Another weird year has come to pass. We’ve seen some shows and events carefully emerging again in some regions before they all got snubbed again and had to be cancelled or postponed. Luckily 2021 saw a whole lot of highly interesting releases coming out. As every year we’ve collected what the contributors to our site thought were the best albums of the year, which turned into the following overall GRIMM’s Albums of the Year 2021 list:
10. Unto Others – Strength / Wheel – Resident Human
Returning in our top albums, but this time under a new moniker: Unto Others (previously Idle Hands). After 2019’s critically acclaimed debut album ‘Mana‘ some of us were a bit weary if they’d be able to top this, it definitely wouldn’t be an easy feat to pull. Although their sophomore doesn’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor, we can all agree ‘Strength‘ is a more than worthy follow-up. This time goth rock takes the upper hand over NWOHM however, and after a few spins one could even forget they ever dabbled in the latter, you could easily think of them as a heavy metal version of The Sisters of Mercy. Without meaning anything bad at all with that statement. Thematically speaking this choice in style made sense as well since it’s also a darker album revolving around war, death as the inevitable fate of humanity, suicide, or child abuse among others. A pure Gothic delight of a band that will continue to soar towards greatness.
Just like quite a few releases in this list, it’s not really that big of a surprise that Wheel‘s sophomore full-length ‘Resident Human’ has made it. After impressing a whole lot of people with ‘Moving Backwards’ a couple of years back and relentlessly touring with some of the most popular prog bands like Soen or Leprous whenever possible, this mostly Finnish band has taken up a permanent spot on the playlists of people who like their music intricate yet hooky as hell. While their debut full-length already blew our minds as an album that almost sounded more Tool than Tool does, with ‘Resident Human’ they went easily beyond that. The surprise factor of discovering such a great band and the less amount of touring (cause you definitely need to see these guys live to really fully appreciate them) might have cut a bit in the overall popularity of the album, but they made quite the leaps forward. With a new bassist and guitarist in the ranks, even more beautifully intricately crafted music and lyrics that make you think, they really solidified their status as upcoming greats in the genre.
Watch the chat we had with them in anticipation of the release here.
9. Exodus – Persona Non Grata / The Offspring – Let the Bad Times Roll
We started wondering if this record would ever see a release. In the end, after a delay that had us all briefly worried, ‘Persona Non Grata‘ did manage to make it to the shelves. Not only did it make it to shelves but it demolished the rack, set fire to it and moshed in the ashes. This album is a beautiful return to old school Exodus, and a solid follow-up to 2014’s ‘Blood In, Blood Out‘. This is a band that’s been through so many different line-ups that you’d soon forget what they’re supposed to sound like. Well, the Bay Area thrash metal legends’ latest is here to remind you. I mean, how could it not? Honestly, they’ve got the best line-up they’ve had in years. And I mean literal decades. The legendary Gary Holt and Lee Altus on guitars, Steve “Zetro” Souza on vocals, Jack Gibson on bass and the mighty Tom Hunting on drums. Talk about a dream team.
This release is probably the most surprising for a lot of us that it ended up in our final list. But that only shows how much people have been looking forward and anticipating the first new full-length album in almost 10 years from the punk rock legends that is The Offspring. ‘Let the Bad Times Roll’ has all you’d ever expect or want from an Offspring release with catchy high energy tracks, Dexter Holland‘s signature voice and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. And while there might be plenty of people who don’t necessarily agree it being the punk rock album of the year, there is no denying how and why these guys have become absolute legends in the scene.
8. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue
What easily could be named as one of the most anticipated and best debut full-lengths of 2021, it’s no big surprise that Spiritbox ended up in our top list. They shared a bunch of songs with captivating music videos over the past years, building up that anticipation quite skillfully so. Vocalist Courtney LaPlante has quickly become one of the most prominent voices of the modern metal/rock scene and you couldn’t get past her in 2021 with regular guest spots on tracks of label mates and other bands. Spiritbox itself joins that elite group of up-and-coming bands that somehow manage to click with a wide variety of heavy music fans. And while comparisons with that other fan favorite that is also featured in this list, Jinjer, they do have a specific signature sound and way of combining different musical influences and produce highly emotional songs. We believe that this is only the start for the band and are looking forward what else the future will bring for them.
7. Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell / Soen – Imperial
Our team’s pick for the very best death/doom record of 2021 is Hooded Menace‘s ‘The Tritonus Bell‘. To be honest this outcome is not at all surprising. We’ve been talking about how much we were looking forward to this record for a long time. And their previous LP didn’t even come out that long ago. We have no idea why it felt like ages. Well, doom metal can at times feel like it lasts for ages, but that’s beside the point. With ‘The Tritonus Bell‘, these Finnish lads have created another really heavy, gorgeously dramatic-sounding epic studio album that is rich with melodic chugs and solos, slimy growling and doomy contemplative drumming.
There is probably not a year in which Soen has released a new album and doesn’t end up in our albums of the year top list. They’ve evolved from a good substitute for those who were hungry for Tool sounding tunes, into a guarantee for strong albums. They really took their own path and stand tall on their own now. ‘Imperial’ is probably the heaviest album of Soen to date, most likely in part thanks to Lopez‘ drum work. But it’s immediately also a brilliant example that strong and heavy music doesn’t always need harsh grunting vocals. And what’s not to love about Ekelöf‘s warm voice? An absolutely enormous release by these Swedish guys yet again.
6. Carcass – Torn Arteries / VOLA – Witness / Swallow the Sun – Moonflowers
Carcass‘ ‘Torn Arteries‘ is another one of those records we’d been expecting for some time, and to be honest we’d waited long enough. But boy, was it worth it. After having heard the first few singles, we weren’t sure what to expect except that this would turn out to be yet another record that was musically completely different from the previous one. First of all, it’s much slower-paced and grooves have largely taken over where melody used to be prominent, and the grinding element is also completely out the window – although that’s mostly been gone for a while. All in all, this will be a very divisive record, but I guess we’ve gotten used to expect the unexpected from Carcass. And that’s precisely ‘Torn Arteries’ major strength and why we love it so much. One thing hasn’t changed though: Bill Steer‘s frighteningly menacing growls.
We’ve seen this one pop up in many year lists and with reason. VOLA‘s latest and third full-length, ‘Witness‘, is a clear evolution from their previous installments. On the one hand it’s a clear return to the djent sound of their 2015 debut, ‘Inmazes‘, and on the other they are very careful not to completely write off the proggy delight that was 2018’s follow-up, ‘Applause of a Distant Crowd‘. The music on this record is complex and, in spite of this, still catchy with the occasional trip to electronica or even rap and trip hop in some cases (‘These Black Claws’). But the true highlight here is frontman and founder Asger Mygind‘s singing. His angelic voice is simply mesmerizing. It also helps that his lyrics are clear, memorable and easy to follow. You’ll find yourself humming the chorus of more than just their awesome single, ‘Straight Lines‘, on many occasions.
In 2019 Swallow The Sun stood high and mighty at the top of our AOTY list with ‘When a Shadow is Forced into the Light’. So it’s not a big surprise that the Finnish masters of grief are taking up a spot in our 2021 list. They return with another emotional album filled with doom & gloom with ‘Moonflowers‘. The intriguing album artwork made by mastermind’s Juha Raivio‘s own blood and dried flowers, the animated videos they’ve created to go along with the music, the extra album with classical music versions of the tracks and of course again meticulously crafted music all ensure that they’ve went above and beyond yet again with this one. Throw on top of that the return of some more growling by Mikko compared to the other release and a couple of really surprising tracks like the mesmerizing ‘All Hallows’ Grieve’ featuring guest vocals by the talented Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber) and the surprisingly heavier, faster and more black metal inspired grim closing track ‘This House Has No Home’ featuring guest vocals from Antti Hyyrynen (Stam1na) and this has become yet again a masterpiece of gloominess.
Read the full review here and watch the chat we had with vocalist Mikko here.
5. Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine Of Hell / Jinjer – Wallflowers
‘Engine Of Hell’ by Emma Ruth Rundle is probably one of the least heavy creations on this list and while she has some history with certain post-metal outfits or relatively recently with the collaboration album with the sludgers of Thou, her solo work is usually more contemplative and intimate. With this album this is even more the case than ever, containing of stripped down, minimalist songs wearing the emotional load on its sleeves. With just Rundle‘s voice, acoustic guitar, piano and violin, there is absolutely nowhere to hide and despite its relative sonic calmness, this is an absolutely soul-crushing album!
Again not the biggest surprise that this one has made it in our top list. Ever since they released ‘King of Everything‘ back in 2016 with the headturner songs ‘Pisces‘ and ‘I Speak Astronomy‘ and extensive tours with prominent bands of the metal scene like Arch Enemy, Amorphis, Soilwork and Nailed to Obscurity, Jinjer have been booming. And proving they’re not just a one trick pony, they’ve released stellar album after album, showing off their technical, musical and songwriting skills. As good as every album has a couple of unexpected elements or tracks on them and with ‘Wallflowers‘ this is no different. Take ‘Mediator‘ that is probably the heaviest pummeling they’ve produced, or ‘Wallflower‘ that portrays a certain vulnerability from Tatiana‘s side that has spoken to so many people around the world. Jinjer keeps on getting bigger and bigger and we can easily see why’s that!
Read our review here.
4. Ice Nine Kills – Welcome To Horrorwood
Ice Nine Kills is another one of those bands that has been building up a really strong following over the years through great releases and absolutely stellar live performances. They really found their voice when they released ‘The Silver Scream’ back in 2018, focusing on their love for horror movies and really bringing it to the front in their music, videos and stage presence. With such an impressive release back then that was deemed as practically perfect, it was met with some reservation when they dared to name their upcoming new release ‘The Silent Scream 2‘. It wouldn’t be the first time that a band promises to release a banging follow-up for a highly successful album or song and miserably failing, disappointing fans all around in the process. Luckily, this is not the case for ‘The Silent Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood’. The album became at least as good, if not better than their earlier release. The tracks are written expertly well, the horror themes are meticulously interwoven in the music and visual aesthetics without getting tacky and there are a couple of tracks that have guest appearances that absolutely kill! Ice Nine Kills only gets better with the years and we dare to say that they are one of the most unique bands around!
Read our review here.
3. Gojira – Fortitude / Hippotraktor – Meridian
Probably one of the most universally loved bands in the metal scene, Gojira came back in 2021, 5 years after the release of ‘Magma‘. The French band that has had a musical style ranging from (technical) death metal, groove metal, progressive metal and post-metal and lyrics that more than once speak of activism, has grown into a worthy headliner of festivals. Now the big question was if they were going to continue down the softer ‘Magma‘ path, or if they were going to get heavier again. In a way, they did both on ‘Fortitude‘. While they sound exactly like Gojira, a bunch of the songs also sound refreshing and like they’re looking for a new sound without sounding out of balance. Going from minimalist riffs one moment to mastodon-like walls of sound, they manage to captivate people around the world with strong track after track. While some people complained that the mixing of the album let the songs somewhat down, we’re sure that live they will blow us away with their new music! And the fact they don’t shy away from ecological or political topics despite getting somewhat of a “big name” status, shows their true colors as advocates that use their popularity for the good for others. Once the metal grandfathers are ready to retire, Gojira is ready to take the flag and headline all major metal festivals.
We were surprised that the beloved Amenra didn’t make it to our top list this time around. But it seems that people were more lyrical about Hippotraktor, yet another gem of a band from Belgium. Hippotraktor are Pelagic Records label mates of the Psychonaut, The Ocean, pg.lost, Hypno5e, God Is An Astronaut, … to give you and idea of the little club they’re part of. The album’s tracks flow and meander, to rise to tsunami heights and crush down on listeners with so much to discover regarding riffs, hooks, groove, atmosphere, … If you are into lyrics you’ll notice singer Stefan De Graef brought in his philosophical influences from his other band Psychonaut, making this another album for reflection and introspection. The grooves of Gojira, madness of Meshuggah, passionate and contemplative emotions of bands like Amenra,… Straight from hearing the first single we knew ‘Meridian‘ was going to be special and obviously the album did not disappoint one bit. This album is a must listen for fans of progressive metal, post-metal, djent.
2. Wardruna – Kvitravn
We long wondered what Einar Selvik would focus on with Warduna after the ‘Runaljod’ trilogy. On ‘Kvitravn’ he takes us along a journey of Northern spirituality and mysticism animism that spoke more to us than the in 2018 released ‘Skald‘. Meditative songs interwoven with tribal percussion that stir something deep within, somewhat bringing back the magic of old and providing a form of healing for the soul and mind you can’t get anywhere else. It was such a magical journey to be on when listening to the album, making it hard to pick out any favorite tracks. But this album is just that: a magical journey that you best sit through from start to finish!
1. Converge (& Chelsea Wolfe) – Bloodmoon: I
While being labeled as a Converge record, so much more is going on here. This is another gem forged in the Roadburn festival history where the collaboration between Converge and Chelsea Wolfe was an impressive live experience back in 2016. Now actively trying to put that atmosphere on a record, you can easily think of the collaborative albums by Julie Christmas & Cult of Luna or Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou. While in a way the album brings in influences of all its contributors, it doesn’t sound like simple cut and paste work, lifting all the elements up to new heights. This release doesn’t sound like 2 or more separate entities collaborating, this sounds like a coherent piece of musical art by a group of artists that are all on the same wavelength. It constantly flows between ambient/atmospheric and harsh/abrasive. It’s at times downright haunting, just check out the title track ‘Blood Moon’ with its captivating music video! This is a masterfully crafted piece of music that can compete with some of the best acts in the sludge/post-metal scene and tops our albums of the year rightfully so. An absolute beast of an album!