Neill Jameson’s Top Albums of 2021
This year sort of fucking blew by, didn't it? I can't tell if it's because I'm getting old (I am) or if it's because I'm so numb to the general stupidity that comes with being alive on Planet Earth in 2021 that everything just sped by. Or it could be because I haven't had a full night's sleep in the nine months since I had a daughter (please clap) and that changes your perspective on everything.
When I was asked to sit down and do this list, I wanted to change it up from the other lists you might see me take part in this year, especially if you've realized how much I like to read myself talk. While 2021 was a terrific year for splits, demos, and EPs, I decided to focus entirely on the traditional long player, otherwise we'd be here way too long. Or I would be, you’d probably get bored after a few dozen.
I tended to stay in just a few countries this year, mostly the US and UK, I can't really say why. It's not like there was any kind of conscious choice, it just spun out that way. This is also the first year I've had death metal in my list for a really long time, probably because I've avoided a lot of it the last few years because it all reads like a group of PR professionals got together and shit into a cake mold, chilled it, and then selectively took turns fucking it before serving it to the rest of us, making sure to tell us how great it tastes.
That might've been a bit crass. I am new here after all, but you get the idea.
All lists are subjective, mine isn’t any more important than yours to anyone but myself. Don’t let what someone tossed up on the internet dictate how you feel about a piece of music, literature, film, etc. If we disagree about a record, that’s fine. You're probably wrong, but so am I. Keep it moving and we'll meet back here in twelve months with another twenty we'll disagree on. I can't fucking wait.
20. Ŭkcheănsălâwit – Alaskan Escape (His Wounds, Canada)
19. Valac – Burning Dawn of Vengeance (Banner of Blood, USA)
18. Alchemy of Flesh – Ageless Abominations (Redefining Darkness/Dungeons Deep Records, USA)
17. Lotus Thrones – Lovers in Wartime (Disorder Recordings, USA)
16. Haalbuaer – Mortal Ones Scream in Horror (Caligari, Norway)
15. Lamp of Murmuur – Submission and Slavery (Black Gangrene, USA)
14. Anthrax (UK) – Serfs Out (Grow Your Own, UK)
13. Old Forest – None More Black (Death To Music, UK)
12. Order – The Gospel (Listenable Records, Norway)
11. Nächtlich – Satans Solum Initium Est (Black Gangrene, Canada)
Journalists blabber on about "originality" a lot and the tag gets hoisted onto a lot of different bands, some deserving but mostly it’s some asshole who took an established genre and blended it with another established genre and waited around for someone to notice and give them a cookie. A lot of what’s really got originality to it gets ignored, mostly due to PR firms filling journalists' inboxes like a baby fills a diaper, except instead of shit you get some crap that has a horn in it. So, basically the same thing. Plaguehurst defies that kind of media circle jerk by being legitimately unusual and unlike almost anything I’ve heard in my nearly thirty years in the game. There’s an emphasis on groove in the music, a term I hate to use but I’m at work and don’t have time to go to thesaurus.com. If I told you it sounded like Nudeswirl and Screaming Trees members doing a black metal band you’d get the idea, but honestly this is just something you need to hear for yourself. Absolutely original.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a dungeon synth project with such an "on the nose" nomenclature as Sad Forest but that’s what initially caused me to check it out. I’ve been a bit burned out on dungeon synth as a whole the last year or two, there’s just so much of it and so much of it is mediocre at best (kind of like the black metal boom of the late 90s) but The Winter Ghost manages to avoid that whole thing and creates an evocative and emotional atmosphere using simplicity as a weapon. Far above the rest of the synth related recordings I’ve listened to in the last twelve months.
Absolutely fucking savage black metal that sits beautifully next to Denmark’s Nyredolk as the two projects with have taken the Ildjarn mold and made it their own. This one has a much fuller and violent feeling to their demo material and scratches the itch for punk infused noisey black metal.
This has been an incredible year for Pan-Amerikan Native Front. Between having their back catalog put back into print (only to sell out again shortly), well received live performances, and releasing the best split record of the year (with Kommodus) they also released one of the best full lengths of the last few years. Little Turtle’s Wa>” fulfills the promise of Tecumseh's War with incredible focus and ferocity. Black metal with purpose and vision that is nearly unmatched in American bands.
If you’re permit me to namedrop a little (hur hur) I’ve given Jef Whitehead shit for the better part of ten years for introducing me to black metal that sounded like it was recorded in a garbage can in an alley during a hailstorm, so in theory I shouldn’t enjoy the music of Revenant Marquis as much as I do but here we are. Everything about this project works together in tandem, from the visual aesthetic to the recordings that sound like the hauntings of an old Victorian house, Revenant Marquis manages to feel genuinely creepy to me, like an old ghost story. "The Turn of the Screw" brought to life.
Circle of Ouroborus is a special band. You never really know what to expect when a new recording surfaces except that it’s going to shine through whatever shit heap that’s “cool” to listen to at the time. Kiromantia isn’t really picking up where last year's killer Viimeinen Juoksu dropped off, rather it’s somewhat regressive into their more raw and aggressive past, while moving forward into their next era. Circle of Ouroborus has a prolific discography that you can jump in at any point and be assured of excellence. Kiromantia slips right into that legacy nicely.
Have you ever had a record you checked out, fully anticipating that you’re going to hate it, turn out to reignite your interest in a band? This EP is one of those rare instances for me since I haven’t really paid attention to anything Mayhem has done, outside of seeing them live a few times, in years. I’ve seen a few lukewarm reviews that tend to fall on this release as some kind of cash grab, and if it was just unused tracks and half-assed covers I’d probably agree and go on with my day . Sure, the unreleased tracks are pretty good and probably could have carried an EP on their own but holy shit, the covers are where this record shines. I generally enjoy covers but hate covers albums (Poison Idea’s "Pajama Party" being the exception) but I could listen to a few albums worth of Mayhem’s punk covers, if only for Maniac & Messiah’s great deliveries. The first Mayhem record I’ve actually bought that wasn’t some repress or old live recording in decades.
For only publicly releasing material for around a year, Crucifixion Bell has amassed a pretty impressive catalog which, unlike most bands shitting out a recording every few weeks, has enough meat on their bones to warrant their existence. Eternal Grip of the Nocturnal Empire is a constant barrage of riffs that never cease to push the boundaries of black metal further and further. I’d draw comparisons between Crucifixion Bell and Kommodus in that both are chaotic, dynamic, and don’t waste a single second on their records. Sheer excellence.
Only two years after their excellent return album The Veil of Darkness, Gorgon bring another exceptional piece of traditional black metal to the table. Losing the punk elements of the last record and opting for a clear and heavy production Traditio Satanae excels at feeling both ancient and new at the same time, reminding me a bit of Impaled Nazarene’s second and third records. France’s first black metal band remains its best.
I never thought that I would be sitting here at the end of 2021 with a Rudimentary Peni record we haven’t heard yet that is sitting in the top spot for my year, especially after the really lukewarm reissue of Wilfred Owen The Chances on 7" last year, but here we are. The Great War expands on the sounds of their last few eps with a more miserable scope, bringing to mind bits of Cacophony at times, especially in "Mental Cases," their best song of the last twenty years. I’ve said elsewhere but it bears repeating: The Great War is the sound of "Journey to the End of The Night" put to record.