Mining Metal is a monthly column from Heavy Consequence contributing writers Langdon Hickman and Colin Dempsey. 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.
I was laid off from my full-time gig one month ago. I won’t detail the arduous job search which has consumed most of my free time because, for one, this is a column about metal and, secondly, there are writers with greater grasps on the job market who have more poignantly described the ridiculousness of finding a job in 2023. Not a fulfilling, meaningful, and high-payment form of employment, but a job. The hoops required to jump through have only become more narrow while growing in number.
As a coping mechanism, metal has overpowered all other music genres in my recent listening habits. That’s not strange given the time of year (October is the month for Type O Negative, after all), but it didn’t block out everything else because of its proximity to horror. Instead, it concerns how music, especially in non-commercial spheres, has always reckoned with the individual’s lack of power in the face of large corporate entities and their relationships with governing bodies. The tension beneath these pressures is paramount to music as it’s often the only way some people can release their frustrations in a manner others can empathize. Metal distinguishes itself by weaponizing defeatism and transforming it from apathy to energy. It intentionally rallies against market forces, often to its fiscal detriment. Whether that’s purely on musical standards (take Bell Witch’s Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate from April, an album whose single track clocks in at over 80 minutes) or by spitting in the face of search engine optimization (Ὁπλίτης is nigh-impossible to find through Google if you can’t read Ancient Greek).
Yet, rarely do these choices feel reactionary — they are necessary. Like we must breathe to survive, metal’s unyielding nature is inherent to its longevity. It’s at its peak when it’s at its most stubborn. While hardcore punk is arguably more anti-commercial, it has a baked-in communal mindset so you’re never entirely alone. Meanwhile, solitary genres like ambient or IDM champion the individual’s exploration into devices and sounds that, potentially against their will, have been co-opted by commercial forces. Conversely, metal is rooted in self-identification in spite of the numerous great records that grappled with doubt and identity. In the face of every reason not to, metal places its faith in itself. It believes it will succeed on its own terms and defines that success for itself. It’s not a libertarian ideal, but a faith that the individual matters for their inherent worth, their contributions that only they can provide, that they matter because they’re alive.
All of this is to say that metal comforts in uncertain times. It doesn’t matter how strange, heavy, distorted, or repugnant a release can be; so long as it’s true, it will resonate with someone. It is headstrong even in dire circumstances. The eight albums collected here cover a spectrum of extremity and ambition. Some are even perfect for Halloween, depending on how much stock you put into your costumes and epic fantasy.
– Colin Dempsey
Before we get started, some brief shout-outs to great records we sadly didn’t have room for this month. (Curse you, limitations of publication!) First off, the stellar new record by Restless Spirit, which elaborates in the same post-stoner progressive heavy metal space as Elder, early Baroness and Boss Keloid. Likewise, the new record from BLODET, which is vast and brooding and perfect for grim autumnal fixations. Last but not least, the debut from The Keening, picking up right where all-time greats SubRosa left off with their impeccable progressive doom, here stripped of most all of its metal for grandiloquent and gruesome gothic odes. And on with the show!
– Langdon Hickman
Afterbirth – In But Not Of
As you may have noticed from my constant repetition of the sentiment that death metal is the greatest musical form humanity has made yet and by my constant sneaking of straightforward progressive rock records into this column, I am a massive fan of both styles of music. So imagine my immense child-like glee when I pop on the new record by prog/slam brutal death metal band Afterbirth and the songs, much like Tomb Mold’s latest, are instrumentally more or less ecstatic stargazing progressive rock, Voivodian and cybernetic in their beauty, while the vocals are disgusting toilet sounds. Admittedly Afterbirth skew more in an avant-garde direction than Tomb Mold did for this style of progressive death metal, tapping into more thrash and elements that feel closer to the last couple Behold the Arctopus records at times. The way the cover reads like a 90s Vertigo comics reinterpretation of their last album Four-Dimensional Flesh is an added treat. I imagine this one will be overlooked by many but will grow in esteem over the years; get in on this now. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Auriferous Flame – Ardor for Black Mastery
Given Ayloss’ other projects’ expansive visions (i.e., Spectral Lore and Mystras), one could predict that Auriferous Flame is his way of relaxing via basic drumming and a few warm-up riffs. You know, low-pressure, low-ambition, and high-energy music that’s more a palate-cleanser for the active party than an actual musical excursion. However, such a low vision doesn’t seem possible for Ayloss. Ardor for Black Mastery is the vessel through which he connects with black metal in its purest form, one which predates corpse paint and intentional obfuscation and instead brims with regality and blackened thrash power. Hearing Ayloss play metal this primitive yet ambitious (five tracks run more than 7 minutes) shouldn’t be surprising given his previous projects. However, what’s most notable is how he contextualizes this record. To him, it’s a triumph over his self-imposed beliefs — that he could never make an album like this that felt true to him. That victorious spirit runs through its lengthy tracks and transforms into a more vital being than what the recording encompasses. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey
Dream Unending/Worm – Starpath
Only just a month or so ago I was bemoaning the fact that the only (very real) downside of that incredible Tomb Mold album was that it likely meant Dream Unending was going on ice for a bit. That we receive 25 minutes worth of new material across two long tracks, both of which are equally as strong as the might longer trackers on their sophomore record but now with more maudlin of the Well-style jazzy progressive flourish, is a wonderful boon. That it comes coupled with yet another 20-ish minute sampling of new material from Worm, who are slowly evolving themselves into a “blue album cover” black metal band bedecked with insane shred soloing is only a further treat. 2023 has been 20 Buck Spin’s year as a label: this is yet another of many reasons why. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Ὁπλίτης – Ἀντιτιμωρουμένη
Ὁπλίτης, anglicized as Hoplites, have gone underappreciated thus far in 2023. Let’s rectify that. The Chinese one-man act has released three albums this year (four, if you count his work as Vitriolic Sage), each crossing the plains between technicality, aggression, and artful design. Ἀντιτιμωρουμένη, the latest in Hoplites’ canon, was written in five days, and while such a short incubation period could be worrisome, it benefits the record by tightening its reigns. Ὁπλίτης had a few key concepts in mind while conceiving Ἀντιτιμωρουμένη; track the nastiest riffs possible, kill Zeus, and waste not a single second. Each track plays like an audio equivalent of a dried mango — without an ounce of water and an extremely saturated taste. Thematically, it details the interactions between Zeus and the maiden he attempts to seduce, Leda, by taking the form of a swan. You wouldn’t know this from the music or the lyrics, but such backstory being packaged behind all the album’s fury feels like bonus content atop an already stellar album. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey
Laster – Andermans Mijne
At first, the tag “obscure dance music” that Laster refer to themselves with seems pretentious. IDM already exists, yet Andermans Mijne is nothing like it, and Laster are better known as a black metal group, so what gives? Of course, once you lend the record and that genre tag an ounce of respect and hear it out, it makes sense. Also, Laster hail from Utrecht, Netherlands, a city whose approach to black metal demonstrated by bands like Grey Aura and Terzij de Horde is as loose as they come. As such, it only makes sense that Andermans Mijne plays like an alternative rock band got incredibly invested in post-metal, black metal, and Bauhaus. The album bounces like a post-punk jam, especially on “Poetische waarheid,” demonstrating how genre notions are inherently silly and can easily disintegrate. Yet, in that sense, Laster are an incredibly metal band, rejecting any path but their own, regardless of how impenetrable “obscure dance music” reads on paper. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey
The Lion’s Daughter – Bath House
What a mind-bogglingly tough final slot to decide on. As you saw in the intro, three other bands got short shout-outs: be sure to check those out too. But the Lion’s Daughter is a band I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time but hadn’t ever been able to for a variety of factors and suddenly can. I’ve been a huge fan of this band for years and years, going back to Existence Is Horror from 2016. This record continues the long, beautiful arc roughly begun on that record, fusing synthwave to sludge metal, progressive metal, black metal and touches of grind a la Fuck the Facts et al. It’s a sick record, gleaming and evil, like rain coating a black car with a killer in the backseat, some lipless toothed horror like a Cenobite in the frontseat. There’s a sense of both real malice as well as pinky eruptive fire here that feels often like the evil, violent twin of the synth-painted night rain soundscapes of Deftones, a soundtrack for when the drugs go bad in the vein and you begin doing things you will come to regret. What an unbelievably potent band. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
OWDWYR – Receptor
I feel as though I dreamed up OWDWYR and my mind, riven with this rattling image, fixated on it so profoundly it emerged into the real. A death metal band that lurches to both ends of the style, both the Ur-progressive and technical as well as the blasty, slammy, grindy wings. A group that fits in arrangements of Arvo Part, Radiohead and Allan Holdsworth into music that sounds like the way we all kind of hoped Between the Buried and Me would land on but never quite did. A record that feels like if Deconstruction-era Devin Townsend had replaced the humor with flashes of Opeth, Artisan Era-style tech death and the imperious riffs of Immolation. Death metal is a hell of a lot of things and I love each in their own way, facets of one of the only perfect gems of this life and world, which is often so ugly and gruesome. OWDWYR is seemingly all of them. My god I can’t believe they are real. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Vertebra Atlantis – A Dialogue With The Eeriest Sublime
After a certain point, you approach metal records expecting a challenge. You want to be shown new realms, unfamiliar territories, and foreign ideas. A Dialogue With The Eeriest Sublime is one such album, a work as sonically thick, dense, heavy, weighty, and solid as it is conceptually intriguing. For one, this is a blackened death metal album that sounds nothing like war metal and shares more in common with classic heavy music, evident in the sweeping harmonies that close “Drown in Aether, Sovereign of Withered Ardor.” The other distinctive elements, though there are many, but let’s limit them to two, are the flutes and the grooves. While they rarely overlap, they’re integral to Vertebra Atlantis in 2023. The grooves are gluttonous while the flute marks “Desperately Ablaze, From The Lowest Lair” as a high-fantasy spectacle. Both are the only handrails Vertera Atlantis offer until you’re acquainted with the tracks, as until then, you’ll feel overwhelmed, which is exactly what you should want. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey