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Diamond Oz Presents: The Best Albums Of 2021

Photo of Cannibal Corpse

Band Photo: Cannibal Corpse (?)

Well... This was another eventful year wasn't it!? In yet another twelve months dominated by political issues, a global pandemic, hatred, division and injustice, all the ingredients were there for metal music to have plenty to tuck into. Musically, 2021 was a solid year with some superb offerings from bands all over the world, including some wonderful debuts and returns. However, before we get to the best of the brutal, it's only right that we acknowledge those who have left us since January.

How I Wish You Were Here

Sadly, 2021 has seen some of metal's most beloved leave us. From teenage favourites to cult heroes and those who weren't on stage but still made an impact, metal was left poorer for such losses. Entombed/Entombed A.D. vocalist Lars Goran Petrov, one of Swedish death metal's most recognisable and favourite voices succumbed to bile duct cancer aged only 49 in March, with three more singers following him into the aether in June in the shapes of Skid Row's Johnny Solinger, Sven Gross of Fleshcrawl and John Lawton of Lucifer's Friend/Uriah Heep. Only a month later, former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, himself an inspiration for so many of today's young drummers, passed away at the age of 46. The COVID-19 virus also claimed a legend in former Trouble singer Eric Wagner, who died at 62, just before a scheduled tour with his band, The Skull.

As sad as death always is, some felt particularly tragic this year, including the suicide of ex Metal Church singer Mike Howe, who initially spent eight years with the band between the eighties and nineties, before returning to the fold in 2015, recording two more studio albums with the seminal group. The metal world was also affected by terrorism, when vocalist Andrea Haugen was killed in the Kongsberg this past October.

Behind the stage, some of our most important figures would also pass on, including Malcolm Dome, the British journalist credited with coining the term "thrash metal," who was a walking encyclopedia of metal knowledge, appearing in numerous documentaries and penning several books on some of metal and rock's greatest icons. Early on in the year, we also said goodbye to Megaforce co-founder Marsha Zazula, who was responsible for signing so many of the most revered names in thrash, as well as Mick Rock, an iconic photographer who captured some of the best shots of such names as Ozzy, Motley Crue and Thin Lizzy to name a few.

Best Newcomer

For clarity, "best newcomer" is defined in this case by bands who released their debut album in 2021. Despite the pandemic raging on, there were still plenty of new talent emerging. Of particular note was French symphonic black/death metal band Naraka, a must listen for fans of Septicflesh or Dimmu Borgir, while Sweden's Perpetual Etude also produced a scorcher with their first album, "Now Is The Time." Elsewhere, a phoenix rose from the ashes of Dawn Of Disease as Hiraes introduced themselves to the world with "Solitary" and future stars were definitely born in England in the form of Vexed, who took their grime influences and shaped some truly aggressive metal. Meanwhile, in Greece, some black metal royalty united in the form of Yoth Iria, whose debut, "As The Flame Withers" lived up to all expectations and more. Ultimately though, I'm giving this little award to...

Crypta

Perhaps it's unsurprising that a "supergroup" would win this year, but then, how many such bands live up to the "supergroup" tag? Formed by ex members of Nervosa and Burning Witches, Crypta is both a throwback to old school death metal, and a modern take on the genre. Mixing their past sounds with that of the New York, Florida and Swedish death metal scenes, Crypta crafted one of the year's best albums with "Echoes Of The Soul." This love letter to the genre is a perfect example of how to bring the old guard into the new era, displaying the proof that there's a difference between old school and outdated. Their debut was as melodic as it was savage and any self-respecting death metal fan should already be looking forward to seeing them on stage.

Top Ten Albums Of The Year... According To Diamond Oz

Honourable Mentions

As always, there will be albums missing from my chosen top five that people will demand should be included. It shouldn't have to be said that I've not heard every album released in 2021 and also, everyone has their own opinions on what the best albums of the year were (Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section below.) This is why we have this section to shout out some of the best albums of the year which missed my personal favourites selection, starting with "Torn Arteries," the seventh outing from British death metal giants Carcass. Similar to At The Gates, Carcass returned from a lengthy spell away from the studio in the mid 2010s with a fine album and after an eight year wait, gave the world "Torn Arteries." It's very much a Carcass album in the vein of "Heartwork" and even has traces of "Swansong" with the classic rock influences. Narrowly missed out on the top five, but it's one for Carcass and death metal fans old and new.

There were plenty of other legends with stellar new output last year, beginning with German stalwarts Accept and their sixteenth studio album, "Too Mean To Die," which continues the solid work from the band since Mark Tornillo joined on vocals. Elsewhere in Europe, two of the continent's most exciting younger bands, Baest and Burning Witches, added strings to their bow with "Necro Sapiens" and "The Witch Of The North" respectively. Across the pond, Eyehategod granted the wishes of fans who had been waiting so long for a new album with the filthy, "A History Of Nomadic Behavior," while Cannibal Corpse unleashed "Violence Unimagined," their first album with Erik Rutan, who has proved to be an excellent addition to the ranks. Add to this the grizzly effort "The Dregs Of Hades" by grindcore supergroup Lock Up and some good old fashioned thrash from Flotsam And Jetsam with their latest opus, "Blood In The Water" and 2021 was a great year for metal albums.

5. 1914 - Where Fear And Weapons Meet

For as long as metal has been around, it's given the world plenty of songs about history and war. 1914 are a band with a mission, which involves combining both. 2021 saw the Ukrainian quintet unleash their third album, "Where Fear And Weapons Meet," a strong contender for their best effort yet in a small catalogue packed with superb metal. The blackened death/doom sound is the perfect soundtrack for the brutality of the first world war, a four year event of suffering, misery, violence and madness. Of particularly note was the single "Pillars Of Fire (The Battle Of Messines)" and the chronicling of Gavrilo Princip's assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on "FN .380 ACP#19074." Add to this the excellent collaboration with Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes and what you have is essential listening for fans of both extreme music and histor.

4. At The Gates - The Nightmare Of Being

The return of At The Gates has been a story in itself. After first reuniting in 2007 for a series of live shows, they folded again soon after, seemingly only providing a glimpse into what could have been. Fans' hopes for new material were rekindled two years later when they came back and in 2014, the band released, "At War With Reality." "To Drink From The Night Itself" would follow after for years and while these records were both solid, it's their latest effort, "The Nightmare Of Being" that has really captured the classic At The Gates sound. It's typically dark and utilises the mesh of melody and ferocity that the five piece have become known for perfectly, with some new elements thrown in such as Middle Eastern music, creating perhaps the most progressive At The Gates album to date. Easily the best effort since "Slaughter Of The Soul" from the Swedish death metal icons.

3. Crypta - Echoes Of The Soul

From one death metal band to a different kind, we move on to Crypta. As has already been mentioned when awarding them with the best newcomer title, with "Echoes Of The Soul," Crypta has taken everything they love about death metal, sprinkled in a little from their previous bands and forged the death metal album of the year. If one was a longtime fan of say Morbid Angel or Entombed and was eager to hear that classic sound in a fresh new way, this is the album that they need. It's the best kind of sonic assault, one which shows no mercy, but won't have you begging for any either.

2. Nervosa - Perpetual Chaos

It might be a little awkward to put Crypta's debut and Nervosa's first album with their new lineup so close together, but these were the two albums that got the most play from me this year by a mile. With "Perpetual Chaos," Nervosa returns to their thrash metal roots which were lacking somewhat on their third album, "Downfall Of Mankind" and adds more dimensions to them. This highly skilled and precise new lineup takes everything that made Nervosa such an exciting band and somehow goes even further, creating visceral tracks like "Blood Eagle" and "People Of The Abyss," while also crafting one of the catchiest thrash songs of 2021 in "Rebel Soul." Longtime fans of Nervosa will not be let down by this excellent new incarnation and newcomers will find an album which warmly welcomes all to the chaos of thrash metal.

1. Rage - Resurrection Day

Every now and then, an album will come along which will remind you why you fell in love with metal music in the first place. "Resurrection Day" fits that tag perfectly. Rage have been around for quite some time now and are one of those bands that might miss out on mainstream recognition but to their fans, they are gods among men. Though always able to draw loyal legions to live shows, there are those that will continue to attend just to hear the old material.

However, "Resurrection Day" is easily the best Rage album since 2003's, "Soundchaser," possibly their best since "Secrets In A Weird World" and maybe just maybe, the best of their thirty eight year career! It features all the fun of classic metal music, with the excitement of speed, the hooks of power metal and even experiments with folk metal a little. The album holds up as more than a fantastic record, it's an inspiration to never stop and a message to the old guard all over the world that they should never stop striving to create their masterpiece.

2022

We're already nearly a month into the new year and so far we've been treated to new albums by Battle Beast, Boris, Ashes Of Ares, Kissin' Dynamite and even some lighthearted fun with the first Lawnmower Deth album in twenty nine years, "Blunt Cutters." Later on this year, we'll be hearing new material from such legends as Scorpions, Saxon, Voivod, Hammerfall and Destruction to name a few. Young guns like Venom Prison, Bloodywood, Konvent, MMWB also have new albums confirmed to come out later this year, while the likes of Mantar and BlackLab have also been writing new material with a view to release new albums as the year goes on. Add to this the first solo albums from George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher of Cannibal Corpse and Rotting Christ mastermind Sakis Tolis and 2022 promises to be every bit as heavy as 2021... In a good way of course!

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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