As part of our annual NCS LISTMANIA extravaganza we re-publish lists of the year’s best metal that appear on web sites which appeal to vastly larger numbers of readers than we do — not because we believe those readers or the writers have better taste in metal than our community does, but more from a morbid curiosity about what the great unpoisoned masses are being told is best for them. It’s like opening a window that affords an insight into the way the rest of the world outside our own disease-ridden nooks and crannies perceives the music that is our daily sustenance.
One of those sites is PopMatters. It has been in existence since 1999. In its own words the site “is an international magazine of cultural criticism and analysis” with a scope that “is broadly cast on all things pop culture”, including “music, television, films, books, video games, sports, theatre, the visual arts, travel, and the Internet”. PopMatters claims that it is “the largest site that bridges academic and popular writing in the world”.
As in past years, last week PopMatters published a list of “The 20 Best Metal Albums“ of the year, again under the by-line of Spyros Stasis and Antonio Poscic. You’ll find that list below.
After perusing the 2019 version of this list one of my NCS colleagues remarked, “The PopMatters list feels MUCH more like the author actually cares about what is ‘best’ and not just ‘what our readers want us to choose’”. I thought that was an astute observation that year, and I think it applies again now.
My instinct, as before, is that this will be one of the most interesting and unpredictable lists we’re likely to see in our growing collection of 2021 lists from print zines and “big platform” web sites. It does cover a broad range of genres, some of which will not personally appeal to every reader who comes our way, but the list again appears to be the result of genuine effort and honest thought — and it dives pretty deep.
As someone who tries to keep up with what’s happening in extreme underground music, I was pleasantly surprised by how many albums on the list I hadn’t heard — or hadn’t even heard of. And I think that’s one of the values of reading lists (especially ones like this), i.e., not just providing validation for a reader’s opinion but creating tantalizing introductions to things we’ve overlooked. But this list also made me kick myself by reminding me of excellent releases I heard this year that I never got around to writing about (or at least not writing about enough), with the albums by Mehenet, Hellish Form, Oriflamme, and Dordeduh being standout examples of that.
There are also examples of validation — seeing the appearance of albums that we did praise around these parts. But what really comes through on this list is the sense that the authors really prized adventurous, out-of-the-ordinary music, and sought to challenge readers. That comes through in the (very well-written) discussions of each selection — all the way up to the whiplash you’ll get from the juxtaposition of the No. 2 album and the No. 1 pick.
To read the explanations and descriptions for each of these choices at PopMatters, go HERE.
20. Seputus – Phantom Indigo (Willowtip)
19. Threshing Spirit – The Crucible (American Decline/American Dreams)
18. Vouna – Atropos (Profound Lore)
17. Mehenet – Ng’ambu (Gilead Media)
16. Pupil Slicer – Mirrors (Prosthetic)
15. Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse (Avantgarde Music)
14. Autarkh – Form in Motion (Season of Mist)
13. Hellish Form – Remains (Translation Loss)
12. Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon (Relapse)
11. BIG|BRAVE – Vital (Southern Lord)
10. Oriflamme – L’Égide Ardente (Sepulchral)
9. Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever (The Laser’s Edge)
8. Utopia – Stalker (APF)
7. madam data – The Gospel of the Devourer (PTP)
6. Antediluvian – The Divine Punishment (Nuclear War Now!)
5. Dordeduh – Har (Prophecy Productions)
4. King Woman – Celestial Blues (Relapse)
3. Divide and Dissolve – Gas Lit (Invada)
2. The Armed – Ultrapop (Sargent House)
1. Archspire – Bleed the Future (Season of Mist)