Words by Andrew Lampela
Andrew Lampela was an employee and eventual co-owner of the 40-year old institution, Haffa’s Records in Athens, Ohio, just outside of the dark woods from which Skeletonwitch emerged. Over his years there he has played in a number of bands ranging from rock to noise to metal and has taken his lifelong knowledge of music into contributing to a number of publications. He writes the periodic Ears of Decay metal column.
I’m usually more stressed out at the idea of narrowing a year of music down to, not just a list, but ‘the one’, but up yours, 2021. This is, without question, the album that most affected me this year. I’m a sucker for the raga-drone wilderness, and this is a ragged, heady gem of the first order. Wonderfully paced, immersive jams of the cosmic order, Strange Fortune is an emotional, spiritual experience, and truly a perfect record.
Succumb – XXI (The Flesner)
Again, this one is a no brainer. Thirty five minutes of vicious, angular grind-death? Absolutely my favorite metal album this year. Hints of weird 90s Napalm Death and late 90s math-crush Coalesce keep peeking out around the edges, but that’s probably just me. XXI throws just enough dynamics in to both break things up and make the grind hit that much harder. The lyrics are great, and Cheri Musrasrik gives a powerhouse vocal performance, putting this unquestionably on top of my metal pile this year. Total ripper.
This is by no means meant to disparage the band’s (quite enjoyable) past albums, but Vital feels like Big / Brave really busting through that next level. Huge waves of riffs churn under raw vocals, with some soundscapes breaking up the pummeling, across a cathartically immersive thirty eight minutes that, at one point, was all I could listen to for days straight. Fantastic album by a band that has truly come in to their own. (You should also check out their collab with The Body, it’s also great in a completely different way!)
Lisa Bella Donna’s discography is vast, filled with a variety of moods and instruments, and you can’t really miss just hitting play randomly, but this one has been a constant on the turntable since it showed up, complimenting the copious amounts of coffee I overindulge in on the weekends. “Take Me In The Morning” is a perfect encapsulation of Bella Donna’s mastery and vision, as guitar symphonies give way to lush, enveloping waves of synth. Incredible vibes throughout, this is an ambient fusion mind-melter.
This could have easily been the ripping new Six Organs album. Or even the great New Bums record. However, for me, these sublime acoustic cuts will almost always win out. What a fantastic problem to have. So much Chasny I have to choose! Contemplative, centering acoustic Chasny really helped me get through the muck lately, so this one comes out on top. Rapidly becoming one of my favorites in a catalog full of favorites.
Man, I didn’t know how much I needed a new Pelt album until a new Pelt album was announced. Two masterful, sprawling tracks of weird Americana noise drone culled from live sets, I feel these songs in my bones every time I drop the needle. Absolute legends giving voice to the hills.
William Parker is another artist that you can’t really miss by randomly perusing the catalog. He’s a jazz giant with an immense catalog. But that’s not why we’re here. This is an Ava Mendoza appreciation post. She absolutely shreds all over this album. Oh, and a Gerald Cleaver appreciation post. The cymbals alone on “Rocas Rojas” blow my mind. The epic title track spotlights three incredible musicians in complete communion while launching off. Good shit.
I heard an enormous amount of metal this year that surprised me, but none moreso than Genghis Tron’s first album in a gazillion years. I was never a fan of the band back in the day, it was more Nick Yacyshyn’s drumming that lured me in. If you aren’t feeling it right off the bat, skip ahead to the title track. That’s the one that got me. “Alone In The Heart Of The Light” too. Then the album just kept getting played. Layered synth-rock with Yacyshyn destroying math on the drums really came out of nowhere to become a go to this year, and for that, a spot on the list.
Another band I never thought I’d get another album from. I’ve loved Iceburn for almost thirty years now, so yeah, of course I’m into this, but c’mon, “Healing The Ouroboros” is prime Hephaestus-era and awesome. It’s got heavy riffs, it’s got weird-ass mystical lyrics, and when those harmonies start fighting around the seven minute mark? Ugh. I’m a full on Gentry fan, so I’ll take all the Iceburn (and Eagle Twin) I can get. Anyone looking for something a bit weirder on the adventurous, looser edge should most definitely check this out.
I’m going to cheat a little here and give some much deserved attention to outstanding year of releases the label has provided us with, several of which could’ve easily made this list. The Worm album is a treat, Atræ Bilis has been a solid go to since it dropped, and the Dream Unending is a deep deep well that keeps on giving. Pile on the Wode, Ghastly, Cerebral Rot, Witch Vomit, Ænigmatum, and Gravesend? I couldn’t wait to throw money at each and every pre-order. Very excited for whatever they have planned for next year.