(We reach the concluding segment of DGR‘s 2021 year-end list with his picks for the year’s Top 10 metal releases.)
Usually I will muse at the end of this list how it seems to get easier and easier as I go along, as I rediscover just how much I loved each release on here. By the time I hit the final ten records I’m basically tumbling over myself in effusive praise to try and get people to like what I like. That’s still the case here but 2021 still held some interesting susprises for me. While it generally felt like much of the year existed in a weird musical brainfog, once I finally hammered everything down into a numbered list I think my year was as varied as I could get… except for these final ten, which are basically just me lining up to get run over by a bus again and again.
Not only that but I even found myself breaking one of my usual rules, which is to not let the ‘shiny because its recent’ effect work on me with the year-end list. There’s a healthy chunk here that saw release in the back half of the year. This would normally bother me but not this time, because all heck, did we have a great run of music mudslide over us in the last few months of the year. It became real hard to hold onto that promise to myself, and at the end I finally caved, although I think you’ll agree that when you hear and see which ones managed to get through that jello-clad wall that is my personal restraint, they were pretty good picks.
Let’s get this mess on the road before I make myself look stupider than you already think I am.
10) Ominous Ruin – Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone
I’m partially convinced that Ominous Ruin make their appearance this high up on the year end list due to my steadfast refusal to let myself forget about this disc. One of the first releases this year to really make an impression on me, the Bay Area based death metal crew put out a hell of a weapon in Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone. The group’s first full-length after a handful of EP and demo releases hit in late-February via Willowtip Records – for their second or third appearance here in the year-end archive – but the excellent execution of brutal death metal and technical death metal hybridization left a mark on my listening habits, and the way the disc began and ended in completely different spots was also a neat maneuver.
The album turns on itself ‘long about the seven-minute “Labyrinthine Torment” and becomes a gigantic groove monster of a release. If you’re curious for more sage and less panicked thoughts than what I have here, I wrote up a review for this megalith of an album in early March. In a year filled to the brim with excellent death metal releases – especially on the tech and brutal front – Ominous Ruin were an impressive standout from the segment of the year where it still seemed like 2020 was blurring into the following one.
“Chrysalis Of Flesh” is the beginning of the band’s descent into brutal and slam territory, and Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone gets progressively heavier as you travel from there. One of the more interesting parts about this release was that despite all of that, there were still plenty of hooks ready to gouge themselves into any listener and take them along for another blast-filled ride. They’ll get a little doom-dirge at times too, but it’s all in service of the greater monstrosity that is this disc.
Much like Inferi’s Vile Genesis earlier in this year-end archive, Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone is a release where every musician is running at 110% already and everyone is delivering a class in this pyrotechnical style of death metal. Vocalist Adam Rosado could likely use this album as a vocal resume for any work pursued in the future. It’s an album I was surprised to not see spoken of more throughout 2021, and it is worth your time as we close out this shitshow of a year.
9) Unflesh – Inhumation
It should be a sign of just how thin the margins are between some of these rankings with the appearance of Unflesh’s Inhumation within the top ten and Alustrium’s A Monument To Silence being higher up in the 30s. It’s not a knock on the quality of any of the albums, it’s just a reflection of which I listened to a lot more, and to be honest, the thing about both Unflesh and Alustrium‘s 2021 releases is that both should’ve made the guitar and shred nerds of the world very happy.
Both are just absolute riff monsters, and I would hazard that despite neither being world-changing revelations in terms of music, they both deserve every ounce of attention thrown their way. Our review of the independently released album came to a similar conclusion in regard to the speedy death metal being put on display with Inhumation. Unflesh unleashed nine songs across the album and every one of them had some little ‘thing’ to discover alongside the smoldering pile of riffs that the group were tossing around with reckless abandon. Inhumation is equally impressive for only being the group’s second album; in their seven or so years of being around it already has them able to play around in the big leagues. It was certainly one that I couldn’t help but go back to again and again since its release in early April.
