Ok, friends. Here we are again… 2021 has been a serious slog while also being full of some amazing blessings.I was very happy to get to share another year of Metal Riot with you all and ride the vortex waves.I usually don’t post a lot for the month of December and we tend to be the second or third site to publish our list (after DECIBEL, generally).I am gonna spend a lot of December working, reflecting and being grateful for two years of sobriety and also contemplating The Wheel Of Time saga, etc.
THANK YOU to all the bands who made killer music this year and amazing people I was able to speak with or befriend, etc. YOU are the scene. XO.
I also deserve a break after having to deal with many unwanted trolls for simply pointing out to Mastodon that Brent shouldn’t be calling stuff “gay” as a pejorative.
Numerous people decided they needed to contact me and call me queerphobic names afterwards.A nd I am sure I have done way more for metal and punk than all of those shit trolls combined. The LGBTQAI artists in metal made some of the most amazing work in the scene this year and don’t deserve to be alienated by lazy and inconsiderate speech. I seriously had one moron named like Jarhead666 or something tell me I was butthurt and metal isn’t the place for my ‘CrItICal Sjw theory’ or some shit, because I introduced this goon to the concept of heteronormative centering, or some such.
But seriously, while I genuinely appreciated Brann talking to me and meant it when I told him I have loved those dudes as a band a long time (ever since being stuck near the Lincoln Tunnel years ago with a friend and finding that blasting Remission actually CAN move complete gridlocked traffic).
I’d just like to add that now as a result of that “bad day” -as David Draiman of Disturbed and the Mastodon camp are graciously calling Brent’s shitty moment- even more hateful speech has butterfly effected all over social media and caused emotional distress to many good folx just trying to find a place in metal. The seeds we sew matter.
A bad day is not being on the Jasta podcast. A bad day is Matthew Shepard.
That said, one love to you all.If anyone wants to blacklist me, well…I only write about what I want anyway.
And so…Here are METAL RIOT’s top 25 of the year for 2021. I expanded it from 12 this year because there was a true wealth of killer albums and because I am happy to be alive, celebrating music and able to flex my opinions on it…whether you think I am an ignorant SJW who doesn’t know anything or not.
(drumroll…) Album Of The Year – KING WOMAN‘s soul scorching noir doom record Celestial Blues is hands down our album of 2021 for exemplifying so much that is awesome about heavy music’s potential in 2021, from cadences to symbolism to the transformative power of art. And of course bad ass riffs! It also makes Kris and co.the only band in the site’s history to win AOTY twice!I guess it was fitting that two of my favorite records this year would reference Paradise Lost (the other being this excellent groover fest from my friend Taraka, also highly recommended).
From the opening plaintive narration of the album title over spare, jazzy and sorrowful notes to the impossible, mournful but playful shuffle of “Golgotha” to the anguish and hypnosis of “Psychic Wound” and the crowd sing-a-long of the year “Morning Star”, Celestial Blues feels like stepping into a smoky, mythological theater, a personal passion play full of highs and lows brighter than sunlight or darker than a grim Gotham alleyway. King Woman remain a group who understand suspense, tension build and payoff more than many and here they have also crafted some of their most sophisticated arrangements yet paired with arguably the most anthemic vocal and lyrical work Kris has delivered to date.
2. SEED‘s Dun Pageant is a likewise challenging, thrilling and rewarding plunge through the soul and psyche by another band with almost 100% their own sound, well deserving of our second place spot for 2021.This Anti-fascist, queer centric force from Boston is creating an incredible sonic refuge for outsiders who need a found family in the scene. And most importantly, their music is fucking incredible. Practically any song on this record can crack you wide open and move you to a flood tears or strengthen your resolve. There is a deep sense of poetic yearning and desire to belong embedded within these melodic, indie flirting doom songs which nonetheless offer an unyielding stance in the face of a cruel world. Fans of everything from the most dramatic PJ Harvey material to Across Tundras to slower, weird ass Jesus Lizard songs could find a home here amidst some of the most existentialist yet determined music I may have ever heard in my life.
3. Succumb‘s overdue return on XXI was worth the wait and then some.Mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley at the Atomic Garden with compelling artwork by Stefan Thanneur (my favorite cover art of the year), the record retained the band’s edgy death metal sound and upped the ante on the philosophical subtexts. Read all my further thoughts about it HERE in an interview with the band!
4. Underdark ‘s Abi told the Hellbent for Metal crew recently, if I accurately recall, that ‘folk music in England is traditionally lefty and BM is folk music’. Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry melds left wing class consciousness spirit with Slint/Enablers spoken word vibes at times and of course the fire in the veins black metal this UK group is a standard bearer of. Believing in the power of change and doing things their way, the band have managed to really get solid footing under their feet during a turbulent time in the music world. I can’t possibly do justice in a short plug to the vibrancy and life that is in every note and utterance on this record, but it is amazing. Also, they always make me want to play Forgotten Realms.
6. Gojira is the “biggest band” represented on our list this year. Gojira remain ambassadors for our planet and sanity in a world sorely lacking it , musical geniuses and dudes who are deeply respectful of the environment we get to call home.From refusing to be gaslit about Tibet to standing up for the Amazon to of course musing about the meaning of life in our Universe and creating some super headfucky yet face ripping arrangements, they remain pound for pound unfuckwithable on mighty Fortitude. And they 100% ought to win the Grammy the most out of those nominated, fyi.
7. Withered outdid even their impressive past work on the trudging and oppressive Verloren . That “Dissolve” guitar sound is to literally die for and you can never pin them down. It’s a mood. Once you take the time to really get inside this record it is completely addictive and really ought to come with a warning label because of how easy it is for this blackened sludge fest to completely remove any semblance of a remaining fuck given.Well done, lads. Carcass, The Lurking Fear and plenty of others made some dastardly records this year but this takes the cake for me in that category.
8. Filth Is Eternal‘s Love Is A Lie, Filth Is Eternal is a glorious and gritty punk record with the most attitude you likely heard this year.The non-stop energy and adrenaline was a constant go to for me when I needed a bucket of cold water thrown on me to snap me out of the morose of this miserable year. I fucking love this band with all my soul and you readers should listen to this 20 times before we meet again if you want to stay friends.
9. Wharflurch did the near impossible and stood out amidst a year positively drunk on top rate death metal releases.If you haven’t experienced this highly enjoyable bad trip yet for the first time you are in for a fucking treat.Very original and batshit act creating some brain melting yet skull crushing sounds simultaneously, if that makes sense.And seriously, who has a better album title than Psychedelic Realms ov Hell? I mean, come on!”Phantasmagorical Fumes”, indeed.
10. Tower‘s Shock to the System has a classic trad metal looking cover that calls to mind epic releases of yesteryear from Scorpions or early Anthrax while pulling listeners in to one of the best modern bands influenced by the classics around. Along with Pounder’s Breaking The World or Haunt’s recent plethora of powerful pleasers, Tower demonstrate true heavy metal will never die (and this time with a little more Never Say Die era Sabbath influence mixed in, from the sound of things).The musical chemistry between Sarabeth and James remains one of the best in rock and the recording line-up brought this sophomore effort to new heights worthy of Linden’s falcon crye.The true shock to the system is how much enjoyment you can get from one album.
11. Krallice‘s lofi black metal on Demonic Wealth somehow marries the original bleakness of the genre with the loneliness of NYC and wet cardboard, broken dreams, rain dripping off a fire escape vibes amidst the death throes of capitalism.One of the best album titles in metal history? Yep. This is a run down worker unable to afford Christmas gifts type shit.Cold and atmospheric and unique with callbacks to 2nd wave and weirdo ambient stuff. Drums recorded on a phone!?Smash the uber rich after repurposing their built to break detritus. This album is the perfect Krallice response for a pandemic full of people just hoping to get through in one piece.
12. Nadja‘s Luminous Rot is an out of body experience more than a musical one, imo.I had a deep dive interview with the band that you can read HERE and remain incredibly impressed with this specific statement in (and out) of the timestream.
13. Catalyst Crime made the greatest symphonic metal release of 2021 by a considerable margin. If “Condemn Me To Chaos” doesn’t get lodged in your head for weeks at a time, I don’t know what the heck is wrong with you. Just listen to it.
14. Obsolete‘s Animate / Isolate blew me away with the Revocation worthy skill, young again hyper fast speed enthusiasm and melodic thrash aptitude on display.This record goes against the trends and is better for it, just a charming and bad ass chops fest that also remembers to induce headbanging amidst the whiz kid shit.Really, this band should be way bigger.
15. Crypta‘s Echoes Of The Soul is the funnest death/thrash hybrid of the year, a monster fuck you to naysayers and another notch in the belt for Brazil’s long and storied metal legacy.T he ladies in Crypta truly feel like a “band”, each member bringing a lot of personality and individualism to the table to add to the whole yet in a way where you couldn’t imagine the group with other members. The chops, the style and attitude paired with the consistent vibe that they breathe, eat and shit metal truly makes this one of the most exciting releases of the year, an energy that translates to the terrific and tyrannical material.
16. Finland’s REVULSION delivered a ferocious self titled debut via Transcending Obscurity way back in February.The intensity here will turn the head of pretty much any self respecting death metal fan yet is not just an endurance test. It even gives the new Cannibal material a run for the money in the punishment department. Bad ass af.
17. Pupil Slicer‘s Mirrors was explosive, mathy and meaningful in the best of ways.I am pretty sure no band went harder than they did in 2021 during their “Collective Unconscious” track. From the 1:47 mark-through to the end of the song, a riff reminiscent of the Moby cover of “New Dawn Fades” meets Coalesce at their meatiest twists and turns through tortured post-core-black-churning anguish and back through to the light.They didn’t really need to cover Converge when they are making originals this powerful already.
18. Gridfailure feat. Mac Gollehon‘s demented mad hatter excursions into noise jazz horror on Dismemberment Cabaret take the 18th spot.I am certainly biased here because Brenner from Gridfailure is a good friend and has collaborated with me often on my Walking Bombs releases over the years, but if you can’t hear the sheer fucksanity brilliance of these end times soundscape spasms featuring a very cool cat who played with everyone from Bowie to Billy Ocean, well…I feel bad for you. I certainly listened to this a hell of a lot more times than I did albums by much bigger legacy acts this year.
19. Book Of Wyrms are one of my favorite recent finds and I listened to this one a LOT. Serious chemistry and freedom allure here paired with incredible vintage vibes and the desire to roam. You can feel the band loving what they do with every passage and each frontier crossed.It feels like each song was from the result of true blue jamming, the old fashioned way. Sorely need more records like Occult New Age to usher in a real Aquarian doom metal/”new” classic rock age in hella style!”Colossal Yield” is pretty much a perfect song (except my computer says the track length is 4:21?).
20. Eremit‘s Bearer Of Many Names honestly got me more stoked than the Bell Witch record everyone was gushing about a number of years back, each passage here really momentous and worthy of the awesome, sci-fi Jurassic tomb fuckery artwork.You need to make TIME for this bad boy, but the rewards are many. Seriously gargantuan and impressive crater charred doom from Germany.
21. ABIOTIC have more emotional connection than your average tech death and made sure their return post-break up record was a memorable one. Truly sick leads. Many brilliant passages. Hard to turn off.
22. The recent JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES Vertigo album is our second record of this year end list to feature really bad weather (along with Revulsion)!Make of that what you will.Unlike that Finnish death metal diamond in the rough, JATAO traffic in slinky and smart psych and doom.The continuation of sorts to the psyche shifting path they tread on The Horse And Other Weird Tales, the Vertigo release is well worth the ride.
23. Cultum Draculesti are lofi queer vampire BM perfection and their S/T record even outdid the excellent Antigone The Martyr. I adore how down the rabbit hole of their own vision they go, while also being capable of really eerie but musical moments like “Dhampir” that you can play around casual classic horror movie fans whilst laughing to yourself how unaware they are of how even more extra you are.
24. Cerebral Rot made the hands down FUGLIEST death metal this year, just so gnarly, evil and pitch perfect. The utter just disdain for humanity felt in every sickening and crude riff is off the charts. So fucking heavy. Excretion of Mortality is the loathing for the human condition that we all felt at some point this year.
25. Employed To Serve‘s Conquering is the essential metalcore experience of the year, a level up from a band who already are firmly focused on being long haul contenders, from every indicator. Unlike numerous contemporaries who got detrimentally more commercial in a manner that hinders their quality regardless of any tent expansion in fandom, EoS have perfectly shown how you can grow while not alienating your core fans who got you going.Conquering is not stagnant, but rather ENHANCED. It kicks down doors and has a level of conviction and attack that will leave you truly impressed.I’d love to see a bigger band like DevilDriver , Killswitch or Trivium do a full US tour in the next few years with these up and comers.