Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For November Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Freewheelin', skullcrushin', topbuzzin' Kez Whelan returns with a burlap sack o'erflowing with all that is right and good in the world of heavy metal

After months of isolation, it feels good to be writing this column whilst battling through a comfortingly familiar post-Damnation hangover. Against all odds, the festival’s Leeds swansong was a fantastic send off, boasting a host of young UK acts alongside heavy-hitters like Carcass, Paradise Lost and Godflesh. The latter’s set was one of the most powerful musical experiences I’ve had in a long-time – opening with the rarely (if ever) played ‘Jesu’ from their 2001 opus Hymns, the duo really proved just how timeless and futuristic their unique brand of industrial metal still sounds.

In spite of lesser publications trotting out the same increasingly tired, “Is the album dead?” think-piece like clockwork every other month, it was a blast to see so many bands delivering full album sets at Damnation this year, with Paradise Lost, Akercocke and Svalbard all performing classic records front to back. The rabid response to these sets is an affirming reminder that taking the time to listen to an album in full is still something that huge numbers of us cherish greatly.

That said, however, I still struggled to get through the new <a href="" target=”out">Mastodon record Hushed And Grim this month. I’m not averse to lengthy double albums at all, but coming from a band that haven’t had enough ideas to sustain a single LP in well over a decade, this one feels particularly ill-advised. It’s not terrible but it’s arguably their blandest offering yet; there’s nothing here as egregious as some of the more baffling missteps on Once More ‘Round The Sun and Emperor Of Sand, but the only thing that really sticks in my mind here are the handful of gentle but expressive Dire Straits-ish lead sections that occasionally pop up. For a 90 minute album from a band I once considered to be at the very forefront of metal’s cutting edge, that’s really not good enough.

Still, we’re spoilt for choice for new metal releases this month anyway; as well as all the albums below, we’ve got some pretty great EPs too. Former Gorgoroth frontman’s new project Gaahls WYRD delve into even more cinematic, folky places on their new EP The Humming Mountain. Gaahl’s time in Wardruna has evidently informed the sombre, subtle epic ‘The Seed’, whilst the title track takes the band’s atmospheric mid-paced black metal sound to even more hypnotic and mysterious heights. ‘The Dwell’ proves they can still unleash scathingly cold black metal when they want to, but for the most part The Humming Mountain is a much more subdued and solemn listen. If that’s your thing, then don’t miss the new Völur EP either. The Canadian trio blend folk, black metal and doom in a particularly earthy and engaging way, like Agalloch and Wolvserpent going ‘shroom picking on a crisp Autumn morning. Their latest is a collaboration with former Protest The Hero bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi on the tanbur, an instrument that adds a remarkable amount of texture and atmosphere to the band’s most meditative and folky set of songs to date.

US death metallers Rude continue to push themselves on the appropriately titled Outer Reaches EP too. Their second album, 2017’s Remnants… took the band’s old-school Florida worshipping sound into headier, spacier territory, and this EP does the same with dissonant, Voivod-esque instrumentals like ‘Adrift’ and the title track. There’s still plenty of straight-up old-school death metal goodness on here too, however, with tracks like ‘Calamity From The Sky’ sounding like a more strung out, hallucinogenic Obituary.

Bristol based solo death/doom outfit Visions From Beyond are back too; when I covered his Eternally Bound, Whipped By Time demo back in January, I’d hoped this lockdown project would be more than a one-off, and thankfully Drawing Down The Darkness is a fantastic follow-up. The EP boasts an even thicker, more robust sound, whilst retaining that musty homemade feel that made the demo so engaging. Overall, this one goes harder on the death than it does the doom, but also makes room for some jazzy Cynic-style leads on ‘Lord Of Flies’.

Unfortunately, this month also brought the sad news that Malcolm Dome had passed away at the age of 66. Dome was a shining example of a music journalist, writing with a sharp wit and infectious enthusiasm that leapt right off the page. He had a keen ability to contextualise music in an engaging, easy-going manner too – you could read him reviewing an album you knew inside and out and still gain some new perspective from it. It can’t really be overstated how much he contributed to the current lexicon all us metal writers draw from – many credit him with coining the term “thrash metal” in fact, with his 1984 Kerrang! review of Anthrax’s debut being one of the first recorded usages of the term. This month’s column is dedicated to Malcom Dome, and the legacy of exemplary music journalism he has left behind.

