TOP ALBUMS OV 2021 W/ JOE THRASHNKILL, SPEAR, AND ROLDERATHIS!
You knew this day would come, my Bemis buddies—with bonds bruised, investments obliterated, you slither over the finish line. Surely your swollen Bandcamp collection will keep your ears busy well into 2022. Surely there will be no more lists; it’d just be irresponsible at this point. Anyways, here are some AotY lists from your editors, Joe Thrashnkill, Spear, and Rolderathis.
I am but a mere podcast man. No longer do I possess the ability to read or write, my senses long since rusted and useless. On the rare occasion that I stop listening to the sound of my own voice, I listen to music. These are things I heard that I liked. For more informed and better-written Best Of lists, I suggest you read any other post on the Toilet ov Hell. These records are listed in no particular order so don’t get on my ass about it. And listen to Toilet Radio every Wednesday or go to hell.
If you, like me, thought Deafheaven’s New Bermuda was a pretty darn nifty record and wished the band had continued to explore those aggressively tasty realms rather than pursue greener NPR pastures, the Danes in MØL have exactly what you’re looking for. I’m sure the band is sick of Deafheaven comparisons but it’s hard to listen to Diorama and not hear Brought to the Water Pt 2. Some may view that as a knock while others, rightfully, think “Oh that sounds tight.” Count me in the latter camp because I am jammin’. Fave track: Photophobic.
Seven years ago I declared Bummer to be the best unsigned band in Kansas. They have since lost that crown because they signed to Thrill Jockey. ‘Bout time, record labels. In the years since, the Kansas City bois have been honing their noise rockin’ edge into a series of harsh cuts they titled Dead Horse. This is a sound born of alienation, raised through a few decades of unprecedented crises, and resulting in a rather unpleasant maturity. In other words, it’s the kinda thing you can really identify with. Standout cuts: Magic Cruel Bus and Barn Burner (You Boys Quit Whippin’ Those Whips).
I don’t know what possess a young man in the prime of his life to venture outside of his successful death metal band and release an album of 1980’s shredtastic instrumentals but goddamn do I respect it. Over the years, we’ve written a bit about Ripped to Shreds, now signed to Relapse(!!!) but Andrew has an additional artistic itch that must be scratched and it requires a shit ton of weedily deedilys. If you yearn for the days of big haired arpeggio monsters and dayglo skatewear, you’d do yourself a kindness by stabbing play on Heavy Metal Shrapnel. Choice jam: Deliverator.
A few years ago a friend turned me onto Peasant, a complex and achingly beautiful folk record by Richard Dawson (not the lecherous Family Feud host). Dawson, a prolific and experimental artist, capped 2021 with a collaboration with Finnish prog metal crew, Circle. This fucking thing is all over the place and I love it. Krautrock, doom riffs, extremely-English balladry, and hypnotic synthwork. Henki is a concept record centered around plants or some such thing. I’m too dull to grasp it fully but I’ll ask Megachiles to explain it slowly. Listen to: Silphium (dang what an unbelievable song).
Serpent Column – Katartisis
Mystískaos | Review
This is an EP but I listened to it more than almost any album this year so don’t give me shit about it. Besides, are you a bad enough dude to try to play these drum parts? Didn’t think so, punk. If you got a hearty hankering for some technically-demanding metal that sounds like real music rather than the obnoxious Guitar Pro noises, you owe yourself a listen thru of Katartisis. But it’s not all blasting and quadratic equation time signatures—Serpent Column offers up a few hard-ass head-nodding grooves and moments of surprisingly beautiful melody. Big-time jammy jam alert: Edelweiss.
I don’t know a single fucking thing about this band or the person or people that make it. Perhaps it’s best to keep it that way and enjoy the wild ass sounds of BÁTARD as if they were composed by some kind of internet wizard or perhaps an email daemon. As far as I can tell, I’m one of the few dorks shouting into the void for someone, anyone, to listen to this insane broken-HTML-and-surf-rock black metal act. You can right this wrong, friend. All you need to do is listen to Brise-lames and then validate me by telling me how much you liked it. One of the best tracks of the year: Demi-jours.
