Horns Up Ya Shitters! June’s Best Heavy Metal Reviewed

Toby Cook takes you on a riff-splattered tour through the month's best metal - from Shining and Autopsy to Power Trip and Death Trip - all the while subliminally commanding you to stop what you're doing and listen to more Bongripper

So, it’s official – apparently one of the most significant metal events of the last year was that, with an actually fairly paltry 6,242 people listing ‘Heavy Metal’ as their chosen faith in the 2011 census (somewhat ironically, nearly six times as many as those who listed ‘Satanism’), ‘Heavy Metal’ is now a more-or-less bona fide religion.

And we’re supposed to celebrate this? Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks that it’s not just fucking stupid but that it’s utterly, utterly wrong – why would you want to become what you supposedly hate the most? I truly believe that, at its heart, metal remains outsider music – no matter how many alt-strippers they trot out at mega-festivals like Download, or how much of metal’s fashion gets co-opted by famous actors and TV personalities, the beating heart of metal is and will always be found in those people who reject the multitude of constraints, ideals and limitations enforced on them by greater society. Metal is a community, a culture, an art form and arguably even a lifestyle, but it is not, surely, a religion. Organised religion is exclusive, dogmatic; the majority are little more than absurd cults of personality. Religion is divisive, some might say dangerous – it prays on the weak, the lonely and the vulnerable. It professes to offer you answers on one hand, while simultaneously telling you that you will only get these answers only after you’re dead – and even then, only as long as you do what they say.

Fuck. That.

You’re better than that – metal is better than that. Sure, metal and metal fans aren’t perfect, and plenty of them are wankers, just like in every other walk of life. (The last time I went to Download I was pissed on whilst waiting for AC/DC to come on, for example.) But to a man, and a woman, every serious metal fan I know – and, for that matter, every serious music fan I know, irrespective of their preferred genre – takes pride in the fact that their community is inclusive, supportive, free thinking, open-minded and constantly evolving to incorporate new ideas and reach new frontiers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a female-fronted Iraqi black metal band, the only metal band in Jamaica or a double-denim clad dude from Dudley who thinks music peaked in 1980 with Saxon’s Wheels Of Steel, we’re all human beings, nothing more, nothing less. The rest is just existential choices, yours to make and no one else’s.

Shining – One One One
(Indie Recordings)

Where exactly do you go after making Black Jazz? Where the fuck do you go after making one of the most groundbreaking albums of the 21st century? Where is there left to go that people won’t expect, when over the course of the last 13 years you’ve gradually morphed your band from an avant garde acoustic jazz troupe into a searing, continually contorting, consciousness-fucking lunatic fringe of jazz metal pioneers? Well, apparently, if you’re Jørgen Munkeby and Shining [pictured, top] you again prove that you’re more insanely talented and imaginative than about 90% of those working in metal, or jazz, by doing perhaps the last thing anyone expects and making an album that is comparatively straightforward, reigned in and – I hope you’re sitting down here – gulp, accessible!

Except that it’s not, is it? And that is where the utter, unhinged genius of One One One lies. Look at that cover art – gone are the cold, angular lines and hues of gun metal grey of Black Jazz, and in comes a warm, radiant, solid slab of orange. Gone too are the 11-minute Zappa-like brain-fucking sax-gasms, in come three to four and a half minute, loosely verse-chorus-verse-etc ‘songs’. And yet in reality it’s not accessible at all – it’s fucking mental, you know it’s fucking mental, and yet it’s captivating, completely engrossing and totally listenable – what it is, is their Black Album. When you’re dribbling uncontrollably, bleeding from the ears and waking up wondering why it’s next Thursday because of the sax solo in ‘The One Inside’, and yet humming the riff to ‘Paint The Sky Black’ instead of going outside, you’ll know what I mean.

Dethscalator – Racial Golf Course, No Bitches
(Riot Season)

Equally mental, but in very different, more dangerous ways… Do Dethscalator play golf? I don’t know – and by the sounds of the so-fucking-stupid-it’s-brilliant-ly titled Racial Golf Course, No Bitches, I can only imagine that if they did the results would look something like if they re-made Caddyshack (the greatest golf movie of all time FYI) with the members of Dethscalator playing the Bill Murray role. Except rather than smoking grass in a shed with Chevy Chase and trying to catch gophers, they’re rubbing crystal meth into their eyeballs and trying to set fire to Rodney Dangerfield. Whilst it might seem like mildly deranged fun, in actuality it’s desperate, depraved psychedelic punishment. But hey, at least after five years they’ve finally released a full LP, after last gouging at your cerebral cortex on the Hey Colossus vs. Dethscalator split. But was it worth the wait? From the Unsane-on-a-bad-day of ‘World War II Hitler Youth Dagger’ and the noise-soaked, yet steady rock drive of ‘Midnight Feast’ to the shrill punk production and drug-sewer doom of ‘Internet Explorer And Friends’, and the fact that it provides yet another example of why the UK noise rock scene, although seeming to delight in self-sabotage, is producing some of the most exciting music around right now – yeah, I’d say it was well worth the wait.

