Record(s) o’ the Month – November 2021

October and November can, without a doubt, be said to have saved 2021 for me. After last month’s pile of elite records, it was hard to imagine that November could be better. But two big things happened in November: 1) I successfully defended my PhD thesis, thus finally making me Dr. Angry Metal Guy;1 and 2) the rest of the big releases for 2021 dropped hard, fast, and unforgettably. I do not remember a month this teeming with potential R(s)otM in the history of I know the comments section will be aflame with dissension and I welcome it.2 Because, in actuality, if the thing we’re arguing about is which of the epic pile of great and excellent records were released in a single month, I can’t help but feel satisfied. That you’re all wrong in your dissent just makes everything feel a little bit sweeter.

Obscura - A Valediction cover art

Ironically, of all the albums I could have chosen to feature, I think that Obscura’s A Valediction will be the most controversial. and yet, I think it’s almost incontrovertible because of what A Valediction means for Obscura and for metal going forward. A Valediction is far from the most technically impressive thing that Obscura has accomplished—which is saying something, since it’s technically stunning—but the album represents a watershed moment for Obscura. A Valediction is vital, fun, and accessible, maybe even presenting the tech death equivalent of the Rush Ratio. It sports the perfect balance between catchy and melodic, while peppering a well-trodden formula with novelties and mind blowing skill. Maybe I’m wrong and A Valediction won’t be the album that breaks Obscura wide open, but I think this record will vastly increase the band’s reach. Older fans who want something else are—as usual—vocal about their displeasure and I get it. But our thirst for more progressive tech will be quenched by new post-Obscura death metal records from both Alkaloid and Obsidious in 2022. So, rather than focusing on what it isn’t, I recommend that we all lean back and just enjoy this embarrassment of riches. Obscura’s A Valediction is simply excellent and that’s hard to deny.

R(s)otM from Alternate Timelines

Diablo Swing Orchestra // Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole [November 5, 2021 – Candlelight Records] — DSO is among the most unique active metal or metal-adjacent bands.3 Every time they release an album it feels like a celebration of their quirky, but immensely entertaining, vision. And 45 listens later, I can tell you that Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole is clearly one of the best albums of 2021. These riotous Swedes have leaned into the unique vocal talents of Kristin Evegård and the result is the band’s most diverse record yet. Aside from totally justified and not simply “matter of taste” concerns about the album’s production, Swagger & Stroll swaggers and strolls right into the band’s discography and stands as tall as anything else these artsy dorks have accomplished. Our own Twelve, unused to such tasty fare falling into his lap, took the chance to gush uncontrollably over the album. “Diablo Swing Orchestra are simply too ambitious, too creative, and too talented for me to capture what makes them special. Every time you think you have a handle on this album, it finds a new way to surprise, a new idea to pull, a new style to try. This album shows that DSO is still very much at the top of its game.”

Aephanemer // A Dream of Wilderness [November 19, 2021 – Napalm Records] — It’s interesting how taste can split fans about specific aspects of a band’s discography even when they love the same band. Take myself and not-actually-a-Dr. Wvrm. We both love Aephanemer, but whereas he slathered his adoration all over their previous album Prokopton, I found A Dream of Wilderness to be the superior record. A Dream of Wilderness is a tight neoclassical album that finds these melodic death maestros crafting beautiful songs that quench a thirst I didn’t know I had with a sound that lands in the hinterlands between Fleshgod Apocalypse, Turisas, Mors Principium Est, and First Fragment. There’s something undeniably classy and remarkably fun about A Dream of Wilderness and it has kept me coming back again and again. And while not-actually-a-Dr. Wvrm was a bit more equivocal than I was in his assessment, he ultimately saw the light, arguing that A Dream of Wilderness is “a comprehensive melodeath tour de force that not only resists a post-peak drop-off but a post-signing swoon, as well. That’s as important a step as any in the band’s development, and it comes packed into a hell of a fun listen to boot. So in the end, nothing has changed. Aephanemer were — and are — one of my favorite bands; they should be one of yours too.” Bonus points for the surreal boar, some of my favorite art of the year and a killer bass performance from Lucie Woaye Hune that has not received enough attention.

Black Soul Horde // Horrors from the Void [November 10, 2021 – Vinyl Store] — Weirdly, this has not been my year when it comes to finding power and prog albums to love. And, as with most trad metal heavily touted by the likes of Steel Druhm and 4.0ldeneye, I approached Black Soul Horde with a real sense of trepidation. I figured I would appreciate the music, hate the vocalist, and find it all to be another ¯\_(ツ)_/¯-worthy rehash of a style of metal that was popular nigh on 50 years ago. I was wrong. Horrors from the Void does a lot of the things that the nostalgiacore revival of classic metal has brought with it—dat vocal production!—but the songwriting on Black Soul Horde is just next level. When Druhm opined that “the writing is tight, biting, and sharp with vocal and guitar hooks around every tentacle-laden corner,” he’s not exaggerating. And he was right on the money when he gushed: “You could watch 100 hours of Mexican telenovelas and not see as many slaps as Black Soul Horde and their betentacled brethren deal out over the course of Horrors from the Void. I didn’t want to enjoy this as much as I do, but Horrors is easily one of my favorite albums of 2021 and I’m having a helluva hard time prying its insidiously sticky suckers from my hairy flesh.” Black Soul Horde is, quite simply, doing something different and I look forward to hearing more of it in the future.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. For those wondering, my public defense went swimmingly. After all the drama and bullshit, it felt like a celebration of the hard work that I had put into what I was doing. I just absolutely loved it.
  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. But try to think of it like this: I’m doing you a favor by not giving the band any more love publicly. In that way, then Plebeian Grandstand will continue to be super underground and you can still love them without having to worry about poseurs listening to what you listen to! <3 Smooches!
  3. BTW, DSO is Diablo Swing Orchestra, while DsO is Deathspell Omega and I’m told they’re problematic now?
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