November! The month where every single editor in chief goes “oh fuck, it’s almost the end of the year”. Yes, that’s right, it’s just about time to start wrangling our staff into end of year lists, gathering submissions, queuing up entries, and getting the whole thing together. Why? To be honest, it’s really quite fun. In case you haven’t noticed, the only people who like to collect music together into lists more than journalists are, well, you guys. But we also like it! There’s some cool about looking back at the year and gathering all of the albums you most loved, lining them up against a rough wall, and shooting them with the light of arbitrary listings and ratings. I like it, I swear!
Incidentally enough, that’s exactly what Editors’ Picks is all about, right? Just on the smaller scale of a month. I mean, there’s absolutely zero chance that I can listen to all the music released in a month so Editors’ Picks is more myself, and all the other editors, pitting the music that spoke to us during that month. And boy did music speak this month! There are some absolute belters on the list below, including a god damn Limp Bizkit album! It’s actually pretty cool! Calder wrote up so many words about it!
So, enjoy. And start to look yourselves into the darkness that lies within your heart, that place which categorizes something as uncategorizable as music (it’s fine, I swear, I like it) and start to draw up all those lists with their all so important rankings. Santa is coming and you, like your favorite music, will be judged.
Frontierer – Oxidized (brutal/chaotic mathcore)
It takes a certain level of hubris to classify one’s art as its own genre. The metal world is rife with such misplaced labeling. In a sea of several thousand subgenres, each with their own (often meaningless and indecipherable) micro-classifications, it gets pretty annoying as a listener to try and wade through all the “frost-tinged gore metal” when all I want to know is what the fuck I’m listening to. But every so often a band calls itself something outside the box that just, you know, fits. International insanity machine Frontierer has been raging under the moniker “Sonic Terror” for three baffling full-length records now, and I can’t think of a better way to describe what this band does. Punishing, brazenly chaotic, highly technical, and wildly unpredictable, Frontierer are an enigma that peddles some of the most intense music on the planet, and their third record Oxidized does absolutely nothing to divert from that formula.
One of the principal criticisms I see leveled against Frontierer’s music is that it feels monotone in its noisy execution. This is a valid criticism on a first listen. But digging a layer deeper than the roiling, belligerent surface that populates each of their records brings forth a rich and detailed world of deeply technical songwriting, unusually catchy riffs, and scintillating electronics that are decipherable, intricate, and hold up to the scrutiny of multiple listens. Oxidized balances all of the above elements in the most streamlined and intense package that Frontierer has unleashed yet, and it’s a true nightmare to experience. Take the slow-build intro of album opener “Heirloom”, which feels ripped directly from a particularly gory sci-fi horror movie, for example. Vacillating between Dillinger Escape Plan-style sonic gyrations and lightning fast breakbeats that feel ripped directly from The Prodigy’s darkest mid-90s electronic fever dreams, the track blisters across the skin of our inner ears with relentless violence. It’s the type of opening that feels like it will be hard to top on the intensity scale, but lo and behold it’s nowhere close to the peak of sonic brutality the band will reach throughout Oxidized.
Follow-up track “Corrosive Wash” is exactly what you’d expect it to be given its title. It’s opening seconds feel like they could tear brain tissue, and most likely are given the general disorientation I feel after listening to it. It’s a scalding assault of speed and brutality that only continue to grow in intensity during “Opaque Horizon”, which focuses a bit more heavily on the electronic elements of the band’s sound. But this track in particular, for all its mighty bluster, adds a bit of welcome nuance and maturity to the band’s sound, phasing in some extremely effective vocal melody, doom-laden riffs, and open percussion that feels both triumphant and melancholic, culminating in a show-stoppingly beautiful track that is one of my favorites that the band has yet produced. But for every moment of genre-bending experimentation and moderately paced beauty, there’s a “Death /” to tear us back into a raging maelstrom of relentless technical insanity. These juxtapositions feel more stark and fully realized than in previous records, making Oxidized both the band’s most brutal and experimental yet.
I could go on and on about individual passages contained on this record, but at this point I’d just recommend that you take the journey for yourself. Oxidized is an intentionally, brilliantly written and realized record that involves some of the most chaotic and precise instrumentation that I’ve heard since, well, Frontierer’s last record (or Sectioned’s, if we want to include mastermind Pedram Valiani’s other incredibly noisy project). It’s one of the most uniformly punishing records I’ve heard in 2021, but its replay value is intense, and subsequent only further reward devoted listeners with complex songwriting and subtle flourishes that make for a far more nuanced experience than initially meets the ear. Cannot recommend this record highly enough for chaos fiends. “Sonic Terror” indeed.
Full of Hell – Garden of Burning Apparitions (grindcore)
Full of Hell might be the biggest name in grind to take off in the previous decade, and it’s for good reason. They’re not only incredibly prolific — having released five full length records, three collaborative LPs, and over a dozen splits and EPs since 2011 — they’re also consistently excellent in their ability to bridge deathgrind, noise rock, hardcore, and harsh noise in seamless display of thoughtful chaos. 2017’s Trumpeting Ecstasy was a high water mark for the group, being voted by Heavy Blog staff as our album of the year. 2019’s Weeping Choir was no slouch either, and offered further elaborations on the FoH mythos.
Most recently, Garden of Burning Apparitions, their fifth non-collaborative LP and second for Relapse Records, is somehow an upswing. Tracks like “Guided Blight” and “Asphyxiant Blessing” create an explosive introduction, showcasing the band’s use of discordant and groovy riffing as their baseline. From there, the sounds expand outward: “Derelict Satellite” is an early curveball, dedicating over three minutes (an eternity on a grindcore record) to harsh noise. “Eroding Shell” feels like Gorguts gone deathgrind, “Reeking Tunnels” sees the band going noise rock, and “Industrial Messiah Complex” is simply an absolute banger with several album-defining moments. As usual, the band shines brightest when they’re at their most experimental; “Murmuring Foul Spring” features the eerie howl of clarinet amidst the cacophony, and “Non-Atomism” is a drum-centric noise track that recalls their collaborative works with The Body or Merzbow.
This is all to say that Garden of Burning Apparitions is packed with the tricks, riffs, and wild forays into unlistenable extremities that any fan of Full of Hell could ever ask for, and is perhaps a fair entry point to any late comers who could perhaps be interested in a – all things considered – somewhat accessible grindcore act with engaging and memorable songs.
Limp Bizkit – STILL SUCKS (nu-metal)
Two things before we get into the nitty gritty. If you have never really liked Limp Bizkit, just don’t get it, are offended by them, or whatever the case may be – this is not the album that converts you. With that said, if you have ever in your life, even once, shamefully, been down with the Bizkit – you better smash play on this motherfucking record right now without a second thought. Even if you give up after the first track, you’ll have experienced what it’s like to be a kid and lose your ever-loving mind again, which is worth the price of admission. And now, a thorough synopsis:
Album opener “Out Of Style” is one of those classic, anthemic Bizkit bangers that deserves to sit in seminal infamy next to tracks like “Nookie” and “Break Stuff”. I know that’s a hell of a statement right out of the gate, but you listen to it and tell me it doesn’t invoke that little shithead miscreant inside you thought you locked away forever. If you’re not bouncing, you’re inhuman, plain and simple. Beyond that, it serves a deeper purpose, and couldn’t have been placed better on the record due to it. Opening with the quote, “We cannot change the past, but we can start today to make a better tomorrow,” Durst acknowledges the foul bullshit he’s said in the past and pledges to do better. In context with the later refrain, “We should be on the same team, on the motherfuckin’ same team, if we ain’t then we nothing,” it really seems like the old man’s finally started to grow up and gain some belated social consciousness. Wild, right? While it’s not a direct apology or call to political action by any stretch, seeing an aging shock rocker open a huge comeback album with such sincerity almost brings a tear to your eye.
Moving on, “Dirty Rotten Bizkit” is a hell of a follow-up, really cementing that this isn’t some flash in the pan shit; the Bizkit is really back this time, baby. Lead single “Dad Vibes” is weirdly hypnotic in that satisfyingly greasy way only they can pull off. And listen, don’t ask me about what he’s saying in the chorus. The lyric sites report one thing and the naked ear hears another. I have a funny theory that we’re hearing what we expect him to say, and the muddy hi-hat over the syllable in question doesn’t help. “Turn It Up, Bitch” feels instantly familiar in that old Fred-trying-to-do-Cypress Hill way, and boy, did he outdo himself with the chorus:
“Everybody needs some hardcore, fucked up, bang your head shit –
So turn it up, bitch!”
And you know what? He’s RIGHT.
The cover of “Don’t Change” by INXS feels like another shot at capturing the same success “Behind Blue Eyes” garnered, and while it’s good, it doesn’t quite carry the same weight. “You Bring Out The Worst In Me” is actually a bit of a surprise and may be the dark horse hit, summoning the silky, underwater Deftones vibes of “Re-Arranged” and taking it a step further into screamo territory in a way that feels weirdly authentic. “Love The Hate” is so lovingly crafted you can’t help but like it despite how cringy it is. Ignoring the dialogue, that refrain — “Joke’s on you, you missed one clue: we don’t give a fuck! From what I see, you always do.” — is just chef’s kiss. “Barnacle” feels the most out of place on the record, though the earnest attempt at grunge is commendable, all things considered. Durst has really committed to showing off his range on STILL SUCKS, a vocal arsenal that’s grown and matured over the years into studied performances no matter the genre. “Empty Hole” drives that point home further with Durst crooning through the short, sweet acoustic dirt rock ballad reminiscent of Staind before hitting the home stretch.
“Pill Popper” feels like a pointed attempt at the very style young nu-metalcore groups have cultivated out of LB’s influence, which is cool as fuck. Guitarist and musical mastermind Wes Borland is surely to be commended here for keeping up with current trends and not being afraid to explore new approaches. While it’s a pretty straightforward track that ultimately fails to capture the heaviness of modern acts, it’s still a slapper culminating in their take on thall, which fully hits the mark. “Snacky Poo” is just classic, fun Limp Bizkit antics. Fred Durst may not be an accomplished technical rapper, but he IS fun, and you can’t deny his charisma. The skit detailing the enigmatic Wes Borland’s likes and hobbies (including his favorite bands, namely, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Haxan Cloak, et al.) is just fantastic. Closer “Goodbye” is uh, well… it’s definitely a way to close a record. If all the cringe up this point is to be forgiven, this track is the sacrifice to compensate. It’s a legitimate attempt at some weird Glass Animals type ballad that is just laughably bad and makes you happy the record is over and you’re no worse for wear.
STILL SUCKS is a wild, nostalgic ride. The album’s 32-minute runtime feels solid and lays a delicious spread for us to get our fill of the Bizkit without overstaying its welcome. STILL SUCKS feels like a real comeback after all these years, despite the false starts of the past couple albums. In all honesty, and I don’t think anyone will disagree who listens, this is their best work since Chocolate Starfish. If we never get another Limp Bizkit album after this, I can rest easy knowing this was the swan song; a well executed return that injects the slimy, chaotic magic of their peak into a respectable maturation of personality and sound with their X-factor still perfectly intact. If you ever liked Limp Bizkit or nu metal at all, this is can’t miss shit — so turn it up, bitch.
Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (synthpop)
A friend recently asked me about my favorite song of all time, and my answer was swift: “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. That definitely has a lot to do with the track’s GOAT chorus, but the appeal goes much deeper for me. Speaking generally, the vast majority of pop music relies on an infectious hook; the surrounding elements of the song typically come second. The verses can’t be terrible, of course, but they often feel like a means to an end — i.e. biding time for the chorus. While I concede the bridge isn’t usually anyone’s favorite part of a song, can’t we at least enjoy our time crossing it? That’s exactly what makes “September” such a classic. I genuinely enjoy every moment of the song more or less equally, from the fantastic slap-bass intro to summery disco verses to the vocal harmonies throughout — and yes, the chorus, too.
Magdalena Bay exemplify this brand of holistic songwriting on Mercurial World, an early contender for the decade’s best synthpop releases. I have mixed feelings about Pitchfork, but Katherine St. Asaph’s review of the album put it perfectly: “They sound like whatever you grew up with, whenever that was.” During my first listen through Mercurial World, I noted a cornucopia of electronic subgenres and time periods on display within the duo’s core framework of oddball synthpop. Imagine Grimes and Charli XCX (both cited as influences by the duo) performing original music at Daft Punk’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. What elevates this formula is the restraint exhibited by vocalist Mica Tenenbaum and producer Matthew Lewin. They’re never focused on highlighting their individual talents, but performing whatever suits the particular song best. Lewin’s production never overshadows Tenebaum’s vocals, and she never forces a chorus or sings outside her range.
But most importantly, the songs are just plain excellent, and their eclectic compositional framework brings them in some intriguing directions. We’re treated to some breezy synth funk vibes on “Dawning of the Season” and “Secrets (Your Fire)” that emulate Toro y Moi and Chromeo’s most energetic and chill moments, respectively. “Secrets” is a particularly choice cut, with some bombastic sax and physical synths that would fit in nicely with the ’90s dance scene. “You Lose!” dials it back a bit with some retro ’80s synths, coupled with some acoustic alt-rock vibes straight from college radio’s heyday.
The album progresses accordingly, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t specifically highlight “Chaeri” and the cheekily titled finale, “The Beginning.” The former is the shining example of Magdalena Bay’s subtle approach to synthpop. The track mirrors Lorde’s breakout hit “Royals,” in that the chorus doesn’t quite rise off the ground like you’d expect. Instead, the duo unfurl the track gradually, with Lewin adding elements atop of a thumping, twisting bass line while Tenenbaum carefully extends her vocal range around the building synth crescendos. On the flipside, “The Beginning” proves they can still write a traditional pop banger. The track sounds like Discovery reimagined as a J-Pop track, complete with cutesy vocal harmonies and technicolor synths straight out of an Anime-inspired music video. If you’re not dancing at this point of the record, then you’re standing by yourself on the outskirts of the dancehall.
The Silver – Ward of Roses (black metal)
I’ve written a lot on the blog about the importance of extravagance and flamboyance to the genre of black metal. To reiterate shortly, the genre has drawn on the inherent theatrics of metal since its inception, achieving its unique aesthetics by exaggerating those theatrics even further. The corpse paint, the elaborate personas, and even the music itself, all tremolo picks slicing through a story sky of rumbling drums and shrieking vocals, is all about the grandiose and overpowering. Therefore, oftentimes what makes a black metal release “experimental” or “avant-garde” is the extent to which it cleaves to, and builds upon, this indulgence. Examples abound: Dodheimsgard, A Forest of Stars, Ashenspire, and more, and more.
This is the tradition and style in which The Silver have wrought their Ward of Roses. It’s an album dripped fully within the gothic (as in, the literary genre and its own extravagances) and the avant-garde, channeling these aesthetics into a magnificent and far-reaching release. At its core lies a tension which we have witnessed before (most similarly perhaps on the mercurial music of Howling Sycamore) between elements of more traditional heavy metal, including galloping riffs and electric solos, and darker elements which span the gamut from black metal to doom. The end result of this concoction is an album that is all about the theatrical gesture, the harrowing canvas of black metal.
Listen to “Breathe”, the third track on the album, for a good example. The vocals, both abrasive and clean, utilize the first minutes of the track to paint a lyrical picture of high-brow narration and bone-deep cries born of anguish. The bass rumbles along beneath it all, granting it a further sheen, a deepness that turns it all into the sleek sounding timbre that is The Silver’s quieter moments. All of this, of course, blows up into brief moments of black metal aggression along the way, conjuring up the pent up energies into increasingly aggressive blast-beats. This energy also infects the vocals, turning them into sweeping, evocative rises and lows, both guttural and clean. This all comes to a head with a beautiful guitar solo which ushers in the end of the track, manifesting all of the energies that came before it into intense catharsis.
The overall effect is one of intense emotion and it stays with us throughout the album. In true experimental black metal fashion, Ward of Roses is a dense, fraught album, filled with rises and falls that are a whirlwind to experience. But whatever it does, whether calm and collected or mountain-top extreme. This means that Ward of Roses is an experience best enjoyed in one setting as it sweeps you deeper and deeper into its arms and soundscapes.
Worm – Foreverglade (death-doom)
One of the most profound and powerful secret tomes, almost lost after the slow disintegration of the Grecian black metal scene of the 1990s, taught the necromantic and unhallowed art of making regal, ornate, theatrical extreme metal. With the rise of hypertechnical neoclassicism, major chord metalcore, and Cascadian-style black metal, this text was found only in shreds and whispers, with true devotees maintaining a sort of “if you know, you know” cultishness to their following among the metal rank and file. Worm have been operating in this type of space – outlining a territory where the funereal and ghostly waters of doom metal’s slowest passions a la diSEMBOWELMENT and Mournful Congregation meet the rime-bitten shores of Soulside Journey-era Darkthrone and early Amorphis – for a little while now.
Digging slightly deeper into the Amorphis comparison, Karelian Isthmus is a fairly close and productive comparison to Foreverglade, even though these two records seem to reach similar heights through vastly different climbs. Both records operate on a fusion of intensely melancholic, enchanting melodies with chunky death metal riffs; these two disparate modes of creating metal in turn undercut and build on one another to create something that is truly more than its parts’ sum. Understated keyboards and a variety of guitar tones play a vital role in edifying the combination by establishing an atmospheric throughline that persists through the warp and weft of the whole deal. However, Worm opt for a slightly more psychedelic and darkly medieval tone than Amorphis’ pageantry, and the result is a record equally brutal and brooding. While there’s a common lineage in the importance of early Carcass’s glop for both bands’ approach to riffing, Worm rarely bring to bear the jackhammer speed of Entombed, which keeps the whole affair dreary and clouded in a way that eludes Isthmus. The most obvious comparison, I suppose, would be Evoken, but Worm are a little heftier on the death metal side and far less plodding than their New Jersey brethren.
All told, Worm’s major stylistic achievement is drinking from the most ancient and profane chalice of extreme metal spectacle and bringing to bear a gorgeous and sacred lineage within an unusual but perfectly reasonable context. The past two records, 2020’s Gloomlord and now 2021’s Foreverglade, have brought this specific style into the cathedralic structures of death-doom songs to great effect. Such a marriage is almost always a promising portent, and Foreverglade proves that excavating this specifically brackish area is absolutely still a productive endeavor. Truly phenomenal production work and a perfect 45-minute runtime take Worm even higher and make Foreverglade a dark horse candidate for best death metal album of 2021. Just listen to it, dude. Fuck.
Atræ Bilis – Apexapien (death metal)
Typically when one sees a death metal band out of 20 Buck Spin there’s a certain expectation that it’s weird OSDM, but with Atræ Bilis, that’s not the case. Apexapien is a modern death metal band that fits within the aesthetic of your current prog or technical death metal bands without the excess and more of the brutality. Perhaps we’re somewhere between Archspire and Venom Prison on this one? Give it a spin and ensure this one isn’t a sleeper.
