Mining Metal is a monthly column from Heavy Consequence contributing writers Langdon Hickman and Colin Dempsey. 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.
First, congratulations are in order: Wormrot, a band on a label just a hair too big for us to cover here on this most underground of venues, managed to rocket up the Billboard rock charts of all places with their most recent (and exceptionally brilliant year-end worthy) record Hiss. Given the often dire state of metal that charts well, seeing some tried-and-true heshers with a violent and virulent weird streak to them perform so well should be a boon to all of our spirits. This is not, of course, to cast a baleful glare to the bigger bands that manage to be successful; after all, we frequently say here that it’s precisely the size and breadth of heavy music, that it contains more sub-genre spaces than any one listener can hope to enjoy, that indicates how full of life it is, being bigger than any one member. But, that said, we do tend to find the heavy records that perform well in those spaces take on a certain shape, and so seeing a new shape enjoined in that space is worth a smile from all of us.
I’ll spare you all the bully pulpit this month. Being mindful citizens of the world and members of our communities is an important and perpetual task, one we are not released from until we are dead (oh Plato, were that you were wrong about only the dead knowing peace from the war!), but so to is it important to catch our breath and fill our lungs with life every now and again. I’ve become, sadly, quite art-negative over the years of studying, making and writing about art; as much as I love the stuff, as much as it fills me with a constant sense of life and vision, it feels ever-as-always incapable of eliciting serious change in the world. Vonnegut once said that an entire generation of artists turned all their fire and fury toward the inane nihilistic imperial violence of the Vietnam war, only for it to do nothing at all, the war being undone as a politically savvy move by Nixon of all people rather than any of the radicals that protested and sacrificed so much to rebel against it. Ah well. The value of art in that grander sense may wind up being only personal, only psychological, but our persons and psyches matter. They are, after all, the only veil we have through which to peer into the world outside. Taking care of that matters, so long as we aren’t solipsistic about it.
And thankfully, this month delivered the goods when it came to underground heavy music. Joe, our dearly departed former writer (he’s not dead, I promise!) was typically the one of us into more straight-ahead fare while I was into unfurling the tether and slink-slunking off toward the edge of oblivion, but with Conor in tow we both now linger around those primordial edges. We’ve brought back from that pit a number of explosive and year-end caliber experimental and progressive records, most of them decidedly on the extreme end of things. If art only effects us and not the world, why not let it make us much, much weirder? Oh, and, as a bonus for those of who actually read these intros instead of skipping past, here’s an extra record to check out, a killer hybrid of Morbid Angel, Gorguts and Ulcerate from a group called Heaving Earth. I meant to include them last time but that installment was already stuffed to the gills. But shhh, this is our little secret okay? Thanks for reading and, as always, keep it heavy and keep it weird.
