I suppose it’s my turn now for the main event, isn’t it? The vast majority of other outlets much like my own, all far larger, have gone ahead and let us in on their favorite albums of 2021, but I’ve stood by my tradition to wait until the year is officially over to take a proper look back with a worthy list and this time is far from different. Here we are again, at the end of a year that felt like it would never end in many respects but one that was filled with hope, enjoyment, and cautious trepidation for what might happen at any moment, yet it’s the world of music as a whole that continued to march further as a beacon for survival for many as well as the bulwark for many to take shelter behind. It’s been another fantastic twelve months for me to be doing what I do here, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better beyond my wildest dreams, but it’s time to live in the now as we look behind as I lay bear my Top 30 Albums of 2021!
Much like every year, this was a wondrous trip across the vast spectrum that both metal and rock music encompasses with all sorts of bands from the new to the veterans to the up-and-coming releasing material that we can all rally behind no matter what our taste may be for there is truly something for everybody and then some. Whether it’s the raw, unforgiving voraciousness of death metal that catches your fancy like the return of Cannibal Corpse or the emergence of Profane Desecration, trips through the higher reaches of psychedelia from The Spacelords or King Buffalo, long-form heaviness that touches the soul in a very particular way from Towards Atlantis Lights or The Slow Death, black metal that defies expectations yet fulfills them beautifully from Dødsferd or Mork, or magnificent works of technical wonder from First Fragment or Devil’s Reef, this year pulled no punches in any corner no matter how you look at it.
Again, I must admit that there will surely be loads upon loads of albums that are not on this list that will strike the ire of many whether it’s Midnight Odyssey or Carcass, but I am simply one person behind this website and there are only so many hours in the day to consume what I can. Every one of these records I stand behind 100% with my entire heart going into backing them without question, and I can only hope that this list will bring to light at least one album that you can find enjoyment out of as well. These efforts have helped me move forward in my lowest points of 2021 and highlight my best, and it’s hard to ask for a better act of talent to be there at the simple press of a button should I need their special brand of salvation, and it’s for that which I am eternally grateful to every band and musician involved as well as the time, sweat, and soul poured into them behind the scenes.
Please, should it interest you I do suggest my Honorable Mentions of 2021 that has another 19 albums that were all up for consideration in this final 30, all of which I stand behind as well. Those bands deserve attention as much as these and any others, and I hope you can come out of that with new enjoyment as well. As is the same with every year, to listen to the album in question or a song from it click the album and band name and should you want to read my review of the album simply click the cover art.
But for the love of all things in sanity, I must stop talking and taking up your time! Enjoy my Top Albums of 2021 and feel free to judge and discriminate at your leisure! Onwards into 2022! Onwards to further glory!
As one of the bands that should surprise nobody who knows me, this top spot is everything that Esoctrilihum has been building up to since its debut just four years ago after several weeks of tireless work and years of multiple albums of unique eldritch terror the likes of which few could ever hope to come close to. To fall into “Dy’th Requieum For the Serpent Telepath” is to find yourself in the throes of inconceivable, untouchable madness with an apex blend of death and black metal coming for your very soul while it’s premium music ingenuity that keeps you gripping for every second of these twelve utterly monolithic works.
The bold continuation of a mythological tale spanning deserts, oceans, blood-drenched swords, wizards, and mind-breaking heaviness, it’s with their second full-length album that Eremit more than lives up to their monstrous debut. A true spectacle for the ears and mind, it’s the over-hour-long experience of “Bearer of Many Names” across three tracks that brings nothing but ultimate glory for the very concept of long-form sludgy doom with Eremit quickly becoming the name to know for such magnificence.
As one of the most interesting and certainly of the longer persevering acts out of the Greek underground, it is single-handedly Dødsferd that has been an entity all its own with once ever giving into trends such that individual expression is compromised, and in no piece is that particularly evident than in the masterpiece sequel, “Suicide and the Rest of Your Kind Will Follow II”. The very apex of soul-gripping, man-hating, cathartic black metal, this is a true once in a lifetime creation.
The kings of all things death metal, it was the very announcement of this effort that caught the ears for obvious years, but to see Cannibal Corpse still going this fantastically strong decades after its creation is a treat like very few others. To witness all that “Violence Unimagined” brings to the table is to talk about a legendary band only furthering their undeniable legacy and influence on metal as a whole, and it’s every track of this massive album that never lets us down.
Ever since Wombbath’s resurgence after a lengthy hiatus, it has been every album of their’s that has been an event for all of death metal to celebrate, but everything else before it pales in comparison to what this massive presence in the underground brought to the table for the sixteen tracks of “Agma”. From the massive riffage to the sense of exploration without betrayal, it’s for the utter entirety of this mammoth effort that Wombbath retains their titles as battlers for the very throne of underground death metal with “Agma” being a downright nuclear-level assault that cannot and will not be ignored.
A complete blindside of a release for anyone fortunate enough to have stumbled upon it, Grieving’s debut is one that immediately set the bar wondrously high for this act with their immensely potent approach to a classic sound with a modern approach that works absolute wonders from every angle. A glorious excursion of weariness packed with riffs that energize the body and fuel the soul, it’s every inch of “Songs for the Weary” that delivers in every category without question.
Even the smallest amount of time can make a wild difference in a band’s performance, and it was in just a year that Profeci went from their promising debut to their absolutely unforgiving follow-up of “Aporia” that not only raised the bar for the band itself but esoteric black metal that works on every possible level as the record just keeps on giving with each track feeling both claustrophobic and expansive with the unyielding magic of Profeci doing real wonders upon the mind and ears.
After a staggeringly eclectic creation last year that was another highlight for me, it’s with “Eloge de L’Ombre” that Creature’s undeniably unique take on black metal with an unapologetic progressive curve takes a turn in the best possible way. Very few other creations could ever hope to tap into what Creature has accomplished here for its third opus with no repetition for the whole of the album to help instantly make it a work that is to be heard to be believed.
The Irish purveyors of atmospheric doom, Soothsayer had yet to properly carve out their place in the underground at large despite very notable EPs in the past that are certainly nothing to scoff at, but it’s everything brought to the table for “Echoes of the Earth” that we can finally see Soothsayer truly come into their own. A lamentation for the very soul of our world, it’s the patient but unrelentlessly caustic and all-consuming catharsis that Soothsayer has crafted a work that’s all but destined to become a staple in the Irish doom world from here forth without question.
Whitechapel has long been an icon for their respective style no matter how long they’ve been around or what the competition might hold in store, but very few things could’ve prepared me for the soulful but still immensely potent effort that is “Kin”. It’s the natural evolution for Whitechapel after their acclaimed previous album, but it is here in this album that we see Whitechapel take it to the next level as they both embrace the style that has accepted them wholeheartedly while still seeking to find new avenues in the sound to sate both their creative desire and deliver a performance that cannot be seen as anything less than compelling.
As the heralds of modern Norwegian black metal, Mork has been on a dark crusade since their inception to really show that the highly exalted style still has so much to offer us with very few able to deliver it like Norwegian’s can. It’s with “Katedralen” that this massive act has somehow topped themselves with every feasible aspect of the creation being precisely what any of us could ever possibly ask for from the icy riffs to the untouchable quality that digs its claws into the listener with little to no effort.
The mystical realm where we can find much of the entities that inhabit the crossing of black and folk metal is easily one of the most fascinating expanses in the entire genre with there being a handful of releases every year from within that astonish and bewilder. In every way, Cân Bardd has accomplished the peak of such glory with everything brought forth in “Devoured by the Oak”. Encompassing everything the style could ever be, it’s a gorgeous journey of truly wondrous proportions without once compromise.
A true beacon of heaviness and psychedelia in our modern landscape, King Buffalo has never once given in with their endless pursuit to be the very best that they can be with 2021 proving to be a very exciting one as they started the dole out a trilogy of albums to coincide. Out of the two we witnessed this year, it is single-handedly “Acheron” that sees King Buffalo reach new heights of ever-expanding, undeniably psychedelia that pushes even their standards of quality to new heights. Every minute of this record offers new beauty to fall into with every sight holding something new and never once disappointing as we float through King Buffalo’s latest supernova of infinite color.
14. Bøg – Growth
Excursions into the unfathomable void is an occurrence the unforgiving world of sludge is one that isn’t taken enough, in my opinion, for it can be with great power, fear, and violence that we could very well see intensity taken to new heights very much like what Bøg has accomplished in just five tracks. It’s a truly self-consuming listen that is downright disorientating as pleasure is very much not in the picture for “Growth” as it seeks to end everything that comes before it with absolute malice as the vehicle to deliver a performance of ultimate catharsis through raw agony, viciousness, and cold-blooded intent.
With the explosion of technical death metal in the last few years, it can often be easy to forget the bands that helped propel the style to become what it is today. It was with an album five years ago that First Fragment stunned and inspired, but it is with every ounce of “Gloire Éternelle” that the band shows us they’re far from being left in the dust. A flamenco flair paired with ingenious talent that elevates the album to new levels of awesome absurdity, it’s the very existence of “Gloire Éternelle” that raises the bar to make it downright genre-defining in every possible aspect.
To witness the rise of 1914 in such a quick time is a great joy to someone like me who has been with the band since the very beginning, and even more so knowing that time has been incredibly kind to them with “Where Fear and Weapons Meet” arguably being their most complete work thus far. Immensely mature and the natural next step for this band as they continue to provide us with an unrelenting blend of extreme metal with a theme that’s still as relevant and potent as ever.
There are few styles throughout the world of doom that are as promising yet unexplored as post-doom for many different reasons with the possibilities virtually limitless in the right hands, and it’s Daxma’s that are beyond capable with “Unmarked Boxes” being all the proof we could ever ask for. An expansive listen that is as gorgeous as it is hostile with the switch between the two occurring at any given time, it’s the whole of this album that Daxma commands the attention of the listener with its haunting visages yet beautiful skies.
The popularity of cosmic black metal is something that cannot be understated for it is something that’s constantly getting passed around for good reason, and it’s ever since their inception that Mare Cognitum has been at the very forefront of the style. It’s always been an act to know with this year’s “Solar Paroxysm” being another fascinating addition to a near-legendary discography that never seems to disappoint as Mare Cognitum seems to only get better with time as it’s with the band’s thematic return to Earth that is all but fitting for both the band and the world at large.
The ancient world has no shortage of wonders for us to fawn over, but it’s a topic that isn’t nearly covered enough in the world of metal. With a doom-centric approach that always keeps us guessing with a stupendous sense of heaviness that’s all over the place and soul-touching performances, it’s with “When the Ashes Devoured the Sun” that Towards Atlantis Lights has started to hit their stride with such quality and confidence that it’s utterly staggering to bear witness to with both eyes and ears.
The years have been immensely kind to Dakhma as we have been able to watch them rise progressively throughout the ranks of the underground to become a real act to know for those looking for a particular brand of death metal, and it’s with “Blessings of Amurdad” that we see the Swiss act really come into their own. With a Zoroastrian-like twist that sinks into every level of the performance, it’s in even the smallest moments of this work that Dakhma manages a potent blend of intensity that’s both spiritual and aural.
The meteoric rise of Monolord is something that cannot be understated in any capacity as they’ve ascertained a virtual death grip on the scene at large with their particular brand of heaviness mixed with intoxicating riffage always makes for an album that demands to be heard, and it’s with “Your Time To Shine” that the rising stars have only furthered their glorious legacy. It’s every bit of this record that adds to the very glory that Monlord has been bringing to the world of doom since their very earliest days with this album doing nothing but justice for both the band and the entire genre.
