Before getting started, I’d like to acknowledge how incredibly difficult 2021 was, and that far more than twenty albums helped me through those sometimes impossibly dark days. I enjoy reading year end lists, and I enjoy writing them, but there are so many more amazing albums to celebrate than the average writer is able.
By the end of the year, the sharing of these lists is a blessing, I think. A very non-Metal thing to say, I know, but it’s fucking true. For me, each list is like a little gift… even if I completely disagree with the person’s picks. Sometimes it is beyond joyful to read about how shitty someone else’s taste in music is. Either way, I hope my list entertains you.
20. Pestilent Dawn – Throne
I stumbled across this band by accident, right around Halloween, at an Imperial Triumphant show in the Detroit area. They played their assess off, impressing everyone in the room, thanks in no small part to their infectious stage presence. Having seen Throne perform before hearing the record has undoubtedly contributed to my obsession with it, but had it been the other way around, I doubt I’d have been less impressed.
“Pestilent Dawn” is full of riff-driven, melodic, and highly destructive Death Metal in the vein of Krisiun and Suffocation, slightly blackened to bring in hints of bands like Hate and Azarath. The record does not contain a dull moment, but try stand out tracks “Born of Death,” and “In The Midst of Chaos” for starters.
Released by Redefining Darkness Records in the Spring, “Pestilent Dawn” made a huge impact on me the last few months of 2021. Helped me through some rough spots, and kept me caffeinated during some sleepy moments. Absolute brilliance, this album, and Throne pulls it off twice as well in a live context. In a world full of uncertainties, believe me when I say… this band can be trusted.
19. Outer World Graves – Devoid of Thought
In a recent Everlasting Spew Records feature, I wrote the following:
“Devoid of Thought plays a contagious and unbearably marvelous sort of Death Metal that exists in a gap somewhere in between Blood Incantation, Alterage, and Tomb Mold. Little bits of Witch Vomit hanging off the edges. Solothus and Krypts circling like vultures. They are just a fantastic fucking band, and ‘Outer World Graves’ is without a doubt one of the highlights of 2021. Go buy this bastard right now!”
I followed that up with a 5/5 rating, and I enthusiastically stand by each. Everlasting Spew consistently brings a lot to the Death Metal table each year, and 2021 was certainly no exception – with amazing releases by Fractal Generator, Turris Eburnea, and Burial, to name a few. For me, Devoid of Thought stands at the top of that already exceptionally high mountain.
18. Succumb – Altarage
Another Spring release, “Succumb” nailed me to the floor immediately. It sounded, and still sounds, like the apocalypse… with riffs. Songs “Foregone,” and “Lavath” get you halfway there, but it is unquestionably the twenty-one minute, sludgey death-drone of album closer “Devorador De Mundos” that opens the Hellmouth completely.
Every chance – shattered
necessary – each word – Devoured
It could be argued that “Devorador De Mundos” is only as effective as it is if you’ve experienced the previous forty minutes of the album, as well as a healthy portion of Altarage’s back catalog – “Urn,” and “Cyclopian Clash” from “The Approaching Roar,” for example, or “Baptism Nihl” from the band’s first full length – but I think the song stands quite well on its own, if we are to continue with the Hellmouth analogy. Then again, these things, one would assume, take time.
Memories – revived and forgotten
at the foundry of a drainer
a plague bearer and consumer
as the blankness – engulfs the whole
Either way you look at it, Altarage has outdone themselves with “Succumb,” in my opinion completely obliterating both of Portal’s 2021 releases (“Avow” and “Hagbulbia”), which was a bit of a surprise.
17. Gloire Éternelle – First Fragment
While fantastic releases by Archspire, Obscura, The Scalar Process, and Abiotic all helped keep the Tech-Death torch lit in 2021, First Fragment took the torch out for a night on the town and started burning shit!
For a Tech-Death album to spin my head, it has to take my mind slightly outside the genre (which, I’d say, all of the above do quite well). The clearly talented musicians must rid the atmosphere of bullshit so the clearly more important music can breathe. That can be a muddy road to walk, but First Fragment did it well with their first album, “Dasein,” and twice as well with “Gloire Éternelle,” which is quite an accomplishment.
Outside the typical, there are Jazz elements, mixed with Funk elements, mixed with Hardcore elements, wrapped up with a beautiful tapestry of classical flamenco guitar. Then there are moments it straight up sounds like Exmortus, and that pleases my soul to a ridiculous level.
16. Malignant Reality – Replicant
The Metal Wanderlust was lucky enough to premiere the single from “Malignant Reality” back in August, which seems like a fucking lifetime ago. In that premiere, The Great Mack wrote:
“One listen to the aforementioned album had ME in raptures, and I started babbling incoherently at anyone within sight, even harmless wandering old people walking past my office…”
Though I can’t speak for the wandering elderly of Australia, he did make sure to tell me as loudly as he could that the album was bat shit crazy good. And, his taste in Sabbath front-men aside, The Great Mack has nearly flawless taste in all things heavy and excellent, which I trust entirely. Especially when it comes to Death Metal.
Similarities to bands like Gorguts, Morbid Angel, and Voivod were brought up by TGM in that premiere as well, and he is absolutely spot on about that. Old school, certainly, but not to the core. I might add some Godflesh with a dash of Prong, and I realize as I write this how incredibly gross that sounds, but I said what I said. There are some quite cinematic moments as well, which balance brilliantly with moments of grooviness. None of this takes away from the album’s brutality.
“Malignant Reality” has been a go-to record for me this year, most notably through Autumn. So much so, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll put Replicant on every year around that time. I love when an album leaves a seasonal impression. Those almost always end up becoming all time favorites, because they fill the cracks in broken days with pure gold.
15. Kill Grid – Enforced
2021 was full of great Thrash Metal, too. Fuck yes, it was! Evile and Exodus both kicked in some faces. Angelus Apatrida, Flotsam and Jetsam, and Paranorm as well. I was lucky enough to see Enforced in 2021. My son was with me at that show. That may be one reason “Kill Grid” sticks out so much while looking back.
Enforced wears it all on their sleeves. All of their misery, and all of their rage – spun up into a tornado full of hate and pain, warning the world something worse is on its way. And for just over forty minutes, Enforced shows us exactly what they’re prepared to do if people keep pissing them off. They will absolutely destroy your fucking house!
My favorite songs off of this album are all of the songs on this album. Go listen to them now. Destroy a house.
14. The Bleeding Veil – In Mourning
I have not spent nearly enough time with this album. “The Bleeding Veil” is, perhaps even more so than 2019’s “Garden of Storms,” another masterpiece of Progressive Melodic Death Metal by In Mourning. Absolute perfection from every direction, and from beginning to end.
But if you’re running low on time, a great snapshot into how amazing this album is would be “Thornwalker.” You’ll just be scratching the surface, but WOW what a song! It checks all the boxes, which is never a bad thing if it’s done with any soul, which In Mourning has never had a shortage of.
I’m convinced that more people will be talking about this record as the new year progresses, and if for some reason I’m wrong about that, I’d like you all to join me on a mission to scream “Listen to this! Now! Do it!” to as many people as we can.
13. Har – Dordeduh
The Metal Wanderlust loved the shit out of this album last year. “Har” was our album of the month in May, and our number one staff favorite mid-year. I’ll link the album of the month feature below, and just add that the album stuck to my bones all year. The world needs more music like this.
12. Fata Morgana – Marianas Rest
I would love to visit Finland. To see friends, learn some of the culture, and hopefully discover some of the same magical energy responsible for creating Marianas Rest. It’s the same magical energy responsible for Hooded Menace. And Amorphis. And Demilich. And Finntroll, for some reason? I guess, if such a diverse company possesses the same magic, it’s not too big a stretch of imagination to believe Finnish trolls exist. Interesting thought. We’ll get back to Finland shortly. In the meantime, listen to “The Weight.”
11. Realms of Exquisite Morbidity – Malignant Altar
Dark Descent Records kicks ass every year. Both Grave Miasma and Craven Idol spent a lot of time on my playlists throughout 2021, but “Realms of Exquisite Morbidity” is just pure Death Metal gold. Malignant Altar is destructive as hell, and most certainly sounds evil enough to be a Hell house band. Imagine the shit they could get away with destroying down there!
Close your eyes and listen to “Usurping the Pantheon Crown” and “Ceremonial Decapitator,” then write me a note detailing the scene you witnessed within your mind’s eye. Holy shit! This record will tear your fuckin arms off!
10. Zwart Vierkant – Grey Aura
Back in May, I was lucky enough to have a chat with Ruben Wijlacker from Grey Aura. Ruben is a great dude. Incredibly open and expressive about his vision, and that’s great news because “Zwart Vierkant” opens so many doors, leads you through so many intricate twists and turns, and makes you happy having gotten lost. As an added bonus, it leads you out of the labyrinth by the hand, gives it a firm shake, then gestures back towards the entrance with a smile. “You are welcome to join us any time,” Grey Aura says, “In fact, why don’t you stay for a drink?”
An absolutely spectacular piece of work, labeled (fittingly so) by Metal Archives as “Avant-garde/Atmospheric/Post-Black Metal,” and released by the always reliable Onism Productions.
Read my interview with Ruben below:
9. Wallflowers – Jinjer
I have been an unapologetic Jinjer fan since 2016, and I am at peace with this. My review, written over the Summer, explains how I feel about the band, and this album. Several months later, our buddy Rotnoxnatl and I were lucky enough to see Jinjer perform in Cleveland. An absolutely incredible show, I’m happy to report. If you’re on the fence about this band, I recommend you see them live before finalizing your stance.
“Wallflowers” never stopped sounding exciting to me, from my first listen on, and, in my opinion, solidifies Jinjer’s right to every accolade they’re given.
8. Mind Manipulation – Mortal Vision
Speaking of Ukrainian Metal… Based on what little I know, it seems gloriously diverse. I may spend more time sonically exploring the country this year, if for no other reason than the Ukraine is responsible for Mortal Vision.
There was not a better Thrash record than “Mind Manipulation” released in 2021, and that is a fact I’ll fight you over. If I turned on “Mind Manipulation” and then we had a fist fight, I could not possibly lose. Because no matter what, by the third track, “Apophenia,” somebody will be bleeding badly. You could break all of my fucking ribs… but you’ll have broken them to the sound of the best Thrash record released in 2021. I win.
7. Slave To The Scalpel – 200 Stab Wounds
200 Stab Wounds was the first show I saw after lockdown’s started to lift. It was the Tropical Death Fest at The Foundry in Lakewood, Ohio. 200 Stab Wounds with Sanguisugabogg, Sarcaughagus, and a couple others. It was hot as fuck out, and it was super weird being out around actual humans… breathing air together in the same room. But holy shit, it felt good to be back at a show!
“Slave To The Scalpel” wasn’t released until November, but 200 Stab Wounds was on my play list all year long. I saw them again in December, and they were just as savage, if not five times as much. Steve Buhl is a ridiculously talented vocalist/guitarist – always up front, but never too far – and the rest of the band just fills the room with aural violence. God damned spectacular shit, and those riffs! Fuck!
6. Decadence and Decay – Silver Talon
The New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal can be a rough ride for a lot of bands. Indeed, the NWOTHM train has had some truly awful passengers, but there were shitty bands in the 80’s too. Paying homage to only the great ones seems a bit narrow minded, the more I think about it. So… thanks?
The good news is, Bütcher, Portrait, Vulture, and Cauldron exist. Bands like these stand out as bringers of a little new along with the old, which helps them succeed by way of only partially fitting the bill. Silver Talon does this better than most, thanks in no small part to vocalist Wyatt Howell.
