Mining Metal: The Best Underground Albums We Missed in 2021

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·8 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The post Mining Metal: The Best Underground Albums We Missed in 2021 appeared first on Consequence.

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.

Inevitably, we come across albums that we’d like to cover but don’t. More than eight good underground metal albums come out during most months, even when the scope of “underground” is narrowed to labels without dedicated distribution.

But not every month. January is typically a fallow season for metal records, as people recuperate from the holiday season and begin planning their upcoming year. Because we dedicated December to our annual best-of list, we decided to spend this column covering a few bits and bobs we missed in 2021.

Rest assured, we’ll be back to our normal cadence in February. Until then, happy digging. – Joseph Schafer

Aethereus – Leiden

The collaborator list, featuring members from Flub, Equipose, Vitriol and Inferi, give a sense of precisely what kind of progressive and technical metal this will be, not to mention the cover art and titling ethos. On paper, this might read as a slight, a band that plays safely within the idiom of their genre, but again, the point of music isn’t merely in novelty and breaking new ground but also executing well the forms that have already been made. This is the weight of Leiden; these players know this style as well as they know their instruments and, thank god, use that power to steer their songs away from the cliches and shapes that can sometimes make this stuff boring. No mindless, endless sweeps, no hyper-robotic playing, and even an ear for mixing that treasures the bottom end and a sense of highlighting the grooves and rhythmic patterns of these songs over a high pitched tak tak tak of the strings and drums. This is simply good death metal, and that will forever be my catnip. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Aquilus – Bellum I

The end of the year brought this glorious surprise to my attention. Ten years ago, Horace “Waldorf” Rosenqvist released Griseus his sole full-length as one-man black metal outfit Aquilus. For those in the know, that record was something of a revelation, a sprawling, arch fusion of atmospheric black metal with delicate folk passages reminiscent of what my untrained ears can only call “fancy” classical music. After that, relative silence except for a few limited physical releases of the 80-minute epic. After a decade, though, Rosenqvist has released Bellum I, a follow-up that doesn’t differ stylistically from Griseus but does feature more lush instrumentation and a deeper sound. At an hour long, it’s shorter than its predecessor, but judging by the title, we won’t have to wait another 10 years for more Aquilus. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Ethereal Shroud – Trisagion

The common deficit of black metal here, at least for me, isn’t because I don’t love the style but instead that so often it fails to deliver for me what I go to it for. This is music, at its best, of a kind of spiritual fervor, one that surpasses even the atheistic shell around my heart to get me to succumb briefly by the power of art to these kinds of higher visions. All this is to say Trisagion stokes the inner fire in me in a way I haven’t felt since Schammasch’s impeccable Triangle or longer if gazing back to Light Bearer’s work. These songs are oceans to be lost in, replacing the mice and busted air conditioners of working class American apartment life with the whipping winds before the hidden throne of god, erasing the cold glass and uncomfortable bench of the bus stop with the burning star buried in the mountain of god. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle

This has to be the single most creative metal album I’ve heard all year. In fact, I don’t think I’ve been this taken aback by a band’s sheer willingness to disregard genre tropes since I first heard Zeal & Ardor. Nominally a technical death metal band of the glossy and hi-fi variety, First Fragment go far afield of their peers. Their sophomore effort is a brain-blasting epic that incorporated fretless slapped bass, acoustic flamenco guitar, and triumphant power metal melodies that make Dragonforce sound reserved. The thing that sends me as a listener into the twilight zone, though, is the “Swingdowns.” Picture Dying Fetus and Jaco Pastorious trying to imitate a Buddy rich-style big band, and you’ll have some idea of what I mean. These sections are cheesy, absurd, ridiculous, and anathema for people who take their metal extra seriously. But they’re also brave. What they lack in moderation, they make up for with flawless execution. Simply, Gloire Éternelle needs to be heard to be believed. Is it perfect? No. At 70 minutes long, including a 20-minute posse-cut of soloists, it’s far too much to handle in one sitting. Seriously, this should have been an album and a companion EP. For all its melody, it’s also not the most memorable technical death metal album of the year (that’s Archspire). But it’s exciting and one-of-a-kind, challenging the boundaries of good taste and “metal taste” alike, and if you’re the kind of person who feels that art should be challenging, then you owe this technicolor gauntlet at least one fair spin. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Hyperdontia – Hideous Entity

In 2018, Hyperdontia’s first album, Nexus of Teeth, made a stir in the greasiest and most cavernous halls of the death metal revival. Fans of blown-out distortion and merciless percussion flocked to this international outfit, spearheaded by Istanbul’s Mustafa Gürcalioglu. If I’m honest, though, my favorite thing about the band was their logo. However, their second record represents a dramatic improvement in songwriting and execution. The songs on Hideous Entity still come across as asymmetrical masses of squirming tentacles and gnashing teeth, but a little clarity makes all the difference. When I hear “Coils of Wrath,” I can imagine the light reflecting off the dripping music of the Lovecraftian horror that the music conjures, and I’m all the more terrified for it. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Mur – Cut the Rivers Vein

My inner American comes out in the world of doom metal. The epic doom of Europe with its baroque figures and warbling vocals at times leaves me cold. So to say that I found myself at home when pressing play on Mur’s latest record, a combination of black metal, doom, post-metal and American folk, would be a vast understatement. They touch on similar spaces covered by Sumac and Yob less because of clear or deliberate attempts to copy but more from attempting to mine the same emotional space with the same musical tools. That’s more than fine by me; sidling up comfortably against two of the best American groups going, producing music that is raw and heartfelt where the heaviness comes like a hammer to your (raw) heart rather than shifting minor thirds and operatic vocals, is always a plus in my book. I cried at my desk to this record the first time through. What bigger cosign is there? Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Phrenelith – Chimaera

OK, everything I wrote above about Hyperdontia goes double for Phrenelith. Their debut LP, 2017’s Desolate Endscape, perfectly mirrored its title and album art. Listening to it felt like driving over 40 miles of lava-specked road in a used jeep with no suspension. Some loved it. I wanted off the ride. In contrast, Chimaira feels more like whipping around fog-choked mountain streets in a Rolls Royce Phantom. It’s much smoother but also more obscure and atmospheric. I feel more suspense, but I also feel a greater sense of fun when songs like “Awakening Titans” kick in. Some fans don’t want fun in this kind of black, cinematic death metal. Instead, they prefer a constant brutal assault. I still hear the danger in their soundscapes, but it’s less molten projectiles falling from the sky and more eldritch hunters hidden in the mist. But I applaud Phrenelith for reworking their approach without sacrificing any of their tenacity or musicality. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Reveal! – Doppelherz

This is mutant black metal, the kind that breaks apart in a haze of opium smoke and lysergia, jaw splitting to tongues, giving birth to half-mad rock and roll. Occult rock tossed into the black metal pot has always produced some interesting concoctions, from the greats of In Solitude and Tribulation to intriguing smaller figures like Year of the Goat and the various spin-offs of The Devil’s Blood. Reveal! split the difference between these two camps, having more of that swinging heavy rock vibe than a post-punk or prog-flecked blackened approach but still retaining the harsher vocals and occasional tendency to feisty blast beats that give these songs a bit more bite. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Mining Metal: The Best Underground Albums We Missed in 2021
Joseph Schafer and Langdon Hickman

Popular Posts

Subscribe to Consequence of Sound’s email digest and get the latest breaking news in music, film, and television, tour updates, access to exclusive giveaways, and more straight to your inbox.