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Mining Metal: Ara, Cryptic Shift, Goden, Lascar, Mekong Delta, Oozing Wound, Patrons of the Rotting Gate, Xibalba

on May 30, 2020, 12:10pm

“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.

This month’s mining metal veers away from the traditional and toward the esoteric. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many labels have postponed hotly awaited releases for months or indefinitely. Because of this, bands not beholden to (or resistant to) commercial scheduling take the lead — Chilean black metal and Irish progressive deathcore, both the passion projects of independent musicians, lead the pack here. Musicians with long histories on the fringes take center stage, such as German neoclassical thrashers Mekong Delta, and Stephen Flam of Funeral Doom godfathers Winter.

Such obscure and marvelous discoveries remind us every day how lucky we are to have metal to occupy our imaginations right now. There’s a reason metal is worth mining: because it is precious. The deeper into 2020 we get, the more we come to discover rare earth minerals, deep creative veins we’re excited to excavate. – Joseph Schafer

Ara – Jurisprudence

The final track on this album is called “Pounded Into The Multiverse.” Now, I love the cerebral heights of heavy metal, and lord knows Ara’s riffs certainly have a particularly calculus-y feel to them that at times scratches deep that mad computer-mind part of my metalhead brain. But there is a sublime beauty to those particularly potent images in metal. Ara have shed some of the shapes of their influences on Jurisprudence, their second release, now sounding like the venomous child of Ulcerate and Portal with a touch of tech-thrash thrown in for good measure. The focus here is less on sharp hooks, deliberately obscured by production as they are, and instead the mind warp of the insect psyche. Anytime we find technical death metal that is not overly-clean sweep picking exercises, we rejoice; this is immutable law. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Cryptic Shift – Visitations from Enceladus

Four years after their first EP and eight years since forming, UK tech-thrashers Cryptic Shift finally offer their debut album to the world. Visitations from Enceladus sure sounds like it took years to compose, to boot. To be blunt, the record’s main attraction is also its biggest challenge: “Moonbelt Immolator”, a nearly half hour opening track that veers from precise thrash to Tangerine Dream-ish soundtrack keyboards. Extended suites often fail to hold my attention, but Cryptic Shift demanded my absolute concentration with this song. It’s such a triumph, in fact, that it almost overshadows the three more digestible tracks that follow, but its extended release makes the subsequent quick hits seem even harder by comparison. Splitting the difference between Coroner and Comus is ambitious, and Visitations from Enceladus makes it look easy. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Goden – Beyond Darkness

In the greater arcana, no tarot card presents a more foreboding fortune than The Tower. Crumbling down and shedding blocks, it symbolizes a sudden downfall, and the onset of ruin. Stephen Flam seems to have drawn the tower more than once — he was the primary songwriter behind Winter, a band whose deadly doom dared other bands to attempt riffs so low and so slow. After releasing one undisputed classic, Winter broke up, only to be revived by the metal festival circuit last decade. After suffering permanent ear damage at one such reunion show, Flam’s tower of metal collapsed once again. Now, he’s rebuilding a second time with Goden, a band that for all intents and purposes serves as the successor to Winter. Their first album, Beyond Darkness, adds a plethora of new tricks to Flam’s deck – spoken word segments, lush keyboards, and a heightened sense of melodrama. The music may be grim, but its sophistication and craft hint at good fortune in Goden’s future. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Lascar – Distant Imaginary Oceans

That a group like Lascar can live alongside Oozing Wound (below) and Cryptic Shift will never cease to astound me. Lascar is a Chilean atmospheric black metal one-man band, erring on the side of the raw and beautiful rather than the more meticulously produced shoegazing end of this microgenre. This is a trickier style to make work than is often given credit; the ingredients may be simple, but the tendency of this genre to tip quickly into eye-rolling cheese is an ever-present threat. Lascar stays on the other side of that boundary, however, maintaining a thorough and consistently melancholy feel like staring deep into the starry sky or the wine-dark sea without feeling like that emotional core is overstated or threatening to overstay its welcome. Distant Imaginary Oceans shines brightest when the layers of tremolo guitars and sullen mid-paced drums are laid on thickest, building to a fuzzy woolen blanket of negative emotion. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Mekong Delta – Tales of a Future Past

For those in the know, the name Mekong Delta alone will cause them to rejoice. These German thrashers are legends of the prog/tech metal spheres of the 80s in the pre-Dream Theater era, peers at a time to groups like Voivod, Watchtower and Coroner. Tales of a Future Past isn’t the sound of a band revolutionizing their approach to heavy metal, and why should it be? Mekong Delta’s devotional fusion of progressive rock and thrash feels as demented and fertile now as it ever did. Time-travel back to the ’80s with this record clutched in your hand, deliver it to the hungry forward-thinking metalheads then and you’d still see progressive metal vibrant in the present when you got back. Like the returns of Gorguts and Carcass in years past, this is a group we should remain ever-thankful are continuing to produce material the same power as their peak years. Order it from the band. – Langdon Hickman

Oozing Wound – Blech

Oozing Wound blend a flippant, tongue-in-cheek don’t-give-a-shit attitude with fuzzed-out, punked-up thrashing riffs, and Blech is no different. Sequencing your entire record as two long tracks like it’s a cassette? Opening the record with a Blink-182 cover? There’s something refreshing about Oozing Wound, one of the few bands that can poke fun at the self-seriousness of heavy metal and its iconography in one moment while offering clear and serious worship of its power in the next. Blech is deliberately looser than High Anxiety, contrasting that previous record’s intensely noisy approach to thrash with something much looser, almost like a demo/rehearsal tape passed off as a studio statement. Oozing Wound are a band that clearly loves metal but loves just as much having fun within the archetypal constraints of the genre; given their endlessly oozing charisma, it’s hard not to have fun right along with them. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Patrons of the Rotting Gate – Bathed in Ash

In 2013, Northern Ireland’s Patrons of the Rotting Gate released their first album, The Rose Coil, to little fanfare, whoever the album made a deep impressing on many by drawing disparate threads of extreme metal at the time into a cohesive whole. The sickening lurch of technical death metal. The outré augmented chords of orthodox black metal. The high-gain heaviness of deathcore or brutal death metal. All coexisted in sole musician Andrew Millar’s cauldron. I never expected Millar to return, but this month he released a second hour of oppressive heaviness as Patrons of the Rotting Gate. Even more so than The Rose Coil, Bathed in Ash overflows with fascinating touches: melodic bass runs hidden beneath oddly-EQ’d guitar riffs, choirs underpinning horrific screeches. Twinkling piano offsetting kick drum salvos. It’s like a little slice of one man’s private hell, intimately crafted for us to pour over in search of its most painful covert details. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Xibalba – Años en Infierno

If you’ve ever seen California’s Xibalba in the live setting, then you’ve seen the kind of raw, animalistic violence that their mix of Swedish death metal and American hardcore can produce. Their mosh pits are a battlefield. On their latest full length, Años en Infierno, they’ve honed their fury-inducing rhythmic skills and added a few new tricks besides. The one-two punch of the title track and “En la Oscuridad” deserve special mention as high-octane mosh fuel of nearly unrivaled purity. On the other hand, songs like “Saka” and both parts I and II of “El Abismo” bring the space and atmosphere that’s long lurked in the dark corners of their albums into the center without sacrificing the essential threatening attitude that is the band’s calling card. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

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