Khemmis – Deceiver
Nuclear Blast | Toilet Radio Interview
There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled about Khemmis since they chopped a ton of heads off with Absolution in 2015. Metal nerds love to argue about a band like this. Are they overrated? Underrated? Who cares. Deceiver is their best album yet. If you need a burst of powerful catharsis in your life, you should prob listen to it. Fav tunes: Obsidian Crown, The Astral Road.
Lotta good metal records out of my home state this year: You got new jammies from Frozen Soul, Malignant Altar, Portrayal of Guilt, as well as a bunch of other stuff I missed out on. The Texas metal record that I returned to the most this year is Slay in Hell, a ripping-and-tearing good time for all aspiring Cimmerian conquerors. Steel Bearing Hand made their triumphant return to death-steeped speedthrash after a long 6 years since their excellent full-length debut. I’m inclined to say the wait was worth it. Listen to: Command of the Infernal Exarch, Til Death and Beyond.
Black metal that’s not afraid to do a little rockin‘. I was a huge, huge fan of Svneatr’s 2018 debut, The Howl, The Whisper, The Hunt. With Chinook, the band further developed and *deep breath* matured *shudder* their sound. Thankfully, it works. With more varied and complex songwriting, a whole toolbox full of siqqqq guitar wizardry, and a heaping helping of ’70s rock riffing, Svneatr avoided the sophomore slump with a triumphant full-length followup. Listen to: The Whole Thing, Brother.
There were approximately one hundred million cavernous-slow-death-metal records released in 2021 but the one I enjoyed most was Psychedelic Realms of Hell. Maybe it’s the synthesizer stabs that make this record a gem. Maybe it’s the psychedelic production swirls that disorient the guitar solos. Maybe it’s that Wharflurch is just real gross with it. If there was a band destined to finally bring back slime packs, Wharflurch is surely it. Climb inside this nasty, gooey-ass cocoon and enjoy the toilet sounds within. Check out: Abandoning Reality.
Our Kingdom Undone earned the honor of being my single most-listened-to album in 2021, having been enshrined in my vehicle’s CD player since I got it in my hands back in September (barring a couple spins of Verminous and Visitant). Beyond Grace took something of a subtler approach with their sophomore album, swapping out the more overtly technical parts for exploration of more complex song structure through some monstrously chunky riffs. It’s an album that gets better with every listen that continues to dominate my listening time.
If you’ve been experiencing a sore lack of nightmares lately, then look no further. Can’t have a top 10 list without getting some weird fuckin’ shit in right away, and Blindfolded and Led to the Woods is more than happy to oblige. Nightmare Withdrawals is big, ugly, and twisted; all the good things death metal has to offer. It’s also immaculately written and paced, such that it overcomes the lack of staying power endemic to things in avant-garde spaces, particularly in the slower moments. It was a good year for big brain death metal, and Nightmare Withdrawals was easily among the best of it.
Oh hey look at that, more fantastic death metal. The surest way to my ears/heart/butt is to make music that bears even the smallest resemblance to Elvenefris; Šahrartu might be a distant cousin, but it’s related nonetheless, and it is chock-full of mystical goodness. It occupies a very specific niche of what could reasonably be called melodic death metal, one of the few corners of the genre that feels like it still has a lot of room for exploration and experimentation, and Eximperitus has broken into it expertly on this record.
First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle
Unique Leader | Review
I want to make this clear: this might not be a ranked list, but Gloire Éternelle is my album of the year. First Fragment dared ask the question, “Why doesn’t tech death combine flamenco and slap bass?” and for that, we are eternally grateful. For all this album’s insane over-the-top solos and riffs, it’s the critical mass of groove that pushes it to celestial heights, combining unbelievably flashy instrumental work with infectious rhythms and melodies that are impossible to shake. This is all the shit that makes tech death fun and cool plus a bunch of new shit that makes it even more fun and cool, and now I just kinda want this in my ears forever.
