Columnus Metallicus: Your Heavy Metal Roundup For August

It's the last week of August, and in typical British style it's chucking it down. Time to get the battered old longsleeves out of storage and huddle down with the latest in heavy metal thunder.

The British summer made absolutely no sense, one minute it was hotter than the front row of a Watain concert, the next as miserable as an Electric Wizard photoshoot. No wonder we’re an island of misanthropes: leaving the house is bollocks unless it’s for an Iron Maiden concert. Now summer’s bid us farewell we can get back to normal, we know where we are with grey, damp wretchedness. Best stay in and give these a spin, huh?

Uniform – The Long Walk (Sacred Bones)

Nothing says end-of-summer like industrial punk that intersects with psychological torture. The lurching, glitchy, bludgeoning nastiness of Uniform has grown a new limb in the form of Liturgy drummer Greg Fox, adding organic battery to their arsenal of horror. If there’s one thing readers of this column have learned it’s that by the time my turn rolls around to take the pen from my esteemed colleagues Whelan and Carter, there’ll be at least three instances of nubile Scandinavians playing outdated hard rock, and a minimum of one Twin Peaks reference. Uniform had the heady honour of soundtracking the twisted deaths of some unruly youths in Season Three – and now they’ve crafted an equally angsty, guttural album based on a dystopian short story by Stephen King.

Vocalist Michael Berdan says of ‘The Walk’; “[In the story] 100 boys are made to walk south from the Canada border at a constant rate of 4mph until only one is left standing. It is one of the most cynical stories I’ve ever read and speaks volumes to many of the ugliest parts of the human condition.” And it is those ugly parts that The Long Walk reflects through a furious soundscape. Running the gamut of grey emotions, from the Fudge Tunnel-esque molasses crawl of ‘Inhuman Condition’ to the chaotic squat gig fury of ‘Alone In The Dark’, there is no glimmer of hope, no happy ending and right through to the epileptic climax, The Long Walk is just miserable. In all the right ways.

Vodun – Ascend (New Heavy Sounds)

Have you seen Vodun live? You need to. Chan ‘Oya’ Brown, of Chrome Hoof and Do Me Bad Things, is a soulful Shamanic force of nature, while guitarist Linz ‘The Marassa’ is all limbs and hair and heavy metal thrashing fury. Drummer Zel ‘Ogoun’ Kaute is a mesmerising maven of rhythm, equally prone to to dousing her cymbals, and your opinion that “she’s good for a girl”, in gasoline and flicking a lit match at them.

Based on the “sisterhood of ancestors, a thousand women standing strong”, Ascend is Vodun’s second album, continuing their early meanderings into afrobeat-thrash-soul-doom-metal with Invasion (which featured Marek Steven from Amulet). The band describe the album as “a rallying war-cry, to tap into the power of our ancestors, to learn the wisdoms taught by history and its recurring patterns. It’s time to acknowledge the power of women, to burn with the fire of a banshee wail, to taste the energy of revolution and feel the inspiration of generations of resistance.” They do all that and then some, by crafting an album that builds on a bedrock of heavily researched beats, chants and vocal phrasing.

The album feels so earthbound, so urgent, so spiritually awakening, so absolutely female. It invites all to stomp and sing to the elders and create life, love and fire. Vodun are also amazingly unique even though their influences – from 90s grunge to classic metal, stoner rock, gospel and prog – are proudly on display. Every time you think you can nail what they sound like, they turn a corner. The aesthetic, the musicianship, the songcraft, the musical references, all create a cohesive whole that prove Vodun are on the edge of becoming one of contemporary rock’s most vital and exciting bands. Spirits past, present and future – take heed: Vodun dun good.

Vintage Caravan – Gateways (Nuclear Blast)

Vintage Caravan are so obsessed with retro Britishness that they’ve named their new album after a 70s supermarket. We’re not sure this obsession extends to a diet of Fray Bentos and Smash, but unlike my forced trips to Gateways on a Saturday morning, this visit is a delight. To say these Icelandic whippersnappers have matured on album number three is a cliché, but on a completely personal and selfish level, there is an element of smug satisfaction in knowing that tQ could see potential in these teens when we first saw them live. At just 17 back then, there was definite talent, and definite respect for their forebears, but also a definite ridiculousness in three teens from Iceland singing about a homeless sex worker called ‘Cocaine Sally’ or crowing over some Deep Purple-esque licks about how they were going to “expand their minds”.

Having had the pleasure of watching Óskar Logi Ágústsson, Alexander Örn Númason and Stefán Ari Stefánsson every year since, it’s fair to say that “matured” is an allowed word in this context. Óskar is a precociously fantastic frontman, nodding to the guitar heroes of classic rock in the playing stakes. It also helps that he looks like a young Scott Gorham. Gateways is also cowbell-tastic, as new drummer Stefán shows us he’s a perfect addition to the power trio format. Adopted into the Nuclear Blast stable after a showcase at the Icelandic Eistnaflug Festival in 2013 had labels falling over themselves to snap up the young pups, the band have hit the road, learning their craft and barely touching the floor. Tour-weary themes of “running on empty” and being “on the run” are front and centre, proving the band have some actual life experience to draw on now, but the musicianship is the wow-factor here. ‘All This Time’ is a glam-grunge stomper that reminds of Alice In Chains, particularly in the vocal harmonies, ‘Nebula’ is an ambitious prog-ballad that dethrones Opeth’s ‘In My Time Of Need’, ‘Tune Out’ is a 70s rock throwback epic and ‘Hidden Streams’ is a disco doom banger that will be a welcome addition to the party when they play it live. Not just another bunch of retro rockers, Vintage Caravan are the future rock needs.

Satan – Cruel Magic (Metal Blade)

Controversial opinion but, once you take stalwarts Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon out of the picture, Satan are the best of the remaining New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands. They’ve been consistent since returning to the recorded album format in 2013, they’re true to their original sound, all members were there back in the 80s, there’s no lame gimmick. Heck, they’ve not even lost their hair. In fact, the Newcastle mob are a perfect chrysalis of the NWOBHM, a moment caught in time. Cruel Magic is their third album since the comeback and it’s a deliberate warts-and-all affair, with the band opting for a recorded-live vibe to capture some of their decidedly un-cruel live magic. To watch Satan live, shoulder-to-shoulder with their devoted mix of old-timers who remember it all the first time around and hordes of twentysomethings with heads down and fists held high, is life-affirming – a reminder of the rallying glory encapsulated by the sound of the second wave of heavy metal.

The godfathers of speed metal, Satan are stuck perfectly in that small window between NWOBHM and thrash and there they’ve remained, album-by-album recreating progression as it should have happened in 1984. Look here’s Satan in a nutshell (feel free to not email in if you’re a dork and want to school me on the details): Brian Ross, Steve Ramsay, Russ Tippins, Sean Taylor and Graeme English record debut album Court In The Act in 1983 and nail proto-thrash, they split up, they morph into this hydra-headed beast with Angel Witch members called Blind Fury, and come back for Suspended Sentence when it’s all too fucking late and are subsequently lost to the cruelty of time. But for the sake of describing what the three post-reunion albums sounds like, imagine Blind Fury didn’t happen. Imagine Suspended Sentence came out in 1984, Life Sentence – their near perfect NWOBHM comeback album from 2013 – came out in 1985, Atom By Atom came out in 1986 instead of 2015 and Cruel Magic came out in 1988 (to give them a year off for touring the stadiums of the world), well it would have come out the same week as …And Justice For All and Satan would have given the UK its truly great thrash band. Cruel Magic is still NWOBHM in form, but it’s what NWOBHM would have morphed into had it embraced the thrash sounds from over the pond. And it’s just as great that they’re doing it now instead of then. Satan aren’t trying to be clever, they’re just trying to pick off where they left off, a little greyer, a little creakier but still as passionate for playing heavy metal. A masterclass in how to do a comeback – no chasing past glories, this is about moving forwards and upwards at a slow, steady pace and long may they continue.

Cauldron – New Gods (Dissonance)

If Satan are the old gods, the Canadian power trio powerhouse Cauldron are the new gods, and it’s pretty satisfying to review both bands together since they’ve become blood brothers over the past few years, playing and partying together at any opportunity. Now on album number five, Cauldron were one of the OG bands of the trad metal revival storm that raged in the mid-to-late 2000s. Like many of their be-denimed compadres, Cauldron were lumped into a NWOBHM-soundalike pigeonhole when they always leant defiantly toward a North American metal, even proto-glam vibe. More Riot than Raven, more Skid Row than Saxon, more WASP than Witchfinder General, Cauldron were always authentically keeping true to their side of the pond.

