“Mining Metal” is a monthly column from Heavy Consequence writers Joseph Schafer and Langdon Hickman. The focus is on noteworthy new music emerging from the non-mainstream metal scene, highlighting releases from small and independent labels — or even releases from unsigned acts.
We’ve now passed the halfway mark on 2019. You know what that means, dear readers — best of lists documenting the first half of the year. Already several of these lists are floating around the internet dedicated to metal specifically, and while they may offer a good barometer for where the genre is right now and maybe even where it’s going (not to mention what you ought to back order and your local record store) please keep in mind those lists are all woefully incomplete.
We’re now getting into the few months where labels stack and release their heavy hitters, just in time for fall tours and Christmas shopping. Some of the best albums of the year, in metal or any other genre, are contained in this column below and more are coming. Fortunately, we are here to offer some highlights.
Disentomb – The Decaying Light
Five years ago, Australia’s Disentomb released a uniquely dark and atmospheric collection of death metal appropriately titled Misery. It’s a record as beautifully produced as it is apocalyptic in its sound and aesthetic. Five years later, the quartet returns with an altogether superior follow-up, The Decaying Light. It arrives at a time when brutal death metal is shrugging off the creative torpor that paralyzed much of the genre a few years ago, and Disentomb alongside other artists like Dyscarnate and Wormed (more on them later) are demonstrating how much creative track the genre can still cover. The Decaying Light aims for (and scores a bullseye on!) the moribund depression and biblical tone of a Cormac McCarthy novel as opposed to the debauchery their genre of music is known for. Buy it via Unique Leader. —Joseph Schafer
Falls of Rauros – Patterns in Mythology
The first of two records from Gilead Media this month, featuring a more cinematic and somber take on how to approach vast spans of black metal. Falls of Rauros have always leaned on the fantastical end of black metal, weaving in folk and even light strands of the more anthemic and triumphant ends of power metal into their post-rock infused take on the extremities of black metal and here deliver their finest concentration of those spaces. Perhaps the best characteristics of Patterns in Mythology is how the group portrays the great wells of grief and solemnity that come in Tolkien’s meditations on lost glory and how dignity may be regained, a sentiment they infuse into their music with an almost doom metal sense of tragedy. Patterns in Mythology is less immediate than you might be expecting, but no less breathtaking. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
False – Portent
And here’s two of two from Gilead, as False return with Portent, following their untitled debut, itself a masterclass in rich and sonically dense black metal, and the short two-song EP, Hunger. Their new LP sports three long tracks, each crackling with effervescent lightning with nary a dull moment. Long tracks have always been a thing in extreme metal, but False know how to earn those spans of time, leaning less on dynamics and more on constantly evolving riffs that nonetheless carry a strong emotional logic weaving them together. A record as hyperbolically ecstatic and momentous as it is all-encompassing, anticipate seeing this one right up near the top of many year-end lists from those in the know. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Grogus – Four Kings
It’s been a while now since sludge has been in the spotlight, a fact due primarily to a sudden and inexplicable drop off in the number of truly surreal and psychedelic experimental bands in the form. Grogus call to mind the earliest Baroness EPs, the Mastodon debut, and those absolutely bizarre and wonderful Lovesexmachine records released to shockingly little fanfare a few years ago, showcasing an approach to sludge that feels deeply informed by the Melvins’ interpolation of experimental and noise rock into the style begun almost three decades ago now. Still, a good idea remains fresh when not enough people do it, and it’s hard to argue that this album, Four Kings, wouldn’t have been considered a classic had it come out in the weirdo-sludge heyday. And just when you think things can’t get any more disgusting and freaked out and groovy they hit you with a disturbing and gorgeous clean passage, like walking through a melting tunnel. Brilliant. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Immortal Bird -Thrive on Neglect
Four years after their impressive debut, Empress/Abscess (and seven years after their astounding debut EP, Akrasia), Chicago’s Immortal Bird return with their sophomore LP, Thrive on Neglect. Describing the band’s music presents a challenge — schooled in music theory as well as hyper-literate in extreme metal, the band has a talent for combining little elements from various styles and synthesizing them into their own music such that their sophomore outing is a bouillabaisse of subgenres. That said, their rhythmic approach (every drum line on this record kills) and use of dissonant melody is strong throughout, and vocalist Rae Amitay is a charismatic vocalist. Better, her lyrics stay in the alluring space between confessional self-disclosure and cryptic calls-to-arms. Metalheads who are familiar with Lamb of God’s discography and are looking for something to draw them deeper into the metal underground could find an appealing gateway in Thrive on Neglect. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
Sickdeer – Awake, Proceed
One of the greatest honors of a column like this is getting to showcase totally independent groups. This is Sickdeer’s third and so far best release, showing a group honing their hybrid of black and death metal. Their greatest assets here are a keen ear for hooks, an absolutely killer percussion duo comprised of a primary drummer and the vocalist on auxiliary percussion, and thick and rich vocals. The guitars do the typical sheets of sound approach to riffing we see often in black/death hybrid groups, but the inventive drum patterns and astounding vocal work elevates the group above mere pastiche or cliche. Records like Awake, Proceed make letting go of subpar groups like Horna and even brilliant groups like Vektor easier; there’s a sense that for every iffy to downright awful set of scummy white dudes in metal, there’s another brilliant and powerful band waiting to be discovered. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Few acts can manage to write three albums worth of material in three years. Even fewer acts can write three excellent records in that time. Even so, Toronto death metal outfit Tomb Mold have done just that. Once a guitarist and vocalist-drummer duo, the band’s first outing as a quartet, Planetary Clairvoyance, eclipses their prior work in every way. The band’s love of inscrutable Finnish death metal is still obvious for those with ears to hear, but Demilich never wrote anything as catchy as the mosh riff that closes out opener “Beg for Life.” At 38 minutes long, it’s a remarkably tight album as well, though I could have done without the three-minute atmospheric interlude. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
Wormed – Metaportal
Slam, sometimes derided as an anti-intellectual branch of the metal tree, the most ignorant permutation of death metal — and proudly so — has an intellectual hero in Spain’s Wormed. The hyper-technical quartet still delivers the relentless mosh-fuel that their contemporaries in, say, Pathology do, but package it in a glossy science fiction aesthetic with a surprising amount of actual physics research behind it. Think Cryptopsy writing the soundtrack to Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem novels. The band struck tragedy in 2018 when drummer G-Calero, who played on and helped compose their triumphant 2016 album Krighsu, passed away. That said, this year’s Metaportal EP, their first with V-Kazar behind the skins, is no stopgap. Songs like “Cryptoubiquity” show a band with no signs of slowing down, and no shortage of creative juices left—they still blast with such speed that you can’t help but wonder if it’s bending the time-space continuum. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer