Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For May Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Kez Whelan hails the return of two of Europe’s best heavy music festivals, and delivers your regular buyer’s guide to the very best in brand new metal, reviewing new albums by Mizmor & Thou, Vile Creature & Bismuth, Cave In and more


It’s been a great month for doom fans; in addition to all the great new albums below, April saw both London’s Desertfest and Tilburg’s Roadburn festivals returning with full force after a lengthy absence, fulfilling the promise of their cancelled 2020 editions and then some. After spending months wondering if we’d ever be able to return to a festival again, launching straight back into the swing of things with such fantastic line-ups and dedicated communities was an emotional experience.

Petbrick were an absolute riot on Desertfest’s Friday night in the Underworld, with Igor Cavalera really demonstrating what a versatile, powerful and expressive drummer he is, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his distinctive beatse. Welcoming Integrity’s Dwid Hellion onstage for a storming version of ‘Some Semblance Of A Story’ gave him the chance to bust out his classic thrash chops, and provided a nice warm-up for Integrity’s own set. Dwid’s feral stage presence is still unmatched, as the band dished out a greatest hits set perfectly engineered for maximum chaos. If you think playing at a stoner rock festival would mellow the Cleveland legends’ trademark intensity, you’re wrong, as classics like ‘Vocal Test’, ‘Sarin’ and ‘Systems Overload’ were greeted with rapturous enthusiasm from the energetic crowd.

After the sparse acoustic arrangements of 2020’s Black Metal, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Magnus Pelander’s Witchcraft, but it seems they are now a power trio – and whilst their set seemed divisive, I thought this stripped-back approach suited the band far more than the larger, more cumbersome set-up that came after the dissolution of their classic line-up. The new Witchcraft has a bit of a different vibe to both the analogue ‘70s worship of their early days and the crisper, modern hard rock sound that followed, but manages to unite both eras in a raw, garage rock sound that’s entirely fitting for Pelander’s emotive voice. With classic tracks from the band’s first two albums (including a storming ‘Wooden Cross (I Can’t Wake The Dead)’ and a moody, jammed out ‘Her Sisters They Were Weak’) given a new lease of life on stage, I can’t wait to see what this latest incarnation of Witchcraft has in store for us when they finally record a new album.

Kyuss alumni Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri’s new band Stöner is unsurprisingly even more intoxicating on stage than on record – although their latest album Totally…, also released this month, is a step up from last year’s debut, with hazy rockers like ‘Sweet Strawberry Creek’ sounding like prime Blue Öyster Cult. The new songs have even more of a party atmosphere to them live, but the inclusion of Kyuss classics ‘Gardenia’ and ‘Green Machine’ really set things off, the band clearly having as much fun as the heaving Saturday night crowd. A hearty dose of noise rock also kept things interesting on the Saturday, with Shellac, Pissed Jeans and Part Chimp all turning in triumphantly deafening sets at the Roundhouse – an updated rendition of Shellac’s ‘The End Of Radio’ with Steve Albini sarcastically urging us to “like and subscribe” was a perfectly acerbic way to round off the evening.

Despite the extra trek involved, the Roundhouse made for a fittingly grandiose location for some seriously heavy sets. YOB in particular felt like a religious experience, with the trio sounding louder than a jet engine as wave after wave of thick, pummelling riff crashed into the audience with palpable force. Curiously, the band didn’t air much from their latest Our Raw Heart, drawing instead from Atma and The Great Cessation, with an absolutely devastating rendition of ‘Burning The Altar’ ending the set with a bang and threatening to bring down the venue’s famous rafters.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Roadburn this month, but it looks like it was just as spectacular an experience. Last year’s online edition of the festival, Roadburn Redux, was a triumph in the face of covid regulations, but there’s something about the feeling of being there in the flesh that a livestream can never capture. Nevertheless, it felt like the festival took on board some of the lessons it learnt last year – all us folk stuck at home didn’t feel like we were missing out quite as much when surprise albums were unveiled at exactly the same time as surprise sets. We might not have got to see Mizmor and Thou teaming up for a collaborative set in the 013, for instance, but having a full collaborative album landing on streaming platforms as soon as that set was announced certainly softened the blow. It bridges the gap between festival goers feverishly exclaiming “have you heard this is happening tonight?!” at each other whilst darting through dimly lit corridors, and fans frantically typing “have you heard this is dropping tonight?!” on message boards around the world, and is one of those little things that helps us all feel closer to the festival.

Mizmor & Thou – Myopia

Some doom metal detectives may have put two and two together when Thou unexpectedly enlisted the help of Mizmor (along with past collaborator Emma Ruth Rundle) to cover Zola Jesus’ classic ‘Night’ for Sacred Bones’ upcoming Todo Muere SBXV compilation, but for the most part this collaboration seemed to spring right out of the blue. It’s a combination so compelling it makes you wonder why it took this long to happen, with both band’s styles gelling fantastically across this sprawling 73-minute opus. In some ways it feels like a continuation of the mournful, desolate doom of Mizmor’s last album Cairn (albeit with an even more robust and powerful rhythm section), but truthfully, neither band pulls too far in their own direction, with Thou’s yearning atmospheric sludge complementing Mizmor’s blackened aesthetic perfectly – just check out opener ‘Prefect’ for immediate proof, as the song’s ferocious black metal intro gradually gives way to spacious, droning chords without losing any of its initial impact or momentum. ‘Subordinate’ is even better, with Thou’s moving, low-slung guitar harmonies sounding even more metallic and evocative than usual amidst Mizmor’s bleak morass.

Vocally, Thou’s Bryan Funck and Mizmor main man A.L.N. are a perfect match too, with A.L.N.’s distinctively throaty, tortured roar punctuating Funck’s more monotone high-end shriek very effectively on tracks like the melancholy ‘The Host’ or ‘Indignance’, which builds from an almost unbearably sparse beginning to a caustic black metal workout, with pulsing blastbeats from Thou drummer Tyler Coburn propelling some of the album’s darkest riffing. What’s remarkable throughout Myopia is just how organic this all feels, with both acts managing to bring out the best in each other without compromising what makes them so unique in the first place. This feels very much like one of those collaborations you never knew you needed, but once you do, you won’t be able to live without.

Vile Creature & Bismuth – A Hymn Of Loss And Hope

Vile Creature and Bismuth’s collaboration may not have been as well kept a secret as Mizmor and Thou, but that didn’t make the sudden arrival of this album any less thrilling. Both bands were commissioned to create this piece for Roadburn’s 2020 event, but with the whole world stumbling into enforced isolation soon after, they ended up working on the seven-minute ‘In Tenebris Lux’ single remotely to tide us over. That single was great, but as the appropriately titled A Hymn Of Loss And Hope demonstrates, it only hinted at the potential power of both bands combined. This feels like a true, full-band collaboration, an epic 40 minute song with Vile Creature vocalist Vic putting down their drum-sticks to focus purely on vocals, joined by KW on guitar and Bismuth’s Tanya Byrne on bass and Joe Rawlings on drums. The sheer seismic weight of Bismuth’s rumbling rhythm section is given even more emotive nuance with the addition of KW’s solemn chords and slow, achingly sad leads over the top, and hearing Tanya and Vic’s harrowing screeches ringing out in unison is extremely powerful.

At the same time, the fusion of both bands is much more than the sum of its parts; whilst you can definitely pick out what each band is bringing to the table here, the overall effect is significantly more than just “Bismuth with guitar solos” or “Vile Creature with more low-end”. It’s surprisingly dynamic – you’ll get loads of the glacially paced, amp-blowing riffing you’d expect from each band, of course, but there’s plenty of peaks and troughs, with an almost prog rock mindset behind the song’s composition. There are distinct movements here rather than one unified drone, and they all tie together very organically and effectively, with the track travelling through waves of slo-mo Corrupted style doom into sparse, desolate territory that sounds more like Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, with Tanya’s haunting piano and distant cleans vocals briefly taking centre stage, before plunging back into triumphant sludge riffage. As the title implies, there are numerous shades of sadness and optimism dancing around each other here, and it makes the album an even more impactful, profound listening experience. This could have quite easily just been both bands blasting out full-bore drone for 40 minutes and it would still probably fucking rule, but the more intricate, expressive and adventurous approach here really elevates it into something special. Patient listeners will certainly be rewarded here – but you probably already knew that after waiting two long years to hear this.

Cave In – Heavy Pendulum

Given the tragic death of bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018 and the title of the band’s 2019 record Final Transmission, I was not expecting a new Cave In record in 2022, let alone one this joyous. Replacing the washed out, psychedelic melancholy of Final Transmission with a much more driving hard rock sound, this is arguably Cave In’s heaviest and most immediate album in years. Perfect Pitch Black may have nodded towards the band’s hardcore past whilst retaining the more melodic, accessible style of Antenna, but Heavy Pendulum feels like an even more robust and fully-realised fusion of these two disparate styles of the band’s personality – just check out the raucous riffs, coarse bellows (courtesy of new bassist Nate Newton of Converge and Old Man Gloom fame) and soaring hooks on opener (and great choice for first single) ‘New Reality’, the thrashy swagger of ‘Amaranthine’, or the way atmospheric textures and Stephen Brodsky’s inimitable clean vocals collide with huge sludgy walls of sound on ‘Careless Offering’.

Brodsky’s voice is sounding stronger than ever too, especially on tracks like the dark, proggy ‘Blinded By A Blaze’ or the smoky classic rock vibes of the title track, simultaneously one of the catchiest and most mature songs Cave In have ever written. Eleven minute closer ‘Wavering Angel’ is a revelation too, with Brodsky singing in a higher register than usual, adopting a sincere bluesy twang atop Zeppelin-esque acoustics. Heavy Pendulum is something of a rebirth for Cave In, taking elements from each of their different eras and combining them all into a huge, bombastic record that’s fully in keeping with the band’s identity whilst also feeling entirely fresh. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the change Deftones underwent after losing bassist Chi Cheng – both acts could have easily called it a day or wallowed in grief after losing such a close friend and an integral part of their band, but both have seemingly consciously decided to explore more life-affirming, communal and positive sounds instead of dwelling on negativity. At a lengthy 70 minutes, Heavy Pendulum may not be quite as punchy as some of Cave In’s earlier records, but somehow it doesn’t feel bloated or unfocussed either; there are enough great ideas, great riffs and great songs here to carry it. It’s good to have them back!

Ufomammut – Fenice

Ufomammut are also welcoming a new member this month, albeit thankfully under much less tragic circumstances, with founding drummer Vita leaving to explore other musical avenues. The trio had been a tight-knit unit for over two decades, so as you’d expect, the change of personnel has resulted in a slightly different sound here. Fenice is still very definitely a Ufomammut record, with its dense, churning riffs, spacey atmosphere and effects smothered vocals, but there’s a slightly more frenetic energy this time. This is immediately apparent from ten-minute opener ‘Duat’, as new drummer Levre introduces himself with a driving, groovy beat that keeps long-serving guitarist Poia and bassist Urlo’s riffs hurtling through the cosmos at an urgent pace. Later on, he even picks up a bit of double-kick action beneath a thumping tribal groove that makes the song almost feel like early ‘90s Sepultura covering Electric Wizard. There’s a ‘90s psych rock vibe to songs like ‘Psychostasia’ too, as waves of clean, reverby guitar and far out synth washes dance atop a stomping Bonham-esque beat, accompanied by some of the most melodic vocals Ufomammut have ever put to tape. They’re still drenched in delay, amongst other effects, but they feel more like a hooky chorus from a shoegaze band here as opposed to an interdimensional reptile howling into the void. You still get all that in the song’s explosive latter half, of course, alongside some prime metallic riffing, but the scenic route the band take to get there make it hit even harder.

Whilst the band aren’t afraid to take some unexpected detours on Fenice, it’s also their shortest album by a fair margin (unless we’re counting 2005 EP Lucifer Songs). It’s impressive how satisfyingly and efficiently the band have managed to condense their usual sprawl into such a swift, punchy album here, especially as the patient unfolding of tracks like the surprisingly beautiful ‘Metamorphoenix’ doesn’t feel rushed or under-developed at all. In many ways, this all feels like a logical step for the band. After perfecting the art of the slow-burning single-track epic with albums like Eve, more recent albums like Ecate and 8 had found the trio toying with slightly brisker paces and off-kilter timings, and Fenice expands on that whilst retaining the rich, cosmic psychedelic doom that makes Ufomammut Ufomammut. It might lack some of the brute force of their early albums, but the more sophisticated melodic sensibility and streamlined song-writing makes this one of the punchiest and most immediate albums in their discography.

