I did it! I made another list. My favorite metal from 2021. Big year for doom with clean vocals made by ladies and in case you didn’t know, that’s some of the best kind of music. I tried not to include big names like The Body, Body Void, Big Brave, Genghis Tron, Mare Cognitum, etc. I also tried not to include releases from labels that have made this list before, so no Gilead, no Sentient Ruin, no Eisenwald, no Mystískaos/Dissociative Visions, no Bindrune, no I, Voidhanger. There were 2 exceptions (Northern Silence and Profound Lore) because they were too good to not include and I think they didn’t get enough showtime.
For the first time, I’m doing some honorable mentions (similar to my drone list). They’re here for 3 reasons: one was not metal enough (Madam Data), one was on a label that was too big (Prophecy), and I ran out of steam with the list.
As always: Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Thanks for making incredible music.
Madam Data – The Gospel Of The Devourer (Purple Tape Pedigree)
Unhinged industrial noise metal that takes no prisoners. Proceeds go to the Coalition For Black Trans Economic Liberation in Philadelphia.
Premium blackened funeral doom from this Swedish trio that have released a bunch of stuff in the past 5 years that I somehow have never heard. Grav|Vind is only two songs, a 17 minute epic giving me big pre-bluegrass Xasthur vibes, going hard for the first 10 minutes, breaking for a windy interlude, then kicking back in with blast beats barely heard under the bleak guitar buzz, then it ends with a 7 minute frosty dark ambient chill out.
Really really reaaallllyyyy good 21st century black metal, not quite post black metal, not quite atmospheric black metal, but somewhere along those lines, Gloosh is just one dude (George Gabrielyan) riffing killer hooks and blasting furious beats out of Russia. It’s straightforward, nothing fancy, the only thing that will catch you by surprise is just how fucking well done it is.
Corubo, the self-described “Indigenous black metal” trio, is originally from Brazil, now based in Uruguay, and has been raging against colonialism and genocide and all that comes with it since 1999, it only took 22 goddamn years to make it to my white American ears, these guys make insane black metal that’s like Gnaw Their Tongues’ sample-heavy horror mixed with Kaatayra’s Brazilian black folk metal and it’s easily some of the most unique music I’ve ever heard. Ajuricaba is based around the story of Manaos native Chief Ajuricaba’s uprising against Portuguese invaders in the 18th century, a war I had never heard of until this record. Thanks to Corubo for simultaneously entertaining and educating.
In summer 2021, there was a one day outdoor minifest in Somerville (aka Boston) called Somergloom. It felt moderately safe because we were in one of the downswings COVID positivity rate-wise and it was a breezy day, so I grabbed a mask, walked into a random parking lot, and stood as far away from humans as I could. It was amazing. Body Void played. Glacier played. Kira McSpice played. Lunar Ark played. Never heard of them before. Turns out they’re local and were playing stuff from their forthcoming debut LP. Well, that set was fucking fantastic and I couldn’t wait to hear the record, super high expectations, etc, etc, then Recurring Nightmare drops and it’s everything I hoped it would be, 3 long songs of mega heavy black sludge infused with post metal riffage and rumbly walls of drone. I fully expect to see these dudes on Relapse or Southern Lord or something someday.
The witch Asenath Blake making fast & frenzied black metal with guitars sounding like a clavichord giving it a slight medieval/Renaissance vibe (except totally batshit crazy and with zero relation to dungeon synth), 5 songs in just under 15 minutes, with shrieking and wailing vocals that are just as frantic as the music, this is just straight fucked weirdo black metal that hits all the right buttons. Her first record was 2020’s Voorish Songs, which I didn’t find out about until this year, otherwise it would’ve ended up on last year’s list. She also put out Tribeckoning Songs on Halloween 2021 but Zoëtic Songs here is my pick of the two.
This is absolutely filthy doom from a Latvian lady whose name is non-existent on the internet, this is slow and pitch fucking black, heavy enough to create its own black hole, but the kicker is that it’s dripping with her smooth crooning voice reverberating through empty cathedrals. She can fucking scream too, though, like on “Kad No Murga Nepamosties” which is just truly devastating music, a whirlwind of nauseating feedback and obliterating bass. Haven’t heard anything like this in ages… maybe never?
A debut of magnificent proportions, one song, almost 30 minutes long, of slow melodic funeral doom à la Bell Witch, by the non-binary New Zealander Winter Kneale, this has tons of depth and is absolutely monstrous, with low growly vocals that are so buried in the mix they’re almost indiscernible and become part of the music.
