1. SUCCUMB, ‘XXI’ (The Flenser)

Trying to determine the most important record for the year is not an easy task, and for us, it has nothing to do with what the best album was over the past 12 months. We have always gone with our favorite, the one that had been in our listening arsenal the longest or most consistently. The one record we always found ourselves immersed inside no matter what was going on. We didn’t need to freshen up anything, because that album was always there, and for us that was “XXI,” the cataclysmic and twisted second record from Succumb. In this case, it also might be the best heavy metal record from a quality standpoint in all of 2021.

The title of the album—“XXI”—comes from the final Major Arcana card in the tarot deck, and it symbolizes the end of a life cycle or pause before the start of the new life cycle. The album takes on themes such as the elements and their natural deities (and they’re likely plotting their revenge on us for how we’re treating this place), Lilith, the Boxer Rebellion, Arthurian literature, and many other fertile, thought-provoking ideas, with vocalist/lyricist Cheri Musrasrik drawing on poets/writers such as William Butler Yeats, Jean Genet, and Émile Zola to fully flourish her gripping words. Her performance is like that of a demon trying to inform the world of the ills that ravage it while the rest of the band—guitarist Derek Webster, bassist/vocalist Kirk Spaseff, drummer Harry Cantwell—launches into terrain that is mind-ripping, destructive, and slaughtering, which will do a number on your sanity.

“Lilim” opens the record with chaotic tension, unloading and snarling with the howls stampeding, the guitars slicing into your muscles, and the track running headlong into “Maenad” that slowly boils in the juices of the nasty growls. “They danced around a phallic stone, giving over to revels and rages,” Musrasrik snarls as pure soot smudges, the guitars soar before touching back down, and abrasive disorientation leaves you gripping for the walls. “Okeanos” stirs the turmoil, clobbering as the vocals aggravated oil fires. “Foam in a revolving whorl touches an unknown and sublime abyss,” Musrasrik sneers as your psyche is stomped into the ground, corroding and delivering a mauling finish. “Graal” scrambles impulses as it starts amid guitars hanging in the air and stinging the senses, with vicious growls swiping at you. “A divine substance held in the bloody relic, illusory phantoms, and secret words spoken to a knave,” Musrasrik digs as parts of the song get muddy and dangerously slow before things fire up again and thrash mightily, stomping out its foe. “8 Trigrams” closes the record, starting with militaristic drums and ominous tones, setting a strange ambiance that soon aims to remove your head. Things get dizzying and odd, with Musrasrik wailing, “Headless fighters and spirit guards are at war with mortals, shadowboxers moving in unison and covered by protective charms.” This record is an absolute mindfuck, a beast that knows no bounds and leaves you a psychological mess. All hail Succumb and their mission to mash death metal in their putrid image. (Sept. 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/succumbsf

To buy the album, go here: https://nowflensing.com/collections/flenser-releases

For more on the label, go here: https://nowflensing.com/

2. AMENRA, ‘De Doorn’ (Relapse)

There are records that seem more like living beings, breathing through you, bathing you in their nourishing blood, becoming a portal to something else you didn’t even realize was accessible. They stick in you, they accompany you into dark and light, they become something of a companion as you battle your way through whatever trials and tribulations stands before you. They’re a part of your fabric, and you can’t imagine your path without them.

For the past 21 years, Belgian beasts Amenra have defied convention when it comes to their band and their creations. Members comes and go, all of which eventually get indoctrinated into the Church of Ra, meaning they’re always part of the body, and until now, their full-length creations have been labeled a “Mass,” ranging from I to VI. That last part changes with the release of “De Doorn,” which translated means “the thorn,” their first album that deviates away from a mass but never sacrifices any of the spiritual linking that solidified this band—vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout, guitarists Mathieu Vandekeckhove and Lennart Bossu, bassist Tim De Gieter, drummer/percussionist Bjorn J. Lebon. They’re joined by backing vocalist Caro Tanghe (of the mighty Oathbreaker) on this five-track, nearly 47-minute album that centers on the themes of dialog and the passing of knowledge, which is given more intense treatment through the dual vocals and long passages of speaking that often feel like a hush.

“Ogentroost” emerges from the mist and lets sounds waft over, numbing you as guitars drip in, and a long section of speaking pushes the plot. The track then opens and scorches, delivering heavy blows as Tanghe calls out in the background. The track keeps finding new ways to break open, the shrieks rain down hard, and a huge emotional deluge takes you prisoner, scraping your psyche. The latter half of the track is used by AEW wrestler Malakai Black as his ring entrance, which is one of the most mysterious in all of pro wrestling. De Dood In Bloei” expands as sounds envelope in an ambient cloud. The pressure soothes as Tanghe speaks through layers of time, almost like a prayer, capturing your imagination and treating your wounds. “De Evenmens” begins with shrieks striking and frantic pounding making your heart race before more dialog clouds your senses and helps you melt, language barrier be damned. The final two tracks are the longest, beginning with “Het Gloren” that’s a healthy 11:31. It opens slowly as the doom collects, giving off a strange haze. As the playing starts to swell, the shrieks devastate, and fiery chaos licks the surface of the earth, with the vocals continually ripping hard. “Voor Immer” is the closer, bleeding for 12:42 and starting in a heavy murk as guitars drip and quiet singing trickles. The bulk of this track is quite reflective, an exercise in patience as you await the highs and lows. There is even a gentler pace at times, letting you float along as the guitars drain. About 8 minutes in, the hammers drop and wild shrieks peel back flesh, leaving you exposed. Genuflect in awe in front of the altars of the Church of Ra. (June 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/churchofra

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/b/amenra

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords/

3. BLACKWATER HOLYLIGHT, ‘Silence/Motion’ (RidingEasy)

Writing about grief and the accompanying pain can provide heavy catharsis, but I still don’t like doing it. Reason is bad shit has really happened to me the last 12 months, and that’s encased inside a world that’s still half trying to stay alive and half foolishly mocking the ones who want to live responsibly. Records such as “Silence/Motion” are great to have by your side while you’re in the midst of that battle.

Blackwater Holylight use their third record as a sort of vessel for their grief, be it personal or the pain the world has been in for the last 24 months, which has just crushed so many people. Over seven tracks, the band—vocalist/bassist/guitarist Allison “Sunny” Faris, guitarist/bassist Mikayla Mayhew, synth player Sarah McKenna, drummer Eliese Dorsay, (Erika Osterhout joined as second guitarist live)—poured themselves and their frayed and bruised emotions into what turns out is their most impactful and varied work yet. Yes, their doom thunder remains, as does their power, but they’ve also delved deeper into folk territory and softer, vulnerable sounds to make a more well-rounded, realized sonic picture.  

“Delusional” begins the record fairly inauspiciously at first, letting the music drip through a crack in the window before the power is released, and we’re on our way. Faris’ vocals have a way of getting into your bloodstream and calming you, while Thou’s Bryan Funck lends his instantly recognizable scowl to the background as the track really reveals its power. “Who the Hell?” spirals in as the singing haunts and cold waves wash upon you, giving you instant gooseflesh. A crystalized vibe is achieved as their dreams enter yours, and Faris wearily calls out, “I can’t describe this pain I wear, it suffocates, and you left it here.” “Falling Faster” is dreamy and psychedelic, easing you in as Faris’ vocals float, and the ether in which you’re swimming intensifies. It feels like your mind numbs, the melody lines buzz harder, and your feelings are flushed from your cells, slowly drubbing you into submission. “MDIII” moves gently through acoustics and piano before the energy kicks in fully, mashing you and heating up to levels that test your strength. “Every Corner” wraps the record and starts on a mind-altering trip to which you’ll commit without question. Synth beams emerge as the track grows sludgy, and growls from guests Mike Paparo (Inter Arma) and A.L.N. (Mizmor; he also produced the record) add extra thorns to pierce your flesh. Blackwater Holylight always were mighty, but this is the record where they truly came into their own. (Oct. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.blackwaterholylight.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.ridingeasyrecs.com/product-category/ridingeasy-releases/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.ridingeasyrecs.com/

4. NOCTULE, ‘Wretched Abyss’ (Translation Loss/Church Road)

I have a bit of a jealousy for people who are really good at videogames and have the commitment to see them through. I used to be that way, but I’m tired, which isn’t a very good excuse. Noctule, the black metal project solely helmed by Serena Cherry (guitarist/vocalist for Svaldbard) not only can commit to a game, but she wrote an entire goddamn album about “Skyrim,” and it gives me more guilt over my laziness.

On “Wretched Abyss,” she digs into classic second-wave black metal without the shitty politics, hammering with eight tracks that are flooding with melodic riffs and adventurous playing that it’s super easy to get caught up in everything. Cherry’s guitar work always was a huge highlight of Svalbard’s music, but it’s even more gigantic and alluring here, and her vocals are downright mean and vicious. This is an awesome display that buries you in power and strength, engulfing you in dragon fire. It’s an album I loved instantly, and it only grew on me since then, becoming something that always was somewhere in the periphery, threatening with chaos.

“Elven Sword” gets us started with shrieks and a melodic gush before the pace is shredded, and great leads hold it all together as the glue. The track jolts your blood, the guitars remain white hot, and the fury drowns out at the end. “Labyrinthian” is spacious when it starts with great melodies pouring in and the riffs just flexing in your face. Cherry’s vocals crush as everything spills into a breezy gaze, a quick breather after your throat is chopped heavily. The playing is elegant and dark, guitars flood your senses, and everything burns out with heavy emotion. “Evenaar” opens with a different pace as the playing chugs, the growls crush, and the leads add new rays of light. There’s a warmer post-rock vibe to much of this before the drums come unglued, your head fills up with clouds, and the growls well, sent to the finish line with devastating guitar work. “Winterhold” has great leads swimming as a thick fog rises, and then everything gives way to speed. The drums club as the playing encircles, exciting gusts make your adrenaline surge, and the shrieks maul, burning off into the night. “Deathbell Harvest” drips into the scene before rushing through, as the riffs stab and draw spurts of blood. The melodies crush amid warmth while the playing churns guts. The leads explode with energy, Cherry’s shrieks devastate, and the guitar work makes lava spit from the earth as the track winds down. This album makes me want to re-engage with “Skyrim” even if it inserts me hopelessly locked in the throes of vertigo. (May 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/NoctuleBand/

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://orcd.co/wretchedabyss

Or here (Europe): http://www.churchroadrecords.com/products/search?q=noctule

For more on the label, go here: https://translationloss.com/

And here: http://www.churchroadrecords.com/

5. WODE, ‘Burn in Many Mirrors’ (20 Buck Spin)

It’s been a devastating year for death metal, and that’s a good thing. You really want death metal to have a fun, vibrant year where everyone is happy? In this pandemic? At a time when we were at our mental worst, death metal was here to remind us things have been ugly all along, and UK crushers Wode were front and center.

Wode, who also incorporate black metal flourishes, always created music that destroys and refuses to let go, but it’s not just a heap of brutality. The band always has woven in melody, imagination, and fury into their formula, making it a more well-rounded attack than many other bands in their stratosphere. Wode returned to that formula with their third full-length “Burn in Many Mirrors,” their first since 2017 and initial offering through 20 Buck Spin. This record already was making seismic waves when 2021 still was relatively young, and it’s an album you should go out of your way to hear, especially if you bask in the dark arts and need some serious stimulation. The band—vocalist/guitarist/synth player M. Czerwoniuk, guitarist/backing vocalist D. Shaw, bassist E. Troup, drummer/guitarist/synth player T. Horrocks—delivers a mammoth display over 6 tracks and 39 minutes that never, ever let up.

“Lunar Madness” kicks off with a burst of violence and melody as the riffs race, and the playing explodes. The guitars just hammer away as Czerwoniuk’s growls get under your skin and ravage you, with the leads welling and swimming. The growls pummel as the song speeds up, rage pours out of every seam, and the track comes to a smothering end. “Serpent’s Coil” delivers strong riffs designed to clobber as the vocals scorch, and great leads drive the way. “Sulphuric Glow” crushes from the start as the guitars begin to stir, and the leads dare you to unleash yourself and take the journey with them. Classic metallic riffs act as a spine while a thrashing assault takes over your body, mashing you all over before coming to a merciful, albeit mangling, end. “Streams of Rapture (I,II,III)” ends the album, a 9:54-long triptych that starts with eerie keys floating and the drumming awakening before the track explodes. Everything is vicious and unforgiving as trudging power leaves bruises, and the growls gurgle. The intensity rounds back as a fiery, yet channeled attack is mounted, and the leads just take over. It’s a wrecking document that paid off the promise Wode has shown from the start. (April 2)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Wodecult

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/wode

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

BEST OF 2021: 10-6

10. SPECTRAL LORE, “Ετερόφωτος” (I, Voidhanger): Looking back on our own personal history can give us a chance to examine where we’ve been, what we’ve done as people, and if we’re on the right track to where we want to go in the future. Spectral Lore’s sole creator Ayloss was on a similar path as he constructed his project’s latest full-length record “Ετερόφωτος,” a title that loosely translates to “the one whose light comes from others.” Ayloss took time for serious self-reflection using maturity and awareness in order to navigate his path backward to go forward. His music is heavily immersed in black metal, a music form with a troubling past and present, though artists such as Ayloss have spent time trying to change some of that so it’s not entirely a pit of horrible people with even-worse ideas.

“Ατραπός” starts the record, a 12:42 epic that opens in a storm with Ayloss’ shrieks ripping into your rib cage. The track rampages as the fury builds, and the guitars jettison all over, clobbering the senses and leaving the room spinning. Guitars spit fire again, the tempo shifts, and the chaotic gust pulverizes until a cold front arrives, altering the temperature again. “The Golden Armor” is the shortest track, still running a healthy 7:33 and launching into a ferocious pace with speed and Ayloss’ growls crushing beneath their weight. “The Sorcerer Above the Clouds” runs 11:16 and begins with clean tones and warmth, lulling you into serenity until the bottom is torn out. Guitars come to life and hit the races as the drums rampage, and everything comes unglued. “Terean” closes the record, the longest selection here at 19:10. The track is an ambient piece that boils in alien noises, subtle beats, and voices traveling through the stars. Storms lightly spread and rain static, chants emerge, and strange waves lap over you, putting this journey to sleep deep within the earth’s core. (April 23)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/spectral.lorebm

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

9. KING WOMAN, “Celestial Blues” (Relapse): Kristina Esfandiari falls in with those who were ravaged by religion, who saw its worst face and spent years trying to recover. Her band King Woman has been a vessel for the mental anguish she suffered growing up in a Charismatic Christian family, where speaking in tongues and exorcisms in home were regular occurrences. On top of that, Esfandiari also suffered a near-death experience as a child, as well as faced constant threats of eternity in hell, and all of this is wrapped into King Woman’s second full-length, the enrapturing and cathartic “Celestial Blues.” This nine-track record is as raw and vulnerable as anything Esfandiari has put to tape, and that’s a major statement since the thematic material and music to this date have been both infectious and gripping.

