Way back in Part 1 of this series (two whole days ago) I explained that before I began winnowing down the list of candidates it had 630 entries on it — a combination of my own ideas, suggestions from readers, and nominees from NCS writers DGR and Andy Synn. I also noted that among that enormous number of songs only 11 bands had four or more entries. Two of those bands — 1914 and Archspire — are responsible for two of the picks I’m announcing today. And it happens that both of those bands did very well for themselves in the 2021 YE list sweepstakes as well, not just here but in other lists I’ve seen around the web.
The third selection in today’s installment flew much lower on the radar (or beneath it), despite the record being the work of a very well-known musician. Hopefully, mentioning it today will help spread the word a bit more, because it’s great.
I like to think that we here at NCS were early adopters of this band’s music, since I began writing about them in 2015, just after the release of their debut album, Eschatology of War. Their global footprint expanded dramatically last year, thanks to Napalm Records signing on for the release of their newest album, Where Fear and Weapons Meet.
1914‘s music has evolved since the early days, but has remained superior. For an excellent tracing of that evolution, I recommend the 139th edition of The Synn Report, in which my friend Andy covered all of their albums, including the newest one. From that album, three different tracks were in the running for this list.
Perhaps the obvious choice was “…And a Cross Now Marks His Place”, in part because of Nick Holmes‘ guest vocal appearance. But I’ve come around to the view espoused by DGR, that “FN .380 ACP#19074” is even more memorable. It’s such a towering, magnificent piece of music, one that reveals how well the band’s use of cinematic symphonics augments their musical narration of harrowing and heart-breaking historical events. The song packs a lot of visceral power, the vocals are stunning, and the mood is haunting — definitely a song that stays with you a long time once you’ve heard it. Like the song itself, the lyric video for it is also tremendous.
As mentioned at the outset, Archspire’s Bleed the Future did very well for itself in the 2021 year-end-list sweepstakes, both here at NCS and elsewhere, and for good reason. As Andy Synn wrote in his review, Archspire‘s music “is still ridiculously, preposterously, fast”, but the album also reveals ways in which the band sought to subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) expand the scope of their sound, to good and welcome effect. DGR made similar observations in a review that accompanied his placement of the album in the Top 20 of his YE list.
One problem with a lot of tech-death in this era of the high-speed arms race is that while songs may be head-spinning and exhilarating to listen to, they don’t always stick in the head, i.e., light-speed agility doesn’t necessarily make for an infectious product. But it turns out that two different tracks from Bleed the Future got mentioned repeatedly in the assembly of candidates I considered for this list. “Drone Corpse Aviator” made a strong play, particularly because the accompanying video was so great, but I went with the title track.
It’s a frantic adventure in which vocalist Oliver Rae Aleron goes faster than a cattle auctioneer and the rest of the band spits a variety of bullets even faster — but then abruptly the song gets dreamy, and as my pal DGR once observed, it’s the way the song is built in the back half that makes it so infectious.
Now we come to the song from an album whose profile was much lower than those of the first two in this Part of my list, even though the man behind the project is well-known. That man is Mick Barr, best known for his work in Krallice.
Beastlor had its inception way back in 1997, leading to the release of a 1998 demo. But it ws not heard from again until the emergence of an album-length demo in 2015, and then finally a debut album in last year’s self-released Galaxies of Death. I paid attention to it because Barr was behind it, and that was a good decision, because the album is a true tour de force (as I attempted to explain in this review).
I was pretty damn sure that the album’s opening track, “Ignorant Sin“, was going to be on this list from the first time I heard it. Drifting back to it again and again has only reinforced that conviction. To repeat what I wrote about it in my review:
“Even though it grows increasingly beleaguered in its mood as it evolves, it’s the kind of thing you don’t want to end — until you get another variation on the theme that’s defiantly pulse-pounding, and then another one that flies like the wind and darts like a kestrel on the hunt — and then another that just seems deranged. Underneath all of that is a sequence of rhythms that’s just as variable; it often seems like an enormous avalanche in progress, but will also pop your neck like a whip. And man, when the opening riff returns, it’s a glorious thing. The whole fucking song is glorious.”