Horns Up Ya Shitters! July’s Best Metal Reviewed

Toby Cook has run out of things to say about drugs! Luckily it's a bumper month of releases from Om, Testament, Bestial Holocaust and more...

In between trying to find time to read Moby Dick (for the first time, rather ashamedly), attempting to deal with my wildly conflicting emotions towards the Olympics and thinking of ways to desperately squeeze drug references into this column, in the last month I have learned…

1) Music has always been, and will always continue to be one of the most vital forms of free expression; whilst it’s equally valid as a medium of art in and of itself, the importance of its frequent utilisation as a tool to rally against social, political and religious injustices cannot be under stated. In that spirit, then, I give you Janaza, Iraq’s first, and in all likelihood only, female-fronted black metal band. Some of you may have already seen this story, but it’s worth sharing again due to how genuinely inspiring it is; that they choose black metal as their medium only makes it more so as it’s often, and wrongly, assumed to be the music of choice for intolerant, right-wing nationalists. Yes, it is ultra lo-fi – even for black metal – and the quality of the song writing is average at best, but Janaza and your front woman Anahita (not her real name), Columnus Metallicus salutes you; I for one would trade every vacuous, thuggish, misogynistic deathcore band and every self-serving, sanctimonious, champagne-quaffing ‘humanitarian’ Coldplay or U2 for just one of you.

2) Take it from me: never, ever, ever go speed dating – it’s one of the most unnatural, uncomfortable and awkward ways you could ever wish to waste an evening, and all the forced ‘fun’ of a failing holiday camp in Lowestoft. I’d rather have had my prostate examined by Glen Danzig.

3) Err… Something about drugs.

OM Advaitic Songs (Drag City)

A friend of mine said a while back that there is no better band to smoke weed and pretend you’re clever to than OM; others have told me that Al Cisneros is “always playing the same riff”. And in a certain way they’re both right. In another, more accurate way though, they’re both so utterly wrong and miss the point of OM so spectacularly it almost makes me want Glen Danzig to be all up in my anal cavity. Try instead listening to Advaitic Songs as fluid expressions of emotion and atmosphere, an attempt to bridge the gap between one’s surroundings and internal projections; meditation, whether it be through hulking riffs or subtle meanders. With this in mind I actually thought that their last LP, God Is Good, was fucking great and I’m not sure that this betters it.

Yes, the haunting, female vocal led opener ‘Addis’ is as affecting as it is impressive in its scope (as is the chanting male chorus which opens ‘Sinai’) and ‘State Of Non-Return’ features a truly crushing, distortion layered riff, but for the main – largely down to the string sections – it actually feels a little clichéd, all a bit Laurence Of Arabia-y. This is still one of the most ambitious LPs you’re going to hear this year, but OM’s music used to possess a tranquillity not totally belied by its sheer power and repetition. Conversely, Advaitic Songs somehow seems more clustered and restless in spite of its lack of power.

Gaza No Absolutes In Human Suffering
(Black Market Activities)

Of course another inescapable aspect of OM is the weighty religious aspect of their aesthetic, the thematic hagiography and “pan-global spirituality”. Gaza also have the overwhelming weight of religion pervading almost every aspect of their very being, yet rather than it being the source for poetic inspiration and interpretation it’s, well…. Gaza sell t-shirts that say ‘the Pope is a criminal’ on them and make the late Christopher Hitchens look like a cuddly agnostic. I wasn’t aware of Gaza until a few years back when I caught them supporting Converge, and they’re one of the only bands I’ve seen that are anywhere near as punishing, unrestrained and engrossing as the Boston legends.

So why are they virtually unheard of? Shoddily produced records are why. Now though, they’ve gone and got Kurt motherfucking Ballou behind the desk and the results are fucking incredible: the results are sludge angled hardcore and off kilter rhythms that are heavier than the weight of your nonexistent God. As usual Jon Parkin’s vocals are so full of bile you can feel the phlegm hit you in the face, but the deceptively technical guitar work finally gets the sort of attention that allows the subtler movements to contrast rather than compete. Easily one of the best records of its kind you’ll hear all year.

Primate Draw Back A Stump

Phil Anselmo approved and featuring Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher and Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharpe, the initial, self-released EP version of Draw Back A Stump was a fairly impenetrable, muddy mess that more than anything else sounded like an excuse to get away from their wives and their infinitely more ‘serious’ main projects and to have some fun by playing grind heavy Black Flag covers. Remastered, extended and re-released with additional guitar tracks, this new Relapse version by comparison absolutely fucking slays! Whilst it still sounds about as fun as hardcore/ punk/ grind is going to get, especially with added tracks like ‘Get The Fuck Off My Lawn’, it’s now less like being mauled by that brain injured chimp at the zoo who pisses in his own mouth, and more like being butchered by that monkey Caesar in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Enabler All Hail The Void
(Southern Lord)

The thing I like about that whole ‘six degrees of separation’ deal is that it’s comforting to know that I’m only six steps away from meeting Kerry King. And the metal world has something similar too – it’s about four degrees shorter and it’s simply called Steve Austin, such is the size of the roster of musicians that have served time in Today Is The Day. Example: Primate/Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher, to Enabler drummer Jeff Lohrber. Admittedly, whilst not exactly radio friendly, Enabler’s metallic punk/hardcore/dirge is far less deranged than even the most accessible TITD number, but as with a lot of Austin’s former cohorts the waft of mania and unchecked extremity remains – notably with the insanely relentless double kick drum work of ‘False Profit’ (extra points for referencing John Carpenter’s masterpiece They Live with ‘They Live, We Sleep’ too).

