The Top 20 Albums of May | 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. Late Spring in 2021 brings numbness, satiety, warmth and lazing spirits if only because there is little stirring behavior to incite or reflect upon. In recent weeks I’ve been primarily inspired by fairly light reading, a primo Death SS biography being new to me and The Silmarillion for the tenth time over. These twenty records I’ve selected this month indicate and illustrate hallucinatory realities, doomed spiritus, rotten flesh and the need to breach all borders the corporeal represents — Through dreams, through death, or introspection. All reactions are of the confined breaking away from containment and, the hope is that if you do decide to wheel through any number of these records you’ll key into the morbid and restless “unleashing” intended. I’ll be an unimpressive pile of myself in the meantime.

II. Spirit Coffin Publishing launched officially on Walpurgisnacht (April 30th) I won’t be mentioning our releases too frequently within Grizzly Butts, maybe including an announcement in Friday news columns or social media here and there. If it bugs you, fuck off in general. You can keep up with the catalog here or via the BigCartel site. The first issue of Mystification will be ready to print in about two weeks so, it’ll get there. A couple interviews left to go.

III. May releases still in consideration (or process) for reviewRiexhumation, Heavy Sentence, Alastor, High n’ Heavy. 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:Mercurial Passages
RECORD LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin

At this point in time we could rightfully describe otherworldly Finnish death metal trio Ghastly as “progressive” if only in the sense that each record becomes more finely detailed and evocative than the last, inspired works of atmospheric and surreal music that does not forget that it is the riff and the heavy intensity of death metal that matters most. As such, we can point the strong punchiness and twisted guitar work of ‘Mercurial Passages’ towards the likes of Execration and and the doomed, illusory satisfaction of it all towards ‘Soulside Journey’ moreso than simply twirling a finger towards a well-worn copy of ‘Sweven’ as many did when the phenomenal ‘Death Velour’ released. This is a serious Album of the Year contender for my own taste and I spent hours upon hours sinking into this record without a moment of regret.

RECORD LABEL(S):War Anthem Records,
BlackSeed Productions

Wrestling with dogma, creation, and veiling existential dread upon the listener in the process Galician black/death metal band Balmog have made good upon what they’d promised with their incredible ‘Pillars of Salt’ EP in 2020. The only ‘rule’ for their creation is to pull together songs comprised of what feels right and passionate in delivery of surreal and infectiously dark extreme music. Shades of deathrock/post-punk aren’t out of line here, blending well with a modern yet organically their own sound enhancing the record’s intensely delivered array of warmth, venom and dissociation. ‘Eve’ is just waiting to be a revelation for many, an essential and engrossing transformation. It is one of just a few records released this month that broke many rules, made a point of cutting their own path and ended up all the better for doing so.

TITLE:Morbid Despotic Ritual
RECORD LABEL(S):Rotted Life Records

Russian death metal trio Gosudar land the right sound and feeling from the get-go on their debut full-length. The spooked and watery ripples of Finndeath, the doomed and thrashing moldering of early United States death metal and an almost austere mastery of riffs with a twist of groove mutilating every moment. It feels entirely ‘old school’ in terms of early 90’s European death metal but more clearly lands within the realm of classics minded youths of today, a hand deep in both pots. Death metal doesn’t have to be rocket science to be amazing, this 33 minute record picks a lane and does an exceptional job without gimmickry or chunky modern hardcore laziness. Again, I cannot understate the strong taste level coming from Rotted Life thus far.

TITLE:Smile Less
RECORD LABEL(S):Svart Records

Well, we can still consider Throat a noise rock band but they’ve taken another great leap away from conformity here on their third full-length, shifting the paradigm towards atmospheric sludge, industrial rock, and post-punk severity on ‘Smile Less’. They’ve hit this one out of the park for my own taste. Gigantic yet custom built production values applied to music that doesn’t waste a second killing time from a band able to connect the finer points of various sub-genre into a record that reads as noise rock nonetheless — Is all nothing short of an accomplishment. Conveying an ‘appropriate’ mood in reaction to our times, showing their work in terms of massive growth between releases, and having the gall to piledrive it into the listener at such a high standard is all a bonus.

TITLE:Death Return
RECORD LABEL(S):Fallen Temple Records

One of my all-time favorite South American thrash metal bands return with their third album, this one recording ideal versions of the best of their EP/demo material beyond the previous record, ‘The Sign of Darkness’, and re-recording a few classics as well. ‘Death Return’ might read as a polished compilation for die-hard folks who follow every move they make but, it stands as a strong follow-up taking all of their best work from the last few years and making a solid full listen from it. The first three tracks are especially good, showcasing their steadfast commitment to evil and extreme thrash metal which feels natural next to songs written back in the late 80’s. Always a die-hard fan of this band and they still impress.

RECORD LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records

‘Avow’ is a ruinous and “real” terror in the sense that it disregards the sanity and safety of the listener with its reckless and feral embodiment of death. Scratched, strangled and floating as a dungeon-borne specter this version of Portal returns to the core abrasion and bloodiness of their earliest work, or perhaps they’d never left and I’ve only realized it because their sound design has gone places over time. Either way, I loved the scouring quality of this music and the intricacy they’ve woven into seemingly barbaric shapes. I won’t likely be original in comparing the experience to hearing Penderecki for the first time but, there is this skin-flaying quality to this work that makes it stand out even more than usual. Portal are an original and are due this respect whether it is desired or not. Since my pre-order arrived way early thanks to Midheaven I’d had enough time with this vinyl to put together my thoughts on ‘Avow’ and though I feared they were rushed it all lands in the right place. I will likely raise the score before the end of the year, and I’m not sure if I’ll review the companion album, ‘Hagbulbia’, a dark ambient/horror noise record. And yes, I’ve played both albums at once and they don’t line up in terms of meter but the effect is wild nonetheless.

TITLE:Flesh Reborn
RECORD LABEL(S):Chaos Records

Gifted with the coughing throat of Hell and terrorizing the huddled masses with cruelest death-and-doomed labors for four years before placing his very well-received flagship atmospheric death/doom metal project Gateway on indefinite hiatus, it appears that Belgium based musician Robin Van Oyen (Terre) reverted to unholy fomentation during the year MMXX. This past year of trench crawling, which now appears to be an unending sickness, seems to have stirred within the artist an urge to reignite his funereal craft with an even deeper passion, making the leap from wall-to-wall outsider horror to an even higher professional standard as Gateway returns beyond the space of just a couple of years with ‘Flesh Reborn‘ — A nigh half hour EP that compounds the artist’s signature whilst sprawling ye olde funeral death/doom atmosphere to an impossible nuclear event, crackling away beyond the farseeing horizon. I was lucky enough to get to premier this fantastic record and can’t wait to hear more from the artist in the future.

TITLE:Abyss of Wrathful Deities
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Me Saco Un Ojo

Expectations were high and no doubt Grave Miasma are well-respected worldwide so, I was a bit disappointed to see a lot of reviewers giving lip service to the actual content of ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities’ and struggling with the surrealistic atmospheric climes it reaches for. I have become so obsessed with their prior EP, ‘Endless Pilgrimage’ in the years between so this felt like an album entirely suited to building a mountain of a work atop those general sensations. Now that I’ve sat with the vinyl for a number of weeks and stewed in it I’d actually rate this album even higher as it feels well worth the playing time and benefits of high quality double vinyl.

TITLE:L’Égide Ardente
RECORD LABEL(S):Sepulchral Productions

L’égide ardente‘ is both protection and name-earning identification at the end of days, a shining breastplate of a willful actor sliding into a battle for glory inevitably won by ancient evil unto eternal midnight. Patient and stirring odes to the early wrath of the Québec black metal arena result, four immersive pieces with the unmistakable resonance of revolutionary ardor. We get the soul of Montreal’s best black metal traditions set in soil and this means an ornately constructed yet heavy hitting melodic black metal record with an appropriately austere yet dark presentation value. Fans of Aorlhac and Forteresse should flock to this one, myself included.

TITLE:As Strangers We Depart
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

German doom metal band Cross Vault begin to incorporate more and more paganistic and vikingr essence into their emotionally driven practices, remaining in the tradition of epic heavy/doom metal movement yet working in more harmonized and emboldened vocal arrangements which speak far beyond Candlemass-owed invention towards a variety of other influences and a freshened sound that should attract fans of Solstice. In my review I suggest that “this is an exceptional development for Cross Vault” one which “most fans of ‘epic’ doom metal will be sold within one or two preview tracks.” and definitely a band to check out if you like early Pallbearer, Warning, and such as well.

TITLE:Into the Atrium of Inhuman Morbidity
RECORD LABEL(S):Carbonized Records

Hungarian death metal quartet have entered the cemeterial, Lovecraftian realm of death metal with a purposefully raw and imperfect stature wherein the shambling and brutally throttled bash of ‘Into the Atrium of Inhuman Morbidity’ runs the gamut of 80’s death metal ferocity without sounding like a too-clever imitation of any one band. The most apt suggestions for a general ideal here are Funebre‘s ‘Children of the Scorn’ and Abhorrence‘s legendary demo but I’d throw in some less obvious choices such as Cartilage (Finland) and their ‘In Godly Flesh’ demo were it less technical, likewise some death/doom similar to what Cryptic Brood are doing these days and a sound that reminds me of Derkéta‘s first demo ‘The Unholy Ground‘. If all you listen to these days is 80’s death metal demos and early Deicide riffs, man are you going to love this band. Essential listening for folks who like the most rotten, obscure death they can find.

TITLE:Hail to the Necrodoom
RECORD LABEL(S):Sun & Moon Records

The finer points of ‘Hail to the Necrodoom’ include both classic doom metal and the earliest second wave black metal out of eastern Europe. The result is something like Root‘s ‘The Book‘ and their classic early millennium trilogy in general, some of the darker material from Italian doom metal band Black Oath, the psychedelic wilderness of Sign of Evil, and the shambling and ancient freakery of everything from The Black and early Paul Chain to Mortuary Drape and Necromantia. Though it is an over the top doom metal album at heart the black metal influences make the experience unexpected and actually fairly sophisticated upon reflection. I’d found this album convincing yet somewhat “fun” for a change and spent most of the first half of the month listening to it daily.

TITLE:Ominous Seep of Putridity
RECORD LABEL(S):Headsplit Records

Although some of their members are fairly young and green in terms of their rhythmic timing, this actually works in Morbific‘s favor. The raw and busted death metal mutation these North Karelian Finnish folks have set upon the masses with their debut is all the better for their youthful enthusiasm and stylistic sensibilities, which center around both classic Finnish sounds and the more rotten horror death from the late 80’s USDM arena, be it Necrophagia, Impetigo or Repulsion. If they can always manage to be this uncalculated, buzzing and ripping their way through songs based on this garage-jammed feeling Morbific will be unstoppable. I bought this CD mid-month and found myself listening to it non-stop after it showed up, didn’t write a review but still found it essential. Same goes for Mvltifission‘s ‘Decomposition In the Painful Metamorphosis‘.

TITLE:Corporeal Torment
RECORD LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Me Saco Un Ojo

Although I believe this will be the most challenging release from Japanese death/doom metal staple Anatomia their exploration of dark ambient/noise collage alongside material that builds upon their long-winded previous album ‘Cranial Obsession’ in meaningful ways. Though I’ll admit this isn’t the strongest album in their discography in terms of classicist ideas, its style makes complete sense when considering the droning, funereal death/doom they’d been working towards over the years. ‘Corporeal Torment’ is definitely one for the Anatomia die-hards and I felt right at home with its experimental style.


I’ve been a fan of The Flight of Sleipnir since their second record, ‘Essence of Nine’, released in 2011 and I felt like it took ten years for folks to catch up to speed on all of the amazing work the small town Colorado band have been doing since the late 2000’s. I understand why, though, they’re hard to really peg since their sound crosses between a progressive form of stoner/sludge doom (think Yob), the atmospheric black/doom metal that’d been built beyond Agalloch‘s peak, and a bit of their own sort of warrior spirited work here and there. It is entirely their own sound which has been developed steadfastly across many albums and ‘Eventide’ does a good job of shaking things up, more mellow yet likewise more dramatically arranged to emphasize its brightest ideas and darkest corners in homage to the night itself. This one did not get enough mention at the end of the month and it is a huge shame if folks continue to miss out on thier original sound.

TITLE:Occult New Age
RECORD LABEL(S):Desert Records

The ominous tonnage of Richmond, Virginia based storytellers Book of Wyrms has been lightly holstered for this third record in their wake, a mid-1970’s heavy psychedelic rock swagger at once overtaking and pairing ideally with their own ‘modern’ stoned solemnity. Adulterated high fantasy tales, ye olde gloom n’ doomed stoner metallic beginnings, and brilliantly earthen production values make for a record that is inventive by forgotten standards and meaningfully sourced. The transformation is not entirely complete in terms of style, we are at a glorious mid-transformative stage that is especially sharp. ‘Occult New Age‘ is masterful for the sake of a metamorphosis outside of time, an idealist record from a band that’d already begun to stand out in the right way on their last, having aimed their way forward and committed to each loosely choreographed step towards their own imposing yet accessible sound.

TITLE:Onwards and Downwards
RECORD LABEL(S):RidingEasy Records

Swedish psychedelic doom metal quartet Alastor set us skull-first on a righteously greased downward spiral, having sloughed off the corporeal weight of the living and now whirling ‘Onwards and Downwards‘ via perpetuated madness. Stone-faced yet writhing in motion they appear to bask in our collective world downfall as if it were sunlight via their droning, sludging and hey, catchy as Hell stoner rock infused fuzz-bursting doom metal tunes. A new drummer, a bleak anno MMXX and a load of clever songcraft in hand ensures these fellowes lift the veil entirely upon what supernatural forces compress the skull, cracking it wide open.

RECORD LABEL(S):Purity Through Fire

Even if the combined Satanic-meets-Vedic aesthetic is just for the sake of cleverness and striking imagery from Nivala, Finland borne melodic black metal quintet Goats of Doom and their sixth full-length album, ‘Shiva‘, the tone of the album reads as appropriately auspicious and pervasive, gracefully wormed into mind. Śiva is himself a unification or, composite of many spiritual beings that’d take countless cyclic iterations to persist as an icon of universal proportion and here by the scaling of their decade mark this Finnish band begin to resonate far beyond expected bounds via sickeningly engaging melodicism and simple, authentic capture. It is their most direct and gloriously distinct release to date.

RECORD LABEL(S):Paranoid Northern Discs

Swedish crust/heavy metal act Paranoid have continued to thrive within their own considerable independent space, now emphasizing their mastery of Scandinavian and Japanese d-beat innovations with their own love of classic NWOBHM. I’d spent quite a lot of time with last years album ‘Out Raising Hell’ and have already spun through ‘Cursed’ even more times within just a few weeks, partially because I’d been rushing to review it since I wrote down the wrong release date. A review will follow soon, but absolutely grab this record if you love early English Dogs and all manner of crust punk/d-beat as much as I do.

TITLE:Reflections of Distant Dreams
RECORD LABEL(S):Burning Coffin Records

Halluxvalgus ride an unclear line between atmospheric/psychedelic death metal meandering and tightly wound classic death metal craft, finding their own paths through dreams just as often as they trudge through harshest reality. ‘Reflections of Distant Dreams’ is a bit long and uneven to some degree but I’d found it an unforgettable release when considered alongside most honorable mentions I’d thought of as alternates. Above all else I’d found it to be a pleasure to listen to and this’d ultimately saw the album clawing its way to number twenty. The review goes into more depth.



  • RIEXHUMATION – The Final Revelation of Abaddon [Lavadome Productions]
  • HEAVY SENTENCE – Bang to Rights [Dying Victims Productions]
  • HIGH N’ HEAVY – V [Electric Valley Records]

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