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Best of 2021

Christopher Luedtke's Top 15 Albums Of 2021

Another year, another year-end list. Though the world is still falling apart, America is once again re-learning the folly of its corrupt, dumbass two-party system, and the vinyl pressing schedule is beyond fucked, we had some pretty good music. My personal favorite genres, grind and death metal, have been dropping banger after banger. We had some nasty doom this year too. Hardcore and mathcore dropped a ton of neck-snapping slabs as well.

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Also, shows are back in the States! I christened the moment by going to a basement goregrind show and drinking PBRs where clothes were optional. It was a blast and there were many blasts. Made some new friends and joined some bands. Looking forward to actually playing some shows in 2022.

Quick disclaimer before we move forward. It is probably December when you read this. There is an admitted difficulty in accessing something I have had since the second week of November vs something I have had since early January. If you asked me next year in April for my favorite records of '21, there would be some changes/rearrangements. But I don't call the shots on when these get posted. Take care and make sure to check my column The Monday Grind, which, because of me, gets published infrequently.

Alright, let’s get down to the good stuff.

15. 夢遊病者 – Noč Na Krayu Sveta

Starting this thing off weird. This Russian/Japanese/American project (Sleepwalker) has been putting out some of the most interesting music in extreme metal. Though they are often billed as an experimental black metal band, that is only scratching the smallest of surfaces. There is a ton of ambient, psychedelic, and experimental elements that pull through. The album is only two tracks, both clocking in at 14 minutes and 30 seconds. It is the kind of album one listens to when they wanna see the idea of music get molded into the strangest of shapes. One of my favorites for long solitary walks at night.

14. The Body – I've Seen All I Need To See

Dense/blown out/miserable/noisy/heavy. I've Seen All I Need To See is one of this year's most underappreciated records and is one of my top three records by this band. January releases tend to be forgotten about but this one landed on a steady rotation for me. The Body captures inner darkness well and on this, it lumbers with heavy shoulders and rumbly static. There is something very gray and overcast about this record. But in its gloom, it is gorgeous.

13. Gravesend – Methods Of Human Disposal

There could not be a more perfect alt-soundtrack to Escape From New York. Gravesend's debut record is simply a nasty, brutish piece of grind and black metal with plenty of crust to go around. Maybe the best way to describe this record is concrete. Every aspect of this record has a rough, jagged surface and for almost the entire duration Gravesend throws slab after slab at the listener. Add in some synth work to the mix and

12. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Death reigns supreme these days. And for further evidence of that, I would direct you to the latest Cannibal Corpse record as to the whys. The riffs, the production, the brutality—this record everything that makes death metal fun. On top of that, Cannibal Corpse has one of the most consistently good discographies in the genre. Personally, I think they went above and beyond with this record. Everything on here is vicious and blood-soaked in just the right way, and incredibly catchy.

11. Despondent Moon – Enshrouded In Eternal Moonlight

Released in the first week of the frigid month of January, this was Despondent Moon's only album this year. Though the project is only two years old, it has four full-lengths to its name. The one person UK black metal project is a balancing act between icy synth atmospheres and torrential blizzards of riffs, drums, and howls. Enshrouded In Eternal Moonlight is Despondent Moon's strongest album yet. Raw, but like a moonlit, snow-capped haunted house. There are moments of serene beauty and moments of throat-tearing aggression.

10. Frontierer – Oxidized

International noisemakers Frontierer have returned for their third full-length and this time the gloves came off. Some people have described it as a vicious sonic beating and yeah, that is basically it. Noisy, glitchy, gnarly djent with brass knuckles. For those that know the sensation, this album is like getting hit so hard in the face that it goes numb, and adrenaline takes over. And then it happens again. And again. And again. And I keep coming back to it.

9. Regional Justice Center – Crime And Punishment

Regional Justice Center has been a relentless, unstoppable hardcore/punk force since its inception in 2017. The band has toured almost nonstop (obviously 2020 and this year has been difficult on that front) and has pushed out release after release. Continuing to stick to the short form of hardcore, Crime And Punishment is an even sharper iteration of the band's confrontational, borderline powerviolence sound. There are breakdowns and some slower sections, but it is damn hard to stop this record once it gets going. Regional Justice Center, to me, is proof that there is plenty of steam left in hardcore if you know how to harness it.

8. Worm – Foreverglade

Sometimes you sleep on a band. You heard of 'em, but you just never got around to checking them out. Well, when this album dropped in my inbox, I figured what better time than now. And as it goes, better late than never. Unlike most records on this list, Foreverglade is slow and sopping in dread, doom, and death. More than anything Worm has crafted a funeral doom album here. It rumbles and wails. The vocals shift between death metal growls and black metal screams, giving everything the feel of an epic fantasy. Especially when the guitars start soloing.

7. Pupil Slicer – Mirrors

Mathcore has been making a major comeback in the last few years. Though it never fully went away, the amount of mathcore bands that have been popping up is crazy. And people have been going nuts with the genre. Pupil Slicer is not reinventing the genre, but they are playing some of the best, most confrontational music in the genre. Mirrors is mathcore fighting music. Jarring and played with feverish intensity; there are breakdowns, panic chords, moments of hardcore, moments of metalcore. One of the wildest records released in 2021.

6. Cerebral Rot – Excretion Of Mortality

How often can one describe death metal as disgusting or putrid? Well, the new Cerebral Rot album is disgustingly putrid. Excretion Of Mortality is a stupid heavy trip through some of the murkiest, goopiest riffs and vocals put to death metal. The album isn't so much an assault as it is a trudge over seven tracks. It teeters on the edge of being a death-doom record but edges out on the side of death metal. There is not a dirtier death metal album released this year.

5. Last Days Of Humanity – Horrific Compositions Of Decomposition

This one came out of nowhere. Or at least, any announcement of it eluded me. If you listen to goregrind, gorenoise, etc, you know who Last Days of Humanity is. They wrote the book they captured the sound from the start. Horrific Compositions Of Decomposition is a surprise in that the production is cleaned up. It isn't just a mic'd snare and loud background noise with toilet vocals, it is distinguishable instruments and drums with toilet vocals. And the album is good. It is really, really good. A total horror show through and through. Heavy as hell and still plenty gory. Maybe some diehard goregrind fans out there will brush it aside but as a death metal album and especially as a goregrind album this thing grinds meat and bone down to paste.

4. Portrayal Of Guilt – Christfucker

It has not been since…2017 (?) that I have had to pick from two releases by a band for the year-end list. This one was easy though. The trio in portrayal of guilt has not been strangers to messing with their sound. However, they held back nothing with Christfucker. Aside from being a funny name, the album is an experiment in creating nightmarish soundscapes. The record sounds like they tapped into a raw black metal vein without shedding the feeling of a portrayal of guilt record. The music is incredibly heavy, dense, and raw.

3. Fluids – Not Dark Yet

"This is the last video I am going to make and that is all my blood." Panic is usually what one hears when one of these videos is set into motion. Panic or pleading. Going with calm sets a different precedent for Fluids latest album. And tasteless as it is, the album is dumbass heavy. Fluids' sound has massively stepped up on this record. Previous releases have been dense, sticky messes, but a lot when into the craft of this record, including some real drumming sections. The balance of grinding blasts and nasty riffage is as close to perfection as one is going to get. Not to mention ending on a doom metal note. This record is ridiculous and will likely be in my rotation for a while longer.

2. Malignant Altar – Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity

Depending on when this list goes live, this will either not be out yet, or will have recently been released. Whatever expectations one has for this record, they exceed that. They have gone way beyond what I was expecting. The previous releases by Malignant Altar have been pretty good, but maybe they have been holding back. Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity is like a crumbling column. The sheer weight of this release is insane. Six tracks of some of the heaviest death metal on the planet. Another release that flies close to the doom side of things but remains wholly death metal. Malignant Altar's debut full length is nothing short of, well, exquisite.

1. Knoll – Interstice

In the best of so far list this year I said that if you only checked out one band from my recommendations it should be Knoll. If you only check out one band on my year-end list, it should be Knoll. I think I discovered this band in April or May, however, I do not remember, and it does not matter. Interstice is one of the most refreshing, intense, and intricate albums I heard this year. Knoll is experimental deathgrind from Memphis, TN if you are unfamiliar. The band has been around for a few years now but unleashed their debut this year and the album is huge. Engineered by Andy Nelson, mixed by Kurt Ballou, and mastered by Brad Boatright, a holy trinity if there ever was one.

And here is the thing about Interstice, it is not only, I'd argue, the best album of the year, this is only the tip of the iceberg for Knoll. Like, this is their initial potential. From some incredibly tight and catchy riffs/finger-tapping to the horror drenched vocals, noise, and crushing drums, Interstice is blistering. The album is mostly focused in the deathgrind territory but isn't afraid to move into noise, noise rock, and drone territories, and it is all the stronger for it. If one needs a comparison, Knoll has a very Full Of Hell feel to their sound, though they are far from a clone. But they would be very comfortable tour buddies. Interstice is far and beyond what one would expect from a debut record. Even from many seasoned musicians, there is a vision here and it is going to be exciting to see how that expands. The band is currently working on new material, so be ready for more.

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