The Top 75 Albums of the Year | 2021

Thank you for reading! *hiss* There will be no consensus! *hissing continues* No unity! No fucking cronyism! No agreed upon terms! Only elite heavy music releases! Prepared from an initial pool of roughly ~250 releases of all genres and selected from a much larger pool of positive-leaning reviews, these items were first ordered by highest general ratings then again considered by way of my usual metrics: Temporal immersion (lasting fixation), personal connection (earned bias), thematic gumption/lyrical finesse (actionable lore/expressivity), impressive audio/visual style (cohesive presentation, artwork), and with great consideration for the lasting value of each album over the course of time! I keep track of the number of listens via automatic data collection, allowing for an objective tiebreaker when needed! There are a total of 75 albums listed but only the Top 50 feature summarized thoughts in hindsight! Don’t take a #50+ lightly, because it is actually 51-75 out of 1000+ records listened to this year! Think for yourself, set your own pace and respect others!

Two items which I released through my own label this year will not be on this list: ZetarDevouring Darkness‘ and Journey into DarknessInfinite Universe Infinite Death‘ but they are two of my favorite releases this year nonetheless!

75. LUCIFER’S FALL – III-From the Deep (2021) | REVIEW

74. MARE COGNITUM – Solar Paroxysm (2021) | REVIEW

73. DIPYGUS – Bushmeat (2021) | REVIEW

72. INTESTINAL HEX – The Exalted Chambers of Abhorrence (2021) | REVIEW

71. SALLOW MOTH – Stasis Cocoon (2021) | REVIEW

70. VAHRZAW – The Trembling Voices of Conquered Men (Transcending Obscurity Records)

69. SOLEMN LAMENT – Solemn Lament (2021) | REVIEW

68. GNOSIS – Omens From the Dead Realm (2021) | REVIEW

67. HALLUXVALGUS – Reflections of Distant Dreams (2021) | REVIEW

66. MOON ORACLE – Muse of the Nightside (Signal Rex/Bestial Burst)

65. BOOK OF WYRMS – Occult New Age (2021) | REVIEW

64. PHARAOH – The Powers That Be (2021) | REVIEW

63. THROAT – Smile Less (2021) | REVIEW

62. MEPHITIC GRAVE – Into the Atrium of Inhuman Morbidity (2021) | REVIEW

61. NARBELETH – Svmma Cvm Nox Arcana (2021) | REVIEW

60. HELHEIM – WoduridaR (2021) | REVIEW

59. ATRÆ BILIS – Apexapien (2021) | REVIEW

58. ALKERDEEL – Slonk (2021) | REVIEW

57. FATE’S HAND – Fate’s Hand (2021) | REVIEW

56. WORM – Foreverglade (2021) | REVIEW

55. PROSCRIPTOR MCGOVERN’S APSÛ – Proscriptor McGovern’s Apsû (2021) | REVIEW

54. GOSUDAR – Morbid Despotic Ritual (2021) | REVIEW

53. TUMBA DE CARNE – Decatexis // Perpetuo Altar (2021) | REVIEW

52. ANTHROPOPHAGOUS – Death Fugue (2021) | REVIEW

51. GRAVE MIASMA – Abyss of Wrathful Deities (2021) | REVIEW


ATVMFamine, Putrid and Fucking Endless (Self-Released)

Since early May of this year I’ve had at least three readers and two musicians/artists recommend Atvm. Though it took me until October to finally get there, once I’d given this debut album a spin-through I completely understood why. These talented young fellowes have evolved their virtuosic knack into a uniquely stated form of progressive death metal which is seemingly borne from a love for transcendental forms of speed metal and progressive thrash, triggering my love for bands like Pavor and early Sadist in the process while having their own jazz fusion-esque movement in process. ‘Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless‘ stands out for not being mired in tradition and showing no pressure to conform and this much should be obvious after a quick glance at their surrealistic graphic novel attuned album artwork. They’ve plenty of room to improve upon this approach but for the sake of enjoying the present, this is one of the finest bass-slapping and thrashing records of the year. See also: Acid Age.


ORIFLAMME – L’Égide Ardente (Sepulchral Productions)

Heralds to all warriors at armageddon the deep red and copper-lined banners of Montreal, Québec based black metal trio Oriflamme enter this first and most decisive battle armored with symbols of war alight on all fronts, elegant in the tradition of arrogantly decorated French legions of history long past and pressing forth at all costs to a triumphant-hearted tune. ‘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. See also: Aorhlac, Autarcie.



DISKORDDegenerations (Transcending Obscurity Records)

By all accounts Diskord have achieved something different-yet-characteristic at face value within the intimidating bass guitar driven plunge, bounce n’ hammering death machine that is ‘Degenerations’. Motoric abstraction, mental gymnastics, elaboration to the point of mystification, all paths lead to the stymied mind under the weight of most modern progressive/technical death metal releases perhaps solely because the bar for originality is set higher than the skill ceiling for ambitious young guitarists who’d hope sounding like the pros will lead to some sort of lasting personal valuation. It is rarity enough that we cannot, or would not want to, generalize such a brutally organic display of skill as Diskord presents; To unravel it all in mind moment by moment proves a bit hopeless as we begin counting ‘Degenerations’ thousand glorious facets, but I can suggest that they present all motion with enthusiastic reason, or, artistic purpose.



TERMINALISTThe Great Acceleration (Indisciplinarian)

The capability of the human mind (concerning the logistics of perception, more or less) to live outside of time and away from lived experiences due to speed of technological advancements is of great concern for Danish hyperthrashers Terminalist who’ve themed this science-fiction brained debut album around the concept of French contemporary aesthetic philosopher Paul Virilio‘s concept of dromology. ‘The Great Acceleration’ isn’t a stiff corpse of despairing humanism, though, and represents one of the best extreme metal infused thrash metal records of the year. It might be logical to consider their music influenced by Vektor per their overall presentation but their general sound and approach to riffing isn’t so cut-and-dry per varietal inspirations and we see this in high definition throughout the ~11 minute “The Invention of the Shipwreck”. Essential big-brained thrash for 2021. See also: Paranorm, Cryptosis.



SUNLESSYlem (Willowtip Records)

In presentation of their second full-length album Midwest technical death metal abstractionists Sunless do not completely reconsider their fluid semi-dissonant progressive metal enacted sound but elevate it into a solar-expressive predator, a beast of fearsome daylight. In process of this alien conversation of laser cut riffs and brilliant use of eerie guitar effects these folks visualize the self in a separate but equal states of vexing creation, cosmic horror and machine-crushed out severity. Essentially we’ve got a medium to speak between the organic traditional progressive death climes, the brutal tech-death minded next generation, and the dissonant yet directive guitar work they’re known for. ‘Ylem‘ might appear challenging at a glance but, much like ‘The Cyclic Reckoning‘, most of this album is actually blissfully listenable and nearly psychedelic at its most performative highs.



LVCIFYREThe Broken Seal (Dark Descent Records/Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

Nine hymnals to beasts that’d offer us paradigm away from serfdom outside of the natural order, this third full-length album from London, England-based blackened death metal trio Lvcifyre muses upon the destructive forces necessary to sustain the unbalanced and ever tipping motion of existence, a dark and hateful spiraling reality. Applied with great physical force and an angled approach all their own, ‘The Broken Seal‘ shatters the already bristling psyche of us endtyme husks by invocation of terrifying agents of apocalyptic change and in doing so they unleash a thunderous, calculated din which now cements their brutal legacy.



ILDSKÆR – Paa dækket kalder de døde (Wolfspell Records)

The halo of celestial church organ that eases in to signal the arrival of Danish melodic black metal duo Ildskær for their second official release, ‘Paa dækket kalder de døde‘, is the first of many inspired details that grow in value when the listener approaches their “Danish Historical black metal” self-description with serious inquiry. The roughly half hour EP is infallibly composed, with such a refined touch that one could easily vegetate within its beauteous streams of melody and be enraptured well enough but, there is yet far more of interest here beyond swaying streams of tremolo picked regalia. Within the duos work we are entirely bombarded with the pivotal militaristic heroism of a nation destined to their proud defeat, capturing an idealistic time for Denmark before industrialization and monarchy would arguably tame all but the infamous Danish national attitude and identity. A triumphal-yet-melancholic work in great harmony with the verbose historical subject matter in hand, ‘Paa dækket kalder de døde‘ is yet another reason you should’ve taken note of Ildskær by now.



MENTAL DEVASTATION – The Delusional Mystery of the Self Part I (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.



UNGFELLEs grauet (Eisenwald)

I am beaming even when merely considering listening to this album, its character resonates for miles each time it plays. Vignettes of auld Swiss folklore by way of the artist’s own cleverly gnawing spiritus now calls for a focused narrative, a concept album wherein the songwriter can develop larger and more nuanced actions that speak a the patience charm that threads itself through all of Ungfell‘s work. ‘Es Grauet’ achieves some considerable updates in fidelity (mix/engineering by Menetekel, mastering by Priory Recording Studios) and overall aesthetic design (album art by Robbie C. Ward) herein, offering a complete fable with a well-rounded, somewhat coy, malevolent and emotive presentation which showcases the artist having evolved far beyond the characteristics of their mildly obviate early inspiration, developing tastefully bizarre idiosyncrasy in its place.



LUNAR SHADOWWish to Leave (Cruz Del Sur Music)

My initial reaction to ‘Wish to Leave‘ was a sort of far-distant respect for the seemingly daring, kinda trendy stylistic change found on the Siegen, Germany-based band’s third album. With some distance from the review process and in light of some of the embarrassing records (‘Strength‘) scoped out nearby I returned to Lunar Shadow only to find it far more memorable than I recalled, enjoying the traditional heavy metal ballad-edged soft rocking anthemic aspect of it all. Though it doesn’t usurp what bands like Spell are doing these days for my own taste, the memorable and seeming sincerity of ‘Wish to Leave‘ has nonetheless stuck with me.



FLUISTERAARS – Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking (Eisenwald)

Having been recorded in the space of three days for the sake of spontaneous generation and necessarily minimal use of traditional recording technique, ‘Gegrepen door de Geest der Zielsontluiking’ somehow does not lack the melodic lustre or sun-drenched fluidity Fluisteraars fans will expect beyond their celebrated prior album ‘Bloem‘ (2020). Although this three-pronged long-form atmospheric black metal presentation impresses with this free-wheeling modus in mind, it’d feel like a whim if not for these expert choices of render, lyrics, and artwork. All acts in inspired enhance of the intended transcendental uplift of the music and I’d personally been stunned by it all from the first listen. See also: Iskandr.



GOLD SPIREGold Spire (Chaos Records)

A triumph of death-metallic fusion in creation of an entirely unheard-of mood, this fine self-titled debut album from Swedish noir jazz infused progressive death metal quartet Gold Spire was essentially born from the end of Usurpress. Now taking that glowing thread of prog-death and restructuring with saxophone directive jazz-fusion rhythms provides some exponential value upon repeated or cyclic listening sessions. It is arguably the most immersive and redeeming experimental death metal record I’ve heard in some time, or at least one that never relies upon typical prog-metal quirks and instead generates its own signature from the start.



PHRENELITHChimaera (Nuclear Winter Records)

Without belittling the achievement that was Phrenelith‘s debut ‘Desolate Endscape’, this much anticipated follow-up offers considerable improvement from all previous 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. Still a bit fresh in mind but strong enough to earn its placement here knowing it’ll sit well on my shelf.



POLEMICISTReturn of the Sophist (Hessian Firm)

With virtuous forms in pristine focus and alignments now golden in resonance, this Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based melodic black/death metal duo set upon us a deeply considered epic in the space of one half hour for this, their sophomore full-length. Much like their labelmates Mefitis this notion of elevating 90’s melodic black/death metal expressionism beyond the simple romanticism of ‘A Velvet Creation‘ unto entirely evolved form leaves an unmistakable, difficult to describe mark upon ‘Return of the Sophist‘; Likewise, fans of the aforementioned band should note Pendath features on drums and various key points of instrumentation here. Although I’d freely admit 2021 was not generally a mentally stimulating year for heavy music, I do count Polemicist as an standout application of some considerable intellect to fine taste in extreme metal.



DEVOID OF THOUGHTOuter World Graves (Everlasting Spew Records/Caligari Records)

One of the more underrated death metal records of the year, this Italian quartet’s debut is of two minds. One side of the band is pure atmospheric sci-fi/horror death metal comparable to Atavisma and a sort of death-thrashing side which expresses on their older pieces from demos and EPs. That’d be the major takeaway from ‘Outer World Graves‘, that you’re witnessing the duality presented by their somewhat subtle shifts in style and with a closer look at artwork and themes these portals into different worlds are intentional on some level. “Sidereal Necrosis” and “Effigies” are the heart of the album and I’d reserve all judgement until you’ve experienced both in full. The listening experience has only proven itself redeeming as I’ve returned to its horror beyond the late August release.



QRIXKUORPoison Palinopsia (Invictus Productions/Dark Descent Records)

Death’s venomous madness percolating in the skulls of delirious mankind. This two-sided droning dissonant blackened death metal landscape by the hand of Qrixkuor wasn’t given the time of day by most and likely due to its demanding listen in terms of being split into two ~24 minute pieces and, well, the style of the music itself. The experience is less accessible for not being chopped up into their usual 10-15 minute averages but, it is designed beautifully for the vinyl experience, reaching immediately for the natural habits of vinyl listeners whom tend to let full albums play through half-over-half to completion anyhow. Catchiness, gimmickry and memorability are three separate things in mind and I’d felt this was such a memorable spectacle (and perhaps the album art of the year) that I’d continued to re-examine ‘Poison Palinopsia‘ for months beyond its early August release.



HERZELLe Dernier Rampart (Gates of Hell Records)

In marvel of beauteous thousand-cape, isle and cliff ridden old Armorica and her storied reign this Quimper-based heavy metal quintet Herzel present their stoic and sprawling debut full-length ‘Le Dernier Rempart‘ as half histoire de triomphe and a brief warrior’s tale; A man of defiance who’d secure and deliver the fabled sword of the Gods a la Durendal, Joyeuse and curtana to the glory of his people. Grand battles, heroic fantasy, and some expected pride in Bretagne herself are fittingly sported as theme for epic heavy metal informed by the great masters of the craft. Some influence from Breton traditional music, progressive rock, and the grand traditional heavy metal of mid-80’s France makes this one of the most impressive metal records of the year.



IFRINNCaledonian Black Magick (The Sinister Flame)

Scottish occult black metal project Ifrinn returns after five years with a second set of pieces, choosing a format somewhat similar to that of Misotheist (or, Mare) in terms of longer pieces which are set as complete statements rather than too-traditional five minute black metal forms. Judging by my review of this album when it released it was clear that I liked what I heard quite a bit but didn’t have a ton of information or real insight into the music itself; In the months since I’ve not found all of that context but I -have- found myself reaching for this record often to muse upon the ease and furor it exudes when left on repeat. See also: (The True) Veiled.



SKEPTICISMCompanion (Svart Records)

Despite a few surges of popularity enjoyed by funeral doom metal beyond the early 2000’s few of the most talented and original voices among its earliest employ, such as Skepticism, remain strangely unsung gems. This’d changed a bit for the band over the last decade as vinyl issues of past works and ‘Ordeal‘ (2015) best showcased not only style but the brilliant performative value of Skepticism in a live setting. My own major takeaway from ‘Companion‘ is perhaps entirely personal, inferring that nature’s inspiration has been the catalyst enabling all of their great works up to and including this point. Wandering in the woods throughout September while listening to this album is yet one of my favorite music + walking memories this year. Eh, well, from a critical standpoint the intensified melodicism and death/doom’d movement of the album felt like a new approach from the band, somehow even more appropriately organic than the previous album. See also: Upcoming and/or nearby records from Funeral and Shape of Despair.



DEIQUISITORHumanoid (Dark Descent Records/Night Shroud)

Deiquisitor have quickly proven themselves as one of the most consistent death metal groups out of Denmark today, particularly beyond their self-titled debut back in 2016. This EP continues this incredible thread of releases as a ~26 minute EP featuring some exploratory rhythms applied to their brutal traditional death metal modus. I’d felt like my comparison to mid-to-late 90’s Exmortem holds up here but fans of Chaotian and Pissgrave will likewise quickly understand the appeal of ‘Humanoid‘. As with their two previous full-lengths I could not stop listening to this record for a solid month and have picked it up consistently since. There are very few death metal bands I’m anticipating new releases from in the coming years but these guys are absolutely up there on the list.



STRESS ANGELBursting Church (Stygian Black Hand/Dying Victims Productions)

Channeling their own take on mid-80’s black/death metal (via speed metal) along the lines of early Merciless, Slaughter Lord, and Death Strike‘s ‘Fuckin’ Death‘ the aggressive blaze of this debut from Brooklyn, New York based duo Stress Angel was an instant hit with me from the first spin. What kept ‘Bursting Church‘ in mind was largely its tuneful songwriting, not only working up a storm of riffs but making sure each features as memorable fixture within the whole piece. I dunno, the appeal is simple enough here if you’re a fan of early underground extreme metal that’d erupted beyond key records from Slayer and Celtic Frost.



CULT OF EIBONBlack Flame Dominion (Iron Bonehead Productions)

From the surging hand of our thousand-armed daimonian effector, a ruthlessly arcane act of spiritual devolution. Fitting worship of the eldest Hellenic black metal traditions, ‘Black Flame Dominion‘ is an hotly anticipated record set to mystify, scourging the mind as an linear, primarily riff-focused black metal presentation with plenty of early 90’s demo-era guitar grime. The modest, handcrafted feeling of Greek black metal circa 1993 is fully alive in their necromantic hands and this sensation of arcane authenticity has been impossible to forget from the first listen. If you enjoy early Greek black metal as much as I do you’ll understand the appeal of this album as soon as the first riff hits. Fans of the first two Rotting Christ albums, early Thou Art Lord and Agatus‘ debut album will immediately understand read as a fine work.



ZARATUSIn the Days of Whore (Ván Records)

Despite 90’s keyboard-rich black metal being appropriated and ‘on trend’ this year nothing has changed since then in terms of popular releases indicating somewhat poor public taste. If this wasn’t true then why would a brilliant album such as this be overlooked? Despite the nostalgic arcane Greek black metal sound employed here Zaratus‘ debut makes decidedly idiosyncratic and inspired synth/keyboard choices that illustrated taste and bravery beyond the tourist nonsense of today. Helmed by Bill El (Soulskinner, Thou Art Lord) and voiced by Stefan Necroabyssious (Varathron, Katavasia) this debut is undeniably sophisticated, wildly performative and exploding with daimonian personae; The songcraft in hand throughout ‘In the Days of Whore’ is entirely notable though it did take some time to fully grasp their vision as a timeless statement within the realm of Greek black metal; Much in the same way that I did not understand the curious appeal of records like ‘The Wizard of Nerath’ or ‘Apollyon’ back in the mid-90’s, it took a similar amount of time to embrace this album, which I consider one of the best black metal records of the year. See also: Katavasia 7″, Cult of Eibon, Gnosis.



SUFFERING HOURThe Cyclic Reckoning (Profound Lore Records)

The Cylic Reckoning‘ manages a far more unique sound from this Colorado and Minnesota-based black/death metal band who’d received glowing hype when their 2017 debut ‘In Passing Ascension‘ released. Though there is some precedence for this solar-burnt set of guitar technique and timbre to be found in Suffering Hour‘s likewise uniquely set ‘Dwell‘ EP from a couple years back this second album is decidedly psychedelic, a guitar-effects drenched foray which sounds like nothing else released in recent memory. When I’d initially reviewed this album it’d seemed like they had exhausted this idea with the ~45 minute run in hand but now that I’ve had several months to sit with the album and simply enjoy it I’d instead conclude they’ve done a fine job exploring those possibilities and won’t likely serve plain iteration beyond this point.



SIJJINSumerian Promises (Sepulchral Voice Records)

This debut full-length from German/Basque-borne elite death/thrash metal trio Sijjin flexes experience, dedication and mastery as it simultaneously resuscitates and restates the most classic standards of the artform today. Be you classicist pile or slumping dilettante there is a scripture’s worth of death-thrashing tutelage to be gleaned from the ruthless finesse on display herein. This might come somewhat unexpected from members of Necros Christos and Extinction, an altogether different undertaking as a live in studio recorded ‘Altars of Madness‘-esque record. The major appeal here is simple, they’ve served some fantastic balance between late 80’s death metal mysticism and catchier ancient East melody as key influence upon their rhythms. It is admittedly a “riff” album but one that is of the highest order in terms of classicist upheaval and resurrection of ancient forms, a release on par with Nekromantheon‘s latest.