If you checked out one of our more recent Gimme Metal appearances I may have tipped my hand a little early as to one of my favorite songs on Inhumation. It’s the early-in-the-run high-speed shredder of “Vast Forest Of Impaled Cadavers”. “Vast Forest” is one of those songs that will brick-wall a listener because it’s so damned good that you’re bound to just go back to it before going through the rest of the disc again. That it appears so early in Inhumation‘s runtime is a hilarious byproduct.
Follower “To Renounce Flesh And Blood” is another solid slab of meaty death as well. Inhumation also feels front-loaded initially because the title song is also pretty good for tearing heads off. The difference here is that the bar of quality set by the first batch of songs that Unflesh serve up maintains itself throughout the entirety of the disc, which results in a forty-six minute jaunt through the death metal world. Even when the songs start to stretch a little long – the shortest song here is the intro track at 2:22, everything else sails well over the four-minute mark – Unflesh keep things interesting. Its how they can bring things to an end with “The Sepulchral Depths” and its five and a half minutes crashing headfirst into the nine-minute closer of “Dehumanized Legion”.
Oddly enough, this year it felt like a bunch of bands looked at the absence of an Arsis release and decided that it was time to bash their takes on the thrashier melodeath/tech-death hybrid out into the world. Unflesh and Alustrium both came out way ahead of the pack in that regard. It’s just that I had a ton more time to rock out to Unflesh and that time felt well worth it by the end of the year.
8) Diskord – Degenerations
In my entry for Autarkh’s Form in Motion I joked about how I had to fish out my frameless glasses and a scarf in order to appear more intelligent due to how that disc would make me sound smart since there wasn’t a whole lot of music one could describe as ‘conventional’ happening within it. I’m going to attempt to do so again now, and fail gloriously at that attempt, with Diskord‘s newest release Degenerations — because this is an absolute bear of a disc.
The best way to describe this dissonant and angular piece of music would be jarring. Everything here is written to be increasingly abrasive and unnerving; as a result, Diskord have wound up with one of the heavier albums out this year. For forty minutes this Norwegian group flings listeners around like they’re made of feathers and paper, tossing them from one side of the death metal world to the other. I joked in my write up of the August release that they were throwing everything they possibly could into one song since they had credited one of their members as breaking out a cello, theramin, electric upright bass, and regular bass guitar on this album, and it sounded like they had done so all within the bounds of the song “Dirigiste Radio Hit”.
Diskord are in clear pursuit of sonic violence on Degenerations. The madness plus death metal crowd did especially well on that front this year. Combined with the more “math-y” of the -core kids out there and their dedication to stuttering noise, you were in for a whole lot of music that was like having your face pressed into a furnace. Diskord don’t so much dance between the two as they rocket-jump ala Quake around the genre as a whole.
Having the word ‘dissonant’ applied to their tag only partially covers what the three-piece are up to here, but the label is understandable given how Degenerations volleys so much up at once. Diskord cover a lot of ground on the record too; “Lone Survivor” sounds like a guitar solo placed over a nightmare and wouldn’t be too out of place on one of Antigama‘s latest two releases since they too seem to have embraced the slow, sludge-esque nightmare track dead-center of a firestorm.
If you think I’m kidding about that dynamic, “Dragged For Coronation” right afterward slams a grind song right in front of additional musical mutation and the whole thing is only halfway into the release. You still have another twenty minutes of getting the crap kicked out of you by that point.
There’ve been a handful of releases this year where it seems like the band should draw charges for assault by the time things close out, and Degenerations is one of those. I was late as hell to this release so you don’t need to worry about potentially missing the bus when it comes to checking this one out.
7) Human Serpent – Heirlooms Eternal
The final Human Serpent album sends things out in a worthy conflagration. After the unfortunate passing of project mainman X later in the year, the crew behind Human Serpent decided to end this endeavor, and Heirlooms Eternal is a fantastic final testament for the band.
