A Heavy High: Prime Picks from Denver’s Metal Underground
To call Denver’s heavy metal scene one of the most prolific and fastest-growing musical movements in the nation is no overstatement. In less than two decades, what was once a remote industrial stopover on the wild American steppe has become a veritable sonic mecca for a vast range of genres, with metal and the more extreme forms of punk reigning among the city’s favorites.
With its meteoric rise to prominence, Denver has produced many of this decade’s most decorated heavy acts across a broad scope of styles, from the vintage classicism of Khemmis, to the depressive violence of Primitive Man, to the technical wizardry of Allegaeon. This network of musicians is uniquely compelling not only because of its formidable level of output, but because of its inclusivity and willingness to experiment and cross-breed between strains of metal and punk; Denver has no definitive sound, but rather a unified attitude.
But within such a well-populated community are inevitably acts that, though strikingly impressive, do not make waves on the national level. Below the layers of celebrated names emerging from Denver are bands displaying unparalleled musicianship awaiting their chance at higher renown. These hidden gems — champions of their local scene — ultimately make for some of the most exciting discoveries when digging deep into the unseen niches of the metal underground; the six bands that follow are each exemplars of this concealed majesty, all remarkably skilled and innovative groups of individuals making their own definitive mark on Denver’s cutting-edge local scene.
Latest release: Constructs of Time (July 13th, 2018)
One of Denver’s most slept-on bands — especially in light of its affinity for all things low and slow — Matriarch have concocted one of the most astral, interstellar interpretations of doom metal ever experienced in this dimension. Combining drone, sludge, post-metal, psychedelia, and what the band calls “hash noise” into a miasma of vibrating quintessence, the four-piece outfit is quite potent on record and downright transportational in a live setting. As cascades of shoegaze-inspired guitar and their cavernous earthen riffs meet the wails of vocalist Austin W., the waves of what Matriarch themselves openly label as “drug music” captivate the mind. Their latest record Constructs of Time features the band in peak form, its two dirge-like tracks of visionary doom standing at a monolithic lengths. Be warned: once you have embarked on Matriarch’s esoteric aural quest, it must be seen through to the end.
Latest release: Born Into Madness EP (October 26th, 2018)
Now-acclaimed pioneers of the blackened sludge movement, Oryx was first formed in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 2012, named after an imported species of African antelope that lives just outside the city. Since relocating to Denver in 2015, the group’s sound has evolved into a crushing, cataclysmic monstrosity embroiled in dissonance and feedback, percussive and unsettling in all regards. Oryx’s aggressive, full-bodied approach to metal oozes from the physicality of their live performances; between touring with Portland funeral doom outfit Un and opening for Electric Wizard at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium, the group have honed their live show meticulously, unleashing their primal music with uncanny precision. With three full-length albums, a split, and last year’s harrowing Born Into Madness EP constituting their already stacked discography, Oryx are undeniably consistent and unstoppable in their mission to explore the grotesque and the nihilistic.
Latest release: Muscle Beach (December 4th, 2015)
A quirky three-piece creating jagged, frantic post-hardcore at breakneck tempos, Muscle Beach are one of Denver’s more stylistically outlying groups. Where many of their compatriots mix a dose of punk into their metal, Muscle Beach do the opposite and incorporate a metal attitude into their hardcore punk-based material. Often compared with The Refused and the heavier components of Fugazi, the group have corralled their sound into a compact but well-rounded package that jumps back and forth between pummeling, foot-stomping power riffs and bizarre, oblique structures that keep you constantly on your feet. Above all else, Muscle Beach love to have a good bit of fun with their music, and the infectious joy that their bizarre antics brings is perfectly portrayed on both their records and during their live show.
Latest release: Glacial Tomb (October 26th, 2018)
Conjuring up some of the most barren, animalistic sludge this world has to offer and injecting it directly into the center of raunchy 1990s OSDM, Glacial Tomb display one of the 21st Century’s most holistic understandings of the guttural, brutal essence of death metal. After the release of their utterly mammoth self-titled debut album last year, the group quickly climbed among the ranks of many critics favorite new acts, becoming a frequently mentioned name on many best-of 2018 lists. Simultaneously incorporating elements from across the extreme metal spectrum and creating a balance between the primordial and the technical, Glacial Tomb have created a sort of fluid equilibrium in their music, allowing them to explore a multitude of concepts without straying from their idiosyncratic sound. Featuring guitarist Ben Hutcherson of Khemmis and recorded at Dave Otero’s legendary Flatline Audio, Glacial Tomb is a passion project for Denver musicians by Denver musicians, effortlessly emulating the stark, savage timbres that define the scene.
Latest release: Atmospheres of Desolation (January 21st, 2019)
Channeling some of today’s most utterly vitriolic atmospheric death metal à la Gorguts or Ulcerate on amphetamines is Noctambulist, a relatively new Denver outfit that generated immediate buzz with their incomprehensibly serpentine debut album Atmospheres of Desolation. Like arcane mystics, the members of the group choose to enshroud themselves, both sonically and physically; despite the all-encompassing layers of static ambience draped over their compositions, the structure of their music itself is readily audible and texturally visceral. With a blend of technicality and atmosphere, Noctambulist have struck a winning balance that entices the ears of both black and death metal acolytes.
Cult of the Lost Cause
Latest release: Contritions (February 26th, 2016)
Undeniably one of Denver’s grooviest acts, post-metal act Cult of the Lost Cause perform in a style that subverts the bleak and foreboding qualities of the scene’s blackened wave by utilizing frigid, metallic guitar tones in their lush, adventurously psychedelic compositional structures. A strictly instrumental outfit, the band invites the listener on a journey through realms of meditation and discipline, with motifs slowly morphing from shape to shape in an almost ritualistic procession. At times ambient, their music surfs over cosmic seas before diving into passionate, cathartic riffs that return once again to a heavy and sinister center.