(We’ve reached Part IV of the year-end lists we’re gratefully sharing from Neill Jameson (Krieg, Poison Blood), with a fifth and final segment slated for publication on Monday.)
This was a huge year for small releases. What do I mean by that? I mean that these lists are taken up mostly by EPs, splits, cassettes, etc. Not necessarily bite-sized pieces, that’s too fucking cutsey, but a lot of bands did a lot of shorter releases this year that held my attention way more than the traditional long-player. Some excellent pairings that helped introduce me to new sounds as well as some that paired so well you’d think a fucking sommelier crafted the menu.
I don’t really need much more of an introduction than that. Here’s the splits of 2021 that really kept my attention:
Unrest/Glass Coffin “Split” (Appalachian Noise Records)
A seemingly natural pairing of raw USBM. Glass Coffin comes in the same vein as fellow statesmen Lord Foul whereas Unrest continues his cold and unfeeling march up the mountain during a blizzard. Both bands exist within the framework of the earliest parts of the second wave USBM scene which really works well together. I have no idea why this record isn’t sold out yet.
Dai-Ichi/Lamp of Murmuur “Virgin Womb of Eternal Black Terror” (Black Gangrene)
I’ve covered both of these projects pretty extensively in previous lists so having them as a pairing creating one of the finest black metal releases of the year shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Dai-Ichi keeps their razor sharp guitar tone but offers a bit more variation than their (excellent) debut, this time keeping more in the early Leviathan vein. Lamp of Murmuur’s side is closer to his earlier work, with more emphasis on black metal and nary a trace of the goth rock that this year’s full-length is drenched in. It’s interesting to see two distinct projects exploring different avenues of their established sounds. Excellent.
Brånd/Calvary “Split” (Tour De Garde/Fallow Fields)
Truly one of the most special records that was released this year, a split between two of the most original projects in black metal currently. Brånd’s side reminds me a bit of Isengard mixed with early British punk, more of a “metal” feel to it than their previous work, or at least a more epic and driving atmosphere than the drearier early material. Calvary mixes Americana (I think the only US black metal band to do so, I could be mistaken) with punk moments but overall have the feeling of the frontier at night by a fire surrounded by ghosts. Both projects have absolutely flawless discographies and to have them together on a split is truly a treat.
Fanebærer/Carved Cross “Split” (Nattetale Records)
This split dropped in the middle of my girlfriend being induced to give birth to our daughter so I had to be pretty inconspicuous ordering it or risk losing a few teeth. If she reads this it’ll be the first she’s heard of that story but listening to this split nine months later reminds me that the reward was worth the risk. Two of the best bands in modern black metal represented by some of their finest work to date. Fanebærer’s two tracks are closer to the soaring riffs of their debut (probably owing to being recorded earlier) while Carved Cross’ tracks sound a bit close to the sound of the Korpsand bands, likely due to being recorded in their studio. Neither band have any kind of disappointment in their discographies and this split is fucking perfection.
Nächtlich/Grundhyrde “Split” (Death Hymns)
Nächtlich has been a big surprise for me this year across several releases but this might be my favorite of all of them, simply for the sleazy ’80s horror synth intro transforming into one of the most powerful opening riffs of a song I’ve ever heard. Nächtlich manage to retain the maniac Canadian black metal heritage of old while finding grave focus beneath all the chaos. There’s constant moments of brilliance throughout all of their work. Grundhyrde are a lot more traditional in their approach but compliment the insanity of the Nächtlich side nicely.
Whitewurm have never really gotten their due within the USBM scene, which is both a mystery and a tragedy as he’s written some exceptional music over the years. This will be the final Whitewurm recording, the final Appalachian Noise release, and maybe the last Unrest as well. Trend-defying USBM and an excellent note for them all to go out on.
A natural meeting of the two sharpest spears in Australian black metal’s arsenal, my only complaint about this split is that it could stand to be longer. Once again Kommodus delivers chaotic and scathing black metal unmatched in fury while Burier’s side continues that project’s grimy and desolate musical journey. Probably the most visually appealing vinyl I picked up all year as well.
2021 was the year of the split and I’m very aware I’ve missed plenty in my list here (one of which will feature in my next & final list of 2021). I appreciate the thought that’s seemed to go into these pairings, hopefully that’s a trend that will continue. Next up we end this exercise in egotism with what I consider to be the best releases of the year.