Putting it charitibly, I dance around on the surface of all things black metal. When it came to the divide between the low-end rumble of death metal and the high-end tremolo picking and shrieking of black metal, I favored the former more than the latter. Not to say I haven’t had a good old fashioned corpse-painted crew show me a good time or two but I’m definitely not the expert on the genre. What I will say is that despite all of that – and given the number of times I’ve shouted them out over the years – Greece’s Human Serpent was a fantastic project and are well worth investing your time into if you like the extreme side of heavy metal.
Their stealthy ear for melodic leads throughout the much more intense musical flamethrowing they deployed was second-to-none. It’s the sort of quality where you can’t help but be interested in anything that any of the musicians involved with Human Serpent might be up to musically afterward. I blurred through a review of this one way back in February and swore back then that this last album was going to be one of the more stubborn, refuse to be forgotten, entries on the year-end archive this year.
Heirlooms Eternal – like its three years older predecessor For I, The Misanthropist – moves blisteringly fast. Even though its forty-something minutes long, you’d never notice it because Heirlooms Eternal starts at a fast clip and doesn’t stop from there. It’s nihilism loaded into a rocket sled. I know its cliche to highlight huge blocks of songs by this point but basically from “A Thousand Limbos Of Mind” through “Mirrors” is just one fiery forty-minute block, and it is a sight to behold. “Vomiting The Herds” and “Heirlooms Eternal” are both highs on an album that exists with everything at its peak.
If you’ve missed out on the Human Serpent crew before, their final release Heirlooms Eternal is a massively-worthy send-off. If you enjoy this one a ton, may I recommend you also check out For I, The Misanthropist and Inhumane Minimalism as well.
6) 1914 – Where Fear And Weapons Meet
I came to 1914 incredibly late, based on the recommendations of a couple of current and former NCS writers but was instantly enamored with their late-2018 album The Blind Leading The Blind. The cover art is incredible and the music within is a crushing hybrid of death metal, black metal, and doom that doesn’t use its World War I subject matter for gimmickry. They make it clear early on in their sophomore release that they know exactly what they’re talking about and how grim the subject matter is.
I’ve spent months with “High Wood, 75 Acres Of Hell” stuck in my head. It’s such a great album that I’m bummed now that I hadn’t even crossed paths with it in my 2019 clusterfuck… but then again my 2019 was a personal hell as well, so maybe I can let myself off a little there. That aside, that’s why I considered the band’s signing to Napalm Records an absolute get for the label. Granted, I’m pretty sure I might’ve accidentally signed to Napalm Records when I bought my fancy coffee this morning but I’ll consult with my lawyer after I wrap things up here.
1914 make a stunning entrance on their newest release Where Fear And Weapons Meet, the sort where it’s clear that they’re getting everything they possibly can out of their recent signing to make an absolutely massive release. It’s not quite as good as The Blind Leading The Blind for me, but it should be a testament to how strong that album was and how strong Where Fear And Weapons Meet is that it makes an appearance so high up on my year-end list.
If you’re unfamiliar with Ukraine’s pre-eminent World War I themed blackened death metal crew – and who could fault you given the fucking torrent of music that seems to hit every year – they were actually the subjects of a Synn Report that covered their entire discography up to now. It is well worth the read.
Where Fear And Weapons Meet really is a hell of a release. You might’ve caught me joking through multiple entries here that I love me a spectacle, and 1914 put on a show with this one. A grimly informed and surprisingly historical show, but when the opening song has an introduction of sides and characters like a stage play plus a ton of backing symphonics, you can’t help but be drawn to it. “FN .380 ACP#19074” having the name that it does definitely made for an interesting nomination round when it came to Most Infectious this year. 1914 have certainly mastered the art of having a strong opening song.
Elsewhere in the run you have the combination of the folk song “Coward” heading right into another highlight with “A Cross Now Marks His Grave” featuring an appearance from Paradise Lost‘s own Nick Holmes to add to the ominous affair. That whole section is a centerpiece of the album for sure. Things build in ferocity to that point with both “Vimy Ridge (In Memory of Filip Konowal)” and “Don’t Tread On Me (Harlem Hellfighers)” adding some high-speed flames to the fire. The ten-minute cover of “The Green Fields Of France” is also a great way to send things out, making for an hour-plus of heavy as hell, surprisingly catchy, music that has been the cause of me deciding to go back for another run through the whole discography over-and-over since its late October release date.
5) Mental Cruelty – A Hill To Die Upon
Probably the burliest album on this list, Germany’s Mental Cruelty and their may release of A Hill To Die Upon via Unique Leader quickly became a default go-to listening album for me. The brutal death metal/symphonic deathcore crew put out an absolute beast of a release that cranks everything past where the volume knob could measure and then just sits there the whole time. All, of course, with a dash of Satan thrown in the mix because you can’t have songs titled “King Ov Fire” or “The Left Hand Path” and not have your shoutouts to Christianity’s favorite fairy-tale monster.
For a little over forty minutes Mental Cruelty basically cave your skull in over and over. As the sort of dipshit that is into that sort of thing I enjoyed every second of it. This being only the third full-length for the band made things even more impressive as they refined on their previous release Inferis and then just decided to aim a whole lot bigger. A Hill To Die Upon is the sort of album that is written to sound huge and when it is not battering you to death with a multitude of mightily-chugged-out riffs, it’s hitting you with a multitude of vocal attacks and rhythm sections that are so percussive that they shift from instrumentation to sounding like a thunderstorm.
The thing with albums where everything is at 100 all of the time is that it does get a little mundane at times. A full disc run of A Hill To Die Upon is a whole lot of fucking fun but you’ll be very used to just how grandiose this album is trying to be, so your mileage may vary on just how much you can handle. Me? I was there for all of it.
The run from “Ultima Hypocrita” into “King Ov Fire” is absolutely killer, and “King Ov Fire” doing the ‘quick breath into unleashing hell’ trick that heavy metal loves so much is just great. It’s also a good first tutorial on what this band are all about, and since it’s one of the shorter trcks on A Hill To Die Upon, “King Ov Fire” is worth looking into. “Death Worship” is an absolutely massive track and “A Hill To Die Upon” later on is also worth diving into.
I never would’ve guessed either that the previously mentioned “Left Hand Path” would be the most melodically minded of the bunch, but Mental Cruelty make great usage of the seven minutes they ask of you in that one. The clean vocals work great, the keyboard line that opens things is goddamned addicitve, and as the most ‘epic’ song on the release, “The Left Hand Path” is a good way to close out the whole A Hill To Die Upon impact event.
If you’ve gotten this far into my year-end list and haven’t gotten your fix for audio bludgeonings yet, may I recommend another dose here?
4) Choke Me – Hauntology
And then, we switch gears in the complete opposite direction and go for a sleeker yet just as mean anarchist punk deathgrind band, because if nothing else I’m a creature of habit.
I thought last year’s The Cousin Of Death from Choke Me was severely underrated, and it is one of those releases I will evangelize for constantly. Surprisingly enough the follow-up EP Hauntology had much the same effect. Six songs, just as mean, and with a shockingly similar run time – Choke Me are clearly onto something with their ‘fastcore’ style of music here. Or, at the very least, they’ve figured out exactly what I like – which given how most of the bands that I go to bat for go, may not be the wisest business sense. That didn’t stop me from yelling at everyone to check them out anyway…for a second time.
Given that Hauntology is around sixteen minutes long, it was also a breath of fresh-air in the much grander scheme of music that I’ve been burying myself in throughout the year. The band are ambitious and fiercely political in a different direction but musically they’re as sleek and surgical as you can get. They jump into a song, make a shit-ton of noise and basically level a room, and then get the fuck out before anyone can discover why there’s a couch stuffed halfway into a toilet. The whole mid-section of Hauntology is just rager-after-rager, with “Sewer Socialism” and “Celebration Of Mediocrity” being songs that are just devastators. “More Than This” – fun to see that theme pop up again for them – and “One Less” are also great. If I continue though, I’ll likely just end up going song-by-song.
Short version of this: Choke Me is a fucking great project and both of their releases so far are fucking killer. Give them a listen.
3) Necronautical – Slain In The Spirit
I had not expected to like the fourth album from the UK black-metal crew Necronautical as much as I did, but maybe I’m becoming one of those where every other release from a band lands with me. Necronautical‘s fourth album Slain In The Spirit arrived in late August via Candlelight Records and since then has been stealthily climbing higher and higher into my listening habits. While I’ve generally enjoyed everything the band have done – and will instantly recommend the group’s second album The Endurance At Night to anyone – Slain In The Spirit is such a huge progression for Necronautical since they’ve dropped the admiralty uniforms in favor of the ‘death voyagers’ concept behind their name that I couldn’t help but be drawn in.
Necronautical jam fifty-plus minutes of music into this latest release – and an interesting Slayer cover in the deluxe edition – and all of it is just the right amount of bombastic to keep things interesting. Of course, none of that would matter if Necronautical weren’t equally good at the sort of razor-sharp, knife-edge style of guitar riffing one would expect out of the more ‘blackened’ of their musical collections. Slain In The Spirit is a treasure trove of stuff like that, and combined with the ever-present symphonics and backing female choral vocals, this is was an album where I found a hell of a lot to enjoy.
I guess being a former orchestra kid is selling me out real hard here.
When I wrote this one up I found that my tastes for favorite song would seemingly change from day-to-day. Even in writing this I always feel like I’m noticing something new that keeps me interested whenever I submerge myself in the Necronautical cauldron. The title song was a massive highlight as one of the most dynamic songs on the record. Opener “Ritual And Recursion” does a fantastic job laying out the blueprint of this release. If you caught our most recent Gimme Metal appearance you might’ve heard me spinning the rager “Necropsychonautics” and its impossible mouthful of a song title for people. It’s the most to-the-point-no-bullshit song on the album, so if you’re seeking Slain In The Spirit in microcosm and “Ritual And Recursion” didn’t quite spell it out for you, that song is a good summary.
The closing pair of “Contorting In Perpetuity” and “Death Magick Triumphant” do a great job building off of each other to end Slain In The Spirit. But, as you can see, and even compared to my review, I’ve covered a different grouping of songs out of the nine present and that’s because of that previously mentioned “notice something different every time” effect of the album. Necronautical have another great addition to an increasingly great discography with this one.
2) In Mourning – The Bleeding Veil
Goddamn, it feels good to have an In Mourning album near the tippy-top of my year-end list once again. I swore up and down – and you’ll see me do it again in a few paragraphs here – that I wouldn’t have a handful of late-in-the-year releases make up the top few entries in my year-end tome, but damned if In Mourning didn’t put out an album strong enough that I just couldn’t help myself. I’ve been listening to The Bleeding Veil constantly and have found the group’s latest doom and post-metal infused melodeath release to be quite enjoyable.
Of course, it’s hard to come up with new things to say about a disc that you reviewed a little over three weeks ago but such is the way of the world. In Mourning have such a strong batch of songs on The Bleeding Veil that it’s hard to recommend just a few for people to get a short-story version of the disc. This is a release where it’s tempting to just tell people to hit ‘play’ and listen to the band somehow combine the best traits of Monolith, The Weight Of Oceans, and some of the modern post-and-sludge metal scenes together into one of the best releases of the year.
The Bleeding Veil cycles around on itself, and the songs on this album seem to exist in pairs – save for “Thornwalker”, which is a fantastic adventure in its own right. “Sovereign”, “Solitude And Silence” and “Beyond Thunder” all reflect each other musically and are the more prog-death numbers on the disc, whereas a song like “At The Behest Of Night” is just a jaw-dropping song from beginning to end. “At The Behest Of Night” feels like something In Mourning have been working toward since the The Weight Of Oceans days. What a gorgeous track that one turned out to be. “Lights On The Mire” and “Blood In The Furrows” are both ones where the band let the progressive-rock muscles flex a bit and they really do fit well withint he confines of The Bleeding Veil.
This is another album that proved to be a very late year highlight but one that is absolutely deserving of your time. In Mourning deserve any and all attention that they receive with this release.
1) Dormant Ordeal – The Grand Scheme Of Things
Holy shit it feels crazy to be at the end of this thing.
Also, it wasn’t that long ago that I was actually reviewing the newest release The Grand Scheme Of Things from Polish death metal three-piece Dormant Ordeal, in which I basically willed upon people the idea that they should not sleep on this album. Don’t believe me? There’s proof right here. I will re-iterate once again though, for the people in the back who may not have seen that review. Do not sleep on the newest Dormant Ordeal record.
Yes, it came out very late in the year, and yes, I usually swear up and down that I’m going to wait a bit before putting a record this close to its release on my year-end list, but goddamn did I love We Had It Coming and did not expect after five years for Dormant Ordeal to return to us and somehow manage to match that album blow-for-blow in being an absolute headcrusher. The Grand Scheme Of Things is a room-annihilator of an album that spends a whole release vollying cinder-blocks at you at high-speed. You have absolute no hope to dodge any of them.
It’s relentless and heavy as all hell, and an album where I couldn’t help but enjoy every second. Especially as Dormant Ordeal started letting a little bit of a melodic-lead earworm its insidious way in around the fringes. It’s the only way I can explain how much I love the song “Bright Constellations” other than its opening section basically never stopping. If you didn’t think Dormant Ordeal had levelled a drumkit by the end of their first two songs, by the end of the opening segment of “Bright Constellations” that thing has to basically be sawdust.
As seems to be the case with the past few years my number one release tends to be an absolute monster of an album. Whether it’s the need to blast all of the holiday music at my job out of my skull or I’m trying to scour my brain completely clean of the past year, Dormant Ordeal’s The Grand Scheme Of Things has been fantastic for it. They stack riffs like bodies for a mass grave on this album, and there are so many moments throughout it that I want to highlight that I’d basically just be re-reviewing the disc. I’m not the only goofball enjoying the hell out of this thing either.
“Here Be Dragons” and “Letters To Mr. Smith” are both humongous songs and the closing rhythm sections to both tracks are neck-snapping in just how much you want to headbang to them. “Sides Of Defence” is just a maelstrom of anger that is worth getting swept up in. Closer “The Borders Of Our Language Are Not The Borders Of Our World” is probably the most melodically minded track on the album but it remains as intense as ever and ends the whole Grand Scheme Of Things disc well.
This is a disc that is just wall-to-wall, front-to-back, great songs and I can’t recommend it enough. It has to be a hell of a release when after being out for only three-plus weeks, it’s already made such a massive impression. Give Dormant Ordeal a listen. Check out We Had It Coming as well.
As always with the end of my year-end list comes the usual attempt at a viking-pyre for the year past. Well, not really a viking-pyre but a raucously loud ‘go fuck yourself’ at the very least because much like the year before, which seemed to never end, or my personal hell before that, or the generally shitty year before… well, you can see where this is going. From everyone’s favorite ‘writes too much’ guy in this corner of the interweb, ‘Go fuck yourself 2021’.
I can’t believe we’ve already hosted a few things with 2022 release dates on them. I refuse to believe that’s real. It’s going to hit midnight on December 31st only for all of us to discover it’s now December 32nd. This may be the last dispatch you see from me this year. Either way, it’s been an absolute pleasure digging around the internet to find music for all of you fine folks. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think you were all worth it.
Except you, Pete.
OR IS IT?