Doom_et_Al’s and Dear Hollow’s Top Ten(ish) of 2021

Doom_et_Al

For healthcare workers, 2021 was a lot like 2020. Except where we got applause and plaudits in 2020, we got protests and threats in 2021. I was frequently trolled and harassed. One person was so enraged by my attempts to protect children from a novel pathogen that they searched me out, discovered I “reviewed for AMG,” and launched a tirade about how I was compromised and paid off in exchange for luxury cars from Mercedes-Benz… (Oh how I laughed). This kind of thing made 2021 exhausting and often very difficult, with burn-out a constant concern. Perhaps this explains why, despite numerous quality releases, I struggled a bit this year finding standouts. I was still listening to hours of music every week, but a lot of it seemed to blur into itself.

One thing that did remain constant was writing for the best metal blog on the Interwebz. If you don’t believe me, check the best-of lists on other sites. They’re absolutely dire. Whereas you’re about to be exposed to more top-quality music than you can shake an armored fist at. And perhaps that’s what sets us apart. The AMG team comes from all over the world, has completely differing politics and ideologies, and agrees on basically nothing, yet we’re able to pull together (with some gentle, er, “encouragement” from the Steely One) to bring you honest and insightful reviews of bands you would never have heard of. Even if you strongly disagree.

A few shout outs are needed. Firstly, the site is supported on the large shoulders and Steel and Madam X. It simply wouldn’t run without them. Steel pours his heart and soul into this place and doesn’t get enough plaudits. The Angry Overlord Himself doesn’t always agree with my takes on his beloved prog, but his knowledge of metal is encyclopedic and he will be back in a bigger role now that the PhD is sorted. We hope he will rediscover his love for atmoblack. My fellow writers are intimidatingly talented and extremely knowledgeable, even if their taste is questionable. They are also good, kind, knowledgeable people. Finally, the readers of this blog are engaged, interesting and supportive. It is, honestly, the best metal community on the internet. We value your readership and comments and we hope you all feel welcome. Most TYMHM come from your suggestions, so we often get as much from you as we hope you do from us. Thank you.

Without further ado, here are, in an exhausted pediatrician’s eyes, the best albums of 2021.


#(ish): Green Lung // Black Harvest – 2021 was not a great year for all things doom. As a result, this is the only doom album on my list. But what a belter it is! Fusing traditional doom with a decidedly 70s influence, you’ll become a believer the moment “The Harrowing” transitions into the killer riff of “Old Gods.” What follows is one banger after the next. Sure, there’s Sabbath worship. Sure, it’s not going to revolutionize your perspective on the genre. What it will do is provide so many killer riffs and righteous solos that your neck will need a brace for a week after you crank this on high.

#10: Misotheist // For the Glory of Your Redeemer – As a n00b, I was arguably too harsh on Misotheist’s promising debut. There was a creepy malevolence about it, which was evident among the unfocused meanderings. To their credit, these Norwegians tightened up and served a delicious follow-up dish of dissonant, chaotic, frightening black metal. What separates For the Glory of Your Redeemer from the pack is how the atmosphere and dissonance complement and expand each other. The scary part? Misotheist are still honing their sound. There’s room for improvement with LP3. If it’s as big an improvement over its predecessor as this one was, we’re in for an absolute monster…

#9: Glassing // Twin Dream – Like a restaurant specializing in off-cuts, Glassing takes the discarded bits from a host of genres and combines them into something palatable. What makes Twin Dream so unique is how, for the first time, it all sounds completely coherent. Melody and dissonance, heaviness and ethereal lightness, crushing bleakness and meditative thoughtfulness. It all comes together here, and the results are unlike anything else you’ve heard this year. Twin Dream is a weird dish, but you’d be a fool not to sample it.

