Here it is! My top 100 albums of 2021! Last year I wrote a blurb for each and every album. This year I don't have the time nor energy for it, but I will write a few words for my top 21 albums of 2021.
What a year in music this has been! We are now seeing more and more pandemic albums seeing the light of day. While the pandemic has certainly affected all of our lives (especially musicians that depend on touring for income), the silver lining is the creativity that has surfaced as a result.
As always, this is a living list. With the exception of maybe the top 10(ish) albums, the rest of the list can change on a day to day basis depending on my mood. The placement of some of these albums is somewhat arbitrary, but they are generally in the right place.
This list should have something for (almost) everyone here. If you're into hip hop and/or throwback R&B, check out Little Simz, Silk Sonic, and Leon Bridges. If you're into dark folk, Marissa Nadler and Emma Ruth Rundle are where it's at. If you enjoy the pew pew of synthwave, Waveshaper, Hollywood Burns, and Deadlife should scratch that itch. For jazz, Cameron Graves, Krokofant and Hiromi. Modern classical? Check out Bernd Ruf, Masaa, Jenaer Philharmonie. Even bluegrass and country (kind of but not really) are represented here with Bela Fleck and Yola respectively. And of course, plenty of prog, metal, and avant-garde sprinkled throughout the list.
Everything is clickable, either the album art or the title of the artist/album . It'll take you to either Bandcamp (if it exists) or Spotify. Throw some dollars at any artist you enjoy if you can.
Without further ado, here are my top 100 albums of 2021!
100. 200 Stab Wounds - Slave to the Scalpel
99. Dead Exaltation - Despondent
98. Leon Bridges - Gold-Diggers Sound
97. Frontierer - Oxidized
96. Halsey - If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power
95. Diskord - Degenerations
94. Naia Izumi - A Residency in the Los Angeles Area
93. Devoid of Thought - Outer World Graves
92. Black Sites - Untrue
91. Eximperituserqethhzebibšiptugakkathšulweliarzaxułum - Šahartu
90. Impure Wilhelmina - Antidote
89. Kayo Dot - Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike
88. Stam1na - Novus Ordo Mundi
87. John Carpenter - Lost Themes III: Alive After Death
86. The Vintage Caravan - Monuments
85. Cave of Swimmers - Aurora
84. Humanity's Last Breath - Välde
83. Cognos - S/T
82. Ænigmatum - Deconsecrate
81. Seims - Four
80. Thy Catafalque - Vadak
79. Genghis Tron - Dream Weapon
78. Fractal Generator - Macrocosmos
77. Marina - Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land
76. MEER - Playing House
75. Stone Healer - Conquistador
74. Moral Collapse - S/T
73. Hiromi - Silver Lining Suite
72. Victory Over the Sun - Nowherer
71. Wardruna - Kvitravn
70. Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried with my Rings and My Dresses
69 (nice). Ominium Gatherum - Origin
68. Pestilence - Exitivm
67. Michael Oakley - Odyssey
66. Korpiklaani - Jylhä
65. Frost* - Day and Age
64. Dvne - Etemen Ænka
63. DEADLIFE - God in the Machine
62. Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready
61. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
60. Big Big Train - Common Ground
59. Laurenne / Louhimo - The Reckoning
58. Trivium - In the Court of the Dragon
57. Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana
56. Dream Theater - A View From the Top of the World
55. Hannes Grossmann - To Where the Light Retreats
54. Bela Fleck - My Bluegrass Heart
53. Krokofant, Ståle Storløkken, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten - Fifth
52. Megan McDuffee - Inner Demons
51. Rivers of Nihil - The Work
50. Werewolves - What a Time to Be Alive
49. Yola - Stand for Myself
48. Archspire - Bleed the Future
47. Cynic - Ascension Codes
46. Kauan - Ice Fleet
45. The Armed - ULTRAPOP
44. Bernd Ruf, Masaa, Jenaer Philharmonie - East West Symphony - Hiwar
43. Celestial Swarm - Gateways to the Necroverse
42. Wode - Burn in Many Mirrors
41. Subterranean Masquerade - Mountain Fever
40. Møl - Diorama
39. Scarred - S/T
38. Silk Sonic - An Evening with Silk Sonic
37. Der Weg einer Freiheit - Noktvrn
36. Stormkeep - Tales of Othertime
35. Waveshaper - Mainframe
34. White Stones - Dancing Into Oblivion
33. Christopher Larkin - Tohu (Official Soundtrack)
32. Dordeduh - Har
31. Liquid Tension Experiment - LTE3
30. Hollywood Burns - The Age of Saucers
29. Cameron Graves - Seven
28. Maybeshewill - No Feeling is Final
27. Epica - Omega
26. Carcass - Torn Arteries
25. Transatlantic - The Absolute Universe
24. TWRP - New & Improved
23. Steven Wilson - The Future Bites
22. Emma Ruth Rundle - Engine of Hell
21. Cannibal Corpse - Violence Unimagined
Here I go, kicking my list off with some basic bitch death metal. Cannibal Corpse is one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) name in death metal, and are truly pioneers and veterans of the scene.
