Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For November Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Kez Whelan cannot wait to see the back of 2020, he just needs to tell you about new albums by Beherit, Jesu and Undergang first

Boris And Merzbow

You join us here, in the final edition of Columnicus Metallicus for one of the most surreal/awful (delete as applicable) years in recent memory, before December’s inevitable end of year round-up – and what a feast we’ve got for you.

Ordinarily it feels sort of premature to be putting the final touches to an Album Of The Year list in early November – sort of like Christmas decorations going up before bonfire night – but this year has been such a slog, I can’t wait to see the back of it. Roll on the year end lists, I say, let’s just call the rest of 2020 a write-off and be done with it.

What are you going to do between now and January, realistically? Write a novel? Learn to play a new instrument? Or curl up in the foetal position as you watch society continue to implode whilst clutching those festival tickets you bought for next year with a Gollum-like fervour and praying to the Lord Iommi himself for some semblance of normality to return after this entirely arbitrary passing of another calendar year?

I think we both know the answer to that. But there’s still a wealth of great records due out before we can finally wave goodbye to 2020, including some damn near essential new outings from Fuck The Facts and Undergang that have made me want to go back and re-

shuffle that AOTY list for the umpteenth time. If that’s not enough, there are also new opuses from Jesus, Boris & Merzbow and even a brand new Beherit album. You didn’t think you’d be reading that in 2020, eh? So chin up, it’s not all bad…

Fuck The Facts – Pleine Norceur

(Noise Salvation)

It’s hard to believe it’s already been half a decade since the last Fuck The Facts record. After a string of excellent albums for Relapse, the Canadian grinders chose to go it alone, forming their own label Noise Salvation and recording everything themselves at their own home studio. This resulted in arguably their finest record to date in 2015’s Desire Will Rot, but since then, the band has been unusually silent… until now. The first thing that will strike you about Pleine Norceur is just how fucking big it sounds; the production on this record is absolutely thunderous, boasting a crisp, punchy sound and one of the most rich, full-bodied guitar tones they’ve ever had. Musically, it’s a lot more melancholy and melodic than its predecessor, harking back to the darker tones of 2011’s Die Miserable. There’s still more straightforward grinding fare like the savage ‘Ailleurs’ or the ultra-precise thrash riffery of ‘Sans Lumière’, but songs like the title track and tortured six minute opener ‘Doubt, Fear, Neglect’ have a far more plaintive, sombre atmosphere to them.

‘A Dying Light’ goes even further in that direction, with emotive lead passages spiralling out over forlorn, doomy guitar harmonies, whilst ‘Everything I Love Is Ending’ and ‘Dropping Like Flies’ bring a stirring crust punk vibe, the latter feeling like a particularly potent fusion of His Hero Is Gone and Bolt Thrower. A lot of the song structures feel less hyperactive than some of the band’s past works, but they’re no less surprising, constantly keeping you on your toes throughout. Pleine Norceur doesn’t feel quite as dynamic or focussed as Desire Will Rot overall, but what it lacks in grinding tumult it makes up for with its intense emotional gut punch.

Jesu – Terminus


Following the surprise release of the Never EP in July, Justin Broadrick unveiled a whole new Jesu album this month – although it appears the EP’s electronic direction was a one-off, as Terminus goes right back to the gloomy, guitar driven, indie rock influenced sound of 2011’s Ascension, only with an even more despondent, introspective direction this time. Songs like ‘Sleeping In’ and the title track itself build slowly but surely from very minimal, downbeat chords to glorious Explosions In The Sky-esque climaxes, whilst ‘Disintegrating Wings’ is like a more celestial, angelic Slint, with its shimmering guitar swells and distant vocals.

Never’s electronic flourishes haven’t completely disappeared though, but they’re implemented more subtly here; ‘Alone’ uses very similar glitchy, euphoric vocal sampling but over glistening dream pop instead of cold, pounding beats, sounding more like the Cocteau Twins than any of the contemporary producers Never brought to mind. ‘Give Up’ has a very 4AD vibe to it too, with gently throbbing drum loops and gorgeous, twinkling chords bleeding in and out of one another. ‘Consciousness’ is probably the closest thing here to the EP material, with booming 808s and crisp claps carrying warm drones and some of Broadrick’s most alien sounding vocals yet.

Terminus is a very slow, sleepy and melancholy record – it’s not the kind of music that will immediately leap out and grab you, but if you’re patient with it and allow these songs to seep under your skin, it’s quite beautiful indeed. A great album to hibernate with over the coming months.

