And starting off at number fifteen. . .
15. Pan-Amerikan Native Front – Little Turtle’s War (United States – Independent)
Black metal with a dash of awe. Pan-Amerikan Native Front’s second full-length is intense with power and rage. It’s lo-fi production adds to the chaos. My favourite track, The Great White Beaver Lurks, is an awesome mid-paced song among the disruption.
14. Friisk – ..un torügg bleev blot Sand (Germany – Vendetta)
Unlike Pan-Amerikan, Friisk bestows intense moods and atmosphere with their debut album. Similar at times to one of my favourite Icelandic black metal bands, Auðn, Friisk brilliantly showcases some blistering speed alongside their dramatic performances.
13. Fluisteraars – Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking (Netherlands – Eisenwald)
It’s rare to see 20+ minute black metal songs, yet Fluisteraars pieces one together and it goes by in an instant. Almost avant-garde at times, Fluisteraars’s fourth album is ambitious and rich with nuance – all-the-while still showcasing moments of insanity.
12. Drawn and Quartered – Congregation Pestilence (United States – Krucyator Productions)
A group of death metal veterans, Drawn and Quartered’s newest release features the band’s technical ability to write strong, creative music. With a solid old-school death metal sound, Congregation Pestilence is rich with pacing and riffs to make your ears bleed. Without going into the typical verse/chorus structure, D&Q’s music is filled with brilliance.
11. WODE – Burn In Many Mirrors (United Kingdom – 20 Buck Spin)
A mix of blackened/death thrash metal makes WODE’s third album an extreme journey to experience. Unrelenting and surprisingly melodic, the album comes with a great energy to it. With unexpectedly catchy riffs and crisp production, WODE’s ever-changing style serves them well.
10. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined (United States – Metal Blade)
Another group of veterans in the death metal world, Cannibal Corpse’s newest may be one of their best since Kill (although I prefer Torture). While still keeping up the same sound listeners have become accustomed to, newcomer Erik Rutan added some awesome power I’m sure no one felt the band was lacking.
9. Ŭkcheănsălâwit – Alaskan Escape EP (Canada – Les Productions Hérétiques)
My favourite EP of the year! This speedily album feels bleak and cold – which is exactly what it was going for. To showcase a song: To an Alaskan Glacier, while minimal in instruments, is huge in drama making for an incredible feat to achieve. I would surely buy a full LP of this music whenever one is made.
8. Olhava – Frozen Bloom (Russia – Avantgarde Music)
While Fluisteraars had a single 20-minute song, Olhava has one, plus a few more over the 10-minute mark. The Russian duo pieces beautifully intense music with a raging atmosphere and subtle soundscapes. While two of the four songs are really black metal, Olhava brings in drone and ambient elements which perfectly encapsulates the ebb and flow of the natural concept they were aiming for in Frozen Bloom.
7. Outre-Tombe – Abysse Mortifère (Canada – Temple of Mystery Records)
This band just keeps impressing. Outre-Tombe’s now three for three on making my annual lists and for good reason – their music is really flipping awesome. Moments of Abysse Mortifère remind me of early-Voivod, while others standout as early-Morbid Angel. A ripping good time, Abysse Mortifère knocks it out of the park.
6. Cynic – Ascension Codes (United States –Season of Mist)
After two thirds of the band passed away in 2020, how could Cynic continue? Paul Masvidal carries on Sean Reinert’s and Sean Malone’s legacy with Ascension Codes – a strange, yet familiar feeling. While the album feels bogged down by short interludes between songs, the music is an emotional progressive journey: absolutely brilliant and constantly transcending.
5. Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment 3 (United States – InsideOut)
Their first release since LTE2 in 1999, LTE3 brings back the brilliance of Dream Theater members John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, and Mike Portnoy, along with legendary bassist Tony Levin, to produce one of the most surprising albums for me this year. All-instrumental, LTE3 is not so much a jam session like previous albums, but a well-executed romp into prog rock and metal.
4. Grima – Rotten Garden (Russia – Naturmacht Productions)
My favourite atmospheric black metal album of the year, Grima’s Rotten Garden was also the first album I picked up when it was released in January. It has been regularly spun since. It’s haunting beauty comes together with nature and grandiose scope. With the odd keyboard frill and additional accordion in certain songs, Rotten Garden is absolutely a fresh listen to every spin.
3. Koldovstvo – Ни царя, ни бога (??? – Extraconscious Records)
Not much is known about the band and their debut album: A Russian band name. Roman Numeral song titles. Signed to an American label. Is it one person or a group? What Ни царя, ни бога is though, is an experience. Was the album recorded in another room? The production is both astonishing and very entrancing. It’s albums like this one which I live for. Tracks I and IV are absolute standouts.
2. Ferriterium – Calvaire (France – Epictural Production)
Also released in January, I unfortunately wasn’t able to grab a physical copy as it sold out. And it sold out fast for good reason too: it’s incredible. Immediately fast and dramatic, Calvaire is doused in both strength and agony. A rich and fast-paced album, it’s still a melodic black metal journey filled with so much emotion and heartbreak, you find yourself picking up pieces when all is said and done.
1. Mannveira – Vitahríngur (Iceland – Dark Descent Records)
There’s a handful of albums that happen to be there when you need them the most. Mannveira’s debut album Vitahríngur just happened to be that album for me this year.
Doused in sludge and dreariness, Vitahríngur time-and-time again happened to be my go-to when I needed it the most. It’s raw, rather simplistic approach to music writing can keep the listener engrossed to the music and feel what they need to feel.
Rarely going into blast beats or fast speeds, the album keeps a mostly mid-paced tempo to it – its dark nature sucking you in with each kick of the bass drum. The muddied vocals give grief, anger, and sorrow, keeping with the overall tone of the album. The song, Í köldum faðmi is a perfect example of all of that.
While the title track offers a bit of optimism, the album constantly keeps you down, throwing the listener back into the cacophonous well.
While straying a slight bit from the overall sound of Icelandic black metal, Vitahríngur still defines its own sound with a nihilistic approach and gloomy dissonance.
Ungfell – Es grauet
Anneke van Giersbergen – The Darkest Skies are the Brightest
Cerebral Rot – Excretion of Mortality
Dordeduh – Har
Hulder – Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry
The Crown – Royal Destroyer
Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Steven Wilson – The Future Bites
Darkthrone – Eternal Hails
Bent Knee – Frosting