So 2021 just happened. It sucked in many ways and I’m ending it in covid isolation. However, I finished recording my own debut album this year and was treated to some kick ass music! Here are my 13 favorite albums from the last year. Why 13? Because it’s a metal af number and I couldn’t get to 15 before the editor’s deadline. I’ve also declined to rank them. I was really happy when Noobheavy gave up scores and I already had to cull so many outstanding releases from this list, so why do the extraneous work of giving this list an arbitrary rank order? The albums here are presented in the order I found inspiration to write about them. If you like this list you have impeccable taste and are a good person. If not then I don’t know what to tell ya… To the list!!
Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon
The French quartet have cemented themselves as a mainstay in the prog metal world with their 3rd album. A blend of musicianship, technical virtuosity, and impeccable songwriting chops has delivered an outstanding album that takes the listener on one hell of a journey. Fractal Universe has stepped into their prime and will continue to release AOTY candidates for years to come.
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Nightmare Withdrawals
If I were awarding my top spot in this list for nastiest guitar toan Blindfolded and Led to the Woods latest effort, Nightmare Withdrawals, would win by a country mile. The whole album sounds amazing with every instrument fitting just where it should and all the technical pyrotechnics crisp and clear. Speaking of pyrotechnics, this record is jammed with non-stop riffage. There’s a few moments where the mood comes down, which does a lot to maximise the impact of said riffage. This album is dark and filthy, the perfect runtime, and one of the highlights of the year for me.
fallfiftyfeet – Twisted World Perspective
I rarely hear mathcore records with such diversity of style as appears on Twisted World Perspective. I got whiplash on my first listen and kept checking my phone to make sure it was the same band! fallfiftyfeet’s bread and butter is mixing a chaotic brand of metalcore with mid-00’s post-hardcore melodicism but their adventures in genre don’t stop there. For a debut album with this many stylistic digressions, the cohesion displayed in the songwriting is a bit surprising. It makes sense when you realize the three members have been playing together in other bands for a number of years. A fantastic record that was truly a delightful surprise!
Cathexis – Untethered Abyss
My personal award for nastiest bass toan goes to the monstrous slinkiness on Untethered Abyss. Cathexis has delivered the dissonant death metal release of the year; a masterful record that weaves excellent songwriting and a healthy dose of technicality in with it’s crunch dissonance. Each track flows seamlessly with nary a wasted note and the performances are super tight. I’ll happily listen to anything with Colin Marston’s fingerprints on it and this record has certainly delivered on the filth.
Sungazer – Perihelion
This is one of the heaviest jazz records you’ll hear all year. It’s also one of the most musically dense and complex but that takes nothing away from it’s musicality. Sungazer continues to blaze forward at their unique intersection of jazz fusion, edm, and djent, putting out some mind bending music that delivers on brain wrinkles and all the feels.
Archspire – Bleed the Future
The kings of tech death have done it again! Archspire’s Bleed the Future delivers the tight, stop-start precision we’ve come to expect from the Vancouver based quintet and maintains their penchant for somehow fitting a sense of groove into all their chaos. They continue their trend of expanding their harmonic vocabulary on each record as well. Archspire is on top of the tech death world and Bleed the Future further cements that position.
Betrayal – Disorder Remains
Sometimes I feel like authors of these lists focus too much on if a record is on the bleeding edge of musical innovation and can’t just sit back and have some fucking fun. Disorder Remains is by far the most fun record I listened to this year. Betrayal bring memorable riffs and groove to the party. They’re not pushing genre boundaries or going on songwriting misadventures; they’re here to kick the door down with sick riffage and get everyone on their feet. It helps that lead guitarist Bastian Kraus has quite the voice as a soloist and can shred your face off. Put this record in your end of year rotation between all the Very Serious bands and live a little.
