The Top 20 Albums of December | 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. The December 2021 release schedule contains some of the best albums of the year, some are still being announced (Funeral Mist) yet you’ll only find the ones that I received up to 1-2 months early here on this list (with a few exceptions) due to my very slightly flexible policy of spending at least a three weeks with anything before writing about it. It is a privilege to get early access to so much incredible music and art, I am grateful.

II. A Top 50 of 2021 list will be posted shortly. I’ve put a lot of thought into it, but these sort of things are never ideal when breaching 20-30 item counts. There are no plans for “Albums You Missed” lists this year, instead I will focus on getting up to date with this record label I’ve been running behind the scenes.

III. 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 in 2022 year I will focus on weekly features, long-form reviews and generally keeping up to date with new releases. Thank you.

#1Album of the Month
TITLE:Echoing Chambers of Soul
RECORD LABEL(S):Blood Harvest Records

Debut, swan song, and a bit of a ‘new old school’ death metal masterpiece for my own taste ‘Echoing Chambers of Soul’ offers a next-generational look at the fallout from the early 2010’s atmospheric death metal niche as it’d develop beyond landmark albums from bands like Morbus Chron, Tribulation/Stench and Execration. Psychedelic and atmospheric, tuneful with relation to both heavy rock and classic early 90’s death metal the vein that Cadaveric Fumes have tapped into here should be a portal to phase between both classicist death metal fandom and fifth generational forms which are only possible in hindsight. Whereas a band like Siderean pushes these extremes into new territory, this band general similar phrasing in more subdued narrative format and as a result this record has more in common with ‘The Formulas of Death’ or Ghastly.

RECORD LABEL(S):Sepulchral Voice Records

This fourth album from Uppsala, Sweden-based morbid black/death noisepunks Reveal! is in some ways a sign of maturity that proffers some focus on expressionism, expanding their tumbling noise rock/deathrock affected signature and leaning into some cleaner production values. What does it mean when I suggest a record like this is impressive for its dynamic sound? Not only is the style of the band enhanced by proper rendering but the available nuance now lies in the music rather than the nooks of reverb heavy sound design. A small point made a bit large in a quick paragraph, but I do think this is a strong record on par with their previous two.

TITLE:The Delusional Mystery of the Self: Part I
RECORD LABEL(S):Blood Harvest Records

On their sophomore full-length Chilean thrash metal quartet Mental Devastation exude more than basal retro Bay Area style notes, no longer traversing but commanding their own long-developed vision of what many still consider a pronounced peak in archetypal speed metal off-shot form. In taking a grand, long leap into the more technical and melodic realms of the late 80’s, and side-stepping the flat aggression of the early 2000’s with virtuosic and violent grooves in hand, we see yet another late year masterpiece from the sophisticated pits of the Valparaíso underground. Enjoyment will be automatic yet any lasting profundity will require a keen-eared mind. ‘The Delusional Mystery of the Self Part I‘ is an experience first assumed into good graces for its style and then digested slow for the sake of its theme. Short version? A tech-thrash album fans of both Forbidden and Sadus will appreciate.

RECORD LABEL(S):Nuclear Winter Records

Without belittling the achievement that was Phrenelith‘s debut ‘Desolate Endscape’, this much anticipated follow-up offers considerable improvement from all angles. Fine production values, Krypts-esque crawling death/doom, and the combination of Finndeath weirding and Incantation influence makes for a step back into the cavernous and terrifying atmosphere this Copenhagen-based quartet have become known for. Beyond these stylistic observations and various sub-genre associations it is a record that I’d felt was a grotesque joy to experience over and over.

TITLE:The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men
RECORD LABEL(S):Transcending Obscurity Records

Melding bits of early 90’s Swedish death/black metal, Carcass-esque melodicism (“Waiting With the Wolves”) and even a bit of ‘dissonant’ death/thrashing violence there is a lot to love about this concise and idea-rich fourth album from southeast Australian trio Vahrzaw. Still working on the review for this one but I figured I needed to just get this list out so I could focus on the Best of 2021 list. It smokes and absolutely needs to be on your late year radar.

TITLE:Vihavirsiä Aamunkoin
RECORD LABEL(S):Purity Through Fire

This debut full-length from Finnish melodic black metal act Coraxul is perhaps one of the best examples of what I love about current Finnish and German black metal spheres, huge emphasis on long strands of glorious melody that insists upon harsh delivery of truly anthemic forms. As a listening experience this is a record with a bit of Sargeist and Sacramentum (among many others) in mind yet I’d not found these as blatant enough comparisons but a loose idea of what to expect. I don’t know if I can muster a full review up but I do consider this one of the best black metal albums of the year and lately one of my most listened for its catchy melodic black metal riffing. Make an effort to hear “Juurenkaskeaja” before making any judgements.

