As the weather heats up, so does the number of new releases. There were a ton of new albums to pick from this month, and a lot of excellent releases. There’s not a lot of big names on this month’s list, but a lot of really good albums. Here are our choices for May 2021’s best heavy metal albums.
1. Dordeduh – Har (Prophecy)
Nine years after their debut, the Romanian band Dordeduh return with Har. They were founded by two former members of Negura Bunget (vocalist/guitarist Hupogrammos and guitarist/keyboardist Sol Far).
Their first album was atmospheric folk/black metal, and while Har has those elements, Dordeduh expand their sound this time around with an avant-garde approach that incorporates everything from gothic to prog to electronic. The album opens with the 12 minute “Timpul Intilor,” which showcases all the aforementioned musical styles along with both harsh and melodic vocals. Whether epic in length or more streamlined, each song is compelling with numerous twists and turns. Catchy melodies devolve into extreme sections and progressive forays and back again, making for an eclectic album that maintains engagement throughout, even though it’s more than an hour long. The wait for a new Dordeduh album was a long one, but well worth it. It’s our pick for May’s best new album.
2. Vokonis – Odyssey (The Sign)
The Swedish trio Vokonis‘ style has evolved over the years. Starting as mainly a stoner/doom outfit, they have added more prog to the mix, with their fourth album Odyssey their most progressive to-date. Guest keyboards from Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, ex-Opeth) help guide them down that progressive road.
There are still plenty of down-tuned riffs and sludgey sections along with progressive forays. There are dual vocals with Jonte Johansson’s smooth, melodic style contrasted by periodic harsh vocals from Simon Ohlsson that add variety. Some songs, like the opener “Rebellion” and “Blackened Wings” are compact in length while still providing twists and turns. Others like the title track and 12 plus minute closer “Through The Depths” are given much more space to develop while maintaining interest throughout. There are certainly Mastodon influences, but Vokonis have developed their own approach, with Odyssey their strongest album so far.
3. Grave Miasma – Abyss Of Wrathful Deities (Dark Descent)
London based blackened/death metal band Grave Miasma return with their second album Abyss Of Wrathful Deities, their first in nearly eight years. Their take on the genre is a dark one with plenty of tremolo picked lines on opener “Guardians of Death” among others. Ample atmosphere is on display.
This is long form death metal, which save for a brief interlude track, no song is shorter than six minutes long. That’s plenty of time for Grave Miasma to dig their claws into you as you swirl in the dark depths of their “Ancestral Waters.” Each track is deliberately crafted to get the most out of their material with overall song structure being top notch. With enough time it is clear that Abyss Of Wrathful Deities is one of the year’s best extreme metal albums that reveals more and more upon each rewarding return listen. Plus, that album art is superb.
4. Perturbator – Lustful Sacraments (Blood)
Claiming an album is an artist’s most mature seems like a cliché at this point, but it’s hard to find a better word to describe Perturbator’s latest album Lustful Sacraments. Once a figurehead of the emerging retrowave scene, James “Pertubator” Kent left behind the neon-tinged nostalgia of retrowave in favor of the oppressive and brooding sounds of industrial, post-punk and hard techno.
Conjuring crushing nihilism while still letting a glimmer of hope shine through, delving into the depths of depravation to carve moments of sublime beauty, this record will take you in a world of concrete, steel and broken glass, and wrap you in a cold and reassuring embrace. Few artists can successfully blend such a wide variety of genres without it ever feeling derivative or forced. With nary a poor song and some bona fide bangers (“Messalina,” “Excess” and “God Says” come to mind), Lustful Sacraments shows Perturbator at the top of his craft, freed from the constraints of a scene he helped define.
5. VOLA – Witness (Mascot)
Witness is the third album from Danish prog outfit VOLA, after two excellent and highly-regarded releases. Darker in tone than 2018’s excellent Applause Of A Distant Crowd, and complex in its layers (in fitting with the subject matter being the failed relationships between leaders and followers), Witness brings forth somewhat of a Katatonia vibe to some songs, Muse to others, but always with an unmistakable VOLA signature.
“These Black Claws” is embellished with weird electronics and additional vocals courtesy of hip-hop artist Shahmen. The songs on Witness are as varied as past albums, with hard-hitting metallic numbers (“Head Mounted Sideways”) and touching ballads (“Freak”). There isn’t a weak moment to be found. VOLA continue to demonstrate the fact that they should be considered heavy hitters in the prog world.
6. Burning Witches – The Witch Of The North (Nuclear Blast)
Due to the pandemic, many bands are shortening the usual two to three year cycle between albums. Just over a year after their last album, the Swiss heavy/power metal band Burning Witches are issuing The Witch Of The North. Like last year’s Dance With The Devil, it was produced by V.O. Pulver and Schmier (Destruction).
There are a lot of epic, soaring songs on the album driven by the guitar work of Romana Kalkuhl and their newest member Larissa Ernst (ex-Shadowrise). It’s the second album for vocalist Laura Guldemond, and she gives an excellent performance, blending melodic singing with some harsher style vocals. The songs are varied in tempo and texture, with a couple brief instrumental interludes adding even more diversity. The album closes with a cover of Savatage’s “Hall Of The Mountain King” with guest solos from Chris Caffery. Though a song or two could have been excised, Burning Witches continue to deliver well-written and performed albums.