Greetings, dear reader. It's listmas 'round these parts, which can only mean one thing: a reflection on the music that has defined our collective and personal year. After the success of our collaborative mid-year list, we decided to run a similarly community-oriented extravaganza to sum up 2021 as a whole.
It's a different approach, but we like it. The era of ranked tier lists is over. The era of non-exhaustive AOTY smorgasbord hath begun.
This list is a collaborative effort, with ten distinct music writers, musicians, and fans lending a few words. My personal collection o' favorites will follow later this week. Hopefully the variety of perspectives results in a list containing at least one or two releases that speak to you! This, of course, is far from exhaustive--indeed, every single one of ye could undoubtedly highlight a vast number of deserving albums not appearing here. Please feel free to leave a comment with a recommendation or two. As mentioned back in June of this year, list season is a great time to show the musicians that we know and love a little well-deserved support, and if you wanna shout someone out, this is as good a time as any.
And, lest it be forgot: a massive thank you is in order to everyone who contributed words to this endeavor. As always, we couldn't have done it without ye!
Enough chit-chat. Let's dive in.
Heavy Temple - Lupi Amoris (June 18, Magnetic Eye) Find it here!
Review by: Ed Grabianowski
There must be something in that Philly water, man. Heavy Temple stands tall among many killer bands from the area, and Lupi Amoris (roughly: Love of Wolves) clearly marks their territory in heavily contested terrain. The five tracks here bring forth all the gritty glory of east coast stoner rock, bringing to mind many of our 70s hard rock heroes. Heavy Temple's sinister occult grin invites the obvious Sabbath comparisons, and I might have noticed a Humble Pie riff homage hiding in plain sight. Nevertheless, there's something powerful and special about the execution. When the rhythm section locks in on a riff it feels so delightfully massive and GOOD, and High Priestess Nighthawk's vocals add a soulful vibe that elevates everything into the AOTY stratosphere. I cannot fucking wait to see these cats live.
Author's Bio: Ed Grabianowski sings for Spacelord and other heavy music projects, and makes his living as a writer.
Thermohaline - Maelström (Jan. 23rd, Independent) Find it here!
Review by: John and Sophie Fraser
We found picking out an underground AOTY insanely difficult with our Bandcamp collection creaking under the weight of so much gold from 2021, but way back in January we happened across Maelstrom by trans-Atlantic black metal collective Thermohaline. Awash with a menacing nautical atmosphere, the six tracks blend abyssal passages of black metal with darkly beautiful intervals of melodic, reflective reprieve. This whole album is utterly engrossing--from the intro SFX on the opener "Obra Dinn," you are thrust aboard their doomed ship as it traverses the darkest nadirs of the ocean. Regrettably the project is currently on indefinite hiatus, but you can still get your hands on the album--and we thoroughly recommend you do!
Author's Bio: Written by John and Sophie Fraser of Hand of Kalliach, who play a weird blend of atmospheric Celtic metal (folk/melodeath). Find them here!
Gonemage - Sudden Deluge (Nov. 19th, Independent) Find it here!
Review by: Kep
Some things are so eclectic that they defy easy description, and Gonemage’s remarkable mishmash of black metal, chiptune, post-hardcore, indie pop, and noise is definitely one of them. The second chapter in a continuing story concept by Galimgim (alias Garry Brents of Cara Neir, Sallow Moth, Homeskin), Sudden Deluge is an lively and exhilarating half-hour that will keep your ears on their toes from start to finish. Consider it elevated video game music, or pixelized black metal, or whatever—the point is it’s cool as hell. There are 31 guest appearances, for Gandalf’s sake! It’s as fun a listen as anything I’ve heard this year, and in this year of stellar releases that’s saying a lot.
Author's Bio: Kep is a professional pianist and a lover of all things metal. Catch him on twitter @theoriginalkep, and read his reviews at Noob Heavy.
thirdface - Do it with a Smile (March 5th, Exploding Sound) Find it here!
Review by: Ian Covelli (Unrefined Jagoff)
Despite my inability to remember what year it is, Do it With a Smile by thirdface is one of the three albums I anxiously waited for at the beginning of the year, and it’s still the most standout release of 2021 for me as the year comes to a close. Kathryn’s vocals rip, the guitar and bass riffs equally rule, and the drums sound huge.
Easily the best hardcore album I’ve bought all year and an excellent live band!
Author's Bio: You can find Ian Covelli over at The Unrefined Jagoff, Satan’s Basement, The Astronaut King, and on Instagram.
Maiden Hair -Trewanmead (Aug. 2nd, Death Prayer) Find it here!
Review by: Weirding
If we accept that music has the ability truly to elicit extra-musical ideas, concepts, or visions — and can do so illustratively while refraining either from the Peter and the Wolf clichés or the formulaic strategies of Hollywood film scores — then no better example of facility in this competence was released this year than Trewanmead. In bringing to life a quasi-mystical and very 1970s English cult through the merging of dungeon synth and some of the more documentary-inspired tones of Belbury Poly or even the better contrivances of Boards of Canada, it was Maiden Hair ov England that delivered in the year 2021 a devastating program music for these times.
Author's Bio: Weirding constitutes 1/2 of bornwithhair and Vinterdracul, and chats w/ musicians at Growl and Shrieks
Dödsrit - Mortal Coil (May 28th, Wolves of Hades) Find it here!
Review by: Ivan Belcic
The three years since the release of 2018’s Spirit Crusher have taken their toll on Dödsrit. Mortal Coil is a barbed lance, angrier and more bitter than its predecessor, but somehow no less restorative in its rage.
It’s also the first Dödsrit record to expand the group beyond founder Christoffer Öster into a proper four-piece. Drummer Brendan Duffy gives the music an organic fullness only absent in retrospect from the band’s earlier work. Meanwhile, there’s a newfound dynamism due to the addition of guitarist and vocalist Georgios Maxouris’s throaty bellow alongside Öster’s pinched howls.
If your reaction to the past two years has included very human and understandable elements of despair, anguish, and melancholy, you’ll find kindred souls in Dödsrit.
Author's Bio: Ivan Belcic is a musician, illustrator, and writer. He is the vocalist of black metal band Kosmogyr and a contributing writer at Invisible Oranges. Linktree here.
Hippotraktor - Meridian (Pelagic Records) Find it here!
Review by: Hera
There aren’t many bands whose debut ranks high in my EOY list, but when it comes from Pelagic Records, I am sure to pay attention. A collective consisting of members from other Pelagic bands, including Psychonaut and L’itch, Hippotraktor’s debut album, Meridian, is a stellar album that combines both post-metal and prog into an intense, feral event that makes me want to slowly sink into mire of its atmosphere. While it reminds me of other albums within the Pelagic roster, Meridian shines because they are not afraid to experiment with various sonic elements and ultimately showcase a different thread that a listener can follow during a second replay. I have seen the album being described as an onion, which makes sense; the more layers you peel back, the more things you will find to enjoy about Meridian.
Author Bio: Hera Vidal (Hera) is a metal reviewer based in California who has been writing since 2016. She has written for various outlets, including Metal Bandcamp, Nine Circles, and OneWeekOneBand. While she is not writing about music, archiving albums, or listening to music at an ungodly volume, she can be found reading, researching, or playing video games.
Find her on Twitter and Instagram.
Wowod - Yarost' I Proshchenie (January 29th, Church Road) Find it here!
Review by: Heavy Grinder
Stunning work you may have missed at the outset of the year. Russia’s Wowod is a band that sounds like they have been at the top of their game for a decade or more. Active since 2016, their third release impressively combines a multitude of elements to build a towering achievement far greater than the sum of its parts. "Yarost' I Proshchenie" is a perfect blend of crushingly heavy guitar and death-style vocals, haunting and trance-inducing rhythms, and punk energy speed and intensity. Wowod doesn’t stop there, and appears insatiable by pushing the boundaries to explore Ulcerate-level heavy melodic layering that shines through most prominently on tracks like “Proshchenie” and the stunning album closer, “Top." A must-buy and one of the best albums of the year.
Author Bio: Heavy Grinder has been known to write reviews from time to time here at Ye Olde Sleeping Village, and can be found on Twitter.
Häxmästaren - Sol i Exil (March 12, Majestic Mountain) Find it here!
Review by: Enrico of IKITAN
Greasy, intriguing and massive-sounding stoner doom that will make its way in your brain with some truly memorable riffs and hooks you'll find yourself singing under the shower. Sol i Exil is the second album by Swedish 5-piece Häxmästaren. The 7 tracks might not represent the most immediate release to fall in love with, but once you give it a few spins...you're hooked. The vocals make this album varied as they're a mix of growl, scream and clean vocals in equal parts. Drums are not prominent, another peculiar trait of this masterpiece, but do an excellent job of providing a solid skeleton to these great melodies and riffs. Highly recommended.
Author's Bio: Enrico is the drummer of IKITAN, a heavy post-rock psych stoner band from Genoa, Italy.
Hellish Form - Remains (June 25th, Translation Loss) Find it here!
Review by: Valley of Steel (Full review here!)
Following early 2020’s split record between west coasters Keeper and New England's Body Void, Jacob Lee and Willow Ryan (who handle guitar, bass, and vocals, respectively, for those two bands) teamed up (remotely) to write and record an LP as Hellish Form. The result Remains is every bit as harrowing as its creators' other bands – reinvented as agonizingly slow funeral sludge/doom. The droning overdriven guitar chords paired with synth strings often comes across sounding euphonic or harmonic, producing a peaceful and cathartic effect. Hopeful-sounding funeral doom? It makes as much sense as anything else happening in the world these days...
Author's Bio: Valley of Steel is a website for metal and other heavy music news and reviews, based in the Pittsburgh area. Find @valley_of_steel on Twitter.
One last thank you to everyone who contributed!
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.