My Top 25 Albums of 2021


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

post-black metal

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

post-black metal

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

death metal

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

post-black metal

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

black metal

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

black metal

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

dungeon synth

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

symphonic djent

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

industrial/doom/black metal

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

Four Color Apocalypse 2021 Year In Review : Top Ten Original Graphic Novels


At last we reach the finish line with the sixth and final of our “Best of 2021” lists. This time up the category is TOP TEN ORIGINAL GRAPHIC NOVELS, which I hope is fairly self-explanatory : new and original works in the so-called “graphic novel” format that have not been previously serialized, at least in anything like their entirety, either physically or digitally. There were many excellent books to choose from this year, and narrowing it down to my ten favorites was a pretty tough task. Here’s what I came up with :

10. Penny By Karl Stevens (Chronicle Books) – While not a “graphic memoirist” per se, Stevens always finds inspiration for his lavishly illustrated stories pretty close to home : this time out it’s his cat’s turn to have adventures ranging from the cosmic to the banal and everything in between. Seriously, if this book doesn’t move you, then check your pulse — you may not have one.

9. Generous Bosom Part 4 By Conor Stechschulte (Breakdown Press) – The twists and turns finally all converge in this final installment of Stechschulte’s opus of mindfuckery. A perfect ending it’s not, but that doesn’t preclude it from being an eminently satisfying one. Oh, and hey — soon to be a major motion picture! But that’s another story for another time, and one that’s already more convoluted than the books it’s (partially, at any rate) based on.

8. Mycelium Wassonii By Brian Blomerth (Anthology Editions) – Comics’ modern master of psychedelia follows up his book on the early days of acid research with a book on — the early day’s of ‘shroom research? Hey, give Blomerth credit : he knows both what he likes and what he does really well. An educational, informative, and gorgeously-drawn “trip” well worth taking.

7. Lure By Lane Milburn (Fantagraphics) – An ambitious science fiction epic that never loses sight of its humanity, Milburn’s exploration of life on Earth and its fictitious “twin” planet may be set in the future but is still as timely as they come, offering as it does cogent commentary on such things as the so-called “gig economy,” the exploitation of the natural world, Amazonian hyper-capitalism, colonialism, and the billionaire space race. One of those rare comics that not only lives up to, but exceeds, all the “buzz” surrounding it.

6. Super! Magic Forest By Ansis Purins (Revival House) – A “kids’ comic” for the kid in all of us, Purins’ vividly imaginative world leaps off the page and into your heart with the kind of unforced charm that simply can’t be faked. All that wonder and mystery and significance you left behind when you grew up? It’s all right here, waiting to welcome you back.

5. Death Plays A Mean Harmonica By Steve Lafler (Cat Head Comics) – American ex-pats decamp to Oaxaca to live the good life, only to find themselves surrounded by vampires, intelligent fungi, and yes, even Death him/itself — but hey, maybe it’s still the good life after all! Blending the personal with the outrageous with the outrageously funny as only he can, Lafler has created one of the finest works of his storied career.

4. Nod Away Vol. 2 By Joshua W. Cotter (Fantagraphics) – The second “chapter” in Cotter’s science fiction masterpiece-in-progress abruptly shifts focus yet still manages to build on all that’s come before. Written and drawn with more passionate intensity per page than perhaps anything else out there, this is the embodiment of a true magnum opus — and while I can’t claim to have the first guess as to where it’s all headed, I do know that I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Neither should you.

3. Chartwell Manor By Glenn Head (Fantagraphics) – Powerful, poignant, and painful, Head’s memoir of abuse at the hands of a schoolmaster is just as much about the parental denial that allowed it to continue and the lasting psychological scars that never really heal as it is about the perpetrator, and as a result this stands as one of the most thorough-going examinations of survival in the history of the medium. When they talk about “comics that will be discussed and debated for years to come,” this is what they mean.

2. From Granada To Cordoba By Pier Dola (Fantagraphics Underground) – The full-length debut of a masterful new voice, Dola’s existential downward spiral balances humanism with nihilism (don’t even ask me how that works), visual literacy with the aesthetics and approach of a true “outsider.” In a sane and just world, this would be the year’s most influential comic. Here’s to hoping — just don’t expect to find much hope in the pages of the book itself, okay?

1. The Domesticated Afterlife By Scott Finch (Antenna) – A decade in the making, Finch’s breathtakingly unique book is a seamless marriage of the literary and the visual in service of telling a multi-faceted but absolutely singular story with an equally singular worldview. Not exactly an anarchist anti-domestication text per se, although such sentiments surely inform it, I would argue that it’s more an emotive exploration of what is lost when the conscious and unconscious are bifurcated and dreaming itself is colonized by pedestrian rationality. Featuring a complex and enthralling set of contrasting symbols and mythologies, this is no mere exercise in “world-building,” but rather an act of reality creation that stands as a testament to the transformational power of imagination.

And that, my friends, is a wrap — not only on these lists, but on Four Color Apocalypse for the year 2021. I’ll be back in early January (that’s next week, so it’s not like I’m taking some long “break” or anything) with the first reviews of the new year, but until then, if you want more, there’s always my Patreon, which I update three times per week and can be found by going over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

TV Review: Dexter: New Blood 1.8 “Unfair Game” (dir by Sanford Bookstaver)


So, Dexter is going to teach Harrison “the code.”

Wow, who could have predicted that!?

Okay, okay …. I know it’s not good to gloat but let me have my moment.  From the minute that Harrison showed up at Dexter’s cabin, I’ve been waiting for him to take up the family business and it would appear that’s what is about to happen.  My prediction was correct and it’s actually kind of rare that happens so I’m definitely going to take a little bit of pride in this moment.

Kurt definitely had his chance to bring Harrison over to his side but he ruined it by snapping and trying to kill Harrison.  Big mistake there, Kurt.  Harrison is now back with Dexter and, judging from that big hug he gave him, it appears that there’s no longer any doubt in Harrison’s mind as to which father figure he should follow.

It was an exciting episode.  Along with Kurt’s attempts to bond with Harrison, we also got a lot of scenes of Dexter and the truck driver chasing each other through that abandoned summer camp.  (“Perfect place for a serial killer,” as Dexter put it.)  Why didn’t Kurt take out Dexter personally?  That was my only real question.  I get that Kurt wanted to bond with Harrison but he could have easily killed Dexter and the bonded with Harrison later.  It’s not like Harrison has anywhere to go.  Instead, Kurt made the mistake of outsourcing the murder of his biggest enemy.  Entrusting a job that important to a random truck driver doesn’t really make that much sense.  Kurt screwed that one up because, despite being shot in the leg, Dexter managed to kill that truck driver and save Harrison.  In the past, Dexter has spent so much time in its lead character’s mind that it was interesting to see that Dexter can take care of himself physically as well.

Dexter and Harrison appear to be ready to go to war with Kurt but it also appears that Angela has figured out that Dexter murdered that drug dealer a few episodes back.  Will Angela arrest Dexter?  Will Dexter have to fake his death yet again?  Let’s hope not.  There’s only so many times that one character can successfully fake his death before it starts to challenge the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.

That said, I don’t see Dexter sticking around town, regardless of how everything turns out.  I’ve seen some speculation that Dexter will sacrifice his life to save Harrison and then Harrison will be the “new” Dexter.  I don’t think that’s going to happen just because I don’t think Showtime is going to want to abandon the character of Dexter after this miniseries ends two weeks from now.  If nothing else, Dexter: New Blood has proven that there is still a sizable audience that’s interested in Dexter’s adventures.  Ask me to look into the future and I see Dexter and Harrison going on the road together and hunting killers.  It’s the family business.

Am I right?  We’ll find out in another two weeks!