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/

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