It’s time. Welcome, most beloved Hellions, to Death’s Door: End of Year Edition. Below you will find our collective’s individual favorite records of the year, as well as some thoughts about the genre’s current trends and progress over the past year. Before we dive in, a few thoughts:
2021 was an insane year for planet earth. A global pandemic, major political upheaval, institutional collapse, shocking increases in depression and drug-related deaths, and general consternation over the state of our shared global climate riddled 2021 with unprecedented (at least in my lifetime) levels of lifestyle upheaval, mental and physical health challenges, and overwhelming anxiety. It was a very, very hard year. Speaking for myself, music has served as a balm for my wearied soul, and in no way more so than in the solidarity we find in this outlet. Sharing our favorite records of a given month with you all and running alongside you in fostering a community of music lovers who share our passion for this style of art is truly a healing, stabilizing, and magical experience. Above all, we hope you are well and taking care of yourself as best as you are able. We also want to say thank you for reading, listening, and debating with us about the music we care about so dearly. We wouldn’t be here without you. Thank you. We love you.
On an equally important note, racism’s still a thing that continues to clog death and black metal airwaves with the type of garbage we wish would just flat-out go away. It hasn’t, which makes our collective, morally imperative work as death metal fans to rid our outlets of promotion and support of such bands continually essential. Frankly, we could not do it well without you. Thank you for joining us in the fight to rid our communities of exclusionary, racist, and morally evil art that seeks to promote philosophies that are antagonistic toward human equality, inclusivity, and the right of individuals to live freely and pursue their own version of happiness without fear of violence or torment. We’ll say it again with utmost clarity: Nazi punks fuck off.
On this note, I feel that it’s important to address the almost universal inclusion of a particular band that has in decades past was involved with National Socialist musical movements: Ad Nauseam. A member of Ad Nauseam was involved with a blatantly NSBM band, which came to my attention this month. After research into what was known about the situation and the band’s current position throughout the blogosphere, I was made aware of this member’s disavowal of that work, regret at its existence, intentional distancing from it, and the band’s philosophical anti-racist stance. Given this information, we feel comfortable that supporting and promoting their latest (thoroughly excellent) record is not aiding or giving promotion to fascist, racist, or national socialist agendas or ideologies on a monetary or philosophical level. Keeping this column clear of racist music and the individuals who make it is a prime directive of our staff writers and editors, but we also recognize that some of our favorite artists have less-than-savory pasts that they are actively working to redeem. We also recognize that we are human and will inadvertently make errors in our coverage. We include this album based on the knowledge shared above, but will terminate coverage of any band that actively promotes, defends, or knowingly harbors abusers and racists.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for joining us in our fight to make death metal an inclusive, abuse and racism-free environment. Thanks for supporting us. You’re the best.
Death metal forever.
Tech Death Ascending (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Skronk)
Ah. Tech death. Outside of supreme dissonance there may not be an equally loved and reviled branch of the death metal tree. It’s an understandable divide. Technical death metal has included some of the most memorable releases of the past decade (Ingurgitating Oblivion, Artificial Brain, Alkaloid, and Pyrrhon have all received a hefty amount of love in this column), but the general surplus of new tech death over that span has created a logjam of listless skronkitude that has elevated technical mastery over interesting, creative, or innovative songwriting. For music as complex and instrumentally wondrous as tech death can be it’s shocking how many records in the subgenre are, well… dull as fuck. It’s long been established in these parts that a string of blistering arpeggios do not a good album make. Which makes Tech death’s effective and almost universal assault on our senses all the more notable.
As you read through our top 10 lists and honorable mentions, it’s clear that tech death made notable waves throughout Heavy Blog’s staff. Archspire, Ad Nauseam, First Fragment, and Ophidian I are universally loved records that hold prominent positions on nearly every death metal and overall year-end best-of list we have, which is both historically unique and, to be honest, incredibly exciting. 2021 may be one of the best years for tech death we’ve ever seen, and we’re all the way here for it. But one question has been bouncing around my brain as I’ve been contemplating tech death’s 2021 dominance: why? There are a few reasons, in my estimation, why these records have been so prominently featured and almost universally adored in the metal blogosphere.
- A marriage of tradition and innovation
- An emphasis on songwriting
- Uniformly fantastic production
On the first assertion, there’s no greater example than First Fragment’s utterly insane and deeply dynamic Gloire Éternelle. Containing some of the most technically awe inspiring sequences on any album released in 2021, it’s perfectly clear that First Fragment are deeply entrenched in the world of advanced skronk. But what makes the album soar is it’s majestic levels of innovation. Prominent use of acoustic and flamenco guitar work coupled with neo-classical compositional structures made for an album that sounded nothing like any tech death record I’ve ever heard, while remaining firmly entrenched in the performative wizardry that has always made the subgenre so fun. It’s the perfect embodiment of tech death’s bold leap into uncharted territory without losing its traditional elements, and I cannot emphasize enough how much I hope that this trend continues.
That balance of tradition and innovation is key for almost all of our favorite tech death records in 2021, but another key enhancement is in the songwriting department. Archspire plays prominently here, as Bleed the Future feels like a condensed, supercharged version of everything that has made the band (and the subgenre as a whole) appealing. In a furious half hour, Archspire manage to present more fantastic and fully developed ideas and compositions in one record than many other tech death bands have in their entire discographies. Tight, filler free, and teeming with aggression, Bleed the Future is a songwriting masterclass that current and future tech death bands should be studying with religious intent.
Another thing all of these albums have in common is unusually incredible production, particularly in the mixing and mastering. Of special note, Atvm, Obscura, and Ad Nauseam feature prominently as some of the most intricately produced and mixed tech death records I’ve heard in years. In the general instrumental swirl that tech death creates, it’s a frequent criticism that entire instruments often get drowned out to the point of non-existence. Not so here, as tech death’s finest records last year contained truly fantastic mixing, allowing percussive sections in particular to see a whole lot of shine. Listening to a slew of tech death records where you can clearly hear every instrument with crystal clarity is a breath of fresh air.
Over the past several years, old school death metal has seemed to dominate the airwaves for the genre, so 2021’s switch in quality dominance feels exciting and invigorating. But is it an aberration or a trend? Only time will tell. For now, we can relish the ascendency of some of the highest quality tech death we’ve ever heard, and hope the trend continues. For my own part, if quality persists, I hope we stay tech for a very long time.
The Year In Dissonant Death Metal (Or Whatever We’re Calling It Now)
One of the more fascinating offshoots of death metal over the past decade that has continued to be fruitful in 2021 has surely been the dark sounds that rose up in the wake of acts like Gorguts and Portal; that decentralized scene of post-death, dissonant, avant garde, and atmospheric brutality that’s long been spearheaded by the likes of Ulcerate and continually expanded upon by Imperial Triumphant, Artificial Brain, and others. As best as I can tell, it’s a very loose collective of vaguely aesthetically-similar acts that seems to carry a new genre tag every other year, most recently dissonant death metal.
Sure, it works to get us on the same page; when we say “dissodeath” we now know what to expect. But as more learned minds on the subject than me have pointed out, it’s not a very accurate name for the movement, is it? Sure, there’s discord aplenty; look no further than this year’s hotly celebrated Ad Nauseam record Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, which may as well be this year’s Hidden History of the Human Race as it got Anthony Fantano to don the yellow flannel and put it in his personal top 10, but the record is often quite harmonic. Sunless’ sophomore record Ylem fits the mold here and is as Gorguts inspired as any, and it is often overtly melodic. What good is a genre discussion without painful semantics?
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods’s Nightmare Withdrawals and Noctambulist’s The Barren Form also contributed albums that are adjacent to this movement, making moves in following Ulcerate’s path with added influences from deathgrind and black metal, respectively. Teeth’s new EP Finite is also arguably within the confines of this death metal evolutionary path and should not be overlooked in the end-of-year discussions despite its short runtime. Hopefully 2022 brings about a full-length follow-up to 2019’s The Curse of Entropy.
Whatever we choose to call it, be it atmospheric death metal, dissodeath, or what have you, I can’t wait to hear more skronky, reverb-laden technical and avant garde death metal in 2022 and how this already amorphous collective grows and changes the shape of death metal and broader extreme music to come.
Deathcore Smashes Our Expectations, and Our Eardrums
Few death metal strains have been as polarizing as deathcore. In it’s 15 year history, the subgenre has seen the rise of successful acts like The Acacia Strain, Suicide Silence, and Thy Art is Murder, only to be rejected by a few of those same acts. Yet deathcore continued to chug along, building its fanbase and attracting new talent until smashing its way into our hearts in 2021. Both new and established acts alike released innovative albums, reinvigorating the subgenre and proving that deathcore is a space to watch for heavy, exciting music.
