BPMHILL’s Best Albums of 2021

As it turned out, 2020 was only part one of a difficult and frankly batshit time to exist on planet earth. Fortunately, through all the muck that was 2021, we’ve been graced with some truly stunning works of art. These are the albums that were able to blend all the pain and beauty this year had to offer. Here are the albums that I continue to spin since release and will be spinning for the foreseeable future:

Best EP’s:

  1. Bodom After Midnight – “Paint the Sky with Blood”
  2. Cult of Luna – “The Raging River”
  3. Soen – “The Undiscovered Lotus”
  4. Enslaved – “Caravans to the Outer Worlds”
  5. Insomnium – “Argent Moon”

Best Live Albums:

  1. Ulver – “Hexahedron: Live at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter” & “Scary Muzak”
  2. The Pineapple Thief – “Nothing But the Truth”
  3. Enslaved – “Cinematic Tour 2020”
  4. Devin Townsend – “Galactic Quarantine”
  5. Paradise Lost – “At the Mill”

Best Vinyl Variants:

  1. Opeth – Blackwater Park 20th Anniversary & In Cauda Venenum Connoisseur Edition
  2. Esa Holopainen – Silver Lake
  3. Ulver – Vargnatt reissue
  4. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
  5. White Ward – Love Exchange Failure reissue
  6. Freddy’s Nightmares OST
  7. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I & Phanerozoic II reissues
  8. Between the Buried & Me – Colors II, Come Ecliptic reissue, The Parallax II reissue
  9. Agalloch – Pale Folklore & Bloodbath – Resurrection Through Carnage reissues via Nesi Media
  10. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works & Miss Machine reissues

Best Studio Albums:

This definitely was not the easiest year to pick a best of list. I enjoyed a ton of albums but ultimately narrowed it down to twenty that have stuck with me for a variety of reasons. There are certainly some that didn’t make the cut and I’m still likely exploring those and haven’t quite figured them out yet. Devin Townsend’s The Puzzle/Snuggles and Swallow the Sun’s Moonflowers being a couple of examples. There are also a few that came very close like Maiden’s Senjutsu and Mol’s Diorama but ultimately I had to cut somewhere so here we are.

  1. At the Gates – “The Nightmare of Being”: What do you mean Carcass isn’t #1?? Well what can I say other than At the Gates put out the album that really defined this year for me. The dudes put out some of their best riffs and catchiest songs to date. “Spectre of Extinction” is easily one of the best songs they’ve written and a track I simply can’t stop listening to. Not only that but ATG went full prog and I’m a damn sucker for that. Check out “The Fall Into Time” for one example of this. This is epic, brutal and exactly what I want from one of the classiest Melo-death bands around. Songs to Listen To: Spectre of Extinction, The Fall Into Time, Eternal Winter of Reason
  2. Harakiri for the Sky – “Maere”: One of the most emotional and heartfelt albums this year comes from Harakiri for the Sky who took things up yet another notch with “Maere”. The album starts with a proper banger in “I, Pallbearer” and doesn’t let up. Songs to Listen To: I, Pallbearer, Sing for the Damage We’ve Done, Song to Say Goodbye
  3. Between the Buried & Me – “Colors II”: Very few bands would risk making a sequel to one of their most beloved albums. Count on BTBAM for fully embracing it and making an album that while attached to the core of the original Colors, is really its own beast entirely. It’s an incredibly varied album and truly distinct. It doesn’t rely on its sibling and yet clever traces of the DNA are woven in. This is how you write a sequel. Songs to Listen To: Revolution in Limbo, The Future is Behind Us, Bad Habits
  4. Leprous – “Aphelion”: While the last album, “Pitfalls”, was somewhat a change of pace for the band, Aphelion manages to mix the sound of that with some of their earlier albums and creates one of their finest moments yet. This has potential to become one of my all time favorites from the group and I’ve yet to grow bored of a single track. Songs to Listen To: Nighttime Disguise, The Silent Revelation, Silhouette
  5. Rivers of Nihil – “The Work”: Rivers of Nihil pulled off quite an ambitious record with “The Work”. This could have easily gone poorly with a fairly big leap from what they did on “Where Owls Know My Name”. Fortunately with this innovative band at the hull, we’re treated to a great blend of genres and excellent songwriting. Songs to Listen To: Clean, Terrestria IV, Wait
  6. Deafheaven – “Infinite Granite”: I’ll admit this one has been all over the map for me but I feel very comfortable where it stands on my list now. I was lucky enough to see the band perform the album front to back live and it changed the full experience for me. If you’ve previously written it off, I highly recommend catching Deafheaven’s 2022 tour if they make a stop in your city. Songs to Listen To: Great Mass of Color, Mombasa, In Blur
  7. Steven Wilson – “The Future Bites”: Possibly my most decisive choice here (along with Deafheaven) but where “To the Bone” felt like a warm up for this direction, Wilson fully commits to an electronic sound. For my money, it works brilliantly. That isn’t to say I don’t miss his guitar led albums like “The Raven that Refused to Sing” but this is still a prog album in its own way. Just perhaps not what most are used to in the traditional sense. There are plenty of masterful tracks to discover here for the open minded. Songs to Listen To: King Ghost, Man of the People, Eyewitness. Note: I’m cheating a little bit as Eyewitness isn’t from the album proper but one of the many great tracks that was recorded during the sessions. How it isn’t on the main album is beyond me as it’s wonderful.
  8. Dream Theater – “A View from the Top”: Did you really think Dream Theater’s latest wouldn’t be on my list? Admittedly, I don’t know if this one will stick with me as much as their last album, “Distance Over Time”, did which is why it’s lower down the list. Regardless, it’s a damn fine collection of songs by one of the best bands out there. Songs to Listen To: Answering the Call, The Alien, A View from the Top
  9. Mastodon – “Hushed & Grim”: This is an overwhelming and lengthy listen and yet it’s absolutely stunning. It may be awhile before I can claim it’s their best since “Crack the Skye”, but I can say with certainty that the band sound on top of their game. This was only further solidified when I saw them perform several of the tracks live earlier this month. Songs to Listen To: Pain with an Anchor, Pushing the Tides, Gigantium
  10. Tribulation – “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound”: I was debating as to which album would ultimately get the final slot in the top 10 and I found that out of the rest of the top 20 here, this is the one I came back to the most. Though it may not beat out 2015’s “The Children of the Night” in the bands discography, it’s a very solid album. Plus the vinyl exclusive track “The Damphir” is one of the best Tribulation songs period. Songs to Listen To: Hour of the Wolf, Leviathans, Funeral Pyre.
  11. Khemmis – “Deceiver”
  12. Vola – “Witness”
  13. Archspire – “Bleed the Future”
  14. Wolves in the Throne Room – “Primordial Arcana”
  15. Spiritbox – “Eternal Blue”
  16. Cynic – “Ascension Codes”
  17. Gojira – “Fortitude”
  18. Carcass – “Torn Arteries”
  19. Soen – “Imperial”
  20. Perturbator – “Lustful Sacraments”

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2 + 2 Reviews: Record Store Day Weekend Edition

Apologies for the lengthy delay.  Both George and I have been swamped with our day jobs but glad to be back for a new batch of tunes on Record Store Day weekend.  Speaking of, if you haven’t gone and supported the artists and your local store, now is as good of a time as any.  Personally, I nabbed the Soen special RSD release and also Opeth launched their Blackwater Park 20th Anniversary vinyls on Friday which is one of my all time favorite albums.  Check out my Insta (@concertcam) to see my posts coming soon. Anyhow, this week we have new cuts from Between the Buried and Me, Deafheaven, Whites Stones and…checks notes and eardrums…IRON MAIDEN!! 

Between the Buried and Me – Fix The Error

BH: Ok first things first…Between the Buried and Me is releasing Colors 2 in August.  This is not a drill.  It is very ballsy though, particularly since Colors is widely considered one of the band’s best albums.  Fortunately, BTBAM doesn’t release anything less than stellar so even if the album doesn’t end up being as good as Colors, it’ll still rule. 

Which brings us to the first single, Fix the Error.  I’ve spun this probably fifteen times since it dropped and it just gets better with each listen.  I will say the first few listens, I didn’t quite know what to make of it.  

The guest drum solo section featuring Mike Portnoy, Navene Koperweis, Kenneth Schalk and of course, Blake Richardson was immediate for me though.  Each of them are phenomenal here and at this point I can tell who is playing each solo but they all blend together perfectly.  

The “have you seen the rainbow” section is probably the most baffling initially but I really enjoy it now.  It actually plays nicely off a few sections from their classic song, Selkies, in my opinion.  

George, what was your first reaction to Fix the Error?  I know you’re familiar with the band but what’s the last album you’ve heard from them?  Are you a fan of Colors?

GF: I’m not gonna lie the first time I heard this, I raised my eyebrow at a couple of things, but the more I thought about it (and listened) it felt like the band was being very true to themselves. If this song is any indication of the album as a whole, I expect Colors 2 will be a worthy successor to the first album.

My history with the band is a little funny, as I didn’t actually give, “Colors,” a full listen until last year.

Sacrilegious, I know.

Here’s the thing though– “The Great Misdirect,” is one of my favorite metal albums OF ALL TIME, I was kinda scared to listen to what most people considered BtBaM’s masterpiece, lest it dethrone an album I held so dear.

I still like, “The Great Misdirect,” better, but, “Colors,” is worthy of its acclaim– this is a metal album that has a hoe-down section after all. 

Yes, you read that right– go listen to, “Ants of the Sky,” and make sure you have your cowboy hat ready for when the banjos come out.

In any case, there were a few things that made me pause in here, as I thought they were tending a little more towards silly than I would have liked: the bass solo, and what we’ll refer to as the song’s, “twisted carnival,” sequences.

Hearing these, I was like, “really?” but then I realized that BtBaM had precedents for both of these things in their previous songs, and they were simply building upon what they’d established on earlier albums.

While I prefer the fretless (or double-bass?) action heard within, “The Great Misdirect,” the bass solo on here is actually pretty gutter. It’s some nimble shit, and the tone is a bold statement for a metal song. I’m with it.

Re: your mention of the drum solos Brandon, that was the first thing about the song that I fell in love with. I didn’t know that they got Mike Portnoy to provide them with a BLESSING, and the other gentlemen who feature on here are throwing it down too. It’s definitely my favorite part of the song.

For the same reason that I was afraid to listen to “Colors,” I’ve not sought out the band’s more recent releases, but I’ll have to do so now. 

Like you, my appreciation for this song has only grown as I’ve listened to it more, so I think we’re in for a treat.

Between the Buried and Me’s Colors 2 will release on August 20th which you can preorder here: https://www.betweentheburiedandme.com 

Deafheaven – The Gnashing

GF: I feel a bit bad giving Deafheaven two slots in a row, but they keep bringing the heat, so that’s just what it is.

It seems like the internet has been evenly split on the band’s new direction, and I’ve had a little waffling since these songs have come out, but I’m firmly back in the camp of, “this is great.”

More propulsive as a whole than, “Great Mass of Color,” this song is a pretty straight-ahead rocker. The choruses are big, the guitar leads start in, “meltdown mode,” off the bat, and the band seems like they’re really enjoying what they’re playing.

These are all good things, and it leads me to discuss what we’ll call the song’s, “cookout,” section.

As with “Great Mass of Color,” the band saves it’s most powerful moment for the tail end of the song. Here, it arrives in the form of some severely deep-fried reverb/wah action that recalls some of both, “Baby Blue,” and, “Canary Yellow.” It’s funny as this song has no sort of color in its title, but so it goes.

In either instance, the fleet-fingered, back-mixed lead work that closes the song out is just an aural feast for anyone with a good sound system or headphones. I’m hoping they’re able to keep things this exciting as they release more from the album.

Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite arrive on August 20th and you can pre-order here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/deafheaven.  I grabbed the picture disc which is just so slick.

White Stones – Chain of Command

BH: If you don’t know already, I’m kind of a die-hard Opeth fan (and perhaps my intro clarifies this).  This includes being a fan of the side bands from the respective current and ex-members.  I’ve written about Soen several times on Indiepong but not too much on White Stones.  

WS is Martin Mendez’s other band and it’s clear that since Opeth is no longer releasing even remotely death metal albums now, White Stones will take on the role.  

Chain of Command hits really strongly right out of the gate so I’m increasingly excited to see what else awaits on the second album from the group.  Yes, this sounds a lot like Opeth used to, particularly the bass tone and guitar riffs.  And that’s pretty great by me.  

I love the eerie whispers at the beginning of this track and man alive, that lead riff is super catchy.  I dug the debut album a lot but this song *might* be better than any of the songs on there. 

The vocals absolutely crush and I love how tight the drumwork is.  Other than Mendez, I wasn’t too familiar with the other members of the band but he certainly surrounded himself with top-notch musicians.  

White Stone’s second album, Dancing Into Oblivion, will release on August 27th, which you can preorder here.  

Iron Maiden- The Writing on the Wall

GF: When Brandon sent the link through for this song, I was both excited and nervous at the same time.

Excited because… well, new Iron Maiden.

Nervous, because… I feel like the law of averages is going to have to catch up with the band at some point, and they’re going to *winces* release some music that’s *double winces* not very good.

Thankfully, that’s not the case here, and Bruce and the boys are back in business.

This seems to be cruising pretty comfortably in the lane of what Maiden put out back in ‘06, with, “A Matter of Life and Death,” an album that just so happens to be my favorite Maiden studio release when it comes to their 21st century output.

That’s no knock against “Book of Souls,” or anything else that they’ve put out since Bruce re-joined the band either, I just feel like, “A Matter of Life and Death,” was a pretty special album. Its strength is especially impressive, considering that they recorded it so late into their career.

In any case, this is mid-tempo Maiden with a bit of groove to it. Bruce it still giving it everything he has, and it sounds like both Dave and Adrian get to spin the wheel when it comes to the guitar solos?

It sounds like whoever bats second throws a little half-cocked wah and some slight inflection into the mix which is always appreciated, and the solos in general serve as a marvelous set of exclamation points in the song.

The chorus is probably going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the evening, and perhaps, well into tomorrow too, so I’d say mission accomplished, if these gentlemen were looking to put another notch on their belt of anthems.

Brandon, what are your favorite parts of the song? Did you know that Maiden was even going to put new music out? How does this compare against what the band has put out these last 20 years in your mind? Where does it fall in terms of your appreciation?

BH:  So I did know that Maiden was up to something because they had made a few hints recently on social media but it wasn’t really clear what exactly they were doing.

Then they drop this rad new song on us and well…as usual for Maiden…it’s super good.

Before I get too into it though, this song got me psyched to go back through their discography yet again.  I was starting to go in order but now I’m kinda jumping all over the place.  I’ve got to say that their debut album might be one of my favorite debut albums out there.  It’s almost perfect even without Bruce.  

That all said, nothing quite compares to some of the classic Bruce albums like Powerslave, along with the “Return of the Bruce” albums from Brave New World and on.  

Very interesting to hear how connected you are with A Matter of Life and Death, George.  I like that album a lot too, though Dance of Death was actually the album that I’m closest to from the “Return of the Bruce” period.  To clarify, it’s not my favorite of this batch (that would be Brave New World) BUT I snuck out of high school with some friends to grab this album on release day so it’s near and dear to me regardless of that godawful cover art.

Anyhow, this new song definitely has me eagerly anticipating the next album.  I love the opening Western-ish guitar lick.  Feels like something different for Maiden.  When it kicks into gear, the song reminds me of a track from The Final Frontier sessions in terms of build up and pacing but it’s really quite different too.  The chorus feels like a standard one for the group but that’s not a bad thing.  

I also really appreciate the more progressive second half with the killer guitar solo. 

To answer your question George, I tend to be an album guy particularly with Maiden in the sense that the single is usually just one small piece of the bigger picture.  It’s a little hard to gauge how this will stack up on the upcoming album, but I’d say it would have fit nicely on the last couple of albums.  Is it better than tracks like If Eternity Should Fail from The Book of Souls…eh maybe not but that’s no slight as again this is a damn solid song and I think as I hear it in the context of the new album, it’ll only grow for me.  Up the Irons!