This year has had the release of so many amazing albums. I’m a bit at a loss of how to do a Best Of List. I have so many records I loved after I made a list, then a list of another 100 I loved. It caused me anxiety thinking about how to categorize or order them. So instead I am going to treat this like a montage in no particular order. Just thinking about all the things that brought me joy in this dark year fills my heart with hope for the future. These are not singles, EPs or Full lengths released in 2021 with all genres mixed together in a blender like the Darkscene gods intended.
Actors – “Acts Of Worship” – This album is going to change the standard. Rather than think of it as an album out of time. Hear it as the type of puncturing emotional thought pieces we talk about as nostalgia from a previous era. I choose to see the hope it promises. To be a place where those that remember the past, and those that are blazing new ground in the future meet. Where they say this was the moment where the music we talk about twenty years from now with a new generation is remembered. It’s a powerful feeling that you can be apart of now. This is my album of the year. The second time I have given them this award.
Creux Lies – Goodbye Divine – October was the month of spooks, a shaky return of Halloween since the long-endured pandemic and a myriad of releases by many artists within the undead world of dark-alternative music. Among the wave of new, brooding and shadow-y music unleashed upon the world shines one LP that stands apart from the cobwebs and screeching bats in the night; ‘Goodbye Divine’, the second album by moody, Sacramento post-punkers, Creux Lies. More than three years after the band’s debut record, ‘The Hearth’, Creux Lies brings us a new collection of eight tracks packaged with an avante-garde painting by Alex Kanevsky on the LP’s cover. Preceding the release, the “New Romantic” quartet appeared in promotional images portraying them as disaffected souls in serene, open fields; a fitting aesthetic theme for the music’s despondent sonic-template. “Jungle” kicks off the record with a wave of sinister keyboards before the rest of the band commences their wall of gray, foreboding rhythms, setting the tone for the LP’s thematic statement. By track four, we are treated to the bitter-sweet, emotional “PS Goodbye”. Singer, Ean Clevenger croons against the soft-rock instrumentation with lyrics, “Mercy you, you helped me shine. Although the last, it was the very first time.” One of the most distinguishing elements of Creux Lies’ sound is Clevenger’s vocal contributions. – James Edwards
Rohn – Lederman – Venus Chariot – My love for Belgian composer extraordinaire Jean-Marc Lederman is deeply known on this page. His previous work includes ( Fad Gadget, The The, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Weathermen) as well as some of the most thought provoking higher tier concepts in electronica music of the past 5 years. Teaming here with COP International and exceptional producer/Vocalist Emiliegh Rohn of Michigan they blend into a poetic electrified katana of grace and fury. I have spoken of this record in the Sounds and Shadows group but was shocked I had yet to write a formal review. When I hear someone of Jean-Marc’s pedigree say “This might be one of the most important albums I have ever released” it tends to make your ears perk up. This album is full of endless fusion energy both in the intricate hair splitting craft of the music, and Emileigh’s power whisper beauty. it’s the record I reach for whenever I need to force my body into action. A well of strength at your fingertips for these draining times. Greg Rolfes provides cover art to set the tone of this runaway stampede of electronic elegance.
Black Rose Burning – The Wheel – George Grant of New York has taken an already amazing sound to a completely different level. This new album is progressive, complex, expertly executed emotional darkscene that permeates the skin and resonates in the chest. These vocals harken to a previous time of dripping Peter Gabriel emotion that spiral in crystal facets on top of shifting translucent hooks. It ebbs and flows through a stylistic spectrum and delivers with every memorizing tale. I continue to be blown away by one of the most criminally overlooked master songsmiths of our scene. This is a record that needs mainstream attention.
The Joy Thieves – American Parasite – This album is an opus from Chicago Industrial Superband The Joy Thieves. Dan Milligan and crew mix the best of hard thrashing rock and Industrial electronic explosion. The amount of talent and fury unleashed on this record is staggering and at no point disappoints.