New Gods is another metal marvel from Jason Decay, Ian Chains and now-firmly-rooted drummer Myles Deck. They live and breathe heavy metal, they are the eternal dorks immortalised in 80s teen flicks, hanging out in the parking lot, listening to Agent Steel in their muscle cars. Don’t ever change! And you never know what’s going to emerge from their collective imaginations, unafraid as they are of B-movie horror schtick, fantasy or just a good old-fashioned love song. They write radio rock that no station dares play and should be huge, alas this good-time heavy metal is still way too niche, and desperately uncool – and for that we thank Halford they’ve stuck to their values and kept forging their steel regardless. Every song on New Gods is repeatable, and songs like ‘Save The Truth – Syracuse’ and ‘No Longer’ are arena worthy – even ‘Together As None’ has a touch of their homeland’s hero, Mr Bryan Adams complete with clap-along middle section. I can’t wait for their poster pull-out in Kerrang!

Doro – Forever Warriors/Forever United (Nuclear Blast)

Who broke Doro’s heart? I will fight them! That’s how devoted I am to Dorothee Pesch. But then again, if Doro wasn’t feeling so wretched we wouldn’t have the triumphant return of the soft rock ballad, missing in action for so many years and now brazenly touted on Frau P’s double album extravaganza. They say there’s a fine line between love and war and these are two topics explored on the Queen of metal’s 20th(!) album. It’s not as easy as saying Forever Warriors is the classic Warlock-sounding thrash/heavy metal disc, focusing on themes of fighting for honour, valiant heroes standing strong the face of hard rock apathy. Nor is Forever United the wimpy ballads disc. But CD1 does contain some of the best festival hits written this year: ‘All For Metal’ will be up there with ‘All We Are’ and contains typical Doro “metal is my life, without it I’d be dead” style lyrics. We know, Doro, us too!

‘Bastardos’ is a punky rager about fighting for justice, probably against all those terrible people that don’t rock, and ‘Blood, Sweat And Rock ‘N’ Roll’ is just that, a war chant over some killer AOR riffs. But this disc also contains a horrific cheese ballad that topples over into faux Type-O goth nonsense and has the gaul to feature Amon Amarth towering frontman Johan Hegg on guest snarls. Thankfully ‘Soldier Of Metal’, with its saccharine sincerity, will be Christmas number one in every country around the world, war will end forever and statues of Doro will be erected in every town square. Disc two is the sad one, the one where there is a lot of crying, reading the ex’s horoscopes looking for clues, and eating Maltesers. Between all the clenched-fist power ballads, and soppy (slightly needy) wailers there are bombastic moments, such as the orchestral ‘Living Life To The Fullest’, about getting on with your life after heartbreak and a thrashy Doro classic in the shape of ‘Fight Through The Fire’. Closing on an obscure Motorhead cover of ‘Lost In The Ozone’ makes you wonder if Doro’s not actually sad she got dumped, but actually just not quite over losing her best friend, mentor and collaborator. If you go back and listen to the whole album again in that context then you really have to reach for the Kleenex. We feel the same, Dorothee. Love you!

KEN Mode – Loved (Season Of Mist)

From an album about love to an album called Loved that is anything but. KEN Mode, who charmingly named themselves for Hank Rollins’ “Kill Everything Now mode”, which he used to describe his pre-show mantra around the time of Flag’s ‘My War’ tour, are back after hiatus and have not softened one iota. Described as “pushing physical limits to the max” (apt since in their break one of them went off to Thailand to train in martial arts), Loved is a montage soundtrack, should that montage be set in the depths of a warped mind on the most cuntish of ket comedowns. “I’ll never understand…” screams Jesse Matthewson as clanging guitars and discordant drums rain down all around you. Based on themes of a technological apocalypse, Loved is definitely the sonic encapsulation of your phone running out of battery, or reading the comments section, and other such terrible things the modern world offers.

Hailing from Saskatoon, these Juno award winners were part of a noise-rock renaissance alongside Cave In, Russian Circles and Keelhaul, and you could namecheck the usuals: Fugazi, Jesus Lizard, Helmet, Botch, Unsane – even some clever obscure industrial noise artists, but blah blah blah, KEN Mode are unique in their despair, anger and horridness. However, if you dig Fugazi, Jesus Lizard, Helmet, Botch, Unsane – even some clever obscure industrial noise artists then you’ll be tickled pink that the Mode are back. Metallic hardcore needs to sound this vital and dangerous and with sneering spoken word sections, off-kilter jazz horns and crushing guitars Loved will warm the cockles.

