Aki is a powerhouse in the underground music scene being in multiple stand out projects like Dreamwell, A Constant Knowledge Of Death and Vivid Illusion, all while heading her own audio studio with Nu House Studios. Follow her on twitter and check out her music, or even hire her. In this article she shares her top 100 and a more in depth top 15.
25. HTRK – Rhinestones
24. Suffocate For Fuck Sake – Fyra
23. Glassing – Twin Dream
22. Kowloon Walled City – Piecework
21. Knoll – Interstice
20. For Your Health – In Spite Of
19. Black Marble – Fast Idol
18. The Armed – Ultrapop
17. Pupil Slicer – Mirrors
16. Zao – The Crimson Corridor
15. Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
My favorite death metal album of all time is easily Gorguts’ Colored Sands, and my pursuit of new death metal mostly revolves around trying to find releases that match it’s calculated dissonance. With Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, it’s possible that Colored Sands has finally met its match, with a very similar sound and almost equally perfect songwriting. One reason this album reaches such heights is it’s unique guitar tone, which emphasizes clarity over distortion, allowing each chord to hit your ear with the precision of a tiny knife, and leaving quick bursts of negative space in an otherwise dense and overwhelming album. The other songwriting strength which allows what could easily be an indecipherable mess to stick with you is that it’s oddly catchy, and finds ways to lean into its catchyness. In the title track, you twice get an earworm of a chromatic “chorus” riff. Ad Nauseam KNOWS this riff fucks, and continues teasing it throughout the last third of the song, before playing a fucked up and skewed version of the riff around 8:00. You’re left wondering if they’ll fully bring it back… there’s a build in the last minute so surely it has to happen, right? NOPE! It would be the epitome of musical blue balls, if they didn’t instead close the song with an entirely new riff, which might be the most fucked up riff on the entire album. Gorguts actually did a similar “throw a completely new fucked up riff at the end of an otherwise neatly composed song because fuck you” on “Enemies of Compassion”, and I dare say it MIGHT actually hit harder here, which is one of the highest compliments I can give to any death metal album.
14. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
Anyone who knows me knows that Deafheaven is one of my all time favorite bands and biggest influences. I still haven’t figured out how they do it, but every one of their albums has intricately woven itself into the fabric of my memories. Roads to Judah brings to mind my sophomore year of college, listening stoned at 1 AM while snacking, & seeing them open for Chelsea Wolfe and Russian Circles in the summer of 2012 in Los Angeles. Sunbather recalls the streets of San Francisco and the summer breeze, getting back from their hometown headliner in 2014 to frantically jot some riffs down that became the beginnings of Vivid Illusion. New Bermuda is sitting in a hell of an office with no windows, experiencing the New England winter and 4 PM sunsets set in for the first time while listening to “Baby Blue”. And Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, solo sunset drives to New York, crying along to “Glint” and thinking about the person I wanted to marry at the time. The nature of a band whose albums are so deeply tied to memory is that they’re a slow burn. And for a while I was left wondering if Deafheaven had perhaps underwhelmed me for the first time. But as we got deeper into the “post-covid” lesbian Fall, Infinite Granite started hitting, and it will be forever tied to late night drives in crisp air, after days that were perhaps too warm for October in the Northeast. Is it essentially a Slowdive album with slightly heavier guitars and a touch of screaming? Yes, and it’s all the better for it. Deafheaven has never been about being the first band to do something, but being the one that made it intimately personal.
13. Black Sheep Wall – Songs for the Enamel Queen
There are some albums that will move you to your core, stick in your memory forever even after one listen, but leave you wondering whether you actually got any enjoyment out of listening to it. Black Sheep Wall’s devastating previous album, I’m Going to K*** Myself was such an album. An exercise in minimalism and agony, its closer was a suicide note stretched across 30 minutes and a single riff. 6 years later, their follow-up sacrifices none of the anguish and dead-end bleakness of its predecessor, but the minimalism is replaced by an onslaught of devastating sludge riffs, giving Enamel Queen some of the best replay value of any album this year. Whether or not Enamel Queen is autobiographical, the narrator never feels like the protagonist, speaking their darkest and most vindictive impulses into reality. The composition serves to punctuate the most piercing and uncomfortable lines, most clearly in “New Measures of Failure”. Sparse chords fade to a several minutes long sea of feedback, cutting to a haunting clean guitar melody over which Brandon Gillichbauer wails the words “I hope I make you embarrassed // I hope you’re afraid // I know you’ll keep me a secret // I hope you’re ashamed”. It’s the type of thought you may feel for a second at your lowest, that you wouldn’t dare say out loud, yet even in passing makes you feel as if you’re disgusting and broken for having thought it at all. The stench of broken-ness, of irredemption, never leaves Enamel Queen from that moment on. It’s a truly miserable listen, perhaps one that gives some solace in its hopelessness, in the form of one of the most unique sludge albums released in years.
12. SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Romance of Affliction
SYSC vocalist Connie Sgarbosa describes their second album as “the quintessential SYSC album”, and while this is very much true, it is also quite possibly the quintessential album of whatever wave of metalcore we’re in now. The influences are vast, constantly shifting by the second, and often worn on the band’s sleeve, yet the songwriting on The Romance of Affliction ties it all together in a way that feels distinctly SYSC. It’s simultaneously an obvious throwback & forward thinking in a way that other recent metalcore releases such as For Your Health’s In Spite Of and Vein.fm’s Errorzone bring to mind. In interviews prior to the album’s release, Sgarbosa describes addiction, toxic relationships, and otherwise hitting rock bottom throughout & after the writing process. From the opening vocal lines, the aura of loss, desperation, and spiraling out of control permeates everything even without following along with the lyrics. With The Romance of Affliction, SYSC has crafted an album that is genre-defining, brilliantly written, AND heart-wrenching all in one.
11. Plebeian Grandstand – Rien ne Suffit
In retrospect, Altar of Plagues’s 2013 album Teethed Glory and Injury was an incredibly important one in the landscape of heavy music. While not the first to do so, Altar of Plagues turned their WITTR-influenced atmospheric black metal sound on its head, integrating the worlds of industrial & electronic music into a black metal landscape. In recent years, the lines between metal, industrial, electronic, noise, and even hip hop have only become increasingly blurred, much in part thanks to Teethed Glory. Prior to Rien ne Suffit, Plebeian Grandstand’s sound sat somewhere between black and death metal, with a dissonant touch similar to bands such as Ulcerate or a Fashy Black Metal Band that Won’t be Named (not that that clarifies anything). While it hopefully won’t be their swansong, Rein ne Suffit feels like Plebeian Grandstand’s Teethed Glory. Their fundamental sound is still there, but the barriers have been broken down, the industrial & electronic & noisy parts are a core feature as much as the dissonant guitar parts are. And while it’s impossible to say for sure, there’s a good chance that Rien ne Suffit will similarly shape the landscape of heavy music for years to come.
10. Lucy Dacus – Home Video
Lucy Dacus’s third album is both gorgeous and exhausting, if only because you feel like you lived 11 different lifetimes throughout its 45 minute runtime. On Home Video, Lucy Dacus has a way of letting you see her stories unfold in your mind’s eye unlike few songwriters I’ve heard. I’m not sure what it is about her Lucy Dacus’s wordsmithing that makes you feel so vividly like you’re in the car with your crush, or in a diner late at night (also with your crush), or getting in trouble with your family (obviously over a crush), all the while with such natural and melodic lyrical flow. One of the other striking elements of her songwriting is how she transitions the narrative portions of her songs into metaphors that hang heavy and sit with you well beyond the song’s conclusion. For example, “Cartwheel” is, for most of its run time, a song about growing up, before Dacus reflects that “the future is a benevolent black hole” over a slowly fading synth chord. Home Video feels like going through old belongings at your parents house, reliving vignettes of your childhood with the reflections of your present self, much wiser and much more scared of the world, and needing a breather before continuing on to the next box of memories.
9. Slow Crush – Hush
Not to be like “yah I have sex”, but this was my “yah I have sex” album of the year. A lot of the modern wave of heavy shoegaze revival has felt a bit stale to me, and despite being a fairly straightforward band sound wise, Slow Crush has always set themselves apart for me. As with their debut Aurora, Slow Crush gives a master class on creating a lush landscape that is varied enough in terms of songwriting and tempo to keep you engaged, but consistent enough to keep you present in the warm, pleasant space they create. A musical space that is incidentally, excellent if you’re banging. I really don’t have anything else specific to say about any of the songs here, I’m too preoccupied whenever I’m listening to it! Put it on and kiss a cute person on the face, I promise it will be loads of fun!
8. Amenra – De Doorn
There’s something about playing an open chord in drop A that makes my brain go brrrrrr, and Amenra does it better than almost any other sludge band. What makes Amenra special exactly? First of all their sound is right up my alley. About as expansive and atmospheric as sludge can get without straying too far into post-rock territory, and a dark, cold atmosphere that, while never technically entering black metal territory, feels as if it lives in the same universe.
Execution wise, Amenra has also always been on point, and De Doorn is no exception. Colin Van Eeckhout is one of the best vocalists in metal specifically because he sounds more like a screamo vocalist than a metal one, which adds a perfectly contrasting element of rawness to
Amenra’s dirge-y instrumentation. I’ve also always found drummer Bjorn Lebon particularly tasteful, and his performance here is no exception. His restrained, at times minimalist performance allows the snare on De Doorn to be produced in an absolutely bone crushing manner that occupies a good 75% of the mix with every hit. Each Amenra release has seen their tempos drop slightly and their productions become richer and deeper, and De Doorn slowly continues this trend from Mass VI. One of my favorite parts of this album is Amenra’s subtle yet powerful use of tempo change, the first being a seamless shift part way through opener Ogentroost. Another occurs on closer Voor Immer following an 8 minute clean opening. The resulting speed-up breaks up the predictability of a classic “quiet to heavy” build, while also not being totally out of left field. It’s a perfect finish to an incredibly moody, cathartic, yet tastefully restrained record to add to Amenra’s already immaculate discography.
7. Converge & Chelsea Wolfe – Blood Moon: I
At this point most people have a healthy skepticism and taming of expectations for Ambitious Crossovers. And for the first few minutes of the first track, “Blood Moon”, I almost thought to myself yep, sounds kind of like a by-the-books Chelsea Wolfe and Converge mashup. Until 5:40 in and they drop that fucking sludge riff. It’s exactly what you would expect this album to sound like, and it’s also everything you ever wanted from both artists. The most spine tingling Chelsea Wolfe vocal melodies since perhaps Apokalypsis, but with the heaviness that Abyss and Hiss Spun only hinted at. The dense, doomy, and dark arrangements that Converge touches once or twice an album, but for the course of an entire hour. It’s the opposite of a phoned-in collaboration, with both bands sounding as passionate as they ever have & clearly working seamlessly with one another. From doom, hardcore bangers, and folky soundscapes, there’s a wide range of textures that keep you hooked throughout, and cement this as an album I’ll absolutely be returning to for years to come.
6. Every Time I Die – Radical
I would’ve ranked this highly solely based on the fact that one of the biggest bands in heavy music wrote an ACAB song with the hook “Fuck you, die” over the breakdown. I also would’ve ranked this album highly solely based on the fact that this album straight up had the best riffs of the year by a long shot. Together, this makes for what will be one of the essential metalcore albums of the 2020’s, or what we have left of them. While many other heavy bands have tried and failed miserably at writing about current events & social issues in recent years, ETID get it right by avoiding the cliches and buzzwords and instead capturing the raw vitriol, frustration, and terror of existing in a simultaneous pandemic and descent into fascism. I’ll be praying for revolution so I can live to hear the next ETID album, with their consistency it’s almost guaranteed to be worth it.
5. Lantlos – Wildhund
Each of the last few years has given me the perfect summer album, and 5 seconds into “Lake Fantasy” I knew that Wildhund would be it for 2021. Lantlos’s career arc has seen them journey from depressive blackgaze on .neon and Agape, to the warm heaviness of Melting Sun, and now the Deftones-inspired pop metal present on Wildhund. It’s neither revolutionary nor heart wrenching, but Wildhund’s fun, catchy, and streamlined songwriting has earned its spot among the ranks of Hum’s Inlet and Holy Fawn’s Death Spells on my elusive “Music For Good Times With Cool People in Good Weather” playlist. And yes, like every good summer album, it holds up throughout the fall too.
4. Low – HEY WHAT
When Low’s Double Negative came out in 2018 it resonated with me unlike few albums I’d ever heard (I was not doing well, if you’re wondering). It quickly became one on my all-time favorite albums and introduced me to an entirely new language of music production. With HEY WHAT,
what I wanted was Double Negative II, but what I needed was HEY WHAT. Before listening, I had seen the album described as more upbeat and hopeful, but that doesn’t fully capture its scope. It’s like getting repeatedly stabbed by an icepick of hopefulness and euphoria for 45 minutes straight. Despite the changes in tone, HEY WHAT is still very much in the same textural language as Double Negative, if not even more jagged, harsh, and digital. And not only are each of the individual sounds brain-breakingly good, but the composition, as on Double Negative, is off the charts. The first couple songs feel dense, compact, and almost claustrophobic, with little room to breathe between the swelling sawtooth waves. It makes the ambience that comes at the end of “Hey” feel like the heavens have opened up, a passage that would be plenty beautiful on its own, but in the context of the album feels urgently profound, instantly drawing back your attention if it has for some reason waned. HEY WHAT sounds exactly like what it is trying to portray, a kaleidoscope of hope and joy in a time when hope and joy feel like a downright delusional response to the world.
3. Death Goals – The Horrible and the Miserable
Surprise! A gay, bleak, and heavy as fuck album that I really fucking loved. And by heavy I mean REALLY heavy. Like one of the heaviest albums I’ve heard, actually. All from a two piece band too! On paper, Death Goals isn’t doing anything wildly different from their mathcore peers, but it just Hits Different. This album has probably done permanent damage to my skin because my stank face never lets up through this album’s 11 tracks and 23 minute run time. Harry and George, if y’all are reading this, please pay for my botox so I can continue losing my shit to your album without prematurely aging myself.
2. Black Dresses – Forever in Your Heart
In the first few pages of Torrey Peter’s novel Detransition, Baby, she starkly puts into words the reality of most trans women: our shared sense of futurelessness. And between a growingly hostile political environment and climate crisis, contemplating anything beyond the next couple months grows increasingly terrifying. In the album opener “PEACESIGN!!!!”, Black Dresses seemingly poses a question to our shared futurelessness: “Can we make something beautiful with no hope?”. And while anguished screams over crushed & distorted beats may not be everyone’s idea of beauty (if you’re a nerd), for those of us that are cool and have good taste, the answer is a resounding yes. Throughout Forever in Your Heart, Black Dresses puts into words so many feelings that have long felt incommunicable. The helplessness of knowing we
have no power over the political & social trajectory around us. The helplessness that our best will not continue being enough to get by. The helplessness of losing yourself in abusive relationships, and of having to lose a loved one in the process of escaping. To get a listener to come back to an album that takes these heavy subjects head on, there must be some form of solace offered. While it is mostly unspoken, that solace is offered in the form of shared suffering, the camaraderie and friendship that is apparent between Ada Rook and Devi McCallion throughout the album. The loving presence of other trans women is the only thing that has kept me grounded as we watch the world crumble around us. And this album gives me a similar feeling to that presence, that things aren’t okay, they will never be okay, and we don’t have the answers, but we can at least be together in this moment.
1. Backxwash – I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and Dresses
In my first year of being out in public as a trans woman, this is the album I came back to every time I needed to get hyped to go out into the world. The lyrics on I Lie Here… come from a place of vulnerability, of the daily sorrow of existing as a trans woman of color in the US, addiction, loss, and mental illness. Yet, Backxwash’s words are delivered with defiance and power, of spitting in the faces of those that hate you, and continuing to survive any way you can, if anything, out of spite. There’s a new feeling I’ve felt listening to music this year, where no matter what’s happening in my life, no matter how exhausted and beaten down I am, my life force has been replenished, and my reasons for continuing to live are refocused. This is the one album that never fails to deliver me to that place, no matter how many times I return to it. Thank you Backxwash, for giving a means of inspiration to so many of us fighting back against a world that doesn’t want us here. It truly is albums like this one that remind me why I have committed my life to the creation of music.