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.
Here’s some fast numbers for all of you. Metal Archives, an imperfect but still useful resource, has 471 new albums listed as being released during the month of November 2021. Including EPs, splits and collaborative records, that number jumps up to 782. When you add in the number of records and labels not catalogued on that site, that number jumps up, often quite drastically. We have eight slots to work with total. There is a scalar difference between these numbers, which require a lot of tools and frankly a large amount of personal taste to carve down to a more reasonable number. Parts of this process are more perfect than others; we don’t support or platform bigots here, which carves out a certain number every month, and while we have fairly wide ears in certain respects, the fact of being human unfortunately precludes certain things by simply not appealing directly to us as listeners, writers, and editors.
This is all to say that even in the thinner months of the year, it is a wonderful and exciting challenge for us not to reach quota but to select what exactly makes it. Sometimes we’ll pass over a more obvious release or record label or band in favor of highlighting some strange and very small gem we found, trying to give a platform to the most underground of underground material we can find. Other times, we get swept up in the buzz around a record just like anyone else, feel zeal and wide-eyed wonder just like anyone else. Music writing, after all, shouldn’t ever be totally stripped of the human capacity for wonder. Why would you ever care about a machine-curated list of scare-quotes perfect bands when you the human on the other side of this screen are looking for art, be it extreme or otherwise, that reveals or confronts some aspect of the vastness of the world you live in?
This month, however, was a particularly challenging one. I, Voidhanger, truly one of the very best labels going right now regardless of genre, put out a slate of eight brilliant records all by their lonesome, none of which wound up being featured this month. (Take this as a quiet nudge to go check those out if you haven’t already!) Why? Because we’ve already featured records from the label a number of times this year and, honestly, almost certainly will again and very soon at that, and we are honest in our commitment to share this platform with as many different types of people and places and figures as we can. As noted below, we had to bump the truly incredible debut record from Sijjin for the similarly incredible debut from the band The Temple, both of whom are international bands. Hell, Cara Neir and Negura Bunget dropped great new records and just barely missed out not due to their lack of quality but just due to the overwhelming surfeit of it seemingly everywhere this month.
The reason we do this, ultimately, is because we sincerely love this music. It presents… let’s call them “challenges” — some days and labels and bands and figures being more challenging than others — not to mention the problems within the subculture that can sometimes drive very talented and very loved people understandably away. But it’s important not to view these as mere instances for mobilization but instead opportunities for greater organization. The difference between those two is narrow but stark; the mobilized seek to address one issue, one grievance, while the organizational seeks to slowly prevent further issues from occurring. These are scalar problems, requiring scalar thought, imagining structures that exceed that of a single writer, a single column, a single publication, etc.
But all of that comes not just from a love of people, an anti-misanthropic sense of compassion and love. It comes as well from a love of heavy metal. The beauty of the heavy metal fan is that ours is the love of a child. Not in that it is shallow or thin, but in that it is zealous, pure, and powerful. This is music that shares a beating heart with psychedelia, with prog, with hardcore, with avant-garde music. This is music that shares an ideal with novels spanning from science fiction to coming-of-age tales to visceral horror to philo-theological texts to socialist realism to utopian and dystopian fantasy. We, the universal we, the we of all heavy metal players and fans, invest in the broader imaginative and emotional capacity of this music. It is a joy not a burden to dive again and again into its waters. That we are given so much great music, even in the midst of people or events that are sometimes far from great, is a blessing. That it is often too much to contain in so small a pool as this is a further blessing.