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.
While this column discusses recorded music first and foremost, metal to me is a live art form. What I want out of music is the adrenaline rush of the circle pit, the camaraderie of screaming along to the hook, and the out-of-body experience that only comes when your torso is being pulverized by distorted guitar at high volume. In spite of the framed first edition Master of Puppets vinyl hung in my office, the gig is where the action is in my heart.
As such, the past year-plus has presented a real challenge for me, as a fan and also as a person. Shows, and festivals in particular, have been the cornerstone of my social life for my entire adulthood. Right now my Facebook feed is chock full of memories from various editions of Marlyand Deathfest, and each time I hit return, a little voice in my head says “you should be seeing Dismember with your friends right now!”
Given that, you’d think that I’d be salivating at the news of various 2021 festivals in the United States that have been announced in the last few weeks. Somehow, I can’t muster total enthusiasm, even though a lot of these announcements seem really — really! — cool. Metallica are playing two sets each at Louder than Life, Aftershock, and Welcome to Rockville! Psycho Las Vegas kept planned 2020 headliners Emperor! Deadguy are reunited at Decibel Metal and Beer Fest!
The issue for me isn’t totally the COVID-19 pandemic, though for sure that’s still very much a factor. I have both of my vaccine doses, though the idea of still spreading the illness to my immune-compromised friends remains terrifying. But let’s put it aside for a second, in favor of another thought…
After all this time readjusting my love of music to be a solitary and private experience rather than a public and communal one, how easy will it be to return to a rock show and feel good about it? Not good as in ‘ok’ but good in your bones, in the deepest realest piece of you.
I don’t know.
Part of me thinks that after over a year in my home office I’ve forgotten the rules of the pit, let alone the cadence of a normal conversation with a human being (in a room full of high frequency noise no less). That part of me worries that re-learning those rituals will be slower than I’d like. Awkward. Painful even. Part of me wonders if the first few shows won’t feel like physical therapy, rather than fun.
Then again, part of me thinks I won’t feel good in my bones until I’m catching stage divers with the people I love again. For that part of me, August can’t come soon enough. Until then, there’s still new and exciting music to listen to while I get up the nerve to go outside. — Joseph Schafer
Against Evil – End of the Line
I know what you’re thinking. Against Evil? This is the heavy metal column — isn’t evil what we aim for? Well, classic riff masters from Black Sabbath to Helloween have made molten goodness while trying to fight for what’s right, and this outfit from India lands neatly between those two acts (Dio and Michael Kiske era, respectively) without sounding derivative of either. Those seeking extremity and velocity won’t find too much to latch onto in their latest, End of the Line (well, maybe the aptly titled “Speed Demon” will get some motors going) but this quartet knows how to write a song. Each of their eight new assaults and one re-recording gets in, delivers a killer chorus and at least one solo, then exits before the five-minute mark. It’s like they’re aiming for a popular music breakthrough that no longer exists in the United States, but if it did they’d score a headshot. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
Dordeduh – Har
Dordeduh, formerly of avant-folk/prog black metal weirdos Negura Bunget, follow the Enslaved route and shed black metal almost entirely for luscious, delicious progressive rock. The flavor here leans toward the spiritual ecstasy of Devin Townsend and the aforementioned Enslaved than head-scratching time signature mindf**ks, often foregrounding elaborate groove-oriented affairs brimming with light. This evolution makes sense in retrospect and even historically but, given the nine-year gap between this and their substantially more black metal debut, still comes as a pleasant shock. Think of it like Dordeduh’s own Traced In Air where, like Cynic before them, they crack the nut of their earlier work and pull out the gleaming beautiful core that always lurked there. An impressive enunciation from an already impressive troupe. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Canvas Solaris – Chromosphere
Canvas Solaris return after over a decade away with more mind-splattering instrumental prog metal. The clock for their approach gets wound way, way back to the high point of what was then known as tech metal, spearheaded by Watchtower, Mekong Delta, Toxik and the like. Rarely is there an overlong solo section, oft the repeated frustration with progressive music, erring instead for complex and shifting riffs that feels like being digitized, disassembled and rebuilt as a perfect hiTekno-color insect machine. The point of this kind of metal is less to compete with the anthemic choruses and driving power of more direct forms, instead being an exercise in specific type of imagination, wilderness of glass and the stellar geometry of the mathematics of the universe. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Ghastly – Mercurial Passage