A major part of deathcore’s epic year was the bumper crop of established bands that expanded their sound, incorporating everything from melodic death metal to black metal sounds for transformations that surprised and delighted fans everywhere. At the top of the list: Whitechapel. It’s nearly impossible to discuss deathcore without mentioning the Tennessee-based veterans, as they were one of the earliest deathcore acts and continue to be practically synonymous with the genre. In their eighth studio album, Kin, the band created their most personal offering to date as they continued exploring the early loss of frontman Phil Bozeman’s parents. Similarly, early deathcore pioneers Carnifex pulled their already unrelenting sound in a darker direction with Graveside Confessions. As their eighth album, Graveside Confessions feels like the full reveal of a new vision for the California band, which has been slowly expanding their range with black metal and classic death metal elements. With a more refined, but no less furious sound, Carnifex continues to be a heavyweight in the deathcore world. Though both bands pay tribute to their core sound, their 2021 albums showcase how even well-known bands can evolve their sound and the genres they lead.
That said, newer acts also delivered impressive deathcore albums throughout 2021. Speaking as someone who rarely listened to deathcore before this year, punishingly brutal releases from bands like Brand of Sacrifice and Vulvodynia not only convinced me to start exploring the category, but converted me into a fan. Canada-based “animecore” band Brand of Sacrifice made their fair share of headlines with Lifeblood, which continues the band’s tribute to anime series Berserk. Despite only being their second full album, Lifeblood is explosively heavy and complex, drawing inspiration from slam, brutal death metal, and deathcore to create a satisfyingly devastating album. South African slam band Vulvodynia also showcased a more brutal vein of deathcore in their Unique Leader debut, Praenuntius Infiniti. The slam group may have been one of the most surprising contributors to deathcore’s 2021 glow-up, considering their previous release was pure, IQ-lowering slam that earned steady praise from a growing fanbase. But with everything from ambient moments to a theremin woven into it’s fantastical storyline, Praenuntius Infiniti emerged as an exciting contribution to a subgenre that’s earning a well-deserved spotlight. If this is the new deathcore, consider me fully onboard.
Eden’s Top 10 of 2021
- Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon
This year’s best “classical” progressive death metal, expertly drawing on an epic and expansive concept to create an interesting and well crafted album.
- Sunless – Ylem
A winding and intricate journey into the depths of progressive death metal, Ylem is one of those albums which I foresee climbing this list over the next few years. There is a lot going on beneath the surface here and brave adventurers will be rewarded for every further trip they make into its labyrinthian spaces.
- Archspire – Bleed the Future
There’s another version of me that’s somewhat disappointed with Bleed the Future because it sees Archspire stick to their guns and double down on their tried and tested formula. But this version of me is simply grateful to have another album by one of death metal’s most crushing and percussive bands.
- First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle
It’s no secret that I’m a neo-classical metal fanboy, so it was extremely delighting and refreshing to hear First Fragment turn up the influences of that sound even further on their most recent release. Gloire Éternelle is a flamboyant, note heavy, but highly expressive album, justifying its run-time and then some by exploring some of the more interesting ideas and timbres in technical death metal today.
- Sallow Moth – Stasis Cocoon
We actually heard last week (from the type of this being posted) that Sallow Moth is no more. While Garry Brents is in a dozen more great projects, I’ll miss this band’s gnarly, convoluted, and challenging take on death metal. Very few albums more made me question my ears, my sanity, and my existence that Stasis Cocoon, constantly bombarding me with the most intricate and dense death metal of 2021.
- Interloper – Search Party
It’s taken Interloper seven years to settle on the best version of their sound and lineup but I fully believe that Search Party is that version. Stripping their music of much of the excess, fancy, and antics that has chained it down in the past, Interloper have released one of the most moving and evocative progressive death metal album of the year. If you approach this album with no prejudice or preconceptions you’ll find some of the best riffs, solos, and vocals (god, the vocals on this album are so good) of the year, packaged in a brighter and more hopeful package than the grim and dour aesthetics that sometimes plague our community and genres. Oh and there’s also a Duran Duran cover and it rules.
- Stortregn – Impermanence
Out of all of the albums on this list, Impermanence is probably the one that’s most unique. On it, Stortregn have created an amalgam of black metal, death metal, folk, and progressive that I haven’t quite heard before. Sure, many bands have put together their puzzle together using the above elements but none of them have fit the pieces together in quite the same way. Impermanence manages to be intimate and varied while still sounding incredibly epic and majestic at the same time. This is probably because both the grandiose elements of black metal and death metal are utilized to the same degree, plunging the depths of expression that both genres generate so well.
Listen, for example, to opener “Ghosts of the Past”; yes, there are big, death metal leads in here but pay close attention to the blast-beats and the tremolo picked riffs that energize the choruses on the track. Hear to both vocal tracks, one guttural and deep and the other high-pitched and abrasive. The beauty of it is that, somehow, the elements fit so well together that the album manages to not sound overburdened or excessive at any point. And that’s some feat, as you can hear when the track picks up steam for its outro; there’s a massive solo, mighty blast-beats and more bridges than you can count before the track’s chorus returns one last time and, from there, through a folky passage into the next track. Somehow, Stortregn make all of this feel effortless and almost lightweight, continuing to pull this off all the way to the album’s close.
- Obsolete – Animate//Isolate
The aggression on Obsolete’s Animate//Isolate is probably the most direct of the entries on my list but that’s only because so much of my list, and this year’s excellent death metal, is tinged with progressive influences. Don’t get me wrong, Animate//Isolate is by no means a “simple” album: like the previous entry on this list, it has some of the busiest and most intricate groove sections I’ve heard in a while. But the flavor with which the intricacies of this album are balanced lies in thrash metal, specifically Bay Area thrash metal, giving Animate//Isolate a buzzsaw sheen to it.
This creates a beautiful tension between the two types of sound that you can hear on this album. Check out “Still”, the opening track, for some fantastic examples. You can, for example, hear how the expressive, present bass blends with the more acerbic guitar riffs along the two minutes and thirty seconds mark. The bass remains intricate and drawing out, working under and alongside the guitar riffs, creating a beautifully haunting contrast. But at the end of this segment, the track’s forceful outro takes over, returning us to that core of aggression which keeps the blood pumping through Animate//Isolate’s veins.
- Ænigmatum – Deconsecrate
This album and the top one actually exchange spots every other week or so; where Desolate brings out the colorful and the joyful in technical death metal, Deconsecrate polishes the formula of the progressive/technical death metal album to perfection. Seriously, I have never heard this sort of complicated, congested, and self-indulgent type of death metal sound this tight and lean before. Part of it is the excellent production work, which places an extremely pleasing accent on the drums and the bass. The groove section on this album sounds exceptional as a result, rumbling in the background of the music while presenting the strong underpinning to the more flamboyant aspects of the music. And, as a sidenote but an important one, Deconsecrate has some of the best drum tones I’ve ever heard.
Bring in the explosive guitar work, the labyrinthian-yet-engaging composition, and the absolutely heart-arresting guttural vocals, and you’ve got a truly special album. The beauty about Deconsecrate is that all of these elements can be listened “separately”: you can choose to focus on the groove section on one listen and discover the intricacies and depths of the bass lines and their interactions with the drums. You can choose to listen to this album as a “guitar focused” album and find out all the cool riffs, solos, and leads that are all over this work. You can listen to it as a heavy release, revelling in its sheer aggression. And, finally, you can even listen to it for its quieter passages and how they create a fascinating contrast with the rest of the album.
Bottom line, this is one of the richest and most well executed releases of the year and if you’re a fan of death metal in any capacity, there’s something in here to enjoy.
- Ophidian I – Desolate
There are a lot of things to love about the Icelandic metal scene but my absolute favorite is that they play everything with such flair and panache. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing black metal, synthpop, or folk, Icelandic bands tend to go for broke or not go at all. Ophidian I are definitely a part of that tradition, turning Desolate into a technical death metal album which defies the genre’s definition by fishing in the fecund pools of hyper power metal for inspiration. The end result is a sort of tech death that is complicated and fast as only the genre can be but which also has a thick coating of cheese, joy, and flamboyance to it.
If you think that’s a bad thing, you haven’t really been paying attention to the sort of music that I love. These flairs of ultra-fast, but brightly colored, notes add a buoyancy to the album that is really hard to resist. And, of course, these influences make themselves manifest from the first track; in fact, “Diamonds” is perhaps one of the strongest tracks of the year, opening or otherwise. The power metal influences reside in the main riff and the sprawling leads but mostly make themselves known on the many bridges replete throughout the track, where the speed of the shredding chops up each note and produces the striated and variegated style of riff we are used to from the likes of DragonForce.
This is coupled with an incredibly solid groove section, all thick bass and forward drums, and guttural vocals that compliment the sweeter tones of the guitar in a really pleasing way. Chuck all of this into a big ol’ cauldron and light a fire of creativity and experimentation under it and you get Desolate. This is easily one of the most addictive albums released in 2021, cutting right to the bone of one of my favorite genres (power metal) and causing me to fall even deeper with my most recent infatuation (technical death metal, as the list below can attest).
Scott’s Favorite Death Metal Albums of 2021
10. Phrenelith – Chimaera (death metal)
When I wrote a retrospective on Desolate Endscape in our September column, I didn’t realize the band would release their sophomore album just a few months later. Chimaera offers the same impactful blend of atmosphere, brutality, and technical chops.
9. Feed Them Death – Negative (avant-garde death metal)
Negative is one of the most intriguing and outright enjoyable deathgrind projects I’ve heard in some time. Feed Them Death’s core formula of ripping deathgrind collides with a blend of strings and noise, landing in an intense, doomy maelstrom.
8. Worm – Foreverglade (blackened death-doom)
Though I’m generally pretty mixed when it comes to death-doom, it’s impossible to ignore how excellent Worm’s latest offering is. Foreverglade is an impeccably produced blend of all the greatest aspects that define death and funeral doom.
7. Fractal Generator – Macrocosmos (tech death)
Fractal Generator deserve way more praise for their dedication to sci-fi themes and excellent, celestial approach to brutal tech death. With Macrocosmos, the band position themselves as a key player in the rich history of Canadian death metal.
6. Brand of Sacrifice – LIfeblood (symphonic deathcore)
Lifeblood is without question the best deathcore album I’ve heard in the last decade. My interest in the subgenre peaked in 2010, and Brand of Sacrifice transport me back to that era with bigger, beefier riffs and breakdowns with the added bonus of well-executed symphonic arrangements.
5. Archspire – Bleed the Future (brutal tech death)
Relentless Mutation saw Archspire launch themselves into a new stratosphere after early highlights The Lucid Collective and All Shall Align. While Bleed the Future is more of a further refinement of the band’s intense take on tech death, it’s still one of the best offerings from the subgenre this year.
4. Seputus – Phantom Indigo (avant-garde tech death)
Six Degrees of Doug Moore is a pretty safe strategy to use when looking for excellent new experimental metal. Phantom Indigo is very much a “FFO: Pyrrhon” addition to Moore’s discography, as Seputus unleash cavalcades of grinding, sludgy, chaotic death metal.
3. Ophidian I – Desolate (tech death)
Put simply, Ophidian I combine everything I love about death metal into one phenomenal package. Sweeping melodies, brutality and speed, and progressive stylings come together seamlessly on Desolate.
2. Dormant Ordeal – The Grand Scheme of Things (blackened tech death)
A last-minute recommendation from Jonathan that quickly shot up my death metal rankings. Dormant Ordeal strike a perfect balance between speed and songwriting as ripping blasts and riffs tear through swirls of blackened dissonance and atmosphere.
1. Succumb – XXI (death metal)
An easy pick for my favorite death metal release of the year. Succumb improve upon every aspect of their already potent, dynamic style, offering an intense take on the genre informed by the raw punk spirit that informed the early days of extreme metal.
- Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse (avant-garde death metal)
- Ænigmatum – Deconsecrate (progressive tech death)
- Altarage – Succumb (blackened death metal)
- Atræ Bilis – Apexapien (dissonant tech death)
- Atvm – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless (progressive death metal)
- Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Nightmare Withdrawals (progressive deathcore)
- Celestial Swarm – Gateways to the Necroverse (blackened deathcore)
- Cognizance – Upheaval (tech death)
- Hyperdontia – Hideous Entity (death metal)
- Obscura – A Valediction (progressive tech death)
- Pyrexia – Gravitas Maximus (brutal death metal)
- Replicant – Malignant Reality (dissonant tech death)
- Stortregn – Impermanence (progressive tech death)
- Teeth – Finite (tech death)
- Unfathomable Ruination – Decennium Ruinae (brutal death metal)
Bridget’s Top 10 Death Metal Albums of 2021
- 200 Stab Wounds – Skin Milk
200 Stab Wounds is exactly as subtle as it sounds. The emerging death metal act from Ohio is no stranger to gore and grind – but that’s the whole point. Raised on death metal classics like Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, and Slayer, 200 Stab Wounds delivers riffs and breakdowns with an intensity that turns the established formula on it’s head. Their second album is catchy, addictive carnage. Just as good death metal should be.
- Diphenylchloroarsine – Subterranean Existential Warfare
I genuinely cannot remember how I discovered Diphenylchloroarsine, but it certainly wasn’t by search since I still spell their name wrong half the time. But even with the borderline unpronounceable moniker (it’s a highly toxic compound that was once used in biochemical warfare, if you’re wondering), the band’s apocalyptic slam is a thunderous mix of heavily downtuned guitars, growls, and distorted bass that lives up to the label “biochemical sludge slam.”
- Diskord – Degenerations
Challenging and addictive, Norwegian death metal outfit Diskord created something truly unique with Degenerations. Transcending Obscurity Records has consistently released some of the most challenging and technical death metal this year, and Degenerations certainly deserves to top that list. Diskord created a beautiful oddity of an album that includes, of all things, a cello and a theremin to build a dissonant, complex sound that truly can’t be found anywhere else. This is music for staring out into the cold gray winter, pondering the myriad of existential crises facing humanity.
- Replicant – Malignant Reality
Like many people this year, I finally hopped on the dissonant death bandwagon. Perhaps it’s symbolic of the general discomfort we’ve had to accept in society as COVID-19 safety protocols change, political polarization deepens, and the “new normal” fades into the distance. Or maybe it’s just because I now have a lot more time to sit and contemplate complex, challenging music like the technical, dissonant rage created by bands like Replicant. Their latest release is complex, furious, and catchy.
- First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle
Then there’s the albums so good, they manage to actually extract me from my comfort zone. Make no mistake, there’s plenty for hardcore death metal fans to love here, but had anyone but First Fragment tried to incorporate flamenco passages into their songwriting, it likely would have fallen flat. Yet Gloire Éternelle is unquestionably brilliant as it moves from flamenco to tech death to power metal. You’ve no doubt seen it on every AOTY list already, so what are you waiting for? There’s simply nothing else like it out there.
- Monument of Misanthropy – Unterweger
By now, you’ve probably noticed that my musical tastes veer heavily into the brutal/slam/weird range. Yes, I should maybe consider expanding my musical palate, but why would I want to when acts like Monument of Misanthropy continue to deliver smashing albums like Unterweger? The wildly aggressive offering from a newly expanded band is a masterclass is precision and devastation. For a songwriting geek like myself, the fact that it’s a concept album based on the life of serial killer Jack Unterweger is just icing on the cake. Historical fiction death metal, who knew?
- Cutterred Flesh – Sharing is Caring
This delightfully weird brutal death metal album from Czech band Cutterred Flesh manages to embody the best of BDM while also incorporating surprising moments of melodic death metal and slam. The music alternates between bludgeoning listeners with rapid-fire drums and eviscerating howls and slowly drawing them in with eerie, vaguely dissonant passages of calm. And the longer you listen (or look, the album cover has no shortage of juxtaposition either), the stranger the mix becomes. Either way, it’s a wicked fun contribution to the genre, one that will keep both die-hard BDM fans and newbies alike coming back for more.
- Fatuous Rump – Perceptions of the Dark Ornaments
Make no mistake: Taiwanese slammers Fatuous Rump are here to make nasty, gory slam that rots your ears and lowers your IQ by multiple points. Larry Wang (also of Facelift Deformation, I’m consistent if nothing else) sounds borderline inhuman as he growls his way through Perceptions of the Dark Ornaments, an effect that’s only amplified by chugging downtuned guitars and ridiculously fast drumming. The album art would’ve gotten you reported to HR in the pre-remote work times, and the content only gets gorier from there. Samples from serial killers and other murderers explaining their crimes cut through the riffs to create an unsettling energy. But, before you make your judgements, there’s also levels of nuance to this record. Tracks also feature drums sampled from local temple parades contrast with the violence to highlight an external struggle: the holy with the hellbound.
- Vulvodynia – Praenuntius Infiniti
2021 was a fantastic year in deathcore, with a long list of strong releases from both new and established bands. The latest release from South African slam outfit Vulvodynia was no exception. In their first album with Unique Leader Records, Vulvodynia delivered an expansive sci-fi epic that showcased their musical range without sacrificing the core brutality that made earlier releases like Psychosadistic Design hits. The newly expanded lineup showcased each of their talents throughout, but guitar solos from Kris Xenopoulos and Lwandile Prusent stood out for both technicality and atmosphere. Blasting vocals from Duncan Bentley and blistering drums from Thomas Hughes set the pace for moments of eerie stillness as well as battle scenes. It’s an ambitious album from a band ready to take their place on the global stage.
