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Mining Metal: Backslider, Dark Meditation, Gates of Londra, Krallice, The Neptune Power Federation, Skin Tension, Urushiol, Vaura

A rundown of the best underground metal releases of February 2022

Mining Metal
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    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

    Normally, we provide a much more comprehensible palette of choices. We’ve been running this column for nearly three years now (time sure does fly!) and in that span you’ve been able to set your watch by how often we cover death metal, ignoring how haphazard a visual metaphor that is. This isn’t for lack of trying; we listen far and wide and we each admittedly have our tastes, and it just so happens that more often than not it is death metal records that land guaranteed spots rather than the five to eight other records we juggle for remaining spots.

    Which makes it so thrilling when we encounter the outer weirdness that we did this time. We have an absolutely wild span of records for you all, from punk-metal to classic goth to sky-rattling power metal to, gulp, a twenty-seven hour grindcore/free jazz record. It’s important, especially for something covering the underground, to show the diversity of sonic ideas you can find in underground space. Death metal is like a comfort food, those home-cooked meals that never get boring and always make you feel warm and happy. But this strangeness we’ve encountered is more like those magical hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the kind you never realized were there, never forget, and oddly can never find again, as though whatever magical dimension they emerged from had thinner walls for just long enough for a brief tantalizing glimpse before – Langdon Hickman

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    Backslider – Psychic Rot

    There was a time in the late ’00s and early ’80s when punk was less a genre and more of an ethos that allowed for endless experimentation. And as much as I prefer hardcore to most punk music, I always have a slight reservation with the genre codifying that came with more distortion and faster tempos. Bands like Backslider offer a refreshing glimpse into what heavy music can be with looser genre rules. Their latest album, Psychic Rot, traffics mainly in the speedy palm-muted chords and hoarse shouted vocals that typify powerviolence, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. Hints of shoegaze majesty sneak into the intro of “Pseudomessiah” and recur in the vaguely surfy psych out during its bridge. Little twists and turns hide in every nook and cranny of this 20-minute horror show. Psychic Rot shows a band just beginning to see how car their creativity can take them. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

    Dark Meditation – Polluted Temples

    Polluted Temples very nearly slipped under my radar. Dark Meditation’s debut album was released quietly in early January, just too late for end-of-the-year coverage. Since last month was a stuff-we-missed post, this month’s column is the perfect time to give the band their due. And they’re due a fair amount of credit! These Seattle-area rockers combine gothic rock, mid-tempo classic metal, and horror punk tropes to significant effect. Loves of Danzig and Christian Death may find as much to love here as contemporary lovers of Tribulation and In Solitude. Vocalist A.D. Vick hides subtly socially conscious lyrics under a layer of sleazy grime. As a result, listening to Polluted Temples gives me the same feeling as watching a low-budget Italian horror film from the ’70s. Look no further than “Strange Caress (of the Night)” with its Blue Oyster Cult strut and Sabbathian melodies for a sample of the band at their most potent and swaggering. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

    Gates of Londra – Servants of the Runestaff

    Strap in, readers, because Gates of Londra’s first full-length, Servants of the Runestaff, is a weird one. The anonymous duo composed of guitarist-vocalist R.F. and synth player J.M. builds their music on a foundation of raw black metal – think tremolo-picked guitar plugged right into the laptop and blown-out vocals shouted right into a pinhole microphone. Typically raw black metal isn’t my cup of tea, but they intriguingly twist the genre with massive, almost martial drum machine beats that give the songs a distinct industrial bent. On songs like “Bowgentle’s Spell,” they aren’t even trying to mimic real percussion; instead, they embrace the digital drum aesthetic without reservation. On the other hand, the synthesizers entwine with romantic guitar melodies, at times evoking the epic heavy metal of Manila Road or Brocas Helm. Unsurprisingly, they’re Austrian – that country has a storied history of fantastical guitar-and-drum-machine black metal that goes back to the Tolkein-loving Summoning. Here Gates of Londra flip the script again – their songs all revolve around the fantasy stories of author Michael Moorcock, best known for his Elric of Melniboné series. These elements work together to create a distinct and immersive debut album –when I listen to Servants of the Runestaff, I feel like I’m ten years old again, playing a Square RPG on my Super Nintendo. It’s a pleasant hit of nostalgia from a band that isn’t afraid to mess with tradition, and what Moorcock could you want? Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

