I always do like 50 different drafts for just the opening alone then end up with one stripped down thing like this at the end of it all because I just wanna get this ish out there to the masses. 2021 has been up’s and down’s in the world but a pretty solid year overall for music. So much so that I almost considered not ranking my massive list of 21 releases that did it for me in 2021. Almost. As always, thanks for liking and following and most importantly, thanks for reading!
There were a lot of records in 2021 we were really looking forward to that just didn’t deliver for some reason or another then there were others that surprised the shit out of us and others that were just surprises, seemingly materializing out of nowhere. But before diving into all that, let’s cheat and add to our list with some honorable mentions, okay? First let’s praise the most honorablest of mentions concerning anything A Cause In Distress released this year. There were reasons that “Paraffin” and “Modern Commerce” were on an endless loop over in the RNRF offices and a reason that we’re hoping to manifest a full record from them in 2022 with this post. Speaking of 2022 and mini-releases, SOM put out a killer EP with one of our most favorite tracks of 2021 (“Youth. Decay”) but we’ve already heard their upcoming full-length (Due January 21st on Pelagic Records), know it owns, and are saving all our SOM love for the 2022 preview list (And if we’re being honest, next year’s Best of list).
After some lengthy hiatuses, both Every Time I Die and Duran Duran put out some momentous return records this year and over on the indie scene, we were blown away by releases from The Lion’s Daughter, Smycka, Domkraft, Fotocrime, and The Troops Of Doom while on the Electro side, Gary Numan returned with a new classic, Eggvn delivered some especially Aggro Darkwave, and The KVB closed out the year with some memorable beats and bleeps.
And now, the LIST! Hyperlink’s in the header for the records we were lucky enough to review so click there for more if interested:
21. Danny Elfman-Big Mess (Anti): Fun fact-I went to college for film scoring because after seeing Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 I was utterly enthralled with the power of the film score. Sure, I had heard some killer stuff before (Lookin’ yer way, Silvestri, Goldsmith, Kamen, and Williams!) that but hearing that now iconic main theme as it traveled along the Batman crest during the opening just did something, y’know? Now here we are over thirty years later and the legendary musician is back with a pandemic-fueled double album that goes back to basics but still manages to capture the WORLD of Elfman. There’s bits of So-Lo in here and bits of Oingo Boingo as well as Elfman’s signature orchestral panache which has permeated later Rawk recordings to make Big Mess an unexpected delight of 2021.
20. Blutengel-Erlösung – The Victory Of Light (Out Of Line Music): Seeing as my Spotify “Top Genre” was Industrial and I don’t want them to revoke my membership card I kinda have to have some Heavy Electro on here somewhere, right? I kid! I really do love Industrial and Blutengel’s Erlösung is one of the greatest albums in that genre to emerge in recent years. Whether it’s the propulsive anthem of “Illuminate My Soul”, the sweeping beats-heavy hymnal of “We Are Not Dead”, or the incessant stomp of “Wer ist dein Meister?”, Industrial fans will find something to latch onto in this eclectic collection of new Blutengel beasties.
19. Trillionaire-Romulus (Nefarious Industries): Another debut that came out of left field and just kind of stuck around my headspace from the time I received an advance promo up until the moment I’m typing right now (And beyond if we’re being honest) and like TV Priest (Featured further up the list), featured a singular track that really stuck the landing for us but was also surrounded by the entirety of Romulus which is wholly just something else in the Hard Prog realm.
18. Black Label Society-Doom Crew Inc.(MNRK Heavy): A new record from BLS is like Heavy Metal comfort food and Doom Crew Inc. is pretty definitive proof as to why Black Label Society is quickly becoming one of my go-to bands for reliable heaviness. The instant “Set You Free” was released solidified that and the rest of BLS’ eleventh studio album solidified it more by providing what should be considered a blueprint for one of the most consistent Heavy records of 2021.
17. Mikey Rukus- Bring The Rukus (MNRK Heavy): Last year we had an actual Static-X album to appease the Nu-Metal Gods, this year we got Mikey Rukus. The man who’s consistently providing the soundtrack to your most favorite night(s) of wrestling is here to transport you back to a time when Sepultura was breakin’ apart, Limp Bizkit was doing it all for the “Nookie”, and Evil Disco was getting you to “Push It” on the regular. From the mind of the AEW musical director comes some familiar tracks to AEW fans (Matt Hardy/HFO’s “Ghost Town”, AEW Dark Elevation’s “Rise”) as well as a bevy of heavy ass throwbacks that’ll have you uncontrollably headbanging into the new year.