OMINOUS RUINAmidst Voices That Echo in Stone (Willowtip Records)

The best overall technical brutal death metal album of the year comes via this Bay Area quintet who’d emerged in impressive form a little over five years beyond their debut EP. ‘Amidst Voices That Echo in Stone‘ would be easy to pass off as a resurrection of the mid-2000’s apex of technical brutal death metal if not for their thorough update to said narrative, focusing on virtuosic feats and meandering rhythms and less on a self-conscious uphold of old standards. That said, it’d make sense to assume key influences from that era have inspired this not at all trend-driven death metal record. Expect a feat of immense skill around every corner as their line-up features a former Inanimate Existence bassist and a current member of Odious Mortem. The fact that they’ve managed a certain echelon of athletic brutal tech-death standards without sounding like a Deeds of Flesh clone definitely impressed to start but it was the ride Ominous Ruin takes on this record that’d stuck with me all year.



GHASTLYMercurial Passages (20 Buck Spin)

The shift from #1 back in 2018 for ‘Death Velour‘ to #24 here in 2021 shouldn’t indicate that I like this album any less than the Finnish death metal band’s first two records, only that after the album released in May I didn’t find myself picking it back up more than a few times between mid-June and December. It certainly has lasting power but I’d likely over-exposed myself to it surrounding the release. In most respects Ghastly are yet more substantial than the bands they’re most often compared to, having developed their own sense of movement and melody via a deliberate mid-pace and relying on far fewer ‘Sweven‘-isms than their peers. With some patience the lotus of this album re-opens in mind beyond comparative analysis, its placement will remain fluid somewhere in the Top 30 or so for this year.



DRAWN AND QUARTEREDCongregation Pestilence (Krucyator Productions)

Pacific Northwest pure death metal fixture Drawn and Quartered were a revelation to my ears back in 2003 when their second album, ‘Extermination Revelry‘, released and they’ve kept me as a fan since between six fairly consistent records beyond that point. ‘Congregation Pestilence‘ is one of their best records but that shouldn’t suggest it does anything wildly different than any other release in the past, they’re just on fire here on these recordings and the production is well tailored to their classic sound. At face value a certain phrasal likeness to Immolation and Incantation is the typical response to this band’s style but with their whole discography in mind Drawn and Quartered have long forged their own version of this distinctly United States bound death metal style.



AETHYRICKApotheosis (The Sinister Flame)

Achieving more with each release despite a quite rapid yearly cycle Finnish atmospheric and melodic black metal duo Aethyrick are seeming spiritual consort to life’s systemic dissolution via directly emotional, tragically cinematic craft on their third full-length album ‘Apotheosis’ yet their modus is neither directly nostalgic nor cloyingly reminiscent, there is an inherent intelligence to behold within the ethereal strokes applied. The seemingly modern atmospheric high provided finds the band reaching for a deepest stage of transcendental stargazing, an stream of liberation from start to finish that sits as fresh testament to the spiritual goals driving the experience.


REVEAL! Doppelherz (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. These guys have been a favorite of mine for quite some time so it there was little question they’d strike upon a worthwhile follow-up here.



ÆNIGMATUM – Deconsecrate (20 Buck Spin)

Portland, Oregon-based progressive death metal quartet Ænigmatum mystify beyond all previously established function on this their second full-length album. Suffice to say the standard upheld is world class, a collision of prime prog-death/melodic black/death and tech-death elements machined together beyond their shattering thread of speed and austerity. Fans of StarGazer, The Chasm, Atvm, and similar bands on this list should most definitely pay attention here while also noting that this is a key point of evolution towards a more modern sound that retains its classicist taste level, never insulting the old gods but certainly not existing solely for the sake of their worship either. ‘Deconsecrate’ is admittedly a lot to take in, they’re generally full throttling it even during the more pensive parts of the record but anyone who’d ever hated having to decide between traditional/classicist takes on progressive death and ultra-modern slickness should find respite here.



HERE LIES MANRitual Divination (RidingEasy Records)

A fresh and markedly original sound arisen from afrobeat’s jazzier percussion-driven spectrum applied to today’s late 70’s retro heavy/psychedelic rock fascination Los Angeles, California-based troupe Here Lies Man have been an unshakable ear addiction since I’d first received their second full-length ‘You Will Know Nothing‘ back in 2018. Beyond their knack for giving muscular finesse to Afro-Caribbean rhythms these guys are fine songwriters taking full advantage of a warmer, heavier production value in marked but not too drastic shift from their previously far more lo-fi sound. ‘Ritual Divination‘ has an incredible richness to its guitar tones, equal parts thunderous heavy psych/garage metal attack and soul-searching protest rock presence. When I was tallying up the number of records that I was sure would last on my shelf into 2022 and beyond this was absolutely one of my first grabs.



BALMOGEve (War Anthem Records/Blackseed Productions)

Absorbed into motionless terror, affixed in rupture by the all-consuming dark, the skull presses into this gelatinous portal with eyes bursting through sight beyond death. The will of the human being to adapt against the inevitability of death is a form of inherited madness and muse for the freeing, amorphous course of Soutomaior, Spain based black/death metal quartet Balmog as their vision of occult black metal splendor is siphoned into tangibly captured fluxion on this fourth full-length, ‘Eve‘. By influence of borderless craft, classic Galician literature at its most profound, and the unleashed nature of contemplative rock/heavy metal expression they embody an minor revolt against the status quo of decidedly musical and readable avant-garde extreme metal. Though I’d initially heard post-Drought black metal guitar technique and deathrocking abandon in uterine co-morbidity, this record unfurls its extensive scroll of spells with repeat listens and I’d only become more of a fan of the band the more I considered this evolution shared between the freeing ‘Pillars of Salt‘ EP and this new ideal realized. See also: MystagosAzoth‘.



CADAVERIC FUMESEchoing Chambers of Soul (Blood Harvest Records)

Going into personal deliberations for this final ordering of the year’s releases saw ‘Echoing Chambers of Soul‘ ousting my most steadfast #1 to start and this was admittedly partial recency bias paired with how impressive it is as both a debut and a final release. That isn’t to besmirch the fine work here in any sense — Cadaveric Fumes have essentially made the album I have wanted since first hearing Stench‘s ‘Venture‘ as a spiritual follow-up to Tribulation‘s ‘The Formulas of Death‘ back in the early 2010’s. This form of psychedelic/prog rock influenced progressive death metal sort of reached its critical third-stage evolution within Sweven‘s ‘The Eternal Resonance‘ last year, at least for my own taste, and with this context it’d felt comparing this record to that realm might’ve misrepresented some of what Cadaveric Fumes have arrived upon by their own will and experimental journey unto discovery. So, the final verdict on this record is that it is easily one of the best listening experiences of the year period, that the band have left us a serious gem to marvel over for years to come. The flow of the tracklist, the transition from “A Desolate Breed” through “The Engulfed Sepulcher”, and the intoxicating sensation provided by the full listen is yet one of the most memorable death metal monuments for my own taste this year. Whatever these guys do next I’d hope they’re still keen on writing songs of this caliber. See also: GhastlyMercurial Passages‘.



MEFITISOffscourings (Hessian Firm/Night Rhythms Records)

The general analysis of Mefitis‘ discography by the few journalists (myself included) and fans privy to their fine melodic black/death metal influenced ‘dark metal’ craft has been by-and-large worthless intellectual banter typically amounting to bland categorization of stylistic sub-movements beyond the mid-90’s (something like At the Gates‘ ‘With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness‘ expanded in impossibly fine thousand-eyed hindsight) and anything but an appreciation for the effect of listening. In engaging with this second full-length from the ambitious Oakland, California based duo I’d ultimately decided to go with the flow and not get lost in the minutiae of every moment, only to be interrupted by the inherent flaw of the review process wherein the work involved in an album like this naturally becomes the key conversation. By shaking off my own head noise I’d allowed room enough for their meticulous craft to take me away from cerebral reactionary thought and appreciate ‘Offscourings‘ nigh literary use of virtuosic phrase the same way I would a surreal theatrical play (or film): In ecstatic marvel of its mystifying yet well-stated melodic voice. Heightened performative value, perhaps just as considered for stage as it is for engaged personal sessionhood, is where we see the most substantial progress of forms beyond ‘Emberdawn‘ unto this austere post-nostalgic follow up.



THE RUINS OF BEVERASTThe Thule Grimoires (Ván Records)

This sixth album from Alexander von Meilenwald‘s The Ruins of Beverast reinforces the idea that the artist is not only in a class of his own but that his work will likely only become more ambitious over time. That isn’t to say that ‘The Thule Grimoires‘ finds the artist reaching for progressive metal highs but that its idiosyncratic gothic rock/new wave influenced voicing and high fidelity render is far more profound a decision/direction than I think he’d been given credit for. Within the critical love-fest surrounding release the only particularly challenging aspect of this record discussed was its 70 minute length, this diverts a wealth of available observation otherwise. If you’ve invested as much time as I have into TRoB‘s last three records this’ll be the level of work expected, a new sonic language to embrace and a decidedly obscure Germanic mystic theme to imbibe.



HEAVY SENTENCEBang to Rights (Dying Victims Productions)

One look at Heavy Sentence‘s debut and I cannot help but hear a glass and beer shredded throat singing the chorus of “Heavy, heavy sentence.” over on the eponymous song that kicks off Side B. When reviewing ‘Bang to Rights‘ I’d found it novel, a bit mind numbing in terms of how straight forward it was a la early 80’s pub-crushing NWOBHM; This was ultimately its greatest virtue, an energetic rawness applied to songs that imprint well and bring the right sort of attitude, a memorable grit supplied by late 70’s heavy rock. Easily the best traditional heavy metal record of the year for my own taste. See also: WodeBurn in Many Mirrors‘.



NEKROMANTHEONVisions of Trismegistos (Hell’s Headbangers Records/Indie Recordings)

After a decade long wait our favorite killers from Kolbotn return with what is inarguably the apex thrash metal record of the year. These absolute riff champions are untouchable here on ‘Visions of Trismegistos‘ but there is no doubt they’re here to sustain the high standards of late 80’s thrash metal and its various post-2000 resurgences rather than revamp their approach or sound. Nekromantheon have always read as classicist refinement rather than pure nostalgia, less a tribute and more a personal passion; This feels like the right observation to make about this relatively short and impossibly dense riff session, a record for advanced thrash metal skulls who won’t accept anything less than the highest standard.



CRAVEN IDOLForked Tongues (Dark Descent Records)

Black-thrashing Londoners Craven Idol take thrilling initiative within this exceptional third full-length, hitting upon deeper-stirring traditional heavy metal ideals which result in some of their finest songcraft to date. There is a certain charisma to this work which matches up with the modus of a record like ‘Wildfire‘ from Deströyer 666 on a certain level but ‘Forked Tongues‘ convinces with their own step beyond, an anthemic touch which illustrates the theme of the record nicely on “Deify the Stormgod” and “Even the Demons…”. Though I’d expected several other 2021 releases to take precedence over this one, ‘Forked Tongues‘ was always a brutal shock of energy and a high standard to return to.



ROTHADÁS – Kopár hant​.​.​. az alvilág felé (Me Saco Un Ojo/Pulverized Records)

Though the initial appeal of Szeged, Hungary-based death/doom metal duo Rothadás‘ debut LP admittedly centered around some superficial similarities to Krypts and perhaps Spectral Voice the more time I’d spent with ‘Kopár hant​.​.​. az alvilág felé‘ the more it’d proven itself as its own prime example of classicist ideals perpetuated unto nowadays standards. Beyond some references to early Finnish death and an incredibly fine production value this’d simply been a record I couldn’t put down upon first hearing it, always immersed to Hell and back for the sake of the greater trip down to the underworld. There were admittedly more celebrated and generally popular death/doom metal releases in 2021 but this is the one that held up beyond pre-release hype.



DREAM UNENDINGTide Turns Eternal (20 Buck Spin)

Crystalline dasein. This debut album from Derrick Vella (Tomb Mold) and Justin DeTore (Innumerable Forms) is functionally a mission statement for a brand new mood set alight atop the bones of an ancient sound. Lushly clouded, fever-dreaming psychedelic rock climes and eerie glass-shattering 12-string guitar wrangling serve to first state present spiritual turmoil and then proceed to process it throughout a work of sheer melodic death/doom wonder. The experience is both comparable and antithetical to that of Katatonia‘s ‘Dance of December Souls‘, presenting tragedian intimacy in increasing waves before unfurling into larger and increasingly dramatic pieces while conveying hope and belief in place of nihilistic despair; The result is the sort of album I could imagine Chuck Schuldiner (circa 1995) would’ve made if he’d any interest in the early romanticism of death/doom metal and liked early Esoteric. This was my most listened to album during the last three months of the year.




The supreme being looks down upon you with judgment, despising all. Belarusian atmospheric and technical death metal band Eximperitus were already a brilliant spectacle back on their thousand-word titled 2016 debut but here on album number two they’ve virtually transcended, achieving serious musical value between still-raw render and an arcane Eastern melodic style. In my review I’d suggested a peak Nile album, Ulcerate and Mithras as key stylistic references but these largely consider sound design, floaty psychedelic atmosphere, and a high standard of technical brutal death metal aggression. Much as I wanted to consider ‘Šahrartu‘ merely above average during the review process over time I’ve found the experience as a whole meditative, increasing in power with each sitting.



PORTALAvow (Profound Lore Records)

The faintest animalistic scream leaks through the boiler room vents, filling minds full with horrifying preview of the coming torture below the church pews. This cathedral of torture can no longer hide the stench of its mayhemic-scourged cadaver congregation, drugged and violated with ruthless indoctrination via cruelest means. As we’re thrown down the concrete steps and slapped upon the basement floor so exhales the din of ‘Avow‘, wherein Brisbane, Australia-based ghasts Portal once again insist their devotion to the dark, scraping Hell of the shadows is infinite in its disinterment. It is an album to be buried alive within and surely the exact right challenge for those seeking true extremes on grand scale, a raw and explosive infestation of claustrophobic sludge-lunged scowling and plummeting feats of coldest dissonant death metal finality. I was anxious, miserable, disoriented, and wracking my brain for a notion of light until the dungeon created by ‘Avow‘ revealed itself to me like a still-writhing splayed serpent’s corpse. The companion piece ‘Hagbulbia‘ is even more disorienting and should be considered an more than worthy accomplice to the greater crimes of Portal this year.



WHEELPreserved in Time (Cruz Del Sur Music)

Elegies for the end. German epic traditional heavy/doom metal band Wheel had seemingly collapsed into tortured dust beyond the release of their 2013 sophomore full-length ‘Icarus‘, a Top 10 all-time favorite of mine. Their vocalist is such a talent and thankfully he’d rejoined for ‘Preserved in Time‘, a record well worth waiting eight years for. It might appear daft when I suggest this release is more of an epic heavy metal record in terms of style than expected, if only because the most endearing traits Wheel had sported on ‘Icarus‘ are yet here, but this material has a different gait and tone in most respects. My obsession with this record grew for the sake of how easily I fell back into its graces throughout the last seven months, but the major reason I’m still championing it today is its well utilized emotional resonance for the sake of songcraft, pieces that tattoo the mind and mood.



MIDNIGHT ODYSSEYBiolume Part 2 – The Golden Orb (I, Voidhanger Records)

A haven imagined, striding toward the Undying Lands with assured purpose. This sixth album (yes, the dungeon synth records count) from Brisbane, Australia-based musician Dis Pater‘s Midnight Odyssey is a great work, a masterpiece of symphonic extreme music which transcends all past work and elevates its 2019 predecessor in conjoined bliss. Although I admit mentions of Bathory‘s ‘Nordland‘, Solstice (England), and Scald in the press release had already planted the perfect seed for this realization it was the 103 minute triple LP that spoke for itself, certainly pushing well beyond the expectation created. Beyond the review process for this album I absolutely could not shake the emotional connection I had made in marvel of its majesty, I began to feel as if I was dreaming alive some great imagined world as I sat with the album and became increasingly inspired by it.



RAPTUREMalevolent Demise Incarnation (F.D.A. Records)

The starving void of death in aching rupture, our timeless overlord’s worship overdue. Defiance of religious compliance and an harrowing, no holds barred examination of belief’s role in the future morbidity of humanity sets us at the feet of death himself on this third full-length from Athens, Greece-based death/thrash metal quartet Rapture. It was a bit difficult to accept the idea that these guys had managed a record even better than ‘Paroxysm of Hatred‘, an album I’d consider an apex example of brutal thrash metal taken to its death/thrash limit, but I’ve got to hand it to them for pushing headfirst into an attack that transcends core influences and breaches their varietal, high taste level. It is rare that I consider an album with a 100/100 score “perfect” but for this type of death metal ‘Malevolent Demise Incarnation‘ at least a 100% perfect match with my own taste.



LACERATIONDemise (Rotted Life Records)

This debut full-length from Laceration sounds as if it could have been released in 1992 by way of a death/thrash metal band making the full transition into pure and uncompromising death metal. In fact this North Bay/Santa Rosa area spawned crew have more or less undergone this sort of thrash-until-death transformation since initially forming in 2006, though it seems they’ve had a few hiccups along the way. ‘Demise‘ doesn’t find its way up to the near peak of this list because it reminds me of Solstice (Florida), early Malevolent Creation and Skeletal Remains but because they’ve managed their own voice within said godform and this goes beyond style and reference, writing damned good songs around damned good riffs. The best possible endorsement I could give is the fact that I bought both the CD and the vinyl LP. I sincerely hope they keep the fire lit because I am foaming at the mouth for whatever comes next.



SIDEREANLost on Void’s Horizon (Edged Circle Productions)

Siderean‘s debut full-length appears to tell the tale of their well-earned last decade through dark science-fictive narrative, a seeming endless search for a great beast which finds its climax at the edge of the known universe. Though I’m sure the inconvenience of changing their name from Teleport was a bit of a blow at the time, it actually speaks to a new lease on life, a freed hand in their craft which is entirely evident throughout ‘Lost on Void’s Horizon‘, a tech-thrash affected progressive death metal record. Though we could find similar movement and stylistic choices in records from Cadaveric Fumes and a few other bands releasing key progressive/technical death metal albums this year it is well worth championing Siderean for sounding quite different from anything else, having their own tense atmospheric feeling which finds its own path beyond later Morbus Chron influenced death metal while presenting an elevation beyond some of the early Vektor influenced guitar technique sustained within some of their years as Teleport. An unforgettable and infinitely repeatable death metal record.



MISOTHEISTFor the Glory of Your Redeemer (Terratur Possessions)

I see the end of civilization, the terror of the herd and savor the scene unfolding — This particular sect of Trondheim, Norway based black metal elite housed under the growing cult of Terratur Possessions is unmatched nearly across the board, particularly the label’s stretch of releases between this fantastic second album from Misotheist unto the latest Whoredom Rife record, which is a masterpiece in its own right but I’d needed more time with it before including it in this list. The appeal of ‘For the Glory of Your Redeemer‘ was instant and my time spent petting the first run vinyl gatefold affecting; Three tragedian irreligious apocalyptic sermons deliver our endtyme, a landscape of the final reaping on Earth in alternative to any notion of divine rapture. The black metal on hand here is not only representative of this circle’s fanatical talent but the many lenses of orthodoxy and avant-garde movement shared between kin and cohort, I would argue that Misotheist is especially daring, capturing breakthrough moments rather than performative tradition.



STARGAZERPsychic Secretions (Nuclear War Now! Productions)

The venom of the past, held beneath the tongue in waiting spiteful false serpent’s spew-readiness, becomes the cancerous mouth of today. Spit! Over the course of two and a half decades South Australian trio Stargazer have forged their own remarkably woven thread of violently thrashing arcane death metal, blackened and steeping in a satisfyingly bitter-poisoned tea of most classic progressive extreme metal. The addition of Khronomancer (Altars, Tzun Tzu) in the drum position has been one of the more underrated performances of the year by my count, and likely because the bass guitar technique on this album is so prominently featured as both virtuosic and… beauteous craft. I do admittedly have a very large collection of Stargazer releases and merch, and this is absolutely one of my favorite active bands, but ‘Psychic Secretions‘ stuck in mind this entire year (and a good chunk of the end of 2020, too) for the sake of it being a bit different for the band and still a dark alien form when sidled next to just about anything in the same sub-genre space. An absolute inspiration.


悟り — Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels, distros, artists and PR firms who choose to work with me as well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. Thank you!

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