The title track starts the record, quietly flowing as Esfandiari, in a chilled hush, calls, “The devil left a bruise, but God left a light on for Her wayward ones, left under a fountainhead for dead, casting out the spirit of death.” The track then bursts with life as she clings and climbs through the trauma, the music pounding away, her pain on display as the track bows out. “Morning Star” is the lead single and recounts the fall of Satan, and she makes him a more sympathetic character as she takes on his plight. “Boghz” is a slow drip at the start as the atmosphere develops, and her trademark whispery delivery gets inside you and chills. But you know the strike is coming, and as she wails, “Hey!” the heaviness untangles, and she howls defiantly, “Here’s what I’m gonna do, get down on my hands and knees for you, you know this is a lie, shot down by the arrows above.” “Paradise Lost” ends the record, focusing on the John Milton text of the same name that is another focus here. It starts with a hush, opening the wounds and letting the blood flow. “I need a place I can grieve,” Esfandiari admits as the tempo keeps you at an arm’s length. There is nothing in this world like King Woman, a force for which no one can possibly stand against and survive. (July 30)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/KNGWMN/

To buy the album, go here: http://relapse.com/king-woman-celestial-blues/

For more on the label, go here: https://relapserecords.bandcamp.com/

8. HELLOWEEN, self-titled (Nuclear Blast): As much as I love Helloween, and I’ve been a fan nearly since their start, even I didn’t expect their sort-of reunion and their self-titled record to be something that would be more than just a nostalgia trip. Fuck, was I ever wrong, and I could not be happier about it. This record is full of life and while it’s a little longer than it needs to be, it’s the perfect way to unite every era of the band into this 12-track, 64-minute record. Its current members—vocalists Mike Kiske and Andi Deris, guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen, guitarists Michael Weikath (a lifer) and Sascha Gerstner, bassist Markus Grosskopf (another lifer), drummer Daniel Loble—bring all their finest elements together and not just coexist but to thrive.

Out for the Glory” is just a killer opener as the track speeds in, and Kiske takes the lead, making it feel like the band’s first glory period again. The chorus is huge and surging, and then Deris blasts in and delivers some harsh screams as the guitar erupts, and the track ends in great glory. “Fear of the Fallen” starts clean and hammers away, as Deris takes the lead and drives. Shock of shocks, it’s another killer chorus, and then the guitars take turns with the soloing, giving everyone a chance to shine, and then everything rips back in, with the calls of, “Listen to your heart,” bursting with positivity. “Best Time” erupts with sounds bubbling and the energy bleeding. “Indestructible” brings chugging guitars and the pumpkins again defying all the odds, calling, “Because we are one,” as all their voices align. The track is anthemic as they battle for freedom, the guitar work bursts from the gates, and Kiske’s and Deris’ voices bring the track to its end. The awesome 12-minute closer “Skyfall,” a track about a fallen alien stuck here on earth, is classic Helloween, the perfect amalgamation of all their eras, bringing their best to the table. Kiske starts the track, sounding like he never went away, and Deris follows him up, adding more grit. It’s a great epic, one of the best tracks in their entire catalog. (June 16)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.helloween.org/

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/item/groups/192526.pre-orders.html

For more on the label, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

7. USTALOST, “Before the Glinting Spell Unvests” (Gilead Media): Yeah, we had our list busted, but the reason that happened is the middle of December we were delivered “Before the Glinting Spells Unvests,” the second effort from Ustalost, which is helmed by Will Skarstad, co-founder of black metal spirits Yellow Eyes. The album is just astonishingly great, which is no big surprise, and it makes a heavy lunge into even more immersive synthesizers and cosmic energy that aims to fill every pore with this record’s majesty. When I listen to this record, just like I did with every visit with Ustalost’s debut “The Spoor of Vipers,” I feen transported elsewhere, a place where my imagination can thrive and where strange scenes splash in my mind and play out along with the music.

“Enough Glass Will Cast a Shadow” get things started basking in a synth cloud that feels almost as if it’s emitting the green and blue from the cover before the track tears apart. The shrieks punish as they echo in the atmosphere, the pace charges with a progressive energy, and the riffs cascade, washing you away with them. “Stinging Stone” basks in fog as the tempo arrives under cover of night, and the vocals rip hard, joined by an inhuman clean choral section behind, taking you into the stars. The bass slinks and slithers as vicious cries jolt, and a blinding storm arrives that robs you of sight. The title track gets moving in a hurry as tricky riffs tangle you in laces and then taunt, encircling you with a gust of chaos. Chilling choral sections cause you to shiver as the guitars confound, the bass tramples, and a delirious push ends in soot. The 9:08-long closer “Bright Window Closing” is a track that muscles its way in with strong guitar work and flooding melodies that work alongside the vocals that carve into your skull. A disarming chorus sits behind and haunts while the pace doubles and blisters, folding in on itself. I can’t think of a better way to end 2021 than with another mind melt from Ustalost. (Dec. 17)

For more on the band, go here: https://ustalost.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

6. PANOPTICON, “…and Again Into the Light” (Bindrune Recordings): We long have had a soft spot for Panopticon, the atmospheric black metal project long helmed by Austin Lunn, and it’s because we’re constantly rewarded with records such as “…and Again Into the Light,” the band’s 10th full-length. While Panopticon often keep close to home with their melodic black metal intertwined by bluegrass, inspired by Lunn’s Kentucky origins, a new record never means regurgitation. Every fresh collection means a separate adventure that easily lives alongside the rest of the discography but always stands as its own, unique entry, and this eight-track, 71-minute beast continues that tradition of magical power and absolute wonder. Here, Lunn also is joined by violinist Charlie Anderson and cellist Patrick Urban, as well as guest vocalists Jan van Berlekom (Waldgewfluster) and Eric Moggridge (Aerial Ruin) to fully flesh out this vision, and their contributions are vital to the mood and texture.

The title track opens layering violins and tender acoustics with Lunn’s quieter vocals, an unassuming way to start the record, and that blends into “Dead Loons,” which remains tranquil for a stretch before the storm clouds open and soak the grounds, the heaviness entering into gloomy stretches as the violins swoon, making your heart gush with power and emotion. “Rope Burn Exit” starts in similar form with strings calling before the lava bursts, growls roar into the wilderness, and the flood of melodies enter your senses and flood you with stirring feelings that stay with you for the life of the track. That back end races even harder, flowing right into “A Snowless Winter” that’s as pummeling as anything on here, as is “A Moth Eaten Soul.” That track is gut wrenching and glorious, raging toward the edge of the wilderness with an unchained spirit that ends in volcanic ash. “As Golden Laughter Echoes (Reva’s Song)” is a short, rustic cut that pulls back on the intensity, and that bleeds into “The Embers at Dawn” that features Moggridge’s singing leading most of the way through a foggy dream, though the final moments are storming and huge. “Know Hope” is the closer, a devastating, dismantling track that cascades and crumbles, with some of the fieriest yet brightest guitar work that unloads and disappears into swelling strings. Every moment of this record is vital not only to heavy metal but to the human spirit. (May 15)   

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TheTruePanopticon

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.bindrunerecordings.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bindrunerecordings/

BEST OF 2021: 15-11

15. KHEMMIS, “Deceiver” (Nuclear Blast): It’s easy to get down on oneself when we don’t think we’re measuring up to an imagined set of rules, and our minds drive us into the void. Fuck, that very idea essentially is the thread of my life. A lot of this thinking flows through “Deceiver,” the excellent fourth record from doom-inspired classic heavy metal band Khemmis, and these six songs certainly are the darkest of the band’s run, even when they burst with glory. Mental health has taken a beating for so many of us, so not only do we struggle with whether we’re living up to expectations, we also have the burden of being able to cope with depression and anxiety, which the band—guitarist/vocalist Phil Pendergast, guitarist/vocalist Ben Hutcherson, drummer Zach Coleman—has plenty of experience managing themselves. All of that with the pressure of delivering “Deceiver” on metal giant Nuclear Blast, a challenge they were more than capable of meeting.

“Avernal Gate” gets things started, and it packs with it a surprise, namely some tasty melo-death riffs that sound decidedly Scandinavian. The vocals soar, though Hutcherson is there with his gutting growls where need be, and that element has a bigger role on this record. “House of Cadmus” begins with clean lines trickling in, and then things open in full, pushing the tempo harder and faster. There is heavier darkness, especially vocally as the moon beams are strangled, and then the growls engorge, scraping through ugly and morose as the track trickles out in pain. “Shroud of Lethe” starts a little doomier as it moves slowly and deliberately with Pendergast wondering, “Why should I atone and wash away the pain? I can’t trust the memories leading me astray, still I hold on to what I know are lies, written in stone.” “The Astral Road” closes the album with clean playing, echoing leads, and a classic metal assault that emerges and takes over the land. The pace gets exciting and digs even harder, great leads flex their muscle, and Pendergast calls, “I’m praying for the rain to take it all away.” Great record, yet another one for Khemmis, who answer to no one but themselves now.  (Nov. 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/khemmisdoom

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/nuclearblastrecords

14. BIG | BRAVE, “Vital” (Southern Lord): Canadian trio BIG|BRAVE have made more with less for nearly a decade now, and even since landing with Southern Lord three albums ago, the band has developed a wider audience among many different pockets of folks who like heavy music. The immersive “A Gaze Among Them” is a five-track album that resets what you expect when you sit down with a heavier record. The band—guitarist/vocalist Robin Wattie, guitarist Mathieu Ball (both use a variety of guitar and bass amps), and drummer Loel Campbell—mixes post-rock, drone, and atmospheric doom, and on this album, they let things breathe more and the oxygen envelop their creation, using a more minimalist approach for these creations.

“Muted Shifting of Space” opens the record with slow drumming, guitars awakening, and everything building into the mix. The track conjures a dream state, as Wattie’s singing bounces over top the din, and the track gets numbing, with her vowing, “You don’t get to continue,” and later more forcefully declaring, “You don’t get to do this.” “Holding Pattern” has drone ringing in, Wattie’s voice piercing, and the drums picking up, adding to the rumble. “They took the names, all!” Wattie delivers purposefully, while the intensity and volume expand from there. “The Deafening Verity” is the shortest song here at 2:56 (nothing else is shorter than 7 minutes), with spacey noises spreading, alien vibes being set, and Wattie’s singing hovering over ghostly, buzzing drone. “Sibling” closes the record as sounds soar and sting, whipping back at you, and burly waves continue to crash down and over the band during the entire song. Another record from a band making some of the most important and deceivingly powerful sounds in all heavy music. (April 23)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bigbravemusic

To buy the album (vinyl is available in July), go here: https://southernlord.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://southernlord.com/

13. HEAVY TEMPLE, “Lupi Amoris” (Magnetic Eye): Heavy Temple finally have delivered their debut full-length effort “Lupi Amoris” (translates to “wolves of love”). I was skeptical at first because I loved their previous lineup, but vocalist/bassist High Priestess Nighthawk surrounded herself with a smoking new lineup that includes guitarist Lord Paisley and drummer Baron Lycan. They created a five-track, 33-minute bruiser that reeks of doom thunder, bluesy haze, and psychedelic storms as the band is inspired by Angela Carter’s story The Company of Wolves, that takes the Little Red Riding Hood cautionary tale and turns it on its neck, embracing female sexuality and power, and lashing back against what society has deemed proper for a woman to possess and express. And they do it with fire.  

“A Desert Through the Trees” has the bass trampling and heavy blues riffs cutting into you, as the vocals soar. “I feel you like you feel me,” NightHawk wails, blasting you with sultry glory as the guitar work follows suit, blazing into hell. Things really pick up toward the end as psychedelic bubbling comes for you, melting steel, bringing the track to a delirious end. “The Wolf” brings a heavily trippy atmosphere that’s so thick you can practically touch it, and your head is just swimming in smoke. “The Maiden” has guitars glimmering and the bass rolling hard as the guitars ignite. The track pounds away, psyche madness stretches its black wings, and the soloing rips your face off, blistering and leaving you bruised at the end. “Isabella (with Unrelenting Fangs)” is the longest track, running 9:30 and starting with bass plodding and guitars agitating. The track absolutely swaggers as NightHawk howls, “Come to me, my king, let me kneel for you,” exuding power. The wait for this record was paid off generously. (June 18)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/HeavyTemple/

To buy the album, go here: http://lnk.spkr.media/heavy-temple-lupi-amoris

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords/

12. WORM, “Foreverglade” (20 Buck Spin): We must be nice to the Sunshine State again because they’ve now puked up Worm, a misery-inducing, doom-glazed death band that is bellying up to our table with their great third record (and first released domestically) “Foreverglade.” Slithering over six tracks and about 43 minutes, the band—Phantom Slaughter handles vocals and multiple instrumental duties, Nihilistic Manifesto offers guest guitar work, L. Dusk plays drums on a session basis, and Equimathorn provides added synth—buries you in the grotesque and wondrous, creating music that should absolutely sicken you but also provides a mental stimulation that makes your nerves tingle.

The album opens with the title track, a gloomy, dour crusher that soaks in misery and pain with the vocals sounding like they’re trying to gut themselves. The fury opens and chugs, punishing as a doom fog thickens and helps wilt every living thing, playing with your senses until the thing ends in smoke. “Murk Above the Dark Moor” plods and pounds as shrieks explode, with the accompanying growls attempting to bury any sense of hope. “Empire of the Necromancers” starts with the riffs flexing and the growls hammering, ripping sheets of rust off corroded metal. The keys increase their presence as strong melodies stretch their enormous wings, and the playing gusts, taking on a strangely proggy vibe, picking up more speed, and thickening the emotional toll. “Centuries of Ooze” closes the album with organs rising and a burly spirit hovering over this 9:48-long mauler. The feeling of dread spreads fast, crushing hard and aggressively, wrenching your tested muscles. I feel grimy after every listen, but I like that? (Oct. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://wormgloom.bandcamp.com/releases

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/worm

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

11. CONVERGE, “Bloodmoon I” (Epitaph): Supergroups don’t work, they never will, and we should just stop trying so we avoid further embarrassment. Um, except now Converge, Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm, and Stephen Brodsky have come together and blew up that notion with their first collaborative effort “Blood Moon I,” that technically is listed as a Converge release. This entire crew performed together before, playing reworked Converge songs at 2016’s Roadburn. But pulling together to create fresh material is much different, and having everyone involved writing and contributing not just their own parts but for others as well shows just how flexible everyone involved here truly is. Wolfe and Brodsky tend to share the largest portion of the vocals here, though Jacob Bannon’s unmistakable howl also lifts heavily, while everyone else—Converge is rounded out by guitarist Kurt Ballou, bassist Nate Newton, and drummer Ben Koller—mixes hardcore, metal, Western-style dreaming, noise, and post-rock gazing, often with all of that in the same song. It works so fucking gloriously, it’s almost infuriating!

