It's that time of year, when every publication and critic publishes a list of their favorite movies, books, albums, etc. of the year. I considered not doing one of these but then said, well, why not I guess? These are things I enjoyed and I like sharing that stuff with people who maybe have a passing interest in my thoughts on assorted pieces of noise. So here we are!
This is just an alphabetical list of albums I enjoyed with short descriptions to give you an idea of what you'd be getting into if you want to take them for a spin. I'm probably going to forget a thing or two, so my apologies to whatever artists I accidentally snub. Anyway, this is going to be long, so let's just get into it.
Anatomia, Corporeal Torment
Starting on an absolutely hideous note here. Anatomia's previous albums—of which there are many—never really did much for me but, wow, Corporeal Torment clicked in almost immediately. It's a lo-fi death-doom record that sounds like you're trapped in someone else's nightmare. If you want to feel really gross, give it a listen.
Andrew Lee's Heavy Metal Shrapnel, Andrew Lee's Heavy Metal Shrapnel
I cannot fucking believe I'm including a shred record on this list, but we all become what we hate eventually. The force behind Ripped To Shreds makes an instrumental guitar virtuoso record that's…actually good? There are songs! And riffs! And fun solos! Joe Satriani wept.
The Armed, ULTRAPOP
Though I didn't connect with this album as much as their previous one, Only Love, I still find ULTRAPOP to be a really unique, all-consuming experience. They also sent me mail saying they were Kanye West, so that was fun.
Canal Irreal, Canal Irreal
Martin Sorrondeguy has yet to make something I've disliked and the self-titled album from his new band Canal Irreal is no exception. Equal parts Wipers, Wire, and '80s SoCal punk, it's a great mix that a fan of any of those things will enjoy.
Carcass, Torn Arteries
I didn't expect to like the new Carcass album as much as I did. For one, I wasn't as into their reunion record, Surgical Steel, as much as everyone else, and the singles they released ahead of Torn Arteries did nothing for me. But somehow, in context, it all works. The production is much cleaner than I like on a metal record, but even that doesn't bother me here. It's melodic death metal that doesn't sound like "melodic death metal," and Bill Steer's riffing is as great, and as hooky, as ever. Respect to the legends.
Chain Whip, Two Steps To Hell
A great EP of fast, no-frills hardcore that just ends up being really fucking fun. The sunny guitar stabs make this feel a part of SoCal punk traditions without sacrificing any bite in the process. Punk you can pogo or mosh to.
Concrete Winds, Nerve Butcherer
War metal is not usually my bag, but something about Concrete Winds really works for me. For those not in the know, war metal is basically a super primitive mix of black metal and death metal that is often incredibly hard to listen to because it usually sounds like shit and lacks anything that could conceivably be called a song. Concrete Winds cleans things up without losing any aggression. Also gotta give them props for, on their second record in a row, sneaking dance beats into songs that could otherwise be used by the CIA as a torture device.
DARE, Against All Odds
Admittedly, this record didn't click for me until I saw them live, but I still get excited by simple straight edge hardcore bands. Moshable songs about not doing things. Love it.
I interviewed Dazy mastermind James Goodson for a reason, and that reason is he's making some of the best pop-minded rock music out there. With 24 tracks to choose from—and not a dud among them—this is a release that's so incredibly fun to get lost in that I hope you set aside the time to do so.
Diabolizer, Khalkedonian Death
Stupid heavy, stupid fast, and stupid fun. A whirlwind of blast beats and pummeling riffs that somehow still has top-tier songwriting at the core of it.
Dungeon Serpent, World of Sorrows
Remember what I said about that Carcass album not sounding like melodic death metal? Well, this Dungeon Serpent album does sound like melodic death metal without ever being boring or predictable. Proof that even purists can find ways to make something new and exciting.
Fiddlehead, Between The Richness
Full disclosure: I wrote the bio for this record in March of 2020, but it got jammed up and didn't come out until this year. The fact of the matter is, I really love Fiddlehead. Simple, pop-minded post-hardcore songs with lyrics that really touch the soul. A beautiful assemblage of songs about living with the grief that comes from losing a parent while also becoming one yourself. The lyrics to "Heart To Heart" make me as emotional as any song I've heard this year, and I have to imagine, if you're a parent, they'll hit even harder. Just beautiful, spiritually healing stuff.
Floatie, Voyage Out
Real Estate, but make them a math-rock band.
Galvanizer, Prying Sight of Imperception
This record sounds and looks like it came out in 1992 and that is something I just can't get enough of lately.
Hulder, Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry
I randomly stumbled on Hulder a year or two back and was curious to see if she could stick the landing on her full-length. Unsurprisingly, she did. Some really great second-wave black metal but with enough sonic clarity and folk elements to get someone into the genre even if they aren't big on all the shrieking and blast beats.
Hurry, Fake Ideas
Yet another person I forced to talk to me this year. This is the best Hurry record yet, and whenever I listen to this thing, when it hits the end, I have to fight the urge to start it over again. Hooky, infectious power-pop that sounds like the first day of spring.
Hyperdontia, Hideous Entity
Jesus Christ the artwork on this thing is atrocious, but it's a huge step forward musically. Let the riffs be your guide.
