Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For March Reviewed By Kez Whelan

There is more to life than down tuned drug death, says Kez Whelan in the latest of his metal review columns

Pupil Slicer

This month’s edition of Columnicus Metallicus is dedicated to the memory of Lars-Göran Petrov, who tragically lost his battle with cancer this month. If you’re reading this column, I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded just how vitally important his work with Entombed and Nihilist (not to mention the perpetually underrated Morbid) was to not just extreme metal, but music as a whole. Left Hand Path was just an absolute game-changer, simultaneously taking death metal to both more brutal and more atmospheric places, and the reverberations from Wolverine Blues’ gleeful fusion of metal, hardcore and rock swagger are still felt today in bands like Converge and Trap Them.

Whilst Petrov was renowned for his energetic stage presence, booming guttural roar and boundless enthusiasm, he’ll also be missed for his way with words. He really came into his own as a lyricist on records like 1997’s dirty, sludgy riff fest To Ride, Shoot Straight And Speak The Truth, imparting a dry, sardonic wit that is all too rare in death metal.

Speaking of which, I must admit I’m still baffled by the Sanguisugabogg hype this month. The Ohio quartet’s 2019 demo Pornographic Seizures gained a lot of attention, and whilst the unintelligible logo and promise of “down tuned drug death” piqued my interest, I was disappointed to discover it was just more generic death metal with an obsessive lyrical focus on violence towards women.

Before even getting into the wider implications of metal’s misogyny problem (which has already been written about in far greater detail than I could manage in this column), aren’t you, oh erudite 21st century extreme metal fan, not bored of this shit by now? The standard defence of this stuff is that death metal is supposed to be shocking and tackle difficult themes, but we’ve currently got a wealth of death metal acts tackling themes far more “difficult” than male sexual frustration, from reasoning with the unknowable void of death itself to resisting the global rise of fascism (check out the new Putrescine album lower down in this column).

Hell, if you want sexual themes, Vastum write about sexual organs and fluids in a vivid, gruesome yet non-violent manner that verges on body horror, making the human form sound like some kind of unknowable Lovecraftian beast. It’s a much headier, more visceral and engaging experience than hearing another dude cosplaying as a sex offender for the umpteenth time.

Thankfully, Sanguisugabogg seem to have taken this on board and turned down the misogyny for their Century Media debut Tortured Whole, with lyrics focussing on hunting paedophiles and slicing off their penises instead. It still feels like the band don’t really have much to say, however, and there’s something very dated about this smirking, gross-out approach – it’s the kind of stuff you may have chuckled at in a Skinless lyric sheet as a teenager, but seems rather passé these days.

You might say death metal is all about the riffs anyway, but even on that front, this album is a frustrating experience. Tracks like ‘Dragged By A Truck’ are satisfying chunks of knuckle-dragging Dying Fetus-esque riffery, backed by a full, gristly guitar tone and tastefully pingy snare, but they’re few and far between. The moronic, lifeless ‘Dead As Shit’ is clearly aiming for simplistic, caveman style riffing, but overshoots the mark and ends up sounding about as menacing as a Six Feet Under YouTube play-through. It feels like they had enough material for another decent EP here but have prematurely padded it out with filler to make an album; a suspicion exacerbated by the useless, atmosphere-free keyboard interludes with imaginative titles like ‘Pornographic’ and ‘Interlube’. Regardless of hype or lyrical controversy, it’s still hard to recommend this over label mates Frozen Soul’s clearly superior debut from earlier this year.

Eyehategod – A History Of Nomadic Behaviour

(Century Media)

Seven years after their triumphant self-titled comeback record, the kings of NOLA sludge are back again, albeit in a more stripped down form. With the departure of Brian Patton, Jimmy Bower remains as the band’s sole guitarist, whilst the tragic passing of Joe LaCaze before 2014’s Eyehategod was released makes this the band’s first with The Mystick Krewe Of Clearlight drummer Aaron Hill behind the kit. The line-up changes are definitely noticeable too, with ‘Built Beneath The Lies’ making for a fairly awkward opener, with a thinner guitar sound and more stunted groove, not to mention an oddly restrained performance from vocalist Mike IX Williams. Stick with it however, as thankfully A History Of Nomadic Behaviour irons out most of these issues as it progresses – ‘Fake What’s Yours’ successfully swerves between bouncy, staccato riffery and a convincingly My War-esque dirge, and by the time ‘Current Situation’ rolls around, we’re back into classic EHG territory, giving Hill more space to flex his drumming chops as Bower summons a flurry of noisy, Dave Chandler-style feedback before dropping into an irresistibly huge, earth quaking groove whilst Williams howls about how his ”day job hangs by a thread”. ‘High Risk Trigger’ is even better, boasting one of those writhing, messy chug riffs the band are so good at as Williams urges us to ”destroy the USA”. A History Of Nomadic Behaviour may not be the snarling, triumphant return that 2014’s self-titled was, but then, given everything this band has been through over the last twenty years, it was not only a wonder that that album was so good, but that it even existed in the first place – which makes the presence of this new one seem even more miraculous. It’s still a great album, and just because it doesn’t match their former glories doesn’t make it an unwelcome addition to their discography at all. At this point, Eyehategod have nothing left to prove, and if, having released some of the most feral and intense sludge records the genre has to offer, they were to spend their twilight years as a band exploring more subdued, hazy material like the gorgeous bluesy interlude ‘Smoker’s Piece’, that’d be just fine with me.

Memoriam – To The End

(Reaper Entertainment)

If you were worried that the departure of drummer Andy Whale and a worldwide pandemic would put an end to Memoriam’s insane work ethic, then think again; To The End, their fourth LP since forming just five years ago, might well be their most dynamic offering to date. The group’s established groovy death metal sounds tighter and punchier than ever on tracks like ‘The War Is Won’, but Memoriam frequently step outside their comfort zone here, resulting in great moments like the stomping, post punk indebted ‘Mass Psychosis’ or ‘Each Step (One Closer To The Grave’, a crushing doom epic that feels like The IVth Crusade-era Bolt Thrower taken to an even slower, more morose extreme, with vocalist Karl Willets clearly relishing the opportunity to belt out his distinctive roar atop a more lumbering, emotive soundscape. Whilst Karl’s lyrics aren’t as explicitly political this time, there’s still a lot of social commentary – the bruising ‘Failure To Comply’, for instance, rails against authoritarianism and feels eerily prescient given the UK’s continued transformation into a full blown police state. Pounding closer ‘As My Heart Grows Cold’ delivers some of Karl’s most personal and heartfelt words yet too, ending the record on an unexpectedly introspective note. Whilst still packing one hefty sonic punch, To The End proves there’s much more depth to the Memoriam sound than may initially meet the ear.

Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm


US solo project of Jacob Buczarsk, Mare Cognitum has become synonymous with atmospheric, progressive black metal over the last decade, with 2020’s jaw-dropping two-hour split with Spectral Lore rightfully bringing his work to a much wider audience. Solar Paroxysm is his fifth album so far, and arguably the most immediate and intense too – opener ‘Antaresian’ is one of the best songs he’s ever written, a stirring melodic epic bolstered by ruthlessly aggressive blastbeats and yearning, emotive lead guitar. There’s a hint of melodeath in some of the riffs here too, similar to the direction Panopticon took on Roads To The North – but whilst that album had a thoroughly cold, wintery aesthetic, Solar Paroxysm is imbued with a scorching, white hot vitriol, with the rousing guitar harmonies of tracks like ‘Luminous Accretion’ radiating a palpable, enveloping warmth. Whilst all five of these tracks push the eleven minute mark, they’re all paced perfectly rather than just being lengthy for the sake of it. There’s a really satisfying progression in all these songs, not least the stunning ‘Terra Requiem’ which gradually evolves from a desolate, almost Xasthur-esque crawl to a grandiose, celestial wall of sound, with the crystal clear production and bright, vivid guitar tone helping to create the impression you’ve just been hurled into the centre of the sun. Simply put, Solar Paroxysm is the best black metal record of 2021 so far, and a perfectly fiery, passionate tonic to burn away what’s left of this dark, gruelling winter.

Agent Steel – No Other Godz Before Me

(Dissonance Productions)

Given how increasingly surreal reality is getting, there’s perhaps been no better time for conspiracy theory obsessed LA speed metallers Agent Steel to make a comeback. The band reformed in the late 90s without original vocalist John Cyriis, of course, but now Cyriis has resurrected the name with an entirely new line-up on his own terms – and in all honesty, the unpretentious, rollicking thrash contained on No Other Godz Before Me has much more in common with the band’s classic early records like Skeptics Apocalypse than any of the post-99 Agent Steel records, with tracks like ‘Trespassers’ and soaring opener ‘Crypts Of Galactic Damnation’ delivering raucous, hooky metal anthems. Cyriis’ voice has aged surprisingly well too – whilst he can’t quite hit those same glass shattering notes he belted out in the band’s 80s heyday and there’s noticeably more multi-tracking this time round, his range is still solid, deploying gruffer, grittier tones in tracks like ‘Veterans Of Disaster’ alongside his trademark Maiden-esque wail. Besides, it’s easier to forgive any shortcomings when his new band have so effortlessly nailed that early Agent Steel sound. ‘Outer Space Connection’, for example, is just pure, ripping 80s speed metal, dispensing with the groovier influences that crept in on the band’s “other” comeback records. If you’ve had enough of the modern world and want to lose yourself in wild tales of alien abduction set to vintage speed metal, look no further.

Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon


Speaking of unexpected returns, Genghis Tron emerge from a decade long hiatus this month too, with the long-awaited follow-up to their hyperactive, electronically tinged avant-metal magnum opus Board Up The House. A lot can happen in ten years however, and this latest incarnation of Genghis Tron is a little different – the most noticeable change is the departure of harsh vocalist Mookie Singerman, with new frontman Tony Wolski adopting a much more restrained, melodic and distant vocal approach. Whilst not the most expressive vocalist, his detached, almost robotic presence is a good fit for these grandiose, dream-like songs, which feel much calmer and more washed out than the band’s earlier, more manic material. There’s a much greater emphasis on hazy Boards Of Canada-esque synths here too, although conversely, the addition of Baptists and Sumac drummer Nick Yacyshyn helps give the record a more organic quality than the more consciously synthetic, drum machine backed sound of yore. Despite the more understated aesthetic, there’s still definitely a hint of prog rock maximalism underpinning the triumphant riffs of the title track, whilst the gorgeous, sun-kissed vistas of ‘Alone In The Heart Of The Light’ bring to mind Deftones’ sultrier moments. If the dizzying variety, aggressive electronica and frenetic pace of Board Up The House was like entering an arcade as a teenager and frantically darting between all the different machines, then Dream Weapon is like returning to the same arcade years later as an adult, content to just leisurely stroll around and soak up the ambience instead. It might disappoint fans looking for an instant thrill, but for anyone else, this is a mature, surprisingly affecting comeback.

Pupil Slicer – Mirrors


If it’s instant thrills you’re after however, then you won’t hear anything more hectic this month than this London mathcore trio’s debut album. Despite wearing the influence of acts like Converge, Botch and The Dillinger Escape Plan proudly on their sleeves, Pupil Slicer really manage to make this style sound fresh and invigorating again. There’s a hint of newer metalcore bands like Vein and Code Orange too, but without the off-putting nu-metal flavour; the use of glitchy sound effects and disorientating, cut-up production techniques here is far more coherent, imaginative and well-implemented than either of those bands.

