Brandon Nurick’s Top Albums of 2021
As someone who grew up reading Invisible Oranges, it feels quite surreal to be wrapping up an end of the year list for the blog (yes, I am doing my introduction last!) I started writing about music in my junior year of high school and quickly found that I had a passion for it. Sure, I could hardly string together a coherent sentence and would constantly misuse semi-colons; but I just loved talking about music. Music journalism often gets a bad rap, but there is something so genuine and special about gushing over records you love, and other people checking them out because of that. I don’t really care about negative GOTCHA! pieces, or tearing down bands I dislike (except you Meshuggah, if y'all are reading this just know it’s on sight). All I want is to communicate how much I like music to anyone who will listen.
So, if we’re gauging how my year was based on how much I got to spew about music, I would say it was pretty damn great. I mean look where it led, right? I’ve come full circle, writing for a site I once thought was only for those who could manage to properly use semicolons (I’ll get it one day, I swear!) No, but seriously, I am exceedingly grateful for all the opportunities I was afforded this year and hopefully the many to come. Thank you to every artist and editor that enabled me to keep writing and doing what I love.
See you next year!
20. Victory Over The Sun – Nowherer (Unsigned, USA)
19. SVRM – Розпад (Vigor Deconstruct, Ukraine)
18. Hope Drone – Husk (Relapse, Australia)
17. Alda – A Distant Fire (Eisenwald, USA) [Interview]
16. Jute Gyte – Mitrealität (Jeshimoth Entertainment, USA)
15. A Pregnant Light – All Saint’s Day 2 (Colloquial Sound Recordings, USA)
14. Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality (Nuclear Blast, USA) [buy a random-color LP here]
13. Dungeon Serpent – World of Sorrows (Nameless Grave Records, Canada)
12. Ghastly – Mercurial Passages (20 Buck Spin, Finland)
11. Stortregn – Impermanence (The Artisan Era, Switzerland)
Lifeblood is definitely the black sheep among my top metal albums of the year, but Brand of Sacrifice is also a black sheep among deathcore, so I feel its inclusion to be pretty apt. The band's, uh, BRAND of technical deathcore is entirely indebted to the world of Berserk, so while series creator Kentaro Miura may have tragically passed away earlier this year, it's endearing to know his legacy has transcended the pages of manga and will persist with those of whom his work has influenced. And as a sonic companion to Berserk, Lifeblood delivers; thanks to Brand of Sacrifice's utterly unique take on deathcore, the record feels every bit as epic as the series they're emulating. They employ orchestral elements, angelic choirs, and trance-y tinkering in unexpected ways, and when they do decide to double down on the brutality, I'm convinced there's nobody else in the game who can craft breakdowns that go half as hard as theirs do. I would rather endure an Eclipse as a Marked One than be in a Brand of Sacrifice pit, and that's saying something.
RIP Kentaro Miura
Even going into this record knowing what it would sound like, I was still very much floored by Gonemage’s debut album. Continuing in the spirit of Cara Neir’s last outing, Mystical Extraction is the dungeon crawler alternative to Phase Out’s platformer black metal. Imagine if Bergtatt-era Ulver and Castlevania’s Symphony of the Night soundtrack sired a child that was raised by Dillinger Escape Plan and Slowdive and you’re halfway to understanding what Mystical Extraction sounds like. Nothing here seems cobbled together though, with multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Galimgim (Garry Brents) carefully curating elements from the aforementioned genres and sculpting them in ways that feel fresh yet familar all at once. Black metal and video games both share a certain reverence for the past, but if Mystical Extraction is any indication, they’ve always had more in common than we ever thought.
My problem with most astral black metal is that even though it claims to be inspired by the infinity of the cosmos, most of it seemingly draws from the same quadrant of sounds. One listen to Darkspace’s seminal Darkspace I, and you have not only essentially heard it all, but you’ve also heard the best. That was until Mare Cognitum, the black metal solo project of Jacob Buczarski, ignited into existence mid-2011 and finally delivered a vehicle robust enough to survey all the universe has to offer. His newest, Solar Paroxysm is the band’s most thorough exploration yet; riffs detonate like sunbursts and shrieks echo into the unending void as the songs unfurl into chaotic yet gorgeous celestial vistas. Buczarski has always known his way around melody, but here his command is at its best, each track imbued with moments that’ll orbit your mind for hours afterward. We’ll likely never reach the ends of the universe, but because of Mare Cognitum we’re a little further than we were before.
The revival of classic death metal sensibilities has been going on for over a decade now–probably long enough to stop calling it a revival–and simply put, Hyperdontia's sophomore effort Hideous Entity is one of the best albums to come out of the old school emulating new school. As much as I enjoy some of the frills that have come with the new blood, whether it be psychedelic excursions or celestial, space-faring atmospheres, sometimes a relative back to basics record can really hit the fucking spot, and that's exactly what Hyperdontia did here. In a genre where it's live or die by the riff, Hideous Entity's oscillation between gargantuan grooves, serpentine tremolo picking, and moderately technical histronics guarantees Hyperdontia the opportunity to see another day. If I'm being honest there isn't too much else to say or that needs to be said other than that this is filthy fucking death metal. I'll let Hyperdontia take the rest.
