Albums of the Year 2021

Timely as ever, a few of us have selected our album highlights from last year. As ever, we were spoiled for quality new music and we’re so thankful to every artist who made the year more bearable. A track from each of our picks is included in the Spotify playlist too, for you to get stuck into as you read…

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Chris – Guitar

Every year, I struggle with the pull between listening to new music and going back to my comfort listens – especially given the state of the world, there’s a lot to be said for the warm blanket of an album that you know inside and out. It was tough to populate a top 10 list this year, but that isn’t a reflection on the number of quality releases – more my relative inability to absorb new albums particularly fast! Nevertheless, here are the ten albums that particularly stuck with me this year and soundtracked a tumultuous, terrible, and sometimes triumphant 2021.

10. Panopticon – …And Again Into the Light

And Again Into The Light | Panopticon

Folk and metal, the two great tastes that taste great together. Except, despite my 10-year history in Northern Oak, I’ve always been quite leery of the “mead and wenches” variety of folk metal which favours cheesiness over actually trying to write good songs. Thank fuck, then, for Panopticon – a solo project from Austin Lunn, who mashes together mournful American folk/bluegrass with melodic black metal and does a damn fine job of it. Powerful, relentless and cathartic.

9. Underdark – Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-Entry

Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry | Underdark

I’d probably class this as more of an EP than an album, at 36 minutes – but quibbling aside, it’s a tumultuous blast of fierce post-black metal with a staunchly antifascist/pro-LGBTQ stance that ticks a lot of my boxes. If I have one criticism it’s that the vocals are mixed a little too low, which means they’re occasionally overpowered by the music – having seen them live earlier in the year I know that vocalist Abi has some serious lungs, so hopefully they’ll address that on future releases.

8. Noctule – Wretched Abyss

Wretched Abyss | Noctule

“Melodic black metal inspired by the videogame Skyrim” feels like the most “me” sentence ever written, and I’m pleased to confirm that this solo album from Serena Cherry of Svalbard absolutely nailed the brief – every track on this release evokes the wintry mountains of Skyrim, wrapped in atmospheric production and peppered with soaring leads. Serena is apparently working on more tracks for a follow-up, which is great news!

7. Maybeshewill – No Feeling is Final

No Feeling Is Final | Maybeshewill | Bird's Robe Records

I wasn’t expecting to get a new Maybeshewill album this year – the last I heard, the band had split up, so this was a delightful surprise. It doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of their previous releases (particularly the extremely post-rock-titled I Was Here For A Moment, Then I Was Gone) but it’s still a very well-constructed chunk of ambient post-rock from a band with masterful control over their sound.

6. Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

TRIBULATION | Where the Gloom Becomes Sound

Just scraping into consideration (by virtue of being released in January 2021, which feels like a decade ago and yesterday all at once) is this follow-up to the incredible Down Below – and while it doesn’t quite match up to the previous album, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Tribulation’s sound is hard to pigeonhole easily – guttural death vocals and some pretty bouncy riffs and melodic guitar lines – but it’s absolutely, 100% my shit.

5. CHVRCHES – Screen Violence

Chvrches: Screen Violence Album Review | Pitchfork

CHVRCHES are probably the most consistent band I know – every album they’ve released has a high number of bangers and is overall very enjoyable. Screen Violence just continues that trend – it doesn’t really stray from their formula, but when the formula works so well, why should it? This was another album that I kept coming back to this year – it falls into the “comfort listening” category for me, and I’m excited to (hopefully) see them live in 2022.

4. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

Album Review: SPIRITBOX Eternal Blue

If Taylor Swift got into djent, it’d probably sound a bit like this. Delightful pop vocals on top of some big, meaty riffs – crucially, this album doesn’t fall into the trap of recycling tired breakdown after tired breakdown, which is what often turns me off djent. They’re comfortable with melodic riffs that compliment the soaring vocals, and know when to apply light and shade. Now, does anybody have Tay-Tay’s number so I can talk to her about guesting on the next Ba’al album..?

3. Daniel Hart – The Green Knight (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Daniel Hart: The Green Knight - Soundtrack - Milan Records

I listen to a lot of soundtracks (both movie and videogame) because I love the way that music can deepen my appreciation of another piece of media. In the case of The Green Knight, the music was absolutely integral to the whole (spellbinding) experience I had with the film – it complimented the bleak, fantastical landscapes perfectly and suffused the whole thing with an otherworldly medieval vibe. The OST stands alone as a worthwhile listen even if you haven’t watched the movie, which is a rare feat.

2. VOLA – Witness

Witness | VOLA

I’d never heard of VOLA before 2021 – Luke mentioned them in our band chat so I went to check out this album, and was absolutely blown away by it. The main thing that characterises Witness is extremely catchy hooks, both vocally and musically – this is music to sing along to in the car, but with the added frisson of some excellent djent-inspired breakdowns and proggy time signature fuckery. Highly recommended, but be warned, you won’t be able to get the choruses out of your head…

1. Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana

Primordial Arcana | WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM

Less ambient and drifting than their previous albums, with a greater sense of urgency and snarl, but without sacrificing the atmosphere – I think Primordial Arcana is my new favourite Wolves album, narrowly beating out the transcendent Celestial Lineage. I decided not to listen to this album until I could sit down with the vinyl and give it my full attention – and then I kept coming back to it throughout the back half of 2021, finding new things to love each time. Listen to this album, journey into the mountains and revel in the magick and majesty of nature.

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Richard – Bass

2021 has been another bumper year for great music. I listened to 75 albums this year, which is a total I’m very pleased with. As ever, a top 10 was an incredible challenge, and I had about 30 that could have made it in… Those that came closest were Hong Kong Express (specifically ‘L.Y.F’ out of the several albums he released this year), Ed Scissor & Lamplighter, Mol, The Hyena Kill, Amenra, Emma Ruth Rundle, Wolves in the Throne Room, Autarkh, Hellish Form and finally the album with which I had the most stupid fun this year: Kurupt FM.

10. Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready

Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready - Vinyl LPx2 – Rough Trade

Stripping away almost all of the industrial/drone/metal elements to her sound this time around, Lingua Ignota continues to make some of the most emotionally punishing and anguished left-field music going. The orchestrations and additional instruments this time around allow for both some of her most beautiful music so far as well as some of the most sinister and disturbing. Listening back to this after the revelations came out about Kristin’s horrifying personal ordeals this past few years, it’s impossible not to be deeply moved and powerfully affected. Not an easy listen.

9. Violet Cold – Empire of Love

Empire Of Love | Violet Cold

As I’ve mentioned here before, this is the album that finally got me properly into Violet Cold and had me exploring his other records, where before I’d been so-so on what I knew. I’d be lying if the blatantly pro-equality and anti-fascist message (shown in the face of great adversity) wasn’t part of the reason I like this album so much, but it’s mainly just the overall euphoric, passionate and uplifting feel to this exploratory and eclectic post-black metal. Earlier this year I was sure this would be top 3 material, but over time I’ve realised I’m not the biggest fan of the first couple of tracks, which feel a bit clunky. The rest is stellar, though.

8. Other Joe – Jealousy Tulip

Jealousy Tulip | Other Joe

Other Joe is an ambient artist I discovered from a BandCamp email a few years back and one who I’ve enjoyed since, but never would have expected to end up in my albums of the year. In truth this was battling it out with Hong Kong Express’ album L.Y.F. for this spot in my top 10, as they both fill similar needs in my listening life: atmospheric, otherworldly, slightly melancholic, nostalgic and urban soundscapes. In the end, Jealousy Tulip won out just because of it’s more varied textures and more forthright beats which lend a slight sense of the sinister to some tracks.

7. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever

Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever Album Review | Pitchfork

There’s a pattern emerging: this is another album I would never have expected to make it to my top 10, but here we are. I enjoyed Billie’s debut in 2019 when it first made waves, but aside from the standout, bass-heavy bangers, I didn’t go back to it too much. On her second outing, there’s a lot more variety and pretty much all of it lands for me. Sure, the aforementioned minimal bass wobbles aren’t there so much this time, but there are plenty of sultry grooves, atmospheric and soulful pop cuts and even a climactic outburst of heartfelt rock. The mid-album spoken word callout to all those who unfairly malign her for her appearance is just the cherry on top that makes Happier Than Ever even greater.

6. Rivers of Nihil – The Work

Album Review: RIVERS OF NIHIL The Work

Whilst I did really enjoy 2018’s tech-death sax-fest Where Owls Know My Name, I never quite fully boarded the hype train and found it a little bit sterile after a while and stopped going back to it. Enter The Work, one of the most bafflingly ambitious releases I heard this year. There’s still plenty of technical brutality (and still a little sax goodness), but this time around there’s also a ton of other stuff going on, ranging from spacey synth noises, classic heavy metal leads, rich ambient textures and everything in between. Describing it accurately is pretty hard as I still don’t feel like I’ve fully got my head around it yet, but what I do know is that it is excellent.

5. Der Weg Einer Freheit – Noktvrn

Album Review: DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT Noktvrn

This is by far the least surprising pick on my list, as I’ve been banging on about my undying love for DWEF since I was put onto them in mid-2019. On Noktvrn, the Germans continue their mastery of wringing immensely powerful atmospheres out of unstoppably powerful, precise and high definition black metal battery. Though it doesn’t quite match up to their previous effort – one of my favourite black metal records of all time – the range on display this time is wider, taking in some electronica, increased clean vocals and some other brief, surprising turns, making it something fresh for the band without sacrificing any of their strengths.

4. Voices – Breaking the Trauma Bond

Breaking the Trauma Bond | Voices

For my penultimate surprise (to myself) for the year, I was taken aback at how much this album got under my skin. Successfully mixing the gothic and melody-focused elements of their last album with a return to the brutality of the stunning London that preceded it, Breaking the Trauma Bond is equal parts infectious hook and savage death metal riffery. Each time I listened to this album I forgot just how many strong moments there are, and how many of the random tunes I’d had in my head in the previous week were from it. Yes, it’s possibly a bit long, but it’s catchy, aggressive and steeped in the band’s unique voice (SEE WHAT I DID THERE).

3. Black Country, New Road – For the First Time

Black Country, New Road: For the first time Album Review | Pitchfork

I’ve spoken about this album at length already, including reviewing it for an online publication, but I still can’t stop adding my voice to the burgeoning critical response this band are getting from all manner of people much cooler than me. Mash up some Slint, Oxbow, Swans, Black Midi and Jewish klezmer music, add a rambling and warbling storyteller up front and wrap it all up into the shape of a band who are young enough to make you want to throw all of your instruments away and give up and you’ll get close to this post-everything collective of musical wizards.

2. BRUIT ≤ – The Machine is Burning and Now Everyone Knows It Could Happen Again

The Machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again | BRUIT  ≤

The final time I’ll say I surprised myself this year is here. After hearing about them from that mind-bogglingly stacked ArcTanGent lineup (god I hope I actually get to go this year), I checked this out and was blown away – post rock almost never grabs me as much as this did on first listen. It’s simultaneously doing what the greats have done before (think the expansive tones of Godspeed! You Black Emperor with some of the bubbling electronics of 65daysofstatic) and doing something that feels totally fresh, all within an absolute cavern of reverb and drenched with passion. The band are strongly anti-Spotify, so they’re not on our playlist, but I urge you to head to their BandCamp and listen to ‘Industry’.

1. Daniel Avery – Together in Static

Together in Static | Daniel Avery

After a lot of complex and affecting melodrama in the top half of my top 10, my number one pick for the year is a much more restrained affair. Though I refrained from making a final call until recently, in my heart of hearts I think I knew this was my AOTY from pretty early on. Known as a DJ of big room tech-house bangers, here Daniel Avery mixes a little of that with a lot of much more minimal and laid-back grooves and beats that hold you in a warm, nostalgic embrace that conjures up all your best emotions without letting you become overwhelmed. It’s unassuming but captivating; warm but emotive. Basically, it’s good.

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Nick – Guitar

10. Ethereal Shroud – Trisagion

Trisagion | Ethereal Shroud

This album would have been higher up my list but unfortunately Richard played bass on it which is obviously extremely uncool, so unfortunately it will have to settle for tenth. Jokes aside this is quite simply an astounding work of bleak music, using an array of stylistic tools to navigate an intense emotional journey. I understand that Trisagion was the product of many years of work, and it can only be said that the time put into this album was worth it, it’s about as good as blackened doom gets.

9. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert Album Review | Pitchfork

Grey Area was one of my favourite hip-hop albums of 2019, and Introvert is without doubt my favourite of 2022. Anchored by some excellent production and intimate lyricism, this album presents an artist at the peak of her powers and she only seems to be getting stronger.

8. Converge and Chelsea Wolfe – Bloodmoon: I

Converge: Bloodmoon: I Album Review | Pitchfork

Two artists that I like but have never particularly loved combine to create an album that I inexplicably adore. That’s the story of Bloodmoon: I. The album is the centrepiece of a Venn diagram of the two, with stunning vocals from Wolfe and intricate, haunting aggression from the Converge crew. Bloodmoon: 1 implies that there may be a Bloodmoon: 2 – here’s hoping anyway.

7. Erdve – Savigaila

ALBUM REVIEW: Savigaila - Erdve - Distorted Sound Magazine

Probably the heaviest slab of absolute disgust I heard all year, which says a lot given my inclination towards disgusting slabs. Albums like this blur the lines between hardcore, sludge, metal and basically anything you would define as heavy, to the point at which it deserves its own genre I have ingeniously coined “heavy ass shit”.

6. Five The Hierophant – Through Aureate Void

Through Aureate Void | Five the Hierophant

I have a thing for post-metal with brass and woodwind instruments, so I Stan this album hard. It probably would have been my post-metal album of the year based just on the bits that were ‘metal’ anyway but the bits that aren’t ‘metal’ push it into a whole other void (audible groans from around the room).

5. Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready

Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready - Vinyl LPx2 – Rough Trade

Recent revelations made the impact of this album all the more insidious. This is about as emotionally raw that music comes and I’ve never heard tragedy portrayed in such a devastating manner as this. Chilling and beautiful in equal measure, there really is no one quite like Kristen Hayter. Her story will leave its mark on extreme music for generations, of that I am sure.

4. VOLA – Witness

Witness | VOLA

I was a relative latecomer to the VOLA hypetrain, discovering them around the time that Applause of a Distant Crowd released. I was immediately enamoured and the wait for new material felt like an age. Whilst certainly not the proggiest, nor the heaviest, nor the poppiest prog band around, they’re among the finest songwriters the genre has to offer, consistently ploughing out some of the hardest hitting riffs and most euphoric choruses you’ll hear out of the genre. Pretty much as soon as ‘Head Mounted Sideways’ dropped I was already considering this album as a potential AOTY contender, then they released the whole album and their spot was confirmed.

3. Biffy Clyro – The Myth of the Happily Ever After

Biffy Clyro - The Myth Of The Happily Ever After | Reviews | Clash Magazine

For a band 27 years (I know right) into their career to still sound so youthful and dynamic is a testament to one of the finest alt-rock bands the UK has ever produced. Their first taste of proper mainstream success over a decade ago could have seen them tumble into a vat of mediocrity, as is so often the case. I saw them headline Leeds Festival back in 2013 when they started to hit their commercial peak and drift away from the proggy peculiarity that we all loved. But here they still are sounding as fresh and unique as ever, trying new things and believing enough in their own sound to bring them success.

2. Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders/The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises  (2021, CD) - Discogs

3 artists of wildly different genres combine to sound like they’d been playing together for decades. Whilst Sanders effectively acts as the album’s voice, performing with incomparable soul, the work of Floating Points and The London Symphony Orchestra is a dynamic and intricate centrepiece in its own right, and is perhaps one of the finest collaborations of classical and electronic music ever produced. As an album you could loosely define as ambient, I thought I’d give this album a go whilst I did some work. I got no work done.

1. Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

This Place Will Become Your Tomb by Sleep Token on Amazon Music -  Amazon.co.uk

Probably the most divisive name on my list, Sleep Token were nevertheless my most streamed artist of 2021, and the only band I’ve been to see live as a punter in a good few years, so I can’t argue against this album taking the top spot. Their saccharine brand of pop, post-rock and djent may not be for everyone, but none can deny that Vessel carries an astounding voice, and boy do this band know how to turn you into a blubbery mess. This Place Will Become Your Tomb is the break-up album you never knew you needed.

Albums of 2021… So Far

As we’ve passed the midway point of the year now, we thought we’d put together a list of some of our favourite albums of the year so far, if nothing else to make our final lists in December slightly easier. Read on for some of our picks, with a Spotify playlist of a song from each.

TRIBULATION | Where the gloom becomes sound - Nuclear Blast

Tribulation – Where the Gloom Becomes Sound (Chris)

Tribulation’s last album (Down Below) grabbed me instantly, so I was excited for new material from them – and this album didn’t disappoint. Big, crunchy, melodic riffs paired with harsh death-doom vocals – it’s just great, okay?

ALBUM REVIEW: Savigaila - Erdve - Distorted Sound Magazine

Erdve – Savigaila (Nick)

Probably the heaviest shit I’ve heard all year, and with only a few months of the year left, 2021 is going to have a hard time topping it. If my brief research into the meanings of Lithuanian words was accurate, ‘Erdve’ translates as space, and if that is the case, they represent the chaos and discomfort of the great unknown.

Black Country, New Road: For the first time Album Review | Pitchfork

Black Country, New Road – For The First Time (Richard)

Hailed by many as the second coming of Slint, Black Country, New Road are purpose-built to debunk the jaded music fan who thinks all modern music is predictable toss. Bits of free jazz, klezmer, Oxbow, Swans, Black Midi, divisive and wobbly spoken word vocals and much more swirl around in this arguably very pretentious, inarguably very adventurous and subjectively very excellent post-everything album.

Dream Weapon | Genghis Tron

Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon (Chris)

Their first new release in 13 years since 2008’s fantastic Board Up The House, this came largely out of nowhere – I had no idea Genghis Tron had new material in the pipeline. It’s stunning – I can’t easily categorise their sound (glitchy electro-grind? Noise-rock? Other wanky genre descriptors?) but that doesn’t matter when the songs are this good.

Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra  on Amazon Music - Amazon.co.uk

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises (Nick)

I’d heard talk of this album so frequently that it was bordering on being hyped to the point of disappointment, but I don’t think any number of superlatives will ever do this album justice. Just a perfect blend of grandiose classical, poignant electronics, and soulful jazz, lovely.

Yarost' I Proshchenie | WOWOD

WOWOD – Yarost’ I Proshchenie (Richard)

Veering between majestic post metal a-la The Ocean, monolithically filthy doom riffs and furious blackened hardcore, this Russian outfit really caught me by surprise by wrapping up some of my favourite metal sounds into a devastating and gigantically produced whole.

Ice Fleet | KAUAN

Kauan – Ice Fleet (Chris)

I discovered Kauan through Spotify – their last album Kaiho was a fragile, wintry thing of beauty, and Ice Fleet continues in that vein before building up to some beautiful post-rock crescendoes. Put it on, relax and let the atmosphere wash over you like the frozen waves of the North sea.

Bring Backs | Alfa Mist

Alfa Mist – Bring Backs (Nick)

A beautiful collision of jazz and hip-hop and a great compliment to a mellow Sunday afternoon. I picked this album at complete random whilst flicking through the Bandcamp charts. I can only assume that divine intervention led me to this album, I don’t think anything but fate could be responsible for such a pleasing encounter.

Empire Of Love | Violet Cold

Violet Cold – Empire of Love (Richard)

As I’ve mentioned in a previous playlist blog, this is the album that really got me invested in Violet Cold, my interest in them previously having been limited to “yeah they’re pretty good”. Of course I love how much the artwork and message of the album is riling the most closed-minded corners of the black metal world, but mainly I just love the impassioned melodies, soaring textures and lack of fear of experimentation with genres. At this stage in the genre’s existence it’s a great feeling to still find genuinely exciting new blackgaze.

Witness | VOLA

Vola – Witness (Chris)

I only discovered Vola this year – either through a Spotify recommendation or through our drummer, Luke, I can’t remember which. Nevertheless, this album is absolutely phenomenal – big riffs, big vocal hooks, catchy melodies. It’s the kind of thing you want to crank up loud and sing along to while driving through open countryside, or maybe that’s just me?

Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams Album Review | Pitchfork

Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams (Nick)

Here comes the wholesome record of the year. Arlo has revealed herself as one of the most formidable voices in quaint, summery, lounge pop with stunningly arranged portraits of her brief but eventful life thus far. Loyle Carner vibes, which is never a bad thing.

Together in Static | Daniel Avery

Daniel Avery – Together in Static (Richard)

Known mainly as a big time UK DJ trading the largest of beats in the darkest of rooms, Avery’s newest outing combines his penchant for tech-house bangers with a surprisingly reflective, heart-warming and non-specifically nostalgic vibe that will catch you right in the feels whilst you’re grooving to the kicks. The industrial floor-fillers are balanced by some luscious ambient techno tracks and all bases are covered with an immense attention to detail.

Wretched Abyss | Noctule

Noctule – Wretched Abyss (Chris)

“Atmospheric black metal inspired by the videogame Skyrim from the vocalist of Svalbard” is a sentence that I never thought I’d see, and yet here we are. The result is a genuinely excellent album that rises above any sort of “videogame-inspired” gimmick – plenty of melody to build atmosphere, and it captures the frostbitten feeling of Skyrim’s locations perfectly.

Through Aureate Void | Five the Hierophant

Five The Hierophant – Through Aureate Void (Nick)

Post-metal album of the year for me (don’t have an aneurysm, Amenra stans!). Sits restlessly on the psychedelic deck of the riff bus and the destination is Anglosaxophoneland, the land of the Anglo-Saxophones.

JOYSVILLE | Ed Scissor

Ed Scissor & Lamplighter – Joysville (Richard)

The impending return of my favourite UK rapper and his inseparable producer has excited me all year and it doesn’t disappoint. As with all of his releases to date, Ed stands well apart from the rest of the UK hip-hop crowd with his dark and unknowable tales of grim and gritty reality delivered with his uniquely deep and despondent drawl. Lay these bars over Lamplighter’s atmospheric and no less abstract electronic tapestries and you have a sound I truly cannot get enough of.

Albums of the Year 2020

Well, what a year that was… Trying for all, but at least music is always there for us. We’ve picked some of our personal favourites from 2020 below, with a track from each in the Spotify playlist, too. Please enjoy this – it was painful.

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Nick – Guitar

It was very considerate of music to continue being excellent in spite of that bug that’s been going round. I managed quite a lot of new albums this year and found making this list as difficult as ever. As such this isn’t a definitive top 10 for me, and many are interchangeable with others that I haven’t mentioned, but I wanted to include some albums that maybe didn’t get as much recognition as they deserved alongside some albums which definitely got plenty of recognition.

10. Respire – Black Line

Respire – 'Black Line'

A late cat thrown amongst the pigeons. Having pretty much decided on the ten albums I wanted to talk about, I then listened to this album in mid-December and had to reconsider my decision. This is what post-metal is all about. It sounds like absolutely nothing else, the use of orchestral instrumentation is inspired and a driving aspect of their songwriting, and the emotional rawness is truly biting. A one of a kind album.

9. Loathe – I Let It In And It Took Everything

Loathe: I Let It In and It Took Everything Album Review | Pitchfork

Without doubt my most repeated album of the year. This record combines the best of noisy prog-metalcore and passive, post-Deftones daydreaming. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the future belongs to bands like this, and I will be dumbfounded if we don’t see them at forefront of modern metal in years to come.

8. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now

Charli XCX: How I'm Feeling Now – Review Corner

It’s like she somehow distilled the very essence of insomnia and cabin fever into a neon-pop wonderland. I’ve loved everything Charli has released since Pop2 and as far as I’m concerned, she is going from strength to strength.

7. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned Album Review | Pitchfork

I listened to this album twice in a row and I think I’m going to go and listen to it now. In fact I think I’ve listened to this album nearly every time I’ve been reminded of its existence. Their brand of experimental hip-hop is dark, scary, and magnetically illustrative, and each track feels like you’re trapped in a short horror film.

6. Envy – The Fallen Crimson

The Fallen Crimson | Envy

This is an album that brought me back to emo. Emotionally devastating, The Fallen Crimson is a panoramic collection of angst, wistful rumination, aggressive noise, and some of the best riffs to come out of this sordid year.

5. Motorpsycho – The All Is One

All Is One: Amazon.co.uk: Music

What a journey this album is. It truly fits the stereotype of psychedelic prog that rapidly gets out of hand to the point at which you don’t know how long you’ve been listening to it or indeed what day it is. I mean that in the best possible way. Having only begun listening to this band earlier this year, I was simultaneously ecstatic and horrified to discover how much excellent music this band has released that I’m now going to have to listen to. Having too much good music really is the best problem one can have.

4. Relic Point – Self Punishment

Oh boy, if someone asked me what an amalgamation of Primitive Man and Car Bomb would sound like I couldn’t tell them, but I would want to know, and now I do know, and it is good.

3. Demersal – Less

My chaotic, sludgy screamo album of the year. It’s the sound of grief in a hornets nest. It’s the sound of death made of out of a thousand broken bottles. It makes me feel cold and empty and like I want to attack things with sandpaper.

2. Run The Jewels – RTJ4

Run The Jewels - RTJ4 Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? This is a defining album, perhaps THE defining album of modern solidarity. History will remember it as a phenomenal hip-hop album, and a tragic commentary on 21st century racism.

1. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu, “Mestarin Kynsi” | Bandcamp Daily

I echo the sentiment I previously made regarding the Motorpsycho album. By the end I had little memory of the past hour beyond a hazy black void that felt like the fabric of the universe was being fed through a paper shredder. But again, in a good way.

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Richard – Bass

In 2020 I listened to 77 new albums, which is a record for me and one I’m pretty proud of, especially as someone who doesn’t really use streaming services. Of that number, there are honestly about 30 that could have made my top ten, but the ones that came closest were Kelly Lee Owens, Craven Faults, Sunken, Purity Ring, Calligram, Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, Sons of a Wanted Man, Hum, Ocoeur, naisian and Bosphorous. Yes, I am aware that list itself is more than ten – I am an indecisive bastard.

10. Julianna Barwick – Healing is a Miracle

Julianna Barwick: Healing Is a Miracle Album Review | Pitchfork

The first of several artists in my top ten who were actually new to me in 2020 entirely, Barwick’s trade is in reverb-soaked, ambient-adjacent chamber folk, and this new album is rife with gorgeous atmosphere and an enveloping lushness that is truly beautiful. There are even a few electronic beats this time round, and it’s all otherworldly.

9. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned Album Review | Pitchfork

clipping. are now an unstoppable force in experimental hip-hop, and their rising status among music fans of all stripes could hardly be more deserved. Probably more abrasive and built on more disturbing and noisy samples than 2019’s equally brilliant outing, this is hip-hop pushed to its outer limits whilst still heaping on loads of dark grooves and sick flows.

8. Wren – Groundswells

GROUNDSWELLS | Wren

Despite being aware of them for ages, 2020 was the first year I invested any time into listening to Wren, following our gig with them in January and then them signing with our friends Gizeh Records. Their sound comes largely from the doomiest pages of the Cult of Luna post metal playbook, but they’re driven forwards by powerful (and audible) basslines and inventive drumming, plus a deadly crush of tone.

7. A.A. Williams – Forever Blue

Forever Blue | A.A. Williams

Whilst I enjoyed the 2019 self-titled EP, this album really surprised me with how much I loved it. It takes the despondent singer-songwriter-meets-shoegazey-post-rock vibe from that first release and adds some climactic moments of truly dense metal weight, some subtle Radiohead-like moments of sparse and beguiling melody, and wraps it all up with a wonderful ear for a downbeat but catchy hook.

6. Vile Creature – Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!

Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! | Vile Creature

Vile Creature are another band I took a long overdue first dive into during 2020, and even in my limited experience this feels like their crowning achievement to date. They already had their suffocatingly heavy, tectonic doom groove nailed before this record, but the inclusion of choral vocals in the latter half and more guitar layers than you can shake a stick at lend this a much more majestic and even liturgical feel.

5. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Miss Anthropocene - Wikipedia

Combining the more overtly pop-focused sounds of the still admittedly offbeat Art Angels album and reintroducing more of the trademark idiosyncrasies from her previous work, Grimes managed to put out one of her finest works whilst also taking up a lot of space in the music press for many reasons over the course of the year. The biggest bangers here have her cleanest production yet, but it’s all shot through with endearing darkness and a sense of the futility of fighting our technocratic future.

4. Kairon; IRSE! – Polysomn

KAIRON; IRSE! Polysomn reviews

Spoiler: the Oranssi Pazuzu camp really knocked it out of the park in 2020. Kairon; IRSE!, their prog/psych/shoegaze offshoot, seemed to come back to earth at least little bit after the exuberant 70s worship of their previous album. The heavier, more dense guitar layers from their earlier work are back, combining with some continuing joyful experimentation and a dizzying world of sound that is all their own.

3. Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?

ALBUM REVIEW: When I Die, Will I Get Better? - Svalbard - Distorted Sound  Magazine

Svalbard are another band I shamefully only paid proper attention to in 2020, despite having seen them live twice at festivals – I know, what was I thinking? Still based in the mixed hardcore, black metal and post metal elements they were already known for, this new album sees a marked increase in dreamy, melodic post rock passages a-la Alcest, which suits them perfectly and adds an almost regal quality to these already powerful songs. Add that to a reliably direct and wholly justified lyrical vitriol towards misogyny and other social injustice and you have a guaranteed winner that will get you riled for all the right reasons.

2. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi

Oranssi Pazuzu, “Mestarin Kynsi” | Bandcamp Daily

A lot has been said about this album since it’s release, but it’s all true – it really is that good. They’ve pushed all their psychedelic and kraut-y tendencies to new extremes and their patented vortex of swirling black metal and bad trip vibes has never been so compelling.

