(NCS contributor Todd Manning wades into our year-end LISTMANIA series with his picks for the year’s 12 best releases.)
Another year has came and went and somehow we as a species are still here. Maybe the apocalypse won’t arrive until we beg for its sweet release. Well, at least there’s always more metal to obsess over.
I can’t believe this is my sixth year contributing at NCS. Usually my lists oscillate between the experimental and the outright darkest and brutal shit there is. This year, while there are certainly those elements, things feel more varied. Just a little bit…
12. Swampbeast – Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads
Nothing too radical here, just unrelenting Death Metal. But these guys have riffs for miles. Every song seems to have a great moment and the album as a whole demands to be listened to again and again.
11. Tyrannic – Mortuus Decadence
Black metal, death, and doom all rolled up into one strange ball. This thing is just drenched in atmosphere and crypt stench. Weirdness permeates everything here but it just makes it that much more creepy and menacing.
10. Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
This might have ended up higher on the list had I discovered it sooner. Krallice meets Gorguts but somehow more cavernous. These Italians didn’t invent the whole dissonant Death Metal thing, but they are certainly making a strong case for being mentioned among the greats.
9. Dee Snider – Leave a Scar
Despite loving my fair share of traditional metal, I never really paid much attention to Dee Snider or Twisted Sister. Maybe I thought there was too much of a novelty aspect to Mr. Snider. Well, I was wrong. This album rules! So much fun and, dare I say, “Leave a Scar” is uplifting. I hope everyone else already knew this and I was just late to the party.
8. Fawn Limbs – Darwin Falls
I dig all sorts of crazy mathcore stuff but Fawn Limbs leveled up with Darwin Falls. This has more mood and atmosphere than almost anything else in the genre. The weird old guy narrating story fragments throughout the album is utterly unique and effective and the musical approach here is perfect.
7. Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra
Probably the most batshit crazy technical metal album ever was Spiral Architect’s A Sceptic’s Universe, and Terra Odium has been billed as a sort-of sequel. While they share a couple members, this isn’t quite the same. After a couple spins though, Ne Plus Ultra definitely dug its hooks into me. And while not as gonzo as Spiral Architect, there is definitely more than enough virtuosity on display to go around.
6. Darkthrone – Eternal Hails……
How does one band change so much and yet stay exactly the same. Darkthrone have been pushing back to their black metal roots more and more, and on Eternal Hails…… they seem to have concocted one of their most atmospheric records in a long time. But it still sounds just like Darkthrone.
5. Victory Over the Sun – Nowherer
Composed and performed entirely by Vivian Tylinska, on microtonal guitars she refretted herself no less, Nowherer is astounding. Blackened, dissonant death metal more obscure and complex than just about anyone else trying to do this stuff. The ambition and execution are awe-inspiring.
4. The Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires
Another one-person band? Alexander von Meilenwald consistently creates incredibly powerful black metal and The Ruins of Beverast is a name becoming synonymous with the best the genre has to offer. The Thule Grimoires is expansive, ambitious, and powerful, an intensely spiritual listening experience.
3. Panopticon – …And Again Into the Light
One-man band? Sure, let’s keep it going. Austin Lunn does get a little help from his friends but everyone knows who the mastermind behind Panopticon is. This record oscillates between beauty and terror and never waivers in intensity. Yes, that includes all the country and bluegrass songs too. It all just feels like a lament for the death of society, and also for the death of the world outside of the civilized places. Just death and sorrow all around…
2. Kayo Dot – Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike
I have long been obsessed with Kayo Dot. Not quite a one-man band but close. Toby Driver steers this ship. While there is no such thing as a bad Kayo Dot album, this is the first time in a very long time that their new album can actually be safely called metal. This is a heavy album and it’s a welcome return. It’s still weird as shit but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
1. King Woman – Celestial Blues
I knew the first time I listened to this it could be my album of the year. It’s just so good. There was not a single moment that could be better. King Woman achieve singular mastery of dynamics, the loud and the quiet, the tension in between. It’s heavy, it’s emotional, full of suspense. Still trying to figure out how it’s not perfect.
The Inevitable Honorable Mentions:
Apostle of Solitude – Until the Darkness Goes
Cynic – Ascension Codes
Fossilization – He Whose Name Is Long Forgotten
Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm
My yearly nerd statistics: I listened to 145 new albums in 2021. This is down quite a bit from previous years. I’ve been really busy with the day job, but as a writer I’ve also spent more time delving into some older albums and also found myself enmeshed in writing about some epic Jazz box sets for other sites. These things take time.