Death metal is, we must remember, the chosen music of the lord and his people. Ghastly remind us as such with their new record, which amps up the psychedelic flourishes that before were lingering plumes of smoke on their debut and now have blown out into full opium clouds, smearing the riffs and vocals into a lysergic haze. But Mercurial Passage lands closer to last year’s Bedsore than Sweven, keeping keen delineation of the mid-paced haunted psychedelic grooves and the wretched slime-caked death metal riffing. There’s even a few compositional nods to Immolation over the course of the record, a name that only makes more and more sense the longer you think of their imperial and regal approach to death metal intermingling with this psychic morass. Death metal reigns in rot and triumph forever. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Jute Gyte – Mitrealität
As noted by my cowriter, it is ambiguous whether at this point there are more Jute Gyte fans or if we simply get more intense over time so it seems like there are more of us. Regardless, the work carries on, with the newest record from the mad lad himself being perhaps the densest and most ecstatic yet. This is the closest Jute Gyte has come to making what might be considered a kind of theological music, music of god and materiality, feeling at times like an anti-luminous counterpart to Liturgy or perhaps a satanostellar inversion of Victory Over The Sun’s equally distempered microtonal black metal. Mitrealität plays out like a riddle or perhaps like a unicursal labyrinth, a koan, where shards of modernist and postmodernist thought and hexagrams of philosophy cross and intensify like meditations in the darkness of god. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Noctule – Wretched Abyss
Here’s an odd thought I had while listening to Wretched Abyss, the full-length debut by UK black metal outfit Noctule – damn, Serena Cherry leads a pretty cool life. Already an internationally respected guitarist and vocalist thanks to her long tenure in Svalbard–when she’s not reviewing roller coasters in a professional capacity! — Cherry is also, apparently, a video game enthusiast. Noctule’s lyrics all center around Skyrim, a beloved entry in the long-running Elder Scrolls series of role playing games. Though the game’s been out for years, writer just so happened to begin playing it for the first time this year, and Noctule’s Darkthrone-isms perfectly compliment the frostbitten and dragon-scorched landscape that inspired it. Such Penny Arcade-worthy source material might suggest that Wretched Abyss is slight for a normally emotive songwriter, but far from it. Cherry’s searing lead playing is the weapon of choice on this particular solo run, and she’s learned to make her six strings shout with unrelenting force. The melodic magica she wields on “Labyrinthian” is downright triumphant. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
Terminalist – The Great Acceleration
Once maybe the most naval gazing microgenre in metaldom, technical thrash seems to be having a bit of a bump this year. Maybe it’s all that lockdown time spent soloing and sweep-picking, but bands like Paranorm and Cryptosis are well equipped at giving yours truly the nostalgic hit he once got form pirating Toxik and Coroner albums in the ol’ dorm room. Add Terminalist to that particular SWAT team. Their newest, The Great Acceleration, may feature mostly growled vocals but underneath it’s as nervy and riveting as those first few Destruction records. A highly conceptual science fiction lyrical framework adds depth, as does some black metal bombast here and there (dig the end of “Invention of the shipwreck” for a taste), but these elements are practically de regur now. The band’s concealed weapon, the thing that helps then stick out from the pack, is an unusually otherworldly lead guitar tone, one that fits equally well over two steps or blast beats, which of course they pack aplenty. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
T-Tops – Staring at a Static Screen
If I’m honest it’s a bit of a stretch to call Pittsburgh tone worshippers T-Tops “metal” so to speak. Sure, their searing-hot midrange and subtle crunch (hey are we talking about guitar sounds or sauteed veggies here?) bring to mind the best work by Unsane and Helmet, but those bands never swore much allegiance to denim and or leather – and neither do T-Tops. To wit, their newest, Staring at a Static Screen, ends with a Fleetwood Mac cover. That said, this power trio’s got some punk rock by way of Motörhead in them, and more importantly the hooks to match. Amplitude is amplitude and, in the end, metal is an attitude. Those seeking a little Melvins nastiness ought to take a listen posthaste. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer