Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For November Reviewed By Kez Whelan

Your guide to the best brand new heavy metal returns, with Kez Whelan taking in new releases from Tomb Mold, Autopsy, Hexvessel, Cirith Ungol and more

Marthe, photo by Silvia_Polmonari

Finally getting to see Tom G. Warrior performing the music of Hellhammer on the Triumph Of Death tour was one of the most joyous experiences with live music I’ve had, and I’m pleased to report that buzz has been captured very satisfactorily on the new Resurrection Of The Flesh live album. Recorded over the course of three shows earlier this year, the record serves up a banquet of classic Hellhammer tunes, performed with utmost gusto and an absolutely monstrous guitar tone that just oozes out of the speakers with a jet-black menace. The production is fantastic, capturing both the roar of the crowd and the brutal pummel of the band in crisp detail.

The musicians he has assembled here seem perfectly in tune with his vision, with Sacrifizer bassist Jamie Lee Cussigh in particular standing out with her filthy, monolithic bass tone – it feels suitably in thrall to the demonic clanking bass on Hellhammer’s first two demos without directly attempting to emulate it, and she definitely puts her own touch on songs like the grinding, bass-driven ‘Blood Insanity’. Tom G. himself is clearly having a blast throughout with his vocals sounding extra gnarled and grisly, his guttural bark nonetheless unable to hide the clear enthusiasm in his voice. This would be a perfectly solid live album in its own right, but given his well documented dismissal of Hellhammer’s artistic merits after the project’s dissolution, it feels like more than that; it’s the sound of one of metal’s most visionary and pioneering artists finally coming to terms with – and embracing – his past, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Before we get stuck in to the bounty of studio albums released recently, there’s a veritable feast of EPs to get through this month too – most notably, the return of Japanese doom legends Corrupted. Their surprise new EP Mushikeras consists of one hefty 27 minute long song, making it a far more substantial offering than either 2015’s tantalising but short 7” Loss or 2018’s underwhelming ambient 10” Felicifc Algorithim. Whilst those two releases seemed to suggest a band in a state of flux following the departure of key members like iconic vocalist/bassist Hevi, this EP feels like something of a rebirth, with new vocalist/bassist Rie Lambdoll bringing a whole new atmosphere to the band. Building slowly from sparse, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore-esque chords to crushing funereal dirge, Lambdoll’s haunting vocal adds an alternatingly delicate and terrifying flavour to the band’s sound that bodes very well for their future.

Blood Incantation return to death metal in style on ‘Obliquity Of The Ecliptic’, the A-side of their new 45rpm 12” single Luminescent Bridge. The song retains the mystic brutality and otherworldly atmosphere of their first two albums whilst also allowing a bit more breathing room, including a curiously beautiful mid-section with swinging, jazzy drums, spacey keys and sombre leads. The band haven’t abandoned the ambience of Timewave Zero however, with the title track venturing through swathes of kosmische ether before opening up with sparse, pounding drums and dazzling metallic fusion lead guitar – it’s like Paul Masvidal stole the keys to the time machine and hooked up with Popol Vuh at their mid-70s peak.

Wolves In The Throne Room’s Crypt Of Ancestral Knowledge EP follows a similar structure, with two helpings of their usual atmospheric black metal on side A and some ambient excursions on the B-side. The first two tracks feel like a continuation of the focussed, anthemic sound of 2021’s Primordial Arcana with even more prominent keys, especially on bombastic opener ‘Beholden To Clan’. ‘Twin Mouthed Spring’, meanwhile, finds drummer Aaron Weaver contributing some goth tinged vocals and yearning acoustic guitar, really showcasing the band’s Agalloch influence. The ambient tracks are great too – ‘Initiates Of The White Hart’ is a reimagining of Primordial Arcana’s ‘Spirit Of Lightning’, and it’s remarkable how well that soaring metallic riff translates into gorgeous folky textures.

After closing out 20 Buck Spin’s annual release schedule for two years on the trot, Dream Unending and Worm have once again joined forces for a split album to welcome this year’s winter. After teasing a symphonic black metal sound on the final track of their last EP Bluenothing, Worm have plunged straight into the style here, thankfully eschewing much of the pomp associated with the sub-genre in favour of their usual unhinged darkness. Dream Unending, meanwhile, turn in some of the most tranquil, progressive material they’ve put to tape, with guitarist Derrick Vella showing off some seriously jazzy leads on the yearning ‘So Many Chances’, and ‘If Not Now When’ allowing crushing death/doom to evaporate into waves of calming blue ambience.

