(Today we present Part Two of the week-long rollout of DGR‘s year-end list, with a segment that includes his picks from 40 through 31.)
I didn’t begin yesterday’s tour through 2021 with a traditional overview of the year as a whole, outside of acknowledging how time was starting to feel like it had no meaning and large chunks of the year were starting to blur together. I think I wound up using the album reviews tab of our own website as a way to keep track of what had been happening more than I have any other year.
2021 was an interesting year when attempting to look back at it because it seemed to move in fits and starts. The early part still had the whole world on hold, and some of the best releases that hit this year came out during that time, but they were from new and unexpected names. That is always exciting for a group like us, because we love getting new names out there. We’re also suckers for some of the more popular and well-known names but it has always felt good being able to share newer or more underground projects with people, so the bands can see some sort of positive response and continue to make music.
What I didn’t expected was how kindly the year would be to the deathcore and tech-death scenes, as both genres had long since hit a saturation point. Both of those had some murderous releases this year – one or two of which already appeared in the first segment of this list yesterday – and the way the more traditionally rigid genre lines for other styles continued to blur was also interesting to watch. Today’s chunk of picks is going to reflect a lot of all this in microcosm. You’ll see well-known names, newer discoveries from earlier in the year, and the previously mentioned thriving genres all gathered around this year’s funeral pyre.
40) Fallensun – The Wake Of The Fall
If you want to have some fun with the idea that time has no meaning at all, it feels like I wrote up Fallensun‘s debut release The Wake Of The Fall just yesterday. Yet, the goddamned search bar, in its quest to kill my idea of obtaining Dr. Manhattan-esque levels of living forever, informs me that I wrote up The Wake Of The Fall all the way back in May, and the record itself came out in February. Fuck me.
Of course, the holy search bar is not the only thing that is able to manipulate time to its whims, because the Canadian duo behind Fallensun are able to the same thing that I’ve often credited The Ocean with doing: making time fly by so that it doesn’t even seem like you’ve noticed it passing.
The Wake Of The Fall is a full-length record – tale of the tape weighs in at a neat thirty-five minutes – yet it being only six songs long is deceptive enough that it feels like an EP. Look, if we’re willing to let Nine Inch Nails call their Bad Witch release an album to fuck with the Spotify algorithm then I’m more than willing to let the EP/Album line be a little malleable when it comes to Fallensun‘s first release. If nothing else, they beat out Trent and team for another five minutes worth of music at least.
It’s hard not to dive into every song again in this summary – I did so during my review – but with four fully-stacked songs and two gorgeous instrumentals it doesn’t feel like too much of an ask that you just click the play button and enjoy yourselves for half an hour. I know there were absolute highlights for me, as I instantly recognized the draw of the nine-minute journey of “The Language, Death, Eternal” but also enjoyed the hell out of the equally dynamic but shorter and punchier “Searching The Darkened Skies”.
The Wake Of The Fall will cotniue to be one of those releases where I’ll more often than not just listen to the whole thing because even one song popping up on the work-shuffle makes me want to hear the following track, which then snowballs from there. The instrumental opener “Enervation” has sidelined my listening sessions more times than I can count as I wait for “The Language, Death, Eternal” to fade in, only to have something completely different appear. There hasn’t been such a great challenge to my ‘try not to skip a single song on shuffle’ game in some time.
In short, The Wake Of The Fall is a goddamned impressive debut record and if you’re the type to enjoy some gloomier prog/melodeath hybrid then this one will be a highlight of your 2021 collection.
39) Hippotraktor – Meridian
Yes, I giggle at the name too. “Hippo Tractor” is too fucking good not to.
We covered Hippotraktor‘s newest release Meridian right around the time of its release in the middle of October and you have that write up to thank for its appearance here in this celebratory year-end clusterfuck. I’ve always been a little more amenable than most to the math-wizard guitar-chug type of style that Hippotraktor are up to on Meridian and they’re one of the bands who really seem to nail it and don’t have me thinking of a handful of other groups that have been at the forefront of the genre.
In actuality I did notice a few similarities between the Belgian collective here and the crew behind Letters From The Colony, whose 2018 release Vignette has come to occupy a very similar space for me. I enjoy me some prog-exploration and guitar chug walking hand in hand, and if we’re going to crystalize djent as a style and not just a descriptor for a noise the guitar makes then Hippotraktor absorbing a lot of that influence into their amorphous genre-wanderings on Meridian is perfectly fine.
“Manifest The Mountain” makes for a fantastic opening number and a great foundation for the next thirty-five minutes of music. Where Meridian won me over was the three songs that followed. Meridian has seven songs total, so nearly half of them being great and arriving one after the other is one hell of a way to lock someone in with a disc. Even though I’m generally drawn to the shorter jams on a record – blame the grindcore kid part of me – I was perfectly okay with the alien rhythms and melodies of “Mover Of Skies”, the drifting aggression packed within the bounds of “Sons Of Amesha”, and the explosive warfare that opens “God Is In The Slumber”. “God Is In The Slumber” might be one of the more traditionally heavy numbers in its opening and, guaranteed, is the one that is going to draw the band the most Meshuggah comparisons.
Meridian is filled with clean singing too, yet it’s not the boy-band-esque version that turned a lot of people’s noses up at this style initially, and the group find a good way to fuse a multi-pronged vocal attack across the whole of the album. Put bluntly, there’s never a moment on Meridian where it feels like what is happening doesn’t fit. If a part has clean singing or some truly impressive yelling, that section fits in perfectly. Meridian is an album that I look forward to spending a lot more time with.
38) Konsensus – New Age Of Terror
So let’s take the opposite approach with the thirty-eighth entry in this monster and go from exploratory prog about the void to the small-scale ground warfare of Greece’s Konsensus and the eight-ish minute grind EP that is New Age Of Terror.
I will say that making it to thirty-eight on my list without dropping a grind EP in the mix is a testament to my restraint. But that is also a testament to just how strong this Konsensus release is. Released in April, it wouldn’t be until September that I actually got around to writing about it but it was actually around that time that I stumbled onto it as the result of many an internet tumble. I took to it almost immediately.
There are a lot of projects in the vein of music that Konsensus mines – it’s a result of grind being one of the ultimate plug-and-play solo genres it seems – but Konsensus demonstrates an expert understanding of every influence and riff that they pull from. When you’re playing in a similar ground to the more hardcore punk inspired segment of Misery Index’s sound, or going with the explosive release of a band like Rotten Sound, there’s a fair share of tropes that you’re likely to draw on. Konsensus isn’t innocent in that regard but it’s fun to hear the scene circling back around on itself at times, and I’m not going to lie; those things are called circle-pit riffs for a reason. You may recognize and know where every single one of them is going to come from but I would also bet that there’s a reptillian part of your brain that fires off at about the same time it makes you want to pit like a fool.
New Age Of Terror wastes no time getting in and getting out, yet leaves a great impression behind. This is going to be a very exciting project to watch.
37) Fawn Limbs – Darwin Falls
Shit, now that I’m looking at it, it hadn’t occurred to me that I had grouped a good chunk of the EPs together in this block of the list.
Darwin Falls arrived as a pleasant surprise in 2021 after last year’s Sleeper Vessels had already blown my hair back. Released on August 13th, Darwin Falls is a sequel to the earlier release Thrum and it’s an interesting experiment when placed against the much more aggressive Sleeper Vessels. Bands tend to use EPs for their more experimental tendencies and Darwin Falls easily fits into that niche, hybridizing the bands chaotic sound with a continued spoken narrative and many a trip down into empty-room style ambience.
The results play out as the sort of release where you never know what is coming or where it is likely to strike from. The narritive is witnessed already in motion with little introduction to characters or world, often sounding like one person’s slow drag to survive hour by hour. Musically, Fawn Limbs remain as chaotic as ever and the group haven’t let up from the constant whirlwind that was Sleeper Vessels before it. However, it’s also clear that Fawn Limbs are putting in a lot of work to make Darwn Falls feel like a different beast than its immediate predecessor. Whether due to the narrative demanding it or just how the band were feeling, Darwin Falls matches its black-and-white cover art by offsetting the sort of collapsing fury that makes up the band’s sound with movements that are as gloomy and moody as some of the best doom-crews out there. To say that it sounds like it sucks to be the character portrayed here is putting it politely.
We were actually granted the honor of helpting to premiere Darwin Falls ahead of its release, so if you want some stronger contextualization of what is happening within the bounds of this one’s time with you, we also reviewed it alongside that premiere.
36) Hideous Divinity – LV-426
Wa-hey, I reviewed this one, would’ja lookit that. Three songs is going to make for another mighty short entry in these year-end fireworks though. A large reason why you’re staring at the latest release from Italy’s hyper-blasting death metal monster Hideous Divinity is on the strength of the song “Chestburst”. The group’s latest release in their cinematically inspired branch of the death metal tree sees them approaching the world of the Alien films with a three-song EP entitled LV-426. Contained within are two new songs, “Acheron, Stream Of Woe” and the previously mentioned “Chestburst”, and an off-kilter and surprisingly strong cover of Coheed and Cambria‘s “Delirium Trigger”.
Hideous Divinity are one of those bands that have grown to have two songwriting modes: One is the hyper-frenetic, constantly changing and ever roiling storm of death metal riffs – which can on occasional fall into faceless riffing territory – and a groovier, punchier approach that can seem like the band are letting the drums write the riffs with how everything seems to be tapped out. “Acheron” falls into the first camp. Immediately aggressive and ceaselessly brutal, the song whips its limbs around with abandon and zero regard for anyone around it. There’s at least two other songs packed into “Acheron” but Hideous Divinity favor the bulldozer method on that one. “Chestburst”, on the other hand, is a little less frenetic and more surgical with its violence. It also has some glorious bass-tone that out-grosses the guitar a handful of times throughout the song. Paired with an unhinged cover of “Delirium Trigger” and you have a solid fifteen minutes of music from a band that has made artillery fire into music.
Hard to believe that Simulacrum hit two years ago when they have the ability to overwhelm you just as much within the span of three songs.
35) Obscura – A Valediction
Obscura’s A Valediction is one of the most scattershot, throw everything at the wall, style of albums in the band’s discography so far. Arriving three years after Diluvium with a newly refreshed line-up and fifty minutes worth of music, Obscura found themselves free of the four-album semi-conceptual yoke that they had initially tied themselves to and arrived at the conclusion that they could do whatever the fuck they wanted next. The issue with A Valediction is that there’s a whole lot of approaches to that idea, and it seems that Steffen Kummerer, the newly returned Christian Münzner and Jeroen Paul Tesseling, and new drumming-wunderkind David Diepold, settled on taking every single one of them.
There’s a lot to unpack within the release and as is the case with having so many different approaches to the band’s showy style of tech-death, not every single one of them works the greatest. At the very least, the band has kept up with the tradition of having an orb on the cover art and mirrored the similarly orange-and-red hued Akroasis‘ opening by also starting with a seven-minute barrier to entry. Longtime NCS writer TheMadIsraeli delved deep into this one a few weeks before release and found a whole lot to like across it. I’m a little less overtly in love with it but I have thought it was a hell of a lot of fun since I’ve been able to sit down and seriously listen to it.
I have enjoyed every Obscura release though, and was excited to see the return of two of the Cosmogenesis/Omnivium-era crew back into the fold. And even if you’d just been exposed to David Diepold through his work with Cognizance you already know that dude is a hell of a drummer. There’s a lot of potential within A Valediction. What wasn’t expected was just how many times I would find myself surprised by it, starting with Steffen’s vocal work this time. Much like James Malone did on Arsis‘ most recent release Visitant – speaking of bands that are due for some new stuff, hopefully, fingers crossed – Steffen’s vocals this time sound incredibly harsh. When he’s not doing the more recognizable growl-and-rasp or playing with vocal effects for clean-sung passages, he sounds like he has rubbed his vocal cords with sandpaper. Its a lot more blackened than one might expect from a band that has made its name as being the most melodeath tech-death band.
