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Mining Metal: Ad Nauseam, Black Sheep Wall, Cara Nier, DSKNT, Empyrium, Emptiness, Paranorm, The Ruins of Beverast

A rundown of the best underground metal releases of February 2021

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.

    Our thoughts this month go out to our readers who have suffered from the polar weather that devastated many in the United States this month, especially those in Texas. From a music standpoint, we were reminded of the destructive majesty of nature, and were prompted to revisit albums like ISIS’ Oceanic and Neurosis’ The Eye of Every Storm.

    As such, expect a darker, slightly more abstract selection of music. February’s darkness evokes smoldering black metal, nihilistic sludge, and brain-scraping thrash, plus at least one album so obtuse that it sounds more like a transmission from hell than music for popular consumption.

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    It’s not all gloom, though — a surprisingly upbeat, video-gamey return from a beloved band, and some proggy, pastoral goodness provide two rays of light. The thaw is coming, along with brighter days. And until then, there are always riffs to keep us warm. —Joseph Schafer

    Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse

    While there have since come a glut of bands clearly indebted to the kind of frayed-psyche approach to deeply dissonant progressive death metal of Demilich and Gorguts, Ad Nauseum’s second LP lives in the rarefied air of those that conjure its perverse and sonically transgressive spirit and not just its sound. Where a group like Ulcerate aim at the heart, producing deeply emotionally affecting death metal, Ad Nauseum instead aim at the stellar realm of the great cold cosmos. Beyond this, the sound of the record alone is something to be put on a pedestal: this is how extreme metal should be recorded, the perfect and almost jazzy amount of raw texture from the instruments combined with the purity of the note. The added fibrousness and dimensionality clarifies the compositional intent of this record as much as it shows, oh my god, this is made by people. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman

    Black Sheep Wall – Songs for the Enamel Queen

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    It’s been six years since California sludge merchants Black Sheep Wall last sent out a dispatch from the gutter, but they’re broadcasting into a very different world from the one that received their 2015 record I’m Going to Kill Myself. For one, their stark pessimism no longer seems so shocking as it once did (the past four years of current events will defang pretty much anything). For another, the average listener’s attention span is even shorter than it was when they had the gall to release a half-hour-long song. But the now-quintet’s latest offering, Songs for the Enamel Queen, is both more concise and serious than its predecessor. Many of their pummeling grinders still stretch past the ten-minute mark, but they offer a wider range of tones and shades than their predecessors. Likewise, the band’s once nearly-glib nastiness now seems both wearier and more resistant. Maybe the age and their rage are at last in perfect alignment. Let the punishment begin. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer

    Cara Nier – Phase Out

    Admittedly, the idea of a band mixing black metal, trip-hop, screamo, grind and chiptune either sounds like it will be the next Genghis Tron (great!) or something you’d hear at a video game convention (awful!). But Cara Neir not only have the long-established songwriting chops to pull this off on a musical end, they have the conceptual chops, having surreptitiously honed a career-length narrative concept under our noses. The benefit here is less that you need to follow the story (you never do for concept albums) but more that they have arranged these tracks both internally and as a full-length with a considered emotional logic. They feel like heavy metal at its very best: epic storytelling music, wielding shards of extreme and underground and arthouse genres as paints on the palette, producing a cacophonous but deeply euphoric fever. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman

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    DSKNT – Vacuum γ-Noise Transition

    Ligotti and Thacker tap into the stultifying dread of the enormity of the dead cosmos; not a land rife with godlike monsters as per Lovecraft but the iciness of the atheistic world, too large and enfeebling to leave us room for even microcosmic importance. Cosmic black metal too often skews to the romantic end of gazing into the cosmos, a noble endeavor to be fair, but leaves the spiritual viciousness of black metal at the door. DSKNT keeps the scourging terror of their genre intact but point its interests both sonically and conceptually toward the avant-garde and abstract matter of physics. The key component that makes this work as a materialist counterpoint to Darkspace is their invocation of real terms of astrophysics, grounding their notions not in the poetry of romanticism but the cold dehumanizing mathematics of the mechanics of the world. This is the spiritual ache of the godless world. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman

    Empyrium – Über den Sternen

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    It’s only fitting to follow a record about the cold calculated godless vastness of the temporal crypt of the universe with one that indulges deep in the romantic longing of the earth. Empyrium may once have started as a black metal band with long streaks of doom and folk but those former attributes have all but totally withered away, leaving a prog folk body behind that more perfectly captures the spiritual essence of what they’ve always pursued anyway. This newest record of theirs is their furthest from metal yet but in turn is their greatest accomplishment; hearing it, it’s impossible not to see their earlier work as stepping stones toward this, a pagan paean to the nurturing vastness of the world and the essential beauty and power of life. There are lingering traces of melancholy, but it feels now more like the melancholy of trees and rivers and stones, the nourishing moss and fungal growths that birth and consume the web of life which dances endlessly about them. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman

    Emptiness – Vide

    Brussels’ Emptiness are no strangers to the subtle art of obscurity. Their past two records, 2014’s Nothing but the Whole and 2017’s Not for Music titrated the swirling intersection between skronking death metal and scorched-earth black metal, using them both to express the alienation inherent in modern urban living – the bleak horizon of construction cranes and skyscrapers, the frigid embrace of the handheld LED screen. Both records earned them a slew of admirers but, honestly, didn’t find purchase with me. Their sixth album, Vide, though, is different. The distortion, percussion – hell, the metalness of it all – has been dialed down in favor of ambient soundscapes. The riffs are still there, but they play counter to (what seems like) found sounds and whispered vocals delivered through a suite of shifting, giggling filters. This is a risky strategy – beloved artists like Dragged into Sunlight and Furia have recently made similar ventures and neither really worked but Vide absolutely nails it. The record feels less like a collection of sounds and more like audio files recorded by clandestine listening devices in a haunted office building. Paranoia distilled into an even more potent potion; get inoculated. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer

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    Paranorm – Empyrean

    After a ten-week long deep dive into the lesser-known fringes of thrash thanks to the Requiem Metal Podcast, I’ve found myself with an insatiable appetite for two-steps and whammy bar guitar solos, preferably delivered with a little style and intelligence. Sweden’s Paranorm provide all of that and more: their debut album, Empyrean, explores and expands upon the most virtuosic side of the genre. Think of the warp-speed drumming of Dark Angel, the finger-blasting tapping of Destruction, and the wrist-wrenching chord choices of Voivod — Paranorm deliver all of these with an ever-so-slightly slightly blackened char in the vocals. Empyrean could have been just a stylistic exercise and still caught my attention, however Paranorm don’t skimp on the songcraft either. They spent the better part of a decade writing and rehearsing their debut album, and the work shows in the results. Even if it takes longer to ship a follow-up, I’ll be waiting with bated breath and open wallet. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer

    The Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires

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    Probably the most-anticipated underground metal release of the month belongs to Germany’s The Ruins of Beverast. The longtime solo project of Alexander von Meilenwald began as a bedroom project and has since become an international festival headlining band and de-facto envoy of Germany’s fertile and unorthodox black metal underground in the United States, largely off the success of a critically acclaimed string of albums since 2009’s Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite. Meilenwald’s last record, 2017’s Exuvia, explored Native American shamanistic traditions, but follow up The Thule Grimoires is a more straightforward record, exploring the European occult with de rigueur grimness leavened with touches of psychedelia. Meilenwald’s genuine talent for establishing a mood and sinking the listener deeper into its center as his albums progress remains notable and praiseworthy no matter what direction he takes his music in. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer

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