(Today we present Part Four of the week-long rollout of DGR‘s year-end list, with a segment that includes his countdown from 20 through 11.)
I’ve joked about it before but I believe this may be the first time I’ve actually pulled it off. We’ve danced around the fringes of it before but if we’ve timed this just right as a website, we may in fact be releasing my year-end list in time to ruin the holidays. If so, this one should be getting up there with tomorrow’s final entries smashing right into the holiday weekend. If that is the case then Hello, how are you?
I’m more than happy to help supply you with a multi-entry playlist of music to blast incredibly loudly and hopefully terrify both your neighbors and family in equal measure. You could even consider some of this the anti-holiday music list, because this is the one where things start to get increasingly abrasive. If it hasn’t become clear, it’s probably the part of the list I’ve had on max volume at work in order to drown out whatever the muzak is playing. I’ve heard it’s my coworkers new favorite game: “Is he doing construction over there or is that what he’s listening to?”
As with any installment of my year-end lists, this is the part that gets increasingly tech-death. Every couple of years I wind up with a gigantic block of entries from that genre and this has been an especially fruitful year. If you enjoy some instrumental pyrotechnics and musical wonder-working then there’s a damned good chunk of music in this block here for you. Everything else darts between weird and abrasive… so pretty par for the DGR course. Let us sally forth and crash headlong into tomorrow!
20) Frontierer – Oxidized
Now the party truly begins. If not the party, definitely the acid-washed and completely incomprehensible hangover that follows.
The glitched-out computerized-picture-sound-collage nightmare that is the cover art for Frontierer’s Oxidized is a far better indicator of the music contained within than I think even the band realize. My review for this latest one from the Scottish/American noise-crew found this album impressively abrasive and one that I felt took the formula for Frontierer in even darker directions than what I had expected initially. There’s a lot of music here and a lot of it is composed entirely out of jutting angles and rhythm works that are made as much of spikes as they are deep pits.
If this sounds a lot like someone doing heavy metal madlibs, it seems like the odd-time-signature-loving crew in Frontierer are doing their best to have as many parts of their album sound as mechanical as possible. In the case of Oxidized, it sounds like the machine is well on its way to falling apart as well. There’s no pleasurable moments here, just auditory violence over the course of sixteen tracks that finally wraps itself up in one final conflagration suitably titled “/Hope”.
Frontierer are going to draw comparisons to bands like Meshuggah, Dillinger, and Danza for a long time coming and it’s for good reason, because in the time Frontierer have existed they’ve made a pretty good leap to the forefront of this sort of corrodingly abrasive style of music. Fitting then, that one of the noisiest and most violent songs – and if you’re a fan of the crew’s other group Sectioned – “Corrosive Wash” hits early in the tracklist. That level of intensity never lets up throughout the run of Oxidized, so it can definitely overwhelm sometimes. The band even bring along people from Will Haven – totally not mentioning this as a Sacramento-based individual – and Ion Dissonance to help make sure things never calm down in this release.
This is an album that is like playing a ninety-nine-tile game of Minesweeper and only giving yourself one flag to find. No matter where in the tracklisting you click, you’re likely to get yourself blown up.
19) Inferi – Vile Genesis
This is probably going to be the lead-off to one of a couple of huge tech-death blocks because I am a nerd for shiny keys dangled in front of me when it comes to music.
Inferi are a group where I’m always surprised by just how long I’ve been following the band. As the band are one of the initial progenitors of the high-speed tech-death movement, I think I fully jumped on board in 2014 with The Path Of Apotheosis. I’d been aware of them much longer as a group who shared members with Enfold Darkness and all their various offshoots, but their style of everything, all at once, all the time, didn’t really land with me until that release. Since then though, it has seemed like the band have been on a constant upwards trajectory and their latest lineup – and most stable-seeming so far – has been one of their strongest to date. It’d be fair to say that the current incarnation of the band has musicians at the top of their game already, and you kind of have to be in order to hang on to how fast these guys are playing and what is required of all the musicians.
Last year’s Of Sunless Realms landed pretty well with me and was a very, very strong hint of what was going to come whenever the band got the opportunity to kick out a full-length. A year later they did; they let the green of Of Sunless Realms‘ cover art infect the whole disc and dove even further into the alien and void invasion mythos for a forty-plus minute jaunt into the world of headspinning and sink-throwing tech-death and named the thing Vile Genesis.