Dead Astronauts : Silhouettes– A new release from our friends at Cold Transmission from Seattle WA. This record was a articulate and purposeful release that had a craftsmanship that placed it in the upper echelons. That made a lot of sense once I heard Slade Templeton (Crying Vessel) had a guiding hand involved. Florence, and Jared seem to have an instinct for where a song needs to go. Melody to melody, song to song, everything seems to flow in it’s perfect natural direction. It makes it so easy to fade away and become lost in the futuristic textures. They each have such a distinct and soothing voice. Made stronger by their combination and ability to hold the depth of a conversation instead of a monologue. The music has a lot of subtle dissonance and complex themes. What really makes it effective though is how these details are woven around straight forward pop hooks that remind me of Peter Hook’s Revenge , or Pet Shop Boys. This is a record that doesn’t need to scream to get your attention or convey emotion. It tells you everything without ever having to raise it’s voice.
I Ya Toyah – Out Of Order – I am constantly memorized by the way Ania’s star keeps growing in size and brilliance. With Out of Order she travels away from the standard rock aspects to the other spectrum of her electronic abstract. It truely feels like a fusion between robotic precision and human heart glow.
Kill Shelter & Antipole – A Haunted Place – Here it is, Pete Burns is operating on a level in modern postpunk/darkwave that is rewriting the script. Here instead of recruiting a variety of singers like his groundbreaking album Damage he takes the vocals upon himself. His voice is rich and rings with the power of a well aged bell. To build on that previous level of variety in the soulful lyrics, he has added possibly the top Post Punk guitarist in Antipole’s Karl Morton Dahl. It’s an effortless compliment which locks perfectly as a puzzle falling into place. Every track is done with such expert precision and runs the spectrum of emotion. This is an early contender for album of the year. Like an expertly honed novel I could hear this record 1000 times and find a new detail to zero in on each play through.
Stoneburner – Apex Predator – This is Steven taken off the chain and turned to 11. Unapologetic making industrial music of wild machines and wires. Spewed forth with venom to a world without a concern to how it will land. This is the true punk rock ethos driving giant steam punk construction vehicles. This is the industrial that Joe Strummer prepared us for.
Dove Tribe – All In The Waiting – No one is a bigger fan of the artistic exploration of sound by Hide Tepes of Carrion than me. He is on a constant journey to create some of the most cutting edge sound crafting in the modern scene. So when I heard he was doing a new project with a more rock focused old school bat cave sound I knew to expect something exceptional. The song “New Cold War” is a powerful political statement with an emotional delivery that harkens me back to 1959 by the Sisters of Mercy. A track that transports you and paints a picture of strife and rebellion. It shows Hide’s voice in a completely new light that left me spellbound. I feel like this EP has the raw power to be a game changer in a genre hungry for new sound.
Ashes Fallen –A Fleeting Melody out of a Fading Dream – The Sinister Guitar Lord of Sacramento CA James Perry returns with a long anticipated album. I’ve been a fan of the hard rock edge and dark overtones of Ashes Fallen for a while now. This new record finally fully embraces the goth aspects of the gothic rock. I feel like the scene has been so hungry for a voice of processive morals and guitar driven dark music. The other major step forward for this release is the collaboration heard on keyboard and additional guitars by Michelle and Jason. The seamless blend of these other voices in the song writing process really elevate and highlight the best aspects of James talent. The mastering by Gordan Young crackles with deep lines and definition. James voice has really found it’s internal confidence and writhes and strikes like a sea serpent bursting through phrases and throwing weight on those show stopping fretboard fireworks
The Ending Nights – A Landscape To Die – The newest offering of Pedro Code (IAMTHESHADOW) of Portugal on Cold Transmission Music. A definingly dark apocalyptic disco drive produced and mastered by Pedro for a soul wrenching personal explosion. Jagged glass drenched in rainbow oil and water. How do you take one of the most distinctive voices in modern goth/darkwave when you find a way to make the steaming disco beats the star of the show you have really broken ground. This is a record that creates a world. Grime and desolation, the remaining survivors of a broken world follow the electric pulse of a melody from within. A perfect anthem for these fractured times.
