By: Espi Kvlt
15. An Autumn For Crippled Children – As The Morning Dawns We Close Our Eyes
I don’t know what’s going on with all the blackgaze this year. It must be the pandemic. But like sadness, this is An Autumn For Crippled Children’s most biting album to date. It does have its moments of tenderness, but all in all, it’s as scathing as the cold. I first listened to it during the summer and it honestly didn’t click with me very much, but after relistening to it this fall, as the darkness swarmed over the landscape and the cold began to feel impenetrable, it finally hit me in the same way all of this band’s previous great works have. Much like sadness, I wouldn’t recommend it as chill listening music, but when the sun is down and the vibes are off, this album will center and focus you.
14. Paysage D’hiver – Geister
Paysage D’hiver never fails to deliver the most cold, desolate black metal to ever exist. It’s easy to mess up black metal this raw. It’s easy to go from making it sound intentionally bad to just bad. But Paysage D’hiver has never once failed at this task, and Geister is one of the project’s strongest outputs to date. The pummeling that comes off this instrumentation is as dense as a wall of snow. It’s not only going to pound against you, it’s going to trap you, and you won’t be able to escape until you’ve heard every last word. Nor would you want to, as Paysage D’hiver continues to deliver some of the best raw black metal in the game.
13. Wormwitch – Wolf Hex
Wormwitch had a lot to live up to after the masterpiece that was Heaven That Dwells Within. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite exceed that album as my favorite, and that’s mainly due to the fact that that album has my favorite riff of all time on it in “Two Wolves.” Ever since I first heard it, it’s been a constant ear worm, and I knew it would be hard to surpass something that good. Still, Wolf Hex is damn good. It feels a lot more mellow than the previous album, taking its time to allow the listener to sit and reflect on both present and past pieces. Which makes it absolutely perfect for writing to, and that is precisely what I did as soon as the vinyl arrived. The atmospheric sounds throughout give the entire album a medieval feeling that, while present previously, has been brought to the forefront of this LP. A solid album from the band who continues to retain the title of “The Band With My Favorite Riff Of All Time.”
12. Caïna – Take Me Away from All This Death
After the heartbreaking album Gentle Illness brought me to my knees and made me weep, Take Me Away from All This Death feels almost fun, despite having the same raw aggression as is a Caïna standard, mixed in with some wonderful 90s goth worship. Lovers of Vampire Hunter D rejoice, as he is right on the cover preparing you for the direction this album is going. I would split this album into three parts: It starts off with the signature black metal sound, then begins to transition into punk, until it fully morphs into post-punk by the second half of the record. This album sounds like Robert Smith and Darkthrone had a baby, and I’m living for it.
11. Underdark – Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-entry
All the way back in 2016, Underdark dropped their first EP. All the way back in 2019, I discovered them and yearned for more. After lineup changes and patient waiting, they finally dropped their debut LP in 2021, and it was completely worth the wait. Many leftist black metal bands are angry, but not like this. The vocals on this are absolutely outstanding and harrowing. The drumming is intense and unforgiving. The album pummels you directly into the earth and demands you to listen to what it has to say: about anarchy, about the death of fascism, about the rights of all who inhabit the planet. Underneath all the frustration and pain is the beauty of the fight for all people.
10. sadness – Alluring the Distant Eye
Sadness succeeds on every one of their many albums doing exactly what their name suggests: making you feel sad. This new album, in particular, was nothing but melancholy and solemness. While many of their previous albums, such as I Want to Be There and Atna, have at least some moments of hope and liveliness to them, this album is one depressing, dark song to the next. Which is great for someone like me who loves DSBM but perhaps would put a damper on a party. With harrowing screams over gazey instrumentation, this bummer of an album is a fantastic piece of DSBM sorrow.
9. Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm
Fitting that Mare Cognitum is also on my list, since the collaboration between them and Spectral Lore which came out last year, Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine, solidified itself as a classic the day of its release, taking the best from both of these artists I love and making a masterpiece out of it. Clearly, they were only just beginning when they unleashed that titan of an album upon us, because both bands came back with a vengeance in 2021 with solo full-lengths. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but cover art sways my enjoyment of an album a great deal, and this cover: wow. Another one that had already gripped me before I heard a single note and then when I actually listened to it, stunned me even more by living up to its cover. An epic cover like this needs an epic sound, and it delivered. Mare Cognitum has perfected the cosmic black metal genre, to the point where anything else just feels stale and weak in comparison. When you listen to this album, you don’t just feel the emptiness of space as some bands are prone to go for with this genre, but you feel the heat from the sun, you feel the gravity of a black hole, you feel the weight of all the planets around you, and you are actually forced to ponder where you stand in this great universe, as opposed to just feeling and emptiness and loneliness. This is what makes Mare Cognitum stand out among the other cosmic black metal bands, and it’s why I adore them and this album as much as I do.
8. Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος
Ayloss has done it again, creating a blend of punishing riffs layered over guttural screaming that sounds like someone in the pits of Hell having the fires tear their skin off. Prior to hearing this album, my favorite output from Spectral Lore was the marvelous III, which was the first Spectral Lore album I’d ever heard. It drew me in with its gorgeous cover art and hooked me with its music which sounded like a dark space opera. This album has taken that sound and refined it, as well as presented it in a new context to keep it fresh. Instead of sounding like its recorded in space, this one sounds like it’s recorded in the depths of the underworld. This album will be joining III on my heaviest of rotations, cementing itself as my new favorite Spectral Lore album and one of my favorites from this year.
7. Këkht Aräkh – Pale Swordsman
This album feels like falling in love. It’s romantic black metal, and it sweeps you off your feet and into the chills of its powerful riffs. The cover art features the project’s mastermind holding a rose and a sword, and the album sounds exactly like what’s portrayed on the tin. Listening to this album is like being transported to a dark castle in the middle of winter and having a vampire sing about how much he loves you and wants you to be his bride for all eternity. It’s beautiful in a way no other black metal is.
6. Darkthrone – Eternal Hails…
It is very appropriate that Darkthrone is third on this list of bands that I discovered as a black metal newbie. The fact that they all put albums out the same year and they were all this fantastic is a testament to their staying power and their influence. While I wouldn’t call Eternal Hails… groundbreaking, I would describe it as a polished version of Transilvanian Hunger, my favorite Darkthrone album and one of my favorite albums of all time. This is not a diss against Transilvanian Hunger, but instead, a description of why I love this new album as much as I do. Transilvanian Hunger’s unpolished nature makes it the king of raw black metal albums, and this new work is instead a king of second wave black metal, despite coming out in 2021. While Darkthrone has never been afraid to try new things, this return to their older style was well met and I appreciated it very much
5. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
Speaking of old favorites, Deafheaven is another one of the bands I got into early in my transition into a lover of black metal. They were my introduction to blackgaze, a genre that was somehow so glowing but so dark at the same time it defied words. Many people are probably going to be surprised to see their new effort not only on my list, but so high up on my list. They have stripped away most of the black part of the blackgaze and really leaned all into the shoe part of shoegaze, with a couple of notable exceptions. The common consensus when this came out seemed to be, “They lost everything that made them interesting and now they’re just a generic shoegaze band.” Personally, I couldn’t disagree more. Their gaze elements were what made Sunbather such a massive, influential album in the first place. Clearly, it’s something they’re good at and they wanted to go all in on it, and I’m so glad they dared to try something new because this album is beautiful and haunting.
4. Cradle of Filth – Existence is Futile
Ah, Cradle of Filth, my very first black metal band. The reason I’m here writing these words right now. They have never put out a single album I didn’t love, but this album in particular has moved to high up on my list of favorite CoF LPs. The songs are so goddamn catchy on this album, and Dani’s vocals have achieved peak form. The familiar high shrieking is of course present, as it his signature style, but his wet, haunting black metal vocals have reached their most incredible yet. He really put his all into his vocals on this album, and you can tell. And everyone put their all into it, for that matter. I have not heard a Cradle of Filth song as catchy as “Her Ghost in the Fog” until I heard a favorite track of mine off this album, “The Dying of the Embers.” Dani’s voice sounds absolutely rabid on this thing as he screams over riffs that have stolen my heart. Then there’s “How Many Tears to Nurture a Rose?” which is a full-on power metal song in the middle of this black metal album, oozing with romance and bright instrumentation. Finally, my actual favorite song, “Suffer Our Dominion,” is a ballad to mother nature and a battle cry to defeat climate change. I cannot put into words how much I screamed when I heard the opening spoken word talking about how the earth is dying and will take us down with her if we don’t fix it. This is probably my new favorite CoF song in general. Just an absolute masterpiece of a black metal album all-around.
3. Kūka’ilimoku – Pahu O ka Ua
I’ve been a huge fan of this band since their first EP dropped back in 2019, and then, in 2021, our patience paid off and we were given our first full-length from this raw black metal project. With anti-colonialism as its main theme, this music rips through the fabric of our society, tearing apart what it means to be “normal” and questioning everything that has led us to where we are today. Great introspection mixes with reverence while listening to anything put out by this one-man band, but especially on this full-length, where the screams are dialed up to 11 and the riffs are the grooviest they’ve ever been. You’ll be bobbing along one moment and then it’ll strike you what you’re actually listening to and you’ll spend the rest of the song thinking about it and feeling all the emotion that comes from the voice of this incredible musician.
2. Gravpel – Power to the Filthy Masses
This album was shown to me after I had already started putting my list together and it quickly jumped up to the tippy top of my favorites from this year. It’s a real treat when I find leftist black metal that sounds like it could’ve fit right in among the second wave black metal scene and no one would be able to tell their politics unless they told you. To hear something this good and then to find out they’re anarchists who want to sound smash fascism and sound like they mean it is the complete opposite of how getting into a new black metal band usually goes. This record is punishing, brutal black metal, and it gives you zero space to breathe, just like the fascists it’s playing songs about murdering deserve.
1. Vivid Illusion – S/T
It should be a surprise to no one who read my review of this album that I am placing it firmly in the number one spot. I knew from my very first listen that this album would be my black metal album of the year. It took me through such a beautiful journey that I have gone back and taken many times since, like walking down my favorite dirt path into the quivering trees. From the serene instrumentation to the incredible vocals, there is not one thing I dislike about this album. I feel I will not be able to praise it to the extent it deserves in this short column, so please read my full review if you haven’t, or just go listen to it. It’s not only my AOTY, it’s also one of my favorite black metal albums in general and has been on constant rotation since its release.
Actual AOTY 2021
Poppy – Flux
I decided to keep my main list all black metal, as it is the theme of my column, but I wanted to shout out my actual album of the year while I was here. I tweeted “ Flux by Poppy will be album of the year calling it now” on July 29th, and two months later, I was proven correct. And now, three months after that, my opinion remains unchanged. I Disagree was my most listened to album of 2020 and Flux is my most listened to album of 2021. Poppy is a genre-defying force of nature who surprises us with everything she does. She went from pop metal on I Disagree to full metal on EAT to the perfect pop punk album she’s giving us with Flux. She not only continues to keep her sound fresh, interesting, and unique, but she also just makes good ass music. I cannot wait to see which genre she ventures into next, as I’m sure she won’t keep herself stuck to this one.
Top 5 Albums of 2021 to Listen to While Bathing in Blood and Drinking Wine
As we were discussing writing our album of the year lists, we also talked about writing joke lists. What a perfect time, I thought, to write about albums that specifically cater to my vampyric urge to bathe in blood while drinking wine. If any of you can relate or would like to give it a try, I bestow upon you the five songs I listened to the most while in my bloody tub this year.
5. Silas J. Dirge – The Poor Devil
This is the black sheep of my list, but I was very excited to have a reason to add it, as everyone who knows me knows I love southern gothic. It may be the black sheep on this list but it certainly isn’t the black sheep of my record collection. There is a very particular aesthetic you really have to be in the mood for to use this album for the purpose of listening to while drinking wine in a bloody bath, but luckily for me, I am often in the mood: the wild west vampire aesthetic. An underrated microgenre of vampire fiction, it’s a whole new experience to pretend you’re taking a blood bath in 1800s Nevada and that the blood you’re bathing in is that of a cowboy who thought he was just coming to your brothel for a fun night out. Perhaps I get too creative while I bathe in the tub, but it’s certainly worth a try if you haven’t.
4. Tribulation – Where the Gloom Becomes Sound
I realize I have used the words “sexy” and “sensual” a lot for the albums on this list, but that is of key importance when you’re a vampire bathing in blood. And thus, I have to say it again: this album is a sexy gothic metal work of art that is also a good listen when you’re having one of your ancient sad vampire nights. As the album’s title implies, it’s a gloomy affair, but with great sound over the somberness. It has a medieval aesthetic combined with its goth instrumentation and harsh vocals that really perfects it as a great album to listen to while pretending you are a countess in 1590 who believes the blood of the young will bring back their youth.
3. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined
You had to see this one coming, I’m sure. Nothing says supernatural horror like a Cannibal Corpse album. And this one in particular, with its cover that gave me a tiny orgasm the first time I saw it, is perfect for a night of drowning in your own cosmic horror. As usual, the boys in CC bring us a nonstop death metal torrent of belting guitars and heavy drums covered in the vocals of Dad Corpsegrinder singing about murder, death, and blood. A vampire’s three favorite things. Sometimes you just need to relax in a bloody bath and listen to some stupid death metal, and this is perfect for such an occasion.
2. Empress – Wait til Night
I promise this album isn’t solely on here because there is an Opheliac image on the cover art, though it does help with the ambience when you bring the record with you into the bathroom. The main reason this album is on here is because it’s a dark and sensual goth beauty. Weaving between doom metal, post-punk, and alternative rock, it finds its footing with its great drumming and the seductive voice of vocalist Chloe Cox. When she sings over these intense drumbeats, she sounds like a vampire walking solemnly through a castle all by herself. While the last album is a great one to listen to when you want to feel like a powerful vampire, this is a great one to listen to when you want to feel like that vampire that’s been alone in their castle way too long and really wants to find a bride because they’re so lonely. It’s a great aesthetic and it’s a great album.
1. Backxwash – I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES
Backxwash is the greatest rap artist in the world right now. I am literally vibrating with excitement listening to this album again as I write this. Her incredible horrorcore is sexy, it’s intense, it’s catchy, and while laying in a bath of blood, it will make you feel sexy and powerful, too. Combining her impressive lyricism (shoutout to my favorite line on the record, “dead like my government name.”) with creepy instrumentation and occasionally frightening backing vocals, this album is the epitome of horrorcore. An instant classic, a template for all those who come after, this album is a career-definer. And the best part is she’s just getting started. I am optimistic there are many more albums to play Bathory to to come.