TOP ALBUMS OV 2021 W/ IGOM, MEGACHILES, AND STICK!
LISTMANIA 2K21 DAY 1 MOTHERFLUSHERS! Please form a single-file line up to the ceremonial wallet-burning pit. These nice folks in the hooded robes are Iron Goddess of Mercy, Megachiles, and Joaquin Stick; they’re here to help you abandon all hope for your bank account.
Iron Goddess of Mercy
I didn’t write as much for ToH in 2021 as I promised in last year’s Top 10. I hope to return to form in 2022! These all deserve full essays of thousands of loving words stumbling over each other. But, you know the deal: 100 words for each. I’m breaking last year’s rule and including one album previously discussed. Forgive me my transgressions. Thank you for taking the time to read my silly posts and to share your posts and comments with me. Thank you to Roldy, Spear, and everyone else who keeps Toilet ov Hell running. All my love!
There are countless deserving death metal records that could take this spot, but I’m giving it to these splenetic Canucks for their 20 Buck Spin debut. I’ve been co-conducting the hypetrain all year, and we’re staying right on that wild track. Building on the success of their 2020 EP, Atræ Bilis push their sound into a comfortably restrained avant-gardism on Apexapien. Weird effects manipulate David Stepanavicius’ warped riffs as well as Jordan Berglund’s guttural vocals while Luka Govednik’s steady drumming keeps the pulsing monstrosity together. This feels like Morbid Angel if Morbid Angel hadn’t existed until after Suffocation and Cryptopsy.
Despite two missteps (“Thing With Feathers,” “White Void”) and two songs that should have been cut (“sexsexsex” and “People Verses”), the remaining 12 tracks comprising Radical are all style, all substance, all flash, all bang, everything that made Last Night in Town and Hot Damn! metalcore classics. Angry, invigorated, poetic, irreverent, sardonic, hopeful, and endlessly clever and catchy, Radical’s best songs feel rejuvenating. I flirted with leaving this record off my list, but I’ve simply listened to it and loved doing so far too often to omit it. After more than 20 years, these Buffalo stalwarts still have the juice.
Another potential omission that would feel so disingenuous. Deafheaven’s full commitment to dreamy shoegaze is as pure and complete a vision as their landmark Sunbather. The songwriting is flawless, the melodies infatuating, and the instrumentation—particularly Daniel Tracy’s drumwork—impeccable. Nothing is out of place on Infinite Granite, and I’m left all but swooning. When I look back on 2021, I’ll remember few things as fondly as gushing over this record with Black Metal Porkins as we both fell deeper in love with it with each subsequent listen. My BFF Steven is wrong about this album. Deal with it, Steve.
The EP is better than the LP! While Glow On adds a few choice cuts, it doesn’t appreciably improve on what Turnstile accomplished with Turnstile Love Connection. “Holiday” is still the most fun hardcore song of the year, “No Surprise” is still too short, and “T.L.C.” is still perfectly effusive. I don’t need anything else except the opportunity to wake up, put on the 11-minute TLC music video, learn those dance moves, pick up some fashion tips, and take a fuckin’ holiday. Everything I said about this EP earlier in the year remains true. Up with EPs! Down with LPs!
One Step Closer – The More You Know
Run for Cover Records | Extended Play w/ IGOM
Superlative: Best Record Featuring a Pat Flynn Promotional Write-Up
Choice Cut: “Chrysanthemum”
While lead singles “Pringle Street” and “Chrysanthemum” primed me to love The More You Know, its album opener “I Feel So” that cracks me to pieces. All the joy, wonder, and elation of discovering Verse and Modern Life Is War floods back to me and leaves me floating. Each track is like reliving the moment that Another Breath hit the opening chords of Gorilla Biscuits’ “New Direction” while playing on the floor at This Is For You Fest in Daytona, FL, in 2004. It’s a special moment everyone understands and can live in, together, for a small stretch of time.
“It is an unfinished tone, a broken sentence, a start and a whole,” reads the album jacket for Li Yilei’s charming Métron Records debut. Indeed, each track feels unfinished and broken, like a start without an end, and yet still delightfully whole. This is not an ambient album with sprawling, spacious soundscapes; rather, OF is brief clippings of a lush aviary of warm electronics interspliced with natural recordings. OF flits from branch to branch, from mood to mood, landing for a mere moment of grace and respite before taking off again only to find something new yet just as rewarding.
