Top Tech of 2021
You thought you were safe from list season? Safe from tech death? You don’t know how wrong you are.
I know. I haven’t stayed tech. It’s been rough trying to stay on top of writing for quite some time now, but this isn’t about me; this is about the music. While I may have been slacking, the bands today certainly haven’t, and there’s been a glut of sweet tech death releases this year. I’ve gathered up ten of my favorites, barring a couple that appeared on my general top 10 list (which you can check out here). If you don’t see your favorite album listed, go check that one first; if it’s not on either of them, then you can head down to the comments to yell at me about it. So without further ado, here’s my top 10 tech death albums of 2021.
If a band can take deathcore tropes and make them palatable to my tastes, they must be doing something right. That said, to call Abiotic “deathcore” would be reductive at best and horribly inaccurate at worst; they just happen to take some of the better parts of that style and work it into their own music. Turns out prog death can shine with big dumb chuggy breakdowns and hyper-aggressive vocals, and Abiotic aren’t afraid to get ignorant when the song calls for it. Besides all that, this is a dark, savage album that is a lot smarter than the preceding sentences might indicate, and it’s the album that well and truly made me a fan of the band.
I saw a lot of hype around this album leading up to its release and haven’t heard a ton of people around here talking about it since, so I’m here to remind you that handily earns its place on this list alongside the likes of Archspire and Inferi. This album is everything that modern death metal should aspire to be, stuffed with muscular riffing and impressive instrumental work, powerful and adventurous and exciting. It’s the apotheosis of the style of music they established for themselves on A Tunnel to Eden; as much as I enjoyed that album and last year’s Insurmountable EP, this new album leaves them both in the dust. Alustrium has leveled up in a major way here, and if you haven’t been paying attention to them, now’s a great time to start.
Astraios’ Calling is an impressive first outing, especially as a one-man project. Some of the more archetypal tech death moments bear some Christian Muenzner influence and a couple parts have that Psycroptic-style liquid fire sound, but that only makes up part of the act’s multifaceted approach to the genre, incorporating guitar-driven atmospheric parts, chunky grooves, and some brilliant lead guitar. The pacing here is excellent, too; a lot of solo projects like to have everything at 100 all the time, but Arcane Sanctuary knows when to let off the gas and give the listener a break. It shreds, it grooves, and it’s a damn fine listen. Don’t sleep on this one.
I mean, yeah. Have you heard this thing? Archspire is one of the best bands in the scene right now, and Bleed the Future continues their upward trajectory; maybe it’s not as drastic a jump in quality as Lucid Collective to Relentless Mutation was, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The songwriting has continued to grow tighter and stronger without relenting on the speed, and they’ve continued to experiment with their sound while keeping it all melodic and catchy. This is hands-down one of the most fun releases of 2021.
Atvm – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless
Independent | Review
It’s got Colin Marston on mixing and mastering, and that’s basically all you need to know, right? But I guess that might not be enough for some of you, in which case you should really click through to that Tech Death Thursday feature linked above to get a better idea of what this album’s all about. If you don’t have time for that, though, just know that Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless is a unique, eclectic record that rocks in ways that you rarely hear in the genre. It kinda does everything, and it does it all well; just go listen to it already.
Burial in the Sky – The Consumed Self
Rising Nemesis Records | Review
It’s cool to see a band you’ve been following from the start go from pretty good to great. The Consumed Self isn’t a total reinvention of their sound, but a reexamination of it with a different perspective, and boy did it pay off. You can practically hear it happen in real time, too, as the album starts off with a feel reminiscent of their previous two outings and gradually shifts to something a little more grounded but no less resplendent. It’s pretty, melodic, and loaded up with saxophone- everything you need from a great progressive death metal album.
Dissonant death metal fans were spoiled for choice this year, seeing great new records from Sunless, Ad Nauseam, Blindfolded and Led to the Woods, and Replicant. All of these bands have gotten their due in some form or another here on the Toilet, and I want to make sure that Cathexis did as well. Much like Sunless, they take after Gorguts in their approach to tension while keeping it feeling very “death metal” in the general vibe; there are distinct riffs and themes in here, weird as it gets at times. Untethered Abyss also keeps things concise at only eight tracks averaging around four minutes in length, so it’s a very easy one to dive into if you don’t want to put yourself through the ringer with a huge cerebral outing. For my money, this is one of the best entry points into the genre you could look for, and there’s plenty to like for long-time listeners as well.
Hannes Grossmann – To Where the Light Retreats
Independent | Review
Should there come a time I stop simping for Hannes Grossmann, assume that I am either dead or have been replaced with a fae doppelganger. The man has a style all his own in songwriting, playing, and producing, and there’s something about it that I can’t get enough of. He has a knack for taking strange ideas and making them sound natural and effortless as well as taking more mundane ideas and putting an interesting twist on them. It’s one of those things that’s hard to put into words, but you get it when you hear it. In any case, To Where the Light Retreats is some of his best work to date; the album has everything I was looking for and then some, and it easily became one of my favorites in his body of work.
I think it’s fair to say at this point that Inferi are the best at what they do. I’m sure there are other bands out there playing in this style of melodic tech with the same level of instrumental alacrity, but you’d be hard pressed to find another with the same level of personality. Vile Genesis is brimming with dark majesty, brought to life by technical and flavorful compositions that evoke a looming sense of dread as much as they awe with their intricacy. It’s also worth pointing out that this is the best-sounding Inferi album to date; they really upped their production and engineering games on this one (well, really on the EP from last year, but it’s been further refined here), and it means you’ll get to hear every note in perfect clarity. There is no wasted space in writing or production here, and it’s one of both the year’s and the band’s best.
A Valediction might feel a bit basic in comparison to their last two albums, Diluvium and Akroasis, but I think it’s the best thing the band could have done after releasing its dull, bloated predecessor. This is nothing you haven’t heard before, and any complaints you might levy against Obscura or tech death in general will certainly apply here, but I don’t particularly care. A lot of bands model themselves after this style for a reason, and this is a very solid take on it. It’s very much a “comfort food” album; it’s nothing terribly new or innovative, but it’s super palatable and a fun listen, and it hits just right.
That’s a wrap for me folks. It was a solid year for tech, and this list is hardly definitive; plenty of albums could have been included here, but these were the cream of the crop for me. Feel free to shout out some of the other good stuff from the genre in the comments, drop your own lists, yell at me about how wrong I am, but whatever you do,