Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For July Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Your regular guide to all things heavy returns, as Kez Whelan reviews a bumper crop of Summer metal, and hails the returns of Spectral Voice, Khanate, Godlfesh and more

Boris & Uniform, photo by Ebru Yildiz

This summer has been absolutely stacked for new metal records so far, but before we get into the host of returning legends below, let’s just take a minute to appreciate the first <a href=”” target=”out”>new Spectral Voice material we’ve heard from the band in several years. Their 2020 split 7” with Anhedonist was great, but with the band sharing a full 12” with Danish filth merchants Undergang here, this one feels a lot more substantial. Undergang offer up three tracks of evil, festering death that really demonstrate why they’re hailed as one of modern death metal’s best, before Spectral Voice unleash one hefty fourteen minute monster that builds slowly and patiently to an absolutely crushing finale that sounds like reality itself melting.

I can’t get enough of the new Jøtnarr EP Rotten Fucking Planet either. The Colchester trio are often described as the missing link between black metal and crust punk (and ferocious cuts like ‘Retching’ are perfectly situated between His Hero Is Gone and Darkthrone), but there’s more to their sound than just that. A lot of the triumphant, full-bodied riffs on offer here reek of early Baroness or Mastodon, and the soaring classic rock leads on tracks like ‘Nuclear Hornet’ add a psychedelic edge too.

<a href=”” target=”out”> Innumerable Forms’ new EP The Fall Down is also essential; boasting members of Iron Lung, Power Trip and Genocide Pact, the band’s atmospheric take on death/doom is powered by a punkier energy that really elevates it above and beyond. The two new cuts here are sounding even more chasmic and otherworldly than last year’s Philosophical Collapse album, but the biggest surprise is the cover of Flower Travellin’ Band’s hallucinogenic proto-metal classic ‘Satori Part 3, which the band successfully manage to warp into a dank, Autopsy-esque death metal banger.

Esben And The Witch’s new album Hold Sacred moves away from the lumbering post-metal sound they’ve been experimenting for the last few years and returns to the more ethereal vibe of their early work, albeit with the far more organic and natural production that’s defined their recent work. There’s a subtly jazzy flavour to songs like ‘Silence, 1801’, creating an intoxicatingly dark, late night atmosphere that’s hard to resist; it may not be as riffy as their last few, but it could well be their most consistent and aesthetically well-realised offering yet.

Meanwhile, FVNERALS’ third album Let The Earth Be Silent goes in completely the opposite direction dispensing many of their gothic, dark wave influences in favour of a much heavier, bleaker approach that’s closer to full-on funeral doom. It’s a sound they wear well, and with the moodier atmosphere of their early work being bolstered by an absolutely crushing guitar tone and suffocating sense of dread, it’s arguably their most visceral album to date.

Khanate – To Be Cruel
(Sacred Bones)

The surprise release of a new Khanate album has sent shockwaves throughout not only the extreme metal underground, but the world of experimental music at large – a testament to how singularly unique this band’s deconstructionist doom metal was, and how sorely they’ve been missed. In many ways, To Be Cruel picks up right where they left off, with that almost unbearable tension present from the very first note. The most immediate difference is just how vast this album sounds – I’m not knocking the sound of their other records at all as they hold up incredibly well, but the detail and texture here is insane. tQ overlord John Doran likened its “depth and spatiality” to a Black Ark dub record in his <a href=”” target=”out”>recent interview with the band , and, whilst it’s not a comparison I may have arrived at otherwise, I can’t stop hearing it now he’s pointed it out – the way those deep, throbbing bass frequencies completely envelop you, the way they slide up against those sprawling plains of spidery guitar chords and the way the reverb from those pounding drums seems to echo out infinitely through the ether. The band’s harrowing misery has never been captured with more sonic clarity, meaning there’s a case to be made for this being both the most beautiful and downright ugliest record they’ve ever made – for as sublimely gorgeous as this album sounds on a purely sonic basis, it’s absolutely crippling on an emotional level.

