My Top Albums of 2021

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.

https://pan-amerikannativefront.bandcamp.com/album/little-turtles-war

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.

https://friisk.bandcamp.com/album/un-tor-gg-bleev-blot-sand

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.

https://fluisteraars.bandcamp.com/

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.

https://krucyator.bandcamp.com/album/congregation-pestilence

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.

https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/burn-in-many-mirrors

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.

https://cannibalcorpse.bandcamp.com/album/violence-unimagined

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.

https://ukcheansalawit.bandcamp.com/album/alaskan-escape

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.

https://avantgardemusic.bandcamp.com/album/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.

https://templeofmystery.bandcamp.com/album/abysse-mortifere

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.

https://cyniconline.bandcamp.com/album/ascension-codes

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.

https://open.spotify.com/album/6GDFV4kWsQDYuah6tSqmu2

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.

https://grima.bandcamp.com/album/rotten-garden

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.

https://koldovstvo.bandcamp.com/album/-

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.

https://ferriterium.bandcamp.com/album/calvaire

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.

https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/vitahr-ngur

Honourable Mentions:

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

Most Disappointed:

Steven Wilson – The Future Bites

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Bent Knee – Frosting

Top Albums of 2018

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Ungfell – Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz

This Swiss band’s second release, Ungfell’s black/folk metal blend is raw and unfiltered. With a ripping bass lines and fearful screams, this album comes out to be one of the better black metal albums I’ve heard this year. While moments may seem chaotic, the band does feature peaceful – if not even tranquil, melodic moments – which made for an album that really stands out.

Listen to the whole album here:
https://ungfell.bandcamp.com/album/mythen-m-ren-pestilenz

14. Judas Priest – Firepower

Legends. When Judas Priest released Redeemer of Souls in 2014, I considered it to be their best album since Painkiller. While Firepower cannot be compared to it, it is one helluva beastly album. The riffs are crisp, songwriting strong, and Halford just rips it. Their song Flame Thrower stands out as one of the neatest songs on the album – giving me throwbacks to Sad Wings of Destiny days (I know, right?) While the album may not be the strongest in the Priest catalog, it certainly is a powerhouse not to be reckoned with against other albums in 2018.

See the music video to “Spectre”:

13. Amorphis – Queen of Time

Amorphis rarely can do any wrong. With Queen of Time, the band shows yet again that they are one of the greatest modern metal bands. Queen of Time is actually a great representation of where the band has gone over the past decade. If anything, it showcases how strong the band is with their storytelling without making it feel like the same song after song, album after album (lookin’ at you, Amon Amarth). Queen of Time is quite simply a testament to the ever-evolving Amorphis musicianship.

Check out the video to “Amongst Stars” here:

12. Torture Rack – Malefic Humiliation

I can hear Anakin Skywalker saying, “Now THIS is death metal!” The brutality from this American band reminds me of recent releases from newer death metal bands such as Rude and Outre-Tombe. Given that this is only the second album from Torture Rack, it feels like they’re seasoned veterans of the genre. With pounding songs like “Mace Face” and annihilating riffs like in “Lurking in the Undercroft,” this album makes me excited to hear what else this band has to offer.

Listen to the album here:
https://listen.20buckspin.com/album/malefic-humiliation

11. Satan – Cruel Magic

New Wave of British Heavy Metal at its finest. Their third album since their return in 2013, Cruel Magic just crushes. Never missing a beat or sounding tired. Vocalist Brian Ross dominates and arguably is the highlight of the album with his very powerful range. Right off the bat, the first track, “Into the Mouth of Eternity” sets the pace for the rest of the unrelenting album, making Cruel Magic’s release one of the highlights of this year.

Check out the album here:
https://satanuk.bandcamp.com/album/cruel-magic

10. The Tangent – Proxy

Whenever The Tangent releases something, you have to stop and give it a listen because there’s always something musically going on that’ll stick with you. Leader Andy Tillison groups together like-minded musicians for a blissful mix of different genres: blending and fusing into one another seamlessly. From jazz fusion, prog rock, funk, alternative, and much more, each song stands out on its own yet still ties together on the album. It’s dramatic, powerful, and makes for one incredible audio experience.

Watch the lyric video for “The Adulthood Lie” here:

9. Sear Bliss – Letters from the Edge

Experimental would be an understatement. After a six year hiatus, the Hungarian black metal outfit return with yet another strange, yet familiar album. It’s grand in its scope and feels triumphant throughout. It’s hard to really put a pin on why I really enjoy this album because there’s a lot offered. I’d recommend you give it a listen for yourself.

Check out the album here:
https://searblisshhr.bandcamp.com/album/letters-from-the-edge

8. Outre-Tombe – Nécrovortex

The third band on my list with their second album! Outre-Tombe from Quebec arguably outdid themselves after their 2015 debut (which surely would’ve made my Top 15 had I heard it in time). Nécrovortex is classic death metal that’s fast, demanding, pounding, and brilliantly crafted. While the production is a lot cleaner than traditional death metal usually sounds, it doesn’t take away from the overall feel of the album – making for one of the best sounding traditional death metal albums this year.

