Archive: Unearthing the Metal Underground columns
Though many touring bands are starting to make inroads in China, with most of them bypassing government censors by way of venturing to the Middle Kingdom on tourist visas rather than foolishly attempting to secure an elusive performance visa, few metal bands from China are able to tour outside the country due to the government’s travel restrictions placed on the Chinese people.
“How can that be?” you might ask. “Chinese tourists are everywhere these days, spending RMB like they’re going out of style.” Well, what you might not know is that each and every one of these tourists is only allowed to become well-heeled because they’ve posted what is essentially a large cash bond that is meant to ensure their return to China. And as we all know, being in a metal band and the ability to post a large cash bond are pretty much mutually exclusive.
Getting out is made all the more difficult when you’re a musician playing what is regarded by many authorities in China as a dangerous and highly disruptive form of music. Hell, some bands in China even get banned by the government from playing in their own country, which is exactly what happened to Ordnance, a modern-era Sepultura-esque band from the capital. Ordnance drew the Communist Party’s ire for its overtly subversive lyrical content, and now can basically only perform in the guitar player’s own venue, 13 Club in Beijing. Freedom of expression? Not in Mao’s house.
As another case in point, Painkiller magazine, the nation’s top metal publication, has sponsored a national Wacken Open Air Battle for local bands for the past few years, with the winner gaining a spot at the venerable German festival to beat all festivals. However, in the history of this competition only one band has thus far managed to secure the right to travel outside China and make it to the fest, while the other winners have had to resign themselves to merely enjoying the pride of winning.
Luckily, though, none of this can stop us from reporting on some bands from China that are worth checking out, all of whom made an appearance at the 2012 rendition of the Wacken Battle. We’ll start in Beijing on this week’s installment of Unearthing the Metal Underground.
Ready to Die
Female-fronted five-piece Ready to Die plays an old school, filthy brand of death metal that would fit right on the Ibex Moon label alongside acts like Funerus, or decimating the stage at St. Vitus in New York with Disma. Taking cues from Obituary, Bolt Thrower, and other plodding death metal bands of similar, sludgy taste, Ready to Die is a band that places its focus on simplicity, opting for the one-punch knockout riff rather than the overwhelming jabs and slaps of abject technicality.
The band’s front woman has a growl that could rip the short and curlies off of any of her male counterparts, as can be heard on their lo-fi demo that’s currently streaming online. The production really captures the overall atmosphere of death metal’s early days. This band is one to watch in the Middle Kingdom, and yet another reason to wish that it could be easier for bands from China to actually tour outside their home country. More...
Every Monday we take a break from the news to highlight three lesser known bands that deserve a moment in the spotlight and can help expand your metal horizons.
Last year we showcased three side projects from black metal icon Ihsahn, but there are plenty of musicians from throughout metaldom who have a host of additional projects outside their most well-known bands. This week we’ll take a look at bands covering a range of sounds from the members of Borknagar, Katatonia, and Samael that all show a different side than what fans may be expecting from their favorite musicians.
While many may be aware that Vintersorg from Borknagar has had his own self-titled, folk leaning and clean singing focused project for years, it’s not as well known that he was also involved in a folk metal project called Otyg prior to his solo releases.
Otyg had a very ‘90s, proto-metal feel as the musicians were starting to explore the boundaries of the genre, and is a must hear if you want to explore the roots of folk metal or are into the early works of bands like Amorphis or Borknagar. The band released two full-length albums titled “Älvefärd” and “Sagovindars Boning” before going on hold indefinitely. The music is a little on the lo-fi side and not quite as bombastic or epic as the intricately arranged folk and orchestra stuff that has come out of metal in the interim, but just listen to that atmosphere!
We've done a Connecticut scene report before, but the volume of bands coming from this third-smallest U.S. state is incredibly big - so today it merits another look. Connecticut has a long history with metal music, due to the vast number of colleges and radio stations promoting the scene in the eighties and beyond. The Constitution state also has a rich hardcore history that ties in with the metal scene, which dates back prior to the existence of that legendary club The Anthrax in South Norwalk. The classic metal and hardcore shows played there became the subject of the book "Everybody's Scene: The Story of Connecticut's Anthrax Club," which was penned by Chris Daily. Check out that book trailer here. Even the fabulous Forced Reality (a band with members of the now disbanded Skeletal Ambitions) has reformed and is playing oi punk rock again, recently doing a few shows down south. More...
Colombia just might be one of the forefathers of the extreme metal scene and it may have influenced some of the most nihilistic groups to come out of Europe. Yes, this South American land of extremes may have been one of the catalysts for the Scandinavian scene, ushering in a whole horde of sick and twisted metal bands. You may think that's an incredulous statement to make and a mighty tall order, but wait. There's a true story I am going to recount for you now.
Back in 1992, a few Colombian metal fans/musicians went up from Stavanger, Norway to a record shop in Oslo owned by Oystein Aarseth (better known as Euronymous). As they were going through the releases, they struck up a conversation with Euronymous about the country they were from, black metal in general and their respective bands. Euronymous became animated and said "Two bands from your city of Medellin influenced Mayhem's sound."
"Parabellum and Reencarnacion were a few of the true bands that shaped us. They captured a hellish environment and represented a true hardcore, evil sound that we emulated in the band."
Spoken by Euronymous himself a year before he died in infamy, and put in Spanish on the liner notes of the 2005 compilation "Tempus Mortiis" put out by Blasfemia Records. This anthology featured Parabellum, a nihilistic affair redolent in that evil backwards riffing that characterized the band. Songs such as "Engendro 666" and "Madre Muerta" influenced Mayhem and other Norwegian bands and helped create a whole genre of evilness, blasphemy and sickos.
At the time, neither Parabellum nor Reencarnacion were satanists, but critiqued Christianity and Catholicism and played an early prototype of metal that predated the "black" genre in 1981 (with the exception of Venom) and was called "ultra" metal or "anti-technical" metal in Colombia since it was raw and primitive musicianship. Kreator, Beherit and Impaled Nazarene have also paid homage to them in one form or another. More...
A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to tour around Asia with my band for eight days, stopping in seven cities. One of the highlights of the tour was Hong Kong, not just for the great crowd, but for the excellent bands I and my band mates had the privilege to share the stage with. Here’s a quick intro to those bands in this week’s edition of Unearthing the Metal Underground:
Melody, abject brutality, and paramount evil. This is the formula that death metal four-piece Elysium has adopted as its own. Featuring some of the most earthy and natural guttural vocals this side of Incantation and Immolation, along with the occasional elongated pig squeal thrown in for good measure, Elysium has been plying its trade for a few years in the Hong Kong scene, and has managed to make its way to foreign shores at least once, having played at last year’s Drown In Metal Festival in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.
While technical, Elysium manages to keep its songs memorable without compromising brutality—no mean feat. Slams and pinch harmonics are put to good use, but not overused, and the band knows how to employ versatility while still maintaining a discernable sound. Currently, the only way to hear Elysium’s music is to pick up a demo from them at a show or check out the band’s Facebook page.
When looking at the El Salvador metal scene, it is shocking coming to the realization that a country this small has close to ninety metal bands. Two of the ones I have unearthed today are not even in the Encyclopaedia Metallum archives, which shows how fast the scene is still growing. El Salvador has only a few dozen less bands than its significantly larger neighbor a couple of countries over, Costa Rica.
One of the first nationally renowned Salvadorean metal bands was B'rock (later known as Broncco). B'rocks polished power metal sound laid the foundation for future generations of metal bands in El Salvador. The group disbanded in 1996 due to founder Vicente "Chente" Sibrian's degenerative illness, but he is viewed as a godfather in the scene still. He recently appeared at the Maaskab Open Air and other festivals in his wheelchair, to the chants of all the concert goers. Watch a video montage done in homage for Sibrian to the Broncco track "Vendedor de Suenos" by going here. More...
Every week in Unearthing the Metal Underground, we take a look at three quality bands that haven't gotten as much exposure yet as they should. Last week, we exposed three metal bands from Pakistan and we continue in something of a similar vein this week, turning our attention to another Islamic country, though this time in North Africa, namely Morocco. Morocco had something of a controversial encounter with heavy metal music, when in 2003 more than a dozen heavy metal fans were jailed in the city of Casablanca for "acts capable of undermining the faith of a Muslim" and "possessing objects which infringe morals." The Moroccan courts felt that the black t-shirts adorning heavy metal logos worn by these young men, all of whom played in metal bands themselves, were Satanic. However, after global outcry from musicians and human rights activists, they were released and today, Morocco sees more bands performing hard rock and heavy metal music. This week we will be looking at three such groups.
Formed in early 2006, Analgesia created a blend of groove metal with classical elements, fusing black metal vocals with a more operatic female counterpart. They released their first record, "Return to the Self" the same year and gained quite a following amongst metal fans in Morocco. They have performed at some of the biggest festivals in the country including L’boulevard and have since released two more albums, "Era of the Storytellers" and "Beyond Illusion."
Analgesia - "From The Ashes Of Morocco"
Every week in Unearthing the Metal Underground, we take a look at three quality bands that haven't gotten as much exposure yet as they should. This week, we will be taking a look at three heavy metal bands from Pakistan, whose name translates as "land of the pure" in Urdu, and seems to be the land of some very talented musicians too!
Black Warrant are one of the longest running heavy metal bands in Pakistan. Having formed in 1997 from the ashes of a former band named Metal Purge, by vocalist Ali Raza, with his brother M. Ali joining on rhythm guitars soon afterwards. The band has gone through many lineup changes since their inception, and currently neither brother is a part of the group, Their first album, "Recover" was released in 1999 and comprised solely of covers of songs by the likes of Judas Priest, Rammstein and Killing Joke, before their first full length debut of original music, "Desi" was released in 2004. They have since released six more records, consisting of both cover tracks and original music, with the most recent being, "Decade Of Destruction." They have been able to experiment with their sound over the years too, adding electronic and industrial elements and are one of the few metal bands from Pakistan to have toured outside of their country, performing in such places as Australia and the United States of America.
Black Warrant - "Desi"
Every Monday we unearth three more underground metal bands that our readers may not have had the pleasure of hearing yet, and this week we’re looking another batch of acts that throw prog rock into the mix or otherwise break genre boundaries.
This is our third outing into the ever-changing waters of prog, and what’s interesting about this style is how many different sounds can be contained within the same overall genre title (even the term “prog” itself is somewhat contradictory – if a band falls into an easily identifiable genre label then is it really “progressive?”). For instance, compare Orphan Bloom’s over the top rock style from our last prog metal edition of Unearthing the Metal Underground with the mixture of soothing atmosphere and death metal mayhem found in Enochian Theory below. Both are “prog,” but both are vastly different in style and substance.
These three acts are a little less jazz and instrumental focused than the bands in our last prog lineup, and cover a wider range of ground, heading into power and symphonic territory as well.
U.S. act Ocean Architecture is a newer band on the scene, having just now finished and released online a first full-length album title “Animus.” Although the sound quality isn’t perfect (this is a debut from an unknown group after all), the album still has pretty much everything that a progressive metal fanatic craves: crazy electronic keyboard sounds, a strong prog rock feel, random gang shouts, and even some black/death metal bouts interspersed all throughout.
Topping it all off are some technical and showy bits, as well as interesting changes in tempo and vocal styles, such as the odd feeling of falling created during the “spiral downwards” section on the track “Plato’s Cave.” You can listen to the full “Animus” album through the Bandcamp player below.
The best acts that metal has to offer aren’t always highly visible or inhabiting the mainstream, which is why every week with Unearthing the Metal Underground we bring to light several groups that deserve to be heard.
Black metal history month may already be over, but screeches from hell, head pummeling blast beats, and tremolo picking are always a good time year-round, and the genre is ripe with a multitude of high quality acts to discover. The term “black metal” covers a wide range of ground, from symphonic acts to abrasive and misanthropic bands and even on to more styles. This week we’re unearthing three bands from very different locations that each put their own spin on black metal and make the genre their own.
Gorthaur’s Wrath is an absolutely no-holds barred black metal act hailing from Croatia that’s as dark and evil as they come, but still devastatingly heavy. The band is a bit like a Behemoth that went a more black metal route instead heading into death metal, and the group is currently in the process of working on the follow-up to the 2011 album “Ritual IV.”
The new album is shaping up for some higher profile sonic destruction, as the band managed to recruit Triptykon's Norman Lonhard for the recording sessions, but due to scheduling conflicts he has now dropped out and is being replaced by German drummer Christian Bass. While awaiting what Gorthaur’s Wrath has in store, you can check out two songs from “Ritual IV” below or find more via the band’s Facebook profile.