She Said Destroy – Succession
Genre-bending is the thing to do if you want me to sit up and pay attention. Succession is based in She Said Destroy’s brand of Norwegian sludge yet they pull from just about every major trend in today’s metal scene in crafting this excellent record. Normally, I think records over 45 minutes with no clean singing are too long (don’t fuckin @ me). But Succession holds my interest over it’s entire runtime and saves the grooviest riffs for the album’s second half. She Said Destroy used these 8 years since their last release wisely and have delivered one hell of an interesting and varied album
Trivium – In the Court of the Dragon
It’s been 13 years since Trivium released an album that really clicked with me but they’ve turned in an effort this year that can be called one of their bests with In the Court of the Dragon. You won’t find anything groundbreaking here nor is it a huge departure from their established sound but Trivium has turned the clock back and recaptured some of their late-2000’s magic. Heafy’s harsh vocals are as ferocious as ever and he delivers soaring melodic hooks. The riffs are fast and furious, dotted with some chunky mid-tempo groove-fests. Solo sections are still full of wild, face melting shred sessions and Alex Bent continues to make his case for title of the best Trivium drummer after his third album with the band. In the Court of the Dragon is no Shogun but it’s the best record from Trivium in over 10 years and an instant classic.
Every Time I Die – Radical
ETID has had a pretty amazing career. You can credibly make the argument that every one of their nine studio albums is better than the one before it and their newest, Radical, is no different. ETID is still churning out super chunky riffs and have the same edge in their music that gets the pissed off hardcore kids windmilling in a frenzy. It’s wonderful to hear them use new sounds and experimentation while still producing material with the same intensity as 20 years ago. Keith Buckley continues to refine his vocal toan and control and cements his place as one of the best vocalists in the metal scene. At the time of writing there’s public airing of tension between Buckley and the rest of the band and I would be absolutely heartbroken if he separates from ETID. They’re the most consistent band I’ve been a long time fan of and I hope to hear many more albums from them.
Nubiyan Twist – Freedom Fables
Every AOTY list needs an entry that you can really throw some ass to and boy howdy does Nubiyan Twist make me want to clap my tiny little ass cheeks. While rooted in jazz, the London based collective leave no genre un-dabbled in while creating beautifully diverse and danceable tracks. Hip-hop, Afrobeat, trance, Latin grooves, soul, and many more styles make appearances on Freedom Fables yet guitarist/producer Tom Excell molds the group and their music into a coherent whole that will keep you on the dance floor all night long!
Backxwash – HERE I LIE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND DRESSES
HERE I LIE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND DRESSES is kind of terrifying for me to listen to. The musical setting is a meandering industrial vibe that creeps along throughout the record but what really gets to me are the vocals. Sometimes you get crazy screamed vocals but the emotional intensity in Backxwash’s voice as she delivers her lyrics is what really heightens the impact on me. She doesn’t hold back anything when talking about her life as a trans woman and racism and white supremacy. My life experience is so different than her’s and it’s a fucking uncomfortable listen. It should be required listening for cishet white people. I also want to emphasize that the music itself is excellent. My personal emotional journey while listening to this record is enhanced by Backxwash’s flow full of musical intensity and the moods she sets with her impeccable production skills. I find myself just totally lost in my emotions when I listen to this record. It’s been a task to write this paragraph while listening and I’m on the verge of tears. Go fucking listen to HERE I LIE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND DRESSES.
Stone Healer – Conquistador
If you’re like me black metal isn’t your exact cup of tea. You watch your twitter mutuals talk breathlessly about the latest raw black metal and/or blackgaze release and you want to be excited but just can’t quite get into it. In my humble opinion, black metal, like grits, needs some help. Some spice. Some other musical material. How about if a Lane Staley impersonator was in a black metal band? This is the un-nuanced description for Stone Healer and their excellent debut LP Conquistador. You’ll find blast beats and tremolo picking as well as some tasty riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on any death metal album. The secret sauce is Dave Kaminsky’s vocal performance, especially the harmonies that sound like he found them in Seattle. Throw in some Opeth style acoustic guitars and you’ve got one hell of an album. Conquistador is a record I found really intriguing and a must listen this year.