I’ll be honest with you: the first time I heard Fierce Deity‘s Power Wisdom Courage I didn’t really know what to make of it. It was only our staff members which saved me by insisting that I listen to it and boy, am I glad I listened. Once it clicked in my head that this was a power doom album, which isn’t really a thing, I suddenly understood where everything fit in. The powerful synths, the rousing choruses, the big riffs, they were all trying to take the epicness of doom metal and the epicness of power metal and make them smush. And smush they did, resulting in one of the most immediately evocative albums of the year, an album I wrote up for our Superlatives list under the “Albums Best Screamed From the Top of a Cliff, In Defiance of Gods Both Old and New”.
And it is! It is best screamed like that or, you know, when riding your bicycle or walking or doing something through which to channel the amazing energies which the album has. This energy is why I reached out to Jonathan, the one-man behind this one-man project to get his albums of the year. And while the list below is short it makes up for it with punch, including the sprawling and evocative Delving, the furious Jinjer, and likewise-best-screamed-from-the-of-a-cliff antics of Stormkeep. In short, it’s one hell of a release and one hell of an album and I urge you to listen to it and then to dive into the list below. You won’t regret it.
Delving – Hirschbrunnen
I can’t think of enough good things to say regarding the way Nick Disalvo puts his work together.
A few years ago I fell deeply in love with Elder and their unique brew of fuzzy riffage and ornate orchestrations. For me, they have made a lot of the music I’ve been listening to for 10+ years seem rather dull in comparison and further still – the music I myself have made to that point feel tired and stale and spurred me to make bigger and more colorful music.
I was excited to learn Nick was putting out a solo record purely so I could get a more detailed look at his musical brain but ‘Hirschbrunnen’ is far from something to be studied or broken down into clinical wank. It grooves and sings it’s way through it’s 50 something minute run time so effortlessly and enjoyably there’s nothing to do but listen.
Every tune builds into something that’s worth the wait – whether it’s a dark synthscape or a glorious rock jam. By the end of each song you wonder how you ended up here and as the next one begins you’re more than happy to ‘Wait and See’.
Find an hour alone as soon as possible to put your headphones on and listen to Hirschbrunnen in its glorious entirety. It’s a wonderful blend of colour and grit that avoids any over used formulas yet still retains its cool kid rock credentials.
Lucifer – Lucifer IV
What is it about the Swedish that allows them to bash us with extreme schtick that would render an American/UK/Australian band a “novelty”? What do our Euro colleagues do so right with it all?
In Lucifer’s case, at least, I find it’s due to their incredibly expert songwriting that’s clearly driven by a love for the golden age of denim and doom rock n roll. On a lesser band the visuals and sound would just seem like gratuitous branding but the band just have that authenticity that record companies wish they could fabricate on the bands they back as the torch bearers of rock music.
“Wild Hearses” dropped early on and at the title alone I knew the album would be special. The tune is loaded with musical and lyrical nods to Black Sabbath but also goes off on it’s own tangent that would make T-Rex or Bowie blush. The album itself is everything I like in a band. Great dynamic songwriting met with lyrics and images that create and nail a theme.
What brings me back to Lucifer over and over is the sonic humanity on display. In a landscape dominated by click tracks and noise gates it’s easy awesome to feel a good band playing what I call humanly perfect. Natural tempo fluctuations and pick rakes are the lost spice of rock music and Lucifer IV is spicy as fuck.
Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime
I know nothing of black metal because I’ve never been exposed to any material that captured me.
This album has no business being in my AOTY list and that’s why I had to include it. I listened to “The Seer” after it was shared in a story on my favourite instagram page @catatonicyouths – a page that posts the most tragic attempts at music on the internet. The artwork looked cool and I thought it was going to be funny! Clearly the page owner was sharing something he liked because the musical prowess of Stormkeep is impossible to poke fun at.
Just like the aforementioned Lucifer and most other bands I get into Stormkeep have crafted a theme that truly works. I find it hard to take black metal seriously at times purely because the fan base takes it SO seriously (you know you do, don’t @ me). This album is fun in the all right ways, serious in all the right ways and executed wonderfully.
I did not expect to listen to the album over and over again but straight up – what Stormkeep have done with Tales is what I’m looking to do with Deity albums. There’s a world/lore built into some incredibly entertaining musical movements. Finally a BM band was made for me! If you ever hear a blast beat in a future Deity tune it’s because Stormkeep made me do it.
Jinjer – Wallflowers
I’m so glad female fronted metal bands became a trend and flooded the market because it means the end for the boring conversations I’ve had to endure regarding boring bands. The stale sound of Doro and the lackluster “smash a few random riffs together in this tempo” songwriting of Arch Enemy were long overdue to be toppled by an innovative band that REALLY utilized the female voice as the versatile tool that it is.
Wallflowers is jam packed with all my favourite kinds of hooks and drops – they strive for tightness and boy oh boy do they hit it. The chord choices that bleed through the picked rhythms are simply mint and Tati’s sense of melody and destruction is just awesome. Jinjer have it all. A rock solid engine room of groove and riffs fronted by a charismatic and talented singer. I will always be excited for a new Jinjer album.
The production choices on Wallflowers were good for a 2021 album of this nature. Just enough meat on the bones to not feel dry but not over done by any stretch of the imagination. The intricate guitar and bass work are on full display – these guys are definitely a guitarist’s guitarist and a bassist’s bassist – No pointing to the sky guitar heroics here, just a devastatingly well rehearsed unit.
I recently read an interesting thought on the comedy of Conan O’Brien (of which I am a big fan) and I think it pertains to Jinjer quite well. The notion was that Conan never swings for big out of the stadium home runs with his material but instead is constantly hitting 1st and 2nd base with no trouble. This allows you to enjoy him for hours on end because you’re always entertained but never exhausted – I think Jinjer’s material fits with this baseball analogy.
Bo Burnham – Inside
Has anyone captured the feeling of the current cultural climate better than Bo Burnham did with this? This does everything a good album should do – it entertains as much as it resonates. There are only a few bands on earth that can boast such an ability to create this many moods on one record! Couple it with the visuals on the Netflix special and it’s nothing short of a great ride.
The theatrics of it all has me thinking of it as The Rocky Horror Picture Show if the camp sci-fi elements were replaced with all the hilarity and sadness of this truly mundane dystopia we’re all scrolling our way into. You know we’re all in trouble when the comedians are the only public figures making any sense!
Comedy aside, Bo is a great songwriter and arranger – his vocal phrasing is crazy good. To write and fit a joke into the confines of pop music is harder than it may seem – then to hit some heart strings like ‘That Funny Feeling’ did with me is even harder. I’m not sure a song hit me harder than that in 2021.
The special itself got me thinking about the concept of a “release”’ and honestly I think artists will go further down the path of Inside and more-so Sturgill Simpson’s Sound and Fury as we, the consumer, demand more, more and mooooooore from them. I think Inside has set the bar for what can be done with minimal production and will be referenced time and time again as we drift anxiously and slowly into the future.