Beherit – Bardo Exist


2020 just keeps on rolling out surprises, as legendary Finnish black metal pioneers Beherit return with their first new full-length since 2009’s storming comeback Engram. Bardo Exist is very definitely not a metal record however, returning instead to the ritualistic dark ambient and sinister electronica of 1994’s H418ov21.C and 1996’s Electric Doom Synthesis; but whilst both those albums were held back by their technical limitations (at times charmingly so), this new album feels much more robust and well-realised. It’s also much more beat driven, albeit subtly. Songs like the nightmarish deep house pulse of ‘Shadow Prayer’ and the gloomy, dubby swagger of ‘Acid Death Vision’ are a lot more propulsive than Beherit’s former ambient material – the downbeat ‘Ghost Visitor’ even feels like a more rudimentary, lo-fi Raime with hoarse, guttural vocals.

Some of the sparser, spacier tracks on here sound huge too, like the kosmische synth flutters of ‘Peilien Vanki’ and vast cinematic swells on ‘Sorrowers’, a far cry from the cheap, basic synth sounds of H418ov21.C. Bardo Exist isn’t going to change the world, but it is arguably the most focussed and mature ambient record Beherit have ever released. Even if you’re disappointed this isn’t a continuation of the band’s ground-breakingly bestial metal sound, give it a go – you may be pleasantly surprised.

Undergang – Aldrig I Livet

(Dark Descent)

Danish death metallers Undergang’s pulverising debut Indhentet Af Døden is now ten years old, and it’s interesting to note how far ahead of the curve they were in many ways. Whilst this primitive sound has made a huge comeback in recent years, Undergang’s ultra-guttural, detuned take on old school Autopsy-esque death metal seemed quite novel a decade ago, and they’ve never really faltered since. This fifth album is a particularly potent example of their sound by all accounts though; whilst Døden Læger Alle Sår felt overlong and Misantropologi was tantalisingly short, Aldirg I Livet is just right, with not a dull moment on it, just a barrage of the kind of sickeningly satisfying riffage that will keep your face locked into an involuntary gurn from start to finish. After a revoltingly effective intro, ‘Spontan Bakteriel Selvantændelse’ is one of the band’s most ferociously paced numbers to date, hitting like vintage Mortician with a vortex of blasts and indecipherable vocal belches. Despite the oppressively thick, dirty nature of their sound, tracks like ‘Ufrivillig Donation Af Vitale Organer’ still have an irresistible groove to them, attaining a uniquely squelchy bounce that really sets the band apart.

Whilst a lot of bands of this ilk tend to lose a certain energy as they get older and more efficient, Undergang sound more psychotic than they’ve ever done on tracks like the tortuous ‘Sygelige Nydelser (Del III) Emetofili’. Their warped song writing is consistently interesting and keeps the album free of cliché too; ‘Indtorret’ may start out as a straight-forwardedly boisterous D-beat charged anthem, for example, but it’s not long before the song derails itself in glorious fashion with macabre doomy licks and unnerving, vaguely psychedelic wafts of droning guitar squall, whilst ‘Usommelig Omgang Med Lig’ is surprisingly dynamic, contrasting slabs of rancid distortion against isolated snare fills and an eerie, clean midsection. They may have arrived late to 2020, but in its closing moments it looks like Undergang have just taken the prize for Most Satisfying Old School Death Metal Record Of The Year by a longshot. Bravo!

Skelethal – Unveiling The Threshold

(Hells Headbangers)

Don’t overlook this new Skelethal album either however. Despite hailing from the sunny climes of Lille, France, their sound is a dead ringer for that early Swedish style pioneered by Entombed, Dismember, Carnage etc. In the time since 2017’s debut album Of The Depths, the duo have expanded out into a four-piece, and gotten a fuck of a lot faster in the interim too. The blistering pace and stop-on-a-dime pauses of opener ‘Sidereal Lifespan’ makes it clear from the off that this new incarnation means business, adding a mouth-wateringly delicious Repulsion-esque grindcore seasoning to their authentic Swe-death formula. This carries over into songs like ‘Cave Dwellers’ too, a ferocious punk influenced blitzkrieg complete with lightspeed blasts and squealing, Slayer style divebomb solos.

In fact, everything about Unveiling The Threshold feels like it’s been improved upon when compared to the debut – the atmospheric parts are even creepier (just wrap your ears around the evocative, stylish leads in ‘Antropomorphia’ and ‘On Sombre Soil’), the riffing is even tighter (the skin-flaying hammer-on licks on ‘Repulsive Recollections’) and the band’s song writing is even more focussed , and even more expansive when it needs to be. Seven minute closer ‘Abyssal Church… The Portal Revealed’ is their most ambitious track yet, revealing a more cosmic, proggy angle to the band’s sound whilst also delivering some of the gnarliest, heaviest, most blast-ridden passages on the whole record. There’s been a lot of good death metal this year, but Unveiling The Threshold is still very much worthy of your time. It’s got a convincingly Dismember-esque vibe, but enough creativity, energy and grinding intensity to avoid sounding like just another HM-2 band.

