Since we’re already a month into 2021, it’s safe to say you’ve already read Decibel’s Top 40 Albums of 2021 list (and if not, what are you waiting for?). As comprehensive as that power ranking is, it’s impossible for one list to account for every single metal album released in the past 12 months. There’s just too many.
Which is why each year I assemble this alphabetical sample of excellent records which never made it into the pages of Decibel magazine. They may have appeared on the dB website in one way or another, but they never made it into print (at least I don’t think so, I only checked the one time, but If I was wrong, just leave a comment I won’t read). Some came out on labels, some were released independently, many were recorded in parts of the world where finding a copy of Decibel is highly unlikely. Some of them barely qualify as “metal” except in the most abstract sense. But each of them is excellent or unique in one way or another, so open your ears and minds, and dive in.
Aquilus – Bellum I
Has it really been ten years since Aquilus released Griseus? This long-awaited follow-up is yet another cinematic marathon of progressive and atmospheric black metal with kaleidoscopic moods.
Atvm – Famine, Putrid and Fucking Endless
Death metal in the U.K. has been on the rise (as it has everywhere) but it’s not all the GED variety – Atvm take a speed run at the jazzy-Floridan style and add a strong dab of wackiness. Or maybe they’re taking dabs?
Autarkh – Form in Motion
“it seems you took my advice about Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga a bit… literally.”
Black Sheep Wall – Songs for the Enamel Queen
After a six-year hiatus these slept-on sludge merchants have dialed the aggression down, but their compositions grow ever stronger.
Black Sites – Untrue
Perpetually independent, Black Sites continue to reliably deliver a subtle blend of thrash and ’70s prog.
Cara Neir – Phase Out
Once an epic, blackened crust outfit, Cara Neir surprised me this year with a suite of video game music. Well, why let Dark Souls fans have all the metal fun? 16-bit console RPG fanatics need to hear this.
Cenotaph – Precognition To Eradicate
Absolutely merciless brutal death metal — a must listen for Maggot Stomp acolytes and Summer Slaughter basketball short-moshers.
Centenary – Death… the Final Frontier
I’m a sucker for Entombedcore and Michigan’s Centenary wield the chainsaw sound with confidence.
Choke Me – Hauntology
Did you sleep on last year’s the Cousin of Death LP? Here’s a bonus EP of cop-clobbering deathgrind. Abolish everything but the pit.
Flyblown Prince – Code
These British avant-black stalwarts took a detour into soothing post-metal on their last album, but this one returns to their sinister, sadistic roots.
Coffin Dust – Nightmare Vision
Absolutely scuzzy goregrind that manages to worship all four for the first Carcass albums in equal measure. This band destroys live, too, so if you get a chance to see them, do so.
Death Toll 80K – The Future is Yours
Finnish grind greats deliver a new slab of blasts that probably would have made the pages if, you know, they told anyone about it.
Dödsrit – Mortal Coil
You like melodic black metal? You like it better when you’re pretty sure nobody involved is secretly a Nazi? If yes, you should listen to Dödsrit.
Diskord – Degenerations
I don’t always like dissonant abstract death metal, but when I do, I like when it’s as bug-fuck nuts as Diskord.
Emptiness – Vide
Black metal refracted through a broken iPhone screen (no, not literally).
Fire-Toolz – Eternal Home
The Shape of Grind To Come.
First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle
Hi-fi tech death as ridiculous as it is groundbreaking, synthesizing Helloween melodies, convincing flamenco interludes and big-band swing breakdowns with slap bass as a lead instrument. The most creative album I heard all year.
Fluisteraars – Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking
Holland’s finest black metal band didn’t need to drop another jammy, garage-y ripper so quickly after last year’s Bloem, but I’m glad they did.
Herzel – Le Dernier Rempart
Epic francophone old school metal for those who would rather throw themselves from the castle wall than submit to the enemy.
Kaatayra – Inpariquipê
Caio Lemos’s final album as Kaatayra is another sharp, emotive collection of folk-flecked black metal that deserves a spin from anyone interested in Agalloch, Panopticon, or Ulver. Fortunately for us, Lemos’s work continues in Vauruvã (see below).
Kauan – Ice Fleet
Frigid in tone but somehow heart-warming blackgaze from this reliable and long-running formerly Russian export.
Light of the Morning Star – Charnel Noir
The paraphiliac’s choice for gothy black and roll of the tight-leather-pants wearing variety.
Mental Cruelty – A Hill to Die Upon
Imagine if Dimmu Borgir and Dying Fetus did the fusion dance.
Mystras – Empires Vanquished and Dismantled
Ayloss from Spectral Lore’s other band is tremendously detailed and outré castle-dwelling black metal.
Night Crowned – Hädanfärd
A murderer’s row of Swedish black and death royalty delivers their second album of melodic wall-of-drum-hits extreme metal in as many years
Papangu – Holoceno
A prog-metal record nearly a decade in the making from one of the most promising bands in Brazil, deftly blending ’70s monster rock, ’90s post-hardcore and good ol’ fashioned kosmische into a warm, engrossing whole.
Plebeian Grandstand – Rien ne suffit
Five years after their last record this French outfit returns with a dedicated synth player just to say “Fuck melody. Fuck Eq. And most of all, fuck you.”
Rot – Organic
A long-running Brazilian grind institution releases their sixth LP — the last with beloved bassist Alexandre Stambio. R.I.P., Bucho.
Rude – Outer Reaches
The Bay area’s most slept-on death metal band gets cosmic — and challenges yours truly to avoid making an Alien tagline joke.
Sallow Moth – Stasis Cocoon
Garry Brents of Cara Neir (see above) delivers Edge of Sanity worship with a cosmic edge and hi-fi audio aesthetic.
Section H8 – Welcome to the Nightmare
Criminally fun mosh-obsessed songs from the buzziest L.A. hardcore band I can think of right now. Believe the hype.
Significant Point – Into the Storm
Pure denim and leather from Japan. It’s fast for Japan but kind of mid-paced for today. Even so, the hooks are there.
So Hideous – None but a Pure Heart Can Sing
Formerly a hi-fi arty black metal project, So Hideous have metamorphosed into a genre-agnostic and incredibly listenable band. Of all the early aughts blackgazers maybe they’ve evolved in the most compelling and interesting direction.
Take Over and Destroy – Fade Out
Arizona death ‘n’ roll auteurs release their cinematic third album independently and, like a good grindhouse flick, it’s destined to be a cult classic.
Trivium – In the Court of the Dragon
What if I told you Trivium have somehow become the best Nevermore clone on the planet? The -core is still there but often Matt Heafy’s slinging grim and groovy power metal with blistering leads and tricky turnarounds these days. Give Trivum a second chance if you haven’t.
Universally Estranged – Reared Up in Spectral Predation
Altered-consciousness death metal for those still lusting for L.S.D. after the blood Incantation and Qrixkuor trips have worn off.
Vaelmyst – Secrypts of the Egochasm
The melodeath revival is happening and I am here for it. In a parallel universe this made it onto the dB Top 40 in Dungeon Serpent’s stead (both bands are excellent).
Vauruvã – Manso Queimor Dacordado
Aforementioned Caio Lemos’s new project is a more proggy mix of Brazilian folk music and raw black metal, one with subtly shifting moods and most concise compositions than his previous project. It’s obviously rough around the edges but for my money it’s one of the most exciting albums I heard in 2021.
Voices – Breaking the Trauma Bond
75 minutes of horny, angsty neo-noir black metal from Akercocke members, this time with a little more post-punk around the edges. This band has a narrow target audience but for freaks like me it scratches a very particular itch maybe too well.