Second Sun – Eländes Elände (Gaphals)

Second Sun caught the attention of the metal world not so much for their debut Hopp/Förtvivlan, good as it was, but more for its personnel, being as it is a folky, psyche, slightly bonkers, now-no-longer-a-side-project of former Tribulation drummer Jakob Ljungberg. While Ljunberg takes on crooning duty, his pal Adam Lindmark, once of fellow death metallers Morbus Chron and now party blaster in Dead Lord sits behind the kit. The band is rounded out by Marcus Hedman on bass and confusingly Sofia Rydahl of noisemongers Gravmaskin on one half of the album and David Grannas on the other. This gives Eländes Elände a bit of a schizophrenic vibe and that’s no complaint as you never know which way this album will twist and turn, it’s a real Alice In Wonderland trip.

If you came here for two of modern death metal’s finest players expecting much the same, then oops, soz; refunds not available. But since Tribulation and Morbus Chron have been responsible for twisting the form into some weird shapes, it’s no real shock that Second Sun should delve into out-there space rock and prog, with elements of paisley-bloused folk rock, spooky pop goth, Abba-esque disco, far-our biker rock and early Judas Priestisms. The fact it’s also all sung in Swedish gives it an even more bug-eyed madness, so much you keep expecting Antoine De Caunes and Jean Paul Gaultier to pop up and explain what the hell’s going on. While not strictly metal, there’s always a reason to leap into something otherworldly and strangely comforting.

Maggot Heart – Dusk To Dusk (Teratology Sounds And Vision)

Staying in Sweden (although most members here have settled as musical migrants somewhere down the sexually deviant back alleys of Berlin), Maggot Heart present their debut album after a dirty little EP earlier this year. With an uncouth snarl, Linnéa Olsson sets out her stock now she’s freed from varying misjudged collaborations, dashed ambitions and bands that just didn’t make their mark (I think I may be the only the person in the world that truly thought Slingblade were gonna take over the world). All that frustration and hard fucking graft has paid off now the guitarist has taken it upon herself to do things her way, or not at all.

The pounding, clanging rhythms that kick off the album are ultimately familiar to fans of the much-missed In Solitude, being as they’re played and crafted by bass and drum duo Gottfrid Åhman and Uno Bruniusson. But it’s Linnéa’s sneering voice that captures the imagination, dragging you through a city in ruins with post-punk abandon. There’s no colour on Dusk To Dusk, no hope, no antidote – it’s all buried under layers of filth and distortion. Maggot Heart would have bought CBGBs to ruin if they’d been born at another time, in another fetid city. Their Crampsy, Echoey, Divisiony, Dead Boysy, Heartbreakersy jams may come across all dejected and apathetic, but there is an undercurrent here that hints that Linnéa’s only just getting warmed up and coming straight for ya.

Thou – Magus (Sacred Bones)

Three EPs this year made a statement that Baton Rouge sludge lords Thou were paving the way for a fifth full-length: Magus. For the uninitiated – Thou are the nasty side of Louisiana doom metal. Not that there’s much pleasantries in the oeuvre of Eyehategod, Crowbar or Acid Bath, but Thou have got that disdain for all that is earthbound. They’re also ridiculously prolific and while Magus may just be album number five they’ve worked on splits, collaborations and shortforms a-plenty, as well as burning up the road whenever possible. The House Primordial was the first of the teaser EPs, the one where the band got all their electronic, ambient, avant filth out of their systems, inspired no doubt by hanging around with unsavoury types such as The Body.

Inconsolable was the mopey, indie one and Rhea Sylvia was the alt-rock one and reminded everyone that Thou are also mostly infamous for a great line in killer Nirvana covers. With those as a blueprint, fans are as prepared for Magus as they’re ever gonna be so buckle up. The album is an menacing as you’d expect, all claustrophobic despair and raspy blackened vocals. It’s actually a contender for unexpected black metal album of the year, for its masterful crafting of that tinny production and chilling suffering synonymous with the genre. There are some lighter moments that disguise themselves as almost Cascadian on ‘The Changeling Prince’ and ‘Sovereign Self’ is an epic doom triumph (as in it’s long and intricate and stirring, not that it sounds like Candlemass) with long-time collaborator Emily McWilliams lending some hope to the hopeless. With short haunting interludes interspersing the longer, dragging, scathing numbers, Magus is no fun, but absolutely unmissable.

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