The band’s use of negative space is still enthralling – listen in fear as Alan Dubin hauntingly taunts “don’t look away” in the gaps of toe-curlingly uncomfortable near-silence in ‘It Wants To Fly’ for proof. Dubin has always been one of my favourite extreme metal vocalists for the stark humanity he portrays – rather than attempting to sound like some wild, bestial demon or a deranged serial killer, he instead sounds like a reasonable, quiet man pushed to absolute breaking point, a performance that’s always implied a more disturbing violence than the B-movie gore favoured by a lot of metal. The fact that this unhinged temperament hasn’t mellowed at all in the years since Khanate’s then-swansong Clean Hands Go Foul is great for listeners, although somewhat concerning for the man’s mental health.

Godflesh – Purge

After 2017’s psychedelic, abstract Post Self found industrial metal pioneers Godflesh looking to the future, Purge instead looks back to the band’s past – it’s probably no coincidence that there’s only a letter’s difference between this and 1992’s Pure, as both draw heavily from the robust boom-bap rhythms of hip-hop whilst creating a gloomy, riff-centric mood, especially on opener ‘Nero’ or the aggressively repetitious sampling of ‘Army Of Non’. This is no mere throwback, however, as there’s a darkness to Purge that is entirely its own; there’s something suffocatingly seductive about this record’s atmosphere, with hypnotic cuts like ‘Lazarus Leper’ and the absolutely seething ‘Land Lord’ slowly coiling themselves around you like the snake on the album sleeve, closing in ever tighter until there’s no room to breathe.

The deliciously thick, weighty production adds to this effect, especially during the album’s murkier second side – the closing one-two punch of ‘Mythology Of Self’ and ‘You Are The Judge, The Jury And The Executioner’ is one of the most physically flattening in the Godflesh oeuvre. There are definitely some more upbeat moments here (the jungle inspired ‘Permission’ goes unreasonably hard, recalling some of Us And Them’s breakbeat experiments but with a much more old school Godflesh feel), but ultimately Purge feels like the missing link between the stark, crushing horror of the band’s earlier work and the bouncier, more groove-laden approach taken on records like Songs Of Love And Hate. Whichever way you slice it, it’s another absolutely devastating slab of prime Godflesh, and is not to be missed if you have any interest in industrial metal whatsoever.

Boris & Uniform – Bright New Disease
(Sacred Bones)

With Japanese shapeshifters Boris having already released hardcore punk, ambient noise and punishing sludge records this side of the pandemic, it was anyone’s guess as to what form the band would take for this collaboration with US industrial punks Uniform – and, thrillingly, the answer appears to be “all of them”. Whilst informatively titled opener ‘You Are The Beginning’ is pretty much what you’d expect from this pairing on paper, as harsh, grating industrial beats rub up against scorching psychedelic leads and Michael Berdan’s blown out bark punctuates Takeshi’s lysergic wail, but it doesn’t take long for the album to fly off the deep end with some wild tonal shifts. ‘Weaponized Grief’ plunges headfirst into spiky industrial noise and the thrashy, blastbeat addled ‘No’ feels like Full Of Hell covering G.I.S.M., but ‘The Sinners Of Hell (Jigoku)’ is a genuinely unsettling slice of dark ambient, and ‘Narcotic Shadow’ harks back to the glossy glam rock sound Boris toyed with on their 2009 Japanese Heavy Rock Hits EPs, albeit with more abrasive synth tones from Uniform. In many ways, Bright New Disease is sort of a mess – it covers a lot of ground in just half an hour, and a lot of it doesn’t hang together particularly elegantly or cohesively – but it’s a pretty glorious mess. There’s never a dull moment here, and if you enjoyed the everything-and-the-fucking-kitchen-sink-too approach of last year’s Heavy Rocks but wished it was even more hectic and surreal, this is for you.

Church Of Misery – Born Under A Mad Sign
(Rise Above)

It’s been a full seven years since we last heard from Tokyo doom legends Church Of Misery, and whilst their collaboration with Repulsion’s Scott Carlson on And Then There Were None… sounded good in theory, the end result felt a little awkward and undercooked. This one, then, feels like a proper return to form, with original vocalist Kazuhiro Asaeda back in the saddle and the band’s squelchy, fuzzed out grooves sounding heftier than ever, wrapped in a thick, warm and bassy production. There are no real surprises here, but it hardly matters when it’s delivered with such gusto; you’ve got your bouncy, swaggering rock’n’rollers like ‘Freeway Madness Boogie’ and the organ-drenched cover of Haystacks Balboa’s ‘Spoiler’, your churning, sludgy groovers like ‘Most Evil’ (which have a hint of Buzzoven here, thanks to the smoky twang of those riffs and Asaeda’s scratchier vocals) and your psychedelic, jammed out bluesy slow-burners like ‘Murder Castle Blues’, all held firmly in place by Tatsu Mikami’s thunderous undulating bass. It’s good to have them back.

Bongzilla – Dab City
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Dispelling the notion that weed makes you lazy, these stoner metal titans are back with their second reunion full-length after 2021’s Weedsconsin, not to mention splits with Tons and Boris in the interim. Dab City follows pretty closely in its predecessor’s footsteps, with the same laid-back, practice room vibe and organic production, but is even more fuzzed out and languid, with the riffs in the hulking twelve minute title track eventually slowing into huge, hazy clouds of distortion, pushed forward by the pounding, surprisingly intricate percussion. ‘Cannonbongs (The Ballad Of Burnt Reynolds As Lamented By Gentleman Dixie Dave Collins)’ does exactly what it says on tin as the Weedeater frontman (and ex-Bongzilla bassist) narrates a tale of burning beards as bong huffin’ goes awry in his gruff, husky drawl as the band plough into some of the slowest riffing on the whole record – it’s almost like a Tom Waits fronted Earth. Dab City isn’t quite as impactful or cohesive as Weedsconsin was, but it’s a great victory lap (albeit a wheezing, heavily coughing one).

Divide & Dissolve – Systemic

2021 also saw the release of anti-colonial drone/doom duo Divide & Dissolve’s breakthrough third album Gas Lit, and they’re back too this month, not only sounding more haunting than before but also significantly more intense. ‘Simulacra’ is a great case in point, beginning with sheets of violent guitar scree and brutal noise rock pummelling before lapsing in a hypnotic, mournful dirge. The band’s sound hasn’t changed too much since the last record, but it definitely feels more refined here. Systemic seems to embody the idea that less is more; many of the more starkly effective pieces are built around just a single riff, pounded to oblivion as mournful sax drones swirl around it. This also extends to the album’s themes of systemic racism, which are largely tackled in a more abstract and expressionistic way with the band favouring non-verbal ways to express sorrow, anger and hope in tracks like the cathartic ‘Blood Quantum’ – there’s an almost devotional vibe to the sombre ‘Indignation’ too. As with Gas Lit, poet Minori Sanchiz-Fung makes a spoken word contribution on ‘Kingdom Of Fear’, making lines like “joy remains wild – it has baffled the cage again – it has cut through the horror,” hit even harder. For as bleak and harrowing as Systemic can be, there’s a strong sense of hope burning at its core, making it all the more compelling.

Thantifaxath – Hive Mind Narcosis
(Dark Descent)

This mysterious Canadian group’s debut Sacred White Noise still holds up as one of the most unique and inventive avant-garde black metal albums of the 2010s, and even after a nine year wait, this follow-up does not disappoint. Sonically, it feels like a continuation of its predecessor, mixing caustic, dissonant black metal with obtuse, proggy riffs that could have come straight from Lark’s Tongues In Aspic era King Crimson, but whilst it may not have the same element of surprise that the debut did, it pushes the band’s formula into even more chaotic and unnerving places. The eleven minute ‘Surgical Utopian Love’ is astonishing, as nightmarish, labyrinthine tremolo picking collides with maximalist jazzy grooves, like Portal and Mahavishnu Orchestra falling into a black hole together.

At the same time though, there’s something very immediate about Hive Mind Narcosis – I’m not sure if I’d call it more accessible necessarily, but it definitely feels more memorable and almost hookier than a lot of other contemporary avant-garde black metal. There’s a real visceral punch and liveliness to a lot of these riffs too, like that writhing monstrosity that closes opener ‘Solar Witch’, for example, or the creeping sense of malice throughout ‘Burning Kingdom Of Now’, an absolute masterclass in tension that feels like being slowly boiled alive as the song continuously spirals out of control, leaving the listener uncomfortably rapt throughout.

Victory Over The Sun – Dance You Monster To My Soft Song!