“Many Hands” is arguably my favourite song of 2021. It leaves me utterly shaken every time, covered in goosebumps, staring at nothing, in pieces. The tortured strumming, the frantic bells, the haunted scraping and dripping, and stunning lyrics; it is, to my mind, the apotheosis of Hayter’s project. It is John Donne reading “Batter my heart” with a tragic sneer at the edge of a burning pit. If Lingua Ignota has always been an attempt to speak a grammarless language—to capture and express the unspeakable and unknowable terror of abuse—then Sinner Get Ready reaches a nearly total articulation.
Illusory Walls is not-so-secretly a double album. From “Afraid to Die” to “Trouble,” TWIABP finish the project started on 2017’s Always Foreign, spending more time in minor keys, playing heavy riffs, moving towards a brooding prog and away from twinkling emo to better trace the band’s deep Appalachian anger. The album’s second half—the two closing tracks that span a full 35 minutes—stand alone. That “Fewer Afraid” ends with a return to the closing refrain from “Getting Sodas” is a triumphant explosion of life and love that only a band of this caliber can so poignantly bring into being.
I never wrote a review of this record, though I meant to a million times over. I still don’t quite know how to write even a measly 100 words about it. Their 2014 debut EP Out of the Bloom was a fun nod to Jawbreaker while 2018’s Springtime and Blind felt somewhat incomplete, and so I never expected Between the Riches to so fully and wholly move me. But here I am, teary-eyed and ecstatic to be breathing cold Pennsylvanian air every time I listen. “Down University” is my heart and soul, and Pat Flynn will forever have them both.
It wasn’t until I read Karen Russell’s “The Ghost Birds,” in which a father and daughter take an ill-fated paranormal bird-watching trip to find the ghosts of the extinct Vaux’s swifts in an abandoned elementary school, that I realized Family the Smiling Thrush was Boss Keloid’s bizarre love-letter to the already or soon-to-be vanished flora and fauna of our burning world. Boss Keloid bring together all the best and most adventurous parts of The Melvins, Big Business, Harvey Milk, and Mastodon to craft a truly unique and magnificent album. Open your eyes to a magical bestiary of awe and wonder.
Yo, here are some metal(ish) albums I dug this year. Everything besides AOTY is unranked, because ranking things is hard and arbitrary. Instead I’ve come up with totally legitimate categories that encapsulate (vaguely) different musical characteristics and Vibes. For each category I’ve provided a top pick and one additional album that I also dug a lot this year. This has nothing to do with me being unwilling to winnow down to a list of 10 albums and everything to do with how much good music I heard this year.
Unto Others – Strength
I was a bit worried Unto Others wasn’t going to be able to top their debut, but Gabriel Franco and co. still got hooks for days y’all. Really the only “eh” point here is the Pat Benatar cover and that’s because it’s not “Promises in the Dark.” Big choruses, big guitars, big hair, and big “OUGH”s. Big win.
Black Metal Sisters of Mercy Worship. Off the chart “OUGH” power and even some King Diamond falsetto.
Best Music for Celebrating Our Cosmic Insignificance
Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm
Extraconscious Records | Review
Don’t call it atmospheric, as this music represents a time where Earth’s atmosphere is being vaporized by an aged and rapidly expanding Sol. Melodic, angry black metal. No ambient interludes, only relentless heliacal riffs. Toasty.
The musical equivalent of the heat death of the universe. Disorienting lamentations echoing into an indifferent abyss.
Best Castle Stormin’ Music
Mystras – Empires Vanquished and Dismantled
I, Voidhanger Records
Time to dismantle some empires and storm some castles gang, Ayloss is back with his second Mystras release. The sound? Complex black metal arrangements whet to a lord-hewing edge, caked with the grime and dust of rebellion. The acoustic interludes? Back, but ‘lude-er, ruder, and now rivaling the emotional intensity of the black metal compositions; e.g. track 5 “Cheragheh Zolmezalem (Oppression’s Fire)”. A triumphant sophomore release for the project, and a timely statement by one of modern black metal’s preeminent, and staunchly anti-fascist voices.
The album art encapsulates what you’re gonna hear, my friends: “A WIIIZAAAAARRRD!”
Best lofi black metal to study/relax/ponder your orb to
Koldovstvo – Ни царя, ни бога
When this first dropped back in March I don’t think I was worn and weary enough to appreciate Koldovstvo’s lilting, flaxen-hued take on the traditional lo-fi black metal tropes. Now that we’re two years into a pandemic that has laid bare the irreparable rifts in our society these Russian folk melodies are hitting a bit different.
Drinketh of the grail (it’s mango seltzer) and vibe eternally with Grime Stone Records as thy guide.
Best Music for Disassociating and Soaring Above the Crumbling Edifices of Man
Kaldeket – Vitiate
Big Bovine Industrial Wastes | Review
Colin Marston going on a Windir bender? Solefald embracing the Minneapolis Sound? Look, I don’t have the words or musical chops to describe what former False bois Travis and Kishel laid down on their debut EP as Kaldeket with any technical or theoretical nuance. What I can say is it’s an amalgam of exultant, key-driven melodic black metal with the vertigo-inducing, tremolo technicality of Krallice, Emperor, and False (Duh). A sweeping, bird’s eye view not of fantastical realms or eras gone by, but of the dissipated, decaying physical and spiritual landscape you and I have inherited.
Black metal’s germ harvested, sown, and propagated into something new, lush, and green. Utterly beautiful.
Best Big Boi Doom
Dream Unending – Tide Turns Eternal
20 Buck Spin
A lucid, shimmering take on death-doom that scratches the Mournful Congregation emotive guitar itch without sinking into despondence. Shades of the Peaceville 3 sure, but also of Mazzy Star, Cocteau Twins, and The Cure. Like watching a sunset awash with vibrant pinks, purples, and oranges fade into a boundless starry night.
An unholy marriage of 90s funeral doom and Floridian death metal manifested in the vast, dark swamps of the southern US.
Best Nerd Shit
Richard Dawson & Circle – Henki
Botanical history in parable form, accompanied by baroque folk, NWOBHM, grunge, krautrock, and more. If you think King Crimson should have collaborated with Rob Halford on an ode to the world’s oldest known living organism—a bristlecone pine named Methuselah—and the infamous dendrochronological exploits of Donald Rusk Currey, this is the album for you.
Bolt Thrower worship, gratuitous 40k references, bass clarinet, a sick keyboard outro, and one beefy Kate Bush cover. And it’s anti-fascist to boot.
The Best Melodic, Maybe Even Progressive Death Metal
Ancient alien, progressive melo-death praising “human ingenuity and perseverance”. Corretja truly has work of human ingenuity on their hands here as it’s the most I’ve spun a melo-death album since Chapel of Disease went full Mark Knopfler in 2018 with …and as We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye. This thing is absolutely riddled with hooks, butt-clenching falsettos, and jubilant guitar lines. Shout out to my fav Disqus container Brutalist Receptacle for pointing me toward this absolute gem on Bandcamp. Also check that cheeky artwork from Rusted Winds.
Best Vampyric Symphony of the Night
Old Nick – A New Generation of Vampiric Conspiracies
Grime Stone Records
Abysmal Specter’s subversion of black metal’s 2Trve4V aesthetics through Old Nick’s sound and imagery has sunk its fangs into me. I’ve become the crazed Tom Waits to his enigmatic, seductive Gary Oldman. Happily worshipping at the altar of the Grime Stone and fiendishly lapping up whatever musical morsels he conjures. I’m uncertain which of the 3 Old Nick releases this year was most “Old Nick” or “the best” or whatever, so here’s the first one which I also spun the most.
Opera vocals, creepy sitar, melodica, and my fav synth solo of the year @ 2:58 of “Vampyric Witch Ghost”.
