Best of 2021: Chris’s Honorable Mentions

Best of 2021

It’s the first year I’m at a loss for words. I think I said everything I had to say about lists, and honorable mentions in my 2020 post. It’s really about finding those albums that affected and impacted you, and sharing some sense of why in the hopes they might do the same for someone else. Arguing about what’s missing makes no sense; it wouldn’t change the fact that these 15 records all did something to me to make me include them on this list. Sure, maybe I forgot something, but the fact I forgot it also says something (though it could very likely be saying that my memory is going) – but I tell you what; I’ll make the same agreement with you I always do. Anything you think I might have missed I will listen to again – it might not make my End of Year lists, but it can still make an impact on me, and in the end that’s what’s always the most important.

Enough chit-chat. You know how I do things here. 15 albums in alphabetical order. Think of them as candidates for #26 on my ranked list. Or not. Think about them however you like, as long as you think about them. Let’s do this.

– – –

The Outer Circle

Honorable Mentions

Full disclosure: I’m that guy who’s just not that into At The Gates. I came into extreme metal via other avenues, and went if anything backwards through the NWOSDM scene. So I get the reverence for what Slaughter of the Soul did for modern metal, even if I don’t ever reach for it. Since reforming I’ve been even less impressed, which is why I was shocked that The Nightmare of Being connected with me the way it did. Part of it is the band being less and less reliant on that classic Gothenburg sound, and exploring more tonal possibilities even in the midst of ripping tracks like “Spectre of Extinction,” “The Fall Into Time” and the title track. The anguished rasp of Tomas Lindberg’s vocals were also a stretch for me but here I find that tortured gasp to work really well against the evolving sound the band – firing on all cylinders – is executing.

– – –

be'lakor - coherence

Be’lakor weren’t even a blip on my radar before the staff at 9C turned me onto Coherence, the Australian progressive death metal band’s fifth full-length. It’s a fitting title for the record – each track seamlessly flows together, and their brand of “progressive” isn’t to throw lick upon lick in your face until you’re asleep from the lack of any real hook – this is thoughtful, contemplative, and truly progressive in the way songs work through various sections to impart mood. It’s also super heavy and groovy when it wants to be: you can feel all of the above come together on the epic 11-minute opening track “Locus” and discover it for yourself.

– – –

big|brave - vital

Few bands are capable of lending real weight to their music, opting for loud as a sub-par replacement. Big|Brave have no such issues, and Vital is another triumph, a crushing set of tunes that are buoyed by the astonishing vocal delivery of Robin Wattie. Genre becomes meaningless when you hear songs like “Abating the Incarnation of Matter” and “Half Breed;” whatever mix of doom, post-rock, and sludge the trio are stirring together, the result is just a leviathan of heaviness in the truest sense. And yet despite that heaviness there are subtle moments to be discovered and savored: the shifting sounds within “Wited. Still and All…” or the buried roar of Matthieu Ball behind Wattie’s plaintive wail on “Of This Ilk.” Another sonic payload worthy of deeper and deeper dives.

– – –

Bummer - Dead Horse

Back in 2018 our Fearless Editor Josh was all over the debut from Kansas City, Missouri’s Bummer, naming it our Album of the Month for August of that year. This year it’s my turn, as their sophomore album Dead Horse is a crusher. Yes, the obvious joke is that they beat that dead horse to the ground, and there are jokes to be had when you see songs like “I Want to Punch Bruce Springsteen in the Dick” and “Quadruple ZZTop.” Taking the brutality of hardcore, punk and noise rock and making sure each riff makes you want to band your head against a wall it’s a furious whiplash attack that leaves you bloodied and bruised after running its brief 29-minute course. Now if you’ll excuse I’m going back to put “Donkey Punch” on one more time…

– – –

cannibal corpse - violence unimagined

Is Violence Unimagined the best Cannibal Corpse album since Kill? I think so, and the more I listen to it, the more I think it might eventually move past the band’s stunning return to form back in…holy crap, 2006. Sure, the formula is largely the same, but there are some subtle signs of evolution: you can hear more of a thrash influence creeping in on tracks like “Inhumane Harvest” and the spiraling riff attack of “Surround, Kill, Devour.” Everyone is on fire from an execution perceptive. You don’t normally think of Cannibal Corpse as a technical death metal band but every lick and rhythm is airtight, and this might be drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz’s finest moment on album. I keep thinking I’m eventually going to get tired of the “section verse, same as the first” trip the band does, but like AC/DC and Motörhead…if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

– – –

cradle of filth - existence is futile

Do people still write off Cradle of Filth for some reason? Why? It feels a little like the Sepultura conundrum: folks dig the early stuff, and at some point just walked away. That was a huge mistake for Sepultura, and a huge mistake here: Cradle of Filth have been putting out some of their best work the last few years, and latest album Existence is Futile is no exception. Since coming to Nuclear Blast the band has been on fire, and tracks like “Existential Terror,” “Necromantic Fantasies” and single “Crawling King Chaos” show there’s no end to the band’s brand of symphonic and overdramatic extreme metal. Is it “black” anymore? A better question is, does it really matter when it’s this much fun?

– – –

deafheaven - infinite granite

It might seem inevitable that Deafheaven would reach this point, where folks are arguing whether their stellar Infinite Granite even belongs on a metal list. We went there with Opeth, and next week I’ll guarantee you we’ll go there again with another one of my picks. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter when you listen to closing track “Mombasa” which picks up the electricity and fire of the band’s earlier releases. But I’m ride or die with Deafheaven, and listening to the turn George Clarke and co. take on tracks like “Shell Star” and “Great Mass of Color” reinforce how much I’ve come to love bands that give zero fucks about what’s expected of them and decide to chase their muse, wherever it may lead them. Infinite Granite feels like the precursor for something grander, and I have every confidence the next album is going to go much further and higher than we can conceive at the moment.

– – –

The music of Poland’s Dola lurches with an uneasy grasp of firmament. Csazy is black metal that challenges not by the intensity of its fury, but by the myriad ways it confounds at each step. Moving from post-doom to progressive rock to moment of jazz and psychedelia, it’s nevertheless all built on a foundation of avant-garde black metal chaos that bands like Imperial Triumphant and 夢遊病者 have put to similar (though very different sounding) use. Songs like “Kije” use drone and ambient noise to punctuate its jazz-influenced passages, while black metal roils forth in bursts on opening track “Wszystko Odrośnie” and the epic closer “Nowa Jesień”. But the overall feeling I take away from Csazy is one of despair and uncertainty, and if that doesn’t sum up much of the past 2 years I don’t know what does.

– – –

I don’t know why it took this long for me to finally really enjoy a Gojira album…maybe it was the mouth harp on “Amazonia” that finally broke me, but damn if their seventh full-length Fortitude didn’t completely win me over. To my ears it’s the best sounding Gojira album, and the riffs constructed by the Brothers Duplantier have a heft and sharpness that never attracted me on previous releases. Sometimes it’s really worth it to not give a band a chance: “Born For One Thing” and “New Found” (not to mention “Amazonia”) were the soundtrack to my Spring this year, and I expect to keep listening well into 2022. Who knows, maybe I’ll even give the earlier stuff a chance again…

– – –

haunt - beautiful distraction

The sheer volume of music Trevor William Church is putting out is enough to make you almost take the music of Haunt for granted. I say almost, because just when you think you have enough of what the man is peddling with multiple albums a year along comes Beautiful Distraction to distill everything in Haunt’s discography to its purest essence. The opening title track alone is worth the price of admission, but for my money it’s all about “In Our Dreams” with its infectious chorus and wicked leads. Church’s music often gets tagged as NWOTHM, but when I listen to songs like “Face the Danger” and “A Fool’s Paradise” there are real kernels of hard rock and – dare I say – glam rock that cover everything in sheen of high energy fun that’s too good to ignore.

– – –

Inhuman Condition - Rat God

Death metal really stuck its claws into me this year, particularly that old school groove in pocket sound that Inhuman Condition is really, really good at. That’s not a surprise considering Terry Butler is involved, having been a part of so many great death metal outfits, with Death and Obituary only being the tip of the iceberg. But another huge component of what makes debut Rat°God so good is the guitar work of Taylor Nordberg who also rips it up in The Absence. “The Neck Step” is perfectly titled to capture the kind of death stomp the band goes for, d-beats running rampant against buzzing guitar riffs and a dank growl from drummer/vocalist Jeramie Kling that sounds right out of the 80s. In a year where there were many great dearth metal debuts (see also Frozen Soul, Diabolizer and one more we’ll talk about next week), this one was hands down one of my favorites.

– – –

papangu - holoceno

Hey, who put their jazz fusion and prog in my black metal? I don’t know but I am the happier for it; Brazil’s Papangu is one of the most exciting black debuts in some time. This is what happens when you look outside the normal channels of metal and see what the rest of the world is cooking up. Holoceno is wonderfully flagrant in its dismissal of the rules of black metal; instead crafting truly progressive passages that wend their way through a multitude of styles. Their press kit describes their sound as “sieved through an unique mesh of prog, stoner rock, post rock and the rhythms of Northeastern Brazil, sounding as if Mastodon and mid-70s King Crimson had teamed up to concoct a Magma-like soundtrack to an anti-Bolsonaro play by Ariano Suassuna” and I am 100% here for it.

– – –

Ustalost - Before the Glinting Spell Unvests

You know an album is something when it’s released midway through December and yet still finds a way to make it onto your end of year list. Ustalost is the solo project of Yellow Eyes co-founder Will Skarstad, and it’s a completely different beast than the furious work he does in his other band. Before the Glinting Spell Unvests feels darker, sitting in stygian depths that fester with moments of prog and psychedelia while always firmly establishing its DIY black metal credentials. The murky production fits the music perfectly, and despite its somewhat lo-fi approach is perfectly clear, allowing you to get every fog-enshrouded nuance on tracks like “Stinging Stone” and the angular dissonance of “Spider Tongue, Memory Ester”.

– – –

wheel - preserved in time

Wheel is proof that there is only so much time in the world. I know I talked about in the opening paragraphs of this post that it’s the impact that matters, and the ranking isn’t that important. THAT BEING SAID…the only reason this isn’t on my ranked list is that I only just found out about them. Had I know Preserved in Time was out there, waiting for me to become hopelessly enamored of its majestic old school heavy metal and doom with vocals that feel like Messiah got together with Geoff Tate, drank and smoked all night and then forged an unholy pact to merge their vocal cords for all time. This is so much in my wheelhouse it’s frankly ridiculous I didn’t know about them sooner, so thanks to Buke to turning me onto them, and for songs like “At Night They Come Upon Us” and “When the Shadow Takes You Over” to weave their spell on my metal soul.

– – –

Wode may not have done as wide of a left turn as other bands this year, but the move blend a more thrashy, traditional metal style with their aggressive blackened death attack on Burn In Many Mirrors was the perfect way to recapture my heart after being slightly underwhelmed by Servants of the Countercosmos. There are shades of Iron Maiden and eve Fates Warning in some of the twists of “Serpent’s Coil”, and in the way melody is deployed on a mid-paced rager like “Fire In The Hills”. 20 Buck Spin has had a hell of a year as a label, and Wode is definitely one of the bands leading the charge for consistently excellent music month being released month after month.

– – –

Okay…15 excellent albums to kick things off. I’ll see you in seven with my Top 25 Albums of 2021. In the meantime, keep it safe, and keep it heavy.


One thought on “Best of 2021: Chris’s Honorable Mentions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s