In 2018, guitarist Pat O'Brien was arrested for a bizarre burglarly after entering a neighbor's home rambling about the rapture. He was ultimately brought down by a taser after charging police with a knife (like, WTF?!).
Meanwhile, O'Brien's home was on fire (cuz of course it was). Upon searching the home, authorities found around 80 firearms, some flamethrowers, and a few skulls. Since this insane incident, O'Brien was replaced by Hate Eternal guitarist/vocalist, Erik Rutan.
Anyone that follows Cannibal Corpse knows that they are one of metal's most dependable (repetitive?) bands. There's nothing wrong with a band sticking with the same formula, and so far it's been working out for the band. While each album they release has been solid, none of their albums have really hooked me in since their earlier work.
However, with Rutan's involvement, maybe they got that needed shot in the arm. Violence Unimagined isn't THAT much different from the rest of the albums, but it does just enough to stick out for me this year. Also, if you're into gore, look up the uncensored album art, it is BR00TAL!
20. Lizzard - Eroded
Lizzard is a power trio out of France. Eroded sounds like a mix of Dredg, Queens of the Stone Age, and Elder. In other words, a fun and proggy psychedelic rock romp.
With all that being said, it still doesn't quite nail down exactly what this band sounds like. Don't let that "prog" tag scare you if you're not into technical music. Lizzard wraps prog inside some catchy, rock-laden hooks.
I'm surprised that this band formed in 2006, and have been releasing albums since 2011. It seems almost criminal that a band this good flew under my radar for so long. I plan on fixing this, and will be diving into their previous four albums very soon.
19. Replicant - Malignant Reality
This is another new band that popped up on my radar this year. It's weird, brutal death metal that rips butts (exactly my first impression words when I first heard this album). It's dissonant, technical, and yet somehow groovy at the same time.
Replicant is another power trio, this time out of New Jersey. I never would have guessed that it's just three dudes considering how thicc this sounds. Considering the mashup of different death metal sounds, I can see this being a bit confusing to metalheads.
However, this mish mash of sounds can lead to a lot of benifits when touring begins again. Like Dying Fetus, Replicant is a band that can tour with several types of metal subgenres. They would fit in just fine with straight up old school death metal, rip it with the best of them on a technical death metal tour, groove with the rest of them opening for a band like Machine Head, or be as weird and out there with the likes of Imperial Triumphant.
Anyway, I digress, if you want a weird, yet somehow accessible avant-garde technical groovy death metal album in your life, Malginant Reality is the way to go.
18. The Night Flight Orchestra - Aeromatic II
Fun. Just pure, adult oriented dad yacht rock FUN! For a side project (are they though?), they somehow continue to produce album after album of catchy, hook filled 80s inpsired dad rock.
Formed in Sweden in 2007, and made up of members of bands such as Soilwork and Arch Enemy, this side project had extreme metal supergroup written all over it based on the personnel.
Instead, what popped out was 80s inspired tunes that just transports me back to my childhood, sitting around the tv with the fam watching Knight Rider, Magnum P.I., Miami Vice, et al.
