“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 current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has, among other things, had the chilling effect of hewing reality far closer to the world described in metal lyrics and art than it seemed, say, a month or two ago.
Of course the apocalyptic scenarios at the marrow of metal’s identity have always been just a few bad decisions away from actualizing (don’t push that big red button, don’t read from that very creepy cobwebbed tome…), which is one of the genre’s strengths. But in times like these, metal can lose some of its escapist charm. The coming few years will be fascinating for the genre, to be sure, and most of the releases coming out for the next few months, which were all recorded well in advance, may seem out of step with the times.
Still, artists labored intensively over these works and they deserve our attention, if we can give it. And even in metal’s darkness there is light. Metal offers triumph as well as despair. Today, let’s fixate on triumph, as much as we possibly can.
— Joseph Schafer
Ambush – Infidel
Speaking of triumph, metal doesn’t sound much more victorious than Ambush. This Swedish band has been putting out top-notch metal on the razor-thin edge between leather-clad and dangerous speed metal and pre-symphonic power metal since 2014. Their latest, Infidel, comes courtesy of Germany’s High Roller records, who specialize in this exact kind of music with an impeccable ear for quality in their roster, and Ambush is no exception. The band wields a double-edged sword, however: their greatest strength and weakness is the extent to which they’re willing to wear their influences on their sleeves. These musicians sound as if they were raised at some hermetic enclosure and only allowed to listen to Accept and Judas Priest. To me, that’s a plus, even if songs like “Hellbiter” and “Yperite” sound a lot like those classic bands. But who cares when the choruses are this damn good? Buy it from High Roller Records. — Joseph Schafer
Huntsmen – Mandala of Fear
There was plenty of great proggy heavy metal dropped this past month; far more than could be covered here, in fact. But Huntsmen deserves a special nod if only for the fact that they sound like a magical combination of the kinds of arena-sized heavy metal statements Mastodon make now mixed with later-day Rush. The drums stay acrobatic and crisp even when the band kicks into a more explicitly heavy metal mode, all roaring guitars and harsh vocals, drawing that Dailor/Peart comparison even more clearly for the drummer, who’s a real treasure in these pieces. Also like later-day Rush, Huntsmen don’t let their prog chops when it comes to odd times and tonal juxtapositions derail the hard rock and heavy metal cores of these songs. Starry skies and muscle cars with wizards airbrushed on them. Magical. Buy it from Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Malokarpatan – Krupinské ohne
Malokarpatan put out one of the best trad metal albums in quite some time with Nordkarpatenland, an album that lived among the storied heights of groups like In Solitude before them. They did this largely by focusing on the weirder elements of traditional heavy metal, the crumbling edge that would later give way to black metal, with its keen mixture of prog rock and Venom-esque enthusiastic naive heavy metal. Krupinské ohne takes this conceit and pushes it just a bit further, letting the tracks spool out over longer runtimes than before to better revel in the weirdness that the band capture so well. The affair feels most similar to Cultes des Ghoules, producing black metal that feels both highly progressive but also highly primitive, keeping it prog by inventiveness over the sometimes surgical cleanliness and unpleasant virtuosity the genre can be known for. Buy it from Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
NITE – Darkness Silence Mirror Flame
San Francisco’s Nite (stylized NITE) synthesize metal’s negative and positive polarities with style and verve on their debut, Darkness Silence Mirror Flame. Their unique style blends traditional, epic heavy metal melodies and compositions with subterranean black metal vocals and imagery. Of course, the two genres have never been that far apart genealogically. Bathory, maybe the first black metal (and death metal, for that matter) band, switched to traditional metal before the end of their career. Nite doesn’t quite evoke the viking battlefield that Bathory did. Instead, they embody the nocturnal crawl of coastal California, with its neon sleaze and gothic swagger. Van Labrakis’s distorted howling won’t sway clean singing purists, but he has serious interplay with fellow guitarist Scott Hoffman, also of beloved party rockers High Spirits. Together they give me the same creepy-crawly vibe that Ghost did on their debut album, minus any of the arena ambitions. Buy it on Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Temple of Void – The World That Was
Talk about an album title that hits a little too close to home. The World that Was certainly does feel like a funeral for mankind, complete with guitars that both drone and growl, militaristic drumming, and breathy death metal vocals that almost evoke Gregorian chanting. The Detroit quintet, composed mostly of veteran musicians from that scene, has been building momentum for two records now, and on their third they fully come into their own, with a sound well balanced between Candlemass as if played by chainsaws, and punishing Tiger tank grooves. Mixing death metal with doom, as Temple of Void does, is a tricky proposition, and success or failure usually results from a few subtle decisions. The band nails it because the beautiful sonic painting around the edges — synth beds and acoustic loops — add depth and nuance to the compositions. Take a listen, and imagine yourself in a very comfy coffin slowly lowering into the soil. Buy it from Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer
Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum – Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine
March has not one but two of the records currently battling it out for album of the year from me and this is one of them. Wanderers is a split LP featuring two of the absolute best black metal artists going, either with Hall of Fame-worthy records under their belt; even better, at two hours in length, you get as much material from each one-man band on this split as you would on a full solo LP. The conceptual heft is easy to ignore if that kind of thing isn’t your speed, acting more as a set of inspirations for the tracks rather than beating you over the head with superficial narrative. The final two-part “Pluto” suite, the only fully collaborative piece on the record, begins in ambient atmospherics and ends throttling your throat and still leaves me crying at my desk despite all the times I’ve heard it already. Buy it from Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Sweven – The Eternal Resonance
This is the other LP jockeying for Album of the Year from me. Sweven are the spiritual successors to Morbus Chron, a band on the level of greats like Tribulation and In Solitude who unfortunately broke up before capitalizing on that vast potential. Their main songwriter, however, clearly sniffed the potential that group had stumbled across, naming this group after the final (and greatest) Morbus Chron release. The album is sweetly psychedelic, with clean piano and guitars that are barely distorted, weaving something closer to an absinthe death dream than a gore-soaked beatdown. It is perhaps only barely death metal, but that doesn’t matter; like Tribulation, they moved beyond, into something as theatrical as it is emotionally devastating. Has death metal ever made you cry before? Buy it from Bandcamp. — Langdon Hickman
Wake – Devouring Ruin
Canadian act Wake label themselves as “Darkness from the True North,” and they’ve never lived up to that moniker more than they do on Devouring Ruin. Up until now, wake has been a powerful but fairly predictable grindcore band. They traffic in heavily distorted guitars and abrasive drums, delivered in concise songs with a few experimental noises and industrial touches which, while appreciated, are by now well within grind’s sonic palate. None of that is a critique. I like grind, I like the way Wake plays it, and I like all of their albums. Devouring Ruin is different, though. The songs are longer, slower, and more elaborate than Wake has ever delivered before. I almost get a whiff of sludge heavyweights Grief on songs like “Mouth of Abolition.” Losing tempo usually means losing attitude, but not this time. Some of the venomous sarcasm of long-missed evil hardcore mainstays Cursed seems to reverberate in these Albertans’ rib cages. Truly apocalyptic music commensurate with the times. Buy it from Bandcamp. — Joseph Schafer