PALAIS IDEAL – Negative Space – Palais Ideal is my favorite advanced evolution of progressive post punk. A calculated artificial intelligence writing out the history of humanity in reverse. This is thinking persons post punk for a modern era.
SHIV-R – Kill God Ascend – Brand new album from the Australian electronic apocalypse know as SHIV-R. I love the expansive fantasy metal destruction fed into a machine brain and turned loose on an unsuspecting populous. Pete Crane is a force of nature in the industrial scene and has a glorious gift for poetic imagery in his lyrics. If you are a fan of the violent industrial power of Front 242 and shaking your body in dangerous convulsions, this is your jam.
LEATHERS – Reckless – Second time on this list for Shannon of Actors. A unique departure from her other projects and really highlights her essence which is more collaborative in Actors. It’s sleek, it’s beautiful, it’s as light as an angel dancing on a pin. I love the silky billowing synths and how they flow off the shoulders of her voice. The sound is such an immersive dream which slides along the borders of reality. I spend moments dwelling on how something so beautiful manages to remain so relatable.
The Gothsicles – Animal Songs – Brian breaks ever barrier of what we think this scene means. A pure shot of rainbow bright laser explosions telling the tale of animals while making you shake that ass. A unique voice and vision in a carbon copy world.
Bow Ever Down – Lost In The Woods – Kimberly Kornmeier sizzling darkpop from 2020 which left me swaying and captivated. The synthy star sparkle spins are a wonderful atmospheric journey. Their voice is an icy and bracing powerful clarity. They have a honesty and power that rings forth with every delivered line. It’s vulnerable and indomitable at the same fine. The music has a soulful and serious tone. A shattering crystal castle of faced disillusionment growth and regret. I also love the use of samples to set stories that allow the vocals to show the emotional range of the story portrayed.
A Cloud of Ravens – Another Kind of Midnight – New album from Brookland band ACOR, which has left me immediately captured and ready to dive into this deep pool. This record is a perfect blend of the homage to the past and the modern construction of the future. Well deep power and resonant vocals carry these stalking shadow woven songs. It’s concrete wilderness and Peter Murphy poetry. Ringing guitars and driving basslines carry a heroic journey through a desolate land. The power of this story is to make the situation always seem so bleak but leaves a glimmer of hope in every song. We have an interview coming out soon that provides a glimpse behind the curtain to this emotional hand quivering delivery.
Mark E Moon – Old Blood – Old and sinister music and vocals from Cold Transmission and the Isle of Man. I have been a fan or Mark E Moon for a while but this new record is a huge step forward in shadowy transmission and feeling that rips open your skull and pours raw unhinged emotion directly to your mind. It’s stomping, unforgiving and full of truth. I picked this record up and couldn’t find a way to put it down. Released on April 2nd you can get two tracks now with preorder. It has a sense of poetry and theater that has been lacking in the modern goth scene. It rides the line between beauty and grit. I can’t remember the last time I heard a band take such a monumental step forward from a previous album I enjoyed.
Twin Tribes – Altars – The beautiful lads of TX have released a remix album. Now I will always buy anything Twin Tribes put out sight unseen. I have to say this collection of remixes by some of the hottest names in darkwave was a special treat. The songs were big departures from the standard Twin Tribes style, but Luis voice still kept each song familiar. It included tracks from both previous albums placed lovingly up for sacrifice on the Altar to be transmuted and given back to the world.
Hueco – Canciones de Oscuridad y Desaliento – One of the most important Mexican darkscene bands of the past few decades. Hueco brings forth a unique flavor and tells sinister ghost stories in a universal emotional impression. I love the Iggy Pop “Raw Power” driving wilderness rhythm section. A must own record.
