TOP ALBUMS OV 2021 W/ A SPOOKY MANSION, BEN SERNA-GREY, AND LORD OF BORK!
LISTMANIA DAY 3, YE PORCELAIN PROSELYTES. Cash cratered, you crawl back for another heap of lists. A Spooky Mansion, Ben Serna-Grey, Lord of Bork—musical enablers, all.
A Spooky Mansion
This has been the worst year for metal on record.
Psych! It was actually rad. I love music.
Alright Trevor, you wore me down. I dig your other releases too, but I’ve always thought the approach was a little too quantity over quality, what with the nonstop conveyor belt of records and re-recordings of those records in record time. Give me a chance to miss you, alright? But I guess I can’t hold you back anymore, because Beautiful Distraction is undeniably the peak of romantic trad-metal veneration that you’ve strived for these past 4 years. I wish I knew how to quit you. Please accept my permission to write a different album now.
Green Lung has range other fake-devil-worship bands are too stolid to even attempt, capable of crowd-pleasing surges and proper crooning romance, and even a whiff of mystique that dime-a-dozen doom druids wish they had. Their first record gave me Ratatouille flashbacks to first hearing Ghost in high school a decade earlier, and made me wonder why more community-theater costume bands can’t just embrace the fun of it. Black Harvest adds more shifts in mood throughout, though there’s still plenty of flourish for the sturdy ol’ descending blues lick. Come to the Sabbath, wear your best robe and wizard hat.
8) Heavy Temple – Lupi Amoris
Magnetic Eye Records | Mini
“Best Historical Re-Enactment”
Carl Sagan said books were proof that humans could work magic, beguiling our sense of time and place with mundane words on a page. The best (and by that, I mean less than 1% of) retro-metal outfits pull that same trick, and Lupi Amoris does it with some flair. Like Veilburner further down the page, Heavy Temple knows that just as important as what you play is how you play it, using plenty of tape-style effects to take their rolling gust of ’70s witch jams and make it sing through the leaves of a darkheather wood.
7) Craven Idol – Forked Tongues
Dark Descent Records | Review
“Best In Show, Kerry King Memorial Spiky Armbands Extravaganza”
It is just past my analytical faculties as a wannabe music journalist to tell you what the “it” factor is with this record. The task of qualifying what makes it different or better is a tad too subtle for my vocabulary. It’s just the best blackened thrash release this year. Trying to elaborate more would probably clash with the spirit of the piece, which is charred down to the very bones for lean crunchiness. I just bask in the buzzing, rumbling swirl of insidious tremolo and remember why I put up with life.
When will the killing end? Kanonenfieber narrowly edges out the competition in the unsurprisingly packed field of sombre World War I-themed death metal. These tremolo-dug trenches run over with pathos, resoundingly and relentlessly hounded by distant blast-beat bombardments, and that’s without the gutting grooves that dot the terrain like Panzer treads. It’s a nasty little surprise package that, much like the Great War it evokes, keeps raging longer than you predict and only ramps up in intensity until it has no strength but to weep. Pickelhaube and poppy pin optional.
5) Darkthrone – Eternal Hails
Peaceville Records | Review
It’s easy to forget beyond his meme value that Fenriz has one of the most discerning palettes for metal in the rough-hewn idiom. Darkthrone‘s newest and trvest brings a pensive, appropriately Nordic stoicism to compliment their latter-day nuts-and-bolts songwriting. It has the same aspect as a survivalist’s cabin on the tundra, stripped to essentials and still brimming with the character of its surroundings, a nearly personified presence, all callousness and salt sunk into a human shape sitting alongside you. Especially now, at the nadir of the season, Eternal Hails makes a bitter, wizened companion.
4) Khirki – Κτηνωδία
Independent | Review
“Innovations In Bouzouki”
Khirki’s debut is an unprecedented fusion that’s not only boldly envisioned, but also has the nerve to actually succeed at the wild experiment it makes of itself. Like a sip of wine, the strong notes hit first, followed by steadily ascending aftertaste. The highway-ready speed riffs shine like sunlight off the Aegean, but you become steadily aware of folk-infused phrasings coursing alongside, dancing in the wake. It’s an adventure of a record, with a firm sense of place compared to the slews of wannabe Brits in the traditional metal scene. Why is this band named after a South American armadillo?
3) Veilburner – Lurkers In The Temple Of Skull
Transcending Obscurity Records | Review
Easily the most tightly-wound record I’ve heard in some time, it practically re-invents what “dissonance” can mean for black metal. Inverted harmonies and stuttering arpeggios, I’ve heard before. But the trick with Veilburner is to look at dimensions beyond the merely melodic. Here I can appreciate the austere phrasing and tightly constrained flicks of riffitude, but what really throws it into relief is the warping texture and sonic experimentation that filters through those same stern arrangements. The temple of skull is my head, and Veilburner are having themselves a good ol’ lurk.
I was slack-jawed all through this record, and trying to describe its anti-conventional arrangement and fluid moodiness turns the overburdened thesaurus that is my brain into an alphabet soup casserole. I’ve heard many bands try hard to sound “out there” and “proggy” before, but usually that also makes them unlistenable dreck for dorks who want to seem profound. Boss Keloid makes something enchanting and cathartic, breezily legible even through their cryptic shifts in key and meter. Put it simply, nothing this weird has any business being this catchy.
1) The Crown – Royal Destroyer
Metal Blade Records | Review
“Undisputed Heavymetalweight Champion”
I’ve listened to more records this year than any before, really sinking myself into this whole “reviewer” shtick, meriting plenty of discoveries and a bit of burnout as well. As a result, I didn’t get to ‘fall in love’ with most, with repeat listens curtailed by my schedule of releases. But I genuinely couldn’t put away Royal Destroyer for more than a couple of weeks, especially impressive since it dropped in January. Were it not so unblinkingly driven, it might seem a parody of extreme metal. Zero fear, zero irony, zero fluff. Death metal royalty, crowned in splendor.
Boy what a year (but really so much more) it’s been. Like a lot of us, I’m sure, Covid and everything that came with it knocked me on my ass and I haven’t been as present as I’d otherwise like for these past couple years. I wrote an article here and there and put out a little bleak music with a friend but other than that I’ve been checked out for the most part. Once my furlough ended and I was one of the lucky few with a somewhat decent job to go back to, the shifts were shorter, but the customers were so much meaner and rougher and petty and I come home exhausted after only 4 or 5 or 6 hours. I pushed off nearly everything with the mantra of “when things are better,” but at least for a while, friends, I’m not sure they will be better. So, no more waiting around for things to improve. In no particular order here are some albums that stuck with me through this year for one reason or another. Some of them are metal, most of them not so much, but hey we’re talking about me here. Let’s hope 2022 sees us all steering things toward improvement.
While I’m still shaky on the idea of posthumously releasing records that Prince pulled from production, I am glad they released this one, and my feelings about the Purple Prophet get more complex the more I learn about him and the not-so-pretty aspects of the Artist. A few songs on here were re-recorded for what was to be his final album, Hit n Run 2, but with a different feel and in some cases different lyrics, such as in “1000 Light Years From Here,” where he urges to do away with borders and social class. An interesting look into the type of socially conscious albums and anthems penned by one of the world’s biggest hypocrites.
I’m sure we’ve all heard about the terrible news to come out recently, and I don’t want to continue to pick at that particular happening other than to reinforce how important it is to listen to and believe victims. SINNER GET READY is the kind of music I’m glad to see get a decent amount of well-deserved attention. It’s fresh, raw, well-crafted, and hard to categorize.
Flood Peak – Fixed Ritual
Independent | Premiere
PDX sludgy doomy grimy goodness. After a while the incredibly heavy and bleak stuff lost its cathartic effect and only made things worse or uncomfortable and I actually spent most of my time listening to funk and jazz, but a few of those incredibly heavy and bleak albums and EPs stayed in rotation and this was one of them. If you’re a physical media fan, unbelievably they’ve still got tapes available for this, and I think it’s damn well worth it.
Uncertainty Principle – Sonic Terror
Xenoglossy | Premiere
Speaking of heavy and bleak, holy shit this album. Very impenetrable blackened noise. If your catharsis isn’t as tapped out as mine, dive right into this and let it wash over everything.
Escaping Aghartha – White-Nose Syndrome
Independent | Premiere
One single half hour-long piece. Do it you weenies. Well-crafted, strong conservationist message, and absolutely heartbreaking.
Non Serviam – Le Coeur Bat
Code666 | Review
I reviewed this forever ago and it’s one of my most favorite releases ever. The album got stuck in publishing purgatory but finally found a venue for release. Intensely experimental, but with enough of a black metal sheen to be accessible to a wide audience, this album is exquisitely crafted and Non Serviam should be a project to keep your eyes on.
String Noise – Alien Stories
Code666 | Review
I have a fraught and odd relationship with classical and academic music that I don’t want to delve into too much on this list here. If you wanna talk about it hit me up in Discord. This release is refreshing in that it not only showcases Black composers, but specifically new music by living Black composers across an incredibly wide variety of styles and textures. Extremely commendable release.
Bornwithhair – When the Witches Fall
I only had a passing familiarity with Bornwithhair until Weirding interviewed me and Jacob for our release of Isolation Diary. Delving into their album was unexpected in a lot of ways. Off the bat, judging a book by its cover I was honestly expecting black metal and instead came out at the end having listened to an album under my favorite genre of Hard to Categorize. A little death rock, a little black metal, a little krautrock, and unexpected turns all throughout. Give When the Witches Fall a spin, I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.
The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need To See
Thrill Jockey Records
I already liked The Body, but I’ve Seen All I Need to See feels like a lot of that time working together with Vampillia and VMO has absorbed a bit of influence, but in a much grittier, heavier fashion. The soundscapes are unsettling as hell and this is probably the most inspired work we’ve heard seen from the duo.
Alice Cooper – Detroit Stories
I know, I know. You’re all laughing at me right now. But you need to understand, Alice Cooper’s episode on The Muppet Show was my entry point for heavy music, and Billion Dollar Babies is still one of my favorite records of all time. Detroit Stories definitely doesn’t reach the level of Billion Dollar Babies or Welcome to My Nightmare (Or Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, one of my other all time faves), and if you’ve heard Cooper before he’s not blowing us out of the water with anything new. It is impressive though, that at roughly 78,000 years old he’s still belting it out as strong as ever.
Lord of Bork
It took 35 years, but Darkthrone finally released an album that hooked the Bork man. 2021 is the YEAR OF THE RIFF (TM), and Darkthrone brought their A-game to this one. Doomier and more expansive than other efforts from the Darkthrone duo, Eternal Hails……. sounds like two guys just making the music they love, reception be damned. It’s Fenriz and Nocturno Culto’s world, we’re just living in it.
Hungary’s favorite weirdo is back again, fresh off of 2019’s idiosyncratic and piping hot Naiv. Vadak proves that electronic bleeps and bloops, chanted vocals, black metal riffs, and a disco beat can co-exist comfortably within a track, and that’s all in the first song. Back are the angelic female vocalists, the folk melodies, and a return to the aggression that was largely absent from Naiv. It’s hard to call any album from someone this consistent a highlight, yet here we are.
Sometimes what the people need are big, dumb riffs. To that end I’m pleased to announce that 200 Stab Wounds is this year’s winner of the BIG, DUMB RIFF AWARD. These Ohioans prove that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to produce quality music, you just need to know what you do and get good at it. They’ve done both, in the process creating an “old school” death metal album that actually sounds modern in writing, instrumentation, and production. One of only two good things to come out of the state of Ohio.
The Bork isn’t just a big dumb riff machine. Sometimes you need a dose of feelings with your riffs, and as always Denver’s Khemmis delivers on time. Khemmis keeps moving from strength to strength, and I’m happy to add another slab of theirs to my collection.
Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined
Metal Blade | Review?
Still shambling onward 35 years in, it’s good for all of us that Cannibal Corpse doesn’t know when to quit. Violence Unimagined is a late-career highlight, delivering plenty of everything that made us fall in love with them way back when. Bangers like “Surround Kill Devour” won’t alter their legacy at all, but will provide even more of their S-tier death metal. I also had fun shitposting instead of writing an actual review.
VHS – I Heard They Suck…Blood
Wiseblood | Review
If you’ve read any of my lists in the past, this one shouldn’t come as any surprise. As I said in my review, I Heard They Suck…Blood is the next logical step in VHS’ evolution. The songs are longer and feel more fleshed out, just giving slightly more of the death/thrash/grind/punk that I fell in love with years ago in each song. Every track shines as a result, with “Martin, Martin,” “Getting the Gang Back Together,” and “Horror of Dracula” as particular highlights. Get these jams while they’re hot.
Ok, this is now a BIG DUMB RIFF list. Frozen Soul’s brand of OSDM doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but as with 200 Stab Wounds their playing is so tight, and their knowledge of and devotion to the genre is so great that Crypt of Ice can’t help but bring a smile to my face. For those among you who (like me) smash that like button whenever someone posts “BOLT THROWER” on Twitter.
Readers with long memories will recall my long-standing love for Body Void, and Bury Me Beneath this Rotting Earth continues their eyes downcast march into oblivion through pounding doom and sludge metal. Their music is the perfect soundtrack to the continued slow-motion destruction of the modern world. Break down the walls of your ego with the tortured screams of “Laying Down in a Forest Fire” or “Wound.”
Death/doom of the heavily Finnish extraction, Mortiferum has been on a major roll since 2019’s Disgorged from Psychotic Depths. Their flashes of melancholic melody only make the doomed pounding all the more oppressive, and the atmospheric production captures the band in all their raw glory while still sounding like it was recorded in a cave during some unholy ceremony. A must-have for death/doom fans of all ages.
The Prying Sight of Imperception positively flies by, the 31-minute run time feeling more like 15. Galvanizer’s deathgrind is varied slightly more here than on 2018’s The Sanguine Vigil, but overall they deliver exactly what they’re best at: churning death riffs, whiplash rhythm changes, and an unholy distorted bass tone. The only thing missing is a Dan Seagrave cover. Maybe another album or two down the road.