At the peak of our Best Black Metal Albums of 2021 list is a coating of Scandinavian frost. But the vitality of the UK and North American scenes came to the fore again this year, and the result was a string of powerful and diverse BM records.
Our top 10 black metal albums of 2021 list, therefore, is testimony to both the genre’s enduring strength… and its capacity to evolve.
10. Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm (I, Voidhanger Records)
Over the course of five full-lengths and a host of splits, Portland-based Jacob Buczarski has built a galaxy-spanning arc of cosmic black metal, one that has often defied human limits in its depth and scope.
Solar Paroxysm, therefore, had a lot to live up to.
But it was a worthy addition to Mare Cognitum’s astral library.
A more fractious and aggressive release than many of its predecessors, this was a supernova of a record, bathed in the fire of exploding stars and wracked with gravitational convulsions.
And it proved yet again that Buczarski can match his vivid visions with supreme musicianship.
9. Doodswens – Lichtvrees (Svart Records)
Dutch duo Doodswens brought this bleak, nightmarish debut album into the world as winter set in across Europe.
And the timing seemed appropriate.
Lichtvrees’ claustrophobic passageways weaved around a malevolent core, and Fraukje van Burg and Inge van der Zon employed harsh riffery and desolate atmospherics to blood chilling effect.
Cold and unforgiving, this was Norse black metal reinvented for 2021.
8. Wormwitch – Wolf Hex (Prosthetic Records)
Stripped back, gnarly and with the scent of blood in its nostrils, Wolf Hex emerged from the Canadian wilderness and went straight for the jugular.
And they even took on Metallica’s Hit The Lights for good measure…
7. Underdark – Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry (Surviving Sounds/Tridroid Records/Through Love Records)
Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry exploded across Britain’s skies with a sonic boom of acerbic black metal and raging crust.
The quality of this Nottingham act’s debut shouldn’t have taken anyone by surprise, given the impact of 2020’s Plainsong/With Bruised And Bloodied Feet single.
But jaws still dropped at the emotional density and musical dynamism of Coyotes and With Ashen Hands Around Our Throats – a song inspired by the Grenfell tower tragedy.
This was vehement assault on warmongering, prejudice and exploitation.
And it was further proof of the strength of UKBM.
6. Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors (20 Buck Spin)
Servants Of The Countercosmos, Wode’s sophomore album, cemented their position as one of the UK’s most thrilling BM acts.
And Burn In Many Mirrors – released on uber-hip US label 20 Buck Spin – built on that foundation, with international recognition coming their way in 2021.
Wode’s ferocious interpretation of melodic BM took its cues from the likes of Dissection and Sacramentum.
But the North West quartet’s love of classic heavy metal is obvious too. And it poured into Serpent’s Coil and Fire In The Hills.
A heady mix of Swedish guile and Mancunian grit, Burn In Many Mirrors was a searing effort from Wode.
5. Panopticon – …And Again Into The Light (Bindrune Recordings)
With Panopticon, the ever-prolific Austin Lunn has crafted some of US black metal’s most immersive works.
And on this typically sprawling record, the multi-instrumentalist took us on the kind of journey only he can: a flight across endless plains and ancient forests, where black metal bleeds into dream-like post rock and woodsmoked Americana.
A Snowless Winter was completely enveloping… and in the maelstrom of Know Hope, Lunn gave us one of the most powerful songs in Panopticon’s illustrious canon.
…And Again Into The Light shone in the darkness.
4. Wolves In The Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Century Media/Relapse)
Through the mountain mist of Primordial Arcana, you could glimpse new sonic portals: doors that Wolves In The Throne Room were eager to open.
Of course, the US act didn’t reject their past on their seventh opus.
And the band’s work still hummed with shamanic energy.
However, on Primordial Arcana, synths became more deeply embedded into their Cascadian DNA, and new guitarist Kody Keyworth seemed to strengthen the trio’s grasp of true vastness.
A new chapter for Wolves In The Throne Room this may be.
But they remain as enthralling as ever.
3. Spectral Wound – A Diabolical Thirst (Profound Lore Records)
2018’s Infernal Decadence had already turned the heads of the international BM scene.
And Spectral Wound built on that momentum with this majestic record.
On A Diabolical Thirst, the Montreal act’s darkly melodic riffery was underscored by a fierce, focused intensity… and the quintet brought some sharper songwriting to the table this time around.
The spectacular Frigid and Spellbound was an undoubted highlight, but Spectral Wound bewitched us at every turn.
2. Funeral Mist – Deiform (NoEvDia)
Children Of The Urn could easily lay claim to being the finest black metal song of 2021.
Or maybe Into Ashes would trump it.
In truth, there was just too much to choose from on Funeral Mist’s fourth album.
For Deiform stormed in at the end of another plague year and set the world ablaze.
This was pure, blasphemous black metal tapped straight from its primal source, an album which burnt itself into the soul… and just seemed to get better with every listen.
And it was a triumph for main man Arioch.
1. Mork – Katedralen (Peaceville)
Katedralen saw the Norwegian further elevate his songwriting, while still keeping true to the roots of second wave black metal.
And the results were glorious.
Ice shard riffery and black ‘n’ roll punch was balanced with ghostly atmospherics, and Skepticism keyboardist Eero Pöyry soaked the evocative De Fortapte Sjelers Katedral in cold melancholy.
Even Darkthrone’s Nocturno Culto couldn’t keep away, as the one of Norwegian BM’s founding fathers lent his rasp to Svartmalt.
A towering edifice of black metal, Katedralen defined Mork’s identity.
Enjoyed our Best Black Metal Albums of 2021? Check out our Top 10 Death Metal Albums of 2021.
You can also view last year’s black metal top 10 here.