Columnus Metallicus: Your Massive Monthly Metal Roundup

Stoner rock, screaming pits of rage and sore tonsils: your guide to midsummer metal with Orange Goblin, ASG, Yob, Hoth and more

As I recover in bed from a sore throat that feels unlike anything I have ever experienced before, I wonder how bands take their own personal pain – whether physical or mental – and create music that can be deemed as beautiful or cathartic. A lot of the music featured this month is born from pain. Yob’s newest album comes after Mike Scheidt’s health battle, Uniform & The Body soak their collaboration in mental turmoil, Khemmis take on desolation and Gaerea use black metal to scream into (and out of) the void.

I’ve been lucky enough to have never broken a bone or had any serious injuries in my life – the last time I was in real agony was a few years ago after almost breaking my ankle. But this weekend as I ran a fever sometimes edging over 39 degrees, wanting to cry every time I had to swallow, I wondered if this was the worst bodily pain I had ever been in – and when it would end?

I live in a country where health insurance is mandatory but the basic policy only gets you access to medical advice via a telephone number that costs £60 to call, and perhaps access to a doctor. Finally I gave in and went to see a GP. I left with antibiotics and a note for a week off work, looking forward to a bill that I might be able to afford by the time is arrives. Still, I’m lucky compared to many. What would your suffering sound like?

ASG– Survive Sunrise (Relapse Records)

Stoner rock sometimes gets a bad rap for being the lazy side of metal – riffs played long and tuned low, with not much variation and many bands sounding like the next. ASG, from North Carolina, dabble in the genre but create wildly memorable songs that are like a torch in the darkness; on their sixth album, Survive Sunrise, they play with the constraints of stoner rock enough to transcend the genre.

Vocalist Jason Shi uses his voice to great effect; high clean sections and occasional screams make up a rich layered narrative. Guitars are chunky with weighty riffs that never tip over into pretension – instead ASG give us solid hooks and well-executed songs with sub-five minute run times. The band don’t over work their music, and Survive Sunrise is an elegant ode to making it through the night and the darkness.

Craft– White Noise and Black Metal (Season of Mist)

Black metal doesn’t come much more revered than with Sweden’s Craft. 2005’s Fuck The Universe is now considered a classic of the genre and with White Noise and Black Metal the band are attempting to win back fans after many thought Void in 2011 was subpar (personally, I think it’s great). With this newest opus, Craft bring in those curious drum beats and alien-esque moments that make their black metal so intoxicating.

‘Again’ begins on staccato riffs and beats, with deliciously sinister vocals from Mikael Nox. The chugging beats are hypnotising in their relentless force and the song becomes bizarrely catchy in Craft’s own way (calling to mind the devilish chants of ‘I Want to Commit Murder’ from Void).

It’s not all fast-paced fury, though, and the slow, sludgy march of ‘Tragedy of Pointless Games’ is an interesting balance. It’s still intense, as the band burn through the veil of shadows on nuances and sub-bass drops that feel like your heart dropping through your stomach.

White Noise and Black Metal is a fine return for the Swedish masters and is a record that is rightfully getting a lot of attention.

Gaerea – Unsettling Whispers (Transcending Obscurity Records)

This is Gaerea’s debut album, after just one previous EP, but the Portuguese band already sound extremely confident within the black metal world they’ve created. Unsettling Whispers is so beautifully rendered it’s hard to believe they are only just beginning their careers. There’s a sense of purpose, of knowing the path and what the end goals are. Notoriously enigmatic already, the band doesn’t reveal their faces or their names and at one point it was difficult to even find out where they were from. The music became the focal point, and luckily the music is fantastic.

Beginning on the evocative ‘Svn,’ the band build a universe of pain that slinks in the shadows, voices hidden behind extraordinarily powerful drums and ambient landscapes before bursting into screams. ‘Absent’ continues the attack, yet the fiery guitars are overlaid with flashes of beauty, shining some light into the abyss and allowing Gaerea to move away from the more traditional black metal palette.

Unsettling Whispers is a debut that impresses from the opening seconds and one that stands Gaerea in a good place going forward. This young band is definitely one to watch.

Ghost – Prequelle (Loma Vista Recordings)

Ghost’s lore is almost as, if not equally as, important as the music itself. Having created an entire backstory and narrative for their frontman, outed as Tobias Forge (although kind of an open secret in the metal world) in recent times, Ghost are essentially a solo project that takes on hired musicians for live performances. It’s in this setup that Ghost courted controversy with previous members claiming they had rights and money withheld from them.

This drama only added to Ghost’s persona and with fourth album Prequelle on the horizon, Forge essentially killed off Papa Emeritus III and gave us a new frontman – Cardinal Copia – and a record based on the black death. Forge is a shrewd businessman, that much is clear but above that he is a talented songwriter and incredible performer. Seeing Ghost live is an experience everyone should have and the songs come to life even more when seen on stage.

