As for many, 2021 was a very special, emotional year. Despite some Ups especially in the second half of the year it still was traversed by many Downs placing me in front of unbearable tasks and decisions. Nevertheless, I would say that in this flood of emotions I have found myself, reconnected to who I am and what I want. I gave into to my emotions, let them flow through me and thus gained new strength. I am now stronger, happier and more optimistic than ever before and I believe that with the right mindset 2022 will be an amazing year! Fittingly, 2021 was a year in which I listened to tons of emotional music. It was to some extent a premiere as I finally fully immersed into the sheer endless and fantastical realm of Black Metal – similarly to non -“Extreme” Metal I hold high the same standards, so don’t expect a lot of of First Wave Black Metal, Thrash or Speed derivatives or some modern, technical stuff. Therefore, in order to take you with me on this exciting journey, I listed my top ten favourite Black Metal songs of last year (I found out abound same bands like Carathis or Ancient Mastery only after I had assembled the list, thus they won’t be included) and tried to channelise my emotions, hopefully conveying the magic I felt. I would also like to use this opportunity to thank everyone, who supported me/us, shared their passion and made this epic adventure possible. Enjoy and Up the Hammers!
10. Alda – A Distant Fire
Without a doubt the core and centrepiece of an exceptionally atmospheric adventure, this 16-minute-epic takes up one third of the album and is utilised by the American quartet to show off all facets they have to offer. A beautiful acoustic intro with clean dual vocals, male and female, is met by the melodious riffing which then introduces the harsh growls enhancing the musing atmosphere. Several changes in pacing and style, also caused by the broad range of different instruments, further tighten the grip the song has on the listener carrying one off into a distant world…
09. Untamed Land – A Nameless Shape
Picture yourself gazing across the vast steppes of untamed land, across the endless Plains untouched by human’s greed and ignorance. A pristine state of nature, a circle of life in which mankind was simply a component grateful for what Mother Earth had to offer. Who could have thought that this soon would come to an end? This may be a romanticised view of how the native Americans lived before the arrival of doom brought to them by arrogance, greed and the calamitous believe in God, yet this is the image orchestrated by Patrick Kern, mastermind behind Untamed Land. I would have never thought Atmospheric Black Metal and epic Western music à la Enrico Morricone to fit together so well, but Kern manages to merge them together beautifully creating an eternal image.
08. Empyrium – The Three Flames Sapphire
Despite this song rather being a Folk song that a Metal song it still has a very intriguing atmosphere thus functioning as a great introduction to Empyrium’s phenomenal new album Über den Sternen. It starts of very gently with a melancholic touch to it, before accelerating turning into a more sanguine atmosphere. This back and forth repeats itself until reaching the sweeping chorus, romantic in tone, carrying one away. Immediately afterwards the electric guitars and the harsh vocals set in, due to which this escapist feeling is not only continued but intensified. After this ultimate culmination the song returns to its starting style thus setting everything into a cloistered frame.
07. Ungfell – Tyfels Antlitz
This song definitely lives up to its name. The originally Swiss-German term can be translated to “Devil’s Countenance” and it perfectly creates the fitting atmosphere while putting it into the album’s overall context. One could imagine a demonic, mischievous figure terrorising a small and remote premodern village in the Alps playing disturbing tricks on the villagers driving them into insanity. Darkness, aggression, malevolence take place in a beautiful setting yet slowly the image starts to get blurry, and reality seems to fade away, or does it? This ambivalence is brilliantly instigated by the different vocal styles contrasting each other, one being malicious and dark, the other being roguish almost maniacal. Meanwhile the relatively high tempo of the song as well as the energetic performance have an almost hypnotic virtue further casting a spell on the listener. Finally, the percussive outro sums everything up neatly. If my words sounded crazy to you, just take a look at the amazing artwork of the album.
06. Iskandr – Gezag
Sometimes eleven minutes feel as if only half of the time has passed. Iskandr’s new album starts off with a massive masterpiece, dominated by the incredible guitar playing of Omar, founder and mastermind of Iskandr, himself. Melancholic melodies together with various romantic tones culminate in a pinnacle of epic atmosphere, which they are being led to by the song’s climatic structure. Yet despite this inexorable advancing there’s so much being told. All these different threads being conflated into a singular grand final act simply possesses something beyond human nature, which Iskandr manages to get hold of, for at least a short amount of time.
05. Havukruunu – Yön Torni
After their nearly perfect album Uinuos syömein sota in 2020 Havukruunu are already back and of course they managed to keep up the quality. The Finns are known for their primal energy, also present in their aggressive yet melodic riffs, combined with a genius sense for epic atmospheres. Both these aspects peak in “Yön Torni”. After the song starts with a merciless outburst of pure primeval force which marks the first half of the song, the second half is characterised by one of Havukruunu’s greatest passages. The choirs, keyboards and melodic guitars jointly create a transcending atmosphere, open up a whole new perspective on human existence abstracted from the egocentric, self-serving reality of modernity. In light of the immortally steadfast mountain ranges, in light of the ancient, pivotal waters, in light of the impenetrable, perpetual woodlands man is nothing but a mere sojourner unaware he is solely digging his own grave with the soil already up to his knees…
04. Spectral Wound – Frigid and Spellbound
Most songs on this list needed a couple of spins before fully opening up or fully getting stuck in my head. This wasn’t the case with “Frigid and Spellbound”, whose raw and arcane energy immediately took possession of me. The Riffs, despite being crushingly pounding, brim over with catchy melodies. The guitar-work in general is simply godlike – or should I rather say diabolical? Variations in pacing, tone and aggressiveness harmonise with each other wonderfully tightening the intense grip constantly. On the other hand we also have the vocals, which not only reflect the aggression of the instruments but also add tons of other emotions to it thrusting deep into one’s soul. Listening to this blast of a song requires a lot of stamina as it engrosses more than just your ears!
03. Stormkeep – The Serpent’s Stone
Only few releases this year were as hyped as Stormkeep’s new album Tales of Othertime. One can only say: justly! A big reason for that was this song, which was the only single published in advance. After a short moment of silence before the storm one is met with bombastic keyboards, driving guitars, and pounding drums! The quintet with the support of several guests manages to fuse the illustrious epicness of bands like Summoning and Caladan Brood with the dark, energetic atmosphere known from bands like Emperor. One is bombarded with a massive instrumental staging, creating a vivid image of a fantastical world while also providing a glorious stage to the magnificent vocals, the spoken word-passages and especially the choirs, performed by non-other than Jake Rogers himself (Visigoth, Caladan Brood, Gallowbraid), who once again proves that he is the greatest singer the Epic Metal scene has to offer! All of this intensified by the captivating lyrics. Arrows and spells hurtle through the air, swords and axes are crashing onto shields and armour plates, the time has come – The Dragon Kings shall rise once more!
02. Cân Bardd – Une couronne de branches
When it comes to Epic Atmospheric Black Metal, in my opinion there was no better record this year than Cân Bardd’s third full-length Devoured by the Oak. Starting of slowly with an immersive and deeply romantic melody – a little prolepsis for what is to come in the song’s final, culminating chapter – one is soon torn out of this idyllic trance with massive orchestrations and a powerful scream. It seems as if the sound would slowly settle down again just to fully erupt with heartbreaking vocals, enchanting melodies, and a surreal overall atmosphere. Despite the vocals being full of emotions, forlornness, desperation, anguish, the simply gorgeous keyboard and guitar melodies, enriched by the sophisticated use of Folk instruments and sound effects, manage to put everything into a melancholic harmony, which is then perfected in the songs final chapter. This final chapter is the crown of the whole song, is the light at the end of a tunnel, is the first drop of rain after a ravaging wildfire or drought. One can say it best through the words of the creator himself:
“La nature s’apaisant autour de moi Nature calming around me
Accompagnant la fin de mes émois Accompanying the end of my emotions
Aboutissement d’une vie de désarroi The end of a life of disarray
Le calme finira par faire foi The calm will eventually prevail”
01. Surturs Lohe – Nur ein Vogel
Wielandstahl, the fifth full-length album of the German Epic Pagan Metal band Surturs Lohe, deals with the saga around Wayland the Smith, a prominent figure in Germanic epic literature. Thereby “Nur ein Vogel” is the final song of this phenomenal album covering his final decisive act. After being hamstrung by the mighty king Nidung, so that he is forced to serve him for eternity, he takes his revenge, manifests it to the king and flies away by wearing a feather cloak he had smithed himself during his imprisonment. He takes off soaring into air freed from all earthly bounds escaping into eternal freedom…like a bird. Surturs Lohe manage to superbly convey the atmosphere and spirit of the epic in their sound. In sublime manner the guitar melodies and choral vocals, beautifully supported by neither cheesy, nor jocular flutes, express the hope and relief, the literal weightlessness. Meanwhile the powerful harsh vocals feel like an outburst of unbearable pain and sheer endless suffering that had been stored deep inside and have now been turned into newfound strength. One can truly recreate the valleys and mountaintops overflown in one’s imagination, feel the longing, nature calling. This piece of art is more than just a song, it’s a romantic vision, a cleansing of the soul, a beautiful catharsis!