|Personal Top 50 of 2021|
As every year, I abuse this platform for publishing my favourite albums of the year past. 2021 was a really strong year for (especially heavy) music to me, hence I was able to list 50 albums I throroughly enjoyed last year.
I'm mostly happy Tätgren et al. are still around and jamming. The album doesn't live up to their glory days - but still it feels like a privilege to get to new Hypocrisy material in 2021.
Last Echoes Of Silence
Lethian Dreams follow up their brilliant 2020 release 'A Shadow of Memories' with an EP that expands the same sound to a few more pleasant ethereal, dream-like musical soundscapes.
|48||Lana Del Rey|
Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Lana’s standout sound that effortlessly mixes pop, folk and singer-songwriter influences is unchanged – yet slightly more introspective – in her (brilliantly titled) 2021 release ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’. As somewhat of a metal connoisseur, I didn’t find a ton of non-metal releases that interested me, but this was definitely one of them.
Kuu Erkylän Yllä
Havukruunu's ferocious mix of black metal and folk enticed me last year, when they released their full-length 'Uinuos Syömein Sota', and 2021's 'Kuu Erkylän Yllä' sees these Fins roll out even more quality material made of the same auditory concoction.
Unlight: Songs of Earth and Atrophy
New Zealand's Miasmata unleashed their promising debut 'Unlight (...)' in 2021 - stellar black metal with an ice-cold production and infectious harmonies.
|45||Harakiri for the Sky|
Harakiri for the Sky has been extremely popular in recent years - which is especially impressive for an 'extreme' metal band. 2021's 'Mære' is a worthy addition to their already impressive catalog.
As a select few might (but realistically: likely no one) might notice, years back I reviewed Moonspell's entire discography on this particular website, when I still found the time to write reviews. Thereby, it's safe to say I'm familiar with their work. 'Hermitage', in context of their best work ('Wolfheart', 'Sin/Pecado', 'The Antidote', 'Night Eternal'), falls short - the production leaves me wanting and song-writing hits home at times but misses the mark almost as frequently. However, in a vacuum, 'Hermitage' has plenty to enjoy; I found myself returning to this album more than I initially thought I would.
Illusions In The Wake
Noltem's second full-length 'Illusions in the Wake' is an excellent melodic black metal record that I discovered at the closing weeks of last year, to which I expect to return frequently last year. Black metal ferocity, searing tremolo guitar leads, extended goosebumps-inducing instrumental passages - this record has it all.
My Bones Shall Rest Upon The Mountain
Earthshine's 'My Bones Shall Rest Upon the Mountains' is an excellent atmospheric doom / black metal album that makes efficient use of the ebb and flow of slow, weary doom passages building up to explosive blackened fury.
Into the Maw of Death
'Super group' Grand Cadaver - with current and former members of highly renown names such as Dark Tranquillity, Tiamat, In Mourning and Novarupta - released the brutally fun classic death metal album 'Into the Maw of Death'. Not breaking any new ground by any means stylistically, but nevertheless an extremely infectious release that's highly recommendable.
Where the Gloom Becomes Sound
Tribulation's infectious blend of death-infused gothic metal had them rise to one of the most popular 'new'(ish) metal bands of today. 'Where the Gloom Becomes Sound' had a release of titanic proportions - 2019's 'Down Below' - to live up to, which in my book they definitely managed to do.
Where Fear and Weapons Meet
Ukraine's 1914 is a recent revelation, that out of nowhere took the extreme metal scene by storm - becoming one of this year's most praised bands. This attention is absolutely deserved: 1914's already trademark blackened doom/death sound, with the horrors of the First World War as the subject matter of their music, is simply a blast to listen to. Furthermore, the attention to detail of the historic retrospective of 1914's lyrics is impressive.
Limp Bizkit is back and they still don’t give a fuck about what you think. Paradoxically, they actually seem to do, because 2021’s LB release their most meta-dependent album to date, with entire songs dedicated to explaining why they don’t care about being hated. At first an album just over 30 minutes – including quite a bit non-musical filler – seemed not worth the 10 year wait, but whether I wanted or not: I kept jamming this album over and over since its release.
Burn in Many Mirrors
Wode's diabolic mixture of death and black metal works well in 2021's 'Burn in Many Mirrors'. Aside from being musically impressive, this album just pulsates energy - making the sonic assault on your eardrums an enjoyable one.
Netherbird released the highly dynamic and melodic 'Arete' - an album that pointedly takes some elements from black metal and mixes them with an uncanny sense of harmony. All in all a beautiful record I found myself returning to over and over.
