Best of 2021: Ian’s List

Best of 2021

Alright, the moment you all (read: maybe three of you) have been waiting for, although with the lists that are already up, I feel like this is going to be underwhelming.  We’re really good at writing, people, and it’s been really awesome to not only be a part of the site but also be a fan at the same time.  So now, the top; the cream of the crop.  Say whatever you want about the year in general (except, you know, that the state of the world was overall pleasant), but as far as music goes, it was pretty sensational.  Maybe that’s because I got to spend another year in the fortunate position of being able to sit and write about music that I love so much.  In fact, that’s almost definitely it, so let me say how humbled and thankful I am to continue to be a part of this family.  Now, on to the goods:

Between the Buried and Me – Colors II

Colors II could have easily just been a quick cash grab, capitalizing on nostalgia and autopiloting out an album that would be a guaranteed success without any heart or soul in it.  Thankfully, that is not at all what Between the Buried and Me did.  Colors II is a continuation of the thought process behind Colors, and it develops from a very surprisingly vulnerable side of a band that should, by all rights, have nothing to lose anymore.  Of course, there are thematic, lyrical and musical callbacks to its predecessor, but Colors II shows a band that has grown and aged well in the decade plus since its forebearer was released, and there are still plenty of brand-new tricks up their sleeves after all this time.

For more unhinged raving, visit the review I wrote, or check out Buke’s interview with Tommy Giles Rogers himself.

Suidakra – Wolfbite

I will forever be baffled that Suidakra are not household names in the melodeath scene.  To me, they are a band that consistently puts out album after album of well thought out, well executed and righteously fun death metal, and the fact that they weave together traditional Celtic mythology with original story concepts is what makes them truly unique.  Wolfbite is another in that series of wonderfully executed death metal albums, but the soul of this album comes from the uniting of a veritable plethora of players from the past and present of Suidakra, lending this album, more so than any of their others, a truly cinematic feel and the overwhelming sense of this being a labor of love, brought about through the work of so many.

There’s even more than I said about Wolfbite in the review I was fortunate to be able to write.

First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle

First Fragment - Gloire Eternelle

Gloire Éternelle represents the intersection of two of the main themes in my year end lists, all of them actually: big fun and the most insane bass work you’ve ever heard.  I have always had my eyes on First Fragment, but Gloire Éternelle is, to my ears, the album where they just let it all hang out.  Obviously, Phil Tougas and Nick Miller deserve all the praise in the world for their blistering chops, but the way they interact with Dominic “Forest” Lapointe and highlight the absolutely INSANE playing from him is what makes this such a special album.  It perfectly captures that feeling of being barely a teenager and hearing Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen for the first time: it makes me want to pick up my guitar and practice for ten hours a day so I can be this good.

Anton picked this for our Album of the Month chat in October, and you can listen to the conversation in this link, or wherever fine podcasts are sold.

Tribulation – Where the Gloom Becomes Sound­

Tribulation - Where the Gloom Becomes Sound

Maybe the earliest released album on the list, but one I had a feeling would stick around until the very end, and I’m very glad that it did.  Tribulation have been a band that I am very happy to say I have been a fan of since the literal minute I first heard them.  They took no time to grow on me, and every release from them has cemented that love more and more.  Where the Gloom Becomes Sound changes nothing about that.  Everything that makes Tribulation who they are has been cranked up several notches.  The seamless blend of post-punk, gothic rock and death metal is equal parts groovy and thrashy, and no matter what dance style is called for, I always feel the need to dance along, start to finish.

Angela and I couldn’t decide who got to review this one, so we wrote it together!  Also, Buke conducted a fantastic interview with Adam Zaars waaaaaaaay back at the top of the year.  Oh yeah, and this was our January Album of the Month.  I guess we all really liked this one!

Lantlôs – Wildhund

Lantlos - Wildhund

I would be very hard pressed to call Wildhund a metal album, which might beg the question of what it’s doing here on a year end list of metal albums.  Well, if you checked out my nonmetal best-of list, you’d see a few albums that are qualitatively metal, so…what do I know?  Well, what I know is this: Wildhund is another incredibly fun album, maybe the most fun album that I’ve heard all year.  It is an album that from minute one puts a gigantic smile on my face and instantly lifts my spirits; “instant serotonin” was the phrase used.  As much as I was more deeply affected by albums that were heavier and less unabashedly poppy, Wildhund is an album never fails to turn a bad day around.

Unsurprisingly, Vince also loved this album, and you can check out his review and his drink pairing with it right here.

Archspire – Bleed the Future

Archspire - Bleed the Future

I love Archspire, and I’m not afraid to say it loudly and proudly.  While we have some haters differing opinions on the staff, one thing that is for sure is that on Bleed the Future, the band has doubled down on everything that makes them who they are.  There is no going backwards from this point, which will be difficult considering they broke their personal best of 350 bpm at one point.  However, for all its bluster and technicality, this album is also their catchiest and their most memorable.  Sure, a lot of notes happen in a short amount of time, but the melodies are stronger than they have ever been, and the structure of the songs is the most straightforward and accessible they are ever going to be.  It is a perfect starting point for anyone looking to change their minds about this band, *cough* *cough*.

[DJ Khaled Voice] Another one (another one).  Click it.

Pupil Slicer – Mirrors

Cracking the top three (which are in order, in case you’re wondering) is an album that I had no idea was coming and that absolutely blew every expectation I had out of the water.  Mirrors is an album that feeds directly on the horrors, distress and downright panic inherent in modern society and the state of the world and regurgitates it in the form of masterfully crafted and technically astounding grindy mathcore (or mathy grindcore, if you like) that is absolutely a breath of fresh air in a genre that tends to be technical and brutal for its own sake and nothing more.  What Pupil Slicer do so expertly is translate an honest, vulnerable feeling into music that perfectly relates that feeling to the listener, even if it is one that is unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Same deal here.  Boy, I did review a lot of these, huh?

Capra – In Transmission

Capra - In Transmission

Speaking of honesty and vulnerability, we come to a band that completely and totally embodies those traits and uses them to, as above, breathe new life into a genre that has the potential to feel stale and predictable when not properly tended to.  I made a called shot back when that In Transmission would be my album of the year, and while it is not the actual number one, it is both damn close and an album that has stuck with me since the first minute I heard “The Locust Preacher.”  The rest of the album slouches no less, cutting and ripping through hardcore tinged with a sludgy, Louisiana bayou stank that never takes the turns you expect it to.  The shining star, though, has to be Crow Lotus’ dominating vocal performance.  She is exactly the change-up that the band needed to make In Transmission a success and a voice that hardcore needs to hear more of.

Not only did I get to review this one, but I also got to pick it to be our Album of the Month for April! And, a Buke interview here.

Panopticon – …And Again into the Light

panopticon - and again into the light

I was expecting …And Again into the Light to be good, nay, great, because I am an unabashed fan of anything Austin Lunn attaches his name to, from music to beer.  There is almost no way he can flip Panopticon’s formula that won’t appeal to me.  What I was not expecting was …And Again into the Light to be the album I needed to hear at this point in my life.  The themes of the album are themes that I have dealt with constantly: failure, shame, guilt and regret for the hurt you cause others.  Sometimes, these feelings are completely manufactured internally, but often one feels like a failure for obvious reasons: you failed.  You feel like you hurt people around you because you do.  It is important to recognize that, and to acknowledge that you are not always going to present the best version of yourself to the world.  That’s all fine and good to say, but what next?  That’s the question that has always plagued me, because whenever I find myself in a situation where I have hurt someone I care about or failed at something I believed in, it always feels like the end of my story.  How can I possibly go on if this is who I am?  When this happens again, will it be different, or am I destined to repeat the painful cycle those I care about get caught up in by being around me?  These are dark questions, but if you’ll forgive the pun, …And Again into the Light is the musical answer that I needed to hear, if for no other reason than to understand that I’m not alone feeling this way, but also that the strength to go on is both inherent to us all and a necessary part of making amends.  Not in the way that a problematic celebrity takes to Twitter to make amends, but really truly trying to change and be a better person to the people you love.  …And Again into the Light is a musical journey that perfectly transcribes the path from deepest despair to hope and true belief, rife with gut-wrenching melody and howling agony.  It is the most deeply affecting album I have heard all year, and in a long time, and I will forever be thankful to Austin for making it.  Even if it’s hard to believe in the moment, it’s not the end of the story.

Cult of Luna – The Raging River

Cult of Luna - The Raging River

Per tradition, I have to include an EP on here, although one could argue that The Raging River is no EP, considering it is almost 40 minutes long.  That qualifies by Cult of Luna standards, so I’ll allow it.  I’ll also allow it because The Raging River is so goddamn remarkable.  Cult of Luna sit rightfully at the top of Mt. Post Metal, but there is something about The Raging River that sets them even farther apart from the competition.  The delicate interplay between percussion, drums, glockenspiel, howled vocals and crushing guitars on the opener “Three Bridges” alone is worth the price of admission, but all five songs have this sprawling sense of dynamics and masterful use of space.  It cannot be overstated how, down to every little detail, the finesse that went into making this release shows how incredible this band is at writing songs.

If you were wondering what kind of coffee goes best with your Cult of Luna, look no further than the Evcharist I wrote.

If you noticed that a lot of these albums were albums I reviewed, well, yeah.  I don’t really know what to tell you, it bears repeating that being a part of this team allows me the fortunate position of being able to write about albums I am already excited about, ones that I knew I was going to love anyway.  Obviously, there was a ton more out there, and I’m sad that I just don’t have the time to write about more than these few, but this is what stuck with me the most this year.  I can only imagine that next year is going to be the same, musically speaking, and I’m already so pumped for what I have on my plate, so here’s to that.  I’ll catch you in the next one.

– Ian

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