Cheryl Carter’s Top Albums of 2021
Knowing where to start when it comes to summing up 2021 is an exercise that I, for one, find extremely difficult. In regards to the music that was released, 2021 was incredible - the black metal scene in particular found new acts and established projects coming out with insane new releases while doom also had an excellent year with the old guard and new lining up perfectly. Music is an escape for many and on a personal level, a place to find relief and catharsis as well as joy.
Relief and joy were in short supply for most of 2021 for reasons both obvious and obscure, but the music that I loved brought some light into dark days. Hearing the first notes of a new Paysage d’Hiver record (a wild thought considering the last one only came out in 2020) or the utter elation of Old Nick’s synths or the crushing atmosphere of Dream Unending’s debut was enough to realise that music is a saviour and I am eternally grateful for the artists who have continued to work under the strangest of circumstances to bring their visions to life.
20. Fyrnask – VII - Kenoma (Ván Records, Germany)
19. C R O W N – The End of All Things (Pelagic Records, France)
18. Baazlvaat – The Higher Power (Independent, USA)
17. King Woman – Celestial Blues (Relapse Records, USA)
16. Ossaert – Pelgrimsoord (Argento Records, Netherlands)
15. Fluisteraars – Gegrepe door de geest der Zielsontluiking (Eisenwald, Netherlands)
14. Circle of Ouroborus – Kiromantia (His Wounds, Finland)
13. Panopticon – And Again Into the Light (Bindrune Recordings, USA)
12. Koldovstvo – Ни царя, ни бога (Babylon Doom Cult Records/Extraconscious Records/Fólkvangr Records, Unknown)
11. Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime (Ván Records, USA)
Coming over ten years after their last studio album (2015s Ordeal was recorded live), Companion had a lot to live up to in terms of the Finnish band’s history and reverence within the funeral doom landscape. Luckily, any fears were completely unfounded as Skepticism showed exactly why there are considered masters of the genre with a record that is a haunting and bittersweet as anything from Stormcrowfleet.
Switzerland is a place in which the underground music scene is inhabited by a solid community who can be found at almost every show, no matter where in the country it may be taking place (the last two years aside, that is) and the people here are dedicated. Many musicians find themselves in other projects and that rule goes for Tardigrada, too. Vom Bruch bis zur Freiheit is their second full-length and goes further than Emotinale Ӧdnis in showing just how enlightening black metal can be. Full of emotional upheaval and guitars that radiate pain, Tardigrada’s music is painful and ethereal.
Hailing from the Ukraine, Këkht Aräkh’s Crying Orc has found a world of escape within his romantic take on black metal. Pale Swordsman is a tale of abandonment and the journey back to true love told through the lens of a creature who is perhaps not as human as expected. The language used is rich and fantastical, drawing you into a world that is coated with ice and danger, taking you along for a voyage that can only end in tragedy.
Dream Unending may be a late release of the year but that meant its impact was all the greater. The duo of Derrick Vella (Tomb Mold) and Justin DeTore (Innumerable Forms) went all in on their early 90s death/doom metal worship and created an album that is heavy on emotional content and a dreamlike atmosphere. It exists in the brief moments between sleep and waking, where the world is seen through a haze of colours trying to come into focus and your mind hasn’t quite grasped reality.
Any of the many Old Nick releases of 2021 could have easily have made it to this spot instead of A New Generation of Vampiric Conspiracies as the band have been continuously working on refining their bizarre, synth-laden brand of black metal. It could not be further from the usual sound of the raw underground and there is something so wonderfully charming about the trio from California that makes the music all the more endearing. This record hits somewhere in between the old vibe of the band and the more polished sound of now and damn, they know how to write a catchy tune.
Reverorum ib Malact are somewhat of an oddity in an already curious genre as the Swedes use their Roman Catholic beliefs to produce some of the most exhausting and terrifying black metal that can be found. The way in which they manipulate mechanical and industrial tones and ecclecsiastical roots to create towering walls of sound is beyond magickal and knowing how much the band believe in a world other than ours and deities of unimaginable power is enough to find yourself falling backwards from the vertigo. It’s truly all-encompassing and Not Here is enlightenment on a whole new level.
The Thule Grimoires is an exploration of the very edge of the known world, a land where snow rules eternal and the mysteries buried beneath the ice are enough to bring about the ultimate end. The Ruins Of Beverast navigate this upcoming terror through black metal, doom, gothic influences and an atmosphere of dread while simultaneously giving us one of the best songs of the year in "Anchoress in Furs."
Not much is known about Trhä aside from the fact they drop albums without warning and they are excellent. The location of the band is unknown and the language on their Bandcamp page is, for want of a better way of saying it, made up and likely only makes sense to the person behind the project. It’s all a clever way of throwing people off the scent and allowing the music to speak for itself. And the music of endlhëtonëg is very special—the core is atmospheric black metal with touches of ambient, spiritual melodies and a voice that echoes from the otherworld. It is beautiful and haunting in equal measure.
If you told me last year that Paysage d’Hiver would be releasing another full-length in 2021, after the two-hour-long opus that was Im Wald, I would have thought I was living inside a dream. But, lo, Geister was issued forth and it is an aggressive and feisty work that turns the more ambient side of the band completely on its head to instead embrace the cold, icy heart of the project and spin it through the horrors of the Tschäggätta figures of the Lötschental Fasnacht of Switzerland. The frightful mask of the festival adorns the album cover and allows a small taste of the fear held inside.
Lamp Of Murmuur hardly need an introduction as the internet has been awash with the name since the first demo in 2019. The hype was inescapable and M, founder and sole member, promised something a little different to the usual raw black metal sound of the American scene. Initially incorporating dungeon synth elements, Lamp Of Murmuur began to shift towards a more gothic influenced atmosphere with post-punk and clean vocal hooks making a brief appearance on 2020s Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism and soon becoming almost a staple of the sound on this year’s Submission and Slavery. The album is a testament to an artist creating music that is aggressive, beautiful, honest and vulnerable—and is all the more powerful for it.