I listened to a lot of metal this year, probably the most since my teenage nu-metal era. I tried really hard to keep the list short and I tried really hard to keep a lot of big name popular stuff off the list. Clearly, I failed on both counts. One nice thing that happened without trying hard for was the inclusion of a decent amount of trans/queer and POC musicians as well as artists not from America or European countries (and even after that about half of the list is just straight white dudes). One thing I was surprised about was how hard it was for me to find doom or black metal made by Black or Asian folks. I sought out that music this year and didn’t come up with much. So please definitely share with me if you know of anything that fits the bill.
I loved a lot of records released by Sentient Ruin and Amor Fati this year (and every year). I didn’t want the list to be overrun with their releases and was so strict I ended up only including one per label. Gilead Media, on the other hand, I was not paying attention to and ended up with three spots on the list. Oops. Either way, all three of those labels released a fuckton of amazing music this year. Go buy everything they put out.
I hope you find something new on this list that hits you just right. There’s a lot of variety, from righteous & blissful black metal to impenetrably depressive funeral doom. And every record has a link to the Bandcamp page where you can listen (and a lot of them are set to pay what you can). Let me know in the comments what I missed and what some of your favorites of the year were.
As always: Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Thanks for making incredible music.
34. Messiah In The Abyss – Genocidal Journey (Red Door / Jems / Consumed By The Flames)
I’m not a huge fan of black metal that sounds (or is) too old school or anything that veers too much into punk territory. This solo Venezuelan black metal dude doesn’t do either of that but he gets close. Luckily, this is raw as fuck, so much that it starts sounding like atmospheric black metal. I know almost nothing about MITA. His first release is from last year and he’s already up to five records with Genocidal Journey and he started another metal project this year called Logia Drakos (which I haven’t heard). So it looks like he has either plenty of time to make music or is just that damn good that he can churn it out the jams whenever he feels like it. Either way, we all win.
33. Victory Over The Sun – A Tessitura Of Transfiguration (self released)
You might not have heard of Victory Over The Sun yet but you probably (hopefully) have seen this badass trans lady’s Twitter @bastard__wing where for a while she was posting vids with her all fancied up and just fuckin shredding, super weird microtonal avant garde shit in crazy time signatures. Well if you dug those videos, you’re gonna fuckin love her new record as Victory Over The Sun. This is insane black metal, a bit like a transcendental black metal version of Jute Gyte that’s less discordant (most of the time) and tosses in a bass clarinet and some violins, A Tessitura Of Transfiguration is about “the process of finding my voice as an artist as well as a trans woman,” evident in the lyrics on many tracks, like on “The Enormous Cosmos” where she roars “center of my chest / a cavity opens, bursting / gnashing teeth, nascent tongue / clutching at unpronounceable self / the abyssal ‘I’ / the burning ‘am'” and you fuckin feel it.
32. Kaatayra – Só Quem Viu O Relâmpago À Sua Direita Sabe (self released)
Brazilian folk black metal? You fuckin know it. The dude behind Kaayayra, Caio Lemos out of Brasília, fuses atmospheric black metal with traditional Brazilian sounds and in the process creates something that I’m pretty sure is one of a kind and it’s fucking awesome. And with lots of clean understated ethereal vocals and a prominent acoustic guitar, this could be the gateway record you’ve been looking for to get your friend into black metal. There’s another Kaatayra record that came out this year (both of which are pay what you can on Bandcamp). It’s just as good as Só Quem Viu and the only reason Só Quem Viu is on the list instead of Toda História Pela Frente is because I spent more time with this one. But you should definitely listen to everything this guy’s got, because it’s all great.
31. Heretical Sect – Rapturous Flesh Consumed (Gilead Media / Redefining Darkness)
“Although the American Southwest is typically represented through the nostalgic and romantic lens of cowboy culture it is home to numerous atrocities… This project is a funerary monolith to the countless, unknown dead who resisted and died, crushed beneath the hooves of conquest, victims to genocide and massacres.” This record is a blackened death doom monstrosity that has no sonic affiliations with psych or any other sounds you might associate with the desert. This is their debut full length, after an EP last year, and it’s just so fucking cool. Never swaying too far into one genre, this is a perfect & disgusting blend of black metal, death metal, and doom. And in case you couldn’t tell from most of the other records on this list, I don’t really like death metal. So know that even if you share my aversion, you should absolutely still listen to this.
30. Grayceon – Mothers Weavers Vultures (self released / Translation Loss)
This trio never gets enough love. This is their sixth record and I don’t hear nearly enough people praising them. This new one is fucking excellent and I honestly can’t get enough of their sludgy proggy heaviness, while Max Doyle’s distorted riffage and Zack Farwell’s pummeling act as the backbone of the band, Jackie Gratz’s cello and rich clean vocals are where Grayceon really shines. This is full of some serious head bangers, fist smashers, and guitar solo jammers. In short, it fuckin rocks.
29. Empyrean Grace – Bestowment Of The Seraphic Key (Haeresis Noviomagi)
A debut of “mystical ethereal black metal” (read: atmospheric black metal) from one dude out of the Netherlands, released by the same label who put out stuff by Nusquama, Solar Temple, Vilkacis, Fluisteraars, etc, so you should expect to be impressed and then have your expectations matched & exceeded, this is a single piece that clocks in just under 30 minutes and uses that time exquisitely, a wall of tremolo, blast beats, synths, non-stop cymbals, and a lurking growl with a layer of euphoria buried underneath that’s not trying to escape but just soaring in the background, kinda like some old Fell Voices. Is it mystical? I dunno. Probably lyrically (but I don’t have/know lyrics). Ethereal? I usually don’t equate ethereal with anything this goddamn loud and impenetrable but I guess that doesn’t disqualify Bestowment from being ethereal. So yeah, the self-ascribed label fits. But whatever the fuck you want to call this is irrelevant because it’s incredible all the same.
28. Vide – Hanging By The Bayou Light (self released)
I didn’t know I needed depressive bayou black metal until Vide came along. One dude making murky miserable jams, he’s got a couple demos and splits in the past couple years but this is his proper debut full length and it’s a fuckin doozy. It’s only about a half hour long, it opens & closes with a couple slow drift dark ambient jaunts, and half of the whole thing is taken up by the 14-minute-long “It Would Be The Last Time,” clearly the centerpiece, feeling a bit like Ash Borer in the early days, a raw & blurry wall of relentless tremolo & blast beats & warbly synth & vocals howling into the void and I love every fucking second of it.
27. Lustre – The Ashes Of Light (Nordvis)
I owe Lars Gotrich (@totalvibration, Viking’s Choice, NPR music, etc) a huge thank you for rekindling my interest in Lustre (aka Henrik Sunding). I remember enjoying his first one, Night Spirit, and 2012’s They Awoke To The Scent Of Spring back when they came out but I’d lost track of his many releases since then. Then Lars mentioned The Ashes Of Light in his essential newsletter, Viking’s Choice, saying “black metal, but make it Enya and M83’s Zelda soundtrack” and I was like holy fuck who is Lustre I need this in my life asap. Turns out 1: he’s spot on with his description and 2: I had unknowingly loved & lost Lustre. It seems I’m in a different frame of mind now compared to first hearing Lustre 11 years ago because fucking wow it’s hitting me just right, it’s crazy good and exactly what I need right now. I most certainly will not be forgetting about Lustre anytime soon considering I listened to The Ashes Of Light non-stop for about a month. Needless to say, this is not for everyone, but I guarantee those who are caught by the phrase “Enya black metal” will not be disappointed.
26. Eye Of Nix – Ligeia (Prophecy)
This odd quintet’s debut Black Somnia made my list in 2017 which I called a “crazy blackened sludgy doom record that’s as weird as it is heavy.” Enter Ligeia three years later and they didn’t just up the ante, they went all fuckin in. First of all, the album proper is longer but then there’s a special edition with a bonus disc the includes alternate versions and remixes as well as a super sexy hardcover artbook. Aside from the extra content, though, the music is next level, it’s both weirder and metal-er than Black Somnia, operatic vocals and Spektr-esque phenomena and thick bass grooves and bestial blast beats and Badalamenti creep, it’s everything you could possibly ask for.
25. HWWAUOCH – Protest Against Sanity (Amor Fati)
HWWAUOCH are one of a small number of bands that are pretty much guaranteed a spot on my list if they put out a record. As part of the Prava Kollektiv, they share members with Arkhtinn, Voidsphere, etc, and everyone in the Kollektiv is awesome, I love all those records but at one point some of them start to blur together and I have a hard time differentiating my Ternary Curses with my Maelstroms. However, it’s impossible to hear HWWAUOCH and think you’re listening to anything else. These guys are fucking crazy. Absolute fucking chaos of suffocating black noise, a wall of distortion raining acid while a maniac shrieks in your face and drums pummel your skull and a Nightmare drags you into the void. Highly highly recommended.
24. Botanist – Photosynthesis (Flenser)
Botanist really do it for me. The electric hammered dulcimer at the forefront makes this music soar and it feels so fucking good. I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve released but the full band approach (as opposed to the early solo stuff) brings them to another level of awesome and this one might be my favorite with the full lineup. In case you didn’t already know (or couldn’t guess), Botanist make music about nature (and humans’ destruction of it) and every track on Photosynthesis is about, yep, photosynthesis. Evidence that there’s no rules in black metal and it can be about whatever the fuck you want.
23. Olhava – Ladoga (Slowsnow)
This Russian duo knocked it out of the park with last year’s self titled record. I listened to those two side-long pieces a ton. Now they’re already back with this beast clocking in at just over 70 minutes throughout nine songs and they brought in some of that killer ambient that they showed off on the remixed version of their self-titled record, Never Leave Me Alone. They describe themselves as blackgaze, but this isn’t like that Sadness or Clouds Collide emo blackgaze (which is awesome, don’t get me wrong), I mostly hear atmospheric black metal, with non-stop furious riffage and blast beats and buried screams. I especially love the alternating short ambient “Ageless River” pieces with the longer bouts of gorgeous chaos, it’s a welcome change of pace from the structure of their debut.
22. Mamaleek – Come & See (Flenser)
I’ve been loving this San Franciscan brother duo since their self titled debut in 2008 thanks to the Aquarius Records mailing list (RIP) and every single record they’ve put out since then has been wildly different than the last. I’ve been fascinated with each of them but none have ever brought me back to that high I got from the debut. Not until now. Come & See is absolutely insane (and the first record with a full band). Yeah, you can call it black metal but just barely. Mamaleek bring in an uncountable amount of other genres like Middle Eastern folk and lounge jazz and surf rock and blues, making a truly unique sound that both boggles and melts the mind, so they’re right at home on Flenser alongside like-minded genre-defiers Wreck & Reference and Bosse-de-Nage. This isn’t the weirdest record they’re put out but it’s definitely one of the heaviest (and catchiest!?). As someone looking at this list who is obviously interested in extreme metal, you owe it to yourself to listen to Come & See because it’s the only experience of its kind.
21. Sea – Impermanence (self released)
I feel like I’ve been waiting for forever for this thing to come out. Sea is local to me (Boston area) and I’ve seen them play some of these songs a number of times in the past few years (trivia: the record release show in February was the last concert I attended before the pandemic). After a bunch of splits and an EP from 2015, we finally have their debut full length and it’s a fuckin winner, easily living up to my high expectations. Impermanence bursts with bombastic sludgy doomed post-metal, alternating male & female and clean & grisly vocals, although Stephen LoVerme takes the lead most of the time and I wish it was Liz Walshak because her singing is fucking amazing, evidenced most obviously on the opener “Penumbra.” But everything on here is great and heavy as hell with gigantic crunchy riffs and sick solos, the kind of doom that you can’t help but sing along to. Lyrically, they remind me of the sorely-missed SubRosa and that is most definitely a good thing. Can’t wait to hear their follow up full length in 2050.
20. Dragged Into Sunlight – Terminal Aggressor II (Prosthetic)
I fucking love this band. They make truly horrifying metal and no one else sounds like them, with Mories’ various projects coming close (Gnaw Their Tongues, Pyriphlegethon, Cloak Of Altering, etc). On Terminal Aggressor II, DIS take the structure of Widowmaker (one long piece with lots of drone & noise) and include the truly fucked up sounds on their debut Hatred For Mankind, this is one song that’s just about 30 minutes long and it takes its time setting the scene with some dark ambient static and eerie slow melodies before torching your face with caustic black noise and then steamrolling your skull with their trademarked terrifying misanthropic cacophony. I won’t deny that Hatred For Mankind is in a league of its own but TA II is shitting down Hatred‘s throat and attempting a coup to reign in the history books.
19. Former Worlds – Iterations Of Time (self released / Init)
Former Worlds is the hugest sludgy doom south of Vile Creature (well not really south because FW is from Minneapolis and VC is from Hamilton, Ontario and yes most of Ontario is north of Minnesota because obviously but Hamilton is actually poking down near Buffalo, New York and I’m sorry this was a horrible intro). So yeah this crew is in line with Vile Creature which makes sense given that the Former Worlds vocalist, Erin Severson, guested on VC’s Cast Of Static And Smoke and narrated the audiobook version of the story that record is based on (which is such an awesome idea and was executed beautifully). But this isn’t just rehashing sounds you probably already enjoy elsewhere. Former Worlds has their own thing going and while I can’t quite put into words where the unique vibes are coming from, I can guarantee you that Iterations Of Time kicks so much ass and you’ll fuckin love it.
18. Velnias – Scion Of Aether (Eisenwald)
I was certain this Colorado group had just quietly dissolved years ago. Their last official release was the monumental RuneEater in 2012 and since then it’s been crickets, save for one song that trickled out in 2016. I could not have been more psyched when I saw Scion Of Aether show up this year because Velnias are truly fucking special. Some kind of blackened doom deeply rooted in nature and injecting lots of folk stylings, this is commanding, majestic metal with both throaty growls & rich smooth Viking-style roars and killer riffs, most songs here reaching or exceeding the 10 minute mark, making sure there’s plenty of space for drama and climaxes. A weak comparison would be to Agalloch or Panopticon, but not in sound, more in the atmospheres they conjure. This is super dynamic stuff but it feels unyielding, 50 straight minutes of epic fucking metal.
17. Dunwich – Tail-Tied Hearts (Caligari)
This is a stellar debut from Russia’s Dunwich, one I find myself coming back to frequently. They do something unimaginable, which is get me to like music this much that has elements of darkwave and goth rock. And I don’t just like Dunwich in spite of those parts, they actually make Tail-Tied Hearts better because along with the darkwave and goth rock there’s black metal, doom, prog, and a fuckton of other shit going on like organs and lazer electronics and ambient drift, and Margarita Dunwich’s vocals are on par with Michelle Nocon’s (of Bathsheba) in terms of going so seamlessly from butter smooth to demonic growl (and that’s high praise because I fucking love Bathsheba). Tail-Tied Hearts isn’t as in your face or as challenging as a lot of other records on this list, but I mean that in a good way, because this kind of music doesn’t come across my radar very often and when it does, I’m usually not that into it. All of this is to say Tail-Tied Hearts is not an “obvious” record on this list like a lot of the others and for that reason alone it stands out as supremely excellent.
16. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Translation Loss)
This is the “new” band that seems to have blown everyone away this year, including me. “New” only in that When I Die seems to be their breakout, getting tons of (well deserved) attention, because they’ve put out a bunch of stuff before this. This is incredible and most definitely my jam, sounding like Asobi Seksu and Helms Alee made a metal record together. There was a month where I pretty much just listened to this record and nothing else. It was kind of like my safety record. I knew that it fucking rocked and I didn’t need to look for anything else. I could get my head banging and my blissful euphoria at the same time. There’s post-hardcore shouts and dreamy angel vocals, Explosions In The Sky guitars, the occasional blast beat, hooks aplenty, and lyrics that make you want to punch every rape apologist, every misogynist, every fucking scumbag right in the dick. There’s nothing not to love.
15. Duma – Duma (Nyege Nyege Tapes)
Now here’s a debut that’s been showing up all over the place and if for some reason you haven’t checked it out yet, stop reading, go click the play button on Bandcamp, then come back here. Duma is a Kenyan duo and this is hands down the most insane metal to come out this year. They make some batshit crazy grindcore noise that swims in techno, black metal, breakcore, thrash, power electronics, death industrial, etc. I know this list is full of wholly unique music (Zeal & Ardor, Mamaleek, Folterkammer, Kaatayra) but Duma is the uniquest. It’s unpredictable and impossibly chaotic with vocals that are downright terrifying and have an unimaginable range. Listening to it brings me back to the feeling I had when I first listened to Bile’s SuckPump in middle school, like I am way out of my depth and have no idea what’s going on but can’t stop listening. If you have a vague interest in any of those genres I just rattled off, do yourself a favor and investigate Duma.
14. Folterkammer – Die Lederpredigt (Gilead Media)
Holy shit what a debut. All four of these folks have been involved in Imperial Triumphant in some way or another, so Folterkammer’s black metal weirdness isn’t surprising but it’s nothing like IT’s black metal weirdness. Folterkammer (“torture chamber” in German) sings in German which is kind of strange because I’m pretty sure none of the members are German. However, the singer, Andromeda Anarchia, is Swiss and from what I can tell she does a damn good job at singing in German. Here’s the thing though, about half of the vocals are operatic and the other half are wretched screams & growls and the songs are from the perspective of “a monstrous, seductive goddess looking to inflict pain on her submissive creations.” So obviously Andromeda is the highlight here, her singing is out of this goddamn world, but the music is top fucking notch black metal, super dramatic & furious. Black metal purists can see themselves out because this weird shit is where it’s at.
13. Plague Organ – Orphan (Sentient Ruin)
If you liked Dead Neanderthals but for whatever reason the saxophone turned you off or if Sunn O))) sounded good on paper but was just too slow for you, then Plague Organ here is your answer. PO is Rene Aquarius (Dead Neanderthals drummer) and mastering engineer Marlon Wolterink with a single 40-minute piece of mind altering heavy minimalism, infinite zoned out precision drumming like one of Jon Mueller’s darkest hallucinations, unearthly chants, ethereal moans, demonic growls, and some sourceless black drone. If you finish listening to Orphan and don’t look like that face on the cover art, I would question if we listened to the same record.
12. Zeal & Ardor – Wake Of A Nation (MVKA)
This record fuckin hurts. I mean look at that album title, that artwork, and the song titles (e.g. “I Can’t Breathe”). It’s very much about black lives, white supremacy, the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything about why that movement has to exist in the first place. And in case you’ve somehow missed the brilliant black metal spirituals Zeal & Ardor have released in the past, let me tell you you’re in for a fucking treat. Zeal & Ardor (aka Manuel Gagneux with Marco Von Allmen on drums here) make music unlike any you’ve heard before, mixing black metal with black spiritual music (hymns, work songs, etc) and it’s done so fucking well. This isn’t novelty. It’s fucking important. And Wake Of A Nation might be my favorite Z&A release yet. 2018’s Stranger Fruit didn’t hit me quite like the previous year’s Devil Is Fine debut. This one, though, is so dynamic, bursting with fury and mourning, explosive blast beats and shrieking saddled up next to lilting elegiac piano and a soft smooth voice crooning “‘I know how you’re going to die’ / whispers weeping mother to child.” Just listen to the first two seconds of the closing track and hear how that hand clap rhythm joins the electronic bass thump. It’s fucking fantastic.
11. Paysage D’Hiver – Im Wald (Kunsthall Produktionen)
Raise your and if you also thought you’d never hear a new Paysage D’Hiver record again. I was pretty sure the untouchable Das Tor was his “final record.” Even though we’ve gotten a couple splits since then, I still thought Wintherr was pretty much done with the Paysage D’Hiver moniker. Then out of nowhere we get walloped with this 2 hour monstrosity of perfectly bleak atmospheric black metal (and a 25 minute companion EP to boot). 145 minutes of new music is extreme even for this dude who’s known for having long records. And Im Wald is fucking beautiful, continuing with the frigid polarscape soundtracks he’s famous for, 13 tracks of impenetrable blizzard walls and ambient permafrost drift, this is a master at the top of his game. Essential listening for anyone who likes any kind of black metal.
10. Hellish Form – MMXX (self released / Transylvanian Tapes)
The unstoppable Hellish Form is what happens when you let two dudes from two incredible doom bands make something even doomier, this is Willow Ryan from Body Void and Jacob Lee from Keeper (who actually released an insanely good split together this year and clued me into this record because I didn’t know about Keeper beforehand), this debut is 40 minutes long and a fucking beast from start to finish, even when it (rarely) lets up the towering distorted feedback with some thin high end drone and slow drum bombs, it’s still beckoning you forth to the guillotine, waiting to sever soul from body, the tortured Alan Dubin-esque vocals just barely visible under the noise void, this is loud and fucking H-E-A-V-Y, the perfect combination to rend you in two.
9. Dead Neanderthals – Blood Rite (Utech)
This one almost didn’t make the list. By which I mean, I couldn’t decide if it should be on this metal list or the drone list (last year’s Ghosts was on the drone list). But lets not split hairs about metal drone vs drone metal, Dead Neanderthals always fucking bring it. Even though they’re typically a sax/drum duo, Blood Rite replaces the sax for a synth. Not that it matters too much. The instruments are usually unidentifiable anyway, Blood Rite included. This is some humongous metal, a single 27 minute track featuring Otto Kokke’s totally blown out black synth drone cranked to 11 with René Aquarius’ drums destroying cities in the background while he screams and growls and howls underneath the endless cacophony. This is blackened doom minimalism that somehow sounds nothing like Sunn O))). About a third of the way through it drops the drums and tones down the distortion on the synth for a short stint of some pure drone zoning, then jumps back into the abyss, ending the way it started, albeit on a much darker note (but how??). These two are awesome to begin with but they just keep getting better with every record they put out.
8. Cavern – Powdered (CAV)
Ok so this one is arguably “not metal” but I couldn’t care less. Apparently Cavern have been around for quite a while (debut record is from 2013) and up until now they’ve stuck to instrumental post-rock jams (supposedly, I haven’t listened to anything besides this one). But on Powdered they’ve added Rose Heater’s vocals & bass to the lineup and holy fuck that turns Cavern into a band that, in a just world, will rocket to the prime spot in people’s regular rotations. The music is awesome and catchy in a Russian Circles kinda way with some true highlights like the guitar solo on “Red Moon” or the stupidly fun breakdown on at the end of the title track but Heater’s vocals are really where it’s at, they just fucking destroy me. I mean just listen to “Grey” with the blast beat chorus where she belts it out and tell me that’s not the best goddamn song you’ve ever heard.
7. Liturgy – Origin Of The Alimonies (YLYLCYN)
2020 was a big year for Liturgy’s leader, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, who came out as trans and graced the cover of their record with her new form (the first Liturgy release to have a person on the cover, so it seems relevant). And musically, Liturgy are somehow still innovating on their already innovative sound. Origin doesn’t have quite the variety of instruments as last year’s H.A.Q.Q. (no hichiriki or glockenspiel this time) but there’s still a ton of non-traditional black metal instrumentation (double bass, flute, harp, trumpet, etc) and they’re more present across the entirety of the album. And Origin is the “first to fully integrate Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s vision of total art, or what she calls Perichoresis, with her musical compositions.” So there’s a lot going on here and it’s a lot to take in but it is undoubtedly Liturgy, the glitched blasts, microtonal and free form expression, all that insanity that keeps them unrivaled and on another fucking planet when it comes to experimental black metal.
6. Atramentus – Stygian (20 Buck Spin)
A Canadian funeral doom quintet that was founded in 2012 by Philippe Tougas when he wrote Stygian but nothing was released until this monolith finally saw the light of day in 2020. This is some massively epic music with synths and cellos, glacially plodding toward inevitable death. I love funeral doom but there’s some of it that just doesn’t catch me (e.g. Mournful Congregation, Evoken). Atramentus is the good shit, due in part to the vocals, which are un-fucking-real but not overstated or showoff-y. Stygian is full of the gloom that keeps me coming back for more, no matter how much it fucks me up. I just can’t get enough.
5. Vulgarite – Fear Not The Dark Nor The Sun’s Return (self released)
Holy goddamn this debut EP is fucking phenomenal. Vulgarite is the blackened doom solo project of Margaret Killjoy, a trans anarchist antifascist who lives off the grid in their self-built home and who also happens to be in Feminazgûl (also on this list). So obviously before even hearing this I knew it was gonna rock my face off. Indeed it does. Super dramatic, majestic, melancholic walls of distortion, organ-y synths crying in the background, all while Margaret howls about medieval Christian heretics and breaks every fiber of your being. I hate the “this ends too quickly” trope because yes we all know that by definition EPs are short and if it’s on this list then I love it, but for real, a debut this amazing and short just leaves me craving more. Please Vulgarite, I need more of your music in my life.
4. M.S.W. – Obliviosus (Gilead Media)
Not like anyone reading this is likely to get this confused, but just to be sure, yes this is the same M.S.W. who put out that awesome neo-classical EP Cloud a few years back but it’s also the same M.S.W. who created Hell and has close ties with Mizmor. This is his first solo full length and it’s nothing like Cloud (well, except for the three minute “Funus”). It’s like Hell, the pinnacle of blackened doom, but it definitely changes things up, like a doomed slowcore that’s kinda reminiscent of Yob and 40 Watt Sun, with violin throughout and clean choral vocals on “Humanity”, and the absolutely mammoth side-long title track opening with a riff that will tear your heart apart. This song alone deserves a gold fucking medal for “Emotion” in the Music Olympics. Literally everything I love about music is summed up in this record. I can’t give it a high enough recommendation.
3. Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! (Prosthetic)
Vile Creature are doing everything right. They’ve got the “angry queer doom cult” thing, they’re passionate animal lovers and antifascists, they’ve got a GeoCities-esque website with a guestbook, and they did a fucking Choose Your Own Adventure® style concert during the pandemic (you can still check it out if you want to and trust me you want to). But Glory! Glory! is what’s on the list, not just Vile Creature. This is true doom, absolutely fucking huge with just the two of them on guitar & drums. I know this record has gotten a ton of attention elsewhere and I almost didn’t include it on my list because who enjoys metal but doesn’t know about this record? But, story time, this made me cry the first time I heard it and I can count on one hand the amount of times music has made me cry (music always moves me I’m just not a very teary dude) and for that reason alone I had to include it here. Glory! Glory! is going down in the books as a fucking masterpiece and people will be blasting this until there is no one left to do the blasting.
2. Feminazgûl – No Dawn For Men (self released / Tridroid)
I don’t think there is an adequate way to describe how much I fucking love this record. Forget that it’s made by antifascist patriarchy destroyers, forget that their name is the fucking coolest, forget that they’re trans-inclusive, forget that they sing about worshipping nature, the music alone is fucking perfect. It’s the best kind of black metal with accordions, violins, synths, & theremins, No Dawn For Men is heavenly and all-consuming with melodies that are goddamn euphoric, like the violins & theremin on “The Rot In The Field Is Holy” that sound like they came straight out of Before The Dawn Heals Us (don’t let that turn you off, this sounds nothing like Lustre), and the vocals sound like someone puking nuclear waste, so tortured and menacing. I want to listen to this every day for the rest of my life.
1. Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin – Stygian Bough Volume 1 (Profound Lore)
Two important things to note. First, Bell Witch might actually be my number one favorite band if I really had to choose. Second, the clean singing parts have always been my favorite (like the end of “Rows,” actual perfection). So new Bell Witch material will necessarily be on my list, but new material that’s almost entirely clean singing? I’m fucking dead. Obviously, this isn’t just Bell Witch, it’s the first official collaboration with Aerial Ruin (aka Erik Moggridge) and going forward they’ll be using the name Stygian Bough (hence the title of this record). I feel like this is one I don’t need to really say anything else about because a billion people have already heard it. It’s a funeral doom masterpiece. The end.