Truly, the Kaiju have rarely been better off the big screen or out of comic books. It could be so damned effortless to bungle such potential glory as bringing the destruction of giant monsters fighting each other to the death over and over again, but it’s through their raw passion for the genre and a visceral sense of intensity, speed, and undeniable power that Oxygen Destroyer has helped corner a very special corner of metal. The short time they’ve been around has been wildly bountiful with a massively long titled work as their latest and greatest, yet much like Godzilla striding off into the ocean’s sunset, there is simply so much more glory to be had.
An absolute staple of all things underground death metal with both music and its artwork, Fetid Zombie’s impact cannot be ignored for all that it has done. Every single release offers us something different as we not only see a mastermind rise from his tomb to raise a glorious new vision of death metal, he calls upon some of the best from across the entire scene to bring his macabre vision of apex necromancy to life. “Transmutations” is far from different. A true exercise in what it means to take the very depths of the underground to be the best it can possibly be, Fetid Zombie has yet to disappoint with this latest effort certainly one to lap up.
Too often can the very concept of ferocious speed wane in just a few tracks should the band and album in question not offer anything up in the way of variety or even attempt to keep things interesting for the listener. In every possible way, it is with “Forked Tongues” that Craven Idol shows to us how just how exactly it’s done with immaculate skill that allows them to not only traverse beyond the realms of thrash in this effort but far beyond such that the whole of this creation becomes a far more fantastic of a beast than we could’ve ever initially expected.
Oftentimes, it’s whenever we see a band take doom to some of its most extreme edges with exquisitely long performance that we get the heaviest that the scene has to offer, and it’s in the case of The Slow Death that we see a glorious example of that with all that they’ve brought forth for “Siege”. A wildly visceral performance both in body and spirit, the very latest from The Slow Death is born out of suffering from the record as a whole an immensely emotional one as the four tracks break us down to our simplest forms.
Sweden is a true bastion for all things in the metal world, but it can be often overlooked for many different styles since it and its neighbors are more thought of for their extreme material with more classic styles like straight heavy metal not getting enough credit. Portrait has been at the forefront of the Swedish heavy metal scene since their inception, and it’s with “At One With None” that they have certifiably created some of their best work to date. Full of energy, invigoration, intoxicating chants, and awe-inspiring musicianship that instantly elevates everything brought forth in this record to heights most can only ever hope to aspire to.
To come upon a band almost randomly and discover it as what could very be the next hottest thing in that respective style is a revelation like nothing else, and that’s just the beginning of how I felt when I first heard the first full-length album from Devil’s Reef, “Chosen by the Sea”. A true demonstration of what technical death metal can be from the very hands of the generation that will carve it out as we move forth, it is in the very depths of this creation that this band takes the genre for their own with undeniable prowess, an eclectic set of blistering tracks, and a voracious tenacity that has already propelled them to a spot they very well deserve given their massive talent.
The vast reaches of the cosmos are all but perfect for the entirety of the psychedelic rock world but it still takes exceptional talent in order to take the listener to those heights in such a fashion that it becomes memorable and downright addicting before even a single track is over. The Spacelords have long been a true bastion for such with their instrumental approach to the style being all but gorgeous in every iteration that they put forth, and it’s with “Unknown Species” that we are taken on another journey through the stars.
Unparalleled brutality is something that most if not every death metal band strives to achieve in some form or another as the underground continues to dig deeper into its depths of depravity but it’s not nearly often enough that we can come across an effort like what Profane Desecration has conjured with “Abysmal Stillness”. From undeniable riffs coated in blood and an attitude that is all but murderous, it is into the deepest reaches of barbarism that Profane Desecration takes us into with this album as we are taken through the most extreme reaches of savagery as every inch of the record delivers a performance that is all but perfect for the seething floor of the very underground.
The oldest days of black metal still play a huge part in the overall influence of the style at large today with far too many bands attempting the sound with very few managing to bring it back successfully even amongst the bands that were there at the beginning. With their latest effort, Grab has delivered some of the truest material to that original vision without compromise as it’s with every track from “The Inevitable Filth of Mankind” that we’re treated to a delectable creation of cold, unforgiving, and all-hating black metal that we could ever ask for with seductive riffs around every corner and undeniable hate as the driving power behind everything put before us.