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Mining Metal: C R O W N, Horndal, Kauan, Spectral Lore, Steel Bearing Hand, Victory Over the Sun, Vreid, Wode

A rundown of the best underground metal releases of April 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.

    This is an auspicious day, dear readers. This edition of Mining Metal marks the second anniversary of Consequence letting Langdon and I bring you scintillating selections from the blow the major-label water line where metal is concerned. But of course, we thank you for your continued support, it means the world to us. And if you’re new, jump on in, the water’s warm.

    Well, actually, it’s quite cold. This month brought a surfeit of sub-zero black metal offerings more than worthy of your audio attention (fitting, if you’ve been watching the new Mortal Kombat film on repeat as I have). It’s not all cryogenic, though — that Steel Bearing Hand record is hot enough to smelt with.

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    You’d think after two years of opening essays that I’d have more of a finite statement about “the state of metal” such as it is – some findings to report, some takes to away with. But no. Metal remains as diverse and polarizing as ever — and propagating.

    I will share one anecdote, though: when planning this month’s column, we batted around a ninth record which we did not select for inclusion, not for lack of worthiness, but lack of interest — on my part. Which prompted us to have a little aside about why we include what we include. Langdon’s got a more vested interest than I in a side of metal that’s popular on the internet but rarely translates into bigger attention, the more abstract or expressionist side – or as he put it “music that focuses on extreme pain” (though I admit it’s often quite beautiful to listen to). Yours truly can’t really spare the time for anything like that any longer. My attention span is too short, my desire for structure and classicism are too great – I like it when it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, albeit played at warp speed sometimes.

    Loosely I think those are the two main branches of metal nowadays, and they make for strange bedfellows — post rock poindexters cozying up to black metal maelstroms on the one hand, cro-magnon death metallers raising glasses with power metal wailers on the other. In the end, we’re all sipping from the same, though – and bottoms up. — Joseph Schafer

    C R O W N – The End of All Things

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    Now this is a curious one. C R O W N, formerly a sludgy doom metal band, have suddenly shifted their sound into a hybrid that feels like a combination of contemporary Ulver, the recent arc of Katatonia, and even dashes of AFI. Honestly, their presence in a metal column is largely predicated more on that past work than this one, which is deeply non-metallic in nature, such that another record in this style would have to see them covered elsewhere. But, in this magical window where they can appear here, it is well-worth noting the superlative caliber of this record. I cried at my desk five times on the first playthrough. These songs heave with intense emotionality, using moody synths and melodrama to absolutely wring you dry. Suddenly the duo’s history working on a professional level with Alcest and members of Depeche Mode feel like the reoriented center of the project, slashing through the defenses of masculinity and maturity to extract the raw heart. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman

    Horndal – Lake Drinker

    Horndal. Because when you think sledgehammer sludge heavier than hell and leavened with hardcore swagger you think… Sweden? Yes friends, Horndal could easily fit on a bill with Mastodon and High on Fire, but hail from Stockholm, where cannabis remains painfully illegal though the decibels are thankfully plentiful. Make no mistake, though — their style may not be the commercial powerhouse it was a decade past but their songs don’t want for passionate delivery. Even better, while their peers often date themselves with fanciful themes (what is best in life Conan? Original imagery, but of course) Horndal’s fury is very much of the now – sophomore salvo Lake Drinker tells the sad-but-true story of a little industrial town chopped up then forcibly screwed by the capitalist ventures of big tech. Preach, friends. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Joseph Schafer

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    Kauan – Ice Fleet

    Kauan are a perfect example of the pure transformative power of black metal, especially post-black metal, not as an end in and of itself but as a pathway through and toward. Here, the cover belies the transformation, one a long time coming for the band, its images of ships placing it more in visual continuity with the underrated celestium of Sigur Ros’ Valtari. The location of these songs on an ice cutter or ice fisher deep in arctic waters is an obvious yet unexplored one for black metal, combining both the fixation with cold and ice with the equal fixation among almost all art with the immortal sea. Ice Fleet is decidedly not a black metal record, not any longer, despite the occasional blasts and shrieked vocals. Rather, it is the thing that remains when the black metal wears away, the journey complete. As much as I am a death metal adorant, that is a genre that points inward toward itself while this captures the radiant outward movement capable in black metal. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman

    Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος

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    Spectral Lore mastermind Ayloss so effortlessly suffuses the raw ekstasis of black metal with the spirit of progressive rock, post-punk, folk music, and more, wielding black metal more as a methodology and a frame of reference than an end in and of itself. This intense conceptualism, which unfurls backward into exhilaratingly composed sequences of musical ideas, begins at the cerebral/spiritualist core of his thoughts and erupts upward into the evocative panorama that unfurls from his records. This new one is no exception, feeling like an orthodox monk mystic sitting cross-legged at the top of a high tower staring out at the Aegean and the cycles of the sun, experiencing vast visions of the wheels of the cosmos. There is a perennial tension in his work, one oscillating between witnessing/wisdom and praxis/action, always titled toward the volcanically eruptive. This is one of black metal’s greatest still at the peak of his power. We are so lucky. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman

    Steel Bearing Hand – Slay in Hell

    Though their name refers to the hand with which one wields a bladed weapon, Steel Bearing Hand also sound kind of like the tool with which one fires a pinball – and that interpretation likewise fits, since their shredding death-thrash fusion is as fast-paced as a classic arcade game and just as fun. Picture Corpsegrinder filling in behind the mic for Razor with Fenriz manning the soundboard and you’ll have some idea of what these Texans sound like on their sophomore LP. If the title, Slay in Hell, wasn’t enough of an indicator, the focus here is friendly violent fun both blasphemous and ballistic. Songs like “Lich Gate” and “Til Death and Beyond” provide a pure stage dive soundtrack that has me itching to get my second vaccine so we can get back to live music all the more. Twelve-minute closer “Ensanguined” offers more epic fare, a hint of Dio-esque drama nonetheless drenched in reverb and coated in thumbtacks. Naturally this welterweight contender enters the ring coached by Carbonized Records, a venture helmed by Necrot drummer Chad Gailey, whose taste reflects his guttural and gregarious nature. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer

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    Victory Over the Sun – Nowherer

    The elevator pitch might be something like “Kayo Dot covering Ved Buens Ende” or “if early Liturgy sounded in the ear how it does on paper.” Neither of these meanwhile capture the unique components of Victory Over the Sun’s approach to avant-garde, progressive, and black metal music. Forget the microtonalism for a moment; what matters is the why of it, the way she bends those disjuncts toward a seasickness that at once matches the sloppiness of early Venom and second wave black metal while orienting itself at the same time toward the cerebralism of groups such as Krallice. Triumph and transformation and the intense struggle to pierce that thresholding gateway of eruption is the function here, feeling as spiritually and existentially rife as black metal can and must be at its best. It is precisely that intense transformative core that feels so commensurate with what black metal can be. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman

    Vreid – Wild North West

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    Perhaps history will finally give Norwegian black metal cowboys Vreid their due in 2021. The quartet consists of former members of Windir, a much-beloved but short-lived band who released four excellent records before the death of primary songwriter Valfar. But thinking of Vreid as only Windir’s leftovers does the band a tremendous disservice — for almost twenty years they’ve continuously delivered compulsively-listenable collections of melodic and hard-rocking metal. Their latest, Wild North West, is no different, but it’s also one of their best, delivering a headbanging title track that nearly quotes Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone,” blowing the doors wide open for 50 minutes of music with arena rock grooves as well as cinematic atmosphere. Cinematic is an apropos descriptor to be sure — the band have released a film accompanying the entire record. Ambition and storytelling to match licks and attitude — what more could one ask for from metal? Buy it on Bandcamp. –Joseph Schafer

    Wode – Burn in Many Mirrors

    I’ve been waiting for one more malignant attack from Wode. This British contingent made a big impression on little ol’ me with their debut LP in 2016, which carried some of the sanguine melodicism that typifies much of my favorite death metal from Sweden — Dawn, Naglfar, Unanimated, Sacramentum and yes the oft-vaunted and equally reviled Dissection. Their newest, Burn in Many Mirrors, continues in that spirit but expands their palate as well: brief pastoral interludes hint at castle metal era Opeth’s passion plays, but at the same time, hard-rockin’ and punkified passages (hell yes “Fire in the Hills”) show the band took notes while playing with their black-and-roll side project, Aggressive Perfector (fans of Venom and Midnight, do not skip their debut Havoc at the Midnight Hour). Naturally their carnival house is at its most fun in tripartite closing triumph “Streams of Rapture (I,II, III)” which proves as Obscura has before, that if you need to give that main riff a little extra punch, just throw a third on it. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer

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