The Top 20 Albums of February | 2021

THE TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH is just that, a grip of twenty albums that’d resonated most powerfully throughout this month. If you’re new to the site, it’ll be about 75-100% metal albums. Choices are selected based on temporal immersion, personal connection, impressive style/personality, and with great consideration for the lasting value of each album. All choices are ultimately personal and land without consideration for popular culture, hype or “relevance”. There are several albums that I will leave out of this list, but they’ll still be considered for end of the year list(s). Links to full reviews are provided when applicable. Do not think I’ve overlooked any promotional material, I am but one man and writing about music is a passion I afford as much time as is manageable. I am eternally grateful to have so much to choose from. Thank you.

I. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Though being publically mocked with falsity out of the blue by content creators whom I’d provided a signal boost for was surely awkward, the summed successes of February outweigh one oddly intense point of random negativity. In light of this (resolved) issue, I must restate: I reserve the right to rescind any/all personal/professional endorsements I’ve given over the years, I cannot stress enough that I have always intentionally put myself in a position where — I don’t owe you anything, you don’t owe me anything. It is my website, after all, and folks will remember I ended my Patreon campaign years ago to ensure I answer to no one. After nearly four years we’ve reached an average of ~40,000 unique viewers (not counting multiple page views per user) per month, if this seems relatively small (or even braggart by some measure?) I suppose my point suggests the good outweighs the bad as increasing numbers of folks are reading and contacting me with positive interactions. This is by the free will of kind folks with similar or nearby interests. Grizzly Butts is neither an egotistical resume nor a clout generator; Nothing I do is monetized or intending to build a profession, I have one of those already. The intent has remained steadfast: To create entertaining, informational writing that delights in the past, present, and future of what great lineages thread their way through the genres of music I’ve a passion for. It is free in most every sense, all interactions mean well, and there is no wastrel vanity permitted nor cyber-psycho cruelty entertained.

II. “Successes”, eh? Apart from a triumphant month of high quality heavy music releases, a much appreciated yet briefly lain 10″ blanket of snow across the land, and… slightly reduced caffeine intake on my part the major news is that some long term goals are nearing public visibility. After being delayed a full year, Mystification begins in 2021 as a print newsletter/zine which intends to release as often as material insists. This necessitates Spirit Coffin Publishing is now official and registered as distributor of books, zines, and (eventually) music ~at cost of operation. Some official information will release for both entities soon as websites are finished, products become available, and some printing logistics are finalized. Getting some printed medium ideas off the ground has been a major goal since the websites inception so, it is a big deal even if nobody buys it. I’ve got various other unrelated small successes in hand but, the point of mentioning this is to suggest the steadfast pursuit of well-intentioned goals will always triumph over aggressive opportunism and self-defeating attitudes.

III. February releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewFive the Hierophant, Echoplain, Sullen Guest, Mistweaver, Coffin Mulch, and Shadows. Some may not be covered due to time constraints or they will end up in lists later on. This month is one of the strongest release schedules we’ve had in several month, featuring old favorites doing new things and new favorites appearing from the mist.

IV. Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels and PR firms who choose to work with me — As well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. The goals and ethos of Grizzly Butts have not changed in 2021 but this year I will focus on long-form reviews, sub-genre features, more interviews, and generally keeping up to date with new releases. Thank you.

#1Album of the Month
TITLE:Psychic Secretions
RECORD LABEL(S):Nuclear War Now! Productions

The latest and long-awaited Stargazer album seems to have been delayed due to pandemic related production and shipping issues, which have become commonplace, but the digital and CD versions finally arrived in early February. Few extreme metal bands persist within my ‘favorite bands’ mind palace as consistently as these Australians, and admittedly alongside some of their related bands. ‘Psychic Secretions’ is a brilliant follow-up to the flowing by still meticulously arranged verve of their celebrated ‘A Merging to the Boundless’ record, achieving broader strides of painterly progressive death metal motions without losing that thrashing black/death metal register. Though it’d be natural to affix this band to their countrymen or the more recent material from Absu, this record speaks more to the early works of progressive death metal most while putting their own wrathful spin on the more intense moments that surface throughout. At face value I can see why the louder bass tone and subdued atmosphere of certain pieces might test the patience of folks who, uh, don’t necessarily like early Sadus and Atheist but this is most definitely my gig. If this one is hard to digest, make sure you get the context of their full discography (it is all on Bandcamp now) as the progression is entirely sensical, each record really lends itself to time and fixation.

TITLE:The Cyclic Reckoning
RECORD LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records

In the moment, in retrospect, in deep analysis, and in the glare of their skull-shocking psychedelic blackened death metal sound Suffering Hour are always thinking a mile ahead of where they’re at, blazing it in the moment with a well-honed austerity, a physical prescience that is easily imagined. ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ resolves not only the issue of this Minnesota/Denver-based group pulling into their own realm but creates a fresh signature path that they’re ready to push beyond even before the record completes its revolution. References to Bølzer, Sinmara, and a slower more methodically achieved set of arrangements make this exactly my kind of record to start but beyond those stylistic feats what’d struck me about ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ was its driven nature, the fire and brimstone effects-coughing tonal variance of the guitars from song to song is thrilling enough but it is where these guys take their craft in statement that stuck with me. I would certainly entertain arguments parsing out whether #2 and #3 on this list could be interchangeable, in this case I’ve returned to this record more often though I’ve loved each.

TITLE:The Thule Grimoires

Impossible to reduce yet easy to delve into for seeming infinite amounts of time, ‘The Thule Grimoires’ is yet another pool of dark radiance from the maestro of borderless atmospheric extreme metal. This one introduces more prominent clean vocals and gothic rock/darkwave influences which accumulate unto a form that is perhaps The Ruins of Beverast version of melodic death/doom metal in some sense. The result is brilliant, maximal yet intimately expressed exploration of what becomes a core thematic evolution for the artist’s singular cinematic vision. I found this album very similar in tone and vision to that of Triptykon and this is perhaps the first time I’ve felt even slightly justified suggesting a semblance to another group for this project beyond maybe Aeternus back in 2009. For my own taste ‘Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer’ was perfection, which shouldn’t suggest the two records and handful of brilliant split releases have been lesser, in fact they are bigger and better in some regard. Instead I’d say as a fan that is where the blood flows most heartily from and ‘The Thule Grimoires’ lives far and beyond already high standards when given time to breathe and expand within the mind.

TITLE:Temple of Khronos
RECORD LABEL(S):Sentient Ruin Laboratories

It is a rare month where I have rushed out and bought each of the top five releases on my ‘best of the month’ list before I’ve even drafted it. I say this because in the midst of reviewing Spire‘s second album ‘Temple of Khronos’ I’d clicked over and bought it without a second thought. Why? I think each of the surrounding favored releases this month help to justify that. What sold me on this distinct, forward-thinking voice of this Australian avant-garde black/death metal band wasn’t so much their stylistic bent but the feeling that I’d been transported through an idiosyncratic world with great musical value attached. All that is in their past was metamorphosis’ aggrandizing potential and here Spire strike into a psychotic black metal realm that employs notable melody, unique clean vocals, and brutal pillars of dissonant vibrancy throughout. They’ve unleashed a sprawling, caustic, stoic and whirling a black flamed work here, an ascension worth witnessing as it occurs.

TITLE:For the Glory of Your Redeemer
RECORD LABEL(S):Terratur Possessions

Though they’ve heaps of incredible records in their cult there is some good justification for Terratur Possessions to suggest ‘For the Glory of Your Redeemer’ is somewhat of a representative work for their efforts. This unnamed Trondheim, Norway based group persists with their second great work, a three song chasm of biblical tragedy and Satanic triumph that’d captivated me the entire month. Raising the production values to those of recent Sinmara/Misþyrming records finds Misotheist increasingly profound in their long-arced melodic tremolo based movements, each unfolding as if a response to a cataclysmic event too horrifying to even mourn. They are traumatic, violent yet beautiful landscapes to walk through as each song presents itself a complete and stoic musical statement that never shies from expressive guitar work. I’d felt this album burst with personality when I first approached it and it remains a joy to revisit every chance I get. Also, it must be said that the actual gatefold LP is a masterful object as well.

TITLE:Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone
RECORD LABEL(S):Willowtip Records

Technical/brutal death metal was most certainly my “thing” from 1998 through ~2007 after discovering Anata and Deeds of Flesh beyond the classics of the 90’s and some of the more popular bands of the era (Krisiun, Hate Eternal, Nile, etc.) if you think the current trend of kinda half-hearted 90’s death metal worship is revolutionary in any sense, just wait until the nostalgia for this era becomes more prominent in the coming decade. Sorry for the declarative statements, anyhow, Ominous Ruin are a Bay Area technical/brutal death metal band who live up to the high standards of this classic era at its peak. A mind-spanking level of technicality, songcraft, and brilliant self-production job make for a feat that should absolutely not be downplayed this year. ‘Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone’ doesn’t speak to nostalgia so much as its themes revolve around regret, living with the consequences of choices made and opportunities squandered and this’ll be a real punch in the shoulder to folks who’ve lived a bit. In terms of where this lands in the realm of modern brutal/tech-death think along the lines of Inanimate Existence, mid-period Spawn of Possession, and Decrepit Birth.

RECORD LABEL(S):Consouling Sounds,
Babylon Doom Cult

Of course the one band I couldn’t remember the name of (early Lugubrum) is probably the ‘right’ comparison to make for this likewise Belgium-based raw black/doom metal band. Of course I could provide far more context than that but that is what the full review is for. In the past they’ve entertained doom and sludge metal influences more aggressively but for this one they’ve slid into pure mesmerism via creep and dirge black metal ethos. ‘Lede’ was such a fine album before it but I am glad they’ve kept me guessing here because ‘Slonk’ is a brilliant surprise in terms of its overall style. I’ve described the album as “a thick flaked wintry night’s atmospheric blackness within an rusted industrial park” in the review, you can suss out the rest and read it.

TITLE:Through Aureate Void
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Essence Records

Though my knowledge of jazz music runs about as deep as some progressive/technical death metal bands, Coltrane, and a number of educational documentaries over the years this latest album from British experimental/avant-garde post-black/doom metal act Five the Hierophant does appeal to me for its outright exploration of lounging, ominous jazz rhythms, including prominent saxophone presence for most of the album. I’ll normally shy away from purely instrumental albums as I find they outlast their welcome quickly on my shelves, but I’ve found this record captivating thus far and it has gone a long way towards keeping me interested in the late February glut of releases which I’d generally had trouble connecting with. I intend to review the album, if it is worth reading it’ll post but otherwise this one gets an uncharacteristically high mention from me this month.

TITLE:Humanoid [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Extremely Rotten Productions,
Night Shroud

I’ve been on board with this band since the release of ‘Dawn of the Apostates’ and every session remains redeeming regardless of the release. If I had to compare ‘Humanoid’ to their past works, it is especially close to the sword clashing timbre of ‘Towards Our Impending Doom’ in terms of production sound and intensity, leaving behind some slower ideas for the sake of this ~26 minute record being a wall of crushing force. Deiquisitor are very much in keeping with the greater history of early-to-mid 90’s brutality in their region such as Exmortem‘s classic ‘Labyrinths of Horror’ and certain works by Panzerchrist but it’d be more accurate to compare their sound to that of albums like Drawn and Quartered‘s ‘Extermination Revelry’ and maybe even Dead Congregation‘s ‘Graves of the Archangels’ where brutality and swarms of fleet-fingered chord modulation makes for an eerily shifting angular take on an (early) Deeds of Flesh-esque vacuum of unassumingly complex riff and roar.

RECORD LABEL(S):Redefining Darkness Records

The population is starving yet they go on dying because they’ll only eat one thing: Technical thrash metal and thankfully our saviors in riff and rhythm have returned with their debut full-length several years after their first official EP. Uppsala, Sweden’s Paranorm are admittedly going to sound somewhat familiar to folks who love Vektor and I hear a bit of Hexen‘s second album in there too but ‘Empyrean’ isn’t interesting simply because of some superficial semblance of pattern and phrasing. Instead it is the greater journey they’ve set in motion that thrills, especially when they dig deeper into their NWOBHM influenced bag of tricks and resemble their closer-held influences such as late 80’s Megadeth. The picture isn’t entirely complete until I’ve mentioned some of the melodic black/thrash aspects of groups like Skeletonwitch alongside these observations but suffice to say ‘Empyrean’ is an album that builds upon auld classics and recent triumphs for a over the top shred-heavy classic thrash metal record with some death/thrash metal appeal in hand.

