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’s been a bad year. It’s hard not to feel impossibly frustrated sometimes that we appeared to come out of the lockdown era seemingly having learned nothing; or, if there was learning done, that it was, as learning always is, haphazard and unequally distributed over the plane, with whatever epiphanic compassionate response there was to be had by it hitting hiccups or rage, confusion and helplessness all around, beyond the far more obvious callousness and casual cruelty that have sadly been mainstays of human relation since time immemorial. Shame is a weapon and, like all weapons, its use is dictated not in the abstract but in its usage, not just who wields it against whom but also how it is used in that moment. I’d say this is a lesson that we forgot but it’s never really been a thing humanity has been very good at; the qualms around “cancel culture” on one end and repressive social structures on the other highlight this same underlying element, which is the way we can give ourselves over to rage and righteousness in ways that ultimately serve to cloud what we want them to do.
I say this because as I age, I tend less toward the blame of others and more toward, guiltily, the blame of self. I think, generally speaking, this isn’t uncommon for people who are broadly reflective; it’s harder to stomach for long periods the constant accusatory glare that people seem to so gleefully wield when we ourselves are stained by our histories and our shortcomings, but the fixated witness of those things is also endless, with our shortcomings seemingly effervescently refreshing the pool of sins we can castigate ourselves for. And so we build a strange and brutal circle: people gleeful in inducing shame, wielding it like a weapon, and people darkly gleeful in receiving shame, the penitent receiving their desired punishment to prove the stalwart righteousness at the base of their soul, beyond all wrongdoing and action. It’s a vicious and painful circle. One figure becomes the other; people overloaded by the punishment of shame become, given time, cruel themselves. I don’t have answers to this. It vexes me. I’m not alone there. It’s vexed people a whole hell of a lot smarter than me.
Music, and art in general, are as much meditations as they are solutions. The reality of the world is complex and eternally rich even in its dumb, mute simplicity. There is no art messy enough to truly capture the depth of it. This isn’t just a failing of art. Even nonfiction work, the meta-historical project of the academy and the interconnected network of every doctoral and master’s thesis on earth still, by definition, falls short of the complexity of the world they comment on. Which is a way of saying that we, at least a certain type of “we” here, ask too much of art. I’ve always loved a big dumb rock record, one that seizes up some romantic and passionate force in me at the same time it strips me bare of the cornucopia of language I’ve spent my entire life pursuing. There’s something potently Promethean in that divine theft, the way an electric guitar and a harrowed voice steal the Olympian fire of the brooding and confused mind.
Age, something I was not always certain I’d have given the state of my mental health for so long, has made something like the willful witlessness of Buddhism make more sense to me, the giving over of the mind to nothingness. Is this just shame recasting itself? A shame now of being human itself, of wanting to divest myself with the fruits of life lest they, too, go rotten in the hand? I don’t know. Maybe. Heavy metal is a balm. Richard Brautigan had trout fishing. I have death metal records. We all have our methods of coping.
– Langdon Hickman