“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.
Thank you for sticking with Mining Metal for the past eight months. The opportunity to share the riches of the metal underground with the Consequence of Sound readership is a rare one, not lost on us. Overall, 2019 has marked one of the strongest years for heavy metal, in terms of diversity and quality.
Now as the ride coasts into the gate to reset and prepare for 2020, we offer our collective Top 10 Underground Metal Albums of 2019. The list is presented in alphabetical order, unranked. We voted for but opted not to include Tomb Mold and Blood Incantation, since both albums broke out of the underground to make Heavy Consequence‘s comprehensive list of the Top 30 Metal + Hard Rock Albums of 2019 — be sure to listen to both, they rip.
We also strove to create a list that represented as many of metal’s subgenres and countries of origin as possible while throwing in a few releases that we missed earlier in the year.
Happy holidays from the Metal Mining team! Now, enjoy the best underground metal albums of 2019.
— Joseph Schafer
Big|Brave – A Gaze Among Them
It is uncanny when waves of feedback and deep drone mixed with fluttering flower-like wordless human speech move you to tears. Big|Brave have the same limitless capacity for effective emoting within pure sound that groups like Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros do only on a much heavier scale, marrying their half-word murmurs to drone doom and walls of feedback. Still, they keep an eye on the melodic and harmonic motion, clearly aware of the increasing sophistication of Sunn O))) and Earth, the two great pillars of this style. Turns out combining late-period Sunn O))) with mid-period Cocteau Twins, as well as a concept and set of lyrics revolving around the punishing titular male/cis/straight/white gaze, produces an impossibly emotionally powerful experience, one that conveys its heart even if you can’t always make out the words. –Langdon Hickman
Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
We sometimes forget that Blut Aus Nord is a peer to other inventive early post-black metal bands like Ulver, but with a formation in 1993 and a debut two years after, we can begin to grasp why their career has been so wide-ranging. Hallucinogen is another strong entry in their powerful body of work, leaning away from the clattering industrialisms of the past few records toward the abstracted alien prog of Vindsval’s work on the last Pyramids album. Hallucinogen isn’t quite as lysergic as the title suggests but is an inventive, satisfying, and colorful approach to black metal nonetheless. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Crypt Sermon – The Ruins of Fading Light
If you’re listening to anything else right now, do yourself a favor. Stop scrolling, wait until the song you’re listening to is done, pause, and then listen to “The Snake Handler”, my favorite song from Crypt Sermon’s sophomore record, The Ruins of Fading Light. I’ll wait. Done? What a ride, right? This Philadelphia outfit pulls off these type of songs like a magician pulls coins from a child’s ear. Unabashedly sworn to the legacy of fantastical doom metal bands like Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus, Crypt Sermon up the ante with incendiary guitar playing and the jaw-dropping voice of Rev. Brooks Wilson. The medieval lyrical themes only serve to wrap their morbid observations on human life in a light, fantastical package. Go ahead and buy this one and tell them that I sent you; It’s my favorite record of the year. Buy it via Dark Descent Records. —Joseph Schafer
False – Portent
False return with Portent, following their untitled debut, itself a masterclass in rich and sonically dense black metal, and the short two-song EP, Hunger. Their new LP sports three long tracks, each crackling with effervescent lightning with nary a dull moment. Long tracks have always been a thing in extreme metal, but False know how to earn those spans of time, leaning less on dynamics and more on constantly evolving riffs that nonetheless carry a strong emotional logic weaving them together. A record as hyperbolically ecstatic and momentous as it is all-encompassing, anticipate seeing this one right up near the top of many year-end lists from those in the know. Buy it via Bandcamp. —Langdon Hickman
Idle Hands – Mana
The Mining Metal team likes traditional heavy metal. Guitar solos, melodic singing, verse-chorus-verse structure, the whole kit and caboodle. Fortunately for us, the style is ascendant in popularity after more than a decade relegated to the ultra-niche areas of the internet. Portland, Oregon, act Idle Hands play traditional heavy metal to a certain extent, but they strongly infuse it with a gothic rock flavor on their full-length debut, Mana. Singer and guitarist Gabriel Franco sounds more like Robert Smith than he does Bruce Dickinson, even though one can hear The Cure and Iron Maiden both in his band’s sound. Buy it from Eisenwald Records. —Joseph Schafer
Ithaca – The Language of Injury
UK hardcore label Holy Roar is building itself into a bastion for forward-thinking music composed by a swath of musicians as diverse as the immigrant-fueled underground always has been, despite the refusal of most to acknowledge it. There may be no better exemplar of the record’s roster than London’s Ithaca. Their 2019 full length The Language of Injury gives me the same renegade miscreant sensation that The Suicide File did over a decade ago but with a more open mind to experimentation and genre-blending. At times the band dips into mathematical chaos and at others a meditative post-rock calm, suggesting that as good as the record is, the quintet probably has more tricks up their sleeve. Buy it from Holy Roar Records. –Joseph Schafer
Mizmor – Cairn
Mizmor’s new album Cairn has gotten loving praise from every corner of the metal world and for good reason. It’s not just one of the best albums of the year but one of the very best funeral doom records of all time, up there with modern masterpieces by Bell Witch and older classics by Evoken and Mournful Congregation. A harrowing record that lives deep inside its subject matter, the tremendous heartbreak of losing one’s faith, that manages to explore that well-covered ground without feeling cliche, redundant, or preachy. A fitting compatriot to Gilead’s impeccable release lineup this year. Buy it via Bandcamp.. —Langdon Hickman
Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring
Let’s say there are two types of bands inspired by Black Sabbath: the kind that love Ozzy Osbourne’s drugged-out “Sweet Leaf”, and the kind that like Ronnie James Dio’s epic “Sign of the Southern Cross”. OK, there’s way more than two types of bands that mine that creative vein, but the point is, Toronto’s Smoulder are the latter. On their debut album Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring, the band draws lyrically and visually from the seminal fantasy of Michael Moorcock and others but still offers much to less geek-inclined listeners. The band exhibits a formidable command of melody, and their songs never drag on too long — a common pitfall in his type of music. Bands like Smoulder live and die by their vocalists, and singer Sarah Ann’s pipes prove as formidable and heroic as the triumphant champion on the album’s cover. Buy it here from Bandcamp. —Joseph Schafer
Waste of Space Orchestra – Syntheosis
Depending on your approach, this is either the proggiest Oranssi Pazuzu record yet or the most acrobatic and lively Dark Buddha Rising record yet. Either way, we are witnessing a threshold of transformation being passed by both groups acting here as a single massive unit, producing a prog rock record that spans from kosmiche to black metal, from doom to the most far-out psychedelia of classic Roger Dean cover Yes records from the early to mid-70s. It’s less wild that Dark Buddha Rising, a strong psychedelic rock and metal band, produced a record like this, as it fits comfortably in their milieu, but watching Oranssi Pazuzu’s continued efflorescence into an extreme prog powerhouse is a tremendous pleasure and Syntheosis is another fitting and grand step toward those ends. Buy it from Svart Records. –Langdon Hickman
White Ward – Love Exchange Failure
An urban investigation of black metal, trading out the cliched vistas of winter forests and lakes for the similar coldness of cities and working class apartment complexes. An elevator pitch might read something like: “Ihsahn’s solo material but with the black metal dialed way, way up,” with the presence of smooth jazz saxophone lines over blast beats being a welcome sonic space for those keeping up with the surprisingly fertile crossover ground between adult contemporary and black metal. A young and inventive band that, only two albums in, has developed a style that’s both strong and deep, with lots of direct and progressive wings left to explore. Buy it from Debemur Morti Productions. — Langdon Hickman