Power Trip – Manifest Decimation
(Southern Lord)

If Dethscalator represent the sort of danger associated with confronting an escaped mental patient wearing clothing from the Ed Gein collection, then Power Trip represent that level of danger that has been disappointingly absent from the vast majority of thrash and crossover for at least the last 15 or so years. You see, there used to be a time when thrash/ crossover/ whatever used to be about war and imminent human annihilation, when it bled a sort of They Live paranoia of humanity-fucking corporations. Then something happened and it all became about zombies, toxic-beer, NY/HC style beatdowns or pretending to be Metallica. Well no more! Sounding like some sort of terrifying Cold War army marching execrably onwards to the sound of Exodus covering Nuclear Assault, Power Trip are the crossover thrash band you’ve been waiting for. They have the apocalyptic subject matter. They have the furious, hyper-sonic, palm-muted riffs. They have the blast beats (and even the odd d-beat). And thanks to a pre-Reign In Blood attitude to production (i.e.: wash everything in such colossal amounts of reverb that it sounds like they’re playing at the bottom of a pit, under a tank factory) the sound of tracks like ‘Conditioned To Death’, with its Hanneman-esque wailing solo, is absolutely fucking massive.

Church Of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum
(Rise Above)

Speaking of Ed Gein, serial-killer obsessed, Japanese lords of Sabbath-ian doom, Church Of Misery, are back. And, somewhat ironically, with Thy Kingdom Scum they’ve unleashed an album not just at the same time as the band they so unashamedly worship, but they’ve released an album that in truth rather eclipses Sabbath’s comeback LP, 13, as well. (Hear that? That’s the sound of the last of my credibility being smothered by the waves of bile cascading from all of those who can’t quite admit that 13 just isn’t very good. I’m not saying it’s terrible, but it’s not a patch on the Dio-featuring Heaven & Hell record, and I think, deep down, you know it isn’t).

For those of you still reading, then… Despite more changes in the clergy, with Ikuma Kawabe having joined on guitar and Hideki Fukasawa rejoining having briefly departed after Houses Of The Unholy, it’s not like The Church are preaching anything particularly different here, just something surprisingly more refined. There’s still the plenty of dirt under the nails of their retro-doom, but now the funk is funkier, the blues is bluesier and the doom is doomier – there’s a clarity to the production that, far from diminishing the effect of the bludgeon of riffs in instrumental opener ‘B.T.K. (Denis Rader)’ or the decidedly Kyuss-ian strains of ‘Cranley Gardens (Denis Andrew Nilsen)’, only heightens that sense of frantic derangement.

Dark Buddha Rising – Dakhmandal
(Svart Records)

It’s easy to get to the stage with doom/drone where it’s sort of like, "Oh, what’s that, you’ve got a sample of someone taking a bong hit at the start of one of your tracks? And some monastic chanting and a sitar tucked in there too, you say? And your concept is based around the fact that that you’ve watched a couple of Ruggero Deodato films and read History Of The Necronomicon? Oh, and you smoke loads of weed – yes I think you mentioned that. Nah, I’ll give it a miss, cheers." And then you get a new album from Finland’s Dark Buddha Rising that sounds like the sort of thing the members of the Thuggee cult in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom might record in their downtime, were they to concentrate more on listening to Dopethrone and less on enslaving children and ripping people’s hearts out of their chests. From Electric Wizard-esque riffing channelled through the Moog-lined space-cave of UFOmammut, to an occult-indulging take on the tantric meanderings of recent Bong, if you too have been questioning your faith recently then Dakhmandal ought to go some way towards restoring it. Or you could just go and listen to more Bongripper.

Zolle – Zolle
(Supernatural Cat)

"Only those who know the ease of a cow while defecating can understand the genesis of the songs of Zolle" reads this Supernatural Cat band’s Facebook page. I haven’t got a fucking clue what that means, but if the idea of a power-duo of self-proclaimed Italian ‘rednecks’ playing blistering and brief instrumental sludge dirges dedicated to Mayan pig gods doesn’t get your spliffs smoking, then what it means probably isn’t going to matter very much to you anyway. In their faster, more spasming moments, the intricate and intuitive interplay between guitarist Marcello and drummer Stefano seems to ride the same avalanche of lithe yet lumbering riffs as the power-duo by which all other power-duos are judged, Black Cobra. But then the moments during tracks such as ‘Trynchatowak’, also see them come across like Down covering The White Stripes, but with a xylophone. It’s all southern sludge riffs with splashy yet metronomic drumming. It peaks with seven minute closer ‘Moongitruce’ which blasts the whole formula through a cosmos-encompassing third-eye, largely thanks to the synth work of UFOmammut’s Urlo – and this is what sets them apart from other, more linear riff ‘n’ rumble partnerships.

