Last year, we didn’t run a traditional “Best Of” list like the rest of the online music community likes to do. Deep into the pandemic, values changed, and the

2 years ago

Last year, we didn’t run a traditional “Best Of” list like the rest of the online music community likes to do. Deep into the pandemic, values changed, and the year-end push to create retrospective content summarizing the year’s highlights started to feel, by some on the staff, like the whole thing was becoming a contest. But music isn’t a contest or competition to be won! That’s why we moved away from numeric scores in our reviews and why we’ve moved to unranked lists, try as we might to justify our ranked lists using hard math and statistical science in years past. Instead of a list last year, we ran a Superlatives list, with fun categories and albums that rose to the occasion within each, a tradition which continues to this year.

However, the absence of a “main list” of our collective favorite albums was missed by some staff and readers, so we went back to basics; no algorithms: we took a list of 25 albums from each Heavy Blog contributor (which you can read here), grabbed the top 50 most common records, and compiled them here in alphabetical order with quotes pulled from our coverage throughout the year. Without further ado: here’s Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s Top 50 Albums Of 2021:

Abstract Void – Wishdream

Abstract Void [are] one of few artists to successfully pull off the unique fusion of shoegaze, black metal and […] synthwave. (A combo I’ve tried to coin as “blackwave” but we’ll see if that catches on). The genres work incredibly well together in how they operate with the same general tempos, and often similar song structures. Those highly textural, sprawling landscapes of sounds, highlighted by post-rocky build ups and climaxes.

Wishdream feels like the best realization of this sound I’ve heard to date, up there with Violet Cold‘s strong flirtations with this style. Often the tracks feel written more from a blackgaze perspective first, with synth leads harmonizing and taking on a more lead-guitar role for a cool retro sound. Yet the more synthwave focused songs with throbbing bass and black metal vocals hit just as hard. It’s rare to find unique genre-fusions that work out this well from every angle. If you’re into both of those genres and haven’t heard this yet, I hope it’s the dream come true that you’d imagine it to be.

[Trent Bos, Release Day Roundup – 10/01/21]

Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse

“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.”

[Jonathan Adams, Death’s Door // July 2021]

Archspire – Bleed the Future

“2021 has been a stacked year for tech death to an extent not seen in years, with releases from bands like Ophidian I, First Fragment, Inferi, and so many more either already released or on the horizon — and how fortunate are we to bear witness to it all. In terms of sheer heaviness, however, Archspire’s fourth outing is going to be incredibly difficult to dethrone at the top. The band’s commitment to outdoing each previous release has shown no sign of letting up steam, law of averages be damned, and rest assured that trend continues unabated here if in a slightly newer direction for the band. Long-time blog readers should be well familiar with the principle that we are in the Golden Age of Metal; if albums like Bleed the Future don’t make that abundantly clear, I’m not sure what will.”

[Ahmed Hasan, Archspire – Bleed The Future]

“There’s a line of thought that believes there is no such thing as a “perfect” record, and on the whole I believe that to be true. But when viewing records and tracks through the prism of their intended impact and the genre confines they occupy, it may indeed be possible to label a piece of music, at least on a micro level, perfect. Bleed the Future comes dangerously close to that lofty status, representing some of the most fully realized technical death metal of this ilk that I have ever heard. This is a game-changer moment for the band and for technically-inclined death metal as a whole, and if this doesn’t blow brains right out the back of your head in similar fashion to the album artwork, I’m not sure what will. An absurd, technical masterpiece.”

[Jonathan Adams, Death’s Door // November 2021]

Black Country, New Road – For the first time

“The reception of debut albums is always a fickle beast. Sometimes they can be given some leniency due to it being the band’s first foray together, and there’s often that daunting fear that they’re the cumulation of a lifetime of ideas that have now been exhausted. But they can also set a precedent for everything that band will do afterwards. And my goodness, Black Country, New Road have set the bar very high for themselves. An ode to early post-rock acts such as Slint, combined with the ambitious experimental rock and post-punk of black midi and shame, For the first time is not only one of the best debuts of the year, but one of the best rock albums of the year.”

[Trent Bos, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021 (So Far)]

“Post-punk is having a bit of a re-re-revival (who’s counting the resurrections at this point?) as of late. With bands like Squid and Iceage dropping new records to wide acclaim. But none of the newest batch of post-punk records has come close to touching the delightful strangeness of Black Country, New Road‘s For the First Time. I haven’t heard another record like it in 2021, and wouldn’t be surprised to feel that way until the band write their next record. Over six sometimes long, often winding and even more frequently straight up delirious tracks Black Country, New Road have carved out an Arcade Fire-esque niche in a very short amount of time. Front to back this record is a stunner, and if you are skeptical of that claim just give “Athens, France” a listen.”

[Jonathan Adams, Unmetal Monthly // July 2021]

black midi – Cavalcade

“It’s pretty much impossible to name another band that sounds like black midi. If you’ve heard them, you know. If you haven’t, prepare your body. The band’s debut Schlagenheim was one of the most unhinged, batshit records I had heard up to that point, and given the more lush, accessible (though no less complex) direction of Cavalcade it looks like that designation will remain intact. That isn’t to say that this latest record is any less engaging. It often feels like a distillation of the band’s more erratic and aggressively weird tendencies into something that is less difficult to grasp. The vocals, instrumentation, and songwriting are all top notch here, letting each track breathe and morph in a sometimes meandering manner that never gets old or dull. It’s honestly a hard album to explain in written form, so I would strongly recommend you check it out for yourself. High quality stuff.”

[Jonathan Adams, Unmetal Monday // July 2021]

“The album just sounds like nothing else; it’s like a troubadour, 60’s singer-songwriter style show crashed into an orchestra and, in the ensuing chaos, they decided to make a math-rock album. The end result is an album that’s sometimes extremely loud and chaotic (like on the opening track, “John L”) and then sneaky and subtle (like on “Chondromalacia Patella”). And then sometimes it’s both, quiet and loud mixing together to create some really weird vibes. In short, it’s a progressive album as a progressive album should be: unpredictable, wild, and wholly its own.”

[Eden Kupermintz, The Prog-nosis // July 2021]

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 refinement. 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. ”

[Jimmy Rowe, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021 (So Far)]

Brand of Sacrifice – Lifeblood

Brand of Sacrifice’s blend of deathcore and brutal death metal on their debut, God Hand (2019), was already pretty impressive, but its swift follow-up Lifeblood is a whole new level (of confidence and pow-uh!). Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more extreme, the Toronto quintet managed to find a way to turn up not only the brutality, but every aspect of their sound as well. Brand of Sacrifice built their reputation on brutality, but they’re a much more interesting and effective outfit for having introduced some more variation into their sound, while firmly putting their competitors on notice in the process.”

