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The Best Metalgaze Album - Metal Storm Awards 2021





Relative veterans for this category, with 15 years since their debut album dropped, Agrypnie are blackgaze, but also dabble in more straight-up black metal, melodeath, and other sounds across the extended runtime of Metamorphosis. Agrypnie offer tranquillity and severity side by side, with bleak riffs and pained, husky vocals contrasted with gentle, introspective post-rock interludes and pleasant electronic layers sifting through the mist.

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Earthshine's sound is rooted in the firm soil of earthy doom with its plodding pace, meaty percussion, and simple, robust chord progressions, and it borrows from melodic black metal its rich, emotional guitar leads, a propensity for tremolo-picked riffs, and an ability to describe the spacious expanses of wintry landscapes purely through musical construction. My Bones Shall Rest Upon The Mountain succeeds as a marriage of doom and black metal, but where it really shines is in the deeper explorations of this combination afforded by its top-shelf production; the songs blur into reverberating echoes of oneiric atmospheres where the different styles create the sensation of being distant and grounded simultaneously, where raw growls and dreamy cleans trade spotlight and every detail adds fathoms to the amazing strength of atmosphere. Rarely can an album capture this amount of hard-hitting heaviness so well while also fraying so much at the edges for the pure metalgaze feeling. It's also probably the only nominee this year that samples Bob Ross.

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Clocking in at an admittedly extravagant 85 minutes, Mӕre is the result of Harakiri For The Sky placing all of their musical ideas on the table (well, apart from the song with Audrey Sylvain that was cut after they realized what a faux pas that was). There is arguably too much to digest in Mӕre, but taken in isolation, the contents of this record are fairly majestic, with innumerable lush guitar melodies, Agalloch-esque melancholy, euphoric atmospheres and more packed into those minutes.

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Black metal is not a requirement to qualify for this category; instead, it’s arguably more interesting to hear a band incorporating shoegaze into metal from a completely different direction. Illudium are effectively a heavy shoegaze band, one that recognizes the grunge, alternative rock, and desert rock scenes as inspirations while also paying a debt to the dynamic contrasts and weighty volume of post-metal. Shantel Amundson’s poignant vocal performance acts as the emotional anchor of Illudium, imbuing pathos into the softer stretches and rising to the challenge when the volume dials up.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album playlist)
Deafheaven released an album this year but are notable in their absence in this category, as the blackgaze pioneers have left blackgaze behind for regular shoegaze. Ready to fill the void come Møl with their sophomore effort, an album that channels every ounce of Deafheaven’s blackgaze energy, from the George Clarke-esque shrieks and the post-hardcore drums to the euphoric guitar melodies and occasional harsher blackened riffs. Low on originality, Diorama is an album for genre fanatics, but those fanatics will be well satisfied with the interpretation of the style presented by Møl.

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Doubtless not the first Skyrim-themed metal album, Wretched Abyss may be the highest-profile, as it comes from the solo side-project of Svalbard’s Serena Cherry. On the surface a black metal album, it may not be surprising given the gaze-y post-hardcore of her main band that Noctule’s songs are almost constantly coated with euphoric blackgaze tremolos, which are often placed above weightier meloblack riffs. Cherry’s glacial blackened shrieks are on rare occasions contrasted with some delicate ethereal singing, but for the most part Wretched Abyss depicts Skyrim as a croakily frostbitten yet majestic region.

Bandcamp / YouTube (full album)
Opprobre draw from blackgaze and meloblack on Fragments De Destinées, their second full-length, and in doing so combine the charming qualities of the likes of Alcest, Thurisaz, and Thrawsunblat. A progressive writing mindset results in long songs and a long album, and there’s plenty of shimmering tremolo backdrops and post-rock detours to navigate on the record, as well as more sorrowful melodies and haunting clean vocals. There’s a bit of roughness in the production and hints of overwriting at times, but when they’re on song, Opprobre capture an earnest and heartfelt sense of melancholia.

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The depiction of animal carcasses on album covers seems to have become an underground trend again in 2021, whether it's roadkill on White Ward's latest EP or a rabbit's flowery funeral on the cover of Monolord's Your Time To Shine, and nowhere is the morbid fascination with the death of innocent fur-bearing beings more evident than on Rye's debut full-length. The merciless death and the inevitable end of all living things - that's what the shattering passages of ominous funeral doom and the occasional bursts of blastbeat black metal on Вечное (Russian for "eternal") are all about. But the prevailing mood of the album is set by an entirely different atmosphere. It's the calm and warming sound of melancholic post-rock and the dreamy, soothing ambient sections that emit a deep sense of compassion, attachment, and familiarity and that convey so much hope and confidence. Confidence that even the most gruesome death will ultimately end in a peaceful sleep that will last eternally.

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Okay, so the assertion of the title is demonstrably untrue. So Hideous's first original studio album since the luminary Laurestine remains testamentary evidence of what true passion can achieve. Though fairly short in length, None But A Pure Heart Can Sing is a huge album to tackle because of the way it transforms the band's style, melting down the black metal elements and binding them to the band's very bones while the orchestral and post-rock elements become ever grander and more awe-inspiring. Chill sax, cool brass, and cold metalgaze provide a balance of delicate and sinister sounds: soothing strings and seething screams, whispering keys and walloping conflagrations of insurgent post-hardcore. While a lot of their contemporaries aim for greater dissonance or more immersive atmosphere, So Hideous finds a way to meld immediacy with elegance.

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Vallendusk's black metal strikes with its claws first, slamming through second-wave riffs with blastbeats galore, relenting only for some slow-galloping folk-inspired passages. That remains the primary sound all the way through, but as Heralds Of Strife charges along, Vallendusk find places to exchange their harshness for unexpected abundances of uplifting melody, and once they start getting clever and complicated with their riffs instead of going for sheer impact, the mood of the album turns practically positive, elevated by glowing synths into a realm of restful, weightless slumber. Fluisteraars would pair well with the soft, romantic melodies that crop up amidst the black metal, as would Winterfylleth or Forefather for the folk-inflected runs. Of course, we know by album #4 that Vallendusk has its own flair, and that may be Indonesia's greatest gift to metal.

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