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.
As I write this introduction, I’ve just found out about the passing of Mike Howe, vocalist of the criminally underrated band Metal Church. He was 55 years old — too young.
The last time I memorialized a musician in this column, it was Entombed vocalist L.G. Petrov. Howe’s story differs from Petrov’s in two critical ways. First, because Petrov’s passing was unfortunate but expected, whereas Howe’s was surprising. Second, while Petrov and Entombed had gone their separate ways, the band had achieved notoriety commensurate with their artistic output. In contrast, Howe had been an active member of Metal Church at the time of his death. Despite 40 years of existence, the band isn’t as well known as they deserve to be.
Metal Church was one of the Seattle-area ’80s heavy metal bands that, alongside Sanctuary and Queensrÿche, established a nuanced, gloomy-but-sharp and progressive-but-aggressive sound that dabbled in speed, thrash, power and even a touch of glam without committing to any one adjective. Apocryphally, Lars Ulrich considered joining Metal Church at one point, when they were still based in the Bay Area. The band’s first three records showcase ultra-high-class songwriting. Howe’s debut with the band, 1989’s Blessing in Disguise, was released via Elektra Records.
It’s worth noting that Howe was not Metal Church’s first singer. David Wayne sang on the band’s first two albums. Sadly, Wayne also passed away too young at 47 years old.
Despite their acumen and pedigree, Metal Church belong to the echelon of great bands that deserve wider recognition — bands like Trouble, Fate’s Warning, Solitude Aeternus, Forbidden, Exciter, Accept, and so on.
This is all to say that, in my opinion, there ought not be any more excellent bands who only get their due after the untimely loss of a great talent. It’s for that reason, among others, that we continue presenting the best underground metal albums each month, including the ones listed below for July 2021.
Author’s Note: This intro was completed just before I found out that founding Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison had also passed away at the young age of 46. Needless to say, Jordison was an immense talent, and I could easily write an entire essay about his brilliance behind the kit. That said, Heavy Consequence has already paid tribute to Jordison with a list of his 10 Most Jaw-Dropping Slipknot Drum Moments. Rest in peace, Mike Howe and Joey Jordison. —Joseph Schafer
Dungeon Serpent – World of Sorrows
The Old School Death Metal revival has been boiling for at least five years now (let’s call the release of Blood Incantation’s Starspawn as the point of ignition though that ignores the legion of bands that never put the Autopsy cassettes down, or the battalion of hardcore bands that doubled down on the HM-2 pedal before them). Old School death metal’s original peak only lasted for about that long (I’m calling the release of Death’s Scream Bloody Gore in 1988 as the start though of course bands like Bathory and Possessed were at it earlier, and ending it in 1993 with the release of Cynic’s Focus). Nothing truly ends in the time of the internet, but after this long, many of the old guard started to expand their sound and add – gasp! – melody. Sure, Melodic Death metal ran itself into the ground after just as long, but the movement that brought us At the Gates, Carcass, Amon Amarth and Arch Enemy (and, uh… In Flames…) deserves a reappraisal too, and it might just get it if Dungeon Serpent has anything to say. This Canadian one-man project captures the raw beginnings of the melodeath movement, with aplomb, adding mournful solos and pit-ready riffs to the now retried-and-verified chainsaw rock formula — dig that elegiac bridge in the middle of “Cosmic Sorcery.” The debut LP World of Sorrows doesn’t shy away from its bedroom origins or some of melodeath’s less-appealing fatures (typewriter drum programming) but it has a ton of heart, making it probably my most-loved debut album of the year so far. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Joseph Schafer
Hellish Form – Remains
Slightly bending the rules to bring this record from the tail end of June to your attention. Hellish Form blend funeral doom of the crushing and impossibly slow variety, the kind driven these days by Body Void and Bell Witch, with the dappled kosmiche synthesizer soundscapes of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. There is a deft sweetness to the synthesizer portions, one that cuts counter to the deep sorrow of the doom in a manner that recalls Nightfall-era Candlemass. There’s something to be learned here for other bands about how grace notes of melodicism can make that next doom section burst with tears rather than just rattle the speaker cabinet. This is masterful stuff, absolutely end of year worthy, and given its close proximity to July anyway seemed a justifiable tweak to put down on paper. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Langdon Hickman
Lantlos – Wildhund/Glitchking
Once upon a time, Lantlos was just another blackgaze band, producing rich music in a nascent field. But then Melting Sun came along, truly one of the best metal records put to tape, and the true essence of the group seemed to burst like moth from cocoon. Wildhund/Glitchking, the newest double album of the project, pursues those same euphoric post-metal directions pursued on Melting Sun, here adding the brightness and punch of modern day Deftones and Devin Townsend to the mix. That is, at least, until the second disc, when suddenly the timbre changes to abstract electronic portraiture, the same emotional space explored through cracking digitalism rather than the bleeding watercolors and organicism of the countering disc. Lantlos is on an exit trajectory from heavy metal, but this has only made them greater over time. Wave them goodbye from places like this as they depart for the grander stages they deserve. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Langdon Hickman
