When I look back on my favourite albums of 2020, death/doom and misery featured highly due to the ongoing world collapse, family bereavements, and just general gloom. When I look at my picks for this year, it seems to have a lot more anger and brutality about it, reflecting my general frustration with the wreck of humanity we’ve got left. But my little daughter learned to headbang to War Pigs so I can’t really get too down can I? 2021 was a banner year for death and destruction in the extreme scene, and I fucking loved every second of it.
10. Slimelord ‘The Delta Death Sirens’
Although technically a re-release of a 2020 re-release of a 2019 record, the ugly gurgling primal force that Slimelord’s debut took me by surprise on my first listen, and it has drawn me back into its terrifying depths a number of times this year. It’s very gratifying to see this kind of music belch up from the UK underground, and the agony drenched solos howling through the murk is the icing on the cake.
Label: Dry Cough Records
9. The Ruins Of Beverast ‘The Thule Grimoires’
The eccentric depths of The Ruins Of Beverast are always a delightful enigma, but on this record they play with death, black, doom, prog and dark ambient to a dazzling degree. At the core, it is the blackest and doomiest black metal but every track weaves so many different styles into the fabric that you’d be loath to pigeonhole them. The Thule Grimoires is a vast beast of utter darkness, churning miasmic evil and otherworldly magic.
Label: Ván Records
8. Alchemy Of Flesh ‘Ageless Abominations’
The world needs more Morbid Angel in it, and since the REAL Morbid Angel are a little hit and miss these days, we have Alchemy Of Flesh ready to step in and take up the mantle of chief Lovecraftian beast-summoners. This is some of the most well written, varied death metal I’ve come across this year, sucking on the diseased teat of Floridian classics but steadfastly maintaining their identity. Each song is a new exercise in why other modern death metal is stale and boring, and why slow and heavy is ALWAYS best.
Label: Redefining Darkness Records
7. Skepticism ‘Companion’
An instant reminder of my 2020 album of the year (Atramentus Stygian), Skepticism‘s work is timeless in its scale, its execution and the ability to generate emotion from every earth-shaking riff, guttural roar and bleak beautiful melody. Companion is the work of the finest craftsmen, wringing every drop of soul and feeling from torturous riffs and shrouding, dynamic atmospheres.
Label: Svart Records
6. Soothsayer ‘Echoes Of The Earth’
I reviewed Soothsayer’s Echoes Of The Earth all the way back in February and suggested it would cast a long shadow over the rest of the year’s releases and I was right. I find myself coming back to it again and again, a titanic sludgy leviathan that builds expertly towards the twin devastation of Six Of Nothing and True North, which could be one of the greatest two hit combos in all of sludge doom. A magnificent ode to the bleakness of existence.
5. Ültra Raptör ‘Tyrants’
In a world where you need some fucking heavy metal to break all the bullshit apart, Tyrants by Ültra Raptör was that album for me. Gale Runner is my absolute favourite track of the year, and the rest is balls to the wall fist pumping heavy metal glory that makes you absolutely yearn for the live gig experience. It conjures the spirits of Maiden, Angel Witch and Jaguar into a modern NWOBHM classic, complete with an utterly, ludicrously brilliant album cover.
Label: Fighter Records
4. Gexerott ‘Hallucinetic Violet Ignition’
A black metal album that embraces an almost gothic doom approach to creating atmosphere and for me it is the surprise of the year. South American black metal has a tendency to be raw, visceral and necro as fuck, whereas these Colombia’s Gexerott take as much from latter day Mayhem as they do from My Dying Bride. An infinitely fascinating record, haunting and absorbing in equal measure.
Label: Satanath Records
3. Hooded Menace ‘The Tritonus Bell
The Tritonus Bell was where Hooded Menace decided to bring all their favourite heavy metal influences to the fore, which is why their filth-caked death/doom monstrosities had more than a couple of belting NWOBHM leads, striding classic doom riffs and a magnificent production from Andy LaRocque. Imagine if Mercyful Fate and Angel Witch had grown up in a Louisiana swamp and took loads of crystal meth, you’d be close. A titanic record that reaffirms and reimagines Hooded Menace as one of the genre’s premier exponents.
Label: Season Of Mist
2. Sepulcros ‘Vazio’
You almost got number one guys, so close. Vazio was my frontrunner all year, a sodden atmospheric masterpiece of truly gloomy death/doom that scraped the very bowels of the abyss and shook the earth to its core. But it is never afraid to drop into the blazing torrents of fiery black/death metal to create jarring contrasts of brutality. The core of Sepulcros‘ work is the atmosphere of shuddering, suffocating oppression, hopeless and bleak. You’d struggle to find anything that comes close for quality this year.
1. The Slow Death ‘Siege’
I went back and forth on this or my number two as my favourite album this year. But where Siege wins it for me is the utterly haunting aspect to this massive, dirging behemoth of cadaverous funeral doom/sludge. Drawing all of the emotional heft from the clean guitar work, the female vocals and the oppressive majesty of atmospheric death/doom, The Slow Death manage to encapsulate everything you could need in an hour plus of some of the heaviest music set to tape this year. Heaviness comes in all forms, and Siege has it all. Utterly devastating.
In no particular order…
Bonehunter ‘Dark Blood Reincarnation System’
Necrogod ‘In Extremis’
Alda ‘A Distant Fire’
No Light Escapes ‘The Purity of Grief’
Sadistik Forest ‘Obscure Old Remains’
Utburd ‘Story of Frozen Souls’
Scribed by: Sandy Williamson