This is the first year I relied exclusively on Bandcamp for downloads, and I think the artist notifications and trending recommendations paid off a lot. The last time I felt comfortable pushing my aoty list past 20 without resorting to entries that felt like filler name recognition was 2011. This year I ended up at 25 with plenty of potential honorable mentions.
25. Panopticon – …and Again into the Light
Sample track: Rope Burn Exit
I never quite understood why Austin Lunn kept his fiddle and amplifier in separate closets, but, for the most part up to this point, his folk and metal passages tended to make room for each other. They still do stylistically, but the violin has a free hand to enhance the black metal throughout this album in a way I feel he’d only offered brief glimpses at before. The result is a very lush, full recording that’s maybe a bit too post-rocky to fill my tasteometer on a regular basis but offers a very immersive experience when the mood strikes.
24. Mystras – Empires Vanquished and Dismantled
medieval black metal
Sample track: The Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
Ayloss projects always take a while to grow on me, but seven spins in I’m not feeling the magic that lead me to give his last effort as Mystras album of the year. Luckily, it’s not all he had to offer in 2021, and it’s still pretty enjoyable. The feeling his style gives me is rewarding at its weakest, and I certainly wouldn’t call Empires that. It just hasn’t risen above him doing that thing I love to become a sequence of individually outstanding tracks for me, yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if I regret placing this so low down the line.
23. Urdôl Ur – Seven Portals to the Arcane Realms
There should be a specific term for this like dungeon metal or something
Sample track: Munloire
I eat this stuff up and always have and likely always will. It’s just Summoning worship. Listen to it if you worship Summoning. I bet if it had been released in time to binge through October I’d have placed it higher.
22. 1914 – Where Fear and Weapons Meet
epic black/death metal
Sample track: FN .380 ACP#19074
The cheese of story-focused lyrics told with a less than ideal grasp on English can’t hold back this album from feeling pretty epic. The orchestration and cinematic flare pair well with a theme of World War I, and that thematic continuity is what really holds my interest. Polished big label production doesn’t always do much for my aesthetically, but it has a lot of neat moments and the concept album feel to it keeps me engaged. Not sure it will stick with me long, but I found it very approachable and thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I had with it.
21. Boris – No World Tour In Your Head 2021
punk, hardcore, Boris things
Sample track: Quicksilver
I don’t have the energy to accurately count how many releases Boris put out this year. It’s around 20. They offered very little in the way of new songs, but in COVID’s touring void they dusted off a massive volume of live recordings, issued in a mix of independent albums and tack-on bonuses to rereleases of old material. Collectively, they might comprise my favorite listening experience of 2021. But this is an album list, and releases like SMILE -Live at Wolf Creek and Tokyo Wonder Land were recorded years ago anyway. No World Tour In Your Head 2021 is more than worthy to champion this collection–a frantic explosion of pent up energy channeled into a live studio performance of their most recent full length album.
20. Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm
Sample track: Ataraxia Tunnels
A post-oriented bm album that I might have raved about ten years ago lacks quite the same feeling of originality today. I enjoyed most of this in a forgettable sort of way, which is to say I did enjoy it but wasn’t inspired by the overarching sound the way I’d been with say, Panopticon’s Kentucky when this forlorn but subtly joyful approach was much more of a novelty. The album is very back-loaded though, in my opinion, with Luminous Accretion shipping an intensity I can’t so easily ignore and then Ataraxia Tunnels vastly overshadowing everything before it. The emotional grip of the closing track was enough to propel it up my charts. It’s a real treat, though I wish the rest of the album conveyed the same sense of urgency.
19. Conjureth – Majestic Dissolve
Sample track: Wet Flesh Vortex
Anything you could need to know about this band is explained within the first ten seconds of the opening track. Top tier sitting in commute traffic with the windows down jams from start to finish.
18. Lamp of Murmuur – Submission and Slavery
gothic black metal
Sample track: Deformed Erotic Visage
Basing two ten minute tracks on a thirty minute album around the same riff was an interesting creative liberty that probably paid off. It doesn’t take much exposure to remember Submission and Slavery. It has an endearing lack of polish–an amateurish approach that aligns well with their black metal aesthetic. Add in some quality post-punk interludes and unexpected Knopflerian solos, and you’ve got an album that feels charmingly distinct. A later discovery, it grew on me fast and may well continue to.
17. Trhä – lhum jolhduc
Sample track: dôlh (0:00 through 14:00)
This is a raw spastic emotional rollercoaster. dôlh breaks my heart in seconds and is an absolute triumph while it holds. The slower passages don’t always sustain my interest as much as I want them to, but it’s one of many solid releases this mysterious new project brought to the table in 2021.
16. Non Serviam – Le Cœur Bat
the soundtrack to my dog telling me to kill the president
Sample track: Inno Individualista
This definitely takes the cake for the weirdest thing I’ve heard this year, or any other time I can remember. The only album I can think to compare it to is Peste Noire’s L’Ordure à l’état Pur, which is a feat in itself. I’ve listened to it a ton and never actually attempted to wrap my head around it for fear I might succeed and shatter the mystery. Suffice to say I feel at zero risk of that without trying. I picked up the hour and a half long deluxe edition and have no idea where the album proper is supposed to end, but it never needs to end really.
15. Trhä – inagape
atmospheric black metal
Sample track: tegëndë dicámbrhëha (0:00 through 11:30)
This just dropped December 24th and moved straight off of Bandcamp onto my year end roster. Tracks that are memorable like lhum jolhduc but with less down time sold me fast. Who knows how high it could have risen given more time. Whoever this guy is, his three 2021 albums mark him as the best new thing in atmospheric black metal, and I hope 2022 is just as prolific.
14. Veilburner – Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull
psychedelic death metal
Sample track: Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull
I regret forgetting about this band for a while. I missed a few albums between Noumenon and Lurkers, and chances are they were all great. Veilburner has a knack for never overselling his pop sensibilities. The album’s loaded with memorable moments that seldom repeat–easter eggs well suited for the passive way I engage most metal. It’s easy to avoid overfamiliarizing myself and reexperience the ride with the same enticing curiosity it offered on first exposure. A tough one to rank, this shifted in and out of my top 10 a lot. I found myself appreciating it more than most but directly enjoying a few others more.
13. Portal – Avow
death metal noise
Sample track: Catafalque
I had a friend die to COVID this year, and this album pretty accurately reflected how I felt about it. It’s viscerally ugly and barely pretends to be music. I find it deeply satisfying when my mood calls for harsh intensity stripped of meaningful melodic progression.
12. Koldovstvo – Ни царя, ни бога
melodic atmospheric black metal
Sample track: IV
Enchanting and mysterious bm hailing from somewhere between Russia and Oregon. I love how the album cover sets the mood for me. Its muffled voices and melodies resonate the damaged eloquence of Victorian ghosts drifting about in their hubris, lamenting the hollow halls of some abandoned estate.
11. Alkerdeel – Slonk
Sample track: Vier
Smooth doomy black n groovy, unforgiving but chill. The fabulous bass line in the first metal passage doesn’t stick around, but it sets a tone that hangs with me for the entire album. It’s no bullshit black metal that feels simultaneously raw and thick, carefully paced and relentlessly plowing forward.
10. Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst
Sample track: Frigid and Spellbound
This album flows like extremely violent butter through a headbanging indulgence into every reason I still love classic Immortal and Gorgoroth. It’s deliciously aggressive and uncompromising. I picked it up in a pretty large batch of purchases, and I didn’t get through half of them before coming back to it. It’s since become a short term staple, especially in the car. Every track is instantly captivating. The progression is always satisfying. Traditional but flawless.
9. Kvadrat – Ψυχική Αποσύνθεση
moody death/black metal
Sample track: Αποξένωση
This vibes Ulcerate hard and the opening track is sick. It’s only 23 minutes, and it’s the artist’s first debut under any name that I can find. A great ride with lots of promise for things to come.
8. A Compendium of Curiosities – The Resting Place of Dreams
Sample track: Hope Never Dies Forever
Along with two hour+ metal opuses, Ayloss found the time this year to record three dungeon synth albums and a pretty outlandish martial mix. The Resting Place of Dreams in particular fully captivated me on a higher level than any dungeon synth I’ve heard before it. The tones on this album are just goddamn gorgeous, and he didn’t hesitate to drop instantly memorable melodies he could have saved for his higher visibility projects. It might not be his most galaxy brain work of the year, but in terms of personal enjoyment, the numbers don’t lie; I accumulated 250 plays of Ayloss’s dungeon synth collection in 2021, and it’s still going strong.
7. Mechina – Siege
Sample track: Blood Feud Erotica
A djent noodler of epic proportions, the album starts off slow but satisfying and continues to perfect on a sound I think Mechina has gotten better at with every album. If you like to surf symphonic waves while semi-automatic bubbles blast into your ears, you will probably enjoy this. The climax on Blood Feud Erotica is my favorite Mechina moment to date and oh God why did they name it that.
6. Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
avant-garde death metal
Sample track: Human Interface to No God
Chaos shouldn’t feel this right. It’s a challenging slog given undivided attention, but it hits a perfect sweet spot as a moody background piece that constantly engages my senses while engulfing me in lush intensity. Too unpredictable to ever grow stale, too aesthetically pleasing to overwhelm.
5. Këkht Aräkh – Pale Swordsman
emo black metal
Sample track: Thorns
Not to be confused with the screamo black metal pioneered by Cara Neir before they evolved into video game grindcore, this album is for true cult sad boys only. Këkht Aräkh’s ability to convey emotion through heavily memed-out black metal tropes is pretty compelling. Quality metal moods blend with melancholy sweet piano and vocal interludes to craft an album I fell in love with completely.
4. Trhä – endlhëtonëg
atmospheric black metal, ambient
Sample track: endlhëdëhaj (9:15 through 19:30)
Cast your gaze into the dreamy void. “Atmospheric” fails to convey the extent to which Trhä’s heavy synth over washed out blast beats conjures a surreal ethereal voyage. It’s proven especially aesthetically pleasing at Christmas time, though I’m letting the kiddos stick to Vince Guaraldi.
3. The Armed – Ultrapop
glitzy digital post-hardcore
Sample track: All Futures
I’m not sure how this actually feels like a pop album, because they seem to have figured out how to turn amplifiers up to 12, but it does. An endless barrage of catchy riffs and choruses bludgeoned into my face with rainbow-tinted brass knuckles. Their ability to start off in hyperdrive and make every track climax anyway is insane.
2. Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος
medieval black metal
Sample track: Ετερόφωτος
Hollow echoey tones that conjure scenes of rain and spring time. Endless transitions from one intriguing melody and mood to the next, delivered in Ayloss’s trademark warp speed tremolo. This album is hard to enjoy passively for all the right reasons. It rips me out of my environment and casts me into some amalgamation of the artist’s. Every track is so vivid and thick with content, I feel like I’m still discovering it dozens of plays later. Ayloss continues to cement his legacy in my mind as the best song writer of the past decade.
The only drawback is the 19 minute closer Terean, a drug out ambient noise piece. I don’t find it particularly compelling as that style goes. Ετερόφωτος clocks just shy of an hour without it and otherwise closes with a song that very much feels like a closer (and transitions into some unexpected and quite welcome Tool worship in the process). I’m often finding myself listening out Terean afterwards waiting for something more while the better half of me knows I’d be more satisfied just skipping the thing. A pety complaint to focus on, but something had to separate this from the winner.
1. The Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires
Sample track: Kromlec’h Knell
An aural journey that felt inspired on first encounter and never let up all year. Blut Aus Nordian grooves traveling through vivid, harsh landscapes that achieve their threat level via robust song-crafting rather than excess. It’s a genre-spanning masterpiece. I never gave Ruins of Beverast extensive attention prior to this year, but I’ll absolutely be deep diving the discography after I’ve wrapped up 2021.
Previous years on Shattered Lens:
2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020