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Profunda Gravis Metalli

Image from Dawnbringer's Into the Lair of the Sun God CD cover (2012)

Underground metal is a strange beast. It often struggles to celebrate its successes lest it somehow betray its outsider status. Well, to hell with composure and coolness.

It might seem absurd to suggest that metal has an uneasy relationship with its own success, given that it's generally accompanied by such thunderous adulation. However, there's often a tense standoff in the metal underground around how it should celebrate its accomplishments. Although swaths of fans gather to extol metal's glories at festivals such as the recent Maryland Deathfest, the deeper you descend into metal's subterranean tiers, the more the prospect of widespread recognition becomes abhorrent. A fair proportion of underground metal fans take an extremely dim view of anyone's ego being buffed, however inadvertently.

Some fans would argue that the existence of a column such as this is the antithesis of underground metal's raison d'être. There's sound logic behind that. Keeping metal's victories close to the chest reinforces its bonds of community, that tight-knit kinship being the root of its strength. Others disagree, arguing that isolationism is a manacle. They believe there's nothing inherently wrong in publically celebrating underground metal's often innovative artistry, and that an obsession with kvltdom is ridiculous, considering the umpteen million global fans whose very presence seems to negate metal’s ‘outsider’ status.

It all makes for a conflicting, though hardly unique, situation. The 'popularity versus credibility' battle is one that all challenging music faces daily, and it makes for an interesting quandary in the shadowy world of metal--how does one evolve without compromising one’s integrity?

At the Helm of the Abyss

One of the best answers to that question can be found in the works of independent Canadian metal label, Profound Lore. The label is about to reach a significant milestone in July, with its 100th release, and while the label’s triumphs are by no means a secret, its reputation and integrity remain rock solid.

Founded in 2004 by Chris Bruni and his now former partners, Profound Lore has had abundant positive press since its inception. Its releases are widely celebrated and anticipated, and its artists have been covered by metal and non-metal media alike. They’ve been streamed on NPR (US National Public Radio), and have featured in Scion showcases sponsored by Toyota. However, earlier this year the label had its most public success yet when noise/metal outfit Ken Mode collected the metal/hard music album of the year award for Venerable at Canada's Juno awards.

You could argue that metal doesn't need shiny tokens of mainstream acceptance, although it was delightful to see black metal band Watain win a Swedish Grammis in 2011 and round out the acceptance speech with a rousing "Hail Satan". Generally, aside from metal-specific events, the genre is predictably misrepresented at music ceremonies.

Some European awards occasionally pick a worthy underdog, but the majority of events are so far out of touch with the metal scene that nominations are irrelevant. This made it all the more satisfying that--after some passionate lobbying from metal journalists, fans, and labels--the Juno awards brought back the metal category this year and awarded it to a thoroughly deserving band.

However, Ken Mode's win wasn't just a victory for the band, it also threw a spotlight onto Profound Lore, illuminating just how vital this metal label has become over the past eight years.

Since the beginnings of underground metal, the allegiances forged between fans and labels have been essential components to the scene’s resilience. No metal fan will be likely to forget the label that opened the catacombs of metal for them. These days underground metal is extremely popular, it has currency, and some labels have taken to strip-mining the scene. Not so for Profound Lore. It retains that very same sense of trustworthiness on which the underground scene was founded.

Crypt Born and Tethered to Ruin

Profound Lore's ethos and aesthetic comes from Bruni's youthful excursions into metal's crypts, drawing on the formative years of metal labels such as Peaceville and Earache, as well as iconic non-metal labels such as 4AD. Like many niche labels, Profound Lore began as a hobby. Following its first release, Melechesh’s '04 EP The Ziggurat Scrolls, Bruni and co. expected to release limited edition vinyl.

Reshuffling in the label’s early years resulted in Bruni taking sole charge. Vinyl releases from respected outfits such as Ulver, Agalloch and Leviathan established Profound Lore’s profile, but it was the unorthodox death metal of Australia's Portal that put the label on the map. Profound Lore reissued the band’s Seepia on CD in '05, and Portal is now one of its most respected acts. Although Seepia was a hard sell initially, it was a crucial release because it revealed the meticulous care with which Bruni would begin to sculpt his label’s roster.

For a young label, an obscure band of reprobates from the Antipodes might have seemed a risky undertaking. But the personal connection Bruni feels with all his artists (the more defiant and artistically distinctive the better) sealed the label’s imprint very early on. That personal motif is something that continues to this day. Certainly, the death metal Profound Lore releases is all equally, magnificently, putrescent and aberrant.

Bruni often cites sludge-ridden doom outfit Asunder's '06 release, Works Will Come Undone, as the album that truly birthed Profound Lore. Asunder, though short-lived, had an impact on the metal scene that reverberates to this day, and Works Will Come Undone is notable for setting Profound Lore outside stylistic trends within the metal scene. The label adheres to the steadfast rule that its artists give no ground. If their music happens to coincide with the rise of a particular sub-genre, so be it. Profound Lore has frequently led rather than followed.

The considered rather than calculating momentum of the label’s development is one of the prime reasons why it’s been able to maintain its grassroots integrity while awareness of its success has risen. Plenty of metal labels no doubt started with good intentions, only to get tossed about in the endless wash of trends, sullying their reputations forever. With Profound Lore, Bruni's decision to release only albums that feel instinctually right, and the absence of gauche marketing, mean its unhurried progression has bolstered its reputation for consistently high-quality metal.

Profound Lore has branched out sonically and thematically since Asunder helped refine its aesthetic goals. Its litany of often genre-defining works is staggering.

Pestilence and Peril

The year 2007 saw the release of acclaimed works from black metal duo Cobalt (Eater of Birds), satanically sophisticated Caïna (Mourner), revered black metal band Krallice (self-titled debut), and spitefully twisted Portal (Outre). In 2008, progressive metal outfit Hammers of Misfortune released its glorious conceptual marathon, Fields and Church of Broken Glass. In the same year, Winterfylleth released the majestic (and contentious) ode to its forbears, The Ghost of Heritage, while blackened-noise behemoth Wold provided an unremitting barrage on Stratification.

Early releases were vital in establishing Profound Lore’s reputation as a label that represented innovative underground artists, but heavyweight doom titan Yob brought the label an entirely new level of recognition. The influential trio from Eugene, Oregon split in 2006, but returned in 2009 with the enormously anticipated and critically lauded The Great Cessation. Further underscoring that year’s importance were releases from Irish rustic black metal band Altar of Plagues (The White Tomb>), Krallice (Dimensional Breakthrough), Portal (Swarth), and Impetuous Ritual (Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence). Cobalt's Hemingway-celebrating masterpiece Gin was also released in 2009--an event as important to the label’s visibility as Yob’s rebirth.

And on it went. In 2010 Profound Lore released, among others, the best album from the now sadly defunct Ludicra (The Tenant) and two wonderful traditional metal salvos from Dawnbringer (Nucleus) and Slough Feg (The Animal Spirit). Agalloch returned with the majestic black metal masterwork The Marrow of the Spirit (clearly the metal album of the year, and a turning point in the label’s fortunes and profile). Cobalt multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder also took Profound Lore into new territories. The grim Americana of his Smiling Dogs album, from solo project Man's Gin, painted a remarkably different landscape for the label.

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