It’s that time of the year again where one has to make some difficult choices. You’d think this would get easier with each passing year. I’ve tried to include different subgenres of metal for the sake of variety, but I still ended up with a list of my usual suspects (i.e. thrash, power and traditional heavy metal). There are however a few curveballs sprinkled in-between. Here are the 10 metal albums that I’ve enjoyed the most this past year.
10. Artillery – X
The thrash veterans of Artillery once again delivered the goods with their tenth studio album ‘X’. Yes, it is ironic that I put an album named ‘X‘ here in tenth place. It’s also a well-deserved spot for these Danish thrashers, as they’ve managed to carry on despite the passing of founding member Morten Stützer back in 2019. I really like the musical direction this band has taken with their recent albums, by having a more accessible sound with power-like vocals from Michael Bastholm Dahl, while never losing sight of their thrash roots. This approach worked wonderfully well on ‘The Face of Fear‘ and ‘Penalty by Perception‘ and it works even better here on ‘X‘.
09. The Offspring – Let the Bad Times Roll
Don’t let this album’s title fool you! I’ve had some really good times listening to The Offspring‘s long overdue tenth release this past year. Dexter Holland and Noodles still know how to concoct some really addictive punk rock songs with sharp lyrics. They’re not afraid to also venture outside the confines of the punk rock genre. For example, there’s a stripped down ballad version of ‘Gone Away‘, featuring a piano and violins. There’s also an instrumental cover of Edvard Grieg‘s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King‘. All of these different flavours make for a richly varied listening experience.
Read the full review here.
08. Enforced – Kill Grid
If Power Trip decides never to make another record, following the untimely death of vocalist Riley Gale, at least we’ll still have Enforced to pick up where they left off. ‘Kill Grid‘ is the second full-length release from this young band and it’s an absolute blast from start to finish. It’s one of the most relentlessly aggressive releases I’ve heard this past year, which is why it ended up being my favourite crossover thrash record of the year.
Read the full review here.
07. Bloodbound – Creatures of the Dark Realm
Now on to some power metal. This category was a tough nut to crack, as I was convinced that the newest release from Helloween, or perhaps even Powerwolf or Beast in Black would end up here. Instead it was Bloodbound that emerged victorious. ‘Creatures of the Dark Realm‘ is the power metal album I’ve revisited the most this past year, simply because it is filled to the brim with catchy songs. There are no filler tracks here and with a runtime of just 45 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome, unlike some of the other power metal releases I’ve mentioned here.
Read my full review here.
06. Nervosa – Perpetual Chaos
Time for yet another thrash metal release, only this time there’s some death metal thrown in for good measure. Back in 2020 it seemed as though Nervosa had disbanded. Luckily, founding member Prika Amaral quickly found some talented replacements and she succeeded in turning this setback into an absolute victory. ‘Perpetual Chaos’ is the band’s fourth studio album and in my opinion it’s their best one yet. It came out back in January and has remained one of my favourite records to revisit in the ensuing months.
Read my full review here.
(Side note: I also really liked Crypta‘s debut album ‘Echoes of the Soul’, which features two previous members of Nervosa.)
05. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu
Truth be told, it took me a while to fully appreciate Iron Maiden‘s seventeenth studio album. At first, I thought ‘Senjutsu’ was just too bloated with unnecessarily long tracks. After listening to it a few more times however, I found myself gradually warming up to these longer tracks filled with layers of complexity. Particularly the four tracks on the second half of the album. Also, where the hell do these guys still find the energy and the creative juices to pull off an album of this magnitude? It’s not like these metal legends still have to prove themselves, after more than four decades of consistently strong output!
Read the full review here.
04. Manimal – Armageddon
And the winner of the Judas Priest award goes to … Manimal! Now before you start chasing me with torches and pitchforks, I’m well aware of how sacrilegious it sounds to make such a bold statement, when KK’s Priest also released ‘Sermons of the Sinner’ the very same year. But honestly, Manimal’s fourth studio album just sounds as if this band is teeming with youthful energy. Vocalist Samuel Nyman even sounds like a younger, more energetic version of Rob Halford. ‘Armageddon‘ was released towards the end of the year, but to me this album just struck the perfect balance of traditional heavy metal, combined with elements of power metal.
03. Exodus – Persona Non Grata
There’s a saying that good things come to those who wait. This is most certainly the case with Exodus‘ latest studio album. It had been seven years since the pioneers of the Bay Area thrash metal scene unleashed the excellent ‘Blood In, Blood Out’. This November they finally returned with the absolutely crushing ‘Persona Non Grata‘. This new record is a thrashterpiece that’s as ferociously savage as it is thought-provoking. While 2021 had plenty of thrash metal releases to keep me satisfied (Nervosa, Enforced, Artillery, Flotsam and Jetsam, Angelus Apatrida, Space Chaser, …), my favourite one was definitely kept for last.
02. Unto Others – Strength
The goth-tinged metal band Unto Others (formerly known as Idle Hands) released their first full-length studio album ‘Mana’ back in 2019. That album left an indelible impression upon me and it quickly became one of my favourite albums of that year. They’ve done it again with this year’s ‘Strength‘, as their sophomore album retains the distinctly innovative blend of goth, rock and metal. I just love the way these songs are so catchy while at the same time conveying a sense of saudade mixed with anger.
01. Accept – Too Mean to Die
The German heavy metal juggernaut known as Accept released its sixteenth studio album at the beginning of the year. ‘Too Mean to Die‘ wasn’t anywhere near my radar when it first came out, but I haven’t stopped listening to it since then. Explaining just why this album comes in at number 1 is a bit tricky, because it’s not a particularly original or innovative record. However it does contain a cornucopia of rock-solid good old-fashioned heavy metal tracks. There’s a rebellious attitude that permeates the entire album, as well as a surprising amount of heart. I keep coming back to this record because its straightforward no-nonsense approach takes me back to a time when I first fell in love with metal.
And there you have it. My 10 favourite albums of the year. It wasn’t easy putting this list together, as there were many more amazing albums to choose from. While they didn’t make the final cut, it would be wrong not to feature some of these releases here as honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
- Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida (full review)
- Beast in Black – Dark Connection
- Burning Witches – The Witch of the North
- Crazy Lixx – Street Lethal
- Crypta – Echoes of the Soul (full review)
- Dead Heat – World at War
- Dee Snider – Leave a Scar (full review)
- Epica – Omega
- Evanescence – The Bitter Truth (full review)
- FireForce – Rage of War (full review)
- Flotsam and Jetsam – Blood in the Water
- Helloween – Helloween (full review)
- KK’s Priest – Sermons of the Sinner
- Powerwolf – Call of the Wild (full review)
- Space Chaser – Give Us Life
- Therion – Leviathan (full review)
- Warkings – Revolution