Narrowing this list down was easily one of the hardest things to do this year. The best thing to come out of the pandemic was the sheer volume of music released in 2021.
The creativity and experimentation of bands across the globe has been nothing short of inspiring.
10. Harakiri For The Sky – Mære
Harakiri For The Sky is vastly underrated within post-black metal circles. Unbelievably beautiful guitar riffs and emotive vocals offset by bludgeoning rhythm support and the unwillingness to compromise for the sake of brevity, Harakiri For The Sky have created an odyssey of an album. It is very rare that an album of this length can hold my attention, but the consistent shifts throughout each track, without the loss of structure or sense, set this apart from albums that show little restraint on song length. Mære is stunning, beginning to end, and despite the length, is a guest that has not overstayed its welcome.
9. Four Stroke Baron – Classics
It's a ballsy move to call your album Classics; it sets a certain expectation, but Four Stroke Baron has earned that album title in spades. Trying to describe this band's sound is next to impossible and entirely reductive. While on the surface, the blend of genres may seem like madness, there is a method here. The elements of prog are strong throughout the album, but it is still heavily melody-driven and the soaring otherworldly vocals are the cherry on top. A classic indeed!
8. Book Of Wyrms – Occult New Age
Book Of Wyrms is a secret that really shouldn't be. Classic, spacy, groovy, and relaxing, Occult New Age is a triumph in versatile listening that can be enjoyed both in a social setting and a deep dive listen. The bands' attention to album flow, structure, and form, as well as unique soundscapes that capture the listener, Book Of Wyrms shine in the class rock sphere. This is an album that it is almost a necessity to enjoy on vinyl to get the fully textured experience (and is one of the finest examples of vinyl mastering I have heard all year).
7. Haunt – Beautiful Distraction
Beautiful Distraction is as classic as classic ever was, and Haunt does exactly what they need to do to create an enjoyable album! While many bands were recording their most melancholy offerings yet, here comes Haunt with optimism, upbeat riffs, solid solos and all in all a fun atmosphere. Beautiful Distraction is an album without a boring or dead moment and gives us some light and bounce to an otherwise blah year.
6. Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Noktvrn
Revealing a greater sense of depth and scope than previous efforts, Noktvrn is expressive, expansive, and poetic throughout. Der Weg Einer Freiheit deeply understands what makes black metal viscerally enjoyable, but at the same time has no desire to keep up with convention. They have broken the mold and created something emotive and long-lasting with Noktvrn. As cliche as a black metal album about the night may sound, this is the farthest thing from that.
5. Aquilus – Bellum I
I waited ENTIRELY too long for this album to come to fruition. Enigmatic and atmospheric, 10 years was well worth the wait for the sophomore offering from Aquilus. Compositionally complex, Bellum I showcases the band's unique blend of authentic classical, European folk and black metal influences. The amount of detail poured into each track is astounding. Years of dedication were undertaken and it is obvious The best part? This opus 10 years in the making was split into two parts, so, hopefully, we don't have to wait just as long for Bellum II.
4. Voices – Breaking The Trauma Bond
If there was ever a cinematic release this year, it was Voices' Breaking The Trauma Bond. And by cinematic, I don't mean over the top, "two steps from hell" type sounds, but something that creates a clear image and evokes strong emotions in the listener. Just from the title track you can hear the variety you are in for throughout each step of the album. Layers upon layers of noir and pain with just a sprinkling of light in the dark corners and shadows, Breaking The Trauma Bond is an album that will both grow with you and force you to grow within yourself.
3. Green Lung – Black Harvest
The album that gave us the "doom ballad" Green Lung's Black Harvest encapsulates the roots of metal without sacrificing modernity. Captivating as hell, Black Harvest conjures up visions of spells cast in some haunted English forest. The vocals, keys, and guitar work all shine throughout, but without overpowering the rhythm section. Green Lung has given us an album that won't easily be forgotten and definitely falls into the category of "timeless".
2. Møl – Diorama
Hopeful and inspiring, Møl has charted a new course with Diorama. The band has delved deeper into black metal on this project, but with a newfound sense of hope long unavailable in the genre. Excitingly varied and completely irresistible, this album does what few can do anymore, creates something entirely new. Diorama brings together so many layers and textures throughout, that you will constantly be engaged throughout listening. The offset of screams and gentle melodies evoke emotion that black metal really hasn't been able to pull off with this efficacy.
1. Seth – La Morsure Du Christ
Undeniably artful and sophisticated and thoroughly blasphemous and hostile, La Morsure Du Christ is an album I could not escape from since its release. The grandiose orchestration perfectly complemented the icy black metal. The pain and anguish in the vocals is balanced perfectly by the loveliness of the melodies. Even at their most adventurous and vicious, harnessing such disparate elements throughout the album created something that was both cohesive and destructive. La Morsure Du Christ is, 100%, the standout album of the year.