Luckily Prequelle lives up to the hype the mainstream music press have thrust upon the band and in ‘Rats’ the album begins on strong, melodic tones. It’s not hard to hear influences ranging from Blue Oyster Cult to Black Sabbath. Synths and guitars complement each other on the filth-laden notes of ‘Faith’ and the pulsating beats of ‘See the Light’ call to mind many new romantic tracks of the 80s. Forge’s voice is clear, ringing out over the simple progressions of the music – lyrics aren’t overly complicated in Ghost’s world but the undertones are darkness personified. It’s very clever, bringing satan to the masses in this way.

‘Dance Macabre’ is an obscenely catchy track. It has no business being so gloriously retro in 2018 but Ghost pull it off so fantastically that you believe it. You’re there and you’re seeing the images being painted by Forge’s voice on that dancefloor.

The worst thing that can be said for Prequelle is that the pace-altering instrumental towards the end ruins the flow. Had the record ended on ‘Helvetesfönster’ then perhaps it wouldn’t be so jarring but placing this instrumental before the lamentation of ‘Life Eternal’ is extremely bad sequencing on their part. A small slight on an otherwise frightfully good record.

Hoth– Astral Necromancy (Epicurus Records)

Hoth’s last record was a concept album on Darth Vader and his path towards darkness and on Oathbreaker the Seattle duo truly took the concept out to the furthest possible reaches with songs that soared with epic guitars and themes that wouldn’t be out of place in a rock opera. On follow up Astral Necromancy the band do away with the Star Wars theme yet still take flight on universal patterns of mystery and cosmic intrigue.

Hoth are not a band to reign in any part of their sound and Astral Necromancy is a stunning collection of songs that move at a delirious pace; ‘The Living Dreams of a Dead God’ takes fiery sections of black metal and wraps it in pummelling drums and hoarse screams that echo into the void of space. Hoth are creating whole worlds with the music and in Astral Necromancy the desire to move on from the past is clear; moving from past concepts, past lives and past demons – the record is a vessel for the duo to make sense of a world that is increasingly bizarre and the hope that delving into the outer limits could bring a semblance of peace.

Of course, space is a deadly foe in itself and throughout the record Hoth battle with the colossal pitch black of the abyss. ‘Passage into Entropy’ is surreally beautiful with its climbing guitars and ecclesiastical synths while ’Journey into the Eternal Winter’ is a cold, icy diatribe to the end that inserts a chorus not unlike something found in some Summoning tracks into a song that is otherwise tempered by raw emotion. It’s a neat trick and one that in lesser hands might come across as cheesy, but Hoth manage the opposing forces well and in doing so show they are more than the sum of their black metal parts.

Khemmis– Desolation (20 Buck Spin/Nuclear Blast Records)

Some bands can take you a while to warm up to, some bands hit you right where it counts on first listen. Khemmis took me a while. I saw them live in 2016 at the inaugural Migration Festival and enjoying the heck out of the performance, but there was something missing when it came to the recorded music. A few years later, Desolation lands and, oh boy, that missing piece has finally slid into place.

Their brand of doom is much brighter than most. Of course they have the chunky riffs and sad overtones but for Khemmis the end result is a record full of hope and strength. Songs are structured with thought and care and the lead vocals from Phil Pendergast are, for want of a better word, gorgeous. They take flight with sorrow and meaning, each word that’s sang (and singing here is key) is laced with emotion. ‘Flesh to Nothing’ incorporates twin voices with Ben Hutcherson also adding deep dimension to a track that is stunning in its drama. The soaring riff that signals the closing stages is enough to stop you in your tracks and it’s here that Khemmis truly shine.

Desolation is the sound of a band finally realising what their vision is and while they take the blueprints set out by doom greats, trad metal heroes and rock gods, Khemmis are paving their own path to finding the light – as evidenced by the incredible closing track, ‘From Ruin.’ Poignant and affecting, ‘From Ruin’ is an expressive song that speaks of darkness and the hopelessness that is found within. However, on the journey it becomes clear that the darkness isn’t absolute and that there is a way through. Let Khemmis guide you.

Orange Goblin– The Wolf Bites Back (Candlelight Records)

Orange Goblin have been a staple of the UK stoner rock scene ever since their inception way back in 1995. They’ve always been a consistently good band have deliver the goods over and over again with records that reek of passion and grit. The Wolf Bites Back is no exception and on their ninth full length Orange Goblin sound as vital today as they did back then – the main difference being now, that the band are far more aware of how things work; whether that’s in the music industry or in the wider world, and their bright eyed beginnings are long forgotten on a record that is likely their darkest to date.

Ben Ward’s vocals are full of their signature spite and on ‘Swords of Fire’ the band play with varying textures and effects in order to create a song that hides a swaggering rhythm within its crunched down guitars and punky drums. Orange Goblin are never ones to hold back and here they showcase attitude and doomy beats in one fell swoop. Elsewhere we hear southern rock influenced guitars on ‘Ghosts of the Primitives’ and its rollicking pace is a nice counter to ‘In Bocca Al Lupo’ and its Pink Floyd-esque instrumental guitar work and ‘The Stranger’s’ laidback country rhythms. The Wolf Bites Back is Orange Goblin at their best.

