Angry Metal Guy’s Top 10(ish) of 2021

AMG

It finally happened, everyone. I finished my motherfucking PhD. I am now officially Dr. Angry Metal Guy. Or Angry Metal Guy, PhD, so as to not threaten the surprisingly fragile egos of medical professionals. Regardless, now I am left standing over the ruined wreckage of my life asking the question: “Was it really worth it?” The answer, of course, is “outlook not so good.” However, due to the sunk cost fallacy I have actually blocked out even writing this sentence and I will never respond to any reference to it ever again. Regardless, 2022 was kind of looking up for me until recently. I was looking forward to taking some time to recover from my harrowing process to spend more time with my remaining limbs. But, as Max Cavalera once croaked, “[2022] is Godzilla!” So, bring it on, I guess.

Like myself, AngryMetalGuy.com made a bit of a recovery in 2021 and, in fact, we righted some of the weirdness surrounding the hellish year that was 2020. In part due to all the confusion with delayed records, things getting cancelled, and everyone going into work from home mode, 2020 was a weird year for us and it resulted in less productivity and a decline in overall numbers for the first time ever.1 It was disconcerting. We did not like it.

My return heralded winds of change and once again we have righted the ship.2 Better yet, while our output was down in terms of the number of reviews we published (769 total posts [that’s 631,811 words, if you’re keeping track at home], as compared to 887 in 2020 and 983 in 2019), we still outstripped ourselves in terms of readership both in terms of the number of unique hits that we received and total views.3 In 2021, we averaged around 34,500 page views every day and we do not post a single bit of clickbait, “news articles,” or the kinds of things that generate lots of fleeting clicks that ultimately result in the emotional letdown associated with cheap highs. Rather, our immense, yet steady and sustained, success is driven by us being—excuse my boast—the best reviewing site around. On top of that, we have a huge crop of n00bs incoming, including some of the best raw writers we’ve seen applying yet. I really believe that 2022 can be our best year ever.

Let me start by saying thank you to all of you for being part of this incredible ride. Especially, I want to thank the writers for their dedication to this website while I have been indisposed with other stuff. The management and editors especially deserve effusive thanks for their efforts in keeping this little project afloat with all your hard work and dedication. I love you all.

Now, here’s a list.


#(ish): Demoniac // So It GoesDemoniac were the best thing to come out of Chile in 2021 until the band was superseded by the country’s most recent election. Still, So It Goes has a special place in my heart as an excellent piece of progressive, Chilean thrash. While this album didn’t land as high on the list as I would have initially expected, it has continued to be my go-to thrash album since a year ago. With fantastic clarinet solos and a willingness to take risks, Demoniac should continue to remain impressive. I look forward to hearing more from them very soon.

#(ish): The Ruins of Beverast // The Thule Grimoires — Truly a quality piece of work, The Thule Grimoires walks a line between expansive and over-leveraged, but the music does so many things that I like that it’s hard not to include it. With a touch of My Dying Bride, a dash of Type O Negative—and even a melody borrowed from Sgt. Pepper’s—mixed into an oppressively dirge-y, blackened death metal soundscape, The Ruins of Beverast has produced a record that is genuinely impressive. Especially given my deep distaste for essentially anything “atmospheric,” you should note how impressed I was with this album. That said, a record this heavy deserved one fewer 14 minute song.

#10: Diablo Swing Orchestra // Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole — I tend to take every new Diablo Swing Orchestra record as a standalone release because the band releases music so slowly. And each one has a tendency to be a celebration of the ensemble’s unique vision for what heavy music could sound like if we weren’t all trying to recreate our favorite sounds from the past. Swagger & Stroll succeeds by being an addictive and impressive demonstration of the band’s ingenuity and style. DSO’s approach is manic and beautiful and full of surprises and it’s what makes them so very, very good at what they do. Of course, I do need to mention that while this album contains two of my favorite songs of the year, the overall sound detracts from my ability to fully enjoy this album.4 And that’s a shame, because there is some stellar writing contained herein. I can only assume that this material sounds amazing live, because despite everything it sounds awesome on the record.

