There have been a number of stories in the music press of late extolling the mental health benefits of listening to metal music. Contrary to popular misconception, exposing ones ears to the bludgeoning instrumentals, and, at times, darkly violent lyrical themes of extreme music does not, it appears, render the listener a raging, misogynist misanthrope, mired in festering self-hatred and suicidal ideation. To the contrary, metal music apparently helps its fans process and control feelings of anger, whilst promoting critical thinking. I’d go one step further and proffer that metal music (to quote Japanese lifestyle guru Marie Kondo in a context that even she would be surprised to find herself) sparks nothing less than joy. And you won’t find a better encapsulation of said joy than in Curse These Metal Hands, a project that worships reverentially at the altar of The Almighty Riff.

The result of a convergence of double threat vocalist-guitarists, Dan Nightingale and Brady Duprese from Conjurer, and the rhythm section, Nick Watmough and Luke Rees, plus vocalist-guitarist, Joe Clayton, from Pijn, Curse These Metal Hands (yes, that is a Peep Show reference for all you UK comedy nerds) was initially conceived as a one-off live collaboration for the preeminent heavy music festival, ArcTanGent. Essentially an excuse for two bands who traffic almost exclusively in unrelentingly punishing darkness and elegiac bleakness (Pijn is Dutch for "pain") to let a little light in, cut loose and have some low stakes fun; chuck in the jokey moniker and the absurd Baroness-baiting memes that accompanied the album announcement, and it would be tempting to dismiss Metal Hands as a bit of a goof.

While behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the record indicates that everyone was having an absolute blast, a goof this is not. Over the four compositions that make up its half hour runtime, Metal Hands showcases a group of musicians who are seriously committed to their craft, have an intrinsic understanding of tension-and-release-soft-loud dynamics, and give passionate yet technically precise performances. Three of the album's tracks push the 10-minute mark. Maintaining interest over such lengths is no mean feat, and these guys mostly pull it off with aplomb.

Opener and lead single 'High Spirits' is the highlight. A multi-part epic that opens like Mogwai at their cinematic best; the gorgeous guitar interplay, with its melodic fingerpicking and ringing harmonics, evoking an open-top drive along windswept British coastlines shot in 70mm widescreen. The track's eventual explosion is a moment of positively ecstatic release. The production is warm, bright and clear during the quieter passages and chest-crushingly dense when the band brings the riffage to bear. The group vocals are fist-pumpingly emphatic; cathartic and stirring. When the instrumental falls away and three voices collectively yell "SPIIIIRIIITS!!", it's a heart-in-your-mouth moment.

The chugging riffs and stop-start dynamics are obviously Conjurer's bread and butter, but there's a different flavour to be found here. Where that band’s excellent debut from last year, Mire, was heaving, murky and deliberately ugly, the contributions here are major-key, pleasure-centre-hitting, and arena-ready. There's a sprinkling of classic rock stomp and guitar theatrics, and when the band veer into a passage of black metal blast beats, the juxtaposition recalls the last couple of Deafheaven albums, albeit with the fun factor turned up to 11. Through the song's peaks and valleys, the band expertly toe the line between tongue-in-cheek, horns-raised posturing and sincere exuberance. By the end of 'High Spirits' you'll be convinced you've heard one of the metal songs of the year. It’s pretty much worth the price of admission alone.

It also proves to be a tough act to follow. 'The Pall' is a different beast altogether; heavier, mathier in its rhythms, with a snaking riff that feels like it's coiling itself around your neck. Where 'High Spirits' was like the sky cracking apart to allow heavenly light to shine down on true believers, the opening section of 'The Pall' feels a bit like air being sucked out of a room, its atmosphere oppressive and anxious. It's a predominantly instrumental post-metal number in the vein of Pijn's darker moments. Nevertheless, when the big riffs hit, it feels like a track that could level buildings. An elegiac passage that could have been lifted straight off a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record builds beautifully to a climax that, despite being clearly telegraphed, somehow manages to subvert expectations; the guitar lead bending so as to mimic the floor falling out from under you just when you thought you were going to achieve lift-off. An extended coda of chugging riffs, ascending melodies, and guitar squeals offers ample opportunity for headbanging, before eventually fading out; catharsis withheld. Whilst every section of ‘The Pall’ is arresting in isolation, the song feels more like a collection of cool-sounding parts rather than the cohesive, emotionally satisfying journey of ‘High Spirits’.

Where ‘The Pall’ meanders, ‘Endeavour’ aims straight for the gut. Akin to spending two minutes in the ring with a boxer who just won’t let up, this track is punishingly brutal and refreshingly blunt, whilst also being grin-inducingly entertaining. It feels like the Conjurer boys having a bit of fun with the seriousness of their main gig, forsaking grim atmosphere in favour of sheer, no-holds-barred force. They also take their guttural death growls to their logical extreme, with a frankly hilarious retch of an adlib before the song bows out with a frantic display of drumming prowess and barrelling riffs. I’m willing to bet that someone was licking the neck of their guitar during the recording. That, or biting off a bat’s head.

Closer, ‘Sunday’ feels much more of a piece with ‘High Spirits’ with its slower builds, lighter tone and joyful crescendos. Like the opener, it proves to be a more satisfying combination of the two bands’ respective styles. Each section leads more organically to the next than they did on ‘The Pall.’ Every climactic moment is earned and, like ‘High Spirits’, the song benefits hugely from the addition of clean vocals, which manage to sound full-throated, mature, and passionate, rather than thin, whiny or bratty. Yes, comparisons to Baroness at their most epic and inspiring are totally apt. This is heavy music rendered in cinematic terms, all widescreen panoramas and heart-rending melodrama. No lighter will remain unraised during the album’s enormous final moments.

Whilst there is a self-evident embrace of silliness on Curse These Metal Hands, these guys know that finding happiness in today’s world is no joke. There are obstacles, both external and internal, that can feel insurmountable. This album is about finding joy and embracing it whenever you can. “Bask in the glow! That greatest star shines overhead. Throw thine arms wide! Yield to day!” go the lyrics to ‘Sunday.’ This project may be all too brief, but its light shines brightly. Bask in its glow. Your mental health will thank you.