Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For September Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Your buyer's guide to the best in brand new metal returns, as Kez Whelan reviews a host of new releases including the latest from Dying Fetus, Incantation and Atomçk, and says a fond farewell to Urfaust

Dying Fetus, photo by Scott Kinkade

Just before submitting this column, Dutch duo Urfaust announced they were calling it a day after two full decades of creating some of the most unique, visionary and bizarre black metal of the 21st century. To sweeten the blow however, they’ve also graced us with one last album, which may rank up there with their best. The band’s distinctive sound is still fully intact, based around stomping, hypnotic rhythms, histrionic wails and eerie riffs, but the atmosphere here feels a little bleaker and more harrowing than usual. Whilst a lot of the band’s older material captures the earnest joys of inebriation and the feeling of unhinged power it brings, Untergang feels more like the depressed devil on its cover – or, more specifically, that feeling of hopelessness and rare lucidity after drowning your sorrows all night. It’s a tough listen but also makes it a great album to end on. If the rest of their discography feels like a wild, gin-fuelled bender, this is the crushing hangover you’d inevitably have to deal with the next morning. Farewell, you glorious drunkards, you will be sorely missed.

The new <a href=”” target=”out”>Blut Aus Nord album Disharmonium – Nahab also caught me by surprise this month, but based on the first impression it’s a fine follow-up to last year’s Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses. The atmosphere is similar, but there’s more of a dissonant death metal flavour here, making the album’s nightmarish qualities feel even more visceral and tangible. The increased emphasis on vocals adds to this too; whilst they were buried in the mix last time, here they’re right up in your face. Nahab may lose some of the dream-like ambiguity of its predecessor, but it feels even more harrowing and abrasive as a result.

Calligram’s distinctive brand of chaotic blackened hardcore has really come into its own on their new album Position | Momentum too. The quartet have become more intense with each release, and whilst that’s definitely still the case here, what really elevates this record to the next level is the added emphasis on atmosphere and texture. Tracks like ‘Eschilo’ utilise simultaneously mournful and notably creepy melodic licks that add a whole new dimension to their rabid sound, making this arguably their most robust and memorable outing to date.

Ringworm seem to be doing the polar opposite of “mellowing with age”, with each new record from the Cleveland metallic hardcore quintet more ferocious than the last. Seeing Through Fire, their first for Nuclear Blast, is no exception; after the stirring guitar harmonies that kick off the opening title track on a triumphant but oddly eerie note, the rest of the record goes for the jugular the entire time, with vocalist Human Furnace’s throat-shredding roar sounding gnarlier than ever over seethingly aggressive Slayer-ised riffing. If that ticks all the boxes for you, don’t miss End Reign’s debut The Way Of All Flesh Is Decay either; helmed by former Pulling Teeth and Integrity guitarist (not to mention A389 Recordings mastermind) Dominic Romeo alongside Pig Destroyer drummer Adam Jarvis, All Out War vocalist Mike Score and Noisem guitarist Sebastian Phillips, it’s a ripping slice of holy terror style metallic hardcore with soaring, emotive guitar leads.

Speaking of all-star line-ups, the debut EP from <a href=”” target=”out”> Pyrkagion is essential. The band consists of Bell Witch’s Dylan Desmond, Hissing bassist Zach Wise and Infernal Coil/ex-Human Effluence drummer Brennan Butler, and have conceived a pretty distinctive sound for themselves. It’s quite different to all their other bands; this could have just been mournful Bell Witch style melodies over absolutely savage hyperblasts and it probably would have still been great, but the end result is an entirely different beast, drawing more from dissonant death metal and atmospheric black metal than it does doom.

