The Top 20 Albums of March | 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, point of view, 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. Pour fresh nosoi from charred pithos to prolong the suffering of existence. The grotesque human experiment continues, our library of homicidal mRNA fusion now absorbs yet another invader conjured from the flesh of our prey into the predatorial summit. Raise altar to Hygeia, those who’ve… by luck, circumstance or opportunism managed resilience. The season of hanging smoke from smoldering wildfires will be upon us soon enough, now’d be the best time to take a deep breath and keep your blood moving.

II. Mystification Issue #1 should be ready by June, potentially earlier. Full color cover, perfect binding, no ads, and still allowing some leeway in the page count if any readers/artists have pitches before then and now. Illustrations and black & white photography needed. Since I kinda hate endless preamble marketing for zines and music it’ll all be finished, printed and in hand by the time I mention it again.

III. March releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewBlack Mass Pervertor, La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio and Acid Age. Some may not be covered due to time constraints or they will end up in lists later on. This month turned out alright, without #1 I’d have complained a bit here.

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:Malevolent Demise Incarnation
Headsplit Records [CS]

In my mind there was no way Athens, Greece-based death/thrash metal quartet Rapture were going to top ‘Paroxysm of Hatred’ (2018), an album that has appreciated well over time and warranted buying both CD and LP versions for the sake of my own excess, yet ‘Malevolent Demise Incarnation’ manages to amplify their brutal ‘old school’ attack to the next echelon of death metal attack. Slamming head first into this album affected my brain in the best way possible, pure morbidity and body-high worthy rhythmic aggression. They’ve done exemplar work crafting these pieces for intensity, intricacy and heaviest impact yet. It’ll just never get old in my mind, timeless as records like ‘A Shedding of Skin’ yet not entirely stuck in the early 90’s for inspiration.

TITLE:In the Days of Whore

Ancient pillars reassembled to hold up heavier, darkening skies — An amalgam of classic Greek black metal craft and freely experimental works finds ‘In The Days of Whore‘ a miasmic collage of high atmospheric avant-classicism in the hands of Zaratus, a duo featuring fellowes best known from Varathron and Thou Art Lord. Expressive, inventive, over the top and already rich with stunning personality there is no denying the power of auld ideals meeting freshened perspective. Each artist appears “all in” to these songs and unhindered by expectations, pushing for something more and I continue to find great inspiration in the results.

TITLE:Biolume Part 2: The Golden Orb
RECORD LABEL(S):I, Voidhanger Records

Since this’d been the first time I’d reviewed a Midnight Odyssey album in any depth this one goes pretty overboard in terms of past and present, a difficult spread to assess considering the sprawl of Dis Pater‘s discography where quality comes in gigantic double or triple LP packages. After releasing two brilliant dungeon synth records last year I’ll admit I was surprised not only that this one was ready to go early in the year but that it’d be in a different style. Call it “black metal” all you like, you’ll be stretching that definition to its most delusional limit by the time all is said and done. The roots of this album land somewhere between dungeon synth, epic heavy metal, and a certain niche of black/doom metal where ‘Nordland’, Summoning, and Scald meet before ascending to a symphonic level of dramatism. Although I’ll have to hold out on importing a copy of the triple LP (~65.00 USD) here in the states this one is an absolute must for the year thus far. There is next to nothing else like it and the experience feels infinitely repeatable. Quite a long review if you’re up for it.

TITLE:Le Dernier Rempart
RECORD LABEL(S):Gates of Hell Records

Breton epic heavy metal quintet Herzel arrive with an unforgettably melodic and sword-championing heroic debut album in ‘Le Dernier Rempart‘. Not only do they echo the best traditions of French heavy metal but they’ve incorporated their own Celtic folk/prog-rock influences for a very lively but never too ‘on the nose’ album. Even if you do not speak French the consummate metalian will appreciate these stoic yet cleverly catchy melodic metal songs. There is good reason this record sold out quickly and it certainly wasn’t cheap hype, ‘Le Dernier Rempart’ isn’t a naïve accident or a “worship” metal record but a fully formed artist leading their own charge. Lots more to mull over in the review.