If you were interested in Ghostbath's romance with East Asian aesthetics but not that whole lying about being from China thing (or perhaps, the even more damning information that they're actually from North Dakota), there is no reason not to like Saidan; along with openly admitting they're a Nashville-based black metal duo who just happens to love Japanese culture, Jigoku: Spiraling of Chasms of the Blackest Hell is a great fucking record. While lyrically inspired by Japan's extensive folkoric history, the record musically falls into an all encompassing sweet spot, where melodic black metal meets with bits of thrash, hardcore, and J-Rock. It may not be a wholly original combination, but this is by far one of the best iterations of that sound I've ever heard. However, what makes this record special is the care and respect you can hear put into its meticulously curated mythology, and with the addition of triumphant, multi-faceted black metal, Saidan have a winning combination if there ever was one.
Goodbye World would probably hesitate to refer to themselves as a supergroup, but what else would you call a band featuring members of Charles Bronson, City Hunter, and The Repos? It's kind of crazy to believe that dudes this old can still blast away as hard as this, but At Death's Door is an eleven minute burst of thrashcore fury that shows these hardcore legends at their best. Aaron Aspinwall somehow transcends rabidity in his feral barking and guitarists Mark McCoy and Jeff Jelen absolutely obliterate their guitars to the tune of panicked three-chord riffing and buzzsaw solos. Meanwhile, James Trejo and John Menchaca manage to hold down the fort from the hellfire raining down upon them on bass and drums respectively. At Death's Door is very indicative of the powerviolent-adjacent hardcore usally peddled by Youth Attack! so while you may know what to expect going in for a listen, it'll kick your ass all the same.
For a band infamous for their "Jesus is a C*nt" shirts, Cradle of Filth's second-coming is starting to feel awfully biblical. Despite the loss of Lindsay Schoolcraft, Existence is Futile sees Cradle still managing to further congeal into a stronger unit. The album recalls the gothic grandeur of their older albums while maintaining the feel of near death metal aggresion they introduced with 2015's Hammer of the Witches. Dani does himself a favor here and mostly shies away from his trademarked banshee vocals, instead focusing on his mid to lower range and saving the higher shrieks for only the most necessary of moments. Guitarists Shaw and Smerda continue to breathe new life into the band, again serving up a slew of riffs that ply the line between death, black, gothic, & thrash metal(s) while also contributing solos that sound like if Steve Vai joined Slayer. Marthus is still one of the most underrated and dexterous drummers in extreme metal while also contributing (alongside new member Anabelle) to the otherworldly orchestration present throughout. We're getting to a point now where this current line-up could be considering the band's "classic", and who thought we would ever get here with a band like Cradle?
Buy a limited-edition black/white marble vinyl here.
Old Nick is the most fun you can have with a metal band. They’ve put out some of the weirdest and wackiest black metal I’ve ever heard, and it feels like they’re only growing more eccentric with time, a fact I welcome wholeheartedly. A New Generation of Vampiric Conspiracies is the first of two albums they released this year, and the culmination of their experimental, outsider black metal. They’re the only band I can think of that can do things like fuse sea-shanty-esque keys with tremolo picked guitars and not only is the result NOT an embarrassment, but it’s fucking awesome. Their goofiness belies how talented they really are; vocalist Abyssal Jesse has a real feel for cadence, Sentencer’s playing is as melodic as it is unpredictable, and somehow, drummer Practitioner is able to keep time with all the sudden shifts and tempo changes. Old Nick are one of the few acts in black metal that need to be heard to be believed, and there is no better jumping in point for them than A New Generation of Vampiric Conspiracies.
Combining black metal with another genre isn't really news these days, but when Lamp of Murmuur does it, it's okay to make an exception. Whereas previous releases saw sole member M. firmly entrenched is his own brand of weird, idiosyncratic Pacific Northwestern black metal, Submission and Slavery sees M. firmly entrenched in his own brand of weird, idiosyncratic Pacific Northwestern black metal AND post-punk. This means we are not only treated to some signature winding riffs and sharply melodic blackened escapades, but glossy keyboard synths and shimmery goth passages too. Through some alchemic sorcery, the black metal and the post-punk elements feel bonded together on a cellular level here, and you can practically taste M.'s reverance for both genres throughout the entirety of Submission and Slavery. When an artist takes a step out to reveal even more of what makes up their musical DNA and the results are this good, it's hard to NOT make the headlines.
Have you ever experienced a phenomenon where an album was immediately nostalgic the first time you listened to it? Where something about the music stirs something deep inside your chest and you're flashed back to times and places that up until that point you'd completely forgotten about? It's a feeling that doesn't strike me often, but when it does, that record usually ends up not just one of my favorites of that year, but one of my favorites of all time. This sensation is what I underwent on my initial listens to Trhä's second release of the year, the absolutely unpronounceable endlhëtonëg. I'm not sure whether it's the way the guitars, drums, and bass all coelesce into this ecstatic maelstrom of noise, or how the vibrancy of the synthwork cuts through the metallic tumult and is somehow, cold, mournful, and comforting all at once, but there is just something about this record that makes me react viscerally every time I put it on. And you know what? I'm okay not with not understanding why. I know what I need to, and that's that endlhëtonëg makes me feel something. What more could I ask of my album of the year?