TITLE:The Grand Scheme of Things
RECORD LABEL(S):Selfmadegod Records

As I peruse Kraków, Poland-based technical death metal trio Dormant Ordeal‘s discography in context of the release of their third full-length album it becomes natural to engage in their proposed level of sociological examination, rethinking placement in and the purpose of a violent and opportunistic society. Beyond that, fans of Ulcerate, 2000’s Decapitated, and labelmates Redemptor should appreciate the technical yet atmospheric nature of this fine record.

TITLE:Before the Glinting Spell Unvests
RECORD LABEL(S):Gilead Media

In the first week of January circa 2017 I remember getting several messages from friends concerned I’d missed out on ‘Spoor of Vipers’, a full-length from Brooklyn-based musician Will Skarstad of Yellow Eyes/Sanguine Eagle under the name Ustalost, when I’d been finalizing my Best of 2016. They were right, and I still regret not waiting to finalize that list and consider a few more unlikely gems. Five years later and of course by now I’ve found enough patience to see what December has in store; This year it is the second Ustalost album, arriving quite late in the year due to vinyl manufacturing delays but more importantly during a time when I am most open to receive this brand of inebriated nigh psychedelic and heavily stylized atmospheric black metal. The first thing that’d hit my notes while listening was not only the varietal choices of bass guitar tone but its prominence and directive voicing within most songs. Frustration, joy, wonder, and the eerie dread of hallucinatory lo-fi and keyboard rich black metal meld for an enchanting full listen that is perfectly idiosyncratic, numbly striding towards an unclear goal. The full listen invokes a sensation of mystification and wonder at once, a delirium I feel like I’ve been living for these last few years.

TITLE:Mysterium Iniquitatis
RECORD LABEL(S):Shadow Records,
Regain Records

Much like recent records from Ondskapt and Funeral Mist a sense that the artist has grown but not dissolved their core design principles is felt here on ‘Mysterium Iniquitatis‘, this enriched aura is key sensation in acceptance of this record as serious canon in Ofermod‘s well-respected discography. Though my experience went from rapt attention toward wandering mind and then inspired within the build of the finale, I’d expect the greater takeaway of the album in motion is consistency in communication of this directional dynamic; As the mood and narrative shifts so do the performances themselves, because of this the first three pieces on the album will likely be the ‘hook’ to pull most in and the final four pieces on the album will mature in mind over the years to come.

TITLE:A Story of Darkness & Light
RECORD LABEL(S):Robotor Records

Two of the best heavy psychedelic rock bands around today fusing together like its an episode of Dragon Ball GT into one enormous early 70’s style progressive rock album, ‘A Story of Darkness & Light’ is unsurprisingly fantastic. Unexpected and probably a bit emergent for the artists themselves much of this Eldovar event which touches upon motorik rock, prog theatre and a hit of psychedelic late 60’s folk rock meandering as the greater narrative unfolds. The big mood piece here for me was “Blood Moon Night”.

TITLE:Funeral Winds & Crimson Sky
RECORD LABEL(S):Osmose Productions

Krolok is a long-standing atmospheric black metal project from folks who are best known for their roles in Malokarpatan. When I say ‘atmospheric black metal’ I generally mean the 90’s eastern European definition of said sound, subtle keyboards, plenty of vocal reverb, crawling movements, and certainly not the easygoing brand of fluff we hear en masse today. At some point I think I’d reviewed a repress of their debut ‘Flying Above Ancient Ruins’ (2017) and by direct contrast this follow-up is less homespun in terms of production values yet still retains the arcane evil heavy metal vibe of that first record. Was going to review this album in full but I am too far behind on other projects to make it happen. Still, a very high recommendation for this one.

TITLE:To Quench the Thirst of Wolves
RECORD LABEL(S):Seance Records

Rift is a resuscitated black metal project from Balam (Pestilential Shadows) which focuses on a late second wave sound that manifests as highly melodic austerity, swollen with fine keyboard work and subtle slow-to-mid paced advance. Although I was not familiar with the label at the time back in 2006 Rift had apparently released their debut EP ‘Eyes of the Basilisk‘ on GoatowaRex. Comparing the two releases it is almost as if the artist hadn’t missed a beat, though this time around the render is pleasantly warm and void of the raw and experimental qualities of that first EP. Again, this is perhaps the proper way to do atmospheric black metal in my mind and I found it hard to put this record down once I’d sussed its venture out.

TITLE:Proskynesis [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Iron Bonehead Productions

This latest EP from Rope Sect offers not only its titular three part opus to drift towards the netherworld within but a collection of previously digital only singles released over the last few years. “Proskynesis” parts I through III are the main event here, offering some inspired experimentation with both melody and a few extreme kicks along the way. Besides their lushly sepia-tonal feeling and sweetest hooks these three pieces, less movements and more fully realized songs at ~4.5 minutes each, can’t help but feel related in purpose. I particularly liked the riffing in the last third of Part III. Of the three collected singles beyond, “Lava” now feels decidedly experimental, “Handsome Youth” almost like an outtake from the ‘The Great Flood’ and “Odisseia” somewhere to venture in the future.

RECORD LABEL(S):Chaos Records

Been watching/reading everything Tolkien related lately and this one fit the orcs n’ goblins vibe nicely. Bathory-esque in scope but thundering along with Unleashed and Usurper-esque movement in hand this debut album from Kyle House‘s Rökkr is far more inspired than expected, oozing with clobber-ready personality and plenty of theatric flair which I suppose comes from the Thin Lizzy inspired bent of the lead guitars. Though I didn’t find this record memorable to start it has begun to sink in with more frequent revisits thanks to an outsized personality on display.

TITLE:Gravitas Maximus
RECORD LABEL(S):Unique Leader Records

A stripped back 22-minute slam-chugger that refuses to fuck around in the slightest, this latest Pyrexia record is pure class. The big change here since 2018 is new drummer John Glassbrenner whom brings a modern hit of slam-tension to Pyrexia‘s sound, or at least more than I recall noting on ‘Unholy Requiem’. Huge sound, tons of riffs, all moshable stuff so I doubt existing fans will be disappointed. I’d come back to this one a surprising amount this month but I wouldn’t say it grew on me or fell off, just held up well.

TITLE:Wild Type Droid
RECORD LABEL(S):Failure Records

Quicksand, Hum, Cherubs, and Failure represent a chunk of alternative rock stepping stone for me after discovering both Nirvana and Helmet as a kid, eventually finding myself more interested in noise rock, post-hardcore and heavier avant-garde stuff as I began to reach the end of high school. So, it was nostalgia that’d gotten me to check out the latest Failure album, a record which largely continues along the path of their 2015 full-length while feeling far more engaging; Though the record is concise and tuneful in most regards, I basically stuck around for the bass performances on this album. 4-5 listens later and I’d bought it.

TITLE:Blood of the Old Gods
RECORD LABEL(S):Lifesblood Records

The easy-grooving depress of Long Island-based doomed heavy rock trio Restless Spirit caught my ear quick back in 2019 with their debut album ‘Lord of the New Depression‘, a step beyond their work under a few different names (Death Metal Pope?) a few years prior. Upon reviewing said debut glowingly that year it’d seem their gig had finally found personal voice and evolved songcraft beyond fluxion of popular 90’s sludge rock influence and nowadays high visibility ‘modern’ doom metal infused stoner rock/metal. The goal’d been clear within one or two songs, to connect with the listener via catharsis and craft, presenting the sort of heavy rock/metal record that stick in ear by way of express of soul. On ‘Blood of the Old Gods’ they reach for this goal with fewer songs all written with smarter framework and more impactful statement making for their best record yet.

TITLE:Abatement of the Sun
RECORD LABEL(S):Blood Harvest

These Australians have conjured what I’d consider one of the most underrated records out this month and probably not by fault of anyone since Blood Harvest are set to release four incredible records this month (Mental Devastation, Cadaveric Fumes, Phenocryst) when most outlets have closed up shop for the year. Their sound is an absolute shocking blur of blackened death doom brutality which best compares to the gaping hellscape of bands like Into Coffin, Grave Upheaval, and Disembowelment to some degree. Much of this album is thunderous, guttural havoc and discordant streams of thought, roared deep and always swarming with brilliant intensity. Stick around for my favorite piece on the album, “Slaughter” and don’t skip out on this one in general.

TITLE:Total Burial [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Pulverized Records

Under the Church is a Swedish death metal band from folks involved in Nirvana 2002, General Surgery and Merciless. They’ve long been a real deal HM-2 buzzing, riff-ripping class act, I’ve been on board since the announcement for their self-titled EP back in 2014 and so far ‘Total Burial’ is another notch in their legacy of fine work this far. Everything they’ve put out is worth grabbing and this EP is no exception.

TITLE:Fanges [EP]
RECORD LABEL(S):Aesthetic Death,
Breathe Plastic

In hindsight French atmospheric/avant-garde death metal band Barús‘ debut full-length ‘Drowned’ was probably more of a special event than noted back in 2018 and not wanting to make the same mistake twice I’ve set aside a fair amount of time for their latest EP ‘Fanges’ to some intense results. This is a bit more experimental, a throttling of extremes that stops just short of something like earlier Chaos Echœs but with a droning, sometimes dissonant post-metal component of its own. At around ~35 minutes there is quite a lot to parse through between just two songs, the 19 minute title track becomes a knot of pure tension leading up to the instantaneous aggression of “Châssis de Chair” but the payoff is well worth the trip.

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