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/

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