Kronos’ and Grymm’s Top Ten(ish) of 2021

Kronos

I didn’t listen to the album you recommended me. It’s not that I didn’t expect to like it or because I don’t value your opinion. I Just didn’t listen to it. I haven’t listened to much at all this year. AMG will happily tell you how taxing a PhD is, and even with the leisurely approach I take to mine it’s a constant pressure, one only intensified by the austerity pushed on university workers. So the time I would usually spend writing about 15 bland death metal albums instead went to organizing. I played a bit role in the struggle for relief from that austerity, a more than 10,000 worker effort that has played out for more than a year and a half. It’s been incredibly rewarding to get my colleagues on board, collect cards, flex our power, and win recognition. The fight continues, and if recent history is any indicator, I’ll be back out organizing a strike in the next year. That means less time to write, but I don’t mind; the experience of solidarity is far more powerful than anything you’ll find on this list.

Given my lack of attention to music, how, you may ask, can my Top Ten(ish) Records™ be trusted to be the true, definitive document of musical excellence for the year 2021? Simple: I am the universe’s sole arbiter of such things, and, therefore, know better than you. You are but a faceless internet commenter; I am a godlike Content Creator, an immaculate Thought Leader whose word damns or reifies, molding the psycho-acoustic landscape as a tectonic force.

Plus, you probably already know what I’m going to say. So here’s a predictable top five, plus five(ish) other records you haven’t read my opinion on already. If you like that, I’ll stick around writing here so long as you promise to unionize your workplace. Deal?


#ish. Still // { } – I certainly don’t begrudge Plebeian Grandstand for going on to make music that isn’t just like Lowgazers, but you’d never catch me saying the world can’t use more of the stuff. Still aim to please, setting Lowagzers’ churning, arpeggiated grooves alongside the Deathwish-style Euro-hardcore of Birds in Row. At times, the band veer almost into quotation, but never without reason. If anyone’s going to fully pick up the Lowgazers sound and run with it, I hope it’s Still.

#10. Demoniac // So it Goes – Every few years, someone makes a good thrash record. Like, really good. So it Goes is just that, joining relentless, white-knuckle thrash with pensive, progressive song structures and some quite lovely clarinet work. Its dynamic songs capture the best features of thrash without falling into nostalgia, securing Demoniac an early spot on this list. So it Goes probably should have ranked higher, but I sent El Cuervo my picks late enough already. If you haven’t spun this since February, give it another go.

#9. Рожь // Вечное – Ever attentive to bandcamp buzz, our Kenny shared Вечное at the Angry Metal Guy bilge cooler shortly after its release, and I fell for it immediately. True to the Bergtatt spirit, Вечное‘s autumnal atmoblack manifests an acute sense of place, one far away and frozen in mournful stillness. Yet it’s not the atmoblack, but the loamy death-doom that contrasts it, that makes the record so remarkable and successful. While it’s simple—almost minimalist—in construction, Вечное transmits a depth of feeling that’s hard to shake.

#8. Vertebra Atlantis // Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss – Murky, cosmicist death metal can be hit or miss; Lustral Whatever etc. is the former. Adventurous and transportative, Vertebra Atlantis’ debut sounds like Tomb Mold astrally projecting out to the labyrinth constellation, swirling through strange, spooky dimensions as they travel. Of the 80% of albums Dear Hollow and I agree on, this is one of the best, a treat for fans of progressive death metal as much as for caverncore cape-men. Plenty of bands try to make records like this; Vertebra Atlantis are one of the few to really pull it off.

#7. Glassing // Twin DreamGlassing‘s latest is just as stunning as their last, making it an easy addition to the Dear Hollow section of my list. I don’t know what to say about this record that he didn’t already, so I’ll just repeat some of it. Glassing make some of the most unique music in metal, and their records are as meticulously constructed as they are tender and raw, executing the contradictory impulses of Deafheaven within a broader context including hardcore and even death-doom. Twin Dream dials down the mathcore influence that drew me in to Spotted Horse but is nevertheless a unique and captivating post-metal record.

#6. Lorem Ipsum // Vivre Encore – Intimate, beautiful, and heartbreaking, Vivre Encore’s lush chamber instrumentation is completed by ragged screams. One might suspect a screamo record performed by a trio of piano, violin, and acoustic guitar would be predictable or maudlin, re-tracing post-hardcore tropes with different tones; Vivre Encore is anything but. The trio’s arrangements are creative and deeply interwoven, the songs gripping. “Damoclès” and “Sergeï” smolder with anxiety, while “Andrée” and “Patrick” drown in grief, each structured and played with distinct personhood. A record without drums or electric guitars has never featured so highly among my favorites, but I’ve never heard one speak like Vivre Encore.

#5. The Armed // Ultrapop – I’ll admit that part of my motivation in covering Ultrapop here was just to rile up the commenters that I don’t like. It’s cheap, but there’s a real thrill to seeing someone create an account just to whinge about my audacity in featuring an album with pop aesthetics and a Black guy on the cover. But my major interest in Ultrapop is, of course, the music. The Armed’s attempted fusion of hardcore and maximalist pop sputtered on Only Love, but absolutely glows on Ultrapop, proving the collective’s abilities once again matched their ambition.

#4. Replicant // Malignant Reality I didn’t hit the gym much this fall, but if I had, Malignant Reality would have been there with me. Shrewdly composed yet full of bludgeoning hooks, Malignant Reality remixes the best of late ‘90s death metal into a singular brutality that’s fresh 20 years down the line. Pete Lloyd’s guitar work is bizarre and addicting but never overpowers his bandmates, who bulldoze the record’s massive grooves. Released from the OSDM mindset, Replicant are making a new kind of death metal, but one still burly, belligerent, and nasty as hell.

#3. Archspire // Bleed the Future – What’s not to like? The mastering, perhaps. The answering machine gag, I guess? But that’s about it. Bleed the Future is a compilation of the eight most fun songs released in 2021, salting Archspire’s ever catchy, ever incredible tech-death with little grains of Dillenger-level rhythmic flair. The modulating turn-around in “Golden Mouth of Ruin” still puts a grin on my face every time I hear it. My only real worry is whether it’s medically safe for the band to top Bleed the Future in the next record. Hey, I’m not a doctor; give it a shot, boys!

#2. Plebeian Grandstand // Rien ne Suffit – Many noted Rien ne Suffit’s similarity to Teethed Glory and Injury, and it’s an apt comparison. Electronic hyphae fed the roots of Altar of Plagues’ final record, fruiting in rare and luminous shapes from the band’s atmoblack base. Rien ne Suffit blossoms from a similar symbiosis, but one far more toxic: a stronger saprophyte at once invigorating and decaying Plebeian Grandstand’s caustic, hateful black metal with shrieking power electronics. It’s the record the band formed to create.

#1. Ad Nauseam // Imperative Imperceptible Impulse – Big surprise, huh? Like Rien ne Suffit, III is a love-it or leave-it album. But it has slowly moved skeptics from the latter to the former category. That so many commenters and even staff initially rebuffed by III’s extremity have come around to the record is a testament to its genius. 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.

Honorable Mentions:

Emma Ruth Rundle // Engine of Hell

Frontierer // Oxidized

Black Sites // Untrue

1914 // Where Fear and Weapons Meet

Disappointments o’ the Year:

I’ve been debating whether to include this section, so if you’re seeing it I either made up my mind or turned in a draft to Steel under time duress.

Genghis Tron // Dream WeaponBoard up the House is one of my favorite records, and I didn’t expect a follow-up to overtake it, especially without Mookie Singerman. Yet I was shocked by just how pale Dream Weapon turned out to be.

Phrenelith // Chimaera – Half of the record is re-recorded material that wasn’t good enough to make Desolate Endscape, the other half is filler. A huge miss for a band whose last LP was one of best OSDM records ever recorded.

Best Thing I Missed in 2020: Melted Bodies // Enjoy Yourself – I listened to Enjoy Yourself more than any other record this year. Melted Bodies’ sardonic seapunk thrash fights absurdity with absurdity, sneering at the worst depredations of American capitalism and pantomiming the most nauseating consumer culture. Enjoy Yourself is one of the most fascinating and artistically successful records I’ve heard in years, and should have featured high on my 2020 list.

Song o’ the Year:

Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse


Grymm

So, here we are again. Another year is wrapping up, and many people are scrambling to either buy gifts for their loved ones, or they (like me) are scrambling to fulfill orders purchased by said people who are scrambling to buy gifts for said loved ones. Meanwhile, in the magical, mystical world of heavy metal writing, everyone’s getting their lists together, and there are usually no surprises when it comes to who makes it on top, who’s doing their best to make record labels happy, and whatnot. Needless to say, I approach list season with the same amount of energy that I do for American Thanksgiving: hardly any excitement at all, and even a bit of massive headshaking WTF-dom. You look at all the major publications and websites, and the element of surprise is just gone. Completely.

Now, it may come to no one’s surprise that my list doesn’t share many similarities with the major websites. Hell, most of the time, my lists don’t share similarities with my co-writers here at Angry Metal Guy. And you know what? I’m okay with that, especially when it comes to the latter. Behind the scenes, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that my teammates are sincere in their choices. They always are, and if you were to peek behind the curtains and see the sheer excitement in their typing and faces when they talk about a new album they enjoy, you’d have no doubts at all either about their collective sincerity and integrity. That’s what list season should be… a celebration of bands and albums that tripped their triggers and put a much-needed smile on their faces and in their hearts during a time when the world is figuratively (and in some cases, literally) going to shit around them.

Which brings me to my list. Thankfully, I’m aware that this is a rare occurrence here at Angry Metal Guy Headquartersbut there is a vocal minority that is going to look at my list and complain about my choices, especially at the top spot. Here’s the thing, though, and it needs to be said. Ready? I don’t care. Between losing my older brother three years ago to a wonderful combination of manic depression and a short-but-severe illness, my work schedule being insane for the better part of the last two-and-a-half-years, and me battling a really bad case of bacterial pneumonia in October, the amount of fucks I have for pettiness and edgelord-level commentary is about to hit the negatives. Oh, and there are still bands, musicians, and people that want to see people like me not exist in metal (or in general), but for some reason, I’m supposed to be okay with it all and wholeheartedly accepting of it, according to some of you. All this while actively seeing a therapist to keep my own mental health in check, and doing everything I can to improve mentally and emotionally. In other words, my list is not only what I feel was incredible music, but it’s all incredible music that made me happy. I’m entitled to that joy, and no amount of complaining is going to take that joy away from me, so don’t waste the energy in typing out your grievances because I honestly don’t fucking care.

I’m not Decibel. I’m not Metal Temple. I’m not Metal Injection nor MetalSucks.1 I am Grymm, and this is what makes me happy. Whether it does with you or not is solely on you and you alone.

Giant shout-out to my friends, local and abroad, as well as my therapist for keeping me sane over the last three years. To my surviving family, for understanding why I’m not always social or around, but realizing that I’ll drop everything for them in a heartbeat, and they’d do the same in kind. To my listmate, Kronos, for bringing the brutality while also bringing the humor and insanely good writing. To my fellow co-writers and editors at Angry Metal Guyfor not only being phenomenal writers, but also being amazing people and friends who have been beyond patient and understanding with my lateness, lack of energy, and complete frustration with metal and the world in general. To my partner of 12 years, for the love, support, and companionship.

And finally, to you the reader, for the wit, the comments, the constructive criticisms, the jokes, the recommendations that quickly become new favorites, and above all for your continued readership and support during an awful time in everyone’s lives. I’m not kidding when I say you all make this worth it.

Onward…


#ish. Archspire // Bleed the Future – It’s been years since I’ve been impressed by technical death metal, as many bands and musicians seem happy to just go up and down various time changes, modal shifts, and blazing-fast chromatic runs. Archspire, on the other hand, wrote songs. Remember those, kids? There are some honest-to-goodness hooks on this thing, all while still impressing everyone with their chops, and that includes their ultra-talented vocalist. More tech death like this would win my old, hairy ass back in this genre’s favor.

#10. Churchburn // Genocidal Rite – Blackened doom metal is not something I get nearly enough of, as it takes a skilled hand to get the combination of frigid atmosphere and crushing weight just right. Former Vital Remains alumni Dave Suzuki possesses such a hand, and he and his bandmates crafted an incredible tribute to Suzuki’s father while laying waste to everything around them. Speaking of tributes…

#9. Yashira  // Fail To BeTalk about bouncing back after a massive loss. Jacksonville’s Yashira were riding high on incredible (and well-earned) word of mouth from their live shows and their debut, Shrine, when drummer Seth Howard tragically died at the end of 2018. They could have understandably called it quits, but instead, they honored his memory by continuing to bludgeon like there’s no tomorrow. And yes, I know it came out the tail end of 2020. I’ve done this before.

#8. Oryx // Lamenting a Dead World – A grower in the truest sense of the word, Lamenting a Dead World requires a certain headspace and some time to yourself to let things manifest and develop. On cursory listens, it’s enjoyably heavy and heady. Deeper listens definitely reveal so much more, with melodies weaving in and out before taking residence in your head long after the album’s played out. Oh, and “Oblivion”. That’s some good shit right there.

#7. Headshrinker // Callous Indifference – The only reason this didn’t score higher is that I just got around to listening to it more since its release in August, but this is scratching that Anaal Nathrakh/Voices2 itch nicely, but putting their own creative spin on it on top of all the insanity that’s already present. How the fuck these guys are unsigned is anybody’s guess, but I hope it’s not for too much longer.