Mesa – Collapse
God bless minuscule hyper-niche Facebook groups and their ability to discover the most impossibly underground shit on the planet. Mesa joins the aforementioned Atvm and last month’s Avtotheist in the list of metal bands dropping debuts that sound more sonically advanced and profound than many of their elders, in this case sounding often like a razor-wielding hybrid of Voivod and maudlin of the Well. There is a hyper-mechanical tendency here, the same Voivodian cyberneticism that inspired Meshuggah to dive deep, mixed with Toby Driver’s inimitable dream-logic compositions, merging both the very left and very right brain approaches simultaneously. What results is some of the most thrilling and genuinely progressive metal of the year, hurling truly unpredictable shapes met with killer playing but enough heavy metal meat and neck-snapping hooks to leave you salivating. And just imagine: this is only their debut. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Langdon Hickman
Midwife – Luminol
Midwife now joins the inexplicable esteemed company of Tribulation in the crowd of projects that have covered or sonically referenced The Offspring and made it feel rich and affecting rather than, well, corny and lame. Midwife are admittedly more on the outskirts of heavy metal than in its bustling metropoles and sonic capitals, but the fact that this can share the same loose umbrella as groups like Hellish Form and weirdo death metal outfit Atvm is one of the greatest profound joys of heavy metal. Luminol is an ethereal haze, post-doom if you had to call it anything, arthouse and morose like an Ingmar Bergman film through quaalude eyes. This is the emotional core of doom metal, a slow and irreproachable despondency, all amplifier hum and hushed voice with no more strength to roar. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Langdon Hickman
Mordred – The Dark Parade
Joining Metal Church in the realm of bands that never quite got their due at their prime, Mordred are one of metal’s great what-ifs. These Bay area thrashers incorporated funk and hip-hop into their music beginning with their first demo in 1985, four full years before Anthrax first collaborated with Public Enemy for “Bring the Noise” in 1989. By that time, Mordred was already prepping their first full-length, Fool’s Game and adding turntabling into their sound. That record was released on Napalm Records, the home of Celtic Frost and Helloween, who weren’t quite able to help the band find their audience. This year’s The Dark Parade is their first record since 1994, and it shows the band still perfectly capable of stage dive cues and sly lyricism. Perhaps, wisely, Mordred haven’t really updated their sound to keep up with trends in hip-hop or metal either, so this is still very much in the vein of Body Count or Faith No More (see: the synth beds on “Dragging for Bodies”) as opposed to Korn. Therefore, kids digging Code Orange and Vein may not find the same cutthroat attitude here, but anyone nostalgic for the glory days of Excel and Suicidal Tendencies should find plenty to love here. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Joseph Schafer
Night Crowned – Hädanfärd
Speaking of melody, Night Crowned also pack it in copious amounts –all tremolo-picked and delivered over an automatic firepower fusillade of drum hits. The project’s appropriately nocturnal tone suffuses sophomore LP Hädanfärd, both through its morbid imagery and frigid vocal delivery. Is this melodic death metal or melodic black metal? Yes, of course it is, in the vein of Dawn and Sacramentum, and manned by veterans of the scene – bassist Henric Lijestand also played in the inimitable Nightrage, and drummer Janne Jaloma also keeps the beats blasting in Aeon and Dark Funeral. Veterans or no, the vitriol that Night Crowned manage to maintain needs to be mentioned. I have a folder on my hard drive that I call “Unreasonably Pissed,” populated only by the most spiteful of acts – Discordance Axis, Nails, Anaal Nathrakh – and that’s where Night Crowned reside in vicious splendor. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Joseph Schafer
Sallow Moth – Stasis Cocoon
If you liked that Dungeon Serpent album, dear reader, might I also recommend Stasis Cocoon, the second album by Sallow Moth, for another morsel of old school melodeath delivered in quirky-contemporary laptop-boy style. Sallow Moth’s take further incorporates progressive rock tendencies and virtuoso guitar solos (think, Slugdge more than Tomb Mold) so, if Dungeon Serpent gave you a bit of the old Dismember vibe, Stasis Cocoon might evoke the mighty Edge of Sanity. And when I say this project is Swanöesque, I don’t only mean the sound—Stasis Cocoon the second in a trilogy of albums evoking the life cycle of a Lepidopteran life form so, cue the Mothra theme song. The band’s sole creator is the ultra-prolific Garry Brents, who wowed us early with the latest album by his more well-known project Cara Neir, and a little of the atonal post-hardcore skronk of that band shows up in fits and spurts here, such as the solo on “Seals of Primordium.” If I’m honest, I’d love to hear Brents expand this project into a full-band, Stasis Cocoon screams with potential at every second. Buy it on Bandcamp.—Joseph Schafer