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.
Metal is eternal. While its popularity ebbs and flows in the macro, its genres in the micro persist. A subgenre might experience a resurgence in popularity long after its progenitors have become elder statesmen — thrash exploded again long after its mid-’80s heyday in the early ’00s, for example. Even minuscule representations of a genre might persist after its innovators metamorphose. For example, Carcass have a new album out this month, one that sounds nothing like the grindcore permutation of the group from their first two albums. Meanwhile, a Japanese band called Pharmacist is set to release a record that’s a near-perfect clone of that early Carcass sound.
I bring this up because this month’s Mining Metal selection is virtually all death metal records. Normally, we try to diversify our choices, but don’t worry, traditional metal friends, we’ve got you next month.
That we picked so many records from that style isn’t surprising — we both love death metal without reservation. That we individually picked so many death metal records in 2021 is slightly surprising, though. Those genre revivals tend not to last too long — the thrash revival mostly receded by 2012, less than a decade after Municipal Waste’s Hazardous Mutation dropped. Two years ago, when Blood Incantation released Hidden Histories of the Human Race (Wow, has it really been that long? It has!), I anticipated that the old school death metal revival would ebb in popularity by now. History has proven that assumption wrong. Take that, H.P. Lovecraft — these are strange eons, but death has not died. —Joseph Schafer
Beyond Grace – Our Kingdom Undone
Before this review, a few words of disclosure: Andy Walmsley, vocalist of UK modern death metal iconoclasts Beyond Grace is a friend. That means two things: first, that I’m predisposed to like Our Kingdom Undone, even if it’s a bit more polished and digital than I prefer. But second, I’m predisposed to not-like it, because I’ve been listening to him talk about the damn thing since their last album, Seekers, was released in 2017, so much so in fact, that I was convinced there was nothing Beyond Grace could do to surprise me. One listen to the 12-minute title track proved me wrong. Walmsley’s bandmates pack no shortage of ideas into these songs which, under their chrome-plated surface, owe a great deal to the grimy primordial soup that spawned bands like Dawn of Possession. In other words, it’s a near-perfect balance of old and new in a time when those two impulses feel mutually exclusive most of the time — what could be more progressive than that? Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
Blames God – Alteration of the Holy Remains
I’ve waxed poetic before, but I’ll remind you once more: death metal is the greatest music produced on this earth. Blames God understand this, delivering an approach to the genre that blends in even measures lightly technical passages, blackened tremolo picked sections, the churning bestial Sumerian/Satanic monstrosities of early Morbid Angel and their progeny and then just a kiss of the cosmic end of the genre with reverbed out guitar solos. The mix here is a dream, not unlike this year’s killer Dungeon Serpent record, giving space to the instruments for legibility but still keeping enough grit in the tones and in the mix to not make this feel like a sterile affair. Normally I’m grumpy about sampled drums; call it the jazz listener in me if you want. But these are positioned in just the right spot to obscure the clinical cleanliness while still giving you that precise punch you need for faster passages like this. God bless you Chile, and God bless you death metal, the most perfect music. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Centenary – Death… The Final Frontier
As has been well-documented in this column many times, I love a good chainsaw death metal album, and on that front Centenary delivers. Their second album, Death… The Final Frontier has all the HM-2 pedal goodness one might expect from, say, Bloodbath circa Resurrection Through Carnage, so you’d be forgiven for thinking they hail from Sweden. But no, Centenary hail from that other heavily-forested-and-surrounded-on-three-sides-by-water peninsula, Michigan. As faithful as it is to the Scandinavian OG’s, Centenary do have an X factor their obvious influences do not — vocalist Stewart St. Cummings, who delivers not only the prerequisite cemetery rasp but also a rancid cleaner voice more fit for a crossover thrash outfit, and his attitude in both gears plasters a big ol’ grin across my face. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
Defacement – Defacement
Some groups use death metal to explore the outer wilds, others use it as a passage to the obscene realms of Satan, and groups like Defacement use it as a means to caustic self-eradication. This is a wonderful case for the pure imagism of heavy metal, where the cover perfectly matches the contents of the record. Defacement’s self-titled sophomore record feels like being immersed in a full-body acid bath, a high dose of psilocybin reducing your brain to fractals as your nerve endings are eaten and corroded to nothing. There are high-minded compositional approaches buried here, technical and progressive and avant-garde flourishes indicating these players and writers are no slouches, but they are all pointed toward a singular desire to melt you. This is intense stuff, far more menacing and frightening than most raw black metal’s approach to Satan. This is the sound of the final synapses’ firing before the final doomed static of death. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman
Formless Body – Run the Wire
There was a golden age in the late ’90s and early 2000s of cyberpunk-influenced black metal and grindcore, stuff that felt like the extreme metal answer to Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain. Formless Body arrive in the post-Liturgy world of experimental black metal with a record that feels in the spirit of that old wave of cybernetic black metal but now influenced by vaporwave instead of industrial, bridging the gap between Liturgy’s digital pixilated black metal and Fire-Toolz melting computer psychedelic extreme prog/electronica. Heavy metal is inextricably tied to the occult and Formless Body brings back the post-internet dissociative hypercuboid rush to extreme music. You can practically see the gleaming poorly textured polygons and curved surfaces, chromium dolphins in pearlescent waters. This is what makes the underground so thrilling. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Replicant – Malignant Reality
Gorguts, those great geniuses of death metal, didn’t so much introduce heavy focus on dissonance into death metal composition (that would be Morbid Angel), but they did enhance the breadth which we would accept. It then falls on groups like Replicant to fill the space between bands like Blames God and those more explicitly avant-garde wings, producing music that wields all those extended techniques but in a more groove-oriented space. This is magical stuff, as liable to expand your mind on a close listen as to crush it against the wall of your skull in the pit. There is a bit of everything here, something death metal is able to balance quite well on the whole, with spacious and beautiful progressive passages plowing directly into the ferocious deadened static of more brutal and noise-driven spans. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Succumb – XXI
If Centenary above, or really and of Langdon’s death metal picks struck you, dear reader, as a bit too sonorous or pleasant, I recommend you click “play” on XXI, the sophomore album by Succumb. This San Fransisco quartet play the most dissonant and chaotic category of morbid sound, without any of the ponderous intellectualizing you might find on a similar act like, say, Portal. No matter how technical or dexterous the riff, guitarist Derek Webster and bassist Kirk Spaseff never forget to root their playing in punky, crusty goodness, which keeps things kinetic for the entirety of the record’s remarkably listenable 30-odd minutes. Vocalist Cheri Musrasrik’s borderline inhuman roars imbue these eight songs with a wild-at-heart sensibility most bands like this never quire achieve. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Joseph Schafer
Wraith – Undo the Chains
At last, something in this column that isn’t an absolute wall of death metal, the genre, though Wraith’s music make me want to wall of death, as in the mosh-pit move. Every song on their second record, Undo the Chains, makes me think about a few things: Dock Marten boots, bullet belts, 24 fluid ounce beer cans (lager, probably, though the swill’s so cheap you can’t really give it a style, but you know the smell). These are the fetish objects that bind metalheads internationally together, they’re the material language we share as bequeathed to us by Motörhead and over 45 years (seriously!) of imitators and devotees. They’re sacred. Any band that can invoke them has my immediate approval until they lose it. And for 12 songs and a little over half an hour of riffs, Wraith never lose that approval. In fact, on songs like “Dominator” and “Bite Back,” they re-earn that approval over, and over, and over again. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer