Best of 2021: The Elitist Metalhead

Spread the metal:

Best of 2021

1. Helloween – Helloween

One of the most anticipated releases of the year, HELLOWEEN’S Pumpkins United line up became permanent and announced the release of their self titled album. They teased us with the incredible single, “Skyfall,” building the anticipation even more. Well they delivered not just Album Of The Year but one of the best power metal albums ever released. The best part was that they did not try and make Keepers One and Two again but instead made a cohesive group effort. Three guitarists and three vocalists creating a masterpiece for the century!

2. Vreid – Wild Northwest (Album and Movie)

VREID did not let this pandemic get them down. Instead they decided to get very creative; first with their June 2020 live stream event from Hvall’s mountain property of Sogndal in Norway and then with the announcement that their new album would be accompanied by movie to go with it. Each song has a corresponding video on a continuous theme that brilliantly segues from one to the other. I said it then and I say it now, this is metal’s The Wall! Wild North West is essecntial! As always….Sognametal Rules!

3. Crypta – Echoes of the Soul

This was another highly anticipated release. Even though bassist/vocalist Fernanda Lira announced her departure from Nervosa (along with drummer Luanna Dametto) in early 2020 CRYPTA had actually been in the works since 2019, before her departure from Nervosa. However, with that departure, CRYPTA was able to take on a life of its own. This all female line up includes the guitar duo of Sonia Anubis (Nusselder) and Tainá Bergamaschi whose monstrous solos took this album over the top. This is one of the best debuts to come out in a long time!

4. Claymorean – Eulogy for the Gods

This band will also find itself in the Best Discovery of 2021. Hailing from Serbia, CLAYMOREAN’S fifth full length took me completely by surprise and blew me away upon first listen. After repeated listens it was clear that this album was something extremely special. Epic songs full of killer riffs, amazing vocals, and godly solos they even included a cover of Virgin Steele’s “The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii),” which they completely owned. This is essential metal!

5. Duskmourn – Fallen Kings and Broken Crowns

East Coast epic folk metal duo DUSKMOURN just keep churning out masterpiece after masterpiece making them one of metal’s best kept secrets. For lack of a better comparison I like to call them America’s MOONSORROW but even that does not do them all the justice. Combining epic folk metal with melodic death metal as well as melodic black metal, the atmosphere they create on their albums is nothing short of extraordinary while having their own identity. Yes, there is killer folk metal coming from this side of the pond!

6. Primalfrost – Lost Elegies
7. Thulcandra – A Dying Wish
8. Aephanemer – A Dream of Wilderness
9. Warrior Path – The Mad King
10. Tower – Shock to the System
11. Sarke – Allsighr
12. Labyrinth – Welome to the Abusrd Circus
13. Thyrfing – Vanadandr
14. Carcass – Torn Arteries
15. Einherjer – North Star
16. Dordeduh – Har
17. Against Evil – End of the Line
18. Artillery – X
19. MSG – Immortal
20. Killing – Face the Madness

Honorable Mentions:

With so many great albums being released this year some of them got lost in the promo abyss. One of them is USPM band PHARAOH from Philadelphia, PA and their June release, The Powers That Be. This band also features Tim Aymar, who was vocalist on Chuck Schuldiner’s CONTROL DENIED album. I’m not sure why it took so long for this album to click with me. This is how USPM is supposed to be done; technical songwriting, incredible fretwork and Aymar’s soaring vocals this is essential. I hope to give this album a proper review soon.

Best EP:

There are a few contenders for this honor this year including former Fates Warning guitarist Victor Arduini’s current band Entierro and their EP El Comazatz but the winner this year is HAVUKRUUNU  and their EP Kuu Erkylän yllä. This band seems to not be able to stay out of my best of lists. They had AOTY for 2020 and still were able to find their way into this year’s as well. These Fins are one of my favorite bands!

Best Covers Album:

King Fowley and DECEASED released Thrash Times at Ridgemont High; twelve thrash covers from more obscure 80s thrash bands including BLESSED DEATH, WHIPLASH, RAZOR, BULLDOZER, and more. These covers stay true to the original including the production, which is straight out of the 80s. This is a must have for anyone who loves their thrash fast and loud!

Best Concert/Live Streamed Concert:

Just recently James Rivera and HELSTAR did a very intimate live in the studio stream, HELSTAR LIVE @R&R STUDIO In Houston. The scene was both live music in the studio as well as questions from fans as they watched. We were treated to incredible performances of classics like “The King Is Dead” and “Baptized in Blood” and also get to hear stories about how some of those timeless metal songs took shape. Mr. Vampiro Rivera was in top form with an incredible performance. His voice has held up so well over the years. He is a true legend!

Best New Band:

These ladies were number three and will feature again later in this list but CRYPTA is for sure the best new band to hit this year. Bassist/Vocalist Fernanda Lira left Nervosa in 2020 and with CRYPTA a concept already in the making she put together an incredible duo of talented shredders in Sonia Anubis and Tainá Bergamaschi as well as her bringing along former Nervosa drummer Luanna Dametto to create an astounding debut album that is still in regular rotation.

My Favorite Discovery of 2021:

From out of nowhere came Serbia’s CLAYMOREAN with their fifth full length Eulogy for the Gods. This album hit me by surprise immediately with its incredible sound and that incredible voice of Dejana Betsa Garčević. She can go from angelic to balls to the wall metal while hitting some impressive high notes with passion and power. Citing another powerful female vocalists, the legendary Jutta Wienhold (ZED YAGO, VELVET VIPER), as one of her biggest influences tells you that she means business. Huge songs, incredible production, and amazing vocals…what more is there?

Best Comeback of 2021:

I discovered Dean Paul Arnold and his project PRIMALFROST back when he released his debut full length Prosperous Visions in 2014. I was floored just how good his songs were and the execution was spot on. His fretwork is astonishing. At that time he was only 18 years old and not long after that he became a member of death metal band VITAL REMAINS. Fast forward to 2021 and Arnold announces that he was not only going out on the road as touring guitarist for BELFEGOR but he also announces the long awaited return of PRIMALFROST. The resulting album, Lost Elegies, was released on December 28 and stood this list on its head. Another astounding effort by this incredible talent. We will be seeing more of him in the future….of that I am sure.

Females in Metal:

This year was dominated by great female metal musicians releasing great music and becoming a huge force in the metal scene. Having a favorite female musician is just not enough. From days of THE RUNAWAYS and GIRLSCHOOL to modern metal titans such as CRYPTA and NERVOSA, females have played a huge roll in the metal scene but ask people about female metal artists and they MAY know DORO and LITA FORD. That needs to change and it is. Here are just some of the great names of FEMALES IN METAL that touched us in 2021…..

Yvonne (Onielar) Wilczynska

Fronting one of my favorite black metal bands, DARKENED NOCTURN SLAUGHTERCULT, Onielar is one of the best female voices in extreme metal. She publicly revealed late in 2021 that she had been undergoing breast cancer treatments (successfully) and is on the mend. There’s also talk of a new album in 2022. Let’s hope so. #fuckcancer

Marion Bascoul

One of two females in France’s symphonic melodic death/power metal band AEPHANEMER Marion plays rhythm guitar as well as being the vocalist; with an incredible range from monstrous growls to angelic opera vocals she is one of my favorite discoveries this year as well.

Lucie Woaye Hune

As the other female in AEPHANEMER Lucie is the bassist of this complex band with some progressive elements. An extremely talented bassist!

Dejana Betsa Garčević

The voice of Serbian epic metal band CLAYMOREAN, Dejana has one of the most powerful voices in traditional metal today let alone female voices. One listen of their most recent album EULOGY FOR THE GODS and you will become an instant fan!

Sarabeth Linden

Sarabeth is the vocalist for NWOTHM band TOWER. One of the best albums I had heard this year and it had a lot to do with her vocal delivery. She has such an incredible voice and

The Ladies of CRYPTA

I can’t say this enough, CRYPTA are a sensation. Bassist/vocalist Fernanda Lira, dual axe slingers Sonia Anubis and Tainá Bergamaschi, and drummer Luanna Dametto are making a powerful statement for females in metal!! These ladies are the future of metal!

Once again, there are too many more to mention and some I have not had the pleasure of hearing but it is a great year to not just pick a favorite but celebrate all the WOMEN IN METAL of 2021. Eternal Hails!!

Disappointments of 2021:

Thankfully 2021 was a great year for metal and the only real disappointment of the year was DESASTER and their Churches Without Saints. I gave this album several listens at several different times and it just failed to do anything for me like some of their previous albums.

Hopes for 2022

Well the hopes for 2022 start off the same as the Hopes for 2021….a prayer, “Gods of Metal, deliver us from another year without a new KING DIAMOND album!!” Seriously, I hope we do get some new music from The King this year. AMORPHIS will be bringing in the new year as will former BLACK SABBATH vocalist TONY MARTIN and his album THORNS! We should be also expecting new albums from HAMMERFALL and SAXON; plus later in the year BLIND GUARDIAN and DRAGONLAND too. There’s talk of a new MEGADETH album too! There’s also talk of new albums from CORONER, KREATOR, BORKNAGAR, and DARKENED NOCTURN SLAUGHTERCULT as well. Let’s see what surprises we find along the way! Keep it Metal AF in 2022!