Dying Fetus – Make Them Beg For Death

Having kept the same power trio line-up since 2009, Dying Fetus feel like a tighter unit than ever right now. After 2017’s overlong Wrong One To Fuck With, Make Them Beg For Death is a return to classic Fetus territory, belting out ultra-tight blasts, head-spinning sweeps and knuckle-dragging grooves in just over half an hour. It’s a much more focussed affair, with lean cuts like ‘Compulsion For Cruelty’ and the swift, almost grinding ‘Throw Them In The Van’ stripped of all fat and custom-built for maximum mosh madness. The band’s hardcore influence is more evident than ever here (especially the supremely bouncy ‘Unbridled Fury’), without ever diluting the band’s trademark sound.

Whilst they don’t take many (if any) risks here, it’s still admirable just how closely the trio have stuck to their guns, refining their sound and keeping it fresh throughout. In a time where we’re inundated with both hardcore-infused death metal and death metal-infused hardcore, the Dying Fetus sound has aged remarkably well, expertly straddling the line between the two whilst still sounding like nobody else other than themselves. It’s almost surprising how rarely emulated the band’s sound is; you can’t move at the moment without bumping into a band fusing Morbid Angel riffs with Madball grooves, but you know that distinctive Dying Fetus sound as soon as you hear it, and thankfully, it’s all over this record.

Cryptopsy – As Gomorrah Burns
(Nuclear Blast)

Whilst Canada’s Cryptopsy were at the absolute vanguard of technical death metal in the mid-90s, the band never quite recovered after their infamous 2008 dud The Unspoken King, a record so full of questionable decisions it made St. Anger look like a masterpiece by comparison. Not even the return of original guitarist Jon Levasseur could save 2012’s sterile self-titled effort, which felt less like a return to the band’s roots and more like an overly self-conscious apology for straying too far off the beaten path (much like Death Magnetic in that regard). As Gomorrah Burns may be lacking those distinctive Levasseur riffs once again, but it’s arguably a more organic album experience – not in terms of production, which is still perhaps too clean, but the frantic blasts and dizzying riffage of songs like ‘Flaying The Swine’ and ‘Ill Ender’ feel more like a true band effort here. Flo Mounier is still one of the most extraordinary drummers in the genre too, lending a more unhinged energy to what would otherwise be relatively straight-forward tech-death stompers.

The band haven’t totally escaped the deathcore stench that crept into their sound after The Unspoken King (largely due to vocalist Matt McGachy’s emotionless delivery on tracks like ‘Godless Deceiver’), but there’s more life and energy in here than the band have had in years. Ironically enough, the record’s strongest moments come when they deviate from the classic Cryptopsy sound, like the oddly noise rock-esque grooves that open ‘Obeisant’ or the unexpectedly doomy closer ‘Praise The Filth’, proving the band haven’t run out of ideas yet. Being the old grump that I am, I’d all but given up on Cryptopsy releasing another great record again, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Incantation – Unholy Deification

New York’s Incantation, on the other hand, have been riding one hell of a second wind for the past decade, settling into a neat groove with a string of records that capture the evil power of their early days whilst also emphasising the doomier aspects of their sound too. Unholy Deification is a great case in point, building on the memorable, faintly psychedelic song-writing of 2020’s Sect Of Vile Divinities with a production that keeps that record’s pristine clarity but adds some welcome dirt around the edges. There are plenty of no-nonsense ragers here, like crushing opener ‘Offerings (The Swarm) IV’, but the album gradually journeys into some more subtle, slower and sinister cuts, with the murky closer ‘Circle (Eye Of Ascension) VII’ dishing out dank, lumbering doom riffs as Possessed vocalist Jeff Beccera lends some gruesome vocals, his scratchier, higher pitched bark contrasting nicely with John McEntee’s guttural bellow.

Curiously, each track’s title hints at an alternate running order with roman numerals, which changes the listening experience quite substantially. The record still has a similar structure, but many of the more atmospheric or surprising moments in the standard tracklisting’s second half are brought forward, changing the feel of the album and ending it on a more aggressive note. It doesn’t flow quite as well in this order, but it’s a cool little detail and reassuring that these veterans are still taking the time to consider things like this, demonstrating the care that goes into sequencing their albums even at this late stage of their career.

Atomçk – Towering Failures

Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Jay Randall once famously dubbed Atomçk “the UK’s answer to Discordance Axis”, and whilst he’s certainly not wrong, I’ve always felt that even that lofty claim doesn’t quite do the band’s unique sound justice. There’s a lot more going on here than just The Inalienable Dreamless worship, with hints of progressive rock in the intricate, angular song-writing, traces of Brutal Truth’s experimental death-grind in the robustly metallic yet endlessly inventive riffing and elements of chaotic Japanese noisecore in both the music’s deranged energy and vocalist Linus’ inhumanly shrill yelps, a vocal style that separates the real heads from the part-timers.

Newly expanded to a quartet with the addition of ex-Afternoon Gentlemen bassist Matthew Barrow, Towering Failures is undoubtedly the band’s heaviest and most sonically flattening release to date, boasting a gigantic tone that sounds downright apocalyptic on slower numbers like ‘Sic Bro Banter’ and the crushing ‘Britzit’. For the most part though, this album races past at lightspeed, but manages to convey a host of different moods and textures in amongst its frantic delivery. ‘Dinosore’, for example, deploys some oddly dreamy sounding chords atop rabid blastbeats, contrasting nicely with the more direct punk riffing in tracks like ‘Fast Check UK’, or the sludgy grooves in ‘You Guys Drink A Lot’. Atomçk have been getting better and better with each subsequent album, but this is surely their most powerful and definitive record to date, and one of the most inventive and memorable grindcore records of the year thus far.

Of Darkness – Missa Tridentina
(Personal Records)

You may recognise some of the names behind this bizarre funeral doom project; guitarist Javi Bastard and keyboardist CG Santos both joined Teitanblood for their 2019 opus The Baneful Choir, and it’s not hard to see what drew the Spanish black/death duo to these guys. Of Darkness’ last record was 2015’s heady Tribute To Krzysztof Penderecki – Passio Et Mors Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Lucam which, as the name implies, sought to explore the works of the legendary Polish composer within a doom metal context. The classical influence isn’t quite as obvious on this new full-length of original material, but it’s undeniably still there, from the dramatic, harrowing chanted vocals to the intricately unfolding compositions on offer here, which manage to sound genuinely hellish in execution – check out the way that swirling vortex of monk-like chants melt into the eerie slow motion riffs of ‘Dies Irae’, for instance, or the distant, dissonant piano tumbling through the thick waves of distortion on ‘Eis Requiem, Eis Requiem Sempiternam’.

Rather than aiming for the mournful or depressive atmospheres that a lot of funeral doom dwells in, there’s a convincingly unsettling grandeur at play here, akin to stumbling into some sort of otherworldly alien cathedral your human eyes were never meant to witness. This is a genuinely unique record that builds on the promise of the band’s experimental earlier works and then some, creating an authentically nightmarish and surreal aura that you’re unlikely to find from any other metal (let alone funeral doom) album this year.

Tideless – Eye Of Water
(Chaos Records)

There’s been a huge wave of bands blending shoegaze and black metal in recent years, but barely any bands attempting the same fusion with death metal. It makes sense in some ways, given how texturally based a lot of black metal is when compared to the brute force of death metal, but this San Diego collective have just made it look so easy it’s a wonder nobody else has really attempted it. The band’s 2021 debut Adrift In Grief was refreshingly original if a little rough around the edges, but this ambitious double album nails the concept so succinctly that I wouldn’t be surprised if they hit Deafheaven levels of hype off the back of it.

Whilst the debut was a pretty lo-fi affair, Eye Of Water sounds positively luxurious, with a warm, enveloping production that really emphasises the layers of reverb swamped guitars, whether they’re heaping shimmering, clean tremolo atop each other (as on the hypnotic 23 minute ‘Lush.Serene.Dissolved’) or applying the same approach to ominous, distorted Morbid Angel style riffs (see the churning ‘Oblations Of The Sun’). Eye Of Water is one of the year’s most adventurous and unique death metal records, and whilst it maybe doesn’t need to be quite as long as it is, some of the textures on offer here are so utterly gorgeous that it’s hard to begrudge the band for wanting to wallow in them a while longer.