#9: Crypta // Echoes of the SoulCrypta plays a brand of classic death metal with a thrashy edge and Echoes of the Soul is a fantastic debut release. While not yet a legendary Brazilian band, I see no reason why these ladies shouldn’t be considered at the forefront of the country’s current crop of metal bands. There are two things that really stand out about Echoes of the Soul. First, the songwriting is sharp and hooky, with a classic feel that somehow doesn’t feel derivative. The album exudes confidence and craftsmanship, with great melodic guitar work and tight hooks. Second, I love the production and—in particular—I could drink the snare tone. Due to Napalm’s dumb-as-hell policy of never sending us downloads and my situational poverty, I don’t have a proper DR score here, but this is the closest thing I’ve ever heard to a “punchy” snare drum in an ostensibly modern production. Between a great sound, excellent musicianship, and outstanding songwriting, Echoes of the Soul gave me a different approach to OSDM that had me coming back again and again.

#8: Aephanemer // A Dream of Wilderness — I did not expect to love A Dream of Wilderness as much as I do. While I was finishing my thesis, I basically listened to a cycle of Aephanemer, DSO, and Black Sites on repeat in the final days. A Dream of Wilderness is one more notch in my increasing and continued call for melodic death metal with a spine. Rather than the wishy-washy mellowdeath of Finnish sadbois, A Dream of Wilderness presents a fast, fun, and technically interesting kind of melodic death metal that appeals to me on an instinctive level. And, as I wrote in the Record(s) o’ the Month for November, A Dream of Wilderness sports a sound that lands in the hinterlands between Fleshgod Apocalypse, Turisas, Mors Principium Est, and First Fragment and that fed a desire for a kind of music I didn’t even really know I had. There are times when I’m strongly reminded of the best stuff that Children of Bodom put out in the early 2000s. Bonus for the excellent art.

#7: Alustrium // A Monument to SilenceAlustrium’s place on this list has almost never been in doubt for me. I declared it the Record o’ the Month in June of 2021 and since then A Monument to Silence has been a monument to excellence in regular rotation. From start to finish, A Monument to Silence demonstrates Alustrium’s dedication to producing tight, technical and invigorating death metal that evokes comparisons to bands like Gorod, Anata, and sorry guys, The Black Dahlia Murder in that there’s a tinge of post-Gothenburg melodeath that finds its way into this material.5 Still, like Obscura, Alustrium does it with a whole different level of technical skill. One thing that I think separates A Monument to Silence from other tech death records this year is that the production and writing make for something weirdly atmospheric. If it’s possible for music this tech to have an almost dreamy quality at times, A Monument to Silence does it gracefully. I like this feeling and I love this band’s meme game on Instagram.

#6: Scardust // StrangersScardust’s incredible album Strangers was easily one of the three best albums released in 2020. I have never included an old record on my Top 10(ish) list before and I feel a bit guilty about doing so now, but if I’m honest with you, I am deeply ashamed this album didn’t make my 2020 list. I just missed it. Things were hard, there’s a million albums out there, but this was a miss of epic proportions. One of the nice things about a year having passed since it made it onto my radar is that I’ve had time to be totally in love with it, regret that I missed it, play it to death, and then to bring it back into my rotation. And Strangers stands up to time. I fall in love with it every time I hear it. While I wouldn’t have graded Strangers as iconic, it definitely fulfills the criteria of being the kind of complete package that I am always looking for in new albums. And Strangers delivers it all: outstanding musicianship, smart writing, and its fronted by a dynamic vocalist whose range—both vocally and stylistically—really defines the band. You can be sure that Strangers is one of the best albums of the last five years and possibly even the last ten and I hope that you take the time to give it several listens.

#5: Archspire // Bleed the FutureAt eight songs and an extremely lean 32 minutes, Bleed the Future is still one of the most immense albums released in 2021. The songs are tight, fun, and even when I’m pretty critical of the production choices that these British Columbians lean into hard, the composition and musicianship on Bleed the Future is intimidatingly elite. Add to it that these guys have looped their moms into advertising their content and Archspire is the most weirdly relatable technical death metal band in the world. There’s something charming about Bleed the Future that even culminates in the hilarious drop that I quoted from the beginning of “A.U.M.”6 Bleed the Future is loaded to the brim with virtuoso talent, excellent writing, a feel that is undeniably fun, and a charming self-reflexivity. What more can we ask of the technical death metal musician in an era when the only joy any of us experiences is harmonized arpeggios?

#4: Black Sites // Untrue — I’ve written a blurb or two in my time for Chicago’s Black Sites and I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s hard not to feel repetitive when you’re just saying the same damn thing over and over. And I guess that’s what makes an album like Untrue impressive. It is a genuine challenge to keep writing new things and differentiate them from the work you’ve done before. And yet, 2021’s newest Black Sites album feels like a fresh new dose of all the things we already knew made the band great to begin with: complete songwriting, hooky riffs, and a vision—and sound—that balances classic heavy metal with more modern sensibilities (read: dad thrash). Furthermore, Untrue also finds Mark Sugar developing as a lyricist—including the particularly poignant “Call It by Its Name”—while putting together a string of riffs through the middle of Untrue that are all essentially perfect. Untrue has the potential to unite fans of good, honest heavy metal from all walks of life because it is so damned good.

#3: Soen // Imperial — In a sea of super true bands and technical wizards stands Soen who just make music that feeds my soul. And I get the impression that Soen is getting secretly popular while a lot of metalheads are looking elsewhere. And that’s fine with me. Imperial had a new approach with a shiny, loud, treble heavy production courtesy of the hands covered in the blood of Five Finger Death Punch albums, and yet it’s the unique sensibilities of Lopez and crew that make Soen sound like Soen. Imperial balances between aching Swedish melancholia and post-Floyd progressive strains and a vigorous and poppy heavy sound that results in something truly unique. And while I stand by my assessment that Soen needs to keep developing, I also agree with this little gem I dropped in my review: “Soen can rest easy knowing that Imperial is an accomplishment that they can be proud of and which will easily compete for a spot on several lists during #Listurnalia in 2021 while they answer the question of what comes next.” I started listening to this album at the end of 2020 and it still stands up 14 or 15 months later.

Obscura - A Valediction cover art#2: Obscura // A Valediction — With a year this back-loaded, it can feel like déjà vu to write another blurb for Obscura’s A Valediction while it’s still the wallpaper for the website. And yes, as a November release it can be hard to judge just how good an album is for the long term. But I can’t help but feeling like A Valediction is going to have consequences in the long-term. And for those of us who aren’t busy being butthurt that the band is has changed their sound,7 there’s so much going on with A Valediction that it’s hard not to fall in love again every time I listen to it. First, like the aforementioned Aephanemer, Obscura’s transition into more melodeath fare—which I argued they started on Diluvium—feeds a part of me that has missed fast, heavy melodic death metal with a real spine. But given the sheer technicality of the musicians involved, A Valediction takes the sound to the next level. My Mozart/Salieri analogy rumpled feathers, but I’m right. And that’s why I have an eponymous website.


#1: First Fragment // Gloire Éternelle — I came for the Rodrigo y Gabriela riffs girded by fretless bass. I stayed for one of the most insane and epic albums I have ever listened to in my life. There’s something hypnotic for me about Gloire Éternelle and it reminds me of how a favorite professor once described great works of history: you can go back to it again and again and always find new things. It took me a while to get going with it—in part because it’s extremely difficult to find time to sit down and really genuinely listen to a 72-minute album. Song length and album length have become some kind of proxy for quality in the metal scene and I strongly dislike that trend. But First Fragment isn’t filling 72 minutes with unnecessary repetitions and atmosphere. Instead, the level of detail contained in Glore Éternelle is so great that I’m not sure I could have written a reasonable review of the album using my standard methods. The feeling is almost overwhelming, and may even border on cacophonous if it weren’t hypnotic, beautiful and so much fun! The end result is that I can’t help but listen to it at every chance I get. And with every new listen I come to love the record even more. And while some might argue that there are only so many notes that the royal ear can hear in a single sitting, I feel that First Fragment used the exactly the number of notes required; no more, no less.


Honorable Mentions

Beyond Grace // Our Kingdom Undone — I can’t help feeling like I’m doing Beyond Grace a bit of a disservice placing them here. Unfortunately, Our Kingdom Undone made it onto my playlist a bit too late for me to be able to reasonably include them on the list proper. But if you’re into interesting, techy, progressive death metal from an exciting band, look no further than Beyond Grace. There’s something special going on here. But maybe it’s just ’cause they really remind me of Anata on “Hive Mind.”

Ad Nauseam // Imperative Imperceptible Impulse — This record is brilliant, chaotic, and it can’t quite hit the list because it’s just not the kind thing I want to listen to a lot. On a list of “important releases in 2021,” Imperative Imperceptible Impulse may even top the list. But aesthetically, I find it disconcerting enough that in high-anxiety times, I simply don’t want to listen to it. That said, it’s fucking brilliant and fascinating and sexy.

Black Soul Horde // Horrors This album is ridiculously fun and I admire the approach, even if I wish that everyone stop using that specific vocal reverb sound. Yeah, we get it, you, too, like the late-70s/early-80s. Regardless, the songwriting here is still special enough that Steel Druhm almost dropped it in the #1 spot! I just didn’t have enough time with it because my #1 record is 500 years long.

In Mourning // The Bleeding Veil — Sweden’s own melodeath sadbois produced a very fine record, indeed! It’s a grower, for sure, and if I’d had it in September I expect it would’ve been up the list. In Mourning has been on a kind of low-key tear in recent years. You love to see it.

Stormkeep // Tales of OthertimeThis album is the black metal equivalent of Black Soul Horde. Tales of Othertime reminds me of a pretty specific “othertime”: the ’90s melodic black metal scene. And dammit, that’s a nostalgia that’s just strong enough in me to get me in the door but wasn’t quite strong enough to make the list this year.

Rhapsody of Fire // Glory for Salvation — You know, this record continued to grow on me after I reviewed it. I mean, this isn’t the glory days back again, but in particular it has a vocal performance that is undeniable and songwriting that has been sneakily sticky. I don’t know that I underrated it. But I also kind of don’t know that I didn’t.

Disappointments

Leprous // Aphelion — With the exception of the album’s final song, this love letter from Einar to himself has one strength: the refrains. Too bad that the other 50 percent of the time is minimalism in the key of “Einar’s Ego.” I’m tired of being told what a brilliant vocalist this guy is. I, too, can sing everything in falsetto and sing over every part of the song like Joey “Ooo Oooo OoOo OOOOooo” Tempest. If that’s the “masterclass” I’m supposed to be taking from Leprous, then I believe it’s wasted money and Einar needs to retrieve himself from his own ass. Yes, Aphelion is better than its predecessor. But it ain’t good.

Iron Maiden // SenjutsuIron Maiden is my favorite band of all time. I have defended Iron Maiden through the Blaze Bayley era and well into the reunion period. I refuse to accept that these grown men no longer have a single limit or any ability to edit themselves. I would have written you this review, except I already finished one PhD thesis this year and was in no place to write another. You may still get it if I’m feeling cranky, but I have way too much to do right now to spend another 8 hours listening to that album again. Bonus, however, was that the epics were good this time! Too bad about the incessant, unnecessary repetition and bizarre production choices.


Songs of the Year (no specific order)

Scarred – “Dance of the Giants” — I’m glad I listened to Scarred after a mediocre Kronos review of the record. I stopped by to give it a listen and found myself absolutely adoring some of the songs on here. One of the two I walked away with was “Dance of the Giants,” which features a fun folksy melody and a clean vocal part that sounds almost like Windir or Månegarm transplanted into an otherwise post-sludge atmosphere. Honestly, I’m not sure why Scarred didn’t get more love.


Aephanemer – “La Radeau de La Méduse” — This song just spits fire. Like, what more do you want from me? It reminds me of Hatebreeder-era Children of Bodom, except classy rather than dirty. The operatic vocals are perfect, mixed just right, and not flashy at all. And did I mention that Lucie Woaye Hune’s bass performance on this album is dominant and underrated? Great track, great band.


Rhapsody of Fire – “The Kingdom of Ice” — This is one of the places where it becomes clear to me that Staropoli’s writing chops are improving. First, Giacomo Voli’s vocal performance is simply epic. But I can’t get enough of the verses—the way that the choral bits are used to create tension both rhythmically and melodically. And I would say it’s got some of the better guitar leads on the entire album. When Staropoli of Fire puts it together, they are still a force to be reckoned with.


Soen – “Monarch” — I think this was the album’s first single and I used it as an example of the tension in the band’s sound, but “Monarch” has continued to be a go-to track from this album (which has several go-to tracks for me). I love the verse here and I wish there was more of this in the band’s sound. The groove is addictive and we should be reminded more often what a hell of a drummer Lopez is. But what puts this song over the edge for me is its dramatic ending; complete with orchestrations and beautiful harmonies. This stuff just tugs at my heartstrings.


Beyond Grace – “Hive Mind” — Just wait until you hit that part at 42 seconds and then say to yourself: “oh yeah, that’s the shit right there.” Because that’s what I do every single time I listen to this song. I have like 8 tech death records on my final list and I still think this is my favorite tech moment from the whole damn year.


Black Sites – “The Worst of Us” — This whole album feels like it’s coping with the fallout of the last few years thematically and “The Worst of Us” features some of the tightest songwriting in recent memory. While it doesn’t feature my favorite riff (that’s “Lost Tribes” over the chorus), the overall structure of the song is a masterclass in writing tight, long songs. Also, bonus for the stadium rock solo in the last minute of the track. Pure drama!


Diablo Swing Orchestra – “Celebremos lo Inevitable” — This track feels like it has strong “2022 is going to suck” meme game going on. We’re all going to die, so we might as well lean the fuck into it. And once that trumpet comes in over top of the groove in the heavy part I am totally hooked. Take me anywhere. Produce a sketchy master, I don’t care guys! Just keep hitting me with that sweet, tasty cultural appropriation!

¡Me encanta!

Show 7 footnotes

  1. Though, not a decline in real terms. We had more readers per post, so to speak.
  2. Not at all owing to the hard-hitting back quarter of 2021’s release schedule, but instead totally owing to my presence.
  3. Unique hits are hard to measure and therefore need to be taken with a grain of salt. However, we crested 2 million unique hits in 2021 and 12.5 million page views.
  4. And continues to be one of the strangest mysteries in the history of modern production snafus. What happened? Why do master files look like 128k mp3s?
  5. By the way, I love TBDM and I don’t think anyone should consider it an insult. I just know that trve metal types think they’re not trve enough.
  6. And yeah, I know that I misquoted it, but I had to strain to hear that the guy was saying “danger” and “tension” fits the meaning of the sentence pretty well.
  7. “Oh, boo hoo! Now there’s only TWO bands that sound like the two albums I like from Obscura instead of three! Waah Waaaah WAAAAH!” – The Discerning Alkaloid Fan whining about A Valediction
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