Top 10 Metal Albums of 2021

A newcomer pips the old champion for the top spot this year, one in which I find myself quite divergent from the outlets that usually guide my taste. Decibel had Carcass at #1 and Khemmis #2?

Nope. And I like both those records. But not this year.

Let’s get into it:

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Carcass–Torn Arteries

Carcass didn’t quite hit the heights of Surgical Steel here, but it is a quality record worthy of their catalog. I was initially butt hurt about this one. I thought Carcass had gone full-Melvins and just started taking the piss out of their fans. Songs with the word “skullduggery” or the name of a White Stripes album prominently featured in the lyrics will do that. But dig in further, and there is plenty of fun to be had, particularly with their most ambitious tune ever–the epic Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment. I even came to dig Eleanor Rigby Mortis and The Devil Rides Out after a few spins. Just watch your ass, Jeff.

-Khemmis–Deceiver

I have not been able to crack Deceiver’s shell after 10-plus spins now, and that’s an issue, because Hunted and Desolation had tunes that grabbed you right away. This still sounds like Khemmis, but it is more Pallbearer than Crypt Sermon thus far, and I expect more in the songwriting department from these genre leaders.

Lucifer–IV

This is basically a subjective obsession at this point. But fuck it, it’s my blog, so listen up–Lucifer has a new one, it rocks, so pick it up. And even if not, do yourself a favor and check out Bring Me His Head.

Outre-Tombe–Abysse Mortifere

Raw death metal with hidden sophistication that reveals itself listen by listen, and plenty of hooks and huge headbanging moments. What more could a Horrendous/Tomb Mold-obsessed fan want? That I couldn’t find a spot for it in the Top 10 says more about the depth of quality this year than any criticism I have of the record. Though if you twist my arm…ok, the french-language vocals take me out of it a bit. I respect it. But still. I want to comprehend what the fuckin spider on the cover is up to, goddamn it.

TOP TEN METAL ALBUMS OF 2021

10. Mare Cognitum–Solar Paroxysm

This was my first exposure to one-man project Mare Cognitum, and I came away very impressed. I’m not sure exactly why the Memoria Vetusta series sits so high in the black metal echelon for me, but something about the warmth and melody amongst all the bleakness keeps me constantly seeking the feeling those records evoke. It is here in excess, and Mare Cognitum need not bow at Blut Aus Nord’s altar regarding songcraft, atmosphere, or musicianship, either. Emotive black metal without incorporating folk (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Solar Paroxysm is as much an embrace as it is an assault on your ears.

9. Between the Buried and Me–Colors II

I’m not familiar enough with Colors to know the degree to which, if any, these tracks line up or are informed by the first record. But I know enough about BTBAM’s pre-Great Misdirect output to say this is a return to that form, a hiatus from the Theater of Dreams, and a…Dog Fashion Disco record (?). If that sounds like your kind of thing, you are probably already a BTBAM fan. And because they can’t quite shake off that prog/concept album DNA entirely, riffs and lyrics repeat throughout different songs as motifs, making what could be disjointed feel like a whole. A bizarre, obtuse, thoroughly BTBAM-ish whole.

8. Wolves in the Throne Room–Primordial Arcana

I don’t always dig everything WITTR puts out, but the reviews this time around indicated there was some punch and even some death metal amongst the forest. Truth! This is my favorite WITTR record ever, with an addictive quality that their more meditative albums struggle to achieve.

7. Ghastly–Mercurial Passages

I was not super down with Death Velour, and when Ouroborus kicked this record off, I was apprehensive once again. It featured mood more than riffs, and that is not the death metal that gets my blood pumping. But then Out of the Psychic Blue starts, and fuck! Where did this come from? Finnish death metal can often leave me cold, but to my ears, these boys got just the right amount of old Amorphis mixed into their modern Colorado death metal to create a memorable, headbanging record that is still weird as fuck. Perdition, with its swirling maelstrom opening that transitions into a memorable, evil stomp, is maybe the best death metal song of the year. I would not be surprised to see Ghastly ascend to Blood Incantation/Gatecreeper status sooner than later.

6. Dvne–Etemen Aenka

I slept on this one for awhile because I am just about over bands in the Neur-Isis/Mastodon lane, as I’m sure many others are. But Dvne is up to much more here, and such comparisons do them a disservice. Those bands are starting points for what is primarily an emotionally ravaging hard rock record, told through long-form sludge song structures (not dissimilar to what Baroness was up to…wait, that’s another one…don’t leave!). This one is also sneakily engaging (vocally in particular), and you will find yourself reaching for it and it alone when you have even a moment’s hesitation of what to listen to next.

5. Oxygen Destroyer–Sinister Monstrosities Spawned by the Unfathomable Ignorance of Humankind

Do you like War Metal but also minorities? Then join Oxygen Destroyer and wage war against a real enemy, all these fuckin Kaiju! Seriously, if you miss Angelcorpse and Destroyer 666, buckle up. This record brings the heat, but also enough dynamism to avoid that wall-of-sound-blasting-monotony that kills most war metal. Well, that and the Nazism, of course. That’s bad too.

4. Paranorm–Empyrean

When a record’s firsts impression evokes Individual Thought Patterns, Rust in Peace, and Terminal Redux, you are likely dealing with year-end material. Welcome to Paranorm’s Empyrean. I had never heard of this band before this year, but apparently they spent the better part of a decade trying to get every note of Empyrean right. It worked. Engaging, intellectual, expertly-crafted thrash suites with first-class musicianship and socially conscious lyrics, Empyrean belongs amongst the classics and is original enough to stand on its own. I’d say it is the best thrash album of the year, but…

3. Soen–Imperial

Soen’s Imperial cements the band as the prog metal answer to Amorphis and Amon Amarth. They have their formula of soaring vocals, drum-led heaviness, and big hooks, and they pump out a record that perfectly executes that formula every couple of years. And that record always rules.

Soen is what I wish Leprous still was.

2. Iron Maiden–Senjutsu

Most new Iron Maiden is quality but impenetrable, so Senjutsu proved a pleasant surprise when amongst the 10-minute Harris epics there were once again hooks and engaging virtuosity. Stratego, the title track, and Writing on the Wall are all excellent songs and make sense as the singles, but it is the closing salvo of The Parchment and Hell on Earth which elevates Senjutsu above all post-Matter of Life and Death records into pantheon status. Especially The Parchment, my favorite song of the year, whose middle section causes goosebumps in a way Maiden hasn’t achieved since fucking 7th Son.

1. Enforced–Kill Grid

An absolute killing machine. Many (all?) metal bands try to marry Slayer and Pantera; Enforced are the first to get it right. Just don’t call them the new Power Trip. They aren’t trying to be Power Trip. They are fucking Enforced. And with Kill Grid, to hell with any successor status–Enforced has seized the crown of American Metal.

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