16. Eastern High-Halo: Eastern High crafted a record that’s some of the most indescribably epic Rawk to be delivered to the masses in a looooong time with Halo which never lets up. “Erosion Of Hearts” is a broad, moving sojourn that’s such a beautiful statement and a tantalizing taste of what’s to come further in. Like the gnarly majesty of “Emperor” and the mighty riffage of “Notorious Enemy” and so many more that follow. Try it, okay?
15. One Hundred Thousand-Zodiac: Debuting a new track every month which represented the signs of the zodiac and culminated with a full-length compiling them all in April 2021, One Hundred Thousand went on an expansive aural journey throughout the pandemic and came out the other side with a banger record that is bolstered by some of the finest cuts of heaviness you’ll hear all year as well as one solidifying sum of all its’ parts in the completed album itself.
14. Bikini Death Race-Refrigerator (Negative Gain): Hyper Devo mixed with Darkwave for a relentless 9-track journey that’ll have you uncontrollably dancing for the entire ride? Sign. Us. Up! The newest from Bikini Death Race was a movin’ and groovin’ slab of hyper-stylized Electro that we couldn’t get enough of. And neither should you!
13. Rob Zombie-The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast): This record was everything I wanted and more. It’s weird, wild, and wonderful….and Heavy AF. Following up a tremendous finale in the “Firefly Family” trilogy and out before The Munsters take flight, Zombie returns re-energized to his initial bread and butter with an aural experience that truly is beyond what anyone could’ve hoped for. It’s the monstrous “The Triumph Of King Freak” setting a tone and then a, ahem, freaky journey that follows that just makes this record one of Zombie’s best featuring trips into Psychedelia, a little Country, and, of course, loud, heavy, RAWK!
12. Comatose-A Way Back (Transcending Records): There’s something so inherently nostalgic about A Way Back which takes the reigns from last year’s Spice record to convey a mood that’s akin to Sugar back in the day mixing it up with hum’s most recent outing. Modern Alt that’s expansive and energetic, A Way Back traverses a plane of existence that dwells in ’90’s Alternative but is also firmly planted in the here and now to drive home a fuzzy ass mindfuck that’s the best earworm you’ll experience all year.
11. TV Priest-Uppers (Sub Pop): The way that “Decoration” as a video and single enticed the hell out of my eyes and earholes is reason enough for the debut from TV Priest to be on this list. Luckily, though, the rest of the record is just as engaging beginning with “The Big Curve” and its’ disparate noises through to the quirky acoustics of “Saintless” which closes easily one of the finest first records of 2021.
10. Glaare-Your Hellbound Heart (Weyrd Son Records): While SyFy’s Chucky series relied on crucial cuts by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and underground ditties from Modern Art as the soundtrack for the titular pint-sized serial killer, we can’t help but be even more drawn to Glaare when witnessing some of the blood-soaked eroticism on the small screen and thinking the Los Angeles outfit might be provide a more apt score for Season 2? Regardless, Glaare put out one helluva record in 2021 that pulsated and playfully pounced while simultaneously drifting dreamily in the ether.
9. Ministry-Moral Hygiene (Nuclear Blast): I liken being a Ministry fan to my love of Hulk comics where there are stretches when everyone’s just like “WTF” but you stick it out because this is your team. This is the follow-up to The Last Sucker I’d been waiting for and for the non-fans, this is the record you wanted after Psalm 69. It’s different yet direct while also unabashedly devastating. Weaving in and out of yer earholes on Moral Hygiene are some of the BEST Ministry jams of the 21st Century starting with the moody “Alert Level”, continuing with an unexpected Jello Biafra reunion on “Sabotage Is Sex”, a laid back cover of The Stooges’ legendary “Search And Destroy”, and the Twitch-inspired “Believe Me” to name a few of the many stand out’s on Ministry’s 15th full-length.
8. Failure-Wild Type Android (Failure Records): It’s albums like this that are the reason why I hold off on putting this list together as late as I possibly can. The first album on this list that seemingly materialized from nowhere, Wild Type Android is a gloriously diverse instant Alt classic that harnesses the raw energy of Magnified and takes it into a whole new stratosphere of enlightened excellence. “Water With Hands” easily amplifies that train of thought and deeper in tracks like “Mercury Mouth” even seemingly channels a little bit of Ken Andrews’ Year Of The Rabbit project. Highly recommended if you’re looking to dive back into the Failure pool.
7. Turnstile-Glow On (Roadrunner Records): Another year, another Turnstile record gracing our Top list and there’s not a lot to say about the follow-up to 2018’s Time & Space that hasn’t already been said. It’s good. Really good. It is WELL represented on my personal Spotify “All Wrapped Up” playlist. You should definitely listen to it, too. Over and over and over again. Like I have.
6. Quicksand-Distant Populations (Epitaph Records): The second of two records on here that sort of materialized out of nowhere both happen to be from bands who came to prominence in the ’90’s. It’s not a knock or a cliche to call Distant Populations a “mature” Quicksand album because it really is! Dense, textured, and a far cry from the sonic bludgeoning of Slip, Quicksand’s newest is kinda their best “modern” record and seeing as we consider their debut one of the best records evah, know that we don’t type shit like that lightly.
5. Hippotraktor-Meridian (Pelagic Records): Meridian occupies the same headspace that Irist did last year but is also imbued with some of that Forming The Void magic as well as echoes of Amorphis. Wrapped yer head around all that info yet? Regardless if you have or not, it’s fucking fantastic and is an unrelenting and diverse pummeler from start to finish.
4. Fear Factory-Aggression Continuum (Nuclear Blast): Of all the Metal records to come out in 2021, I did not expect to like, no, love the latest Fear Factory album as much as I do. Bittersweet in that it’s the last full-length to feature Burton C. Bell, Aggression Continuum taps into that energized power that Bell harnessed when initially reforming with Dino Cazares for 2010’s Mechanize yet also latched onto the surprising accessibility from tracks off some of FF’s legendary crushers Demanufacture and Obsolete (Lookin’ at you, “Zero Signal” and “Resurrection”!) and ends up as something of a Fear Factory sweet spot. Sure, tracks like “Fuel Injected Suicide Machine” and “Disruptor” are the epitome of classic FF but it’s stuff like the title track and subtle things like drummer Mike Heller’s nuanced performance there and beyond or the slow moving dirge of “Monolith” which really make this release stand out within FF’s already impressive catalog.
3. Lauren Lakis-Daughter Language (Green Witch Recordings): This record is transcendent. And so far up in this list because it demands your attention. Capturing the aesthetic of all your favorite bits from David Lynch’s body of work over the years while also summoning goddesses like Chelsea Wolfe and PJ Harvey, Lauren Lakis manifests some next generation Rawk that’s both righteous and riotous. From the moment “Sail Away” treads the murky waters of Daughter Language through the rest of the continually captivating tracks within, it’s apparent that Lakis’ latest is something truly special.
2. Spiritbox-Eternal Blue (Pale Chord/Rise): The debut from British Columbia’s Spiritbox is one of the only albums in recent memory for me that actually lives up to the hype and then some. Truly embodying the Heavy and the heartfelt, Eternal Blue is as equally joyous and wonderful channelling both Massive Attack and Mazzy Star while also managing to be blisteringly brutal by integrating the complexity of Meshuggah. Credit equally goes to vocalist Courtney LaPlante who brings a diversity and range while delivering the serenity and the screams as well as guitarist Mike Stringer with a sonic tour-de-force that provides a fitting soundtrack for LaPlante’s pipes.
1. Four Stroke Baron-Classics (Prosthetic Records): As I get older I’m realizing that I’m kind of becoming one of those people that prefers HevyDevy over the more recent outings from Devin Townsend. Not necessarily the SYL chugga chugga chugga screeaaaam mania but more just the early daze of his solo records that were melodic but still had a fierceness and a certain heft. Which brings us to Four Stroke Baron who is definitely their own entity but there’s something oh so familiar especially on this Devin Townsend-mixed new full-length which is a dense journey that deserves to be listened to uninterrupted from start to finish. No doubt, tracks like blistering opener “Radium” along with the bouncy bravado of “G.O.!”, and the catastrophic crunch of “Sundowner” are undeniable stand out’s on Classics but together? Together, they’re unstoppable and a certifiably potent slab of modern power Prog prowess.