Brandon Corsair’s Top Albums of 2021
Another year has passed, and another chance to reflect on 12 months of killer releases is here. There’s a bit more than last year to dig into as bands either gave up on waiting out the pandemic or started touring again, along with bands that just outright wrote albums while they were stuck at home. All else aside it was a good year for music and there’s been lots of cool stuff that I mostly will ignore to talk about these specific 20 albums.
As with last year's list, I did not include stuff here that I released on my record label, anything that a bandmate played on, or anything that wasn’t a full length—otherwise, this bad boy would be chock full of cool EPs (special mentions to: Sordid Blade, Deiquisitor, Torture Rack, Tales of Medusa, Incarceration, Ritual Cairn, Cirith Ungol, and Scald). I also didn't give a long writeup to anything I covered earlier in the year. If I already interviewed the band or reviewed them there’ll be a link to that in place of a real year-end review because I don’t feel the need to repeat myself.
The honorable mentions aren’t really in any sort of order so don’t worry about it. Neither are most of the albums past the first two or three in the top ten; the big exception is that I refused to pick a number one, so there’s two of them in there. Don't like it? Don’t care. Go check some stuff out that you haven’t heard and let me know what you think I’d like that’s not in here, so I can tell you it sucks and don’t forget that only posers don't like Herzel or Sijjin. Happy New Year.
20. Obsolete – Animate//Isolate (Unspeakable Axe Records, United States) [Interview (ETU #12)]
19. Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell (Season of Mist, Finland) [Interview]
18. Concrete Winds – Nerve Butcherer (Sepulchral Voice Records, Finland) [Interview]
17. Anthropophagous – Death Fugue (Headsplit Records, United States) [Interview (ETU #5)]
16. Evil – Possessed by Evil (凶惡) (Nuclear War Now! Productions, Japan) [Discussed in Best Black/Thrash of Q1 2021]
15. Malformity – Monumental Ruin (Unspeakable Axe Records, United States) [Interview (ETU #11)]
14. Morgul Blade – Fell Sorcery Abounds (No Remorse Records, United States) [Discussed in November 2021 Release Roundup]
13. Demiser – Through the Gate Eternal (Boris Records, United States) [Discussed in Best Black/Thrash of Q1 2021]
12. Decrepisy – Emetic Communion (Seed of Doom Records, United States) [Interview (ETU #15)]
11. Blazon Rite – Endless Halls of Golden Totem (Gates of Hell Records, United States) [Interview (ETU #9)]
Wanton Attack – "Wanton Attack"(No Remorse Records, Sweden)
This album is nothing but genuine heavy metal maniac insanity. Every second is goddamn crazy, and in the best of possible ways; hooky, melodic, and high-skill, but still off the rails throughout the short playtime of the album even as it embeds itself into my skull more and more with each passing listen. It’s easy to misrepresent a lack of creativity or songwriting as being zany or unorthodox, but weak tricks played by weak bands are always obvious and this is not for a second that: Wanton Attack are the genuine article. Where lesser bands heard Melissa and decided to try their hands at a King Diamond-esque falsetto (and always poorly), Wanton Attack heard the sheer insanity of the songwriting; where the pop-minded heard Awaken the Guardian and were enthralled by the memorability of the vocal lines, Wanton Attack heard the potential to be even more batshit than John Arch.
Is this one as good as your favorite albums from the ‘80s? Probably not, but it’s a hell of a lot harder to compare against them than most modern heavy metal because Wanton Attack forge their own path, and that makes them stand out from the pack without even trying because they were never a part of it. This is the music of real heavy metal warriors following their hearts to the very bitter end and this is the music that everyone should be craving.
Wheel – "Preserved in Time"(Cruz del Sur Music, Germany)
What an emotional album! Epic doom for the ages that recalls the beauty and seriousness of the later Solitude Aeturnus albums alongside influence from the gorgeous side of ‘70s rock to make what is surely one of the coolest albums in this style in a long time. Longer review and interview here:
As classy as it is heavy, Preserved in Time focuses on long songs that develop towards emotional swells that almost sound like Warning doing epic doom. There is a certain deliberate linear nature to the songs, with verses all leading towards a place in each song that feels almost inevitable; choruses come back was if they never left rather than being forced in, with each one being an outpouring of feeling so strong it had to be repeated rather than an attempt at radio play or commercial viability. The music is accessible without pandering, and gorgeous without being saccharine, and catchiness is obtained with riffs that stick in the mind.
Tyrann – "Djävulens Musik"(Electric Assault Records / Inti Records, Sweden)
Real fucking passionate heavy metal by real fucking passionate heavy metal fans. All that can be said really is already said by their catchphrase, "Don't Make Fashion Of Our Heavy Metal Passion." Interview and review here:
[This] is some of the most authentic Swedish-styled heavy metal to surface in quite some time, with each riff delivering a heavy metal sword straight to the heart and delightfully raw and passionate vocals slaying over the top. In a world of bands determined to do what needs to be done to "make it", these already-successful metal stars making such delightfully obscure music is a pleasure that deserves to be heard.
Outre-Tombe – "Abysse mortifère"(Temple of Mystery Records, Canada)
This is it: the king of gross death metal. Dirtier than your asshole dog that can’t stop rolling around in his own shit and full of more riffs than your favorite sitcom, Outre-Tombe established themselves long ago as the kings of Québec and are here again to defend that crown with their new album Abysse mortifère. I have seen wimps and posers complain about everything on this one from the production (go back to Brain Drill if you hate dirt, nerd) to the vocals (can’t hear your whining over the sound of Black Veil Brides coming from your bedroom) to the riffs that are clearly too violent for their ears, but rest assured- this is IT. This is what all of the shitty caveman bands want to be, and what the many inheritors of Autopsy’s legacy have strove to accomplish since day one. I listened to this over and over the first time I had a chance to hit it and you will too if you just open up your chest for them to stomp on your heart.
Ghastly – "Mercurial Passages"(20 Buck Spin, Finland)
Over the years I’ve been very vocal about how much I love the side of death metal that’s more melodic and personal: Soulskinner’s last couple records, old Amorphis, Depravity from Finland, Deathevokation, Gorement, you name it. I’m not saying that I prefer my death metal without aggression, because I certainly want it, but that touch of ethereal magick granted by a more measured and less trend-driven approach to death metal haunts me eternally and I am always looking for more. Due to its untrendy nature, it’s slim pickings—but Ghastly this year has delivered an opus of psychotically beautiful death metal and I am all about it. Read a review and interview here:
Fundamentally, the class and melody rely on the demented aggression that is the undercurrent of every song to have something to bounce off, and the ferocious drumming and vocals keep even the most sensitive sections grounded. This is Ghastly’s third record and the years of experience that went into it show; every record has pushed boundaries more and more and leaned into an increasingly unique, personal sound. I can’t wait to see where they go next, but for now, it’s impossible for me to put down the new record.
Transilvania – "Of Sleep and Death"(Invictus Productions, Austria)
Almost by definition the vast majority of new black/thrash bands are not even remotely ambitious about their actual approach to the music. Sure, some of them want to be bigger than Midnight and behave accordingly, but almost all new black/thrash is in a handful of well-trodden paths. Transilvania say peanuts to that, and focus instead on writing just completely batshit insane songs that I described in further detail here a few months ago:
Gloomy melodies soar over moody rhythms as often as pounding black metal rages, but the melodies don’t overpower the songwriting balance—for every section replete with consonance is another of aggressive, pounding black/thrash of the oldest tradition, making for a variety even within individual songs that keeps it interesting the whole way through despite a tendency towards lengthier tracks that brings up the playtime of the album to a whopping 50 minutes.
StarGazer – "Psychic Secretions"(Nuclear War Now! Productions, Australia)
The last few years have been a whirlwind of various StarGazer-related projects devastating me with riffs while I wait for a new StarGazer album. I love Road Warrior and Mournful Congregation to bits, and really dig some of the guys’ other bands, but there’s no replacement for the best band of them all and it’s really nice having more StarGazer to dig into. This one is probably their least aggressive yet but is no more the killer for it, relying on stellar songwriting to tell tales rather than morbid hate- but the fire’s still there, and so are these Aussie madmen. Read my review here to save me from having to go on at more length:
Most of what StarGazer has done on this record is firmly in line with what they have done in the past [...] Heavy riffs still take the forefront, the vocals still shred, and the band seamlessly shifts from something that might fit on a Slaughter Lord song to repetitive and droning black metal to gorgeous melodic riffing to chanting clean vocals with the careless aplomb that they always have. These guys have been working towards their current sound since the mid-’90s and know exactly when to annihilate and when to croon, and the journey that Psychic Secretions leads is an exciting one.
Pharaoh – "The Powers That Be"(Cruz del Sur Music, United States)
How goddamn cool is Pharaoh? They don’t put out music nearly often enough but every single time whatever album they grace us with is fucking insane, and The Powers That Be is no exception. Technical, melodic, powerful, and full of big-dick heavy metal riffs, this new Pharaoh album is a welcome domination over all of the weaker power metal that couldn’t match it this year. Want to read more? I interviewed Matt Johnsen about the album back in May—from my introduction there:
Though the band’s core riff-centric power metal sound remains even decades after 2003’s After the Fire, their approach to that sound has changed a fair amount over the years and The Powers That Be is as much as a return to form as it is a shred-tastic and complicated album. Hugely catchy vocal lines, earworm riffs, and bursts of insane guitar playing all come together to give an album that’s both distinctly Pharaoh and fills its own little niche in their discography.
- 1 (TIE)
Sijjin – "Sumerian Promises"(Sepulchral Voice Records, Germany)
I was an enormous fan of Necros Christos and I am finding myself to be a similarly large fan of Malte Gericke’s new band, Sijjin. I interviewed Malte alongside a song premiere a while back and he’s every bit as cool as his music. Go buy the album and support him, and buy the demo and Necros Christos back-catalog while you’re at it. Many of the bands in my list this year are newcomers, but Sijjin are proof that age and experience can be a lot more sinister than even the hungriest without it.
From the premiere:
Rather than the more personally focused music that Necros Christos spent years perfecting, Sijjin is an altar to the madness that was ‘80s thrash and death metal: ripping forever fast evil riffs with lyrics about horror and darkness instead of self-reflection and religion. The band’s first demo Angel of the Eastern Gate saw them signed to Sepulchral Voice Records and made international waves in the underground for its strength of vision, and now the band is here just three years after Domedon Doxomedon to deliver what is surely one of the goddamn coolest albums to come out in recent years.
- 1 (TIE)
Herzel – Le Dernier Rempart(Gates of Hell Records, France)
Now this is what I’m talking about. Every year I complain that there’s not enough good heavy metal, and every year there’s just one or two extremely special releases that I know I’m going to be listening to forever. It’s no mistake that when I interviewed Herzel earlier in the year I gave them a much longer writeup about the album than I normally do; the album has been on repeat over here at least a couple of times a week for months now, and I don’t see any signs of that slowing down. Go listen to it. Do it now.
All around, this is so far by a decent margin my favorite album that’s come out so far this year. Between the excellent musicianship that’s displayed all-around (certainly not a given in modern heavy metal in the same way that it was for so much classic material), the band’s ability to manipulate tension and dynamics to create intensely catchy but also classy songs, and just how personal and evocative the material is, it’s difficult for me to put down Le dernier rempart. Though the ‘80s are gone and this entire strain of heavy metal is mostly gone with them, I’m glad that bands like Herzel keep the flame alive, and that they do it so well.