TOP ALBUMS OV 2021 W/ THEOPHRASTUS BOMBASTUS, GOATFOREST, AND HANS!
LISTMANIA 2K21 DAY 2 TOILETEERS! Bankruptcy heah, come getcha bankruptcy. Extree-extree, read all about it, Toilet blog sodden with lists from Theophrastus Bombastus, GoatForest, and Hans. Savings accounts in shambles, extree-extree!
What a shitty year. But what a great one for metal! I’ll admit that I started thinking about this list too early and subsequently thought about it too much because of just how many different ways people made awesome metal in 2021CE. There were the enrapturing rainy-day vibes of Рожь, there was the virtuosic blackgrass of Primeval Well. Kvadrat put out my favorite EP of 2021. Glassing continues to thrill. And I’m deliberately not mentioning all the various doots I enjoyed; by play count, at least 3 could be in my top 10. But, folks, I made my list, and found the following 10 records by turns moving, pulverizing, and just a great soundtrack to a very upsetting stretch of time on Earth. In ascending order, here are my top 10 ov 2021:
10. Michel Anoia – Nervures
Total Dissonance Worship
Of all the great disso that came out in 2021, notably (for me) Seputus, Ad Nauseam, and Plebeian Grandstand, I had the most fun listening to this totally zany (and apparently final) Michel Anoia record. But the fun doesn’t spring from a lack of restraint—these compositions, even at their jazziest, are tight—it’s just the constant, deliberate surprises and moments of gravity-defying suspense. The vocals, too, are all over the map, covering everything from fearsome growls to tortured whoops. A listen through Nervures doesn’t take terribly long, but the album is a grand guignol of black metal, dissonant prog, and even chamber music motifs. This album came out of nowhere, and I’ve listened through it a lot. I find new facets to enjoy each time. A real treat, inasmuch as you can say that about bewildering extreme music.
9. Oryx – Lamenting a Dead World
Like its cover art, Lamenting a Dead World is a baroque exploration of despair. This was my favorite death-doom of the year, and I return often for the melancholic weight of tracks like “Oblivion.” Denver’s Oryx pulls no emotional punches—this album will wreck you. But for me, at least, it wrecks with a cathartic smothering. In a year of COVID, work upheaval, and strained politics, Lamenting a Dead World helped me to do exactly what the title suggests. I appreciated Oryx as the perfect accompaniment for staring into the void, and the musicianship here is awesome from the microphone to the kick drum, with everything in its right place. Kneel before Oryx.
8. Dream Unending — Tide Turns Eternal
20 Buck Spin
This emotive debut LP from Derrick Vella of Tomb Mold and Outer Heaven and Justin DeTore of Innumerable Forms and others snuck onto my list at the last minute and continued to climb. The reverb-soaked atmosphere is equal parts crushing doom and Twin Peaks soundtrack. Lilting 12-string guitar melodies flit in and out of walls of distortion, while DeTore’s Stygian growls echo into the distance. The title track is among the most haunting, ending with poignant sung vocals. The whole record has a tranquil, nostalgic quality and is excellent accompaniment for a long nighttime drive. Dream Unending is another new project with tons of potential, and like other records on this list, they succeed in blending metal with melody without camp or insincerity.
7. The Silver – Ward of Roses
Many of the records on my top 10 straddle or reject genres, and The Silver’s phenomenal debut is a perfect example. These members of the mighty Horrendous and Crypt Sermon gathered a bouquet of engaging, heartfelt metal for their first release, fusing NWOBHM with black metal on standouts like “Behold, Five Judges.” As the band sweeps between different approaches, dual vocalists V and Nick Duchemin’s hold nothing back, their hearts on their sleeves. V (a.k.a. Matt Knox of Horrendous) also fucking shreds for most of the record, which is no surprise if you’ve listened to Anareta. It’s clear The Silver have put their souls into this record. I’m excited to see what follows for the group.
6. Sigil – Nether
Calgary’s Sigil put out Nether this past May, and I still swear there are chords on this record I’ve never heard anywhere else. While it’s evident Sigil began as more of a hardcore act, especially in the vocal delivery, Nether borrows amply from atmospheric black metal to great effect. This is another one I love for its singular, genre-agnostic palette. Angular songs like “Compounds” deliver distress as well as emotional weight—the whole LP is a poster child for controlled chaos, and there’s still plenty to love if all you’re after is riffs. I’m loving the emergent wave of more evenly blended atmospheric metal that doesn’t get overly sappy, and Sigil is another bright spot in Canada’s diffuse but endlessly innovative metal landscape.