There’s an element of playfulness here too, which actually helps these bizarre, head-spinning song structures feel even more abrasive and deranged. It’s hard to imagine other more posturing hardcore bands getting away with the joyous “WOO!” that punctuates ‘L’Appel Du Vide’, for instance, but this brief moment of levity certainly doesn’t detract from the song’s power – if anything, it makes the ensuing onslaught of jagged, atonal scrapes and neck snapping rhythmic oddities feel even more confrontational by comparison. Guitarist Kate Davies’ vocal performance is completely unhinged too, in the best possible way – there’s a palpable desperation and intensity behind her caustic, wide-eyed shrieks, both on dizzying, technical whirlwinds like ‘Villified’ and chuggier, more muscular fare like ‘Wounds Upon My Skin’. Believe the hype, this thing will tear your head clean off.

Mork – Katedralen


If you’re currently waiting with bated breath for more news on the upcoming Darkthrone album, then this new record from fellow countrymen Mork should certainly tide you over. Now on his fifth full-length, Thomas Eriksen has fully realised the Mork sound; a cold, traditionally Norwegian brand of black metal but with a robust, full production and subtle hints of rock & roll swagger, not a million miles away from Ravishing Grimness-era Darkthrone (even Nocturno Culto himself pops up on the sumptuously dark ‘Svartmalt’). Whilst there’s a classic feel to the frosty, evocative tremolo riffs of ‘Evig Intense Smerte’ and raucously punky, filth encrusted opener ‘Dødsmarsjen’, Eriksen manages to capture that classic Darkthrone vibe without being fully beholden to it – the resonant chanted vocals and curiously melodic strains of ‘Arv’ feel like a more minimal Enslaved, for instance, and even the aforementioned ‘Svartmalt’ manages to incorporate some mournful, melodic and almost post punkesque riffs into its cold black metal assault. Katedralen won’t change the world, but if you’re after some classic, unpretentious Norwegian black metal, it’ll hit the spot.

Caïna – Take Me Away From All This Death

(Self Release)

Caïna’s ninth album is a very different beast to 2019’s Gentle Illness, even though it shares a similarly bold, open-minded approach to merging genres. Whilst that album was Andrew Curtis-Brignell’s most personal yet, delving into themes of mental illness and depression, Take Me Away From All This Death has a flamboyant, escapist, almost theatrical vibe to it, perhaps on some level a response to the incessant misery of the last year. There’s still an intense darkness to this record though, and if Gentle Illness began to deconstruct Caïna’s reputation as a post-black metal band, this one seems to do away with it entirely. That’s not to say there isn’t a strong black metal influence here, but Brignell’s sound palette is broader than ever. ‘Bleeding Light’s huge, gothic guitar swells, booming vocals and martial stomp feel like the weird middle ground between The Ruins Of Beverast and Killing Joke, whilst ‘Castlevanian Hunger’ pairs a spectral, curiously distant D-beat against a wall of murky guitars and aggressively whispered vocals, like a crustier Beherit. The title track, on the other hand, is a gloomy slice of medieval neo-folk, with his dusky baritone complimented by emotive, post-rock style tremolo swells, and ‘Oceans Of Time’(Hail To Robert Smith)’ is unsurprisingly pure Disintegration worship. ‘Circle Of Waves’ is perhaps the most schizophrenic track, alternately a moody darkwave banger with Andy doing his best Dave Gahan impression and a searing, frostbitten black metal rager.

