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. It was a long and hard process to make my selection, but it seems it became a combination of some familiar faces with a high focus on atmospheric music this year:
10. Wardruna – ‘Kvitravn’
We long wondered what Einar Selvik would focus on after the Runaljod trilogy. On Kvitravn he takes us along a journey of Northern spirituality, mysticism animism. Meditative songs interwoven with tribal percussion that stir something deep within. Most know I don’t venture outside of metal music a lot, but I gladly make an exception for neo folk.
9. God Is An Astronaut – ‘Ghost Tapes #10’
Maybe it’s because their show in Ghent got postponed 3 times already, but their latest album made me long even more to seeing them live. From the simplest repeated note to the elaborate soundscapes they create, Ghost Tapes #10 stands monumental.
8. Swallow the Sun – ‘Moonflowers’
After an album of the year with ‘When a Shadow is Forced into the Light’ in 2019 the Finnish masters of grief return with another emotional album. And what if I told you, you don’t have the listen to just one track, but you can experience the whole album in one big long animation video?
7. Noctule – ‘Wretched Abyss’
When this Skyrim-inspired black metal project was announced I had a good laugh. But look at this, we’re the end of the year and Wretched Abyss takes a place in the top 10 and I’m playing through Skyrim again because of it’s 10th anniversary. Fus ro dah! Melodic, atmospheric and another showcase of the immensely talented Serena of Svalbard.
6. Employed to Serve – ‘Conquering’
EtS turned up the groove on their latest record and that resulted in some intense headbanging tracks. Really looking forward to their show with Gojira and Alien Weaponry (hope it can happen…). That’s gonna be one rough evening for the neck.
5. VOLA – ‘Witness’
I’ve seen this one pop up in many year lists and rightfully so. They blend djenty progmetal with catchy choruses and the occasional trip to electronica. On ‘These Black Claws‘ they even bring in rap or trip hop. ‘Blasphemy!‘, one could say, but these Danes pull it off. This album really grew on me throughout the year and now I can’t get it out of my head anymore.
4. Soen – ‘Imperial’
Soen has evolved into a guarantee for strong albums. What started of as “something similar to Tool, Opeth and Katatonia” took its own path and stand tall on his own now. Imperial is maybe the hardest album of Soen to date thanks to Lopez‘ drumwork, but it’s immediately also a brilliant example that strong music doesn’t always need harsh grunting vocals. What’s not to love about Ekelöf‘s warm voice? Another cancelled show I’m looking forward to catch up on in 2022.
3. Converge (ft. Chelsea Wolfe, Stephen Brodsky & Ben Chisolm) – ‘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. Think of the collaborative albums by Julie Christmas & Cult of Luna or Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou. The album brings in influences of all its contributors and lifts it up to new heights. It’s hard, it’s ambient, it’s downright haunting. The best description I read was the analogy of Bloodmoon being the Bloodborne game poured into music (gamers will understand).
2. Gojira – Fortitude
Did Gojira get even softer? No. Did they go in a harder direction again then after Magma? No. Would you say they are still searching for a balance? No again. The play of intensity is just what makes Gojira so intriguing. While you captivated by an intro or a minimalist riff one moment (catch your breath!), you’re crushed by the magnitude the next. I can’t wait to see them from the moshpit again hopefully in 2022. The fact they don’t shy away from ecological or political topics makes them cringy for some, true 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. They just added another masterpiece to their catalogue.
1. Hippotraktor – Meridian
- Best discovery of the year
- Best debut album of the year
- Best Belgian album of the year
- Best album of the year
Yes, I’m quite lyrical about Hippotraktor, yet another gem of a band from Mechelen here in Belgium. With bands like Psychonaut and Pothamus also releasing stellar albums, it’s about time someone investigated the water over there. 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. This album is a must listen for fans of progressive metal, post-metal, djent.