5. Fluisteraars – Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking
Either Dutch metal is having a moment, or I’m just drawn to it like a moth to flame in 2021. Fluisteraars already proved more than worthy of respect with their previous outings like Bloem, but Gegrepen… is a marvelous record, in no small part because of the 20-minute whopper that is “Verscheuring in de schemering.” Across its length, this opus somehow manages to pull off a trance breakdown and what sounds like arpeggios pulled from Koyaanisqatsi. The band is keen to emphasize there are no synthesizers here, and it’s easy to see why you could think otherwise given the guitar tone. Gegrepen…‘s wash of sound is unmistakable, a whirling, psychedelic squall that could be any instrument if you listen right. What a great year for metal from the Low Countries.
As I discussed in my interview with Noltem’s guitarist Max Johnson and elsewhere, I thought this record was a perfect soundtrack to fall and a great LP for any season. I was surprised to learn about the band’s rhythm-guitar-first songwriting approach, and it makes perfect sense on further listens—songs like “Ruse” feel textured yet unified, layers of organic matter atop a rippling face of bedrock. This is perhaps the most optimistic-sounding record on this list for its triumphant melodies—metal that makes you happy, imagine that!—but this is by no means treacly. Like all good metal, it brings catharsis in spades and when raging, with catchy riffs and melodies to guide you through on your way there. I had this on very heavy rotation this year and will keep returning for this singular flavor of atmospheric metal.
As a work of art, I think this is arguably the most well-developed metal album of 2021. From its literary conceptual foundation to its cosmopolitan assemblages of horns, curated skronk, and field recordings, which I talked to frontman Ruben Wijlacker about in May, Zwart vierkant remains an unparalleled marriage of metal and Modernism. As I happen to love both, this record was aimed right at my ears from the jump. To be sure, it’s not an easy listen, but given that the subject is a painter losing his grip on reality through abstract painting, you could hardly expect a smooth voyage. Songs like “El Greco in Toledo” marshal a veritable sound stage worth of elements in service of this narrative. Zwart vierkant is truly an accomplishment.
2. Woman Is the Earth – Dust of Forever
This record is a blizzard. South Dakota’s Woman Is the Earth has always taken their own approach to atmoblack, but with Dust of Forever, they nailed it. I wound up listening to this a ton alternately for its unending ferocity and for its moments of ebullient melody. Tracks such as “Through a Beating Heart” and “The Rope Gets Tighter” manage peak aggression alongside piercing melodies, and the record is barraged with pattering blastbeats throughout. There are few moments of sag; the curation of the songs is excellent; the vocals soar—this is the sound of an American black metal band coming into their own. While bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Ulvik released what I’d argue are career-bests, Woman Is the Earth took the atmoblack crown for me this year. Put on Dust of Forever and feel yourself scatter to the winds.
It was always going to be De Doorn. Pretty much from the moment Colin H. van Eeckhout’s clean vocals came on in “De Evenmens” this summer, I knew this record was going to crush, and for me, at least, De Doorn was a perfect storm of emotional devastation. I love big feels in music, and Amenra had gotten progressively better at stirring them up with each Mass record. But with the addition of Caro Tanghe of Oathbreaker and Tim De Gieter of Doodseskader for this LP, they just may have found their perfect lineup. De Doorn pummels and cradles. The vocals are haunting whether whispered or shrieked (see Eenzy’s look at what they mean). Guitarist Lennart Bossu (also of Oathbreaker) masterminded much of the songwriting here, and on songs like “Ogentroost,” the massive riffs are as beautiful and terrifying as a swarm of locusts on the horizon. That this album originated as part of a ritual around the devastation of World War I only adds to its heft. Amenra is a band committed to its vision, and on De Doorn, this vision has been realized in its most breathtaking way thus far.
Damn. It’s that time already? Time is a remorseless seagull shitting in our collective lobster bisque. This year has has had some insanely good releases caress my Philistine ears, and I thought way too hard about this list. Before I get into my top 10, I’d like to give a quick shout out to some honorable mentions: Muka, Thermohaline, Ars Magna Umbrae and Lucifer’s Fall just barely missed the list.