Bestial Holocaust Into The Goat Vulva
(Iron Bonehead)

How good is that name? And that title! Why would you name your band something shit like ‘Stoner Kebab’ (a real band, by the way) and give your record some pompous art-cunt title that no one really gets, like ( ), when you could be called Bestial Holocaust, title your third full length Into The Goat Vulva and have a picture of a six titted Baphomet with a ruptured womb on the cover? These dudes – and dude-ess (their vocalist is Sonia Sepulcral) – are more than just awesome names though, and whilst their blackened thrash is fairly conventional the psychotic amount of kvlt riffs and their eye-bleeding velocity – not to mention the vocals, that sound like Gorgoroth’s Pest falling down a sulphur pit – relieve any shortfall in quality. (Tip: Don’t accidently mention that you’ve been listening to this to a well dressed young call centre manager when you’re on a speed date. You will get a look like you just admitted to being Jeffrey Dahmer).

Nachtmystium Silencing Machine
(Century Media)

I got just a little bit of shit in the comments section last month when I said that I wasn’t really sure what counted for ‘tr00 kvlt black metal’ these days, and that I didn’t really care. And I stand by that – I think it’s irrelevant. My point was that there is no point in arguing about what is and what isn’t ‘tr00 kvlt black metal’ and trying to sound like those early records, groundbreaking as they were. Let’s marvel at the fact that the boundaries of black metal have been expanded so far that Silencing Machine actually represents a marked reigning in of Nachtmystium’s progressive tendencies; that there are truly harrowing mid-tempo dirges like ‘I Control You’ and closer ‘These Rooms In which We Sleep’ – that owe as much to Neurosis and Katatonia as they do Bathory and Burzum – up against the blast beats and heavy phase of the title track. Bleak, torturous; stunning.

Testament Dark Roots Of The Earth
(Nuclear Blast)

I’m not too sure that it’s really worth making it a ‘Big 5’ just yet, but if one of the Big 4 got sick and couldn’t make it in, like if Anthrax all got the clap at the same time, then Testament would get my vote, although not just because Dark Roots Of The Earth is nearly flawless. I say ‘nearly’ because you can’t, however, argue that it’s up there with their previous LP, The Formation Of Damnation, for one very good reason: ‘Cold Embrace’, which is quite honestly little more than turgid, M.O.R./soft rock nonsense that’s not so much ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ as it is ‘Every Rose Will Give You Hepatitis’. That said, whilst I get the whole ‘turd in a swimming pool’ rationale, to be honest, here, it’s totally worth just swimming around it – especially when you’ve got the likes of ‘Native Blood’, which seems purpose built for Gene Hoglan’s continually baffling drum work, or the chugging and shifting rhythms, harmonising guitars and flailing solo excesses of ‘A Day Of Death’.

Necro Deathmort The Colonial Script
(Distraction Records)

The answer to the question you’re asking yourself is: because this column is just as disorganised as my life is in general, perhaps even more so – which is why I look like a less healthy version of one of the ‘stars’ of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, albeit with a better collection of crust t-shirts. And it’s how we go from Testament to Necro Deathmort; from old school thrash to drone drenched trip-hop – or drone-hop perhaps? (Actually, no, not drone-hop, I fell dirty for having even suggested that one). However you choose to term it, I fucking love this record and its sci-fi overtones. From a beats perspective, there’s a huge debt owed to the likes of Scorn and Techno Animal, yet where the latter’s Justin Broadrick visited similar areas recently with his JK Flesh LP, Posthuman, here the crushing drone of guitars are more of the claw flinging doom variety than the industrial bludgeon favoured by Broadrick.

Baroness Yellow & Green

From the sublime to the ridiculous, as the axiom goes. No wait, sorry, that’s stupid, because as polarising as Yellow & Green is, one thing neither those who consider it ‘genius’ nor those who are ‘baffled, but in a debilitatingly furious way (like when you see those fucking ‘Wowcher’ adverts on TV and then want ram a screwdriver into your forehead)’ can argue that, in terms of musicianship at least, it’s not a very, very good album. It actually doesn’t matter that it’s not that metal either. There are some genuinely killer tunes, with genuinely killer riffs, not to mention some complex, soulful vocal harmonies – as during ‘Twinkler’ – and beautifully listless instrumentals such as closer ‘If I forget Thee, Low country’. The problem is, however, that they are surrounded by power ballads, Radiohead-ish emotion-a-thons (‘Eula’) and over produced, Green Day-like half-ideas (‘Psalms Alive’). Somewhere in here is one phenomenally good record, but on this occasion there are so many turds in the pool it’s best to just get out and put the Red Album on before you start finding bits of sweetcorn stuck to your face.

Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till & Wino Songs Of Townes Van Zandt
(My Proud Mountain)

A sombre and decidedly un-metal note to end on this month then, but what’s the high without the comedown, right? Anyway, although you can bet that in one way or another the music of Townes Van Zandt has touched and influenced almost every other artist on this list, there could hardly be three more appropriate musicians to contribute to an album that is not so much about exploratory interpretations – despite the electrified ‘Lungs’ or the lysergic ‘Snake Song’ – as it is about faithful and reverential eulogies to a talented yet difficult and troubled man. Kelly’s seven minute ‘Tecumseh Valley’ in particular is like having your heart ripped out by a Steinbeck novel.

And that’s it for this month – it was a long one, but we got through it. Next time: Old Man Gloom, Eagle Twin and a piece of hard rock candy. But it’s not for eatin’. It’s just for lookin’ through.

Horns up, ya shitters!

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