[Joshua Bullied, Rotten to the Core // April 2021]

“Not only did Brand of Sacrifice transport back to that 2010 Golden Age [of deathcore], their approach to the genre is better than any of the records I held dear back then. Everything about Lifeblood is bigger, beefier, and just plain better than what deathcore sounded like to my young, uninitiated ears. Suffice it to say, this is easily the best deathcore album I’ve heard in years.”

[Scott Murphy, Death’s Door // April 2021]

BRUIT ≤ – The Machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again

The Machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again expertly paints a broad canvas with a seamless blend of jaw-dropping dramatics, thoughtful soundscapes, skittering electronics, soaring crescendos, and heartbreaking melodies, all with a deft compositional hand that knows exactly when to transition from one to another. It’s as much a swirling maelstrom as it is a gentle embrace, and not many bands strike that balance as well as BRUIT ≤ does. If I’m talking straight from my guts I’ll just say that BRUIT ≤ explores much of what has made Godspeed You! Black Emperor living legends while omitting most of the droning, artsy horseshit that sometimes makes GY!BE difficult to enjoy (apologies to Godspeed, but c’mon, sometimes you need to try and remember that you have an audience).”

[David Zeidler, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 of 2021 (So Far)]

“If you want to hear what the present and future of post-rock can sound like, French post-rock/experimental quartet BRUIT ≤ have you covered. Dark and foreboding but always hugely intentional and propulsive, The Machine is burning… is an album to win over even the most fervent post- skeptics.”

[Nick Cusworth, Editors’ Picks // May 2021]

Dream Unending – Tide Turns Eternal

“Dream Unending, the new death-doom project from Tomb Mold’s Derrick Vella and Innumerable Forms’ Justin DeTore, is every bit as important and substantial as either of those acts. […] However, Dream Unending is a magnificent beast all its own that is more than the sum of its parts; a death-doom supergroup from 20 Buck Spin? You could probably imagine the slow, churning, cavernous reverberations now. Tide Turns Eternal though […]  is building the case for an ethereal and melodic take on the often challenging subgenre. In fact, Tide Turns Eternal is often beautiful and deeply haunting, evoking acts such as Anathema and Paradise Lost while maintaining a familiar OSDM aesthetic at its core. Atop those trudging riffs lie intensely melodic guitar solos and psychedelic guitar arpeggios that offer hooks on hooks, delivered through airtight songwriting that is spacious, yet doesn’t meander. It’s truly a captivating record that stands apart in a crowded 2021 as a true highlight with real staying power.”

[Jimmy Rowe, Death’s Door // December 2021]

Dreamwell – Modern Grotesque

“Dreamwell’s sophomore album caught me off guard, in that I didn’t expect it to instantly become the new skramz classic I’ve been waiting for since Pianos Become The Teeth’s 2014 hit Keep You. There isn’t a single wasted second among its ten tracks, navigating the waters between discordant grit and lilting harmony with a steady hand. If you’ve been avoiding the genre in recent years, Modern Grotesque establishes Dreamwell as a frontrunner in the new wave of young bands bringing fresh energy to an aging scene.”

[Calder Dougherty, Dreamwell – Modern Grotesque]

DVNE – Etemen Ænka

“I loved [their previous LP] Asheran but it still felt just shy of greatness to me. Etemen Ænka is shy about absolutely nothing. It feels like Dvne coming into their own, spreading their wings extremely wide and soaring upon their sound. It feels wholly theirs where Asheran felt too concerned with paying homage and referencing the greats of the “progressive post-metal” genre that emerged in the beginning of the previous decade. Instead, Etemen Ænka is one of those greats, building upon the foundations of the genre to take it farther and further than it has ever gone before. […] Just go and listen to this album, OK? Even if you don’t like post-metal, it has sci-fi, and sick riffs, and plenty of incredible lore to dig into. It kicks ass.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021 (So Far)

Every Time I Die – Radical

“Radical contains some of Every Time I Die’s most accessible material to date, but it’s also a shoe-in for the heaviest record they’ve ever put out as well. Songs like ‘The Whip’ and ‘Desperate Pleasures’ are as devastating as the global climate catastrophes the band often find themselves rallying against throughout the record. Vocalist, icon, author and all around legend Keith Buckley is also at the top of his game here, seamlessly alternating between his most catchy and accessible croons and the most savage, throat tearing performances of his career. Every Time I Die have been reliably putting out phenomenal albums for too long now for any of this to come as a surprise, but that doesn’t mean we should take an album like this for granted either.

It hasn’t yet achieved the classic status of albums like Gutter Phenomenon, The Big Dirty or even Low Teens, but I have little doubt that Radical is the definitive Every Time I Die record and, right now, I’m thinking it might just be their best as well. New Junk Aesthetic: you’re on notice.”

[Joshua Bulleid, Rotten to the Core // November 2021]

First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle

Quebec’s neoclassical tech death outfit First Fragment dropped their sophomore LP [this October, and] 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.

[Jimmy Rowe, Editors’ Picks // November 2021]

Gloire Éternelle is a long album, both in runtime and in sheer breadth of ideas and sounds covered. But the journey is totally worth it, presenting an immensely satisfying version of technical/progressive death metal that’s truly unchained and willing to draw its influences from wherever they might come.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Death’s Door // November 2021]

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

“This might sound like a cop-out, but I truly believe that no words I could write in this space would do Promises justice. After spinning it multiple times on release day, I dedicated time the following Saturday to turn it up on my speakers and surround myself with sound as each movement unfolded. I could rattle off my usual qualifications here: this is for you if you enjoy spiritual jazz, modern classical, progressive electronic, etc. But in reality, if you have a pulse and enjoy music, you owe it to yourself to experience what Promises has to offer. I genuinely believe this is a landmark release we’ll be discussing for years to come.”

[Scott Murphy, Editors’ Picks // April 2021]

“[…] Promises is basically designed to be an album which grows on you. Everything, from the composition, to the tones, to the overall structures of the album, hints at the album’s cover art, layers underneath layers, hiding beneath the surface for you to discover. This means that it took some time for Promises to arrest me. Was this a classical music album? Was it jazz? Was it electronics? The answer slowly dawned on me and that it was all of those things and then some, conjoined by some miracle into an extremely moving album, once you decode its language.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021 (So Far)]

Frontierer – Oxidized

“Having pushed the mathcore sound so far already, I wasn’t sure what I really wanted from a new Frontierer record, until I heard the singles from Oxidized and knew that was exactly it. These songs are every bit as heavy as the material from Unloved and Orange Mathematics, and arguably even more intense, but there’s a clear sense of restraint and structure that reminds me of the last Car Bomb record or later Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza albums this time around as well. […] We could be looking at their best album yet.

[Joshua Bullied, Release Day Roundup – 10/01/21]

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.”

[Jonathan Adams, Editors’ Picks // November 2021]

Fucked Up – Year of the Horse

“Calling this a “hardcore” record is a pretty insane stretch, really. Sure, Fucked Up have traditionally been more of a hardcore band than not, and there is some hardcore on this album… along with literally everything else! Western Americana, gospel, folk, punk, garage rock, desert rock, stoner metal, prog rock, atmospheric/synth pop, avant-garde soundscapes, jazz, lounge, dub, funk, thrash, doom, drone, trip-hop, you name it! It’s all here and, somehow – incredibly – it all works.”

[Joshua Bullied, Rotten to the Core // July 2021]

“It’s as fun as it is unbelievably nerdy and heady, a place the venerable group seems to find comfort in more and more these days. In many ways, Year of the Horse feels like the ultimate culmination of years of experimentation and internal friction on what the individuals of Fucked Up wanted Fucked Up to be. Everything locks into place and works in harmony here, and the results are a wonder to behold.“

[Nick Cusworth, Editors’ Picks // June 2021]

Full of Hell – Garden of Burning Apparitions

“Full of Hell, by now an established pillar of the modern extreme metal world, seem to have settled into a comfortable niche, if the last three records of “harsh grinding death” serve as an indication of their headspace […] Now, 2021 brings us Garden of Burning Apparitions, another under-25-minute LP packed full of haymaker deathgrind riffs, glowering anti-Christian ideals, and explosive moments of harsh noise. In my review of Weeping Choir, I wrote that that album ‘feels like the record Full of Hell have been building up to for a decade now,’ and I stand by that. Which means the question facing Garden is: where does the band go from their artistic self-actualization?

The answer: you take the winning formula and stretch, pinch, and bend it in just enough places to stay interesting. The jumps between the past few records are far smaller on their face than that from 2014’s Full of Hell & Merzbow and before to their current state, making this record pretty immediately intuitive and welcoming to fans, but Full of Hell still have plenty of tricks up their sleeve and the ways that they deploy them across Garden make it just as vital and energizing of a listen as anything else they’ve done to date.”

[Simon Handmaker, Full of Hell – Garden of Burning Apparitions]

Glassing – Twin Dream

“Texas outift Glassing caught my attention with 2019’s Spotted Horse, absolutely mesmerizing me through an Audiotree performance that really captures the depths of their gut-wrenching sound. Follow-up Twin Dream sees the inky, gravelly swarm form into more coherent passages of doomy sludge and blackened fervor that leave a hole in your heart. Basically, it’s good shit.”

[Calder Dougherty, Editors’ Picks // December 2021]

“Post-metal has always felt like a genre that could make better use of breakdowns and they make a clinic of it here. Not to mention some absolutely brutal low gutturals? God damn. The versatility, the dynamic storytelling, the at-the-edge-of-your-limits raw emotion and giving everything their bodies have to offer delivery, Twin Dream represents all of the best that these genres have to offer.”

[Trent Bos, Glassing – Twin Dream]

Green Lung – Black Harvest

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing sweeping, crowd-pleasing tracks that induce the feeling of “the arena” in the listener, the feeling of singing along with a great track in the midst of a crowd. And that’s 100% what Green Lung are doing on Black Harvest. Some of the more intimate, folksy elements from Woodland Rites are gone and I do miss them. But their place is taken by massive guitar riffs and way more prominent synths, drawing on tones taken straight from the heyday of psychedelic rock. Every track (except for a few interludes and ballads) is designed to sweep you away. I mean, just listen to the solo on “Leaders of the Blind”; it’s probably the “largest” and most rock n’ roll that Green Lung have ever sounded. And that’s the idea behind the whole album: loud, sweeping, punching stoner rock that takes absolutely no prisoners and wastes absolutely zero time on getting to those epic moments we all love rock for.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Doomsday // November 2021]

Hacktivist – Hyperdialect

Hacktivist have been a polarising band for some time. Their brand of rap metal, with djent instrumentation accompanying a dual-vocal attack has always demonstrated potential, but it has never quite come together on record. That all changes on 2021’s Hyperdialect, a lineup change reinvigorating the band and seeing them finally deliver on that potential. The riffs hit harder, the lyrics are better, and the vocals are more aggressive as the band delivers a newfound dynamism on every track. The live energy they have built their name on translates convincingly here, with the likes of opener “Anti Emcees”, “Lifeform”, “Armoured Core”, and the title track delivering the bounce, groove, and combative attitude one looks for from the genre. So whether you’re looking to throw down, work out, get pumped up or just want to inject some energy and bounce to your day, put your prejudices aside and throw on Hyperdialect, its dynamism and aggression won’t let you down.

[Karlo Doroc]

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Välde is Humanity’s Last Breath at their absolute best. It’s their heaviest release to date, which seems incomprehensible, but it’s also their most progressive, most melodic, and most thematically cohesive. You can truly feel the devolution taking place as the album wears on and closes in on you tighter and tighter. Lead single and finale “Vittring” is a triumph in this regard, communicating the sensation that all is truly lost as the voice in your head leads you on one final death march. The void has consumed your soul (in this case, a metaphor for addiction) and all that’s left is to pass through the monolith at empire’s end. I did tell you this album was bleak, right?”

[Calder Dougherty, Humanity’s Last Breath – Valde]

“It cannot be overstated how ridiculously heavy Välde can be, and the lengths that the band go to craft such a specifically intense and horrifying album is remarkable. Hooks come and go, buried beneath the chaos and ruin, begging for repeat spins with a production fine-tuned to lull you back into the journey. With Välde, Humanity’s Last Breath proves that where they were once one of the most underrated and overlooked bands of the genre, they are now among the masters.”