Uniform & The Body– Mental Wounds Not Healing (Sacred Bones Records)

The Body are one of the hardest working bands in metal today and Uniform are one of the hardest band on any scene today. Having toured together in recent times, the bands entered into a collaboration that sees both bring their own unmistakable vibes to a sound that is pain incarnate. Deep electronic pulses punctuate the rhythms laid down and in ‘The Curse of Eternal Life’ Uniform’s Michael Berdan lays his voice over The Body’s beats and his own bandmate’s guitars reach into the depths to find melody. It’s strange that somewhere along the line the frantic movements segue into something approaching beauty but it’s the strength of these two duos that they are able to pull something recognisable out from the debris of the mind.

‘Come and See’ is swathed in doomed electronica and the synthesised lines only add to the alien feeling that is draped all across Mental Wounds Not Healing. Berdan’s voice plays off The Body’s Chip King’s own high pitched screams, ones that are instantly known and lace in pain and breathlessness. Seeing these two play separately was an experience in itself but hearing the anguish of both amplified and brought together in such a way is on another level.

The Body and Uniform have created a work that is disturbing, human, painful and all too relatable. Within its walls of climbing sounds and industrial machinations you will find suffering.

Yob– Our Raw Heart (Relapse Records)

When Yob’s Mike Scheidt was hospitalised with diverticulitis just over a year ago it wasn’t clear if he would survive and in turn, if he did, if he’d be well enough to continue with the band and what the band would sound like if they did. Fast forward to now and Yob have come back with strength in spades and Our Raw Heart is an ode to survival, to learning how to face the realities of death and how to move forward once that shadowy figure leaves your shoulder.

For Yob, who have been building their own brand of psychedelic doom over the years, Our Raw Heart signals a shift that has been a long time coming. Marrying the depth of doom with the outer reaches of psychedelia, the album is a cycling work that constructs towering walls of guitar around Scheidt’s gruff vocals, his voice carrying the weight of the world and allowing him to express the crossroads he found himself on.

‘Ablaze’ begins the album on gorgeous clean vocals and soaring guitars while next track ‘The Screen’ falls back into crunchier territory and the voice here changes to a rougher one, rolling in the agony but never tipping over into pity. This is something that Yob have done well to avoid as a whole on this record. Of course there’s an anger to be had in facing your death but it seems as though Scheidt has instead taken the lessons and moulded them in a way that allows him to see the future clearly, his songs are more about contemplation and hope than they are about rage.

The heart of the album lies in the exquisite grace of ‘Beauty in Falling Leaves;’ a sixteen minute journey into hope and light that exposes the very depths of the soul of the writer. Scheidt ‘s lyrics have long laid his soul bare but on Our Raw Heart he is more open than ever. It’s difficult not to feel the pure emotion radiating from his words and for Yob this is a powerful movement in a record that is already laden with sensitivity.

Zeal & Ardor– Stranger Fruit (MVKA)

When Zeal & Ardor burst onto the scene two years ago with a debut full of songs that tried to marry the soul of black metal with slave music, there were many who wrote off the Swiss/American artist but for a lot of people there was an inkling that founder Manuel Gagneux was onto something. On ‘Devil Is Fine’ in 2016 Gagneux utilised his talents to fuse together the two different sounds (initially suggested to him by users of 4Chan – you couldn’t make it up) and while he was successful in some ways, there was always the idea that something was missing in the overall sound.

After extensive touring and refining of that sound, Stranger Fruit was born and hallelujah, there’s cohesion galore here. The black metal aspect that was so trumpeted has become a flavour rather than the main attraction and instead Gagneux uses an incredible voice, guitars, piano and synths to create a world of spiritual metal. ‘Gravediggers Chant’ is a fiery beginning and the building piano strikes are laid over gospel style keys and Gagneux’s rich voice. Zeal & Ardor don’t play around with lyrics all too much and ultimately the songs are simply structured and uncluttered. It’s in this simplicity that they’ve found a niche – it’s accessible and allows the listener to truly pay attention to the words sang by the artist.

Stranger Fruit is the result of an artist taking some time to figure out what their goal is, what their sound is and what they want to say. What started off as somewhat of a joke very rapidly snowballed into a very real entity and where the press hyped up the spiritual aspects and that the band were the future of black metal, Gagneux still had no clear idea as to what Zeal & Ardor should be. It’s taken two years but that vision is all the more clear for the band now and Stranger Fruitis much more coherent and far more fluid because of it. The components now work in tandem rather than against each other and the songs are excellent. ‘Row Row’ is a deliciously catchy number that speaks of slavery ships and ‘We Can’t Be Found’ finds it’s melody in blues-tinged guitars and gang vocals.

‘Don’t You Dare’ throws in some exalted screaming and the beginning of ‘Fire of Motion’ is a raging pit of anger but the black metal elements are not are the forefront for the most part on this record. It’s a good move to dial back those patterns as the strength of Zeal & Ardor lies in the warm tones of Gagneux’s voice and the narratives it tells. Of course, the core of the band is metal and those roots won’t be forgotten, but to weave the textures using other means is a clever tactic.

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