TITLE:Death Fugue
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released [Digital]
Headsplit Records [CS, CD]
Night Rhythms [LP]

As far as I’m concerned ‘old school’ minded and moldering death metal duo Anthropophagous have proven themselves one of the finer modern acts in this haunted garage-brewed modern death metal realm. The basal strains are early Autopsy and Repulsion but the additional cues come from death/thrash metal, 80’s death metal in general, and some grinders too. This isn’t a huge surprise when set next to their first demo tape/EP but it does stand in contrast to their second demo, which’d been a bit more of a brutal cave mutant and ‘Death Fugue’ is almost characteristically death/thrash in style. Of course I love it and haven’t been able to quit this one for weeks on end. Slick running order, no bullshit to speak of, and some nasty vocals that remind me of early Acid Witch for whatever reason. This one and Dipygus have really stuck with me so far this year.

TITLE:Paa Dækket Kalder De Døde [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Wolfspell Records

Danish “historical” black metal duo Ildskær continue to be one of my personal favorite recent discoveries after their debut LP ‘Den Rædsomste Nat’ released last year. Just when you might’ve found them sort of average their songwriting somehow sticks easily to the ear This EP sets us just beyond the subjects explored on the full-length, jumping right into the Kanonbådskrigen the “Gunboat War” between allied Danish-Norwegian naval forces and the British during the Napoleonic Wars. Copenhagen in flames, gunboats constituting guerrilla warfare against the Royal fleet, the intrigue of these auld historical battles and a bygone era are entirely fitting as the inspiration for the neatly melodic black metal guitar work that speaks as the major voice and conveyance of ‘Paa Dækket Kalder De Døde’. Again, this album sold out for good reason (well, that and a smaller run) but I’m hoping copies eventually find their way to the Americas.

TITLE:As Blades in the Firmament
RECORD LABEL(S):Oration Records,
End All Life Productions

Portuguese black metal artist W.uR (Israthoum) exits his manuscript littered crypt to dole a profound celebrant of the now most glaring spiritual defeat of mankind, where extremist fools cannot help but take all else with them as they burn themselves alive. Set as a grand omniscient witness to the collapse of heavenly bodies thanks to rich but steady atmospheric presence from Studio Emissary, much of ‘As Blades in the Firmament’ avoids the sort of bombastic rocking affront of Monte Penumbra‘s debut full-length, instead aiming for a sublime inner layer of nuanced fluid states. Too much to really get into here but needless to say this album continues to expand within my mind, still taking a variety of terrifying shapes.

RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

Though it might seem like German noise rock trio Trigger Cut are exclusively playing to the crowd with a nostalgic sound they’ve done a fine job of personalizing every statement, leading with taste first and then inserting themselves into every moment. After a certain number of spins through it, ‘ROGO’ was speaking to me as the product of an overwhelmed mind caught up in the moment, a cathartic yet earnest stumble through dystopic projections… Some of which’d make perfect sense no matter the angle and others that seemed to stem from from jamming it out, a well developed instrumental intimacy that creates clever sonic details out of thin air. Thus far one of scant few noise rock highlights for 2021.

RECORD LABEL(S):The Artisan Era

Classic melodic black/death metal influenced modern technical/melodic death metal doesn’t thrill the mind as a description on paper yet Geneva, Switzerland-based quintet Stortregn certainly deserve some accolades for what they’ve pulled off with ‘Impermanence’. Dark metal atmosphere, tech-death level intricacy and a rocket-thrust would all sound a bit like the mid-to-late 2000’s spectrum of melodeath-core were it not aided by the newer-aged spectrum of atmospheric melodic death metal. Believe me unraveling the sub-genre details here is just as boring to me but these guys have genuinely released a form of this music that is the embodiment of “it’s complicated” death metal that will appeal to a fans of everything from Quo Vadis (Canada) to Omnium Gatherum. A fine album that truly punches its way out of the speakers.

RECORD LABEL(S):Transcending Obscurity Records

In terms of composition and movement speed Portuguese funeral death/doom metal band Sepulcros land with a balance in mind that is closest to that of Worship, Mindrot, and Tyranny‘s ‘Aeons in Tectonic Interment’. That is to suggest that they present extended periods of rest yet when it comes time for riffs to launch they retain readable phrasing. A modern equivalent for this sense of movement is Fuoco Fatuo‘s ‘Backwater’ or Convocation‘s ‘Scars Across’. What characterizes ‘Vazio’ beyond these comparisons of timbre, movement, is ultimately Sepulcros‘ treatment of atmospheric sound design. It makes for a great album that requires some serious immersion into their realm before their choices begin to click. A grower that deserves patience.

TITLE:Bionic Swarm
RECORD LABEL(S):Century Media Records

Although I’d argue Distillator were above average in their previous state, this rebranding into a science fiction-themed semi-technical thrash metal band in formation of Cryptosis is nonetheless surprisingly good. ‘Bionic Swarm’ begins aiming for a sort of progressive/extreme thrash metal dynamic before pulling back towards their own muscle memory for modern thrash metal reinvention, rooted in prog metal sized visions of early Megadeth. Plenty of keyboards, ambitious movements and hardcorish moshable sections mean the thrash riffing idealist might grow bored of pieces that aim for a moving crowd rather than the trained thrasher ear. For my own taste it kind of hits the same spot as the most recent Havok record, a band working with all the right pieces but writing songs that generally forget to stand out or, speak clear enough the theme in hand. Sounds like I’m down on the record? Not at all, standards are high for this sort of thing. Though ‘Bionic Swarm’ may not be the most memorable record of the year no doubt Cryptosis arrive more inspired than ever and going for broke with this solid concept album.

TITLE:Solar Paroxysm
RECORD LABEL(S):I, Voidhanger Records

Though I am far from an expert on all things Mare Cognitum the sea change inherent to atmospheric black metal artist Jacob Buczarski‘s fifth entry in this main solo project is hard to miss. It is a change I’d like to Portal‘s recent mind-bending ‘Ion’ where the blur is replaced by crystal clarity and the result is perfectly clear musicianship, brightened voicing and a move from the balcony to the front row to these ~10 minute pieces. If you’d felt ‘Phobos Monolith’ was the strongest leap forward in this project’s lifespan I’d suggest taking a closer look at ‘Solar Paroxysm’ and seeing if this might be the most bold movement to date. Beyond this boosted talk of triumphant unveiling we’ve got several quite lucid moments of melodic black metal inspired movement, typically my favorite points of the full listen. Though I’ll admit I don’t find these songs entirely memorable for the sake of their length the overall effect is strong in the moment.

TITLE:Conflagrate the Celestial Refugium
RECORD LABEL(S):Lavadome Productions

Outrageous blasting speed, morbid death/thrashing riffs, infernal rasped n’ roared vocals present veritable orchestrations of chaotic yet still inherently traditional extreme metal forms as the riffcraft that blazes across Cambion‘s aggressive yarn clearly spawns from a mind obsessed. If you were as big into brutal death metal’s blast-heavy hyper speed attack (via Krisiun, Angelcorpse, and Centurian) as I was in the early 2000’s you’ll definitely want to track down a copy of this multi-national death metal acts debut. ‘Conflagrate the Celestial Refugium’ is all about speed, precision and impressive feats of riff.

TITLE:The Atonality of Flesh
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

Abrasive, piss-storming and performatively necro-overdriven Svensk first wave black/speed metallic duo Reaper haven’t drastically changed course in a matter of a year. If their ruinous riffs, doubly ominous tonality and shockingly punk-fucked sound on ‘The Atonality of Flesh‘ is any indication, these unidentified fellowes clearly spent the interim huffing the gluey adipocere of well spunked d-beat corpses and in doing so now more heavily relay the primal energy of early 80’s hardcore punk/crust — Drawing lines between a classic era of songwriting edge in service of first wave black metal and adjacent early 80’s speed metal furor. How in the Hell they’ve managed this and still sound hard as fuck is pretty amazing. This shit ain’t fun, it is ugly as Hell and memorable throughout.

TITLE:Wish to Leave
RECORD LABEL(S):Cruz Del Sur Music

From a point of high fantasy at the end of a rope toward sentimental slice-of-life passages the non-traditional meandering heart of Siegen, Germany-borne heavy metal act Lunar Shadow is impatient by design, not for the sake of harried intensity but an eagerness to present their newest and freshest flow of ideas first. The quintet, whom feature guitarist, vocalist and key songwriter Max Birbaum as the central personality of this latest work, present their third full-length since forming in 2014 as a make-or-break transitional movement onto the next… Well, whatever may come next. ‘Wish to Leave‘ appears as a too-long hesitation at the door, packed and ready to go without confrontation yet stifled from moving beyond beloved traditional heavy metal for the sake of an emotional connection to the theatrical zeitgeist that’d sustained the project thus far. It is a remarkable half-step between worlds that often takes two steps back into epic heavy metal grandeur for effect yet it becomes clear that nothing short of a new horizon will sate whatever ambition pushes the artist away from comfort.

TITLE:Dunkle Millennia

Picking up ‘Dunkle Millennia’ and being struck by its professional sound and wildly stylized form I’d though to myself “Damn, how did I miss Kankar‘s other albums?” only to find to my surprise that this is the Thuringia, Germany-based duo’s debut, they’ve shown up to a christening with an pagan arsenal and little remorse for the ensuing massacre. Pagan black metal, the rock influenced atmospheric bustle of Inquisition and the texture-seeking varietal nature of Taake all grace this fine record from moment to moment but they’ve achieved something worthy of those parts rather than imitation of them. Of course the result is accessible, thunderous and listenable with plenty of gravel-surfing guitar tones and mystifying movements. An unexpected highlight from this month and I’d say an act with great potential.

TITLE:Semper Pessimus
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released

Looking back on Irish thrashers Acid Age and their storied history it’d be easy to kinda just flag ’em as party, cartoon retro thrash in view of their first couple of records but these guys were kinda just victims of a having a really loud rager with their gig, can’t really blame them for having a good time with it. Conceptualized around the collapse of the Roman Empire’s Julio-Claudian dynasty under the tyranny of Nero, ‘Semper Pessimus’ marks a full shift towards progressive thrash metal with death/thrash influences. Think of Anacrusis, Blind Illusion and a couple of swipes through the bins of weird early 90’s prog-thrash demo tapes thereafter and you’ll be in the right general neighborhood. More to say once I get around to a full review.

TITLE:A History of Nomadic Behavior
RECORD LABEL(S):Century Media Records

Around 1993 I saw the most intense picture of Eyehategod performing while reading a “live reviews” section of a popular magazine, they were pictured right above a photo of Unleashed drinking mead out of a horn, right there I had that first seedling planted in my mind that this might be my kind of music. The nostalgia is there for sure with this band, still a live show I’ve never turned down since and I’ve long collected their stuff on CD. So, think of it as replenishing a staple here. The one sludge metal band that always did it right is still doing it right and I still love ’em for it. In terms of how this compares with their discography or how well it sticks, considering the 7-14 year berth between albums has found the band updating their fidelity well enough and easing up on the guitar feedback considerably so if you’re in it for the real lo-fi side of the band this ain’t it but Eyehategod are still the gold standard for doom heavy, punk fucked music.

TITLE:Trivial Visions
RECORD LABEL(S):Svart Records

Crossed antennae and spliced wires aiming their alien pirate signal between quadrants of space, spying on each other’s whalesongs of conquest as if space invaders stealing cable television. Dark and extreme metal tickled psychedelic rock with flits of (recent) Oranssi Pazuzu and the wandering doomed psych of bands like Amon Acid drew me into the unique realm of ‘Trivial Visions’ and I guess I’d better save my more interesting thoughts for the review. The speedy programmed (probably) drums show some rough edges or, a still-forming ambitious vision and I love this aspect of La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio; Their sound feels a bit ancient in spirit while allowing for an emergent, jammed aura despite the music being purposefully arranged.

TITLE:Solidarity [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Self-Released,
Nocturnal Hustle

Quick EP, all killer late 80’s/early 90’s hardcore punk from Oakland-area folks you’ll probably recognize. I get hints of the first Neurosis (or Violent Coercion tapes?) here, some Boston hardcore barkers, and a couple Negative Approach quick kills. Very simple, very effective, definitely want more of this.


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