Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For March Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Your guide the best in brand new metal returns, with Kez Whelan surveying new releases from Enslaved, Memoriam, Venemous Concept and more

Endless Swarm. Photo by Lee Lewis

Given that I spend the first few columns of any given year frantically trying to find the balance between digging into brand new music and catching up on all the great stuff I missed from the year before, it’s nice when a single release allows me to do both simultaneously. After being quietly released at the end of last year on Exorcize Music, Portuguese outfit Anzv’s debut album has just been reissued on CD by Alone Records, and it’s well worth checking out. The quartet play a crisp blend of black and death metal, similar to Switzerland’s Schammasch not just in style, but also its successful fusion of fairly orthodox, cleanly produced modern metal with a compellingly surreal occult atmosphere.

Speaking of great modern black metal, I’ve already written about the new <a href=”” target=”out”>Dawn Ray’d album elsewhere, but it’s definitely worthy of your time, broadening their sound out to create their most atmospheric and introspective album yet. Don’t sleep on the debut album from Brazilian solo project <a href=”” target=”out”>Autrest either. While Brazil might not be the first place you’d think to find cold, chilling black metal, Follow The Cold Path does exactly what it says on the tin and offers up a compellingly frosty, immersive atmosphere. There’s a strong shoegaze and post rock influence too, but enough catharsis in the songwriting and enough vim and vigour in the performance itself to keep things from ever feeling too lethargic. Hypnotic nine minute centrepiece ‘Time Is A River’ in particular taps into some really beautiful textures. Fans of Wolves In The Throne Room, Underdark and Alcest, take note.

Nashville death metal trio <a href=”” target=”out”> Act Of Impalement’s second album is a belter as well; despite hiring a new rhythm section last year, leaving guitarist/vocalist Ethan Rock as the sole original member, their sound has never sounded as sharp and visceral as it does here, warping Autopsy style death/doom riffs into punky, minute-long ragers. The upcoming <a href=”” target=”out”> Primitive Man and Full Of Hell collaboration is also looming, and whilst I haven’t heard the full record yet, the two advance tracks make it sound like it’s going to be even more than the sum of its parts; ‘Tunnels To God’, for instance, hints at both more cold ambience and sombre post metal, with Full Of Hell adding an unexpectedly melancholy sense of melody to Primitive Man’s crushing slow motion doom.

If you were hoping for blasts though, you’re in luck, as it’s been a good month for speed freaks. Leeds thrashers <a href=”” target=”out”> Pest Control’s debut album is even tighter and more energising than their incendiary demo, marrying the boisterous energy of classic crossover thrash with the tauter, mosh-ready grooves of modern hardcore – just check out infectious rippers like ‘Buggin’ Out’ for proof. Seattle powerviolence squad <a href=”” target=”out”> Endorphins Lost’s third full-length could be their best yet too, emphasising their punk roots with fourteen lightspeed songs that are as catchy as they are aggressive.

For sheer speed, however, nothing this month compares to <a href=”” target=”out”> Sulfuric Cautery’s second album . Boasting a much clearer, heavier production than their 2019 debut Chainsaws Clogged With The Underdeveloped Brain Matter Of Xenophobes, the riffs are more memorable and impactful here – but it’s still goregrind taken to it’s most ludicrous extreme, taking the Last Days Of Humanity blueprint to what surely must be it’s zenith, with the unrelenting force of that pingy snare making it hard to believe these sounds were created by humans in the first place.

Finally, on the subject of inhuman sounds, Mayhem frontman <a href=”” target=”out”>Attila Csihar has resurrected his solo vocal project, Void Ov Voices, for a full-length album. Originally recorded on a trip to Lebanon to visit the giant monoliths of Baalbek in 2008, Stephen O’Malley eventually convinced Csihar to release these two very personal recordings on his Ideologic Organ label. The first track, recorded in Attila’s hotel room, is a suitably evocative vortex of snarls, screeches and throat-singing (and must have freaked the fuck out of his neighbouring travellers), but it’s the second piece, recorded atop the monoliths themselves, that really taps into something primal, creating a huge wall of chants with a genuinely ancient atmosphere.

Enslaved – Heimdal
(Nuclear Blast)

Enslaved are still going strong on their 17th album Heimdal, striking a deft balance between the cinematic prog metal of their recent years and the frostier black metal of their youth. Tracks like the whimsical ‘Forest Dweller’ have a folky, almost Jethro Tull-esque quality to them, but the lengthy ‘Congelia’ is one of the harshest songs they’ve released in years, harnessing the hypnotic repetition of second wave Norwegian black metal to create some really interesting textures, without seeming too far removed from the proggy pieces surrounding it. And this thing certainly gets proggy; check out the cosmic keyboards punctuating tracks like ‘Kingdom’ with a gleeful lack of restraint, or the adventurous, jazzy leads, throbbing mellotron and atmospheric interludes on the inventive title track.