Lamp of Murmuur, Submission and Slavery
Goth-leaning black metal. While the earlier Lamp of Murmuur stuff was great-yet-straightforward black metal, this is something that Bauhaus fans can vibe on too. Excited to see where this project goes next.
Malignant Altar, Realms of Exquisite Morbidity
My expectations for this record were really high, and while I don't think the actual thing exceeded them, it at least met them. Sounds like Gateways to Annihilation with much better production, which is a huge compliment from me.
Meat Wave, Volcano Park
I'm always going to be excited about a new Meat Wave release and this EP is just as great as everything that's come before it. Here's hoping a new full-length is somewhere on the horizon.
Militarie Gun, All Roads Lead to the Gun I & II
I wrote about how much I love this band and the song "Big Disappointment" already, so I'll spare you here. Just know this band is going to sweep through and win a lot of people over when they drop their LP. Get on the train while you can still get a seat.
NNAMDÏ, Are You Happy
NNAMDÏ is a generational talent. Every new release is a gift of evocative, inspiring music from one of the best people to be making music today. Are You Happy is a short EP that I can't get enough of.
One Step Closer, This Place You Know
At a time when metalcore seems to be dominating the hardcore landscape it's refreshing to hear some mid-2000s melodic hardcore done right. It's nothing you've not heard before but, when it's done this well, it doesn't need to be.
Options, On the Draw
Seth Engel remains one of the most underrated songwriters in Chicago. This is such a fun, buzzy record that deserves way, way more attention than it's gotten. "How About Now" is probably my favorite song Seth has ever written, so give it a listen, huh?
Perilaxe Occlusion, Raytraces of Death
Death metal songs about 3D printing and digital rendering? Okay, sure, why not.
Pharmacist, Carnal Pollution
I'm a sucker for metal bands that decide to set their sights on recreating one very specific sound that existed for eight months in 1991. Japan's Pharmacist is the best of the bunch when it comes to this, essentially trying to remake the first two Carcass albums and doing it exceptionally well. Having put out 11 releases since 2020 (you read that right), Carnal Pollution is perhaps my favorite Pharmacist release yet. While it still finds its roots in Symphonies of Sickness, you get the sense they are starting to move into Heartwork territory here. Can't wait to see where these gross freaks go next.
Coming out in December—much like Malignant Altar—has kept this album from getting the accolades it deserves. Plenty of bands are going for that trapped-in-a-cave sound, but Phrenelith finds ways to make primal music subtly complex. A real winner released late in the year.
Pile, Songs Known Together, Alone
You know I love Pile, and this record full of re-imagined Pile songs is a real treat.
Anika Pyle, Wild River
I've put a lot of gross, gore-focused death metal on this list but none of those records hurt to listen to the way Wild River hurts to listen to. Absolutely raw emotions are on display here, and I can't thank Anika enough for being brave enough to put something like this out—and for being kind enough to talk to me about it too.
Reek Minds, Rabid
Mega-fast hardcore with bits of Poison Idea mixed in. Just absolutely unhinged music. This is the kind of hardcore I want to hear more of.
Regional Justice Center, Crime and Punishment
I've gotta think the only reason this record isn't showing up on more year-end lists is because it came out so early in the year. That's a shame, because it's exceptionally good powerviolence that goes beyond simple Bay Area cosplay. If you want to hear more about it, why not read my interview with Ian about this very record?
Sial, Zaman Edan
Sial remains one of the more underrated punk bands going. This two-song EP shows them trying a lot of new sounds out but nailing each and every one of them. Get into it, folks!
Sijjin, Sumerian Promises
Though the production on this thing is kind of wonky, it's death-thrash that sounds a bit like the first three Morbid Angel records mixed together. Given that they are doing that better than Morbid Angel right now, I can't possibly be mad at that.
This is the fastcore record that got the most attention this year, but for good reason. Slant nailed this sound and made it feel infinitely replayable. Not an easy feat.
Sněť, Mokvání V Okovech
I'm not going to pretend I know what any of those words mean, but I do know this is some good death metal from Prague.
This is the first band to try to sound like Assück that actually achieves that goal. Absolutely top-tier, punk-indebted death-grind.
Steel Bearing Hand, Slay In Hell
This is the most fun metal record I've heard this year. It's death-thrash with big, soaring leads and riffs that make me went to throw on a studded leather bracelet and trawl Craigslist for a used Pontiac Firebird.
Stormkeep, Tales of the Othertime
My god this is some nerdy shit. Windir-inspired black metal that sounds an awful lot like power metal. But I'm not mad about it.
Taqbir, Victory Belongs To Those Who Fight For A Right Cause
Reverb-soaked proto-punk from Morocco with songs about the Israeli patriarchy. Timely, tense, and essential.
Thirdface, Do It With A Smile
In a word: blistering. Imagine a more lo-fi version of Converge No Heroes. A real sick ride.
You know that scene in Titanic where the string quartet plays as the ship sinks? This record's kind of like that. Only it's the organ player inside a burning church while a black metal band plays a rehearsal demo on a busted boombox outside. You'll either love this or absolutely hate it. I love it.
Turnstile, Glow On
If you're reading this, you either already love Glow On or have chosen to be a joyless hater. If you've chosen the latter, I can't help you. But I can say this is the album I've listened to the most this year. You don't need to see it live to get it.
If you find something you like here—or hate here—email me and let's talk about it. Have a good year, y'all!