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.
“Listen to them, children of the night, what music they make.”
Even casual film buffs probably recognize that line, and not just because Tribulation titled an album after it. It was spoken by Bela Lugosi in the titular role of Dracula in the 1931 film. If you’ve never seen the movie, now’s the time, since it’s Halloween, and thanks to streaming it’s more readily available than probably any other film of its generation.
But if you get a chance, watch the Spanish-language version, too. Moodier and more luxurious in its portrayal of seductive evil, it’s probably the better film (with the same sets!) even though Lugosi doesn’t speak that iconic line in it.
What does any of this have to do with metal music? Well, one band in this column lists vampirism as a lyrical conceit, and several of them at least aim for the gothic romanticism of Dracula.
But more importantly, the story of the two 1931 Dracula films tells us something about the power of America’s cultural centrism — more people in the world speak Spanish than English, but more people know about Lugosi’s Dracula than the Spanish-language film of the same name made by the same company, even though it’s often regarded as the better film.
Similarly, the music press puts great emphasis on English-language bands, even though metal is at least as popular in Central and South America, if not more so. I can’t remember the last time a band from south of the border landed in a top album of the year poll in any American metal press outlet (Nervosa might crack that this year, but more of their members are from Europe than Brazil, now). The bias goes deeper than new bands, too — next year’s Mexico Metal fest will unite the Big 4 of German thrash bands (Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and Tankard) plus Hellhammer on one stage, a first for this hemisphere, if not the world. If there’s been much hoopla about that event in the English-language press, I’ve missed it.
Mining Metal is no different. We’ve covered almost exclusively American bands this year, though we’ve maintained our focus on the underground. As we begin winding down for the year, we begin thinking about ways to improve this column in the future; we begin to think of our metal kin from less-spotlighted parts of the world. I’m still working on a good process for finding more metal from outside the narrow scope of what my inbox can offer, but in the meantime, here’s plenty of riches for the month.– Joseph Schafer
Abstracter – Abominion
This is a band I have followed since their debut for exactly the reason they appear here. There was a time post-metal meant you were grounded in one of the two prime texts: Neurosis or Godflesh. Abstracter are clearly driven by both; post-sludge metal, with all the abrasiveness and scouring power of that corrosive genre at its peak, set to the meditative catharsis of Neurosis, but now with just a dash of black metal to set the tone. This is spiritual music, like moons rattling together or, as per their debut record, a tomb of feathers. We talk often of music being oppressive, but bad production is rarely as oppressive as the kind of skin-liquifying spiritual intensity of music like this. I’ve missed them. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Conjureth – Majestic Dissolve
San Diego’s Conjureth released not one but two excellent EP’s last year — Foul Formations and The Levitation Manifest — and I heard both just a little too late to include them in this column. But that doesn’t mean their debut full-length, Majestic Dissolve, is some kind of mulligan. Rather, it’s the real deal, a rock-solid slab of extreme metal from the nexus of thrash and death metal, juxtaposing murky, howling vocals with sharp and highly melodic solos. To be sure these songs take serious practice to perform, but the band’s fretboard acrobatics come out of that sweet spot where technique is necessary but ‘technical’ doesn’t feel like the appropriate adjective. They’re less interested in showing off, and more interested in shoving as many sick riffs into a single song as they can, which makes for a pretty magnificent debut. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
Fire-Toolz – Eternal Home
Like Formless Body before, Fire-Toolz produces a fusion of vaporwave, black metal and prog metal that feels, unlike how the genre tag sometimes presents itself, truly progressive. The beautiful thing about Fire-Toolz though is that they also seem to produce everything else all of the time, from hip-hop to soft rock to jazz fusion to glitch and breakbeat and more. The vast kaleidoscopic beauty of this record is its sense of scope and ambition. This is music that sincerely sounds like it isn’t just from the future but that it dreams of the future, wants to drag us further forward. What is SOPHIE made music? That would be heaven. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Kowloon Walled City – Piecework
Once upon a time, Kowloon Walled City was one of the fabled post-metal bands du jour, back when that genre’s supremacy over the art metal landscape seemed unassailable. In the intervening years, the band has leaned into precisely the element that made them interesting and set them apart: their noise rock and post-hardcore influence. In this, they join good company with Pyrrhon, a band who likewise abandoned the purity of their once-narrow metal space to join into the same vast and formless waters. Piecework is Kowloon at thus-documented peak powers, fusing The Jesus Lizard and Fugazi to Neurosis. Come be miserable with me. Buy it on Bandcamp.
Light of the Morning Star – Charnel Noir
Of course, UK gothic black-and-roll outfit Light of the Morning Star chose to release their sophomore LP, Charnel Noir on the first of October — this is vampire music, as indebted to the horror rock tradition as it is ravishing grimness, and ideal for the Halloween season. Sole musician and vocalist O-A adeptly marries arena rock beats with dissonant guitar chords, and uses both as a platform for mumbly and melancholic vocals. There’s hooks on the choruses, but the verses sound like he’s sipping wine in he dark and thinking up new ways to use his sex dungeon in some satanic magick ritual. When he’s not brooding, he’s piercing the gloom with single-note synth hits as sharp as a slasher flick villain’s knife. If your idea of a seasonal get together is re-enacting the opening scene of Tony Scott’s The Hunger, this record is for you. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
The Silver – Ward of Roses
Out of all the albums released this month, Ward of Roses excites me the most. On their debut album, The Silver expertly mines the often-imitated-but-rarely-improved-upon sound of the earliest Opeth and Katatonia records. Misty, mournful and mysterious, their music uses intricately layered guitar, distant howls, emotive clean singing and subtle rhythmic change-ups to create transportive and cinematic extreme metal when I listen to their music, i truly do feel that I’m standing on the crest of some ancient fortress, overlooking a foggy moor, so clearly that I can see it. To be sure, this music is progressive in that it pushed metal into highly evocative territory and also requires discipline to play — The Silver shares members with Horrendous and Crypt Sermon, no slouches in the talent department — but I wouldn’t call it “prog.” Hell, if there’s one improvement they’ve made on the music that seems to have inspired them, it’s that they know how to finish a song in less than six minutes and still tell a complete story. This one’s on my top albums of the year list, for sure. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer
Sunless – Ylem
There is little on this earth that I would favor more than death metal. Sunless definitely are working in an iterative mode here, building off of the wave of dissonant and technically-driven progressive death metal releases that have been the bread and butter of the non-OSDM death metal world for some time now. What matters though is the sharpness of their craft, how studied their riffs and compositions are. Like Worm, who choose instead mastery over innovation and shockingly achieve it, Sunless pursue a fusion of ideals explored by Cynic, Gorguts and the combination of star- and spirit-gazing of the more high-minded death metallers of history. This is death metal of the temple and altar; this is beautiful thing. I love death metal. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman
Worm – Foreverglade
As longtime readers of this column have probably guessed, I tend to like my music fast, and dynamic. Nothing much slower than AC/DC tends to get my blood pumping, with few exceptions. But those exceptions to the rule are glorious. Case in point, Worm, whose third album is a sprawling bullet-time trudge through an oppressive music wilderness. It’s fittingly titled Foreverglade, and I can think of two things it has in common with the marshland that gives it its name. First, its beauty ought to be preserved for future generations to experience . Second, there’s definitely carnivorous teeth lurking beneath its surface. So, where does Worm succeed for me where, say, Evoken fails? For one, Worm has a finely-tuned sense of melody expressed in reverb-soaked lead guitar and magisterial synth beds. For another, they have an almost intuitive ability to know when a slow bit’s about to go on too long, and then change gear into a machine-gun drum-driven gator attack, as on opener “Murk Above the Dark Moor.” This one’s a must-listen. Buy it via 20 Buck Spin. – Joseph Schafer