It’s always a great day when gods of death team up, and for Japanese death metallers Anatomia and Danish beasts Undergang, this isn’t their first time. Not satisfied with the devastating results of 2017’s 10” crusher collaboration (released in both Danish and Japanese, which is a really cool gimmick!), they’re back some five years later with a second split to crush us again. Who does that? I can’t even think of anyone else—but it fucking works, as you’d expect from two masterful bands at the top of their game.
Something that’s largely missing from the modern heavy metal scene is bands that do a good job of mixing the silly, spooky fun that King Diamond had with the actual musical and writing chops that his bands always brought to the table alongside it. Most bands seem to have one or the other, but never both; they come across as nearly-satirical in their tasteless, riffless “fun” music, or have an earnest and serious quality to their big goddamn riffs if they pull off their general stylings.
Genuine improvement with metal bands these days doesn’t feel as common as it should be. A debut demo or EP often signals how the album will be–a decent demo means a decent album, and a great demo means a great album. More uncommon still are bands that are more interested in pursuing their own path than trying to fit cleanly in with the rest of the modern scene, and new heavy metal especially seems obsessed with copying successful contemporary or 1980s bands instead of embracing the pioneering spirit that almost all of the best classic bands embodied.
As much as many musicians play relatively safe to the standards of their genre, either when playing in an established style or even when pushing boundaries, there have always been those that are not content to be anything less than properly mad. In the 1980s heavy metal scene, those musicians played in bands like Deep Switch, Lords of the Crimson Alliance, or Brocas Helm. Today, those musicians play in bands like Gentry Lord, Demon Bitch, Molten Chains… and Wanton Attack.
Even with a late entry (a spooky Halloween release!), Abysse mortifère was an easy lock for my 2021 year-end list. Ferociously opposed to any sort of modernity in their ancient assault, Outre-Tombe take things to the next level with what is surely their best record yet: catchier songwriting, bigger riffs, and dirtier production combine to form a record that stands apart from almost all contemporary peers.
Out now on Nameless Grave Records! Sordid Blade make a stunning debut with their first demo MMXXI: emotional, obscure, and tinged with magick, Sordid Blade focuses on evoking a personal atmosphere through arcane riffs and vocals rather than on more familiar onslaughts of borrowed NWOBHM-isms or speed metal heroism.
The heart of Sordid Blade is in forging a path outside the well-trodden, and the spirit of the project should appeal not only to fans of modern contemporaries such as Herzel or Vultures Vengeance but also to fans of sole creator Niklas Holm’s other band, Wanton Attack.
On this special limited-to-50 hand numbered cassette release, MMXXI has been remixed by Andrew Lee to better showcase the band’s powerful riffs and passionate vocals from the muddy original mix, but fans of that one need not worry: the b-side of the tape features that as well, leaving every option open to the discerning heavy metal maniac. 7″ vinyl to follow later in 2022.
Long gaps in band activity can mean anything. It could signify internal conflict, a lack of interest in songwriting, difficulty with the songwriting process, or a fine-minded attitude towards perfectionism. It’s impossible to tell from the outside, and perhaps the new Tension album Decay, coming out some five years after their self-titled debut EP, would have been just as well-done if it dropped in 2019 or 2020, but I doubt it. Decay is beautiful and shines with an inner fire of obscurity, drawing equally from the prolific 1980s Swedish heavy metal scene as from the lesser-known Eastern Bloc one, amongst other buried treasure bands.
Strange soundscapes and stranger riffs are the order of the day with new Canadian maniac sci-fi metallers Kontact, whose debut EP drops tomorrow on Temple of Mystery Records. Featuring veteran metal warriors from bands like Traveler and Blackrat, First Contact (missed opportunity to double up on the “K”s!) is a journey through the unknown; there is nothing predictable contained within other than a promise of really cool and unusual songwriting.
Another year has passed, and another chance to reflect on 12 months of killer releases is here. There’s a bit more than last year to dig into as bands either gave up on waiting out the pandemic or started touring again, along with bands that just outright wrote albums while they were stuck at home. All else aside it was a good year for music and there’s been lots of cool stuff that I mostly will ignore to talk about these specific 20 albums.