“Blood Moon” opens the proceedings, slowly coming to life as the music clears its eyes to see the world more focused. Wolfe leads, but as the track gets rougher, Bannon emerges with his trademark yelp, and the track pushes and pulls from light to dark. “Coil” is awash in acoustics and a gentler tone with Wolfe and Brodsky sharing vocals. “It’s like a serpent coiled inside of me,” they both call as the storm thickens. Shrieks strike hard as the pace increases, and the track comes to a riveting finish. “Flower Moon” has keys welling and slide guitar haunting with Brodsky taking lead. The track is sinewy and mysterious, slithering darkly as the emotion thickens, with the final moments devoured by static. “Scorpion’s Sting” is prickly and steely, a perfect opening for Wolfe to come on and drive the dagger deeper. The track is slower and stormy, a fiery solo lights the sky, and sounds reverberate as the song has consumed fully the dusk horizon. “Blood Dawn” is the closer and basks in a Western vibe, the declining sun still streaking the sky. Wolfe leads as chant-like vocals lather, echoes make you question your grasp on reality, and calls of “blood moon” create seismic waves that work down your chest and into your guts. (Nov. 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/converge

And here: https://www.facebook.com/cchelseawwolfe

And here: https://www.facebook.com/CaveIn.Official

To buy the album, go here: https://kingsroadmerch.com/epitaph-records/

Or here: https://deathwishinc.com/products/converge-bloodmoon-i

For more on the label, go here: https://www.epitaph.com/

And here: https://deathwishinc.com/

BEST OF 2021: 20-16

20. KRIGSGRAV, “The Sundering” (Wise Blood): I’m like a broken record at this point, but having had one of the toughest mental health years of my life, taking solace in music that relates and helps me revel in that pain to find understanding has been crucial. Texas-based death/doom pounders Krigsgrav came along at an opportune time for me, as did their great sixth record “The Sundering.” This thing is heavy both musically and emotionally. It comes off as a collection of songs from people who have seen some shit, and that’s weirdly comforting because who among us hasn’t? This band—vocalist/rhythm guitarist Justin Coleman, guitarist Cody Daniels, drummer/bassist/clean vocalist David Sikora—just nails this and leaves you both cleaned out emotionally but also sufficiently devastated.

“Aeolus Speaks” gets things started as storming hangs over, ominous thunder rumbles, and that leads into “The Sun No Longer Reaches Here” that erupts with huge riffs and gurgling growls. The track gets savage as the pace picks up, and a doomy slurring hits over the chorus, mixing your brains. “Dread the Night” explodes with melody as the vocals power, and the pace chugs. The playing continues to heat up, bringing classic magic, the growls menace, and everything rolls in a pile of broken glass. “Spirit Walker” basks in elegant doom as the track starts, the growls corrode, and the playing opens even more, swallowing you whole. The leads feel like they soar through the air, moving through skullduggery and vicious blows. “Darkest Road” is the closer, and it smashes its way in with guitars glistening and an emotional toll being paid. Here at the end of the year, this record remains a trusted companion. (Aug. 6)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/krigsgrav

To buy the album, go here: https://krigsgrav.bandcamp.com/album/the-sundering

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wisebloodrecs

19. MARE COGNITUM, “Solar Paroxysm” (Extraconscious/I, Voidhanger): Under the Mare Cognitum banner, Jacob Buczarski often has concentrated on matters of the great beyond through the solar system and the universe. But on “Solar Paroxysm,” the fifth Mare Cognitum full-length and first in five years, the focus is turned inward, meaning on issues plaguing planet earth that aren’t necessarily virus related. There is plenty of unrest, political upheaval and chicanery, as well as social matters that remain problems to overcome, even though seemingly half the people alive don’t recognize or care about these matters. Therefore, you’re greeted by the angriest, most vicious Mare Cognitum record there ever was, a total emotional bloodletting.

“Αntaresian” kicks off deep into a sound woosh before things tear open, and for 11:16, the energy is just relentless. Shrieks strike as stirring melodies keep your brain working, and the tempo unloads and never quits. “Frozen Star Divinization” runs a healthy 10:58 as riffs explode and blow things apart, while the drums pummel, and the emotion floods to the surface. Daring punishment and channeled melodies lead toward a renewal of destruction, with Buczarski’s shrieks digging into your ribs. “Terra Requiem” runs 10:34, and it pulls back from the pace already achieved earlier, injecting a sense of sorrow and darkness into the mix. Shrieks and a storming pace add heaviness to the playing while a great cosmic swell immerses in alien intensity. Closer “Ataraxia Tunnels” is the longest track at 12:31, and it starts in space clouds that intoxicate. The vocals are vicious as the playing gets into the zone in a hurry as the drums rumble, and the leads flex their muscles. This is very deserved anger, and we all need to wake up as a people. (March 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MareCognitumMusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://music.extraconscious.com/music

Or here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: https://music.extraconscious.com/

And here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

18. TRANSILVANIA, “Of Sleep and Death” (Invictus Productions): I already was excited about Transilvania’s “Of Sleep and Death” late last year when I got the promo in my e-mail, and I absolutely devoured it. For everyone putting over Tribulation for their melodic, gloomy stab at death metal, I feel like this Austrian band pulls off that formula way, way better. This record, the band’s second, is an exciting, vicious, sprawling display that’s a blood rush from beginning to end. There also are roots that have grown from Transilvania into metal’s formative years, but it’s there as a texture and not as a commitment to the past. This is the record that has destroyed me the longest of the entire Top 40 based on its release date, and it hasn’t lost an ounce of intensity.

“Opus Morbi” stirs from the start as organs swirl and the guitars awaken before everything is ripped to shreds. Melodic fury and explosive growls send ripples, while crunchy and disorienting playing makes your eyeballs hurt. A fiery charge keeps hammering away, racing before everything burns off. “Hekateion” has guitars mashing and gruff growls staggering as speed and melody unite. “Lycanthropic Chant” lands stiff punches as everything comes to life, and the chorus fattens lips. The drums hammer and leave everything powdered while the guitars scrape at scabs and end the track in heated fashion. “Underneath Dying Stars” is your closer that bleeds into the picture as bassist/vocalist P. Čachtice bellows before the track comes unglued. The entrancing pace plays tricks while the guitars go off and unleash hell. Grisly growls turn into furious roars as the tempo speeds along, and the drums power the song to its devastating end. (Jan. 1)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/transilvaniaaustria/

To buy the album, go here: https://invictusproductions666.bandcamp.com/album/of-sleep-and-death

For more on the label, go here: https://invictusproductions.net/

17. ANTI-GOD HAND, “Wretch” (American Decline): “Wretch,” the debut full-length record from black metal miasma Anti-God Hand, displays an approach to the sub-genre that is jarring and swirling in cosmic chaos. The band, a quintet, hails from British Columbia, and that’s really about all we have other than knowing their seven-track offering runs about 33 minutes, all of which should capture your imagination and even instill in you wonder and terror. From the first time I heard this album, I was sucked into their strange universe and the journeys on which they send you, working more to challenge your psyche than to beat you into the earth. It remains an enigma to this day.

“Forest Outpost” cracks open with eeriness as echoes increase, washing into gross hiss. Smeary fury teams with gazey wonder, dangling into daring guitars that jolt hard, hammering into ugly fury. “Zero-Harm Environment” has guitars sweltering as the body is torn apart, and the shrieks utterly melt. Horror lurks as cold tranquility begins to spread, icing over your brain, and then riffs return and knife into your central nervous system. “Sacred Cannon” unloads sprawling riffs as the track just goes crazy, with rich melody bubbling to the surface. Shrieks scrape wounds that never healed, psychosis laps with a sickening thickness, and the playing covers everything with gore, soaring out into mystery. “The Axe That Splits the Cedar” closes the album, launching with finger tapping and fiery shrieks, smashing your bones into mush. The riffs soar through the air as the playing cascades, increasing the drama as the pace pushes. This is a criminally underappreciated band and record. (June 3)

For more on the band, go here: https://antigodhand.com/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://americandeclinerecords.bandcamp.com/

16. OUTRE-TOMBE, “Abyss Mortifere” (Temple of Mystery): Quebecois death metal maulers Outre-Tombe returned just when he needed them most—on Halloween—with their horrific and deadly third record “Abysse Mortifère” that should fill you with horrific joy. The band is as relentless as ever on this album, and trying to take notes on this thing was a challenge because everything blows by so fast, tearing the breath from your lungs. These nine tracks rip over 37 minutes, a perfectly proportioned serving of the vilest, mangiest death you’ll tend to find crawling out of the local graveyard. The record is vicious and relentless, an absolute joy in the most morbid sense.

The title track starts with noise zaps before it pounds the shit out of you, hammering and charging as the vocals smear your blood. The pace is punishing as it blisters before its abrupt end. “Cenobytes” landed at a perfect time for ghoul season, and it smothers with great force as it drives nails into your muscles. “Desossé” stomps and brings thrashy goodness and raspy growls as the punishment is dumped in heaping piles. The guitars go off the rails as the pace blinds, smashing and gurgling as it disappears into the void. “Hautet Court” brings the drums crashing down as the tempo smashes sanity while the vocals rub insults in your face. The guitars slaughter as heavy blows connect with their targets, pulverizing as the final shots spray recklessly. “Haruspex” ends the assault by bleeding in and then taking you apart by the limbs. The vocals corrode as the playing gets deadlier, growing vicious and heavy as the guitars rip out your guts. (Oct. 31)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063647946549

To buy the album, go here: https://templeofmystery.ca/new-arrivals/

For more on the label, go here: https://templeofmystery.ca/

BEST OF 2021: 30-21

30. TOWER, “Shock to the System” (Cruz del Sur): Traditional heavy metal has come back into focus the last half decade or so, which is great for folks like me who still want to revel in that glory. NYC killers Tower are among those who are doing some of the finest throwback metal of all, led by powerhouse singer Sarabeth Linden, and their second record “Shock to the System” is such a raucous and white-hot good time that refuses to relent over its 10 tracks and 39 minutes. “Blood Moon” kicks things off with the proper amount of energy with Linden giving off the first indication of her goddamn ridiculously strong vocals; “Running Out of Time” gets the juices flowing properly and heavily; “Lay Down the Law” lets the bass pace as the guitars get churning, and Linden’s vocals echo over the verses, feeling a little spooky; and “Powder Keg” is your closer, and it’s one last chance to soak in your adrenaline as everything lights up. If you can’t enjoy this one, you might be dead. (Nov. 12)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TOWERnyc/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

29. GHOROT, “Loss of Light” (self-released): “Loss of Light” is the debut from Boise, Idaho-based crunchers Ghorot, who pledge to worship at the altars of sludge, doom, stoner, and black metal, and they definitely achieve that goal on this punishing five-track, 40-minute record. This is a sooty, blackened, psychotic good time as the band hammers you with great darkness, crushing riffs, and vicious vocals that batter you completely. It’s a really great record, one I have been visiting over and over. “Harbinger” starts the record by heating up with an absolutely killer riff that snakes around you, swaggering as the growls begin to pummel; “Woven Furnace” delivers bubbling guitars as the pace pummels, and the vocals mash hellish growls and muscular shrieks into one ugly package; “In Endless Grief” is your closer, a 12:26-long crusher that slips in and out of darkening mood as the vocals dice into your mind. (July 23)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ghorot

To buy the album (digital, vinyl), go here: https://ghorot.bandcamp.com/album/loss-of-light

Or here (CD): https://www.inverse.fi/shop/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=940&osCsid=0d2ee1eec5a9a69bfbbfce61546aa55b

For more on the label, go here: https://www.inverse.fi/

28. THE SILVER, “Ward of Roses” (Gilead Media): The Silver contain a group of artists who have created some of the more impactful music in heavy metal over the past decade (Crypt Sermon, Horrendous), but here, they deliver sounds you will and won’t expect from them in a way that’s never not enthralling. Their debut offering is “Ward of Roses,” and it provides eight tracks that mix a bevy of different sounds in a manner I don’t really think I’ve heard before. It’s heavy, gloomy, mournful, vulnerable, and exciting, a mix that feels like they’re on to creating something that is unique to them and very much something that makes every drop of your blood sizzle with excitement. “…First Utterance” is a fluid, fog-creating instrumental opener that sets the stage and moves toward “Fallow” where the guitars rise, and the track splits at the middle. “Vapor” runs 9:37, and doomy hell unloads as the shrieks penetrate, and your guts are wrenched as you’re tossed back and forth. “Then Silence…” is the final cut, starting with jabbing guitars and then shrieks that make your spine feel crunched. It’s a mix of chaos and gloom that unite and burn off like jet fuel. (Oct. 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TheSilverOfficial

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/collections/pre-orders

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/

27. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, “Primordial Arcana” (Relapse): Longtime champions of the natural world around them, especially the majesty of the Pacific Northwest, black metal dreamers Wolves in the Throne Room continue to jolt our bloodstreams and capture our imaginations with their incredible “Primordial Arcana,” their seventh but first for new label home Relapse. This is not quite like the records that preceded this one; this album is full of an energy and excitement we haven’t heard from them before with shorter songs that are focused and powerful. “Mountain Magick” starts the record, slowly ushering a spiritual vibe that is thick and ever present before great riffs unload and tangle you, pulling you into the heart of the song. “Spirit of Lightning” is one of their best songs ever, a swirling storm with shrieks hammering as tornadic hell touches down, sending winds, rain, and chaos spreading. “Masters of Rain and Storm” is the longest track, running 10:44 and tearing open with the guitars showing meanness. The track crushes and gets muscular, trading ferocity with the woodsy folk moments. This album is a goddamn revelation. (Aug. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://wittr.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/b/wolves-in-the-throne-room

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

26. CRYPTA, “Echoes of the Soul” (Napalm): Bands dissolving memberships isn’t always a bad thing, and when Nervosa underwent an upheaval, it resulted in that group reconstituting and the birth of the deadly Crypta, led by vocalist/bassist Fernanda Lira. Their debut record “Echoes of the Soul” is a 10-track, 42-minute bruiser that combines deadly death metal and punishing melodies that combine to form a machine that is impossible to stop. After “Awakening” drips filth and disgust, “Starvation” awaits and arrives fully aiming to tear out your guts with precision and fury. “Possessed” has some really impressive guitar work and feels like classic terrain, leaving you heaving and bruised. “Shadow Within” has some properly murky playing and precision that is both impressive and astonishing; and “Dark Knight of the Soul” is evil and punishing, an example of Crypta at their finest as they carve their own bloody path. (June 11)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cryptadeath

To buy the album (U.S./Canada), go here: https://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/

Or here (rest of world): https://napalmrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://label.napalmrecords.com/

25. GENGHIS TRON, “Dream Weapon” (Relapse): A 13-year absence resulted in a reconfigured Genghis Tron both in lineup and sonic presentation, and album that leaves almost entirely behind their grindcore roots and goes deep and heavy into synth-ensconced passages that feel like being locked in a story your brain is telling you while you’re in slumber. So, yeah, it might not have all of the heaviness of their past work, but they move on for the better as this record is an absolute gem, an ear worm that digs deep within you and makes you see visions you couldn’t previously have imagined. “Pyrocene” hits with beats clashing and frosty keys before new vocalist Tony Wolski’s wonderfully ghostly singing starts to move. Strange ambiance doubles as your head is immersed with sounds and ideas, and a mechanical dream unravels. “Alone in the Heart of the Light” delivers jabbing keys and echo as your brain ices over. The music is cosmic at heart as your body is numbed delightfully while the drums rustle. Closer “Great Mother” runs 8:59, allowing the synth to loom and roam before things power up. Sounds rain down as Wolski’s singing pelts away from you, feeling like a transmission from the spirit world. (March 26)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/GenghisTron/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/item/96762

