First a disclaimer regarding selection: while on a personal level this year was horrific, it was an exceptionally bountiful year for good music overall. Glorious returns from some old favourites, from Quicksand and Cherubs to Ty Segall and Lingua Ignota. Overall my favourite albums this year were by FACS (Present Tense), Black Midi (Cavalcade), and Low (Hey What), all of whom are perhaps a little too far outside the Shaman’s admittedly wide net.
I’ve not included any of these more established artists on the list purely because I wanted to reserve space for some lesser mentioned releases, particularly in the field of underground music. Similarly, I’ve refrained from mentioning albums I’ve already written about in-depth, but I’ve had the privilege to write about a lot of fantastic records here this year (Particular hats off to Siem Reap, Qrixkuor, and The Soothsayer Orchestra).
The following are in no particular order…
10. Glassing ‘Twin Dream’
Sort of a last-minute addition and the newest thing on the list – it was between this and the new Mortiferum (which is also fucking ‘mazing) for the last spot but this won out. What I say about Sigil in relation to metal, perhaps you could apply to post-hardcore for Glassing – they take elements of the 90s experimentalism of the genre, the chaotic Ebullition screeching, the Locust/Daughters skronk, the early Hydra Head magic, and reconfigure it in a way that feels familiar but also very new. The next stage in mutation, it’s dissonant and raging one minute, the next glacial and atmospheric. So many bands try and do the ‘post’ thing, but Glassing are in a league of their own.
Label: Brutal Panda Records
9. Suffering Hour ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’
Like Ænigmatum but more so, Suffering Hour have been quietly ripping up the underground rule book for a bit now and this album is spectacular. Dizzying guitar lines but absolutely memorable and infectious with it, their ability to write complex songs but still remain engaging and – crucially – death metal as fuck, is pretty much unequalled currently. A really unique band, and again, a light in the dark for an increasingly generic death metal scene.
Label: Profound Lore Records
8. The Cowboy ‘Riddles From The Universe’
I have little to say about this record beyond FUCK YEAH. Best straight up rock ‘n’ roll band America has produced since Black Flag. Or Hickey maybe. There’s a song about drinking tea on this album that makes it sound like the filthiest thing in the world, and, uh, I’m pretty sure it’s not a metaphor. They’re really just singing about tea. That’s how fucking wild The Cowboy are.
Label: Feel It Records
7. Midwife ‘Luminol’
Midwife‘s newest album (along with Roy Montgomery’s beautiful That Best Forgotten Work) has been my go to late night record during a year full of dark nights of the soul. If they make a movie about me when I die, I’d like Madeline Johnston to soundtrack it. And Matt Berry to play me. Thanks. But yes, this album is beautiful and sad, and hugely comforting.
Label: Flenser Records
6. Sigil ‘Nether’
Another incredible release that’s been appallingly overlooked. Taking much of the best aspects of modern black and death metal, putting them all on the table, and then thinking carefully about how to reassemble them in a way that isn’t by the book is what Canadian band Sigil have done on an album that’s a staggering step up from their earlier efforts. As a result, they somehow make black/death metal that’s entirely beyond what expectations of those tags might suggest, while not being so out there as to scare anyone off. An essential listen for both underground diehards and those who are usually not concerned with all things necro and the fact this hasn’t seen a formal vinyl release is fucking shocking lads.
Label: Total Dissonance Worship
5. Gas Chamber/Black Iron Prison ‘Public Humiliation II’
Gas Chamber were the greatest hardcore punk band of the last 20 years, intense, thought provoking, and musically as forward thinking as they were raging. This final recording sees them expand to include noisecore duo Black Iron Prison, performing some of their finest work. Absolutely incredible, and a record better experienced than written about. We’ll not see the likes of them again, and this is a powerful closing of their account. Godspeed you, black emperors.
Label: Iron Lung Records
4. Seed ‘Dun Pageant’
Seed label themselves ‘doom’ which many will take umbrage with, but you’ll notice they don’t refer to themselves as ‘doom METAL’ because they aren’t. No, their music is a more gothic, darker take on the kind of minimalist slowcore of early Low or Codeine, tweaked for kids that have grown up on Thou and Chelsea Wolfe. The fact this album has received fuck all notice while the (admittedly great) new King Woman record does the same thing in a glossier fashion is wildly unfair. Someone stump up the cash to get this out on vinyl and get them on tour. A lost gem.
Label: Mutual Aid Records
3. Ænigmatum ‘Deconsecrate’
Text My love of death metal has experienced both a resurgence and refinement this year. There’s been a phenomenal amount of mediocre to shitty generic death metal over the last 12 months (much it from the UK and US in particular), but the truly good stuff always shines through, and Ænigmatum’s Deconsecrate is exceptional. Taking their cue from the melodic but technically adept lineage of pre Slaughter Of The Soul At the Gates, Dawn, Dissection etc but filtering it through their American death metal heritage, the results are staggering. Probably the single greatest number of quality guitar riffs on any album I’ve heard this year, to marry virtuosity and melody to darkness and heaviness, this well takes incredible skill. And I feel like the best is yet to come.
Label: 20 Buck Spin
2. Scopophilia ‘Violent For Being Sexually Desired’
Himukalt released two excellent albums of her own this year (Between My Teeth and Dreaming Of A Dead Girl) but it was this collaboration with Military Position as Scopohilia that I’ve been stuck on most. I’m not a huge fan of power electronics/industrial nowadays as the edge lord aesthetics usually mask incredibly unexciting music, but this is the real deal. The concept, the execution, and the actual sounds are all pulled off superbly. A ruthless dissection of the male gaze that’s genuinely disturbing but also surprisingly danceable, this hit me hard the way that hearing SPK in my teens for the first time did.
Label: Old Europa Cafe
1. Chimers ‘Chimers’
Full disclosure – Chimers are dear old friends of mine. Even if they weren’t, I would still love every second of this absolutely storming debut album. You’ll see the term ‘garage rock’ thrown around for this Australian/Irish duo, which is greatly reductive. Filter the last 40 years of punk rock’s many variants into a mature but adrenalin fuelled set of songs that recalls the best of Wipers, Bob Mould and Drive Like Jehu all at once. Do you like rock music? If you do, and Mono doesn’t get your heart beating faster, you’re basically dead.
Also in no particular order…
N + Ehnahre ‘Jacob’
Mortiferum ‘Preserved In Torment’
Revenant Marquis ‘Below The Landsker Line’
Siderean ‘Lost on Void’s Horizon’
Ghastly ‘Mercurial Passages’
Obey Cobra ‘Oblong’
SUSS ‘Night Suite’
At the time of writing the newest REVEAL!, Phrenelith, Mütterlein, and Geography Of Hell records are yet to reach my eager little eardrums as they’re not officially released until after my deadline… but expectations for all are enormous around Grimes towers.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes