How is it July already? Please, someone explain this to me. What the hell happened to 2021? Perhaps this is what being stuck in your neighborhood for 18 months does to you… either way, the mid-year lists are upon us, and the world rejoices.
As a general comment on the state of the genre, I have mixed feelings about death metal’s overall output in 2021 thus far. But please don’t read this as a slight on the quality of any of the records written up here. They would each be considered heavy hitters in most any year, and we strongly encourage you to give them a listen if you have yet to do so. In fact, at least three albums here could be in the near future considered classics of their particular death metal spaces, so don’t hesitate. Gobble this shit up. But that said, I can’t help but feeling like I need more from my death metal for the rest of the year as a whole for the genre to catch the highs of the last few years. While we are certainly in the presence of greatness with several releases, the majority of death metal that I’ve heard this year just hasn’t been memorable. Like, at all. Which is sad.
The pandemic (as has been stated countless times) has put artistic expression in a generally interesting place. Genres where artists are able to write, record, and produce their own work either from home or with remote collaboration have excelled during the pandemic, but bands that require more than one person to create have found themselves in a tricky situation over the past year, which may be why we’ve seen more consistently excellent releases from the black metal world this year (when it’s just you and you in your mom’s basement… not a lot has changed). Death metal is struggling to recover from the pandemic, but I am hopeful. With some amazing bands dropping new albums toward the end of the year, I remain hopeful that we have yet to see some of the best that the genre has to offer.
Regardless of the genre’s health as a whole, none of the below releases dip anywhere south of exceptional. We hope you enjoy reading about and listening along with us to our favorite death metal records of 2021 so far, and don’t hesitate to sound off on Facebook or the comments with your own list of favorites.
Thanks for being here. Death metal forever.
Abominable Putridity – Parasitic Metamorphosis Manifestation
After nearly a decade after their breakout 2012 sophomore album The Anomalies of Artificial Origin, Russian/American brutal death metal project Abominable Putridity have finally returned this year with a proper follow-up with Parasitic Metamorphosis Manifestation, and it’s every bit the album you’ve been hoping for, as unlikely as it may seem considering the circumstances.
If you’ve not been keeping up with the act over the last decade, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Alexander Kubiashvili (who only played drums on Anomalies) is the sole remaining instrumentalist for the project, and has since swapped out the legendary Matti Way (ex-Pathology, ex-Disgorge) for current Disgorge vocalist Angel Ochoa. Such a wild lineup change would be devastating for most bands, but the successful transition puts Abominable Putridity in league with the likes of Defeated Sanity in more ways than one.
On Parasitic Metamorphosis Manifestation, the duo have crafted an incredibly diverse and fun death metal record that builds on everything that made Anomalies such a cult classic, sending up the brutality and reptilian grooves of slam with the speed and gloss of a tech death record. The tight cybernetic production is fitting and so incredibly clean, and the band’s signature trick of making a slam record sound like tech death without featuring any weedly guitars whatsoever hasn’t gotten old yet. The riffing is adequately brutal and absolutely catchy. The album is often breathtaking and overwhelming, in many ways comparable to Wormed’s approach to mechanized barbarism. Parasitic Metamorphosis Manifestation is quite the comeback; hopefully it won’t take another decade for a worthy follow-up.
Atvm – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless
London’s Atvm made their grand entrance this year with their debut album Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless, and are a band to watch in the sphere of progressive death metal. At the time of this writing, the act sports fewer than a thousand Likes on Facebook (go help fix it) and hovers at around 1200 monthly listeners on Spotify, and that’s a fucking shame, even for a band that’s only now making its first impression on many audiences, because Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless is an absolute powerhouse and masterclass in how to make stand-out weirdo death metal in 2021.
Featuring production from the legend himself Colin Marston, this album is jagged and organic in all the ways it needed to be in order to compliment the very specific type of progressive death metal Atvm aim to conjure. Easy comparisons to make include Death and Atheist, with occasional nods to Focus-era Cynic in moments of fusion worship, prominent drum and bass performances, and an air of psychedelia that remains prominent across the record. There’s also a clear modernity here that recalls the likes of Horrendous in their ability to meld influences of thrash, black metal, death metal, and prog in such a seamless fashion and remaining forward thinking in their ideas and execution.
If the cover art didn’t make it clear, this is an album with loads of character and replayability that makes it a destined sleeper hit for 2021. Hopefully as more people become privy to Famine, their days of being overlooked and underrated are short-lived, because this record is an absolute trip that any and all fans of death metal should be taking this year.
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Nightmare Withdrawals
New Zealand deathgrind/dissodeath outfit Blindfolded and Led to the Woods may just now be breaking out internationally, but they’ve been on the scene for over a decade. Nightmare Withdrawals, their third full-length, is a culmination of that ten years of hard work and refinery. Surely coming up in a scene dominated by Ulcerate and a stone’s throw away from Portal is no mere coincidence and you’re bound to have a little of the magic rub off on you in some way, but Blindfolded find their own spaces to carve in the growing dissodeath niche by pulling from deathgrind and deathcore to add a bit of tonal variety.
Nightmare Withdrawals is no mere exercise in dispassionate Gorguts post-death metal worship; it’s a highly inspired and divergent take that builds on atmospheric arpeggiated chord work and whirlwinds of blasts with lean tempo changes, start-stop grooves, angular guitar riffing, and that vague sense of irreverence and impertinence that bands like War From A Harlots Mouth and Cephalic Carnage alike brought to the table years ago. It’s every bit of empyrean as the album art suggests it is, but with a bright turbulence that isn’t quite so common in dissodeath.
But this isn’t a common dissodeath album, if such a thing exists at this stage in the genre’s development. Nightmare Withdrawls doesn’t exactly sound like the other albums on this list that supposedly fit in with the scene (Ad Nauseam being the most relevant player at the moment), but you’re sure to love this record just as much, for different reasons.
Stortregn – Impermanence
It’s easy to forget amongst all this gruesome and disgusting OSDM and cacophonous dissonant death metal that the genre can be quite elegant, epic, and intensely melodic. Switzerland’s Stortregn is a master of all in this realm of death metal, soaring to the heights of legacy acts like Opeth and Obscura on their fifth(!) full-length record Impermanence. The band have shed some (not all!) of their blackened tendencies over the years, but this Artisan Era-backed group otherwise encapsulates everything there is to love about progressive and technical death metal: dizzying guitar work with duelling harmonized solos, intricate rhythm section, powerful and diverse harsh vocal performances, and occasional dips into folk. The air is electric on Impermanence, and there’s no amount of superlatives that do this album justice. It’s extravagantly composed and produced, and is likely the album to beat in this corner of the genre in 2021. Fortunately, we’ve got the likes of First Fragment and Obscura themselves offering their attempts later this year, but Impermanence has the heft to endure.
Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
I’ve written a lot of words about this record in 2021, so I’ll keep my comments brief. There isn’t an album in 2021 that has transfixed me as intensely as Ad Nauseam’s genuine opus Imperative Imperceptible Impulse. From the moment I pressed play to my umpteenth listen, there hasn’t been a moment where the record’s scintillating combination of avant-garde composition, obtuse songwriting, and dizzying technical performances have failed to fully capture my attention. Death metal may be having an odd year overall, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that this record is an all-timer in the realm of experimental death metal. The band credits 20th century composers like Stravinsky and Scelsi as chief influences on their songwriting process for this record, and it shows. These tracks are layered, complex and often dissonant and off-kilter, but intentional listening reveals a structural soundness that only becomes more pronounced with subsequent listens. Just give “Horror Vacui” a listen for full effect. You won’t be disappointed.
Alustrium – A Monument to Silence
A Tunnel Into Eden, Alustrium’s previous record, is one of the best progressive/technical death metal records I’ve heard in a half-decade. Other than the bloat typically found in records of its thematic and compositional magnitude there isn’t a single thing wrong with it. I’ve returned to it again and again and each new listen seems to add a new layer, a deeper dimension, and further complexity. It’s an absolute masterclass in how to create challenging death metal in a manner that invites rather than alienates your audience, and is to this day an album I recommend to anyone interested in diving into this particular death metal stream.
