Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For May Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Kez Whelan is back with the good, the bad and the ugly in heavy metal for May, featuring new cuts from Panopticon, Grave Miasma and Nadja

Grave Miasma

The concept of a "live in the studio" release has gone from a hushed taboo – if you want to ruin a few friendships, try pondering aloud whether Live Undead has more overdubs than Unleashed In The East next time you’re sat in a newly reopened pub – to something of a curious novelty. (Remember how good Incantation’s Tribute To The Goat was?) These releases are now a grim necessity of the Covid stricken dystopia we currently find ourselves in. Well, maybe that’s a little dramatic – with any luck, we’ll be back to battering our ear drums and spilling pints all over each other in person by the end of the year, and we’ll look back at lockdown sessions like Candlemass’ new Green Valley LP as fascinating signs of the times rather than a replacement for the full live music experience.

Having reunited with original vocalist Johan Längquist last year, it’s a blast to hear him belting out Epicus Doomicus Metallicus tracks like ‘A Sorcerer’s Pledge’ and ‘Demon’s Gate’ again, bolstered by a much thicker guitar tone. Last year’s The Door To Doom is represented only by ‘Astorolus – The Great Octopus’, which was probably that album’s best moment anyway – it certainly makes sense to free up more space for Messiah Marcolin-era classics like ‘Mirror Mirror’ and ‘Bewitched’, even if Längquist doesn’t quite possess the booming charisma that Marcolin brought to these songs. Lead guitarist Lars Johansson is on fire throughout however, especially on the all-too-brief ‘Doom Jam’ towards the end.

Pig Destroyer have a new live record out this month too, the surprisingly lethal Pornographers Of Sound: Live In NYC, captured in front of a live audience at Saint Vitus Bar in the Good Old Days of 2019. Call me jaded if you will, but I can’t help but feel like the band’s expanding line-up has worked against their core intensity in recent years; the addition of a bassist and sample guy may have broadened out their sound, but that raw, chaotic energy of their original three-piece incarnation dissipated somewhere along the way.

Maybe I’ve just caught them on off-nights however, as the band sound absolutely vicious on this recording. Wisely eschewing tracks from their latest Head Cage (which is represented by just one song, the churning noise rock thumper ‘Circle River’), the set is mainly comprised of prime cuts from Book Burner, Phantom Limb and Terrifyer, all of which are positively seething with aggression. But it’s the final stretch of Prowler In The Yard classics that really hit the spot, with vocalist JR Hayes in fine form. ("Who calls anybody anymore, you know?" he quips during ‘Piss Angel’s iconic dial tone break.)

For both new and old fans alike, this is well worth a spin.

It’s a good month for black metal singles too, with US duo Feminazgûl taking their unique sound to even more elaborate, densely layered and bombastic places on a split with atmospheric solo outfit Awenden, who offers up a lengthy, post rock inspired piece. Dawn Ray’d’s new seven inch ‘Wildfire’ is great too, the A-side being perhaps their most explicitly and directly anti-fascist song yet, calling out the lack of integrity from Nazi-sympathising black metal acts atop blaring trumpets and vicious but triumphant riffing. The B-side, meanwhile, is the hushed aftermath of its war-faring counterpart, transforming the song’s coda into a wistful, folky ballad.

There’s also loads of stuff I didn’t have room for, as per usual. The latest Altarage is fucking great, for example, finding their murky black/death coming into sharper focus. The band are often understandably compared to Portal, but Succumb really sees them coming into their own and sounding more unique than ever before. Vaguely psychedelic Finnish death metal trio Ghastly are also maturing on Mercurial Passages; they’ve got kind of a Morbus Chron vibe but definitely put their own spin on it. Occult psych rockers Jess & The Ancient OnesVertigo is fantastic too, recalling the kaleidoscopic extravagance of Purson but replacing their more whimsical approach with a rawer, bluesier grit.

Panopticon – …And Again Into The Light


As good as 2018’s double album The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness was, it felt like a bit of a step back after the extraordinary double whammy of 2014’s Roads To The North and 2015’s Autumn Eternal. Those are hard albums to follow, in fairness, but the separation of Panopticon’s "metal" and "folk" sides on each disc of The Scars Of Man felt regressive after those two albums had combined the two in such interesting and impassioned ways. …And Again Into The Light, on the other hand, is a return to form and then some, following a similar structure to those two records and feeling much more cohesive as a result. It also sounds fucking enormous – after the absolutely beautiful title track kicks things off with Austin Lunn’s signature bluegrass bathed in celestial ambience, ‘Dead Loons’ is surprisingly doomy, with big, dense chords left to ring out on booming eight string guitars. When it explodes in a flurry of metallic riffing and Lunn’s characteristically intense drumming, it’s backed by stirring, powerful strings, creating a really rich, emotive wall of sound.

In fact, And Again is perhaps the most elaborately orchestrated Panopticon album yet. It really emphasises the post rock influence that’s always been present in Panopticon’s sound, but not in the same way as some of the more crescendo based post black metal acts, or even the shoegaze-y approach of Deafheaven. This feels more like it has the agonising weight of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with the yearning string arrangements in songs like ‘Rope Burn Exit’ recalling the Canadian legends at their most wounded. The forlorn riff in the middle of closer ‘Know Hope’ is uncannily reminiscent of Godspeed’s ‘East Hastings’ too, albeit surrounded by sublime Asunder-esque doom. This is still a Panopticon album through and through though, and undeniably delivers the kind of ferocious, searing black metal we’ve come to expect. Just check out ‘A Snowless Winter’, a twelve minute epic that takes in hypnotic, glacial tremolo riffs, an utterly gorgeous ambient mid-section that sounds like a more dramatic Stars Of The Lid and some of the most scorching, nimble and emotive lead guitar Lunn has ever put to tape. ‘Moth Eaten Soul’ brings back the melodeath flavour from Roads To The North but adds some infectiously slow doom riffs for good measure, whilst ‘The Embers At Dawn’ is similar to the moody, melancholy vibe of Autumn Eternal, featuring both wistful clean vocals from Aerial Ruin main man (and frequent Bell Witch collaborator) Erik Moggridge and screams from Waldgeflüster’s Jan van Berlekom. Essential.

Esoctrilihum – Dy’th Requiem For The Serpent Telepath
(I, Voidhanger)

This is the third May in a row that we’ve been blessed by a brand new, hour plus full length from French one-man black metal outfit Esoctrilihum and, remarkably, he’s still showing no signs of creative fatigue whatsoever. Last years’ Eternity Of Shaog found sole member Asthâghul broadening his sound, allowing much more breathing room when compared to the claustrophobic feel of previous records, and this latest one continues in a similar direction. It’s clear right from the start of opener ‘Ezkikur’, with its spacious chords, soaring leads, King Crimson-aping mellotron and booming, almost stadium rock-esque snare. ‘Baahl Duthr’ begins as a swaggering black & roll banger in the vein of later Satyricon, before morphing into histrionic death metal pomp with drawling, gothic vocals, like an oddly effective Peter Murphy fronted Nile, whilst the sombre ‘Agakuh’ pairs forlorn Paradise Lost-style leads with icy Bergtatt-inspired soundscapes, albeit considerably beefed up thanks to the album’s full, thunderous production. For all these more introspective or surprisingly rockin’ moments however, this one also delivers some of the project’s most aggressive and furious songs yet, especially when compared to Eternity Of Shaog‘s almost meditative feel. ‘Tyruh’ contrasts blisteringly fast blasts and ice cold black metal riffing with curiously brooding synths, whilst ‘Nominès Haàr’ is one of the most incendiary Esoctrilihum tracks to date, featuring blasts bordering on grind intensity and some of Asthâghul’s nastiest, most pained shrieks yet. Dy’th Requiem For The Serpent Telepath isn’t as focused or coherent as Eternity Of Shaog, harking back to the more disorientating sprawl of his earlier works. The amount of new ideas and textures here prevent it from feeling a regression, however, and it’s another successful widening of the net for Esoctrilihum’s increasingly unique sound. I look forward to seeing how he manages to refine it again in another twelve months’ time.

Grave Miasma – Abyss Of Wrathful Deities

(Dark Descent)

London’s Grave Miasma were somewhat ahead of the curve when it came to the whole murky, cavernous, Incantation-worshipping death metal thing that seems to have really taken off in recent years, and as this second full-length proves, they’re still doing it better than most. Their first new material since 2016’s sprawling, exotic EP Endless Pilgrimage, Abyss Of Wrathful Deities is arguably their most hi-fi output to date too. Whilst it still has that signature foggy feel, there’s a greater clarity this time round, with the bass and kick drum cutting through the overwhelming smog of the guitars with much more force. There’s a more human feel to guitarist Y’s voice here too, with the heightened rasp making him sound more like a deranged, possessed priest and less like an amorphous cloud of seething, disembodied hatred. There’s also a subtle black metal flavour here and there, especially in the shimmering, dissonant flourishes in the driving ‘Rogyapa’ or tortured, dramatic ‘Exhumation Rites’ for example. Despite these little updates, the band’s core sound remains as steadfastly as it always has done. ‘Erudite Decomposition’ is just classic Grave Miasma through and through, boasting one of those humongous rolling grooves you can’t help but nod along to and a fantastically eerie solo that sounds like it’s gradually melting in front of you, whilst a track like ‘Demons Of The Sand’ is a perfect combination of lumbering, atmospheric doom and barbaric death metal, without either overpowering the other. If anything, the newfound production clarity helps these songs hit even harder. The haunting, wide-eyed stare on the cover feels fitting; if previous Grave Miasma releases felt like a steady descent into encroaching gloom, this is the one where your eyes finally adjust to the darkness, leaving you face to face with whatever horrors lurk beneath.