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    Krallice – Crystalline Exhaustion

    My connection to this band’s work, as much as I’ve written about it over the years, is more spiritual than musical. Their sense of space and atmosphere, the crux of what makes a band progressive beyond the obligate odd time signatures and convoluted song structures, feels to me as someone on the spectrum the closest I’ve witnessed of mapping that alien space that exists so fluidly and continuously within me but is represented otherwise so rarely in the world. They take after Voivod in the best possible way; not by aping the sound of the band as other lesser bands might but by mirroring the intensity of the vision. Where that other great sci-fi prog metal band skews toward Alejandro circa The Incal transcribed into punky prog thrash, Krallice is the amorphousness of Tarkovsky or the bleeding infinity of Kubrick at his most searingly nonverbal. This is, as predicted after the release of Mass Cathexis, another adventurous leap outward, this time to the remarkable crystalline world of tangerine and aquamarine dream-drunk synth-driven black metal. My heart alive. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

    The Neptune Power Federation – Le Demon De L’Amour

    The Neptune Power Federation first caught my ear with the release of their 2019 record, Memoirs of a Rat Queen, and I’ve been willing to undergo lab experiments for a second nibble on them since. The band roots their sound in the classic-rock-cum-occult-metal sound best exemplified by The Hammers of Misfortune. That is to say: arena-sized songs with massive sing-along melodies crated lovingly by hand. Their follow-up, Le Demon De L’Amour, leans further into campiness without apology and doesn’t lose any potency for it. It’s reaching for the rock opera heights of Queen or Meat Loaf the same way that Ghost reached for Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath. Opener “Weeping on the Mourn” has its share of biker metal drive, but the tempos get decidedly dancier on criminally-catchy songs like “Baby You’re Mine.” The songs are strongest when vocalist Loz Sutch turns her vibrato and bravado to full power. If there’s a band this month that’s trying to be a household name and might actually become one, it’s The Neptune Power Federation. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

    Skin Tension – Omni

    Of the two of us, Joe is far less likely to give you the far out shit than I am. This is perhaps the most far out thing I’ve found in years: a 27-hour long album across 34 sub-discs, each more like a miniature album than anything else. The sound here runs the gamut from noise to grindcore to free jazz to psychedelic improv, but maintains a burning lidless core to it, like swallowing fissile material and feeling your brain and body go supercritical. This isn’t heavy metal in the traditional sense, coloring more with every single avant-garde color and texture that surrounds metal as a sonic space, but its lessons in the brutalist avant-garde especially through the avenue of their application to grind feel nothing if not extreme in the boldest sense of the word. This shit is extreme. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

    Urushiol – Pools of Green Fire

    This was described to me by a friend as “Oranssi Pazuzu does death metal”, a description which is apt. This is largely because, like the relation of Oranssi Pazuzu to black metal, Urushiol less plays death metal than uses it as the bedrock for psychedelic, prog and krautrock elaborations. Pools of Green Fire reads almost as if you made a supergroup from members of Can and Immolation or Neu and Gorguts, making a resulting racket not unlike the more left-brain sound squiggles of Trey Azagthoth at his most demented but carried out to full song length. I love my meat and potatoes death metal and have been heartily eating up these past few years of HM-2 style DM bands, but this fusion state of prog, psych and death metal will always have a soft-spot for me. This could use a smidge more rhythmic riffing but, especially for a debut, its conceptual heft is more than enough to get a cosign. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

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    Vaura – Vistas of Distant Anomalies

    These are truly phenomenal players and writers. While previous efforts elaborated on a kind of melody-driven post-punk and gothic rock infused approach to metal, this newest album by Vaura decides instead to veer closer to the territory explored by Toby Driver in his work under the Kayo Dot name. The amount of Scott Walker avant-gardeisms present here are palpable to the point of total saturation, a gesture which feels loving and a preservation of legacy in the wake of Walker’s passing rather than mere pinching. And the sense of the gothic, industrial and melodramatic European metal sensibilities of this band still make themselves present, clarifying that Vistas is very much this group’s sense of what these types of sounds mean. It all feels glaringly post-modern, too; the dissolving affect and fractured sense of connection both to history and the failing structures of the world is written in blood here, like a heavy metal Kafka or the schizoanalysis of Deleuze. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

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