Following up an album of that magnitude is most certainly an impossible task. To attempt to recapture its essence is to risk duplication and therefore incite accusations of derivative and unoriginal songwriting from a listener base that craves originality. But to stray too far from the beaten path has its own share of issues, so follow-ups to classics rarely can live up to their predecessors. A Monument to Silence, thankfully, doesn’t even try to touch the legacy of A Tunnel Into Eden, and by doing so damn near eclipses it. With beefier production, completely differentiated themes, and more direct songwriting the band have unleashed a record that is not only one of the best death metal records of the year, but also a worthy companion to the monumental record that came before it.
Every track on Monument is an absolute hitter. The band’s technical proficiency remains fully intact, balancing head-bangable riffs with astounding solos and plenty of instrumental wizardry that should satisfy even the most resolute tech head. But as with Eden, the secret sauce of Alustrium’s process is its accessibility. Long considered a dirty word in discussing technical death metal, Alustrium once more do a marvelous job writing songs that appeal to both more deeply devoted tech death fans and those who may just be getting into the subgenre. It’s a skill that very few in the extreme metal space possess, and there are none that I can think of that balance accessibility and progressivism with a more astute ear than Alustrium. Whether you’re a longtime tech death fan or newly exploring the extreme edges of death metal, there’s a genuinely excellent album waiting for you here.
Altarage – Succumb
I don’t know why I enjoy sonic torture so much. I’ve spent many a sleepy afternoon with ghastly death metal ballistics being hurled through my head and for some reason it just feels right. I haven’t been able to fully pin down why those most aggressive and thoroughly punishing sounds have captivated me for years, all I know is that they do and when the right album hits at the right time there’s little to stand in its way. Altarage is one such band in this cauterized vein of death metal that has always stuck with me, and their debut is an album that I frequently spin on hapless days. Though a well known name and staple in the suffocating, dissonant death metal scene, they are often compared to (allegedly) greater acts like Ulcerate or Portal. While those comparisons are not completely unfounded, each new record from Altarage has further cemented their unique identity in this space, and Succumb more than any so far solidifies this journey.
If you aren’t into dissonant, utterly pulverizing and densely atmospheric death metal I can firmly and confidently state that you should skip this record. There is no compromise here. No attempt to open up or popularize their sound. If anything, Succumb is a further dive down the rabbit hole, immersing listeners in a punishing and hopeless world of wild tremolo-picked aggression and percussive chaos. There’s no light in the cracks here. No reprieve. Just a solid slab of concrete bashed against your skull for an hour. It’s glorious.
There’s something to be said for a band that has stayed true to their alienating ethos, refusing to compromise even a little for a wider audience. Altarage are now in elite company in the dissodeath space, and detractors just gonna stay detractin’. If you’ve enjoyed what Altarage has done before, you’re going to love Succumb, which I now consider to be their best and most relentlessly horrifying record. If you don’t, I’d never bother hitting play. This record wasn’t made for you, and that’s okay. Only devotees of eternal sonic terror need apply
Fractal Generator – Macrocosmos
I don’t feel like I’ve gotten enough sci-fi death metal in 2021. I’ve yet to hear Sxuperion‘s latest (I know, I’m an idiot), but other than a really solid album from The Beast of Nod I can’t really think of a science fiction-based death metal album ala Tomb Mold or Blood Incantation that hit me too hard this year. Which is why Fractal Generator‘s sophomore record Macrocosmos sticks out like a sore thumb for me. Not only is it an exceptional follow-up to their already fantastic debut, but it grabs the mantle of sci-fi death metal and runs with it in exciting directions.
There are very few things to say about this album that can be even remotely construed as negative. The band do an amazing job of blending that spooky, in-space-no-one-can-hear-you-scream vibe with some astonishingly proficient technical and brutal death metal that feels polished and well-organized without ever dipping into over-produced or dull territory. The songwriting is a particular highlight, as tracks like the opening title track ebb and flow between propulsive death metal madness and more open, atmospheric passages that meld seamlessly together. The band’s ability to blend tempos and melodic shifts is truly commendable, and if this is the trajectory they continue over the course of their career I smell a potential classic or two on the horizon.
