TOP ALBUMS OV 2021 W/ SEPULCRUSTACEAN, BEAVIS CHRIST, AND DAPATCHO!
LISTMANIA 2K21 DAY 5, YE COMMODE CONNOISSEURS! It’s been a whole week of work since these list posts began, isn’t that wild? How many albums do you get paid an hour? Sepulcrustacean, Beavis Christ, and guest contributor Dapatcho (Discord fam) don’t give a good goshdarn. They’ve got lists. You’ve got ears. Who do you think will falter?
This wasn’t a very busy year for me unfortunately as a Toilet ov Hell writer due to various real life obligations. It was however a very active year musically with the nonsensical amount of quality output that just erupted out of the skullduggery and tedium of an otherwise stressful year. It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to 10 but here’s the tentative 2021 list.
10) Qrixkuor – Poison Palinopsia
Dark Descent Records
Major Rager: it is literally just two (really good, long-ass) songs.
Following the trend of bands like Cruciamentum, Grave Miasma, Ignivomous and Vacivus in moving away from cavern-like murk to lucid, pointed blackened death violence, Qrixkuor takes things not a step but a mile further with an unexpectedly demanding epic work. While heavily rooted in the lengthier riffing practices of the Demoncy/Profanatica and Incantation-inspired schools, their debut weaves on top of them cascading waves of complex harmonies. Nauseating in their layering, these mind-distorting lead guitar forays contrast the now far more pointed black-death tunneling of the rhythm section. They function as a second narrative, an altering perspective not clashing with but spun and dragged through the labyrinthine monolith song structures, rendering this album in M.C. Escher-esque disorienting grandeur. Other cavernoids drone and plod wrapped up in maudlin atmosphere, Poison Palinopsia bristles with twitching inhuman appendages and flailing nerve-tendrils beneath the fog of ritualism.
9) Putrescine – The Fading Flame
Major Rager: “That Mountain”
If you took the avant-prog/Rock In Opposition horror of Art Zoyd, Univers Zero, and Shub Niggurath (France) then infested it with the extradimensional riff-architecture of Demilich and Alf-era At The Gates, you might end up here. “Might” because there’s little else I can draw many comparisons to with this convulsing onslaught on consciousness. Fragmented outbursts of jagged riffs bent in angular formations form dizzying un-melodies, splintering off into hypnotic interplay. No less sickening are the wet, horrific shrieks atop stuttering programmed drums at first appearing sloppy but on second observation are far more loose in their destructive, staggering patterns. It’s rather telling that one of the few “normal” moments on the album is a Demilich-esque zombie-stomp; a temporary break before the ghostly dance of afterimage guitars stalking one another across a landscape of chaotic percussion. There’s never a dull moment or a remotely accessible one and the album triumphs over nearly all others for it.
8) BlackSword – Alive Again
No Remorse Records
Major Rager: “Alive Again”
In spite of the viking warrior cover art and being released on maybe the go-to label for barbaric musclebound classic style epic/power metal, BlackSword don’t really quite live up to that. I don’t mean that as a criticism—though if you go in expecting BattleRoar or Visigoth, the almost kind of Communic or even Nevermore style modern tinges may disappoint. Yet in spite of that, the charismatic shrieking vocals and vivid intensity don’t clash with the beefier bottom-heavy sound. The big “THIS IS THE COOL PART OF THE MOVIE TRAILER” choruses you expect are here but the songs aren’t as reliant on them as more streamlined, keyboard-heavy power metal, still possessing a varied topography of technical riffing backed up by prominent bass guitar and vocals bristling with absurd levels of attitude. While you could classify this as progressive power metal, this is far less focused on arcane delivery a la Fates Warning or Adramelch. If this was a D&D session, it would be picking up a somewhat more contemporary looking, enchanted battleaxe for its business, rather than a tome of ancient and forbidden lore.
7) Funeral Chant – Dawn of Annihilation
Carbonized Records | Review
Major Rager: “Pernicious Rites”
Older in inspiration than the quasi-traditional taste-free mishmash of molded-over sloppy thirds that passes for most OSDM, Funeral Chant eclipses the rest of the list in terms of sheer barbarity. Slicing Necrovore-style riffing embedded with occult melodies howl in wicked flight, keeping intensity consistent yet variety surprising. What at first seems like heavy repetition varies itself with abrupt changes to phrasing; simple at a glance but striking with far more than its weight class in practice. Atmosphere emerges not so much from reverb and drawn out songwriting, but a byproduct of the destructive, unambiguous intensity that defines its adherence to cruelties most satisfying. Vicious and atavistic enough for the war metal and grind crowds but embedded with a distinctly death metal style of lucid, riff-driven clarity and underlying melody guiding the currents of heinous carnage.
6) Ethereal Shroud – Trisagion
Major Rager: “Astral Mariner”
I’ve ragged on bands that value atmosphere but back it up with fuck all but vague riff-shaped bumbling about. In spite of being in the very aptly named atmospheric black metal subgenre, the final outing of Joe Hawker under this name manages to sidestep and ascend beyond these faults. Comprised of three 12+ minute epics, Trisagion justifies their immense runtime with constant evolution of themes, constantly unleashing an arsenal of astral texture. A tinge of the symphonic and doomed underscores its unexpectedly heartfelt sound yet the former counterpoints and further expands its tonal palette. The latter isn’t allowed to enter its normally associated plod-territory either, adding moments of weary desperation or triumphant resolution. It is almost reminiscent of better melodic black bands (functionally so) in the varied topography and driving intensity of its delivery. As much as it indulges in what we expect of this subgenre, it only does so insofar as they help it expand a sense of ever-flowing thematic progression. Sonorous and grounded in spite of lofty aspirations; a titan even its dying breath.
5) Atvm – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless
Independent | TDT Feature
Major Rager: “Squeal in Torment”
This British death metal band initially began as a blackened melodic act but their debut sees the unfortunate loss of a guitarist but also far more radical eclecticism. Joining it are staccato technical thrash, multi-sectioned progressive composition, and even moments of shreddy or almost classic heavy metal abandon among others. Yet in practice this delicate juggling act is barely noticed in large part due to the careful way they implement these ideas. These compositions all use each one as part of a sort of joint voice, sometimes emphasizing one aspect over another to flesh out a particular melody, build up rhythmic tension, or create a sense of whipping motion. Yet the vibrant technique always finds moments of streamlined release and juxtaposition, knowing how to condense their complexities after ruthlessly battering a listener. It’s an album that is full of all kinds of moments that moreso than its impressive chops, makes even the relatively simpler moments all feel like they play into the most cathartic parts of its manic, technically impressive storytelling.
4) Cauldron Born – Legacy of Atlantean Kings
Echoes of Crom Records
Major Rager: “People of the Dark Circle”
Only hinting at being barbaric sword-swinging Cimmerian power metal? Bah, Crom has no need for such deception! Originally released in 2002 under the name …And Rome Shall Fall, Legacy of Atlantean Kings is both a remaster and rerecording of a far clickier, stiffer sounding album. With the absurd dedication of shred deity Alex Parra (who had to replace EVERY atrocious snare hit from the digitized sounding original) and mad mouthpiece of the outer gods Matthew Knight we’re getting what we should have so many years ago. While they began almost as tech/prog/power (Psychotic Waltz, Watchtower, Helstar etc.), this album goes straight for the jugular. The riffing and songwriting is far more streamlined even if the songs are quite long, with the occult horror of the debut often replaced by tales of gruesome, gutsy tales of steel and slaughter. Matthew’s vocals, a wild and hysterical wail, might lack his predecessors’ finesse but his manic delivery adds a near deranged intensity to the proceedings, the perfect companion to the muscular if still deceptively agile guitar work. Speaking of that, Alex proves himself unsurprisingly capable of matching pace with Howie Bentley, unleashing some truly spectacular fretboard flaying that will make any Shrapnel aficionado drool.
3) Diskord – Degenerations
Transcending Obscurity Records | Review
Major Rager: “Dragged for Coronation”
Seven years is a long time to wait for a follow-up but with a new guitarist, even sharper chops, and Dmitry from fellow weirdos Defect Designer on guitar, Diskord made every year count. Injecting a tinge of pseudo-skronking dissonance, Degenerations’ atmosphere doesn’t so much swamp or overwhelm you as much as it pneumatically hammers its way into your skull. The greater level of technical skill coincides with a far more aggressive sound, tossing even more in each song into vortexes of warping chord shapes and slithering basslines. The manic barking of all three vocalists argues against the madcap runaway train drum patterns, caging these lattice network structures before shattering them into a thousand little twitching, paranoid pieces. Every idea constantly splinters into a thousand new squirming offspring, yet the lunatic logic holding it together somehow never becomes obscured. It is both whimsical extradimensional carnage and an eldritch mental breakdown.
2) Ske – Insolubilia
Major Rager: “Akumu”
7 years huh? Try 10 and also following up an excellent if somewhat flawed, undecided full length! The brainchild of keyboard wizard Paolo Botta of avant-proggers Yugen, Ske’s sophomore mixes sympho prog’s colourfulness, the intricate moods of prog’s experimental wing, and the jazz-tinted flexibility of the Canterbury style (among many others) for an album that eclipses the debut. It’s similar to All Traps on Earth in its darker, almost zeuhl-like mood and chamber music-esque combination of so many differing instrumental voices. Insolubilia is a comparatively digestible work with its toolset often homing in on sharper dynamic contrasts both giving room for and creating the yearning for resolution via iconic, evocative melodies. The debut often lacked that sense of satisfying resolution and strong narrative thread, but Insolubilia shows them mastering the art of hinting at, building up, then vigorously riding these moments to tie these hydra-headed compositions together. It’s a rare blending of dizzying compositional engineering with implicit accessibility built in to guide it.
1) Ænigmatum – Deconsecrate
20 Buck Spin | Review
Major Rager: “Larker, Sanguine Phantom”
While we thankfully did not need to wait that painfully long for this band’s sophomore, the distance they had to climb from their ambitiously flawed 2017 debut was far higher. Once more vastly improved technical capabilities help pave the way for an album that goes to even more daring and astral domains. Vast networks of spacious guitar textures exist alongside pointed, mournful melodies whether delivered with a doomy, heavy metal-tinged romanticism or arcane deathly precision. A surprisingly not fretted bass and tastefully prominent kit accompany every rapidly mutating stylistic switch-up on the guitars, narrated by a gargling, enraged voice as if battling against its own supernatural restraints. While it may find its inspiration in the old gods of Death, Dissection, The Chasm, StarGazer, and so on (no, Alf era At The Gates is not among them – the band has clarified this), it is far from a mere retelling of their legends. Every song is so particular in its structure and the technique by which it creates this mournful, astral array of moods so carefully intertwined. Ænigmatum isn’t here to uphold the fire of death metal tradition nor merely do something momentarily novel but to craft a domain beyond and within its fringes both progressive and melodic yet not bound to merely marking stylistic checkboxes.
Compiling this list’s only driven me a little crazy. For the most part, it’s been really fun to revisit some faves and not-quite faves and to think about them critically. Still, there are some things that definitely would have made the list if they weren’t on a shitty label and a couple that might’ve made the cut if I’d given them more time. Seriously, there’s way too much music. Calm down, everybody. Anyway, thanks for having me on the Terlet and for being a bright spot on the Internet. The list is roughly in ascending order.
Putrescine – The Fading Flame
“Best for Hating Fascism To” Award
This one had some turgid competition in the forms of So Be It, Beyond Grace, and Putrescine’s own pals, Masochist, but Putrescine ultimately won out with its dummy thicc modern take on Demilich. It’s got skronk, it’s got memorable riffs, it’s got class consciousness, it’s got Dark Souls, what more could you want? The lyrics and the pummeling, drill-to-your-temple sounds really sell the feeling that our world is swirling towards one like the worlds of FromSoftware’s games—suffused with grief and forgetting, populated only by characters who have either doomed entire nations with their greed or who have lost their minds in their endless, futile pursuit of their goals in a dying world. Still, the death metal fury isn’t obscured by the madness and the skronk; it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to rewrite this as a more straightforward album.
There were a few other good death metal albums of the twisty, somewhat technically-inclined, frantically-hammering-out-theorems-of-hatred variety this year, but this beats them in the memorability department in my book. This isn’t quite as idiosyncratic and varied as last year’s EP, Divinihility, but it’s hooky enough, the production is great, and there are some cool strobe-y, yelling-into-the-fan effects that I really wish there were more of. Look on the Apexapien’s big, smooth brane and despair.
Dormant Ordeal – The Grand Scheme of Things
Selfmadegod Records | TDT Feature
“I’m Pretty Sure This Isn’t Recency Bias” Award
What even is this? Melo-black-death with essence of prog? Ah well, some of the best bands ignore genre. Hmm, gotta lump them all together somehow. But how…? Sigma metal? Anyway, as you probably already know, this shit rules. It mixes the twisty aggression of Apexapien with a moderate dose of black metal pain, and blends them together with some great groove. Thanks, Spear.
Real getting out of the bath to watch The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle with my parents before bed on Sunday night when I was 7 vibes. A veritable slab of coziness. I listened to it a lot while playing Castlevania: Circle of the Moon recently, a game which also brings me back to simpler days. It might not blow your mind, but it’s some really nice doom with good guitar tone and vocals that never get into cringe territory, which is a vanishingly fine line to walk for anything with the genre modifier “epic.”
Khirki – Κτηνωδία
Independent | Review
“Come On, It’s Just So Fun” Award
The award name really says it all here. That owl guy really said it all too! This is a lightly progged hard rock album that is exciting, varied, and well-paced. If you didn’t listen to it when it came out, give “The Barkhan Dunes” a shot. The songwriting is great and the guitar tones are delicious, not to mention the dual electric + acoustic tracking. It occupies the same region of my heart that bands like Kvelertak, Big Business, and Kylesa do, although it doesn’t have the punk flavor that those do. It’s the apotheosis of RAWK—exciting and epic yet light-hearted in a way.
There are three EPs from bands early on this year that I am positively afroth at the thought of more of: Eclipser, Sumeru, and this here Black Hole Deity, which is surely but a wrathful manifestation of the Almighty Bunghole. And yea, the great and terrible proclamations said Deity has condescended thus far to issue in a form comprehensible, to even the least Cornholy among us wretched mortals, doth display a most fearsome intelligence at work. The sheer ferocity manifested upon the earthly frets, the percussion’s unrelenting martiality, the imperious vocal commands, the immaculate pacing, and the gracious respite of the eerily beautiful acoustic interlude of which we are scarce deserving—all are one in this deranged death metal doctrine. I’ve been sacrificing t.p. to this EP with religious fervor in hopes that the Deity might deign one day to offer further, longer-form guidance to me, Its most pitiful servant. Thanks again to the prophet Spear for revealing this fearful edict.
EEEEEEVIIIIILLLLL!!! I’m not a huge rap/hip-hop guy, but there are a handful of acts and albums that have really grabbed me, and this is one of them (another is Aesop Rock, whose Garbology could have made this list). I’m so glad that the Bandcamp algorithm delivered this album up to me and that its name and cover image got me to press play. I’m given to understand that it is boombap, old-school except for the light auto-tuning, and according to a friend who knows somewhat more about these things than I do, kind of like MF Doom. A few things draw me to this album in particular. Most important I think is the dense soundscape—the beats are loud and bouncy, and a lot of samples and effects are used to change things up. Nothing overstays its welcome; the songs hardly ever crack the three-minute mark, and it’s pretty to boot. Joints and ham for breakfast.
Mournful, lethargic, sentimental, and—it can’t be helped—dreamy as all get-out, this album touches something deep inside my memory and heart that I can’t quite place. Maybe it’s best that I can’t. It makes me feel a bit like the way I did standing outside near Flagstaff, Arizona in 2016, where I was born and to which I hadn’t been back since I was 4. Unless you only like it when the guitars go fast, I bet it’ll make you feel something too. It’s incredibly cohesive in terms of mood and musical themes, and it’s a huge artistic risk and a massive success. These guys really swung for the fences and slam-dunked a hail mary. It’s only occasionally death metal and is only just recognizable as doom metal; it’s more like what Dream from Sandman would listen to, or the nostalgic musings of a mountain.
Sometimes Beavis is a fancy boy who enjoys Art. Sometimes, said art is as viscerally exciting and emotionally affecting as Serpent Column. Katartisis, sadly, isn’t as insanely dense as the Column’s best piece, Endless Detainment, but it is better than Kathodos and it’s still got the power to bewitch me like nothing else on this list save maybe Eclipser. This truly avant-garde mix of black metal, mathcore, noise, and sometimes even emo and post-punk is vastly more vicious than that mix of genre tags suggests. The first time I heard this band was one of those “holy SHIT, music can go that far?!” moments. It’s extremely technical, but extremely human; it’s like a supercomputer has compiled every single moment of rage and suffering of your life into a breathtaking tapestry.
Nothing I’ve heard this year has moved me or made me move as much as this furious little bundle of black, cosmic anguish. The guitar, drums, vocals, lyrics, and songwriting are all absolutely on fire and they work together so well. Bungdamnit, I’m getting excited just thinking about it again. I think this EP’s brevity suits it extremely well, but if you want more—and you do—also check out 2019’s Pathos, which is a bit more epic in scale and in which the guitarist gets to let loose a little more. Let’s take a moment, dear reader, as we sit by the Yuletide fire, to appreciate a few choice lines. “EXISTENCE DOES NOT EXIST! >:( ” “I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW I’M BURIED IN THE FU-CKING GROUND!” Exquisite.
