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5 underground labels shaping the sound of metal in 2021

2021 record labels
(Image credit: Press images)

Finding a good record label is like stumbling across a gold mine. If it’s got a consistently strong roster, it’s easy to get lost and spend hours on end hearing great new band after great new band. To help you get that feeling of euphoria, here are five underground labels you should keep your eye on throughout 2021:

Metal Hammer line break

Church Road

Church Road was started by Sammy Urwin and Justine Jones of Employed To Serve in 2017, but it wasn’t until last year that it really came into its own. Following the downfall of Holy Roar Records, the label quickly picked up alumni such as Svalbard, Palm Reader and Respire. Those three ended up releasing some of the best heavy albums of 2020: When I Die Will I Get Better?, Sleepless and Black Line respectively.

Already, 2021 is slated to get similarly promising noise from new signees Timelost (post-grunge) and Wowod (post-metal). If you’re after boundary-pushing aggression that’s consistently brilliant, this is a haven to keep your eye on.


Closed Casket Activities

If you’re only appeased by the most abrasive, noisy and relentless of metalcore, then Closed Casket Activities is your dream come true. Specialising in all things evil and “-core”, the New York imprint is home to a collection of extreme underground darlings, including Portrayal Of Guilt, Vein, End and Gulch. 2021 will herald the second Portrayal Of Guilt full-length (even stronger than their already fantastic debut) and the relentless powerviolence of Jarhead Fertilizer, not to mention lots of other brilliantly horrible stuff.


Pelagic

Headed by Robin Staps (guitarist of progressive metal luminaries The Ocean), Pelagic Records is all about shining a light on the most daring, esoteric and challenging rock musicians. Its mission statement was initially quality over quantity: they released only a handful of albums a year but promised that each of them would be among the underground’s crème de la crème. However, as it’s grown, Pelagic has only upped its output – somehow without damaging that commitment to perfection. 2020 heralded lauded outings from Envy (post-hardcore), Neck of the Woods (death metal), Lesser Glow (doom/hardcore) and more, with 2021 due to start big with the wonky rock‘n’roll of Lizzard.


Sacred Bones

Since 2018, Sacred Bones have had an amazing ace up their sleeve: their ongoing Alliance Series. Sure, they sign bands from post-rock to metal to noise music, but that’s the real cherry on their unpredictability sundae. The venture puts two labelmates together on one album and sees what they can come up with. So far, we’ve heard amazing things from The Body & Uniform and Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky, and the Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou collaboration was a runaway hit in 2020. The latter are promising  a new EP in 2021, and we can’t wait to hear what other team-ups are on the way.


Translation Loss

Translation Loss isn’t exclusively a metal label, balancing the heavy stuff out with ambient, electronic and hip-hop releases. However, when they do share something unabashedly extreme, there are few better. In 2020 they dished out the third album by US grindcore nasties Wake, which ended up generating plenty of buzz with its ingenious infusion of doom, death and progressive metal. Similarly brilliant was the debut album by black/death metal crew Drouth, whose 10-minute tracks were ceaselessly violent but never monotonous. This year, the imprint will issue the debut album from Swampbeast, whose sludgy extremism pummels with a cavalcade of stellar riffs, comparable to Conjurer and Behemoth.