Columnus Metallicus: Spring’s Best Metal Reviewed By Toby Cook

Toby Cook meditates on the symbolism as the one way stream as he reviews the latest in metal and pours HAIL upon new LPs by Death Karma, Lightning Bolt, Ghold, Acid King, Saturnalia Temple, Dødheimsgard, Pyramids, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Bad Guys and UFOMammut

"The beacon! The beacon of Amon Dîn is lit! Hark, for it can only mean one thing, sire: Columnus Metallicus has awoken; it is return-ed! But lo, for where has’t it been? Lost?"

Lost indeed, "lost in the wheels of confusion…" as Ozzy once sang. And friends, barely four months since Columnus Metallicus last befouled The Quietus, we find ourselves in confusing times indeed. We see one metal band suing another over the use of the words ‘Blood God’ (surely two of the most heavily used words in metal, ever). As riots erupt in Baltimore a few thick-headed metal fans take to the internet to make some idiotic jokes relating to the possible cancellation of Maryland Deathfest, which takes place in the city (in three fucking weeks!!), and so of course all metal fans, everywhere, are roundly accused – by people and websites who should frankly know better (Noisey!) – of possessing the sort of attitude you’d expect to find in a slightly racist version of Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Even your childhood isn’t safe – Rolf Harris is a now a convicted sex offender, and BBC Four recently ran an artfully constructed documentary that painted Himmler as a somewhat sensitive, insecure, and weirdly charmingly randy, agronomist. But what can any of us really do in the face of this tide of unending confusion? After all, they say even a salmon can’t swim up a dead stream.

Well, salmon don’t listen to Bongripper. Alright, so if you’re looking for answers here you’ve really come to the wrong place; there can be no hope of answers here, not from a man who once left his keys at home, and upon his return spent 15 minutes banging on the door and windows of the wrong house. I offer only this: A lone voice, billowing out from the darkened, subterranean caverns and rolling in like a think, acrid fog across the moors; a lone voice that cries only in hope: "listen to Bongripper".

Columnus Metallicus: Swimming up a dead stream since 2009.

UFOMammut – Ecate

Sometimes, just for fun (and because apparently, like every other ‘Generation Y-er’ brought up by Nintendo and shit drugs, I’m as dull as boiled piss) I try to ponder just how my life might’ve turned out had I, as an impressionable intern, not one day back in 2008 had had a copy of Idolum flung across the Quietus office at me by John Doran, accompanied by the stern command: "Toby, listen to this, you’ll fucking love it!", or words to that effect….

Perhaps what’s most truly remarkable about the Italian trio is that in the years since, a period in which they’ve released some five albums (not counting the several released before the tQ editorial team assaulted me with their promo CD) and one DVD, their continual upward curve in quality has shown exactly zero signs of levelling out, to the point where Ecate might just be the strongest material they’ve ever laid to tape.

Coming three years after their grandly adventurous and mostly spectacular twin Oro records, and a year after their 15 Years Of UFOMammut DVD, Ecate almost feels like the group have hit the ‘refresh’ button on their kaleidoscopic manifesto, yet rather than look too far ahead the beauty of Ecate comes from the pervading sense that they somehow reached back to the heaviness of Lucifer Songs, the crushing monotony of Idolum and the bewildering cohesiveness of Eve, harnessed their power in some sort of reverse-spectrograph, and conjured up something unique in itself. From the Moog-washed bludgeon of ‘Chaosecret’ to the monolithic groove of ‘Temple’ it’s a cosmic tour de force that sets the Italians apart from virtually every other so-called psych/doom band in the world. Again.

Bad Guys – Bad Guynaecology
(Riot Season)

Just as there are few doom bands in the world that can touch UFOMammut right now, there is, I doubt, another band in the world who could open their sophomore album with the epic crime saga of a juvenile stealing a Tonka truck from Toys-R-Us. But Bad Guys did it, and it’s one of the tracks of the year so far. You can scoff at the humour and throw around all the lazy accusations of them being a ‘joke’ band that you like, because when you actually fucking listen to (the admittedly rather uncomfortably, yet also somehow brilliantly titled) Bad Guynaecology, when you actually wrap your ears around the crunching, ZZ Top-if-they-were-characters-in-The Viz meets QOTSA-if-they-worked-in-Greggs type riffs of tracks like ‘Prostitutes (Are Making Love In My Garden)’ you’ll realise that what Bad Guys are is simply one of the best, most unique and, most importantly, one of the most entertaining rock bands in the UK. And if you don’t believe me, ask the dudes in Oozing Wound, who, I’m reliably informed, recently stayed up half the night after their London show watching the video for ‘Prostitutes…’ on repeat.

