Modtoid Man’s Top 15 Metal Albums of 2021
Hey y’all, it’s your (least) favorite moderator. I hope you find something to like here. It was an especially hard year to narrow all this down and come up with a top 15 – I could have easily done a top 40, though as usual I’ll put my honorable mentions in the comments below and y’all can express your disgust at me leaving out [album name]. I probably heard it, just didn’t like it that much! Here you go!
15. Five the Hierophant – Through Aureate Void (Dark Essence Records)
One of a couple weirdo picks on this list, Five the Hierophant is a doom jazz band from London that dip their soundscapes in a layer of psychedelia. Since its release in February, I’ve returned to it several times, hitting play like one would hit a drug, basking in the high it grants and leaving reality for a set amount of time. It’s a game of discovery, looping it a few times to see how many hidden pockets you can find in a dimension you thought you were familiar with. Guitars? Drums? Check! Zither? Saxophone? Uh, also check! It’s a wild one, but in the spacey, abstract way that these sorts of albums involve. Lots of cool grooves too. Take a ride, y’all.
14. Atræ Bilis – Apexapian (20 Buck Spin)
It was between this and Archspire’s Bleed the Future for my favorite tech/prog death album of the year, but Atræ Bilis just edged it out due to being a bit more heady for my tastes. Here’s a band that understands it’s not all about relentless speed and shred, but uses those tools tastefully to craft a brutal album nonetheless. Everything just feels on point and there’s a lack of circlejerk which is hard to find in tech metal realms. Apexapian just wants to bisect you down the middle and move the hell on.
13. Altarage – Succumb (SoM)
All I could do was laugh while listening to this album the first time because I was in awe of how wild it was. Altarage kind of eluded me in years past with me only having a cursory familiarity with their existence, but Succumb has done just that, forcing me to yield to their pressurized and suffocating take on extreme metal. There’s a lot going on here and it hardly ever slows or stops throughout; just over an hour of music that confounds, pounds, and resounds within your skull for days… whether that’s a good or a bad thing is open to personal taste. For me, it was a journey forged in fire, and one I was glad to take.
12. BLACKSHAPE – BLACKSHAPE (Independent)
Simply the best (mostly) instrumental metal album I heard this year, and no one’s talking about it! It’s very energetic, constantly moving, always changing. There’s some post-metal and mathy elements to it all which help explain its entropic nature as well as the variety of moods and tones the album traverses through its lean 44-minute runtime. It’s lush and moving in the same way a scenic sunset is before the dark takes hold. If you miss bands like Night Verses, BLACKSHAPE is a must.
11. Sugar Horse – The Live Long After (Small Pond Recordings)
Describing themselves as “a decidedly average band” The Live Long After is evidence that the band loves to take the piss, and I’m all for that. In metal terms, “doom” is the most apt descriptor, but they are so much more than that, opting to throw in some shoegaze haze and punkish power when the time calls for it. The Bristol band is brolic and fierce, navigating a tightrope of sounds and dispositions that seem to go in all directions without spreading too thin. With song titles that make you go “hell yeah” like “Fat Dracula”, “Phil Spector In Hell”, and “Dadcore World Cup”, Sugar Horse are clearly here to have their fun and play with the tenets of rock and metal while they’re at it.
10. The Silver – Ward of Roses (Gilead Media)
When I heard a side-project with Jamie and Matt Knox from Horrendous and Enrique Sagarnaga from Crypt Sermon was in the works, I about lost it. When I heard what the project sounded like, I was astonished. It sounds nothing like any of the members’ pedigrees, yet here we are with a very, very competent and intriguing metal album that has elements of black, death, gothic, and more, all standing on its own. To say anymore feels like spoiling it, so I’ll simply say dive into Ward of Roses with an open mind for one of the most rewarding and dark albums of the year.
9. Carcass – Torn Arteries (NB)
There was no fucking way that Carcass dropped an album and it wouldn’t appear on my year-end list. I love this band, and their comeback era has been one of the strongest I’ve ever heard so far. Let me put it this way: I thoroughly enjoyed, and was highly impressed by, Surgical Steel – this album is just about better in every single way, from a lot of the writing, to the production, to each musician’s raw contributions. Torn Arteries gets to the heart of the matter in a quick, melodic, well-paced manner in the form of catchy, groovy death metal and it shows they still have a lot of steam left in the engine. Unmatched and inimitable – Carcass will always be the best at this.
8. Demoniac – So It Goes (Edged Circle Productions)
Hey, you like thrash? Can’t do much better than Demoniac this year. Hailing from Chile, they’re on the more blackened, progressive side of thrash metal which is fine by me – the name of the game is still speed and riffs, and that’s all I need. This is just an efficient project, working several ideas and approaches in one song without becoming too disjointed or bloated. The mixture of English and Spanish lyrics is also a boon to its existential themes. This band really deserves a lot of recognition, especially from fellow Death (the band) fans who would, hopefully, like me, eat So It Goes up. Research will tell you that it was actually originally released last year in October, but Edged Circle Productions grabbed the rights to (re)release it this January digitally and physically which is how I found it, and it’s with that technicality that I put it on this list.
7. Sermon of Flames – I Have Seen The Light, and It Was Repulsive (I, Voidhanger)
So, for my money? This is probably the heaviest album I’ve heard all year. I, Voidhanger came through with this little debut joint from Ireland’s Sermon of Flames that sounded less like a band finding their footing in extreme territory, and more like a volcanic eruption that engulfed all within range. A corrosive mixture of death, black, and sludgy metal makes for some intense stuff. Vocals are cavernous, drums are hammering, guitars just garrote you into submission, and there’s nice elements of noise that grate at your psyche like a lobotomy drill. Damn… I really like this one, y’all. Keep your eye on them – just don’t stare too deeply lest their abyssal form stares back.
6. Worm – Foreverglade (20 Buck Spin)
Wow, what an album. I do love doom metal and its many permutations, but death-doom is probably my favorite – if you feel similarly, Worm needs to be on your list. It’s a lurching, menacing affair with guttural, bubbling vocals and untold instrumental depths with a death metal kick here and there. Catchy too! Everything about it just feels dirty and sticky in a weirdly appealing way. Can’t beat Foreverglade when it comes to this sound in 2021.
5. Green Lung – Black Harvest (Svart Records)
Another recent addition to my list, but the amount of times I’ve played this album, you’d think it came out in the first couple months of 2021. I love classic doom/heavy metal, bonus for stonery vibes, and you get just about all of that here and more. Lovely occult and horror themes, some based in English folklore, all backed by some of the catchiest riffs and melodies I’ve heard all year and beyond. Old school, but knows a few new tricks as well. Black Harvest is just a blast through and through – I can’t imagine many guitar worshippers not nodding their heads to this and singing along.
4. Boss Keloid – Family the Smiling Thrush (Ripple Music)
It’s something of note when music gives you chills and makes you feel things you don’t get from elsewhere. That’s exactly what Boss Keloid achieve, and more, with Family the Smiling Thrush. Their brand of progressive stoner rock/metal feels so grand and unlike much else out there in its lane, and even months later I have physical reactions to many of the songs here because they house a very special type of power, primal in nature while retaining a healthy amount of grace and elegance in the execution. Just listen to “Gentle Clovis” to see what I mean – hear the bellowed vocals and scrumptious guitar melodies, take in the spirituality of it all. Plus, it just rips. One of my favorite bands going right now.
3. Cynic – Ascension Codes (SoM)
Recency bias is a motherfucker, but I’ve had over a month with this album and I feel very, very confident in placing it on this list. Cynic’s always been a much appreciated and respected band in my eyes even if I tend to forget them in conversations or not praise them as much as I should even though they have a near flawless catalog. Ascension Codes is unavoidably marred by immense tragedy with the loss of Sean Reinert and Sean Malone, leaving Paul Masvidal to pick up pieces and lead the charge into esoteric and ethereal territory, and that’s just what he does. This album is Cynic to the bone, and while there’s differences depending on how nitpicky and cynical (ha) you wanna get, the truth of the matter is it’s a vibrant, calculated, and vast piece of work, very worthy of their legendary name in the prog/death metal community, and respectful to the legacy Malone and Reinert helped build for years. It sounds corny, but I truly feel ascended myself after listening to it, and only someone like Masvidal could pull that off without it becoming a cheese-fest. I only hope the completion and release of this great work provided some peace for him.
2. BIG|BRAVE – Vital (Southern Lord)
BIG|BRAVE are one of the most interesting finds I’ve made in the last few years. They have a keen application of abrasion, not so much looking to whelm you as much as color in the canvas they use. Doomgaze is a good way to describe them, though they’re one of those bands that tend to elude clean description and are more about the experience as a few other bands on this list are. Mesmerizing vocals, stamping drums, and dense guitars all make a recipe of unique texture and pacing that I don’t get anywhere else. Throw in lyrical themes of identity and existence in our complex, marginalizing world, and Vital becomes just that in regards to 2021 albums.
1. Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY (Sargent House)
I got away with this before, so here we are again. With apologies to Kristin “SAD CHRISTIAN MOM” Hayter for including her work on a metal music list, I must again insist that Lingua Ignota is one of the best, most enigmatic artists of our generation that, yes, deals in some heavy-ass material. From the lovingly confrontational title (rhetorical in a sense because I don’t think there’s a proper way to prepare for what SINNER GET READY holds) to its myriad sonic exploration of guilt, devotion, sin, and revenge using traditional Appalachia as the instrumental base, this is a woefully immense and forlorn Goliath of an album. Thematically, it uses religion in ways that are, frankly, beyond me much of the time, leaning behind it like a shield and turning it on its head for commentary’s sake alike.
It’s theatrical, intense, and nearly indescribable with any sort of concision, but it is always sincere and naked with its pain. And just like that nature, this album will strip you bare, peeling back your layers, and exposing you to the elements. You’ll writhe, you’ll likely cry as I and many other fans have during its runtime, and you won’t be the same person when you come out on the other side. Protect Lingy at all costs – I am genuinely fearful of how she will inevitably follow this up in the future, but if the trend continues, I know it will be a watershed moment for modern music and art as a whole.