Despite these wild flights of fancy, Heimdal is still, on the whole, a very grounded, organic sounding record. Take the wistful ‘The Eternal Sea’, for example, a windswept epic that marries the prog atmosphere of prime Opeth with the yearning majesty of Hammerheart era Bathory, and perfectly fits the cloudy atmosphere of the album’s artwork. Enslaved have become so consistent that it’s easy to take them for granted at this point, but this really is one of their most succinct, powerful and imaginative records in recent memory.

Memoriam – Rise To Power
(Reaper Entertainment)

Following four albums worth of crushing Bolt Thrower-esque death metal, Memoriam take a slightly different approach here. Karl Willets’ raspy bark is still as recognisable as ever, and the band still dish out all the hefty, rolling grooves you’d expect from them (check out the confrontational syncopated chug of ‘Total War’), but taken as a whole, there’s a slower, more sombre atmosphere here – it definitely feels like the last album’s doomy closer ‘As My Heart Grows Cold’ has informed a lot of Rise To Power’s direction, with songs like ‘Never Forget, Never Again (6 Million Dead)’ and ‘I Am The Enemy’ adopting both a more reflective pace and emotive tone than the band’s usual fare.

It’s a sound that suits the band well, especially given Karl’s more introspective lyrical themes this time round. The most obvious reference point here would be Bolt Thrower’s own The IVth Crusade, with both albums achieving a suitably epic feeling by slowing things down to a deliciously doomy tempo, whilst still dispensing all the crushing riffery you’d want. Whilst this isn’t Memoriam’s most immediate or ferocious album, it’s easily their most atmospheric and arguably their most powerful yet.

Venomous Concept – The Good Ship Lollipop

Grind supergroup Venomous Concept have taken an even more unexpected left turn on their fifth full-length, offering up an anthemic, mid-paced hard rock record instead of their usual lightspeed shenanigans. There’s a strong Killing Joke vibe to songs like the stomping ‘Clinical’ and the bombastic opening title track, with the band favouring big hooks and pounding grooves over blastbeats and tremolo picking. The frantic riffs in songs like ‘Time Line’ are unmistakably Venomous Concept, but they’re placed in a much groovier context here.

The driving chorus of ‘Pig’ could have walked straight in from a Wildhearts record, and there’s even a hint of The Cult to the twinkly lead guitars of the swaggering ‘Flowers Bloom’. Lead single ‘Fractured’ is probably the album’s biggest surprise, however, a soaring, melodic shoegaze anthem with Shane Embury delivering some surprisingly sweet sounding clean vocals. The Good Ship Lollipop isn’t Venomous Concept’s best album, but at this point, these guys have nothing left to prove, and it’s cool to hear them cutting loose and trying something new.

Hellripper – Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags

James McBain, the man behind Aberdeen solo project Hellripper, has also taken a more melodic direction for his third full-length, resulting in his most mature, polished album yet. The frantic blackened thrash that Hellripper made it’s name on is still here in abundance (just check out that ferocious riffing onslaught that kick-starts opener ‘The Nuckelavee’), but there’s less of a raucous speed metal vibe this time, and more of an eerie, mystical black metal atmosphere. The song-writing here is a bit more elaborate, with the seven minute title track marrying the epic feel of Blood Fire Death era Bathory with 80s hard rock guitar heroics and a Ride The Lightning sense of grandeur.

Fans of Hellripper’s beer swilling early work needn’t worry – you’ve still got three-minute rippers full of Motörhead riffs with names like ‘Goat Vomit Nightmare’ here – but there’s an extra nuance and depth here that should entice black metal fans of a less jovial persuasion too. In all honesty, I would have been happy enough with Hellripper remaining a one-trick pony (it is a damn good trick, after all), but Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags is emphatic proof there’s more to this band than just good old fashioned Venom worship.

Lamp Of Murmuur – Saturnian Bloodstorm
(Argento / Not Kvlt)

California’s Lamp Of Murmuur is sounding a lot more polished on their latest opus too – as the more colourful cover art suggests, this is a much brighter, more vivid sounding record than the darker, more lo-fi sound of his previous work. That’s immediately apparent as soon as opener ‘Conqueror Behind The Frenzied Fog’ starts, with a booming production emphasising the hefty thud of the kickdrum as cold, razor-sharp guitars slice through the mix with absolute clarity. It’s quite a change from the sinister smog of Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism, with the most obvious influence here being At The Heart Of Winter era Immortal – tracks like ‘Hymns Of Death, Rays Of Might’ especially capture that familiar windswept grandiosity, replicating the same heroic riffery but with the more adventurous song structures we’ve come to expect from Lamp Of Murmuur.

Whilst it’s not as atmospheric or immersive as his last two records, the tauter song-writing and more refined riffing here makes up for it. If you’ve still yet to delve into Lamp of Murmuur’s increasingly hyped and rapidly growing discography, this is a relatively good place to start; it’s almost certainly the project’s most accessible and immediate release yet.

