“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.
The longest day of the year has now passed, and while the bright days of summer may seem incongruous with the dark, dank spaces that underground metal usually occupies, it has its perks. Now is prime festival season, a time ripe with major metal concerts in America and Europe performed in front of lawns packed with fervent fans.
If you find yourself at one such event, we suggest you make it a point to check out the lesser-known bands on side stages. Frequently, that’s where you’ll find the hungriest outfits, frothing at the mouth to show their talent to anyone who might listen. That 1 p.m. time slot is the “Mining Metal” slot — the golden hour when the underground hits your ears. You might just see one of the following bands at that time.
Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze – Offerings of Flesh and Gold
Black metal just happens to be on a hot streak this month. Offerings of Flesh and Gold is the debut record of Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze, an explicitly antifascist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist black metal group who also happened to create one of the finest records of the year. This one has been getting a lot of prerelease buzz, and for good reason; over three songs that span 40 minutes, we are treated to musique concrete, ambiance, traditional black metal, near-cybernetic riffing and an ecstatic, spiritualist edge to deeply political music. Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze know that the results of politics live in the material world but their roots live in the spirit and in the heart, producing extreme metal that presses against the same place of intense spiritual ecstasy and longing as Wolves in the Throne Room and Neurosis. Not only a sign of the profound beauty and power of extreme metal but a perfect example of why columns like this exist. Buy it via Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Krzysztof Drabikowski (БАТЮШКА) – Panihida (Панихида)
Hoo boy. So, you remember Batushka, right? Eastern Orthodox-infused black metal, incorporating inventive approaches to a well-established genre and injections of Christian aesthetics and symbology without feeling as terminally lame as that might sound. Their self-released debut did well enough to warrant a US tour and a record deal with Metal Blade; unfortunately the paperwork arrived just as the band was splintering. The vocalist manages to keep the name and the deal while the main songwriter, Drabikowski, went his own way, releasing Panihida as his own vision of where the band — with a name now spelled in Cyrillic — would have gone. There are a lot of strong feelings in the metal world over this issue, and not for unjust cause, but luckily for us, this absolutely tremendous record managed to make it out alive. Prepare for a treat with this one, and expect to see it again on year-end lists industry wide. And hey, the record the other guy made isn’t half bad either. Buy it via Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Lord Weird Slough Feg – New Organon
Few bands are so resilient as The Lord Weird Slough Feg. Often credited as simply “Slough Feg,” the outfit led by guitarist and singer John Scalzi has been playing pure old school metal without a hint of punk or “extreme” influence since 1990. Instead of getting with the times, Scalzi’s kept Slough Feg sounding something like Manilla Road as played by Thin Lizzy, albeit with very intelligent lyrics — Scalzi is an adjunct professor of philosophy — through a series of lineup changes. Like a hummingbird or a squid, the band’s ability to remain active without moving in a direction has proved their prime survival mechanism. In fact Slough Feg has maintained course long enough that some of the band’s early records such as Down Among the Dead Men and Traveler have helped inspire a crop of old school revivalists now writing and recording great records. Their latest, New Organon, features a new drummer and doesn’t sacrifice any of the epic Celtic sound that has made this outfit beloved by retro metal fetishists. Buy it via Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Howling Sycamore – Seven Pathways to Annihilation
Perhaps no guitarist in metal goes so uncelebrated as Italy’s Davide Tiso, who may be best known for his jazz-inflected technical black metal project Ephel Duath, now sadly defunct. He now helms Howling Sycamore, an even less easily described supergroup whose second album, Seven Pathways to Annihilation, is now out there. The band consists of Tiso, German virtuoso drummer-for-hire Hannes Grossman and most fascinatingly, American singer Jason McMaster of 1980’s technical thrash trailblazers Watchtower. Seven Pathways to Annihilation features further guest contributions from Marty Friedman of Megadeth’s Rust in Peace days, as well as compatriots in Gorguts and The Botanist among others. OK, you’re thinking, so everyone in the band has chops — what does Howling Sycamore sound like? It should come as no surprise that the band play to the most deeply neurotic tendencies in metal. A friend described them as “extreme metal Marillion,” which, to me, outlines the band’s exact appeal —melody, sophistication, complexity and a refusal to play to the cheap seats for even a second. Buy it via Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
The Nighttimeproject – Pale Season (Exclusive Premiere)
Fredrick Norrman has something like a doctorate degree in the subject of emotional, gothic heavy metal. While he himself never sings, his guitar compositions have a particular and indelible signature style: The Cure filtered through slow, down-tuned death metal. It’s an odd mix, but one’s he and his brother Mattias have piloted to success in several bands, including October Tide, the dearly missed Trees of Eternity, and most famously Katatonia. For a certain subsect of metal head raised on the sweet fruit of bands like Paradise Lost or Lacuna Coil, this sound is comfort food perfectly suited for a frigid Scandinavian winter. Now, Mattias and Fredrick continue their career-long examination of melancholic heavy rock with Thenighttimeproject, whose latest album Pale Season, is premiering below. Throughout, guitarist and vocalist Alexander Backlund proves himself every bit the vocal equal to the suite of spectacular men and women who have sung with the Norrman brothers. That said, the penultimate song, “Signals in the Sky,” features a guest spot by Heike Langhans of Draconian and is a particular highlight of this elegiac journey. Buy it via Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Sadistic Ritual – Visionaire of Death
Thrash metal in the United States went dormant five years ago give or take, and while the old guard continues to release excellent new albums (see Overkill, Death Angel), few young bands have stepped up to the plate since then. With the notable exception of Power Trip, no young band has released a record in the style worth serious consideration. At least, that was true before Atlanta’s Sadistic Ritual released their debut full length, Visionaire of Death, this month. Headbangers seeking the relentless aggression of Demolition Hammer should find much to like in this 40-minute barrage. Vocalist and guitarist Charlie Southern brings a hint of black metal nastiness — this Watain circa Sworn to the Dark — to his singing, which lends an intoxicating effect to songs like “Double Crossed.” Buy it via Unspeakable Axe Records. — Joseph Schafer
Slomatics – Canyons
Like a spaceship of lead lurching slow and mighty into interstellar space, paced without being lethargic, psychedelic and enormous without feeling too stoner-y, Slomatics prove why they are one of the few bands capable of challenging the mighty Sleep’s throne. There’s a lot of traditional doom in Slomatics’ music, a charming reminder of everything this genre got right so early. Canyons isn’t the most musically adventurous record of the extreme metal landscape circa 2019, but Slomatics have forged a career by excelling where so many turn in middling work. A truly great doom record with nigh-on-infinite replayability. Just wait till the choirs hit like a monastic paean to a stellar ossuary. Buy it via Black Bow Records. — Langdon Hickman
Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling
It may seem strange at first blush to compare Yellow Eyes and fellow New York black metallers Krallice, but the similarity feels more than just a passing affect. Granted, Krallice strikes for substantially more cerebral ground, almost like black metal calculus, but Yellow Eyes’ approach to the genre isn’t far off. Admittedly, Rare Field Ceiling, like their previous record, Immersion Trench Reverie, errs more to the dreamlike end of things, using swarming guitars that chime rather than roar and alternating blasts and mid-tempo stomps to create a feel that is very nearly the surreal and avant-garde spaces of post-punk while never actually sacrificing any black metal affect. In a genre that can so often feel like a procession of imitators, Yellow Eyes are one of the bands that feels consistently vital, and if their past two records have done anything for you then Rare Field Ceiling will only continue to satisfy. Buy it via Gilead Media. — Langdon Hickman