Not quite sure how to sell this one. Raw atmospheric depressive black metal with melodies that’ll be in your head for days. On paper, I would normally pass over something like this because it sounds like nothing too special. I can’t remember how or why this fell into my lap but holy hell I’m glad it did. This is the best black metal I’ve heard in a long time. And the lyrics, albeit unintelligible, can be found on their Bandcamp page and they are fucking potent. Definitely look them over when you listen to this. Also, they already put out another record on January 22, Soil Of Sorrows, and all their stuff is free* on Bandcamp.
Another new-to-me band that’s already released music I hadn’t heard before. The French duo of Anne Wegrich (from Lynn) and Ulrich Wegrich (aka Dagoth from Otargos) makes some of my favorite kind of doom: blackened and with clean vocals (preferably from a lady, like in this case). These are typical song lengths, all of them well under 10 minutes, but they feel enormous, they’re slow and majestic and all kinds of awesome.
Do you remember Cara Neir? Released a bunch of stuff on Broken Limbs, including the awesomely nasty black metal Portals To A Better, Dead World in 2013? Or their split with like-minded weirdos Venowl, Njiqahdda, and Horseback? Well, throw whatever you remember out the window. They broke the mold with Phase Out, this is the craziest fucking thing I’ve heard in a lonnggg time. “This album is about us being warped into a 8-bit video game dimension by a sinister alien entity.” Not to be confused with the actual soundtrack to said (non-existent) video game. I think this is the first record to combine chiptune, black metal, surf, grindcore, screamo, post hardcore, synth punk, and the kitchen sink. And they went all out with this, creating pixel animations for every song and a full length commentary. But look past all the novelty and you’ve just got some truly awesome jams.
4. Seed – Dun Pageant (Mutual Aid / self released)
The world needs more “Anti-fascist, Queer Forward” experimental doom. Thanks to Seed for helping out. Their brand of doom is a bit different than most of the other records on this list. It’s frequently sparse, venturing into slowcore territory kinda like if 40 Watt Sun didn’t go full sad, but when it hits, it hits hard and paralyzes you, with the highlight being Lux’s otherworldly vocals that float in from purgatory. But as incredible as this (debut?) record is, and as cliche as it is to say it, you really need to see them live. Lux is a fucking showstopping rockstar and brings an energy that pushes the music to unbelievable levels of amazing. Dun Pageant is unlike any other but Seed on stage (or more accurately, off stage) is an unfathomable experience.
3. Earthshine – My Bones Shall Rest Upon The Mountain (Northern Silence)
I can’t believe how good this is. Kind of like Orasyon, this is pretty straightforward stuff. Melodic atmospheric doomed post black metal, which is definitely the kind of stuff I like, but goddamn this is next level. Two Australian dudes making some truly epic metal that has no business being this good. It’s fucking beautiful, sometimes vibing on old-school Alcest shimmer, sometimes trudging through Panopticon growls, sometimes locking into a bass heavy groove, My Bones… is so dynamic but is 100% tremendous and triumphant the whole way through.
2. Divide And Dissolve – Gas Lit (Invada)
Yup, a 2020 record is number 2 on a 2021 list. Long story short, I don’t remember why I didn’t prioritize this when D&D self-released this digitially on December 3, 2020, because I was realllly looking forward to it after hearing 2018’s Abomination and my 2020 metal list published in January 2021, so I don’t really have an excuse. But it got an “official” physical release in 2021 thanks to Invada so there’s at least a slight argument for including this on a 2021 list. ANYHOO, Divide And Dissolve is Takiaya Reed (Tsalagi descent) on guitars & saxophone and Sylvie Nehill (Māori descent) on drums and they are fucking pissed, regularly condeming white supremacy, colonialism, prisons, and all manner of stupid shit that humans do to control and own fellow humans. But neither Nehill nor Reed sing, all of their fury comes out in the music, in the song titles, and in their communication outside the music. This is instrumental doom with a heavy dose of weird thrown in, strings, drones, spoken word, all sorts of unexpected mischief, and it’s all fucking amazing. Kinda like Holly Hunt but way better and way cooler.
1. Vouna – Atropos (Profound Lore)
Yianna Bekris is one of the most underrated musicians going right now. She’s in Eigenlicht, Vradiazei, and Sadhaka (who just released their first new music (a single, but still) since 2013’s Terma, one of my all time favorite records, so I am psyched they’re still at it), and Vouna here is her solo work, monolithic blackened funeral doom with plenty of clean vocals and the most sublime sound imaginable. 3 long songs and 2 short ones that clock in just under an hour, she sings about the pain and sorrow of existence while she makes the walls crumble around you, I love this so fucking much, it’s just absolutely stunning music.