Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For February Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Drop out of life with mask and sanitiser in hand... Has the year-long drought of gigs got you down? Kez Whelan is here with the next best thing: nine new metal albums of chest caving intensity

Cara Neir

By this time next month, we’ll have gone a year without any gigs. A full year – I’m sure I don’t need to reiterate to you, fellow riff addict, just how deeply spiritually damaging it has been to go cold turkey on live music for so long, but it definitely bears repeating that, now more than ever, venues need your help.

The Black Heart is the latest place to be hit hard by the nightmarish combo of COVID and Brexit, a venue that would probably take out most of the capital’s DIY doom scene with it if the worst happens. Thankfully, the venue are fighting back with a huge Crowdfunder campaign, offering chances to win Ritual Productions goodies, tattoo vouchers, brewery tours and even a guitar previously owned by legendary London noise mongers Necro Deathmort.

Leeds’ DIY haven BOOM (formerly known as Temple Of Boom) are offering similar tiers via their Crowdfunder too, with a host of tote bags, shirts and hoodies up for grabs, whilst Nottingham’s revered practice space, recording studio, gig venue and riff utopia Stuck On A Name has recently released a gigantic compilation tape to raise funds for the studio, featuring brand new, unreleased tracks from the likes of Paranoid, Dawn Ray’d, Satanic Dystopia and many more.

These examples are great deals for both parties – the venue gets more financial help, and you get a cool bit of merch for your troubles – but it’s bittersweet when you realise that all these struggling enterprises, already operating with skeleton crews on shoe-string budgets, are expected to somehow produce even more content to persuade punters to part with their hard earned cash.

You’d hope it would be enough for these venues to just say, “Hey, remember how we provided the physical space that facilitated some of the most powerful experiences of your formative years? Could you just chuck us a few quid so we can keep doing that for future generations?”, but alas, this isn’t the world we live in. So by all means, enjoy the benefits of your higher Crowdfunder tier, but if you’re in a position to afford to, please consider just donating to your favourite venue each month – it could be the price of the handful of pints you’d have been drinking in there during an alternate, COVID-free timeline – apropos of nothing, with no goodie bags in return. Given how greatly our lives have been improved by the presence of these venues in our streets, it’s the least we can do – and it’ll hopefully make the world we return to once this is all over a lot less barren.

The Ruins Of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires


I’ve been looking forward to this one for some time, especially after 2017’s Exuvia saw The Ruins Of Beverast mastermind Alexander von Meilenwald taking his earlier black metal sound in a more psychedelic, tribal direction. The Thule Grimoires is another curveball in many ways, whilst remaining true to the rich, evocative style that’s become synonymous with the project. It feels like their most overtly gothic opus to date; whilst tracks like gargantuan opener ‘Ropes Into Eden’ offer up exactly the kind of labyrinthine song structures and atmospheric black metal riffs you’d expect from a Ruins Of Beverast album, the more free-flowing, cosmic energy of Exuvia has been replaced with an exceptionally dour, romantic sense of despair. The Thule Grimoires may be one of the bleakest and gloomiest Ruins Of Beverast records but, conversely, it’s also one of the most accessible. ‘Kromlec’h Knell’ is one of the most direct songs Alexander has ever penned, dishing out sumptuously doomy riffs and an irresistible chorus hook delivered in his distinctive, clean baritone drawl in a much more digestible structure than usual. The six minute ‘Mammothpolis’ finds him in full-blown goth mode too, chanting gloomy declarations atop sultry nocturnal synths and despondent, delay drenched guitar swells.

Any fears that Alexander has watered down his uniquely deep, immersive sound should be put to rest immediately though, as The Thule Grimoires doesn’t skimp on imposing, arcane black metal (just check out the blisteringly evil sheets of tremolo in the latter half of ‘Deserts To Blind And Defeat’) and also features one of his most genuinely psychedelic tracks ever in ‘Anchoress In Furs’, a sprawling fusion of cavernous metal riffs, disembodied female falsetto and space-fearing drones that feels like a slightly cleaner cut younger sibling of Electric Wizard’s classic head-fucker ‘Ivixor B / Phase Inducer’. It’s just that all of this is presented in a more direct, streamlined and dynamic manner this time around, resulting in a record that should hopefully satisfy longtime fans as much as it entices newcomers who previously may have been too daunted by the band’s expansive, wide-screen sprawl.