Of course, I wrote about the Nashville crew’s full-length as well. It’s like being trapped in a story arc with a band and more often than not I feel like I have to see it to completion. Vile Genesis expands and refines upon Inferi‘s sound, while remaining as blindingly fast as ever. Every weird and angular turn is often met by another maddening descent into guitar sweeps and solo sections, and every time it seems like the guitars are hogging all the fun the group gives the rhythm section a chance to really show off – and they seize the opportunity every time – and vocalist Stevie Boisier is often right alongside them delivering a screaming class at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to tell where a breath might start and stop.
“Maelstrom Prison” and its closing moments grabbed onto me hard this year, so that is one of the first recommendations I’d make. But the titular “Vile Genesis” song and the lead-off single of “Mesmetic Horror” are equally strong. By the time things are closing up for this record, Inferi decided to place two of their more ‘epic’ sounding songs – “Carving Thine Kingdom” and “Heirs Of The Descent” – to end the whole Vile Genesis event and it gives the sense that the whole release was just made to be equal parts head-turning and impressive.
While it has often seemed like Inferi might be on the verge of collapsing into faceless-noodling territory, Vile Genesis shows that the band have a firm grasp of how fine a line they’re cutting with their style of music and how agile the dance they must do in order to stay there.
18) Autarkh – Form In Motion
Hold on, I need to go get my smaller coffee cup and my frameless glasses because this is one of the points on my year-end list where I get to pretend to be sophisticated.
A project like Autarkh is the type fated to be best-described as eclectic and avant-garde, and the group’s Season Of Mist released Form In Motion does nothing to dispel that notion. Andy did a better job describing this industrial hell machine better than I could, but I’ll give it a shot here.
Performing some sort of wicked alchemy to fuse together a whole variety of differing influences, Autarkh ram together elements from various electronic worlds and industrial realms right into the more artistic side of black metal with reckless abandon. It’s a style that can have mixed results because with all restraints off, artists tend to lose themselves to navel-gazing or otherwise throw too much together without any organic chemistry between any of it. Autarkh doesn’t suffer from that at all. Form In Motion can definitely make people turn their noses up, but it serves its avant-garde purpose well and honestly. I’m just glad this thing came out in March so that I have had enough time to digest this thing – though it doesn’t seem like it, even now – so that I sound less full of shit than what I normally do.
Form In Motion is one of those albums I’d be prone to describe as fascinating. It tends to pull me whether I want it to or not. Even after numerous rounds with this one I’m not entirely sure where Autarkh go from here as a project. The future is just as muddled as the genre-descriptors applied to them. The only thing we have is ‘now’ and what ‘now’ is, is metallic and intense. Form In Motion is a band trapped within the confines of machinery and attempting escape by forcing their way out. It’s such a different project from what came before but the sheer out-of-left-field-ness of some of the music here was an instant attractor for me. Songs like “Cyclic Terror”, “Turbulence”, “Lost To Sight” and “Metacognition” all held appeal. Some of those for somehow being clear above seven minutes long and not feeling like it at all, but the way Form In Motion tends to jump between epic-length songs and short, staccato and stuttering bursts of music keeps things interesting from the get-go.
When an album has a list of musicians where three members of the four are credited with some form of programming or synth work, you know that this is a group using artifice as a form of auditory terror. Form In Motion ranked high with me not just because I was listening to it constantly – and failing to wrap my mind around it fully – but also because I want other people to experience this one as well. Maybe you’ll do better at it than I did.
17) Stortregn – Impermanence
We’ve had quite a bit of history with Swiss group Stortregn. Not only that but two months after that writeup we wound up reviewing the group again for their newest album Impermanence, which hit via The Artisan Era in the middle of March. Another head-spinning hybrid of musical genres, Stortregn traffic in high-speed insanity that is so well-written it seems unfair that they’re just now starting to really grab people’s attention. Yet a late spotlight is still better than none and Impermanence is a fantastic album to bring people into the fold with.
The band still maintain a lot of their melodically minded black metal core and on Impermanence continue to dive deeper into the technical death metal side of things. The criminal part about mentioning all of this is that even though those genres are known for bombast, dramatics, and brutality, so many of the songs on Impermanence are composed so goddamned well that everything just fits together naturally.
Stortregn’s new one is one of those albums this year where I was doomed to do a full listen of the release whenever one of the songs would come up on shuffle. I’d hear the opening notes of “Ghosts Of The Past” and the resigned sigh must have been heard halfway across the planet because I knew damned well ahead of time that I would need to at least make it to “Multilayered Chaos” again before I could even get my mind on listening to something else.
While we’re on the subject of the galactic void and such, may I also make a recommendation for the pairing of “Moon, Sun, Stars” and “Cosmos Eater” as well. Seriously; the first twenty mintues of Impermanence are just lethal if you’re looking for high-speed shred and tasteful brutality all in one go. The amount of glorious guitar leads this band packs into song after song is guaranteed to lock someone in. Add “Multilayered Chaos” to the mix and you have an incredibly strong gathering of music within this album.
Yes, Stortregn take on a little bit of the non-stop shred-work that has become something of a hallmark of Artisan Era bands here, but Impermanence makes great use of its forty-five minutes of time with you. So if you’ve somehow let this one pass by you in the weird start-and-stop music flood of 2021, it certainly would not hurt to delve back into those waters and give this one a listen.
16) Archspire – Bleed The Future
You had to figure that an Archspire release was going to appear in my year-end list. Few bands are more tailor-made for the DGR-listening style than the high-speed-meme that is Archspire.
The group has seen their star quickly rise and they’ve gotten to the point where no one is really trying to catch them because they’re a nuclear explosion every single time. What does it matter getting into a tech-death arms race when every path is just mutually assured destruction no matter what? It seems like even the band have realized this because with the group’s newest album Bleed The Future, their focus seems to be less on the sort of tech-death arms race that they have made their name in and more one of expanding a formula they’ve been refining since the release of The Lucid Collective back in 2014.
Bleed The Future hit in late-October and picks up the relay baton from i four years prior for eight more songs of light-speed tech-death that somehow manages to have a very similar runtime – a little over a half hour – anyway. For those of you who were wanting more by the end of Relentless Mutation, prepare for Bleed The Future to perform a very similar trick… kind of.
One of the things that is appreciated on the group’s latest Season of Mist release is that when the band pull back a bit from the arms race they give their instrumentation a chance to breath and fill the air a bit. Who would’ve expected that one of the unsung heroes on Bleed The Future is how the disc is mixed and produced, yet things here are surprisingly roomy and there is a ton of space for the group’s bassist Jared Smith to really shine. While drummer Spencer Prewett is still terrifying behind the drum kit, that little bit of extra rhythm section really helps out Bleed The Future a ton. That and the group’s slightly-more melodic tinge – something they were already experimenting with on Relentless Mutation and that album’s endless hooks – make for some serious standouts throughout the album. The main melody of “Bleed The Future” is another one of those songs that etched itself into my mind from the moment I heard it. I knew from moment one that song was probably going to be a lead-off single for the disc. It’s just too goddamned good to restrict to the album by itself.
So why not higher in the list, where previous Archspire albums have ranked? Well, its interesting right? Now they’re a known quantity, so for the most part I know what to expect from them and how it is going to work. It works for me tremendously well but Bleed The Future is still very much music put through the Archspire filter, and that’s been something I’ve known about since 2011’s All Shall Align – speaking of songs I’d love to hear with this roomier production style.
I went half-and-half with songs that had immediate appeal for me on Bleed The Future, whereas on previous releases pretty much every song was an instant ‘I need to hear that again’. Here, Archspire are a constant listen because I fucking love Archspire, but about five of the songs here had the instant ‘I need to go back to it’ appeal. The other three were just icing on a very, very sweet cake. Honestly, I’m just thrilled Andy took on reviewing this one so I could spend my whole month and a half with it now just enjoying the thing.
15) Burial In The Sky – The Consumed Self
Philadelphia’s Burial In The Sky were a pleasant surprise in 2021. The group’s third album The Consumed Self felt like a massive leap for the band, and it made quite the impression on me around its release in August. The band asks a lot of you with fifty-six minutes of music, but The Consumed Self is an album where that time doesn’t feel like it is passing at all. The album so expertly fuses all of its disparate styles together that this is the release where it really felt like Burial In The Sky were fully coming into their own.
