(Our friend Neill Jameson (Krieg, Poison Blood) has joined us again with year-end lists as 2021 draws to a close, and today we have Part Two of a five-part series.)
2021 was an outstanding year for the cassette, at least until the last few months of it because the little screws that are used to hold the fucking things together were apparently stuck on one of those boats that contained 80% of the country’s supply chain. Even still there were a ton of releases that were pushed through, some of them were even good.
This was probably the most difficult part of this year’s trophy parade because there were so many killer tapes that I left off this list but I really had to cut the fat, otherwise this would be a thirty-band list and nobody wants that.
Gallkrist “Demo 2021”
I always dug Gallhammer so when I found out Vivian was doing solo work I had to give it a listen. Since then I’ve learned she’s done a ton of noise-related releases and has really grown into a second life as a noise artist, so there’s a lot to dig into. Gallkrist is a weird mashup of dungeon synth and Gonkulator-esque black noise, creating a weird atmosphere that scratches an itch you didn’t know you had.
I’m surprised I didn’t see more mention of this demo throughout the year, probably because it doesn’t have a xerox filter on the cover. Kaldeket performs oddly melodic black metal akin to Yellow Eyes or even the work of Fredrik Söderlund. I know that using “psychedelic” to describe bands has been popular since Assassins for whatever reason but you could definitely apply this tag to Kaldeket and not be called an asshole for it. There’s a lot going on here and all of it shows exceptional focus and (hopefully) a strong future.
Old school black metal performed by (I’m pretty sure, but I’m also wrong a lot) members of the Korpsand Circle that feels like I’m back in the tape-trading scene when I was still in fucking high school in the ’90s. Denmark has been producing some of the finest black metal the last few years and Stormvarsel easily sits amongst the best of it.
Cradle of Judah “Cradle of Judah”
Are you miserable and enjoy a bad time? Then Cradle of Judah should be your new favorite project. Morose and dark neofolk (without the genre’s penchant for sunwheels, sorry to interrupt your jump to Google and your hardon for trying to “out” sketchy bands) that feels like Mark Lanegan’s Field Songs mixed with Wovenhand and the bottom of a nearly empty bottle. Put this tape on for when you’re in the mood for comfortable despairing.
Krigstjørn “Liv, Død og Mellemvejen” (Tour De Garde/Nattetale)
This was the newest project from members of Fanebærer and there’s definitely some similarity but Krigstjørn carries more of a melancholic feel. Mid-paced proper black metal with excellent vocals and riffs that will stay with you for the rest of the day. I was expecting this to be in line with the quality I’ve grown to expect out of the Korpsand bands but Krigstjørn exceeded that, especially in their next release which we’ll talk about in a few lists from now.
Antihælix “Demo MMXXI”
Antihælix hold high the banner of the orthodox black metal scene of the mid 00s before a lot of that devolved into cocaine and motorcycles. Keeping with the sonic spirit of those bands, with a nice dose of Celtic Frost thrown in for good measure, Antihælix delivered one of the finest examples of pure black metal this year, which caught the eye of Vendetta Records, so expect their debut full-length through there sometime next year.
Tirgûl “The Victorious Star”
Continuing somewhat where their previous project, Blood Tyrant, left off, Tirgûl have more of a soaring feel to them, with prominent keyboards similar to what you’d have heard on the Hot Records lineup. Raw and atmospheric, I found this demo to be more satisfying than Blood Tyrant, which was already a project I greatly enjoyed.
Леший “Поганые Сны” Horrible Room/New Era
Harsh Russian black metal with vocals on the same level of intense insanity as the Old Wainds demo sound like something that’d tickle your pickle? Well fuck, kid, you’re in luck!
Viridescent Funeral “Archaic Conifer Realms” Banner of Blood
Doomy and cavernous black metal with a touch of the ‘ol Filosofem (call the cops, I fucking dare you) feeling, this is one long track of dark and creeping misery. While a bit different from The Astral Serpent’s main gig, Myst seems right at home delivering dying rasps and spellbinding synth work. A bit of a challenge since it’s not easy listening but well worth the 24 minutes you’ll lose yourself in while it plays.
Starer “18° Below the Horizon” Folkvangr
Ok, I understand this doesn’t really count as a demo since it’s a full-length and there’s a preorder for next year’s vinyl pressing of it, but I stumbled upon it as a cassette and I’ve already formatted the other 4 fucking parts of this list so you’re stuck with it here if you’re that goddamned pedantic about things.
Starer are one of the closest things USBM has to our version of Drudkh. Epic, well crafted black metal themed around nature that I could use a lot of annoying journalism cliches to describe but you can read that uninspired shit somewhere else. All you need to know is if you’ve enjoyed the aforementioned Drudkh, Frost– era Enslaved, and a drop or two of The Shadowthrone then you’ll dig this.
Like I said, I missed a lot of releases that probably deserved space here (Bat Magick, all the various Crucifixion Bell tapes, Gloria’s Garden etc) but 2021 was overflowing with excellent demos, and a lot I probably haven’t even heard. On the positive side it shows how much creativity and inspiration is pulsing through the underground, but on the glass is half empty, leaking, and the liquid is piss side of things, I worry that we’re going to hit a point of oversaturation which can eventually atrophy into mass apathy. I’m sure Joe Rogan has some kind of fucking chart to describe what I’m talking about.
Part III is all things synth, where I bitch that I’m getting bored of synth shit and then wax poetic about a bunch of synth shit I think is great, which is becoming a yearly tradition for me.