Sierra from Krystal Swords/Captain Jade AOTY List 2021

Sierra is the talented musician behind the projects Captain Jade And The Skyfarers and Krystal Swords. She is a huge fan of power and prog metal, as you may see here. She has an upcoming synth release from Krystal Swords that is well worth your time. Follow Sierra on twitter here.

10. Anna Pest – Dark Arms Reach Skyward With Bone White Fingers

If I had just one word for this album, it would be bangers. Pretty much every track on this record finds some way to bash your head in, with riffs that glitch and chug their way across every single track and vocals that fall anywhere between deep hardcore bree brees and torturous high pitched screams. It’s a constant barrage from start to finish, with just enough breathing room amidst the chaos that it keeps from being an overload. An album this good at number ten on the list really puts into perspective how crazy this year really was.

9. Frozen Crown – Winterbane

As a huge power metal fan, I’m always looking for more bands like Frozen Crown that can stand out from so many boring, aggressively war-oriented, and macho acts. They put out a fantastic record in 2019’s Crowned in Frost, avoiding a lot of the pitfalls usually present in the genre, and they’ve done it again with Winterbane. The guitar work is top-notch, the vocal delivery is powerful and aggressive, and most importantly, the songs are catchy as fuck. “Far Beyond” has the high-speed riffing and harmonized leads I love in this genre, and “The Water Dancer” has the most memorable chorus I’ve heard this year. Catch me throwing myself around the room with sheer glee whenever I put this on.

8. Sungazer – Perihelion

Okay, so I did listen to this album because I watch too many Adam Neely videos on Youtube, but it’s damn good, okay? He and drummer Shawn Crowder lay down ten experiments in complex rhythmic elements, building some fantastically deep tunes that still remain grokkable to the average listener. These are the kinds of songs you can hum along to after one listen, but will still find elements to analyze after a hundred. The guest performers are straight-up fantastic too, which really enhances an already talent-laden record. This album continuously feels good on my brain parts that spend too much time analyzing music.

7. Frost* – Day and Age

Though it’s not Falling Satellites, Day and Age is still an incredible prog record. The album opens with fantastic narration and swirling soundscapes, leading into a ten minute epic right off the bat. It hearkens back to the late 2000’s neo-prog revival that they themselves were a part of with 2006’s Milliontown. There are a number of standout tracks on the album, particularly the last two, which showcase extended-range guitars and the lightest of toe-dips into the pool of metal proper. Another standout is “The Boy Who Stood Still”, an instrumental that evolves along with the narrated story into a mysterious, rewarding climax. Overall, it doesn’t have the exceptional forward-thinking genius of Falling Satellites, but it’s still a damn good prog record.

6. Obscura – A Valediction

A last minute contender that came out the gate swinging. 2021 was a fantastic year for tech death. I’m leaving a handful of records off this list that in a normal year would’ve easily made it on, but Obscura sets themselves apart with a majestic sense of melody that keeps their intricate compositions from descending into riff salad territory. The single track that utilizes clean vocals, “When Stars Collide”, instantly sets itself apart. As always, their guitar work is unparalleled, with blisteringly fast harmonized guitar leads and demanding solos at the forefront of every song on the album. Really, the only thing the album could do better is add more of those soaring clean vocals. 

5. Diablo Swing Orchestra – Swagger and Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole

Swagger and Stroll is one of the most inventive and experimental albums I’ve heard in quite some time, bouncing back and forth between groovy metal, desert rock, and even electroswing at the drop of a hat. The triumphant choirs of “Jig of the Century” recall the over-the-top theatrics of “Superhero Jagganath” from their previous album, and “Out Came the Hummingbirds” comes out with a strange yet alluring 80’s electronic flair. Despite the eclectic mix of genres, every song is memorable, and the album as a whole largely feels cohesive, and I cannot stop myself from dancing whenever I spin this. 

4. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

Yeah, everyone knows about this one already, but like, for a good reason. It’s just really fucking good metal. Every song speaks to a mature, developed sense of songwriting, as well as a consistently immaculate vocal performance from Courtney LaPlante. I also have to mention the ambient and electronic sound design, adding an extra layer of depth that really puts this one over the top. “Holy Roller” showcases the band’s ferocious intensity, whereas songs like “Secret Garden” and “We Live In A Strange World” reveal the deep emotional core of the record. So deeply good all the way through that it absolutely deserves a spot in the top five.

3. Between the Buried and Me – Colors II

I’m one of those people that likes BTBAM’s post-Colors output more than Colors. I know, I know, y’all can crucify me later. But I really appreciate their more melodic, progressive, avant-garde direction since breaking away from the metalcore label. Colors II continues that trend, with really only a small handful of core-influenced sections that I tend to not prefer, sprinkled between an astoundingly large number of beautiful melodic leads and genre-bending interludes. Indeed, it feels a worthy successor to its predecessor, speaking to exactly where the band has evolved to in 2021.

2. Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

This one took me off guard. I’d heard about them when they released their debut back in 2019, but I kinda figured they were some sorta avant-garde extreme metal band. Then, of course, I gave it a shot, and less than halfway through the album I had already started crying. It’s such a deeply emotionally affecting album, front to back, drawing emotions out of me with absolute surgical precision. The blend of Hozier-like emotional pop songwriting with metal instrumentation hits extremely hard, and it’s absolutely worth your while. 

1. Seven Spires – Gods of Debauchery

I’ve had a really shit year. An absolutely awful summer culminated in one of the most difficult few months stretches I’ve had in a long time, and I kinda stopped keeping up with music for a while. Still, Seven Spires stayed on my radar, since I loved 2020’s Emerald Seas, and I was looking forward to seeing where they took their unique blend of power and black metal. I put off listening to it for a few days, finally getting around to it on some random Tuesday evening.

Later, after I had finished listening, I sent this series of messages to my partner:

I could tell you about the genius composition of this album. How the songs are built to evoke the emotion of the story, carrying us through key changes and Bach-like choirs and intense blast-beat laden climaxes that somehow simultaneously leave me with goosebumps and in tears. I could tell you about the brilliant performances on this album, from the rapid fire precision drumming on tracks like “Shadow on an Endless Sea” to the melodeath riffing of opener “Gods of Debauchery.” I could give special attention to vocalist Adrienne Cowan, one of the strongest voices in all of metal, with her ability to switch between powerful cleans and gut-wrenching black metal shrieks in an instant. Her command over her voice is truly a wonder to behold, giving each song exactly what it needs to convey the fabric of emotions necessary for the gripping tale of grief and redemption this band weaves in less than eighty minutes.

I could say all that, but instead, I’ll just say what it means to me. This album is special, in a way that very few albums can manage. It brought me back from a very dark place, reminded me of my purpose in life, inspired me to take control of my own happiness. 

Because happiness is a choice. And purpose, a charted course.

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