Front to back Macrocosmos is a straight hitter. Fans of sci-fi death metal, especially in the more technical and brutal varieties, will find plenty to sink their teeth into. Even if you don’t find yourself a huge fan of either of these mediums, I would encourage you to still give this record a listen. With craftsmanship this sound, it’s well worth your time regardless.
Seputus – Phantom Indigo
Those who have followed Death’s Door over the past few years wouldn’t be shocked to discover that we’re big fans of Pyrrhon. Doug Moore’s most critically acclaimed and widely regarded project has released more than a few borderline classics over the past few years, and it would be difficult to determine which of them is the greatest. In the shadow of that oft touted project, Moore’s other bands like Weeping Sores and Seputus are often relegated to an unfortunate also-ran status. Which is a damn shame, as both are absolutely excellent. 2021 brings us a new release from the latter project that is as captivating and brutalizing as anything in Moore’s ouvre, and has quickly become one of the highlights of the year for me.
Fans of Moore’s other projects will find plenty to love here. Phantom Indigo is a record that illuminates Moore as a genuinely mad frontman, vacillating between guttural growls and ear-splitting shrieks with a conviction that even some Pyrrhon records fail to match. It should come as no surprise to any familiar with this project, as Moore is joined by Pyrrhon bandmates and instrumental wizards Stephen Schwegler on guitars and drums and Erik Malave on bass. The combination of their experience in Pyrrhon and an entirely different compositional aesthetic (helmed primarily here by Schewgler) make for a record that helms both toward the familiar and the dynamic, making Phantom Indigo a record that both Pyrrhon fans and relative noobs to this extreme style of music can enjoy liberally.
One of the most interesting aspects of this record is its diversity, not just in tone but in song structure as well. While the majority of the record hands out lethal doses of technical death metal skronkery, these compositions range from the long and arduous to short staccato blasts in a manner that allows the band to fully explore the cracks and crevices of their sound. This diversity in songwriting allows the band’s strengths to present themselves regularly without ever settling for an overly uniform formula. It’s just the right amount of variety for a record this intense, and becomes only more effective with repeat listens. If anything Pyrrhon or Doug Moore has done travels down your alley, do not skip out on Phantom Indigo. It’s a heater.
Suffering Hour – The Cyclic Reckoning
There are quite a few aspects of a record that I tend to focus on when listening to a record with the intent to review it. There’s the obvious ones like production value, performance, songwriting, etc. But this may be one of the first records I’ve reviewed where tone has become one of its defining characteristics and most thoroughly captivating features. Suffering Hour have built themselves a reputation as a band that isn’t afraid to toy with the general conventions of death metal album structure, and in The Cyclic Reckoning they reach another level of transcendence through a blending of songwriting and tone that is hands down fantastic and exceptionally unique for its space.
Most death metal records I hear tend to fit into particularly easy to define categories. Old school death runs a particular set of guitar tones and production aesthetics, which are often much more muddy and grimy than what you’ll get in, say, a technical brutal death metal record. But it’s fairly easy to define these traits once a record gets going. The Cyclic Reckoning is a different beast in that the guitar tone often approaches the realm of psychedelia, weaving and warbling its way through menacing tracks that are unconditionally arresting. But the miracle of The Cyclic Reckoning is that this choice of tone feels far from slapped on as a unique gimmick. To the contrary, these tracks feel specifically written to squeeze the absolute most out of each section, allowing the tone to become an integral part of the songwriting process as opposed to just existing for flavor. This decision leads to songs that feel strange, new, extremely tonally consistent, and utterly spellbinding.
There aren’t many bands that are able to flat-out eclipse their already excellent debut on a sophomore outing, but Suffering Hour have here created an album that is more adventurous, dexterous, and compelling than their previous record. I’m a bit stumped on what bands in the death metal space have a brighter future than these guys. If you like your death metal blackened and oddly psychedelic in tone, there isn’t a band better suited for your particular proclivities. An album that only grows more impressive with each subsequent listen, The Cyclic Reckoning is pure fire on every front.
The Beast of Nod – Multiversal
Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined
Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon
Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice
Ghastly – Mercurial Passages
Hannes Grossmann – To Where the Light Retreats
Iotunn – Access All Worlds
Mental Cruelty – A Hill To Die Upon
Swampbeast – Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads