Töp Non-Metal Album: Musk Ox - Inheritance
This makes two (maybe three?) consecutive years where work and husbandry and fatherhood have conspired to prevent me from posting my Töp Non-Metal Albums and EPs list, but this year my favorite album was too good to not talk about it at least a little. Musk Ox is described as "Canadian chamber folk music," which I guess does describe it, but never have four words so aptly described something while not coming anywhere close to describing the music on the album. Inheritance is a moving, dynamic album that manages to find intensity within tranquility; the music flows and swirls and envelops the listener in the same way the best post-metal/rock albums do. Inheritance isn't just my Töp Non-Metal Album of 2021, it's one of my favorite non-metal albums ever.
Favorite Track: "Inheritance (Part 2 - Hindsight)"
15. Mastodon - Hushed and Grim
Were there better albums than this that came out this year? Yeah, probably. But did I listen to any of those more than I've listened to Hushed and Grim since it came out six weeks ago? No. Hushed and Grim finds Mastodon perfecting the more poppy, hook-driven metal/hard rock sound they began way back in 2011 on The Hunter. I agree with the seemingly omnipresent sentiment that Hushed and Grim could stand to lose 20-30 minutes off it's nearly 90-minute runtime, but I'll be damned if I can figure out what should be cut to necessitate that.
Favorite Track: "The Beast"
14. Domkraft - Seeds
Somewhere along the way this year, I rediscovered my love for stoner rock and doom. Domkraft isn't strictly stoner doom per se, but the band's psychedelic soundscapes and groovy, crunchy riffs certainly don't fall too far from the Sweet Leaf Tree. It's not Sleep worship, and it's not Sabbath worship, which makes it stand out in the stormy seas of the doom genre.
Favorite Track: "Into Orbit"
13. Wreche - All My Dreams Came True
The most unsettling, original release of the year, All My Dreams Came True is a uniquely harrowing and gripping experience. Black metal by way of piano, the songs Wreche has composed for All My Dreams Came True are some of the most raw, intimate songs heard in this or any other year. It can be an incredibly tough and disconcerting listen, but the payoff found in experiencing an album this unique is well worth the time. I've never heard anything like All My Dreams Came True before, and until Wreche puts out a new album, I doubt I will again.
Favorite Track: "Severed"
12. Dödsrit - Mortal Coil
The first of what will be two entries on this list completely made up of texts I sent regarding the bands, Dödsrit's Mortal Coil prompted me to tell a friend "I've never wished to be in a Chicago winter more, because walking through the snowy streets listening to this would be incredible." If that's too vague for you or you've never walked through the snowy winter streets of Chicago while listening to an album that seems tailor-made for it, well then you should probably remedy that.
Favorite Track: "Apathetic Tongues"
11. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy - A Cult That Worships the God of Death
Post-metal in the vein of Beyond-era Cult of Luna cross-pollinated with some unnamed hardcore band, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy finds a way to be everything I love about post- music while also keeping me surprised at every turn. A Cult That Worships the God of Death is continually exciting, even after a dozen listens; like a less spastic Miss Machine-era DEP, you don't know where TGLH is going to go from one moment to the next.
Favorite Track: "Charging Bull"
10. Aziola Cry - The Ironic Divide
Proggy instrumental jams out of Chicago, The Ironic Divide leans into all sorts of genres over the course of its runtime, never overstaying its welcome in any while exploring them to their fullest possible potential in the moment. The 21-minute title track is a testament to this; a four-part suite, it moves gracefully and powerfully through its runtime, always captivating and engrossing the listener.
Favorite Track: "The Ironic Divide"
9. Carcass - Torn Arteries
Listen, everywhere else you can read about music will tell you why this album is one of the best of the year; its presence here should only reinforce how right they are about it.
Favorite Track: "Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited"
8. Trna - Istok
I saw a friend post something about this band on Instagram, and having never
heard of them but appreciating his taste, I checked them out. Good thing
for me, because Istok is tremendous. Largely
instrumental, Istok revels in its space, and an appearance by Mick’s
favorite Portuguese black metallers Gaerea pushes the album over the top
in terms of epicness.
Favorite Track : "Shining (feat. Gaerea)"
7. Mossgiver - Led By the Glowing River
It's no secret that I love forest-y, atmospheric black metal, so the highest praise I can give Led By the Glowing River is that if there was a way to hook it straight into my veins, it would be my perfect drug.
Favorite Track: "Embrace the Wrath of Wind"
6. Gråt Strigoi - Communion of the Nameless
I'll tell you the same thing I texted Mick when I first heard Communion of the Nameless: Gråt Strigoi has made an album that is the closest we're getting to a new Altar of Plagues album. Which is awesome, as that dark, pitch-black metal needs to be celebrated, and Gråt Strigoi certainly have proven themselves capable of torchbearing. On the other hand, somebody at Northwest Terror Fest or Psycho Las Vegas or MDF back up the money trucks already and get Altar of Plagues a large enough payout that they release a new album. It's insane to me this hasn't happened yet.
Favorite Track: "Mourning Under the Blackened Sky"
5. Worm - Foreverglade
Fun Fact: I've been working on this list for an embarrassingly long time (see: life stuff, above), and so it wasn't until this very morning, on the day of its publication, that I learned Foreverglade is not, in fact, Worm's debut album. Which, on the one hand, means I know what I'm going to listen to on my commute today, but on the other, means I had to erase, like, two sentences and replace them with this anecdote. Deathy and doomy and sludgy and utterly fantastic, Foreverglade came out of nowhere to bury its swampy, humid putridity all the way into my cold, black heart. Also, I want someone to put "Subaqueous Funeral" over the opening credits to Hard Target. Or just remake Hard Target and let Worm do the soundtrack. If they're gonna ruin Road House with a remake, there's no reason I can't get a Worm-scored Hard Target.
Favorite Track: "Subaqueous Funeral"
4. Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana
Easily the most pleasant surprise of the year; after two albums that were more ok than great, Wolves in the Throne Room returned with one of the best all-around efforts in their discography. Primordial Arcana leans hard into the Cascadian mountain magic that makes this band great, unapologetically taking their time in atmospheric passages while also bringing the heavy.
Favorite Track: "Masters of Rain and Storm"
3. Suffering Hour - The Cyclic Reckoning
I had never heard Suffering Hour before listening to The Cyclic Reckoning, and I immediately devoured their first album and EP after I heard it. Their cosmic blackened death sound is both primitive and futuristic, and while I don't want to play apples and oranges, it's crazy to me that Blood Incantation seems to get infinitely more hype than Suffering Hour. The Cyclic Reckoning is a crushing, dynamic album, with riffs and melodies to spare.
Favorite Track: "The Foundations of Servitude"
2. Mare Cognitum - Solar Paroxysm
If I were a better writer, I'd be able to tell you exactly what is so transfixing about this album, but I'm just me, so all I can say is this album is amazing. There is a hypnotic quality to Solar Paroxysm that comes from the way Mare Cognitum blends melody and rhythm; it's not quite atmospheric black metal, but there's certainly more atmosphere and ambiance than there is in straightforward black metal albums. This is great music to get lost in, from one of the best bands working in the genre.
Favorite Track: "Terra Requiem"
1. Panopticon - ...And Again Into the Light
I spent a lot of my time listening to ...And Again Into the Light wondering if I was being critical enough, if I was listening to it honestly for what it is, and not listening to it through the lens of it being the newest album from my favorite band. I thought about it way too much, until one day I realized I was being silly, and set out to listen to it and not think about what I thought about it. And you know what? ...And Again Into the Light is phenomenal. Austin Lunn continues to be one of the signature voices in heavy music today, and ...Light finds him looser and more inclined to take risks than ever before. From the quiet, doomy opening minutes of "Dead Loons" to the folksy interlude of "As Golden Laughter Echoes," to the incredible "The Embers at Dawn," Lunn has Panopticon firing on all cylinders here. While I'll always enjoy Panopticon's acoustic work, ...And Again Into the Light proves that Panopticon is at its best when Lunn combines all his influences instead of splitting them apart.
Favorite Track: "The Embers at Dawn"