TheKenWord’s and Carcharodon’s Top Ten(ish) of 2021

TheKenWord

Last year, I spoke on the challenges 2020 brought to my table. Little did I know 2021 was going to be even more chaotic and testing. My parents finally moved into their beautiful new home; I found love and then broke it off because I couldn’t handle 4000 miles of distance; I learned/discovered/accepted a ton of new things about my sexuality/orientation; I left my job and found something new where my education finally applies directly to my work; and I grew closer to my two dearest friends than I’ve experienced since I was thirteen years old.

To be perfectly frank, I find that all of it has me terrified beyond the scope of what I’ve experienced in my life up to this point. To accept, embrace, and explore these repressed sides of who I am, and to open my heart to and really trust the people who love me most, is something I never once imagined myself capable of. But I keep fighting each day, with the help of my loved ones and all others who support me, to dismantle that thick, stalwart shell of fear and shame, and I have to believe that it’ll be worth it. I’ll emerge a more complete, confident, and loving sponge.

Naturally, in the face of all that this year hath brought, my musical tastes aligned with the most engaging, hardest-hitting material I could find. I’m fairly satisfied to that end, all things considered. As far as reviews go, I feel an elevated sense of pride in my work this year. Not only have I succeeded, I think, in improving my writing substantially, but I also fulfilled a goal I set for myself—to pen every review for a year without a single name drop. It was a silly challenge, perhaps, but it forced me to carefully consider each description of whatever I covered so that you idiots might have a chance at imagining what I’m hearing without the influence of another name to color it. That being said, the desired effect of my experiment was minimal and therefore overrated1 (naturally), so going forward you’ll be getting name drops from me once more.

Back to things of pertinence, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the entire AMG team for being my metalhead family of weirdos and delinquents, who have shown me unreal amounts of love hate, patience mockery, and virtual hugs summary rejection. Carcharodon of course earns a special mention here because he is my list buddy, and I couldn’t be happier with our partnership in questionable taste. AMG Himself also deserves a shoutout, along with Dr. A.N. Grier, GardensTale, Diabolus in Muzaka, Carcharodon (again, the clingy bastard) and Dear Hollow for opening up with me and supporting me in DMs during the best and worst of times across this year. To everyone else, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you for showing me so much support in various channels when I was going through rough patches, and I hope that I have done and can do the same for you all when you need a friend. As always, a great big bear hug lasting no less than five minutes goes to Sentynel, Steel Druhm and Madam X for making sure Holdeneye doesn’t drown us all in 4.0s, keeping our comments section appropriately culled of stupid-heads, relentlessly squeezing unspeakable atrocities into our promo dump, and cattle-prodding us (read: Ferrous Beuller) when we slack off. Last but not least, I’d like to acknowledge the commenters and my friends on Discord for existing. You exist and that’s pretty cool.

Anywho, enough of my babbling. Here’s my Top Ten(ish). If you don’t like it, you can eat my suds.


#ish. Mental Cruelty // A Hill to Die Upon – This might be my most frequently played album from 2021. Mental Cruelty absolutely decimated my expectations with A Hill to Die Upon, and over half a year later I’m still blown away by how much more mature and detailed this album is compared to the last. While I still take issue with how fucking loud it is, and I sometimes wish the band would abandon breakdowns entirely, there is no denying the anguish, the drama, and the solitude that’s bleeding profusely out of these songs. All the while, Mental Cruelty bash my skull in with crushing slams and immense blackened riffs. I fucking love it, top to bottom.

#ish. Zornheym // The Zornheim Sleep Experiment – I’ve been a big fan of Zornheym for a number of years now, and I was incredibly anxious about how The Zornheim Sleep Experiment would hold up. I needn’t have worried. I simply couldn’t put this record down once I picked it up. It’s everything I wanted from a follow up to Where Hatred Dwells and Darkness Reigns but bigger and bolder. Earworms lie everywhere, strewn across this record’s tight runtime just waiting for their time to strike. For me, they all landed headshots, burrowing into my brain deeply enough that it would take some serious invasive procedures to eliminate them.

#10. Eximperituserqethhzebibšiptugakkathšulweliarzaxułum // Šahrartu – Eximperitus stood out as a psychedelic death metal band that gave me precisely what I wanted from an unlikely merger of styles. However, instead of opting for cavernous, old school death, the impossibly-named Belarusians veered towards more modern and technical material. I for one couldn’t be happier with the result, as Šahrartu exudes majesty and brutality in equal parts, supported by a thick haze of mystique which swept me away. Between smart pacing, dry production, and immersive compositions, Šahrartu was a shoe-in for my Top 10. The fact that it didn’t land higher only speaks to the quality of those ahead.

#9. Khirki // Κτηνωδία – It’s been a long, long time since I’ve liked a hard rock/metal-adjacent album as much as this one. Blending Greek folk music with big, burly riffs and even some highly rewarding doom metal desert crawls, Khirki inject a dose of fresh adrenaline into a genre that hasn’t innovated in over a decade. Maybe this singular release won’t change all that much in the long run, but what Khirki crafted deserves to be admired for its infectious energy, irresistible groove and compelling arrangement. I highly encourage anybody who likes fun to check this out!

#8. Celestial Swarm // Gateways to the Necroverse – I am mightily impressed with Celestial Swarm this year. Releasing something in the first week of January is asking to be summarily overlooked by the time December rolls around. Not today. Gateways to the Necroverse is a damn fine album—equal parts brutal, suffocating, and unpredictable. It exhibits a level of songwriting intelligence that is almost completely absent in anything even tangentially related to slam. At the same time, though, this international collective managed to imbue a smartly-written debut with the same braindead lust for the pit that we’ve come to know and love from slammy things. It’s a paradox that, even a year in, fills me to the brim with unending joy.

#7. Noltem // Illusions in the WakeThis is easily one of the most beautiful, ethereal, and compelling pieces of atmospheric black metal I’ve ever heard. Not a single moment on Illusions in the Wake wastes my time with egregious misuses of repetitive melodies, nor does the record deprive me of the motivating riffs and emotional shreds I so deeply crave. It’s plain as day that Noltem crafted this masterpiece with care and passion, and the otherworldly aesthetics through which that care and passion expresses itself completely surrounds my every synapse to my great pleasure. If ever there was an album to prove that atmoblack can be just as lively and rewarding as anything else out there, it’s this one.

#6. Mare Cognitum // Solar Paroxysm – Not one album on this list shifted positions as much as Mare Cognitum’s Solar Paroxysm. At one point it held my top spot, then moved down to #9, and so on, until finally settling comfortably at #6. Ranking this record was difficult mainly because I know that it’s long, and at times maybe it seemed like it was too long. But whenever I replayed it for the umpteenth time I found myself once more instantly hooked by it. There’s such a hot, blazing fire behind this material that I find myself undeniably enamored by it. Shit like that is why I hold fast to my fanboyish admiration for Mare Cognitum.

#5. Ad Nauseam // Imperative Imperceptible Impulse – For a long time, this was my frontrunner for Album of the Year. But now, as I write this, I almost don’t want it on here at all. Three dissonant death metal records in my Top 5? Seems like too many to me. The hard truth is that this stupid thing is a damn work of art, and to exclude it from my list for the sake of appearances would be a capital offense. You can’t write long-form death that is just as hooky as it is impenetrable and avoid the adoration of those who see the beauty in something many wouldn’t consider music at all. Those people are wrong. This is music, of the highest order, full stop.

#4. Headshrinker // Callous Indifference – I won’t be catching myself humming this stuff ambiently as I walk across campus, but Callous Indifference sure as shit left a lasting impression on me. Darkly depressing, devastatingly heavy, and deeply cutting, Headshrinker’s massive debut is the wrong one to fuck with in the mental health wing. 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. Correspondingly, Callous Indifference is not an album for the faint of heart. But it’s an important record, and for that it deserves respect.

#3. Qrixkuor // Poison Palinopsia – I successfully anticipated approximately 0% of what Poison Palinopsia delivered. Qrixkuor put psychedelia and death metal together in a unique format, clearly channeling the same horror aesthetics that solidified Psycho and The Exorcist as timeless classics. To really stick it to convention, the band wrote only two songs, each spanning over twenty minutes. Turns out they knew exactly what they were doing, and the result is an excellent slab of dissonant, trippy, cavernous death metal that I sincerely hope goes down in history as a cvlt classic.

#2. VOLA // Witness – In reality, Witness is closer to a #1(ish) than a true #2. VOLA dropped a near flawless collection of songs that absolutely refuse to leave me alone. I love every damn second of it, and whenever I need something that is simultaneously heavy and poppy, Witness is near the top of my roster. Moreover, every working part of Witness provides highly memorable moments, whether it be sourced from riffs, electronic flourishes, verses or choruses. It didn’t matter, because all of it made my mind its permanent residence, rent-free. Witness is a work of genius, plain and simple.

#1. Veilburner // Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull – Veilburner is too cool for me. Even though they are a studio project, nobody can rightfully say that the Pennsylvania duo lack the ability to make music that would rule the arthouse just as ruthlessly as it would burn down the skull pit. Fifth tome Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull shouldn’t be as bouncy and infectious as it is; it shouldn’t riff as hard as it does; it shouldn’t be as intellectually demanding and cerebral as it is; and most of all, it should absolutely not be greater than the sum of all those disparate parts. Yet, here I stand, spinning this ludicrously fun, brutally intelligent record in perpetuity and loving it just a little more each time the surf slide guitar telegraphs my hand smashing the replay button. We’ve had our fair share of quality dissonant fare this year, and it looked like Veilburner faced stiff competition. Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull apparently missed the memo, because it launched straight to the top of my list without breaking a sweat.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Aquilus // Bellum I – When proper classical compositions embrace the aesthetics and tools of extreme music, the very first name that should be on your tongue is AquilusBellum I is passionate, thoughtful art expressed through incredible music.
  • Archspire // Bleed the Future – I think this album is fantastic, but over time I had to admit it didn’t hook me as completely as Relentless Mutation. Should that land Bleed the Future down here instead of up there? Maybe not, but I did it anyway, and I have no regrets.
  • Black Soul Horde // Horrors from the Void – This album is everything I want from heavy/power metal. It’s dark, it’s heavy, it’s overburdened with awesome melodies and choruses, and it’s Lovecraftian. Asking for more is asking too much.
  • Demiser // Through the Gate Eternal – This album rips everything to shreds, then eats the carcasses for dessert. I haven’t had this much fun with black/thrash since ever.
  • Dormant Ordeal // The Grand Scheme of Things – This is a Top 5 entry disguised as an album released so close to list season that I literally couldn’t spend enough time with it to decide how it stacked up against the rest. So many insane riffs, so little time!
  • In Mourning // The Bleeding Veil – If In Mourning had released this album earlier, it would’ve earned a proper ranking. Sadly, this impressive slab of mournful melodic death is relegated to the honorable mentions.
  • Ophidian I // Desolate – This is tech death at its most exuberant. Even though it’s the only thing faster than the speed of light, it remains memorable and infectious, with crazy melodies that few on this planet have the spheres to put to paper.
  • Utter Scorn // Paroxysmal Endemia – If you took slam and infused a 12% solution of melody into it, then chased it with a shot of heavy metal solos, you’d contract Paroxysmal Endemia, and it’s immense fun!

Songs o’ the Year:

  1. Veilburner – “Nocturnal Gold”
  2. Khirki – “Medea”
  3. Eximperitus – “Inqirad”
  4. VOLA – “These Black Claws (feat. SHAHMAN)”
  5. Celestial Swarm – “The Harvesters”
  6. Mare Cognitum – “Frozen Star Divinization”
  7. Mental Cruelty – “King ov Fire”
  8. Zornheym – “Slumber Comes in Time”
  9. Archspire – “Golden Mouth of Ruin”
  10. Veile – “A House in Dust”

EP o’ the Year:

  • Veile // The Ghost Sonata – Operatic black metal, concept-focused and coated with bloody horror, fronted by an absolute banshee for a vocalist. That’s what The Ghost Sonata is all about, and it’s completely enrapturing. If Veile show up next year with a full-length album of this caliber, naming my #1 album of 2022 will be a breeze.

Disappointments o’ the Year:

  • The Beast of Nod // Multiversal – I’m hoping this was just a sophomore slump for space-faring weirdos The Beast of Nod. After such a strong debut that managed to get better with age, experiencing a stark drop in both fun factor and songwriting fluidity like this killed my enthusiasm for what’s to come.
  • Gloryhammer, and Chris Bowes in Particular – What the actual fuck, guys?! Did you really believe that messages like that can be passed off as “a joke” when you all have clearly taken advantage of and abused people for fun?! Nobody deserves to be treated or even just regarded that way, and even if any one of you didn’t participate in such activities you definitely should have at least spoken up against it. Do better.

Non-Metal Album o’ the Year:

  • Hollywood Burns // The Age of the Saucers – I could’ve easily placed this inside my Top 10 proper, but since this is a metal blog after all, I’m going to use every excuse I have to keep my main list as metal-focused as possible. That being said, The Age of the Saucers is top-tier dark synthwave, and anybody who has any interest in such things should just go and fucking buy it because I said so.

Carcharodon

Would I put 2021 ahead of 2020? Well, in life terms, yes. The pandemic, while by no means over, has affected day-to-day life a bit less … aaaand, we’re back to enforced home working. Shit. Anyway, as I was saying, I saw some actual real life colleagues and indulged in luxuries like going to real life pubs. A new pup arrived in the House of Shark, which has kept us grouchy, overtired and besotted. Musically, though, it’s a close run thing. I think there have been fewer things that I really fell in love with this year than last. For the most part, my list this year comprises things I really liked—or really, really liked—but, with the exception of my Album of the Year, perhaps the unquestioning love was lacking a little?

There was no lack of love at AMG Towers, however. Indeed, I feel like the team has grown closer than ever, as our regular Zoom drinking sessions musical appreciation sessions have continued. The abuse of poor old Doom_et_Al for his unyielding love of Sunbather has intensified and we inducted our newest and nerdiest colleague, Felagund, whose LotR obsession has provided much merriment even as Dr. A.N. Grier routinely bellowed at us all to shut up. As ever, huge thanks go to the one and only Steel Druhm and his Bride ov Darkness Madam X for all their tireless work to keep this site the laughing stock that it is in the eyes of music intellectuals, socialites and critics alike. Thanks also to the editors for all the work they put in23 being them, and to all the awesome writers who have kept me sane through this year. Special shout outs go to my spongy list mate TheKenWord, in particular for keeping those Filter pieces running; reviewing machine and all round dude Dear Hollow in what has been a tough but life-changing year for him; the ever awesome Grymm and real world heroes Doom_et_Al and Holdeneye,4 and, of course, to Sentynel, without whose vigilance we’d have gone dark years ago. Last but by no means least, massive congratulations to distant looming, stern authority figure Dr AMG, PhD on completing his doctorate! Please don’t fire me.

And, of course, reluctant thanks to all of you who read this here blog, keep us honest in the comments and to the many of you who answered the casting call earlier this year. I look forward to getting to know all any of you that come out of the AMG School of WritingTM alive and with your sanity intact. I appreciate the hell out of all of you. Big love and I hope everyone has a great holiday season! Stay happy, stay safe, stay metal and have no other blogs!

And now, onto the List. As always, it’s been a horribly challenging process to put this together. Doubtless there will be omissions and I will look back on this with regret in the years months weeks days hours to come5 but, here it is, BEHOLD!


#(ish). Green Lung // Black Harvest Green Lung’s 2019 debut, Woodland Rites, was an excellent piece of Sabbath worship. I hoped for more of the same from Black Harvest. In fact, Green Lung have now evolved beyond mere worship of what’s gone before and have found their own voice. It’s a voice steeped in the past, sure, but Black Harvest is a great piece of classic doom metal, paired with prog metal and blues rock sensibilities. It’s well written, brilliantly executed and I love the sound on show. I don’t agree with the comments about it being too loud but your mileage may vary. Like the next entry on this list, Green Lung is just damn fun!

#10. Black Soul Horde // Horrors from the Void – Sometimes, there really is no substitute for trve heavy metal. It’s not my daily driver but there are times when nothing else will serve. You know, those moments when you’re feeling epic and like you want to reach skyward, unseen citrus fruit clasped in your fist! Last year, this crucial role was fulfilled by Eternal Champion, this year Black Soul Horde have rampaged their way onto the list. Thus spake Druhm: if Black Soul Horde ”doesn’t get your blood moving, you have motor oil running through your veins. The best feature of Horrors is that there are no bad songs or a trace of filler.” Even though he hated to join the 4.0 Klvb, he was right to do so: killer vocals, riffs and hooks for days, this stuff is addictive!

Obscura - A Valediction cover art#9. Obscura // A Valediction – A Great! 4.0 from the OG AMG and it’s not Italian power metal, you say? OK, I’ll bite and I’m very glad I did. Tech death really isn’t my bag but, if more of it sounded like Obscura’s latest outing, I could be converted. Personally, I would class this as highly technical melodeath and maybe that’s why A Valediction resonated so much with me. Frenetic in a way that only the Gothenburg sound can be, the feat that Obscura pull off is generating that intensity, which feels so familiar but avoiding sounding tired and derivative. The pacing on this record is also outstanding, as Obscua shift effortlessly from the mid-paced opening of “In Unity” into its ultra-techy moments, for example, or as the stellar title track gives way to the furious, lightning assault of “When Stars Collide.” Even at 51 minutes in length, A Valediction never gives you the space to look at the clock.

#8. Koldovstvo // Ни царя, ни бога – Perhaps the wildcard on this list, Russia’s Koldovstvo entranced me from the off, giving me exactly what I hoped for when I saw that cover art on Bandcamp. Eerie, otherworldly melodies like a warped vinyl record give Ни царя, ни бога (Ni Tsarya, Ni Boga) a fey feel, as they sit atop a dark, murky black metal, which at points touches on DSBM. I know the production will be divisive, with one fellow scribe already telling me that it sounds like listening to your neighbour’s second wave black metal through the wall. On one level, it’s hard to disagree with that analysis and I am sure production purists will be reeling away from this one in horror but there is something about the feel and emotion that that specific choice—and I’ve no doubt it was a deliberate choice—gives to Koldovstvo’s compositions that hooked me in.

#7. Miasmata // Unlight: Songs of Earth and Atrophy – All the way back in March, this record came out of nowhere, immediately securing itself a place on my year-end list. Former Sojourner bassist Mike Wilson does everything on this album and does it damn well. Melodic black metal, with heavy metal influences writ large, Unlight channels the likes of Dissection and Windir to put out harsh, pacey black metal, with guitar lines heavily influenced by Maiden or Blind Guardian. The likes of “A Blaze of Starfire” and raging closer “Spell of Unlight” are absolute bangers and there isn’t bad track on the album.

#6. Mare Cognitum // Solar Paroxysm – I don’t agree with TheKenWord‘s presentation of Planet AtmoBlack as being, in the one hemisphere, a desolate, lifeless husk and, in the other, Mare Cognitum. At the same time, it’s hard to argue with the idea that Mare Cognitum stands head and shoulders above the majority of the pack, and Solar Paroxysm provided further evidence of this. Raw, violent and beautiful, Solar Paroxysm is stunning. A constantly shifting palette of atmospheric beauty and harsh extremity, the record builds tension and envelops me in dark, haunting beauty. I do agree with my absorbent list mate that Mare Cognitum teeters right on the edge of repeating himself too much but when the quality is this high, I’m not complaining.

#5. The Silver // Ward of Roses – Fusing elements of black, doom, atmospheric post-metal, prog and goth rock, The Silver’s debut seems like it was always destined to appeal to me. Sporting members of Horrendous and Crypt Sermon, the extremity is there, as L. Saunders pointed out in his bang on review: “any notion of Ward of Roses being bogged down in gothic romanticism is swiftly beheaded by the ample dosing of blackened extremity, scything riffs, harrowing vocals, and dense blasts.” But the melodies are there too, offering relief from those harsher tendencies and, most impressively for me, The Silver strike the balance between the two sides of their sound and pace the record perfectly. It’s a heart-wrenching record that gives up something new on each visit and I see myself spending a lot of time exploring this well after list season wraps.

#4. Noltem // Illusions in the Wake – With their debut full-length, Noltem crafted an album of stunning beauty. Its roiling black metal atmospheres and gorgeous, progressive melodies reminded me of Falls of Rauros as much as Mare Cognitum. At a crisp 40 minutes, it avoids many of the issues endemic to the atmospheric or melodic black metal subgenres, while offering a maturity of songwriting rarely seen on a debut. There is a mournful sense of yearning and loss woven into the fabric of Illusions in the Wake, which seems to grow and evolve over the album’s run and by the time we reach closer, “On Shores of Glass”—one of my songs of the year—Noltem have arguably sailed beyond the confines of the black metal world altogether. I haven’t been able to put this one down since reviewing it.

#3. Clouds // Despărțire – Clouds were unknown to me but, when I started cooing about the UK / Romanian post-doom supergroup’s latest effort, Despărțire, I discovered they were not unknown to this site and now a n00b—let me say that again, a N00B—goes and 4.5s this latest. And you know what, I think I agree! For me, Despărțire is Clouds’ strongest, classiest outing yet. The My Dying Bride-esque violins and keys remain—indeed they dominate to a degree6—as do the Katatonian laments, but the grandeur has been turned up. The various guest vocalists, including MDB’s Aaron Stainthorpe combine with the harrowing mood to add even more shades of beautiful depression to the sound. This is a truly haunting record, as deep bass roars and clean vocal lines dance round each other, while sweet melodies of pain swell and drift in the string arrangements. The misery is so all-consuming that it almost acts as a spiritual cleanser. I emerge from each listen of Despărțire feeling somehow brighter and unburdened.

#2. LLNN // Unmaker – Nominally post-metal, Denmark’s LLNN produced one of the heaviest, most devastating records this year. Unmaker crushes everything before it through its sheer intensity, while maintaining a complexity and constantly shifting palette of soundscapes that belies the full-on beast mode on show. Right from the off on “Imperial”, LLNN let you know just how uncompromising their sound and vision are. Crashing riffs, faultline-opening bass lines and pounding drums battle to outdo each other, as guitarist Christian Bonnesen’s desperation-edged vocals rage above the tumult. What sets Unmaker apart are the samples and electronics used by Ketil G. Sejersen to manipulate the sound around the edges of LLNN’s assault, adding additional texturing and nuance, as well as bite. LLNN were new to me but absolutely floored me, almost literally, with Unmaker.

#1. Kanonenfieber // Menschenmühle – If you have not yet heard solo black metal outfit Kanonenfieber’s debut Menschenmühle, it is exactly what you would expect from that stark cover. A heart-breaking portrayal of the inhumanity of the Great War told through death-tinged melodic black metal, Menschenmühle crushes me every time I hear it. What Kanonenfieber’s unknown mastermind has accomplished is to portray the German expectations and experiences of the Great War in sonic form. From its almost buoyant and optimistic beginnings (“Die Feuertaufe” and “Dicke Bertha”), through the raucous, Teutonic stomp of “Die Schlacht bei Tannenberg” to the exhausted, last desperate effort of “Unterstandsangst” before Kanonenfieber tears out your heart and stamps it into the mud on tear-jerking acoustic closer “Verscharrt und Ungerühmt.” Menschenmühle struck a deeply emotional chord with me and has only continued to grow in my affections as the year progressed, more than holding its own against all the great stuff that followed. It is a masterpiece.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Glassing // Twin Dream – I felt that Dear Hollow somewhat overrated Glassing’s last effort—and clearly so did he—but he’s on the money this time round. Still raw, raucous and unpredictable, Twin Dream has seen some of the rougher edges and jankier corners buffed out, with Glassing fully delivering on the sludgy, post-screamo, post-hardcore shoegaze promise they always had.
  • Grima // Rotten Garden Will of the Primordial was a record that I loved and listed (at #5 no less) in 2019 and Grima have produced another great effort here. Dialing back the harshness slightly in favour of a grander, slightly more symphonic sound, I have spent a lot of time with Rotten Garden since it appeared back in January and continue to explore it.
  • Mystras // Empires Vanquished and Dismantled – It might seem odd to say I was disappointed in Mystras’s last effort, Castles Conquered and Reclaimed, given I awarded it a 3.5, but disappointed I was because it was so, so close to being great. Empires banished those minor hitches to deliver something special. Grander in scale and vision than Castles, this year’s Mystras lays out gorgeous Arabian-tinged folk and harsh, furious black metal, fixing many of the production gripes I had last year, while remaining raw and gritty.
  • Osi and the Jupiter // Stave – I found the beautifully understated folk of Osi and the Jupiter’s fourth album immersive in some weird way. It is restrained and mournful, and yet it has an aged feeling to it that carried me away on each spin. Kackophonix’ somber cello contributions give real depth to the record, which also flows beautifully. Metal? No. Great? Yes.
  • Seth // La Morsure du Christ – In his review of this stellar record Holdeneye opined that “the greatest strength of Seth is the way they incorporate various styles of black metal into one sound without letting any one of those influences dominate.” For once, old 4.0ldenye and I were as one. It also sounds great. What’s not to like?!
  • Spectral Wound // A Diabolic Thirst – Could Quebec’s Spectral Wound possibly offer a fitting follow up to 2018’s Infernal Decadence? It seemed unlikely but they did. A Diabolic Thirst is a raw, breathless, brutal assault, with a deceptive amount of nuance and subtlety in the mix. It very narrowly missed out on the List proper.
  • Stormkeep // Tales of Othertime – Huge dollops of WindirEmperor and Mistur in the sound here make Tales of Othertime an absolute blast. Perfectly paced and with tons of galloping momentum, as Eldritch Elitist pointed out, Stormkeep serve up one helluva record.

Songs o’ the Year:

  1. Kanonenfieber – “Verscharrt und ungerühmt”
  2. Iotunn – “Waves Below”
  3. Noltem – “On Shores of Glass”
  4. Mare Cognitum – “Ataraxia Tunnels”
  5. Miasmata – “Spell of Unlight”
  6. LLNN – “Imperial”
  7. Kanonenfieber – “Unterstandangst”
  8. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – “Hollywood”
  9. Clouds – “This Heart, a Coffin”
  10. Kauan – “Raivo”
  11. (ish) Koldovstvo – “II”

EP of the Year:

  • 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) // Noč Na Krayu Sveta – go read the EP posts whenever El_Cuervo gets around to publishing them to see why I think this is the EP of the Year. I can’t do everything for you. Sheesh.

Disappointments o’ the Year:

  • Other metal blogs – I mean, obviously, but the lack of respect shown by Metal Injection for its writers, readers and, indeed, the bands they review was next level. Already guilty of grievous overrating, on 8 October they outdid themselves. A 5/10 review of Trivium’s latest, only for this to be later pulled and quietly replaced with a—presumably hastily written—9/10 review later the same day. This simply shows why Thou Shalt Have No Other Blogs.
  • Cult of Luna // The Raging River – Look, I love Cult of Luna. A Dawn to Fear was my AOTY for 2019 and it’s not like this ‘EP’—only these post-Swedes would class a 5-track, 38-minute recording as an EP—is bad but it did feel like a missed opportunity. I was so excited for the next Mariner when I heard that CoL was collaborating with Mark Lanegan, an artist I’ve loved since discovering him on 1994’s Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. In fact, the one track with Lanegan felt half-hearted and the rest a little like B-sides from A Dawn to Fear. Colour me disappointed.
  • Diablo Swing Orchestra // Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit HoleDSO are not my favorite band but, ever since I was introduced to them on the great Pandora’s Piñata, I will always check them out knowing I’m in for a fun time. I don’t know what happened on Swagger but, whatever the merits of the actual music, the production is … wow, just awful. I am not audiophile but this is another level and really dents my DSO fun times.

Confusion o’ the Year:

  • Archspire // Bleed the Future – I know what I’m doing here, namely, setting myself up for a lot of shit in the comments buuuuuuuuut I really don’t get the general adulation of Archspire. Let’s be clear, I am not saying that Archspire is a bad band. Plainly they are among the best technical musicians working today. Nor am I saying that Bleed the Future is a bad record, it isn’t. It is, however, a clinical record that leaves me utterly cold. It is so technical and so… much that I find it completely devoid of emotion and metal is supposed to emote. I seem to be in a very small minority here though, with the love seemingly almost universal, hence my confusion.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. I’d rate your experiment 4.0/5.0 – Holdeneye
  2. They never seem to pick up any of my egregious errors and blatant typos.
  3. I leave them in on purpose, hoping that the international shame will teach you a lesson. It’s just not working. – Holdeneye
  4. Say whatever you like about their tastes, puns and scoring tendencies but these guys are literal life savers.
  5. Doubtless also, many of you will cry, “why no mention of your favourite album from 2021 here?” And I have answers for you. The most likely thing is, I didn’t listen to whatever it is, especially if it’s death metal. Alternatively, I did listen to it but it just didn’t hit me as hard as it did you. Or, most likely, you’re wrong. Happy fucking Christmas!
  6. You spelled this “dgree,” but I caught it. Just thought you should know. – Holdeneye
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