“The Devil Speaks”
Each week in Unearthing the Metal Underground, we'll be putting a few quality underground bands in the spotlight in an attempt to get the word out about them. This week I take on bands that fuse metal with industrial/electronic elements.
Over the years this genre has adopted many names: industrial metal, techno metal, electronic metal. The infusion of industrial/electronic elements into rock and heavy rock can be traced back to the late ‘80’s with Ministry and Die Krupps and then followed by Godflesh, Fear Factory. In the early ‘90’s. the industrial scene hit its stride and started branching off on its own. The more popular branches leaned out towards more alternative metal/rock like Korn, Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein. However, there was also a branch with bands like Invincible Spirit and God is LSD who kept the sound distinctly metal. It is this branch of the genre that we will concentrate on today.
It was in the early 90’s when electronic elements also found a way into the black metal scene with the emergence of Norway’s Mysticum. However, Samael best defined it with the “bridge to the future” and appropriately titled “Ceremony of Opposites” in 1994. In the early 2000’s, electronic elements began to be incorporated into power metal with the emergence of bands like Cyberya and Illidiance. This week we introduce three bands with their own distinct sounds: Neurotech, Jesus on Extasy and Octagone. More...
More than just brutal riffs and unintelligible screams, heavy metal covers a huge range of sounds and has a massive number of sub-genres that dip into just about any style imaginable. Every week with Unearthing the Metal Underground we highlight three lesser known or unsigned bands that deserve to be heard by the wider music community, and this week includes another look at groups that are well outside the standards of black or death metal.
Last summer we delved into three “progressive” metal bands that throw in non-standard song structures, avant-garde twists, and a healthy dose of ‘70s style prog rock. Below you can find three more groups in the prog metal realm that are all unified by a jazzy outlook, some showy technicality, a strong emphasis on bass playing.
The heaviest of the three bands we’ll look at this week, Spanish three piece Continuo Renacer also happens to be an all-instrumental group, following in the footsteps as such acts as Blotted Science by maintaining a feel of death metal heaviness without using any screams or growls.
Without vocals the instruments really get a chance to shine, and the bass lines keep the music moving forward into ever funkier and more avant-garde territory. The guitar playing on the band’s latest album “The Great Escape” (reviewed here) doesn’t get left behind either, keeping up with impressively technical flourishes. The opening title track from the album can be heard in the player below. Head over to the Continuo Renacer Facebook profile for more details on the band.
February is black history month here in America, and we at Metal Underground make sure that black metal is featured to honor the tradition. This month we have unearthed plenty of lesser-known black metal acts and have delved into old school articles on legendary black metal bands like Darkthrone. In keeping with the tradition of black metal history month, let's get back to the true meaning of the phrase by showcasing bands composed of actual black musicians who play metal.
Last year, our Content Manager Ty brought some interesting black bands to light. This year we'll travel to the Caribbean, Africa and other locations to discover some bands composed entirely or mostly of black musicians - further showing how metal isn't solely an Anglo phenomena made up of just white band members. You will find metal everywhere, by all ethnicities and in countries one wouldn't normally associate with metal - by people who love heavy music. We will unearth plenty of our brothers in metal today. Just recently, Botswana's "metal cowboys" got featured at an art exhibit over at Bekris Galleries in San Francisco. This photographic montage is the work of noted shutterman Frank Marshall, who spent countless hours delving into the metal subculture of Botswana for his thesis at Tshwane University. Some of these metalheads are probably more hardcore than your average anglo devotee in the amount of hardship they endure to listen to their music of choice. Let's check in now with a few bands that we have unearthed for you today. More...
A few weeks ago in Unearthing the Metal Underground, I introduced some ultra brutal bands from the southern Filipino city of Davao. This time around, let’s take a look at the capital of Manila, which definitely isn’t to be outdone in the slamming, blasting sickness category. The Metro Manila area, an impossibly huge urban center, is bursting with bands weaned on a steady diet of Disgorge, Malignancy, Devourment, and Gorgasm, so let’s get right down to it.