Tomb Mold – The Enduring Spirit
(20 Buck Spin)

That prog sensibility has evidently rubbed off on Derrick Vella’s main band Tomb Mold, as this fourth album is easily their most ambitious to date. 2019’s Planetary Clairvoyance found the band beginning to evolve out of the old school Incantation worship that typified their earlier work, but The Enduring Spirit feels like a huge step forward, reminiscent of the quantum leap Death took with their classic Human, transitioning into a much more expansive and psychedelic sound. It feels like an entirely natural progression, and the band haven’t abandoned their early sound by any stretch (‘Angelic Fabrications’ in particular is an absolute belter) but there’s a heightened sense of melody here, along with much more adventurous and elaborate song structures – ‘Will Of Whispers’, for example, begins with some unexpectedly beautiful clean guitar licks pitched somewhere between Atheist and 80s King Crimson at their most sentimental, before vaulting into a labyrinth of twisted, vibrant death metal riffs. The eleven minute ‘The Enduring Spirit Of Calamity’ takes this concept one step further, feeling like the missing link between Death and Rush (and bringing to mind the final track on Venenum’s perennially underrated psych-death masterpiece Trance Of Death too).

The Enduring Spirit already seems to be dividing opinion, with some fans bemoaning the cleaner, proggier direction taken here. For my money though, it’s the best thing Tomb Mold have released yet, and one of the most impressive death metal records of the year, transplanting the band’s sound into much more colourful, imaginative and moving vistas without sacrificing any of their personality or energy. Sure, Tomb Mold excelled at cavernous old school death metal, but there’s no shortage of bands tapping that particular vein at the moment, and this feels like a much more unique and forward-thinking record, proving there’s much more to this band than may initially meet the ear.

Cruciamentum – Obsidian Refractions
(Profound Lore)

Cruciamentum make their long-awaited return this month too, finally following their triumphant 2015 debut Charnel Passages, a record that had a big impact on many of today’s darker death metal up-and-comers. The band exists in a very different form now, with only guitarist Dan Lowndes remaining from the Charnel Passages line-up, but Obsidian Refractions manages to feel like a proper follow-up nonetheless, nailing the same sinister atmosphere, robust production and complex but memorable song-writing. The opener (confusingly titled ‘Charnel Passages’) wastes no time in hammering this home, finding the perfect balance between oppressive murk and eerie melodies. The whole album flows smoothly as a continuous piece too, with the song’s desolate climax segueing seamlessly into the boisterous brutality of ‘Abhorrence Evangelium’.

The intricate ‘Necropolis Of Obsidian Mirrors’ lurches between vigorous blasting and crushing doom sections that have a faintly psychedelic feel to them, but it’s the ten minute ‘Drowned’ that’s perhaps the biggest surprise, pushing the band’s sound into ever more spacious and crepuscular depths. New bassist Chris Eakes takes on the majority of vocal duties, and whilst he has a similarly guttural approach, there’s a raspier, ghostly quality to his voice that really adds to the creepy vibe this album conjures up. Hopefully it won’t be another eight years until we get the next one, but this is very much a return to form.

Autopsy – Ashes, Organs, Blood And Crypts

Death metal legends Autopsy continue to fire on all cylinders with their tenth full-length; whilst Cruciamentum fans may have gone grey waiting for a new record, it’s barely been a year since Autopsy served up their last patter of splatter. Ashes, Organs, Blood And Crypts harks back to Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves’ “fuck it, just list a bunch of words that sound metal” approach to titling, but if the album’s moniker might seem uninspired, the actual music most assuredly doesn’t. That rejuvenated energy that ran through last year’s Morbidity Triumphant has carried over here, and whilst this one isn’t quite as immediately ferocious, there’s a deliciously ominous, doomy atmosphere throughout. Just check out the sinister opener ‘Rapid Funeral’, with new bassist Greg Wilkinson continuing to put his stamp on the classic Autopsy sound with creepy bass runs adding an extra dimension to the song’s punishing grooves.

There are still some shorter, faster tunes here (‘Throatsaw’ in particular is an absolute ripper), but as a whole, this album feels a lot more lumbering and atmospheric than its predecessor. Chris Reifert’s vocals seem to get more and more unhinged by the year too – the man is in his mid-’50s now but still sounds absolutely feral on cuts like the squelchy ‘No Mortal Left Alive’, with the band’s thick, doomy riffs allowing him space to really freak out with some wild, tortured screams. The title track is even more spacious, with its sparse, eerie outro recalling the stripped back Sabbathian vibe of their classic ‘In The Grip Of Winter’. Chalk this one up as yet another late-career banger!

