What a weird year it has been yet again! Everyone was hoping that things could get back to “normal” and while in some regions that sort of worked out, it only lasted for a short while. Personally I got to enjoy quite a few good concerts and events and when I was locked up at home again, I had a pretty nice supply of new releases to dig into. When it became time again to choose which albums I want to put in my top 10 of the year, it was quite the struggle for me to decide which ones would make the cut. There have been some amazing releases that I thought would make it into my list without any doubt like from my all time favorites Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium, Swallow The Sun, Wolves In The Throne Room and Mastodon, more recent favorites like Jinjer, Amenra, Hacktivist and Alien Weaponry or even brand new discoveries under the form of Vexed, King Woman and Tetrarch, which to my surprise never made it. I ended up with a quite eclectic list consisting of about 50/50 albums I played almost every week and albums that I adored for their quality and pure epicness:
10. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue
This was a full-length I had been looking forward to ever since I discovered Spiritbox with their single ‘Holy Roller‘ last year. The combination of stellar songwriting, a gorgeous mix of different musical styles defying being put into a box (except for maybe the nowadays often used term “modern metal”) and absolutely stunning vocals from Courtney LaPlante that seem effortless, easily puts them in my list of bands that will soar into popularity and greatness in the years to come. For me personally it just really tickles that right bone that needs something unique and a bit of a mixed bag of everything I like in my heavy music: captivating melodies, djenty riffs, surprising twists and turns, the right balance between catchy and heavy, some well used electronic elements, heartfelt emotions,… It was a close call for me, but since this was a debut full-length, they just and just won me over a bit more than Jinjer…
9. Wardruna – Kvitravn
There have been quite a few highly interesting pagan folk releases in 2021 as well. And while I thoroughly enjoyed releases by artists like Nytt Land, Gåte, Skald and Waldkauz, there was something in this new album by Einar Selvik‘s Warduna. ‘Kvitravn‘ struck way more of a chord in me than his last release a couple of years ago with ‘Skald‘, somewhat bringing back the magic of his earlier ‘Runaljod‘ trilogy. It was such a magical journey to be on when listening to the album, making it hard to pick out any favorites. But this album is just that, and when I want to listen to it, I make the time to play it from start to finish. Simply stunning.
8. Born Of Osiris – Angel Or Alien
Born Of Osiris is a band I never really gave much attention before, probably because of my former dislike of most deathcore. And while a good decade ago they were turning heads in the deathcore scene, nowadays they’re not to be found anywhere near the genre. ‘Angel Or Alien‘ is a release that is the kind of metalcore veering into djenty riffs and proggy atmospheres at the ready, while infusing enough electronic and pop elements to keep the music highly entertaining. I don’t claim this record to be the most innovating or impressive of the list, but this was yet another one I played at those times nothing else could satisfy me and I had a need for some heaviness in my life. Absolutely great fun this one and easily a staple in what has been named “modern metal”.
7. Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes – Sticky
If you had told me that this would beat a selection of stellar releases by some of my most favored metal bands to the punch, I probably would’ve looked a bit funny at you. But Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes‘ new release ‘Sticky‘ is just so damn fun! There is nothing crazy inventive or new, it’s just that good old rock ‘n’ roll fun with a hefty dose of punk attitude that puts a big grin on my face, makes me move to the beats and grooves, howl along to the lyrics and gets me to feel like I wanna do something very mischievous. If you put this record on and it doesn’t make you feel like dancing your heart out, you have no heart. This was just the right amount of liberating fun that I needed whenever I felt claustrophobic or in a down mood. And I’m pretty sure it will be blaring from my speakers quite regularly in the years to come. Now put it on yourself, smash your sadness and maybe go get a tattoo while you’re at it…
6. Atlas – UKKO
Finnish metalcore band Atlas hasn’t really vibed with me before, but now with their new full-length ‘UKKO‘, they really got on my radar. All the typical metalcore elements are there, but they’re lifted into a rather unique sound by the infusion of the typical Finnish melancholy, epic soundscapes and inspiration from Finnish nature and old legends. With this album they really solidified a blueprint for what they call themselves “Northcore”. From start to finish it takes you on a journey and emotional roller coaster that just grabs you, keeps hold of you and doesn’t let go until the last note disappears. Different from most metalcore bands, Atlas manages to build a specific atmosphere throughout with excellent songwriting that knows when the songs call for a crushing heaviness and ferociousness or rather contemplating silence and emotional melodies. An absolutely impressive piece of music that I will enjoy for a long time still.
5. Hippotraktor – Meridian
While Amenra released a massive album with ‘De Doorn‘ and I was thoroughly touched, somehow the debut full-length ‘Meridian’ of country mates Hippotraktor touched base with me even more. In a way not all that surprising looking at the fact that last year I had Psychonaut in my albums of the year list and the main vocalist on this album came from that band. Hippotraktor brings a kind of progressive music that brings in so many different elements from music genres and all of them are what I’m more than often looking for in my music. The grooves of Gojira, madness of Meshuggah, passionate emotions of bands like Amenra,… Straight from hearing the first single I knew this was a release that most likely would end up in my albums of the year list and obviously the album did not disappoint one bit.
4. Bloodred Hourglass – Your Highness
In 2019, Bloodred Hourglass released ‘Godsend‘ and at that point I knew they were meant for greatness. I’m pretty sure a lot of melodeath fans discovered them that year. With this year’s release of ‘Your Highness‘ they build further on the success of that album while at the same time trying out a new formula. Since their main songwriter decided to leave the band, they had to regroup and in a way re-invent themselves. In turn we got an album that very much still sounds like Bloodred Hourglass, but one that is almost a prime example of how modern metal should sound like. Every single song is incredibly strong and packed with melody, heaviness and emotion. New elements like more use of synth and electronic elements and most importantly vocalist Jarkko taking the daring step to use clean vocals in some of the songs simply lift the whole album to again another level. Bloodred Hourglass is steadily going up in my list of favorite Finnish bands and as I said before, I see really great things for these guys in the future, especially once the world opens up properly again to enable them to spread their gospel in a live setting.
Watch the really cool interview I did with Jarkko about the album here.
3. Wheel – Resident Human
The highest ranking Finnish band in my list are yet again the prog masters of Wheel. This time they didn’t make it all the way to the top, but man, was I impressed with their sophomore full-length ‘Resident Human’! It all sounds very much like Wheel, but at the same time they’ve clearly grown and meticulously tinkered at their identity and sound. Again they managed to create music that is incredibly catchy and accessible, but they pushed the complexity and difficulty of playing the actual music to new heights. There are some guitar, bass and drum parts that I’m really blown away by every single time I hear them and I wouldn’t want to be them having to play some of their songs live. Lyrically James did a stellar job in trying to make you think about things in life and overall I simply couldn’t get enough of this album yet again. Even if you’re not totally into progressive metal/rock, you need to give this a try, you won’t regret it!
Also check out the interview we did with the whole band about the album and how the freedom to fail is what creativity is in its purest form, right here.
2. Converge – Bloodmoon: I
This might not be the album I played the most, but it’s definitely the one that left the biggest impression with me. It’s branded as a Converge album, which in essence would mean a great metalcore/hardcore release. But for this album they went and brought back their earlier ‘Bloodmoon‘ collaboration with Chelsea Wolfe that amazed everyone who was at the Roadburn festival and witnessed it. Combining Converge with Chelsea Wolfe and some of their longtime collaborators, resulted in an amazing and captivating album that constantly flows from atmospheric and gorgeously doomy soundscapes to abrasive harsh parts. I distinctively remember how much the music and atmosphere touched me and went all the way down to my soul.
1. Amyl And The Sniffers – Comfort To Me
Partially unexpected, but mostly completely deservedly so, Amyl And The Sniffers second full-length ‘Comfort To Me‘ is my personal album of the year 2021. Every single that was released got me really going and made me smile tremendously. Definitely not the most intricately crafted album on this list, but the combination of the straightforward and simple music, the excellent production/mixing that lifts the music to perfection and the uncompromising punk attitude really tickled that right part of my brain that made me get back to this album over and over again. They simply don’t give a shit and do what they want. They almost feel like a band in the wrong time period that would have fit perfectly in the heydays of UK punk, but at the same time the kind of band that we all need. If you’re any bit into good rock music with a punk attitude and absolutely killer catchy tunes with roots in an old school sound but with a modern touch, you can’t let this one pass you by!