“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.
Happy Halloween from Mining Metal headquarters. It’s serendipitous that the latest edition of the column arrives on Halloween day.
This is the peak season for metal music, and there are reasons for this: a) Heavy metal has always given off an aura of spookiness, and this is the spooky season; b) October is the beginning of the fourth fiscal quarter, so it’s important for record companies to end the year strong; and c) It’s year-end-list season, so it’s the last chance for albums to be considered among the best of the year.
On this Halloween day, we have eight precious slabs of metal, including astounding death metal, rousing black metal and a premiere of Quayde LaHue’s excellent sophomore stab at the old school heavy sound. Each one pack tricks, and each is a treat.
Quayde LaHue – Love Out of Darkness (“Right to Rock” premiere)
Just beneath the light layer of recording grime, Olympia, Washington’s Quayde LaHue channel the golden age of NWOBHM singles with aplomb. Venom, Saxon … hell, even early Def Leppard? There’s some of all of their DNA in their remarkable new album, Love Out of Darkness, and more as well. Vocalist Jenna Fitton snarls, belts and soars with the confidence of a seasoned entertainer. Her lyrics deserve mention as well — the longing and swagger of “Right to Rock” (premiering below) would make Lemmy proud, and her elaborate revenge fantasies (mostly aimed at predatory men) in “The Man in the Purple Robe” and “Widowmaker” give these songs a sense of urgency and poignancy. Lead guitarist Max Bowman also plays in death metal wunderkinds Mortiferum, and his licks here do carry a bit of graveyard grit, as well. Buy it from Adult Fantasy Records. —Joseph Schafer
Blood Incantation – The Hidden History of the Human Race
Please don’t be deterred by the album art, because this record rips – many people will call it their favorite of the year. Colorado’s Blood Incantation rightfully have a reputation as an astounding live act, and their blend of technical chops with a reverent old-school death metal sound has positioned them at the exact intersection of the metal underground and the endless arpeggio crowd that populates the Summer Slaughter tour. Plus, their “Ancient Aliens” lyrical theme (hence that cover art) remains endlessly entertaining. I adored their Interdimensional Extinction EP, and their ambitious 2016 debut record, Starspawn made a deep impact upon release but — indulge me in some light heresy, here– to these ears its effects-heavy production didn’t do the songs justice.
Their sophomore outing, The Hidden History of the Human Race, eclipses both. Its relatively clear but organic guitar sound shows off stunning riffs that would make Chuck Schuldiner of Death smile. Songs like “Slave Species of the Gods” and “The Giza Power Plant” evoke beloved death dealers like Morbid Angel, Nile, Opeth and even dISEMBOWELMENT without losing focus of what makes Blood Incantation themselves so unique. But the album’s crowning achievement is its nearly 20-minute closing track, a prog-death epic that evokes the sidelong expeditions of ‘70s giants like Yes. Like champions, Blood Incantation have been closing their sets with it — they’re the real deal. Take the interstellar ride. Buy it from Dark Descent Records. —Joseph Schafer
Botanist – Ecosystem
This era of human history may end up being known, sadly, as the last one that could have done something meaningful about climate change and didn’t. Botanist are a black metal group that chooses to deal directly with this inexplicable intense nihilism of humanity, one greater than any KISS-cosplay winter troll LARPer band out there. Their music is formed from a core of three hammered dulcimer players, giving the music a sense of intense brightness like light breaking through trees, fitting given the ardently anti-human/pro-plant life subject matter. As beautiful as it is moving and perhaps the best record of the group’s career thus far, Ecosystem delivers a painful indictment of our time. Buy it from Bandcamp here. — Langdon Hickman
Earth and Pillars – Earth II
Sometimes a detour is a good thing. Italian black metal band Earth and Pillars were always well-received from the time of their first of their four season-themed albums, Earth I, but following their brief synth-dominated record Into the Pillars they group greatly expanded the role their previous space-filling synths played, delivering an album in Earth II where they comfortably hold equal billing with the guitars, creating vast panoramic soundscapes that overwhelm and enrich. No lie, I had to pause this album following each of its four gargantuan tracks. They’re dense, extravagant, beautiful. One of the best black metal records of the year. Buy it from Bandcamp here. — Langdon Hickman
Pissed Regardless – Imperial Cult
Primal and elemental, hardcore punk doesn’t require significant revisions to its core formula to achieve excellence. Many of the best bands in the genre today — Knocked Loose, Jesus Piece, Harm’s Way — take time-tested song structures to heart and focus their creativity one expressive lyrics and powerful sonic textures. Add San Diego’s Pissed Regardless to that esteemed list. Their third album, Imperial Cult, sheds much of the thrash trappings of their first two records, not to mention their juvenile humor and puke-green art scheme. In so doing, their songs now represent a molten-hot core. Rolling double bass a-la Bolt Thrower and light At the Gates-ish melody give songs like “Halls of Hate” and “Behold a Pale Horse” enough death metal bona-fides to put this on bullet belt bros’ radar. But don’t dare call them “Deathcore” — this is evil metallic hardcore the way it was meant to be played. Buy it from Bandcamp here. — Joseph Schafer
Vastum – Orifical Purge
It’s a rarity that death metal, that most perfect of genres, is both smart and bestial. Normally we are asked to pick one or the other, have our psychedelic tech masterpieces or our dirty and rough Swedeath rippers. Not so with Vastum; the lyrics and aesthetics are sharp, aiming straight for the brain, while the riffs roar, gurgle and rumble away. It’s rare to get a legitimately great riff-based death metal band that delivers killer, thoughtful lyrics, but Vastum manages to do that on Orifical Purge. And hey, every album is 6 tracks. Keep it evil. Buy it from Bandcamp here. — Langdon Hickman
Vinsta – Drei Deitai
Like many, I’m a sucker for any band that can nail the sound of Opeth’s classic records, especially since the band itself has abandoned its trademark longform progressive extreme metal. Frustratingly few bands seem able to capture the elusive feeling of pristine folkloric rock and furious chugging perfectly balanced in the same song — Cormorant can pull it off, so can Gallowbraid, and so can Austria’s Vinsta. Originally the sole project of Christian Höll, Vinsta began as a pure folk project before releasing the remarkable Vinsta Wiads album independently in 2017, which flew so far under the radar that I felt submerged, myself. Höll returns this year with a no less remarkable follow-up, Drei Deitai, bolstered by a deal with Trollmusic as well as violin and clean vocal accompaniment by Moni Hahn. Check out their sublime interplay on “Tiafn” (translated: “Depths”). Their Facebook says they’re preparing for live shows soon — here’s hoping they make it to the states. Buy it from Bandcamp here. —Joseph Schafer
Vukari – Aevum
Many of the records considered for this month were disqualified for the best of reasons: the bands who produced them have since been snatched up by the bigger names of the metal world and so no longer need the little push a column like this can provide. This frees up space to talk about other equally as talented bands, such as Chicago’s Vukari. Despite the name and city of origin, the group does not play post-black metal but instead the real deal, offering cold and vicious riffs backed by the same types of enormous world-spanning imagery we’ve come to expect from serious black metal groups as of 2019. Aevum is the group’s third album but already shows a sense of atmosphere balanced carefully against a fiery desire for relentless riffs that marks a group that is both meaty and heady, producing a record that’s equally as well suited for headphones and meditation as it is a boom box and thrashing about a room. Not to be slept on. Buy it from Bandcamp here. — Langdon Hickman