Listen to the full album here:
https://templeofmystery.bandcamp.com/album/n-crovortex

7. Altars of Grief – Iris

Yet another second release, these Canadian metal heads offer an exquisite and sometimes gut-wrenching take on blackened doom metal. With parts often feeling greatly inspired by the late David Gold and Woods of Ypres, Altars of Grief come at you with eight well-thought out and crushing songs that really make me miss the halcyon days of their Canadian counterpart. I can’t get enough of this album.

Listen to the album here:
https://altarsofgrief.bandcamp.com/album/iris

6. Ihsahn – Ámr

Guys, it’s Ihsahn. Since I’ve started doing my Top 15s, he’s always been mentioned. While Arktis was a bit of a letdown, Ámr comes back and wipes the slate clean. Boldly starting the album with electric-sounding keyboards, the album unfolds into constrained progressive chaos. It’s haunting and powerful. Unlike previous albums, however, Ámr is probably one of Ihsahn’s most “straight-forward” sounding albums with songs not ever veering into too far extremes. It sounds like a safe, but in reality, it’s anything but.

Watch the music video for “Arcana Imperii” here:

5. Panopticon – The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)

This is a beautiful album. At just under two hours, this double-album features some of the most natural and inspiring music I have ever heard. Crossing multiple genres: country, black metal, bluegrass, folk rock, and more, Panopticon’s release is nothing short of incredible. There’s so much to offer on this album that I really struggle to find a favourite moment or song. Everything is just that good. Broken up into two larger movements, the music obviously contrasts one another – yet it all flows seamlessly together.

Check out the Bandcamp here:
https://thetruepanopticon.bandcamp.com/album/the-scars-of-man-on-the-once-nameless-wilderness-i-and-ii

4. Spaceslug – Eye the Tide

Damn, this is a dirty album. Right from the first track “Obsolith,” you can just feel the mud spill from the opening bass lines as it slowly trudges you into the droning chorus. The Polish outfit Spaceslug delivers one of the best sludgy doom/stoner metal albums I’ve heard in a while. While sometimes melodic, the band ebbs and flows with the groove: weighing heavier down and gradually building back up. It’s easy to become immersed with the infectious tone and groove. In fact, think I’ve got a bit of the spaceslug in me.

Get lost in the album here:
https://spaceslug.bandcamp.com/album/eye-the-tide

3. Stone Temple Pilots – Stone Temple Pilots

I never would have picked up the bass guitar if it wasn’t for Stone Temple Pilots. This band essentially started me on the musical journey I’m on today. Bias aside, I can’t believe the band put out this album. Much like Amorphis’ release, I feel like STP’s newest is a culmination of everything the band has ever done into one album. I feel hints of No. 4 with “Roll Me Under,” the simplistic beauty of Tiny Music with “Thought She’d Be Mine,” and serenity from Shangri-La Dee Da in “The Art of Letting Go.” But the songs are so much more than “throwbacks” of the past. With new singer, Jeff Gutt, there’s a new breath of fresh air in this band and I can’t wait to see where it takes them.

Listen to the single “Meadow”:

2. Khôrada – Salt

After the demise of Agalloch and Giant Squid comes Khôrada: bone-chillingly powerful music, and as their Bandcamp states, “At once atmospheric, aggressive and apocalyptic, the album’s emotion is driven by the band members’ view of today’s world.” And holy moly, does it ever. From the incredible layered textures from vocalist Aaron John Gregory and the emotional ferocity of Don Anderson’s guitar, this album, in my eyes, opened me up to new standards not only in song writing, but in album production as well. It’s well worth your listen as I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard anything like this before.

Listen to the haunting song “Ossify” here:

1. YOB – Our Raw Heart

Upon first listen, I had a gut feeling that this was going to be my Album of the Year. And yet after months since its release, the album’s still unsurpassed. The American doom metal band’s eighth studio album, Our Raw Heart, wins me over with the most emotional roller coaster ride of the year. Much like my top album from last year, YOB’s album was also inspired by a health issue – this time from lead guitarist/singer/songwriter Mike Scheidt.

Ironically, this may be one of the most uplifting doom metal albums I have ever heard. Each track builds and releases in powerful ways that are vastly different from one another. Yet all of that doesn’t matter as the album both feels and flows as one cohesive piece.

The first track “Ablaze” pulls the listener into a trance which slowly builds up and releases into the emotional chorus. Feeding into the next song, “The Screen” – heavy chugging riffing with growls which subtly reveal the pain behind.

Additional highlights come from the 16-minute “Beauty in Falling Leaves” where you can just hear the raw agony in Scheidt’s voice. It’s absolutely stunning. In the same subject, the guitar tones on this album are simply outstanding and compliment the vocals in some of the most powerful ways. For case-in-point, the title track wraps up the album with a slow burn of inspiration, beauty, and elevation.

Our Raw Heart seems to showcase the chaos in the world, yet it still manages to stop you; telling you to take a breath, and to really see the beauty in falling leaves. With that juxtaposition, Our Raw Heart easily takes the top spot as my Album of the Year.

Listen to my Album of Year:

Honourable Mentions:

Ulthar – Cosmovore

The Sea Within – The Sea Within

Riverside – Vale of Tears

Kamelot – The Shadow Theory

Pig Destroyer – Head Cage

Chris Caffery – The Jester’s Court

Ails – The Unraveling

Sleep – The Sciences

Augury – Illusive Golden Age

Vreid – Lifehunger

Most Disappointed:

Summoning – With Doom We Come

Portal – Ion

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?