#8: Spectral Wound // A Diabolic Thirst – Furious old-school black metal. But really furious. There is an intensity to A Diabolic Thirst that sets it apart from so many pretenders. The drums seem just a bit faster, the tremolos nimbler, the growls angrier. Everything about this album, including the excellent cover art, hearkens back to the second wave. Except, this doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a tin trashcan. There’s an intensity here that makes A Diabolic Thirst absolutely fly by. Top drawer black metal that stayed on rotation all year.

#7: First Fragment // Gloire Éternelle – It’s too long. It’s weirdly paced (it feels like it’s ending before it’s halfway). It’s exhausting. But, pound for pound, this is arguably the best tech-death release of the year. It’s also a perfect companion to Archspire’s Bleed the Future. 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. I initially did not appreciate the intricacies of what First Fragment have achieved here, because the album requires time and concentration. But once you really plug in, it may do something only a few albums ever achieve: change the way you understand music.

#6: Alustrium // A Monument to Silence – An almost perfect blend of prog-death and tech-death that seemed to get lost in the “First Fragment / Archspire” debate that dominated these halls. The best thing about A Monument to Silence is that it is relentlessly experimental without sacrificing any of the massive heaviness that an album like this needs to make its mark. That it manages to offer actual hooks and melody at the same time demonstrates what a quality album this is.

#5: Archspire // Bleed the Future – Like a gallon of jet fuel. With distilled moonshine.  And five shots of espresso. Mixed with crystal meth. And cut with street tar. Archspire decided to follow up Relentless Mutation with… Relentless Mutation turned to 11. While it may lack the “wow” factor of that release, the fact that Archspire could make it even more intense is extraordinary. Not sure how they top this one, but while they figure out, take another glorious hit.

#4: Mānbryne // Heilsweg: O udrece ciala i tulaczce duszy – One of the most underrated black metal releases of the year. Although Mānbryne have a bit of a weird name and share DNA with Blaze of Perdition, this is a different (and superior) beast. The real strength of Heilsweg is the quality of its compositions. When everything in black metal is so loud and fast, it’s easy to forget that music, like literature, tells a story, and that these stories need to build for the payoff to work. Heilsweg is a master stroke in how to expand songs towards a satisfying climax. And Mānbryne repeats the trick again and again over five glorious tracks. I never wanted it to end.

#3: Suffering Hour // The Cyclic Reckoning – Spidery, dazzling, experimental blackened death metal that managed to push the boundaries of the genre while actually making songs that can be enjoyed rather than just puzzled over. There is something restless and jittery about The Cyclic Reckoning that is utterly compelling. Whether a roving guitar, or an unexpected drum fill, this is an album that quietly improves upon every listen. And trust me, once it gets its hooks into you, you’ll be listening to it a lot.

#2: Mare Cognitum // Solar Paroxysm – Jacob Buczarski, the creator of Mare Cognitum, seems to be operating on a different level right now. I still listen to his amazing Spectral Lore collaboration, Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine. It was fascinating to see how each of those bands would follow such a high point up. While Spectral Lore went abstract, Mare Cognitum expanded beyond the distant stars. Solar Paroxysm is a near-perfect blend of atmosphere, riffs and melodies, that is both otherworldly and relatable. Mare Cognitum is creating near-perfect black metal right now, and it’s impossible to turn away.

#1: Iotunn // Access All Worlds – This one hurts a bit. When I first listened to Access All Worlds, I thought it sounded kinda lame. The vocals were hammy. The production didn’t do the drums any favours. I teased GardensTale about his breathlessly positive review and for getting it wrong by giving it a 4.0. Well, I’m still partially right: it’s not a 4.0. It’s higher. Expansive, mesmerizing, gorgeous, all beautifully linked by Jón Aldará’s brilliant vocal performance that brings to mind Mikael Åkerfeldt at times. There was nothing quite like this all year, and when I went back to see how many times I had listened to it, it was well over 30. Nothing else came close. Eating GardensTale humble pie sucks, but Access All Worlds rules.