Ulthar – Anthronomicon & Helionomicon
(20 Buck Spin)

After three years of absence, blackened death power trio Ulthar return with not one, but two albums worth of twisted, convulsing riffery. The first of them, Anthronomicon, feels very much like a continuation of 2020’s Providence, taking the band’s sound to even more warped places over the course of eight tracks. Whilst tracks like ‘Fractional Fortress’ and the alternately chuggy and blasty ‘Flesh Propulsion’ are just as knotty and labyrinthine as you’d expect, tracks like the moody ‘Saccades’ allow their sound just a bit more breathing room as ominous blackened chords hang like storm clouds over stompier, propulsive drum beats. Closer ‘Cultus Quadrivium’, meanwhile, delivers bouncy Demilich-esque grooves before disintegrating into eerie ambience.

Helionomicon may offer up two side-long twenty minute pieces, but if you’re expecting that to mean dronier or more soundscape based material, you’re in for a shock – this album is just as frantic, riffy and ferocious as its sister LP, but with even more adventurous songwriting and a more blackened aesthetic, similar to bassist Steve Peacock’s experimental black metal solo project Mastery in places (albeit less free-form). Taken individually, these are both great albums, but as a whole they’re even more impressive, with Anthronomicon refining and streamlining Ulthar’s sound into more digestible chunks, and Helionomicon pulling in the opposite direction, fully embracing a more sprawling approach and pushing it to see just how weird it can get.

Big Brave – Nature Morte
(Thrill Jockey)

Big Brave just don’t sleep; following 2021’s Vital & their collaboration with The Body, not to mention a year of relentless touring, the trio are back with one of their most dynamic and refined outings to date. Opener ‘Carvers, Farriers And Knaves’ delivers the crushing wall of sound we’ve come to expect from them (for the uninitiated, picture Björk fronting Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestra) but with an even harsher, noisier edge when that huge wave of distorted chords eventually comes crashing down. By contrast, tracks like ‘The One Who Bornes A Weary Load’ are even sparser and more restrained than the band’s usual fare – I hesitate to use the word “meditative” as there’s still a bristling tension bubbling away just under the surface, largely thanks to Robin Wattie’s tense, passionate vocals.

Her voice is sounding more assured than ever here, especially on the subtle, folky ‘The Fable Of Subjugation’, which doubles as a nice nod to the band’s roots and a necessary breather between the dense, cathartic shards of distortion surrounding it. Ironically, however, one of the album’s most powerful moments is also wordless – the instrumental ‘My Hope Renders Me A Fool’, perhaps informed by guitarist Mathieu Ball’s recent solo album Amplified Guitar, conjures a genuinely affecting tapestry of mournful, aching guitar swells, really demonstrating the masterful control these three have other their instruments.

Endless Swarm – Manifested Forms
(To Live A Lie/Coxinha)

This Edinburgh quartet’s last album, 2018’s Imprisoned In Skin, still stands as one of the most incendiary powerviolence records the UK has produced in recent years, and the long wait for this follow-up was certainly worth it. Whilst the band have welcomed new guitarist Mathew Burton-Webster (formerly of Gay Panic Defence) into their ranks, their sound hasn’t changed too drastically, still resting snugly at the intersection between early death-grind and mutant 90s US hardcore – imagine Infest racing through a bunch of Terrorizer songs and you’ll be in the right area. It feels even tighter this time however, with the band’s grinding tumult feeling especially refined on tracks like the dizzying ‘Suspended In Vacuum’, leaping between brash power chords, harrowing dissonance and boisterous breakdowns at less than a moment’s notice.

There’s a righteously punky energy to songs like ‘Tachyon Code’ too, seemingly engineered for maximum mosh pit violence. Not only that, but the interplay between frontman Graham Caldwell’s irate caveman shout and bassist Alex Sharp’s more guttural bark is as sharp as ever, with an even higher variety of vocal styles – the title track even features some guest screams from Graham’s four year old son. Great stuff as always.

Majesties – Vast Reaches Unclaimed
(20 Buck Spin)

Minneapolis melodic black metal duo Inexorum may have just released their third album last year, but rather than taking some time off, both members have teamed up with Obsequiae guitarist/vocalist Tanner Anderson to indulge in some unashamed 90s melo-death worship. Tracks like stirring opener ‘In Yearning, Alive’ and the melancholy ‘Our Gracious Captors’ hark back to the early days of bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity, with everything from the melodic dual guitar riffing right down to the glistening yet musty production nailing that 90s atmosphere – ‘Across The Neverwhen’ in particular could be a long lost bonus track from The Jester Race.

The album still manages to feel fresh despite it’s knowingly dated aesthetic – in much the same way the current new wave of old school death metal is breathing new life into 80s death metal tropes, Vast Reaches Unknown is doing similar things for the Gothenburg sound. Anderson’s distinctive playing style is unmistakeable, and the inventive, evocative use of melody that makes Obsequiae such a heady and engaging listen is all over this record too, albeit stripped of its medieval flavour and placed into a much more self-consciously metallic context. This is a fantastic love letter to a very specific part of death metal history, and will feel like a warm hug from an old friend for anyone who’s given up hoping for another good In Flames record.

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