Phil Boozeman’s Top 10 Metal Albums of 2021
2021 was a good year, my dudes. All things considered at least. The last couple years I have admittedly felt a little burnt out on not just metal but on music in general, even before the pandemic hit. But you know what? Fuck all that shit. There was way too much good music that came out this year and the fire is burning again. I’m also incredibly excited that a third of this list is comprised of local (sort of) St. Louis bands. So without further ado, I once again present the annual unsolicited serving of my opinion.
10. Obscura — A Valediction (NB)
I am still a relatively new Obscura fan in the sense that 2018’s Diluvium was the first record of theirs I really sunk my teeth into. Just like with Diluvium, I was immediately blown away with the balance of technicality and grove on A Valediction, but that’s a given with this band.
As always, Obscura manage to take some of the most absurd riffs and technicality and string them together in a memorable, hooky way rather than just throwing 300 riffs in every time signature imaginable into a blender. No matter how crazy Obscura get, they never get overwhelming, which always makes them good listen when you need something both wild and focused written by a band that you know doesn’t suck.
9. Voidgazer — Dance of the Undesirables (self-released)
Coming in at number 9 are the first of three St. Louis bands I have to offer this year: Voidgazer, the musical embodiment of taking a bong hit from a motorcycle exhaust pipe and taking a piledriver through a folding table. If you have ever liked Mutoid Man or Mastodon at any point in your life, you’ll like Voidgazer too.
Although Dance of the Undesirables only has 5 tracks to its name, the record still clocks in at 30 minutes in length. Whereas a lot of bands end up being categorized under 6.1 trillion subgenres, Voidgazer are just heavy fucking metal with no bullshit. They’re also really good live, which you probably already guessed. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m severely lacking in metal with no frills, but if Voidgazer have anything to say about it, then that empty space inside me might not be a void much longer.
8. Alluvial — Sarcoma (NB)
If there is one thing in this world that makes me happy, it’s guitar chugs that punch you in the face. No band punched me in the face harder this year than Alluvial. With their second record, Alluvial bring a crystal clear technical assault that doesn’t overwhelm, but always shows its force. Like a boxer, they alternate between dazzling technical work and death metal haymakers to really put your dick in the dirt before backing off and grooving a bit to catch their breath.
But what really makes Sarcoma special is how THICK the music sounds. Take the chorus of “Thy Underling” for example. I don’t even have the words to properly describe the heaviness, which I know is problematic considering the words are my job, but it hits you straight in the fucking chest. I would recommend this record to anyone whether they like technical music or not because Alluvial have just the right balance and don’t wear you out with any one part of their sound. Alluvial are going to punch you in the face and you’re going to like it.
7. Gojira — Fortitude (Roadrunner)
Gojira are one of those bands I love writing about because I don’t have to reinvent a new, creative way to describe how heavy their music is without using the same 20 adjectives every time. Everyone knows Gojira unless you either JUST got under metal or live under a proverbial rock and they’re one of the safest bets for putting out a good record every time they release one.
Although Fortitude might not have been as different from Magma as their previous records were from each other, Magma wasn’t broken so not fixing it isn’t a big deal. And besides, it’s still different enough. There certainly wasn’t anything like “The Chant” on Magma, and although that might drive some people crazy, I like the song as a bit of a refreshing break from Gojira’s regularly scheduled heaviest riffs in the universe. Nearly every song on Fortitude has a moment gives me chills, whether if be the ending of “Born For One Thing,” the chorus scream from “Amazonia” or that bonkers drum intro on “Into the Storm,” Gojira always hit home with whatever they chose to do and Fortitude is no exception to the trend.
6. Stormruler — Under The Burning Eclipse (Napalm)
I’ll start this out by saying that the first time heard these guys was at a show two days before these lists were due. Once their set was over, I knew immediately that I had to come home and rewrite my list to include them.
If the name Stormruler brought images of an knight in onion armor using a storm-imbued greatsword to kill a giant, then praise the sun! You like Dark Souls and just found your new favorite band. Named after the sword used to kill Yhorm the Giant in Dark Souls 3, Stormruler are a St. Louis black metal band that don’t rely on the typical imagery of Satan and church burning. Instead, they have taken the concept of the Soulsborne video games and lain them out over some of the frostiest melodic black metal I have ever heard. The scholars among us will be able to pick out each game reference in the track titles, but even if you haven’t ever played any of the games, any fan of Dissection or Dark Funeral will be right at home here. However, if you actually haven’t played any of these games, you need to. They’re metal as fuck. The only reason you could possibly dislike Stormruler is because you suck at Dark Souls and for that, I’m afraid the only known cure is to git gud.
5. 1914 — Where Fear and Weapons Meet (Napalm)
You know that feeling when you listen to a band for the first time and immediately know that this music will live rent free in your soul until the day you die? It’s a pretty good feeling and that’s how I felt about 1914 when I listened to Where Fear and Weapons Meet. The Ukrainian black metal act focus on, as you might have guessed, World War I and the horrors of war.
The album, like World War I, begins with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but does so from the perspective of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin. It’s there that we get the name of album’s first actual track — the model of gun Princip used to kill the Archduke: “FN .380 ACP#19074”. What makes 1914 so special isn’t just the depth of WWI history they give, but how they present it so cinematically with no visuals other than the spine-chilling album artwork. Although 1914 call themselves blackened death/doom, they take elements from death metal, symphonic metal and even some sludge. When combined with historical audio and cultural songs, it creates a truly unforgettable listening experience that easily makes Where Fear and Weapons Meet one of the best albums of the year.
4. Wolf King — The Path of Wrath (Prosthetic)
Wolf King’s 2018 debut Loyal to the Soil was an absolute wrecking ball of gnarly metal. Fortunately for us, they saw zero reason to slow down on that. The Path of Wrath has only doubled down on that filth, adding in a much more blackened and refined raw tone that would even make a few 90s black metal bands blush.
For years now I’ve been making some variation of the same lame joke along the lines of “this album is so good I lost 10 pounds” followed by half-assed dad laughter. But none of those records were actually responsible for any measurable weight loss, except for The Path of Wrath. Something about Wolf King’s music just triggers a primal urge to move heavy shit and it turns out that energy is just as productive at a gym as it is in a mosh pit. Seriously, try not getting up and smashing shit during the breakdowns after vocalist Tim Wilson screams “Called forth from the depths / I am the messenger of death.” It is unbelievably difficult, but that’s exactly what makes The Path of Wrath one of the best albums of 2021.
3. Rivers of Nihil — The Work (Metal Blade)
Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name was nothing less than a masterwork that is singlehandedly responsible for making the saxophone relevant in metal. Following up an album like that is a daunting task, but Rivers of Nihil did not disappoint with The Work.
Although quite a bit more progressive and ambient than Owls, The Work is certainly not lacking in heaviness, as is made immediately obvious in the opening tracks. The dreamy, bleak intro of “The Tower” establishes the depressing atmosphere of the record and slowly fades away into the Meshuggah-style grinder of “Dreaming Black Clockwork” and before you know it, the pace is dialed back down again only a minute and a half later. This is a theme consistent through the album where the throttle is turned up and down so well that the heavy and slow elements compliment and build on each other, rather than one just waiting for the other to finish. Rivers took plenty of creative risks this record and the payoff is absolutely huge. Of course there is plenty of saxophone and even synth this time around, but I’d argue that saxophone isn’t really a risk at this point. It’s expected. The Work was undoubtedly one of the most anticipated albums of 2021 and it more than lived up to the hype. Rivers of Nihil have cemented themselves as a staple of modern metal and the future is bright with them at the helm.
2. Archspire — Bleed the Future (SoM)
When your average song speed makes Slayer seem like a relaxed fit, it’s easy for all that technicality to fall prey to becoming a chunky bowl of riff soup and incoherent guitar doodling. But Archspire have a gift of skating up and down their instruments with such fluidity that even their most impossibly complex songwriting flows into your ears like a water. You know, if water stabbed you in the face at 400 BPM.
2017’s Relentless Mutation was absolutely nuts when it dropped in 2017 and Archspire have only upped the ante on Bleed the Future. It is the most bananas fucking record I have ever listened to and I love every second of it. I have had the guitar licks for “Golden Mouth of Ruin” stuck in my head at least once a week since the record dropped and I’m honestly not upset about it. Every time I listen to Bleed the Future I catch myself in near disbelief that human beings are capable of performing this way, despite the fact that I’ve already listened to it more times that I can count. Bleed the Future is not just the new bar for technical death metal, it’s also one of the best metal records ever written. Speed kills and Archspire are the most lethal band at their game.
1. Summoning the Lich — United in Chaos (Prosthetic)
What do you get when Through the Eyes of the Dead and The Black Dahlia Murder play a DnD campaign? The answer is Summoning the Lich. What do you get when Summoning the Lich write an album? You get United in Chaos, the best record of 2021.
In a world of down-tuned melodic death metal, Summoning the Lich brave the storm in standard tuning, delivering a layered assault of string skipping, tremolos, blast beats and putrid vocals bound together by black magic. Clocking in at nearly 46 minutes with 12 tracks, Summoning the Lich did not skimp on their debut record, nor did they disappoint. I like this band so much that for nearly 3 years, my go to band when people ask for new music is Summoning the Lich. I am absolutely incapable of shutting the fuck up about this band and the number of times I’ve listened to United in Chaos is equivalent to the number of shots I do in a month — enough to kill the average person.
The average human lifespan is 72 and of the 13.8 billion years the universe has been around, we all somehow managed to exist during the same 72 as Summoning the Lich. That alone should be enough to get you out of bed each morning, and if not, playing the best record of 2021 certainly will.