The Top 20 Albums of April | 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. Disenfranchisement and dissociation relent as we reach the point of Hexennacht. Freshly infused with mRNA of a prolific destructor and gaining its horrifying strength codon by codon, what mass of protein I was previous is now perturbed and shaken into a furious state of politically charged resentment for easily avoidable, life-altering public health crisis. There is no regulation to return to and these vultures that have sprung up around us have rooted to their perch. I relent from any stone-throwing, though, for the sake of solidarity with others and with the goal of re-cultivation of local community as a result of passionate thought. What better soundtrack to dissent, reformation, and solidarity exists than underground heavy music? April was full of violently thrashing otherworldly music, enriching black metal epics and just a few stellar doom metal moments yet, I have not felt entirely satisfied in reflection of this month’s releases. Choosing to overlook a few records (Altarage, Fuoco Fatuo) which will now receive quite late reviews set back my pace and focus a bit. I’m also playing through Ys IX: Monstrum Nox and yes, it is far (far) too anime for me.

II. Spirit Coffin Publishing launches officially this Friday, April 30th and the details can wait until then. I’ll make sure none of it interferes with Grizzly Butts‘ usual schedule although the zine that is in the works will operate somewhat in concert with the website in certain ways.

III. April releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewDomkraft, Helslave, Ifrinn, Nuclear Revenge, Fyrnask, Altarage, Fuoco Fatuo. Some may not be covered due to time constraints or they will end up in lists later on.

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:Preserved in Time
RECORD LABEL(S):Cruz Del Sur Music

April involved a lot of squirming away from hard work, daydreaming away from my desk while wanting little more than to sit with ‘Preserved in Time’ and be lost in its rapturous melodic intimacy. An epic doom metal album of the highest order and a bit of an event for me personally, having been completely absorbed by ‘Icarus‘ since 2013, there are few bands within this sub-genre I could’ve been more happy to get a new release from. Most any seriously engaged fan of traditional heavy metal can agree that it isn’t enough to be a technical vocalist, that it takes a real human instrument of conveyance beyond charismatic calculation to leave a lasting impression. This is the great organic strength of Wheel regardless of what album you’ll pick up, this particular one leans more traditional heavy metal in style while hitting harder on the riffs themselves. I just cannot put this one down and cannot wait for every moment of it to hit each time it plays.

TITLE:Visions of Trismegistos
RECORD LABEL(S):Hell’s Headbangers Records,
Indie Recordings

If Norwegian thrash metal side-project Nekromantheon was going to come back with a new album after so many years the assumption was that it would have to be transformative, exemplar, a new informatic for the lost art of thrash metal. Anything less would smear a pretty sharp run thus far, they’d more or less been heralded as saviors to some back in the day for their traditional take on fever dream blasted brutal thrash. After years of scrapping all but their best ideas, considering each piece as much as humanly possible and cutting the most intense versions possible, at the very least ‘Visions of Trismegistos’ can be seen as a high achievement in modern thrash metal. They haven’t merely focused on flash in the pan riffs or the “illusion of speed” energy so many modern thrash bands rely upon, instead Nekromantheon put nose to grindstone here and task themselves with writing songs that revolve heavily around a blistering pace and aggressive, percussive thrash metal riffing. The high standard is perhaps ‘Beneath the Remains’ and we could easily parse several more similarly energized works (the main riff for “Seven Rulers of Fate” is almost identical to a piece on No Return‘s ‘Psychological Conflict’) ad infinitum but the important point to make is that this is the signature Nekromantheon sound in dead serious form, making work that is easily on par with the standards of their work in Obliteration. I would say a near perfect thrash metal album thus far, we will see how the year treats it in terms of longevity.

TITLE:Burn in Many Mirrors
RECORD LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin

After kicking into some melodic black/death metal influences on their second album a few years back Manchester, England based quartet Wode took a detour into heavy/speed metal for a side project (Aggressive Perfector) that’d perhaps honed their skills in traditional heavy metal accoutrement and well, riffs, as we approach ‘Burn in Many Mirrors’. How does a bit of ‘Show No Mercy’ blend with feral blackened death metal? Well, I’d suggested this album opens as if Venenum were covering ‘Left Hand Path’ and for the layman that’ll equate to something like the first Necrophobic album with a more ranting, galloping style full of epic leads and snarling cacophonic vocals. The bigger point to make here, and what I’d tried to lead with in my review, is that they’ve achieved a brilliant sort of alchemical concoction, a fusion of forms that are both traditional and extreme yet read as fearsome and modern blood in motion. I found myself listening to this album an inordinate amount of time once I’d had the vinyl in my hands, those jaunty heavy metal kicks should probably read as death n’ roll to my aging ears but this one manages to be dead serious and a good time at once, which I’d great appreciated.

TITLE:Obsidian Katabasis
RECORD LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records

As much as I’d tried to deny it, there was no place within my head for funeral doom metal during 2020. Not for the sake of sensitivity or depression but the fear of losing momentum and grinding into a pool of inert meaninglessness. Well, why fight it any longer? I’d only briefly lost my inner patience for sorrowful and suffering extreme noise and at some point this month picking up ‘Obsidian Katabasis’ felt like the right thing to do. This Italian funeral death/doom metal band have put out what is arguably their best work to date with their third full-length, a three act and three interlude double LP that may be a bit awkwardly spaced between plates but exceeds the high standards set by ‘Backwater’. The major difference between then and now, is that they’ve conveyed motion, guiding voice, and varietal pace better than ever here. Rather than glooming within a wall of static horror ‘Obsidian Katabasis’ absolutely rolls and roars with the best of ’em. Early Evoken minus the keyboards and Esoteric should be easy observations in terms of likeness to start but each peace tends to roll into a dissonance that has more in common with Ignivomous or Grave Upheaval rather than the usual suspects. Lots more to say about this one at some point, if I end up reviewing it.

RECORD LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions

Swedish thrash metal quartet Insane offer a darker and more rabid side to their own unique brand of murderous speed/thrash metal on this second full-length. By embracing the serial killer kitsch of early evil thrash and infusing their own traditional heavy metal/NWOBHM influenced sound their sound feels as if it is reeling back to the earliest eighties they can manage. Think of the first EP from Black Magic, Aggressive Perfector, Antichrist (Sweden) and you’re in the right sort of ‘Show No Mercy’ mindset. ‘Victims’ has much more than this to offer if you really dig into it and Insane really do have their own point of view here, their first album was massively underrated and it looks like this one has been thus far, too.

TITLE:Es grauet

Swiss black metal band Ungfell have always been something else, a special sort of phlegm-hoarked and folkish sound that comes with a taste for auld European folklore flavored by their distinctly Alpine-and-malevolent point of view. With this third full-length, ‘Es grauet’, they’ve presented something more ambitious than prior, linking this high capability with the purpose of a story they’ve pulled out every last bell and whistle in depiction of. As a concept album it is a fine example of a long form narrative actually suiting the style of a black metal band in a natural way, the whole of this album feels organically conceived with several bright flashes of brilliance throughout. The sound design is particularly effective. Anyhow, lots of long-winded thoughts in my review.

TITLE:Animate // Isolate
RECORD LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe Records

Is it old school tech-death? Technical thrash metal? Progressive death metal? Yes, although I’m not sure the distinction between old and new schools is possible considering the sub-genres involved with this fine Minnesota based band’s debut album. We can however draw a line from tech-thrash to Cynic demos, to prog-era Death and deeper into the wells of the 2000’s where… Alright well, professor death/thrash isn’t needed at any rate. These guys have riffs, they death/thrash in a wistful and technical way that is forceful as it is memorable. Having some context might help but if you are looking for a sort of gateway drug into the realm of any era of technical thrashing death metal this is perhaps a far better example of musical value than say, Revocation. If we can divorce ourselves from analysis, lineage, sub-genre and such ‘Animate // Isolate’ is a damned exciting guitar-forward record with a unique sense of self.

TITLE:Caledonian Black Magick
RECORD LABEL(S):The Sinister Flame

Scottish black metal artist Ifrinn arrive with a much anticipated EP and well, truth be told I’m still in the process of reviewing it properly. Three 7-8 minute pieces of caustic and hallucinatory orthodox (but not -that- movement) black metal aiming for a blend of timeless statement and cruel attack ‘Caledonian Black Magick’ is an exceptional work of black metal guitar composition first and foremost. If you are keen to Terratur Possession records out of Trondheim bands lately or some of the deeper underground Icelandic bands of the last five years, there will be some of that same mystification felt here. More thoughts this week when the review finishes.

TITLE:Reared Up in Spectral Predation
RECORD LABEL(S):Blood Harvest Records

An unmistakably modern technical death metal record, cosmic and deeply personal at once, this debut from Houston, Texas-based solo act Universally Estranged essentially does not intend to fit in or act for the sake of anyone else. Much of ‘Reared Up in Spectral Predation’ feels like outsider art if only for the eclectic experience the artist brings to death metal, not having been entrenched in what has been done nor replicating the work of others yet a full listen ends up as a canonical weirdo, the sort of album you’d wished more people cared about back in the mid-1990’s. Feeling the need to suggest that this debut isn’t a ‘perfect’ record is odd when mused over a bit, I mean this one man record arrives with its own stylized sonic personae and riffcraft without a demo phase or years of reputation guiding folks towards its wiles and this is perhaps a more important statement to make. I do believe we will get more from the artist, and that is potentially just as exciting a prospect as diving back into this half hour of celestial terror a few more times.

RECORD LABEL(S):I, Voidhanger Records

Oddly shaped, idiosyncratic in voice, and presented in irregular fluid motion the adventurous signature of this celebrated Greek solo progressive/atmospheric black metal project is yet still in tact after a long wait for an official new full-length, though I would argue ‘Ετερόφωτος’ persists with the air of a mind changed, a new beginning achieved. I could angle at the implications of meaning in terms of the lyrics and themes of this album all day but, what I’d rather stuck in people’s minds is that Spectral Lore never fail to challenge and delight with each record, and this one seems to intent to take what is old and redefine the self so that moving on from the past makes great sense. A sort of complicated way of saying a progressive metal band has “shown their work” during a changeling moment. If you love the experimentation from the project between 2012 and 2015 but have long been waiting to see what was next after ‘III’ (as I have) then I believe you’ll love this one as much as I do.

TITLE:Norwegian Gothic
RECORD LABEL(S):Pelagic Records

From the repurposed halls of a church left vacant by virtue of its obsolescence Årabrot have crafted their ninth album, ‘Norwegian Gothic‘, as a “relevant” moderne rock opus speaking to and for folks who don’t necessarily give a shit about relevancy. An hourlong ministry oozing in service of the outsider aims to coalesce the sum of their second decade, wherein Spellemannprisen winning results began to flow their way. It might appear as a bit of an overlong hodgepodge to start but this project’s blend of anthemic electric post-punk, theatrical surrealism and (slightly less) crunchy noise/alt-rocking sides is one of the more satisfying things I’d wrapped my head around this month. Of course be warned that it is very long and involved, probably not the most effective casual listen.

TITLE:Noč Na Krayu Sveta
RECORD LABEL(S):Sentient Ruin Laboratories

Russian, Japanese and American experimental ritualistic black metal project 夢遊病者 [Sleepwalker] breathe a renewing lushness to their unpredictably flowing work here on what I’d consider their second full-length of psychedelically linked movements. A pair of works in purposeful dichotomy, this record channels a uniquely balanced energy between life-giving flow-based improvisation in a watery tonality and moments heavily affected by anxietous dread. Well, I’ll have more to say about it soon, I’d scheduled the review a month late by accident.

RECORD LABEL(S):Underground Activists

One of a few records released in April that would have been an otherwise remarkable ~45 minute listen if they’d chosen to leave out the extra 20+ minute ambient piece on the end, extending the record into an double LP without any major purpose. With this small gripe aside, there is little arguing against the interest generated by Spain’s Altarage at this juncture. Although I’ve found some of their work typical or somewhat unoriginal in the past their last album ‘The Approaching Roar’ (2019) was a brutal and spastic full-listen that hit at the right time. ‘Succumb’ is perhaps even more stark in sound design and spastic in motion, leaning into their dissonant extremity with full force at every moment and of course landing a bit like a Portal record with some interest in groove metal, catchy moments that most pieces rest upon for the sake of engaging the listener rather than sandblasting them. Of course this one needs more time to gestate into a review, since I’d bought it and wasn’t part of the promo cycle. A hard to ignore spectacle at the very least.

TITLE:Unseen Repulsions [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Empire Records

If we can view Aggravator‘s work as relevant to the greater lineage of Texas thrash metal, which tends towards the brutal spectrum of classic thrash, then they fit in nicely. ‘Unseen Repulsions’ offers a fairly straight forward but well-honed brand of traditional thrash metal with their own kind of brutal twist via harsher vocals and the Kreator-esque riffing they’ve been known for. From my point of view this EP is a win for the band, a solid showing that says they’ve still got it and they’re hopefully in it for another record soon enough. Plus hey, the Molly Hatchet cover is ace.

TITLE:Dönsum Í Logans Ljóma

Though this young band of dark souls’ work is laser focused upon one very clear standard of practice that might naturally suggest an insular Icelandic black metal point of view, this is for the sake of using an established musical language to convey an otherwise personal treatise on internal darkness. The dissolving spiritus of atmospheric black metal with heavily dissonant assemblage is perfect for the haunted interior that Forsmán illustrate with some considerable maturity therein, much of what ‘Dönsum Í Logans Ljóma’ presents is not inherently chaotic or dissonant but clearly driven by statements of melancholia. I definitely feel like this one slipped through the cracks due to the inability to tour it, fans of this general arena of black metal should be frothing over this record. More thoughts in the actual review.

TITLE:Apogée. Ivresse. Agonie.
RECORD LABEL(S):Purity Through Fire

This seventh full-length from this French black metal project appears as a new high during an intense period of refined performance capture and compositional/narrative ambition for their artistry. I see it as an apex atop their last six or seven years of work which culminates with something closer to their own sound yet still remaining traditional and underground as black metal should rightfully be. If ‘Apogée. Ivresse. Agonie.’ was not as sentimental and dramatically phrased as it is, I am not sure a ~56 minute album in this style could’ve held my attention as much as it has. Commonplace as forced streams of stoic beauty are in the hands of so many rote black metal artists today, this is not just another pretty string of melodies. The biggest compliment I could give Autarcie is that I believe they’ve felt these pieces, and conveyed something earnestly spirited within these compositions and conviction adds serious value to this one

RECORD LABEL(S):Magnetic Eye Records

As wildly busy and three dimensionally psychedelic as that cover art is this third full-length from Swedish doom/sludge metal trio Domkraft is, ‘Seeds’ is actually a devastatingly affected record that seems to stew and fight with its state of turmoil throughout. The sensation of drowning within one’s rapid anxietous thoughts was intense to start and the huge groaning plunge of their sound design/production values really makes for a loud and head-crushing statement to start. The “Dying Inside” progression that leads the opener and the lead guitar runs that emphasize it really felt like a cruel wallop and I’d come to love this moment to start. The more I dug into this record it felt like a bit of remedy to the experimental stuff from Hymn on ‘Breach Us’ last year, instead opting for what I suppose I’d call a more straight forward but screaming sludge landscape. I’d call thier compositions psychedelic doom if it were not for this severe, angered tone and shouted vocals and despite how normative this’d appeared to start, Domkraft leave a mile deep impression after a handful of sittings with the record. I will have a review up for this one soon, it has just been a matter of being a bit lost in my backlog.

TITLE:Welten Mutter

The latest Odal album offers some fresh expansion of their classic pagan black metal style yet as is the case with all of their work it is a bit of a “grower” aimed at a patient and perhaps somewhat already familiar listener. If you are already a fan of their prior full-length, ‘Geistes Unruh’, and want some clear progression beyond that point then you’ve more or less gotten it here. Strong currents of what I’d call very ‘heavy metal’ guitar work, a sharp use of both lead guitars and violin as melodic guidance and modulation with plenty of up-tempo moments keeping the warrior’s charge momentum in tact. My favorite Odal record since ‘…Wilde Kraft’ no doubt.

Pre-Order:[CLICK HERE]

An imposing mountain of heavily atmospheric works that concern themselves with Germany’s reaction to the second wave of black metal and its inevitably harrowing, bizarre ether-soaked evolution just slightly beyond, this fourth full-length from Bonn-bound Fyrnask is destined to be the masterpiece we’re all talking about a month beyond its initial burst. ‘VII: Kenoma’ cannot be scrubbed through for highlights as these movements are solely concerned with patient presentation of landscapes, unpredictable streaks of artistry, and occasionally shockingly skilled performances. The pieces themselves aren’t expressionistic per se yet they are highly accomplished, if not less precise than a full cinematic score. I’d absolutely underestimated the time I would need to absorb this one but I will say that it is an indispensable grab if you are at all a fan of both classic and modernist atmospheric black metal.

TITLE:Mountain of Sugar
RECORD LABEL(S):The Sign Records

Lining up their knuckles and squarely knocking on early 1970’s heavy blues rock’s door Heavy Feather are an impassioned Stockholm based quartet who’ve set a remarkably high standard here in view of the last decade of Swedish retro boogie, rock and blues. ‘Mountain of Sugar’ should break even the most steadfast retro rock sneer (my own brand of avoidant sourness included) with its passionate performances, crystal clear render and ridiculously infectious songwriting. Not all of these songs land and a few do feel like fairly standard fare but all of it is delivered convincingly.


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