Best of 2021: Erich Heintzelman

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Erich’s Top 20 Metal Albums 2021

2021 Proved to be a year of ups and downs. While the COVID situation briefly improved, it quickly degenerated into another disaster year for touring musicians. Fortunately, it was an exceptional year in new releases and the strength of the music perhaps owed much to the fact that musicians had nothing better to do than hunker down, take their time, and release some genuinely outstanding material without the pressure of touring and other obligations.

1. Gojira – Fortitude








I am a fairly recent convert to the Gojira fold, mostly ignoring them until I heard “Stranded” one day on my Discover Weekly Spotify playlist and I have been catching up ever since. FORTITUDE could be considered a career-defining album by some though many long-term fans of the band have dismissed the album. It contains a perfect blend of brutality, melodicism, experimentation, and accessibility. For a band that has been around 25 years, that is no small feat.

2. Helloween – Helloween








Let’s face it, this could have been a disaster but instead it is a masterwork. Few bands would have the audacity to bring back so many former members of the band. On top of that, they have all managed to leave their egos at the door and write a damn solid album. Everybody shines and wins by the end of the album, especially metal fans.

3. Lake of Tears– Ominous








This will not make many people’s list and that’s ok. I am a big fan of Lake of Tears, and while they had a patch of rough times in the early 2000’s they have since righted the ship and the last two albums along with the live album from 2014 have all been top notch. Recognizing that the appeal of the band is their uncomplicated and dark melodies delivered with Daniel Brennare’s accented and eccentric vocal, OMINOUS focuses on those aspects.

4. Todd La Torre – Rejoice In The Suffering








With one solo album, La Torre has eclipsed everything Queensrÿche has done since he joined the band, which is quite an accomplishment because those Rych albums have been fantastic. Inspired, bursting with energy, plenty heavy, and musical to boot, REJOICE IN THE SUFFERING hits the sweet spot for any fans that wanted more from Todd La Torre.

5. Iron Maiden– Senjutsu

Iron Maiden - Senjutsu








It’s 2021 and Maiden is still writing viable, worthy metal albums that provoke inspiration and wonder in metal fans and bands globally. SENJUTSU is essentially a composite of the styles of their last two or three albums, but the formula can be traced all the way back to at least THE X FACTOR, and if really stretching, to the debut album. It’s difficult not to fall prey to the ageism bias that many veteran bands like Maiden face, but I suspect if you asked Steve Harris and company if they felt their best albums are a distant speck in the rear-view mirror, they would say no. Whether you or I agree is immaterial. This might not be the Maiden everyone wants to hear, but this is the sound that Steve Harris has been pushing the band towards since their origins, and after reading multiple books and digging deep into the catalog for extended periods during the pandemic, I am convinced that Maiden are writing the music they always intended to write. It just took them some time to get here.

6. KK’s Priest – Sermons Of The Sinner








No, I was not blown away on first listen, but after repeat listens, I realized that the guitar work and solos are simply amazing, recalling the shredding that KK did on PAINKILLER. There are plenty of solid chunky riffs as well and Owens is… Owens. He provides the wail that Halford essentially patented, and while no one will ever accuse Owens of diversified singing techniques, he can expertly climb the upper registers and provides some venom and bite when needed. In short, he is a perfect fit for this style and KK has proven that age really is just a state of mind.

7. Moonspell– Hermitage

Moonspell - Hermitage








I had never been a huge Moonspell fan, but over the last few albums that has been changing. Truth be told, I never cared for Ribeiro’s death and gruff vocals, preferring his gothic baritone instead. Now, that those death leanings are more restrained and less prevalent on an album like HERMITAGE, I get more of what I like from the band, which includes dark, gothic melodies delivered with the right balance of heft. HERMITAGE is one of the band’s least complicated albums, which has irked many long-time fans. I, however, find the accessibility and simplification welcome.

8. Wizard – Metal In The Head








2021 was a year where I looked more to current and new music for pleasure than my precious collection of albums that are decades or older. Having said that, METAL IN MY HEAD is an album that perfectly returns you to 1989 and makes no apologies for doing so. Wizard released their first album in 1989 and they seem to content to continue, granted with a more modern sound and approach. I found that there were times that I needed lyrics like:
I’m sick of fucking boring work
I’m pretty much a giant dork
My liver craves a tasty beer
And closing time today is near

After spinning A VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE WOLRD from start to finish, you might too.

9. Maverick – Ethereality








Maverick are an outstanding Irish band that effortlessly delivers infectious melodic metal, drawing inspiration from old and new bands. ETHEREALITY was not as strong as the previous album in my opinion, but there are still a wealth of great songs here that are easy to assimilate and enjoy in the car, while having a beer, gaming, or whatever the heck you might be doing at the time.

10. Labÿrinth– Welcome To The Absurd Circus








Been a fan since 1998’s RETURN TO HEAVEN DENIED and to this day they are still putting out quality power metal albums. Olaf Thörsen is one of the best guitarists to ever hail from Italy and Rob Tiranti can still hit the high notes when needed but employs great versatility and character in his delivery. I have a feeling this one might have been missed by a lot of folks this year, which is a shame.

11. Secret Sphere – Lifeblood
12. Dream Theater – A View From The Top of The World
13. Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix
14. Powerwolf – Call Of The Wild
15. Stranger Vision – Poetica
16. Michael Schenker Group – Immortal
17. Alcatrazz – V
18. Accept – Too Mean To Die
19. Flotsam and Jetsam – Blood In The Water
20. Exodus – Persona Non Grata

Best EP

Machine Head- Arrows In Words From The Sky








Best Live Release

U.D.O.– Live In Bulgaria 2020: Pandemic Survival Show








Best Special Compilation

Kreator – Under The Guillotine









Best New Band

Stranger Vision









Best New Discovery

British Lion







Best Covers Album

Lord – Undercovers Vol. 1








Best Non-Metal Release

Mammoth WVH – Self Titled








Biggest Disappointments

Bloody Hammers – Songs Of Unspeakable Terror – This is far from a terrible album, with 4 or 5 strong tunes. However, the stylistic changes from goth to full on punk were hard to take. As I said in my review of this album back in February, keyboards have been a huge part of the band’s sound, but on the new album they are few and far between.

The Dave Ellefson/Megadeth Saga – I ‘ve read both sides of this and it is still a huge disappointment with both parties. At this stage of the game, people need to be smarter about their actions and decisions in an era of oversharing and little privacy. They also need to be more supportive and allow all the information from all stakeholders to be revealed before making knee-jerk decisions.

Jon Schaffer Destroys Career and Two Bands – I was a fairly big Iced Earth and Demons and Wizards fan. I was able to overlook Schaffer’s increasingly unhinged political views through the years and even the highly polarizing Sons of Liberty, but after he became an anarchist and traitor on January 6, 2021, I cut ties. It is a shame because the music was good. People have said, “Oh, you should not let the politics impact the music you enjoy”, to which I say, “Schaffer should have followed that advice as well.” Stick to music and leave politics to the politicians. Now, all I can say is F U Jon.


Hopes/Anticipations for 2021

More Live Shows, Less COVID – I basically said the same thing last year and as we know it did not happen. The industry is struggling and needs to get back to normal somehow.

New Megadeth Album/New The Lucid Album – More curious than anything, as I have not truly embraced a Megadeth album in quite some time. But with Ellefson out again, getting an album from his new band The Lucid and Megadeth should prove interesting, and maybe inspiring for both parties.

New Album from Savatage – Chris Caffery said at the end of 2021 that the band has been writing new music and supporting Jon Oliva as he tries to improve his health. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the year.