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/

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