For more on the label, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

24. CHROME WAVES, “The Rain Will Cleanse” (Disorder Recordings): Chrome Waves’ new record “The Rain Will Cleanse” is an experience I wasn’t entirely prepared for as murky goth-rock-splashed post-black metal misery is packed warmly into these six songs. Yet the warmth and longing in these tracks, the absolute vulnerability is what really took me by surprise. The band’s music has shifted a lot over the years, lessening the black metal pressure and really upping the drab majesties that splash their wonderfully moody music, with this album sticking into your ribs like a deadly sharp knife jammed there by someone you must have wronged at some point. “When Night Falls” gets off to a murky start as the melodies thicken and pull you under, and a strong chorus, which is their knack on this record, knocks you for a loop. “Sometimes” is a tremendous song, the best thing on here, and it feels gothy and massive at first, pummeling with moody singing, with the call of, “Looking for a place to sleep eternally,” ringing out in your brain. “Aspiring Death” is the closer, and it’s dark and shadowy as the song basks under the stars before shrieks rain down. (Sept. 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/chromewavesofficial

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: https://chromewaves.bandcamp.com/album/the-rain-will-cleanse

Or here (Europe): https://avantgardemusic.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://disorder-recordings.com/

And here: https://avantgardemusic.com/

23. LAMP OF MURMUUR, “Submission and Slavery” (Black Gangrene): Black metal and supremely dark goth music make so much sense together, but it never felt quite as home as it does on “Submission and Slavery,” the second full-length from Lamp of Murmuur. Helmed solely by M., this band has become one of the most influential in this sub-genre, and for good reason. This banner has been one that has, for the best, changed minds on how this type of music is played and constructed, but it remains as true to the roots as one can be. “Submission and Slavery” is a six-track record that enshrouds listeners in darkness and allure, and how can anyone deny tracks such as the immersive, rumbling, and utterly dark “Reduced to Submission and Slavery”; “Deformed Erotic Visage,” a piece that is built with desperate cries, riffs encircling you, and goth majesty that wraps around every bend; and the killer album-closing cover of Christian Death’s “As Evening Falls,” as proper a setup as any for a band that certainly learned many tricks from the seminal artist? M.’s work keeps coming into clearer focus, and this is a Lamp album that rattles psychological cages. (Sept. 16)

For more on the band, go here: https://lampofmurmuur.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://lampofmurmuur.bandcamp.com/album/submission-and-slavery

Or here: https://www.blackgangrene.com/product/lamp-of-murmuur-submission-and-slavery-digicd/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.blackgangrene.com/

22. STORMKEEP, “Tales of Othertime” (Van): Black metal and battlefield fantasies are things that go so well together and always have ever since the beginning, something Stormkeep capitalizes on with their excellent debut record “Tales of Othertime.” If you need music that makes you feel like you’re roaming through a darkened castle, blade in hand as you fight to survive, then this music should be what gets you there. Combining members of groups such as Blood Incantation, Wayfarer, Abysmal Dimensions, and countless other, Stormkeep make the most of these six tracks and 43 minutes, kicking you off right with “The Seer,” a thunderous dose of icy black metal that revels in the battle that also includes the elements. “The Citadel” is an instrumental track bleeding with dungeon synth and wonder, and elsewhere we get roaring high points with “A Journey Through Storms” that stomps guts but also keeps your imagination running overtime; and closer “Eternal Majesty Manifest” that starts at the heart of battle before exploding with symphonic chaos that swallows you into a world of frigidity. This is an incredible late-year adventure that will shed your blood. (Nov. 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://stormkeep-odl.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://van-records.com/Home

21. DOODSWENS, “Lichtvrees” (Svart): Doing battle against daylight seems like a futile cause, because no one has been able to topple the sun quite yet, but that didn’t discourage Dutch crushers Doodswens (their name translates to “death wish”) and what they unleash their debut full-length offering “Lichtvrees” onto the world. The title means “fear of light,” and perhaps that’s one of the reasons this record resonated with me so much. I tend to thrive in the darkness, and any fluorescent light is an immediate enemy, so I’m ready to take up arms with vocalist/guitarist Fraukje van Burg and drummer Inge van der Zon as they deliver fury, mystery, and a lashing back at the daytime hours, the foe of these menacing spirits. “In Mijn Bloed” buzzes as it opens before the shrieks rip in, and the playing totally devastates, leaving your skeleton shaking; “Eindzicht” brings sweltering noise and a static storm, moving through riffs and complicated melody that eats away at you; and “Het Zwartewaterland” that’s dreamy and weird at first but then completely comes unglued. The playing rumbles viciously, lathering in total blackness as the drums decimate, with van Burg’s vicious wails keeping you at her mercy. (Dec. 3)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/DoodswensOfficial/

To buy the album, go here: https://svartrecords.com/product/doodswens-lichtvrees-album/?goal=0_4a25200f14-d3eb44e50a-98321619&mc_cid=d3eb44e50a&mc_eid=a10b82c416

For more on the label, go here: https://svartrecords.com/

BEST OF 2021: 40-31

40. GRAVE MIASMA, “Abyss of Wrathful Deities” (Dark Descent/Sepulchral Voice): Death metal largely has reigned supreme the past few years, and that’s because of bands such as Grave Miasma, who entranced and battered with “Abyss of Wrathful Deities,” their second full-length effort and first since 2013. We missed their entrancing and shadow-heavy sound, and these nine songs that bleed over 53 minutes are nightmarish, strange to navigate, and impossible to properly classify, which makes what’s going on that much more intense. Highlights are “Rogyapa” that unloads bursting guitars and snarling vocals, while the pace is punchy and even a little deranged; “Ancestral Waters” splatters as the growls mar, and the leads engulf and tangle you in power; and “Under the Megalith” that can undo even the strongest of mental wills, a storm that gets gnarlier as the playing explodes and spirals, and furious hell pushes into a violent end. (May 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/gravemiasma

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

Or here: http://www.sepulchralvoice.de/shop/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

And here: http://www.sepulchralvoice.de/

39. ESOCTRILIHUM, “Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath” (I’ Voidhanger): It’s still possible to be overcome by big stories, major themes, and the overall hugeness of an art form that doesn’t take place in a theater, and Esoctrilihum, the project helmed by sole artist Asthâghul (vocals, guitars, bass, drums, synths, violins, piano) is out to prove that. Well, maybe that’s not the sole purpose, but the music, deeply situated in doom, black metal, and plenty of other dark tidings, always has been content you cannot just sample. You have to commit, which Asthâghul proves again on “Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath,” his sixth album in five years and his lengthiest at 12 tracks and nearly 78 minutes. It’s like a strange tunnel leading you underground on tracks such as chilling “Ezkikur”; “Baahl Duthr” where intense riffs explode and drive in daggers, and gruff growls sink in their claws; and vicious and foggy “Zhaïc Daemon.” (May 21)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Esoctrilihum-305266723253656

