Originating in Shiprock, New Mexico, Heart Museum is one of several rising metal artists in the Navajo Nation. As noted in a previous feature, the bands in this scene are largely independent and DIY, playing locally. A good introduction to Heart Museum is their latest EP Relentless, which released last September. The band’s melodic hardcore is comparable in style to Counterparts, with a crushing yet emotive sound. According to vocalist Toni Heartless, Relentless reflects on the resilience of his community. “I wanted it to be unapologetic. We’re not going to stop. We’re relentless,” he said in a feature for Source New Mexico.
On the striking grayscale cover, a wolf (known as Ma’iitsoh in the Diné language) stands in front of an abandoned building, perhaps a church or schoolhouse. According to Navajo tradition, the wolf is respected and honored as a messenger, and is considered a protector of the Bitter Water clan. The heavy title track addresses stolen land and the history of Native American residential schools. Between 1880 through 1980, these institutions intended to destroy all traces of indigenous culture through assimilation – part of the U.S./Canadian government policy of “kill the Indian, save the man”, a phrase directly referenced in the lyrics. Thematically, this powerful song is reminiscent of Silent Planet’s “Native Blood”, which similarly addresses the lasting impacts of generational trauma and displacement in Native American history.
“[Relentless] is the first time I spoke on any Indigenous topics because at the end of the day we are a Native band, but we don’t talk about a lot of that stuff, really,” Toni added in the Source New Mexico interview. “We talk about the environment we were raised in and the reality that we perceive.” Recently, a new Denver Art Museum exhibit by photographer Viki Eagle maps Native American metal and features Heart Museum’s music, along with several other bands. Many of the featured artists, including the black metal of Mutilated Tyrant and metalcore of Graves of the Monuments, are also from the Navajo Nation.
In addition to his work in Heart Museum, Toni Heartless is also an alternative hip-hop artist. In contrast to his band’s hardcore sound, this project takes more cues from emo rap and pop-punk. Thematically, his solo work intends to “plant seeds for topics such as depression, self-determination, decolonization, and trauma.”
Listeners can check out both projects on Bandcamp and streaming services.