It’s been such an incredible year for metal that making a top ten felt like a massacre of great albums that could’ve easily topped a list in weaker years. From old established bands with new leases of life to underground acts coming off the blocks at full pelt, it feels like metal is stronger than it’s been in a long time.
Still, I armed myself to the teeth, chopped my way through the metal undergrowth and emerged victorious with a set of ten absolute bangers. Are they the BEST albums of the year? Nah, it’s all subjective but these are – as of December – the ones that I keep coming back to and the ones that won my battered old heart this year.
10) Eternity’s End – Embers of War
Obscura released the fantastic album A Valediction in 2021, and it very nearly made this list, but their guitarist Christian Muenzner’s other project Eternity’s End just had the edge for me. It’s every bit as mind-meltingly technical as Obscura but with power metal vocals, catchy choruses and unashamed fantasy-themed lyrics. There’s a cool thrash influence on tracks like Deathrider but mostly I’m here for the mix of sword and sorcery vibes and Malmsteen-baiting riffs you need six arms to play. Embers of War shreds and shreds hard.
9) Powerwolf – Call of the Wild
It’s a Powerwolf album, what can I say? You either love or hate Powerwolf, but they always deliver to spec. Dancing With The Dead is easily the most enjoyable, catchy anthem of the year for me (“EEEEVIL POOOOOWERS”) and the rest of the album delivers exactly the kind of 3 to 4 minute, high-gothic bangers you expect. There’s also a cracking bonus disc of cover versions, highlight of which is Doro Pesch singing Where The Wild Wolves Have Gone like her life depends on it. I think that is pretty much the sound of my soul.
8) Cradle Of Filth – Existence is Futile
Extreme metal mainstays Cradle of Filth never seem to get the respect they deserve but dropping an album this strong some 30 years into their career should hopefully change a few minds. Existence Is Futile’s tackle apocalyptic themes with a phenomenal newfound rage and energy. It’s fast, technical, atmospheric, catchy and super-aggressive all in one and Dani Filth’s lyrics – while still not afraid of a pun or two that would even make Martin Walkyier blush – are full-blooded poetry. Easily some of the most jawdropping wordplay of the year. What other band could rhyme “apophis” with “dark office”?
7) Hand Of Kalliach – Samhainn
This debut release from Scottish husband-and-wife duo Hand Of Kalliach is a dark gift from the underground. Mixing blackened death metal, post-metal atmospherics and Celtic folk with both mythological and heavy emotional themes, Samhainn is an album that feels fully-formed and accomplished despite the band’s relative newness. It also doesn’t sound like any other band I’ve heard. What it does sound like is mistry wintery nights full of magick and mayhem. Truly spectacular single Cinders is not just a clear standout of the album but a clear standout of this year’s metal crop.
6) Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined
It feels almost too obvious to include this but, if you’re a fan of classic style death metal, it’s hard to deny that Cannibal Corpse are the very dictionary definition of it. And arguably, as good as it gets. They’ve never had a dodgy experimental period or released a weak album but, at the same time, they still don’t feel stale after all these years. I guess they accomplish this by refining the formula just a little each time and Violence Unimagined sees long-time collaborator Erik Rutan (Hate Eternal) join the band as a full-time guitarist and songwriter. The result is a slightly faster, more technical effort than 2017’s Red Before Black but it’s every bit an instant classic – song after song of no-nonsense, catchy, brutal death at its grisly best.
5) Carcass – Torn Arteries
Another group of veterans back with a vengeance are Carcass. Torn Arteries is an insane amount of fun. That might not be a word one normally associates with brutal, often gore-themed death metal but it’s clear they’re having a wail of a time with this one. The lyrics are sardonic and often hilarious, and the music just feels like a bunch of insanely talented dues jamming their hearts out. It blends melodic death with NWOBHM and techdeath and whatever they feel like throwing in there but it never loses sight of its hooks or its energy. Absolutely irresistible.
4) Phantom Elite – Titanium
Technically Titanium is Phantom Elite’s second album but since the line-up is completely different, aside from singer Marina La Torraca, it feels like a whole new beast. This is pure, unadulerated symphonic metal and if that’s not your cup of hot metal lava, it probably won’t change your taste. But if you love symphonic metal, Titanium stands head, shoulders and immaculately coiffured hair above the rest this year for me. Beyond the super-slick, electronic-augmented production and note-perfect vocal delivery, there’s just some classic songwriting here. Singles like Diamonds & Dark and The Race show off the full extent of the Elite’s capabilities but it’s the 80s-style, almost Heart-like AOR of Glass Crown that truly won me over.
3) Charlotte Wessels – Tales From Six Feet Under
I was in two minds about including this since it’s perhaps not technically metal but I went with it anyway because I love it too much to exclude. Charlotte Wessels, fresh from the shock of both the surprise implosion of her band Delain and last year’s COVID lockdowns, recorded a song a month in her basement. The highlights of this project are compiled on Tales From Six Feet Under. It really is a remarkable achievement, all written, produced and performed by Wessels herself (with the exception of a Cry Little Sister cover and a guest vocal spot from Alissa White-Gluz) and it glides through genres without a shred of self-consciousness. Some of the tracks, like Source of the Flame and Soft Revolution, feel at least metal-adjacent but elsewhere Wessles flirts with pop, prog and goth and creates a surprisingly cohesive statement of intent for what promises to be an incredible, unpredictable solo career.
2) Iron Maiden – Senjutsu
Maiden’s controversial return to the fray finds them experiment with a sound that, while distinctly Maiden, isn’t easily comparable to previous albums. Like everyone, I struggled a little on the first few listens as the songs are complex and sprawling but somewhere around the third or fourth spin it hit me like a samurai sword to the head. There’s something truly magical about this record – it lacks the brash energy of early Maiden but instead finds them accept their roles as elder statesmen of metal with grace. Senjutsu feels like the work of ancient sorcerers, weaving sonic magic. The triple-guitar harmonies have never sounded more majestic, the drums are thunderous and Bruce’s voice is in amazing shape, wizened and mellowed with age, but still loaded with power.
1) Crypta – Echoes of the Soul
Echoes of the Soul is a love letter to old school death metal, written in blood and fire, propelled into the world with the velocity of modern extreme metal. The production on this is a thing of beauty, a super-crisp Scotty Burns style sheen on some of the most brutal, memorable and mighty riffs I’ve heard in years. Fernanda Lira’s vocals go from black metal shrieks to low gutturals but never feel anything less than incendiary. This is a purging; a wonderfully cathartic record that builds on the traditions laid down by the likes of Obituary, Sepultura and early Death and brings them bang up to date. If you love death metal and you’re sleeping on Crypta, wake up!
YESTERDAY, TODAY, EVERYDAY HEAVY METAL!! 🤘🏻👍👊
© 2021 This Day in Metal – All Rights Reserved
CJ Lines is a metalhead, writer, podcaster, ninja historian, master of K-pop, award-winning pie-maker and unrepentant Six Feet Under fan. Somebody has to be. He’s written two books. He lives in Sheffield, U.K. Read more of his stuff via http://www.cjlines.com/ Follow him on Twitter at @cjlines