I have liked the beats and I have liked the yelling: 2021 top 40

I’ll forego my usual year-end-list bashing this time around and simply share some of the music I’ve been enjoying in 2021. It’s been a tough year. Despite the brief jubilation felt by many at the return of live music, it has been dampened somewhat by repeated false starts, and what looks like another round of shutdowns to come, curtesy of vaccine hording in wealthy nations as they boldly defy the principles of both distributive justice and self-interest. But to take a grain of positivity from the bleakly ambiguous outlook offered by Omicron, there is a renewed sense of solidarity across the arts engendered by the repeated assaults on their existence.

Equally, metal and its surrounding territories have continued their apparent state of flux. It feels like we are slowly working through the hangover of naval gazing and history worship that gave us such genres as OSDM, pizza thrash, and retro stoner doom. Metal is finally beginning to construct meaningful ways to respond to the remarkable times we live in. An essential project to undertake if metal is to persist as a relevant form of art. There’s still a long way to go in this endeavour. To the point where arguments could be made that we should do away entirely with our complex and strictly defined relationship with genre.

But there have been plenty of exciting signs and portents in the output of 2021 from across the family tree. These releases are worthy of a place in posterity. It has actually been something of a struggle to narrow down this list to just forty. A happy predicament despite the fact that plenty of quality work did not quite make the cut. As ever, the ‘I like the beats and I like the yelling‘ page gives a comprehensive rundown of the year as viewed from this small corner of the internet. But here is forty of the best that we have been lucky enough to encounter this year.

And as ever, thanks to the following fellow travellers to whom we remain forever indebted:

Hate Meditations is dedicated to the global community of underground metal

40. Arvas: VI

An apocalyptic rendering of sweepingly fast black metal, violent and inspiring grandiose theatre

39. Krvna: Sempinfernus

Bracing, fast-paced black metal that overcomes its obviously traditional orientation with a strong sense of character, setting out with a clearly communicated mission

38. Morguliath: Occult Sins, New Unholy Dimension

A fluid offering of industrial, ambient, and thrash collected together under the black metal banner. An unexpected triumph of slow burn originality.

37. Exsul: Allegoresis

Death metal at its most informal, the deliberately random and loose architecture barely holds together, as if fashioned from mud, threatening to collapse at any moment

36. Sorgelig: Slaves of Tomorrow

Despite a parsimony of riffs, each moment is dense and rich with musical information, black metal containing an artistic message beyond the sum of its parts

35. Sentiero dei Principi: Lustmord

Black metal that seeks to address the intersection of sexual lust, sexual violence, and childhood trauma, all the while striking an oddly hopeful tone

34. Lunar Funeral: Road to Siberia

Blends the meditative drone of latter-day Earth with a colourful riff palette, containing competing forces of stasis and motion within lackadaisical stoner rock

33. Stench Collector: Effluviatorium Du Jour

Similar to Blood or Nuclear Death, this is death metal that creates a surrealist world of abhorrent, playful, matter-of-fact violence as compelling as it is upsetting

32. Lum: L’Feu e la Stria

A fascinating EP of raw and atmospheric black metal that displays an intimate knowledge of the style and how to build elegantly simple but infinitely engaging compositions from these rawest of materials

31. Hagel: Veneration of the Black Light

An accomplished piece of mature and fantastical Hellenic style metal with hidden layers of depth that reveal themselves upon each new listen

30. Final Gasp: Baptism of Desire

A violent jolt of energy, seemingly sprung from nowhere to reinvigorate the cause of punk with an urgent message to convey

29. Ischemic: Ischemic

Compellingly pure and earthy blackened doom metal, Ischemic approach the style with a stripped back, unfurnished sound that speaks of a degree of confidence in the craft

28. Devotion: The Harrowing

Born of generic antecedents, but ending in a place entirely of its own; somewhere between the epic death metal of early Amorphis, My Dying Bride, and blackened doom metal

27. Dipygus: Bushmeat

Chromatic and tritone enriched death metal, creates a self-sustaining “theatre of terrors”, revelling in a surreal circus of the macabre

26. Vermineux: 1337

Functions as a comprehensive history of black metal styles, particularly those rooted in epic heavy metal with a clear narrative arc running through each piece

25. Amon Acid: Paradigm Shift

Raises the stakes for stoner doom – a genre often lacking in creativity – by taking it into new sonic territory in pleasingly incremental steps

24. Askog: Varþnaþer

A fascinating demonstration of how to bring nothing new to the table for black metal and yet still outdo most of the competition for unbridled originality

23. Ungfell: Es grauet

I was not kind to this initially, but it has since grown on me. Musically nutritious black metal supplemented by forays into Swiss folk music which ground the album with a rich, historically resonant colour

22. Voland: Voland III: Царепоклонство – Il culto degli Zar

Symphonic black metal deeply embedded in its source material, fully reflective of the epic and ambiguous moral centre at the heart of the high drama of Russian history

21. Snet: Mokvání V Okovech

OSDM that eschews empty novelty, choosing instead the ways of substantive riffcraft and the hard graft of quality song writing

20. 景湖白(Scenery of Pale Lake): 清醒的人格分裂 (Lucid Schizophrenia)

As a metaphor for the literal disintegration of black metal’s musical armoury this is a little too on the nose; the “post” prefix made flesh by the music’s literal process of slow disintegration

19. Atrium: Ancient Spells

Atmospheric and spacey black metal tightly bound by a unifying vision that seems to emanate from the firmament itself

18. Necronautical: Slain in the Spirit

Whether a reclamation of the sometimes crass territory that is symphonic black metal or a welcome course correction for the genre, the real takeaway of this album is the demonstration of a band coming of age

17. Necromantical Invocation: Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie

From the early avant-garde leanings of Celtic Frost to the outlandish antics of Venom, Necromantical Invocations tap into dormant potentials, pushing the “weird” and the uncanny of primitive extreme metal even further

16. Vortex of End: Abhorent Fervor

Chaotic blackened death metal that tempers the wanton self-indulgence common to the style, resulting in a work that is both logical and unpredictable

15. Morticula Rex: Autumnal Rites

Mid-paced death metal that pivots on slow, deliberately unfolding melodic templates as opposed to atonal speed thrills; speed and brutality contained within the dictates of melodic narratives

14. Conjureth: Majestic Dissolve

Discerning death metal fans will appreciate Conjureth’s ability to work novel ideas into old formats

13. Cmpt: Mrtvaja

Never one to drop a Burzum comparison lightly, this is one of the few releases where the matchup is appropriate

12. Anatomia: Corporeal Torment

Death/doom that jettisons riff philosophy in favour of fleshing out the links between metal and dark ambient

11. Temple of Abraxas: MCMXXXI

The black metal equivalent of a short story collection, individual tracks can function as standalone entities, or else curated together they take on a very deliberate unifying theme, lending grand significance to the most atomised of musical elements

10. Caedes Cruenta: Of Ritual Necrophagia and Mysterious Ghoul Cults

The sequel to ‘Thy Mighty Contract’ that Rotting Christ were unable to furnish us with

9. Boarhammer: I: Cutting Wood for Magickal Purposes

Sits somewhere between the idiosyncrasies of early Sigh, the vocal eccentricities of Root, and the dirty, ghoulish energy of Mortuary Drape and Cultes des Ghoules

8. Journey Into Darkness: Infinite Universe Infinite Death

An homage to the vastness of space that jettisons the baggage of symphonic metal’s contested past, cutting the fat from a sometimes bloated style with class and poise

7. Goatcraft: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

The final album from this neoclassical project is a reminder that the quest to evolve the template of contemporary metal has only just begun, and the real borders of that evolution are not in the rootless genre alchemy of so many alleged innovators currently lurking under “progressive” genre monikers, splitting metal apart and re-melding it with jazz or noise or hip hop, but rather in better understanding the spirit of metal beyond the instruments and forms that it has thus far chosen as a means to express itself over the last fifty years

6. Polemicist: Return of the Sophist

Polemicist broaden their horizons by smuggling in dense musicality beneath a veneer of subtlety and tight knit sonic integration, as a result this album greets us as a fully realised world at ease with itself, free of any contrived musical oddities so common to progressive music that tend to remove the listener from the experience; a mellow yet dense offering of black metal that dares the listener to be free

5. Hænesy: Garabontzia

Utilises the qualitative similarities between black metal, atmospheric gothic rock, and post metal in order to blend them into a work that amounts to more than the sum of these parts; downplays the massively divergent aspects of these disparate styles in order to integrate them into a singular, coherent entity, with none of the distracting and needless meandering of many similar endeavours

4. Kodu: Unusta kõik

Dissonant and chromatic anarchy solidifies into compositional order; familiar black metal elements are frequently knocked off balance as a barrage of dissonant artillery and off kilter chord shapes are lobbed into the arrangements at odd angles in an act of sonic world building

3. Atvm: Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless

Progressive death metal in the sense that it is a celebration of extreme metal’s expressive range as a form of challenging contemporary music, with each track unfolding a unique story whilst simultaneously revelling in the many varied and colourful traditions of metal, thus pushing at the limits of its creative boundaries; akin to lifting up a rock at the bottom of the garden and observing the diversity of life and activity beneath the apparently inert stone

2. Dead Space Chamber Music: The Black Hours

There are many adjectives one could append to ‘The Black Hours’; haunting, original, imaginative, thoughtful, compelling. But ultimately it’s their use of sound to manipulate our sense of time and place that makes Dead Space Chamber Music such an interesting entity. They tap into a sense of the English weird, an England buried long ago under Empire and free market economics. Older forms of Christian music and even older pagan and folk mores find their kindred spirits through the hints of modern punk, metal, and neofolk unpacked on ‘The Black Hours’.

1. Mefitis: Offscourings

One can only hope that the future of extreme metal will sound something like this

4 thoughts on “I have liked the beats and I have liked the yelling: 2021 top 40

Add yours

  1. There’s a lot in this list I have not checked, yet. I strongly disagree with #3. Snet and Dipygus never stuck with me. I would probably rank Polemicist’s album a bit higher. But I definitely agree 100% with #1.

    I also really liked the simplicity of the content in the post. Instead of describing the album, feels more like an invitation to go and check it out. Well done.

    Don’t take it as criticism to your list. I’m sure you’ll understand that I pointed out our disagreements just to give more weight to our #1 agreement.

    I’m also sure this list is more akin to my taste than those lists trying to figure out where to place archspire, first fragment, obscura or freaking carcass…. LOL.

    Will definitely check the ones I’ve missed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading.

      I’d tried to give a varied selection form the genres I cover, and in particular plug the smaller artists who deserve recognition, but obviously we’ll all have our own personal favourites.

      And yes, I don’t even have the energy to form words on the new Carcass, absolute garbage.

      Like

  2. Quite a big change from the “usual year-end-list bashing” you mention, hehe! It’s truly nice to see your selection exposed in a succint manner. I’m generally much pickier when it comes to reviewing and list-making, but I always appreciate your suggestions. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, was in two minds about even giving these a rank rather than just “40 of the best”, but hopefully it’s diverse selection.

      Like

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