Five For Friday: Black Metal 2021

Season’s greetings, Decibel readers!

Usually, this column focuses on five great new releases for the previous week (or thereabouts). But seeing as 2021 is winding down and we’re in end-of-the-year–list season, it’s a good time to go through five excellent black metal albums that came out over these last 12 months. Please keep last year’s caveat in mind, of course. The column isn’t 15 For Friday or 50 For All Time, so you’ll have to cope (and seethe) with this narrow selection totally chosen on impulse. In other words, these are the releases that jump out at me right away, with no hesitation. I tend toward the raw and straightforward second-wave sound, along with the blackened-death style with blue color schemes on the album cover. So for those of you who worship the “dissonant” stuff or who seek out ersatz rehashes of Bergtatt, prepare to be disappointed!

Also, you can read more about some of these selections in our latest issue, so go grab that if you haven’t already!

Hope you enjoy the following albums, because I sure as hell did!

Hulder – Godlastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry

I’m going in alphabetical order by band here, but I should point out this list starts with my favorite album of the year, and Decibel‘s #27 selection. On her debut full-length release, Hulder meets all requirements, checks all boxes and fulfills all needs. Godlastering represents the best way to take a classic, well-established style into the future. Hulder takes the style of Gorgoroth, Astarte and Dark Medieval Times-era Satyricon, adds some touches of bands like Demoncy and Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult and puts her own compositional spin on it all. Her use of synths and acoustic guitars is strategically tasteful and adds dimension to the music rather than striking the listener as a gimmick. Her vocals are perfect for the style, the riffs are fantastic, the rhythms are varied and exciting. Darkness triumphs yet again.

Stream: Apple Music

Këkht Aräkh – Pale Swordsman

There is so much raw vampyric black metal out there now. The last few years have seen a corner of Bandcamp practically conquered by the forces of Wallacia and made to submit to Vlad Tepes himself. As with any explosion of neo-retro acts, you have a glut of mediocre bands (and the word “bands” is doing a lot of work here) just stitching riffs together and making their records sound totally unlistenable in the hope their cassette releases will become hot commodities on Discogs (they probably will). However, there are still a lot of great bands to find out there. I’ve sang the praises of bands like Lamp of Murmuur a lot on here, and while Mr. Lamp did put out a great album this year, I have to give special attention to everyone’s favorite sword-bearing romantic in Këkht Aräkh. Pale Swordsman takes the approach of 2019’s brilliant Night & Love, refines the runtime down, adds greater focus, and swaps the programmed drums for a real kit. The result is everything you could want from raw black metal, along with some gothic and post-rock flourishes on the interlude tracks. Whenever I start listening to this album, I find myself hitting repeat again and again.

Stream: Apple Music

Ninkharsag – The Dread March of Solemn Gods

And now for a jolt of lightening! In a blizzard! IN HELL!!! What should you expect? I mean, dude, look at the album cover. Ninkharsag is one of many bands out today putting out quality material that gives an update to the sound of The Somberlain, Far Away From the Sun, Darkside and Vittra, with perhaps the slightest hint of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk lurking in the darkness. It’s nothing new, and I don’t care one bit. This is everything that exciting metal should be. If you agree with me, be sure to give Thulcandra‘s A Dying Wish a listen as well.

Stream: Apple Music

Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst

It’s really easy to make flowing black metal that can bore you to tears. It’s very hard to create flowing back metal that makes you want to burst into tears of diabolic joy. This album is the latter. I didn’t think Spectral Wound could top 2018’s Infernal Decadence so easily, but alas, here we are. The songwriting is better, the riffs are more engaging, and there’s just more in this album that rewards repeat listens. If I could sum up the mood of this record, I’d call it “powerful melancholy.” The album feels grim and mournful, but also totally rips and roars. This unrelenting work of black metal art achieved the #34 spot on Decibel‘s top 40 list.

Stream: Apple Music

Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime

Ok, so take what I said about Ninkharsag, give it a rawer production and add lots of synths. Also add a lot of influences like Summoning, Dawn and Windir. The vibe here is so snowy and epic, I’d almost venture to call this Christmas black metal (I’d put Ringarë in there as well, check out this year’s Thrall of Winter’s Majesty, by the way), ridiculous as that sounds. Listen to “An Ode to Dragons” and you’ll catch my drift, and perhaps something falling down the chimney. Anyway, it’s probably the most fun black metal album of the year, but one which brings all the quality from start to finish. Oh, one more honorable mention since I mentioned Dawn: go listen to Stormruler‘s album Under the Burning Eclipse, it rules and you’ll enjoy it if you like Slaughtersun or Subterranean-era In Flames.

Stream: Apple Music