1. Farer – Monad

Monad | Farer | Tartarus Records

A very late surprise discovery for me, thanks to a post from our friends at 9hz, I only listened to this album just before Christmas when I thought I had my list near completion. After two spins, however, this shook me to the core and felt custom made for me. With no guitars and two basses, this is a slow motion, molten creation of low-end rumble, filthy noise, and building-levelling riffs. Topped off with a harrowing shriek, it’s like someone injected Amenra with heroin and stole all their ‘clean’ channel switches. Utterly devastating and a new favourite band.

luke-influences

Luke – Drums

So my list might be a bit different to Nick and Richard’s because after going through my music I can only find 7 albums which I’ve listened to which came out this year, so clearly I need to up my game next year but I still probably won’t! I’ve given a nice big blurb for the top 3 and then a smaller bleugh for the other 4. ENJOY!

7. Nightwish – Human. :||: Nature

Album: Nightwish – Human II: Nature

I do have a soft spot for Nightwish and orchestral music in general and this was their release this year. It doesn’t quite tickle the spot that Imaginareum, Dark Passion Play, or Endless Forms Most Beautiful did, but it is still a beautifully composed bit of orchestral metal.

6. Ensiferum – Thalassic

Ensiferum reveals details for new album, 'Thalassic' | Metal Blade Records

This is a great album which honestly I haven’t given the amount of time it deserves. Ensiferum have come back with an absolute belter of heavy, Finnish Folk metal.

5. Jack Gardiner – Escapades

Escapades | Jack Gardiner

Similar to Plini this is another vituosic guitar player writing groovy, funky, instrumental tracks which I am just totally down with.

4. Plini – Impulse Voices

Impulse Voices | Plini

This album is relatively new for me so I’m still absorbing it but Plini is just incredible and this album continues to prove it.

3. Arch Echo – Story I

Story I | Arch Echo

Arch Echo also happen to be one of the last bands I saw live in the ‘before time’…. and over lockdown I even bagged myself a spot on one of the drummers masterclass sessions! But to get to the point: this EP is just what I’d expect from Arch Echo. Another amazing selection of instrumental, djenty, groovy, funky-ass tracks (not to be confused with funky ass-tracks). This band have never disappointed me since I discovered them at TechFest many years ago now and immediately fell in love with them. Their music, talent, joy, and energy is so palpable and I just can’t get enough of it.

2. Dirty Loops – Phoenix

Dirty Loops - "Phoenix"

Again, this band have come up for me in the Ba’al monthly musings very frequently, and deservingly. With this EP the trio yet again manage to blow my mind with musicianship and pure talent. In particular, the track “World on Fire” has what I would be confident to describe as the best bass solo I’ve ever heard in a song. But the other aspects of the music are by no means overshadowed by this, and they all pull together to create the incredible jazz, fusion, pop sound that just will not let you be sad!

1. Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion

Spirituality and Distortion | Igorrr

Honestly I’ve listened through this album so much and know it so well by now that I was shocked to be reminded that it only came out this March. I’ve also been blabbering on about it on the Ba’al Monthly listenings! But this album is such an amazing musical journey through varying tones, timbres, and time signatures. For me it contains some of the best elements of djent, orchestral, electronic, operatic, and progressive music in a continuously evolving and flowing masterpiece.

Albums of the Year 2019

Last year was a big one for music, sounds and noises. Below you’ll find Nick, Richard, Tom and Joe’s picks of the bunch, after hours and hours of pain in stripping the lists down to a measly 5. We’ve also got one track on from each release in a handy little Spotify playlist…

Mirror attempt 1 bw

Nick – Guitar

This was a very strong year and putting this list together was very difficult (isn’t it always?). I only undertook the voyage into 2019’s back catalogue in mid-November, so I’m pleased I managed to squeeze around 140 in before the year was out. Several honourable mentions this year including Alcest, Cult of Luna, Cranial, Violet Cold, Mizmor, Ultar, Oh Sees, The Grey, Skepta, Seizures, Rorcal, Anderson Paak, Billie Eilish, Boris, Charli XCX, Hannah Diamond, Herod, Hobo Johnson and the list goes on and on. Here’s the five I wanted to mention in particular.

5. Norma Jean – All Hail

Image result for norma jean all hail

A slightly tongue in cheek album title perhaps? Regardless of intention, it’s an apt name for a now legendary metalcore band showing us how it’s done.

4. James Blake – Assume Form

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A typically strong outing from the James the Blake with consistently compelling features. Considerably more pastel coloured than his previous releases (he’s not miserable as fuck anymore) and with that it’s one of the most interesting alt-pop records of recent years.

3. Sūrya – Solastalgia

Image result for surya solastalgia

This one took pole in my very tight post-metal round-up. Cult of Luna, Alcest and Cranial all came close but none of them drew my undivided attention quite like this. Essential listening for any fan of the aforementioned bands and the wider post-metal world.

2. 65daysofstatic – replicr, 2019

Image result for 65daysofstatic replicr 2019

A bleak Orwellian nightmare is the perfect soundtrack for the future, now that we live in a bleak Orwellian nightmare under the fat blonde goblin.

1. Lankum – The Livelong Day

Image result for lankum the livelong day

Incredible follow up to their similarly incredible second album. It’s difficult for me to describe this album, as I make no claim to being a connoisseur of Irish folk. What I can say is that there is a brooding intensity to this album, a grim foreboding the likes of which you might otherwise hear on a Sunn O))) album. In a pinch I’d say this is my album of the year.

Mirror attempt 3 bw

Richard – Bass

I’m notoriously useless at keeping up with new music, and spend far more of my time digging into old things I’ve missed over the years, but this list was a fun excercise in trying to catch up. Although it’s nothing on Nick’s total, I managed 30 albums from 2019, which is loads for me. About 15-20 of them could have made the top 5, but ones that came especially close were Cult of Luna, HANA, Max Cooper, N/UM, New Ghost, Earth & Pillars, A-Sun Amissa, Mic Reckless and White Ward.

5. Earth Moves – Human Intricacy

Image result for human intricacy

Ever since I first saw them in 2017, Earth Moves have been one of my favourite UK heavy bands, and their second album near enough manages the seemingly impossible task of matching the quality of their first. No one else dares to get so rawly emotional and dynamic with post metal, and if anything there’s more variety and power this time around.

4. Archivist – Triumvirate

Image result for archivist triumvirate

A massive step up from the second record which was a bit of a mis-step in my opinion, Archivist have returned to doing post-black metal better than almost anyone else. Two vocalists (with both clean and harsh vocals), lush chord progressions and, crucially, plenty of straight-up battery, all topped off with frontman Alex CF’s brilliant artwork. In truth, you need to check out the full trilogy.

3. FKA Twigs – Magdalene

Image result for fka twigs magdalene cover

It took me ages to get around to this one after both Nick and my girlfriend told me for months that I’d love it – they weren’t wrong. This is pop music twisted into bizarre shapes, retaining the hooks and beats that keep you plugged in. It’s one of those records that reveals more every time. Highly recommended.

2. Lingua Ignota – Caligula

Image result for lingua ignota caligula

Speaking of twisting things into painful shapes, Lingua Ignota’s voice is just something else. There’s a lot more to digest here than on her first outing, but once you put in the time, it’s incredibly powerful. Classical meets noise meets drone meets metal meets liturgical music meets abject pain meets fear of god meets brutal revenge on all those who have wronged you. See her live, you won’t be the same afterwards.

1. Dizraeli – The Unmaster

Image result for dizraeli the unmaster

Continuing to prove himself a totally unique voice in UK hip-hop (/folk/experimental/spoken word/something/everything), this one caught me totally by surprise with how much I loved it. It’s so eclectic, personal and powerful, whilst also being full of danceable bangers. Dizraeli’s own flow is only getting stronger with time, and it sits at the centre of a wild symphony of electronic and acoustic instruments, plus some totally out there vocal performances.

Mirror attempt 2 bw

Tom – Guitar

There were many that could have been on this list and a few that were very close, including Cave In… As much as I love ‘Final Transmission’, you can’t help the feeling that it could have been so much more if it wasn’t for the sad passing of Caleb. Russian Circles, Torche, Iggy Pop and A-Sun Amissa were all standouts and in that order would round out a top 10, but these are the 5 that really grabbed me this time round.

5. Boris – LφVE & EVφL

Image result for boris love and evol

Walls of fuzz and noise collide with a surprising dash of calm and quiet. What’s not to love.

4. Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear

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Monolithic riffs combine with atmospheric passages in ways nobody else can manage.

3. Mono – Nowhere Now Here

Image result for nowhere here now

A masterpiece of soundscape, texture and expression, with a depth lost on so many other bands of their ilk over the years. Spanning fragile to bombastic walls of sound effortlessly.

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

Image result for nick cave ghosteen

Stripped bare compared to early Bad Seeds material and continuing on from the last couple of releases this is as beautiful as it is dark and haunted by loss. Was my album of the year for a long time until…

1 . 65daysofstatic – Replicr, 2019

Image result for 65daysofstatic replicr 2019

I don’t really know how to describe this record. Each and every time it gives up a bit more from the vast soundscapes within that feel more like one vast piece than individual tracks. Just stunning.

Mirror attempt 4 bw

Joe – Vocals

I’ve been a bit out of the loop on newer music this year; most of what I’ve heard has been random bits of obscure black metal performed in deep, dark Siberian woodland, recorded onto a potato by hedgehogs that probably have unconfirmed but potentially troubling political ideaologies…. So instead of trawling through reems of spikey logo’d bands that sound like dense atmospheres within a tub of particularly evil marmalade, I’ve picked out the stuff that others may have actually heard of. Honourable mentions go to Mayhem’s album ‘Daemon’ for being better than expected and Slipknot’s ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ for it’s grade D at GCSE graphics artwork and, despite being aggravatingly underwhelming, still supplying me with an adequate coaster for my mug of fancy pants coffee.

5. Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
Image result for cattle decapitation death atlas

The best album since the game changing Monolith of Inhumanity. Further experimentation, diversity and even a sense of emotion rarely experienced in tech death.

4. Mgla – Age of Excuse
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Released to almost zero fanfare this album just turned up one day. A powerful follow up the the masterpiece that was “Exercises in Futility”.

3. Veldes – Flameless
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More spectacular atmosphere from Slovenias workhorse black metallers.

2. Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
Image result for blut aus nord hallucinogen

Coming somewhat out of left field this album is a mind bending experience that demonstrates Blut Aus Nords progression along with their spacey cosmic trademark.

1. Grima – Will of the Primordial

Image result for grima will of the primordial

Extremely cold atmospheric black metal that truly resonates a sense of eternal winter.