Throughout the entirety of “Decadence and Decay,” Howell conjures up the ghost of Warrel Dane, whom many consider one of the best voices of the 1980’s and 90’s. The rest of the band ensures that Silver Talon sounds more like Nevermore than Sanctuary, which I think is what helps them stand out in what is persistently becoming a very crowded room. A fantastic band, no matter how you look at it. Their album kept me company all year, and helped me remember how incredible Nevermore was.
5. Violence Unimagined – Cannibal Corpse
“Violence Unimagined” was TMW’s album of the month in April. In our feature, Your Grouchy Friend remarked “This album for me is like catching up with a best friend that I haven’t seen in a long time,” and that is just as true now as it was then.
Cannibal Corpse are the kings of Death Metal, which is a fact they prove over and over again. “Violence Unimagined” wasn’t a follow up to a shit record that came out the year before, it was the comeback no one knew they wanted until it was too late. That’s how Corpse does what they do. They sneak up on us and snap all of our fucking necks!
4. Self Loather – Ghost Bath
A healthy understanding of self-loathing, and appreciation for both its powers and limitations, is not absolutely necessary to enjoy Ghost Bath’s latest madrigal to melancholy. But it will go a long way to convince you it’s okay to feel lost and angry as hell, because the man who made this music is proof that you are not alone.
3. The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men – Vahrzaw
Transcending Obscurity Records always puts out a shit ton of awesome. Last year was no different, starting with the release of Revulsion and ending with the release of Wombbath. Several stops in between blew me away (Soothsayer, Eremit, Veilburner), but Vahrzaw exploded my fucking brain!
“Waiting With The Wolves” was on the 2021 label sampler, and I had heard some of Vahrzaw’s earlier material, but none of that prepared me for the brilliant insanity that is “The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men” in its entirety. This album is so many things, all at once yet one at a time, it shouldn’t make any sense… which is exactly why it works.
2. Samhainn – Hand of Kalliach
In 2020, Hand of Kalliach released an EP called “Shade Beyond,” quite late in the year. December, as a matter of fact, so the band was already making some waves early in 2021. By the end of the summer, news of a full length by Hand of Kalliach surfaced, and by autumn “Samhainn” was upon us.
John and Sophie Fraser, the married couple responsible for “Samhainn,” tell the stories together. They work as a team, and succeed because of the balance they’re able to achieve… together. It’s beautiful and devastating; majestic and brutal – and slightly terrifying, but there is a comfort to that – and it is absolutely unstoppable.
Our good mate Serena (TMW, Moshpit Nation) and I were able to chat in depth with John and Sophie about each song on the album, which we published in two parts at the end of October. That discussion is something I will always consider a gift. So, cheers to Serena for agreeing to help, and to John and Sophie for agreeing to chat with a couple of strangers.
1. Moonflowers – Swallow the Sun
“Woven Into Sorrow” was released as a single in September. That song hit me hard, reminding me as much of The Cure as it did Paradise Lost. Maybe even a little Queensryche, which was weird. But I loved it. I listened to it on repeat for quite some time, so I knew then “Moonflowers” was going to leave a mark.
The album opens with “Moonflowers Bloom In Misery,” which I could also listen to on repeat for quite some time. “Keep Your Heart Safe From Me” is like that, too. Also “The Void,” and “The Fight of Your Life,” and… holy shit! Yeah, I listened to this album A LOT the day it was released. It became my favorite album of the year at that time.
Then I saw Swallow The Sun play in Detroit, which was the musical highlight of 2021 for me, and I was at a crap ton of shows last year. “Moonflowers,” without question, made a bigger impact on me than any other album released within the same twelve month span of time, so I am quite comfortable calling it my album of the year. I would like it very much if you would all go listen to it now. Let’s start this new year the right way! Be kind to each other, motherfuckers!
[EDIT: More links to come]