I’ve said this elsewhere on the blog before but, alongside a few more albums, Terminus‘ The Silent Bell Toll is 2021 “lightning bolt”. This is a term I use to describe albums which show up out of nowhere, perhaps because it’s the band’s debut or just because I had not heard even a whisper about them before, and which then shoot straight to the top of my Album of the Year list. The Silent Bell Toll is quintessentially that because, even though I didn’t create a ranked list this year, it is the Album of the Year for me. Its effortless combination of doom, heavy metal, and a certain sludge-pop vibe evocative of Torche or Floor is an absolute delight to my ear. It’s one of my most played albums of the year as well and that’s no surprise as it continues anger, elation, self-doubt, triumph, friendship, fear, and many more emotions and moods.
So, when it came time to choose the five bands/artists that we’d invite to write a guest list for us this year, Terminus were absolutely no-brainers. And I’m really glad we did because the list is incredibly good. It contains some stuff which “makes sense” in light of Terminus’ music of choice, namely Yob and Gatecreeper, but also welcome additions like Wolves in the Throne Room and Spelling. Throughout the list you can see the different takes on evocativeness and emotional deliver that characterize the choices of both bands members. There’s not really a common thread running through these choices beyond that but that’s really all you need to know; the buoyant energy which makes The Silent Bell Toll so good runs strongly through this list!
Yob – Atma (Julian)
It may seem like a cop out to put an album from 2011 on our best of 2021 list, but Billy Barnett’s remix of their 2011 masterpiece has created a brand-new album for me. I always felt that Atma had the most inspired riffs and pacing of Yob’s records, but the aesthetic choice of lo-fi, punk production always frustrated me somewhat. Now that this album has been given a more expansive mix it really is the platonic ideal for what any doom band should strive for.
Favorite track: “Atma”
Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Sebastian)
Twisting, winding, melodic leads, atmospheric and powerfully produced, WITTR are clearly beyond ambitious with how adventurous this album is. As a musician, I am spellbound by the way this band leads you through their supreme command of mood. I adore the melodic string sections on tracks like “Spirit of Lightning” and the weird synth melodies on “Underworld Aura” and “Eostre” that build their unique balance of mystique and direct expression of what Black Metal means in America. I caught them live in Kansas City back when Diadem of 12 Stars came out and they have continued to blow me away with Thrice Woven. Keeping up with these guys and their discography has been such a gift.
Iskandr – Vergezicht (Julian)
I’ve really enjoyed some of the atmospheric black metal coming from the Netherlands over the past few years. Iskandr popped up on my radar with their 2018 release, Euprosopon, which completely blew me away. The band builds on the core elements of their sound and adds more melodic riffs and vocals while still retaining the “dark medieval atmospheres” of their previous records. It’s a lengthy work, but well worth a listen.
Favorite track: “Bloeddraad”
Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality (Sebastian)
Gatecreeper flat out wrecks. This album deserves this spot and it came out back in January of 2021 with little to no awareness or press coverage! They just dropped an incredible managerie of doom/deathmetal and dipped. The final track is incredibly generous, heavy, and courageous with its song structure and directness. Every band should strive to be as ambitious as Gatecreeper and with An Unexpected Reality they continue to carry the torch of heavy music for all of us.
Spellling – The Turning Wheel (Julian)
The Turning Wheel is an incredibly catchy album that combines soul, pop, and prog elements. There is a lot going on here – Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Kate Bush – but it still manages to sound modern and not like a retread of old baroque pop and soul. It’s catchy as hell and one of those albums that really takes you on a journey, lyrically and musically.
Favorite track: “Boys at School”
Kowloon Walled City – Piecework (Julian)
Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning (Julian)
Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready (Sebastian)
Khemmis – Deceiver (Sebastian)
King Buffalo – The Burden of Restlessness (Sebastian)