Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Tom's Töp 15 Albums of 2021

2021 was another year in the Covid-19 abyss, one that I had the displeasure of experiencing myself a few weeks ago, with minimal issues luckily. It is an ever-present threat to getting things back to as normal as humanly possible, lurking around every corner, making its presence known. Unlike the majority of 2020, 2021 saw the return of many live shows, including my foray back to them in the form of the Philadelphia portion of Decibel's Metal and Beer Fest back in September. My family and job helped form the foundation of the year as did my ongoing series of Heavy Metal Happy Hours that I run weekly on Zoom, if you were a part of even one of them, just know you have helped me, and I certainly hope it has helped you too. So anyway, a little less about me and more about the music that made 2021 pop, this is a veritable cornucopia of the year with everything from hardcore to goth, death and thrash metal as well. It accurately reflects my spastic sense of music and reality.

So without further ado here are the one that just missed the list:

Outre-Tombe - Abyss Mortifere

1914 - Where Fear and Weapons Meet

200 Stab Wounds - Slave To The Scalpel

Dream Unending - Tide Turns Eternal

Lamp of Mumuur - Submission and Slavery


15. Nyt Liv - Den Døde Sol

Starting off the list on the very fringes of what is considered metal with some excellent Danish hardcore that just up and went for it this year. Nyt Liv blur the lines between Refused and Kvelertak and manage to make each of their tracks the proper amount of heavy without losing the element of fun that they seemingly pride themselves in. Right from the opener "Givet Op," it should be blatantly obvious as to the reason for their approach, the tempos vary all while you can imagine running around in a circle like a total asshole. Not lacking in anything Nyt Liv whose name means New Life in their mother tongue are all of these things in droves.

Favorite Track : "Givet Op"

14. Helloween - Helloween

Power metal institution Helloween has no business being this catchy this far into their career but here we are. The power and the glory with this band remains strong after nearly 40 years in but now with a 3 headed monster at vocalist consisting of Kai Hansen, Michael Kiske and Andi Deris effectively and properly titled the Pumkins United lineup via a the title of a recent EP. Opener "Out For Glory", "Best Time" and "Cyanide" are some of the best things that Helloween  has to offer. If you want my complete thoughts on the album check out my review over at Invisible Oranges from back around release time.

Favorite Track : "Cyanide"

13. Gravesend - Methods of Human Disposal
Changing gears completely are blackened grind outfit Gravesend fresh from the mean streets of NYC. This album certainly would suffice in lieu of coffee or lots and lots of drugs as it pummels without the need for taking names. It starts out in a fairly creepy way, matching the album art fairly well before dragging the waters on "STH-10" and going headlong into things with the title track. Just imagine bodies flying around the venue and the shrieked vocals blending into the guitar fueled maelstrom, drums pounding with aplomb. Could you ask for more ferocity in a short span of time? Gravesend add that blackened touch to what Wormrot brought back many moons ago and feel like a band that's going places.

Favorite Track : "Needle Park"

12. Frozen Soul - Crypt of Ice
2021 was in incredible year for death metal and one of the newest bands that hit the scene hard was Texas' Frozen Soul. Fans of in your face catchy death metal really need not look any further for a band to help scratch that itch, they even performed a "live show" with Creeping Death and Devourment which might have single-handedly brought back the VHS. Crypt of Ice finds itself in the midst of a war-like march through your aural cavities, murdering all in its path. Slowly your neck will deteriorate from the constant wear of the heavy riffs provided on tracks like "Arctic Stranglehold", "Wraith of Death" and the title track as well. If you even dabble in death metal Crypt of Ice  should have no issue finding its way onto your playlists for the near future. 

Favorite Track : "Arctic Stranglehold"

11. Worm - Foreverglade
Florida based death/doom unit Worm have returned after 2 years and their well-received Gloomlord to up the ante yet again with the powerful Foreverglade paying homage to their home while still allowing for the band to drag themselves through their state's ample amount of marshes. The 6 tracks measure out to 45 minutes, which is relatively bite-sized when compared to bands that sound like Worm; they consistently get the most out of their riffs while remaining stylistically static. The death metal here is murky and slow, cavernous and frightening. The title track alone is worth the price of admission and serves as a proper introduction to boot. Worm is a band on the rise, with plenty to offer fans who need that level of disgust to get through their day, plus that artwork is just spectacular. 

10. Enforced - Kill Grid
Richmond crossover crew have a lot to live up to geographically (Municipal Waste) as well as being compared to recent scene kings Power Trip. With Kill Grid the band does just that. They increased the violence from At The Walls and give it more of that classic D.R.I. flair and couple it with Iron Age and High Command too. The wonderful use of a slow intro will gel with many fans of albums with similar attributes from Metallica and Sepultura, taking plenty of ferocity from the latter band. I had a full report for this one on Invisible Oranges as well. This is not to be missed by thrash fans and hardcore nuts alike. 

Favorite Track : "Kill Grid"

9. Tower - Shock To The System
After seeing NYC's Tower open for Magic Circle at Saint Vitus Bar in early 2019 I knew they were destined for glory. Turn the page over 2 years and Shock To The System puts the entire band on full display with lead singer Sarabeth Linden front and center and chock full of energy. "Prince of Darkness" is a great example of how they manage to manifest hard rock/heavy metal aura a la the best days of Accept and Scorpions with a healthy dose of a modern day kick ass attitude. If this retro sampling is your type of thing, look no further than Tower. This band is primed for the big time.

Favorite Track : "Lay Down The Law"

8. Genocide Pact - Genocide Pact
Right from the album artwork, the feeling of classic Napalm Death and Noisem, Genocide Pact's vision is more than physically realized. With album #3 these D.C. death dealers establish a new order in disorder. This is head crushing death metal of the highest order. Take single "Deprive/Degrade" that I premiered which follows the same trajectory as the album itself, short, sweet, and violent beyond control. Fans of death metal with a bit more speed than the aforementioned Worm album will absolutely love all of what Genocide Pact sought out to do with this. Ever touring themselves, Genocide Pact is the exact kind of album to keep that tour cycle going for years to come. 

Favorite Track : "Purged Flesh"

7. The Silver - Ward of Roses
Moving in a direction that I found myself in often during 2021, one that is heavy and full of emotion. The beauty contained within The Silver's debut album is balanced out with the excellent musicianship on display, especially the ever-present bass riffs, feeling as though they are literal heartstrings being plucked. "Fallow" and "Behold, Five Judges" are heavy tracks in an emotional sense, weighty sections fly by carried by all members present including Horrendous' Matt Knox with clean vocals matched only by newcomer Nick Duchemin's harsh ones. Fans of black metal that touches more on the human struggle than snowy landscapes, Ward of Roses is exactly the kind of medicine a year like 2021 requires.

Favorite Track : "Behold, Five Judges"

6. Hooded Menace - The Tritonus Bell
If Worm perfectly described death/doom in 2021, then let Hooded Menace take it one step further and add levels of melodicism to the mix. The Tritonus Bell is the sound of this Finnish foursome evolving and quickly at that from 2018's Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed a solid album but not one that helped Hooded Menace to stand out from the crowd. This feels like the band's proper marriage of Autopsy's Mental Funeral in conjunctions with Carcass' Necroticism. Barring the unsightly nature of both bands, you get the doom plod but without the fear of sounding too pretty to properly bury the listener six feet under. "Chime Diabolicus" and "Corpus Asunder" do these things in droves. This was the best doom of any kind that 2021 had to offer.

Favorite Track : "Corpus Asunder"

5. Turnstile - Glow On
The lone oddball on this entire list is a bit difficult to explain, especially considering how "not metal" it is. As a lover of heavy music, I always had a strong foundation in hardcore, specifically with Black Flag and Bad Brains, later on consuming ample amounts of Refused and even the excellent Nyt Liv up above; all of this should make Turnstile's inclusion a lot less surprising. As a good friend of mine but it, Glow On is a love letter to hardcore as a whole, hell "Underwater Boi" could have been included on I Against I and it would have been just as impactful as "Hired Gun". Turnstile are a new find to me in 2021 and this album has accumulated a lot of hype in music press and it isn't without merit, Glow On is a fun and righteous party album that showcases that genre confines need to be less defined. This album is an absolute blast from start to finish.

Favorite Track : "Underwater Boi"

4. Unto Others - Strength
There are only a few things different about the 2021 iteration of Unto Others: the change in the band's name and one less guitarist, otherwise this is the same crew who brought you the excellent 2019 release Mana. This is a heavy metal record with plenty of goth attitude given by vocalist Gabe Franco; fans of Type O Negative and more recently Grave Pleasures will be right at home with Strength. The guitarwork on tracks like "Downtown" shows how the band can change directions within the confines of an album. Franco is also on guitar duty in conjunction with Sebastian Silva and this track in particular feels much more guitar driven than vocally. This album also got the full review treatment. A fun dark rock record like this from a relatively new band, showcases their limitless potential.

Favorite Track : "Just A Matter of Time"

3. Tribulation - Where The Gloom Becomes Sound
I should continue to be upfront about my love of Tribulation. Ever since they ditched the death metal, they have become one of the most consistent bands in the metal genre, adopting a sound of goth tinged, moody black metal that has no problem straight up rocking. Departing guitarist Johan Hulten leaving surely hurt the band at the time, especially since it happened during the release cycle for Where The Gloom Becomes Sound, but the band has continued to persevere. The longest songs on the album begin and end it with "In Remembrance" starting off slowly and "The Wilderness" proving to be one of their finest solo tracks to date. There is a lot to cover here, hell I already did that, what is with this band and making my lists with all of these early year released albums? Whatever the case may be, Tribulation continue on their quest for heavy music supremacy. 

Favorite Track : "The Wilderness"

2. Lucifer - Lucifer IV
A band that has continued to find its rightful place in my seasonal playlists would be Lucifer. I am of the opinion that they band has continued to improve throughout their career, finding their way into both my spring "driving with the windows down" and haunting "Halloween mood" playlists; they check off a lot of different boxes. A massively consistent band that doesn't take a ton of chances, but they ultimately don't need to with the incredible vocal foundation of Johanna Sadonis and her husband, the legendary Nicke Andersson helping this band sound like the garage rock version of Black Sabbath. There is plenty of rocking energy keeping this ship afloat, finding a balance somewhere between Cathedral, Sir Lord Baltimore and Captain Beyond; retro sounding but still ultimately fresh. "Crucifix (I Burn For You)", "Bring Me His Head" and "Louise" are riff fests but variety on tracks like "Mausoleum" showcase the Stevie Nicks-esque frontwoman skills of Sadonis. I already held it in high regard nearly topping this list.

Favorite Track : "Louise"

1. Carcass - Torn Arteries
It has been a long 8 year wait since the last Carcass album, the career redefining, Surgical Steel dropped into our laps, so when Torn Arteries got announced there was excitement abound. What would it sound like? If you told me Carcass made the proper transitional album between Heartwork and Swansong, I would have told you I would have been on board with it from the get go. Surely, Torn Arteries is exactly that and just so happens to be the best album 2021 has to offer. Fandom aside, few albums came close to this one. With songs like the powerful opener/title track, "Dance of Ixtab" slowing things down and the absolute hand-clapping insanity of "In God We Trust". I want to make sure that you understand that this album made its way to #1 on its own merit and not due to it being the newest Carcass album, some other sites might disagree, but that's where we differ. Carcass got the most words out of me in 2021 and I wouldn't have it any other way. Showing no rust whatsoever, Torn Arteries is the album that was beyond compare this year.

Favorite Track : "In God We Trust"

- Tom