Columnus Metallicus: Your Month In Metal

From doom yoga to martial rhythms, from Bong to Witch Mountain, from Helsinki to Hades - your roundup of the mightiest metal this month

Thunder rolls and lightning flashes across the sky, the air is thick like molasses riffs: the perfect backdrop for this month’s heavy metal offerings. Hot, sticky, and sexual – the only balm is plenty of bourbon on ice, the music blaring and the windows wide open. These are the albums that blast open the gates of summer, soundtracking the torrid descent into humid hell!

Svalbard – It’s Hard To Have Hope (Holy Roar)

It’s hard to have hope when it’s 32 degrees in the shade and just stepping outside is like facing the fiery furnace of Hades, but you can have hope when bands like Bristol’s Svalbard are creating anthems such as ‘Unpaid Intern’, ‘Pro-life?’, ‘Feminazi’ and ‘Revenge Porn’ that fuel every burning iota of rage coursing through your veins. Political metallic hardcore has been desperately weaving its necessary route back to the fore of the metal mainstream and Svalbard knit snarling punk, icy black metal, filthy crusty riffs, glacial shoe-gaze and hopeful post-rock into a narrative-led album that tackles issues at the heart of modern culture. On ‘Revenge Porn’, when guitarist Serena Cherry croons Miki Berenyi style over a heartbreaking interlude and then lets out the blood-curdling cry “FOR THE WOMEN”, the release is so gratifying this writer actually fist-punched the sky and wished she was at Ieperfest in 1997 climbing over heads to grab the mic. It’s a playback moment on an album full of them. I’m not afraid to admit I cried at how powerful, poignant and critical this album is for metal fans in 2018. It’s been a long journey since Boysetsfire wrote the anti-abuse, anti-rape anthem ‘Unspoken Request’ at the turn of the millennium and Svalbard are carrying a similar message with their second album that cannot and should not be ignored.

Grave Lines – Fed Into The Nihilist Engine (New Heavy Sounds)

Fuck me, what a time to be British. From Svalbard to Grave Lines. Equally irate, equally focussed, equally vital, these Londoners are known in certain circles for not just putting on gigs or propping up bars and DJ booths in this here capital, but performing in a wide, wild array of bands from Sea Bastard, Dead Existence, Casual Nun, Landskap, Death Letter and Throne. Produced by Esoteric’s Greg Chandler – the king of death doom production – Jake, Matt, Julia and Oliver have conjured nine dark, crushing, oppressive odes that nod to the most British of miserablists from Anathema to Current93 to This Mortal Coil to Bauhaus to Black Sabbath to Fudge Tunnel to Primordial (okay, they’re Irish, don’t shout). ‘Failed Skin’ is a near-15 minute opus that unravels itself as you drown in its self-loathing sludge, building to a cacophonous, swirling guitar solo against a backdrop of repetitive rhythms that lure you into a trance. Perfect comedown music. Go on, try it. Thankfully moments like ‘Shame/Retreat’ break the mood with acoustic, folky interludes that are almost introspectively beautiful against the moments of violence. Grave Lines are a band that display the spectrum of devastating depression but also its remedy in one expansive, sprawling and incredible album.

Bong – Thought And Existence (Ritual)

Let’s stay British and stay on that comedown trip. Imagine it’s day three of the bank holiday, your serotonin has hit rock bottom and you’re throwing on the new Bong album. Two tracks, each just shy of 20 minutes, fly by in what seems like seconds as the album hits auto-repeat while you’re lying in child’s pose, sobbing. Yet it also seems to stop time completely. Thought And Existence is absolutely enveloping; consoling as well as fearsome. Built around a pattern that builds and builds, reaching its climax before teasing its way to a slow, crawling fade, ‘The Golden Fields’ is much more star-gazing than their previous drone-heavy output but still maintains that monolithian heft that put this Newcastle trio rightly on a par with some of the greats of the genre from Yob to Om and including the godfathers, Earth, themselves. ‘Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius’ continues seamlessly, continuing similar motifs but bringing in even more joyful, upbeat, martial rhythms that help you rise from the depths of despair. Thought And Existence is meditative, caressing and invigorating, aligning your chakras and giving you a soulful workout that will leave you at one with the world. Add it to your morning doom yoga playlist if you want to face this wretched world with the armour you deserve.

Age of Taurus – The Colony Slain (Rise Above Records)

This column isn’t all British bands, although that would be heroic. We’ll get to the Scandinavians in due time, so let’s bridge the gap with an all-British doom band who have one foot in the Arctic. Disclaimer: sometimes you have to review your friends’ albums in this game and you can style it out or just admit it. Look, Age Of Taurus are family and therefore it’s hard to be objective. Especially when you know every inspiration and every brick wall this tenacious band have hit. They formed in 2009 and spent four long years crafting their debut album for Rise Above Records, then hit a snag when founder and frontman Toby Wright upped sticks and moved to Oslo with a beautiful wife to have two equally beautiful children. But this portent of doom did not slay them. Oh no, and The Colony Slain is a mighty return to power. Let’s catch you up: drummer Darius Claydon remains from the original line-up, under the tutelage of High Priest Wright. Then when it came to recording at Orgone Studios, home of go-to metal knob-twiddler Jaime Gomez Arellano, label boss’s bass mate Leo Smee (Cathedral, With The Dead) was called up alongside Gomez’s former Messenger comrade Dan Knight on second guitar. Told ya, it’s a family affair. If you know Toby, you know that Queensryche, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Agent Steel, these things are on his vinyl shelves as much as Trouble, Angel Witch, Candlemass and Medieval Steel – and all influences are present and correct on this ambitious album. There’s some Pink Floyd touches here and nods to modern doom brothers-in-arms Argus and Atlantean Kodex too. The Colony Slain is a long, woeful tale of treachery and injustice, and yes it smacks of that honest, sometimes simple, often naïve proto-metal Britishness that bands like Angel Witch had in droves. Toby’s not the best singer, he’s not the best guitarist, but he’s the most real and that shines through on these 11 progressive hymns to true doom. Heavy metal is the music for the underdogs who refuse to submit and through valour and glory will continue to ride onward; Age Of Taurus encompass that spirit earnestly.