There was some good-ass doom this year; Khemmis and Green Lung both have been rightly lauded, but I wanted to make sure Flame, Dear Flame got some love, too. Aegis is a slow and somber dirge with a near-equal mixture of electric and acoustic guitar, driven by Maren Lemke’s gentle, melancholy vocals. It’s really interesting from melodic and textural perspectives; it feels like a folk album as much as it does an “epic” doom album, both in terms of instrumentation and melody. Very much a slow burn, but also very much a worthwhile listen; I’d have talked about it on its uniqueness alone, but the fact that it’s just really good independently of that earns the album its spot on this list.
Replicant – Malignant Reality
Transcending Obscurity | Review
Malignant Reality was my go-to dissonant death metal album over the past few months, and for good reason. It’s an album where you sit down to pick apart and analyze its compositions just as much as it’s one where you can shut your brain off entirely and bang your head to the riffs. Much as I like disso-death, it’s rare to find a record like that, one that simply works anytime you want something heavy; this is one of those exceptions, and it continues to worm its way into my head, intent on obliterating every last remaining brain cell up there.
Rivers of Nihil – The Work
Metal Blade | Review
This album is a bit of a rough listen; you might even say it’s a lot of work. It’s not because it’s so dense or technical that you need to be hyper-focused on the music to comprehend it, but rather it’s so very emotionally heavy and draining. It also sees the band going into some very unfamiliar territory with their music, and to have it all turn out as well as it did is an achievement. I probably won’t return to The Work as often as the band’s other material (on account of it depressing the hell out of me by the end), but it’s a fantastic end to this 4-album series.
It turns on a dime from raw thrash to death metal and does both flawlessly. This is one of those albums that captures the purest essence of “metal” as a concept in my opinion; it’s harsh, it’s violent, and it’s fun as all get out. This album is hellfire in audio form, and you need to get it in your ears ASAP if you haven’t already.
On first listen, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about how weird this albums sounds, even with regards to the rest of the band’s discovery. Needless to say it grew on me pretty quickly; the wash of chorus over everything lends itself nicely to making the already wobbly music even more lurching and weird. It’s a pretty good musical snapshot of what my mental state has been for the past two years and will likely continue to be for the rest of my life; I know it’s a bit corny, but this album speaks to me in a way that little else does.
Unflesh – Inhumation
Independent | Review
Tech death doesn’t really come off as the ideal genre for a delicate, vulnerable exploration of the horror of the death of self, but I’ll be damned if Unflesh didn’t make it work. It’s also pretty incredible to make something this depressing rip this hard; even with First Fragment and Archspire dropping albums this year, Inhumation brought some of metal’s most formidable instrumental work to bear. It doesn’t feel the least bit indulgent, however, strongly adhering to its emotional core concept even when blasting out guitar solos at a million notes a minute. An immensely satisfying listen end to end.
2021 saw a lot of important things happen. There was an attempted coup. The Big Zucc uploaded his consciousness (debatable) to the Metaverse. Concerts went extinct, but later, small pockets were found living in Florida and other backwater climes. A brave li’l blog soldiered on through the tumult. I want to thank all of those who contributed to our community this year, either through posts or just hanging out in Discord—there’s no TovH without y’all. And without TovH, the internet would be a far more (and yet, thematically less) shitty place.
P.S.: the list is unranked besides Khirki; easily my AotY!
Atræ Bilis – Apexapien
20 Buck Spin
I tend to my Bandcamp wishlist like a white blood cell fighting illness—anything that doesn’t belong in the collection is quickly expunged. Apexapien is a marvel of evolution in that it clung on for months, avoiding detection through subtle mutations in the band’s sound. When I decided to give the album a dedicated listen, it was already too late. It was soon propagating in my blood.
Despite the piston precision (and decadent clinkage) of Luka Govednik’s drumming, the album sounds surprisingly organic. From gutturals that leave a biofilm on your earbuds to visceral song titles, Atræ Bilis is death metal at desiccated heart—low, stinking, ill-willed toward the listener, but with a worrying knack for adaptation. Songs like “By The Hierophant’s Maw” and “Bacterium Abloom” display styles as disparate as slam and melodeath, experiments resulting in a new species: Apexapien 20buckspinii. It feasts on the corpses of its forebears and lives to spread its own ideas.
Flame, Dear Flame – Aegis
Eisenwald | TTT blurb
Listening to Aegis gets me feeling comfy like the Celestial Seasonings bear, and I mean it as a compliment when I call the band “Sleepytime Doom.” Most doom (as you would assume) fixates on the final sleep, cold clods of dirt, the claustrophobia of coffins—Aegis is closer to a hug from a loved one in a well-worn woolen sweater. After receiving bad news of course.
Maren Lemke’s vocals soothe in any register; there’s a bright, crystalline facet to her voice that forms the backbone of the album. Although the tone and lyrical content are somber throughout, even the heaviest moments have an airy quality, in part due to the relaxed, unobtrusive production. Whether channeling Heart or Queen at their most folksy or experimenting with blackened/melodeath textures (“The Wolves and the Prioress IV”), Flame, Dear Flame will swathe you like a long-lost comfort blanket.
Рожь – Вечное
Independent | Art Contest
This record might have slipped unnoticed through the hourglass had I not listened to it with some of the TovH Discord community one early, beer-blurred morning. I knew 2021 had been a year already when I saw the album art for Вечное and instantly thought, “Must be nice, they’re not working tomorrow.”
There’s an element of oblivion in much of Рожь’s blackened doom metal—repetitive riffs quickly numb the senses, and soon only a ghostly touch of melody remains. You may find your thoughts wandering back to fond memories, moments of personal loss, or perhaps nothing at all. You might simply find 10 minutes have passed, and it was like you were dead, but with more blastbeats. Вечное is nonbeing for me; a limited time away from mind and body; a taste of the eternal.
Nocturnal Wanderer – Gift of the Night
I assure you, the owl sketch had everything to do with me giving this release the time of night it deserves. Monochrome artwork and
ruffled muffled production rarely lead me to sustenance, but in this case, I stumbled on a feast for the ears. Triumphant riffs roost beside the forlorn harmonies of Anata, and even a whisper of shoegaze can be heard. (You love to see black metal folks using shoes for something besides goose-stepping.)
Gift of the Night doesn’t stand out due to its originality or extremity, but rather its ability to stir myriad emotions. Songs like “Sentient Shadows” and “The Amberdawn” conjure loneliness in their tranquil moments, while “By Moonlight” is jaunty by comparison, approaching Old Man’s Child levels of groove. (Somewhere, Galder is creepy-smiling.) Nocturnal Wanderer may have just taken flight, but they’ve quickly learned to manipulate darkness—night’s most precious gift.
Herzel – Le Dernier Rempart
Gates of Hell Records | 100% Support
L’homme Koolaid. Silly bullshit like this bounces around my skull when I see the crimson skies and crushed walls of Le Dernier Rempart. Try not to get hype when “Maîtres de l’Océan” begins in earnest, all driving palm-mutes and piercing falsettos. We get it, you like harsh noise. Now stop wasting time—résistance is feudal.
Herzel’s brand of trad/speed metal brings me back to my fledgling years, braving Limewire for Blind Guardian tracks with my stepbrother as we sought ever faster tunes. (Question: why was Bill Clinton doing so many vocal features around this time?) Like an old friend, the album is familiar, nostalgic, and comfortable being goofy—thought it’s not all fromage all the time. “La Flamme” approaches thrash intensity with its aggressive riffing, and “Berceau de Cendre”‘s classic rock twang channels Page and Gilmour without a hint of irony. Now iron, that’s a different story. An armory of the finest steel awaits the resolute beyond Le Dernier Rempart.
