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Best of 2021

James Alvarez's Top 15 Albums of 2021

Another whirlwind 365 days have come and gone and boy, have there been some awesome metal albums released this year. Yeah, the existential apocalypse of 2020 spilled over into 2021…and looks like it's going to continue well into 2022, but hey, at least the riffs were cool?! This top 15 list is essentially the albums I listened to at the gym the most, coupled with the records I used to survive traffic jams. We've got releases from old favorites STILL bringing the heat after decades in the game, along with some fresh blooded newcomers unleashing jaw droppers right out the gate.

15. God's Hate – God's Hate

Never has a sonic beat down been so enjoyable. God's Hate bring the brutality and gruff hardcore trappings one might expect, but they're also just having a damn good time on their self titled, second full length album. Brody King's vocals are as bombastic as his pro wrestling moves, and the Young brothers (Colin & Taylor of Twitching Tongues/Ex-Nails) kick ass performances result in a boisterous, pro mosh bonanza.

14. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

Iron Maiden's seventeenth studio album sounds exactly like you'd expect it to. Maiden, doing Maiden stuff. Like most of their post Brave New World-material, Senjutsu is filled competent, occasionally epic songs, boasts solid performances from world class musicians, and is bound to make millions of Eddie disciples lose their voices on the band's next world tour. So, uh, mission accomplished?

13. Churchburn – Genocidal Rite

Churchburn continue flying under the radar, releasing some of the nastiest metal known to man. Their new album, Genocidal Rite is yet another sludge/doom/death metal masterpiece that’s guaranteed to knock you on your ass… or maybe rip a hole through the space time continuum, just depends on how loud your speakers go. This record is equal parts pummeling, haunting, mesmerizing and at times, kinda scary. 

12. Frozen Soul – Crypt Of Ice

Despite the title of their gargantuan debut album, Frozen Soul are easily one of the hottest new bands around right now. Somehow, their modern day adaptation of bludgeoning old school death metal feels like a breath of fresh, frosty air. Crypt of Ice is an insanely solid first album from such a promising new band. The riffs, mosh breaks and vocalist Chad Green’s thunderous bellow all but leap out of your speakers and demand to be experienced live. 

11. Crypta – Echoes Of The Soul

Echoes of the Soul is a crazy collection of all Crypta's influences: old school thrash, melodic death, brutal slam shit, Symbolic-era Death, all channeled through this fiery young death metal conduit. This might sound crazy, but IMO, the diddly-do guitar arpeggios mixed with aggro death metal is super reminiscent of Vital Remains' Dechristianize. Echoes of the Soul isn't quite there yet, but who knows what Crypta has in store for us down the road?  

10. Converge – Bloodmoon: I

Converge plus Chelsea Wolfe and her longtime partner in crime Ben Chisolm, plus Cave In/Mutoid Man and one time Converge member Stephen Brodsky equals… awesomeness. This years in the making epic, is technically a Converge album but realistically; this is a goddamn supergroup and should be evaluated as a whole new project. While we love hearing Chelsea Wolfe wooing over Kurt Ballou riffs, this record is definitely a slow burn and came out late in the year. If we had enough time to digest this sucker it might have wound up higher on the list.

9. Quicksand – Distant Populations

Quicksand's 2017 comeback album, Interiors, was cool as hell but didn't exactly feel like Quicksand with a capital 'Q' if you catch my drift? Their latest record Distant Populations, feels more like the classic Quicksand we all know and love. It's insane how simple Quicksand makes this rock 'n' roll thing all seem. Just put a guitar with some distortion in Walter Schreifels hands and a microphone somewhere in his vicinity and you'll wind up with heavy, yet iconic tunes that blow 90% of the competition away. That was true way back in the 90's and new tunes like "Colossus" prove that remains true today.

8. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Like Maiden, Slayer, and AC/DC before them, Cannibal Corpse are stalwarts of their respective genre. We all essentially know what we’re gonna get when they drop a new record. That being said, Cannibal Corpse’s fifteenth studio album is easily one of their most inspired releases in ages. Of course Erik Rutan joining the band might do that to ya. Violence Unimagined sounds like a band rejuvenated, even after 30+ years in the death metal game, Cannibal Corpse are definitely still at the top of theirs.

7. Yaujta – The Lurch

Welcome fucking back. It’s been seven years since Yaujta graced us with their last full length slice of mind bending sludgy grind meets mathy hardcore. Their new record, The Lurch, is one hell of a comeback. This album feels like a freakin’ journey, with jagged twists, turns, body slams and psychotic breaks all mashed together into this beaut of an album. Beaut, used figuratively of course. The Lurch is a stunning collection of smart musicianship, ugly sounds, and simultaneously exhausting yet exhilarating emotions. So yeah for weird metal fiends, it’s a thing of beauty.

6. Trivium – In The Court of The Dragon

I gotta admit, I was late to the Trivium game. I didn’t get fully onboard with the band until 2017’s The Sin and The Sentence. Last year’s What The Dead Men Say left me wanting a little more. Glad to report back that 2021’s In The Court of the Dragon has completely shut my mouth forever. Trivium rules. Musically, this album is damn near flawless. Matt Heafy my dude, if you see this please keep chugging whatever energy drinks are responsible for this type of creative output. Sure, some of the choruses on this record are a little heavy handed, but Trivium are slated to open for Iron Maiden next year so what the hell do I know?

5. Enforced – Kill Grid

Kudos to Enforced for releasing one of the sickest slabs of crossover thrash in recent memory. Kill Grid is a goddamn beast of an album. Clearly the sophomore slump ain't a problem for these dudes. This record's headbanging quotient is simply off the charts. The dive bomb guitar solos are worth the price of admission alone, but when you add the killer grooves and neck snapping BPM ragers into the mix, Kill Grid becomes damn near unstoppable. In a year of big releases from established metal realm veterans, this plucky thrashterpiece of a record beat pretty much all of them when it came to rotations at the gym.

4. Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm

If you're in the mood for some epic, futuristic black metal, look no further. Mare Cognitum may be a one man band, but Jacob Buczarski's insanely majestic solo project feels like a cosmic orchestra on Solar Paroxysm. Insanely haunting melodies, guitar leads plucked straight from the heavens, drums that sound like stars going nova and tortured, raspy vocals echoing through a vast ocean of space. This record is such an ambitious affair and the fact that Buczarski pulls it off, by himself, is something that should be celebrated by metal fiends across the land.

3. Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst

Imagine someone excavated a kickass second wave of Norwegian black metal record, remastered it in 4K then shot it full of steroids. That's what Spectral Wound's killer new album, A Diabolic Thirst feels like. This is that good good, ugly as shit type of black metal maelstrom that somehow sounds amazing. Like two negatives cancelling each other out and forming a positive. This record doesn't reinvent the wheel in terms of black metal esthetics (tremolo picking, blast beats, blasphemous howls, etc.), but it's a testament to how fucking cool the wheel can be. Oh yeah, and it's got the best album cover of the year!

2. Lucifer – Lucifer IV

Lucifer have described their sound as "Black Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac," which is probably the most accurate description imaginable for these German & Swedish retro-horror rockers. Their latest album, Lucifer IV channels a bit more Sabbath into their sonic equation and the end result is one of the best albums of the year. There is no escaping the hooks on this record. Johanna Platow Andersson's voice is a supernatural force of nature, and her ability to sync up with her husband Nicke Andersson's (Entombed, Death Breath, The Hellacopters) riffs is simply uncanny. This isn't the heaviest or most extreme record of 2021, but it's fun as hell and totally addicting to listen to.

1. Every Time I Die – Radical

Album of the year, hands down. How in the world Every Time I Die topped 2017's Low Teens, is beyond me. This is the third straight, "best album of their career" the band has released since 2014's From Parts Unknown which is insane, especially when you consider they've been cranking out tunes for over 20 years now. That's like Slayer dropping Reign In Blood, South of Heaven and Season In The Abyss… in the early 2000s. This should not be happening yet, Every Time I Die continually get better with age. Oh yeah, so the album: it rules. Radical is the wildest album Every Time I Die has ever released. Musically, it's a shot of adrenaline straight to your ears; thematically, it's a middle finger to reactionaries and the morons destroying society. Basically, everything you'd need to survive our 21st century nightmare we call life.

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