The best albums that accompanied us through 2021, including all music genres.
10. Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God
Manchester Orchestra might be one of the most consistent bands in the indie rock sphere, with not a single record in their 15 year career being even close to mediocre or disappointing. Sufficed to say, I was pretty fuckin stoked for this record, but even then my expectations were blown out of the water. Their signature blend of loud but melancholy emo-tinged indie rock continues to serve as an amazing base for them to explore completely unique creative spaces in their music. While a little lower key than their last triumph of an album (Black Mile), the masterful, swelling dynamics, songwriting diversity, and emotional devastation felt through the lyrics combine so perfectly that The Million Masks of God is simply incomparable to anything the band has previously done, and on a tier all its own relative to both the band’s discography and the genre on the whole.
9. Every Time I Die – Radical
Most music nerds would be legitimately hard pressed if you asked them what their all-time favorite band was, but for me, personally, I think ETID would be a solid god damn contender. Not only are they one of the most consistent and influential heavy bands of the past 20 years, but I count the vast majority of their discography in my all-time personal favorites. YET SOMEHOW, DESPITE ALL THESE EXTREMELY INSANE EXPECTATION GOING IN, this is easily one of their best albums of their entire career, point-blank. I honestly don’t understand how the band is able to get progressively heavier and more insane with every single release while simultaneously exploring such unique and unexplored creative depths. This is a god damn triumph that you will absolutely fall head over heels for if you’re an ETID fan, and possibly the best time to jump in and finally give them a shot if you’re not.
8. Frontierer – Oxidized
If you’re in the most likely large boat of people who are pissed and/or confused that the new ETID album didn’t make it higher on my list, you’re clearly also on the unfortunate boat of people who haven’t heard the latest from UK-based mathcore lads Frontierer. To call this record heavy would be an understatement of epic proportions. This album is god damn fucking relentless insanity from front to back, with some of the heaviest guitar tones I’ve ever heard in my life constantly blasting you with odd-timed, life destroying riffs, complemented perfectly by noisey synth elements and straight up some of the best unclean vocals I’ve heard in the genre to date. Their last record in 2018 completely floored me, but they somehow simultaneously increased the insanity while also making things more dynamic overall, resulting in what is easily the best mathcore record of the past decade. All hail the new kings of extreme music.
7. The Armed – ULTRAPOP
If you really want to experience some of the most exciting and creative insanity going on in heavy music today, you need to look no further than The Armed even before their absolutely triumphant 2021 record was released. They’ve always pushed the edges of an already extreme style of absolutely brutal, noisey mathcore, but I could have never expected what they accomplished with ULTRAPOP. While it continues to be rooted in extreme heavy music, The Armed somehow perfectly blended in elements of synthpop and dance-pop into the record, resulting in a wall of sound equal parts noisey and vibrant, with gorgeous and diverse clean vocals and bright, catchy synths often soaring over a barrage of relentless blast beats and technically astounding major-key guitar riffs. This record truly sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard in the absolute best way possible, and if you’ve yet to experience ULTRAPOP you are doing yourself a vast disservice.
6. Archspire – Bleed the Future
I got wind of a new Archspire album pretty late overall, but even without hearing any singles beforehand I was beyond excited for this release. Archspire’s 2017 record Relentless Mutation was essentially the reason I got into technical death metal and probably my favorite albums in the genre to date. Even then, it’s hard to put into words how instantaneously this album floored me. The pure technical insanity of every single musician in the band quite literally had my jaw open and my head shaking in incredulousness throughout my entire first spin of Bleed the Future. It feels strange to describe such face-melting extreme music as catchy, but the quality of Archspire’s beautifully crafted, extremely melodic riffs coupled with their next-level musicianship is always what has made the band stand out so firmly among their peers, and both of these qualities were cranked up to 11 on Bleed the Future, somehow dethroning themselves for the title of best tech death record of at least the past decade.
5. Poppy – EAT
Saying that Poppy’s journey as a musician has been an extremely strange one is probably one of the most criminal understatements I could possibly utter, but her 2020 full length record that fully explored her previous experimentation in blending ultra bubblegum pop and metal was, in my opinion, a work of absolute genius. Considering her pretense for switching styles and genres to such an extreme extent between records, I had sadly resigned myself to the fact that she would never do something like I Disagree ever again. And then, out of nowhere, she drops the EAT EP in the middle of 2021, giving me even more than I could have possibly wanted with a continuation and expansion of this style. While EAT still sees Poppy blending catchy, melodic pop choruses with heavy, distorted, nu-metal inspired riffs, the scales were HEAVILY tipped towards the heavier side of things with this EP. The guitars aren’t just loud this time around, they are fucking H E A V Y. She uses her insanely underrated unclean vocals more than she sings on this record. The writing and musicianship are absurdly technical to the point where much of the EP seems to borrow more influences from Dillinger Escape Plan than it does from Deftones. Yet in the mix of all of this, Poppy continues to seamlessly blend in influences from all across the musical map, from jazz to jpop to synthpop to dream pop, and the result happens to be something that I think is an even more creatively impressive feat than I Disagree, and one of the most forward-thinking records in modern metal.
4. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might be Introvert
For years, Little Simz has been touted by underground hip-hop aficionados as THE next big thing, and for the past decade she’s been consistently releasing some of the most forward-thinking, creative music coming out of the UK rap scene. While her last record, 2019’s GREY Area hit some major critical and mainstream recognition, her newest record sees Little Simz truly getting the hype she’s deserved for years, and for good god damn reason. To call Sometimes I Might be Introvert grandiose and epic is an understatement. The record is truly a cinematic, unbelievable, and incomparable musical journey from front to back. Every ounce of creative energy is poured into all 19 tracks, bouncing all over the stylistic spectrum, but doing so slowly from track to track, with the album almost being broken down into different movements each rooted into completely different influences and themes. This is not only the absolute magnum opus of one of the most criminally underrated rappers of the past decade, it’s also very easily one of the best hip-hop records of the past 10 years.
3. Tigers Jaw – I Won’t Care How You Remember Me
If my year-end list was based purely on numbers of spins I gave a record throughout the course of the year, the latest from Tigers Jaw would take the gold by a god damn mile. This record hit me so hard upon my very first listen and has only grown on me since then. The band has certainly stuck to their signature sound of slightly low-key, sad, yet insanely catchy and bouncy emo-tinged indie rock, but they have absolutely perfected the formula to astounding results with I Don’t Care How You Remember Me. The chord structures and riffs are so simple on paper but so god damn tasteful and memorable, every hook just brimming with energy. The balance they strike between extreme sing-along catchiness and vibrance and subtle, deep sadness is nothing short of unbelievable, and the tightness in which the band is locked into each other creatively and emotionally is something that words truly cannot capture. But on top of all this, Tigers Jaw has simultaneously improved what has always been arguably their strongest quality: their lyrics. What truly brings the balance home is both singers’ abilities to craft such subtly sad stories that match the energy of their music so perfectly, initially hinting just a touch of sadness on the surface, but cutting deeper and deeper emotionally as you uncover the small intricacies of their storytelling with each listen. This record will make you dance, it will make you cry, and it will pull you in completely given the chance.
2. Adjy – The Idyll Opus (I-VI)
I was not ready for this record the first time I decided to put it on. I couldn’t discern exactly what these guys were going for based on what I had read about the record, and I knew why that was within a few seconds going into the first track. The debut record by a band completely self-produced, unknown to the internet, and with no social media presence has no right sounding as good as The Idyll Opus does, but that only scratches the surface on how astounding this record is. This record is truly unlike anything I’ve ever heard, completely incomparable to anything I can wrap my head around. At 90 minutes, it is truly an epic of truly insane proportions, mixing in influences from indie rock, emo, folk, bluegrass, progressive, to create a true odyssey of a record, intimately following the journey of a touring musician falling in love. Every single track brings a completely different energy to the table, the dynamics of the band alone unmatched by any band I’ve heard in recent memory. The experience that is The Idyll Opus is truly transcendent and quite honestly beyond words, with new, precise, subtle details to discover with each and every new listen-through on the record. Released almost 6 months ago, this band and record have been criminally overlooked, as their debut is truly a creative triumph that absolutely god damn deserves your attention. Stop what you’re doing and go fucking listen to this immediately, as I cannot think of a single individual who couldn’t take something magical away from this album. You’ll thank me later.
2. Devil Sold His Soul – Loss
There are some records that are, to the extent of something as subjective as music, so universally loved and creatively astounding that they can only be described as objectively perfect. Then, there are records that, despite being more niche in their style and appeal, execute their unique creative vision so precisely that, for a relatively small number of people, it connects on such a deep, emotional level that it can only be described by that audience as perfect. For me, the latest from the UK hardcore band is the latter. It combines everything I’ve ever wanted in a record and so many things I never thought I needed in a record, and within seconds of the first track, the emotional vibrance of its music washes over me like a wave. The dynamics Devil Sold His Soul have perfected in their music is truly beyond anything I’ve ever heard in an album, building slow, emotionally devastating post-rock and emo inspired ballads into absolutely crushingly heavy crescendos of open, distorted guitars and beautifully desperate unclean vocals. The vocals, on that note, are dynamic, varied, and astounding, switching between three separate vocalists in the band, two clean and one unclean, to further the band’s sonic and emotional diversity throughout the record. Lyrically, the album centers around exactly what its title would suggest: Loss. These themes may be hitting especially hard after dealing with a global pandemic for over a year, but the band so perfectly balances crafting stories that feel so deeply personal to them while exploring such a deep range of emotions so universally felt through such a common shared experience. Musically, I’ve never heard a band so perfectly balance influences of dynamic, crescendoing post-rock and hard-hitting, emotional post-hardcore, borrowing literally everything I love about both genres to create the most emotionally crushing, devastating, and vibrant record I’ve heard in years, point blank. Even if you’re not a fan of heavier music, or specifically post-hardcore, please give this record a shot, as I think you’ll walk away feeling something. On the other hand, if you are, and you haven’t yet given this record a listen, as you may be seriously missing out on a record you will most likely find truly astounding and impactful. Maybe, like me, you’ll think this record is perfect.