#6. Praise the Plague // The Obsidian Gate – Black metal and Russian Circles pairs so, so well together; Praise the Plague revealed that little factoid earlier this year. Plainly put, The Obsidian Gate is flat-out fucking nasty. No amount of Orbit gum is gonna wash the filth away from you after listening to this, no matter how minty fresh you become, and honestly, do you really want it to?

#5. Polemicist // Return of the Sophist – Sure, say whatever you want about the album cover, but Pennsylvania’s Polemicist didn’t come to play. Okay, they did play. They played, shredded, and riffed their hearts out on their second album, taking the promise shown on their debut, Zarathustrian Impressions, and running absolutely apeshit with it. When live shows become a thing again, don’t miss this band when they come to your town, damnit.

#4. 1914 // Where Fear and Weapons Meet – How I’ve been worshipping at the Vainaja temple while not hearing a single note from these Ukrainian war historians until this year is beyond me, but I’m glad that I finally got around to giving 1914 a shot because hoooooo-boyWhere Fear and Weapons Meet is massive, crushing, and at times heartbreaking. Also, the most brutal version of “The Green Fields of France” I have ever laid ears upon.

#3. Sepulcros // Vazio – Speaking of massive, Portugal’s Sepulcros flipped funeral doom on its mopey cranium by way of their terrifying debut. Alternating between a lurching, uncomfortable crawl to well-timed and ultra-potent blasts of tremolo fury and furious double-bass footwork, Vazio presents a master class in setting up a frightening atmosphere that doesn’t so much say “mournful sorrow and despair” as it does “something wants to kill you and you will die slowly and painfully.” Keep an eye out.

#2. Zao // The Crimson Corridor – After almost 30 years of existence, you’d be forgiven if you thought that Zao didn’t have anything in the tank after such a long period of time as a band. You’d also be forgiven if you thought their best years were well behind them. But The Crimson Corridor not only ranks at the least Zao-sounding album in their catalog, but it’s also easily one of the best they’ve released thus far, tempering their classic metalcore sound with brave (and excellent) excursions into post-metal and sludge. When a classic band goes much, much heavier than their earlier stages, I’m all over it, and The Crimson Corridor is uncompromisingly heavy.

#1. Impure Wilhelmina // Antidote – And commence the whinging. This probably won’t be on anyone else’s list, here or elsewhere. This isn’t brutal, technical, “slappy,” or whatever buzzword is being thrown about these days. And some of you were incredibly vocal and unhappy3 about the rating I gave this months ago. But guess what? A) Re-read my introduction, and B) I’m still playing this album 3 times a week, finding new nuances and little things I didn’t pick up at the time of the review, all while singing my ass off to the various choruses peppered throughout. Add to all that the sheer fact that my favorite tracks on the album rotate constantly, and you’ve got an album that I still proudly “have the balls” to give a 5.0 to, fuck you very much.

Honorable Mentions

  • Mourners // Act I: Tragedies – Daniel Neagoe’s logical continuation of Eye of Solitude sees him going back to what made that band special. Here’s hoping that he retains his focus and refrains from making another 500 or so funeral doom bands, because what’s here is amazing.
  • Narakah // Blast Haven – Because we all need some top-shelf grind in our lives, and what better way to get it than an incredibly young and hungry band that’s already turning some heads?
  • Our Place of Worship is Silence // Disavowed, and Left Hopeless – This powerhouse duo keeps getting uglier and uglier with each subsequent release, and I can’t fucking wait to see what’s next for these guys.

Disappointments o’ the Year

  • Iron Maiden // Senjutsu – This one, though not unexpected, still hurts. I grew up on Iron Maiden. They were my first real metal experience, and “Wasted Years” will forever have a residence in my heart. But somehow, they managed to craft an album that was simultaneously bloated and anemic. After listening to the whole thing once, I can comfortably say that there’s not a moment on Senjutsu that’s got me begging to return to it, and you don’t know how much that kills me on the inside.