If you’re unfamiliar with the band, the short version is they’re a tech-death group but in recent years have leaned a lot more prog-rock than one might expect. I found myself constantly drawing comparisons between The Consumed Self and Between The Buried And Me’s Colors release, and not just because that was another album where it felt like a band truly coming into their own. Our own review had some similar ideas but also could see lines drawn to tech-death groups like The Faceless as well, which is definitely something you can hear in the deep vocal rumblings of vocalist Jorel Hart – though it seems everyone in Burial In The Sky contributes to the vocal assault on The Consumed Self in one form or another throughout.
You also may have crossed paths with the name Burial In The Sky before, as this band and Rivers Of Nihil have become intertwined for some time. Burial In The Sky bassist Zach Strouse has been the one contributing the saxophone work – and may unintentionally be responsible for the instrument’s current explosion in heavy metal – to both bands for some time. It is definitely an element present here but works well organically with all of the other auxillary instrumentation on this album. You’ll cross paths with a mandolin, multiple layers of synth, all sorts of unexpected stuff during the album, but if nothing else, this record is a statement that they’re not just another tech-death band to be written off.
The Consumed Self is an excellent release and feels like a pivotal point for the band. Don’t miss out on this one because I expect their next release is going to have a ton of steam behind it from people who came to this one on word of mouth way later.
14) Night Crowned – Hädanfärd
The year-over-year churn scares me when it comes to a band’s releases, but what the hell were people supposed to do with the population half-assed locked down the way we were other than create. The Cipher System gentlemen behind Night Crowned have already proven to be prolific as is, and only a year and change after the group’s first album Impius Viam the group returned with a darker and more black metal sequel in the form of Hädanfärd.
Released in early-July of this year, Hädanfärd is the darker side of the coin to the already bleak Impius Viam. Slimmed down to just nine songs, Hädanfärd remains just as ferocious as its predecessor. Snarling vocals and all, Night Crowned once again rip and tear through a healthy chunk of music, amping up the clean vocals a slight bit and also amping up the symphonic work and all of the black metal bombing runs one might expect from a followup album wherein all the titles are now in the native tongue. I was able to give this one a solid writeup where it felt like I went almost song by song way back in August.
With only nine songs in its overall lineup it’s tempting to just tell people to dive into Hädanfärd from song one and just let the thing run. “Rex Tenebrae” makes a pretty damned good case for it too, but there’s highlights throughout the album. During my review I made reference to the song “Gudars skymning” and that one has also held me in its grasp pretty well. Album closer “Enslingen” is also great for its melodic lines and multiple builds throughout.
The one thing Night Crowned do make sure of during Hädanfärd is that they maintain a pretty healthy clip throughout, which can often make this release feel like Impius Viam but more, which is both a good and bad thing. That album worked real well for me and so did this one; in fact I’ve often just paired the two together because even in a relatively newer career the group have already banged out a healthy amount of music. But that also brings the known-quantity effect come into play. It’s not a huge leap from its predecessor, but it is a very mean refinement upon it, and I think it’s showing that Night Crowned are going to become a force in metal.
13) First Fragment – Gloire Eternelle
I don’t think I’ve yelled ‘oh fuck off!’ at an album more than I did with First Fragment‘s latest release.
It should come as no shock to some of you that Gloire Eternelle is one of my top releases – both in the tech-death world and overall – this year. They released an absolute stunner of an album in Dasein back in 2016, and five years later have come back with an absolute beast of a release that, yes, had me yelling ‘Oh, fuck off!’ at almost every turn. Not as a bad thing, but simply because some of the shit this band is pulling throughout Gloire Eternelle is so goddamned showy that it leaps past impressive and right into the realm of glorious ridiculousness. There have been times throughout Gloire Eternelle where I’d hear something and find myself wowed that someone had the gall to throw that thing into a tech-death disc.
Our review dives much deeper into that feeling and I’m just happy it wasn’t me that had to analyze it. I’d be afraid of it devolving into me just pointing at certain songs and going ‘ya see this fuckin’ thing?!’. The jazz-death metal fusion the band get up to here is spectacular. Again yes, at times it is incredibly indulgent and at other times it becomes the Phil Tougas and Forest LaPointe show, but I’ll be honest with you, if you’re doing roll call on people present for a specific release then hello, yes I am in fact here for all of this bullshit. I didn’t expect it and I didn’t think I needed an album with this much ‘sexy and I know it’ running through the whole thing.
Gloire Eternelle is an album that is joyfully bought into its own bullshit and it shows. It’s such a fun ride, seeing what twists and turns the band are going to throw at you in their heavier moments and then just as quickly what direction they’ll dash off into next. Not only that, but you get an absolute ton of it as Gloire Eternelle is one of the longer discs in my year-end collection as a whole with an hour and eleven minutes worth of music to offer you. Granted, part of that is due to the near-twenty-minute prog-death-fusion-masterclass of “In’El”, but the opening song and title track “Gloire Eternelle” is just as high a wall to climb at near-nine minutes on its own. “La Veuve Et La Martyr” – one of the leadoff singles for Gloire Eternelle – is another insanely catchy track, whereas a lot of the songs on this disc get by on the strength of just being insane.
Gloire Eternelle is a roller-coaster ride of an album and I found myself loving nearly every second of it. Seriously, if you get the chance you should read all of the credits involved with this disc to see just how wild the First Fragment crew got with this release. Unique Leader Records landed themselves a hell of a get with this album and it is definitely one of the highlights of the year, even with the just-before-Halloween release date.
12) Gadget/Retaliation – Split
Of course after a huge grouping of albums where every musician is at the top of their game and writing song after song on intense musical exploration we land on the opposite side of the spectrum with Gadget and Retaliation’s split EP that hit this year. Why not go that route after so many albums of musicians blowing minds away and land with two groups who look at songs over two minutes and declare ‘haha, fuck you’. Why not do that where it seems like even the bands looked at each other and did the same thing?
Somehow, Retaliation contibuted more songs to the grindcore party happening here and yet coming in a head shorter than Gadget do this time around. The Gadget side of the split will likely be familiar to some, as the crew let a few of these songs out in advance of the release – “C.O.N.T/R.O.L” escaped into the wild in 2020 – but the band performing with a different vocalist on each song was too interesting to pass up on. The band’s misofortune of currently being in the hunt for a new vocal monster is our benefit since each track feels a little more lively with a different person up-front each time. The songs get shorter as they go along and ratchet in intensity each time. “Intenso” especially, is a fireball of a track.
Retaliation pick up the ball from there and just stab the damned thing and throw it around anyway, unleashing a musical explosion that just rips through the whole split before you have time to realize the band changed. The longest song on their side is due to a sampled “no exit” line repeating over and over. But that’s what Grindcore is though, right? It’s the fist coming in from just outside of the frame to punch you in the face and leave just as quick.
I’m a big time sucker for these bands and this latest split made me more than happy to go a few rounds with both. If you’re looking for a deeper dive, this trio of short but sweet reviews should help you out a ton.
11) The Amenta – Revelator/Solipschism
While there have certainly been longer gaps between releases out there, you’d have to admit that the time between 2013’s Flesh Is Heir and 2021’s Revelator was a sizeable one for the industrial death/black metal machine that is The Amenta. Ever off-kilter and not entirely sane musically, The Amenta returned to us this year not once but twice, releasing a full-length in the form of the nine-song Revelator and then about six months later unleashing a two-song addendum in the form of the Solipschism EP that kind of completes the album. Combined, you get eleven tracks of truly bizarre and out-there portmanteau song titles and music contained within.
Revelator sounds like a band fully open to experimenting with what defines them as a band. And thus it has some of the heaviest moments of The Amenta‘s career thus far and at the same time has these increasingly long stretches of haunting ambience. It also has the longest stretch for the band not to have covered their vocalist Cain Cressall in some sort of filth, but that all changed with the release of the band’s video for Twined Towers which more than made up for the stretch where he wasn’t.
I reveiwed both the full album and the EP when those were released and found them both to be hypnotic and heavy in about equal measure. Since Revelator is the main course it is the most responsible for the group’s appearance in ye olde year-end party. Even though The Amenta get exceedingly weird throughout it and more than willing to murder their own momentum, I still found plenty to love about that odd duck of a release. “Psoriastasis” is a relentless battering of a song and the almost Khold-esque “Sere Money” are early album highlights. The previously mentioned “Twinned Towers” is an absolutely haunting track as well. “Overpast” and “Parse Over” both send Revelator out in style, esentially being the big block of heavy within the album’s run time. Combined with the Solipschism EP and its noise-experimentation and haunting textures, it made for a hell of a year for the group.
I said it in my review and I’ll say it again here: The Amenta are an increasingly bizarre hybrid of heavy styles and industrial noise brutalizing, but it is one that works increasingly well and hopefully the gap between releases won’t get up to the eight-year mark for a second time in their career.