Putrescine – The Fading Flame


These Californians’ 2019 demo The One Reborn was exceptionally promising, and right from the disorientating, King Crimson-esque riffs that begin ‘Age Of Fire’, you can tell this debut full-length isn’t going to be your average OSDM album. Whilst heavily inspired by classic Earache acts like Morbid Angel and Carcass, Putrescine definitely have a more contemporary approach, contrasting twisted song structures with vintage death metal riffery – check out the way ‘Devourer Of Gods’ balances eerie, Gorguts-esque dissonance with supremely satisfying, knuckle-dragging chugging. It’s a pretty perfect balance between technicality and pure, unbridled aggression, with the incredibly sinister melodic edge of tracks like ‘Profaned Failure’ recalling both the macabre atmosphere of early At The Gates and the subtle, warped phrasing of Suffocation’s more melodious moments. There’s a hint of Necrophagist in the fiddly, intricate riffing of the title track too, but with any sort of neo-classical flavour replaced by a cold, atonal eeriness. Despite utilising a drum machine throughout, there’s a ferocious energy running through this album. Whilst the mechanical drum sound is more noticeable during the album’s slower passages, they’re programmed with enough imagination and vigour that it hardly matters – especially when the riffs and song writing are so consistently strong. A song like ‘That Mountain’ manages to seamlessly fuse Necroticism era Carcass with seething hardcore punk vitriol and spiralling, proggy lead passages, and closer ‘In A Setting Sun’ is astonishing, marrying evil Covenant style riffs to forlorn strings. You may be spoilt for choice when it comes to death metal in 2021, but The Fading Flame proves Putrescine are one of the most cerebral, righteous and interesting prospects the genre has to offer right now.

Celestial Sanctuary – Soul Diminished

(Redefining Darkness / Church Road)

If you’re hungry for even more death metal, this debut from London’s Celestial Sanctuary comes highly recommended. As you’d expect from a band named after a Bolt Thrower song, there’s a strong old-school vibe to their crunchy, mid-paced death metal, but with a subtle yet noticeable hardcore influence that prevents them from sounding like a self-consciously “retro” act. The riffs in songs like ‘Relentless Savagery’ and the pummelling yet swinging ‘Suffer Your Sentience’ are just sheer brute-force ragers, lumbering doomy chugs peppered with pinch harmonics and powered by rumbling, thunderous double-kick. Guitarist Thomas Cronin’s vocals are distinctive too, aggressively throaty and caked in reverb, almost like a slightly more guttural, deeper Riley Gale. Soul Diminished doesn’t do anything especially out of the ordinary, but its fusion of doomy death metal with ferocious punk swagger is immensely satisfying nonetheless. If you’re into The IVth Crusade-era Bolt Thrower but wish it was easier to mosh to, you’ll want to snap this up right away.

Yawning Sons – Sky Island

(Ripple Music)

Finally, here’s something a bit more laidback for those encroaching summer evenings. It’s been over a decade since Kent space rockers Sons Of Alpha Centauri first teamed up with legendary Yawning Man guitarist and desert rock pioneer Gary Arce for the debut Yawning Sons album, and whilst that blissful, kaleidoscopic and spaced out sound remains, there’s a noticeably darker tone to Sky Island. Evidently even the desert wasn’t safe from the oppressive, isolationist vibe of the past year; take dusty, crestfallen stand-out ‘Cigarette Footsteps’ for example, which finds Fatso Jetson’s Mario Lalli tenderly musing on “towns connected by satellite flight, devices with faces, magnetic forces”. The undulating bass tones, soaring vocals and shifting rhythms of opener ‘Adrenaline Rush’ feel almost like a more low-key, smoked out Tool, whilst Hermano bassist Dandy Brown lends his wounded but sugary sweet vocals to the washed out, late night blues of ‘Low In The Valley’. Arce’s beautiful, shimmering guitar leads are immediately recognisable throughout, taking a focal presence and adding extra layers of depth to these songs without ever overpowering them – and as predominately song-based as Sky Island is, it still makes room for some prime thousand-yard-stare jams too (check out Gary trading licks with celestial, Tangerine Dream-esque keys in ‘Passport Beyond The Tides’, for instance). A sombre, thoughtful and emotive slice of desert rock, this is a perfect soundtrack for what’s shaping up to be another weird summer.

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