Helevete Inc – The Inevitability Ov Nothing – This is a new rerelease from Helevete Inc. We recently had the opportunity to interview them, so keep an eye out. I feel in love with the hard old school style of this band. This album was such a drastic departure and really shows the range they have. A rich and meaning drenched darkwave goth sound. TION shows a gripping and introspective melodic aspect of their voice. These songs have such a powerful authenticity of someone stepping outside of their wheelhouse, uncertain where the music would take them. Confronting the fear and darkness of that reality. I feel so deeply in entranced by this record. It showed me something, it had glorious imperfections which revealed the artists and left you gripped by the connection. The album also has fierce and snarling beauty in the form of guest vocals from Jenny Rae Mettee. This is one of the most underrated finds of the year.
unitcode:machine – Themes for a Collapsing Empire – Dallas TX Industrial artist has been on my radar for a while. This new album hits a whole new gear. I remember being at Cold Waves this year and hearing person after person in the know say “Holy shit have you heard this album”. This is a masterclass in marble statue precision craftsmanship in electronic music. The vocals are melodic and driven in a way that haunts your head. I love how clearly the poetry of the lyrics rings out beyond music that fills every wall of a dance club. It follows the template of classical industrial while finding a tone distinctly it’s own. People need to know about this, it needs to be appreciated.
Bootblacks – Thin Skies Remixed – Remix follow to the break out record Thin Skies. A who’s who of the modern darkscene reimaging an album that shook the foundations of the scene. Hear something you loved though a different lens.
Angelspit – Diesel Priest – Well this new Angelspit album is not pulling any punches sonically or politically. Zoog Von Rock has returned with an army of cyborg technicians of revolutionary destruction. Stomping machines of punk rock anti establishment zealots rolling on tank tread speed. It always leaves me stunned how something so fueled by chaos can fit in such a tight refined space. With every building track you never know where the creature will go next or who will be brought down in the explosion. I think the greatest power here is how the lyrics effect 16 year old me as long as 44 year old me with both the passion and intelligence. This album is an experience that hits on so many levels
WINGTIPS – Cutting Room Floor – I saw Wingtips this year and they had the best performance at Cold Waves. That is really saying something for this show. This record was the perfect storm of edge and refinement. It’s so explosive, beautiful, and tragic. So much is conveyed with two amazing humans in perfect harmony.
Dread Risks – Trauma Ties – Texas extreme crushdustrial band has taken several years of evolution and compressed them into a truly unique fury of sound. Music to smash your enemies with a sledge hammer with.
Helix – Bad Dream – It surprises me I don’t think I have reviewed the powerhouse team up that is Mari Kattman and Tom Shear (Helix). I will rectify that now. Bright, bold, and teaming with energy. Mari has an elegance to her voice that feels like a bird of prey gliding on an air current. This is music that makes my legs pump with a desire to concur the world. I’m genuinely mad at myself I haven’t listened to them more before now. Track 2 Slip has a gorgeous triphop backbeat that captures the idea of movement on ice. I love the subtle changes in the vocals cadence, everything happening in the same volume and range, yet creating movement with tiny variations. Masterful songwriting and execution.
HAEX – Aethyr Abyss Void – This is one of the meanest chaos cannon grimy warehouse fireballs I have heard in a long time. A forceful ritual of madness and terror pop sensuality. This is the soundtrack to your next Hellrazer Barker themed dance party. Inspired wall smashing guitar work and apocalypse chant vocals. I want more and want it now.
Lorelei Dreaming – Future Fables – Long have I awaited this 6 track EP complete with wonderful remixes by Chicago dystopian pop princess Laura. It’s so clear and textured from their previous release. Laura’s voice breaks through the wall and takes it’s rightful place on center stage. The album opens with an absolute banger in Of Stars. I’m loving the rippling synth sounds to add a fantasy feel. Each song is a striding step forward for an armor clad paladin facing down the demons surrounding her. This album was so worth the wait and every song is an adventure. The remixes are a brilliant contribution with the likes of Kanga, Sawtooth, Eva X, Angel Metro, and more. I love seeing so many top tier ladies involved.