Converge & Chelsea Wolfe – Bloodmoon: I


This one has been a long time coming. Ever since Chelsea Wolfe, frequent collaborator Ben Chisholm and Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky joined Converge for a handful of special performances under the Blood Moon moniker back in 2016, we’ve been clamouring for the collective to record some music together. Well, Bloodmoon: I is finally here, and whilst it may not quite live up to the insane hype surrounding it, it’s undoubtedly a fascinating record. Unsurprisingly, it’s at its best when Chelsea really unleashes atop Converge’s taut, claustrophobic churn, with the ominous, dramatic opener ‘Blood Moon’ and jittery yet anthemic ‘Lord Of Liars’ being clear standouts. Hearing her and Jacob Bannon scream in unison over an apocalyptically dissonant Kurt Ballou riff in the former is really something, whilst the latter sees Wolfe finding interesting ways to contort her voice across a typically tense mathcore jangle from Converge – it’s moments like these that really fulfil the promise of teaming up these two respective powerhouses. The bluesy ‘Scorpion’s Sting’ (featuring Ballou’s best Tom Morello impression) and especially ‘Coil’ feel like an extension of the gloomy hard rock sound Converge began playing with on tracks like ‘Cruel Bloom’ from 2009’s Axe To Fall, building from a sparse, plaintive intro (with Wolfe really shining over its forlorn chords) to a huge, pounding crescendo, as Brodsky’s voice shifts from distant back-up to a howling focal point. Bloodmoon: I is full of great ideas, but the problem is that a lot of these ideas seem to pull in dozens of different directions at once, resulting in an album that doesn’t quite feel as cohesive and focussed as those initial live performances suggested. There’s something quite thrilling about this chaotic sprawl at times; ‘Viscera Of Men’, for example, transitions between raging D-beat battery, torturously slow doom metal and sombre gothic strumming before the song has even reached the halfway point. Wolfe is strangely absent in songs like ‘Tongues Playing Dead’ and ‘Failure Forever’ however, which feel so much like Cave In singles it’s almost distracting. Not that sounding like Cave In is a bad thing, of course, and these would have felt right at home on a record like Perfect Pitch Black, but they have a somewhat jarring effect sat next to darker, brooding pieces like the stunning ‘Crimson Stone’. Brodsky and Wolfe’s voices coalesce so beautifully and effectively in this track, but this unfortunately heightens the impression that she’s under-utilised across the album as a whole.

Faults aside, there’s a lot to enjoy about Bloodmoon: I, and when it shines, it’s absolutely dazzling. It’s not as smooth a melding of minds as, say, last year’s Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou collaboration, but it’s an endlessly interesting, ambitious and listenable record that deserves your attention nonetheless.

Khemmis – Deceiver

(Nuclear Blast)

Of all the bands that sprung up in the wake of Pallbearer emphatically making emotive trad doom cool again in the early 2010s, Khemmis have certainly blossomed into the most interesting and unique. Whilst there’s definitely a strong Pallbearer flavour to the band’s use of huge, yearning vocal harmonies, making the comparison feels more reductive than ever as they release their fourth album Deceiver as there’s a lot more going on here. Opener ‘Avernal Gate’ successfully blends the group’s trademark doomy riffs and syrupy hooks with jubilant melodic death metal, for example, whilst remaining entirely cohesive throughout. ‘Obsidian Crown’s soaring foot-on-the-monitor chorus and show-stopping lead guitar almost feels like heavily sedated power metal too, with a bit of a Manilla Road influence seeping through in places. Even when they’re just sticking to their usual grandiose doom template, Khemmis sound like a well-oiled machine here. ‘Living Pyre’ is the shortest track here and most obvious choice for a single, condensing the band’s sprawling song craft into a tight, punchy five minute banger complete with some of their most expressive lead work to date and more than a hint of Candlemass in the stately, histrionic chorus. Meanwhile, the album’s lengthiest track, ‘Shroud Of Lethe’, manages to blend that Candlemass vibe with a much darker, more harrowing death/doom feel. By this point, it feels like Khemmis have a very clear idea of what they want their sound to be, and are performing it very well indeed.