Revulsion – S/T
Transcending Obscurity | Nature is Beautiful
You don’t walk into a butcher shop looking for bulgur wheat, so don’t expect nuance, originality, or mercy from a band called Revulsion. Now, if you came to ogle viscera on hooks or ground-up animals squeezed inside the intestines of others? That can be accommodated.
Maybe you’re big on bacon—”Wastelands” sizzles from the start with death metal tremolos and cymbalwork that cut through the greasy production with ease. Perhaps you prefer something more refined: marbled angel, beef unwellington, something that’s been hanging from a rope in a barn for a while. Fret not—tracks like “Mustaa Hiiltä” and “Viimeinen Rituaali” decay at a slower rate, giving you time to savor the flavor. This is meat and meatatoes death. A true slab. A salt on your senses. Keep metal
Feradur – Parakosm
Independent | 100% Support
Have you ever imagined what Be’lakor would sound like with more guitarists and less bloat? What about if In Flames stopped being jesters and put out some energetic melodeath this century? Parakosm illuminated the cobwebbed corner of my mind where the Gothenburg bands of my youth lay all but forgotten—oh Wages of Sin, we had some
great whatever times while I was not happy about being at this stupid basketball game with my stupid family.
With Feradur, nostalgia is important, but far from the only ingredient. The inclusion of three guitarists adds a percussive element to the riffs that’s reminiscent of metalcore; combined with anthemic tracks like “Saviours,” it’s hard to believe something so genuinely fun can exist in our internet-poisoned, post-ironic present. Experiments in folk metal and other genre detours (“Host of the Nightmare”) only further separate Parakosm from the pack, brushing dust from the face of a tired genre.
My 2021 was all about cycles: the latest scramble for a living wage, the death and dawn of relationships, the latest season of COVID on Netflix. Then there’s these Minnesotan minstrels, releasing oddball blackened death every two years like clockwork. I spent many an afternoon in February scrolling job boards, floating weightless (for I am nothing Indeed™) to the inimitable sounds of Suffering Hour.
The Cyclic Reckoning lingers longer in memory than the band’s prior works—in part due to a newfound melodicism—but their trademark skronk is never far from the surface. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grasp this cacophony of shrill chords and warped production; as soon as I’ve wrapped my bird brain around a particular section, another sublimates and slips through my talons. The destination remains obscured, but I reckon it’s the ethereal, dissonant journey that counts.
Demoniac – So It Goes
Edged Circle Productions | Nature is Beautiful
The swamp witch lays three Tarot cards on the table in her hut, and I hope to have the answer to my question soon: Will I hear any good thrash metal this year? Wizened fingers flip the card furthest to the left—The Boomer, displaying a crude image of The Big Four in tears over Minions memes. Another flip: The Pizza. What a municipal waste of time. “Bleak, bleak stuff…but what does the future hold?” she asks, turning the final card, revealing The Demoniac.
I’d never enjoyed the feral sound of South American thrash before this album; I’d been burned (and died) one too many times thinking the style would stick, and winding up remembering nothing of the songs, let alone what I felt while listening. With So It Goes, Demoniac released a beast that lurked in my mind throughout the year with its eccentric features: clarinet fangs; flashes of colorful melody; venomous vocals. This album’s a card.
Khirki – Κτηνωδία
Independent | Review
Κτηνωδία is everything I want in an album, regardless of genre: a musical mosaic comprised of fragments from around the world. From the flawless incorporation of the doumbek to lyrics that actually taught me something, every facet of the record is presented with conviction. The variety of tempos, vocal styles, and moods—along with a runtime that respects your finite lifespan—makes repeat listens a Mediterranean breeze.
It’s frankly absurd that this is the band’s debut LP; the only logical explanation is they’re the ones who’ve been absorbing all of Mastodon‘s talent (carefully avoiding Brent Hinds—don’t want a tummy ache) from a continent away. 2021 would’ve been even darker without Κτηνωδία; Khirki was my guiding light, a beacon of inspiration in an exhausting year.