Scholar of the First Sin: Hera’s Best of 2021 — The Outliers (Honorable Mentions)

Best of 2021

Well, well, well. Who would have thought that I would have an honorable mentions list this year? Certainly not me!

Considering that I started giving music well-deserved attention after I was finally free from the shackles of grad school, I was surprised by how quickly I took to listening to new releases as soon as I had the time. This meant that a lot of releases I was interested in were eventually rooted out from my initial list, and I ended up with 24 total albums that I wanted to talk about. However, because I tend to limit my EOY list to 20 – with the exception of last year’s list, which had 10 due to time constraints – I decided to finally commit and make this Honorable Mentions list.

Time to see what landed on the cutting room floor!

Out in the Painted World

In Dark Souls lore, the Painted World was created to house things that the gods feared, such as the occult, exiled members of former kingdoms, and bastard dragon children. It is also said that a wayward soul looking for a sense of purpose will eventually find the Painted World and claim it as their home. Within this context, I am casting four albums into the Painted World, as they were not able to be housed within my settled list but can instead find a home here.

I also wanted to talk about these albums, as I felt that these specific four did not receive the attention they deserved, and they are all good albums. Had I spent more time with them, they would have taken a spot on my actual list.

Without further ado, here are the four wayward souls that have found a home in the Painted World.

4. Ad Infinitum – Chapter II: Legacy

I feel like symphonic metal and black metal are kindred spirits in that everyone thinks they can do it. While symphonic metal has been seen as one of those genres that’s become stale due to the influx of new bands with female vocalists as the main gimmick, it seems that only a few of them have been able to stay afloat under large labels. One of those bands is Ad Infinitum, who released the stellar Chapter I – Monarchy last year, and I saw it as one of those bands who, outside of bands like Epica, could give the genre a much-needed fresh sound. However, my main issue with Chapter I was that it felt like there was nothing under the veneer of its instrumentality and energy. With Chapter II – Legacy, Ad Infinitum corrected the main issues I found with their previous effort, but what placed them here is that they narrowly missed the mark. While they’ve managed to make individual songs that stand on their own, it still feels like their cohesiveness is working against them, even if it’s an enjoyable experience. While the band won’t be suffering from sophomore album syndrome any time soon, I think there are still some minor things they still need to correct. They are very close to greatness, and I think their potential third album will lead to a good harvest.

3. Hadit – With Joy And Ardour Through The Incommensurable Path

If there is one thing Sentient Ruin is good at, it’s showing me where I can get access to some of the most interesting music metal has to offer. After all, the band I am most familiar with through this label, Sleepwalker, is a band that gets under your skin and does not let go. Now, imagine my surprise when I found myself listening to music that is completely out of my comfort zone and actually enjoying it. Hadit’s With Joy And Ardour Through The Incommensurable Path is the band’s first proper full-length, and it is quite heavy. From atmospheric dissonance to the deep sense that you have found something forbidden, Hadit manages to not only keep new listeners enthralled, but it also makes for one of the more interesting listening experiences I’ve ever had. However, despite my enjoyment of this album, I still think I need to get used to what “atmospheric death metal” is before diving further. This album feels like gaining access to the hidden documents in an unopened vault, as it incorporates a sense of ritual, using it as a way to connect with a higher plane of existence. Given that this album is one the reasons why my tastes in metal have changed recently, I am hoping that Hadit will make music that is both more accessible to first-time listeners and continues to scare me.

2. Agrypnie – Metamorphosis

I feel like a lot of people don’t know much about Agrypnie, so I decided to take it upon myself to talk about this album. With the band’s sixth full-length, Metamorphosis, it seems that Agrypnie’s style of post-black metal has become more progressive over the years, adding more aggressiveness to their sound. What I like the most about Metamorphosis is that they are not afraid to combine melodeath elements into their sound, acting as an anchor when the music decides to become bigger than it can hold. During those moments, the music becomes a cathartic affair that makes you want to play this as loud as you can. However, its biggest problem appears to be the same issue I had with Harakiri for the Sky’s Mӕre: this album would benefit from parts being trimmed. It would make the album more palpable and a lot of the parts that seem too weighty would stand out more. Despite this, this will not stop me from continuing to give Metamorphosis the attention it deserves, especially when I think this is one of black metal’s best hidden gems in a year where so many great albums were released. Also, one final word of advice: whatever your perception of “avant-garde” is, that label for this album is misleading, so if you expect something a la Grey Aura or Oranssi Pazuzu, this isn’t it.

1. MØL – Diorama

It pains me that MØL got cast into the Painted World, but considering the myriad of releases that came out this year, I had to make some decisions. I loved Jord, MØL’s previous effort, which showcased a budding band who knew their blackgaze and wanted to play with it. What you got was an album that blended both black metal and its shoegaze elements but emphasized black metal as the glue that held their music together. However, Diorama plays more to their shoegaze strengths, and while the music can be immersive and beautiful at times, it suffers from being dull. This may be due to me being shoulders-deep in a mire of black metal that I find to be interesting and compelling, but I think Diorama suffers from the same issue that plagues Ad Infinitum: their cohesion is to their detriment, making their music become blurry as a result. I have no idea where a song ends and their next one begins, and that bothers me, because they have some great individual songs. While I still believe that Diorama is an excellent record, the fact that there is still ground to cover means that I expect the band to do more with their sound. I hope that, in a year’s time, I may be able to change my opinion on this album and give it the praise it most likely deserves.

And that concludes my Honorable Mentions list for 2021! There will be a finalized EOY list coming soon, so I hope to get that done as soon as I am done listening to all the albums I have ranked. In the meantime, go listen to these albums – I hope there is something in this pile that you will enjoy.

Hasta la proxima!


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