Portrayal Of Guilt – CHRISTFUCKER

(Run For Cover)

This Texan post-hardcore outfit’s January album We Are Always Alone was great, blending their screamo sound with grindcore, black metal and harsh noise, but the appropriately titled CHRISTFUCKER is something else entirely. Recorded live with Uniform guitarist Ben Greenberg, it’s a much more feral and deeply unhinged sounding record, making its predecessor feel tame and restrained by comparison. Any remaining traces of screamo have all but evaporated here, leaving a hostile, sludgy and bass-heavy sound in its place, that, combined with guitarist Matt King’s unnerving high-pitched shriek, feels uncannily similar to vintage Today Is The Day at times – the bleak lo-fi churn of ‘The Sixth Circle’ and sinister depth charge of ‘Master/Slave’ both would have felt right at home on Temple Of The Morning Star, for example. The band’s black metal influence feels heightened too, especially on tracks like the frosty ‘Fall From Grace’, a furiously bloody minded necro punk stomper that feels closer to Ildjarn than any of the hardcore acts the band grew up alongside. There’s still definitely traces of hardcore in here (most notably in crusty banger ‘The Crucifixion’) but Portrayal Of Guilt aren’t afraid to step firmly outside their comfort zone here, with the likes of ‘Bed Of Ash’ deteriorating into straight-up power electronics. This band’s blend of influences has always been interesting but this is the most unique, uncompromising thing they’ve released so far.

The Lurking Fear – Death, Madness, Horror, Decay
(Century Media)

Portrayal Of Guilt aren’t the only ones double-dropping this year; having released one of the most ambitious and adventurous At The Gates albums yet mere months ago, vocalist Tomas Lindberg, drummer Adrian Erlandsson and guitarist Jonas Stålhammar are back with their “other” project The Lurking Fear, alongside Skitskystem’s Fredrik Wallenberg and Andreas Axelsson. Whilst At The Gates’ latest found them pushing into more expansive, progressive territory, Death, Madness, Horror, Decay feels even more stripped back and primitive than The Lurking Fear’s 2017 debut, drawing on the classic Swe-death sound of Entombed and Dismember but taking it to even darker, more cavernous places. After the introductory ‘Abyssal Slime’, the album doesn’t stop for breath at all, whipping past at breakneck pace with nifty micro-ragers like ‘Death Reborn’ and ‘Kaleidoscopic Mutations’ barely breaking the minute barrier. While this kind of economic song-writing belies the Skitsystem members’ punk backgrounds, the riffs here are pure death metal through and through (well, aside from ‘In A Thousand Horrors Crowned’ which is pure Scandinavian D-beat – but hey, it works). The whole thing feels incredibly cohesive too; with each song leading seamlessly into the next, you could easily view this as one long piece of music rather than a series of overwhelmingly aggressive vignettes. Despite the ferocity with which it flies past, Death, Madness, Horror, Decay still manages to make room for some seriously atmospheric moments – the Autopsy worshipping squelch of ‘Funeral Abyss’ is a great case in point, as are the morbid guitar harmonies that close ‘Restless Death’. Elsewhere, it just sounds fucking huge; the crushing ‘Ageless Evil’ is like hearing Lindberg fronting Bolt Thrower circa In Battle There Is No Law in glorious high fidelity, and it rules. Death, Madness, Horror, Decay is not some kind of spectacular, envelope pushing reinvention like The Nightmare Of Being is, but if you just want some savage, no-nonsense death metal, this album will satisfy and then some.