Dordeduh – Har


Fifteen years later, and Negură Bunget’s Om has still lost none of its intrigue or power. I’d say there’s a convincing case to be made that it’s one of the defining black metal records of the 2000s. Unfortunately, internal decisions split the band in two not long after, with founding members Sol Faur and Hupogrammos splintering off to form Dordeduh in 2009, dropping a solid debut album in 2012’s Dar De Duh and then, nothing. Evidently they haven’t been slacking this whole time though, as Har is even proggier and more elaborate than their debut, stepping further outside that classic Om sound. It’s still definitely there, in their wistful use of melody, those distinctive chanted vocals and the earthy, evocative atmosphere they manage to create, but for the most part, Har finds Dordeduh drifting away from black metal and sounding more like a progressive metal band. There’s a lot of latter-day Enslaved and old Opeth in here, but also more than a hint of Wavering Radiant-era Isis in the glistening guitar licks and subdued clean vocals of ‘În Vieliștea Uitării’, not to mention the melodic staccato chugging that drives ‘Descânt’. There’s still a harsher, more metallic quality to this than, say, later Anathema records, for example (although the airy, dream-like vibes of ‘Vraci De Nord’ here are quite similar to the Liverpudlians, come to think of it), in the thunderous double-kick and booming roars of songs like boisterous opener ‘Timpul întâilor’, but for the most part, this is definitely a more subdued, introverted and harmonious experience than its predecessor. Ultimately, if you’re still clamouring for a follow-up to Om, Har probably won’t scratch that itch – but its proof that there’s much more to Dordeduh than just Negură Bunget Mk. II, and an intriguingly bold step forward for the band.

Nekromantheon – Visions Of Trismegistos

(Indie Recordings)

Speaking of nine year silences, it’s been a similarly long wait for the follow-up to Norwegian thrashers Nekromantheon’s raging 2012 breakthrough Rise, Vulcan Spectre. This third opus doesn’t disappoint however – well, unless you were hoping for some kind of grand, progressive leap in sound or something, in which case you’ll probably be pretty bummed out. But if, like the rest of us, you just wanted the trio to turn up the intensity on their blistering black thrash attack, this thing is an absolute belter. Lean, mean cuts like ‘Thanatos’ or the furious, no-nonsense ‘Seven Rulers Of Fate’ whip past in a blaze of bristling, frosty riffing and relentless yet precise percussion. Much like Aura Noir, these riffs absolutely nail that sweet spot between vintage Kreator and Under A Funeral Moon-era Darkthrone, and sound uniformly ferocious throughout, springing out of your speakers with a vibrant, infectious energy. Nekromantheon are by no means a one-trick pony though. When they do occasionally drop into more mid-paced territory, it’s absolutely devastating – see if your neck can survive the big, evil chugger that lands mid-way through ‘Neptune Descent’, for example. Tracks like ‘Scorched Earth’ or stirring closer ‘Zealot Reign’, on the other hand, inject a tastefully sinister melodic edge into the band’s sound, with the former delivering an ominous South Of Heaven-esque intro and the latter making room for shredding atmospheric solos. Delicious!

Heavy Sentence – Bang To Rights

(Crypt Of The Wizard)