MORIS BLAK – Irregular Revisions Vol. II – Brand new remix album from Boston EDM wizard Brian Blacknoise. Powerful reimagining from 2019 The Irregularity of Being. This album is a epic dance journey where sounds are sculpted from chaos into form. A masterful job of enlisting vocal performances from the likes of Alicia May, Luna, and Pete Crane to add layers that elevate the intent and narrative. Finding a fresh image in songs you have previously done is no easy task, but this remix album cracks the standard code. It’s a collaboration that takes something wonderful and fires it through a prism.
Dead Animal Assembly Plant – Bring Out The Dead – Another bone jarring hit from our friends at Armalyte Industries. This album is venturing a little closer to the metal aspects of industrial/metal than I tend to go. Sometimes in life you just need music to smash shit to, and that’s what the Portland band is bringing with rapid fire whole sale destruction. What leaves me impressed isn’t the moments it hits hard, it’s in the subtitle intelligence where pulls back and lulls you into a false sense of security just to swing the bat at you again with reckless abandon. Another great highlight is the cover of the folk song “Gods Gonna Cut you Down”. They say when Johnny Cash covers a song he makes it his own. Sometimes though you need to rip it out of his hands and shake the shit out of it with blistering guitars and fiercely whispered vocals by Time Bitch.
Push Button Press – Black Swan – This is a long awaited album from our friend Jim Walker and Cold Transmission record. The title really sets the tone for an amazing artist which has been a bit misunderstood and on the fringe. Writing music that was visionary and a bit progressive for some audiences. Right from track one The End of Time we are pressing our foot steady on the gas and gaining speed with clarity and purpose. I am feeling a lot of smooth spreading bassline and Jim has a stabbing staccato. That blend calls to mind early Psychedelic Furs. I think the thing that strikes me most in track 2 Trace are the crisp and driving drum beats. It really adds a powerful element of rock to the post punk concept. Title track 6 Black Swan lays open the the heart of the band. For every truth there is a black swan. The transitions here are so abrupt but maintain a silky smoothness that create constant motion. The guitar work here has a lot of early punk elements with heavy rhythm guitars. It feels like jumping across fast moving water from stone to stone. Always a sense of danger and concentration.
Stabbing Westward – I Am Nothing – Ok this was only an EP, but the amount of nostalgia and lightspeed rockdustrial perfection was impossible not to mention. Chris Hall is a voice that keeps getting more impressive by the year. Listening to this record can take 10 years age off your swagger.
Long After Midnight – Painkiller – Really liking how much rock is mixed into this Industrial Rock. The mastering was done by Jules Seifert so everything is smooth as an Aston Martin’s fender. Ross Martin’s vocals are crisp and powerful to cut through the progressive hard edge of the music. Mike Nolan is juggling a lot of moving parts here to give the music a sense of complexity and movement. Really exciting taste of more great things to come. I need to play with these cats once shows start again.
The Cult Sounds – Death of a Star – A haunted carnival of opaque modern rock sounds and blistering originality. This album felt so fresh I had no idea how to categorize it beyond being firmly in the camp of yes please. It’s dirty, mean, and dangerous with a cult energy I want to join up with.
Red Meat – Homo Vulgaris – Manchester UK’s dancetastic hard edge industrial is a album every DJ needs to download and use to blow the walls apart of every dance club in the world. Rhys Hughes has that filthy Uncle Al sex voice which makes you want to shake your body harder and meaner than you ever have before. It’s that perfect mix of glam and grime skirting a razors edge of the danger you want to stick around for. I love hearing music that isn’t my style, but is delivered with such quality I can’t help myself being drawn in by it. This whole album is pure club magic that makes me long for sweaty bodies spasmodically jerking in time while the crumbling walls of a filthy warehouse thrum in the darkness.
The Burying Kind – The Burying Kind – Ok, do I have a personal stake in this album ? Sure. It was still something I always reached for all year long. One of my favorite modern goth singers Scott-David Allen and Industrial musicians Dan Milligan coming together to make the best Shoegaze album of 2021. What is not to love about this entire concept. It’s passionate, it’s expressive, it’s perfect. You need to give this album a try, it will change you.
LINGUA IGNOTA – AGNUS DEI – Every time I think we as a species have hit the wall of new kinds of music we can make, someone surprises me. This year that surprise came from Lingua Ignota. It you took the hair wrenching sound of a morning party on an Italian cliffside at midnight and blended it with Peter Murphy doing electronic performance art. You might be in the ballpark. This record isn’t easy listening. It’s hard, glorious, mind expansive listening.
Death Loves Veronica – Chemical – The first album from the glorious union of the Texas siren and Cold Transmission Music. I love the crashing tide synth drive and the contrast of warm whiskey sliding down the back of your throat. A ritual incantation and self realization. Every time Veronica announces a new release I am left wondering what new territory her voice will take me. Pre Order is currently available with the first two singles “Burn” and “Spindein”. The power of this album is how instead of you studying the painting while listening. The stalking control and awareness in the eyes of the music is staring back at you. You are the one on display and the tendrils of the music creep towards you and wrap you up.
Slighter – Void –
LA electronic songsmith producer with another powerful release. Colin Cameron is an absolute maestro of riding the razors edge between drifting spaceship on the edge of the known galaxy and that hook that gets stuck in your mind for days. The true modern day composer commanding a symphony of expression at the tips of his keyboard. The aptly named Void is a lost soundtrack of space horror like Event Horizon. Cameron has a sexy whisper voice that leads you like a siren into the unexplored darkness. Brilliant use of guest talent like Vocals on “Spill Blood” by R.A. Desilets. Proving again to be at the top of the game while drawing far outside the lines.
I continue to be impressed by LA song crafter Colin Cameron. He takes an approach to music akin to graphic design. Every weighted aspect seems to bring contrast and focus to both the positive and negative space within a sound wave. This track is the perfect journey track to travel the stars on an extended tour of the universe. A hit of peace, a hint of madness, drifting into the beyond behind the hum of subspace engines.
Dogtablet – Pearldrop Blue – So many amazing elements in one place that connect all the tiny synapses in my mind and unleash a flood of dopamine right in the brainstem. Scene legends Martin King, Roberto Soave, and Jared Louche, have teamed up once again to bring out all the best in each other and we are reaping the sonic benefits. I’ve had a hole in my heart as Jared has been quiet lately. Hearing his mad prophet poet spinning spiderweb dreams again takes me on a fantastical journey
MALE TEARS – Trauma Club – LA synth stars who captured my heart with this slithery filthy synthwave sin. It’s the old effect, but in the modern light. James voice rings bright and tortured with beautiful poetry and anguish you can feel in your bones.
Jean-Marc Lederman Experience – The Raven – The living legend keeps finding ways to show me there are whole other levels of composition and concept us mere mortals have only begun to scratch. Another concept album where he uses guest singers to express a central theme he has written. This one the Poe infused macbre holding court in the modern electronic era. The list of contributors is a fitting testament to the brilliance of the composer.
Sapphira Vee – Duets – NY siren Sapphiria uses another great talent beyond her production and vocals. She draws people to her with her light. In this case a plethora of industry greats to place their voice next to hers in a duet. Mike Reidy, Jim Semonik, Chris Connelly. Turning the monolog into a glorious dialog.
Batavia – Mythos – Ed and Terri Cripps have found something between medieval bard and smashing industrial noise. I don’t know how to put a finger on it but I don’t ever want it to stop. It’s so gorgeous and original. It’s full of hope and inspiration. This is what I listen to when i need to be inspired to write music.
Black Angel – Prince of Darkness – It’s so good to have the ROCK back in gothic rock. La sleezy thrashing darkness that reminds us where we came from in this genre. It’s pumping hearts in barb wire and leather. Feel undead in the anarch LA streets of darkness.
Vision Video – Inked in Red – Glorious throwback 80’s glory full of The Cure/Smiths/ sad beauty you want to follow the violet winding star beam into the night to. Creeping comfort of a dream I needed to remember.
Bedless Bones – Bending The Iron Bough – My favorite band from Estonia. The wind rustles gentle through purple grains. The chant grows in electric power and swirls with spiritual majesty. Another one of those fresh sounds that sparks the heart with exploration.