Agrimonia – Rites Of Separation
(Southern Lord)

That these Swedes weren’t better known until now is a tragedy, because here Agrimonia have done something truly remarkable and released one of the best crust albums of the last decade, without actually releasing a crust album at all. However, if you actually use the term ‘post-crust’ I’m going to come round your house and spit in your mouth whilst you sleep, so maybe it’s better that we don’t get hung up on trying to wedge Rites Of Seperation in to a particular subgenre, hey?

Perhaps we should’ve expected something a bit special from a group containing current and former members of Skitsystem, Martyrdöd and At The Gates, yet while Rites… is littered with all the cider-swilling hallmarks of typical street-crust – the buzzsaw guitars, the utterly visceral vocal delivery and that pervading sense of righteous indignation – Agrimonia have created something just as close in spirit to Neurosis and Opeth as it is to Disfear or Anti Cimex; this is not the sound of your average nihilistic crust barrage. Over its five songs and 60 minute length Rites… courses, contorts and undulates between delicate, emotionally charged ambience and powerfully melancholic moments of melodic death metal equally as often as it descends into unsettling moments of caustic crust – and never more sublimely so that during closer ‘Awaiting’. Seriously, it’s outstanding.

Haraball – Sleep Tall
(Fysisk Format)

If corpulent conspiracy theorist crackpot and professional Piers Morgan abuser Alex Jones can rant on about government endorsed mind control via over-fluoridation of the water supply (or whatever), then I reckon I can make a pretty strong case that Bad Brains’ H.R. has been pissing in certain areas of the Oslo water system for about the last 20 years. Except rather than screaming until I break Andrew Neil, I’m going to use Sleep Tall as my evidence. It might be old-school hardcore punk in its rotten core, but there’s a puerility and darkly humorous cynicism that pervades the shrill static of guitars in tracks like ‘Drunk Is Needy’ or the Kenny Rodgers’ ‘Just Dropped In…’-referencing ‘At The Clinic’ that can surely only be the result of some sort of gross contamination. Also, how else do you explain the awesome quality of feral gutter-punk that’s sluiced down already this year, on albums from The Good, The Bad & The Zugly, Honningbarna and Haust?

Autopsy – The Headless Ritual

One of the many failings of these columns is the relative scarcity of proper death metal. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that one of the many failings of my life in general is the relative scarcity of proper death metal in it – and I don’t mean any of this modern, harmonising guitars and technical assault, shit, I mean Death. Fucking. Metal. So thank fuck for Autopsy, who continue to prove that being one of the founders of a scene and taking a 15 year hiatus doesn’t mean that you’ve got to ride back on a raft of mediocrity, pretending to be the band you once were whilst attempting to sound more like all the shit that you’ve influenced. Sure, The Headless Ritual is more polished, maybe even more progressive than their initial comeback LP, Macabre Eternal, but it’s also everything that made Autopsy so influential and so important – the dark, cynical humour, the brutally gory song titles (‘When Hammer Meets Bone’, ‘Mangled Far Below’ for example) and, most importantly, their ability to ooze from old school death/thrash to the sort of sludge heavy death/doom that’ll have your innards flopping out of your anus like a pink sock before you’ve even made it past ‘Slaughter At Beast House’.

Death Trip – Pain Is Pain – The Complete Death Trip
(Ektro Records)

Ah, Death Trip – unhinged, uncompromising, uncategorisable, massively underappreciated and virtually unheard-of. They’re like The Stooges jamming with Loop whilst The Birthday Party sit in the corner trying to wrestle themselves out of a K-hole by listening to Winter’s Into Darkness. That the three 7" singles and two demos compiled on Pain Is Pain represent the band’s only recorded output is nothing short of tragic. Still, at least we have tracks like ‘Chainsaw Goddess’ and ‘Something’ that pump deranged krautrock blood around a distorted body of Loop-ish fuzz worship and repetitiveness, and the Satan-bothering doom of ‘Deep Red’, which comes on like a mechanised Pentagram. Whilst you may not have heard of them, you’ll certainly have heard of the countless Finnish bands they’ve gone on to profoundly influence – none more so than genre-hopping, NWOFHM (new wave of Finnish heavy metal) mentalists Circle, whose bassist Jussi Lehtisalo is the man responsible for bringing this tragically brief compilation to your ears via his Ektro Records label.

And that’s it; we’re done for another month. Coming next time… Coffins, Ramesses and eight other albums, all of which are by Bongripper, including: Streetlife Serenading Doom and Piano Man Snuff Film.

Horns up, ya shitters!

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