2021 wasn't a great year for live music as many promising tours were cancelled due to the pandemic. But luckily there were a lot of great records released in the world of metal so I could pretend I was at a concert in my living room. I way significantly overpaid for some beer and I had my kids stand in front of me holding their cellphones up so I couldn't see anything. It was just like going to the show. Here are my favorite records for 2021 with the hope that I can some of the songs on these live in 2022.
15. Szary Wilk – Wrath
From the very darkest depths of the Polish underground, Szary Wilk gives us a record as cold, desolate and raw as Eastern Poland in the middle of winter. If you've never been to Eastern Poland in the winter, take my advice and stay home. It's absolutely dark and punishing, just like Wrath. This is a straight on pagan black metal, mid-tempo assault for those hopelessly dark days and sleepless nights.
14. Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile
I'm not sure what I fancy more, Mr. Filth's red highlighted tresses or the new female vocalist. They're both really quite good. But what's even better are cuts like "Necroromantic Fantasies" and "Crawling King Chaos," which are both up there in the band's greatest compositions over the past three decades.
13. Seth – La Morsure Du Christ
This is black metal record that the genre, quite frankly, needs right now. It shakes things up from a sonic perspective with a little more nuance and a bit more focus on song writing. With ex-Enthroned skinsman Alsvid on the throne and Melted Space's Pierre Le Pape on keys, Seth relies not so much on guitars but on a multitude of sounds to bring French black metal into the spotlight.
12. Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes The Sound
The transformation away from their early black metal sound is complete on this record. With more orchestration and a softer, more somber tone, Tribulation releases the final record to feature guitarist and songwriter Jonathan Hultén. Hultén himself has moved away from heavier music and into composition that is much slower and ambient but he leaves this band with a distinctive mark. Songs like "Daughter of the Djinn" and "Hour of the Wolf" still undoubtedly rock hard and "Leviathans" is one of my favorite songs of the year.
11. Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum
Bittersweet really. This is a fantastic record with massive riffs. It has the trademark dirty/clean/dirty vocal and really everything else you might want in a Fear Factory. Unfortunately, this is the last record with vocalist Burton C. Bell and that's massively sad to me. Perhaps this is the end of the continuum.
10. Blaze Bayley – War Within Me
Blaze Bayley is maybe the most overlooked and underappreciated vocalist in metal. Yeah, he was on the two Iron Maiden records people love to hate, blah, blah, blah. We've heard that nonsense a million times. But while he might not have been the right fit for Maiden, there is little doubt that Blaze is an amazing singer who doesn't give up. War Within Me is just the latest in a parade of better-than-solid solo records that Bayley has been releasing since 2000. And here's something else – this is a much stronger record than anything Iron Maiden released in the past decade.
9. Kankar – Dunkle Millennia
From Thuringia, Germany hails this duo who clearly have been listening a great deal to the black metal coming out of the Nordic States just above them. Novel percussion on tracks "Gier" and driving disharmony on "Zerfall des Lichts" make Dunkle Millennia a record worth listening to. Raw but cohesive, this a record that demonstrates what a black duo can do when comprised of truly gifted song writers who don't just rely on the "cold, fast and heavy."
8. Gojira – Fortitude
Yeah, this is going to be on everyone's "Best of" list for 2021, but it's well deserved. This might be their most accessible record and I'm okay with that. We all know full well that Gojira can really do "heavy." With Fortitude, they show us some more dynamics to their song writing. Undoubtedly the message behind the record about climate change is one we have to take much seriously and if Gojira makes a slightly less blistering record to prevent a more blistering earthly existence, then so be it. I will say that sometimes taking your foot off the accelerator isn't a bad thing and Gojira really demonstrates that here.
7. Nervosa – Perpetual Chaos
Nervosa has been through a number of lineup changes. All of them good, but this particular lineup is their best. Eleni Nota is a machine on drums and Diva Satanica is the frontwoman with the filthy voice this band needed to get them to that next level of darkness. Prika Amaral has always had tons of talent and now she truly has the complement of musicians to really execute her musical vision. Amaral's slightly bluesy and brief solo on "Under Ruins" is reason enough to buy this record. She keeps you wanting to come back for more.
6. Kekht Arakh – The Swordsman
This is beautifully moving, melancholy record from the obscure Ukrainian known as Crying Orc. At times, ambient, and at times distortedly punishing, this lo-fi black metal masterpiece is cold, distant and filled with affect. What sets this record apart though from the ambient black metal field is the quality of the song writing and the unique instrumentation. From the percussion to the keys to just the right amount of vocal, Crying Orc makes me want to fully embrace him.
5. Unto Others – Strength
This record reminds me of the '80s, and I miss the '80s so, so much. It's got that spooky goth sound with a New York City club vibe. It's like I'm back in the Limelight as a way-too-underage teenager. Those were the days! The guitar work is impeccable and Gabriel Franco has a vocal delivery and voice so many can only dream of. Their cover of Pat Benatar's "Hell is For Children" is reason enough alone to buy this record. Also, why isn't Pat Benetar in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
4. Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness
Out of the hundreds of black metal records that hit my inbox this year, none have stood out as much as this one. A debut – from Texas of all places! There’s a dirty Southern, American gothic sound to it that's mixed with the best of Scandinavia's Nordic influences. Trust me, you haven't heard this before.
3. Exodus – Persona Non Grata
Gary Holt's guitar tone is like a big bowl of chocolate pudding you want to lap up with a giant spoon. This is Exodus' strongest record in years, if not decades. Every single track on this record is vicious, in-your-face thrash with extra heavy attitude. You can't help but appreciate the amount of effort that went into the songwriting here. The polish laid on by Andy Sneap puts this over the top. One of the best LPs out of the Bay Area in years.
2. K.K.'s Priest – Sermons Of The Sinner
K.K. Downing had something to prove with this record and he put together a band that helped him knock it out of the park. Does this sound just like a classic Judas Priest? Damn straight it does! It's got tons of the twin guitar attack and so many solos. K.K. might be 70 years old and he's out to prove that Rob Halford isn't the only one who can still rock hard while being up in the years. And by the way, listen to Tony Newton's mind-blowing bass work on this record for an extra special treat.
1. Vreid – Wild North West
Norway's Vreid has been around a very long time and this concept record that scored an accompanying film is their absolute triumph. Featuring their heaviest and fastest music to date and contrasting it with some of the slowest, the band weaves a brilliantly textured story about mental illness, war and life in one of the coldest regions of the world.