Album cover of the Record o' the Month for February 2021, a picture of an ethereal being in a cosmos

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sunless // Ylem – Dissonant death metal is my jam and this is a wonderful example. Straddles the line between avant-garde and accessible. Spiky, experimental but compulsively listenable.
  • Stormkeep // Tales of Othertime – Super-fun, unpretentious, old-school black metal that is propelled by melody and energetic performances. Difficult to fully assess given its late release. May enter the top 10 in time.
  • Seth // La Morsure du Christ – Melodic black metal that packs a real punch thanks to an emotional delivery and an abundance of hooks. Flew under a lot of radars. Don’t let it fly under yours.
  • Be’Lakor // Coherence – Underrated melodeath from the best in the business. Epic, magisterial, unpredictable. Maybe not their best, but Be’Lakor in 4th gear is still better than everyone else in 5th.
  • Ancient Mastery // Chapter One: Across the Mountains of the Drämmarskol – Dungeon synth meets The Final Countdown while packing in real emotion. One of the biggest surprises of 2021.
  • Mortiferum // Preserved in Torment – Dingy, dirty death metal meets slow, melancholic doom. Like watching two glaciers collide. Mesmerizing.

Disappointment of the Year:

Deafheaven // Infinite Granite – There’s nothing wrong with bands radically altering their sound or exploring new avenues. But Deafheaven built a discography on making blackgaze accessible and emotional. The key point was the “black” in that sentence. The early albums hit as hard as they do because of the masterful juxtaposition of the ethereal and the ugly; fury and sadness. With Infinite Granite, the band all but abandoned the black metal that made those so impactful and we were left with shiny post-rock that, frankly, other bands do better. “Mombasa,” which hints at a return to the band’s strengths, gives tentative hope that this was a blip, not a permanent change.


Dear Hollow

We did it. We got through the end of 2021. With an apocalypse looming perpetually through the last year and a half, it’s been stressful, crazy, and devastating. But we hear you, and we see you. Speaking for all us overrating bastards and insufferably grumpy metal fans, we hope that your year has been one for the books in the best ways possible and that this holiday season fills your heart with love and your life with peace.

Speaking for myself, I was graced this year with the arrival of my first child, a little girl. My brother always told me “Babies are meant to break you—just let it happen.” Our Mini Hollow is finding new ways to challenge us, but her smile is always waiting at the end of a hard day to light up the room and sweep out the cobwebs of my cranky soul. Her first winter has been a little bit warmer for the Hollows, even if the thermometer reads otherwise.

Teaching has been a challenge this year, as the honeymoon phase of last year’s Covid-themed appreciation wore off. Students have been rowdier than ever, expecting once more that they will pass regardless of grades, with parents only fueling the outrage. Class sizes are at an all-time high. Teacher responsibilities aside from instruction are numerous and vast. It’s easy to think that I could be taking care of my daughter rather than dealing with their salty asses. Yet, at the end of the day, I can say that I’ve made deeper and stronger connections with some students than I ever have.

Otherwise, I have looted the productivity mines and found ways to add more reviews to my repertoire than I did last year. Done largely at school in work times to avoid talking to a student with no social skills whose entire identity revolves around extremely niche anime, I have completed a solid sixty-seven reviews in 2021. He looks at me to say something? Sorry dude, I’m typing—leave me alone. I’ve had a blast, and I can see my writing improving as a result.

A big thanks to the AMG family, and to Steel Druhm, Madam X, and the editorial squad for their patience and tolerance of our shenanigans. Thanks to Kronos for letting me do my best impression of him as I dove headfirst into the dissonant death metal realm, to my list-buddy Doom_et_Al, and to Diabolus in Muzaka for great conversation and being a sounding board for inaccessible music. While I appreciate all my colleagues for fatherhood support, a very special thank you to Carcharodon, Holdeneye, and Cherd, who have been instrumental in maneuvering some of the lowest lows and enjoying the highest highs of parenthood—thank you so much, guys.1

Before I can get sappier, onto the best music of 2021!