Album of the Year
If you’d told me 2 years ago my favorite and most played album in 2021 would be a gnarly blend of Irish folk music, surf guitar, black metal, and psychedelic heavy metal whipped up by some high schoolers in Flint, Michigan who were just writing music they thought sounded cool, I’d say that’s rad as hell. More importantly I would hope that you would use your powers of prescience to warn us about pretty much everything that happened between late 2019 and now. Not that it would help with the current state of affairs, but at least I wouldn’t have wasted hours of my life disinfecting groceries in early 2020. FFO: Jordablod, Obsequiae, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Thin Lizzy, and crushing a few Hamm’s in the renaissance festival parking lot before the pirate metal show at the Queen’s Stage.
I rarely get excited for this level of prog wankery these days, but damn do these guys put out endless numbers of shreddy hooks that combine into actually good songs. It also adds in a touch of tech-deathyness at times to give it just enough heft. And an extremely stupid Duran Duran cover at the end? Why not.
Is it weird to both love and be let down by an album? With how much I loved 2017’s Asheran, I had unreal expectations for how the band would progress. I was expecting an earth-shattering record, but instead I just got one that I really enjoy. This thing has an immersive atmosphere, catchy hooks, and some of the best proggy-stoner adjacent riffs in the game.
Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm
Extraconscious Records | Review
There’s definitely a formula that Jacob Buczarski figured out, and he just keeps reusing it, but it GOES SO HARD that I don’t even mind. The tremolo, the blasts, and the friggin emotion he gets out of that classic combo is exceptional. The guitar tone is perfect for mournful melodies, of which there are numerous memorable ones on each very-long track.
This is one of those albums that seems like it was made exactly for me. It’s a heavily progged technical death album with a ton of brass, what’s not to like? So many vocal styles, genre shifts, and technical ability create an infinite spectacle with no predictability. Even so, it’s grounded enough to be coherent and there are more memorable moments than the typical shred-happy albums out there. My love for epic-length album closers has waned since my youth but “Anatomy of Us” is making me massively nostalgic.
Stone Healer – Conquistador
Independent | Premiere
Within the span of 30 seconds, you’ll frequently merge from Alice in Chains alt-rock to Ulcerate and the path to get there is like nothing else I’ve ever encountered. The drums are a highlight; the rhythms are always pushed to their limit, never just existing as a backbone to the angular riffs that somehow keep up the pace. You can absolutely feel the emotion bursting out of this album, and that’s key for me.
I’ll take all the jazzy metal you have. Yeah, even the stuff in the back. I’m a little mad there’s only 30 minutes of material here, but they don’t waste a second. The main course, “Motorik Visage”, starts off like a Thy Catafalque track, then gets heavy instead of dorky. This thing is so layered with strings, brass, pummeling drums, and sweet melodic black metal riffs that it’s going to take many listens to unpack.
This is an extremely pissed off album. The first half is just non-stop fury and I don’t know how Keith can sing any of these tracks without passing out. Just when the heaviness of the first half gets to be nearly too much, it drops off and gets a little more melodic but no less emotionally pungent. The speedy hardcore riffs are some of the best and most innovative in the genre, a spectacular feat for a band that has been in the game so long.
This album has been talked about a bunch here on the Toilet, and for good reason. I’m actually very happy that Deafhaven evolved into doing something completely different, since we basically don’t need more bands like this anymore. Moscow Mule has won. As much as I liked Jord a few years back, it was a little samey across songs, and they easily broke out of that habit with this release. Songs are varied, dynamic, and full of happy angry energy.
Interest in bands usually starts slipping for me three releases after I get into them, especially if they don’t dramatically change the template. Khemmis albums all have a specific feel to them, but generally use similar motifs that are fairly predictable once you’re familiar with them. Deceiver is no different, but that still doesn’t stop it from kicking ass. Cathartic guitar harmonies, top notch vocals from Ben and Phil, and lyrics that don’t feel like an afterthought. It’s possible that I may never tire of it. The thrashy bit in “The Astral Road ” is a highpoint, so at least check that out.
I adore their singular blend of indie/alt rock/metal. There’s this wild dreaminess to it that is impossible to describe but is felt so deeply. Markus’ vocals are the perfect cathartic counterpoint to the awkwardly pulsating progressive rhythms. While openers “Lake Fantasy” and “Magnolia” very much follow in the path of Melting Sun’s unique speedy low-tuned-but-melodic chugging masterpieces, a good portion of the rest of the album veers more into a new realm that I struggle to define. Whatever it is, I love it.