It’s shaping up to be a good year for weird, dissonant black metal; Vivian Tylińska’s solo project Victory Over The Sun has been exploring microtonality in extreme metal since 2017, but this fourth album is her most accomplished, cohesive and surreal yet to my ears. It’s much more dynamic too, with labyrinthine sixteen minute ‘Thorn Woos The Wound’ demonstrating how beautiful this approach to black metal can be, before the claustrophobic industrial dirge of ‘Wheel’ shows us how grotesque it can sound too. On the whole though, this album is generally less abrasive than 2021’s punishing Nowherer, with songs like the horn addled ‘The Gold Of Having Nothing’ fusing dreamlike prog with metallic chaos not unlike early Kayo Dot, and ‘Madeline Becoming Judy’ unexpectedly exploding into shimmering, synth powered post-punk halfway through. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to avant-garde black metal right now, but Dance You Monster To My Soft Song! still manages to stand out with its boundless imagination and adventurous song-writing.

Botanist – VIII: Selenotrope

Entering their fourteenth year as a band, San Franciso’s Botanist have firmly put to rest any doubts about their hammered dulcimer powered spin on black metal being a gimmick, and they’re still sounding as fresh as ever on this eight full-length. In a sense, Selenotrope is perhaps less ‘out there’ than some of their previous recordings; aside from the unique sonic quality the dulcimer brings to their music of course, compositionally much of this record leans closer to modern atmospheric black metal than some of their more esoteric early records. There’s a strong hint of Agalloch this time round, from the persistent sense of melancholy through to the earthy, natural sounding production, right down to the half whispered, half screeched vocals, especially on tracks like the wistful ‘Mirabilis’. There’s also a heightened post-rock influence on tracks like ‘Angel’s Trumpet’ too, with luscious vocal swells and pensive dulcimer riffs building up to dramatic, weepy crescendos – but whilst there’s no shortage of post-rock indebted, Agalloch worshipping black metal out there, Botanist still manage to sound completely like themselves here, largely due to the mournful, delicate touch the dulcimer brings, which renders even the album’s heaviest, most abrasive moments in a pastoral, meditative light. Selenotrope successfully straddles the line between contemporary post-black metal and the weird and wonderful world Botanist have spent the last decade creating for themselves, and as such makes it a great starting point for beginners.

Usnea – Bathed In Light
(Translation Loss)

This Portland quartet have been getting better and better with each record, and this, their fourth in a decade, finds them perfecting their crusty, sludgy brand of funeral doom. At 42 minutes, it’s their most compact and focused album, eschewing the sprawl of a record like 2014’s Random Cosmic Violence in favour of a tighter, more dynamic listening experience – after the opening title track pushes all the air out of your lungs with its dense, morose doom, ‘To The Completed Sage’ unleashes a volley of ferocious blasts, blackened tremolo and nightmarish howls, sounding even more confrontational by comparison. Elsewhere, ‘To The Deathless’ adds a more melodic edge to their sound, with huge, aching guitar harmonies ringing out over desolate chords, whilst the epic scale and apocalyptic tumult of ‘Premeditatio Malorum’ recalls Inter Arma at their heaviest. Great stuff!

Coffin Mulch – Spectral Intercession
(Memento Mori)

I’ve been waiting for a full-length from this Glaswegian death metal outfit ever since 2021’s banging Septic Funeral EP, and they’ve absolutely nailed it with this debut album. Having all grown up in Scotland’s hardcore punk and experimental noise scenes (vocalist Al is the man behind At War With False Noise, a DIY label who any self-respecting reader of this column will already own a load of records from), Coffin Mulch bring a fresh perspective to old school death metal. This isn’t to say their sound is at all experimental or avant-garde – it’s firmly rooted in classic early ‘90s death metal, with the buzzsaw guitar tone and robust, pulverising drums on songs like ‘Into The Blood’ and ‘Fall Of Gaia’ reeking of Clandestine era Entombed – but it’s performed with the righteous aggression of a punk band and has a distinct character all of its own. Al’s vocals are scratchier and more expressive than your generic death grunt, and there’s an authentically sinister undercurrent throughout – just check out the immediately hellish soundscape that opens the title track. It helps that they’ve got riffs for days too, especially on crushing six minute closer ‘Eternal Enslavement’.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today