[Jimmy Rowe, Editors’ Picks // March 2021]

Lantlôs – Wildhund

Wildhund just sounds unique, completely in its own sphere. Whether it’s the weirdly major and upbeat scales, the score of weird electronics which run throughout it, the vocals or just the incredibly momentum filled structure, Wildhund is one of the most energetic albums I’ve ever heard. It just sweeps you off your feet, starting with the excellent “Lake Fantasy” (probably the best track on the album but certainly not the only great one) with its robust groove section and relentless beat and just moves on from there. It’s also beautifully written from a lyrical perspective, thinking about interesting ideas from interesting directions, with its own share of idiosyncrasies and special metaphors. In short, it’s an album to dive into, eschewing much of the “surface level disinterest” feeling that other shoegaze has always given me.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Post Rock Post // September 2021]

“For an album that is a somewhat formidable 51 minutes in length, there is nary a moment wasted. Even the brief instrumental interlude “Cloud Inhaler” leading into the celestial “Planetarium” feels like a much welcome breather from the almost relentless run of burners preceding it. To bring this thing full-circle, while Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite has received plenty of plaudits for its ease in taking the band’s core sound and settling it into an established shoegaze framework, Wildhund is a shoegaze record that sounds like no other shoegaze record I’ve heard. It stands on its own as a tremendous accomplishment, and it should more than please fans both new and old.”

[Nick Cusworth, Editors’ Picks // September 2021]

Leprous – Aphelion

Aphelion includes much to like and much that’s new for Leprous (check out ‘Have You Ever?’ for example for some darkwave vibes that are new to the Leprous sound). But to put a bow around it, it feels like a true return to form for the band which is especially impressive considering that it doesn’t return to their old sound. Leprous is one of those bands who have been blessed/cursed to release not one but two incredibly iconic albums, early on in their career. They will probably be forever stalked by Bilateral and Coal and I assume the temptation to just make Coal 2 (like another very famous progressive metal band is doing, ahem ahem) is always there. But instead, Leprous have chosen to show their die hard fans, their skeptics, and their adoring listeners what they can do which is to create moving, powerful, intricate music that’s great to listen to. Hell, if the previous three releases were ‘needed’ to get them to Aphelion, then I’m glad they released them because the album really does feel essential and necessary. Welcome back Leprous; glad to have you.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Leprous – Aphelion]

Lil Nas X – Montero

“Despite being THE artist of 2019 with the country-rap banger ‘Old Town Road’ and its various remixes, Lil Nas X faced the very real possibility of becoming a one-hit-wonder given the fast moving nature of pop culture and the very fact that his then-flamboyant cowboy persona and meme song were novelties. How often has an artist transcended such a novelty in the history of pop music? Against all odds, Lil Nas X managed to pivot, find his voice, and finally deliver his full-length debut album Montero two years later. Montero is packed with bangers and anthems, and his very specific style of glossy pop and hip-hop are endearing. Hopefully this quasi-self-titled artistic statement and continued growth cements Lil Nas X’s status as a mainstay in pop culture for years to come.”

[Jimmy Rowe, Editors’ Picks // October 2021]

Limp Bizkit – STILL SUCKS

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.”

[Calder Dougherty, Editors’ Picks // November 2021]

LLNN – Unmaker

“Is post-metal ‘supposed’ to be heavy? More specifically, is it supposed to be this heavy? I honestly don’t keep up with the genre as much as our postrockpost crew, but the bands I gravitated towards always honored the style’s “thinking man’s metal” ethos. Sure, the sludgy roots always added some heft to the equation, but mainly as a device for creating contrast with more melodic, atmospheric textures.

On Unmaker, LLNN completely flip the script, and the results are devastating. You still feel the presence of your father’s post-metal, primarily with dark, industrial rumblings that permeate the album’s anticipatory swells pre-climax. And there are tracks that fit comfortably in the post-metal mold, namely the bulk of “Interloper.” But the vast majority of the album feels like a post-metal band trying to make a sludgecore record…or maybe vice versa? The band’s core songwriting engine hits like Godflesh using Pound’s equipment to write Hexis riffs, with the industrial atmosphere of Altar of Plagues thrown in for good measure. It’s a mammoth of a record.”

[Scott Murphy, Editors’ Picks // October 2021]

Mastodon – Hushed and Grim

It’s hard not to feel like Mastodon lost some of their luster over the ‘10s, but I think that makes the “comeback” story of Hushed and Grim an even greater triumph. Rather than trying to shake or recreate the prog metal past that launched them into the highest heavy metal pantheons, the 2021 edition of the ‘don has the sound of a band surrendering to their emotions, allowing loss, grief, and pain to guide them through Hushed and Grim’s weighty 86-minute runtime. It’s a considerable undertaking, but these fellas make each track worthwhile with luxurious production and varied, whip-smart songwriting. Bits and pieces of their past bubble up in the wake of their new, heavily atmospheric direction, yet it’s the most distinct and fresh-sounding record they’ve created since ‘08’s Crack the Skye. Defined by it’s soul-bearing emotion and adventurous range, H&G doesn’t have the same kind of appeal as previous iterations, but it’s on-brand for a group who’s decided to leave the past in the past. It may take some time to feel out the nuances, but a huge, beautiful record awaits you if you can muster the patience.

[Jordan Jerabek]

Meer – Playing House

“Playing House is unashamedly, gloriously prog without hamming it up. Even with the orchestral elements not exactly keeping a low profile, these facets never run rings around the song craft or the more “rock” part of their sound, they stay in line and boost the whole into the stratosphere, particularly on highlights like ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ with its resplendent dual rush of power chords and orchestration, and the finality of ‘Lay It Down’. The band know how to not overstep on the corniness factor, instead just traversing the valleys of all your favourite progressive artists, and that’s not to say they don’t have their own thing going on, they absolutely do.

They masterfully execute the traditional with straight-up potent melodies on the likes of “All At Sea” and ‘Songs Of Us’, twin songs of sorts, bringing to mind Anathema. On top of that, it’s not past Meer to throw in some feisty ragers like “She Goes” that bring to mind the “alt” urgency of Bent Knee, or to go full tech dork and play around with Congregation-era Leprous syncopation. Combine all of these elements and I’m practically rolling over and letting them tickle my belly, the whole is that much greater than the sum of its parts.”

[Joe Astill, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021 (So Far)]

Ophidian I – Desolate

“I mean, just press play on ‘Diamonds’, the opening track of the album, and listen for yourself. The main riff is standard enough, right? The guitar riff is central to the sound, the drums are fast and furious, and the bass supports both while deep, guttural death metal vocals crown everything. But uh, hold on, what’s that incredibly chromatic and bright guitar lead that plays on top of all of that? The first time you hear it you might be able to dismiss it as just a bit of decoration, a lightning fast sweep to embellish the riff, but then it comes back again and again, funnily blowing up into the mini-solo at one minute and nineteen seconds. There is definitely no denying that passage; those bright tones are given pride and place and, alongside liberal use of effects, create the kind of chopped up, blazing fast sound of DragonForce.

Honestly, it fucking rules. The album is filled with that sort of sound and it works so well with the main tech-death influences. The secret is, of course, that no part of the sound is simply a discard, something played just to hold up space. Everything is as polished as everything else and the end result is more than “just” a great technical death metal with some different tones. Instead, Desolate is nothing less than unique, showcasing Ophidian I as a band with their own sound and take on the genre. I dare you to play this just once; I was completely unable to. There’s something so addictive in Ophidian I’s style that I spun this album dozens of times upon receiving it. Those extra fast/bright leads just worm their way into your ear in the best way possible. Let them in!”

[Eden Kupermintz, Editors’ Picks // August 2021]

Panopticon – …And Again Into The Light

Panopticon‘s latest record flies in the face of convention to stirring, deeply resonant effect. Just read the liner notes on Bandcamp and you’ll get a clear picture of what Austin Lunn’s intentions behind the album are. Thematically this may be Panopticon’s most personal and moving record, while the music is no less captivating. Whereas the project’s last record split the black metal and acoustic/folk vibes into two separate halves, here all of the disparate sounds are blended into one cohesive whole and it sounds amazing. One of my favorite Panopticon records with a deeply personal message.”

[Jonathan Adams, Kvlt Kolvmn // July 2021]

“Too often this style of music gives way to predictable crescendos and indulgent waffling, but every single note on …Once More into the Light is expertly placed and executed. Just when the album’s elongated intro has me at an emotional breaking point the black metal barrage of ‘Dead Loons’ comes cascading down, dragging me rapidly and oh so willingly along with it. Although the album is characterised by its sullen, acoustic reflections, it’s more aggressive and electrified moments are equally sublime. It’s hardest hitting number, ‘Moth Eaten Soul’ is genuinely apocalyptic, it’s climactic bells tolling an end to all competitors and creation itself.  This is true catharsis, and once …Once More into the Light has you in its clutches it doesn’t let go.”

[Joshua Bulleid, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 of 2021]

Plebeian Grandstand – Rien ne suffit

“At four albums deep in their career, Plebeian Grandstand have finally realized their potential with the incredibly ambitious and adventurous Rien ne suffit. It’s like an art-house horror flick that insists upon itself, sure, but it’s expertly crafted and effective in the way it builds and releases anxiety, often times fixing its lens on the grotesque just long enough to become uncomfortable. Rien ne suffit sees the band poised at the zenith of avant garde black metal where so many of the progenitors have otherwise collapsed, pivoted, or simply became too problematic for wider acclaim. Their next steps may even perhaps shape the genre forever. In the now, Plebeian Grandstand have surpassed expectations and delivered one of the more remarkable (and frightening) extreme metal records this year.”

[Jimmy Rowe, Plebeian Grandstand – Rien ne suffit]

“After a five-year hiatus, Rien ne suffit shows just how unsatisfied Plebeian Grandstand are with the ways they’ve bastardized the standard black metal formula. All the band’s black-math goodness has now been infused with the world of noise and power electronics, like Full of Hell collaborating with Dodecahedron. […] The blast beats sound like they’re trying to hammer to the middle of the earth as quickly as possible; the vocals are as pained and panicked as ever; and the guitars unleash the kind of all-encompassing, unsettling atmospheres you might expect. Put it all together, and you have a late submission for avant-garde metal project of the year.

[Scott Murphy, Kvlt Kolumn // December 2021]

Portico Quartet – Monument

“Like much of Portico’s music over the years, there’s a distinctly dance-like and micro-house edge to their compositions that is alluring and calming while not outright making you want to get up and bust out moves. But while songs like ‘Impressions,’ ‘Ultraviolet,’ and the album’s title track are as densely-composed and richly-produced as the rest of their catalog, there’s a certain immediacy to the themes and melodies explored that stand out. Their central threads, often led by the silky smooth tones of Wyllie’s sax, absolutely glide and melt into the layers of synths, electronics, and Bellamy’s air-tight drumming.

And while Monument might not be the most ‘challenging’ or ‘progressive’ album of the band’s career […] the warmth that radiates off of the album’s clockwork pieces makes it surely one of the group’s best albums to simply throw on and immerse oneself in. Sure, tracks like the bright ‘A.O.E’ and slow-grower ‘Warm Data’ sound like they could be playing softly through speakers in a steamy salt bath spa, but is that a bad thing? Have you seen what it’s like out there? The world is enough of a mess on its own to provide all of the fuel for rage and fear that I need much of the time. If I can get something to mellow me the fuck out for the better part of an hour I’m gonna grab onto it and not let go. Monument is that liferaft.”

[Nick Cusworth, Editors’ Picks // December 2021]


“It seems modern mathcore can generally be split into two camps: the zany, white-belt, neon-band-shirt-nostalgia side, and the esoteric, fucking evil and grindy side. While not totally neglecting the value of that nostalgia, Pupil Slicer, as their name might suggest, falls emphatically to the latter. Mirrors is one of the stand-out -core releases of the year so far and I’ll be impressed if another mathcore album tops it. It has the menacing, ominous nature of Fawn Limbs with it’s dark grindcore influence, yet some of the youthful creativity and Dillinger-isms of The Callous Daoboys.”

[Trent Bos, Rotten to the Core // April 2021]

Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato said it himself: ‘Be selfish, not pretentious. If you’re screaming, I wanna feel immediacy & emotion about YOU. [I would] rather hear a kid scream ‘fuck you, parents & teachers’ over sloppy grind than some 30yr old scream pseudo philosophy over guitar center wank.’ Pupil Slicer align themselves closer to the former in terms of that visceral and cathartic spirit you tend to want out of this corner of extreme music. According to Davies, Mirrors tackles themes related to “transition, dysphoria, discrimination, depression, and anxiety,” which makes for a raw and compelling record beyond the riffs.”

[Jimmy Rowe, Editors’ Picks // April 2021]

Rivers of Nihil – The Work

“The Work might just be your granddaddy’s progressive death metal record, but it doesn’t have to be. There are moments of undeniable brilliance scattered throughout Rivers of Nihil’s newest outing, along with a general sense of tonal competence and instrumental prowess that hints at something greater, buried beneath its icy tundras, rather than a full-on jumping of the progressive shark. Whether through re-structuring or plain old perseverance, there is greatness to be had here; to bring it out though, you might have to do a bit of work.”

[Joshua Bulleid, Rivers of Nihil – The Work]

The Work is a really interesting record, both in how it operates and how it’s being received. The general consensus is that it’s not as good as Owls. That’s a fair assessment I’d agree with. However, that also feels like a gross oversimplification. Just about any band would be hard-pressed to immediately top an album as universally acclaimed as that was, and while we all remained hopeful they could do it, I think it’s imperative we lower the bar and curb our expectations just a bit. Because in that context, The Work is still a damn fine entry into the new progressive death metal canon.”

[Calder Dougherty, Editors’ Picks // October 2021]

SEIMS – Four

“I want to do something else and focus on one specific element of FOUR, their latest release, which I haven’t really seen anyone talking about: its leitmotif. In case you are not familiar with the musical term, here’s Wikipedia to the rescue: ‘A leitmotif or leitmotiv (/ˌlaɪtmoʊˈtiːf/) is a “short, recurring musical phrase’ associated with a particular person, place, or idea.’ In essence, a leitmotif in music is a recurring segment of music which conveys an emotion, a figure, a place or even a state of mind and which tends to recur throughout the work in different interpretations, but always made up of the same basic building blocks. It’s one of my favorite mechanisms of music exactly because of that: I love hearing a series of ideas or sounds explored in many different iterations. It’s fascinating to me how many different versions of the same basic building blocks a band can come up with and it truly speaks to the uniqueness and beauty of music.

Well, luckily for us, FOUR has a brilliant leitmotif. You can hear it, appropriately enough and is most commonly practiced, on the first track of the album, ‘The Mountain’s Lullaby’. It will then, as befits the mechanism, appear throughout the album; you can hear it sneaking about in ‘The Pursuit of Intermediate Happiness’ (what a wonderful name for a track), in the chord progressions of the explosive ‘Showdown Without a Victim’ which follows it (hint: listen to the synths) and, of course, triumphantly return on the majestic ‘The Mountain’s Scream’ which closes off the album. In every iteration of it it will have a different flavor: on the first example of ‘The Pursuit of Intermediate Happiness’ it provides the track with the spring in its step, its lilting melody guiding it along. On ‘Showdown’ it’s almost like a pattern, a limit, or a border inside of which the track explodes, blooming compositions dancing around and within the leitmotif.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Post Rock Post // October 2021]

Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic

“Coy, charismatic debut single ‘Leave The Door Open’ is as earnest and infectious as you wish all good soulful slow jams to be, performed with playful, yearning restraint by [Bruno] Mars, [Anderson] .Paak, and the band. Its critical praise reeled in awards long before the album’s release, but expectations didn’t phase the group. Follow-ups ‘Skate’ and ‘Smokin Out The Window’ showcase their studied ear for hypnotic, vintage grooves, rolling out a glitzy disco skate anthem and compelling, pseudo-parodic scorned lover ballad with cool finesse. While every track dazzles and delights in its own delicious way, finale ‘Blast Off’ might be my favorite – a romantic, psychedelic odyssey into hazy bliss that fades out into dreamy ascending refrains à la Jamiroquai or Frank Ocean before a final hat-tip from uncle Bootsy [Collins].

Though the modern upscaling to such a classic sound feels luxurious, and it is, what the men have captured feels remarkably organic and authentic, even next to the greats that inspired their sound like Luther Vandross. The confidence and sincerity in their craft is to be marveled at every time you find yourself tapping your toes or sparking up to the half-hour kaleidoscope that is An Evening With Silk Sonic. And maybe I’m just a cringy newlywed, but anything that gets the wife and I slow dancing in the kitchen at midnight gets a glowing review from me, so do with that what you will.”

[Calder Dougherty, Editors’ Picks // December 2021]

So Hideous – None But a Pure Heart Can Sing

None But a Pure Heart Can Sing is like the dervish’s whirl or a drunken dance in a sweaty room with a beautiful partner: over before you can tell, leaving you dizzy, elated, with a heart full of pain, beauty, anger, despair, and resolution. It is over before you know it, having swept you off of your feet. It was a clever decision to make this release shorter; it makes So Hideous sound so much tighter, so much more essential, and is that not how you want your post black metal to be? Sweet, short, energetic, piercing, and intense? I know it’s how I want to be and on None But a Pure Heart Can Sing, So Hideous have delivered everything I’ve always wanted in a release from them.”

[Eden Kupermintz, So Hideous – None But a Pure Heart Can Sing]

“If someone told me that a band existed that had mastered the post-rock grandeur of Cult of Luna and coupled it with the best aspect of post-black from the likes of Deafheaven, Møl, and Bosse-de-Nage, I’d tell them to shut up because such a thing did not exist. I would be wrong. It does, and it’s fucking glorious. ‘Souvenir (Echo)’ proves that as it kicks the proceedings off with an Imperial Triumphant-esque hum that explodes into a doom-laden blast of crashing guitars and pounding drums, topped by an utterly impassioned vocal performance by Christopher Cruz, who is phenomenal throughout. The track builds tension and grandeur through the gradual insertion of strings and keys, which eventually meld with the tracks fantastic guitar and drum work into a finale that’s truly spellbinding.”

[Jonathan Adams, Kvlt Kolvmn // December 2021]

Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

“As far as I’m concerned, the sound Spiritbox has cultivated (alongside the recent direction of Bring Me The Horizon) is the future of alternative music. Huge, angular, bouncy riffs snarling over gorgeous atmospherics and Courtney’s silken post-Paramore croon that Mr. Hyde’s into an incredibly nuanced, vicious scream at the drop of a hat are the cornerstones of Eternal Blue‘s incredible showing. Album opener ‘Sun Killer’ has all of this in spades, building progressively towards a dramatic third act breakdown that sets the tone for the rest of the record. The Slipknot-inspired second track and final single ‘Hurt You’ sounds ready-made for a wrestling intro, and its successor ‘Yellowjacket’ boasts the only feature on the record by none other than Sam Carter of Architects. Pretty solid pedigree right out of the gate.

I could wax poetic about this album all day, but suffice to say, Eternal Blue is an instant AOTY contender. I would be shocked if it isn’t eventually considered a landmark in metal history given its ubiquity and crossover appeal. If you still haven’t somehow given it a chance yet, it’s time to hop on the hype train. All aboard!”

[Calder Dougherty, Editors’ Picks // October 2021]

Steel Bearing Hand – Slay In Hell

“Crusty thrash mingles well with death metal, but Steel Bearing Hand have forged them together into a weapon of total fucking destruction on Slay In Hell. An old-school ferocity propels each of these six rippers through white-hot solo flurries, thrashy gallops, and thunderous grooves that are consistently (and almost ridiculously so) on point. Pacing is spot-on throughout the album’s 39 minutes; the opening duo is about as no-nonsense as it gets and nicely sets up the deliciously evil first half of ‘Tombspawn,’ a doomified highlight that hints at the mammoth closer. No doubt, these Texans have an appetite for killer riffs and speed, flaunting their chops as they chew through ‘em and unflinchingly peel off leads along the way, but they’re also hip to when to smash the brake to grind in the trad and sludgy bits, too. Steel Bearing Hand are obviously well-versed in everything extreme, obsessively packing and stacking each track with all the little things that make a metalhead’s heart flutter.”

[Jordan Jerabek, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021 (So Far)]

Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime

“Back in 2020, [Stormkeep] released Galdrum, a fantastic, if a bit limited, EP. It garnered some noise first because it contained members of Wayfarer and Blood Incantation but second because of its extremely proficient and interesting take on symphonic black metal. At its core, Stormkeep’s music was, and is, a highly potent and aggressive form of black metal with redolent synths decorating the meaty center of its attack. But, on Galdrum, the idea felt to me as good but not quite there yet, as if the band were still grasping to quite figure out where to go with their sound.

Well, Tales of Othertime sees them charting out this direction with exacting brutality. The album presents a much more fleshed out and nailed down version of Stormkeep’s take on black metal. Firstly, the riffs feel way tighter; everything about the way the guitars and the drums coalesce to create the track’s main thrust is fine tuned to perfection. The […] drumming is precise, delivering the thick base on which the guitar and bass can rely to create the massive sound that ends up being one of the album’s major selling points.

The other is the synths and boy, are they gorgeous! Whether they work in tandem with the rest of the instrumentation (which is especially satisfying on opening track ‘The Seer’ but also everywhere on the album) or operating on their own in interlude tracks like the gorgeous ‘The Citadel,’ the care and attention given to the synths and their tone is impeccable. […] Add in improvements to composition which make longer tracks stick their landing and keep the listener engaged, scorching vocals, and excellent, clear production and you get Tales of Othertime. It’s truly one of the better black metal albums I’ve heard this year and a great fulfillment of the promise already nascent in 2020’s Galdrum.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Kvlt Kolvmn // November 2021]

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 are 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.

[Jimmy Rowe, Death’s Door // July 2021]

“Much as I like my death metal as caveman-like as possible on most days, there’s just something about well-executed progressive death metal that hits just right, and Stortregn’s Impermanence has scratched that itch better than any release I’ve heard in a few years now. The five-piece from Switzerland — who I’m baffled weren’t on my radar sooner — admittedly go even beyond the many sounds encompassed by the progressive death label, with hints of black metal, tech death, and some melodeath sensibilities thrown in, but it all comes together smooth as butter to create an incredibly satisfying blend.”

[Ahmed Hasan, The Prog-nosis // April 2021]

Succumb – XXI

“Aesthetically speaking, you can’t have much more contrast than lo-fi, black and white prints and graphic, colorful paintings of ghoulish and gory scenes. And while death metal is hardly a glamorous genre musically, the rawness deficit it has with black metal is difficult to deny. This general sentiment is the core reason I love Succumb as much as I do. […] Their intense, animalistic take on the genre captured the punk spirit that informed early extreme metal, when the lines between black, death, and thrash were still undefined. XXI is an improvement on that template at every level. Succumb displays all the hallmark traits of a sophomore success, specifically the presence of looser, more comfortable songwriting.

[…] As excellent as their debut is, XXI is executed with noticeably more confidence. Everything is faster, nastier, and more expansive than before, all while maintaining the band’s signature primal voice. [When] it comes to the core tenets of death metal’s appeal, Succumb nail it better than the vast majority of cavern-core bands. While their peers try to manufacture as evil a sound as possible, Succumb come through with organic songwriting chops that make truly sinister death metal sound effortless to produce.

[Scott Murphy, Death’s Door // October 2021]

Suffering Hour – The Cyclic Reckoning

“In musical fields as replete with talent as contemporary black and death metal, it’s becoming exceedingly difficult to stand out. As certain branches of sound ebb and flow in and out of popular perception, bands that stick out from the general pack of OSDM worshippers or technical wizards are few and far between. Minnesota/Colorado trio Suffering Hour, thankfully, doesn’t seem to have that problem. When their debut record In Passing Ascension dropped a few years back they presented themselves as a band full of promise. With their sophomore record The Cyclic Reckoning, Suffering Hour have moved into entirely new territory, carving out a space more distinctly their own. In a sector overstuffed with trend followers, it’s a welcome relief.”

[Jonathan Adams, Editors’ Picks // March 2021]

Sunless – Ylem

“[Their 2017 debut] Urraca had Sunless establishing themselves as one of the most exciting new faces in the world of dissonant and experimental death metal, and Ylem further solidifies that claim. The riffs are furious, the experimentalism brilliantly paced, and the extended instrumental sections cap it all off to make for a record that continuously delivers. But above all, no matter the tempo, the characteristic forward lurch of excellent avant-garde death is more than present here — and it never stops inviting the listener to willingly plunge further and further down into Ylem‘s cavernous depths.”

[Ahmed Hasan, Sunless – Ylem]

“Look, I’m not about to say that this record is accessible in the general sense of the word. These tracks are absolutely rife with winding, complex, unpredictable passages that feel as dissonant and off-putting as anything. But where Sunless separate themselves from the pack in their chosen musical space is through songwriting that is unafraid to give listeners just enough rope to grip that the more looney tunes descents into wack-a-doodle wankery feel far less stigmatizing. […] Their debut album Uracca was a thoroughly brilliant record, but Ylem ups the ante in every way, presenting crisper musicianship, more egalitarian songwriting, and a nuanced approach to the barriers that this type of music often puts up. It’s a stellar piece of work.”

[Jonathan Adams, Death’s Door // November 2021]

Terminus – The Silent Bell Toll

“Is it the barbecue? Maybe it’s magic cornbread? I don’t quite understand it, but whenever I catch wind of a band from Arkansas, I feel like I’m always late to the party, like they’re somehow all polished up and ready for the big leagues. Such is the case with Terminus, a group who’s been chugging along since at least 2013, and much like Rwake and Pallbearer before them, they’re wonderful heavy metal ambassadors for The Natural State, melding huge doom and sludge grooves with traditional metal sensibilities and an oft-neglected attention to the poppier side of things.”

[Jordan Jerebek, Doomsday // September 2021]

“[‘Pop sludge’ is] a pretty niche genre; we don’t often get releases in it and good releases are even rarer. This is a problem because I fucking adore this sound! There’s something about the mix that just works incredibly well for me. […] The Silent Bell Toll exemplifies literally everything that is great about this sub-genre. The album is chock full of meaty, groovy doom riffs but they are balanced with scintillating, open chord riffs, majestic solos, and vocals so infectious that I guarantee you you’ll be singing the lyrics to yourself in no time. The overall blends means that the album goes hard but is also immediately emotional evocative, devoid of the stifled atmosphere that many doom albums can have.”

[Eden Kupermintz, Terminus – The Silent Bell Toll]

The Armed – ULTRAPOP

The Armed have become something of a genre-eating machine over the last six or so years, feeding post-hardcore, noise rock, math rock, and punk together into the business end of a mulcher and documenting the blurry, static-washed spray of humus that emerges. ULTRAPOP meets the Detroit collective at what seems to be a pensive and less overtly aggressive moment in their mindset, with the result being an album that leans a little harder on the traditional merits of songcraft than its predecessors. […]

Despite the name and what may at first appear a more traditionally organized album than previous outings, ULTRAPOP is no less angry, no less furious, and certainly no less punk than The Armed’s past output. Instead of shaping sonic knives as they have before, here we see the group weaponizing saccharine sweetness. ULTRAPOP is The Armed sneering, beating the blunted edge of traditionally upbeat music into a caustic deluge of overwhelming brightness and energy. It’s raucous, loud, and intentionally without grace, but once you open yourself up to the acidic sarcasm driving this album, it’s pretty hard to put this one back down.”

[Simon Handmaker, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021 (So Far)]

Trivium – In the Court of the Dragon

“Many long-term Trivium fans tend to consider [Shogun] to be their magnum opus, and quite a few fans still hunt for the white whale that would be a Shogun 2.0. That’s perhaps not a healthy expectation, as not only the band but the entire world has changed fundamentally since then. And making something that’s basically a rehash of an – admittedly incredible – 13 year old release would likely not capture the same storm in a bottle. It’s not like Matt, Corey and Paolo haven’t added a few new tricks and a whole new drummer in Alex Bent to the mix since then. Instead, the most interesting thing they could do while also satisfying both long-and-new-term fans would be to take the essence of what Shogun did, and apply it to their new sound, creating a best of both worlds, looking forward while simultaneously digging deep. And that’s exactly what they’ve done here. […]

In The Court of the Dragon is simultaneously one of the band’s most dynamic and consistent releases. It’s hard to say if it’s their best, as the band have always pushed in different directions in each release, but it’s definitely in contention. The fact that 10 albums in, Trivium can simultaneously surprise and feel familiar is no small feat. One of the best-constructed albums of the year and their career, current or lapsed fans of the band will definitely have much to return to here, and naysayers may even find themselves tempted. Most importantly though, for those who have stuck with the band since the beginning, and have a Shogun shaped hole in their hearts can finally rest easy, as the day has finally come. And it is glorious.”

[Noyan Tokgozoglu, Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon]

Trophy Scars – Astral Pariah

“Do you like concept albums about post-civil war western expansion and vigilante vengeance? What about triumphant comebacks after 7-year hiatuses and novel, unlike anything you’ve heard before genre fusions? Trophy ScarsAstral Pariah is all of the above. Listen, I know punk and hardcore are well rooted historically in blues, but that distinguishable, blues sound has generally been absent from those genres for some time. After the release of their breakout classic post-hardcore release Alphabet. Alphabets., Trophy Scars have been making an assertive effort to bring back the blues, fusing it with their grizzly Bear Vs. Shark meets weirder Fear Before The March of Flames style post-hardcore in what is truly unlike anything else I’ve heard before.

With Astral Pariah the band have really come into their own, with their darkest and most powerful release to date. The album was born out of a short story, and that concept-based approach lends itself to a seamlessly flowing cinematic experience. Unlike a lot of bands who cite blues in their descriptors, it has become the back-bone of Trophy Scars’ identity.   From the obvious guitar licks, to the acoustic guitar and old-saloon-style piano, it effortlessly transports you into the world they have so efficiently crafted. And by god, I want to hang out there for a while.”

[Trent Bos, Release Day Roundup – 09/10/21]

VOLA – Witness

“Of the many bands that drew inspiration from the Meshuggah school of 8 string syncopated riffs, there’s been something special about VOLA’s take on the sound that has kept drawing me back to their material. Sure, they’re not the only band to meld that tried-and-true formula with clean vocals and non-metal sensibilities — but they’re just so good at making the whole package of vocal hooks, dreamy synths, and massive choruses fit neatly under that progressive metal umbrella.”

[Ahmed Hasan, Heavy Blog’s Top 25 Albums of 2021]

“There’s a charge that could be levied against this album which says that these experimentations make it feel scattered and unfocused. While I don’t disagree, I think I would ‘pay that cost’ any day of the week to hear VOLA push themselves into new spaces while still insisting on retaining what made me fall in love with the band in the first place. Put all of Witness together and you get an album that, wait for it, progresses VOLA into their future. It leans heavily on the elements which made them successful to begin with, namely the excellent conjunction between loud, heavy progressive metal and illustrious electronics. But it also reaches forward from that vantage point, exploring new ways for VOLA to channel their energies instead of squandering them on ‘mature’ and aloof renunciations of the band’s roots.”

[Eden Kupermintz, VOLA – Witness]

Voronoi – The Last Three Seconds

“Listen, if I tell you that Art As Catharsis is releasing a heavy prog/jazz fusion album, I really shouldn’t need to sell you on it, right? The label simply doesn’t miss when it comes to these things, and the debut LP from UK trio Voronoi simply continues their impeccable track record. Eccentric enough to keep you on your toes and more than technically proficient enough to satisfy your noodly cravings, The Last Three Seconds is a welcome addition to the ever-growing canon of modern prog fusion groups in the UK and Australia who are simply blowing the rest of the world away.”

[Nick Cusworth, Editors’ Picks // June 2021]

“I love albums that sound like their theme. The Last Three Seconds, a prog-fusion-jazz puzzler of an album, sounds just like its science fiction. It sounds like a ship humming to life around you, an AI managing a vast, high-tech city or a field of stars unrolling before you. It’s not just the rich synths (although they certainly don’t hurt) but the star-strobe like drumming, so fast and enchanting, and the luscious, space-sable bass that churns underneath it all. It’s also a very bewildering album, sure to set your progressive-hungry souls alight. It has plenty of weird meters, odd structures, and an overall propensity to just fold space, move sideways, go to FTL, hit the slipstream, you name it. It just suddenly moves into all these great and unexpected directions, making it a ride and a half, even after several listens (and believe me, I’ve had several). And it can even be surprisingly heavy at times, showing off its percussive spurs when needed.”

[Eden Kupermintz, The Prog-nosis // May 2021]

If you so choose, you can check out a playlist featuring cuts from much of this list (exceptions include Ad Nauseam and BRUIT, who are not on Spotify) below.

Heavy Blog

Published 2 years ago