OK, so technically Pus Vomit isn’t actually from Manila, but the band is from right next door to the metro area, and calls Dasmarinas home. There’s no doubt the denizens of metro Manila can clearly hear the unholy din this three piece has been conjuring since 2005 no matter what part of the packed metropolis they hail from.
Pus Vomit keeps things simple from a lineup perspective, with just drums, vocals, and a guitar player, but there’s little simple about the Pus Vomit sound, which is equal parts slamming accessibility and technical prowess. The band has kept busy since its founding, with two demos, three splits, and a full length, “Degrade the Worthless,” which came out in 2009 on Berdugo Records, the label run by Alexander De La Cruz, the man who also publishes the In Dark Purity ‘zine. Fans of far eastern brutality in the vein of Vomit Remnants, Infernal Revulsion, and Rest in Gore will revel in Pus Vomit’s insane mix of slams and technicality.
Continuing our ongoing coverage of black metal history month, it’s time to dive into three more underground acts that don’t have as large a following as the biggest names in the scene, but are still among the best the genre has to offer. Last week we highlighted three misanthropic black metal bands, and now it’s time to check out groups that take the sound in a different direction.
Pipe organs, keyboards, violins, a grandiose style; all these and more are typical of this breed of metal, in which screeches from hell and fast paced guitars meet beautiful heights of orchestral symphonies. From the mildly melodic to the completely symphonic, these three bands show that injecting non-metal elements doesn’t have to detract from the darkness.
Hailing from black metal ground zero (that mythical land and metal Mecca otherwise known as Norway) and featuring Windir keyboardist Gaute Refsnes, Cor Scorpii has the requisite pedigree to grab the attention of genre fans. Unlike with the other two bands covered this week, Cor Scorpii’s keyboards are tempered and held on a fairly tight leash, letting the guitar tone drive the music. This tasteful restraint results in a sound that is melodic and highly atmospheric without getting overbearingly symphonic. The end product has a swelling and epic quality that is surprising considering the presence of the extremely harsh vocals and dark feeling. Even with the melodic bent the band’s music still tends to be properly dark and chilling, as any black metal release should.
So far Cor Scorpii’s fans have had to be content with only a single proper album, but – praise be to the dark one! – the band officially began the recording process for a sophomore album and follow-up to the debut full-length “Monument” earlier this month. Keep up with Cor Scorpii’s latest activity via Facebook or get a taste of the band’s mix of the extreme and the melodic through the songs below.
“Ei Fane Svart”
February is black metal history month, which means there’s plenty of raw, frozen, and spiteful heaviness headed your way in the coming weeks here at Metalunderground.com. In honor of the infamous style we already took a look at Darkthrone in our Sunday Old School column, and now that it’s time for a new edition of “Unearthing the Metal Underground” we’ll dive even further into black metal with three bands rising up through the ranks out of obscurity.
This isn’t our first foray into the black metal scene, as you can still check out our previous editions covering solo black metal acts, Red and Anarchist black metal, and even Christian “unblack” metal.
Whether you prefer your black metal of the symphonic or utterly eardrum-destroying and abrasive variety, each of these bands deserve to be heard by a wider audience and should hit your regular musical rotation.
Taking a page from the likes of Gothmog and Dimmu Borgir, this young Chicago based band has plenty of extreme vocals and heavy riffing, but supports the music with both corpse paint theatrics and a symphonic flair. The lads from Massakren may be from the U.S. but you’d never tell that from the music alone, which exudes a strongly European feel. Massakren released a self-titled last year (reviewed here), and hopefully we’ll be getting even more melodic mayhem from the band in the near future. To hear what the group has to offer, check out Massakren’s Facebook profile or watch the music videos available below.
Recently Peru, which used to have a lot more rock and metal on it's airwaves a decade ago, played host to an event called "Dia Del Rock Peru." (Day of Rock) It took place on January 7th in Lima and in other satellite cities such as Arequipa. It was a way for the rock community to say "we exist" to all of the media and corporate broadcast venues. Nine bands of diverse styles played in downtown Lima from 4:00 until 10:00 p.m., giving exposure to those artists and the creative collective. You can see footage of the event here. Dia Del Rock might have started just on that day, but it was a blueprint of shows and events to come in the ensuing months. Paco Holguin from the band Emergency Blanket had originally come up with the idea on his Facebook page and it spread like wildfire. Then three promoters came together - Ivan Fajardo, Wayo Aguayo and Eduardo Quezada - who compiled a chain of events that would link together indie labels, stations, magazines and corporations. This show on the 7th was the start of more concerts, and you can learn more about upcoming shows by visiting the official Facebook page of Dia Del Rock Peru.
Of course, Peru is a very large country and only a fraction of it's large pool of bands will perform at events like this. The first band that we present today played at this event, while the other two take the more traditional underground approach of playing the clubs and gaining visibility through tours. The more alternative the genre of metal a band plays, the harder it might be to hook up with a high visibility event. The three bands that we will unearth today have vastly different interpretations of the metal style and different methods of diffusing their music to their respective fan bases. More...
There must be something in the water down in Davao in the southern Philippines, because the sprawling city has produced some of the most brutal, slamming, and at times technical death metal in all of Southeast Asia in recent years. The global brutal death community is beginning to take notice of the Davao scene, as some of the bands are starting to get signed by labels of note in the sub-genre, such as Coyote Records and Sevared Records. Here are a few bands making more than their fair share of gurgling, putrid noise in Davao City, Philippines.
Human Mastication has been blasting out slamming sickness since 2002, and in that time has developed a rock solid international reputation as one of the top slam bands in the business. The early years of the band saw the release of a collection of splits and demos before Human Mastication was picked up by Sevared Records for its debut full length release in 2008, “Grotesque Mastication of Putrid Innards.” Sevared also put out the band’s latest EP, “Persecute to Bloodbath,” last year. Chugging, slamming riffs, disgustingly guttural vocals, liberal use of pinch harmonics, and some combustible groove are all key elements of the Human Mastication formula. This band is currently top of the heap in the Davao brutal scene, and 2012 marks a decade of dedication to unholy slam for vocalist Gee and his comrades in gore. Expect more trademark slamming groove from Human Mastication in the near future.
A friend of mine often refers to heavy metal and hardcore as "children's music." (No, not this kind of children's music). Today, I am going to grudgingly give him some ammunition for his snobbery, as Unearthing The Metal Underground takes a look at two bands who exhibit extraordinary talent and enthusiasm for playing metal, despite being younger than probably every member of this website.
Gauchos de Acero (Los Gauchos)
Some readers here may remember Gauchos de Acero, as they became something of an internet sensation among heavy metal fans in 2007 when videos of three young boys from Argentina were posted by their father, showing them covering the likes of Slipknot, Pantera and fellow South Americans, Sepultura. Although known as Los Gauchos, the duo did not originally have a name, Los Gauchos being a moniker assigned to them by YouTube users, owing to their user name, "gauchosalta." Not only did they become a hit on the internet, but they also attracted the attention of Argentinean promoters, not least when they were booked to perform at Cosquin Rock 2007, an open air festival which packed in over 20,000 spectators. They were even noticed by the Argentinean government, who supplied them with sound equipment!
Gauchos de Acero - "Refuse/Resist"
Power metal: master of epic guitar solos and frequent champion of all that is cheesy. Some love it for the deliciously grandiose high-pitched vocals, and others hate it for the exact same reason. While not all can appreciate the lyrical themes and vocal stylings of the genre, the level of both passion and technical proficiency displayed by the power metal virtuosos can't be denied. There are the obvious big names in the scene like Fates Warning, Blind Guardian, and Jag Panzer, but what’s going on in the underground these days?
Unlike with the hordes of black metal or death metal, there isn’t nearly as large a pool of unknown talent in the power realm. In this case that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as lesser quantity can lead to better quality. For this week’s edition of Unearthing the Metal Underground, we’ll look at three lesser known bands from different corners of the globe that all approach the power metal style from a slightly different angle.
To start our expedition into the power metal underground we’re headed to Finland for a tour-de-force of shredding solos and pounding drums. Tiluland dropped the debut album “Axes of the Universe” last year and put a surprising twist on the style by going completely instrumental. Driven by guitar acrobatics instead of the standard falsetto singing, Tiluland is the band for you if you love the fast and epic instrumentation of the genre but don’t care for the vocal style.
Check out more on Tiluland via Facebook, or listen to two songs from the “Axes of the Universe” album below.
“Tilu of the Kings”