(For the 11th (!) year in a row, we asked our old friend SurgicalBrute to weigh in with his year-end list of favorite albums and/or EPs. As expected, his list adds many names that haven’t appeared before in our 2021 Listmania series, and this year there’s perhaps even more variety on offer than usual, though the prose is just as curmudgeonly as ever.)
Given the amount of time it took me to get my act together and actually write something up, I have a feeling I’m going to be the poor schlub who gets to close out this year’s Listamania [not quite]. That means the only people probably reading this are the completionists, the perpetually bored, and that one guy who claims to actually enjoy my list each year (I see you back there Deckard). You know what though…that’s fine. Everyone knows they always save the best shit for last, and that’s exactly what this is, the best goddamn metal list you’re going to find this year. Why is that? Because, you casual, my taste is objectively superior to everyone else. Now, if there are no other stupid questions, let’s go over the ground rules.
First, this is my top 25 releases for the year… plus a whole lot of honorable mentions. No compilations and I don’t do split albums… man, do I not like split albums. Second, descriptions are going to be short and to the point. If you want to read poorly worded music dissertations, Metal-Archives is that way. As it is, I’m already late enough turning this in, and I sincerely doubt you all have any interest in watching me struggle to come up with 25 different synonyms for “vicious” and “crushing”. Finally, yes… I did indeed fail to include that overproduced tech/prog/melodic bore-core album that you had in the number one position of your own list. No, it was not great. Yes, you should be ashamed of yourself for even suggesting it to me.
Everyone got all that?
Good… then let’s get on with the music \m/
Antichrist Siege Machine – Purifying Blade (black/death)
What do you expect it to sound like, it’s war metal? It’s a relentless pummeling of blast beats, riffs and vocals. Unlike about 90% of the other bands out there trying to pull this style off though, A.C.S.M. doesn’t just stick your head into a metal bucket and beat on it for 20 minutes. The occasional lean into death metal territory gives just enough time to catch your breath before the next round of abuse begins, and the quick pace means it doesn’t wear out its welcome
Azothyst – Blood of Dead God (black/death) (EP)
Do you like Adversarial? Well, you’re in luck, because while I have no idea what the hell the rest of those dudes are currently up to, the vocalist decided to get together with members of Sortilegia and Nuclearhammer and finally put out this long-rumored release. If the lack of new Adversarial material is causing you to get a bit twitchy, this EP is probably your best chance to get rid of the shakes.
Black Spirit (black)
If you don’t know this band, they’re thick as hell with the atmosphere and go hard and heavy with the black metal. You might hear a little Moenen of Xezbeth or Skaphe in here, but there’s enough unique riffing and experimentation that those comparisons are extremely broad at best.
Black Wound – To the Endless Depths (Death/Doom) (demo)
A Swedish death metal band that isn’t playing Boss HM-2, “buzz-saw” worship? Hell, that’s unique enough on its own to earn a spot on my list. I mean…yeah, it’s Incantation worship instead, but it’s damn good Incantation worship. Between the bass and those vocals, this shit will rattle the fillings in your teeth.
Cerebral Rot – Excretion of Mortality (death)
If you liked their debut release then you’re going to like this one as well, because it picks up right where the first album left off. Cavernous and ugly, this is how death metal is meant to sound
Ceremonial Torture – Sabbath, Thou Arts (black)
Took seven years to finally get here, but damn was this worth the wait. Hellenic style black metal by way of Finland, the tin can production is probably going to send most of the tourists running. Since no one reading my list is a know-nothing scene tourist though, what you’ll find here is a strong sense of melody and a heavy use of synth to build atmosphere.
All you need to know is, what if King Diamond decided to sing Manilla Road songs? If that sounds like a bad thing, then my condolences on your utter lack of taste
Cult of Eibon – Black Flame Dominion (black)
Yeah, I’ve been waiting on this one since the Fullmoon Invocation EP dropped back in 2016, and again, was not disappointed with the final result. Early Hellenic black metal is distinct as hell with those groove-heavy, traditional metal, guitar riffs, and popping this album on is like taking a trip through time.
Demiser – Through the Gate Eternal (black/thrash)
Look, it’s blackened thrash. If you don’t know what that sounds like by now, then holy hell what are you even doing here? That being said, it does seem like after getting several years in a row of mostly mediocre blackened thrash albums, the stars managed to align again and several killer releases came out. Enjoy them while you can, because it will probably be another 10 years before it happens again.
Grandeur – Aurea Aetas (Black) (EP)
Let me just say…goddamn. I don’t know if you all have been paying attention, but right now Erech Leleth can seemingly do no wrong. He already released two stellar black metal EPs last year with Narzissus, as well as two killer blackened thrash/punk EPs with Golden Blood. So, what does he do as a follow up? He drops two more amazing EPs under Carathis, a full-length for Golden Blood, a full-length and an EP with Ancient Mastery, and tops it all off with this Grandeur release.
Now I’m flat-out telling you, go get every single thing he’s worked on, because, no lie… they are all absolutely worthy. I chose this particular release though because it hits every checkmark for me when it comes to black metal: Punk-influenced riffing that gets better as the release goes on, lo-fi, but not muddy production, and just enough melody to take the rough edges off. Seriously, wipe the damn Cheeto dust off your fingers and go buy this shit right now.
Hollow Woods – Cold Winds Cleave the Earth (black)
Finnish black metal rarely disappoints, and the first full-length by Hollow Woods is just more proof of the country’s absolute mastery of the genre. Like some combination of old Ulver and maybe a bit of Drudkh, you can practically feel the cold, bleak air of the cover art with every riff.
Herzel – Le Dernier Rempart (heavy)
A lot of you out there were probably looking at this year and thinking it’s been really strong for death metal. Well, you’re wrong. Yeah, there’s been a lot of death metal released this year, but the vast majority of it was absolutely forgettable. Traditional heavy metal though, now that’s a style that’s really starting to come into its own again. The number of quality releases has been slowly growing over the last few years and I think we’re just starting to see the crest of the wave. All of that is just a longwinded way of saying traditional metal was where it was at this year, and it was the epic sound of Herzel that really stood above everyone else. Hands down, this was the best traditional release of the year.
Master’s Blood – Master’s Blood (death) (demo)
Have to admit, when I first stumbled onto this demo, I nearly blew it off. It was near the end of the year, Swedish death metal bands are a dime a dozen, and I was already starting to finalize things in my head. To hell with that though, because this release totally slays. Forget the buzz-saw sound, because it’s nowhere to be found on this demo. Instead, force yourself to look past the mud-like production, and brace yourself for some killer riffs
Mentor – Wolves, Wraiths and Witches (black/thrash/hardcore)
If you’ve ever wanted to know what would happen if you frankensteined Madball, Slayer, Motörhead, and Midnight together into a single band, boy have I got an album for you.
Morbific – Ominous Seep of Putridity (death)
This absolutely could have been pulled right out of the ’90s Finnish death metal scene, not just because it sounds like it belongs there, but because it’s that kind lightning in a bottle, instant classic, album that doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often as it once did. Even Cerebral Rot has to bow down to this one. No question, it’s the best death metal release of the year.
Pâlemort – Tour du Nord (black)
The black metal throwback album of the year, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Now if seeing those words made you recoil, settle your pretentious ass down. This is very much in the vein of old Emperor, old Gehenna, and as much as it pains me to say it, maybe even some old Dimmu Borgir as well. Fortunately, the use of synth doesn’t detract from the raw sound and fantastic riffs.
Satanism – Whore of Death/ Black Invocation of the Infernal Spirit (black/death) (EP x2)
Call it bestial black metal, call it war metal, it doesn’t really matter. You either like this style or you don’t. If this is your thing, then both EPs are mandatory. If this style doesn’t wind your clock, then I doubt Satanism is going to be the band to change your mind
Solipsism – Cruelty & Necrospection (black)
I know, you were probably looking at this pick and thinking what kind of black metal band uses cover art like that? The awesome kind, that’s who. Honestly, the best part of this album, besides the fact that it could be downloaded on Bandcamp for free, is the fact that it’s dynamic as hell. The music is always shifting and as a result there isn’t a single boring part on this album
Sadistic Force – Aces Wild (black/thrash)
Remember what I said before about blackened thrash? Yeah, that still applies. It’s goddamn blackened thrash, it only comes in two categories. Either your brain checks out before the vocals even kick in, or your head starts moving with the first riff. If you’re wondering which category Sadistic Force lands in, then put the goddamn bath salts down, because somehow, you’ve already forgotten this is a best of the year list
Spider God – Skugglösa ljuset / Shadowless Light (black) (EP)
Can’t even remember how I stumbled onto this release, but it pretty much landed a spot on my list about 25 seconds into the first song (no dumbass, I don’t mean the intro). This thing kicks off at 100 mph, and it really doesn’t ease off the gas until the final track, which is a more mid-paced affair. Despite the quick pace, it’s not some kind of white noise/wall of thunder situation. Just the opposite in fact. For barely 20 minutes of music, this thing has riffs for days. In fact, I dare you to not restart it as soon as it ends.
The Night Eternal – Moonlit Cross (heavy)
Do you ever wish In Solitude hadn’t broken up? Let me clarify, do ever wish early, S/T and The World. The Flesh. The Devil era In Solitude had never broken up? Yeah, same here. Since that isn’t going to happen though, let me introduce you to The Night Eternal.
If you took early In Solitude and combined them with those galloping Iron Maiden guitar riffs, that should give you a good idea what you’re in for here. If these guys can keep up the quality, I won’t be surprised to see them take off into the more mainstream areas of metal.
Exanimatvm – Sollvm Ipsa Mor (death)
This is probably going to get overlooked just like their last one and honestly, that’s a goddamn shame. Look, I love death metal bands from Finland and Sweden as much as the next metalhead (hell, I’d say way more than most), but bands from Chile (among several other South American countries) regularly put out some of the most genuinely unsettling, creepy-ass death metal in the scene. This nasty piece of slightly blackened death metal is a goddamn fucking monster, stop ignoring it!
Tower – Shock to the System (heavy)
While Herzel may be epic and The Night Eternal bring the occult horror, Tower is the pure rocker on this list. If you have any affection for bands like Priest, Motörhead, and the early days of heavy metal, then you should have picked up this album yesterday. If you’ve still got some kind of hang-up about clean vocals, it’s time to put that shit aside. Go retrain your ear, just like when you discovered extreme metal, then go buy this album, then come back here and thank me.
Vauruvã (progressive black metal)
Have to admit, given the ever-rising profile of Kaatayra, I’m a bit shocked this album seems to have mostly flown under people’s radar…
…and yeah, this is considered progressive, but don’t even think about trying to give me shit for that. What Caio Lemos is doing on this album is absolutely unique, and leagues apart from the typical navel-gazing wank-fest that normally passes for progressive metal. Anyone trying to argue otherwise is going to be the recipient of a swift overhand chop to the esophagus.
Worm – Foreverglade (death/doom)
Honestly kind of stunned at the amount of hype behind this album. Don’t get me wrong, I was a big fan of Gloomlord and I think this one may be even better, I just had no idea they’d blown up to the extent they did. On the other hand, that saves me from having to write up anything particularly compelling here, because unless you’re Amish you’ve probably heard it already, anyway. So let’s just cut to the chase, of course this album made my list, how could it not?
Heavy Sentence – Bang to Rights (heavy)
Knight’s Oath – S/T (heavy) (EP)
Kömmand – Stubborn Arsenal (black/thrash)
Carathis – The Amethyst Fortress/ Hymns to the Tower (black) (EP x2)
Fossilization – He Whose Name Was Long Forgotten (death/doom) (EP)
Gärgäntuäh – Urmystyk (black)
Hinthial – :: (black) (demo)
Cadaveric Fumes – Echoing Chambers of Soul (death)
Kaal Akuma – In the Mouth of Madness (death)
Gorgon – Traditio Satanae (black)
Helleruin – War upon Man (black)