An Autumn For Crippled Children – The Long Goodbye
(Wickerman Recordings)

When AAFCC’s Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love landed somewhat unexpectedly in our metal albums of the year list back in 2013, and despite there being many, many other excellent albums in the list to also comment on, it seemed like half the comments section was preoccupied with the fact that we didn’t include Deafheaven ("because they sound like Coldplay with that bloke from Marduk on vocals" was the best reasoning I can remember anyone at tQ venturing as explanation for their omission). "Calm thyselves", we said, "This mysterious Dutch trio have crafted a record that floats serenely in that rarefied air somewhere between blinding, crepuscular rays of guitars and tectonically rising slabs of juddering rhythm, held by tormented gusts of keyboards and the hint of real, genuine emotion." Or something like that….

Spectacularly, with The Long Goodbye, the shadowy Dutch troupe have done it again. Rather than directly repeat the formula, however, The Long Goodbye continues the journey started on Try Not To Destroy…; more reflection than raw, insidiously accrued emotion, the likes of ‘She’s Drawing Mountains’ and ‘Endless Skies’ feel less like they exist in the space where all things meet, and more like the results of a lone lotus flower opening up to release nothing but static.

Pyramids – A Northern Meadow
(Profound Lore)

Whilst AAFCC might be sailing the roughest waves of the ‘black metal-gaze’ reservoir (God, did I just type that?), bobbing rather more gently in the same turbulent waters of an ever more anguished lake is Pyramids, who have finally followed up their 2008 self-titled debut. As if Slowdive or Swervedriver picked up a copy of Burzum’s Filosofem and channelled their resulting efforts through the same avant-garde, experimental prism used by Dødheimsgard, A Northern Meadow manages to be at once both ambient and almost blissfully melancholic, and also unnerving, jarring and supremely dark. The contrasting, yet never competing rhythms and textures of opener ‘In Perfect Stillness I’ve Found Only Sorrow’, where R. Loren’s almost angelic vocals echo between the taught, shrill guitars, should sound a thousand miles away from the industrial claustrophobia of ‘I Am So Sorry, Goodbye’, and yet somewhere is that one, last remaining un-shredded nerve linking it altogether…

Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega

Speaking of Dødheimsgard, sorry ‘DHG’… The band for which the phrase ‘avant-garde black metal’ was practically invented, are back. Still lead by multi-instrumentalist Vicotnik, A Umbra Omega also sees the group reunited with vocalist Aldrahn, who last appeared on 1999’s 666 International, after the departure of Mat ‘Hexvessel/Beastmilk/Kvorst’ McNerney, who handled vocal duties on their last full-length, 2007’s Supervillain Outcast. A lot can happen in music in eight years, though, and in the eight years since Supervillain… black metal in particular has grown and morphed into shapes and areas that few could ever have reasonably predicted; you need only look to the likes of Cult Of Fire, Botanist and Wardruna for perhaps the most extreme examples. As if to viscerally challenge the pack that has since bolted ahead of them, here, DHG have seemingly harvested aspects of every style of metal known to man, distilled them down, cut the mixture with acoustic guitars and ambient electronic noise, and presented the resulting concoction via a level of musicianship that ranks alongside the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan or Norway’s Shining. And yet it’s not all technical wanker-y. No, amongst the math-y time signatures and corybantic trad’ black metal, there’s elements of stunning melody too. Perhaps one of the most interesting and rewarding albums of the year so far – you’re just going to have to listen to it 47 times before it all sinks in…. At least I had to anyway.

Saturnalia Temple – To The Other
(The Ajna Offensive)

We’ve seen reasonably often in these columns, and in this edition particularly, just what stunning and myriad shapes and forms black metal can be moulded into, when in the grips of the right artistic hands. And the same can easily be said about, for example, drone or psychedelic rock. Yet it seems that often doom is seen as the weird man-child of metal, the guy who refuses to accept that it’s not still 1971, that doom has moved beyond Sabbath and their early imitators, and that cutting your hair doesn’t mean you’re giving up on it. Melding a harsh, primitive black metal atmosphere to what is essentially at its core a trad-doom framework, Swedish trio Saturnalia Temple have long been proof that doom is not out of ideas and not terminally allergic to experimentation. Finally receiving some of the exposure they richly deserve, here, on the full length follow-up to the cataclysmically heavy Impossibilum, tracks like ‘To The Other’ somehow take a modestly simple, unmistakably blues-based riff, and then infect the space around it with disorientating amounts of reverb, clangourous drum work and the sort of vocal howls that’d give Pest nightmares, to the point where it sounds like the sort of thing people who perform Eastern-mystic based space-rituals on dead farm animals probably listen to.

Acid King – Middle Of Nowhere, Centre Of Everywhere

One day, just once, when someone asks me "So, what were you thinking for the album cover, then?" I dream of being able to answer: "I want a wizard, yeah. With lightning bursting from his staff. And I want him riding a Tiger. Over the Moon. In space, yeah?" "And the font?" "Dude, the worst you can fucking find…"

After a decade long hiatus from recording, stoner/fuzz luminaries Acid King have returned, but if you’re worried that during that time they’ve cut themselves lose from the sound that made them, hired Stevie Nicks and recorded the sort of album that sounds like sucrose-laced faecal matter being slowly poured into your ears (Rumours, in other words), then you’re bang wrong. And yet it’s no sad thing to report that with Middle Of Nowhere, Centre Of Everywhere Acid King have made exactly the sort of album you’d want Acid King to make: Warm, fuzz-laden jams that roll at the pace of an acid-fried biker gang, whilst Lori S’s vastly underrated vocals power forth from under the loose, splashy drum rolls, like smoke through murky bong water, before unfurling and riding majestically above the grooves below… And if none of that make any sense, then lose yourself in the driving ‘Coming Down From Outer Space’ or the slow haze of ‘Red River’ immediately.

Ghold – Of Ruin
(Ritual Productions)

Probably because I’m a failed musician one of the things that most makes me want to punch people in the throat is when you’re discussing a band and they say, with a painfully grating faux-angelic wonderment "Fuck dude, how did these guys get so fucking good, huh?!" I’ll tell you how, you soft-brained wank-sock, by practicing relentlessly and playing everything fucking toilet gig they’re offered until they’re good enough that people start to notice them! Case in point, the two outstanding musicians in Ghold. Bassist/Vocalist Alex Wilson and drummer/vocalist Paul Antony used to share a cramped flat in Brixton, south London, so they set the drums up in the toilet and used it as their practice space. Then they went and played a gig seemingly every day they weren’t rehearsing. And then they went and recorded the brilliant Of Ruin. Existing somewhere in the realm between a satanic (early) Big Business and a creepy, pastorally-inclined Melvins (circa Gluey Porch Treatments) if they lived in the woods; tight, crushing and, particularly when the strangulated saxophone leeches into the barrage during closer ‘Rid The Gleam’, ominously psychedelic.

Lightning Bolt – Fantasy Empire
(Thrill Jockey)

From one of the newest drum and bass pairs on the scene to two elder statesmen of the church of the power-duo. It probably says something for the feats that Lightning Bolt have achieved that the one comment I hear more than any other from people who’ve heard Fantasy Empire is "Yeah, it’s good, but I liked them better when they were, y’know, more nuts."… More nuts? MORE NUTS!!?? Granted, compared to the likes of Hypermagic Mountain or Earthly Delights, Fantasy Empire has a weird sense of cohesion and structure to it and the likes of opener ‘The Metal East’ and the pulsating agitated-dirge of ‘Mythmaster’ adds a richer, deeper variety of texture than found on Hypermagic Mountain, but how you can say that when the likes of ‘Horsepower’ sound like drummer Brian Chippendale falling down the stairs, frantically grappling with Japanese avant-drum genius Stomu Yamash’ta, whilst Brian Gibson’s bass riffs gallop at lunatic speed in a direction seemingly of their own choosing is fucking beyond me. Somewhere I have a tape of Philip Glass being sick in a bag of nails, repeatedly, recorded at the wrong seed – perhaps that’s ‘nuts’ enough for you?

Death Karma – The History Of Death And Burial Rituals Part I
(Iron Bonehead)

To finish, then: A shadowy Czech duo comprised of two members of the equally shadowy Cult Of Fire (yes, they of "lets title our album, and all its tracks, in Sanskrit" infamy) playing a terrifyingly polychromatic brand of death-tainted blackened metal that thematically revolves around the worship and internment of the deceased across various global cultures. At once more easily digestible than Cult Of Fire – the likes of ‘Mexico – Chichén Itzá’ and ‘Madagascar – Famadihana’ rapidly descend into the sort of galloping, harmonising chug of mid-era Behemoth – and at the same time frantically disorientating, with the likes of opener ‘Slovakia – Journey Of The Soul’ wildly transforming from a Goblin soundtrack into a punishingly industrialised wall of blast beats and sheets of impenetrable and frenzied guitars and organs. Perhaps most startling, however, is the sense of positivity that leaks through its seemingly bleak concept – "This is my tribute to death and its great value and importance to man" say’s vocalist/bassist/guitarist ‘Infernal Vlad’. In our increasingly secular society we’re still bizarrely preoccupied with death rituals, even if we don’t realise it, and conditioned to meet death with grief – unsurprisingly most death obsessed metal tends to reflect this. Through The History Of Death And Burial Rituals Part I, however, Death Karma invert this, and via shrieking guitars, ritualistic percussion and varied, indigenous instrumentation create a blistering celebration of our perverse, archaic liturgies. FOAD indeed.

And there it is weary travellers, we again reach the end of another Columnus Metallicus. Coming next time: Bong, Will Haven, and the Untitled Billy Corgan Wrestling Project. Until then….

Horns up, ya shitters!

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