Ona Snop – Intermittent Damnation

(Lixivat / No Time / Coxinha)

If it’s grinding intensity you’re after this month though, then look no further than the second album from Leeds fastcore scamps Ona Snop. Even faster and more madcap than their 2018 debut full-length Geezer, Intermittent Damnation whips through 17 tracks of frenetic, gonzo punk in 19 minutes without so much as even a pause for breath, recalling both the blistering speed and irreverent, in-joke laden humour of powerviolence legends Spazz. Opener ‘Everybody In The World Is Fucked’ wastes no time at all, fusing blistering thrash gallop, precision blastbeats, zonked out noise rock leads and undulating bass runs into an abrasive, laser focussed riff fest. The bass is fantastically prominent throughout the album in fact; whilst the old four-strings can often end up buried in grindcore, it really rings through here, underpinning some of the caustic, shredding riffs with nimble, fluid and inventive bass lines that really bring a lot to the music.

Despite the inherently stop-start nature of this kind of music, Intermittent Damnation is incredibly cohesive and doesn’t ever feel disjointed, avoiding the schizophrenic wackiness that many “everything and the kitchen sink” style grind bands relish in – just check out how seamlessly the band incorporate vintage NWOBHM riffs in songs like ‘Ego Time’ or the boisterous ‘Some Bullshit’ without ever feeling ham-fisted or compromising their blistering, grinding fury. Whilst the musicianship is ludicrously tight here and the tempo rarely dips below “face peelingly fast”, Ona Snop’s take on the genre is far more jovial and light-hearted than most of their peers – it’s like a cartooonishly exaggerated caricature of powerviolence, and it’s non-stop fun from start to finish.

Children Of Technology – Written Destiny

(Hells Headbangers)

On the subject of non-stop fun, the long awaited third album from Italian speed metallers Children Of Technology is an absolute riot. It’s been six years since their last album Future Decay, and despite a few line-up changes and frontman DeathLörd Astwülf’s guttural, Lemmy aping bark mellowing into more of a Voivod-esque snarl, the band’s modus operandi remains very much the same; namely, brash, snotty metal-punk with a street-ready post-apocalyptic Mad Max aesthetic. ‘Soundtrack Of No Future’ is not only a depressively apt title for 2020, but also arguably the most adrenaline-pumping opener the band have offered up yet, with reverb smothered gang shouts exploding atop frantic thrash riffs like nuclear bombs. Tracks like ‘Desert City’ and ‘Warpainted Nightcreatures’ are completely infectious, hook-laden bangers, proving Children Of Technology have lost none of their boisterous energy whatsoever over the years.

There are a few moments where the band change tack just a smidgen – the title track pairs pummelling Hellhammer grooves with histrionic falsetto, whilst the surprisingly melodic vocals that open ‘The New Barbarians’ are almost like a far greasier version of Hawkwind’s punkier moments, but it’s not long before the whole thing collapses into the drunken speed metal riffing we’ve come to expect. Not that that’s a bad thing though, by any means; Written Destiny doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but it keeps the band’s trademark sound as fresh and invigorating as possible throughout. If you can’t get enough of raucous retro revivalists like Midnight, Speedwolf or Toxic Holocaust, you need this in your life right now.

Petrine Cross – Centuries Of August

(Panurus Productions)

Formed during this year’s lockdown, Petrine Cross is the latest project from Penance Stare’s Esmé Louise Newman, allowing the guitarist/vocalist to mine even murkier, more lo-fi depths. Whilst the two projects share a similar sonic language, Petrine Cross dispenses with many of Penance Stare’s goth and post-punk influences leaving a much starker, more minimal and stripped back black metal sound, situated somewhere between the buzzing menace of early Paysage d’Hiver and the depressive dirges of Xasthur. Following a demo and a handful of compilation tracks, debut album Centuries Of August is an impressively cohesive and convincingly sinister listening experience, weaving together incredibly harsh, blasting black metal with unbearably ominous keys.

‘Ripe For Solitude, Exhausted By Life’ is an absolute face-melter of an opener, scorching past in a screeching blur of dissonant, jarring filth with scant disregard for any adjustment period your ears might need to decipher the onslaught. Once they do, however, it’s amazing how quickly the song morphs from chaotic to hypnotic, despite the ferocious speed at which it whips past. This definitely isn’t just a one-note blast-fest though, as many of the album’s most haunting moments come when it slows right down; check out ‘This Lamentable Autumn’ for example, a churning, desolate death march that really makes the most of the lo-fi production, as cacophonous snare hits slice through the mix with an authoritative clang before melting back into the primordial, bubbling morass of the guitars. As you’d expect from a period in which the world’s population is confined to their rooms in solitude, it’s been a great year for isolationist black metal, but Centuries Of August still manages to sound unique amidst some stiff competition. Recommended!