This year was ridiculously hectic for me to say the absolute least, but I am glad I have friends near and far, online and otherwise, and I am glad to have music. There was so much music that resonated with me this year, selecting even a small portion was a challenge. The following list is a snippet of highlights from this year and not exhaustive by any means, but I highly recommend checking out any and all of these artists. You should also check out everyone else’s lists on TovH and beyond, and dive into something new! Now, for the (unranked!) list.
Unto Others – Strength
Unto Others continues to hone their strengths from their 2019 release Mana, and lean darker and more dramatic to great results. Just as with Mana, you will be “OUGH”-ing along to choruses and finding it hard to forget the numerous and incredibly catchy hooks they’ve written. Be warned: repeated listens may spawn various pieces of gothic attire in copious amounts throughout your home. And sunglasses. And longer hair.
First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle
Unique Leader Records | TDT Feature
This honestly might be the perfect metal album for me (shoutout to Spear for highlighting this one). This release is so God. Damn. Fun. The slinky, stringy bass zips around, supremely merged alongside power metal riffs and a helpful dose of flamenco guitars. This might as well have been developed in a lab just for me. Even with a runtime of 71 minutes, it totally flies by. Go read Spear’s segment and give this one a listen—it well and truly rips.
Rivers of Nihil – The Work
Metal Blade Records | TDT Feature
Once again, thank you Spear. When we are all dealing with “the work” that makes up our daily existence, this album is a tincture for trying times.
The Armed – Ultrapop
A self-described punk band, The Armed has put out a glitzy, glistening pop album drenched in overdrive, compression, and synths. Equal parts catchy and cutting, this is another album that absolutely whizzes by and demands a replay as soon as it’s over.
Dreamwell – Modern Grotesque
A highlight from the many screamo releases this year. The writing and composition found here marry harrowing, heavy, and incredibly memorable lyrics with music that is at one moment post-rock and math-y breakdowns the next. The vocal performances are incredible—I am enamored with both the soaring cleans and wretched shouts alike. It’s sad emo scramz, and it’s wonderful.
Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
I have been a huge fan of the Sahel Sounds label as a whole, and it has always been clear both the band and the label can do no wrong. Moving beyond their Sahel Sounds stay, the band finds themselves at Matador Records and putting out a barn burner. The Tuareg peoples have produced (most notably in Tinariwen) and will continue to produce great music, and Mdou Moctar showcases their sound to the highest degree. Afrique Victime is an incredibly groovy combination of world, psych rock, and Tuareg guitar, and it’s an absolute pleasure to behold.
The Mountain Goats – Dark In Here
After John Darnielle’s recent few stints since Goths didn’t quite do it for me as much as I had hoped for, I honestly was not sure what to expect from this one. Seeing as it made this list though, whatever expectations I had were clearly surpassed. The band is dynamic as all hell with the drums sounding especially free-wheeling when let loose, like during the tail-end of “Lizard Suit”. The writing is compelling as ever, even in songs with runtimes under a minute and a half long. If you’re looking for a dose of melancholy or to take notes on storytelling, this one is worth your time. Hell, it’s worth your time even if all you’re looking for is just a really solid alt-rock record.
Armand Hammer – Haram
As this is my list, I would hate to not highlight at least one rap album from the year, and this was the album for me. Every bit of production The Alchemist touches is gold, and Elucid and Billy Woods truly extract everything they can from these beats. The album demands attention in a way few others this year have, and this attention is always rewarded. I find myself constantly hearing a new piece of production wizardry or a line that I never quite got the last time around. Even if you are typically rap-averse, I implore you to give this a spin. And if you are anything else, why haven’t you heard it yet? Just look at the album cover.
Low – Hey What
Twitter user @metaltxt advised that this album will “make at least a couple people panic vomit today”. The thread goes on to detail the album as sounding “like ketamine tastes”. Although I’ve no experience with ketamine, Hey What is an anxiety-inducing ride through distortion and drones, with the duo’s harmonies guiding you along your way. Even with all the noise, the album is not antagonistic and wants to show you things that are weird and exciting. Just to be clear though, it is not your friend either.
Fire-Toolz – Eternal Home
Hausu Mountain Records
I have listened to a lot of weird things this year (further shoutouts to the Gazelle Twin & NYX release Deep England), and this one is definitely up there. This record is essentially a clown car stuffed to the gills with different sounds—black metal shrieks fly in over break beats, jazz fusion, new age, blast beats, and beyond. Clocking in at over 80 minutes long, you would think, given my previous description, that this would be an incoherent mess. And it is! But this was the most engaging incoherent mess I heard this year and I loved every second of it.