Mournful Congregation – The Exuviae Of Gods – Part I
(20 Buck Spin / Osmose Productions)

Australian funeral doom legends Mournful Congregation are also keeping things relatively punchy on this, their first new material since 2018’s stunning, sprawling The Incubus Of Karma. After 2014’s Concrescence Of The Sophia demonstrated how well Mournful Congregation’s solemn sound could work in the EP format, the band have fully embraced the idea for this new EP series, promising a second part in the not-too-distant future. This first instalment has plenty to sink your teeth into, however, offering up two brand new songs and a re-recording of demo-era track ‘An Epic Dream Of Desire’. This being funeral doom, of course, those three tracks total a respectable 37 minutes, longer than some of the full-length albums in this very column.

They’re all great, too – opener ‘Mountainous Shadows, Cast Through Time’ is classic Mournful Congregation through and through, combining the somewhat more direct song-writing of their first album with the more expressive, colourful lead work they’ve been building on with recent material. The gradual transition from the song’s oppressive opening riffs to its dazzling, surprisingly catchy climax is quite a journey, and seems to open up at a perfectly organic pace. The title track, meanwhile, is a more delicate, sparse composition, building a gorgeous tapestry of spiralling guitar licks and sombre acoustics. With the drums coming in with but a minute to spare at the end, this one feels like it could have been fleshed out into one of the band’s 20 minute epics, but still manages to weave quite a powerful atmosphere nonetheless. The Exuviae Of Gods – Part I doesn’t feel quite as complete and cohesive a listening experience as the Concrescence Of The Sophia EP did (although maybe listening back-to-back with the second part will rectify that), but it’s still some of the most expressive and evocative funeral doom around, and essential listening for fans of slow tempos and bad vibes.

Tzompantli – Tlazcaltiliztli
(20 Buck Spin)

Formed by Xibalba guitarist Brian Ortiz (operating under the name Huey Itztekwanotl o))) here), Tzompantli scratch a pretty unique itch, delivering crushing death/doom with lyrics exploring Mesoamerican civilizations and indigenous themes. Building on the promise of their 2019 debut Tlamanali, this debut full-length is deliriously satisfying, with Ortiz’s distinctively meaty riffing style shining through in the leaden grooves of ‘Tlatzintilli’ and the slimy ‘Tlazcaltiliztli’, sounding like mid-period Morbid Angel with a severe head injury. Xibalba’s brutish breakdowns weren’t too far removed from death/doom at times anyway, but the extra weight these riffs are granted here just makes them sound enormous, smacking with a sickeningly dense wallop you’ll feel right in your gut.

The other thing that helps this stand out from Ortiz’s other band is the rich, authentic atmosphere just radiating off it. This was present in the demo too, but it’s even more fleshed out here, with the tribal drumming, ominous chanting and echoing animal cries of ‘Eltequi’ creating an ancient, ritualistic vibe that’s entirely convincing – even more so when combined with the detuned, droning guitar that gradually seeps in. Even without the native instrumentation, the mournful guitar harmonies and unhinged vocals in ‘Ohtlatocopailcahualuztli’ conjure up an evocative atmosphere quite unlike anything else in contemporary underground death metal – I’d liken it to a more acrid, desert-scorched Disembowelment, but that doesn’t entirely do it justice. At little over half an hour, Tlazcaltiliztli is vibrant and crushing throughout, never drifting into unimaginative chugging. This is an inspired debut and there’s serious potential here; if Ortiz keeps on at this rate Tzompantli could even eclipse his “other” band.

Tómarúm – Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons

After self-releasing an EP just before lockdown hit in early 2020, Tómarúm evidently used that sudden influx of free time to their advantage, as the band sound much more refined, intricate and elaborate on this hour-long debut album. The Atlanta group’s sound is an intriguing one, combining the heady atmospheres of progressive black metal with the precise brutality of technical death metal – ‘In This Empty Space’ is perhaps the most concise example of this, imbuing the sprawling drama of Prometheus… era Emperor with taut tech-death riffing and jazzy, Cynic-esque fretless bass fills. ‘Where No Warmth Is Found’, meanwhile, has an even more symphonic feel to it, with duelling guitar harmonies and dazzlingly bright, almost neo-classical leads blossoming out of a bed of cold, sinewy keys. The bulk of Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons is comprised of three lengthy epics, with the band digging into some genuinely torturous sounding black metal shrieks on ‘As Black Forms From Grey’ as blisteringly technical riffs swing in and out of focus around a morose and uncharacteristically subtle piano motif.

At times, Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons can feel a bit too immaculate for its own good – there’s no denying the insane levels of musicianship demonstrated here, but the clinical sheen it’s presented with can occasionally work against the earthy atmosphere the band is going for. Despite this, there’s a lot to enjoy about this debut, and there’s a real vitality and energy to the band’s sound even with the somewhat sterile production. Tómarúm have a very modern sound, and whilst influences aren’t too tricky to discern, they’ve created a fairly unique and distinctive style for themselves here. It’ll probably sound too pristine and composed for the black metal die-hards and too evil and esoteric for the contemporary tech-death crowd, but for open-minded fans of progressive metal in general, there’s much to get stuck into here.

Terror – Pain Into Power
(End Hits)

Although recent records had found Terror veering uncomfortably close to bargain bin groove metal at times, the LA hardcore legends sound totally rejuvenated on this new full-length. This could be due to guitarist Todd Jones re-joining the fold, after leaving Terror in 2004 to form Nails, as his sonic fingerprints are all over Pain Into Power. At a taut eighteen minutes, Jones’ penchant for brevity is in full effect here, and that gleefully destructive breakdown on the 53 second-long title track would have felt right at home on a Nails album. He also adds an extra dimension to the irresistibly groovy ‘The Hardest Truth’, a bouncy crowd-pleaser that seems custom built for circle pit instigation. Cannibal Corpse frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher even shows up on the raging ‘Can’t Help But Hate’, his guttural bark not only providing a perfect foil for long-serving frontman Scott Vogel’s throaty shout but also neatly demonstrating how much crossover there is between extreme metal and Terror’s meaty sound.

Even without the high-profile names and guest appearances however, Pain Into Power stands on its own as a great hardcore album. The dry, no-frills production really emphasises how tight the band sounds here – just check out the breakneck pace of tracks like ‘Boundless Contempt’, and the clarity with which those crunchy guitars slice through the mix. There’s no flab or dead air at all here; it feels like the core essence of the band has been distilled and amplified, resulting in one of their most energetic, direct and visceral albums in years.

Primitive Man – Insurmountable
(Closed Casket Activities)

Finally, despite some seriously stiff competition, I’m convinced that Primitive Man must be the heaviest band in the world right now. The Colorado sludge trio have been actively releasing new music and touring relentlessly for the best part of a decade now, and whilst their sound has never changed too drastically or veered that far from their original blueprint, it’s impressive not only how the band make each new record sound fresh and interesting, but also how much heavier they somehow get each time. Despite enjoying new Primitive Man records for years now and knowing full well what to expect, every time I spin a new one, it makes my eyes narrow, my gut sink and my lips involuntarily whisper “…fucking hell”.

Their latest Insurmountable is no exception – the sheer physical weight of this thing is insane. Once again, they’ve outdone themselves with the production (courtesy of Arthur Rizk this time, perhaps most famed with his work on Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic), boasting a crisp drum sound and much warmer bass tone, which contrasts with the trio’s ice cold atmosphere perfectly. The moment opener ‘This Life’ kicks in feels like the earth cracking open beneath you, blending bristling Godflesh-esque guitar dissonance with a vast, organic pulse more befitting Corrupted. There’s more swing to ‘Cage Intimacy’, but it’s no less crushing – especially when they drop into that utterly filthy blast section before the huge, yearning outro envelops all in its path. The biggest surprise, however, is how effortlessly the band manage to transform Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream era classic ‘Quiet’ from a grungy banger into a desolate, soul destroying dirge. Essential as always.

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