Welcome to the year-end best of Within The Abyss. 2021 was a good first year filled with many great black metal albums. So many excellent albums were released, so it was tough deciding on which 12 were my favorites. This list doesn’t represent the best black metal albums of 2021, although I would put many of these on a comprehensive black metal list. Many black metal albums were reviewed as part of our weekly album reviews or as featured reviews. These are simply what I feel were the best albums I covered for the column—the albums that spoke the most to me.
12. Felled – The Intimate Earth (Transcending Obscurity)
Oregon’s Felled started under the name Moss Moonlight in 2010, but changed to Felled in 2014. Their first full-length The Intimate Earth presents a style of Cascadian black metal with neo-folk elements produced by violin and viola. Dark and mournful, the folk aspects are not upbeat and festive like many pagan bands. There is almost a Victorian quality to their violin and viola.
The Intimate Earth is an album of contrasts. Sections beautifully lull with violin, guitar harmonies and scant female vocals. The metallic side, led by deep, growly black metal vocals comes across so much heavier when paired with the melodic sections. At nearly eleven minutes, “Sphagnum in the Hinterlands” begins with chiming guitars that transition into rough-hewn guitars and rolling drums. Bass and guitar harmonies instill “The Rite of Passage” with deep layers. Felled’s intimate style allows them to stand apart from most folk black metal artists.
11. Craven Idol – Forked Tongues (Dark Descent)
Black metal blasphemers Craven Idol return with Forked Tongues, their third album under the Dark Descent banner. As laid out on the title “The Wrath of Typhon,” the Londoners look to dark tales of Greek mythology for lyrical inspiration. Loud and raucous, Forked Tongues presents a variety of influences from the old school thrash of Sodom to second wave black metal in the vein of Immortal, Mayhem, Destroyer 666 and Absu.
While the pace varies, their speed is undeniable. Much like Destroyer 666, they often place careening guitar solos over the speed to give the album an unhinged feel. Shrieks, growls, ancient choirs and high-pitched wails denote a variety of voices. Weighing in at over nine minutes, “Deify the Stormgod” and “The Gods Have Left Us for Dead” exemplify the band’s compositional and story telling chops. Like catching the eyes of Medusa, Forked Tongues is a hard album to turn away from.
10. Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness (Season of Mist)
Necrofier consist of prominent musicians in the Houston, Texas heavy music scene. The group contain former and current members of such bands as Oceans Of Slumber, Insect Warfare and Venomous Maximus. With their debut full-length album Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness, these veterans show their ability to create top-notch black metal.
Without betraying their U.S. background, Necrofier’s sound owes much to Swedish black metal such as Dissection and Watain. Guitarist Joshua Bokemeyer (Church Of Disgust) creates engaging tremolo licks, while drummer Dobber Beverly impressively blasts and kicks. Much of the album is fast, but with melody-driven riffs and melodic sections like the clean guitar opening on “Madness Descends” or acoustic outro “Plague Requiem.” The group keep their tempos and styles fluid, mixing black metal, thrash and even a hint of doom on “Betrayal of the Queen.” “Return to Chaos” has an unrelenting, sweltering pace. Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness is an excellent debut; a catchy album that will surely hold its listeners’ attention.
9. Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors (20 Buck Spin)
Wode’s third album Burn In Many Mirrors is a witches cauldron of black, death and classic heavy metal. The English group doesn’t fixate on just a couple of riffs. Their songs are progressive, melodic and they aren’t afraid to cross genre lines including traditional heavy metal in its anthemic glory.
“Lunar Madness” opens on an epic note with galloping guitars and a Maiden-esque riff. Once the screams cut in, though, one can tell this is something more extreme. Melodic leads pair with tremolo rhythms on “Serpent’s Coil.” While “Sulphuric Glow” contains these aspects, this track is more direct in its black/death attack. Wode place their masterpiece last. The near-ten-minute track “Streams of Rapture (I,II,II)” trades pieces of death with black metal, a dungeon synth opening and trademark melodic guitar leads in the end. Burn In Many Mirrors has all the dark trimmings of a black metal album, but offers greatness in its diversity and grandiosity.
8. Baxaxaxa – Catacomb Cult (The Sinister Flame)
Don’t let an inability to spell or pronounce the name Baxaxaxa deter you from listening to the group. Their debut full-length Catacomb Cult, an album nearly 30 years in the making, is a solid long-form recording. Those familiar with their demos, EP and split understand the venomous potency of their music, and the wait was well worth it as Catacomb Cult delivers in the tradition of past efforts.
The album is steeped in the second wave of black metal from which the group emerged, but it’s hardly a carbon copy. Eerie, coherent vocals, mid-tempos, atmosphere and doom metal movements make this a signature album. Gothic ringing bells, diabolic string play, sinister doom and ethereal keys denote the direction of the album on the title track opener. Pagan tribalism pervades throughout “Walpurgis Dancers.” While I think their 2019 demo The Old Evil was a slightly better effort, Catacomb Cult is a stellar album any occult-obsessed black metal fan should hear.
7. Old Forest – Mournfall (Death To Music)
Old Forest includes two members of In The Woods, so it’s no surprise their sixth album Mournfall garners comparisons to said band. The medium pace set forth by drummer Kobro has been a key trademark for In The Woods since their early days. Kobold’s eclectic mix of clean and harsh vocals certainly stands out, too, as do his ethereal keys. His voice is colossal and at the same time cold.
The late ‘90s black metal is apparent on Mournfall. Their utilization of keyboards and guitar harmonies bring to mind Arcturus and Emperor. Classic mournful doom bands such as Paradise Lost and Candlemass also come into play, replete with melancholy lyrics. This direction is very noticeable on “My Haunting Vision” and “Solitude Apocalypse.” The group also include their Sussex Hell Hound 2001 demo. This demo showcases their early, grimmer sound and Sussex folklore-based lyrics. Mournfall is a compelling and unique marriage of early ‘90s doom and black metal.
6. Gorgon – Traditio Satanae (Osmose)
France’s Gorgon were on hiatus for most of the new millennium, but made a comeback in 2019 with The Veil Of Darkness. Their latest offering Traditio Satanae marks 30 years since the French band formed. It is a fitting title since the album is very much in line with the traditional sound of black metal’s second wave.
Gorgon put their best cloven hoof forward on the first track “Blood of Sorcerer.” A brief intro of feedback leads right into this speedy track. Machine-gun style vocal lines, blasting drums and swift picking define this song. The chorus line is very catchy too on this brief song. Tracks such as “Let Me See Behind” and “The Long Quest” follow similar, scorching paths with emotional guitars. Other tracks follow a mid-paced motion, even a hint of black ‘n’ roll on “Entrancing Cemetery.” Compared to earlier efforts, Traditio Satanae is a stripped-down-yet-polished version of Gorgon that shows the band are truly back.
5. Vritrahn-Werwolf – Vritrahn-Werwolf (Werewolf)
Vritrahn-Werewolf consist of Satanic Warmaster’s Werewolf (drums and keyboards) and White Death frontman Vritrahn (vocals, guitar, bass). Formed in 2014, the satanic duo released two demos and EP. Their self-titled effort is their debut full-length album. Vritrahn-Werewolf’s sound is pure Finnish raw black metal with facets of punk, ambient, symphonic black metal and primal, black incarnations.
“End of the Ages” kicks off the album in dirty punk rock fashion. Black metal and death rock vocals collide with layered guitar harmonies and low-lying keys. Hell-blazing drum blasts and cold guitar tones follow on “Silver Aurora” and “Lord of All Evil.” Vritrahn’s guitar tones sound tremendous throughout the album. Part of “Death Torments” and all of “Sacrament” relate infernal ambience. “Blasphemous Metal” is the epitome of black metal attitude with its “Fuck You” chorus. Vritrahn-Werewolf’s self-titled effort is another prime example of the menacing black metal available on Werewolf’s namesake record label.
4. Order Of Nosferat – Necuratul (Purity Through Fire)
Order Of Nosferat’s debut album Necuratul sounds as if it were recorded in a ruined medieval castle. Production-wise, the album sounds like the distant audio of an antique record, especially the crackling of the intro track, “Awaiting His Arrival.” Dungeon synth interludes create chapters and pauses between each black metal song. It’s not hard to figure Order of Nosferat are a vampire-themed band similar to blood fiends Black Funeral, Vlad Tepes and Mütiilation.
Order Of Nosferat are a duo consisting of Count Revenant (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards) from Germany and Anzillu (percussion) from Finland, so their sound has aspects of Finnish and German black metal. Horna often comes to mind. Emotionally driven raw guitars, muffled drums and gothic keys create grim, sinister sounds. Keyboard interludes instill cinematic horror, while the ensuing black metal tracks keep the album moving. Fingernails and fangs on point, Necuratul is the ultimate soundtrack to the undead.
3. Darkwoods My Betrothed – Angel Of Carnage Unleashed (Napalm)
Darkwoods My Betrothed are a Finnish band that recorded all their studio albums in the ‘90s. Angel Of Carnage Unleashed is their first album release in 23 years. It is a conceptual album based on story of battle and occupation of Finland by Russia, in the Great Northern War of 1700-1721. Plague, plunder, rape, and mass casualties ensured as a punishment from God for their sins. “You Bitter Source of Sorrow,” a song about the torture wheel, arguably contains their most brutal subject matter.
“Name of the Dead” opens the album with monastic organ and vocal sections, thus cementing the vengeance-of-God theme. Tortured Cries, demented shrieks, demonic growls, and heroic cleans provide vocal diversity and appear as dialogue. “Massacre” plays out exactly as the title suggests, fast and chaotic. “In Thrall to Ironskull’s Heart” resounds the heroic triumph of Viking-era Bathory. Imperialistic, majestic and gruesome — Angel Of Carnage Unleashed is a mighty return to form from one of Finland’s pioneering acts.
2. Dødsferd – Suicide And The Rest Of Your Kind Will Follow Part II (FYC)
Part II of Dodsferd’s Suicide And The Rest Of Your Kind Will Follow marks the Greek band’s 20th anniversary. Mastermind Wrath wrote the music and lyrics in total solitude. Sticking with misanthropic themes of past efforts, he penned an album of stark melancholy and melody. While the black metal sections recall past DSBM-inspired compositions, this is no mere depressive suicidal black metal album.
The two-track album looks like an EP on the surface, but with a total running time around 35 minutes it’s definitely a long-play recording. Each track is progressive and moody. Both songs are slow and moody, but speed builds as do the dynamics. Instrumentally, the album is diverse with emotive use of cello, flute, acoustic guitar and saxophone. Wrath’s vocals vary too from tortured shrieks to growls and clean narratives. Suicide And The Rest Of Your Kind Will Follow is the most expansive, emotion-driven album of Wrath’s career — his magnum opus in all its glory.
1. Yoth Iria – As The Flame Withers (Pagan)
Yoth Iria’s debut full-length As The Flame Withers is the product of three former members of Rotting Christ. Founding member Jim Mutilator joins vocalist The Magus (also Necromantia) and session guitarist George Emanuel. Mutilator played on seminal Greek black metal albums — Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract and Varathron’s His Majesty At The Swamp. As The Flame Withers has a definite European metal sound with obvious nods to Rotting Christ.
“The Great Hunter” opens the album and provides a preview of what’s to come—melodic leads, raspy vocals and blasting drums. Instrumentally, the band become more diverse and epic. For instance, “The Mantis” makes grandiose use of brass, kettle drums, choirs and a victorious riff from the school of Manowar. These parts help visualize the mythology of antiquity depicted in the intelligible lyrics. As The Flame Withers not only references newer Rotting Christ, but also the never-ending flame of old school metal.