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.
Peter Griffin once asked, “Where are those good old-fashioned values on which we used to rely?” While he was talking about entertainment at large when he posed that question, stroking his inappropriately-shaped chin, it’s debatable if he’d ask heavy metal, the genre that holds onto its good old-fashioned values with a Mankind-Mandible-Claw-like grip, that same query. This is to say that metal is laden with refinement more than drastic innovation.
Now, this is actually good in that metal has arguably never been better than it is now, but it makes the style difficult to enter for newcomers. It’s tough when you’re not someone who roams Encyclopaedia Metallum for new releases and instead is just looking to start listening to more metal. Heavy metal scratches a particular itch in particular people, which is why some listen to symphonic metal while others prefer to brush their teeth on a regular basis.
However, how are you supposed to find the itch that needs scratching if you lack the diction to define it? For example, what would it matter to you if a hypothetical old-school death metal band combines Morbid Angel’s solos and atmosphere with Cryptopsy’s vascularity if you don’t know what distinguishes either of these traits? Thus, some of these reference points are null and void, while to some people, that combination amounts to their favorite band.
The point is that metal’s self-referential nature compliments its self-reliance while making it difficult for those looking to engage with its decades-old framework for the first time. The hidden benefit is that likely, if you enjoy a particular subgenre from a specific time, then you can find direct descendants of that scene who are active today. Metal’s stubbornness is both its weakness (for the aforementioned reasons) and its strongest aspect. The music has an expiration date as far-flung into the future as uncooked lentils. That’s why people seldom throw “antiquated” or “dated” around when talking about metal, even when it comes to legacy acts. As such, metal’s core appeal is — and can be found in — its endurance.
That endurance powered us through the most dismal month of the year. November delivered an overabundance of high-quality metal, ranging from poppy black metal to dead-as-a-corpse death metal. Read our eight choices for the most impressive underground albums of the month below.
— Colin Dempsey
Critical Extravasation – Order of Decadence
Critical Extravasation’s debut is a desecration of the Russian regime, one so abhorrent that all band members fled Russia this autumn and have issued multiple condemnations of Putin’s actions on their social media. Their disgust courses through Order of Decadence, informing many of its technical segues, tempo changes, and early thrash/death throwback stylings. Critical Extravasation reaches back further than just old-school death metal, turning the clock back to a time when death metal was a more exaggerated and adventurous take on thrash. As such, there’s no over-the-top gore or Satanic atmosphere on Order of Decadence; it is instead a considered investigation into how a group can push death metal while remaining true to the genre’s intentions. That’s how you get moments like the sublime bridge on “Waltz of Hypocrisy” or “Redeeming Flames,” which plays like a moody alternate timeline Death track. In short, this album is peak pure death metal. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
Cryptae – Capsule
This is what extreme metal should be. The delineation between black and death here is nonexistent, the bleeding space between the avant-garde, experimental, and progressive wholly fused, and with enough hits of the now-trendy nu-metal to give it a sense of punch and character. That this is played in part by one of the guys in Dead Neanderthals, who cut some of the most wild contemporary free jazz on the planet, is no shock; the tension between what metal is in history and practice versus what it can be if that inner weirdness runs rampant motivates and sparks this material. Every song has a new totally weird guitar tone, scuzzy and scabbed over, and the frantic interjection of late-era Morbid Angel and Obscura-era Gorguts into nu-metal fabric creates endless insane propulsion. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman
Dream Unending – Song of Salvation
This band remains one that emerged seemingly from my dreams, the wizard’s profound slumber giving birth to new perfect forms. A duo consisting of members from Tomb Mold and Sumerlands making deeply progressive death/doom? My god, does my might know no limit? This, their second record, takes everything about the first record and turns it up, pinching the Wish You Were Here format of long tracks bookending shorter material and using it to great effect. Those two epics are the true stars of the show, but the immaculate sense of pacing they produce here, perfectly replicating the Side A / Side B split in energy, makes this a captivating and rich listen even at its modest run-time. Tomb Mold once themselves delivered two LPs in about a year’s time; unlike then, here it is the second record that is the superior document, showing Dream Unending as a group quickly establishing themselves as one of the best going. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman
Elder – Innate Passages
The ideal followup record. Elder is one of my very favorite bands, combining my tremendous and undying love of progressive rock (the real shit) and luxurious and rich doom. Here, it is as though they took all of my critiques of Omens and applied fixes to them. The vocals are sharper, the best they’ve ever been on an Elder record, while the time both with Hirschbrunnen (under the Delving moniker) and the Eldovar collab record have clearly sharpened equally the group interplay during instrumental sections. Lore wasn’t their first prog record but was the first time comparisons to Yes seemed within reaching distance. By now, they’ve established themselves as modern prog greats. This is the best they’ve ever done it. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman
Fell Ruin – Cast in Oil The Dressed Wrought
Cast in Oil The Dressed Wrought is the type of album you’d hate if you were comparing it to yourself like an insecure high schooler. It’s pummeling yet thoughtful, sprawling yet concise, accessible yet thorough; it’s the cheer captain who possesses a 4.0 GPA, is dating the all-star quarterback, and got their braces off before anyone else. Fell Ruin’s third album accomplishes so much in its compact runtime that it’s unfair. The group blends death metal, black metal, progressive metal, and avant-garde music in a way that you can see the seams of each while presenting it as the most natural elixir on the planet. “Stain the Field,” for instance, runs the gamut of subgenres as if Fell Ruin are Philippe Petit walking between the Twin Towers atop a high-wire. It’s sprezzatura in motion. The crux of their art is how they make the balancing act between their influences appear effortless when in reality, much like how Petit makes tight-rope walking look like child’s play, that’s hardly the case. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
Feminizer – Feminizer
Feminizer’s depressive-suicidal black metal debut is light on details but heavy on emotional transference. Much of what M.S., Feminizer’s only member, howls is buried beneath washes of piano and fuzzy tremolo riffs. It’s not meant to be understood on any level other than primal. There’s a constant mingling between visceral reactions and melancholic mixes that moves just slowly enough to ensnare. It’s an oppressively emotional affair, and justifiably so, as Feminizer summarizes M.S.’s transition. However, there’s reason to believe the story’s ambiguity is intentional. There are no lyrics available anywhere, only song titles like “Painting a Corpse” and ”I Still Carry Her Bones” providing any clues to M.S.’s thoughts. The rest is an at-times-heavenly-but-mostly-hellish haze. Oh, and it ends with a Cyndi Lauper cover that pushes Feminizer’s intentions to their limits. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
Spider God – Fly in the Trap
The highest praise one can pay G., the solo member behind the UK’s Spider God, is that he understands pop music on a subatomic level. He gets what makes pop irresistible. On his tongue-in-check cover album Black Renditions, he cast bombastic pop in a black metal light, and his debut Fly in the Trap perfects that marriage. Pop and metal may have a tumultuous relationship as a melding of the two usually hollows out the latter. However, Fly in the Trap is as pop as it is black metal. It prioritizes earworm choruses — like the title track’s, which (with full sincerity backing this statement) will get stuck in your head — just as much as clutches black metal’s pearls. It does so with an uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding an equally uncomfortable real-life case. So, just like all good pop music, it accomplishes more than it should with its verse-chorus-verse structures. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
Tchornobog/Abyssal – Split
Here we have two bands, each on the bleeding edge of the progressive wings of death and black metal, each turning in 25-minute epics. I was a rabid fan of the Tchornobog debut and, just as rabidly, Antikatastaseis by Abyssal, so this one automatically declared itself a must-listen. Each group has in turn turned in not only their longest single tracks to date, but also their best, managing to encapsulate precisely what progheads crave in lengthy, meaty material such as this. There’s enough movement in each track that you feel like you’ve experienced the wilds of the imaginative gulf of a full album, passing through harrowing black and death metal, lucidly beautiful prog and corrosive and abnegating doom. That there are two feels like the embarrassment of riches that comes whenever Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore release splits; high praise, considering their Wanderers is still the greatest split put to tape. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman