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
In metal there’s a lot of talk about separating the art from the artist. There’s a lot of talk about this in music in general, of course, but I think it’s a particularly pervasive topic in metal. I can think of two reasons for this. First, metal has a way of encouraging its listeners to take fandom of the genre on as an identity, not just a personal affinity (in this way metal’s got more in common with K-pop than many of its practitioners would like to admit). Second, metal seems to have more than its fair share of bad actors, or at least its bad actors have a way of appearing both more prominent and more nasty than their counterparts in say indie, or jazz. Extreme music seems to attract extreme personalities or vice versa.
That said, the metal community’s recently begun handwringing about separating art from commerce. This past month, beloved MP3 marketplace and tech startup Bandcamp was purchased by, of all companies, Epic Games.
Bandcamp has boasted a larger-than-expected contingent of metal bands on its platform, in part because the service makes publishing MP3s very easy to do. Also, its seller charts and navigation bar are genre agnostic, and so put metal on an even footing with electronica and pop when the genres is often buried on the home pages of streaming services like Spotify.
Additionally, Bandcamp has gone above-and-beyond when it comes to catering to its metalhead users – metal is a common genre on their “Bandcamp Daily” editorial page. It’s hard to imagine the rise of recent metal heavy hitters like Khemmis and Blood Incantation without Bandcamp as a platform.
Of course, metalheads have reciprocated this attention. Metal-focused labels with massive reach like Metal Blade and Napalm host most of their discography on the site (labels too large to feature on this column though they’re independent). As part of this monthly column, we have taken part in bolstering the platform – when given the choice of how to embed music, we look for a Bandcamp embed first.
Bandcamp’s acquisition has naturally caused some anxiety. Much of that nervousness is aimed at Epic Games, the publishers of popular video game series Fortnite, which makes revenue from microtransactions. That practice doesn’t bother me personally — I don’t play multiplayer video games ever — but it’s controversial in the game’s community. Some of that nervousness is also aimed at one of Epic’s backers, Tencent, a multinational conglomerate that’s no stranger to controversy itself. Just this month Tencent was implicated in a money laundering scandal according to the Wall Street Journal.
It’s refreshing to see metalheads at large dig into current events in this way, while ethical consumption becomes an increasingly important civic duty in the face of global forces including climate change and economic sanctions of authoritarian aggressors such as Russia.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that ethical consumption of any platform is a fraught endeavor. Technology companies exist to generate profit and will only cater to the needs of music lovers so long as that need dovetails with their financial goals, which would be true of any large firm that purchased Bandcamp.
For that reason, we have no plans to stop embedding Bandcamp players in this column any time soon. But let this month’s news serve as a reminder – there’s no separating art from the economy, and for that reason it’s all the more important to support musicians monetarily and as directly as possible. So, if you see something you like below – buy some merch, won’t you? —Joseph Schafer
Cryptworm – Spewing Mephitic Putridity
This release provides a warm fuzzy feeling in my belly. As much as the high-brow cerebralism of certain acts really revs my engines, there’s a soft spot I’ll always hold for death metal that sounds like a sewer being the feeding ground of a giant eyeless worm. Cryptworm wields the mighty burrowing riff, that particularly death metal twist on the tremolo picked riff that feels more often like a drill tunneling through the earth than the howling of winter winds. This is born against vocals that are positively vomitous, a delicious post-Demilich bowl of frog vomit. This record is gross, absolutely unsanitary, about as low-brow as they come. I love it. Death metal is the greatest art humanity has produced. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Falls of Rauros – Key to a Vanishing Future
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Falls of Rauros sprucing up their sonic palette by reaching deeper into the world of progressive rock for this new LP is that they didn’t have to. The group was, prior to this, already on a hot streak, having honed their quietly progressive and atmospheric approach to black metal to a razor’s edge, maintaining a riveting emotional salience even as all guitars set to roar. It makes this sudden bit of light bursting in all over these compositions feel so genuine and true, not a move of duress but of clear sonic interest. It’s euphoric, even amidst pain, like beams of light illuminating a rotten temple revealing the green vine still growing. It’s a complex beauty, one streaked with contradiction, and is so ripe for further exploration on future records. It’s a beautiful new start. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Grand Harvest – Consummatum Est
There’s a mid-2000’s era of Swedish metal that holds a special place in my heart. It was all thick, syrupy guitars and propulsive drumming. Some of it was melodic death metal, some of it was black metal, some of it was doom or goth or prog. All of it was held together by melancholy melodies and clear production. Grand Harvest sound like they’re about twenty years late to the party, but they perfectly capture the sound of their fellow Swedes and forebears. There’s more to them than nostalgia, though. Twenty years ago, a song like “Fatehammer” could get a band on Hellfest not only because of how it sounded, but because as extreme as its disparate elements are, it has groove, hooks and melody to keep the listener interested. Every song on Grand Harvest’s debut, Consummatium Est has as much craft and musical integrity. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
Izthmi – Leaving This World, Leaving It All Behind
Swooping like a solitary wraith, crimson and howl, the falcon swoops toward the burning trees of the forest toward the rabbit licked by fire fleeing wide of eye. This is a meaty record, packing the emotional punch of post-metal within the bounds of something resembling but not quite black metal. Izthmi is to black metal here what YOB is to doom, transforming it utterly within their claws to something nameless and heartrending. Extended range guitars crash into the mix unexpectedly like the heaving chest heavy with unfallen tears; it’s hard not to get grandiloquent when enthralled by riffs like this. Metal is, of course, many things, from the fantastical to the ravenous to the poetic to the goofy. Here, it’s the same weight in my chest I recognize from Neurosis conjured within a USBM framework. It is being torn asunder, sabers to your heart. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Jesus Wept – Psychedelic Degeneracy
Normally Langdon and I make an effort to focus these columns on full-length albums. There’s no particular reason for this other than metal remains an album-oriented genre even when it seems as though most other forms of popular music have moved on to a singles-based ecosystem optimized for streaming (this might be because metal remains by and large a non-starter on radio, which is still the most powerful music discovery tool in America). All that is to say I’m making an exception to the rule to include Psychedelic Degeneracy the latest release by Detroit melodic death metal quartet Jesus Wept. When I say melodic death metal in this context, I mean specifically the permutation that originates with Carcass – as if the collage album art wasn’t a big enough hint, Jesus Wept really dig Carcass. They’re not the first band to sing the body horrific as sung by Steer and Walker, in fact bands like Exhumed and Aborted have done well for themselves by tapping the same vein. What sets Jesus Wept apart is their rhythmic mastery – they capture arena swagger and jackhammering down-beats better than any of their peers. For added spice, their twisted sense of humor approaches Gaspar Noe-ish levels of shock and awe. Now if only they’d get to work on a full-length. For now, buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
Messa – Close
Italy’s Messa have been on my radar since the release of their excellent 2016 debut Belfry, which laid out the general blueprint they follow to this day: thick doom metal layered with psychedelic touches and accents that the incompetent musicologist in me wants to call “middle eastern” but for let’s err on the side of caution and call “Adriatic.” Their third LP, Close smartly focuses the band’s songs on singer Sara Bianchin (roughly half of Belfry was instrumental). Bianchin punches above her weight when it comes to psychedelic doom singers — often the rhythm guitar and bass recede into comfortable dull throb while she delivers a chorus punctuated with sneaky, soulful runs. Her performance is charismatic enough that the band hold off on eccentric non-metallic elements for fifteen-ish minutes until the outré saxophone solo that opens “Ophalese.” From then out, Close is a tour-de-force and must listen, especially for those missing the mournful, occultic doom of bands like The Devil’s Blood and Subrosa. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
NITE – Voices of the Kronian Moon
I first wrote about San Francisco’s NITE two years ago when the band released their fascinating debut Darkness Silence Mirror Flame. It appears I wasn’t the only one paying attention – the band’s traded-up to French independent powerhouse label Season of Mist and opened for goth metal royalty like Cradle of Filth and Unto Others. But more importantly, they’ve written a sophomore record, Voices of the Kronian Moon which refines the fascinating formula of their original. To review, that formula is, roughly, super-melodic traditional metal plus lo-fi black metal vocals. Both sides of that equation have been upped this time around. Whereas before NITE sort-of felt like a bedroom project accentuated by session players, these compositions feel more like the work of a collaborative group of musicians—the galloping and propulsive “Edge of the Night” has some of the potent chemistry of obvious influences like Dokken, or even Led Zeppelin. On the other hand, vocalist Van Labrakis’s necrotic vocals sound almost whispered, as if they were delivered into a laptop mic a millimeter away from his lips. The interplay between these two disparate elements gives Voices of the Kronian Moon a unique vibe that I haven’t quite heard anywhere else. Though I’d love to hear what they’d sound like with Labrakis’s voice more fully integrated with the rest of the music, NITE remains an intoxicating musical entity. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
Pestilength – Basom Gryphos
It’s refreshing to hear death metal that flips effortless between highbrow and lowbrow conceptualism. It reminds us of the ultimate breadth of this type of music, to produce a mosh-worthy riff right next to chromatic abstraction, a proggy neck-climber next to murky horror movie vibes. Basom Gryphos is interested in the occult and the sulfurous world of magick not as just a world of dark robes and crimson daggers but also pulp movies and grainy film, effortlessly blending a sense of perverse total reality with a winking nod toward the symbolic irreality of the whole endeavor. These types of moods are often relegated to black metal but here find, to my ears, a better home within the world of death metal. Like a rotting tomb cracked open to release a choking smoke, an infernal beauty, like Salvador Dali painted on rotting canvas. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman