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.
The more politically and socially active you become as an adult, the more you try to move beyond the pithy hypervocalism of online space to truly applying your mind and body to making a world like that you believe should exist, the more the value of these things begins to reveal itself. We are all, you and me and everyone else, agents in the world before we are people who engage with art. We have jobs, we have families, we have social circles, and so too do we have responsibilities and connections, fears and anxieties, desires and terrors. Politics big and small is part of all of our lives and we all have thoughts regarding it, as to with sexuality, with sociology, and everything else. Age and time also humbles you, if you let it. You begin to understand how small you are, how small your neighborhood and friends and systems you contribute to are, and so too how small almost everything is. We are all trapped between processes of scale, be it the vastness of the global capitalist-imperialist political machine or hundreds and hundreds of new metal records every month, each a translation-shifted mirror to each.
But there is joy in these things. There is hope and labor for those committed. This is a kind of blessing. In the midst of the long and complex work of adulthood in which we all are enmeshed — not to mention the big, frustrating, heartbreaking world we are again and again forced to confront in repeating cycles until death — there is heavy metal. It is a small thing, but a real thing. Because this love is a child’s love, and that is a buoy in darkness, terror, and confusion. God, I love heavy metal. God, death metal is so perfect. I am listening to death metal.– Langdon Hickman
200 Stab Wounds – Slave to the Scalpel
It’s a little too easy to review a band with a digit at the front of their name – they get to just come to the top of the alphabetically-sorted list without trying to find an exciting phrase beginning with “aardvark.” That said, I feel no guilt in putting 200 Stab Wounds in the pole position of our column because Slave to the Scalpel has got to be the single catchiest death metal album I’ve heard in years, and that’s an accomplishment. These Ohio butchers hearken back to the most listenable gore-infested albums by old-school titans like Cannibal Corpse’s The Bleeding and Obituary’s The End Complete and update hose songs to modern recording standards without sucking all the soul out of the music. Better, while they don’t skimp on the salacious lyrics or sewer-ridden sound, they remember that songs need memorable bits to last more than just a few weeks in your memory banks. Slave to the Scalpel hits your ears courtesy of molten-hot death metal label Maggot Stomp, who have been the go-to choice for death metal die hard who love long sleeve tee shirts and gym shorts with logos splattered across the butt – in other words, my people. That said, I think this is the label’s first bona fide triumph. Don’t skip it. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
Archspire – Bleed the Future
In case the last blurb or the previous two years of this column didn’t spell this out, I’m going to repeat it in very plain terms: Langdon and I like death metal, in all its forms. (It’s true. Langdon Hickman) That said, some forms tend to scratch the itch more than others, and the hyper-technical arm of the genre that Archspire originates in has a steeper climb up into my head than most. To me, even the best modern bands in this style like, say, Rivers of Nihil, may be good songwriters but they write those songs in serve of a Captain Ahab-like hunt for the white whale that is Necrophagist and, like Ahab, they don’t really stand much of a chance. Archspire, though, are apex predators of their own ecosystem. Their chops must be among the most formidable of any band in any genre, but they use their skills to serve the ebb and flow of intensity in their music. Rather than show off, their bullet-hell double kick and sweep-picking sections serve to underscore the inhuman nature of the stories they tell on Bleed the Future. And when it comes to storytelling, Archspire have a secret weapon: vocalist Oliver Rae Aleron. He delivers his deathcore bellow with a multisyllabic precision that draws as much from the battle rap tradition as it does from any rock idiom, which makes Archspire the only tech death band I know of whose singer goes off as hard as their other members, which makes Bleed the Future one of the best underground metal releases not just of this month, but of the whole year. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
Cave Bastard – Wrath of the Bastard
You’d have thought that, given years of immersion in the style, I would have learned to check preconceptions at the door. Cave Bastard are a great example of why we have to second-guess ourselves sometimes, investigate things that seem at first perhaps not to our liking. Imagine my surprise pressing play and discovering a resolutely modern death metal record, one that blends an almost Devin Townsend sense of melodicism in the tremolo riffing with a rich growling bass presence reminiscent of the non-fretless end of technical death metal. This is progressive and modern not by mind-shredding technicality a la the recent First Fragment record (an amazing album, by the way) nor lengthy and convoluted structures but instead by tasteful, sophisticated arrangements that blend linear development with coherent rhythmic and melodic hooks. Prog often gets accused of being joyless, but it’s hard to imagine playing this music as anything but a pure delight. Paired with a very Gojira sense of the direction of the emotional color of the record and you have a remarkable piece of modern death metal. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Dream Unending – Tide Turns Eternal
I have been fairly exuberant the last few years about how I feel about Morbus Chron and Sweven, so learning that members of Tomb Mold and Innumerable Forms seemingly formed a new group specifically to appeal to me was certainly a pleasant surprise. Dream Unending’s approach to death metal is yet more opium-scented psychedelic death metal, hints of the romanticism of the death-doom of early Anathema counterbalanced by a Floydian/Cure capacity for reverie and oneiric swirls of color. This is emotionally rich stuff, charting a different path in the midst of progressive death metal from the more guttural, stench-ridden and technically demanding forms these players pursue in their main bands. Tide Turns Eternal sits between Sweven’s The Eternal Resonance and Bedsore’s immaculate Hypnagogic Hallucinations, bearing the emotional transparency of a group like Ulcerate clear enough to impress upon even non-fans of the style why precisely we adore it so much. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Human – Rotted in Humanity
This one is the type of record that makes me very happy to have this kind of platform with these kinds of restrictions. Rotted in Humanity is a previously shelved death metal record from Russia written and recorded in the early 2000s but not released properly until now. Everything on this record was done by main man Paul Kretz, from all the instruments and vocals to the mixing and mastering. Unlike many one-man bands producing bedroom black metal of, um, questionable quality, this is instead a slice of meaty, juicy progressive death metal in the vein of mid-era Death, especially the span from Spiritual Healing to Symbolic, with the final track explicitly dedicated to the memory of the then-recently departed Chuck Shuldiner. It’s an honor to be able to give it a platform. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime
Denver’s Stormkeep deliver synth-laden and fantasy-inspired black metal that scratches my peculiar itch for acts like Summoning and Nazgûl. It’s a particularly narrow and nerdy vein of the sub-genre to mine, one that sometimes gets more mileage out of Tolkeinian imagery and grand ambition than it does actual songcraft. Not so for Stormkeep, who deliver four extended songs that juggle big riffs and hummable Renaissance Faire melodies proudly rendered by synthesizer as well as guitar. The band’s biggest success on their debut album Tales of Othertime is playing an often detached and cerebral style with a lot of muscle – every song (with the exception of the two atmospheric interludes) manages to keep up a relentlessly headbang-able rhythm, even the extended centerpiece track “A Journey Through Storms.” Maybe that’s to be expected from a band that shares members with Wayfarer and Blood Incantation who manage a similar trick with black metal’s more folky side and death metal’s most cosmic psychedelia respectively. Having this much talent in one small cabal of musicians ought to be criminal. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
The Temple – The Temple
The beauty of this column sometimes is patience. This one was a late surprise, bumping the still-superb Sijjin debut record at the very last second. The Temple is black/death metal performed and recorded by former and current members of Ulcerate. Here, however, their sound tilts more toward the soul-abnegating and ferocious sensibilities of Gevurah, Svartidaudi, Sinmara and the like but with the added doomy weight of death metal at its most gruesomely slow. This reads less a total upheaval of the main body of Ulcerate and more an alternate evolutionary path, one where the group pushed more into blackened territory than purely death metal, seeking the spiritual agony of that world rather than the spiritual serenity of death metal at its most death-gazing. This is the gnashing before the silence of the universe. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Tower – Shock to the System
We’ve covered scant few old school metal records this autumn, but Tower ought to make up for that. Their sophomore album Shock to the System could fight off ten warmed-over Judas Priest clones with one arm tied behind its back. This NYC quintet handles every pre-thrash metal permutation with aplomb, from extended Deep Purple style solo tradeoffs to speedy biker rock anthems that roll into your dead, deliver hooks, not to mention a few jabs, then get the hell out of Dodge. Their riffs have color, and their rhythmic sense is infectious, but what makes them stand out from the crowd is vocalist Sarabeth Linden. I can’t remember the last time I heard a clean vocal performance with this much bravado—on opening track “Blood Moon” she sounds as though she could burst her own throat at any moment and keep on screaming for vengeance. But Linden has more than vibrato and pyrotechnics on her side, she also knows her way around a chorus as demonstrated on penultimate cut “In Dreams.” Buy it on Bandcamp . – Joseph Schafer