Underdark – Managed Decline
(Church Road)

Nottingham post-black metal quintet Underdark are also striking while their respective iron is hot this month; following the lengthy wait between their 2016 debut EP and their 2021 full-length Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry, they’ve wasted no time at all in getting this second full-length out. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel rushed or hastily slapped together either, quite the opposite in fact. That wistful melancholy is still here (the twinkling crescendo that closes ‘Matrimony’ is absolutely beautiful) but on the whole, Managed Decline feels far more aggressive and pointed. ‘Managed Decline I’ and ‘Enterprise’ are both punishing onslaughts of blasts and tremolo picking, with vocalist Abi Vasquez’s impassioned screech sounding more venomous than ever.

There are a lot of shoegazey atmospheric black metal acts around now with plenty of pretty textures, but no actual riffs; thankfully Underdark excel at both, with tracks like ‘Employment’ full of huge, triumphant – and above all – memorable riffs, all bathed in the band’s distinctive atmosphere. The music still has an ancient, faintly medieval quality, which, when combined with the gritty, urban realism of Vasquez’s thoughtful lyrics, creates a surreal atmosphere that seems to exist somewhat out of time, like a ghostly warning about the future transmitted from an alternate past.

Closet Witch – Chiaroscuro
(Moment Of Collapse)

Here’s another one I’ve been waiting on for a while; this Iowa quartet’s 2018 debut is still one of my favourite grindcore records of recent years, and this follow-up sounds even more unhinged. The band’s sound sits somewhere in between the cathartic tumult of Cloud Rat and the noisier dissonance of Full Of Hell (Dylan Walker even contributes some guttural vocals to the churning tornado of sound that is ‘My Words Are Sacred’), but there’s a uniquely chaotic flavour to Closet Witch that really sets them apart from their peers. There’s a density to songs like ‘Constantly Problematic’ despite their brevity, with shards of knotted, noisy riffs creating a seething mass of sound as vocalist Mollie Piatetsky unleashes some terrifyingly harsh screams.

The mid-section of Chiaroscuro doesn’t so much provide a bit of breathing room, but rather loosens its chokehold on you ever so slightly, with ‘Infinite Imbalance’ and ‘You, Me And Venus In Decay’ bringing in a slight noise-rock feel with clanking bass and thoroughly threatening grooves. The beautiful economy of grindcore songwriting is ever present however, with even these moments flying past in a glorious blur until the album hurtles toward its blistering but emotive conclusion in the unnerving ‘To The Cauldron’. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in grindcore or powerviolence, this is mandatory listening.

Marthe – Further In Evil
(Southern Lord)

Southern Lord’s latest signing is an interesting one; following her time in anarcho-punk bands like Campus Sterminii and gothic/death rock outfits like Horror Vacui, Italian multi-instrumentalist Marzia has taken a far more metallic approach for her solo project. After 2019’s Sisters Of Darkness EP, this debut album finds her sound coming into much sharper focus, fusing the stomping bravado of Bathory’s viking metal output with the lo-fi blackened crust of latter-day Darkthrone, and a melancholy melodicism that’s all her own. Opener ‘I Ride Alone’ is a slow burner, but perfectly sums up the album’s atmosphere and fiery spirit, with soaring high-end tremolo erupting out of thick, fuzzy doom riffs.

There’s a distinctly home-made charm to Further In Evil, the kind that you really only find with solo projects. Marzia’s vocals bring a lot of personality to the record too, whether with the gruff rasps punctuating the title track, the snarling bravado of the galloping ‘To Ruined Altars’ (which comes across like Kat Bjelland fronting a NWOBHM band) or the eerie, mournful wails running through ‘Dead To You’, a lurching Hellhammer style stomper with a particularly gothic sensibility. As if to really emphasise that vibe, the album ends with a sinister cover of Siouxsie & The Banshees’ classic ‘Sin In My Heart’, transforming it into the kind of spectral dirge you’d find on a vintage Italian horror movie soundtrack.

Body Void – Atrocity Machine

US sludge act Body Void have been getting heavier and heavier with each new release, and last year’s Burn The Homes Of Those Who Seek To Control Our Bodies EP was a tantalising glimpse of what their newly expanded line-up is capable of, with touring member Janys-Iren Faughn becoming a full-time addition and smothering the band’s dense doom in hissing, fizzing noise. Even with that as a warning however, I still wasn’t quite prepared for how utterly harrowing this new full-length would be, recalling the confrontational bleakness of early Swans or the blackened hellscapes of Gnaw Their Tongues as much as it does their peers like Indian or Primitive Man. There’s a palpable tensity in songs like ‘Human Greenhouse’ and ‘Cop Show’, as seething electronic loops bristle against sparse, pounding riffs in a gleefully uncomfortable fashion.

With the increasing density and further emphasis on noisy, almost industrial textures, Atrocity Machine feels like the start of a new era for the band, right down to the change of aesthetic in the album artwork, and I’m excited to see just how nasty they can continue to make this sound. As the world gets ever uglier, Body Void are committed to doing the same, serving up some seriously unsettling sludge in the process.

Hexvessel – Polar Veil

Having evolved out of their earlier gloomy neofolk work into a fully-fledged psychedelic rock band on records like 2016’s When We Are Death, Mat McNerney’s

chameleonic Hexvessel have shifted shapes yet again for this sixth opus, drawing influence from McNerny’s black metal past. The fusion of chilling, distorted tremolo riffs with morose, mid-paced post-punk songcraft proves to be quite a potent one indeed, with mournful opener ‘The Tundra Is Awake’ immediately setting the tone with a sound akin to Echo & The Bunnymen jamming with Urfaust in a remote, snow smothered log cabin. Anyone expecting McNerny to bring back some of the harsher vocals he utilised in bands like Code and Dødheimsgard may be disappointed, but the combination of his wistful croon with a much heavier sound gives Polar Veil a truly unique vibe – not just in Hexvessel’s discography, but in black metal as a whole.

Whilst McNerny’s cryptic, mercurial presence is still the star of the show, there are several interesting guest appearances here too, which add a lot to the record. Bølzer’s Okoi Jones backs up McNerny’s spectral voice with his more robust, booming pipes on the hypnotic ‘Older Than The Gods’, whilst frequent Chelsea Wolfe collaborator Ben Chisholm adds bags of sonic depth to the swirling, gothic ‘Listen To The River’. Polar Veil may not be as vibrant and colourful as some of Hexvessel’s previous records, but the distinct sonic world it creates is so well-realised and inviting that it hardly matters. McNerny’s work has often highlighted the unlikely similarities between post punk and black metal, and this might just be his most successful marriage between the two styles yet.

Yellow Eyes – Master’s Murmur
(Gilead Media)

New York black metallers Yellow Eyes have taken the opposite path to Hexvessel this month, eschewing their usual metallic sound with the surprise release of a self-described “industrial folk” album, drawing inspiration from the otherworldly darkness of Coil and Dead Can Dance. Whilst black metal acts attempting folk or ambient albums is nothing new, what’s remarkable about Master’s Murmur is just how fully-formed and fleshed out it feels, coming across like a respectable neofolk record in it’s own right rather than a half-hearted experiment. The band’s songwriting is sharper than ever, with each of these tracks feeling distinct and memorable whilst amounting to a deliciously nocturnal album experience too, flowing with a clear purpose and intent.

The band’s black metal background manifests itself in a variety of interesting ways here, be it the distant harsh vocals on the ethereal title track or the blistering blastbeats that erupt out of nowhere in ‘Winter Is Looking’s convincingly eerie climax and punctuate the creepy industrial dirge of ‘The Ritual Is Gone’ like Fenriz gatecrashing an early Current 93 session. Whilst Yellow Eyes have said this is a prelude to their “upcoming full band LP”, Master’s Murmur nonetheless feels like a solid album in and of itself, more akin to a successful, Ulver-esque dimension shift than the throwaway noodling of, say, a prison-era Burzum album. To write this off as just another “black metal gone ambient” side-project would be to miss out on one of the most engagingly mysterious black metal adjacent albums of the year.

Cirith Ungol – Dark Parade
(Metal Blade)

These Californian heavy metal legends have had such a good run since reforming in 2015 (not to mention laying the groundwork for so much of today’s more epically inclined trad metal during their initial heyday) that it’s hard to imagine anyone begrudging their decision to cease to exist as a live band from next year. Whether they’ll continue releasing music is still up in the air, but if Dark Parade does wind up being their final record, it’s a great note to bow out on (much more so than their previous “final” album, 1991’s Paradise Lost).

The first thing that hits you here is just how bombastic it sounds, pairing some of their most immediate song-writing with perhaps the most booming production they’ve ever had. The band feel equally at home on straight-forward rockers like ‘Relentless’ as they do progressively minded epics like the eight minute ‘Sailor On The Seas Of Fate’; the title track, meanwhile, finds a happy middle ground between the two, weaving rollicking Thin Lizzy-esque riffs into a rich tapestry of sword-wielding fantasy and metallic bluster. If it’s good old fashioned, no-nonsense heavy metal you’re after, this is some of the best 2023 has to offer.

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