“Mining Metal” is a monthly column from Heavy Consequence fixating on noteworthy new music emerging from the non-mainstream metal scene, focusing on releases from small and independent labels — or even releases from unsigned acts.
Summer reaches its glorious conclusion and we prepare for the cold beauty of autumn: bonfires, colorful leaves and, of course, the final push for big metal releases. After July’s embarrassment of riches from well-established labels (even the underground has its titans) comes a brief reprieve as those outlets plan for the fall harvest. As such, August feels like a deep inhale and a pause.
But what a great pause it is. August 2019’s relative silence from well-oiled machines opens up opportunities for much smaller bands. This month, we have new releases by bands thought long dead, first EPs by promising unsigned acts, and two instrumental masterpieces by resolutely label-free home tinkerers.
Agenda – Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues
Norwegian label Fysik Format consistently releases some of that country’s finest hardcore records, from the outre and experimental to the straightforward and aggressive. Agenda are the latter. Their second record, Apocalyptic Wasteland Blues, doesn’t waste any time on intro tracks or genre digressions — instead it’s a half hour of furious D-beat, just the way the band’s forebears in Tragedy, Wolfbrigade and Disfear intended. The latter’s a particular touchstone; vocalist Hans Olaf Myrvang sounds more than a little like Thomas Lindberg of At The Gates, who helmed the microphone on Disfear’s beloved 1008 album Live the Storm. On songs like “Save Your Praise” and “Road to Hell,” Agenda riffs with the same kind of invigorating piss and vinegar. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Cloudkicker – Unending
Cloudkicker’s seemingly eternal goodwill was built largely on the back of a single album, 2010’s Immaculate Beacons, one of the truly great prog-metal records of the decade. Unending comes out after a four-year hiatus, the longest main man Ben Sharp has ever let these fields lie fallow. Once more, the new Cloudkicker is concise, seven tracks and just under a half-hour, but he has always erred more on the side of quality than quantity. Unending plays like a longform composition, largely due to its relatively brief run-time and Sharp’s attention to making each record hold a specific timbral shape. This in turn gives the listening experience much more shape than one might expect before the inevitable emotional sucker punch, leaving you hunched over and crying as tear-jerking and intensely emotive melodies wash over you. The run-in with Intronaut seems to have rubbed off, leaving more post-metal in the prog and giving us one of the best prog records of the year. It’s available at “name your price,” in true web-first musician tradition. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Lord Gore – Scalpels for Blind Surgeons
In the early 2000’s, Razorback Records offered up a slate of extreme metal bands united by one theme: gory horror movies. These bands, including Splatterhouse, General Surgery and Lord Gore, centered on this aesthetic long before the practical-effects boom of the ‘80s became retro-chic, and as a result many of them don’t exist any longer. Lord Gore, for example, returns after a 15-year hiatus for their third album, Scalpels for Blind Surgeons. Now as before, their music is an ever-so-slightly-sloppy mix of old school death metal and grindcore: fast songs stuffed with riffs and gurgling vocals. Like last month’s Wormed, it’s high-level musicality in the service of cheap thrills, where ridiculousness is the entire point of the exercise. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Orm – Ir
Longform black metal is a lovely thing. False, for instance, gave us one of the best black metal albums of the year in the style and Moonsorrow’s Viides Luku – Hävitetty is a classic of the form. Orm join fine company with Ir, an album comprised of two long cuts totaling just under 50 minutes. The group knows that these longform compositions having sustainable power comes from a combination of changes married to a repeatable, glacial body, conceiving of movements as more additive and subtractive rather than a series of short stark changes. The pieces don’t feel like collage or lazy combinations of riffs, instead carrying the same kind of fervor and power than songs jammed out in the practice room have before the editor’s hand comes wielding scalpels. As a result, the album brims with a primal and fierce energy that compels not just to the end but to the repeat button. Buy it from Indisciplinarian. — Langdon Hickman
Polemicist – Zarathustrian Impressions
Polemicist may be from Philadelphia, but they sound positively Scandinavian on their debut record, Zarathustrian Impressions, streaming exclusively below. Folk-inflected and prog-aligned, their mixture of black and death metal traffics not so much in indelible songs but in sweeping movements. Those still missing the band Opeth was 10 years ago will find much to like here. The album deals exclusively with the writings of famed German existentialist philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche, and while it’s not hard to find references to his thinking in hard rock music — Nine Inch Nails used his “God is dead” quote for the chorus of “Heresy” to name just one example — one must admire Polemicist’s dedication to the concept. They even list which translations they referenced in the writing. That said, my bet is that for the people who jive with this record it’s the twin guitar riffing of Josiah Domico and Lydia Giordano to which they will eternally return. Domico had this to say about the record: “Undergoing the process of creating these riffs/pieces/tracks was overcoming in a true Nietzschean sense. We collectively and as individuals overcame sickness, profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, and when all seemed to be going wrong even the ‘wretchedness of the vanquished.’ We endured. And as a band we shall continue to endure and grow. This is only the beginning!” Buy it on Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Restless Ghosts – Restless Ghosts
Born in California but based in Berlin, Julia Neuman has been cruising beneath the surface of the metal underground for some time, most notably during a sting in German doom band Albez Duz. With Restless Ghosts, her ostensible solo project (Sara Neidorf plays drums but otherwise it’s all Neuman), her potential as a composer comes to the fore. Somewhere between Alice in Chains, Agalloch and Auf Der Mar, her debut EP is four slices of outre riffs and cryptic singing, beautifully mastered by Ghost producer Jaime Gomez Arellano. There’s precedence for her blend of dark metal and singer-songwriter sensibility — this is the era of Chelsea Wolfe, after all — but Neuman has a pedigree in old school heavy metal, often nailing covers of vintage Ozzy Osbourne tunes on her instagram page, and that classical reverence comes to the fore on songs like “Chiaroscuro.” Buy it on Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Sleep Terror – Abreaction
Luke Jaeger has been plugging away from years in one-man instrumental jazz fusion/death metal group Sleep Terror. The group started a decade and a half ago, releasing tracks on MP3.com in the earliest years of streaming. Even in those days, his blend of jazz fusion and death metal was clearly the sign of an ardent fan of both, not making music to appeal to music school chops fetishists but an exploration of the jazz/metal relation embodied in groups like Cynic, the earliest/thrashiest Meshuggah records and groups like Coprofago. Abreaction is his most accomplished record to date, incorporating elements of surf and mariachi on top of the already heady mixture of jazz-fusion, black, thrash and death metal. And despite the breadth of this mixture, Jaeger avoids a sense of ironic deployment of these genre digressions, managing to make the work feel sincere, holistic and legible. An underrated mainstay of instrumental metal. Buy it on Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Swordwielder – System Overlord
It was a toss-up for this spot between the incredible debut EP of death metallers Putrescine and this Swedish Amebix-styled metallic crust band’s sophomore record. The former seems destined for more coverage; death metal is booming right now and they will rightly get the rub from venues, and in all likelihood have an album signing on the horizon, which tilts this underground column’s eye back to Swordwielder’s particularly nasty album, System Overlord — so underground you can’t even buy a physical copy anywhere but their shows, which are (naturally) only held in their home country. This is pure primal heavy metal, from the cover to the guitar tone to the surplus of solos and harsh shouted vocals, like it was ripped out of 1983 when death, thrash, power and black metal were all bedmates on the same dusty over-copied demo tapes. Take a whiff of that; that’s the stench of death. This is heavy metal. Buy it from Profane Existence. — Langdon Hickman