Take Me Away: Four Otherworldly Albums From 2021
Metal's theatricality stems from earnest attempts at connection, be it to a common notion or unpressed emotion. Through differing approaches, all metal is made by real people with day jobs and (hopefully) families and (not so hopefully) debts. However, there are times we all want to escape from reality’s clutches, and leave such tethers to our world behind. Fortunately, there's a strain of heavy metal that caters exactly to this need, and we've collected some of our favorite picks from 2021 so far as evidence.
What differentiates the albums collected in this list is that they are evidence of worlds beyond our own. They are scraps of history, revered artworks, documents of times and places and spaces and states with rules foreign to Earth’s because they function on a different plain. This is an open mouthed, sloppy tongued, wet kiss to 2021’s esoteric realms in a world where affection as basic as a hug poses danger.
The term "otherworldly" usually honours a piece of such esteemed quality that it transcends Earth’s limitations. It’s applied to work so transcendentally good it must’ve originated elsewhere than the same scorching rock that humans defecate upon. Thus the adjective has a two-fold definition; that of an album’s strength and that said album couldn’t have come from this world. In addition to their high caliber, each of the albums gathered here navigate away from this planet. They surpass, deconstruct, or straight up deviate from common principles of our world.
Swansong for a Snail
March 19th, 2021
Camp is a litmus test separating the brave who can enjoy an out-and-out oddity from the posers who giggle at something a little strange. There’s a sentimentality that appeals to those willing to take with it a certain pungence. The one man epic black metal act SnailMAGEDDON is tinny and over-the-top and surging with faith in his craft. Swansong for a Snail is closer to an alternate historical document than it is a ‘Cradle of Filth but with snails’ gag. Its combination of thin mixing and strange folk instrumentation impart the notion of a fantastical oddity rather than circumventing a tight budget.
Swansong for a Snail chronicles the war between warlocks and the fauna kingdom and how Swanrider, a slug who rides a swan and protects the Snailonomicon, strives to end man’s tyranny. The project’s mythological tapestry comes from its hokey charm. Its symphonies, woodwind introductions, mucosal maidens chiming, and medieval piano melodies are of an Arthurian crusade. Swansong for a Snail evokes a fantasy tale so weird and so close to ours yet still somehow different. It’s like if history were the same except humans were all anthropomorphic slugs and nobody blinked at the change.
The alternative charm of Swansong for a Snail is its existence in an uncanny valley of black metal. Something is just a little off, yet a little too recognizable. SnailMAGEDDON is not as grand, not as opulent nor performatively huge, as epic metal typically is. Swansong for a Snail is a bloody war journal informed through black metal’s harshness seeping through the pores. The lives of many a good slug were lost in a journey marked by moments of “how in the hell is this for real?”
Vacuum y-Noise Transition
February 5th, 2021
We've previously lauded Intonate’s Severed Within for its emotionalist core, praising the open heart of the dissonant death metal album. Though similar in genre, DSKNT are the opposite of that vulnerability. Singular member Asknt’s atonality is the absence of any humanity, any soul, any connections to flesh and blood. Normally, this is a criticism against death metal’s indulgences. However, DSKNT flourishes because Asknt is a black hole and Vacuum y-Noise Transition delivers desolation through dissonance. DSKNT convey depravity through smothering all light sources, not through incoherent song structures and time signatures requiring a graphing calculator to chart.
Vacuum y-Noise Transition is, simply, a state. In DSKNT’s dense, industrialized death metal there is no humanity, just like there are no other emotions. There is no anger, no hatred, nor are there any pleasantries. Vacuum y-Noise Transition just exists, it orbits, it is the absence of feeling contrary to how we base most of our decisions off of emotional value rather than logistics. Asknt’s bleak portrait turns perceived faults into strengths. The lack of variation between the tracks is a constant reminder that there is no escape. The lengthy songs mirror an abyss with lapsing dissonance collapsing in on itself.
Vacuum y-Noise Transition is a difficult album to understand in terms of what’s happening because it envelops rather than explains itself. It is indeterminate consciousness without sensory perception, being fully aware of your powerlessness and your inability to either consume nor participate, trapped in a black hole where light neither escapes nor enters — because that would imply a beginning or an end.
May 7th, 2021
The concessional aids on Grey Aura’s website, articles and links the band provided to offer context, do little but elucidate that Zwart vierkant has a ground zero. They prove there is a narrative that could only be explored through Zwart vierkant’s stratified styles (black metal, flamenco, spoken word, jazz, the many others that exist between) and moods (guilt, frustration, eroticism). Zwart vierkant is both absurdist and expressionist. It opens Pandora's box and celebrates the ensuing explosion. It exists on an almost improvisational level guided by unfettered conveyance.
Zwart vierkant is such an out-of-body experience that its own source material isn’t the closest analogue. It’s more akin to tumbling through the Louvre's many paintings, sculptures, and landscapes and immersing oneself in the contrasts. Grey Aura disintegrate the frames differentiating each painting from one another. They cross the threshold between reality and art. Even vocalist Ruben Wijlacker can hardly stay coherent. His lips lose the ability to articulate using anything other than vicious babbling on "El Greco in Toledo." The hallucinatory trip compacts throttling deliveries into tight sequences that become their own language. There are no comparisons because Grey Aura are so far removed from reality. When the record concludes there’s no obvious resolution. Emotions don’t just end, they are resolved only in hindsight upon their absence’s recognition. It is only upon re-entering the world that Grey Aura’s avant-garde presence can be appreciated.
Towers of Silence
April 30th, 2021
Plasmodium brandish Towers of Silence as cosmic black/death metal, but that buries how important their rawness is to their extraplanetary drive. They disengage from the grandiosity of space-faring black metal to pursue to-the-bone fervency. They waste no time stargazing. Towers of Silence carries the heat of a burning star a million lightyears away from Earth.
Interdimensional rather than extradimensional, Plasmodium traverse portals connecting unknowable, unfathomable, and undying dimensions. It’s a Lovecraftian fear of the universe's lacking empathy delivered not by putting the inconsequential human in relative terms to powers beyond him but by ripping through every possible parallel universe and Cronenbergian alternative. Plasmodium deliver existential fear through fury.
Towers of Silence’s stark otherworldliness benefits from Plasmodium’s raw production. A fair criticism is that the record may just be too underproduced; the bass’ audible presence is comparable to Atlantis’ landmass and the drums pepper instead of pound. But under these circumstances the Australian act inject terror. Plasmodium operate best in this searing intensity, melting the recording’s confines. A sturdier production would ground the album when it’s much better suited to tearing through the fabric of space. Towers of Silence is so hot and so fast that its freeform compositions can only be understood through navigating scant waypoints. It’s like a constellation; a concept existing beyond our world so we instead use what little we can perceive to define it.