“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 comes as the days shorten and bitter cold suffuses the atmosphere across much of the world. This is the season for black metal, that most coldhearted of metal subgenres, which peddles hummingbird-speed guitar playing and ultra-high-pitched vocal shrieking. Unintentionally, your two hosts have picked eight records almost totally dominated by that most polarizing musical style, so feel free to apply corpse pain before reading further.
We’ve also picked a somewhat eclectic and under-the-radar suite of albums, even by the standards of this column. Metal labels tend to slow their release schedule for the holiday season and take some time to rev up production again in the new year, meaning the next few months offer some room for less hyped albums to make themselves known. The riches fall from the sky like snow for the next few months. Let’s enjoy it.
Aggressive Perfector – Havoc at the Midnight Hour
Formed almost entirely of members of UK melodic black metal marauders Wode and also named after a Judas Priest song, Aggressive Perfector don’t perform traditional metal or black metal per se. Rather, the hard-driving tunes on their debut album, Havoc at the Midnight Hour, evoke the outlaw antics of Venom and Motörhead, and they do so with aplomb. Songs like “Turbo Evil” traffic in D-beats and shout-along choruses, making for a rollicking listen totally deserving of the Hammer Horror-esque cover art. Aggressive Perfector isn’t the only act digging up black metal’s roots for nutrition — Midnight’s whole career works with similar ideas — but they’re near the head of the pack when it comes to evoking that most metal of sensations: riding a motorcycle through a graveyard at the witching hour. Buy it from Dying Victim Productions. –Joseph Schafer
Caina – Gentle Illness
Caina’s creative mastermind and current sole member Andrew Curtis-Brignell has been remarkably open about his struggles not just with mental health and life on the autism spectrum but also the parallel war for healthcare rights, something necessary in that battle. Caina was an immensely powerful post-black metal band and a whipsmart political group before, but the shift to more broadly avant-garde and progressive music albeit one with a strong core of black metal opened up the doors for a much more granular and real statement. The soundscapes on previous records like Christ Clad In White Phosphorous seemed perfectly designed for the mind of the sufferer of maladies, but on Gentle Illness the songs are placed in the confines of the hospital room and mental health ward, reflecting real experiences, creating a more emotionally intense and profound black metal record than most Icewind cosplayers with paper-thin production could ever muster. Buy it from Apocalyptic Witchcraft. –Langdon Hickman
The Deathtrip – Demon Solar Totem
After a five-year gap between releases, obscure UK black metal outfit The Deathtrip return with a sophomore album of highly eccentric and esoteric dark guitar music. Founding guitarist Host is the manager of Peaceville Records, a label well known for bringing bands like Paradise Lost, Opeth, and My Dying bride to wide attention, and naturally, his project traffics in gothic grandeur, droning guitar cycles and thick layers of instrumentation. More notably, Demon Solar Totem marks the first extreme metal record in years by singer Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, whom fans may know best as the singer in folk outfit Hexvessel and goth rock superstars Grave Pleasures. McNerny delivered a few of extreme metal’s most unique vocal performances in the ‘00s with Code and Dodheimsgard. His proficiency in blood-curdling screams, as well as melodic mantras, makes for a harrowing listen. Buy it from Svart Records. –Joseph Schafer
Hypno5e – A Distant (Dark) Source
French post-metal band Hypno5e have been at it for a long time filing away strong record after strong record for critically acclaimed band The Ocean’s vanity label Pelagic Records for years now, but with little attention. Let’s change that. Hypno5e play a form of post-metal that will be familiar to long-time listeners of The Ocean, which explains in a way the signing, but spruce up their compositions by largely focusing on long-form multipart works, ambient sections, and even a few djent and death metal passages for flavor. The result is a rich and complex album of four gargantuan tracks and an outro that still tops the seven-minute mark, songs that earn that length by both the number of ideas and the group taking the proper care and effort to blend them one to the next. Hypno5e are a rich and gratifying band defending what progressive metal can be at its peak. Let’s all stop sleeping on them. Buy it from Pelagic Records. –Langdon Hickman
Necropanther – The Doomed City
Hailing from the heavy metal hotbed of Denver, Colorado, Necropanther may have a goofy name, but their third album, The Doomed City, is no joke. Sharp and tight, the band’s sound avoids subgenre tropes and instead aims for raw aggression levied by verse-chorus-verse song structures. A concept album based on the classic dystopian sci-fi film Logan’s Run, the record moves at a breakneck pace, for the most part, delivering its hooks in tight clusters before moving on to the next song as if it’s fighting for its right to live much the same way its protagonist does. Drummer Haakon Sjogren and bassist Marcus Corich both handled rhythm duties for thrash revivalists Havok in the past, and their experience shows in their playing. Frankly, I’m shocked a band this professional-sounding hasn’t gotten more attention nationally. Buy it from Bandcamp. -Joseph Schafer
Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings
As far as tongue-in-cheek metal microgenres go, it doesn’t get much nerdier (or more delightful) than castle metal. The hyper-niche blend of folky black metal and medieval melodies had a tiny boom in the late ‘90s, but may have found its true king right now with Minnesota’s Tanner Anderson. It’s unclear from which of his home state’s thousand lakes he pulled Excalibur, but as composer and vocalist in Obsequiae, Anderson rules with stately majesty. On their third album, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings, the band harnesses a unique and compelling lead guitar tone, offset with gentle harp interludes derived from authentic medieval vocal arrangements. Blast this one while you’re defending your keep from invading hordes. Buy it from 20 Buck Spin. –Joseph Schafer
Öxxö Xööx – Ÿ
One of the best examples of the potential breadth of progressive metal beyond its stereotyped image. The band Öxxö Xööx combine elements of gothic music and doom metal but also shards of black metal, experimental electronic music, choral music, and technical/progressive metal tropes. The easiest comparison might be Deconstruction/Ziltoid-era Devin Townsend, theatricality and incredible stage dress very much included, but without the obviousness of the humor. There is an understated sense of self-awareness of the dramatic pitch and intense uniqueness to their approach to experimental and avant-garde extreme metal music. And it’s smart that they do away with all those potential barriers because, like all the best progressive and experimental music, once you enter fully into Ÿ, you will be floored. Very few bands are this creative and this seemingly unbound by sonic barriers. Buy it from Blood Music. –Langdon Hickman
Schammasch – Hearts of No Light
It’s strange to view a 67-minute album as short, but when your previous record was not only 100 minutes long spread over three discs but also very nearly perfect, the thought begins to make sense. Granted, as the length would imply, a more concise statement from Schammasch is still one bearing many angles, making it highly unlikely that any who are interested in the artful potential heights of black metal coming away unfulfilled from this one. Moods span from the gothic to the raw, from the melodic to the avant-garde, orchestral arrangements weaving in and out without feeling either like cornball overkill or cliche placeholder garbage. Schammasch are, simply, a band that works very hard at the fine details of their songs, work which pays off in the quality of the precise constellation of ideas their songs deploy. Buy it from Prosthetic Records. –Langdon Hickman