Soen-Imperial–Best Metal Album–1st Quarter 2021

Due to my profligacy, there haven’t been monthly best-ofs to kick off this year. So let’s catch up with a bit of a shortcut: here’s with my top 5 so far of 2021. You’ll never guess what’s number 1…

Dishonorable Mention:

Tribulation–Where the Gloom Becomes Sound

I’ve finally grown the courage to say it–Tribulation sucks now. Down Below wasn’t good. This is worse. Try writing an actual riff next time.

5. Anaal Nathrakh–Endarkenment

I know, this is from 2020. But of the batch of year-end stuff I scooped up that I didn’t catch during 2020-proper, this was the best record, because duh. Of course it was. When Anaal brings it, they are fucking amazing, the best molding of the most extreme and the most catchy that exists in extreme metal. They brought it on Endarkenment, and that means it is essential. Probably their best since Eschaton.

4. Demoniac– So it Goes

Technical thrash from Chile that occasionally features saxophone. And if that gets them attention, fine, but it is the least interesting and least effective aspect of the album. The tracks where they don’t needlessly include saxophone sound like late 80’s Kreator decided to use Vektor’s modern sound and song structures. THAT should be the appeal. Also Vonnegut references.

3. Stargazer–Psychic Secretions

I loved A Great Work of Ages, but then lost track of Stargazer. Turns out they still play bizarre black metal that is simultaneously catchy, unsettling, and … fun? Yeah, this shit is fun. It sounds sometimes like they are taking the piss, as Aussies might say, but that’s cool with me on an album where each spin is a pleasure packed with new surprises and left turns that just evaded you last time around.

2. Suffering Hour–The Cyclic Reckoning

This shit is weird. Something is up in Colorado, where these boys share a breeding ground with like-minded acts like Blood Incantation and Black Curse. But this record doesn’t really sound like either of those, or anything else you’ve ever heard. It is ostensibly extreme metal, but it is not particularly heavy or aggressive. Goddamn if it isn’t unsettling, impressive, and addictive, though.

1. Soen–Imperial

Prog is not typically my genre, but this band slides in just below peak-era Leprous in the pecking order. This a metalhead’s prog band–the riffs are just a little heavier, the drumming just a little more aggressive, the arrangements just a little more familiar than the esoteric prog that’s turned me off in the past. Drummer Martin Lopez, formerly, of course, of Opeth, always features prominently on Soen records, but he pushes all the way to the front on Imperial. Those aforementioned riffs form the core of their bangers (balanced with two ballads on here, which are meh for me), but Lopez constantly adds flourish and aggression where typical prog would not. Thankfully, this is not a Pelican-City-of-Echoes-situation; the increased aggression in the drumming not only works, it elevates. And I would be remiss not to mention vocalist Joel Ekelof, who slots just beneath our (former?) friend Einar Solberg of Leprous for engaging, tasteful vocal flourish in a genre often overrun by power-metally warbling nonsense. If you have even a little tolerance for prog, you will love this.