2021 was…. a bit much. We will take each day at a time cautiously in 2022 and try not to spook it. While 2021 brought a hefty amount of unpredictability and chaos, some wonderful things were forged in the turmoil. This was a really great year for music, and I have many albums that I want to shout about from the rooftop, but I am keeping it concise and calling out my Nine Circles nine (we love a good theme). Once again, I am one of the last of the bunch of wonderful writers here to post my year end list as my indecisiveness and overthinking ruined the party again. However, I did participate in the group list (though my albums have shifted a bit…) and also the Best of 2021 Audio Thing (which was a blast).
Here are my top nine personal favorites as well as a list of honorable mentions and non-metal albums that brought me some joy this past year.
9. Lantlôs – Wildhund
This album makes me so happy. First of all, I adore Lantlôs and we have been waiting for a new release for some time now. While the sound and overall feel of the album is not what I expected, I love every second of it. Lantlôs seems to be constantly evolving, and each release has its own unique blend of genres and influences while still fitting into the band’s discography. Wildhund brings in some shoegaze and post-metal. It is a cosmic, dreamy album with catchy melodies, skillfully executed riffs, and driving drumlines that make me want to get up and dance. Each track is layered and textured calling my attention to something new with every listen. These majestic melodies have been popping into my head since the release of Wildhund and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
8. Capra – In Transmission
This is Capra’s first full length release, and I cannot wait to hear what they create next because this introduction to the band is jaw-dropping. They burst onto the scene with a ferocity all their own and made major waves. In Transmission is full of rage with blast beat drumming, insane riffs, thundering basslines, and Crow Lotus’ killer vocals. I cannot get enough of her vocal prowess and her ability to unapologetically dominate. She has a force that is all her own and I am here for it. The energy of this album is intense and face-melting. Each track is dynamic, and there are some softer atmospheric moments added into the mix that are unexpected and build anticipation. In Transmission focuses on some heavy themes including mental health struggles which adds to how powerful this album is. I anxiously anticipate Capra’s next release and cannot even imagine how this band will progress, but I am excited to follow the journey.
7. Panopticon – …And Again Into the Light
Panopticon consistently blows my mind and I also just love everything Austin Lunn touches. Ian and I were lucky enough to visit HammerHeart Brewing Co. in Lino Lakes, Minnesota (owned by Lunn) a few years ago. Our trip was Panopticon-centric as most of what we did was hike in various snow laden areas nearby and drink smokey beers in HammerHeart’s Nordic lodge taproom. So needless to say, I am a fan and I think …And Again Into the Light is a fantastic album. Panopticon’s signature blend of black metal, folk, and Americana are alive and well here with violin-backed chaotic drumming, tremolo picking, and Lunn’s echoing screaming vocals. Additionally, there are more serene tracks with orchestral string instruments, acoustic guitar, and Lunn’s deep and rustic clean vocals. The themes here are again heavy (keeping consistent with 2020’s thus far) and relatable. …And Again Into the Light is deeply introspective and emotive with musical representations of pain and glimmers of hope and peace reminding us to not give up.
6. Monolord – Your Time to Shine
I believe this is Monolord’s best album to date. Your Time to Shine has all the elements of a Monolord album, yet, it is elevated here with a calculated precision and a polished production. Doom metal is my favorite and I have been a fan of the band for years, so I had fairly high expectations for this release and on the first listen of Your Time to Shine blew all my expectations out of the water. There are amazing riffs, sludge distortion, hypnotic doom metal vocals, as well as some groovier moments to get completely lost in. The title track is the longest on the album spanning just over 10 minutes, and it is my favorite of the bunch. There is a variety in tempos and instruments, yet each second flows seamlessly into the next. This track has a lot of what I would consider classic Monolord doom while still offering something a little different and a little more complex. This album is hypnotic and something I love putting on at the end of the long week to melt into.
5. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
Deafheaven is a band that holds a special place in my heart. They were the first metal band that I saw in concert, and I was completely blown away. I admire George Clarke from his music to his poetry to his photography. His artistry adds something so beautiful to the music Deafheaven creates. Infinite Granite showcases the band’s shoegaze side with a splash of black metal. This is another dreamy album that creates vast soundscapes for listeners to float through. I love the direction of the album and Deafheaven’s exploration of shoegaze with emotional beats, echoing clean vocals, shimmering guitars, and groovy baselines. The final track of Infinite Granite, “Mombasa” brings in black metal and all the elements of a classic Deafheaven song. The blackgaze blend is perfect and seems to make way for band’s next release to go in any direction. I am eager to see what they create next.
Check out our August Album of the Month podcast here.
4. Big | Brave – Vital
I could have sworn this album was released in 2020 which is why it was originally missing from my contribution to the group list. It was released in April 2021 and time is meaningless so here we are. I adore this album and the unique sound that Big | Brave cultivates. Robin Wattie’s strong vocal performance pulverizes me with every listen. The punctuated primitive drumlines, droning guitar and overall hazy sound is heavy and intense. There are layers of sound which add to the density all coming together to crush and bury the listener. This combined with lyrical themes of moving through life in a racialized body and the effect it has on the individual results in an introspective and emotional album. Vital is powerful and worth every listen.
3. Converge & Chelsea Wolfe – Bloodmoon: I
This album snuck in towards the end of the year (in November) and I have been listening to it almost nonstop since. Bloodmoon: I is a true collaboration between Converge and Chelsea Wolfe as it feels like a perfect blend of these two artists’ styles. One does not overpower or dominate, and both melt together brilliantly. Magical things happen when artists step out of their comfort zone and explore a new space and Bloodmoon: I is a perfect example of that. Wolfe’s bewitching clean vocals alongside Jacob Bannon’s harsh screams create something mystifying and alluring. There is a cinematic sound with the inclusion of string instruments and other instrumentation resulting in vast soundscapes with plenty of dramatics. Chelsea Wolfe is one of my favorite artists from her music to her style to her interest in witchcraft—I very much relate to her and admire her. I love all of her collaborations, but this may be my favorite yet.
2. iLLudium – Ash of the Womb
This album was put on my radar by the Brothers Martinek and I am very appreciative because it is phenomenal and not just up my alley but “very much my alley” as Vince described. Ash of the Womb is a dreamgaze beauty that is darkly elegant. Shantel Amundson’s vocals are haunting and perfectly encapsulates the themes of the album which center on our impact on the environment and the 2021 devastating fires in California where she resides. There is a lot of rise and fall to the album with gentler moments including some atmospheric with sounds of nature, juxtaposed with vivacious drums and more powerful vocals from Amundson. Ash of the Womb is a work of art that flows with emotional depths and musical catharses.
Check out Ian’s full review here.
1. King Woman – Celestial Blues
As soon as this album was released, I knew it would be my top album of the year. I was hooked from the first single that was released. Of course, I love King Woman and “female-fronted doom” is my all-time favorite genre but more than that, this album hits hard and is so perfectly crafted. It is haunting and heavy while also being beautiful and ethereal. Kris Esfandiari’s low, melancholy vocals interspersed with agonizing screams are backed by thick riffs, pulsating basslines, and marching drumlines. In quieter atmospheric moments there is acoustic guitar and almost whisper-like vocals. Esfandiari’s complex relationship with religion is a major theme in a lot of her work but is especially present here and acts as a flawless follow-up to earlier album Created in the Image of Suffering. Celestial Blues tells a story of rebellion as well as suffering and exultation. This narrative is complex and deeply personal but relatable. As a raised devout Christian who is now an atheist satanic witch, I can absolutely relate and find solace in this album. It is moving and cathartic as well as a musical work of art that I will continue to revisit over and over.
Check out Hera’s full review here.
Funeral Mist – Deiform
Thy Catafalque – Vadak
Mastodon – Hushed and Grim
MØL – Diorama
Carcass – Torn Arteries
Body Void – Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth
Tribulation – Where the Gloom Becomes Sound
Worm – Foreverglade
Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined
Khemmis – Deceiver
Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality
Demiser – Through the Gate Eternal
Ghost Bath – Self Loather
Other (softer) listens:
Osi and the Jupiter – Stave
Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell
CHVRCHES – Screen Violence
Lucy Dacus – Home Video
Lord Huron – Long Lost
Julien Baker – LIttle Oblivions
Midwife – Luminol
The Mountain Goats – Dark in Here
Torment and Glory – We Left a Note with an Apology
Foxing – Draw Down the Moon
Our 9C staff has diverse taste which makes for some great Podcast discussions and a variety of excellent reviews. Be sure to check out their lists here. As always, it is an honor to be a part of this family and I am very grateful to be here writing and talking about awesome music with awesome people. I am unsure of all that 2022 has in store, but I do know that there will be more wonderful albums to come.
Until next time—stay safe and stay sane.