HomeaflBest Underground Metal Albums of January 2024

Best Underground Metal Albums of January 2024

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.

It comes in three, of course: a friendship ending suddenly, an infection in my hand, and a scare that I might be let go from my day job. An auspicious start to the year, certainly. Each resolved in turn; life is, if nothing else, an endurance race, with the fact that nothing lasts forever — a silent yearning to endure, endure, until the tides beat back against themselves and all ships fight themselves righted again (or, depending on your desires, smashed against the rocks). It’s an election year again, and it’s looking to be a brutal one. Genocidal war rages across the ocean, with refugee camps the target of weapons paid for by the United States, shipped with post-it notes lightly chastising but never, ever stopping their use. Infection, it seems, is a sign of imperfection. After all, a bacteria can’t take root if the phalanx of antibodies and protective symbiotic bacteria are doing their noble duty. But I wary of the overuse of health metaphors for the state of the populace: they reek a bit too much, perhaps, of some fascistic intent. (What is considered part of the body and what an invader? What is a native cell and what is a symbiotic one, easily and remorselessly flushed to keep the body alive? What organs can be sacrificed and which cannot?)

It is, at least, a fitting time for some truly harrowing extreme metal. There are a few missing records here, ones you might have seen elsewhere. This is, again, as much in part to provide you something new and distinct here compared to elsewhere as it is a reflection of how we are feeling. After all, in the days of sterilized Spotify playlists (thanks for demonetizing the vast majority of your library, by the way), a mere name on a list matters less than the sense that a record meant something to someone. Is it ever in bad taste to turn to art in times of terror? How many great plays, novels and poems were written in the midst of World War II, unable to stop even a single day of terror on any of the continents of its many theaters, each nation waging their own silent genocidal wars? Ah, but I apologize. Heavy times make for a heavy mind and that makes, at least for people like me and Colin, for heavy listening. An earlier draft of this column entry had a space rock record from Slift and a prog record from Ellesmere on here, both superlative efforts, and I even considered including the newest installment of The Chronicles of Father Robin. Ultimately, however, these felt ill-suited for the shape of my mood as it developed. Colin, to his great credit, always represents the crusted and weird wings of black metal in his selections. So this month, we give you a slate of spiritual terrors from harrowed hearts. Ah, but the trick is to outlast it, yes? But what if the black racer speeds on faster than our feet carry us? Alas, alas.

Langdon Hickman

Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze – The Fractal Ouroboros

It’s always frightening when a promising group goes silent for an extended spell, especially when that group does so in the midst of COVID, which wound up taking many many projects from us. So it was with tremendous relief that I saw Bull of Apis announce they had a new record in the can, and then exceeding delight when I finally heard it and found it to be better than the previous in every metric. Their typical blend of more ritualistic and occult leanings with strident leftwing politics are intact here, but the vocals have more menace and presence, the riffs have a bit more air around them which lets them feel a bit more savage and articulated, and the drum sound is great. All distortion is “bad” sound, per se, but the right bad sound is the endless tonal pursuit of every rock or metal group of worth. They nailed it here. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Dwelling Below – Self-Titled

I literally half-sprinted to my computer from my car where I was listening to this to find, after much agony and consternation, one album I could cut to make room. This is such a gnarly record: Four long tracks, my favorite approach in extreme metal, sitting in a syrupy and surreal place between death and doom, often feeling more like if Primus got off a very bad trip and started fusing in your brain with Morbid Angel. There is a seasickness to this music, a slipperiness in the bends and burble of the bass that make it sounds as if it is at times legitimately melting in your ears, an ooze barely able to hold shape. It’s a thing I’ve come to value more than even riffs themselves a lot of times: a jazzy sense of forcefulness and color to the playing, where the act of playing itself conveys a feeling separate from just the chordal or melodic information. But most importantly: this is despairing, bleak, nasty. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Ὁπλίτης – Παραμαινομένη

You should pay attention to Ὁπλίτης (Greek for “hoplites”) if you haven’t already. You had three albums last year to get on board with their hyper-kinetic-technical-black-metal-grindcore, each one improving upon its predecessor and furthering sole member Liu Zhenyang’s deep dive into reviving Ancient Greek. The coolest thing about this project is that it’s just an excuse for him to bring the language back from the dead. The second coolest thing is that Παραμαινομένη is so bonkers that it makes his previous projects look elementary. It’s just under an hour long, contains six tracks (three of which cross the 10-minute mark), and shows how much one man can love a saxophone, though said love is dangerous. The instrument screeches alongside Zhenyang’s foray into mathcore, which he confidently stretches beyond its breaking point before it snaps back into place like a rubber band. Add all this to the fact that you still can’t understand what he’s saying (he’s still singing in Ancient Greek) and you get what is easily, and proudly, Ὁπλίτης’s most unhinged effort. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey

Myaelin – Naesekhnaetri

Heavy prog from Italy, the kind that in the early to mid-’70s would have laid down the heady brew that would one day crest into heavy metal. We forget sometimes the conjoined birth of the two genres, swapping ideas like mad, both emerging from the embryonic soup of psychedelic music, testing the extreme edges of the style and sharing notes on how best to do so. This record sounds like a lost deep cut a crate digger obsessive of either genre might have craved, as if the shockingly heavy second record from Egg had gotten a proper followup or if the full prog-epic version of “Caviar and Meths” by Judas Priest had been put to tape. It’s a sound near and dear to my heart, a fusion state of the two most important genres to shape my mind (even if jazz, art pop, rap, and electronic music compete heavily these days). The balance here is superb: from the aggressive swirls of Fender Rhodes to the harsh growl of the bass, the guitar and drum duo playing that feels feral and the vocal that feels half-ranted. You can see the psychedelic stain coloring their fingertips in your closed eyes, smell the clove smoke and ceremonial incense. What if Ghost’s second record was more evil and less, well, Ghost? Here, we have our answer. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Narzissus – Akt III: Erl​ö​sung

This album came out on January 12th and immediately set a high bar for 2024. Not to be a fanboy, but holy fucking shit. You would never guess that some of the hottest riffs and Romani jazz would come from a dude standing in a body of water. It’s progressive black metal, but more importantly, it taps into the organic element of black metal that comes from its primal nature, the explosiveness and earnestness that sat beneath the corpse paint and shoddy production of the genre’s forefathers. Akt III: Erl​ö​sung is just as exciting as those early black metal albums despite sounding nothing like it; the riffs are epic and melodic, and the tracks are spontaneous and lengthy. Binding the molecules between the non-metal jazz and folk elements and the gallant metal is Narzissus’ sixth-sense that finds where the square pegs and round holes overlap. Akt III: Erlö​sung shouldn’t be as smooth as it is, but Narzissus makes it sound effortless. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey

Phobocosm – Foreordained

My life, ever a shifting miasma of complacence and malaise, my own failures and the frustrations I and many others feel at the cruelty of the world around me, simply feels fit for this kind of depressive death metal. This Phobocosm record does exactly what I want from death/doom, which is to make me feel the weight and heft of that misery without necessarily being slow and devoid of riffs as so many are. Emotionally, this lives closer to the world of Ulcerate, evoking similar nearly-psychedelic swirls of black and brown and grey like oil gathering at your ankles, where even the more uptempo and blasted numbers keep that oppressive sense of absolute misery. I love me some dumb fun death metal, don’t get me wrong, but this kind, the type of death metal that makes your parents and loved ones worried for your well-being, always nestles close to my heart. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Langdon Hickman

Resin Tomb – Cerebral Purgatory

Australia’s Resin Tomb might’ve sounded like they’re trying to appeal to everyone with their press releases that contained the terms “blackened,” “sludge”, “death metal,” and “grind,” though any potential stench of broad appeal dissipates roughly five seconds into “Dissipates,” the first track on Cerebral Purgatory. Yes, their debut album is blackened and sludgy and sounds like grind and death metal, but it’s also fresh. It’s not that nobody has combined those composite elements before, but that nobody has congealed them like Resin Tomb. Their roots lay in discordant death metal but thrive with grindcore’s spirit. They pivot and pump fake and, crucially, work their bass to the bone. Find me an album with Cerebral Purgatory’s ambition with as fat of a bottom end and I’ll officiate your wedding. Also, three tracks, the ones with the most sludge in their miasma, all run four minutes and 20 seconds. Nice. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey

Saevus Finis – Facilis Descensus Averno

A select group of death metal groups, think Gorguts, Ulcerate, and Portal, have become a shorthand for bands in the genre that challenge traditional tastes and create music that’s easier to fuck up than it is to perform well. What each of those aforementioned groups possess that lesser bands of a similar ilk lack is character. Not to the degree of Portal’s vocalist The Curator’s clock helmet, but a sonic persona that connects with the listener. While Portgual’s Saevus Finis have not put clocks on their heads, they have another tool that latches their hooks into the audience — snappy grooves. Their debut album, Facilis Descensus Averno, is saturated with them. It’s also full of off-kilter experimental excursions that death metal cohabitates with so well, but the group never gets lost in their own sauce because they always return to an educated riff that serves as a waypoint between sections. It’s a similar trick Imperial Triumphant employed earlier in their career. It’s not a gimmick either, but intelligent songwriting that balances Saevus Finis’ proclivity for brain-bending with the basic human need for good fucking riffs. Buy it on Bandcamp. – Colin Dempsey




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