Hyperdontia – Hideous Entity

(Me Saco Un Ojo)

Despite stiff competition though, the award for November’s best death metal release has to go to this second album from Hyperdontia. Their grotesquely illustrated 2018 debut Nexus Of Teeth was monstrous enough in its own right, but Hideous Entity feels like a step further, taking the colossal Incantation-esque churn of that first album and tightening it up, making it more atmospheric, dynamic and intense. Opener ‘Snakes Of Innards’ sets the scene with some thick, gloomy chords before revving up and belting out the first of the album’s uniformly infectious riffs. There’s a vitality and immediacy to Hideous Entity that makes it feel much more catchy and memorable than a lot of the more cavernous death metal acts currently doing the rounds, even though it can go toe to toe with any of them in terms of sheer sonic murk. There’s a clarity and attention to detail here that really shines through the grimy production however, with sly bass runs helping riffs like that sickly serpentine flurry towards the end of ‘Beast Within’ to pack an even more impressive wallop. Guitarists Mathias Friborg and Mustafa Gürcalioğlu have really stepped up their lead game too, adding a whole extra dimension to songs like the disorientating ‘Coils Of Wrath’ and epic closer ‘Impervious Veil’. The song-writing here is constantly twisting and turning, pulling the rug out beneath you with frantic new phrases at every turn, but never feels too labyrinthine or convoluted to blunt any of those hulking great riffs’ primal power. The Morbid Angel-esque ‘Wretched Mockery Of Creation’ is a great example; despite being the shortest song here, it manages to pack in more riffs than some of their peers do in a full album, without ever feeling cluttered or disjointed. Hideous Entity doesn’t reinvent the wheel but what it does, it does extremely well – if you’re losing your mind waiting for that new Phrenelith album, get this down you pronto.

Obscura – A Valediction

(Nuclear Blast)

Over the course of five albums and almost twenty years, Germany’s Obscura have earned a reputation as one of the most polished modern technical death metal acts, but lead single ‘Devoured Usurper’ gave the impression this sixth record would be something of a change of pace for them. Based around a slimy mid-tempo groove that reeks of Domination-era Morbid Angel and boasting a mid-section packed with taut, crunchy early Pestilence-style chugging, it’s easily one of the most straightforward and immediate songs the band have ever put together, and seemed to signal a shift into more primal, catchy riffing compared to the dazzlingly acrobatic musicianship contained on their previous records. It’s a bit of a red herring, however, as for the most part, A Valediction is still technical as fuck (the lightspeed neo-classical shredding of tracks like ‘Solaris’ are pure Necrophagist worship, for example), but it is notably more accessible than some of the band’s previous works. Part of this is down to the huge injection of melody on this record, with a lot of the riffing here tipping its hat to the Gothenburg school of melodic death metal, especially on the anthemic At The Gates-on-steroids bombast of tracks like ‘In Adversity’. The bright, energetic title track, meanwhile, has an almost stadium rock sheen to it, it’s soaring lead guitar heroics feeling like they’d be just as at home at the feel-good climax of a Bill & Ted movie as they would be belted out to an audience of fret-board gazing music nerds. Opener ‘Forsaken’ makes fantastic use of dreamy acoustics and wobbly fretless bass gymnastics, which, combined with the blistering melo-death riffing, feels almost like Dark Tranquility gone prog. A Valediction may not be the no-nonsense old-school bludgeoning that ‘Devoured Usurper’ hinted at, but it manages to be one of Obscura’s most ambitious and immediate records nonetheless. Long-time fans will lap it up, but even if you’ve never clicked with the band’s pristine tech death before, this could be the album to change your mind.

Archgoat – Worship The Eternal Darkness

(Debemur Morti Productions)