#(ish): Kauan // Ice FleetRussian collective Kauan is not only great for the music they make—they’re also great for the world they build. Just like 2015’s Sorni Na, Ice Fleet takes us to a bleak and forlorn ocean-worn world of death and stillness through its particular breed of frostbitten post-metal. Telling the story of a Russian cargo fleet lost in the arctic and discovered frozen in time, it truly feels like an environment to explore rather than a collection of head-bobbing tunes. Ice Fleet is a slow burn freeze and a grower, from the crashing waves of “Taitelo” to the placid waters of “Ote.” It’s one that unfolds its many secrets over many listens, and the frosty feel of this oceanic marvel will not soon be forgotten.

#10: Whitechapel // Kin Whitechapel needs little introduction, but their growth over the years has been stunning. Kin follows predecessor The Valley in its depiction of a troubled and violent childhood, but as the healing begins, it feels like a culmination, a reflection of what mattered most. Toss in a handful of prog-rock influences (“Lost Boy”) and a twangy shoutout to its birthing grounds (“Kin”) without ever sacrificing its cutthroat brutality, and this Nashville quintet has crafted one hell of a deathcore release. Its centerpiece is the heart-wrenching “Orphan,” a somber reflection of vocalist Phil Bozeman’s acceptance of his fractured family—the most vulnerable deathcore has ever been. Compared to The Valley, Kin is a heavier, sadder, more polished, and simply better continuation in which storytelling is given top priority.

#9: Pupil Slicer // MirrorsAbsolutely devastating mathcore by way of grind shreds the eardrums with frightening precision while elements of death and post-metal bludgeon and pummel, just like genre classics Calculating Infinity or Jane Doe did in their heyday. London trio Pupil Slicer offers chaos and brooding in equal measure with a desperate maniac behind the pulpit, but while tracks like “Stabbing Spiders” and “Save the Dream, Kill Your Friends” are absolutely unforgiving in their jagged, stabbing movements, “Husk” and “Collective Unconscious” offer an arrhythmic beating heart underneath the layers of noise and suffering. A debut of the highest caliber, and one whose maturity and depth promise a world of success and infamy in the years to come.

#8: Archspire // Bleed the FutureIt’s Archspire—I ain’t gotta explain shit. Our favorite tech-wielding bpm-abusers return with a release that stands up to the near-perfection of predecessor Relentless Mutation. It’s more of the same, sure, with some of the most brain-melting guitar and bass licks in the scene and the fastest sticksman in the business, with rapid-fire death growls commanding the brig, but c’mon, it’s Archspire. Letting their infectious personality shine through the ripping and excessive cuts like “Drone Corpse Avatar” and “A.U.M.,” while catchy riffs and intricate melodies dominate “Abandon the Linear” and “Drain of Incarnation.” Aside from a few acoustic interludes or introductions, your ears are on the fast-track to hell, baby, and damnation never felt so good.

#7: In Mourning // The Bleeding VeilI’ve been a long-time fan of Swedish melodeath act In Mourning. While undeniably similar to acts like Insomnium and Amorphis, my first experience in Monolith felt like a place to escape to, rather than just a collection of songs. While recent output has felt remedial at best, The Bleeding Veil finally feels like a homecoming, an absolutely potent blend of catchy riffs, infectious melodies, tasty vocal variety, and some blackened and post-y elements with an impeccable hold on songwriting. A return to the balance of Monolith with the listenability of Garden of Storms while holding to the ambition of The Weight of Oceans, it’s one of the best melodeath forays in recent memory.

#6: BIG|BRAVE // Vital – Perhaps the first drone album to shimmy its way up the ladder of year-end excellence, the Quebec trio fuses its drone-shudder with an inimitable attack of indie female vocals, making BIG|BRAVE one of the most unique acts to grace the drone scene. Vital, furthermore, makes the best use of its Sunn O))) plods and crystalline vocals to create an album that, for all its slowness, is absolutely devastating in the best ways. Using repeated melodies and hypnotizing riffs emphasized by Robin Wattie’s manic vocals, ranging from unsettling croon to insane shriek, it’s undeniably crushing and desperately heavy. As brutal as a car crash in slow motion, but just as captivatingly beautiful in the way it churns and heaves patiently, Vital shows the band at its best.

#5: Black Sheep Wall // Songs for the Enamel Queen – While existing as a strange fusion of sludge, post-metal, and post-hardcore and so much more, California’s Black Sheep Wall does so with pinpoint songwriting, allowing its slew of influences to move freely amid the concrete-thick slogs. Jazz, mathcore, and death metal weave into passages of placidity, spiraling post-hardcore riffs, and nearly drone-esque, down-tuned slogs in the name of nihilism and despair. From the twisty “New Measures of Failure,” the off-kilter rhythms of “Concrete God,” the noir sludge epic “Ren,” to the crushing riffs of “Mr. Gone,” it’s an album that hemorrhages misanthropy and chaos in the depiction of a failing relationship and the ensuing emptiness. Gritty, violent, and misanthropic, it is a brutal and desperate attempt to fill a “human-shaped hole,” exploring every musical avenue of suffering and coping.

#4: Adjy // The Idyll Opus (I-VI) – The only non-metal album to hit my top ten, Adjy’s debut and epic story is truly worthy of its title. Featuring fifteen tracks and nearly one-hundred minutes of content, it’s a doozy for one sitting, but its cinematic quality sets it apart. Utilizing an oddly infectious blend of emo, bluegrass, indie pop, post-rock, neo-classical, and screamo in its different ways, it tells the love story of teenagers June and July—ill-fated due to their absolutely opposite qualities—whose chronicle is utilized by a grieving alchemist to revive a dead twin. Repeated melodic motifs grace the six-part “Where June Meets July” saga, while screamo grants “The Farmland and the Forest’s Edge” and “Lake Adeyoha” a frantic edge. Finally, seventeen-minute closer “Eve Beneath the Maple Tree” showcases a beautiful end to July’s beautiful life as summer’s innocence draws to a close. Intricate layers of melody, soaring choruses, and post-rock dynamics allow this album to transcend its genre trappings to tell a complex story with stunning triumph.

#3: Glassing // Twin DreamSpotted Horse still haunts me. The Texas natives’ sophomore effort, which felt like an actualization of its debut, never settled nicely into a tangible score. But Twin Dream amps everything up, and deserves a hot spot on lists everywhere. Revamping its attack into a more balanced blend of post-metal, sludge, post-rock, noise rock, and post-hardcore (and a few kitchen sinks), it foregoes mathy chaos for a brooding breed of devastation that dwells neatly between bleak and beautiful. Glassing absolutely outdoes itself and overcomes all stumbling blocks for a two-part tour-de-force of bleak devastation and crystalline precision. While its closing act ends abruptly, the content is so good here, I’m willing to overlook it. Welcome, Glassing, to the spot you deserve.

#2: Portal // AvowAvow is an odd beast, one that has changed since its May release. While not as scathing or perhaps as iconic as ION, it settles comfortably in the crevices and trenches of my soul like a blade between vertebrae. The kings of the lurching and shuddering riff have perfected their art, as tracks like “Catafalque” and “Manor of Speaking” shred the soul aptly with patience and precision in the name of Lovecraftian madness. Speaking from the altar of a nameless god, the Curator spews his curse upon waiting ears, while his dreary band of misfits stew horrifically in the shadows. What’s gripping about Portal here is that instead of the muddy opaqueness of Outre or the cold mechanical quality of ION, there’s a tangible warmth about Avow, a humidity that feels like the shuddering breath of a horrific confession. Portal crawls and squirms with insectoid pace, allowing its brutality to linger—the goal being for us to go mad.

#1: Plebeian Grandstand // Rien ne Suffit – I’ve never engaged in a musical experience that transcended musical boundaries so precisely and so frighteningly. I’ve always unfairly associated French juggernaut Plebeian Grandstand with senseless grindy powerviolence, allowing me to write off previous outings False Highs, True Lows and Lowgazers as just Man is the Bastard or Weekend Nachos fodder. But with Rien ne Suffit, nothing is indeed enough, causing a double-take on my part that nearly broke my neck. 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, full of wailing and gnashing of teeth as the oily tide ebbs with gurgling and disintegration. As impressive as it is evocative, Plebeian Grandstand showcases absolute mastery of its songwriting, moving as fluidly as water between passages of pulverizing density and spazzing dissonance that always laughs at insanity while simultaneously alienating and caressing its audience. Nothing is indeed enough, because this particular breed of nothing has teeth.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Blindfolded and Led to the Woods // Nightmare Withdrawals – Dissonant progressive death metal with a penchant for groove? Hell yes. Balancing highlights and riffs with prog-death patience, ominous placidity, dissonant overlays, and above all, otherworldly atmosphere, this debut, if nothing else, promises a world of success for its creators.
  • Frontierer // Oxidized – I trash Plasmodium for their ear-rape, but include the mathcore kings of tinnitus? I’m aware I’m a hypocrite, but when Frontierer is as obscenely obnoxious as they are, fused with a newfound sense of sludgy contemplation, I can’t say no.
  • Suffering Hour // The Cyclic Reckoning – This one was a grower, as multiple listens and Doom_et_Al‘s persuasion was instrumental in it. Off-kilter melodies, otherworldly dissonance, and a nice post-metal meandering quality, it’s an album whose bizarreness and modulating tones keep me coming back for more.
  • The Temple // The Temple – Blackened Ulcerate with less tech and more doom, this filthy debut is just as dissonant with more atmosphere to offer. As patient as its mother project with a tantalizing simplicity, The Temple has potential to be just as devastating.
  • Sermon of Flames // I Have Seen the Light, and It Was Repulsive – Although blatantly inconsistent and consisting of oft-maligned influences, Irish duo Sermon of Flames nonetheless offers the suffocating soundtrack of a crisis of faith. Spitting at the skies in blasphemy while lamenting man’s frailty with as much grace as a bull in a china shop, it’s a messy barrage of devastation that’s endlessly fascinating and curiously infectious.

Disappointments o’ the Year:

  • Plasmodium // Towers of Silence – Not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, and the ambition is admirable, but when it’s physically painful to listen to your breed of cosmic black/death, reevaluate your approach.
  • My expectations – I had way too lofty expectations for Neptunian Maximalism (and friends ZaäarWolvennestSol Kia, and Ôros Kaù) after Éons and The Ruins of Beverast after “The Grand Pulse Nebula.” I expected nothing too much, and I was still disappointed.

Surprises o’ the Year:

  • Sunless // Ylem – Fantastic album, but diaper changes have never been so easy—my daughter loved it.
  • Upir // Effigy for the Fiercest Frost – Shadows Dance in the Fires of Yule – a surprise Paysage d’Hiver’s Winterkälte-inspired debut full-length from one of the unsung kings of raw black metal? Yes please. Somber, ghostly, and raw all at once.
  • So Hideous // None But a Pure Heart Can Sing Comment Section – how many people are choosing this particular hill to die upon?

Songs o’ the Year

  • Glassing – “Godless Night”
  • Whitechapel – “I Will Find You”
  • Plebeian Grandstand – “À droite du démiurge, à gauche du néant”
  • Sermon of Flames – “Chords Wrung from the Ribs of Earth”
  • Pupil Slicer – “Husk”
  • Adjy – “In Medias Res (Between Longing and Mystery)”
  • Frontierer– “Death /”
  • Vertebra Atlantis – “Altopiano Celeste”
  • Devil Sold His Soul– “Witness Marks”

Show 1 footnote

  1. You are so welcome. Love you, my brother! – Holdeneye
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