Cult Of Luna – The Raging River

(Red Creek)

This new EP acts as a perfect companion piece to Cult Of Luna’s expansive A Dawn To Fear, offering up a similarly rich, weathered sound whilst being notably more succinct, direct and immediate. The band are still as atmospheric and brooding as ever, but compared to A Dawn’s patient, slow-burning approach, there’s an added vigour and aggression here, especially in tracks like humongous opener ‘Three Bridges’ and the bleak, pounding ‘I Remember’, a track that marries the dense, nihilistic churn of their first two records with the skeletal, Autumnal ambience of their Somewhere Along The Highway era.

Speaking of that album, the band’s recent revelation that they’d written the beautiful ‘And With Her Came The Birds’ with Mark Lanegan’s voice in mind makes perfect sense when you hear the gravelly throated troubadour himself on ‘Inside Of A Dream’, one of the most gorgeous and heart-wrenching tracks the band have ever put together. Lanegan’s voice fuses perfectly with the group’s stoic, melancholic tone – it’s a shame it’s so short, to be honest, but then massive twelve minute closer ‘Wave After Wave’ certainly makes up for it, furthering the sumptuously layered guitar textures of their last record whilst again recapturing the sheer sonic heft of the band’s early days, only this time transposing it onto a pulsating, surprisingly dubby rhythm. At just under 40 minutes, The Raging River is an EP that feels more fleshed out and well-realised than many full LPs, and seems to touch on every aspect of Cult Of Luna’s evolving sound whilst still laying a groundwork for future exploration.

Stargazer – Psychic Secretions

(Nuclear War Now!)

Finally! After seven long years since Australian death metal trio Stargazer released their modern-day classic A Merging To The Boundless, we finally have a proper follow-up. Just as A Merging felt like a grand leap into the cosmos after their slightly more conventional early work, Psychic Secretions ventures even further away from traditional death metal trappings, as made immediately clear by the vast, inter-stellar lead and elastic, jazzy fretless bass lines that open ‘Lash Of The Tytans’. The bass (handled by Mournful Congregation’s Damon Good) remains a focal presence throughout, gracefully floating between the guitar riffs like Steve DiGirgio on Individual Thought Patterns, but nestled snugly and tastefully in the mix à la Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence. There’s a lot here that’s reminiscent of that formative era of progressive death metal, but there’s an unmistakably evil aura to Psychic Secretions that brings to mind much murkier, more primitive death metal pioneers instead – perhaps it’s just the fuzzier production values or the slightly blackened flavour to some of the riffs, but it feels like there’s a far more sinister, esoteric energy surrounding this when compared to the cleaner, smoother tones of, say, early Cynic, for instance. This combination of head-spinning proggery with a more menacing aesthetic is quite a tonic indeed, with tracks like ‘Hooves’ warping frantic Kreator-esque riffs into swirling, spacey patterns and then letting loose with a jazzy but incredibly aggressive bass solo over the top. ‘The Occidental Surge’ contrasts a brutishly no-nonsense proto-thrash pummelling with dazzlingly fluid prog licks, like a bizarre jam between Sarcófago and Adrian Belew, whilst ‘All Knowing Cold’ allows for both more precise, technical metallic riffs and even more abstract, jazzy deconstructions of said riffs. If you can’t get enough of recent records from the likes of Blood Incantation and Cryptic Shift and are hungry for more psychedelic astral prog death, this is essential.

Alkerdeel – Slonk

(Babylon Doom Cult)

These days, you can’t move without accidentally bumping into another “blackened sludge” band, but the way this Belgian quartet blend raw, seething black metal with viscous sludge still feels wholly unique. Rather than just alternating between blasty tremolo passages and big doomy riffs, Alkerdeel instead somehow manage to make black metal’s typically brittle, harsh sound feel impossibly weighty and physically oppressive. Their 2016 full-length Lede found their slimy, disorientating sound coming into clearer focus, and Slonk is even nastier – just check out the blistering ‘Eirde’ for five minutes of the most abrasive, cacophonous black metal 2021 has produced so far. ‘Zop’, meanwhile, welds snottier, punkier riffs to an elaborate, nightmarish song structure, like Dragged Into Sunlight playing a Bone Awl medley, whilst thirteen minute opener ‘Vier’ is the sonic equivalent of a black hole, a hideous vortex of swirling dark noise that just does not let go. The production is suitably lo-fi without falling victim to black metal cliché – for one, the bass sounds enormous, smothering the record beneath torrents of dripping, jet black grime. It helps the record achieve the same hypnotic, ghostly effect as the best black metal, whilst packing the same visceral punch as your favourite sludge band. Delicious!

Cara Neir – Phase Out

(Self Release)

Texan duo Cara Neir’s curious blend of black metal, screamo, grindcore and post rock has never really fit comfortably inside any genre boundaries, but this is definitely the pair’s most unclassifiable record yet. A concept album about the band “being warped into a 8-bit video game dimension by a sinister alien entity”, Phase Out incorporates chiptune, post punk and even subtle hip hop influences in places – and, amazingly, it really works. The record’s imaginative concept helps tie all these disparate influences together and nails that sense of child-like wonder you experienced losing yourself in a new Mega Drive game as a kid, with the wild leaps in sound echoing the same dizzying pace as an old-school shooter. The gleeful juxtaposition here between very organic and knowingly computerised sounds works spectacularly on tracks like ‘Damnation’, which contrasts raucous oompah-propelled blackened punk in the vein of Raspberry Bulbs with surprisingly jazzy licks and all manner of wild, malfunctioning synths and bizarre bleeps – the dreamy chords and aggressive electronics in this song’s mid-section sounds like Sonic Youth being pelted with hundreds of vintage Game Boys. The smooth, throbbing beats of ‘Four Seasons In A Day’ come across like a more lo-fi Flying Lotus, whilst ‘Hypogelum’ genuinely feels like sweeping black metal epics transposed down onto a NES sound palette. Opener ‘The Trimjrtle Sanction’, meanwhile, somehow manages to pool allthe above together into an authentically jaw-dropping five minutes of anarchic yet cohesive noise. Whilst it may be lighter in tone than their previous works, Phase Out is arguably Cara Neir’s most immediate and creative release yet, with its technicolour sprawl of unexpected sounds and affectionate video game references making it one of the most unashamedly fun metal records I’ve heard in a long time. If you’re just as much of a nerd for 8-bit video games as you are extreme metal, you’ll have an absolute blast with this.

Portrayal Of Guilt – We Are Always Alone

(Closed Casket Activities)

Speaking of screamo, this Texan quartet were praised for breathing new life into the genre with their 2018 debut Let Pain Be Your Guide, but as this second album proves, there’s much more to the group’s sound than just Pg. 99 worship. There’s plenty of that too, of course, but the throaty, screeched vocals and crunchy metallic riffing in tracks like ‘A Tempting Pain’ and blistering opener ‘The Second Coming’ seemingly have more in common with grindcore, whilst the likes of ‘Anesthetized’ and ‘Masochistic Oath’ deliver pounding, bass driven dirges that are vaguely reminiscent of Godflesh. There’s more than a hint of black metal here too (especially during the faster sections of that latter song), bringing to mind Oathbreaker’s fusion of blackened atmospheres with bracing hardcore punk. At only 26 minutes, We Are Always Alone covers a lot of ground, with the myriad of noise and industrial interludes helping the record to feel more dynamic without compromising it’s unflinching, wild-eyed intensity (the anxious, uncomfortable soundscape that abruptly breaks into ‘They Want Us All To Suffer’s frenetic opening drum fill is particularly satisfying). The whole thing straddles the line between chaotic and cohesive very nicely indeed, and the band’s fresh, imaginative and diverse take on the genre means this should appeal to audiences far beyond that small circle of guys still holding out for an Orchid reunion.

Wolvencrown – A Shadow Of What Once Was


The sonic leap from this Nottinghamshire black metal quintet’s 2017 EP to their debut Of Bark And Ash was pretty massive, and this new EP is another big step up for the band, packing the fullest, richest sound they’ve enjoyed on record yet. Consisting of an epic two-part title track and one ambient track, A Shadow Of What Once Was can’t help but feel like a bit of a tease, but also acts as a great bite-sized introduction to the band’s sound for newcomers. The first part comes bursting out of the gate with a similarly menacing mid-paced stomp to Belgian black metallers Wiegedood, before letting loose a furry of blastbeats and grandiose, Emperor-esque keys, whilst the second really demonstrates the band’s eerie and effective use of melody, weaving sinister phrases in and out of each other before patiently bringing them all to a gloriously dramatic climax. This segues pretty seamlessly into ‘Coming To An End’, a sombre keyboard driven piece that that feels a lot like Summoning or early Mortiis. The keys have that same synthetic feel that typified a lot of 90s black metal, which makes quite a contrast with the more organic and earthy sound of the first two tracks, but works well in context. The EP flows as one long piece, and this kind of long-form compositional style definitely suits the band.

Visions From Beyond – Eternally Bound, Whipped By Time

(Sodden Records)

Lockdown may have been a total shitshow in most regards, but it’s been a tremendous boon for solo projects around the world. Visions From Beyond is the latest one-man offering from Oli Mason, drummer for Hereford’s premier grindcore export Fetus Christ, but rather than dishing out non-stop blastbeats and blurry power chords, Eternally Bound, Whipped By Time is an ominous chunk of eerie death/doom, blending clean, reverb swamped guitar licks atop a thick, distorted churn in the vein of diSEMBOWELMENT. This EP has a fantastic lo-fi sound to it, with everything crisp and clearly audible (the drums especially sound really roomy and warm) but bathed in a pleasing practice room style fuzz. This makes the clean guitar passages sound even more otherworldly and ethereal, jarring with the live feeling of the rest of the music in a really interesting way. It helps that they’re also really catchy – once that main riff from ‘Sodden Species’ worms its way into your psyche, it just does not let go. They build subtly in ‘Ancient Dreams’ beneath a gleefully satisfying Autopsy style chug, until the track collapses into a twisted, desolate galaxy of morbid licks, gradually orbiting around one another. With a charmingly murky aesthetic, bags of atmosphere and inventive, imaginative song-writing, this EP is a winner. Here’s hoping Oli extends this particular Vision Beyond lockdown! Ahem, I’ll see myself out…

Nadja / Disrotted – Split

(Bad Moon Rising 惡月上昇)

Remember back in the late 2000s when it felt like we were getting a new Nadja split every other week? The Canadian drone duo may have eased off on their insane release schedule recently (although saying that, they still averaged at least an album a year until 2018), but their contribution here is proof that they’ve lost none of their hypnotic, crushing power. The cumbersomely titled ‘From The Lips Of A Ghost In The Shadow Of A Unicorn’s Dream’ is among the pair’s heaviest, doomiest offerings, but it’s also beautiful in its simplicity, managing to invoke that anxious, knotted feeling in your stomach with little more than a handful of glacially paced Corrupted-esque notes. Like Corrupted too, the track has a powerful if subtle progression, gradually allowing its lumbering, doomy riffs to evolve into shining, celestial swathes of freeing feedback.

Having teamed up with the likes of Moloch, Cloud Rat and Ledge over the last few years, it was perhaps only a matter of time until Illinois trio Disrotted’s hunger for splits led them to Nadja, and their track here compliments them perfectly. Dishing out the same kind of torturous, slo-mo riffage as a band like Bunkur or early Moss, Disrotted feel even sparser and dronier than Nadja here, with the incredibly restrained percussion giving the song an eerily still, meditative quality, that acts as an effective foil for the propulsive and more overtly flattening impact of Nadja’s track. If you’re in need of bad vibes and infinite feedback, look no further.

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