There are many ways to make a great black metal album. Some folks lean into lo-fi cold atmosphere. Some bands get weird. Germany’s Praise the Plague have focused on creating something that reeks of hatred and is heavier than a manatee riddled with buckshot. The Obsidian Gate is a glorious marriage of black metal’s nihilistic hatred with doom metal’s skull crushing low end. Instead of doing the traditional black metal thing of limiting the bass side of their sound, Praise the Plague have opted to fully embrace it. The result is an evil atmosphere that you feel in your bones. It’s like being trapped in a cave or drowning in tar. The atmosphere is a nearly tangible thing. There’s no majestic forest here; there’s only impenetrable darkness. All in all, The Obsidian Gate is a strange beast. I’ve heard doom metal and black metal mixed together many times before, but rarely as successfully as this. Listen to “Beyond” and tell me I’m wrong.
Man, 2021 has been a Hell of a great year for debuts. Fire is the full length debut for Italy’s IO. Fire is an absolutely crushing doom behemoth that combines swinging grooves with an unforgiving darkness rarely seen in stoner doom. There’s a penchant for long and moody riffs that are both familiar to any fan of Electric Wizard or Acid King, yet oddly fresh. Unlike the aforementioned bands, IO leans into a somewhat cavernous atmosphere rather than a fuzzy one. One more thing: the vocals. IO have some of the nastiest screams and growls I have heard from any band of any genre this year. All this combines to create a mood and atmosphere that is downright addictive. IO should be very proud of what they’ve got going on here; it’s quite special.
8. Eyehategod – A History of Nomadic Behavior
Century Media Records| Review
In no way should anyone be surprised that this album is here. Eyehategod is one of my favorite bands for good reason: they’re proof that a group being around forever does not have to equate to devolving into a bunch of legacy hacks. A History of Nomadic Behavior dishes out all the decaying grooves that long time fans have come to expect with very little in the way of any discernible weak points. The best part is that the bastard only gets better the longer you listen to it. All hail the Kings of Sludge.
7. Dormant Ordeal – The Grand Scheme of Things
Selfmadegod Records| TDT
Goddamnit, Spear. I was already having a hard time trying to put together my year-end list, and you had to spring this monster on me. Well, what can I say about the new Dormant Ordeal album that hasn’t been said better? The Grand Scheme of Things is filled out in all the right places. It’s relentlessly quick on its feet and just technical enough to keep things interesting. I haven’t been this enthralled by a straight death metal album in quite a while. Something about this album is just plain exciting. The interplay of high speed chunky rhythms, dissonant chords, and spastic leads makes the songs something amazing to behold. Also, there’s a barely contained rage here that I rarely find present in the more technical styles of death metal. It’s just the right touch to make everything really pop. Fuck, this is superb death metal!
6. Grey Aura – Zwart Vierkant
Onism Productions| Review
I’m eternally grateful to Theophrastus Bombastus for bringing these guys to my attention. Grey Aura has put on a clinic in how to do avant-garde black metal perfectly. There’s so many layers to every song, it’s ridiculous. Aside from mastering the art of utilizing dissonance while still maintaining musicality, Zwart Vierkant is awash in elements not normally found in even the most adventurous black metal albums. You’d think that bringing in jazz rhythms and flamenco sections would detract from the black metal atmosphere. You’d be wrong. There’s a surreal desperation at play here that simply has to be heard to be appreciated. This sublime Dutch beast is capable of going toe-to-toe with any of the French legends.
5. Gynoid – The Hunger Artist Show
I’ll be honest here. Although I highlighted them in my randomly occurring doom and sludge column, I still can’t really define Gynoid genre-wise. There’s definitely some sludge there, but there’s also hardcore, avant-garde, and noise rock present. It doesn’t matter anyways. The only thing that matters is that The Hunger Artist Show fucking slays. I loved every second of this manic bastard. Sardonic and righteous rage pours floods every song as these boys from Thessaloniki rail against the world’s injustices. This is a stunning debut, and I am unreservedly excited about what these guys do next.
Usually, if I get the slightest hint of folk metal from an album, I’m out. I just can’t buy what they’re selling. So, the fact that I like a folk metal album, let alone that it’s number 4 on my favorite albums of the year list should tell you just how stellar Abhainn is. This album is plain beautiful. Yes, there’s phenomenal songcrafting at work here as Corr Mhóna has paid painstaking attention to dynamics and creative riffing. Yes, they have utilized elements from all over the place from folk-infused doom to sorrowful black metal to soaring melodic death metal. Indeed, they have a wide and entertaining variety of screams and growls on tap. Yet, as excellent as all these elements are both separately and together, the real magic lies in the majestic clean vocals. Quite simply, Abhainn has some of the best cleans I have ever heard on any metal album. The power of the Gaelic lyrics are made all the more profound by the weaving and powerful harmonies flowing from the three vocalists. I usually prefer an uglier metal sound, but I can still appreciate beauty when it makes itself known. Let the stupendous “Banda” make my case.
