a hotbed of mucky musical delights after that, then get this joyous blob of blistering avant-skronk in your lugholes, pronto. Hoof Glove are made up of members of Hex, Famine, Groak, Cattle, Thank, Ona Snop and The Afternoon Gentlemen, but don’t really sound too much like any of those bands. With hulking great bass riffs entangled among frantic elastic drums, flailing electronics and wild hyperactive yelps, this debut EP is more like Melt-Banana pushing Man Is The Bastard out of a moving vehicle, giggling hysterically before crashing into a nearby fireworks factory. Despite its frenetic nature, it’s all curiously danceable too, especially when closing track ‘Fugacious’ locks into a thick, dense groove and rides it until delirium sets in, then blasts into one seriously explosive finale. They’ve only made 100 of these tapes, so you’ll have to act fast if you want one – but if there’s an ideal soundtrack to “acting fast”, this would be it.

Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben Het Goed III
(Century Media)

Belgian trio Wiegedood are back with their third album, once again titled De Doden Hebben Het Goed (which translates to ‘The Dead Have It Good’, if you were wondering). Thankfully, these guys are more imaginative on the musical front than they are when it comes to naming records, and this latest outing is another vitriolic blast of ice-cold modern black metal with a number of interesting quirks. Opener ‘Prowl’ comes storming out of the gates, chilling Gorgoroth style tremolo riffs wedded to croaky, droning throat-singing; ‘Doodskalm’ spends its first half firing off barbed guitar lines with lethal speed before breaking into a stark, minimal section and building to a crushing double-kick groove; and the title track is a melodic, longform epic in the style of Mgła, managing to conjure a thoroughly immersive atmosphere without coming at the expense of the band’s furious energy in any way. Closer ‘Parool’ comes complete with several of those riffs that sound like a mob of angry wasps trying to fight their way out of a tin can, with a twisting, unpredictable song structure that keeps it interesting throughout.

Considering the band feature members of Oathbreaker, Amenra and Hessian, it’s not surprising that Wiegedood offer up something a little left of centre compared to a lot of black metal acts, but at the same time this isn’t far enough removed from the classic genre hallmarks to prefix it with any ‘post’ tags or suchlike. This is just half an hour of great contemporary black metal, slotting in to the genre’s distinct lineage and bringing bags of fresh ideas and unrelenting savagery along for the ride.

Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik – Hugsjá (By Norse)

And now for something completely different. After all those big juicy riffs, let’s wind down with this new collaboration between Wardruna mastermind Einar Selvik and Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson. The duo have worked together before on 2016’s Skuggsjá album, and Hugsjá follows in a similar direction, mixing Wardruna’s dark cinematic folk with Bjørnson’s love of progressive rock. It sounds a bit looser and more experimental than its predecessor, with even broader influences and more indigenous instrumentation, implying the pair have grown even more comfortable playing together. It’s still drenched in atmosphere, but there’s something less portentous and, dare we say, even playful when compared to the more ominous material Selvik creates with Wardruna.

One of the most enjoyable things about this project is how gracefully all the different flavours and disparate sounds coalesce. ‘WulthuR’, for example, fuses gloriously eerie horns and driving drum patterns with busy, almost flamenco guitar licks, while ‘Ni Mødre av Sol’ pairs stuttering, syncopated grooves with beautifully grand choral vocals and sombre droning strings. ‘Nytt Land’, meanwhile, finds Selvik doing his best Brendan Perry impression and Bjørnson churning out creamy prog riffs atop a bed of delicate harp plucks and rich, exotic keys. The whole thing flows as one continuous piece, creating a hypnotic experience. If the results of this collaboration are this consistently interesting and effective, here’s hoping Bjørnson & Selvik decide to make this a trilogy.

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