First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle (progressive / technical death metal)
Quebec’s neoclassical tech death outfit First Fragment dropped their sophomore LP this month, and despite its position on this list, it’s easily among one of the most stellar death metal albums you’ll hear all year. Flamenco influence makes a return, some engaging songwriting culminating in an 18 minute finale, and what is hands down the best bass performance of the year in the genre by none other than Dominic Forest Lapointe (shocking, I know!). This is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, THE album to beat in the tech death genre this year
Knocked Loose – A Tear in the Fabric of Life (metalcore/hardcore)
No record that includes a so perfectly and appropriately placed Beach Boys/Brian Wilson sample should be this brutal. Knocked Loose, over the span of two full-length records, have established themselves as one of the preeminent voices in hardcore, but nothing they’ve written previously comes close to the sheer sonic and emotional magnitude of A Tear in the Fabric of Life. Good lord is this thing heavy, bleak, and awe-inspiringly intense. Their best and most balanced work to date, accompanied by a genuinely haunting visual accompaniment by Magnus Jonsson.
Peculate – Your Own Personal Abyss (avante-garde metal, experimental mathcore)
There’s always been an element of jazz fusion underwriting every good mathcore release, but solo composer Ben Norton takes it even further, pulling in evocative classical passages that could have been stolen from a Hisaishi-Miyazaki score. Incredibly intriguing stuff.
Prophetic Scourge – Gnosis – A Sorrower’s Journey (progressive tech death)
In the wake of the crazy amount of excellent technical death metal we’ve recently received, I’m worried a lot of people will miss this one. Gnosis is a fantastic and ambitious album, presenting a very heavy version of technical death metal while also retelling the story of The Odyssey through the modern lens of mental health. Do not sleep on this one.
Sentinels – Collapse By Design (technical metalcore, djent)
A djent album? In Ed Picks? What year is it? The year to get your noggin caved in by this massive collection of furious flurries and crunchy, razor-sharp riffs, idiot. If you miss seminal acts like Textures or Ion Dissonance, this is their spiritual successor at their finest. Sophomore slump be damned.
She Said Destroy – Succession (prog/blackened death metal)
This album will 100% be underrated this year and that’s a damn shame. It’s one of the more seamlessly put together albums I’ve heard in years and that’s saying something, considering how much musical ground it covers while exploring its many influences.
Sunless – Ylem (progressive tech death)
Minneapolis death metal act Sunless follows up 2017’s stellar Urraca with something that is somehow even better. It’s easy to throw an album like Ylem under the canopy of dissonant death metal a la Gorguts, Ulcerate, etc., but Ylem is actually quite melodic and somehow retains that intense, creeping atmosphere. Sunless is currently one of the most underrated and slept on bands in progressive extreme music, and skipping out on this one is a grave disservice.
Abstract Void – Wishdream (blackgaze, synthwave)
Archspire – Bleed the Future (tech death)
C O G N O S · – COGNOS (prog metal, prog death)
Conjureth – Majestic Dissolve (death metal)
Cradle of Filth – Existence Is Futile (symphonic black metal)
Craneium – Unknown Heights (desert rock, doom)
Crystal Coffin – The Starway Eternal (psychedelic black metal, melodic black metal)
Every Time I Die – Radical (metalcore / hardcore)
Feral Season – Rotting Body In The Range Of Light (atmospheric black metal, USBM)
Fire-Toolz – Eternal Home (electro-industrial, experimental)
Green Lung – Black Harvest (heavy metal, stoner-doom)
Hippotraktor – Meridian (post-metal, prog metal)
Illudium – Ash of the Womb (post-rock, doomgaze)
Parquet Courts – Sympathy For Life (indie rock, art punk)
SEIMS – Four (math jazz, post-rock)
Shy, Low – Snake Behind the Sun (post-rock)
Trivium – In the Court of the Dragon (melodic metalcore, thrash)
Vivid Illusion – Vivid Illusion (blackgaze, shoegaze)
Yenisei – Reflections (post-rock)