Funeral Mist's 'Hekatomb' was one of the most interesting albums of 2018, coming from bands I wasn't familiar with before. 2021 sees Funeral Mist return to take no prisoners, evil and twisted as before, and continue on their discomfortable sound they've invented in earlier releases.
|34||Wolves in the Throne Room|
One of the more popular black metal acts of recent years, Wolves in the Throne Room, return with 'Primordial Arcana' in 2021. And by right they are: the mix of black metal and atmosphere complement one another and come to life brilliantly here.
The Crimson Corridor
Zao’s newest album is a highly creative interpretation of how to do metalcore, including many unexpected rhythmic patterns and a good amount of sludge weaved throughout their music.
Fallen Kings and Rusted Crowns
‘Fallen Kings and Rusted Crowns’ is a melodic black / death metal album, brimming with folk atmosphere – though the folk influences never go over the top and cause the album to lose its teeth.
Finland’s Omnium Gatherum returned this year with their ninth studio album, which can only be faulted by lack of innovation – since the quality of smooth, melodic death metal is as high as you’d expect from Omnium Gatherum.
‘Verlorene Zeit’ is a highly diverse post black / doom metal release that seamlessly plays with tempo variations, instrumental interludes and crushing heaviness.
The Moscow-based Malist has been releasing an album every year for three years in a row now, but this is not starting to reflect in the quality of their music at all. ‘Karst Relict’ displays icy black metal at its prime. Highly recommended.
International doom collaboration Clouds have been steadily producing music dripping with melancholy and grace since 2014. With already five full-lengths and one EP under their belt, Clouds seek to expand their brand of sadboi metal with ‘Despărțire’. An impressive album – much like (all) their earlier work, though a minor criticism from my part would be that the album is a tad predictable, lacking any experimentation and deviation of their established sound.
Be’lakor is back, a few years since the absolute bombshell that was ‘Vessels’, with ‘Coherence’. Ironically, ‘Coherence’ is the least cohesive album to date of the melodeath giants – this is one of the few records where I’d feel like trimming the length of some songs by a quarter would really help the individual identity and quality of these songs. However, Be’lakor at their worst is still melodic death metal at its best, so I returned to this one often last year.
The ‘Argent Moon’ EP was released step by step over the course of almost a year, where I’ve been jamming “The Conjurer” already since the beginning of 2021, while the final tracks of this EP have only recently been released. Thereby, the EP feels like a collection of individual tracks rather than a collective whole. Regardless, these individual tracks are of great quality, and sees Insomnium recapture the spark they found with ‘Winter’s Gate’ somewhat.
|25||Rise to the Sky|
Per Aspera Ad Astra
Rise to the Sky is an amazing one-man atmospheric doom / death project, headed by Chile-based Sergio G., who managed to release four quality full-length releases in merely three years, of which two in 2021. ‘Per Aspera Ad Astra’ is a tad heavier and its 2021 counterpart, but a little harder to grasp, thereby it’s a little lower on this list.
|24||Cult of Luna|
The Raging River
Cult of Luna return after their highly praised ‘A Dawn to Fear’ with ‘The Raging River’ EP, that – in Cult of Luna fashion – is about the length a ‘normal’ LP would be. Post metallers Cult of Luna experiment less than usual on this EP, rather focusing on flexing their musical muscles and display a great band at the height of its abilities.
2021 has been good to atmospheric black metal. Mare Cognitum’s ‘Solar Paroxysm’ added to this excellence with five gargantuan epics, each clocking over 10 minutes.
‘Ode’ is Dawn Fades’ follow-up to their debut that completely went under the radar for me. ‘Ode’, however, is excellent – post-metal that experimental enough to sound fresh, without straying too far from the genre’s strengths. Dawn Fades is definitely a band to keep an eye out for in the coming years.
Poland’s Profeçi sport a type of black metal that is reminiscent of fellow countrymen Mgła and Behemoth – balancing melody, crushing heaviness and aggression beautifully.
...And Again into the Light
America’s one-man project Panopticon return with their tenth studio album ‘… And Again Into the Light’. Once again, Panopticon manages to produce an album that oozes atmosphere, and blends folk and metal effortlessly. The perfect album for a cold winter.
|19||All Life Dies|
Texas-based All Life Dies released their debut EP ‘Ghost Dust’ – an unholy blend between melodic death metal, metalcore and black metal. The end result is surprisingly cohesive and leaves me wanting more.
Ghostheart Nebula are an Italian melodic doom / death equipe that released their debut full-length ‘Ascension’ in 2021; an excellent album similar to earlier work of Shape of Despair and Saturnus, both in style as well as quality.
Russia’s Trna produced ‘Istok’ – a post-black metal album, where themes such as grief and despair are explored with such precision these emotions become tangible.
Bavarian Gràb released their debut ‘Zeitlang’ – an impressive record of compelling traditional black metal. Gràb manage to write black metal songs with a sweet balance between infectious hooks and explosive segments; a combination of flavours that had me return to this record often.
|15||Rise to the Sky|
Let Me Drown With You
‘Let Me Drown With You’ is my favourite Rise to the Sky album of the two released this year. Tragically beautiful, hauntingly grim and beautifully melancholic – the album was the perfect soundtrack to a pandemic-ridden year.
I have a sweet spot for Hanging Garden. Ever since their 2006 debut ‘Inherit the Eden’ up until 2017’s ‘I Am Become’, I basically adored all material these Fins produced. Alas, 2019’s ‘Into That Good Night’ was the first album that mostly disinterested me. Luckily, ‘Skeleton Lake’ is a significant step in the right direction and sees Hanging Garden return to form – mostly. ‘I am Become’ still remains their best work to date in my book, but ‘Skeleton Lake’ is a welcome addition to their discography.
A Diabolic Thirst
Spectral Wound produce the kind of ‘take no prisoners’, unholy, balls-to-the-walls black metal I appreciate thoroughly. Partially because it’s ravenously aggressive, partially because it’s musically enormously interesting – but mostly because it’s just damn fun.
Lithuania’s Edrve return with another nasty record, ‘Savigaila’ (= “self-pity”). Erdve’s experimental hardcore sludge is like no other band I’ve heard to date, and can only be described as cripplingly, devastingly and nauseatingly heavy. Aside from the brutality – which I highly appreciate – Erdve constantly thinks out of the box on this album, experimenting with awkward rhythms, unexpected climaxes and full stops.
|11||Swallow the Sun|
Finlands Swallow the Sun focusses with ‘Moonflowes’ on the continued process of grieving Juha Raivio is in, since the terrible loss of his partner Aleah Stanbridge. Sorrow, self-resentment, guilt – ‘Moonflowers’ explores the darkest depths of an individual going through the stages of grief. Swallow the Sun conveys its themes eerily effective: as external observer I feel like I can almost grasp the terrible sadness the album speaks about. Though an emotionally exhaustive experience, this album has beauty like few others this year and I kept finding myself coming back to this one.
Recommended tracks: “All Hallows’ Grief” and “The Fight of Your Life”.
The Bleeding Veil
Experimental melodic death metallers In Mourning return with ‘The Bleeding Veil’, that sees In Mourning experimenting more after the somewhat safe ‘Garden of Storms’. This album has In Mourning experiment with various vocal styles, a raw, almost muddy production and the inclusion of more ‘core influences, that we haven’t seen since 2010’s ‘Monolith’. I needed a lot of time to unpack this album, but when I did I found there’s a lot to like.
Recommended tracks: “Blood in the Furrows” and “Beyond Thunder”.
Bleed the Future
Archspire unleashed their boundary-breaking ‘Bleed the Future’ this year, which – at first – seems like an album that is merely interesting because it explores how fast and technical death metal can be, while retaining a semblance of a song structure. However, revisiting this album repeatedly, revealed to me that ‘Bleed the Future’ isn’t just technically impressive – it’s also a lot of fun and incredibly catchy. This album received a lot of critical acclaim this year; in this I can merely become a voice in the choir: it’s just extremely excellent.
Recommended tracks: “Drone Corpse Aviator”, “Bleed the Future”.
Germany’s Agrypnie might be one of the best kept secrets of progressive black / post metal. Six (amazing) albums in, Agrypnie have produced banger after banger. Agrpynie’s previous record, 2018’s ‘Grenzgænger’, had Agrypnie producing perhaps their most refined work to date; a tough album to follow up. ‘Metamorphosis’, in Agrypnie fashion, does not simply continue with the same sound of the previous album – rather, the album innovates, making use of new vocal styles, a rawer production, instrumental interludes. Even though the experimentation doesn’t work everywhere, ‘Metamorphosis’ is a worthy follow-up to their brilliant ‘Grenzgænger’ – though it is ever so slightly less impressive in terms of quality.
Recommended tracks: “Wir Entrunkenen”, “Verwüstung”, “Am Ende der Welt – Teil 2”.
|7||Cradle of Filth|
Existence Is Futile
27 years after ‘The Principle of Evil Made Flesh’, extreme metallers Cradle of Filth somehow managed to remain relevant all those years. While the shock factor of their themes in combination with a novel take on black metal initially was their bread and butter, in recent years Cradle of Filth maintains their status by simply following up fresh release after fresh release, exploring new, interesting gothic-horror conceptions every time. ‘Existence is Futile’ is perhaps their strongest album in a decade of quality releases – a diverse album that seamlessly combines progressive, gothic, industrial and black metal elements unto a very pleasing mixture that is more than the sum of its parts. Lyrically, Dani is on point – as he usually is – exploring existential terror, the consequence of death and climate change.
Recommended tracks: “Necromantic Fantasies”, “Discourse Between a Man and His Soul”, “How Many Tears to Nurture a Rose?”.
|6||Der Weg Einer Freiheit|
Der Weg Einer Freiheit takes a left turn on ‘Noktvrn’, deviating strongly from the sound established on the stellar ‘Finisterre’ and ‘Stellar’. More melodic, more experimental – but simultaneously, far more emotionally impactful. Though the album as a whole wasn’t my favourite from this year, some of its individual tracks absolute were.
Recommended tracks: “Monument”, “Immortal”, “Morgen”.
Deathcore band Whitechapel released their most melodic, radio-friendly album to date with ‘Kin’. ‘Kin’ explores the devastating reality of Phil Bozeman’s past, where he lost both his parents and dealt with suicidal urges, psychotic episodes and depression. While more melodic and catchy then previous records, ‘Kin’ is definitely not of lesser quality. With each spin this record unveils more detail of its themes and its musical layers – where I find myself identifying more and more things to fall in love with on this album.
Recommended tracks: “To the Wolves”, “Without Us”, “Kin”.
|4||The Ruins Of Beverast|
The Thule Grimoires
The Ruins of Beverast released a monstrosity of an album last year, with songs gargantuan in both scope as well as length. Each individual track seems to include wholly new musical influences, sounding very little like the previous or following number, sharing only their extremely high quality. Despite this diversity, the album functions as a solid whole, where all individual seven chapters unfold unto a singular story.
Recommended tracks: “The Tundra Shines”, “Kromlec’h Knell”, Anchoress in Furs”.
Kauan’s concept album ‘Ice Fleet’ tells the story of an unidentified fleet that was discovered in the Russian permafrost in the 1930’s – the bodies of its crew and passengers completely preserved. Aside from this thrilling concept, Kauan went out of their way to create a real-time RPG game alongside with the album’s physical release. The music of ‘Ice Fleet’ matches the insane amount of work that went with the package. ‘Ice Fleet’ is a mostly atmospheric album, where the individual tracks blend together to a singular unit – an album with not so much songs that stand on their own, but rather elements of one story. The ethereal soundscape that’s created by Kauan is enriched at parts by perfectly timed leads, angelic vocals or raspy grunts. One of the more unique albums I’ve heard in recent memory and definitely one of my absolute favourites from this year.
The Redemptive End
Germany’s Groza released their second album this year, ‘The Redemptive End’. Not familiar with Groza, I went in expecting simply more ‘quality black metal’. That turned out to be an understatement if there ever was one. ‘The Redemptive End’ is absolutely brilliant. Part of its brilliance is its simplicity – clocking at just 42 minutes and six individual tracks, this album is devoid of filler and unnecessary interludes. Rather, we’re being treated by instrumentally diverse, emotionally engaging and incredibly energetic black metal, balancing melodic harmonies and livid aggression perfectly.
Recommended tracks: “Sunken in Styx – Pt. II: Descent”, “The Redemptive End”.
|1||Rivers of Nihil|
The already classic ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ was almost impossible to top, but somehow – in my book – Rivers of Nihil did it. Three years of rising anticipation pays off in ‘The Work’, by partially subverting expectations and breaking new ground, as well as retrofitting some of the elements that made ‘Where Owls (…)’ so incredible. According to bassist Adam Biggs, ‘The Work’ conceptualizes the enduring amount of physical, emotional and spiritual work required to keep life worthwhile – an amazing concept that is easy to identify with. In the end, ‘The Work’ was the album I returned to most last year – whether it’d be to enjoy classic Rivers of Nihil tunes such as “Clean” and “Focus”, or the more progressive and melancholic “The Void From Which No Sound Escapes” and “Episode”.
Recommended tracks: “Clean”, “The Void From Which No Sound Escapes”, “Episode”.