Amorphis – Queen Of Time (Nuclear Blast)

From Norway to Finland, and no this album is not dedicated to my lax approach to tQ column deadlines. Amorphis formed in 1990 and have been forging a path dedicated to traditional Finnish myths told through the medium of death metal. The band have become more melodic and hit a brand new stride in in 2006 with new vocalist Tomi Joutsen, a formidable singer who manages both the most guttural roars and softly sung laments. Lead single ‘The Bee’ is perhaps their poppiest yet, with an almost Balearic vibe, using electronics, symphonic and progressive tones to build upon their folkish death metal foundation. The stand-out track ‘Wrong Direction’ has all the folk flute and melodic flourishes that you’ve come to expect from latter-day Amorphis with a robotic, industrial menace running through its core. ‘Heart Of The Giant’ sees guitarist Esa Holopainen go all Mark Knopfler on us before the whole band breaks into a right jolly jig and ‘Grain Of Sand’ looks to the east for inspiration. Every album these Finns put out is stellar but this one stings with the same amount of excitement as Tomi’s debut in 2006. A truly great band in the pantheon of modern heavy metal and one that should be celebrated much more than they are.

At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself (Century Media)

Amorphis are good, but when it comes to melodic death metal there is room for only one God and that is At The Gates. I’m allowed to talk in such definite platitudes, because To Drink From The Night Itself is a masterpiece. By masterpiece, of course, we mean a masterpiece only if you still listen to ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ regularly and have been long awaiting its sequel. When the Gothenburg metal masters reunited late last decade to pound the festival circuit, they didn’t even know if they’d record again, especially when its members were already busy with The Haunted, Paradise Lost, Disfear and a million other projects between them. 2014 saw a triumphant return with At War With Reality but To Drink… is really giving the fans exactly what they want. Following an instrumental intro, the title track is even a really blatant nod to their 1995 classic album’s titular banger. It sends shivers down the spine, like an old friend returned from the dead. This may be a good dose of nostalgia but it comes loaded with twists and turns that keep At The Gates relevant in the here and now and cements their position as one of the most important bands of extreme metal. Final track ‘The Mirror Black’ is a fitting finale on an album that ties in black metal, death, doom and crust with symphonic flourishes that lure you with a siren-esque call toward that replay button.

Witch Mountain – Witch Mountain (Svart Records)

Another band back from the breach, Witch Mountain may have been churning out bluesy trad-doom since the late 90s but didn’t really get their due until 2009 when the mighty lunged Uta Plotkin grabbed the mic from wonderfully named guitarist Rob Wrong. This was a delicious era of The Devil’s Blood, Jex Thoth, Blood Ceremony, Invasion, Made Of Babies, oh and so many more bands featuring mighty women coming to the fore. These priestesses rejected the female-fronted tag and didn’t simply demand to be seen as forces to be reckoned with in the heavy metal genre; they just took back their power. So it was a sad day when Plotkin stepped away from the band in 2014. But as one path leads to another, this led to Kayla Dixon. She’s young, but she sounds like she’s been singing to the bones since the dawn of time. Her voice has an ancient wisdom and her lungs are bursting with tales of old. This album builds on a bedrock of blues rock, doom and the occasional scathing blackened outburst; the fact that it’s self-titled is surely a sign the band feel they’re at the start of something momentous. Entrancing and powerful, Witch Mountain are within sights of their summit.

Necros Christos – Domedon Doxomedon (Sepulchral Voice Records)

The German occult death cult have been threatening this descent into oblivion for a good few years now, and something inside all disciples of honest, honourable spiritual extreme metal have been secretly wishing they might delay their eulogy or abandon plans of self-sacrifice. But the dawn is finally upon us and it’s time for Mors Dalos Ra and his band of plague-bearers to travel onwards to their next deputation. Necros Christos: finita est. Their final sermon is as morbid and gruelling as 2014’s Nine Gates teaser EP. At well over an hour, with 27 tracks including instrumental ‘gates’ and ‘temples’, Domedon Doxomedon is an ominous crawl for true believers. With a chanting intro – very Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Doom if we’re being flippant – are they beckoning us closer, or warning us away? Black thrash, esoteric death, occult black metal… they’ve been labelled many things but Necros Christos were always unique – multispiritual, multinational, truly intersectional death metal – a band that will be missed. Their eastern touches, bedouin hedonism, and seering blasphemy will leave a legacy that has already inspired legions and while they spearheaded a return for death metal away from tracksuits and blastbeats – for which we are eternally grateful – so many equally vital death metal bands are left in their wake. Necros Christos, Deo gratias.

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