The reason you see this one sitting so high up on the list is due to the fact that the one song that stood high above the rest for me was “Solaris”, which was a lead-off single for the disc and had one of the best guitar work moments on the disc for me in its solo segment. Other songs on this album reach that high but never go much higher – save for the best song ever written in the history of mankind, bar none, with the greatest chorus in recorded music and best music video “When Stars Collide”. So even though stylistically A Valediction is all over the map, quality-wise it’s fairly even. That said, I still have had a hearty chuckle at the number of two-step riffs that pop up here, and the fact that one of the songs on A Valediction starts out with a legitimately thrashy “LETS GO”.
34) Sol Draconi Septem – Hyperion
So why not follow that up with a bunch of French weirdos? Why not? It’s what they’re good at.
If you are unfamiliar with the French group Sol Draconi Septem may I please point you in the direction of my May review of the group and their latest release Hyperion. The science-fiction inspired act are black metal at their core, but everything around the fringes is much more avante-garde, ambient, and space-y. If you’ve ever sat down and thought, “Man, I sure would love an album full of keyboard synth, black metal atmospheres, and gigantic saxophone rips based on the Hyperion Cantos series” then do we have the release for you.
The trio of Muon, Kaon, and Tauon have put out one of the more fascinating and challenging releases this year, joining the ranks of galactic voidgazers that slowly seem to be seeping in around the fringes of the black metal scene. Every genre-meld here is used in pursuit of its art, so it’s hard to exactly pin down what one might describe the group as. Even within the confines on my review I wound up with the genre version of having a mouthful of marbles. However, Hyperion did leave a long-lasting impression throughout the year as one of the more interesting releases to cross the proverbial desk. It’s one I feel a lot more people would enjoy if they crossed paths with it.
Hyperion evokes many a science-fiction musical trope, filled with synth work to go alongside the band themselves, and that is partially the reason why things remain so interesting. The songs here don’t fully hew to one tradional style, so you have songs that can serve as whole snapshots of Hyperion, like “The Avatar” and “The War Lover”, and if you want one of the more gorgeous black metal sounding moments on this release the actual “Hyperion Cantos” song is an early-album highlight.
My only issue was that Hyperion runs a little long. Even long after the review, I still occasionally found myself checking to see where I was in the overall picture ‘long about the time of “I Remember Siri” wrapping up. I wouldn’t know where to tighten the record up any, because I’m one of those folks where, taken as single songs, I enjoyed every track on here. So it isn’t that the slower atmospheres of “The Last Pilgrims” or because “Silenus” serves as a quieter epilogue to the whole affair were reasons to drag this one down. Hyperion is one of those that is best taken as an overall picture, so if you’re down for some science-fiction genre-melange with a black metal core, Sol Draconi Septem was an excellent discovery this year and I’d say it’s still worth checking out.
33) The Absence – Coffinized
The Absence are a group whose music is firmly in my comfort zone. The Florida-based melodeath crew have been going for a long time now – with some decently lengthy dormancy periods – and have always been a band that I’ve felt deserved more coverage. Whether it be because they were ahead of time, behind the times, too old school, too regional for a scene that was focused elsewhere, they’ve faced obstacles but always somehow managed to hold on and come clawing back. Of course, the band aren’t just a melodeath act; they’re a cross-section of that and some serious thrash and older death metal influence. But if you threw on any of their releases you’d likely notice the ‘one-two, one-two’ style of riffage long before anything else.
So, long-winded intro aside: The Absence are in my comfort zone and with a less-long gap between releases – especially when you consider just how busy the members of this group have been keeping lately -the group returned to us in 2021 with Coffinized. Sporting a slimmer lineup but a moodier and scrappier outlook, the album was a constant spin throughout the year since its late June release date via M-Theory.
I’m not the type to try to rank a group’s albums quickly after a release but now that I’ve had time for Coffinized to really settle with me, I’d say that it is sitting up there with Riders Of The Plague near the top. My own review of this release already had me leaning in that direction but the strength of these songs throughout the year has dwindled little, and I still find myself throwing Coffinized on constantly. “Aperture Expands” and “Faith In Uncreation” have both been one of my guitar-lead melody earworm highlights throughout this year and I’ve also continued to spin “This Consuming Nocturne” constanly as well.
If you’re looking for some more death metal influence in the band’s sound there is also “Cathedral Dawn” in the bounds of Coffinized, which is one of the times where the band are more blatant about the trio of styles I referenced earlier on. I don’t know what happened to the group’s lineup during the course of writing for Coffinized but the slimmed-down membership of the band feels like they have something to prove here, and I think that’s where The Absence tend to shine their best — when they get a little feral and sound like they’re fighting to prove something. If nothing else it tends to result in them stepping on the gas a bit more, which is something else Riders Of The Plague had them doing back when that disc hit. Coffinized cemented its reservation to appear here early on this year and it’s a worthy spin.
32) Hate – Rugia
Hate, stubborn pillars of consistency that they are, have somehow once again managed to release the most Hate-album Hate could’ve written.
The latest release Rugia follows in the footsteps of an already slim and trim album before it, Auric Gates Of Veles before it. By somehow managing to hone down on the group’s sound even further, Rugia is the formula that makes Hate fully distilled, such that it makes thirty-five minutes disappear in the blink of an eye. Armed with some changes to its lineup, Hate‘s latest is also just as punchy as it is relentless.
The group have long been a default for me to go to when I just want something crushingly heavy and fast. I’ve had many a worknight fueled by the non-stop tempo that groups like Hate and Aborted play at. When you’ve been a hallmark of consistency for this long it almost stops mattering which album a song comes from, just the fact that it exists can be enough. Rugia adds to that collection and takes the band further down their journeys into mysticism alongside their brand of Satan-delving, so that things remain suitably blasphemous whilst Adam invokes the names of all sorts of myth and magick along the way towards “Sacred Dnieper” and its closing four minutes.
I elaborated much further upon the latest from the inverted-cross-crew in my review of the disc around its mid-October release. One of the main reasons why Rugia has stuck around with me since then is that not only does it tend to just blur by, but it also does a lot of looking back in its attempt to drive forward. There are songs on Rugia that play out like snapshots across Hate’s career. A song like “Saturnus”, for instance, heavily channels the Erebos release, and when you have a collection of single-minded songs like that, trips through the disc tend to have the effect of seeing where the band will turn next.
“The Wolf Queen” and “Exiles Of Pantheon” both turn out to be bludgeoners, and if you’re looking for some gloriously gross bass-tone – and I know you are, especially if you’ve followed my advice earlier on in this list and checked out Hideous Divinity‘s “Chestburst” song – then “Resurgence” will no doubt have your interest.
While I hesitate to grant the album the darkest of the group’s career – I would lean more towards the spiritualistic atmospheres of Solarflesh for that – it’s certainly a lot moodier than one might expect. Hate doing what Hate does best still tends to land them pretty high with me. I think that much like the other sort of consistent pillars in the metal scene, Hate may be making themselves into a gateway band into much deeper and darker styles. Rugia burns past you pretty quick and leaves nothing but flaming scorch marks on the road behind, so if you haven’t gotten the chance to listen to it yet, you can rectify that now.
31) Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon
We’ll leap from the slim and surgical to some of the more indulgent stuff to appear in my year-end archive as we go back to France once again and link up with the amorphous Fractal Universe and their continued genre-absorbtion for one of the better prog-death releases this year, the green-hued The Impassable Horizon.
Fractal Universe are one of those groups where I feel like I can see every gear turning, every influence that has been taken in, and every style that the group want to use the blueprint for. It’s not so much the originality of the group that keeps Fractal Universe around for me as it is the strength of the band’s songwriting. I know why the things they do appeal to me, yet they continue to do so. It’s one of the few times where being able to see behind the great wizard doesn’t annoy me.
The Impassable Horizon continues to polish the group’s sound and as a result it is a more focused and improved take on the group’s previous release Rhizomes Of Insanity. It is also chock full of clean singing and the occasional saxophone hit – in a year where we are likely getting damned close to reaching saxophone saturation in heavy metal – to go alongside the group’s more angular riff work and diving into the world of prog-death. Seriously, if you’re a fan of Alkaloid then Fractal Universe are going to hold instantaneous appeal for you.
The Impassable Horizon ranked pretty high with me upon its release and it hasn’t ever left the listening rotation because of that. This is a big, exploratory album but the directions Fractal Universe choose to go down are all ones well written out already. Where the Fractal Universe crew are criminally good is their ability to become musical chameleons, mixing all of these things together and sounding like they belong right alongside their genre-brothers. I covered a lot of those other artists in the review for this one but I still enjoyed the moments where Fractal Universe would make an unexpected turn.
If you’re looking for immediate hooks, The Impassable Horizon‘s first three songs are your go-to’s, as the disc worships more and more at the altar of progressive death metal as things go on. By the time you’re hitting the lengthy “Godless Machinists” you’ll start to wonder where things shifted away from the more aggressive and straightforward stylings in the opening half of the album. It was probably around “Withering Snowdrops” to be honest, but I feel like my opinion on where the worm turns with this one changes every other listen.
Either way; much as I stated in my review, The Impassable Horizon is a very recognizable meal but one that is executed as close as they can get to perfection. Sometimes a blueprint well followed can be just as good as the next batch of bizarre-avante-garde-clusterfuckery.
So agree with the sentiment expressed in the opening that this year has been disorienting, hard to track, and even harder to make sense of (more so to me than even 2020). Along those lines, I also found it a year that I spent far more time with the tried and true…
One of the many things I really like about your lists, DGR, is how you celebrate and make room for not just the up and comers and truly left field, but also the old and mighty and even the “too big to fail” (Gojira). You cover a lot of bases. – and that makes it fun to follow along. For instance, loved the love for Lock Up and the Lurking Fear yesterday – but am also looking forward to tracking down that Sol Draconi Septem album. Thanks for all of the work on this!
I know its an odd statement to make considering that metal site’s have been a lot better about trying to out-kvlt each other than before but I’ll celebrate music from a bigger group if I’m enjoying it. A Nuclear Blast contract doesn’t mean they’re worse songwriters. More often, I’m hoping someone will see that larger name and decide to check out the ones they haven’t seen before as well rather than just nodding and going ‘yeah hes right gojira rock’ and move on with their day. I will say that a lot of the old guard I would’ve expected to do well with me kind of whiffed it a bit this year, but even with those I’m convinced I could get a six or seven song EP out of the tracks available and have a pretty good time.
I take issue with the categorisation of “Darwin Falls” as an EP (not that it REALLY matters, let’s be honest).
Not only would I say it’s an album… I might even call it a “concept” album!
Oh yeah well I take issue with your existence but you don’t see me airing it out in the comments now do ya huh
Nearly spit the coffee on this one. Waiting with bated breath to see Andy’s next volley….
All right, I’ll admit it: I could have sworn the band was named Hyperion. Have the album, love it, apparently they are not Hyperion. Shoulder shrug.
I fucking swear to you I stopped and checked again as soon as I saw this response.
Agree that it does seem to have been a great year for tech death. Can’t stand it myself but no denying the quality of releases by bands like Obscura.
What I do like is French BM and Sci-fi so many thanks for the Sol Draconi Septum tip off, sounds great from the embed.
Anyone into ambient, electronic and space-y BM might enjoy ‘Floodwaters’ by Rites of Fall. Health warning that there’s no metal but it’s very much metal adjacent.