While 2020's Aeromantic did make my top 100 list last year, it was way down there at number 82. The Night Flight Orchestra made it about a week into touring for Aeromantic before the pandemic shut everything down. Fortunately, they decided to remain creative and Aeromantic II was released just about a year later. For whatever reason, they seem much more fired up this time around, with catchier hooks in both the guitars and vocals. I love this band and I hope they tour the United States sometime soon!
17. So Hideous -
None But a Pure Heart Can Sing
I saw So Hideous perform back in 2016 in support of their album Laurestine. I wondered how it would sound without their orchestral backing. Rather than rely on a laptop to play the background parts, they filled in the space the best they could just on the guitars. The performance was also plagued with some sound issues, and they had to stop one of their songs midway through.
Despite all of these challenges, they did their best to put on a performance for a very small crowd. One thing was clear to me though, the band was very tired. Granted, this was the last stop on their tour and the band is from the east coast, so it was likely they were ready to go home. It came as no surprise to me when the band went on hiatus shortly afterwards. I’m happy they decided to take a step back rather than suffer from full blown burnout.
Thankfully, Brandon Cruz never stopped writing. Six years later, we have None But a Pure Heart Can Sing. While Laurestine was one of my favorite albums of 2015, it did suffer a bit from sameyness. It didn’t matter much since the combination of post black metal plus an orchestra was such a pleasure to listen to. For None But a Pure Heart Can Sing, they’ve addressed this “flaw” by adding more variety to their sound such as jazz and afrobeat.
I definitely welcome the new elements in their sound, and love the fact that they have evolved while still retaining their core sound. My only complaint here is how short the album is, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. However, I'm just grateful that I'm hearing new music from So Hideous!
16. Marissa Nadler - The Path of the Clouds
Dark folk singer/songwriter Marissa Nadler hails from Boston but now lives in Nashville.
During the pandemic, Nadler spent a lot of her time binging reruns of Unsolved Mysteries (I understand this feel).
This sparked inspiration for The Path of the Clouds. It's an astonishing dark folk album inspired by true crime.
Written entirely on piano (which she learned to play during lockdown), and entirely self produced, The Path of the Clouds is filled with songs that are dream-like noir, and gives me feelings of looking up at slowly moving dark clouds with a few rays of sunshine peaking through. For all y'all non metalheads out there, don't miss this.
15. Ventifacts - S/T
Ventifacts is a collaboration between the bandleaders of The Mercury Tree and Jack O’ The Clock. During the pandemic, the two have been furiously swapping recordings back and forth for two years, and this is what came out of it.
If you are not familiar with microtonal music, your first reaction might be that the instruments are out of tune.
The typical tuning for most instruments is 12 EDO (Equal Division of the Octave). Ventifacts have opted for 17, 20, and even 24 EDO. This means that they are hitting notes in between the usual 12 notes that you’re used to hearing.
Microtonal music is admittedly uncomfortable and unsettling. This is precisely what I like about it. I love the vibrations that it creates when notes are slightly off, and challenging my ears when it comes to what music can sound like.
If you're a fan of The Mercuty Tree, Ventifacts is essentially along those same lines, but goes more into the modern avant-garde classical direction. This is a challenging listen, but definitely worth your time if you can get past the unsettling nature of microtonal music.
14. Ad Nauseam -
Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
Ad Nauseam is a Latin term for an argument / discussion that has continued to the point of nausea. Not the best choice in band name I will admit.
Both abrasive and alliterative, Imperative Imperceptible Impulse by Ad Nauseam is not an easy album to sit through.
In fact, I have to be of a certain mood to sit through something like this. I don't just casually play this one while washing dishes or cooking.
Hell, it's not even on Spotify so that means even less of a chance for "casual" listening so to speak. I'm not really selling this am I?
So why then did I place this so high considering all these parameters? Well, when the mood is right, the album really hits...HARD. It reminds me a lot Imperial Triumphant's excellent 2020 album Alphaville, which is also avant-garde death metal. It's very hard to explain why certain abrasive avant-garde music works well, instead of being a cacophany of noise. If you can make sense of it, you may find it oddly comforting and rewarding.