Ya know what? I’m looking at my other disappointments (and there are a few), and I realized that “disappointment” isn’t an apt descriptor for what they’ve done this year, so I’m gonna call these exactly as they should be called. Ya ready? Here goes…

Worst Shittiness o’ the Year

  • Gloryhammer – I’ve never cared for these guys, I’m just gonna say that upfront, but a lot of my fellow AMG scribes adored them. That said, no one was prepared to see just how absolutely shitty Chris Bowes and company actually are behind the scenes, and I do mean shitty. Fuck these guys forever.
  • Jon Schaffer – Hey, remember back in the day, around the time September 11th happened, that Jon said he would personally fight anyone who would pose a threat to American democracy? Man, have times changed. And it’s fucking adorable that there are people who are praising their favorite storm-riding idiot for his convictions and willingness to sacrifice himself “for the cause”… only he realized it was a boo-boo because of the consequences, and he, in fact, possesses a singing voice on par with (if not far better than) Tekashi 6ix9ine. Besides fucking things up for his bandmates in Iced Earth and Demons & Wizards, dude’s gone full-on elephant’s foot, where just about nobody wants anything to do with him. Well, there goes the idea of Night of the Stormrider being remade for the umpteenth time.
  • Metal Injection – Once upon a time in 2013, before I started writing for AMG, I wrote for a local gaming website.4 I was set to review the PS3 version of Diablo III, and even took a half-day off work, drove clear across Jacksonville to buy a copy of it on the day of release, and spent the day playing it to get a review out. Our “editor” asked me how it was, and I told him that, while fun, there were some crippling flaws that needed to be pointed out. The very next day, I hopped online, navigated to the website, and noticed a 200-word “review” of Diablo III for the PS3, saying how flawless and breathtaking it was. This was after taking time off from work and spending money I didn’t have on a copy of the game. Needless to say, I told the “editor” to go fuck himself, and the rest is history. Fast-forward to 2021, and Metal Injection goes live with a review of Trivium‘s In the Court of the Dragon, featuring a bunch of flowery, fluffy nonsense that would make Metal Temple blush. Which is all fine and dandy… except Metal Injection already put up a review of the same album just a day beforehand, and it was not pretty.5 So, instead of offering a counterpoint, Metal Injection decided to just pretend that Necrosexual’s review never existed. As someone who’s lost time and money because of actions like this, I can honestly say, without hesitance, that Metal Injection could have (and should have) given a second opinion instead of going the toothless route. This bullshit is on par with their Blast Beat Media sibling, Metalsucks. Which reminds me…
  • Metalsucks – Ever have that friend that goes so far out of his/her way to act like a complete edgelord, and in doing so, they later apologize for their actions, promising to do better next time, only to do much worse time and again? Well, Metalsucks are forever that aforementioned “friend.” Sure, they have a history of this, but outing the cause of death of Power Trip frontman Riley Gale, easily one of the most beloved human beings in hardcore, thrash, and the metal scene as a collective whole, without the knowledge or consent of his family, friends, and bandmates, is the ultimate level of shittiness. Sure, we’ve all come to expect tabloid-level garbage from MS, but this is a new low that I didn’t even think they would cower to, and I cringe at the idea of how much lower Vince and Axl will go the next time they pull a stunt like this and knowing their history, there will most certainly be a next time.

Songs o’ the Year

  1. Impure Wilhelmina – “Gravel” – One of the best sing-along choruses I’ve heard in quite some time, and so damn catchy and enjoyable.
  2. Zao – “Into the Jaws of Dread” – It’s not often that an instrumental opener hits me this hard, but for a song with a menacing title, the actual music contained sounds almost borderline uplifting, all while being unflinchingly heavy.
  3. Zao – “Croatoan” – Speaking of heavy… Zao-gone-sludge was not something I ever expected, but I welcome it full-heartedly.
  4. Sepulcros – “Magno Caos” – Lurching, destructive, ominous… incredible song from a promising new band.
  5. Impure Wilhelmina – “Vicious” – More hooks, another incredible sing-along chorus, and another strong Song o’ the Year candidate.
  6. 1914 – “…And a Cross Now Marks His Place” – A massive outing, especially following the downtrodden “Coward” immediately afterward.
  7. Yashira – “Shards of Heaven” – A blistering comeback from tragedy if there ever was one.
  8. Zao – “Ship of Theseus” – One of the best self-referential pieces of music out there, and classic Zao to boot.
  9. Impure Wilhelmina – “Everything Is Vain” – The best Paradise Lost song that Paradise Lost never wrote.
  10. Oryx – “Oblivion” – The second half is sheer doom bliss.

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Thank fucking god in the case of both of those.
  2. Speaking of, I just got their fourth album, Breaking the Trauma Bond, literally yesterday.
  3. Read: Childishly douche-y.
  4. Don’t bother looking it up, as it’s no longer available online, and the webmaster/”editor” sucked not only at his job, but as a person.
  5. To be fair, though, if you’re given a review of an album from a band you hate, don’t review the damn thing. Period.
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