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Best of 2021

Riley Rowe's Top 15 Albums Of 2021

This is technically my seventh Favorite Albums of the Year list for Metal Injection, and oh boy, it sure hasn't got easier to whittle down the multitude of worthy and impressive releases to a digestible number of the most-deserving records. In an ideal world, I'd have a list of 100 albums to praise and rant about, yet we only have a limited attention span, so alas, fifteen top-notch LPs are below awaiting your eyes and ears.
Before diving in, I do want to note that this list is simply my own subjective favorites. You're more than welcome to have your unique differing musical tastes. Nonetheless, I try my best to showcase a variety. I have included prog, metalcore, sludge, black metal, deathcore, etc. bands, so I hope that no matter what your metal preferences are, you can at least find something of enjoyment below.

15. Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Nothing is more beautiful than the graceful growth of an artist, and Rivers Of Nihil's evolution showcases superb maturation. The collective metal community celebrated their trajectory of technical death metal in Monarchy to moody prog-death in Where Owls Know My Name, however their next step towards even more progressive metal mastery on The Work is arguably the most worthy of praise. With touching existential lyricism and modern Pink Floyd-like songwriting, it's difficult not to be lured into the dark, fantastical world that these musicians have created.

14. Termina – Dysphoria

Each metal music era has its fair share of oversaturation. Currently, the waves of metalcore bands that are springing up and releasing material is overwhelming. I give serious props to the groups that manage to write such compelling music that they're able to break through the herd. Termina is a prime example of such, with their debut record Dysphoria showcasing some of the catchiest bangers like "Blood Echo," "Fade Away," and more. Vocalist Andy Cizek (Monuments, Makari) and guitarist Nik Nocturnal (I, the Breather, YouTube boy wonder) teamed up for this project and absolutely prove their worth.

13. Burial In The Sky – The Consuming Self

If you were hoping for more Where Owls Know My Name-era Rivers Of Nihil, then look no further than Burial In The Sky. Not only are the dynamics absolutely stellar on The Consumed Self, but saxophone moments are aplenty. Now don't get me wrong, Burial In The Sky aren't purely riding on the coattails of Rivers Of Nihil; their modern proggy deathcore attributes and understanding of restraint reveal respect for their influences, but an equal amount of exceptionally unique heaviness. These lads deserve some genuine recognition.

12. Between The Buried And Me – Colors II

Considering this album is a sequel to an exceptionally iconic metal release, Between The Buried And Me placed much pressure and high expectations towards Colors II. And admittedly, I was not initially convinced that this was the right move, yet every time that I've returned to this zany record, my adoration for their musicianship has grown even deeper thanks to their eccentric virtuosity. As you explore their skilled avant-garde death metal, subtle hooks and genre fusion emerge effortlessly. It's fair to now consider Between The Buried And Me a legendary act and I'm excited to enjoy "Double Helix," "Revolution in Limbo," "Fix the Error," and more expanding the innovative parameters of their already extreme live sets.

11. Midhaven – Of The Lotus & The Thunderbolt

The globalization of metal is a never-ending fascination of mine. Years ago, I was shocked to realize the heaviest genre of music is not just an ethnocentric phenomena, but has flourished in all regions from Mexico and Israel to South Africa and Ukraine. In my honest opinion, India is the next hotspot for metal. The past decade has shown the likes of Indian metallers Demonic Resurrection, Bloodywood, What Escapes Me, Demigod, and… well the list is nearly endless. Bombay-based act Midhaven presents bold and tenacious prog-metal in this record chock full of solid riffage and experimentation.

10. Various Artists – Dark Knights: Death Metal Soundtrack

A silly concept that always intrigues me from a sociology perspective is the brilliance of cross-marketing. Comic books and superheroes? Okay, yeah, cool. Metal music? Oh, obviously rad. Rub those two ideas together until they make babies? Pure brilliance. I absolutely love the vast spectrum of styles used in this soundtrack album with stand-outs including Chelsea Wolfe, Health, Greg Puciato, and Carach Angren.

9. Leprous – Aphelion

Over the past decade Leprous' trajectory has unveiled a peeling away of their guitar-driven heaviness for more sonic experimentation around Einar's untouchable vocal range. While some may yearn for their past metallic leanings, the nuanced and synth elements that have flourished with each release demonstrate their tasteful maturation and enforce the notion that a band does not have to be packed full of heavy riffs to fit in the metal community. I wouldn't argue that Aphelion is their absolute finest work, however the album is overflowing with charming songwriting, earworm melodies, and an overall reassuring blissful mood.

8. Twelve Foot Ninja – Vengeance

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the future of metal is an emphasis on the weird factor. Twelve Foot Ninja is one of the most enticing acts in the modern era with Patton-inspired zaniness and a genuine focus on pushing the envelope. Although listeners will endure a barrage of many subgenres from mariachi and EDM to thrash and disco funk, the Aussie avant-garde metalcore act keep the eccentricity confined within enjoyable and bite-sized bangers.

7. Vola – Witness

Vola's presence in the progressive metal community has always been fascinating. They refused to bow down to neither the djent crowd nor the Dream Theater / Porcupine Tree followers. The Copenhagen four-piece instead found success in the center, developing a unique and reverb-laden, heavy identity. Grooves, synths, and an effortless ability to sound like music of the future, Witness is by far the group's best record. Also, those bars by rapper Shahmen on "Those Black Claws" slap.

6. She Said Destroy – Succession

The 'Diamond in the Rough for a Metal Band Award' goes to She Said Destroy. When I discovered this band, I felt like those early fans who just stumbled upon early Gojira or Mastodon. There's such an excess of youthful talent and innovation here. Although the band have some moments that strike as powerful as a shovel cracking through the dry earth, the real selling point is their profound diversity through the tracklisting. The songs range from sludge metal classics and hardcore bulldozers to blackened ambience and post-metal wizardry.

5. Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Hailing from Israel, Subterranean Masquerade bring forth an equally ambitious and adventurous musical journey on Mountain Fever. Their heavy emphasis of fusing Middle Eastern instrumentation and musicalities is a wholly delight to the ears. You can expect compelling progressive metal to be accompanied with varieties of percussion, strings, horns, and a choir, all raising the well-crafted compositions to above and beyond heights. It's clear there was a lot of blood and sweat put into this album and the pay-off is riveting.

4. Erra – Erra

Erra

In 2016, I felt that progcore pioneers Erra had peaked with the masterful album Drift. Fast-forward today and I stand severely wrong; Erra have now outdone themselves on their compelling new self-titled release. They struck a sublime balance between crushing and melodic, while also intertwining an impressive amount of experimentation as well. Granted, this material took awhile for me to grasp and fully appreciate, but I've grown to consider it one of the best records to come out of this era's progressive metalcore scene in a long time.

3. So Hideous – None But A Pure Heart Can Sing

I'm admittedly not anywhere close to being a black metal connoisseur, I'll reluctantly admit that. Nonetheless, recent experimentation within the subgenre has hooked me in. So Hideous' last record Laurestine brought impressive Deafheaven-level blackgaze, but their recent efforts to expand into the jazzy avant-garde realm is blind-siding in the best way possible. Mix post-black metal, Shining, krautrock, and Imperial Triumphant in the cauldron to conjure a grimy, breathtaking concoction, None But A Pure Heart Can Sing.

2. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

Although there was an abundance of hype leading up to this debut record, I didn't hop on that train of excitement until the actual release of Eternal Blue. Once I gave it a try though… the sincere epiphany moment of truly understanding the well-deserved hype hit me like a bag of bricks. It seems the go-to praise is directed towards the range of vocalist Courtney LaPlante (Iwrestledabearonce), which is an absolutely notable aspect of Spiritbox, however I'm sold that this project has all you'd ever want out of a modern metalcore act: infectious hooks, real fucking riffs, touching lyrics, and overall prowess over songwriting.

1. Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen – Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen

With pandemic and political discomfort peaking in 2020, the gradual and awkward transition back to some resemblance of normalcy came with much growing pains this year. To alleviate such, I found comfort in Silver Lake, the listening experience equal to the cozy, classic combination of a grilled cheese and tomato soup on a rainy day. Esa Holopainen creates the perfect blend of musical moods to accompany your sadness, calmness, and contentedness through this debut solo LP. Additionally, the varied vocal lineup is spectacular from the somber croons of Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) and enchanting melodies of Einar Solberg (Leprous) to the surprise favorite spoken word of actor / musicians Vesa-Matti Loiri. I genuinely can't stop myself from returning to this album again and again, paving the way as my clear favorite album of 2021.

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