I’ve been waiting on this one for a while. Manchester marauders Heavy Sentence’s early singles and righteous live shows marked them out as one of the most promising old-school heavy metal revival acts out there, and this debut full-length really rams that point home. Built of equal parts Motörhead, Saxon, Angel Witch and Thin Lizzy, you’ll have heard all the band’s reference points numerous times before – but it’s played with such vigour, passion and enthusiasm that it’s impossible to remain unmoved by it. There’s a greasy, well-worn authenticity to Heavy Sentence’s sound that a lot of the more tongue-in-cheek, self-consciously "retro" bands miss entirely, and it makes all the difference. It also helps that the album is filled to bursting with great songs, each one of these ten tracks feeling like an absolute anthem in its own right. The titular (and live favourite) ‘Heavy Sentence’ is an obvious example, with its boisterous and catchy, Angel Witch-esque refrain, but you could just as easily single out any one of these songs; the Maiden-esque harmonies and driving, punky verses of ‘Age Of Fire’, the sleazy, good time rock & roll boogie of ‘On The Run’, or the evocative, Cirith Ungol-esque atmosphere of ‘Possession’. They’re all bangers, through and through. Vocalist G. Howells has quite a set of pipes on him too, capturing that gritty Lemmy snarl perfectly whilst imbuing it with a more full-bodied, soulful twang. His whiskey drenched howl is a perfect fit for the band’s sound; clearly paying homage to the greats, but delivered with a unique charm all of its own. If you’re looking for a vibrant, booming trad metal record to soundtrack your summer drinking sessions, Bang To Rights is it.

Acausal Intrusion – Nulitas

(I, Voidhanger)

I’m sure you’re up to your eyeballs in hour long slabs of dissonant, Gorguts-inspired avant garde death metal at the moment, but there’s something special about this American duo’s frenetic, almost free form approach to this style. The overall effect sounds like a surreal Keiji Haino-inspired deconstruction of death metal at times – especially on the aptly titled ‘Nexious Shapeshifters’, in which skeletal, clanging guitar strokes and eerie, anguished falsetto rub up against dizzying blastbeats and giant guttural roars. There’s a remarkable sense of space here amidst all the chaos – the riffing in ‘Qabbalistic Conjoining Existence’ feels genuinely disorientating and has that similarly improvised feel that a lot of Chaos Echoes’ stuff has, but is clearly tightly plotted and controlled, with none of its numerous bizarre tangents ever derailing it. It doesn’t feel like aimless experimentation for experimentation’s sake either; there’s a clear (albeit warped) melodic sensibility to tracks like ‘Invocations Apprehension’, with bona fide hooks and classic metal guitar heroics sprinkled mischievously atop jazzy, shape-shifting and punishing rhythms. There are moments of gleeful, heads-down death metal bludgeoning in there too – check out that thrashy verse in ‘Tetrahedron Quartz’ for example. With no demos or any other releases under their belts, it’s actually kind of terrifying how fully realised and creative Nulitas is. It’s as if this bizarre, squirming anomaly has crashed, fully formed, into our dimension by mistake. Regardless of where they came from, Acausal Intrusion have just delivered one of the year’s essential death metal experiences.

Mr Marcaille – No Snare No Headache

(Urgence Disk/Les Disques de la Face Cachée/Aredje Records)

If it’s deconstructionism you’re after though, you can’t get more stripped back than Mr Marcaille. Armed only with two pedals hooked up to a cymbal and a kick drum, a heavily distorted cello and his guttural, throaty roar, Mr Marcaille became something of a celebrity after videos of him blasting out raw, rudimentary metal in his underpants circulated on YouTube, but there’s more to the man than mere novelty, as this second full-length ably demonstrates. Tracks like ‘Beer Time’ and ‘Fuck Off And Die’ are brash, snotty ragers, minute long bursts of sweaty, filth encrusted proto-metal reduced right down to its core essentials; namely, big riffs and belligerent, brutish vocals. No Snare No Headache finds Mr Marcaille frequently stepping out of his comfort zone too though. ‘Mon Amour’ is a gristly slab of Sleep inspired stoner doom, for instance, that works surprisingly well in such a stripped back setting, whilst ‘Pro Satan’ and ‘Infinite’ are creepy, atmospheric pieces of avant-drone that really demonstrate the bizarre sounds Mr Marcaille can coax out of his cello. No Snare No Headache may be an acquired taste but there’s a purity to it that’s incredibly infectious, a no-bullshit approach that cuts straight to the snarling core of what makes metal so great in a manner so primitive it’ll make your favourite caveman death metal band look like Harvard professors.

Yautja – The Lurch


Despite releasing splits with the likes of Fórn and Chepang, Nashville’s Yautja are still something of a well-kept secret – but with their second full-length landing on Relapse (not to mention drummer/vocalist Tyler Coburn joining both Mutilation Rites and Thou in recent years), hopefully that will all change soon enough. The Nashville trio’s sound is hard to pin down; too slow for grindcore, too fast for sludge, yet sitting uncomfortably somewhere between the two nonetheless. The Lurch adds a hefty dose of noise rock influence when compared to previous works, with tracks like ‘The Spectacle’ and the spiralling dissonance of ‘Wired Depths’ creating a vibe that’s not a million miles away from the last Pyyrhon album, or an even more metallic KEN Mode. The lumbering seven minute ‘Undesirables’ goes even further down that route, firing aching guitar twangs across a driving, distorted bass-line, like Converge covering The Jesus Lizard, whilst faster cuts like ‘Tethered’ or the frantic ‘Catastrophic’ really show off Coburn’s skills as a drummer, busting out frenetic fills like a blastier Brann Dailor. If you’re into heavy music that’s more concerned with sounding nasty than neatly fitting into subgenres, this is a good listen.

Nothing Clean – Disappointment

(Psycho Control)

In twenty years or so, when people look back at the current wave of UK powerviolence in the same way we do at the American scene that birthed the genre, I have no doubt that Nothing Clean will be remembered as one of its leading lights. The quartet’s razor sharp, stop-on-a-dime sound has been ludicrously tight ever since their 2014 demo, and their bleak, abrasive approach has been meticulously refined ever since. They’re the No Comment to The Afternoon Gentlemen’s Spazz, Endless Swarm’s Infest or Chinsniffer’s Man Is The Bastard, for example. This second album finds the band sounding especially confident tearing through their trademark blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerviolence, with songs like ‘How?’ and ‘Spoiled flashing past in a whirlwind of hardcore punk riffing, dizzyingly fast blastbeats and raw, anguished vocals.

There’s an almost Godflesh vibe to the stuttering clank of ‘Insensible’ too, whilst tracks like ‘Cheat’ explore this noisier side of the band more fully, helping to break up the blur of light-speed shards of fury like the nine second ‘Mates With God’ without sacrificing any of the record’s tension or intensity. The gang vocals in ‘So Average’ really emphasise the band’s punk influence, whilst ‘Transient’ even manages to make room for some impromptu answering machine vocals too. Blistering stuff from one of the UK’s most underrated fast acts.

Mortuary Spawn – Spawned From The Mortuary

(Chamber Of Emesis)

Speaking of the UK fast scene, Mortuary Spawn are the latest must-hear band from Leeds, and feature members of Ona Snop, Famine, The Day Man Lost, Groak. But despite the band’s punk background, Spawned From The Mortuary is pure metal through and through, sounding more like a vintage slab of Floridian death metal than the more hardcore inspired variants of the genre that have become popular recently. There’s definitely traces of their other bands’ more frantic song-writing in the way tracks like opener ‘Crepuscular Imperilment’ race through riffs like there’s no tomorrow, and there are still big chugging grooves in the likes of ‘Thorax And Abdomen’, but they come off more like old-school Obituary than, say, Gatecreeper – and that final riff with the big bend is pure Morbid Angel worship, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘God Of Emptiness’. The title track, meanwhile, is a thoroughly righteous combination of epic melodic guitar leads, sinister riffing, ruthlessly efficient blasting and a surprisingly catchy hook. An extremely promising start – if you have even the most passing interest in death metal, keep an ear on these guys.

Nadja – Luminous Rot

(Southern Lord)

Finally, Canadian drone duo’s Nadja’s latest happens to be the first of their many, many albums to be mixed by someone else – namely David Pajo of Slint fame. Pajo gives the pair a curiously washed out, ethereal aesthetic, which sometimes feels at odds with the crushing weight of their riffs, but always in tune with Luminous Rot‘s overarching theme of making first contact with alien species and struggling to comprehend extra-terrestrial intelligence. Check out the way ‘Starres’ huge trenches of muggy guitar ambience gradually morph into cosmic synth swells before building to a dazzling, hallucinogenic climax – proper Close Encounters Of The Third Kind vibes. The industrial clank of the title track is oddly muffled, but it works – especially with Aidan Baker adopting a sleazy monotone drawl at a volume that feels intimately, uncomfortably close compared to the distant thud of the guitars. It’s like lying in bed next to a severely hungover Iggy Pop whilst Streetcleaner blasts out of your upstairs neighbours’ subwoofer. Pajo doesn’t skimp on that sonic weight when it’s needed though. There’s something oddly devotional about the staggering, triumphant thrust of ‘Fruiting Bodies’, with deafening chords ringing out like sermons from a mountaintop, whilst ‘Dark Inclusions’ ends the album on a driving, dramatic note, like a much doomier version of early Spacemen 3. Luminous Rot can often feel slippery and hard to pin down (much like making contact with extra-terrestrials, I suppose) but there’s an otherworldly beauty here that unfolds as it gradually washes over you.

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