Home Arts & Entertainment Top 10 Heavy Albums and EPs of 2021

Top 10 Heavy Albums and EPs of 2021

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Image Credits: Top Left - Cesar, pixahive | Top Right - Wikimedia | Bottom Left - Metal Chris, flickr | Bottom Right - Metal Chris, flickr

I would define “heavy” music as music that carried a lot of aggressive and loud elements, typically to convey difficult and strong emotions. As a song gets slower and lower-pitched, the heavier it gets. Although every entry on this list falls under the “metal” category, I decided instead to just call it “heavy music” due to the fact that modern metal in the past few years, and especially the bands on this list, have evolved to incorporate styles from all types of music, branching out from just typical metal. Each year gets better and better for music, and 2021 once again saw bands pushing the boundaries of what is possible. I could list dozens of amazing metal releases from 2021, but I narrowed it down to my absolute favorites.

2021 was an amazing year for heavy EPs as well, so I would like to mention my 3 favorites before getting into the albums.

Best Heavy EPs:

Structures – ¨None of the Above¨

After nearly a decade of silence, Structures dropped an EP with consistent ferocity and energy throughout all six of its songs. Angry, no-excuses lyrics about pollution and the mark that humans have left upon the earth are the driving force behind this project, and it is executed in the most enjoyable and hard-hitting way possible.

Knocked Loose – ¨A Tear in the Fabric of Life¨

This might be my most replayed release of the year, despite it coming out in October. The entire EP is accompanied by a music video done by Swedish filmmaker Magnus Jonsson that does an extraordinary job at driving the story and soul crushing emotion that accompanies it. Nicko Calderon debuts his spot as the new rhythm guitarist brilliantly, bringing a new cohesivity to each riff. Nothing on this EP gets old, and each song has something unique to bring to the table, especially in regard to breakdowns. Overall, this has got to be the heaviest and most relentless release of the year.

Invent Animate – ¨The Sun Sleeps, As If It Never Was¨

This short, two-and-a-half song EP is the most emotionally impactful for me this year. It is a very brief delve into an addict’s life and how their actions affect themselves and those around them, and is also accompanied by an absolutely beautifully shot music video for its runtime. Each riff, every break, every layer in this piece is perfectly placed to create such a poignant and moving arrangement.

Top 10 Best Heavy Albums of 2021

10. Humanity’s Last Breath – ¨Välde¨

While Humanity’s Last Breath does share members with Vildhjarta, and they both fall within many of the same subgenres, I prefer not to compare the two too much. Humanity’s Last Breath clearly strives for a different, more doomy purpose that they try to accomplish through its music. This may be the ‘heaviest’ band that I have heard, a title earned through many characteristics that their music possesses. With ¨Välde¨, I believe the goal was to deliver a truly apocalyptic experience. Everything from the guitars to the vocals are as hellish as ever, all swelling into a fiery ball of heaviness with the intent of invoking fear into the listener. This album blends grinding and stomping guitars with blast beats and syncopation from the drums to create an unpredictable but rewarding experience.

9. LANDMVRKS – ¨Lost in the Waves¨

Favorite Tracks: Tide, Earthless, Vittring

¨Lost in the Waves¨ was released during a time in quarantine where I had come to a comfortable routine and was doing mentally well but I still felt cooped up, and this album was a breath of fresh air. The first thing that stood out to me was the very high-pitched vocals and the treble-centric guitar tone that combined perfectly with the production style of this album. These elements revitalize many of the ideas utilized on this record that would otherwise come off as tropey and generic. The overall sound here is incredibly energizing and enthusiastic, pushing forward a classic hardcore attitude with heavy, invigorating riffs that blend perfectly with much riskier choices, such as including rap verses in an entirely different language on Visage

Favorite Tracks: Lost in a Wave, Say No Word, Overrated

8. Archspire – ¨Bleed the Future¨

This album is what metal must sound like to someone who has never heard metal before. The hammering drums and almost classical guitars reach over 300 bpm at some points, making this the fastest record I have ever heard. This unrelenting speed does not hinder the musicality of the record, as these songs still retain melodies or vocal lines that stay stuck in my head for days despite how much of an absolute face-smash this thing is. The techniques used by the vocalist on ¨Bleed the Future¨ allow him to keep up with the blistering fast speeds of everything else going on, and the odd, throaty sound to them adds another layer of chaos to this already hard-to-comprehend masterpiece. Check this album out if you have an incredible amount of pent up energy or just want your face melted.

Favorite Tracks: Drone Corpse Aviator, Bleed the Future, A.U.M.

7. Whitechapel – ¨Kin¨

Whitechapel made a massive turn in sound for 2019’s The Valley, and the sheer vulnerability of that album was jarring. ¨Kin¨ expands directly upon the confrontation of the lead vocalist’s emotional trauma experienced as a child. Whitechapel continues to take brave steps toward more progressive and melodic territories, while maintaining their deathcore roots. Tight, crushing arrangements allow perfect translation of the rage and anguish that is felt here, and clean, almost grunge-esque passages make way for more somber moments all across the record. Some see these moments, such as on ¨Orphan¨ or ¨Kin¨ as an appeal to a more mainstream, pseudo emotional audience, yet they are much more than that if you look deeper. Generally, I think that this album serves its purpose well and combines its sounds in a way that feels very fluid and enjoyable.

Favorite Tracks: A Bloodsoaked Symphony, Lost Boy, Kin

6. Mastodon – ¨Hushed and Grim¨

Mastodon is known for its emotionally impactful concept albums, and ¨Hushed and Grim¨ takes that idea to another level. This massive double album explores the grieving process and dealing specifically with the death of someone close, inspired deeply by the death of their tour manager, Nick John, in late 2018. While it may not be as potent and legendary of a musical journey as 2009’s ¨Crack the Skye¨, the emotions here still run dense and the message remains incredibly powerful and heart wrenching. Additionally, this may be Mastodon’s least heavy album, and the generally softer instrumentation serves the concept well. Spiraling layers of prog-rock and psychedelic guitars do occasionally make way for crushing heaviness that hits as hard as ever, though, such as the riff that rolls and repeats like a growing storm at the end of ¨Pain with an Anchor¨. As Mastodon’s first double album, ¨Hushed and Grim¨ unsurprisingly covers quite a lot of ground over its staggering 86 minutes, and the progressive experimentation with some of these songs really stands out as unique and well-executed. A prime example of this experimentation is the almost blues-country-prog rock ballad, ¨The Beast¨, which showcases some of lead guitarist Brent Hinds’ rarely utilized vocals. ¨Skeleton of Splendor¨ showcases Mastodon’s ability to create a slower, deeply emotional ballad, culminating in a beautifully climactic synth-driven section. The following ¨Teardrinker¨ flaunts what Mastodon can do with more easy going melodies while still remaining emotionally impactful and grand. The triad of ¨Pushing the Tides¨, ¨Peace and Tranquility¨, and ¨Dagger¨ is the most experimental and different section of this album, providing the listener with some odd time signature, hammer-on filled riffs and strange melodies in the first two songs, and using the strangest instrumentation and sonic decisions in their discography on the last. Finally, the most epic and grand portion of this album lies at the very end, with ¨Gobblers of Dregs¨, ¨Eyes of Serpents¨, and ¨Gigantium¨. I specifically would like to highlight the final song, and how well of a sendoff it is. Mastodon typically end their albums off on an extremely climactic and grand note, and this song continues that trend, yet still stands out on its own. If there was an end credits section to ¨Hushed and Grim¨, this song would be absolutely perfect with its swaying guitars and beautifully sung vocals, combining in an incredibly euphoric and hopeful tone to gently bring the listener back to the present and encourage them to look toward the future after this long and taxing journey of grief.

Favorite Tracks: Teardrinker, More Than I Could Chew, Gigantium

5. Gojira – ¨Fortitude¨

Gojira has always had a talent for delivering an incredibly strong central message with its music, and ¨Fortitude¨ serves as a reminder to stay strong and “Hold On” no matter how hard things get. With a uniquely effective transition into more melodic territories from their progressive, technical death metal sound, Gojira explores other worlds, confronts death, instills strength, inspires, and gives a powerful look into the environmental impact that humans have on the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people. 

Favorite Tracks: Amazonia, The Chant, Hold On

4. Spiritbox – ¨Eternal Blue¨

Over the course of the 2010s, the djent subgenre became progressively more and more boring, with bands recycling watered down ideas and eventually fusing them with generic, uninteresting pop-oriented tropes that dragged down modern metal as a whole. Spiritbox, along with other bands like Loathe, Currents, Thornhill, Northlane, and many others, represent a new wave of modern metal that puts new life into some of the ideas of old. For Spiritbox, clean production and clever songwriting make for very unique and progressive, yet catchy songs. ¨Holy Roller¨ hits with an insane amount of heaviness that could not have been foreseen, while ¨Secret Garden¨ and ¨Constance¨ show a more vulnerable and emotional brand of post-metal. Spiritbox is one of the most exciting new bands to have come out in the past few years, and this is an amazing debut album to start their career with. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Favorite Tracks: Constance, Secret Garden, Holy Roller

3.  Silent Planet – ¨Iridescent¨

Silent Planet typically brings a brand of metalcore more progressive and thoughtful than their contemporaries, and ¨Iridescence¨ is no exception. Poetic lyrics and occasional spoken word passages punctuate the chaos of heavy riffs, and melancholic ambience serves as the occasional emotional blanket after pummeling heaviness. This album majorly explores mental health, showcased especially on songs like ¨Trilogy¨ and ¨Terminal¨, which serve as partial retellings of the lead vocalist’s experiences in mental health clinics and psych wards. I believe the tag ‘post-metalcore’ would serve this album the most, as the style of everything here feels outside the realm of modern metalcore despite being based in it. The instrumentals are minimal when need be, and serve whatever atmosphere or purpose each song is going for. Garrett Russell, as a writer, continues to create uniquely delivered poetic masterpieces with his lyrics, and throughout this album delivers some of the most influential and effective musical content regarding mental health that I have ever read or seen. I strongly recommend their previous albums, especially 2016’s ¨Everything Was Sound¨.

Favorite Tracks: Terminal (liminal);, Trilogy, Till We Have Faces

2. Vildhjarta – ¨Måsstaden under vatten¨

After nearly a decade of silence, the Swedish extreme metallers, Vildhjarta, are back with a continuation of their first album, ready to bend minds with their polyrhythmic chaos and eerie melodies. This record holds as a 1 hour 20 minute masterpiece, pushing the boundaries of djent and metal as a whole for its entirety. No other record this year had me as genuinely confused with its musical decisions as this one, and that’s a good thing. Every turn of this record, every held silence, every time change, every looped ambient soundscape holds an air of intent. Tracks like ¨lavender haze¨, ¨kaos2¨, and ¨den helige anden¨ have beautiful, yet almost harrowing melodic moments that serve as space from the constant rhythmic chaos that Vildhjarta are known for. Inversely, tracks like ¨bränmarkt¨ and ¨toxin¨ remind the listener of just how hard Vildhjarta can hit, with some of the heaviest riffs I have heard all year. The biggest highlight of this album for me, though, is ¨måsstaden’s nationalsång¨, which is a sort of medley song. Never before have I heard a band essentially take a trip through their discography, combining passages and standout moments from not only other songs on this album but songs of its predecessor in a way that creates an entirely new, incredible piece of work. This album was well worth the incredibly long wait, and will likely shape the future of metal music in years to come. 

Favorite Tracks: kaos2, måsstadens nationalsång (under vatten), brännmärkt

1. ERRA – ¨ERRA¨

The lead single for this album, ¨Snowblood¨, hit the modern metal scene in 2020 harder than any other song. Crazy technical riffs and drum patterns coupled with the best vocal duo of the modern metal scene pummel the listener in a nonstop energetic experience, and when this album fully released, I was incredibly pleased to learn that this energy continues throughout the whole project. ¨Gungrave¨, the track following ¨Snowblood¨, creates a heavy and visceral experience while remaining catchy and memorable, and holds my favorite guitar riff of 2021 at the end. ¨Divisionary¨, ¨House of Glass¨, and ¨Shadow Autonomous¨ are the most progressive sounding songs on the record, with a heavily TOOL-influenced sound and a continuously perfect flow that carries throughout all three songs. ¨Electric Twilight¨ is the most straight-up fun song on the record to me, with a harmonic bouncing riff that never gets old. ¨Scorpion Hymn¨ hits the listener with the heaviest song on the record, a clearly Meshuggah-inspired groovey banger, before transitioning into the more melodic and atmospheric side of the record. ¨Lunar Halo¨, the longest song on the record, envelopes the listener in strange vocal effects and spacey lead guitar over its length, and sort of exhausts the listener, priming for the incredibly melodic and euphoric ¨Vanish Canvas¨. ¨Eidolon¨ and ¨Remnant¨ pick things back up again, with faster tempos and a more heavy and tense atmosphere, before the album ends off on the nostalgic ballad of ¨Memory Fiction¨. Overall, this record continuously impresses me no matter how many times I listen to it. It could just be the guitarist in me, but the incredibly technically proficient, high octane instrumentals are never not stimulating, the vocal harmonies are always catchy and infectious, and every song remains close to my heart as one of my favorite albums of all time.

Favorite Tracks: Gungrave, House of Glass, Vanish Canvas

Many of the albums of this list could be labeled as “inaccessible” and “abrasive,” but I think a few of these entries, such as Spiritbox or LANDMVRKS, could potentially serve as gateways into the heavy music realm for some people. For many, though, it can be difficult to listen beyond the noise and aggression of the metal genre for often nuanced and beautifully written compositions. I encourage you to pick any album from this list that sounds remotely interesting, and skim through the songs, maybe give it a full listen with an open mind, and see what you think.

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My name is Austin Lamb and I am a junior at Oswego High School. This is my second year with 42Fifty, and I can't wait to get back into writing and reviewing. I greatly enjoy playing and listening to music, as well as writing. I've always been interested in writing, especially about things that can be critiqued and looked at subjectively. I play the guitar in a band with my friends and primarily listen to metal music but enjoy and appreciate all genres. I hope my knowledge of music and writing talent will pay off for the Arts & Entertainment section this year, and I can't wait to write about weird music.

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