13. Anneke Van Giersbergen -
The Darkest Skies are the Brightest
Anneke van Giersbergen is one of my favorite vocalists of all time. I’m clearly not alone, as she is in high demand and has an insane amount of guest vocalist credits. I’m so used to hearing her in other bands/artists’ projects, that it’s refreshing to see that she decided to do a solo album.
The writing for this album began in 2018 due to struggles in Anneke’s personal life.
She decided to retreat to a small house with minimal music equipment, and just began writing as a coping mechanism. A couple years later in 2020, she revisited these songs and released them as an album in 2021.
To be honest, the timing of this album couldn’t be any better. When this album came out in February, it felt like a big warm musical hug after the insane year we’ve all had. The songs on here are very personal to Anneke, but can also be very relatable to all of us.
Since I’m so used to hearing Anneke paired with loud and aggressive music, this is a much more stripped down version of what Anneke does. There’s no metal here, no blast beats, no complex progressive elements. The songs are comprised primarily of singer-songwriter folk and rock tunes. It’s Anneke, pure and simple.
12. Swallow the Sun - Moonflowers
For Swallow the Sun's Moonflowers, Juha Raivio decided to look inward during the pandemic. What he found were feelings of despair and self disappointment. Going through night after night of the pandemic lockdown was simply hope crushing, and it fueled the writing for Moonflowers.
Raivio also decided he wanted to create the album art himself, painting the moon with his own blood (metal AF), and decorated it flowers he picked and dried in 2016.
Not the most uplifting subject, but after what we have all gone through the past couple years, I'm sure we can all relate to the self reflection and self doubt when forced to spend a lot of time with ourselves.
Swallow the Sun mix together death, doom and black metal. The music is full of melancholy, death, despair, but also provides glimmers of hope in such a bleak world. Also, don't miss All Hallows' Grieve, the duet with Cammie Gilbert of Oceans of Slumber. Her haunting vocals are a perfect fit with the band's sound (full album collab someday?).
I know what you're thinking, who the hell needs to be reminded of how depressing the state of the world was during the pandemic? Instead, what you should take away from this is also hinted at in the cover art. If something as beautiful as flowers can grow in such dark conditions, there's hope for all of us yet.
11. Obscura - A Valediction
Tech death, a litany of notes played at breakneck speed with growling vocals on top. Definitely not a recipe for the weak. Tech death can come off as repetitive, pretentious, robotic, and without emotion. Sure, I'll agree with the fact that tech death can be repetitive and robotic, but I refuse to give in to the point that technical music is devoid of emotion. Being a musician myself, playing something technical is thrilling and fun, and provides a bit of an adrenaline rush. In other words, I feel something.
Obscura, a technical death metal band from Germany, is one of the best of the genre. They were somewhat formed out of the ashes of Necrophagist, a seminal tech death band, as both Hannes Grossman and Christian Münzer have been in the band at one point. Both members left the band in 2014.
While founder and primary songwriter Steffan Kummerer has been doing an excellent job holding down the fort, the past couple of Obscura albums have been fairly lackluster to me. And now with A Valediction, I understand why. Münzer has rejoined the band, and appears to be heavily involved in the songwriting. His compositions and playing just add so much more to the table, that I hope he remains in the band.
10. Seven Spires - Gods of Debauchery
Where the hell did this band come from? Seven Spires have been around since 2013, and released two albums prior to Gods of Debauchery.
While Seven Spires sounds straight out of Scandinavia with their brand of symphonic melodic death metal, they are actually from Boston! They are a mix of Arch Enemy, Nightwish, Unleash the Archers, and a bit of Fleshgod Apocalypse.
They were all set to tour with Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum (that would have been a hell of a show), but could only perform once before the pandemic upended everyone’s lives.
The good news is they decided to make good use of their downtime and worked on their next album despite releasing an album as recently as 2020. As a result, “Gods of Debacuhery” was released in 2021 and completes their concept album trilogy that started with Solveig and Emerald Seas. I’m excited to dive deeper into this band and listen to the first two parts of their album trilogy.
9. Dr. Colossus -
I'm a Stupid Moron With an Ugly Face and a Big Butt and my Butt Smells and I Like to Kiss My Own Butt
Dr. Colossus is named after a deep cut character in The Simpsons. The band is Simpsons themed, where all of their lyrics are inspired by, or are directly lifted from the beloved show.
With such a goofy gimmick, it’s easy to assume that this is going to be a fun one time listen for Simpsons fans, and wouldn’t have much depth and longevity.
Boy was I wrong! This album is way better than I could ever imagine. The music evokes the sounds of classic rock and metal (Motörhead and Black Sabbath immediately come to mind). While the lyrics may be a bit jokey, the music is incredibly strong, and contains catchy as hell hooks and riffs. You don't need to be a Simpsons fan to enjoy this, but the lyrics and the inclusion of so many deep cut quotes from the show makes this even more enjoyable for the Simpsons x Metal fan.
8. Jerry Cantrell - Brighten
Jerry Cantrell is best known for being the guitarist, co-vocalist, and primary songwriter of Alice in Chains. They were one of the “big four” of grunge back in the 90s. Unfortunately, the band was in turmoil due to Layne Staley’s (lead singer) substance abuse. Rather than disband Alice in Chains, Cantrell decided to continue writing and recording music as a solo artist. He released two solo albums, Boggy Depot in 1998 and Degradation Trip in 2002.
Eventually, Alice in Chains began to come back into the fold, and Cantrell put his solo work aside. Now, Cantrell is back with his first solo album in almost 20 years. Like many albums released this year, Brighten should have been released last year, but the pandemic etc.
If you’re familiar with both Cantrell and Alice in Chains, you will know exactly what to expect here. It has all the signature sounds of Cantrell / Alice in Chains. The layered vocal harmonies, the strong songwriting, and just the overall sludgy mid-tempo riffage. A smattering of some southern rock and the absence of William Duvall is really all that separates this from being an Alice in Chains record.
Despite not doing anything new, the strong songwriting just keeps me coming back to this album. It’s catchy and addictive, and even as I type this out I’m tempted to put the album on for another spin.
7. Fractal Universe - The Impassable Horizon
At the beginning of the pandemic, Metal Injection (a metal blog site) put together an amazing virtual concert called the “Slay at Home Festival.” It was a collection of virtual performances and led me to the discovery of several bands.
This year, for the final edition of the Slay at Home Festival, Fractal Universe popped on the screen and started laying into their newest single: A Clockwork Expectation.
It was the lead single off of their upcoming album, The Impassable Horizon. The hard hitting progressive metal elements piqued my interest, but once I heard the opening notes to the random ass saxophone solo, I was instantly hooked. Apparently, there are some folks that scoff at the idea of mixing saxophone (or any horns really) in with extreme metal. Not me! I love the inclusion of sounds and instruments not typical of the genre (that goes for everything, not just metal).
6. Tribulation -
Where Gloom Becomes the Sound
There are two release windows that are bad for AOTY lists. The beginning and end of the year. Tribulation released their latest album during the former, and it’s so easy to forget albums that come out at the beginning of the year.
I’ve had Where Gloom Becomes the Sound in constant rotation since it came out, which is a testament to the strength of this album.
Where Gloom Becomes the Sound continues Tribulation’s signature Black and Roll sound. The vocals are primarily harsh, while all of the melodies are in the guitars, all backed by a driving rock and roll rhythm section. Those guitar hooks and melodies are fantastic and among the best in their discography.
Now for the bad news. Unfortunately, this album marks the end of Jonathan Hultén’s tenure with the band. He is the primary songwriter of the band, and it is uncertain how this band will sound on the next album. Sometimes when a primary songwriter leaves the band, they become reinvigorated and will have a fresh new sound that pushes the band in an interesting direction. Let’s hope that’s the case for the follow up!
5. Vola - Witness
Danish progressive metallers Vola were front runners for my AOTY with Witness. They combine djenty chuggy prog riffs with catchy and ethereal melodies. I hit this album a bit hard when it was first released, but my excitement tapered off a bit quicker than I anticipated.
Eventually, I started to realize that I would get really excited for the first four tracks of the album, and the back half of the album was just not as strong (but still very good).
The album opens with an impressive one two punch with the first two tracks. The third track, 24 Light-Years, is a slower song (kind of a ballad?) that ended up being one of my favorite songs of the year. The most surprising is the 4th track, These Black Claws. It features an American rapper that goes by the moniker of SHAHMEN. The mixture of progressive metal and rap is not supposed to work, but somehow it works great here.
The rest of the album is not as successful or memorable. While it’s not terrible by any means, the album is unbalanced with all the strongest tunes in the front. Still, the strength of side A still puts this high up in my list for me. Vola just know how to write catchy, heavy, and technical tunes. It's all done very well here on Witness.
4. Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen
With all touring essentially grinding to a halt in 2020, Amorphis was among the many bands whose touring plans got canceled.
Instead of remaining idle, Esa Holopainen decided to work on a solo album.
There are a slew of guest vocalists, including Jonas Renske, Einar Solberg, Anneke Van Geirsbergen, Bjorn Speed Strid, et al.
Essentially, this sounds like another Amorphis album mashed with an Ayreon project (due to all the guest vocalists). The amount of guests vocalists can break the immersiveness of the album listening experience. Holopainen was smart anough to bookend the album with the same singer, the excellent Jonas Renske. By the end of the album you're reminded of where you started, as if you literally walked around a lake.
While Amorphis is primarily know for melodic death metal, Silver Lake is extremely light on the growls. In fact, the only track with growls features the singer of Amorphis, Tomi Joutsen. Similar to Jerry Cantrell's Brighten, when the primary songwriter goes solo, it's almost guaranteed that it's going to sound like the band they write for. In both cases, that's perfectly fine with me.
3. Converge & Chelsea Wolfe -
As we were rounding the corner to the end of the year, I totally thought I had most of my top spots solidified. That is, until this album bulldozed its way into my face!
The pairing of Converge with Chelsea Wolfe is a match perfectly made in hell. Converge is typically very hard hitting, chaotic, noisy, fast, and abrasive while Wolfe is dark/gothic/doom folk rocker.
While there may be some quick spurts of hardcore and punk, they mostly settle into a post doom metal vibe that works very well with Chelsea Wolfe’s soothing and somber voice. This right here is a true testament as to why so many metalheads are attracted to dark folk artists like Wolfe. Dark folk really isn’t that far off from the vibes that you get from metal.
Listening to this brings me back to first digging into the collaboration between Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas. 2016’s Mariner ended up being my favorite album of that year, and also one of my favorite albums of all time. Perhaps with some time this album could make its way up the list, but for now it sits very comfortably in the third spot. Bring on Bloodmoon: II!
2. Spellling - The Turning Wheel
My runner up for AOTY came very very close to being in the top spot, and this isn’t even a metal album! Once my top album entered my life, it was pretty clear to me that The Turning Wheel was going to very likely land at number 2, but a very close number 2 (should I cheat and number them 1a and 1b?).
Chrystia "Tia" Cabral, otherwise known as Spellling, is an experimental synthpop artist out of Oakland that dropped one of the most surprising albums of the year.
While her previous album, Mazy Fly, was an excellent avant-garde experimental synthpop album, I only listened to it a handful of times. It was dark and unsettling, almost as if she scored a horror movie. I knew that this was an artist to keep an eye on.
For The Turning Wheel, Spellling decided to push the boundaries of her synth work and stepped more into indie pop territory while still retaining her experimental spirit. She added orchestral elements and a whole slew of guest musicians. The album was initially slated to be released in 2020 (of course), but was delayed cuz you know why. This proved to be discouraging and challenging when it came to completing the album, but at the same time it provided the opportunity for Spellling to dedicate more attention to her lyrics.
Despite all the setbacks and challenges, in the end it resulted in an astounding album and it is such a leap forward in her work. The synth sound is still there, but has a brighter feel to it, and the addition of the orchestral elements (hell yeah there’s a bassoon!) really adds a lot of flavor to her already distinct voice.
Naturally, having a poppier sound means her songs are more memorable. There are some really strong, catchy tunes on here. One of them being my favorite song of the year! Sadly, I don’t see any of her music being played on the radio as it is still a bit too out there and left of center when it comes to current pop trends. It’s a shame, as there are several strong songs on here. For anyone reading this that isn’t into metal, be sure that you don’t miss this one!
1. Between the Buried and Me - Colors II
For anyone that has listened to part 4 of our Anniversary Quadrilogy, my favorite album of 2021 should come as no surprise. Between the Buried and Me (BTBAM) continue to be one of my favorite bands, and it’s very likely that any album they release is going to dominate my list (except for Coma Ecliptic, sad day).
When I first heard that BTBAM was writing and recording a follow up to Colors (fun fact: Colors is my favorite album of all time), I was both excited and nervous. More often than not, whenever a band tries to capitalize on their glory days, it ends up being a sad attempt at winning fans over again by pulling on their nostalgia strings.
When it comes to BTBAM, thoughts of a cash grab doesn't quite make a whole lot of sense. Honestly, with the type of music that BTBAM plays, there isn’t much cash to grab here. While they may be an established name in the metal world, in the overall music scene they are still a tiny dot in the sky. So what could have prompted them to return to one of their most beloved albums?
The pandemic has thrown a wrench into the past couple years or so, and BTBAM had to postpone their upcoming tour. Their plan was to celebrate The Great Misdirect by playing that album in full as well as a career spanning setlist. After several months of the pandemic, they decided to perform a virtual concert to tide their fans over. They saved The Great Misdirect until they could safely resume touring. As a compromise, they went backwards into their catalogue and decided to perform Colors in its entirety, live from the drummer’s mom’s basement.
Perhaps these Covid performances reinvigorated their love of Colors, or perhaps the positive fan response they received inspired the follow up to Colors, or it’s a combination of the two. I have no idea what their true motivation was, but whatever the case may be, another silver lining of the pandemic was the excellent Colors II.
Now, after all of this, I haven’t even talked about what BTBAM sounds like let alone this album. For those that do not know, BTBAM mixes elements of progressive metal, hardcore, metalcore, avant-garde. They tend to switch sounds quickly, where one minute it’s blast beats and harsh growls, and the next minute a ragtime saloon section. It’s fast paced, constantly changing, and can be a lot to take in all at once.
I also feel like I should expand a bit more on what modern BTBAM sounds like versus the old school sound. Back in the day, BTBAM leaned a lot more heavily on blast beats and hardcore. The clean vocals and progressive elements were very few and far between. The original Colors acted like a bridge between that sound, and what they sound like now. Modern BTBAM leans a lot more heavily into the progressive aspects. There are more clean vocal passages (and dare I say catchy even?), more technical guitar shredding, and their overall compositions are more complex. Quite simply, this is a hell of an achievement to be able to step back into the past while simultaneously taking a few steps forward.
So, what makes Colors II work while other bands that try to do the same fall on their faces? First of all, it didn’t feel like Colors II was trying too hard to be just like Colors. Sure, there are plenty of musical and lyrical callbacks, but they felt genuine and expertly woven into something new. Second, they didn’t compromise their current sound just to shoehorn a bunch of recycled Colors riffs. Colors II strikes a wonderful balance of ideas from the original Colors, while at the same time still pushing their sound forward to create something that is fresh.
The other burning question, is Colors II better than Colors? At the time of this writing, nope, not even close. However, I still need a lot of time and listens before I make a final decision on how I truly feel about this album and where it ranks in their discography. As it stands right now though, I know for a fact that Colors II is my favorite album of the year. A lot of the riffs and vocal melodies get stuck in my head from time to time, and I’m tempted to listen to it on a daily basis. I’m still discovering new sounds, noticing more callbacks, and in general, loving it more with each listen.
I fully realize that BTBAM is not a band for everybody. They’re frenetic, chaotic, and way over the top with their blast beats, harsh vocals, and their penchant to overplay. However, these are all qualities that I love in a band if it’s done well, and BTBAM does it exceptionally well. Thank you BTBAM for another amazing album that I will be spinning for years to come!