3. Domkraft – Seeds
Magnetic Eye Records| Review
Alright, we’re onto the final three. I love everything on this list, but these last three albums are way ahead of the others. From the first time I heard Seeds, I knew that it was gonna be in my top three albums of the year. Everything about this album is top tier. Beginning with the title track, the listener is treated to the absolute best that doom can offer. There is a constant barrage of progressive grooves laced with technically thrilling musicianship. Soulful vocals wail over varied and powerful riffs. Every single song, and every single riff is a delight. Somehow Domkraft has managed to keep the entrancing fuzz of stoner doom while infusing it with a ravenous appetite for variety and disdain for stagnation. I’ve said it before, and I say it again: Seeds may be the least lazy stoner doom album I’ve ever heard.
2. Nixil – All Knots Untied
Resolutely anti-fascist and profoundly anti-cosmic, Nixil’s All Knots Untied couldn’t have been more to my taste if I had written it myself. I like literally everything about this album, from its complex and dynamic take on orthodox black metal, to its lyrical themes of spiritual annihilation. You want spiritually satisfying black metal with a glut of interesting riffs that know when to stay and when to end? You want music that drips with blasphemous religious fervor? Well, Nixil are your guys. Anyone who is a fan of the French or Swedish black metal scenes of the mid 2000’s should drop what they’re doing and really dig into this album. “Make Me the Voice” alone is worth the trip. This is an insanely strong debut to crown a year of strong debuts. Look, there’s a reason that I gave the album a 5/5 score.
There can be only one. With their third album, 1914 have shown themselves to be at the absolute top of the blackened death metal heap. Nobody comes close. Every song on Where Fear and Weapons Meet would be the high point of nearly any other band’s discography, so the fact that that every song is this absurdly good is just getting stupid. Somehow, 1914 have managed to take the best elements of melodic death metal and blend them with the highest virtues of the melodic black metal sound all while spitting out historically accurate lyrics about WWI via growls that are simultaneously clearly enunciated and throat-rippingly savage. Every possible molecule of brutality and atmosphere is squeezed out of every song. I cannot heap enough praise on this bad boy, and I can’t stop listening to it. Bonus points for having a song about Henry Johnson of the Harlem Hellfighters.
Ranked, but not ordered. It’s like an advent calendar! Also in that it’s cheap, tasteless, and not something adults should get excited about.
4. Grandeur – Aurea Aetas
Independent | Mini Review
Many a moody black metal monument mesmerized me and monochrome’d my days (fuck that was terrible), but ultimately, nothing this year (or possibly ever) evoked as much feeling as this EP. It’s triumphant and wistful and it hits so damn hard, and on top of all that, it sounds fantastic. It’s great when acts realize that making raw black metal doesn’t mean you have to write the most basic-ass songs, and that melody is not the enemy. I can’t yet say for sure, but this might be the pinnacle of the many Erech Leleth projects, to which it was my overdue introduction. You should go check for yourself though!
7. Snuffed on Sight – s/t & Tales from the Gutter
Independent/Barbaric Brutality | Free Flush Review
Had to do it. Couldn’t not. Look, Greed put out a great stomper of a record this year. Burn In Hell released a perhaps even greater one with a message that deserves support. But that’s just the problem: both of them are earnest efforts, and I just don’t feel that that’s where the genre is at its best. For some reason, I need that absolute knuckle-dragging ridiculousness. Gimme stupid hard breakdowns and some inane lyrics that unabashedly go for the basic clichés, and my monke brain shall rejoice. At the metallic hardcore film festival, Snuffed on Sight are “Man Getting Hit By Football,” and hell yes am I voting for them.
9. Cognos – Cognos
Willowtip | Premiere
What gets me every time with this one are the vocal hooks, which feel like they’re built to stretch across vast distances of not just space, but time, tickling me with an odd sense of familiarity, as if I’d known this album for decades and just rediscovered it in my older brother’s CD collection. At the same time, Cognos doesn’t really sound like anything I’ve ever heard. A tech thrash/prog death hybrid of unknown origin made by unknown people… it really leaves only one explanation.
