Best of 2021 – Spencer Hotz: There’s No Drift In This Joy-Con

Well lookie here, flat Earth has been frisbeed around the moon once again. This lovely year under our lizard overlords saw a shaman take over the capitol, cucks inject 5G into their arms to become a nation of Manchurian Candidates, Jesus blood eradicated that fancy flu, and JFK will soon corporealize in Dallas to, I don’t know, fight kid diddlers in pizza parlors or something.

In case it isn’t clear, I’m being facetious. If you believe in any of the above or other crackpot theories that hail from a mystical letter between P and R, please seek information and assistance from actual credentialed professionals. Your worldview is so untethered from reality that it’s exhausting and, quite literally, killing the rest of us.

In a year that started with hope for improvement, not much actually has managed to do so. It’s frustrating, infuriating, depressing and a whole lot of other negative words. This is the part where I’m supposed to say music was the balm to my mental wounds, and it was, to a certain extent. The right album on my worst day (my #1 album in particular) always helped pick me up and channel some of that negative energy into a desire to move on and do something fun. The funny thing with music, however, is that it has become less of the complete escape that it once was after so many years of it always accompanying other activities. It’s my most prevalent companion as I do chores, work on mindless admin tasks, read a book, drive my car or go for a walk, but it’s not all that often that I get to just sit and lock-in. I always do so a few times for any review in addition to other activity-partnered listens, but that still seems woefully lacking.

In 2021, I needed something else that could provide a more complete escape and that turned out to be video games. Last year, the spark was renewed with all the fresh free time forced upon us all. But that spark mostly stayed as a comfortable flame in the fireplace of the living room that only gets used occasionally; then I bought a Nintendo Switch. That magical contraption transported me in equal measure to blissful nostalgia and rapt attention for the newest coolest thing. From the gorgeous somber Ori, to the bright bouncy Mario and all the way down to the gloriously depraved Blasphemous, I simply couldn’t put my controllers down. A big part of that success was that these games required my full attention. My eyes were locked on the screen, my fingers were trying to keep pace, my ears were absorbing lush soundtracks while listening for hints of what might be next, and my brain was readily trying to find solutions to what stood in my way. It was a full escape from the frustrations of the real world that nothing else could truly match.

The Switch was the best thing I purchased this year and I say that knowing I bought an engagement ring in February — please commence praying for me that my fiancée doesn’t actually read this. As I listen to music, my swiss-cheese mind constantly fires off connections to all sorts of other media. Just as I attached horror movies and shows to my previous best-of list, I’m zooming in and pulling the trigger on some games that come to mind for my top-20 metal albums.

And to give you a bit more fuel for the “sweet Satan’s butthole, this guy is an idiot” fire, there’s an extra little ranking list at the bottom of this page that isn’t related to music. Like the title says, though, this Joy-Con has no drift and you’ll see nothing but a precisely perfect Platinum Trophy worthy list below!


Need a cheat code for finding top-notch heavy metal? These 10 albums have secrets to share!

20. Black Sheep Wall – Songs For The Enamel Queen

Video game: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Just as the creators of Hellblade consulted numerous psychologists to properly construct the main character’s psychosis in a real and believable way, Black Sheep Wall’s Brandon Gillichbauer lays bare his battles with addiction and depression. The music is a harrowing slab of metalcore drowning in a miserable sludge, but it’s the authenticity of it all that really makes it sink in. This is an album that wants you to suffer.

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19. Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Video game: Nier: Automata

Want to experience media that refuses to follow the tropes of the genre it’s most often associated with? Pick up either one of these gems. You never really know what you’re going to get with an album from Thy Catafalque, but you know it’s going to be interesting. Seriously, “Köszöntsd a hajnalt” has electric bagpipes in it. I didn’t even know that was a thing that exists in the world before hearing that song. Tamás Kátai’s work continues to defy genre or classification as it so deftly blends seemingly disparate instruments, styles and even structures.

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18. Ominous Ruin – Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone

Video game: Enter the Gungeon

Tech-death drumming is an auditory bullet hell unleashing a relentless barrage of ear-shattering notes. What makes this band stand out, however, is their ability to have guitars and bass smoothly dance between the stream of flying ammunition. Ominous Ruin writes memorable riffs and keeps the music flowing despite the hellacious speed they maintain. Think firing off a full clip of Necrophagist into an Archspire target and you’re on the right track.

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17. Vaelmyst – Secrypts Of The Egochasm

Video game: Celeste

In a world of long-standing powerhouses like Mario and Donkey Kong, the 2D pink-haired Celeste has the right to be included among the best platformers in gaming history. And in a year that gave us new At The Gates and Carcass, both of which I very much enjoyed, Vaelmyst’s debut managed to be the best melodic death metal album of 2021. The tunes are razor-sharp, creative and engaging while stamping it with progressive touches and some pretty impressive leads. The secrypt is out, these guys rule!

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16. Helloween – Helloween

Video game: Final Fantasy VII: Remake

Before 2021, my experience with Helloween or the Final Fantasy series bordered on non-existent. With no expectations, I fell in love with how joyous an experience Helloween offers. It’s triumphant, powerful, heavy, infectious and so much more. Sound familiar, Finally Fantasy fans? Whether the band plies your ears with massive numbers more ludicrous and grandiose than fighting a sentient house; or they’re hitting you with a quick and tiny number with the deadly zip of a frog wizard, this batch of boss-fight level tunes is impossible not to enjoy.

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15. Demoniac – So It Goes

Video Game: Bayonetta 2

Depending on which Bandcamp page you land on for this album, you will find it has different release dates. I may be cheating a bit here, but its January release on Edged Circle Productions was surely the biggest boon to its spread, so I’m counting this as a 2021 release.

It won’t take you but a couple of seconds into “RSV – Fools Coincidence – Testigo” to realize that these four Chilean thrashers can string together unreal button combinations that would have their songs slice through angels. What really sets this album apart, however, is how smoothly they include the likes of piano, clarinet and saxophone without it ever feeling forced or sapping the heavy momentum of the album. So It Goes is a dynamic, glorious adrenaline rush.

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14. Replicant – Malignant Reality

Video Game: Guacameele! 2

Replicant’s music is deceptive in its surface-level simplicity. Malignant Reality hits the listener with rooster uppercuts, headbutts and frog slams in the form of perfectly ignorant beatdown riffs. But rumbling underneath is a deranged Gorguts technicality that provides the mind a puzzle to solve. The line Replicant straddles is a challenging one and they do it perfectly.

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13. Terminalist – The Great Acceleration

Video game: Star Wars: Squadrons

The Great Acceleration is a perfect warp-speed dose of modern death-infused space thrash. One must have exceptional flying skills to survive a dogfight in the cosmos and Terminalist bring everything from head-on speed (“Relentless Alteration”) to upgraded weapons for a heavy assault (“The Invention of the Shipwreck”), and even a wily unpredictability (the bass line in “Estranged Reflection” that’s clearly inspired by The Cure).

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12. Fluisteraars – Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking

Video Game: God of War (2018)

Sometimes a shift in approach can yield great results. Last year’s Bloem was a phenomenal album that focused on a more immediate satisfaction that was as lush and beautiful as its flower-adorned cover. Kratos pivoted away from a constant raging bloodthirst on his most recent adventure, pushing the player to take their time exploring in order to gain a deeper appreciation for what the game’s world had to offer. Similarly, Fluisteraars stripped off some of the sheen from their last album and removed the brass elements to create a rawer but more in-depth experience that you’ll want to sit with for hours.

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11. Ancient Mastery – Chapter One: Across The Mountains Of The Drämmarskol

Video Game: Blasphemous

There’s always room for the old ways in the modern world when they’re done this well. Ancient Mastery siphons their black metal blasphemy from the genre’s 90’s raw second wave with a synth sound as “dated” as 16-bit graphics, but that’s just part of what makes it fun. Wild combos, powerful sliding riffs, and a pummeling sense of righteous magic abound.

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Each of these bands punched in the Turok 64 code to create an invincible album.

10. Steel Bearing Hand – Slay in Hell

Video Game: Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal’s soundtrack already kicks all kinds of ass, but I would have no qualm’s replacing it with the perfectly violent metal coming from Steel Bearing Hand. Each element of the death, black and doom these Texans utilize is as essential a weapon as the Doomslayer’s arsenal. No one of them alone can fully slay your demons but by deftly switching between them at the click of a button, these maniacs have created killer combos that can slay demons of any size from a zippy imp (“Lich gate”) to a building-sized lumbering wrecking ball like the Icon of Sin (“Ensanguined”). Let’s hope Steel Bearing Hand plan to rip and tear for many years to come.

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9. Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime

Video Game: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is essentially a Castlevania game even if they can’t directly call it that. Tales of Othertime is essentially a classic blue-cover melodic black metal album dropping from the limb of a family tree with far too many branches to count. Are either of these particularly original? Nope, but that’s ok. They wear their influences on their sleeves and put all the right elements together so exceptionally well that the quality is undeniable. “The Serpent’s Stone” is an absolute world-beater of a track that would make every fire of Gondor burst into flames and call forth the globe’s full army of black metal fans. Melodies this killer and synths this castle-bound are worthy of any adventuring wizard’s time!

We don’t have a full review, but you can read more of my blabber about this album on our staff-list

8. Dordeduh – Har

Video Game: Ori And The Will Of The Wisps

Dordeduh is an experience with world-building. Every song feels like a lush landscape filled with varied environments tied to one of Earth’s elements. There are moments that hit with the heft of an earthquake balanced against those that carry the listener with the lapping of waves. The band’s use of Tambal, xylophon, toaca, tulnic, nai, fluier, caval, dube, timbale, lemne and mandola make it all the more engrossing and otherworldly. Your mind will joyfully bounce around all of these landscapes like little Ori and just when you think you’ve mastered the flow, an inky monster of a riff will knock you out with its heaviness. Har is a journey deserving of those full-attention listens and each one unveils another incredible moment.

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7. Grey Aura – Zwart Vierkant

Video Game: Undertale

Some things come with a barrier to entry. Undertale’s 2D graphics, heavy text focus and obtuse gameplay/storyline make it a tough nut to crack. Having that sort of obscurity surrounding an effort also means that the people who love it REALLY love it. Grey Aura hails from a similar school to Imperial Triumphant and their most powerful element is discord. Layered guitars that flit from ear to ear, a driving bass, thunder drums that are constantly rolling all over the mix and abrasive brass make this an exercise in chaos.

Unlike Imperial Triumphant, Grey Aura’s approach to the album feels more unified and weeps from a tortured style of black metal instead of death metal. The constant push and pull of cleaner beautiful passages against pure bedlam make Zwart Vierkant a challenging but equally rewarding listen.


6. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

Video Game: Super Mario Odyssey

Nostalgia and context can always make a big impact on how much you enjoy an album. I have truly loved several Iron Maiden albums for many years, but my activities leading up to the release of Senjutsu deepened that love for some and brought a fresh passion for others. The announcement of Senjutsu inspired all of us at Last Rites to put together an Iron Maiden Week of articles that included ranking album art, the studio albums and then opening a Discord channel on release day to simply share the joy of first listens with anyone that wanted to join us. In preparation for that, I cycled through every Maiden full-length album multiple times. It was enrapturing and the joy that our collective felt in bickering about what Maiden is best Maiden was simply one of the best music experiences of the year. Opening that to a host of strangers in Discord from around the world and seeing the fiery passion from people of multiple generations all these years into the band’s career was simply amazing.

Did that whirlwind of fun and binging add some rose-tinted glasses to my eyes on the first listen of Senjutsu? Most likely yes, but I also found myself inexplicably drawn back to it over and over again with each listen making me love it more. Things that bugged me or fell flat the first time around suddenly were the most interesting part during the next listen. When I bought my Switch, the first game I bought with it was Mario 3D All-Stars. I had never played Super Mario Galaxy and got so hooked that I ended up getting all 120 stars in about a week. Super Mario 64 had me redeeming my childhood ineptitude and I felt immense satisfaction when I found Yoshi on top of the castle. All of that fun led to me diving into Super Mario Odyssey with that same joyous nostalgia. Some heralded this as the greatest development in the history of Mario and I disagree. Much of the game is absolutely killer, but it’s also a bloated collect-a-thon that can get tedious at times. But you know what? I still LOVE it and I know I’ll spend countless hours with it for years to come.

Senjutsu is bloated and flawed, but so much of it is done so well that I know I’ll listen to it countless times for years to come and every spin sees the sense of bloat seem more inconsequential. I am not a big fan of Book of Souls, but that album walked (and stumbled a whole lot) so that Senjutsu could fucking sprint and it does so beautifully.

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5. Grima – Rotten Garden

Video Game: Dark Souls

This type of atmospheric pagan black metal would provide the perfect soundtrack for any marauding knight. Open passages of clean guitar backed with the subtle hooting of owls beg you to dive into a world of exploration. The synths are at times ominous and bode of a challenging battle ahead. The accordion echoes out from behind a bard’s tale like a siren song to a weary traveler looking for a flagon of ale and a bonfire to rest near. My favorite thing about what Russia’s Grima does with this style is they avoid letting any of these elements turn into something cheesy. The guitars are searing and the drums are wild so even with all the beautiful folk elements added in, Rotten Garden still feels like a dark challenging sojourn in lands where nightmares abound.

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4. Big|Brave – Vital

Video Game: Limbo

The black-and-white cover of Vital may be the most immediate connection to Limbo‘s similar aesthetic, but that’s far too basic an element for a true pairing. No, the deeper connection is the way that both so effectively use sparse elements to be incredibly impactful while making you think. Big|Braves’ lyrical critiques of modern social ills will have your mind racing for a lot longer than any of the brain-buster puzzles in Limbo.

Vital’s combination of forward-thinking post-metal and sludge delivers simple riffs that carry more weight than the densest planet and Robin Wattie’s voice can only be described as moving. Her heart-wrenching approach blends Julie Christmas with glimmers of Björk for an incredible performance.

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3. Moral Collapse – Moral Collapse

Video Game: Metroid Dread

Moral Collapse is a death metal battle of man vs machine. The technical performance is tighter than C3PO’s clenched butt port, but there are still human fingerprints all over the natural sound achieved. Whether it’s the claxon call of the horns that arise in certain tracks or the demented vocalizations that sound like someone being murdered by an E.M.M.I, even Samus would struggle to survive this death metal assault.

The experimental touches and whirling riffs are a wild combination of Nile and early Aughts Polish death metal played in a way that’s all Moral Collapse’s own.

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2. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Video Game: Mortal Kombat XI

Have there ever been any more consistent things in the world than Mortal Kombat and Cannibal Corpse? You know exactly what you’re getting with both, they’re always varying degrees of good to great, and they’re experts in coming up with astoundingly gross and impressively original ways to kill people.

Cannibal Corpse’s last two albums were solid but fell off a bit compared to the run from Kill through Torture. Perhaps Erik Rutan’s promotion to full-time member added a bit of fire, but the entire band stepped up to make Violence Unimagined an album that’s just as potently violent and memorable as that earlier run. “Follow the Blood,” “Condemnation Contagion” and “Inhumane Harvest” could all easily become staples of their live set for the next decade, but I’d honestly be thrilled to hear any of these 11 songs come from the stage.

Get over here and experience another top-tier Cannibal Corpse fatality!

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1. Mental Cruelty – A Hill to Die Upon

Video Game: Hades

This German quintet is about as mad at god as Zagreus is Hades. Just as you feel more powerful with each run in Hades, every spin of A Hill To Die Upon will bestow you with the infernal might to crush any obstacle in your path. Writer’s block? Take a break to absorb the soaring black metal riffage, decimating breakdown and obscenely gorgeous lead work of “Ultima Hypocrita”. Don’t have the energy to exercise? Let the bouncy ignorant riff in “King Ov Fire” fill you with an exuberant need to run through a brick wall. Coffee not doing the trick? The blasting and blistering speed that opens “Death Worship” will get the juices flowing.

Mental Cruelty is appropriately tagged with a deathcore label and that’s likely to turn a few of you away, but it shouldn’t. A Hill To Die Upon is overflowing with sharp tremolo riffs, a variety of death metal vocals, concrete-cracking breakdowns, triumphant symphonic elements and leads that are about 1,000x better than what you typically get from any band with a “core” tag.

I have listened to this on a loop for months and I’ll gladly be Zagreus running through it endlessly for many more months to come.

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(Top-10 EPs and Demos)

10. Spellforger – Upholders of Evil (EP)

This is a blistering dose of high-top sneaker thrash that’ll have you repeatedly doing kickflips while you listen. No frills, no fuss, no muss, just speed and fire to wreck your neck to.

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9. Empty Throne – Glossolalia (EP)

This debut EP stitches together monstrous death metal and biting black metal to unleash many-tongued monsters that will lash and bash your ears into submission. Each of these three songs runs beyond the six-minute mark giving them time to grow and unfurl their hideous curses. Having powerful and clear death metal vocals roaring over the top with some memorable choruses certainly isn’t hurting the band either.

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8. Knocked Loose – A Tear In The Fabric Of Life (EP)

Hardcore tends to be a somewhat limited genre and while Knocked Loose isn’t drastically breaking away from their past endeavors, there are little glimmers of experimentation throughout A Tear In The Fabric Of Life. The occasional “mathy” guitar passage and the increase of noise elements make this one of their most volatile releases to-date. Creating an animated video that follows the full 20-minute EP is pretty damn cool too.


7. Fumes – Assemblage Of Disgust (EP)

Step into the swamp and let this murky, sewage-thick death metal drown you in filth. This is 24 minutes of lurching hideousness that flows with enough technical gas to keep things extra interesting.


6. Havukruunu – Kuu Erkylän Yllä (EP)

A combination of re-recorded demos and new tracks, this little EP doesn’t miss even a hint of Havukruunu’s folk-laden black metal magic. The primary difference from more recent releases is that this one seems to be made of fire from start to finish. The tremolos are so fiery that there are probably burn marks on the guitar necks and the drumming is blazing. When the next snowfall hits, put this on and warm yourself a bit with its killer tracks.

We don’t have a full review, but you can read more of my blabber about this album on our staff-list

5. Perilaxe Occlusion – Raytraces Of Death (Demo)

The guitars here have a thick Sunlight Studios tone that gives it a driving warmth despite being killer death metal that plans to stomp you to bits. These three songs pummel and fly with diabolical energy that makes it hard not to smile at.

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4. Charnel Grounds – Molecular Entropy Examined In The Bowels Of A Great One (EP)

This brief explosion of tech death is as chaotic as its cover art. A turbulent burst of notes bend, run and slam like a rawer more deranged Wormed without the space sheen and robot clinician. Break your brain without breaking your bank.

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3. Cult Of Luna – The Raging River (EP)

At 45 minutes in length, it’s sort of wild to think of this as an EP but I guess that works when most of your albums go over 70. Regardless of any runtimes, Cult of Luna continue to absolutely crush all modern post-metal contenders. The standout element this time around is the increased use of keyboards that add some fresh colors to their heavy downtrodden palette.

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2. Know//Suffer – The Great Dying (EP)

Know//Suffer plays a pretty straightforward style of hardcore that hits with simple riffs, perfectly-timed breakdowns and a rawness that makes each hit that much harder. Vocalist Toast William’s pain-inflected style makes the affair a bit more moving, so each prime beatdown feels personal.

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1. Mother Of Graves – In Somber Dreams (EP)

If you’re still floating down the blissful river of gloomy death metal with Dream Unending, I encourage you to make a stop in Indianapolis and let Mother of Graves cry some of their icy tears on you. Peaceville Three riffs abound behind a powerful growl that impressed the likes of Dan Swanö. This is the type of music you listen to when death’s embrace feels most appealing.

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Just as the best accessories take your gaming experiences to their highest potential, listening to things outside of metal make your musical life all the richer. Here were the non-heavy albums that I listened to most in 2021.

10. Lil Naz X – Montero

Lil Nas X is so unabashedly himself that I can’t help but love watching his career unfold. How can you not enjoy an artist who created one of the biggest radio songs of the year and connected a video to it of him dancing in the nude with a bunch of brawny dudes in a prison shower? His brass-blasted beats are impossible not to move to and yet he still manages to mix in a number of straight-up pop songs along the way. Who else is going to get Elton John and Megan Thee Stallion as guests on one album?

Speaking of Megan Thee Stallion…

Artist Website

9. Megan Thee Stallion – Something For The Hotties

In a year where one of rap’s biggest stars managed to find the time to graduate college, she also continued to release hit after hit even though it was coming from a compilation of unreleased tracks and random freestyles. “Thot Shit” is a classic Stallion video and track, but there’s plenty more to enjoy from this batch of assorted treats. Megan Thee Stallion is proving to be an unstoppable force in the music industry and I am absolutely here for it.

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8. Evership – The Uncrowned King

The Uncrowned King is some delightfully over-the-top capital P Prog. It noodles, meanders, soars, riffs and harmonizes with all the cheese and joy you would expect from a goofy cover like this. This one was brought to my attention by the mightiest prog noggin this side of the LR gates, so you should check out his list for more great gems if you dig it.


7. Ehsan Kelsi – Ephemera

With only two massive tracks, Ehsan Kelsi’s organ, synths and electronic elements coalesce to create the greatest 80’s soundtrack to an incredible movie that never got made. To listen is to experience incredible sonic action that’s way more potent than the limited number of instruments used should be capable of.


6. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – I Told You So

I didn’t really know you could have this much fun with just an electric organ, drum set and guitar. This album is an upbeat good time that even gives you a cover of “Careless Whisper.” It’ll be difficult for you to fight the desire to put on a bright-colored suit and start dancing down the street with an air of pure swagger, so don’t.


5. Scarecrow – Scarecrow II

There’s an argument to be made that this could fall into the metal category previously covered. But Scarecrow’s hard-rock Led Zeppelin impression feels more fitting for the outskirts of the heavy genre and is likely more palatable to the crowd that says “I just don’t like all that screaming.” Despite a rather misleading opening track, Scarecrow II unleashes a bevy of rocking riffs, soaring vocals, cock-rock grit and little touches of Dark Quarterer into their 70’s-infused style.


4. Tomeka Reid Quartet – Old New

I didn’t listen to nearly enough jazz this year, but I’m a sucker for a group that works strings into the genre and the Tomeka Reid Quartet delivered. A mostly high-energy affair with driving jazz that’s often led by strange and occasionally atonal cello keeps a perfect level of chaos in a beautiful picture. Every time the album feels like an uplifting barnyard dance, there’s a layer of unease that wafts in the door to remind you that all the animals that once lived there are now dead. This piece is often as deranged as it is fun.

If you didn’t get enough jazz in 2021, definitely check out Dan’s year-end list to find a ton of great recommendations to get your toe tapping into 2022.


3. Giant Sky – Giant Sky

I really love it when a band’s name can perfectly capture their music. Don’t get me wrong, if you saw a band was named Slicked With Anal Juices the goregrind that would follow is certainly predictable but that’s not quite the same. Giant Sky’s debut is as massive and open as its name implies. Instruments, as varied as clouds each, take their moment to float in and out of the picture bringing their own unique type of weather pattern to forecast. Take this one out to an open space and let the music carry your imagination through an adventure in the sky above you.


2. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

This was the album I needed most when it was time to ponder mankind’s biggest questions in an inebriated state. Its opening refrain repeats steadily throughout its full runtime, which would normally be very irritating but manages to instead be a perfect anchor as the rest of the instruments weave in around it. I spent numerous nights a bit drunk at 3am staring up at the stars with these engaging movements flowing through my ears more powerfully than the alcohol coursing through my body. Not the most typical drinking music, for sure, but when the mood struck nothing else did it better in 2021.


1. Anneke Van Giersbergen – The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest

When I first listened to this album, I thought Anneke Van Giersbergen’s name looked familiar but I didn’t give it much thought. Eventually, I would realize I knew her voice from collaborations with Devin Townsend and as I fell in love with this album, I was pushed back to the wonderful experience of hearing her early works with The Gathering. What an exemplary talent she is.

This album is equal parts charming, haunting, soothing, somber, uplifting and a million other adjectives. She approaches each song from a different perspective and her voice is a versatile weapon that will get hooked in your head no matter how she uses it. The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest came out in February and it has been in constant rotation for me ever since. If Anneke is a new name to you, I implore you to hit play immediately. You can thank me later.

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Oldschool Gamers

Even the most persistent listener isn’t incapable of hearing every new album that comes out and there’s a pretty good chance you’re regularly coming across some “classic” from decades past. Below are five albums I really enjoyed in 2021 that didn’t come out this year. I’m trying to avoid any super well-known names (i.e. I listened to a bunch of Frank Zappa for the first time this year), so hopefully you’ll get to discover something new here as well.

5. Golem – Dreamweaver

Upon first listen, the drum sound, riff style and vocals all reek of Heretic-era Morbid Angel. The thing is, though, this album is waaaay better than Heretic. Not even a full year after Morbid Angel’s album, Golem seems to take its formula and make it significantly more fatal to the flesh in the form of Dreamweaver.

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4. Gustav Holst – The Planets Suite

If you enjoyed last year’s Wanderers: Astrology of Nine by Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore, then you might as well give their source material a listen. Gustav Holst composed The Planets suite in the early 1900s with each of the seven movements inspired by one of the planets. Bombastic, eerie, calming and so much more, it’s no surprise this slab of classical goodness inspired similarly killer metal music.


3. Instant Boner – High Place Phenomenon

In complete opposition to Giant Sky above, Instant Boner has the absolute worst damn name possible when you hear the music they make. High Place Phenomenon has one foot in the 70s and one in the modern world. Instant Boner *Sigh* doesn’t need a blue pill to erect an hour of progressive and psychedelic tunes that shoot out perfect loads of heavy riffs, exploratory passages and brass instruments to satisfy the listener’s every need.

To answer your question, yes, I do hate myself a little bit for that blurb.


2. A Forest Of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes

I’ve seen the name Forest of Stars pop up over the years and I’m well aware there are some folks that absolutely love them. I’m slow sometimes, ya know? I finally pulled the trigger on checking them out and this triumphant slab of avant-garde black metal is dripping with maniacal atmosphere. The music is so damn good, but the absolutely unhinged vocal performance is really what elevates this above their competitors.

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1. Fleshvessel – Bile Of Man Reborn (EP)

Remember how I just said sometimes I’m slow? Well, much of the Last Rites crew was pounding the table for Fleshvessel’s debut EP last year and for some inexplicable reason, I paid no attention. After everyone’s year-end lists ran, I bought a whole mess of stuff in January to catch up and I was floored by this little single-song nearly 25-minute EP. While this song is built on a skeleton of death metal, it has so many unexpected twists and turns that my jaw was constantly dropping as each minute passed by. Just like a movie with a great twist, I don’t want to give away what Fleshvessel does on Bile of Man Reborn. The less you know before going in, the better.



In honor of my renewed video game obsession, I present to you my ranking of the games I beat this year. This is NOT a list of games that came out in 2021, but simply the games I played and beat. For further clarity, beating the game means I at least made it all the way through the main story. For some games, I managed to achieve a 100% completion, which was great, but that’s certainly not a standard my incredibly average gaming self aims for. Each game is linked to a trailer of some kind, so I hope you find something good to play!

16. Call Of Duty: World War II (I have no idea why I wasted my time playing this)
15. Rise Of The Tomb Raider
14. Infamous: First Light
13. Days Gone
12. Ratchet and Clank (2016)
11. Final Fantasy VII: Remake
10. Limbo
9. Luigi’s Mansion 3
8. Blasphemous
7. Super Mario Odyssey
6. The Last Of Us Part II
5. Super Mario Galaxy
4. Hades
3. Doom Eternal
2. Ori And The Will Of The Wisps
1. Super Mario 64

Holy shit, are you still reading this?

Posted by Spencer Hotz

Admirer of the weird, the bizarre and the heavy, but so are you. Why else would you be here?

  1. Finally some love for Dordeduh! I was very surprised to not see it on any other year end lists or the combined list. It’s probably the record I listened to most this year. Thanks for the heads up on some of these other bands! Cheers


  2. Spencer, I really enjoy your writing. I love your making connections to other media, this year and last, even though I do not game at all and rarely watch movies. I love that, in addition to an awesome list of non-metal, you included an awesome list of older stuff! The Planets is fantastic, and your mention reminded me that I still need to check out that Mare Cognitum / Spectral Lore work. Your Instant Boner blurb both made me add that album to my “to check out” list AND cracked me up. (I am a full-grown adult who likes boner jokes. No shame.) And I had no idea video games had associated trailers, but some of those were fun to watch! Thank you.


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