’s Aggregated Top 10 of 2021

For those newcomers and casual readers, I write from the deepest, darkest corners of the Angry Metal Guy Sex Dungeon™. I write of heavy metal, mathematical averages and self-indulgence. Each year we aggregate the voluminous listery that occurs in these hallowed pages in order to delineate the favorite (or rather, lowest common denominator) records from a given year across the various writers and tastes that we now characterize.

Though my personal inclinations disagree with the notion, the over-arching sentiment I feel from my colleagues is that 2021 was a mildly disappointing year musically, and a significantly disappointing one generally. Regarding the former, there is arguable statistical basis for this suggestion: the difference in voting points between the number 1 and number 2 records on this list has never been greater, and even then, Archspire’s latest did not match Relentless Mutation for some. Everything else clamoring beneath this for scraps of recognition was very close according to our point system. There were 13 voting points between 2 and 10, but 57 between 1 and 2. This could illustrate an absence of subgenre-transcending collective selections which resulted in more “personal” preferences and subsequent divergence.

On an administrative note, the closeness in results for the majority of the list meant that I needed to exercise a key rule I have generated for tie-breakers. Where 2 records had the same number of voting points (such as Headshrinker and Mare Cognitum), I promoted the record selected by more individuals. This is, after all, intended to capture the records favored by the majority of writers at the site. Feel free to disparage this logic in the comments.

El Cuervo

#10. Headshrinker // Callous Indifference – [#1, #4, #5, #7] – It takes something special to pull Steel Druhm away from his usual diet of old men creaking their way through material from the 80s, but Headshinker and Callous Indifference are special: “harrowing, grim, twisted, and creepy, Callous Indifference drags you through the cluttered labyrinth of a troubled mind using death, doom, and black metal as ugly guideposts.” Describing the record’s important concept, TheKenWord further notes that it is “built upon off-kilter riffs and one of the best-sounding productions of the year, Callous Indifference puts a magnifying lens against the ugliest side of mental illness, functioning as both an expression of personal trials and as an indictment of the research and treatment industry’s historical abuse of patients.” Uncomfortable subjects require uncomfortable examination and little this year was more discomforting than Headshrinker.1

#9. Mare Cognitum // Solar Paroxysm – [#2, #4, #6, #6, #HM] – Atmospheric black metal is usually the most dreary form of metal so it takes real quality to elevate it on to a list such as this. Cherd emphasizes the melodic qualities of Mare Cognitum, noting that its mastermind Jacub Buczarski “simply does atmospheric black metal better than just about anyone in the biz. Seemingly against genre conventions, his work is dense and exhilarating, with a melodic scope as vast as the cosmic themes he explores.” Meanwhile, Carcharodon explores Solar Paroxysm’s “dark, haunting beauty,” highlighting a “constantly shifting palette of atmospheric beauty and harsh extremity.” When records such as this exist, I’m reminded that long-form black metal can not only work, but excel. And just look at that exciting artwork!

#8. Plebeian Grandstand // Rien ne suffit – [#1, #2, #2, #ish] – A few minor reservations aside,2 Plebeian Grandstand’s Rien ne suffit represents some of the best-loved, but most challenging, music of 2021. Our Dear Hollow describes how “I’ve never engaged in a musical experience that transcended musical boundaries so precisely and so frighteningly… The world in which these Toulouse natives dwell is hellish, bastardizing and corrupting breeds of mathcore, black metal, sludge, powerviolence, and wild avant-garde sensibilities to create a devastatingly dark and unforgivingly godless environment.” Meanwhile, Kronos compared the album with Altar of Plagues, opining that “Rien ne Suffit blossoms from a similar symbiosis [of electronic and atmoblack], but one far more toxic: a stronger saprophyte at once invigorating and decaying Plebeian Grandstand’s caustic, hateful black metal with shrieking power electronics.” He concludes that “it’s the record the band formed to create.”

#7. Kauan // Ice Fleet – [#1, #3, #5, #8, #ish] – Metal is a genre which is generally characterized with maximalism. For example, through prominent guitars, harsh vocals, heavy rhythms and loud production. But Ice Fleet is painted with an entirely separate color palette. Sentynel artfully articulates that “Kauan deftly steer Ice Fleet through the perilous waters of minimalism via sheer elegance of composition. Beautiful quiet passages flow satisfyingly into bursts of heaviness no less beautiful.” I highlighted how it leverages “delicate synths, icy leads and plaintive vocals” in its post-rock and metal fusion, while Emya, granting her album o’ the year, describes how its “dense and radiantly sorrowful tones result in the most emotionally transportative record I’ve spent time with in 2021.” It’s a truly mesmerizing experience which deserves your undivided attention.

#6. First Fragment// Gloire Éternelle – [#1, #2, #4, #7, #HM] – Angry Metal Guy Himself‘s album o’ the year going to First Fragment’s Gloire Éternelle pulled it on to this aggregated list at the eleventh hour. And for good reason. It was for Him “hypnotic, beautiful and so much fun,” and so list-busting that He explains “the level of detail contained in Gloire Éternelle is so great that I’m not sure I could have written a reasonable review of the album using my standard methods.” In a year with so much awesome tech death, it isn’t shocking that Doom et Al runs a comparison: “Where Archspire is all distilled, focused energy, First Fragment is expansive and explorative. Where Bleed the Future is immediately accessible, Gloire Éternelle requires time and focus… once you really plug in, it may do something only a few albums ever achieve: change the way you understand music.” Gargantuan words for a gargantuan album.

#5. VOLA // Witness – [#1, #2, #4, #8, #10, #HM] – I am personally delighted to report on the collective enjoyment of this release; my list provides that “Witness sees Denmark’s VOLA firmly establishing themselves as one of the finest progressive metal bands in operation.” A common theme among its fans is its laser-focus on stellar song-writing. TheKenWord notes that it is “a near flawless collection songs that absolutely refuses to leave me alone,” while Saunders bestowed his top award on it, commenting that it is a “hugely infectious, unique and consistent batch of excellent proggy tuneage.” I delight in VOLA’s idiosyncratic approach and invention, wrapping unrelenting technicality in an angler’s cabin of hooks. And interestingly enough, compelling technicality features prominently on this list.

#4. Ad Nauseam // Imperative Imperceptible Impulse – [#1, #1, #4, #5, #HM] – I’ve noted in previous iterations of this article that our long-standing death metal nerds are always in agreement over at least 1 album. This remains true for 2021 as Ad Nauseam’s warped Imperative Imperceptible Impulse garnered top marks from both. Ferrous Beuller likens the record to a cypher; “one that endlessly draws me back as it begs to be unraveled. And with every encryption broken, I unlock more of this album’s endless facets… in years to come, don’t be surprised to find Ad Nauseam‘s current offering gilt with the recognition it deserves.” In true Kronos word-porn fashion, he concludes that “Ad Nauseam unbind black and death metal rulebooks and fold their pages into beautiful shapes, imparting a new dimensionality and logic without tearing away at the source material.” Artistic endeavor necessitates the exploration of boundaries and it seems Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is incredibly curious.

Album cover of the Record o' the Month for February 2021, a picture of an ethereal being in a cosmos#3. Iotunn // Access All Worlds – [#1, #1, #2, #5, #HM] – Iotunn’s Access All Worlds was an early-year favorite around these parts, and such love has endured until the year’s end. Much praise has been heaped on the mighty friend o’ the blog Jón Aldará and his mighty voice, with each list entry specifically highlighting this quality. Huck n’ Roll describes the record’s atypical but powerful “death/power/prog” style, while Doom et Al describes its “expansive, mesmerizing, gorgeous” effect. GardensTale wrote the review and imparted unto Iotunn his top spot, concluding that “Access All Worlds remains a galaxy-sized experience no one should miss, and it was absolutely the best thing the planet Earth produced during its latest solar revolution.” Creative, atmospheric and absolutely massive, this thing comes with our strong recommendation.

#2. Black Sites // Untrue – [#1, #4, #4, #5, #5, #HM, #HM] – There’s a lot to love with Black Sites and their newest record entitled Untrue. Saunders particularizes “the scorching guitar work [which] shines like a sparkling diamond, exploring progressive dimensions while ramping up their penchant for penning earworm choruses and glorious trad metal hooks.” It wasn’t just him that loved those choruses and hooks, as Huck n’ Roll also comments that “[Black Sites] click on all cylinders musically, but more importantly the song-writing is on point throughout.” He also commends how the songs “infuse plenty of references to the 70, 80s and 90s… while at the same time keeping everything fresh and modern.” Dr A.N. Grier finished his list by giving Untrue his top award, determining that “Untrue is beautifully balanced, and you’re doing yourself a disservice not listening to the album’s final bar.” You heard the man.

#1. Archspire // Bleed the Future – [#2, #2, #4, #5, #5, #5, #6, #6, #6, #8, #8, #8, #ish, #HM, #HM] – My introduction set all the context necessary but allow me to re-emphasize this point: Archspire’s awesome Bleed the Future destroyed its competition this year. It even did so despite not winning any record o’ the year picks at all, instead sweeping through the lists like Chlamydia on an Omicron surfboard. There is a sense that Bleed the Future had to meet certain expectations derived from Archspire’s last album. And how did it meet those expectations? According to Ferrous Beuller, by being “hyper precise, immeasurably heavy and with an ability to transcend genre preferences.” You want more reasons? Doom et Al draws some entertaining comparisons: “Like a gallon of jet fuel. With distilled moonshine. And five shots of espresso. Mixed with crystal meth. And cut with street tar.” But best of all? Our beloved Grymm cites the “honest-to-goodness hooks” which sit above everything else. Unlike most other tech death groups, Archspire know how to write actual songs. It’s this quality which consolidates their position atop our aggregated list.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Ageism is real. – Steel
  2. “Hey there Plebeian Grandstand fans! You’re elite and so very, very special! I want you all to know that I respect the fact that you are so much hipper than I am so very, very, very much! I see and affirm that you have true appreciation for undeniably elite music-making and I acknowledge that I am but a stupid person who doesn’t appreciate your true artistic tastes.” –Angry Metal Guy, 13 December 2021
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