Dec 172021

(Andy Synn closes out his annual List-Week with a ranked round-up of his personal favourites)

And here we are, finally. Can you hear my sigh of relief ?

Don’t get me wrong, doing all these round-ups and lists is, ultimately, quite a rewarding experience – especially when people tell me that it’s help them discover, or re-evaluate, something they might not otherwise have listened to – but it’s also quite a bit of work, and no matter how early I start putting it all together I somehow always end up having to finish things off in a rush at the last minute.

Thankfully my final list of the week is, this year at least, relatively easy, as I’m 99% certain as I write this that I know exactly which albums I want to include as part of my “Personal Top Ten”.

These albums aren’t necessarily the biggest, or the best, or the most popular/well-known releases by any means, but they’re definitely the ones which have resonated with me the most on a purely personal level.

So let’s just crack on, shall we, and give you all some insight into my listening tastes/habits this year.


It’s always good to be able to kick off any list with a bang, and the debut album from Russia’s Disillumination is the musical equivalent of a Tsar Bomba-sized explosion of Blackened Death brutality, make no mistake about it.

To quote from my own review:

“[Во Тьму Предвечного Слова] combines shards and scraps of Altarage’s crushing, claustrophobic density, Belphegor’s blistering, blast-fuelled intensity, and Sulphur Aeon’s grandiose melodic malevolence, into something almost insufferably brilliant.”

But in spite of these comparisons, and despite the fact that this is the band’s debut, they’ve clearly locked down a distinct sonic identity for themselves, mostly by juxtaposing the gravity-distorting density of their utterly massive guitar tone against a penchant for sleek, sinuous melodies and bleak, ominous atmosphere.

A lot of Russian bands made a serious impression on me this year – including Crust, Morokh (both of whom almost made this list) and one other you’ll read more about below – but these guys were always going to make the top ten.



Another new discovery (in fact, now that I think about it, half the albums on this list are debuts), Gravpel immediately got my attention with their punishing, pissed-off brand of take-no-prisoners Anarcho-Punk Black Metal, and have remained in near-constant rotation ever since.

As unrelentingly aggressive as this album is, however – and it really is, these guys piss lightning, crap thunder, and spit venom without an ounce of remorse or restraint – it’s also packed with so many gnarly riffs and snarling vocal hooks that pretty much every track could be considered an anthem for the dejected and the dispossessed, if only they weren’t so utterly filthy and furious and absolutely unforgiving.

Seriously, there’s so much wild-fire energy, so much wide-eyed intensity, propelling this album, from start to finish, that it almost takes my breath away every single time.



How best to describe Form in Motion, the new album from former Dodecahedron guitarist Michel Nienhuis? Well, I think I said it best back in March when I wrote:

“…as much a cross-breed of Meshuggah, Mysticum, and Ancient Methods as it is an amalgam of Akercocke, Aphex Twin, and the more aggrotech influenced side of Anaal Nathrakh, the band’s sound is more than just the mere sum of its parts…

From the distressingly visceral (and surprisingly varied) vocals to the jagged, anxiety-inducing guitar work ensures that there’s always an edge of “what’s going to happen next?”… [but] what really surprised me about this record is just how disturbingly infectious it is, with the band injecting their quasi-techno, bio-mechanical Black Metal mix with multiple worms of viral melody and self-replicating hooks

Perhaps the one thing stopping me from rating it even higher is the sense that Form In Motion is just one small (albeit significant) step for the band, rather than a true evolutionary leap, and that the best, the true apex, of what they might one day be capable of, is yet to come.”



Let me ask you something. When was the last time that a Dödsrit album didn’t make my top ten?

Oh, that’s right. NEVER. Because there’s just something about this band that clicks with me on an almost primal level, their distinctive fusion of Black Metal and Crust Punk hitting me right in the gut even as it tugs at my heartstrings.

This one in particular has the distinction of being the band’s first album written and performed as a quartet, something which – in my opinion at least – has only made them stronger.

When I first wrote about this album I dropped in a bunch of names – everyone from Bathory to Amenra, Darkest Hour to Dissection – as musical touchstones for anyone thinking of jumping onboard the Dödsrit bandwagon with me.

And while these references still make sense (to my mind, at least), it’s probably worth pointing out that on Mortal Coil, as on every other album they’ve done, Dödsrit continue to sound like the best possible version of themselves, and no-one else.



A very late entry here, but one which I’d been anticipating for quite a while, since I was such a huge fan of their previous album, We Had It Coming.

And, let me tell you, they did not disappoint, as this is one high-octane, blast-fuelled, riff-driven rager of an album that takes pretty much everything I like about Death Metal and cranks it all the way up to 11.

In fact, there’s every chance that it would have ended up even higher on this list (and may well, even, one day replace its predecessor in my affections) if I’d have had it for longer, and perhaps the only reason it failed to crack the top five is simply because I’ve had more time to digest and absorb and come to terms with the albums I’ve ranked above it.

If you haven’t already heard this one, make sure anything breakable is securely fastened down (that includes pets and/or loved ones) and crank… it… up.



I liked this one so much I bought the tshirt. That’s the pull quote for #5 on my list of personal favourites from this year.

Of course, if you want more than that then I’m more than happy to oblige, as this is an incredibly rich and rewarding album, one which mixes the fiery energy of Black Metal with the melancholy melodies of Belarusian folk and delivers it all with a sense of rebellious passion and revolutionary fervour that bleeds through in every rippling riff and soaring solo and savage, snarling vocal.

It’s just an incredibly dynamic, unforgettably infectious, album, from start to finish, with the incorporation of weeping violin and rapturous clean vocals only adding to the haunting, heart-wrenching aura of the music, resulting in a record where every caustic, cathartic track serves both as a call to arms and a lamentation for all that’s been lost.



This band’s last album, in 2017, ended up on my “Personal Top Ten” too, so it only stands to reason that Agonia would wind up here, and at an even higher placing than its predecessor, especially since it finds them expanding their sound and evolving their mindset into something even bigger, better, and more ambitious.

To quote from one of my favourite writers:

“I suppose this is the key idea, the key observation, to make while working your way through Agonia. It’s not so much that the band have abandoned the traditional elements of Death Metal – far from it, in fact – but that they’ve focussed even more on how, and why, these various elements interlink and intertwine, finding the space between them and letting the layers of distortion, melody, and atmosphere breathe a little bit more.

It’s still dense as a dying star, make no mistake, but there’s an impression of volume – in more than just a physical sense – underlying each of these tracks, especially slower and/or more atmospherically-inclined numbers like “Further From Ordeal” and “Wounds Unhealed”, whose more spacious songwriting (and, lest I forget to mention it, impressively immersive and organic production) never once threatens to detract from the electrifying intensity of the music.”

FYI – the separation between the bands in my top five is absolutely razor-thin, and on a different day I might have ranked them all differently, so rest assured that, no matter the number attached to it, this album isn’t going to be leaving my regular listening rotation any time soon.



While not a new band – New Golgotha Repvbliq being their second album – Omination are a new band to me, but one I fell in love with so quickly, and so deeply, that I immediately went and sought out a copy of their debut (also excellent, I might add) in addition to this one.

NGR is a perfect example of how my favourite albums aren’t always the ones I’ve listened to the most – let’s face it, when a record is this incredibly dense and demanding you can’t necessarily listen to it every single day – but are still capable of making a real and lasting impression on me.

As a gifted wordsmith once wrote:

“It’s also, as befitting its “Post Apocalyptic” moniker, an album clearly crafted in the ever-present shadow of the end times… whether represented by the current social and political situation surrounding its creation or a hangover from Kovalevsky’s own heritage as a child raised in (and then renouncing) Catholicism in a predominantly Muslim country, who can say… and as such is very much painted in multiple shades of brooding black and gloomy grey, with very little in the way of light or hope to break up its desolate, doom-laden aesthetic.

This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a purely one-note affair by any means, as the album’s crushing combination of massive riffs, ritualistic rhythms, and remorseless momentum, all interwoven with a scintillating series of sombre melodies, soaring solos, and sacramental synths, ultimately produces a rich and surprisingly varied – not to mention unexpectedly dynamic – tapestry of sounds and sensations.

This is particularly true of the vocals, as not only is Kovalevsky’s gritty, gravel-throated growl somewhat atypical of this particular style of music, but the use of grandiose, pseudo-operatic cleans and passages of portentous spoken-word at key points also helps to expand the album’s creative and emotional palette even further, making for a deeper and more immersive experience all-round.”



Despite the name up there in the header, I actually love bands with clean singing – although this year my “Personal Top Ten” is unusually light on bands of that nature.

However, the inclusion of Present Serpent, the debut album from Russian multi-instrumentalist Roma Filatov, aka Moanhand, should more than make up for that lack, as basically every song here is an absolute masterclass in how to incorporate both harsh and clean vocals into your band’s sound without falling into the dreaded “good cop, bad cop” formula.

Of course, it helps that the music – brooding and doomy, bleak and gloomy – proves to be more than worthy of its self-declared moniker of “Blackened Dream-Sludge”, all mesmerising rhythms, majestic leads, and mesmerising tremolo melodies, and serves as a gripping canvas upon which Filatov (who handles all the vocals and instrumentation on the record) can paint his passion with his vivid, varied, and visceral voice.

It’s not just that both the throat-blistering harsh vocals and the sublime, soaring cleans are absolutely stunning in both their execution and the level of raw emotion which they convey, but there’s also the way in which they’re used – some songs being all sung, others all snarling venom, some holding off on the melodies until late in the game, other presenting them right up front, or switching back and forth between them as the song dictates – which keeps things vibrant and vital and unpredictable throughout.

Utterly unique and unforgettable, from the very first note until the very last.



There really was only ever going to be one winner this year though, not just because Zao are one of my all-time favourite bands, but also because The Crimson Corridor is clearly one of the best albums they’ve done in their long and celebrated career.

Darker, moodier, and subtly proggier, the band have embraced an almost Post-Metal-influenced, Isis/Cult of Luna inspired, sound on their latest album which fits them like the proverbial glove, and which allows them to take the more atmospheric tendencies they’ve occasionally displayed on previous records and elevate them to a whole new level.

Don’t get me wrong, the album still delivers more than its fair share of ragged-edged riffs and absolutely vicious vocals (Dan Weyandt sounds as absolutely abrasive now as he ever did), but it’s songs like “Croatoan”, “R.I.P.W.”, the captivating title track, and the mournful “Nothing’s Form” – not to mention the artistically ambitious, atmosphere-heavy album closer, “The Web” – which really demonstrate how, even this far into their career, Zao are more than willing to embrace change without changing who they are.

This is one of those albums where my favourite song changes on an almost daily basis – they’re all that good – and yet my opinion on it as a whole hasn’t changed at all since I first heard it back in March/April. Mark my words, this one is built to last.


So there you have it. Maybe on a different day I’d have made slightly different choices – or maybe not, because a lot of these were a lock from the moment I heard them – but I’d say this is still a pretty accurate representation of where my mindset has been, and how my music tastes have developed (or not) over the course of the last twelve months.

Let me close by saying thank you – not just for sticking with me through this year’s “List Week” and for all your comments, but also for your support for the entire site over what has, let’s be honest, been a difficult period for all of us. We appreciate you, I appreciate you, and I hope you all know that.

  36 Responses to “2021 – A YEAR IN REVIEW(S): THE PERSONAL TOP TEN”

  1. Thanks for all of the great and hard work over the last week, Andy! I really do learn a lot from the lists and overview – and it is fun to either hear things for the first time or go back and try again on something I usually liked fine to start with, but clearly needed to give another run on.

    I am diving back into that Zao album now – with Autarkh up next! (Reading through your write-ups, I was like, “yeah, man, I agree, that is all correct – so, why, I am not listening to them more?!?” Well, problem solved.)

    • You’re welcome. Glad to know it’s appreciated AND useful for people.

      And, if I’m reading your comment right… what you’re saying I that everyone should listen to me, and listen to what I recommend, all the time, without question???

      • Ha ha – if I said and meant that, I have a feeling Islander would block me from NCS!

        I was just referring to Zao and Autarkh with that comment – two albums I have heard, liked, but at the same time kind of also slept on (sheepishly, I must admit to not knowing the other eight albums well enough – if at all in some cases).

        Wonder if you ever look back at previous years and decide you were way too high on something – or, more likely, felt like you missed or slept on something?

  2. Thanks for the time and dedication it must take to come up with these lists. I tend to get the most use out of them in the doldrums of Jan-Feb, so it’s exciting to think that I probably haven’t even heard my favorite album from 2021 yet. A lot of stuff that I missed that I’m looking forward to listening to (I just heard of Gravpel yesterday!) .

    • I don’t think you’re alone in that (waiting to make the most use of them early next year). And as long as people DO find them useful I’m going to keep doing them.

  3. NCS is by far my #1 go to site at year’s end to find tons of amazing music I missed during the year…thanks for all u do! (listening to Disillusionment for the first time and loving it)

  4. Another grand old list week Andy, with plenty to unpick. I’d echo the previous comment that some of my favourite 2021 albums will undoubtedly come out of these posts. Who will be this years Beltez!?! Can’t wait to find out.

    • I would say either LLNN or Boss Keloid are “this year’s Beltez”. Obviously, they don’t sound alike, but both feel like slightly left-field choices for their particular genres/areas that I think are head and shoulders above the competition and will – hopefully – prove to be better and longer lasting that their competitors too!

  5. Thanks for the lists, recommendations, and all the hard work!!

  6. That’s two years running that I’ve had the same number 1 as you, but listened to nothing else on the list. Last year with Palimpsest and this year with Crimson Corridor. Weird stuff. I guess I need to work through the lists as you have such exquisite taste for picking #1’s.

  7. Thanks Andy for once again, fantastic lists across the whole week.
    It’s got me listening to things I missed during the year, that I’m really vibing.
    Given that you are a busy musician, and I assume have a life outside of metal, the effort you put into this site and your writing is so appreciated.
    I’ve just found it too hard this year to compile my own list, I keep discovering new releases I hadn’t given time for or didn’t know about, and if I tried, I couldn’t compile a list under about 50 releases.
    Your lists have given some love to releases that I’m really saddened haven’t appeared much in other lists (Women is the Earth, Withered, etc).
    One release that I didn’t see mentioned this week is Gas Lit by Divide and Dissolve, it’s getting some well-deserved attention on a few other lists lately.

    • “It’s got me listening to things I missed during the year, that I’m really vibing.”

      Wonderful. That’s why I do them so I’m glad they’re proving useful.

      And as for having a life outside of Metal… just about!

      I’ve seen the Divide and Dissolve album mentioned in a few places, and it does sound intriguing. I’m taking next week off writing to just rest and relax and enjoy getting some listening and reading done for myself, so might see if I can get around to checking it out!

  8. Still blocked at listening (and discovering high quality) albums that passed me through in your “the good” column…
    Hope I’ll cope with your huge year end lists till the end of next year ahah

  9. Dodsrit 2021 album is a real gem ! As the previous ones.

  10. Just listening to Zao.
    Fucking Great.
    Didn’t have them on my radar.

    Thank you very much!

  11. Need to revisit that Zao, remember it to be really good. That said, Dorman Ordeal just really took me by surprise. I’ve never heard of them earlier, and I believe from your comment and several others the last release was pretty good as well.

    That said again, what got me interested was not necessarily the solid death metal but the melodies that come through from time to time. they are really the sort I’ve grown to love over the years.

  12. Hey Andy, great great work as always! I’m working hard on your lists to listen to all those gems I missed this year. I’m very glad you included in your personal list some relatively known – and probably quite underrated – stuff that I really appreciated such as Omination, Redemptor and Dormant Ordeal, or the LLNN new album in your critical top ten (I actually love everything this band has done).
    Now, I don’t want to play the awful game of remarking what these lists missed, but I’m quite curious to know where a couple of albums fit into your scheme, as they are quite important bands whose works were highly anticipated (so I think that if your didn’t like them, maybe you could have put them into the group of those who under-performed…): Ruins of Beverast and Emptiness, that actually are fighting to get my AOTY spot (even though I admit that probably “Vide” is not metal anymore, but as I don’t understand what it is, maybe it is a very convincing post-death metal experiment…).
    Thank you again for this goldmine of music to discover!

    • RE: The Ruins of Beverast and Emptiness. The former was in my “Great” list and was, in fact, in contention for the Top Ten, but just didn’t *quite* make it. The latter, sadly, I didn’t get round to, which is a shame as I’ve covered most (if not all) of their previous work, in one way or another.

      • Wow, I was so focused on picking the works I don’t know, I didn’t see the RoB album on your “Great” list. Than you!

  13. Andy! Thanks for your lists, once again, this holiday season. Its yearly tradition for me and I always leave with my pockets stuffed with new dosh!
    This time, the big takeaways are Disillumination and Autarkh.
    Definitely need more time with Omination though!
    Have a great holiday and I look forward to what the new year brings all of us nuts!!

    • Glad you’ve found a few new gems, and thank you for letting me know. It means a lot and encourages me to continue when people say they’ve found a new band or album because of something I’ve written!

  14. Thanks Andy! Not just for the lists but the whole year’s worth of work!

    My Top 10 2021

    1.The Silver-Ward of Roses
    2.Dormant Ordeal-The Grand Scheme of
    3.Bizarrekult-Vi Overlevelde
    7.Bohemyst-Cern A Smrt
    9.1914-Where Fear and Weapons Meet
    10.Alustrium-A Monument to Silence

  15. Ach, Zao is one of your all time favorite bands, Andy. I just knew there was a reason you couldn’t be fully trusted. You’re temporarily forgiven, however, for turning me towards that Boss Keloid and Suffering Hour which are among two of my absolute faves of the year.

  16. So glad to see Moanhand on your list. I feel like that one came out of nowhere and didn’t get much attention but somehow it ended up in my regular rotation and sits close to the top of my list as well. Different yet familiar at the same time.

    • I think we were one of the very few sites covering it, to be honest.

      Which is not a brag about how cool and underground we are, etc, just that it clearly flew under a LOT of radars.

  17. Massen!! What best (metallic) gift for xmas than this great discovery ! And maybe more to come !? thanks you so much Andy

  18. Need to check some of the bands, but really love new Dormant Ordeal and Omination! Was not familiar with the first prior hearing the preview tracks from the new album. The second album rules too! Quite a fan of Omination since The Pale Horseman on. Really happy to see both bands getting some attention!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.