(Today Andy Synn brings you his suggestions for the albums which represent the top tier of this year’s metallic crop)
So we’re now halfway through “List Week”, although it’s probably more than that considering yesterday’s “Good” post was easily the most complicated and time-consuming of all the week’s articles.
Case in point, today’s round-up of the “Great” albums – the ones which I think represent the crème de la crème of their particular genre(s), whether by pushing them further or simply by exemplifying their very best qualities – is less than half the length of yesterday’s.
After all, while greatness comes in many forms, trying to define it, even pseudo-objectively, means you’ve got to be a little more selective.
Obviously, this list isn’t comprehensive or definitive in any way (never trust any site or reviewer who claims otherwise) since it’s impossible for any one writer to hear everything that comes out in a given year, and you’ll probably spot the notable omission of albums by Frontierer (don’t worry, DGR will probably include that one), Clouds (excellent on first listen, but needs more time to really sink in), Møl (not a bad band, but overhyped in my opinion) and many more that I simply didn’t get around to due to the fact that time remains annoyingly linear.
You’ll also note that I’ve left off both albums I was involved in this year since I’m not arrogant enough to review my own records, but if you fancy checking out Apathy Noir’s final full-length, At the Edge of the World, or Beyond Grace’s second album, Our Kingdom Undone, feel free to do so in your own time!
Anyway, with all that preamble now out of the way here’s a collection of what I thought were the “Great” albums of 2021… and if you don’t see it here, that’s probably because I didn’t hear it (or I forgot about it).
DEATH IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
It is a truth, universally known, that 2021 was a ridiculously filthy and fecund year for Death Metal in all its forms, from bands like Bæst and Ghastly putting a fresh (and ferocious) new spin on a more Old School sound to more dissonant and atmospheric artists such as Ageless Oblivion and Dormant Ordeal who achieved a whole new level of intensity this year with their long-awaited third albums.
Honestly, whether you prefer things harsh and horrifying (in which case give Acausal Intrusion a listen), raw and relentless (i.e. Antichrist Siege Machine) or punchy and progressive (which means you need to check out the new Lascaille’s Shroud – arguably the band’s best work)) it seemed like Death Metal had something for everyone this year!
BRUTALISE YOUR BRAIN
Of course, if you like your Death Metal delivered with a level of heaviness and brutality that’s actually considered a war crime in several countries then allow me to be your audio arms dealer and recommend the experimental Death/Grind assault of Fractal Generator, the twisted technical terrorism of Monument of Misanthropy, and the absolutely lethal late-entry from Pyrexia (a perfect soundtrack to the inevitable zombie-ape apocalypse if ever I’ve heard one).
I doubt anyone will argue with me when I say that 2021 was a frankly ridiculous year for Technical Death Metal – as already demonstrated by just how many excellent albums were featured as part of yesterday’s “Good” list – and while much digital ink has already been spilled over the likes First Fragment, Archspire, and Rivers of Nihil (and with good reason), I’d contend that the new releases by Alustrium, Eximperitus (no, I’m not typing out the whole thing) and Stortregn (which is easily the best album of their career) deserve just as much attention and acclaim.
Oh, and I know the new Obscura has divided opinion, but I think it’s a fantastic piece of work from a band who clearly sound like they’re having a lot of fun (while still kicking all sorts of ass).
A DARKER FORM OF DEATH
Fans of the more “Blackened” form(s) of Death Metal were also well-served this year, whether by the grim grandeur of 1914’s bombastic Where Fear and Weapons Meet, which saw the band making a subtle shift in sound towards a more symphonic, but no less stunning sound, or the absolutely abrasive auditory assault of Succumb.
And if you really want to challenge yourself, why not try Veilburner’s mind-mangling new opus, Workers in the Capsule of Skull or Withered’s complex-yet-cathartic Verloren, possibly the best work of their career?
Ok, maybe “perfection” is a little overstating it, but damn there was a lot of good Black Metal released this year, offering a visceral variety of different flavours for practically every palette.
So if you’re looking for raging rhythms and ravaging riffs, then check out Black Jackal and Gravpel (both of which are personal favourites of mine) ASAP, whereas if you’re after a more immersive and atmospheric experience then give the new Wolves In The Throne Room (the band’s best album since Two Hunters, imo) and Woman Is The Earth (the band’s best album… ever) a try.
And if you’re interested in something which pushes the blackened boundaries a bit more then perhaps the cinematic, saxophone-infused sounds of Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa, the propulsive proggery of Dordeduh, or the harsh angularity and hellish intensity of Plebeian Grandstand will scratch that particular itch?
SINK INTO THE SLUDGE
From one form of darkness to another… if you thought that Black Metal had a moratorium on either aggression or atmosphere then allow me to correct this misconception, by recommending both the absolutely soul-crushing (and, I’ll admit, distinctly “blackened”) new releases from Praise the Plague and Choir (whose debut is one of the year’s biggest and best surprises), along with the much more strange and psychedelic offerings from Hundred Headless Horsemen and Sunnata.
DOOM IS ETERNAL
If there’s one thing I know it’s that there will always be a place for bands on the gloomy, doomy, and groovy side of things, especially since the word “Doom” actually covers a surprisingly wide spectrum of sounds, from the massively ominous and morbidly oppressive approach of The Ruins of Beverast, whose new album is most definitely not for the faint of heart, to the almost dream-like melancholy of Moanhand, or the shamelessly infectious Stoner-Doom swagger of Green Lung, and beyond!
And while I know the term “Post-Metal” can be pretty divisive (and often gets over-used, which doesn’t help matters) I think this year has really shown that the genre’s versatility is actually one of its strengths, as while all these albums share some key components, the music they produce is wonderfully varied and effortlessly distinct, running the gamut from heavy and abrasive acts like Wowod and Kollapse (two artists you really need to check out if you haven’t already done so) to unashamedly melodic artists such as Lantlos and Chrome Waves, to punchy, prog-tinged prodigies like Tharn and Hippotraktor).
WEIRD AND WONDERFUL, PROGGY AND POWERFUL
Of course, some bands don’t fit neatly into any one style of music, and 2021 has seen more than its fair share of groups mixing and matching, or just plain ignoring the boundaries, between established genres in order to create some of the most distinctive artistic works of the year.
Prime examples of this are the Pop-Rock meets Post-Metal, Sludge-meets-Shoegaze sound of Sugar Horse (think Amenra meets Biffy Clyro, though that only really scratches the surface) and the experimental extremity of Epiphanic Truth, as well as the always distinctive Arena-Rock Melodeath of Omnium Gatherum, which might just have found its apotheosis on Origin (though I know that’s a controversial statement).
And, then, of course, there’s utterly undefinable and unquantifiable stuff like Voices and Dola which… well, you’re just going to have to listen to those and work them out for yourselves!
HARDCORE NEVER DIES
Finally we’ll finish off with a genre that is still very near and dear to my heart, and a bunch of bands who are pushing its various permutations – Mathcore, Grindcore, Deathcore, Metalcore, etc – in intriguing new directions, whether that be in the form of Dreamwell’s intense emotional catharsis or the claustrophobic “Post” Deathcore of Humanity’s Last Breath, Employed to Serve’s anthemic aggression or Still‘s creative Blackened Post-Hardcore, or… pushing the boundaries of good taste and decency even further… the sinister, skin-stripping chaos of Fawn Limbs.
And there you have it. You may not agree with all of them, but my hope is that each and every one of our readers finds something here that they hadn’t previously discovered or given a chance.
Tomorrow… tomorrow you get to see which of these albums I picked to represent my “Critical Top Ten” of the year, so keep your eyes peeled for that one!