Horrendous – Ontological Mysterium
(Season Of Mist)

US death metal quartet Horrendous just keep getting proggier, especially with the addition of new bassist Alex Kulick before 2018’s Idol. Ontological Mysterium continues in a similar vein, with Kulick’s elastic sounding, Individual Thought Patterns style basslines powering some of the band’s most cosmic, elaborate songs to date – just check out the frantic Cannibal-Corpse-on-DMT vibe of ‘Neon Leviathan’ or the seven minute ‘Chrysopoeia (The Archaeology Of Dawn)’, which manages to combine chunky Pestilence aping riffing, Opeth style clean vocals and crisp, jazzy leads in the vein of Atheist without feeling cluttered or self-indulgent.

Despite setting the prog dial up to max, Ontological Mysterium remains laser focussed throughout, with an admirable lack of flab or excess. It’s their shortest full-length yet, but also manages to feel like their most expansive, with its ambitious scope backed up by some of the tightest song-writing in their discography. The band’s melodic side shines through more than ever on this record too, helping songs like ‘Preterition Hymn’ sound supremely catchy whilst retaining their signature crisp, thrashy brutality. Very solid stuff for the discerning prog-death connoisseur.

Cystic – Palace Of Shadows
(Chaos Records)

This Seattle trio built up quite a buzz with a series of gruesomely engaging EPs, but this debut album is a big step up. Whilst their earlier work had a strong stench of gore in the vein of Impetigo or old Carcass, there’s a more blackened, atmospheric aesthetic to Palace Of Shadows, with scratchier, screechier vocals and a gloriously nasty lo-fi guitar tone. The band still sound as abrasive and unhinged as they always did (‘Pestilential Throne’, for instance, would be an unashamed gore-grind banger with a lower tuning or guttural vocals) but the extra layers of atmosphere they’ve delved into here give the album an even more sinister and unsettling edge, with the likes of ‘Palace Of Shadows And Blood’ augmenting fetid, deathly riffing with a doomy pace and a genuinely unnerving sense of dread.

There’s still a definite punk influence buried somewhere within this rancid racket too, giving even its most leaden and oppressive moments a jolt of demented energy; ‘Stygian Deeps’, for example, leaps expertly from Autopsy-esque death-doom to ripping thrash, all whilst deranged leads violently spiral out of the band’s murky din like human screams echoing through a dark, damp cave. Cystic have never failed to deliver gnarly, gory death metal, but Palace Of Shadows show they could evolve into something even more disturbing.

Bottomless – The Banishing
(Dying Victims)

In addition to belting out jazzy doom anthems with Messa, Sara Bianchin also plays bass in Italian power trio Bottomless. Compared to Messa, the band have a much more straightforward, hard rocking sound, feeling like the missing link between traditional Maryland doom bands like The Obsessed and the more metallic grunge acts like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. This second album is even doomier than their 2021 debut, with a clear but endearingly musty production that drapes the whole thing in a gloriously retro smog, and helps tracks like the Pentagram worshipping opener ‘Let Them Burn’ feel even more authentic.

Whilst it seems a shame not to utilise Bianchin’s extraordinary voice, guitarist/vocalist Giorgio Trombino is no slouch either, excelling at both eerie Ozzy style wails and more histrionic, almost Scott Reagers-esque bravado on the likes of ‘The Great Unknown’ or the unabashed vintage heavy metal epic ‘Guardians Of Silence’ – he’s even surprisingly tender on the ‘Solitude’ style acoustic ballad ‘Drawn Into Yesterday’. The Banishing may not be as refreshingly original or imaginative as Messa’s unique take on the genre, but if you’re in the market for some straight-up, no nonsense classic doom, this will more than hit the spot.

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