2021 Revisited

Well, it’s December and you know what that means – every music critic, YouTuber, and overzealous blogger (including myself) are just days away from proclaiming their controversial opinions on what albums deserve the title of 2022’s “Album of the Year” and which ones belong in the garbage. But before we get there I want to reflect on some stand-out releases from 2021.

Due to Covid, a lot of bands couldn’t tour so they spent time songwriting and recording, thus the sheer quantity of music that came out in 2021 was enormous and the quality sky-rocketed. 2022 has proven to be just as prolific, perhaps even more so, but there are still several albums from 2021 that I keep revisiting, in spite of this year’s excellent selection.

If you’ve been following me on social media for a while, you might remember all of the Top 10 lists I made back in December. I made lists for my favorite releases in specific sub-genres such as metalcore, progressive rock/metal, and death metal, and then finally featured my top 10 favorites overall. (You can find them all on my Instagram.)

All of the albums that I want to talk about in this post made it to one of my top 10 lists from last year for their individual genres, but didn’t make it to my Top 10 of 2021 overall list. (You can find that list here.) I stand by the albums that I picked for the top 10 overall and I come back to those often as well, but there is something special about these ones that I’d like to highlight this time around.

Beartooth – ‘Below’

Featured in my top 10 hardcore of 2021.

I gotta say, I love this album. Fitting somewhere between hard rock, hardcore, and metalcore, Beartooth knocked it out of the park with this one. Caleb Shomo’s voice has grown by leaps and bounds and perfectly conveys the intensity of each song. With meaty riffs, fun breakdowns, and several catchy choruses, this album has continued to grip me since its release. Also, the deluxe version of this album that came out this year adds several more note-worthy songs.

Born of Osiris – ‘Angel or Alien’

Featured in my top 10 metalcore of 2021.

This album was my first experience of Born of Osiris and it did not disappoint! What immediately stood out to me was the amount of groove on this album. The guitar riffs and lead lines doubled by synthesizers are incredibly catchy and the rhythm section is just buried in pocket. On top of this, Ronnie Canizaro’s vocal performance is epic. His fry and pitched screams add another layer of passion to each song, my favorite being “Shadowmourne”. The saxophone in that track gives me chills everytime and is part of what makes me return over and over.

Caskets – ‘Lost Ones’

Featured in my top 10 post-hardcore of 2021.

Not too heavy, not too soft, Caskets found the perfect balance in this record. Vocalist Matt Flood’s vocal performance has to be my favorite part of this album, perfectly flipping between grief and angst. The songwriting on this album is impeccable as well. The lyrics flood with feeling, yet are so catchy that they stay stuck in my head for days.

Galleons – ‘Galleons’

Featured in my top 10 post-hardcore of 2021.

I honestly think that this is one of the most underrated albums of 2021. An Australian/Russian collaboration, Galleons crafted a tremendous post-hardcore experience with this record featuring soaring guitar leads and fun song writing. But again, what drew me back to this album were the lyrics and the vocals. I love the autotune that Tom Byrne has on his voice, adding a uniqueness to it without overpowering his gritty tones or sounding overly-done. Many of the lyrics convey very personal messages but are presented in such a melodic way that I often find myself humming them.

Sleep Token – ‘This Place Will Become Your Tomb’

Featured in my top 10 Rock of 2021. (TPWBYT didn’t quite belong in the rock category, but I wasn’t sure where else to put it.)

This album was a bit of a sleeper hit for me. I liked it, but I wasn’t sure how much I liked it at first. As time went on TPWBYT grew on me a lot. This record is a straight vibe. Songs like “The Love You Want” and “Mine” are so beautifully written and powerfully performed that they give me chills every time. The vocalist has a unique tone and his melody choices are superb. What I especially love about this album is that it’s not afraid to be soft, which is what threw me off originally. Many of the tracks start slow but build in intensity throughout the course of the song. Others, like “Fall For Me” and “Missing Limbs” remain soft for their entirety, yet they’re so beautiful that they don’t need to be anything more. This might be the only album that I wish I had included in my 2021 Top 10 Overall list.

Vola – ‘Witness’

Featured in my top 10 progressive rock/metal of 2021.

What immediately stuck out to me about this album were the phenomenal guitar tones and the rhythmic groove in each song. With its soaring melodies, shimmering electronics, polyrhythmic riffs, and intimate vocal performance, this album is aggressively beautiful. Songs like “24 Light-Years” and “These Black Claws” are completely opposite in terms of tone and attitude yet they’re so moody that I kept coming back to recapture their gripping atmospheres.

Volumes – ‘Happier?’

Featured in my top 10 metalcore of 2021.

This album is the perfect blend of metalcore with pop sensitivities. The intro track “FBX” is a straight banger, no bells and whistles needed, while “Bend” and “Happier?” have some of the catchiest choruses released in the genre in 2021. Like the rest of these albums, what really makes this record stick out is the emotion woven into each melody, especially the overwhelming feeling of longing and melancholy that pervades many of the songs.

Wage War – ‘Manic’

Featured in my top 10 metalcore of 2021.

I’ve been into Wage War since ‘Blueprints’ debuted (I bought it on iTunes the week it came out) and they’ve been one of my favorite metalcore bands ever since. With ‘Manic’ they brought the energy back and incorporated some new elements that I really enjoyed, such as the trap-esque verse of the title track. Vocalists Briton Bond and Cody Quistad are at the top of their game with this album, furthering their vocal exploration that they began with their last album to great results. On top of this, “Deathroll” has to be one of the best heavy metalcore songs released in 2021. The pinch-notes in the main riff and the guitar solo at the end are just so tasty. Though metalcore has increasingly become an oversaturated genre, ‘Manic’ has risen above it peers and proven that it is one of the best metalcore releases of last year.

If you haven’t noticed, these albums stuck out to me because of the emotions imbued in each of them. It’s not about just another cool riff or a catchy chorus (though those things do help), it’s about being able to convey feeling through sound. Any good band can write a cool song, but only a handful of bands can write meaningful songs that move your heart; that’s what these ones brought to the table and why I’ve found myself re-listening to them often.

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