Mining Metal: Exist, Katavasia, Messiah, Night, Obsidian Kingdom, Plague Organ, Proscription, and Sumac

A rundown of the best underground metal releases of September 2020

Mining Metal

    “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.

    Like many, I’ve spent much of the last month practically hermetically sealed-in to my domicile, just to avoid too much Pacific Northwest wildfire smoke from clogging my already-punished lungs. Extended isolation leads to eccentricity, and this month’s metal selections skew toward the insular. Expect progressive and cavernous odes to hyper-niche sounds, perfect for deep headphone listening.

    Of course, there’s a little old-time rock ‘n’ roll to buoy spirits in darkening times and earlier sunsets, but as autumn rolls in metal’s bleaker personalities roll out in force. Keep some of these picks on repeat, light a few candles, and sink into your subconscious — if you stay there long enough, you might find a portal to a higher plane of consciousness. And if not, hey, at least there’s riffs to last the next month. As Trent Reznor once said, the way out is through — in metal and in life. —Joseph Schafer

    Exist – Egoiista


    The first thing you might notice in Exist’s new album is the sheer amount of post-Cynic color they splash the page with. Their approach to hybridized progressive rock and death metal is substantially more polychromatic than some of their more earth-tone peers, tapping into a kind of serene beauty in this style of extreme metal some are wary to pursue. But the amount of low-and-dirty modern death metal records does Egoiista a strong favor; suddenly, this stands out, feels refreshing, as big and full of life as a Devin Townsend record but with the flair and intricacy of the 90s tech/prog death masters. It is, in a word, beautiful. How common is that in death metal? This was technically a late-August release, but we just had to include it. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman

    Katavasia – Magnus Ventator

    After more than twenty years in the shadows, Greece’s fertile (if insular) black metal community is finally getting some well-earned attention in America. Yes, Rotting Christ has managed to maintain a respectable international profile, but their comrades in bands like Varathron and Necromantia have yet to capture people’s imaginations the way their Norwegian cousins have, even though the Greek scene is in some ways more digestible and closely tied to classic metal. Those curious about Adriatic black metal could hardly ask for a better primer than Magnus Ventator, the second album by Katavasia. With members of Hail Spirit Noir, Varathron and Aenaon among others, this outfit supplies everything that makes this style of music so charming: ostentatious melodrama, extreme melodies, deeper-than-deep midtempo grooves that draw a connecting line between Hellhammer and hoplites striking their shields with their spears. The result is a compulsively listenable slice of mythological metal — necessary listening when, like Atlas, the average person feels like they’ve got the burden of the world on their shoulders. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer

    Messiah – Fracmont

    Swiss thrash magnates Messiah are likely most well-known by record collectors for the … let’s call it unmistakable cover art of their 1986 classic Extreme Cold Weather. Listen past the aesthetics, though — Messiah’s dark, melodramatic thrash deserves similar esteem to that of their fellow nationals Coroner and Celtic Frost. And like their peers, Messiah spent most of the last few decades in hibernation, minus a few reunions here and there. Fracmont is their first album since 1994’s Underground, and fortunately for us it’s a scorcher. The martial charge of songs like “Mort al dente” carries more than enough dramatic weight to justify Messiah’s taste for extended song structures. Messiah bordered on death metal in the eighties, and still do today, so fans of Vader and similar borderline bands are encouraged to explore that sound with Messiah’s more deterministic pacing. It would be fascinating to hear more thrash revival bands tap into this sound, and maybe Fracmont’s release could be the first step in that direction. Buy it (if they ship to you) from High Roller Records. —Joseph Schafer


    Night – High Tides Distant Skies

    To balance out our shared taste for brutality, I always try to find one “Classic” minded band for this column. And this month, there’s no better old school throwback than Sweden’s Night (wow, the second classic metal band with a night name in one year!). Truthfully, High Tides Distant Skies is as much classic rock as it is proto metal, albeit with a slightly occult lyrical slant – naturally it’s being released by The Sign, which has hosted numerous releases by former members of Ghost, loosely in a similar idiom. Deep Purple is a good point of reference, but only as part of a deeper interest in the sounds of the ‘70s. Listen closely for homages to Steely Dan and Yes on different songs, and even some spectacular disco strings on closer “Under the Moonlight Sky.” Night have released one of the most compulsively listenable slices of high-energy rock this year. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer

    Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine

    If their last full-length, 2016’s superb A Year With No Summer, didn’t clue you in to the strengths of this Spanish prog metal band, then Meat Machine should be your wake-up call. Hybridizing styles spanning from the current minimalist/electronic Nordic prog scene to the atmospheric post-Deftones nu-metal touches, flashes of industrial music, a dollop of the cinematic theatrical flair of Devin Townsend and now with an added dash of sludge for texture, Obsidian Kingdom are a band that feels like they can syncretistically alloy anything under the sun. What’s more, these songs are kept tight, hovering in the 4-to-5 minute range, condensing the epic arcs and kaleidoscopic intent into digestible but still starry-eyed spans. In a perfect world, they would be mentioned alongside Ihsahn, The Ocean, and Devin. Let’s help get them there. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman

    Plague Organ – Orphan

    Plague Organ is a strange beast, a blackened psychedelic drone metal record birthed from some of the same folks who brought us the abstract and raw death metal of Cryptae and the heady free jazz/doom metal hybrid work of Dead Neanderthals. While the record works on its lonesome, it resonates best in those associations, a duo of musicians who seem capable of almost anything and, with but a change of the name on the tin, can convince you it can’t possibly be the same people. This record, Orphan, literally gave me death-terror panic attacks, something black metal typically strives for but often fails to deliver for me. This is primal, powerful stuff, a gaze deep into the howl of the abyss. Prepare thy heart. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon HIckman


    Proscription – Conduit

    My taste in death metal tends to run toward the intelligible and away from the abyssal — I’ll take the sounds of the UK and Sweden over Florida and New York nine-ought times out of ten. Finalnds’s Proscritpion are the exception to the rule. The churning, dissonant death on Conduit is a cosmic maelstrom with enough gravitational pull to yank me out of my comfort zone and slingshot me straight into Lovecraft country. Clearly, they’ve learned from old school titans Immolation, but keep things just fresh enough to keep their influences as launching points, not altars of worship. Songs like “Red Sacrament Black Communion” and “Blessed Feast of Black Seth” (there’s a whole lotta ‘black’ in their pitch) eschew obvious hooks for oblique and meditative vamping that’s Demilich-ian in its sonic construction and David Lynchian in its outré esthetic. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer

    Sumac – May You Be Held

    With their collaboration with free improv guitarist Keiji Haino, Sumac finally shed the chains of Aaron Turner’s other critically acclaimed and deeply missed band. Then, with Love in Shadow, they burst the mold entirely, delivering a year-end great that will go down as a classic of experimental and progressive heavy metal. So who can fault them that they came to deliver more? The lesson they seem to have learned from Haino is not just how to gird and guide these improvisational terrains but also their near limitless evocative capacity. There are colors on May You Be Held we have never seen, shrapnel in the heart and a desire from love in the midst of war, all delivered in impressionistic free jazz snarls of truly nasty distorted doom. Tribulation has a fight for best band on the planet; after these two bands, the competition isn’t anywhere close. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman