Underground metal seems to be making some headway these days. A record store in Wisconsin recently even displayed titles by Krisiun, Jag Panzer and Iced Earth on its "New Release" wall. Each of those bands carries with it different expectations and connotations, but all three are intrinsically linked to a brotherhood (and sometimes a sisterhood) that believes in metal more than mainstream. And as brutal as underground metal can get, it also has a haunting and atmospheric side. Nuclear Blast brilliantly captures that angle with the fifth installment of its Beauty in Darkness series, which as its title implies reflects metal's darker elements.
Featuring 18 tracks from bands as diverse as established headbangers Nevermore ("Believe in Nothing"), recently retired Crematory ("The Fallen") and Tapping the Vein, an up-and-coming female-fronted band that covers Tori Amos' "Cornflake Girl," Volume 5 showcases both the transformation of Finland's Amorphis ("Alone") from death metal veterans to Seventies-tinged acid rockers and the slimy experimentation of Norway's black metal giants Dimmu Borgir ("Puritania"). Other highlights include the mesmerizing cold steel sound of "The Pain Song" by Lucyfire, Tiamat singer Johan Edlunds solo project; "The Chair," a catchy gothic track by The 69 Eyes; and Therion's "Summer Night City." Most of the vocals here are clean and easily audible.
Although not all of these songs are full of gloom and doom, that's the general vibe of the Beauty in Darkness series, which along with the Metal Dreams series, have become mainstays in the Nuclear Blast catalog. And the label's compilation experts deserve credit for loading the Beauty in Darkness discs with artists who aren't on the label. This is a fine primer for newcomers to the gothic and dark metal genres, as well as a ballsy breather for longtime fans of the heavy underground scene. Beauty, indeed.