If pristine tech death isn’t your thing however, you’ll be pleased to hear the champs of knuckle-dragging bestial black/death Archgoat are back this month too. There’s always been something special about the Finnish trio’s sound, taking the raw fury of Blasphemy and the esoteric chaos of early Beherit but smothering it all in a thick, bottom-heavy groove that’s more in line with old-school death metal than any of the other war metal acts those bands inspired. Throw in bassist Lord Angelslayer’s ridiculously low guttural burble and a lot of nonsense about stacked anthropomorphic goat men, and you’ve got a recipe for a sleazy good time. As ‘Heavens Ablaze’ (and the obligatory intro, of course) makes abundantly clear from the get-go, this album has no interest in fucking around with the Archgoat formula, and to be honest it doesn’t need to; that combo of blistering blasts abruptly dropping into an evil mid-paced lurch is still as satisfying as ever. That said, there is a little bit of musical progression here (but just a little bit). The trio seemed to have allowed a bit more melody to shine through the barbarity on their last record, 2018’s luxurious The Luciferian Crown, and they’ve managed to weld that quite convincingly onto a more aggressive, brutal template here. The slithering battery of ‘Black Womb Gnosis’ is a great example, as is the ominous majesty of ‘All Christianity Ends’. ‘Rats Pray God’, meanwhile, is a surprisingly rockin’ addition, channelling Motörhead by way of early Bathory. This is an Archgoat album however, so for the most part, you already know exactly what it sounds like, and straight-forward bangers like ‘Empyrean Armageddon’ and the blast-happy title track certainly fit the bill. If you’ve never bought into the group’s gristly, blasphemous tumult before, you probably won’t now, but for the rest of us, there’s enough variation and energy here to make this a very entertaining 40 minutes.

Dream Unending – Tide Turns Eternal

(20 Buck Spin)

The debut album from Dream Unending finds Tomb Mold guitarist Derrick Vella joining forces with Innumerable Forms vocalist/ guitarist Justin DeTore to worship at the altar of early Peaceville death/ doom – even that cover art and font just scream mid-90s. Tide Turns Eternal retains the girthy death metal tones from each members’ other projects, but paints much more whimsical, warmer vistas with them, with tracks like ‘Adorned In Lies’ traipsing between early Anathema style gloom and shimmering post-punk guitar twangs. Atmosphere is certainly key here, but that doesn’t mean the pair don’t both have seriously impressive guitar chops. The stunning leads in ‘In Cipher I Weep’ make it a clear highlight, the whole track bathed in a sublime, Autumnal ambience as beautiful solos shine through like beams of sunlight cutting through thick cloud. There is something dated about the sound here, right down to the more muted production, but it really works in its favour – if this had been presented as a long lost relic of ‘90s death/doom instead of a brand new release, I’d probably have been fooled. Tide Turns Eternal feels a bit more kaleidoscopic in scope though; whilst most of the old Peaceville classics focus solely on darker, bleaker vibes, there’s a more colourful, expansive atmosphere here. It does what it set out to do so well, in fact, and scratches such a hyper-specific itch, that it’s a late contender for best doom album of the year.

Plebeian Grandstand – Rien Ne Suffit

(Debemur Morti Productions)

It’s been five whole years since we last heard from French sonic terrorists Plebeian Grandstand, and they’ve evolved into an even gnarlier proposition in the meantime. Whilst their earlier stuff sat uncomfortably between avant garde black metal and aggro hardcore, this fourth full-length is even harder to pin down, blending a host of influences into their most abrasive and intense outing so far. There’s something deeply unsettling about the awkward, stuttering pulse of opener ‘Masse Critique’, but even that feels relatively quaint compared to the nightmarish depths that follow. Tracks like ‘À Droite Du Démiurge, À Gauche Du Néant’ and ‘Angle Mort’ are just ludicrously hostile, marrying the confrontational grind of Full Of Hell to the otherworldly murkiness of Portal with chaotic, freeform structures that seemingly owe more to power electronics than they do most metal.

There’s a strong industrial flavour to tracks like the Whitehouse-esque ‘Nous En Sommes Là’ and thumping ‘Tropisme’, but the band’s use of noise and electronics is fantastic throughout, even during its more subtle moments. It feels wrong to call the oppressive ‘Espoir Nuit Naufrage’ a mid-album “breather” as in many ways, it’s one of the most claustrophobic and harrowing pieces here, but its torturously slow pace definitely helps break up the faster pieces surrounding it. Texturally, it’s very similar to The Body’s last album in places, with those industrial flourishes that reared their head towards the start of the record colliding with blunt force sludge metal riffs. ‘Rien N’y Fait’, meanwhile, uses those harsh electronics to spectacular effect atop inhuman blastbeats and some of the record’s fastest, most cathartic riffing. If there was a nastier sounding record released this month, I didn’t hear it.

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