RECORD LABEL(S):Carbonized Records

Formed in 2018 between guitarist Matt Gomes (In Disgust) and drummer Cris Rodriguez (Deadpressure) after their short-lived yet underrated band Altars split-up Socioclast seems to have been an intentional return to the roots of the sub-genre. Their style is as informed by early 90’s hardcore just as albums like Mule Skinner‘s ‘Abuse’ and Nasum‘s ‘Industrislaven’ were but you’ll still get those dissonant crunches and moshable deathgrind hits a la Assück’s ‘Anticapital’ and especially Discordance Axis ‘Jouhou’. Don’t know any of those albums? Think of Terrorizer (or Nausea) taken up a notch, moshing a bit harder and utilizing odd-time signatures here and there without going full-on death metal. Short but all killer grindcore that I couldn’t stop listening to mid-month.

RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Essence Records

Formerly an extreme variant of Scandinavian early 90’s styled hardcore, Norway’s Vestindien now arise reformed into what I’d describe as “atmospheric blackened metalpunk” where a treatise between proggy 70’s heavy rock bravado, Amebix infused crawls, post-black metal movements offer a sort of cumulative Quarthonian sound that makes for one of my favorite releases of the month. ‘Null’ is inherently nihilistic within its surface level poetic statement much of the time yet the whole of the album’s statement remains bent on exploration, treading its own path which is oddly modern yet ancient in feeling and timbre at times. Depending where you land on the enlightened metalpunk spectrum, or if you’re just interested in the black n’ roll spectrum of emotion this will be a deep cut record that’ll only improve in value over time.


Without a certain long-held love for obscure Polish black metal you might not “get” why I’d put ‘Wrath’ so high up on this list but… Then again I’d suggest four or five full listens to the album should pique anyone invested in underground melodic/atmospheric black metal. Though they are simply channeling the stoic pagan black metal of the past, be it early Behemoth and Gontyna Kry, or otherwise, Szary Wilk crystallize much of what I love about the less visible spectrum of melody in black metal today. This shouldn’t suggest they’ve been original in any sense but that their capture of a certain feeling is undeniably there and mulled over. As often as we get odes to Satanic Warmaster and Mgła within various underground circles few bands aim for equally sentimental melodies that diverge far from those lovely well-set pathways, the extra ingredient here is again early pagan black metal. “Wilczy Taniec” is perhaps the odd piece, owing to the Greek black metal spectrum for a few brief passages. The appeal an album holds is never solely about originality, contemporary takes on style etc. and in this case the brief full listen “feels” extremely right for my own taste and I’d enjoyed this one quite a bit.


The best way to sum Harakiri in the Sky is probably a conglomeration of dark metal in the first decade of the 2000’s. This includes the distraught emotional honesty of depressive suicidal black metal, the floaty long-winded compositions of lo-fi atmospheric black metal, and the post-rock, shoegaze influences of post-black metal. A bit of Austere, a healthy amount of AgallochAlcest, and some of the Katatonia-adjacent ideas that bands like Forgotten Tomb brought in the early-to-mid 2000’s all informed the early days of the project. Though many bands in this style cropped up back then next to none have stuck it out and made something unique of these elements as consistently as Harakiri For the Sky. Sitting with this incredibly long album, a double CD/LP with a near eighty minute length only appears to demand too much of your time on paper. In practice the experience bears its own captivating, melodramatic atmosphere which should endlessly transfix folks who appreciate the classics from bands I’ve mentioned. The appeal ultimately rests in the unique style that this duo forges from very specific taste. I found this record very easy to return to and somewhat addictive in terms of gratifying and morose melodicism. I’d liken the feeling to being inspired by a person’s life while attending a funeral.

TITLE:Reality Dagger [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Green Plague Records

Dopelord have quickly become one of my favorite Polish doom metal bands for their well-written take on psychedelic/stoner doom metal. They certainly enjoy the gigantic fidelity of modern stoner/doom production (think ‘Dopethrone’-era Electric Wizard, or Monolord) but their sights are set the clean and tight heavy rock influences afforded by the 70’s. It might be cliché to suggest Black Sabbath is an important part of their ethos but this is one of few bands whom express this without plain semblance or sonic design that aims for ‘Master of Reality’. So, in simpler terms: Huge modern stoner/doom sound, clever heavy rock songwriting, and plenty of appreciable detail throughout ‘Reality Dagger’. Their use of harsh vocals on the title track is solid and I appreciate whenever they push boundaries a bit. Love what these guys do and I am always stoked when their stuff hits me.