Feminazgûl – No Dawn For Men


Originally released back in March, American black metal duo Feminazgûl’s debut album is getting a physical release this December through Tridroid Records. The band’s name may be a blessing and a curse – whilst it undoubtedly deters the more conservative, basement dwelling faction of black metal fandom, it probably also deterred many of the well-meaning folk who were understandably sick of the glut of terrible “meme” black metal bands that sprung up in the wake of Neckbeard Deathcamp a couple of years ago – but Feminazgûl shouldn’t be written off as another gimmick or novelty band as there’s a lot of substance here. For the most part, No Dawn For Men has a stately, atmospheric and mid-paced sound not a million miles away from a dirtier, more lo-fi Summoning, with songs like ‘I Pity The Immortal’ and the forlorn, windswept opener ‘Illa, Mother Of Death’ building walls of sound with waves of blackened riffery, stirringly stompy drums and dramatic orchestral flourishes.

‘The Rot In The Field Is Holy’, meanwhile, is a pretty unique fusion of pulsating tremolo guitars, A Silver Mt. Zion-esque violin and possessed, wailing falsetto that sounds like it shouldn’t work but really does, whilst ‘Bury The Antlers With The Stag’ has a remarkably euphoric, upbeat quality to it, masking shimmering pop melodies beneath seething distorted chords and the most hyperactive drum programming on the whole record. No Dawn For Men is certainly one of the most unique black metal records of the year, and suggests that Feminazgûl have far more staying power and a much brighter future than some of their Extremely Online™ peers.

Dark Buddha Rising – Mathreyata


After teaming up with fellow Finnish surrealists Oranssi Pazuzu for the wild prog freakout that was last year’s Waste Of Space Orchestra record, sludgy quintet Dark Buddha Rising have delved straight back into deep, dark, sub rattling doom on this, their seventh full-length. Thirteen minute opener ‘Sunyaga’ is a satisfying slow burner, pairing glacial droning guitars, harrowing screams and hypnotic and curiously Ian Brown-esque vocal hooks, like an absurdly heavy Stone Roses on the wrong combination of drugs. Things only get murkier from here, with ‘Nagathma’ stretching their thick, churning riffing style out until it breaks into a rich, chasmic drone, only for ‘Uni’ to push it out even further into the stratosphere with thunderous tom fills underpinning a vast, heady stew of swirling feedback loops. ‘Mahathgata III’ is the real show-stopper however, a fifteen minute monster that offers some of the album’s most expressive vocals and an absolutely massive, driving space rock climax that hits especially hard after breaking the hypnotic spell of the preceding half hour of far-out drones.

‘Mathreyata’ requires concentration but is suitably immersive once you’re in. Don’t expect the same levels of mind-pranging freakery that Oranssi Pazuzu’s latest delivered this year, but if you’re a fan of the Ufomammut school of slow-burning psychedelic doom epics, this should have you drooling and gazing off into the distance for the rest of the year.

Boris & Merzbow – 2R0I2P0


Finally, let’s go out on a high – and what better way to see off 2020 than topping up your tinnitus levels with another collaboration from these two Japanese icons? Following hot on the heels of 2016’s Gensho, 2R0I2P0 once again finds chameleonic trio Boris blasting through some choice cuts from their back catalogue live in the studio with additional sonic accompaniment from harsh noise legend Merzbow. Whilst Gensho almost felt like a kind of “greatest hits” package, this one offers up some more deep cuts whilst also drawing heavily from last year’s double album LOVE & EVOL, with Merzbow complimenting sparser, sleepier tracks like ‘Away From You’ brilliantly with cascades of piercing but oddly serene high-end hiss. Whilst he may be surprisingly restrained here, heavier songs like ‘Absolutego’ (the five minute ‘Absolutego’ from 2017’s Dear, that is, not the hour long track that comprises their 96 debut album of the same name – an easy mistake to make) see Merzbow going all out, as gigantic torrents of feedback battle against Wata’s colossal, wailing guitar leads to see who can blow your speakers out first. The cover of the Melvins’ classic (and the band’s namesake) ‘Boris’ is even better, with the song appearing to fray around the edges as vocals and cymbal splashes bleed into coarse, searing noise, all just about held in place by that almighty riff.

There’s something about 2R0I2P0 that feels more cathartic and incendiary than Gensho did, despite the latter having an ostensibly more immediate set list. Maybe it’s the residue of that renewed vigour that made Boris’ NO feel like such a return to form earlier this year, or maybe it’s just the collective stress of this clusterfuck of a year lending it more of a palpable, bristling tension this time round – who knows? In any case, kick back, turn it up and let the waves of cleansing, penetrating noise consume you. RIP 2020 indeed.

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