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

38. WOMAN IS THE EARTH, “Dust of Forever” (Init): South Dakota black metal band Woman Is the Earth is one of those artists that for me, as each time they release new music, I feel like they reveal added layers of their raging spirits. “Dust of Forever,” their catapulting fifth record, is another great beast unleashed upon the world, this one a little different than the creatures that preceded it. They delve a little deeper into atmosphere and post-black metal, layering with sounds and impulses that expand their headspace. You can hear evidence of that on the primitive spirit that is “Emerald Ash”; “Through a Beating Heart” that is vulnerable and volcanic; exhilarating “Spiritual Rot”; and gut-busting closer “Face of Snakes” that devastates before disappearing into the cosmos. (Aug. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://facebook.com/womanistheearthband/

To buy the album, go here: https://initrecords.bandcamp.com/album/dust-of-forever

For more on the label, go here: https://initrecords.bandcamp.com/

37. FELLED, “The Intimate Earth” (Transcending Obscurity): My first experience with “The Intimate Earth,” the debut record from folk-infused black metal band Felled, did not occur when I was in nature, but it didn’t take me long to feel like I was amid thick trees, human-made trails, and oxygen not sickened by industry. The more I listened, the more I realized I was completely overcome by this record, and that the band—guitarist/vocalist Cavan Wagner, violin and viola player/backing vocalist Brighid Wagner (both of Poet), bassist Isamu Sato (ex-YOB, currently of Omnihility), drummer/vocalist Jenn Grunigen (Cerridwen)—could transport me wherever, no matter where I was locked physically. This is a journey that rewards constantly with tracks including emotional “Fire Season on the Outer Realm”; “Sphagnum in the Hinterlands” that makes it feel like your insides are coming alive; and great closer “The Salt Binding” that’s psychologically jarring and soars gloriously. (July 2)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/felledband

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: https://transcendingobscurity.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://transcendingobscurity.8merch.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://tometal.com/

36. PRIMEVAL WELL, “Talkin’ in Tongues With Mountain Spirits” (Moonlight Cypress Archetypes): Not many records seem like they second as ghost stories, but most albums are not Primeval Well’s stunning “Talkin’ in Tongues With Mountain Spirits,” the second document from this bluegrass-inspired black metal force. It feels like walking through haunted woods or scaling mountains that contain stories within their twists and turns as this Nashville band enraptures you for a little over an hour with tracks including “Raising Up Antlers to Our Mountain Gods” that begins in heavy mood and takes you for an exhilarating ride; “Ghost Fires Burn Light in Our Eyes” that combines stew-thick black metal with progressive excitement; and “Where All Things Are Forgotten” that weaves old folk song “Am I Born to Die” into a thunderous eruption that wholly inhabits your soul. (Oct. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/primevalwell

To buy the album, go here: https://primevalwell.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MoonlightCypressArchetypes

35. BODY VOID, “Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth” (Prosthetic): To call a record heavy on a goddamn metal site likely sounds ridiculous, but that’s the only true way to describe anything Body Void does. And if you witness them live, you might piss. It’s that heavy. Anyway, “Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth” likely was an introduction to many who are now learning of them as they’re aligned with Prosthetic, and what awaited was seismic-shifting doom and sludge that literally feels like it’s ripping your body apart. This four-track, nearly 52-minute-long crusher has a lot of might to offer on tracks such as “Laying Down in a Forest Fire,” a title that really tells you all you need to know; crushing “Fawn”; and mammoth closer “Pale Man” that trudges and makes it feel like you endured a 10,000-year physical battle. (April 23)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bodyvoid

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.prostheticrecords.com/

34. SKEPTICISM, “Companion” (Svart): Doom legends Skepticism have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone, yet they still go out there every record with something that pushes their boundaries and keeps their audiences breathless. Both grim and elegant, the band’s organ-soaked sound remains something no other band has been able to duplicate, and we’re deep into the sorrow and pain on “Calla” that immediately immerses itself in the drama as the keys unload, the guitars tangle, and the growls slither through, making for a chilling presence; “The March of the Four” runs a healthy 10:04, the longest track on the collection, and it delivers cascading organs and growls lumbering with the guitar work flexing its muscles; and “The Swan and the Raven” that closes out the album with organs pumping, the growls carving a path, and a dark adventure beginning to take hold. The track takes off into the sullen night, the drama drowns you, and everything ends in a gothic nightmare. (Sept. 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/officialskepticism

To buy the album, go here: https://svartrecords.com/product/skepticism-companion-album/

For more on the label, go here: https://svartrecords.com/

33. NOLTEM, “Illusions in the Wake” (Transcending Obscurity): Noltem’s “Illusions in the Wake” fittingly arrived in the autumn, as their atmospheric, nature-driven black metal seemed to dash all sort of colors on their thunderous debut album. The rushing waters and the propulsive black metal floods your senses, which seems by design, as the band—guitarist/keyboardist Max Johnson, bassist Shalin Shah, drummer/vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist John Kerr—immerses you in the world of rich hues that fill your mind to its tipping point. “Figment” is the 8:30-long opener that arrives in rushing waves lapping the shores before the track opens in glory, the guitars leading, and shrieks hammer away; “Beneath the Dreaming Blue” is both punishing and thoughtful, dashing at corners; “Ruse” is an 8:48 gem that emerges in the heart of rich vibration and bustling power; and closing instrumental “On Shores of Glass” is blazing and progressive, taking you underneath the waters. (Oct. 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/noltem

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://transcendingobscurity.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://transcendingobscurity.aisamerch.de/shop-en_1

For more on the label, go here: https://tometal.com/

32. KOLDOVSTVO, “Ни царя, ни бога” (Extraconscious/Babylon Doom Cult/Folkvangr): “Ni Tsarya, Ni Boga,” the debut record from Koldovstvo, is an enigma. Little is known about the band. Their country of origin is unknown as is their lineup, and their name means “witchcraft” in Russian. That tells us very little, so we turn to their music, which is almost indescribable. Yet, our job is to do just that, and it’s a whirlwind of strange, almost euphoric melodies intertwined with their immersive black metal that can take you down into the earth. “I” delivers riffs that spiral and tease as the tempo rushes and the shrieks rake your back, with pastoral clean calls arriving behind that. “III” envelopes you in synth as the track opens and rumbles the ground, shrieks echo, and the playing drives hard. “VI” ends the adventure with a synth blur before the grounds explode. A smattering of color arrives as the guitars cut a sharp path, leaving the melody to take center and end the track basking in strange light. (March 5)

For more on the band, go here: https://koldovstvo.bandcamp.com/releases

To buy the album, go here: https://music.extraconscious.com/album/ni-tsarya-ni-boga

Or here: https://www.babylondoomcultrecords.com/product/koldovstvo-ni-tsarya-ni-boga-lp/

Or here: https://www.folkvangrrecords.com/products/695711-koldovstvo

For more on the label, go here: https://music.extraconscious.com/

And here: https://www.babylondoomcultrecords.com/

And here: https://www.folkvangrrecords.com/

31. GHASTLY, “Mercurial Passages” (20 Buck Spin): Death metal has been swimming in weirdness since the start, and Ghastly have jumped into the deep end to add their own bizarre contributions, such as what they execute on “Mercurial Passages.” Granted, the Finnish band doesn’t go too far into the bizarre; so a non-adventurous listener still could get taken for a ride from the heaviness and work their way into the mind-numbing drama. “Out of the Psychic Blue” has the drums lighting up and daring riffs crumbling forward as the growls go to work at your slowly congealing gashes. “Parasites” tears open and attacks your central nervous system before the growls go to work on your flesh. “Mirror Horizon” ends the album, a 7:25-long piece that starts landing blows right away, with the growls smashing and the guitar work turning up the temperature. (May 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ghastlydeathmetal

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/ghastly

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/