6. Henbane Chariot – Allpine Séance
In the catharsis v escapism debate, this one falls hard on the side of escapism. I don’t know if it’s a concept album, but it feels like the music fleshes out the peculiar pastoral world of the cover art, populating it with further mystical creatures and delving deeper into its rich, cool, verdant green. This impression is helped in no small part by the tasteful ambient soundscapes strewn throughout. Let it take you on a tour of this realm’s calm beauty as well as its eerie, darker corners. If you’re at all into Yellow Eyes, you should greatly enjoy the trip.
5. Black Hole Deity – Lair of Xenolich
Everlasting Spew | Spear Premiear
Seems like this one was on a bit of a journey. After reading Spear’s premiere, the site pointed me to my own one, written over a year earlier, when the EP was supposed to come out on Lavadome at some then-unknown point. Count on one of the top purveyors of Dope Death Metal™ to come through and finally unleash this beauty unto the world. For a good week after its release, I listened to it at least once per day, and coming back to it now, I can can still easily see why. Highly engaging, immensely satisfying, tech-but-not-too-tech, and constantly propelled forward by very creative drumming. Even the interlude track is beautiful!
8. Beekeeper – Slaves to the Nothing (re-issue)
Metal Assault | Mini Review
Not only was I already sure this would make the list back in April, I’m pretty sure it’d still be here even if I’d already had it on my list back in 2017. It not only holds up, but still wipes the floor with its contenders. Who else has this much fun with the genre without mentioning beer or pizza even once? Nobody, that’s who. Unrivaled is the perfect balance between shredding and intricate riffwork, unmatched is the vocal prowess on display. My only gripe is that only the test press of the vinyl received the awesome alternate cover art.
2. Swelling Repulsion – The Severed Path
Reaping Scythe Records | Mini Review (and credit to Roldy for the rec)
There’s been a lot of great death metal records this year, but I found none of them quite as arresting as this one. What I’ve called moderation in the review could also be considered modesty; where others insist on bombast and length in an attempt to create something “epic,” the way these guys serve up one great idea after another before quickly clearing the table again for the next course seems understated in comparison, and therein lies one of the album’s many strengths. I don’t know what other points from the review I could rephrase, so allow me to just quote directly: “hearing […] the best death metal […] remains […] cool.”
1. Fading Trail – Count the Days
EveryDayHate | Mini Review
A simple explanation would be that this is only here because of how much it reminds me of Noisem, but a) that’s very high praise, and b) it’s testament to the fact that you simply don’t see a mix of death, thrash, and grind executed with such perfection very often. And as if this wasn’t enough to thoroughly wring the part of my brain that dishes out the good chemicals, they add a dash of noise (sometimes subtly, sometimes overt) and end the record on an experimental track that probably shouldn’t work for me but somehow absolutely does. A slapper from front to back.
3. Headshrinker – Callous Indifference
I hope nobody who came across this dismissed it as a standard OSDM record, because while elements of that are there, there’s also so much more. The “more” occasionally manifests very overtly by borrowing the crushing power of hardcore (“Cadaver’s Mind”) or the foreboding dread of death doom (“Haunted by Your Reflection”), but even the most innocent-seeming, straightforward death metal parts are pervaded by a sense of slithering eerieness. Out of all the records created under the quarantine, this one perhaps best manifests the bizarre concept of the “new normal” by injecting a constant uneasiness into what should be familiar. I wish I’d found more time to articulate this, but although no review ever manifested, Headshrinker still get credit for being the first to reel me back in and make me want to write again after some time spent away from all music.
10. Sentinel Beast – Depths of Death (re-issue)
Someone dropped out at the last minute, and between grind, prog death, heavy metal, and some serious Voidhanger-core, there were just too many replacement options, so I chose to reject 2021 and embrace 1986. I hadn’t heard of this before it landed in my inbox a while back, and had I not gone back to actually read the email, I wouldn’t even have known how old this is, but I can see why it gets re-released every couple of years. It’s well-written power thrash with a great sound, some serious talent behind, and a bit of a mean streak that escaped time’s distortion lense of goofiness. There’s nary a slouch to be found, and the ambitious cover of “Phantom of the Opera” is pulled off with aplomb. Sadly, 2 tracks from the 2015 version still remain the only trace of this thing on Bandcamp. Oh well. Better luck in 3-5 years maybe.