Hard to believe that we are already on this side of 2021 isn't it? Of course if you go by the calendar year, we still have another month till it's officially half way through the year, BUT as someone who talks about music for a living; January-November is the real year and bands who put out their albums after the 2nd week of December are just cruel. So today I'm going to be doing a quick dive through January-May releases of 2021 and picking out my top 40 albums of the first half of the year. If you are new to what I do; here's the rules!
- I have not heard every album released so far this year. 2020 hurt so many of us and we are just starting to rebuild in 2021. So if you don't see your favorite album on here it's because I haven't heard it, haven't heard it enough, or just isn't my bag...baby.
- This is in alphabetical order. Not the actual order of best to least best.
- It will be listed as band, album, FFO (For Fans of), & very brief summary. I got 40 to get through after all in one sitting.
- While some albums may appear here now, it is not finalized for what will make my Best of the Year list. Far too early to tell. Any albums released in the first half of 2021 that I haven't covered here could easily be on the year end list if they grab my attention.
- No EPs, Live Albums, Cover Albums or Compilations, Just Studio LPs!
So Let's Begin!
1.) Accept- To Mean To Die
FFO- Speed Metal, Heavy Metal
Accept have returned with what might be their strongest album in the 21st century. Everything you love from the band, from the riffs to the speed to the grooves to the solos, are here and ready to destroy all in it's path. If you just need a fun album to help you raise your fists in the air, this is one album you simply can't ignore.
2.) Alta Reign- Mother's Day
FFO- Progressive Metal, Melodic Metal, AOR
Formed by legendary drummer of Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Jeff Plate. Mother's Day is truly a debut album that shows what the band is capable of, and hints and what is possible to come. With incredibly catchy riffs, fantastic throwback production and songwriting that is sure to garner fans from all over the rock and metal worlds; Alta Reign brings a punch of music that is truly needed this side of the pandemic. Go check them out now and salivate waiting for the next release.
3.) And Now The Owls Are Watching- Dirges
FFO- Blackgaze, Depressive Black Metal
OOF! This concept album is one that truly can tear your soul apart. Not just from the musicality showcased, but from the story told of depression spiraling to death and the afterlife. This album is not for the faint of heart, but it can also be one of the most cathartic listens if you are someone (like myself) who has suicidal thoughts and just wants to feel less alone. If you fit this profile, make sure you are mentally able to go through it or if needed have someone you care about near by or a text/message away to help after. Please know you are still wanted here on earth and reach out for help whenever you need it. Please and thank you!
4.) Anneke van Giersbergen- The Darkest Skies are Brightest
FFO- Anneke van Giersbergen
Anneke hits the soul once again with her latest solo album, rather than making this a pop infused fun time, or a heavy prog metal masterpiece; this album cover the topic of lost love, trying to save love, and trying to grow as a human being. As beautiful as it is, it's a feel good and soul torturing album, depending if anything talked about hits close to home or not. A gorgeous album that should not be missed.
5.) Architects- For Those That Wish to Exist
FFO- Modern Metalcore
The very first appearance of this band in any of my lists, despite being around for quite a number of years. This 2021 album just struck me at a time when I needed it. With it's catchy hooks, spellbinding production and pure soulful lyrics that are just so relateable in today's age. It's a far departure from what I remember of the band's more mathcore days and feels more of a radio friendly, symphonic, and more proggy metalcore affair. Anyone who likes their metal with a good mainstream twinge should give this a shot.
6.) As Everything Unfolds- Within Each Lies The Other
FFO- Melodic Post-Hardcore
The debut album from this UK outfit is just a mesmerizing experience. With it's powerful messages of emotions, proficient songwriting and musicianship and songs that are sure to destroy everything in it's path when shows fully open back up again. This album hits hard with it's breakdowns both lyrically and musically. When the mood strikes, put this on and let the emotions take over you.
7.) Asphyx- Necroceros
FFO- Death Metal, Doom Metalcore
Asphyx continues to reign supreme above all others in it's path. 202S1 needs an album that is this brutal and the band more than delivers on all fronts. I mean, when you hear a song like Botox Implosion, how could you not listen and go "yeah, this feels right"?. For the fast, heavy, doomy, and overall brutalizing, Asphyx delivers!
8.) Bloody Hammers- Songs of Unspeakable Terror
FFO- Punk Rock, Gothic Rock, Heavy Metalcore
Every Bloody Hammers album is a pure treat. You will never get the same album twice. Bloody Hammers finally showcases their more punk influences on this album leading to a short, but incredibly sweet album of horror influences, catchy riffs and terrifying thrills. If only all horror albums could be as fun as Bloody Hammers makes it every single time.
9.) Cannibal Corpse- Violence Unimagined
FFO- Death Metal
The legends of death metal have returned. While the band has had many ups and many more downs in the last few years; the band has scrapped everything up off the floor, reassembled with a new lineup and bringing back the total destruction that you expect. In short, this is the album we needed from Cannibal Corpse right now and death metal fans should be very happy that they continue to deliver over and over again.
10.) Comatose- A Way Back
FFO- Shoegaze, Post Metal, Grunge
A debut album that takes the grunge of the 90s, the shoegaze of the 00s and the experimentation of the 2020s to bring an album that is sure to capture the hearts of those that love Mudhoney as much as they do Explosions in the Sky or Soundgarden as much as they love Pelican. It just covers the ground of emotionally driven music and it's an amazing thing to witness. Check this out immediately.
11.) The Crown- Royal Destroyer
FFO- Melodic Death Metal, Thrash Metal
The Crown is EASILY one of the most underrated bands to come from Sweden. While many bands have come before and after the band, The Crown have been around to put out some of the most pummeling music you can in the melodeath and thrash worlds. Royal Destroyer is no exception. I dare say it's their fastest, heaviest, most incredible album to date The band has more than enough fuel in the tank to continue their path of destruction, try to see if you can catch up and grab on for the ride.
12.) Culak- Glass Sanctuary
FFO- Blackgaze, Doom Metal
The 11th album in 9 years (you read that right) shows the utter best of what this project has done so far. While being an emotional tour of the senses, it also brings incredibly catchy riffs among it's dark attack. You can't go wrong with any Culak release to date, but why not start here and see where the project is today? It's well worth your time.
13.) Cvlt ov the Svn- We are the Dragon
FFO- Black Metal, Pop Rock, Murder Pop
The debut album from this extremely catchy and experimental band shows off what can be done with a wicked sense of black metal atmosphere and lyrical content over the catchiness you hear on mainstream radio. There are comparisons to what Ghost has done as far as the formula of the band, but Cvlt ov the Svn is far more than a band making mainstream evil again, it's making sure that it's hell bound for it's evil tendencies. Check out this fun and...killer...album.
14.) Dark Heavens- Nuclear Eagle
FFO- Alternative Metal, Punk, Experimental
It took me till this year to know about this band, which is a pure shame as Drew from dredg plays in this band. I should have known about this sooner. But alas, here we are. Taking a great influence from Mike Patton and adding their own flares of punk, hardcore and alternative. It really feels like a new wave of Faith No More, without sounding like a ripoff. This is incredible stuff and if you are a dredg fan like myself, tis should tide you over till the next album if/when it comes out.
15.) Ephemerald- Between the Glimpses of Hope
FFO- Melodeath, Folk Metal, Black Metal
In speaking of holding you over, who reading this wants a new Wintersun album without having to wait for Wintersun to make new music and hardest of all, record it? Ephemerald takes what you love about a band like Wintersun, adds it's own tinges of black, folk, and melodeath to create an atmosphere that really brings you to an otherworldly sonic land. This is right where this style should be right now and you will be hard pressed to find anyone who can do this better in 2021. ESPECIALLY considering that this is the band's debut album!
16.) Epica- Omega
FFO- Symphonic Death Metal
Epica is the world's finest example of symphonic death metal. one of the first to really nail it and the band continues to find new ways to perfect it with every release. Quality not quantity. Omega strongly makes the argument of being the band's finest release and it's hard to disagree. Everything you love about the band is here and perfected. It'll be incredibly to hear this in a live setting, but till then, enjoy the sonic bliss that is Omega right now.
17.) Everture- Emerge
FFO- Melodic Metal, Heavy Metal, Modern Metal
2021 has been an incredible year for bands making their debut releases and this is absolutely no exception. What I can best describe as a blend between Evergrey and Mutiny Within; Everture brings a blend of modern metal that matches with melodies and harmonies that could EASILY make it to mainstream radio if mainstream radio would just allow it. Incredible songwriting, as catchy as it is heavy and just an overall great display of musicianship. This is truly incredible music, let alone a debut album. Check this out, seriously!
18.) Flotsam and Jetsam- Blood In The Water
FFO- Thrash Metal
Flotsam and Jetsam could easily make the argument for being one of the strongest thrash metal bands to ever come from North America. While many contemporaries venture off into different territories, the band continues to dismay all doubters with it's beyond heavy thrash assault. Old school and new school thrash fans have no reason to skip Blood in the Water it's all you could ever want and more!
19.) Gojira- Fortitude
FFO- Groove Metal
this could easily be the most polarizing Gojira album if you are a long time fan of the band. If you are brand new to the band, this is the perfect starter album. The band's most accessible and mainstream album to date shows the band displaying their songwriting skills to their max. While it's not filled with the crazy off time signatures that older fans expect. It's a brand of melodic, groove and catchy riffs that are the perfect balance for those of all kind of heavy music fans can enjoy, no matter how mainstream or brutal you say you are. If you want heavier from the band, simply go in backwards order, if you like what you hear here, check out the previous album Magma. Regardless, Gojira is right where they deserve to be in 2021...rejoiced.
20.) Hannes Grossmann- To where The Sun Retreats
FFO- Technical Death Metal, Melodic Death Metal, Progressive Metal
One of the most insanely skilled musicians in the world. Hannes Grossmann has returned with his latest solo album. Rather than just being an assault on the senses or an instrumental affair; Hannes put together a group of some of the best musicians he could get together and created an insane blend of music that features vocals, bass, guitar, and of course mind blowing drumming that all fans of extreme music should love and appreciate. Gorgeous technical and brutal music.
21.) Harakiri for the Sky- Mӕre
Harakiri for the Sky is my favorite band that covers the blackgaze/post-black metal realms and Mӕre continues to prove why they are the prime example of what the genres can be. Pure, soul ripping, emotional lyrics, beyond spellbinding songwriting, perfect production of not too clean and not too raw. If you want to find your gateway into either shoegaze, post metal, black metal, etc and you want to see what's on the other side of these genres; Harakiri for the Sky is the band you must check out. The band only gets better and better. One listen and you'll understand.
22.) Joel Hoekstra's 13- Running Games
FFO- Melodic Rock, AOR, Heavy Metal
With a star studded lineup and some of the catchiest rockin' & rollin' songs you may hear in 2021; Running Games showcases perfect songs for those that want to go back to what made 70s and 80s rock and metal so good, but they want that 21st century twinge to really make things blend for audiences of all ages. Just a killer album from start to finish that's well worth your time.
23.) John The Baptist- S/T
FFO- Doom Metal
The debut album of this monstrous Finnish doom metal band is one of the finest examples of that classic, epic and pure doom metal that all but started the heavy metal genre. If you dig the styling of Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and even little hints to Celtic Frost and/or Venom; I can't recommend this band enough. Unfortunately, this album is not on many streaming platforms (yet) but it is available to check out at jtb.bandcamp.com. Kickback, listen and enjoy!
24.) The Lion's Daughter- Skin Show
FFO- Horror Metal
The 4th album from this juggernaut of a synth driven progressive sludge metal band is something to truly behold. Take what you love about horror soundtracks (the 70s/80s synths, obviously) and but them over the progressive sludge metal varieties of Mastodon or Baroness and you get chilling yet ever so intriguing musicality that no one side side of Goblin can achieve. The Lion's Daughter really needs to get into writing horror soundtracks, their music just begs to be the background of a killer horror movie.
25.) Liquid Tension Experiment- LTE3
FFO- Instrumental Progressive Metal, Fusion
Well...from 2010 to mid 2020, who could have seen this album coming? Mike Portnoy reunites with John Petrucci for the second time in a year and FINALLY reuniting with Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin to create the catchy, heavy, futuristic, psychedelic, and off the wall instrumental metal that you all know and love. For long time Dream Theater fans, this album just warms your heart hearing 3/5ths of the most well known lineup of the band playing together again and sounding as if they never, ever, stopped. It pretty much goes without saying that this will be my instrumental album of the year, unless something comes out that is so bombastic and so unexpected that this will have to take the silver medal. Until such an album comes out in 2021, LTE are at their rightful spot at the top of the virtuoso mountain. Depending on how the future goes, let's just hope LTE4 will be a much quicker wait than the previous 22 years has had us waiting.
26.) Memoriam- To The End
FFO- Death Metal
I don't think it's any too big of a stretch to say that Memoriam is my favorite pure death metal band going right now. the previous 3 albums have been instant death metal classics that have infinite replay value. To The End brings that passion back with a bit more diversity, peaks, and valleys in the dynamics, but maintaining that dirge driven, politically charged death metal that has kept me at the edge of my seat since day one. Another instant classic!
27.) Moonspell- Hermitage
FFO- Gothic Metal, Progressive Metal
Moonspell is a band that is an ever evolving endeavor and it has always been for the best. With Hermitage, yo9u definitely get to hear what you love about the current day band with all of it's gothic goodness, but with the right amounts of that Katatonia style dark progressive metal to really make the music their own. The perfect Moonspell album at the perfect time.
28.) Nervosa- Perpetual Chaos
FFO- Death Metal, Thrash Metal
Much like Burning Witches mentioned above, this band has gone through quite the lineup changes to get to where they are, but where they are now is at the absolute top of their game. The band is really shining their thrash metal flag high this time around while not losing the brutal death metal speed and intensity to brought them to the party. The band only continues to grow in popularity and it won't be too much longer till the big names in death and thrash metal finally catch on and let Nervosa get that ever so coveted main support slot...or maybe not because they know the band will completely blow them away every single night.
29.) Phantom Elite- Titanium
FFO- Modern Metal, Groove Metal, Symphonic Metal
What is a better way to describe this band than HDK meets Gojira? Taking the best elements of symphonic metal and fusing it with the musicality and songwriting of heavy technical groove riffs of modern metal to combine such a unique and astounding presence. Titanium is filled to the brim with catchy songs, brutal riffs, and a formula that works so very, very well. If this sounds intriguing, even in the slightest, you should really give this a shot.
30.) Portal- Avow
FFO- Blackened Death metal, Experimental, Nightmares
Portal, holding the crown of the most sonically brutal band from the southern hemisphere (if not simply the entire world) is back with not one but TWO brand new albums! While their other album, Hagbulbia, is white noise soundscapes from the deepest inner circles of hell; Avow is where more of their signature style is still in tact. pummeling rhythms, crushing tones, and the overall dread that you are falling into the hell of your worst nightmares. Seriously, go check this album out, go into a pitch black room, no windows, no lights, no candles, nothing. sit in that room and put on Avow. See how long you can last until insanity overtakes you? My guess is it'll before the album is done.
31.) Pounder- Breaking The World
FFO- Speed Metal, Heavy Metal
Pounder has shown within two albums why heavy metal will never die. The latter of these two albums, Breaking The World, takes everything there is to love about the debut album and makes it even catchier. This is everything you love about 70s and 80s heavy metal packed into an absolutely solid album that deserves anyone's attention that still holds Accept, Exciter, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Razor to the high regards that they do deserve.
32.) Robin McAuley- Breaking The World
FFO- AOR, Melodic Hard Rock
Robin McAuley's first true solo album is everything you want from this legendary vocalist. His voice shines as strong as ever among all of the heavy hitting riffs, powerful dynamics, and the ever so catchy melodies and harmonies that you have come to expect from any endeavor McAuley attaches himself to musically. An unexpected, but purely incredible treat of an LP.
33.) Scar of the Sun- Inertia
FFO Gothic Metal, Groove Metal, Melodic Metal
The band's 3rd release in a decade showcases the band's evolution and how strong the band has become. The themes, the sorrow, the grooves, the overall atmosphere is combined to make an exceptional album that takes you on so many unexpected twists and turns. It's well worth the mournful ride.
34.) Subterranean Masquerade- Mountain Fever
FFO- Middle Eastern Folk Metal, Progressive Metal, Progressive Rock
You know, when I first started That Drummer Guy, this band went from a band that I felt so bummed about because I never thought that the band would get back together to release a 2nd album, to releasing 3 albums and 2 EPs in my 10 years of being around in music. Mountain Fever is absolutely a catalyst moment for the band as it showcases the absolute shining examples of what the band is capable of and what we can only hope can come in the future. While the album has sadly fallen on the wayside for the pressing matters of the conflicts of Israel and Palestine; I can only hope that as many people can be safe in this horrible situation and people will be able to go forward living in peace and freedom. But to get off my soapbox. This album is absolutely worth your time if you are the adventurous type. If you dig it, be sure to check out the rest of the band's catalog. I can't imagine you'll be disappointed.
35.) Therion- Leviathan
FFO: Therion's Whole Catalog
Simply put, This album is a best of Therion with brand new material. So if you like your symphonic metal with hints of very little death metal and a lot of operatic moments. Therion is the band you need in your life.
36.) Transatlantic- The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended version)
FFO- Epic Progressive Rock
Mike Portnoy has been a busy guy lately and appearing twice in this top 40 alone. While the latest Transatlantic effort is technically two different albums (the other being The Absolute Universe: The Breath of Life (Abridged Version), the one in question is the whole kit and caboodle. Full story, full music, everything. The Abridged version has some missing parts, but also some re imagined parts to make everything fit. Both version are well worth the prog trip, but you know me, if there is a double disc concept album to hear, I want the big bad booty daddy version. Transatlantic has never let down their fan base and this time around, they gave us two brand new experiences to enjoy. Check them both out and see what's right for you.
37.) Tribulation- Where The Gloom Becomes Sound
FFO- Gothic Metal, Black N Roll, Heavy Metal
Now we're going to be talking about one of the most evil albums of 2021 and this is Tribulation at their absolute best so far. Everything you love about the band with a very focused sound, but expanded enough to showcase where the band can go from here. Dark, evil, gloomy, devilishly catchy and everything that you could want in a band that is just too hard to properly describe. Check them out and enjoy the fruits of their hell-driven delights.
38.) Violet Cold- Empire of Love
FFO- Blackgaze, Appreciation that Love is Love No Matter with Whom
If the FFO didn't give it away enough, Violet Cold's latest album (available for FREE on bandcamp at violetcold.bandcamp.com) is exactly what it sounds like a blackgaze album that is liberal leaning, ANTIFA supporting, BLM supporting, LGBTQ+ supporting music that is another outlet to say that love is love no matter who you are in love with. Beautiful music (if you can appreciate blackgaze) and an album that is worthy of attention from anyone around the world. Even if it's not your bag, you may have a friend that would love it, check it out and spread the word and the message that, once again, LOVE IS LOVE!
39.) W.E.T.- Transmission
FFO- Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, AOR
My favorite Jeff Scott Soto project is back and releasing the best in catchy melodic metal. that great 80s sound updated with 21st century tones to make this a crystal clear listening experience that will have you banging your head with a giant grin on your face. W.E.T. is just that band that deserves your attention.
40.) Wheel- Resident Human
FFO- Progressive Metal
Combine moments of Riverside, Porcupine Tree, Pain of Salvation, Tool and their own brand of prog to create a band that is meant to be a driving force in the 21st century. As dark as it is catchy. Thought provoking as it is memorable. And an absolute wonderful album that has the potential to stand the test of time. If this is just the band's debut LP, just wait for what will come in the future!
And that's it folks, 40 of my favorite albums of 2021 from January to May that I think deserve your attention. What have we learned from this? There are so many new bands to love this decade, we are all going through emotionally rough times and yearning to get better, and the quality of music has not stopped just because a pandemic stood in our way. I can't wait to see what comes out between June and the 2nd week of December (like I said, if you release an album in mid to late December, you are just evil).
See you on the flip side of 2021, dudemeisters!
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)