- Facelift Deformation – Path to Retribution
Facelift Deformation continues to be one of my favorite bands year after year. Their pummeling slamming brutal death metal was one of my early discoveries in extreme music, and despite a tidal wave of talented new bands entering the scene, I still find myself returning to their albums. When Path to Retribution dropped unexpectedly in late May this year, it was like Christmas came early. Though short, it delivers with Facelift Deformation’s usual blisteringly fast drums, impressive guitar playing, and nasty guttural vocals. Add in guest appearances from Clayton Meade (Condemned, former Pathology) and Jon Huber (Bludgeoned, former Pathology), and we have a satisfying slam record that reminds fans why we love this band and this subgenre.
Jonathan’s Top 10 Death Metal Albums of 2021
10. Dormant Ordeal – The Grand Scheme of Things
The type of album that could have ended up much higher on this list if I’d had more time to properly digest it. Dormant Ordeal caught me with a right hook to the temple back in 2016 with their incredible sophomore record We Had It Coming, and the five year wait for its follow up was more than worth it. Fervently aggressive, unexpectedly melodic, technically sound, and containing potentially the best sequence of three songs on any album this year (“Bright Constellations” through “Letters to Mr. Smith” is straight fire), it was impossible not to place The Grand Scheme of Things on this list, regardless of the lack of time to digest. An essential, truly brutal listening experience.
9. Diskord – Degenerations
Three albums isn’t as deep a catalog as one might expect from a band that’s been around for two decades. But when your music is as excellent in quality as Diskord regularly creates, it’s pretty easy to say less is more. Degenerations is an absolute monster of a record, blending avant-garde, progressive, and technical death metal elements into a piping hot sequence of tracks that are nothing short of spellbinding. Their approach to death metal songwriting has matured significantly since their last (also excellent) record Dystopics, and the instrumentation here is among the most intense and technically captivating of any record in 2021. Fans of death metal on the wild side will nothing plenty to love here.
8. Suffering Hour – The Cyclic Reckoning
It’s fairly difficult for a record released in the early months of a given year to maintain captivation as list season approaches. Suffering Hour encountered no such issue. The Cyclic Reckoning is the hotly anticipated follow up to the band’s scintillating debut full-length In Passing Ascension, and eclipses that release in every conceivable manner. The performances and songwriting are both excellent, but Reckoning sets itself apart from its contemporaries and the band’s previous material on the production front, unleashing the most delicious and off-kilter guitar tones of 2021. It’s a monster of a record that has few weaknesses and no dull moments, and if you like your death metal surly look no further.
7. Alustrium – A Monument to Silence
Alustrium have yet to release a record that wasn’t uniformly excellent. 2015’s A Tunnel to Eden was one of the past decade’s absolute best progressive death metal records, and A Monument to Silence meets the stratospheric expectations placed on it and then some. One of the few complaints I’ve heard about this record is that there’s “too much” and that it’s “too long”, which when it comes to progressive death metal feels exactly like everything one could hope for. Alustrium balance progressive elements with just the right amount of brutality to formulate a record that is never boring and never so pretentious as to lose the attention and focus of the listener. It’s an intricately crafted behemoth of a record that has retained and expanded its hold on my regular rotation since its release. A gargantuan, enormously entertaining achievement.
6. Ophidian I – Desolate
Iceland is known for a few things: Amazing views, great seafood, Sigur Ros, and black metal. Bands like Misthyrming, Svartidaudi, and Sinmara have been lighting up the metal world for over a decade now, but their brightly burning stars should not wash out the magnitude of what’s happening in the country’s far-too-overlooked death metal scene. Zhrine has been holding down the blackened death corridor for a while, and Scott wrote a great piece last year highlighting some of the scene’s unsung heroes. But that unfortunate reality should become less stark after Ophidian I blew the top off with their utterly spellbinding sophomore effort Desolate. Holy SHIT is this album fantastic. As has been elucidated several times above, this record contains practically everything that I love about death metal: Expert musicianship, incredible riffs, propulsive and controlled songwriting, and a hefty dose of sheer fun sprinkled on top. This band went from Icelandic anomaly to household name in the tech death world in one album, and Lord knows where they’ll take us next. Brilliant stuff.
5. Obscura – A Valediction
Not gonna lie… I’m typically more of an Alkaloid fanboy when it comes to the Obscura family tree. Liquid Anatomy is an absolute banger, and to my ears dwarfed Obscura’s more popular releases in quality and replayability. At least that was true before I heard A Valediction. Allow me to be plain: This record is, to my ears, the most comprehensively excellent, thoroughly enjoyable, intensely focused, and appropriately accessible release of the band’s career thus far and it’s not very close. Every aspect of this album’s construction borders on perfection. From the deep yet unfussy production (helmed by At the Gates’ maestro behind the boards for Slaughter of the Soul Fredrik Nordström) to the blistering guitar tones this album shines on a technical level, but it’s the songwriting and performances that truly elevate A Valediction. Stripping the progressive elements back a tad for a more melodeath approach, these tracks balance straightforward melodeath and prog metal flourish with expert precision, making for an album that’s immediately more accessible without losing many layers of complexity. It’s my favorite thing they’ve released, and far and away one of the best tech death records of 2021.
4. Atvm – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless
The fact that Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless is Atvm’s first full length record is insane. On creative, technical, and performative levels this record is absolute fucking chaos in the best way possible. The musicianship on this record in particular is straight bananas, weaving in and out of thrashy, proggy, techy, and brutal passages with a whiplash aggression that feels variable and intentional in the same measure. Bolstered by some typically fantastic mixing and mastering by Colin Marston, the record’s chaotic elements are pulled together with crystal clarity, allowing for each skronky bite to get its day in the sun. I could (and have) go on and on about how incredibly Famine is, but I strongly encourage you to just click the link below and listen for yourself. Your satisfaction is my guarantee.
3. Archspire – Bleed the Future
In the discography of every exceptional band there’s an album that defines their peak. The record that stands head and shoulders above the rest as their uncontested masterpiece. In the case of Archspire, I felt certain that Relentless Mutation would be that album in the band’s catalog. Not because I didn’t think the band was capable of greater things, but simply because that album represented so many of the things that the band did well with impeccable clarity. Then Bleed the Future dropped and two dozen spins later I stand before you a man proven deeply wrong. This record is a monolith. A titan. It’s everything I wanted an Archspire record to be and thought I’d never hear. In a year replete with exceptional musicianship, Archspire thoroughly crush the vast majority of the competition with airtight performances that still feel unpredictably wild and loads of fun. The songwriting is condensed to its bare essence without ever feeling “stripped back” or uninteresting. There’s melody, complexity, and insanity to be had on this record in equal measure and I can’t get enough. Please accept my most humble apologies, gents. You’re indeed capable of releasing two masterpieces in a row.
2. Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
Frenetic. Chaotic. Avant garde. Complex as all hell. Intense and dissonant. All of the above are adequate descriptors of Ad Nauseam’s output. Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est was 2015’s “revelation record”, one of those releases that simultaneously spins your head and rips it completely off and I have listened to it countless times over the past several years. But even its insanity couldn’t have prepared me for what Imperative Imperceptible Impulse had in store. This record is pulsating with a dark sort of life that one rarely finds in music this dissonant and technical in nature. The songwriting here, especially upon repeat listens, cuts through the chaos and creates grounding points through recurring themes and riffs that always keep the whole endeavor from flying completely off the rails, giving listeners landmarks to find their bearings. It’s an incredibly dense, frantic, and on the whole utterly exceptional work of art that I’ve been listening to on repeat since its release. Each new spin has only further rewarded my efforts. A spellbinding bruiser of a record.
1. First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle
In case it wasn’t clear at this point, the contributors of Death’s Door listen to a whole helluva lot of death metal. Of the literal hundreds of records in this genre consumed in 2021, there wasn’t a record that mesmerized this author more than First Fragment’s absolutely sensational sophomore full-length record Gloire Éternelle. Technical death metal, at its core, holds to a spirit of exploration and adventure that all too often feels underdeveloped as bands try to one-up each other for the title of very much most skronkiest. While filled to the brim with skronk aplenty, First Fragment spend the majority of Gloire Éternelle blending sounds that absolutely should not go together into a record that is as cohesive and engaging as it is constantly surprising. Flamenco, neo-classical, and supremely technical death metal combine throughout these tracks in a manner that I’ve literally never heard before, and the results are uniformly gorgeous and transfixing. This thing is a fucking game changer and I’m so glad it exists. Full-throated praise to First Fragment and Gloire Éternelle, my favorite death metal record of 2021.