2021 In Review: Music

Best of 2021

  • Archspire – Bleed the Future
    • A tour de force of technical death metal. Yet still balances that with more quiet, calm moments. Understanding that, even at only 32 minutes, it would be too much if it was unrelenting. Also, songs. Not just display of technical ability, actual songs.
  • 1914 – Where Fear and Weapons Meet
    • WWI will always be a bleak subject, and here it is handled with aplomb. Blackened death metal, with the addition of some symphonic elements this go around. Interspersed with music and quotations from the time. The music is perfect for the subject matter: harsh, harrowing, yet with moments of emotion.
  • Mastodon – Hushed and Grim
    • Too long, yes. But honestly, every song wins me over at some point. Even the songs that start off in a style I despise (country anyone?) eventually grow into something that I appreciate. Packed with emotion, this one took a couple of listens, but definitely won me over.
  • AMENRA – De Doorn
    • Not Mass VII. And shame on us for wanting Mass VII. De Doorn is still classic AMENRA. Powerful, haunting, balancing being abrasive with being introspective. A shining example of what draws me to post-metal: quiet contemplation balanced with crushing brutality.
  • Black Sites – Untrue
    • Just damn good heavy metal in the classic sense of the term. Lead member’s previous band Trials was a much heavier act. Black Sites brings some of that edge, but couches it in a modern yet classic metal veneer. Catchy songs, excellent choruses, interesting compositions.
  • IOTUNN – Access All Worlds
    • Progressive death metal with a sci-if theme? Sign me up! And Jón Aldará on lead vocals? Oh hells yes. This is huge, grandiose progressive metal with death growls and soaring cleans, this just hits all the right spots for me.
  • LLNN – Unmaker
    • So. Heavy. LLNN deal in the heavier aspects of post-metal. This is crushing, brutal, truly heavy music. Yet it is still subtle. That seems impossible, but mixed in with the monolithic riffs and the tortured vocals are weaved synths as well as layered “field recordings” of sounds from the real world. Probably the best single word for this is devastating.
  • Spiritbox – Eternal Blue
    • On paper, I shouldn’t really like Spiritbox. While difficult to place in a genre, metalcore would be the best fit. And I don’t really love most metalcore. And while I appreciate and love the heavy (“Holy Roller”), what elevates Spiritbox and Eternal Blue for me are all the things that are distinctly NOT metalcore. The gorgeous cleans of Courtney Laplante, the electronic elements, the ambience, the effects and the ever present guitar skills of Mike Stringer. Spiritbox just strikes me as something special, and their first full length album confirms that.
  • Year of No Light – Consolamentum
    • I love almost all things post. It’s true. Add post-metal or post-rock tag to anything and I am immediately 5 times more likely to check it out. Then make it instrumental? Gaaaahh. Okay, I’m sold. And then the fact that the music is so good, moving, driving, atmospheric. Having never heard of Year of No Light before, I immediately became a huge fan.
  • Crescent – Carving the Fires of Akhet
    • Egyptian themed death metal. Yawn. Nile has been doing that for years. But Nile has also not really wowed me for years (though their most recent album is a winner). Enter Crescent. Combining the heaviness of death metal with middle eastern musical cues and styles, they have created a really powerful album of music. This was an easy one to keep coming back to this year.

Honorable mentions

  • Be’lakor – Coherence
    • I really like the melodeath of Be’lakor, and this album is no different. Could have been higher had I listened to it more.
  • Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell
    • “Return” might be my favorite song of the year. This album is raw, simple, ERR. And she excels and bringing the emotion she is so adept at conveying.
  • Evergrey – Escape of the Phoenix
    • I just love Evergrey. This is an excellent distillation of what makes this band who they are. And that is why it isn’t ranked higher. It is Evergrey, once again, doing what they do. Good thing they do it so well.
  • Exodus – Persona Non Grata
    • Exodus be Exodus. Don’t expect them to change. And here they don’t. This is reliable thrash with a brutal guitar tone and Zetro’s unhinged vocal delivery.
  • Frontierer – Oxidized
    • WTF. Literally every time I listen to Frontierer I just think WTF over and over. Pure chaos in musical form, cranked all the way to 11.
  • Impure Wilhelmina – Antidote
    • I really like this band and their blend of metal with smooth, Brit pop style crooning. And this might be the best example of that blending ever. Probably should be higher on my list, I just didn’t listen as much as I would have liked.
  • Khemmis – Deceiver
    • Late in the year, not enough time to really appreciate this. But a reliable Khemmis record. Not their best (don’t know if Hunted will be able to be topped), but another great release from this band and an album I have enjoyed quite a bit this year.
  • Swallow the Sun – Moonflowers
    • Where are the tissues? Why is it so dusty in here? Why won’t my eyes stop watering? Death doom designed to rip your heart out and leave it on the floor. The loss of Aleah Stanbridge continues to haunt Juha Raivio, and that radiates from this record.
  • Clouds – Despartire
    • Yeah, seconded. Minus the loss of Aleah. Do not, I repeat DO NOT listen unless you want to wrap yourself in sadness and despair. But if you do, this is the softest, fuzziest blanket of despair you’ll find.

Better Than it Should Be

  • Chevelle – Niriatas
    • Chevelle hasn’t really interested me in years. But somehow this one grabbed my attention enough I listened to it multiple times this year. That shocked me.
  • Between the Buried and Me – Colors II
    • Following up such a landmark album like Colors is a difficult task. And the fact that BtBaM do it as well as they do here is surprising. I still have to be in the correct mindset for BtBaM and their “kitchen sink” approach to music, but here it works better than expected.


  • Gojira – Fortitude
    • Too many moments or tracks that just halt the momentum of this album. Like it’s predecessor Magma, this album just doesn’t click for me. I know a lot of the metal community continue to slather praise on Gojira and treat them like the second coming of the Lord. But while I admit they have had some amazing albums in the past, Fortitude continues the trend of albums that I have little to no interest in coming back to.
  • Iron Maiden – Senjutsu
    • It’s Maiden. It’s reliable. It’s also getting slower, songs feel more bloated, and fewer and fewer moments really stand out. This isn’t a bad album, it just isn’t one I came back to after the first week or so. I love that these guys are still rocking into their late 60s, but maybe it is time to wind down? Maybe?
  • Leprous – Aphelion
    • It is fine, if you want proggy pop-rock. But if what you loved about Leprous all started to fade with 2015s The Congregation this album will do little to nothing to win you back over. It certainly didn’t win me over. At least it isn’t any worse than their last 2 albums.

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