— Langdon Hickman
Altars – Ascetic Reflection
Recruiting a new vocalist and bassist could’ve been a huge blow to a band with only three members and a single album under their name, and given their time away from the studio, it should’ve been. Add to that Altars’ original vocalist/bassist Cale Schmidt’s health issues, and progress appeared inconceivable. The Australian band was in a place where who they are was no longer who they were by no fault of their own, which is perhaps why Ascetic Reflection concerns itself with self-perception. Through self-awareness comes refinement, and boy does Ascetic Reflection sound refined. Even divorced from its comeback kid story, this is a refreshing listen. Dissonant death metal is a mating call to some and a lazy descriptor to others and while the term applies to Ascetic Reflection, it doesn’t encompass how they fit into that style. Altars are both patient and spacious so that even prolonged tracks like “Black Light Upon Us” are accessible. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Colin Dempsey
Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture
The Glaswegian troupe Ashenpsire’s second album is inhuman, cold, and unfeeling in a way that’s unlike most black metal. Whereas other acts are nihilistic, Hostile Architecture is apathetic. Or that’s the reality that Ashenspire reflect here. They take cues from utilitarianism and hauntology while implementing brutalist structures to mirror capitalism’s subjugation of lower classes. It’s a multi-faceted approach that looks at class, gender, and other intersecting variables. What makes it interesting is that Ashenspire draw inspiration from the album’s namesake. They cite anti-homeless spikes as a construction they strive to emulate with a sonic palette that is equally as unfriendly. It’s muffled and drab like concrete, with only jazzy injections and violins protruding as sources of color. Not that those colors are ever bright, as “Plattenbau Persephone Praxis” shows that they’re the only traces of humanity amidst the grey. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Colin Dempsey
Auriferous Flame – The Great Mist Within
The reveal that the stellar demo from Auriferous Flame was in fact a deliberately anonymous venture by Ayloss, the mind behind noted favs Spectral Lore, was at once a surprise and not. The road toward IV from that band has been a long and curious road, producing some better ephemera than some bands produce as primary material. This group, it turns out, is one such experimental side-venture, taking on the longform psychedelic jams of early Pink Floyd (think the latter Barrett years) and applying them to raw black metal. Normally that latter genre gives me trouble, but this type of innovative twist is what makes me effortlessly love the experimentalists and genre-iconoclasts of that space. Its boldness reminds me of Spider Gawd and Old Nick, two other greats of the current raw black metal world, and given its provenance from Ayloss, the great playing and melodic sensibilities married to legitimately fantastic lyrical work is no surprise. How wonderful he is. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Birth – Born
On first click, you might be thinking: But wait, this isn’t heavy metal; this is progressive rock! To which I’d say yes, this is true, but given the historical relation of metal and prog, the former emerging in part from the latter as well as the constant feedback loop of the two, including this absolutely stellar album feels proper. After all, proto-metal bands to this day still draw amply from this space and something this remarkable doesn’t come across too often. Born (ha!) from the ashes of similar metal-adjacent brilliant band Astra, Birth delivers a sound redolent of Camel, Genesis, and other watercolor flute-wielding heroes of old. Garden of Worm’s great new record vied for this spot as well, for the record; if this is up your alley, check out their similar early heavy metal-soaked progressive rock, too. This is my catnip, this and death metal, the two very best genres in the world. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Hissing – Hypervirulence Architecture
I took a gander at the new Triumvir Foul and Molder records, of course, but while both were solid slices of occult and grimy death metal respectively, neither seized my throat quite as fiercely as this one. Rocketing between energies from punk rock fury to avant-garde Voivodian outer realms to direct and vicious black/death metal, Hissing feel not only equally adept at the high-minded prog and street-level grind of their musical world but also cognizant of how the two fit together like puzzle pieces. Their hybrid in a way calls to mind a heavy-as-hell Mr. Bungle, less by genre association and more by how easily each pivots from demented avant-garde passages and jazzy chord choices to ferociously direct ones. These guys would sit well next to a band like Knoll, Imperial Triumphant, or Wormrot, three other bands that are whip-smart in their hybridizations of extreme music, experimental/progressive music, and approachable punk rock fury. What a pleasure to have them back. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Luna Pythonissam – Nostalgia
After gracing last month’s wrap-up with Oblivion Castle’s Sorcière, Victoria Camilla H. appears again in this column under the title of Luna Pythonissam. Yet while Sorcière bellowed with gothic overtones, Nostalgia is romantic. Whereas Sorcière was spooky, Nostalgia is downright depressing. It’s a mix of DSBM and shoegaze that doesn’t mince words with beauty. See, the romanticism comes from V.C.H.’s tortured vocals that are often cast behind lapping, repetitive, and harrowing leads. It’s an emotive album rather than a cerebral one; it’s relatively simple as most tracks employ reverb to transmute melancholy, but that’s its ace in the hole. Nostalgia embraces the vulnerable side of metal that’s oft-relegated to the margins to the point that it’s all-encompassing. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Colin Dempsey