Written by Ellis Heasley
The rankings will probably change in my head as soon as Melinda hits publish, but here are my top 20 albums for 2021. Before we kick off I want to give a special mention to A Tear In The Fabric Of Life by Knocked Loose as my EP of the year, and Bo Burnham’s Inside as an album that should definitely be in here but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to place. Anyway, here goes:
20. Mastiff – Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth
Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth is one of the most miserable records you’ll ever hear. It sounds like Converge and Napalm Death being buried under several mountains of sludge. With a freight train rhythm section, buzzsaw guitars and rage-filled vocals, this album drags its listeners into the most crushing of voids, but you’ll still find yourself going back to it soon enough.
19. Dying Wish – Fragments Of A Bitter Memory
Even with a fair few great records like it released in the last few years, Fragments Of A Bitter Memory is easily one of the best. A ferocious metalcore throwback that still manages to feel fresh and new, it delivers on all of the genre’s most hard-hitting essentials while matching this with similarly weighty lyrical content that explores both the personal and the political.
18. Dreamwell – Modern Grotesque
Mixing panicked chaotic flourishes and bursts of violence with expansive leads and melodies, Modern Grotesque makes for just under 40 minutes of masterfully executed post-hardcore. It’s an album of impressive maturity which puts Dreamwell right up there with the likes of Touché Amoré and the rest as one of the scene’s finest ever outputs. Vocalist Keziah Staska stands out especially, their painfully honest lyrics hammering home the record’s most emotional heft.
17. Mastodon – Hushed And Grim
As the longest and surely the most emotionally resonant album Mastodon have ever made, Hushed And Grim is worth spending a lot of time with. Its near-90-minute runtime definitely works best in one sitting, taking listeners on a richly-detailed and progressive journey through grief and loss which all comes to a head in the beautiful and triumphant conclusion of closer “Gigantium”. Arguably their finest work since their 2009 masterpiece Crack The Skye.
16. Death Goals – The Horrible And The Miserable
Comprising 23 minutes of gleefully chaotic metallic hardcore with a noticeably skramzy touch, The Horrible And The Miserable is a top quality debut from a band who are clearly just getting started. With lyrics that often draw on the duo’s experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community, this is a record that drips with a grippingly personal passion from start to finish.
15. Gojira – Fortitude
A natural continuation of the more ‘accessible’ direction they began to take on Magma, but still more than capable of ripping your face off with tracks like “Born For One Thing” and “Grind”, Fortitude is pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from Gojira. It’s a muscular metal record made even more powerful by the band’s utter fury at the destruction of our planet, and an album that should place them right at the top of festival bills anywhere where that isn’t happening already.
14. Devil Sold His Soul – Loss
Another quality record exploring themes of grief and loss (obviously), this album is suitably massive in its scope and execution. The production is impeccable, and the band show an especially impressive command of gigantic soaring melodies both in the music and in the dual vocals of Ed Gibbs and Paul Green, who play off one another brilliantly throughout.
13. Rivers Of Nihil – The Work
While there are some obvious stand out tracks, The Work is definitely best taken in as a single, um, work. Over a lengthy hour-plus runtime, this record flows perfectly, and has as much to do with the ambitious widescreen concepts of 70s prog as it does with the punishing technical death metal the band are well-known for. Everyone always talks about the saxophone, but RoN are so much more than that – a truly creative metallic force operating at the height of their powers.
12. MØL – Diorama
Diorama is perhaps the most exciting and important blackgaze record since Sunbather. Not only does it see MØL double down on all that made 2018’s Jord so promising, but this time the band expand their arsenal significantly with huge clean vocal parts and moments of more crushing groove for a record that can be as beautifully stirring as it is uncompromisingly vicious.
11. Pupil Slicer – Mirrors
Easily one of the most visceral debuts of the entire year, Pupil Slicer’s grindy mathy metalcore evokes some of the best to ever do it in bands like Converge and Botch without ever being dwarfed by such comparisons. Vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies arguably steals the show with their agonisingly personal vocal performance, and it all ends in gripping catharsis as closer “Collective Unconscious” veers into full blown blackgaze blast beats and tremolo-picking.
10. Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon
Not loads to report here; Matt Heafy and co. continue the impressive hot streak they’ve been on since 2017’s The Sin And The Sentence with yet another top quality metal record. Obviously it’s got riffs absolutely everywhere, as well as arguably some of the biggest and most memorable choruses of their entire career.
9. Employed To Serve – Conquering
If there were any doubts ETS were one of the finest metal bands in the UK (and there really shouldn’t have been) Conquering puts paid to all of them. It’s like they took the very best of thrash, nu-metal, groove metal, metalcore and hardcore, threw them all together and saw pretty much all of it stick. This band are ready for arenas and could very soon be in conversations alongside the likes of Gojira and Lamb Of God as one of metal’s most potent ever forces.
8. Dvne – Etemen Ænka
An album that seems to make time fold in on itself, Etemen Ænka delivers on well over an hour of towering post/progressive metal that holds more than a few candles to some of the best metal records of the 21st century (think TOOL, Mastodon, Cult Of Luna etc.). All of this is embellished by its richly detailed sci-fi concept as further proof that this is a band whose every decision is carefully considered and crafted.
7. For Your Health – In Spite Of
This album takes most of the best bits of post-hardcore, metalcore, screamo, and whatever else you want to call it and squeezes them into a breathless 17 minutes. The soaring clean vocals on it are incredible, as are the intricate melodic guitar parts which often accompany them, but there’s also plenty of metallic hardcore savagery which provides the perfect vehicle for the band’s proud leftist politics.
6. Backxwash – I Lie Here Buried With My Rings And My Dresses
Between its crushing industrial beats and Backxwash‘s absolutely devastating lyrics and delivery, ILHBWMRAMD hits harder than most metal bands could even begin to imagine. The rapper doesn’t pull any of her punches, explorin
g her own mental health with unflinching honesty alongside occasional reflections on topics like religion and gender. Not only one of the best albums of the year but also one of the most important.
5. Every Time I Die – Radical
Considering the strength of their entire discography, it’s actually staggering that ETID‘s ninth album is still a serious contender for the best record of their career. The band sound just as fast and furious as they did the day they came kicking and screaming out of Buffalo over two decades ago, with frontman Keith Buckley pulling out arguably a career-best performance as he delivers some of his angriest and most emotional lyrics and vocals to date.
4. Converge – Bloodmoon: I
The collaboration many have been dreaming of since the project’s iconic live shows back in 2016, Bloodmoon: I lives up to even the loftiest expectations. Taking the post-metal promise Converge have hinted at as far back as Jane Doe, the metallic hardcore legends and their collaborators have crafted a titanic record unlike any other in their discography, one whose near hour-long runtime passes by in the blink of an eye. Bring on Bloodmoon: II.
3. Sugar Horse – The Live Long After
With a mix of 80s goth, hardcore, doom, and much, much more, Sugar Horse have crafted one of the most simultaneously miserable and cathartic records of the year, if not longer. “Dadcore World Cup” is surely the best song of 2021, its closing moments making for easily the album’s most uplifting high point, but there’s not a single second of this record’s sizable 57-minute runtime that needs changing.
2. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Carnage
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis carry on the incredible form they and the rest of The Bad Seeds have been on for the better part of a decade. Boasting some of Cave‘s most stirringly beautiful work in tracks like “Albuquerque” and “Shattered Ground”, as well as the more menacing mastery of songs like “Hand Of God” and “White Elephant”, this is another top drawer addition to one of the most peerless discographies in the entirety of alternative music.
1. Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark
This album is a total masterpiece. Aidan Moffat’s lyrics are mesmerising, his gruff, mostly spoken vocals painting vividly believable pictures of the darkest and dankest corners of our society over the equally compelling musical contributions of multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton. You could probably pick any track as a highlight, but the slow-burning menace of “Sleeper”, the moody tale of a street cleaner-turned-guardian angel of “Kebabylon”, and the allegorical excellence of “Fable Of The Urban Fox” all stand tall on a record that has you hanging onto every note and word.