TITLE:Altars of Cosmic Devotion [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

The best way one could distinguish ‘Altars of Cosmic Devotion’ from the expectations its ‘ocean blue shower of death over a tomb’ cover artwork presents is essentially blackened death metal made by fans of elite black metal — In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one or two of these fellowes were in black metal bands I enjoy. Think of Kosmokrator for textural guitar aesthetics and abrupt riff changes but also keep pre-‘Hero’ era Bølzer in mind as extended, bold riff ideas begin to leap from an otherwise deadpan approach. In some ways what Vøidwomb have created here is what you’d expected from a (mostly) masked band out of their region of Europe yet when I’d sit to parse this extremely eventful progression it’d taken a while to let it sink in that it was only ~18 minutes long as it feels closer to a half hour when entrenched in the full listen. I’m not sure it justifies a big whopping 12″ record format but hey the album artwork certainly does. For a band you’d think you could predicate at a distance, Vøidwomb are surprisingly well-formed and managed to make quite typical subject matter a joy to return to for the sake of their riffs that would detail the underworld itself. Huge potential for this whole package and a fantastic debut.

TITLE:Of Ritual Necrophagia and Mysterious Ghoul Cults
RECORD LABEL(S):Regain Records

At just over an hour long ‘Of Ritual Necrophagia and Mysterious Ghoul Cults’ intends to be the definitive statement from Caedes Cruenta, performed live in Eleventh Tower Studios with the final rendering from the fellow who produced Rapture‘s (Greece) two most recent records. This roots in reality the living document of their mastery via strongest elder pieces alongside newer compositions and livewire performances — Impassioned and raw but always commanding the space they inhabit. It’ll surely feel redundant to buy the reissue of ‘Ερείπια Ψυχών’ from last year and compare it with this album since a few tracks landed on this album as well (again, new session and sound) but these guys ultimately make their case for it with the recording quality and some well-curated selections to refurbish or, reimagine for this release. It is a release that may seem solely for dedicated fans but this is honestly a collection of their strongest pieces beyond a few deep cuts from very early work, it absolutely deserves a spot in my favorites since I’ve still not stopped listening to it. Classic Hellenic black metal with instantaneous appeal.

RECORD LABEL(S):Listenable Records

Although I think I’d gotten a bit lost in my exploration of Scandinavian melodic black metal appreciation in the midst of the review, I only regret underrating it somewhat. Yes, Side B is much more of my own taste compared to Side A but this doesn’t detract from the whole listening experience much. Fans of everything from Necrophobic and Dissection to Tribulation and The Spirit will find a brilliant and professional third record from this German band. Love the album art! And again the experience has appreciated in value even more with time, as all great albums ultimately do.

TITLE:Split 12″ [LP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Werewolf Records,
Hell’s Headbangers Records

A dungeon synth split? Was the month that bad? Or, was this split that good? Hey, February ruled and this split from Finnish dungeon synth (and sometimes black metal/ambient) projects Druadan Forest and Old Sorcery was an enjoyable part of that equation. I feel like you’re either a major dungeon synth fan who develops a certain taste over time or you’re like me, where you only really end up loving the stuff that fits a certain atmospheric vibe. I tend towards the medieval, high fantasy, swords and sorcery realm which largely stems from loving bands like Summoning. I was already a fan of Druadan Forest but I’d found Old Sorcery different yet equal in quality of statement, captivating yet still functional as background music if needed. I’d like to cover more of this type of music but I’ll have to decide where to take the ‘journalistic’ angle on it, at least the sort of angle that I’d bother to read myself.

TITLE:Polaroid Malibu
RECORD LABEL(S):Atypeek Music

Though there were a few standout noise rock-related records this month it was this French band’s gloomy, frantic post-punk influenced slouch n’ twitcher ‘Polaroid Malibu’ that’d stood out most for my own taste. Abstract, absurdist, and extremely tight in their rhythmic lock the interplay here occasionally reaches a sort of math-rockin’ froth that fans of the post-hardcore spectrum of noise rock will especially appreciate. Things never quite go ‘metal’ but the frenzied collapse of most pieces should be of interest to fans of sullen, distraught and fried noise rock that still maintains a sort of experimental/harsh affect now and then. More thoughts once the review is finished.


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