Delighted to point out that, we have now graciously realized Arson Cafe’s 500th post. Some have been lost along the way, yet it was planned ...

Albums of the Year 2021

Delighted to point out that, we have now graciously realized Arson Cafe’s 500th post. Some have been lost along the way, yet it was planned and delivered to match this milestone with the most important entry of 2021.

Another year. Another piece of our sanity, compromised. As extensive as these rituals can get, top lists of all kind are the subtle suggestion that you should voluntarily go into cryosleep for eleven months, only to come back every December to catch up with the news of humanity while skipping all the bullshit. Now, every counter-culture, outsider art scholar in every dusty, record filled basement attempts to put order in the chaos by analytically ranking favorite sounds and noises, often at levels of obsession. How can you rest at night if you don’t absolutely, irrefutably, undeniably clear out in your mind why the album at #42 was better than the one at #43, but not as good as the one at #41? And music is only one of Scylla’s heads, not to mention books, films, TV shows, games… The internet of sheer beauty. 

Ignoring the mass madness and hysteria that has been going on outside the walls of the blogosphere, we were blessed with a lot of neat releases during the last twelve months. I was positively surprised with a few, but also disappointed with others, and I’m more sure than usual, that I will not be agreeing with a few choices that will climb up to higher positions in other, bigger scale lists. As always, I am heavily skewed towards certain sub genres of extreme metal and I didn’t go a long way outside that, but hey, how great is the new Porter Robinson album, right?

There were several tough times for me in 2021, that got in the way of documenting my listening habits as meticulously as I usually do. It’s difficult when you have a more than full-time life, however – with maybe a handful of records that slipped through – I noted down ratings for 839 full length releases this year, and 101 EPs (most than any other time for me, I think). I don’t keep track of other release formats so they are excluded, but I’m still satisfied with the outcome, and managed to get a feel of almost all the important releases of the year in the styles that I’m interested in.  Out of this pool, 113 albums were chosen for more than one listen before picking the top 50, all of which stood as worthy companions through all the year’s turbulence and surely represent for me, 2021 as a sleek collage of scattered discord.

First, some delights:



Top 50 albums of 2021

50. Reverorum ib Malacht – Not Here
49. Morbific – Ominous Seep of Putridity
48. Altarage – Succumb
47. Sordide – Les Idées Blanches
46. Caveman Cult – Blood and Extinction
45. Nihilism – Cataclysme Vers l'Ascendance
44. Till – Land of Plenty
43. Nordgeist – Frostwinter
42. Ferriterium – Calvaire
41. Yoth Iria – As the Flame Withers

After such a promising EP, the Yoth Iria full-length follow-up was bound to be great. Altarage grew on me on the way, while Reverorum ib Malacht’s Not Here was the one I liked much more from the two records released this year. The same was for Till’s Land of Plenty, while Morbific’s debut was enjoyable, as enjoyable as the second, 20 minute statement by Caveman Cult, one of the powerhouses of war metal right now. Nihilism’s debut was a pretty ambitious release, while enjoying it, I’m really keen on the next step.

40. Rampancy – Coming Insurrection
39. Knife – The Eye of Infernal Wisdom
38. Voices – Breaking the Trauma Bond
37. Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime
36. Monte Penumbra - As Blades in the Firmament
35. Antichrist Siege Machine – Purifying Blade
34. Mysterious Castle – The Hunt
33. Abominable Putridity – Parasitic Metamorphosis Manifestation
32. Hulder - Godslastering Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry
31. Weathered Crest – Blossoming of the Paths

Already, some memorable high quality old school black metal here, with names like Hulder, Weathered Crest, Rampancy and Knife. Monte Penumbra’s As Blades in the Firmament and Voices are more complex but highly enjoyable records, I loved Abominable Putridity’s return and I hope they never change. I expect these names as well as Stormkeep high in the year’s polls, yet Mysterious Castle’s thirty minute opus The Hunt might be missing. 

30. Vortex of End – Abhorrent Fervor
29. Hail Conjurer – Hail & Fire
28. Nazxul – Irkalla
27. Vomit the Soul – Cold
26. Gloosh – Sylvan Coven
25. Këkht Aräkh – Pale Swordsman
24. Odious Devotion – Ilmestys 
23. Thulcandra – A Dying Wish
22. Peste Noire – Le retour des pastoureaux
21. Iskandr – Vergezicht

Gloosh, Këkht Aräkh and Odious Devotion were an absolute blast. Return of Italian brutal death metallers Vomit the Soul was majestic, as it is coincidentally one of the first bands of the genre I found more than ten years ago, Hail Conjurer continue strong with their path and I totally love Thulcandra’s A Dying Wish more than their previous two records. Iskandr’s adventurous Vergezicht was more interesting to me than their last material, Nazxul was notable, and well… Peste Noire return with one of their best albums, exactly after their worst and most embarrassing album. I liked Vortex of End’s debut more, this is considerably cleaner, but still great.

20. Hyperdontia – Hideous Entity
19. Misotheist – For the Glory of Your Redeemer
18. Ungfell – Es grauet
17. Demonic Temple – Through the Stars Into the Abyss
16. Cenotaph – Precognition to Eradicate
15. Prygla - Prygla
14. Drawn and Quartered – Congregation Pestilence
13. Tyrant Moon – Eternal Nightfall
12. Í Myrkri – Bag Skyggernes Slør
11. Grabunhold – Heldentod

The debuts from two Swedish acts, Tyrant Moon and Prygla, while not similar, had me constantly hooked when I found them. Drawn and Quartered, already one of the best active death metal bands on the planet, totally crush with another massive release, as massive as Precognition to Eradicate by the legends Cenotaph. I was impressed by Demonic Temple’s record, and even more surprised I hadn’t heard of this band or that people in the underground dissonant / orthodox black metal scene, don’t talk about it. Further thick, juicy and well balanced death metal from Hyperdontia and I will admit I liked Í Myrkri much more than Paysage d’Hiver in 2021. I’ve never hidden my affection for Ungfell and they are still growing, while Misotheist, after a bit of examination, doesn’t even have one wrong note in it. Oh, and for Grabunhold: Trommeln in der Tiefe. 

10. Alkerdeel – Slonk

Pride of the absurd

Alkerdeel caught me off guard, and absolutely ran over the expectations I didn't even know I had for them. The music glances at different subgenres from a distance, giving out feels similar to the dissonance of Ultha / late Twilight, strong doom nuances, and even the deeply ritualistic Cascadian black metal bands of the late 00's. This makes it hard to put them under one label, yet the black metal essence is very clear and with these four tracks, they truly embody the real meaning of what it is to write a grisly, hard hitting riff. With all husky and deep production, Slonk has a few of the filthiest guitar lines I was happy to listen to lately, and as an album, it’s pretty unapologetic of its manners. Everything is listenable to the extent that it should and not more, and the compositions put the listener into a position as if the ride has gone off the rails, and surrealism is cracking into perception. Lyrically, the same turmoil takes place, making Slonk an instant favorite.

9. Phrenelith – Chimaera


Simply put, the best death metal album of the year. With the best cover art of the year, by the one and only Timo Ketola. Phrenelith is the type of band which perfectly fits to Nuclear Winter Records, the label managed by members of Dead Congregation, so this should already give you an idea (and justification) on why this is the best death metal album of the year. Impenetrable atmosphere with amazingly brutal riffing, excellent organic drums and growls, neat more melodic moments and a wonderful concept behind it. The band’s debut was also fairly good, but with Chimaera I think Phrenelith fully show what they are capable of, a record as heavy as it is flawless. Forget the technically frenzied guitar playing at impossible tempos. Forget the gory artworks and lyrics, or the endless grooves and blast beats. This is death metal with its own attitude, its own vibe and its own original strength.

8. Koldovstvo - Ни царя, ни бога

Neither god, nor king

I know nothing (and as of now, there is nothing) about this band or wherever they crawled out from. The only hint is that the album title is, I think, Bulgarian, and that I immediately stopped everything around me to focus and listen to this album literally from its first second. Apart from the fact that the opening, melancholic clean guitar riff is one of the simplest and best melodies I’ve heard in 2021, such playing has a leading role in this release but that’s not just it. Combined with the tougher, distorted parts and the dusty production, this unique sound and atmosphere made this work really stand out for me this year.

7. Caverne - La fin de tous les chants

The blood has washed nothing at all

Furious and emotional, full of multi-layered textures, with riveting melodies and marvelous execution, La fin de tous les chants is, by far, Caverne’s best album to date. I always believed Amertune is a musical genius, his instrument handling, approach and epic compositional style made him stand out to me among most of the French black metal bands of the last couple of decades. The painful, varied vocals also fit perfectly this kind of intense and woeful record, which features seriously personal lyricism and some hefty self-reflection, in his native language. I liked Omphalos quite a lot last year, but this time all the tracks are beyond amazing, the guitar lines (acoustic and distorted) are mesmerizing and the record’s perfect flow grants a wholesome listening process with beautiful tunes.  La fin de tous les chants  has a lot to say and demands to be heard, standing as Caverne’s most convincing statement.

6. Aquilus – Bellum I

Embered waters

It’s been a decade. A decade since the debut of Aquilus, Griseus, an album that had completely wrecked me when it was released and there was no news from this project since then. Bellum I’s music brought tears to my eyes for how masterful, wondrous and impressively massive it is, with an impeccable atmosphere, always heavily borrowing from classical music but through a whole different lens. The orchestral parts of the record are out of this world. It gets heavy or melodic whenever it wants to, and it does it completely flawlessly. The keyboards are jaw dropping, making the use of a piano for any other atmospheric black metal act, mundane. The acoustic guitars, but also the more hard hitting guitar lines,  feature extremely powerful riffs, showing that they are not relying solely on endless atmospherics. Aquilus is really a very special case of an artist, and the only reason this record is not higher or even #1 in this list is because of how late in the year it was released, and I still almost missed it. Ask me again in six months. In the meantime, I’m short for words on this gargantuan masterpiece.

“- What does music mean to you?
- I don’t know… It’s full of emotion. But it’s not happy.
- Yes. It’s not happy.”

5. Labor Intvs – Sunken Crucible

Drained of substance

Another huge surprise out of nowhere, which had me scratching my head with my hopes for challenging extreme metal recovered. This album goes through so many phases, so many different elements molded together into one concrete nightmare. Labor Intvs doesn’t simply take risks, they take the fabrics of the foundations apart and re-knit them as they like. It’s not doom / death metal that just relies on slow playing with growls. It’s not dissonant black metal with brainless shredding, as if that ever was the case. It’s on its own league, without getting nearly the exposure it should and the metal world is missing out. (FULL POST

4. Pan-Amerikan Native Front – Little Turtle’s War

Bastions of oak, ash and hickory

So, what constitutes a great black metal album? The music has to be sincere and interesting, coupled by an intriguing concept and well-catered sound, which doesn’t necessarily have to be clean. It has to have nice aesthetics, but above all, there needs to be honesty between the musician and their work. Now, if there are extra elements in this mix, that are not so common, the knife can cut both ways, yet in the case of Pan-Amerikan Native Front, everything is aligned perfectly. It tells an awesome story of colonial brutality towards indigenous American tribes, its artwork is on point, the production and tracks are above average, and it’s more mature and focused than the debut Tecumseh's War. The project has evolved a lot, it offers an impressive release full of memorable moments and a remarkable flow, while being totally connected to its thematic background, both musically and outside of that. The underground is worth it for releases like these.

3. Funeral Mist - Deiform

I look to the sky,
and I bring my hands together,
and I think about God

I pushed the list a bit later just in anticipation of this release. With Funeral Mist being one of my favorite projects in this music ever, objective criticism is present but can't overpower the excitement I feel every time I see something new from Arioch. I consumed Hekatomb and licked the plate, while the first two full lengths, Salvation & Maranatha, are out-of-the-question classics. Coming to Deiform, the tanker compositional style of Funeral Mist lands with full force: frenetic guitar lines, subtle but furious background synths, excellent samples, spectacular flow and musical ideas, impressive singing, with multiple levels of aggression and melody, hammering and hammering until the mold-blown glass becomes an artifact. It also reveals more, the more you listen to it, and you would be surprised by how much you might miss at first. With a concept as interesting as ever, and the unmistakable aesthetics of Holy Poison, Funeral Mist offers its best with an extra ounce of unexpected turns at various moments. As much as I can't get enough of these riffs, I found some parts amazingly toxic, memorable and haunting. All from one person.

2. Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana

Antlers touching the heavens

As I said earlier this year, when Primordial Arcana was finally released, I have never felt higher of this band. At their absolute form, it feels like a step away from any kind of commitment or responsibility other than themselves, Wolves in the Throne Room puzzle together what I consider their most representative and fulfilling album to date. Completely catered by them, the band lifts the sound of atmospheric black metal, which they have brought into worldwide fame almost single-handed, to new highs. Its unique atmosphere, with new elements for the band, ritualistic passages, middle-paced wondrous melodies as well as more menacing harder hitting parts (and harder than usual, for their standards), Wolves in the Throne Room evolve from Thrice Woven with another masterpiece. This is the direction this band was always meant to take (FULL POST). 

1. Fyrnask – VII: Kenoma

To ashes, to death

I have expressed my admiration about this band, and any year they released an album, I dived head first into it and never regretted it. Fyrnask’s essence is so powerful to me, that it covers needs for listening to any other atmospheric / ritualistic / pagan black metal acts out there. The visuals and the aesthetics in VII: Kenoma are once again, stunning, and you’re doing a disservice to yourself if you don’t have this record in original. The music is absolutely brilliant, and it had me standing in awe again and again by how intense the experience gets at times, while maintaining the slower, meditative parts that characterize them, to the highest level. I’m still listening to 2016’s Fórn very frequently, and VII: Kenoma is an equal soul crusher and as evocative, immersive and ferocious this music can get. It’s not just the album of the year, but one of the most concrete, essential acts of our years as well. Mind blowing, from start to finish, to its very last thread.


Congratulations for all the amazing achievements you accomplished this year, I'm sure it was a walk in the park like it was for me. As with the one before it, begone and never come back, towards better days with more pleasing musical filth in 2022. F.T.W.

4 comments:

  1. I'm only stumbling on this now, definitely a handful of releases on here that overlap with my own picks but a bunch I haven't yet heard of—so I'll have to dig through. Can't believe how ignored that Phrenelith record went…

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    1. Thanks for reading, yes Phrenelith maybe came a bit late in the year for people to discover but it surely needs more exposure. Hope you find more stuff you like in here.

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    2. That's true, it looks like a good crop of people are supporting them through bandcamp so that's good to see. Pleasantly surprised by how this Alkerdeel's album sounds

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    3. Yes I think they went for this muddy sound on purpose, really good!

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