Advertisement

Mining Metal: Autarkh, Celestial Sanctuary, Demiser, Flesh of the Stars, Koldovstvo, Lunar Shadow, Mare Cognitum, Memoriam

A rundown of the best underground metal releases of March 2021

Mining Metal
Advertisement
Advertisement

“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.

The heavy metal community lost a real one this month. On March 7th, Swedish death metal vocalist L-G Petrov passed away after a battle with bile duct cancer. It’s the latest in a series of metal vocalists gone too young in the past twelve months, including Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom, and Riley Gale of Power Trip. Petrov was one of the musicians who brought death metal to the masses as the vocalist for Swedish legends Entombed.

A quick history lesson, while Entombed did not originate death metal in Sweden, they were the first of the genre’s firebrand practitioners in Stockholm to come out with a full-length album, The Left Hand Path, in 1990. They popularized the so-called Sunlight Sound, named after the studio where they and many of their contemporaries recorded. Even if you don’t know the Sunlight Sound, you’ve heard it — it’s a guitar tone that sounds vaguely like an electric saw (buzz or chain) most reliably created by the Boss HM-2 guitar pedal.

The Sunlight Sound’s influence can’t be understated — even when Entombed were past their touring and creative prime, bands kept forming just to experiment with it, including a swath of popular and excellent metallic hardcore bands in the mid-to-late aughts such as Trap Them and Black Breath. (It’s worth noting that the so-called Entombedcore wave has ebbed in favor of influence by another Earache band from the same time period whose sound casts a long shadow over this month’s selections in particular…).

But Entombed did not stop innovating at the HM-2. Their third album, Wolverine Blues, pioneered the oft-derided but also beloved by many (including yours truly) fusion style called death ‘n roll, which blended Entombed’s original sound with the garage and arena rock grooves of their obvious influences KISS and The Stooges. Wolverine Blues was one of the original death metal albums distributed by Columbia Records in 1993 (of course they released a version with Wolverine from The X-Men on the cover). Its title track got the MTV music video treatment, owing in part to Petrov’s blockbuster vocal delivery – “pound for pound I am the most vicious of all!”

That record helped put Sweden into the American metal scene’s wider consciousness as a hotbed for metallic innovation — of course extreme metal is more popular per capita in Scandinavia than anywhere else on the planet, now.

For my money, Entombed owed a great deal of their success to Petrov, whose intelligible growl often conveyed an approachable working-man’s perspective miles away from the effete and naval-gazing occultism of labelmates Morbid Angel, a band with similar influence. Petrov had a larger-than-life personality that made being a metal signer seem, well, fun!

Nowhere is that more evident than the band’s often overlooked fourth record, To Ride Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth. In my book, it’s Petrov’s best work even if it’s not the most iconic Entombed album.

This column is all about celebrating new or still up-and-coming metal bands, but many of the bands we cover wouldn’t exist without Petrov’s contributions – and despite his brief brush with major-label distribution, he was too often ignored by the metal intelligencia. Now’s the time to make that right – I invite you to bump that record at least once before taking a listen to this month’s extremely death metal-tinged selections. –Joseph Schafer

Autarkh – Form in Motion

Autarkh is about as strange as last month’s release by Emptiness – fitting, since both come courtesy of Season of Mist records. But whereas last month’s serving of blackened avant-garde riffage bordered on ambient soundscape, Autakh leans on electronics and industrial music for the backbone of debut album Form in Motion. Don’t mistake the unusual approach for novice wildness, though; Autarkh includes two former members of now-defunct progressive black metal outfit Dodecahedron, and the same dissonant fretboard acrobatics still exist behind this band’s glitchy programming and mathy skittering. If it doesn’t grab you at first, try to power through for the closing diptych of “Alignment” and “Zeit ist nur ine Illusion,” which somehow finds melodic connective tissue between Blut Aus Nord and a band like Periphery. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Celestial Sanctuary – Soul Diminished

Celestial Sanctuary take their name from a song on The IVth Crusade, an album by British death metal legends Bolt Thrower. So it’s unsurprising, then, that Soul Diminished mines many of their forebears rhythmic ideas, specifically the rolling double bass drum pattern affectionately called the Tank Beat, pioneered by drummer Andy Whale. It’s a common idiom now – bands like Frozen Soul, among others, are bringing it back into style – but Celestial Sanctuary do more with it than retread thirty year old ideas. Guitarist and vocalist Thomas Cronin remembers to include plenty of melody in his riffs – and then promptly cover them with more grime and distortion than his namesakes ever used. This is as good a time as any to say that drummer James Burke pulls double duty in The Infernal Sea, a band whose 2020 album very nearly appeared in this column. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Demiser – Through the Gate Eternal

Demiser emphatically do not play a hybrid of death, thrash, speed and traditional heavy metal that is new. These moves and concepts have been explored elsewhere, documented and well-worn. What they do, however, is strike right to the blood-soaked Satanic heart of heavy metal. If Mare Cognitum describes a kind of solar triumph embedded within the flesh of heavy metal, then Demiser accurately and compelling describe its wicked Satanic flames, abyssal caverns and cackling ghouls. Heavy metal, after all, is not just the triumph of the immortal spirit but also that of Satan, blackened and wicked, D&D covers and black candles dripping wax on torn posters. Demiser replace innovation with execution, a sharpness of craft and performance that brings to mind groups like Motorhead, Speedwolf and early Skeletonwitch, excellent company all. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Flesh of the Stars – Mirror/Vessels

No knock meant whatsoever to the phenomenal Pupil Slicer who also released a record with Mirrors in the title this month. That is an incredible unit rightfully getting a great deal of positive coverage and any fan of extreme music should check out that record and hope it is only the first in a lengthy career. But Flesh of the Stars released a much stranger and more elliptical record with the title, progressive not with time signatures necessarily but in strane dissolving cadences that feel like a scrying pool turning to mud or purple smoke in the hand. This is a haunting record, like walking down a twisting hallway, a castle of wax slowly contorting to German expressionistic canted angles. Its shocking compactness given the genre, clocking in at just about half an hour, makes it both endlessly repeatable as it is answerless and departing. It is like a doom metal koan, the gap between question and response. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Koldovstvo – Ни царя, ни бога

This record pours down like cold sheets of rain on warm earth, the maudlin blue splashing against the reds and greens and golds of the soil; the spray of water against fertile ground creates a mist, half-obscuring, through which figures can be seen in cloak, sword in hand, venturing somewhere far away. This is black metal that arcs back toward the mythic folkloric grandeur of heavy metal but without the presumed savagery of the genre. In its place is beauty and a lingering sadness, like watching templars and saracens depart for the fields that will one day be soaked in their blood to the gain of none. Obsequiae may have lost me with this style but Koldovstvo grab me not with fierceness but instead tenderness. There is a plaintive gesture by this fading figure in green and gold. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Lunar Shadow – Wish to Leave

Germany’s Lunar Shadow has had an unusual career arc. Their debut album, 2017’s Far from Light showcased a band deeply indebted to the epic side of traditional metal, albeit tempered with a gentle, almost plaintive emotional cadence. Then the band’s mercurial leader, guitarist Max Birbaum, diverged into more goth rock and post-punk inflected territory on sophomore offering The Smokeless Fires. Those wanting a return to the past won’t find it on Wish to Leave – this record all but completes Lunar Shadow’s mutation from denim and leather to leather and lace, plus a whole lot of eyeliner. That said, Birbaum and co wear their new personas rather well, putting them in the rare company of Unto Others (formerly Idle Hands) and now-defunct In Solitude in the upper tier of bands showing their love for both Iron Maiden and Joy Division. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Joseph Schafer

Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm

Rarely ever has Mare Cognitum sounded so thunderous as this. The one-man project may be known for its starbrained celestial black metal, drawing equally from progressive and atmospheric strains of the style, but on Solar Paroxysm there is a fresh injection of more direct heavy metal riffing that drives the compositions rather than letting them unfurl in atmospheric majesty. It is a somewhat bold change–how many bands that produce atmosphere-rich music fall to shambles when stripping themselves of those filling layers?–but Mare Cognitum’s sharp sense of melodic development and small accruing shifts in their riffs creates a compelling and still macro-scale developmental approach to the genre. This is music that sounds like thunder and steel from an open heart: this is heavy metal at its very finest. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Memoriam – To the End

Normally, Memoriam would be too-big of a band for me to include in this column. Let me explain – this band is a supergroup composed of UK death metal and crust veterans, which was originally intended to continue the legacy of Bolt Thrower, a band whose legacy is seeing a serious influence on the metal underground right now (see the Celestial Sanctuary entry above). Most notably, Memoriam features Bolt Thrower’s outspokenly political and charismatic vocalist, Karl Willets, who always seemed as though he had more to say than Bolt Thrower’s truncated career really allowed for, and joined by former members of Benediction and Sacrilege, among others, he seemed to finally have an outlet for that unspent creative juice. The band has recorded four albums in five years or mostly-uneven quality (though I like all of them) but To the End is far and away the best, and the first to rise to the challenge laid down by Willet’s former outfit in part because it’s the least Bolt Thrower-y record he’s done. Sure, Opener “Onwards into Battle” delivers more mid paced melodeath fury albeit with more conviction than Memoriam has mustered in the past, but second track “This War is Won” kicks into a faster more energetic gear – it’s a revelation. The rest of the track list offers more surprises. “Mass Psychosis” delves into Killing Joke-ish post punk par excellence. Closer “As My Heart Grows Cold” is even better, melding trampling death metal with almost sea shanty-ish folk and crust worthy of dearly departed Amebix. Against all odds, it’s a strong Album of the Year contender. Buy it from Reaper Music. – Joseph Schafer

Advertisement