2021 in Music

Joey Dumont bio photo By Joey Dumont Comment

I’ve been meaning to write a brief retrospective of the all the albums I’ve listened to in the past year for a couple years now, but I usually either forget to take note of albums I really enjoyed, or lost track of all the releases. This year’s listicle is brought to you by the great work of the r/ProgMetal folks and their very handy spreadsheet.

So, in no particular order, and not even my going by my most listened albums this year, here are some thoughts about the albums which left good impressions on me in 2021.

The Future Bites
Steven Wilson
Released January 29th, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

Wilson, who brought us, in my opinion, the definitive versions of Deliverance & Damnation, has been productive in his solo musical career as well. The overall effort that is The Futures Bites definitely rivals Hand. Cannot. Erase., and the insane banger Personal Shopper is definitely the song of the year. It is instantly catchy, yet interesting enough to be worth a second, third, or 50th listen.

The Future Bites sees Wilson embrace his love for electronic music in his solo albums (he’s definitely explored this in other projects). While he had previously explored mixing progressive and electronic elements within a single song, Personal Shopper is a fully electronic banger.

Released January 29th, 2021

I might show some slight local bias here, but Gaspard is one my favourite discoveries of the year. The band describes themselves as being driven by the musical exploration of musical landscapes, and this album (as well as their previous one) delivers on this premise. The sometimes atmospheric and sometimes quite heavy riffs of the album are well balanced, and play off each other very well.

I also recommend their first release: La Forêt de Gaspard, of which Vestiges is pretty much an evolution. It is a study in textures and atmosphere.

The Stuff of Legends
Challenger Deep
Released October 29th, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

While the previous entry on this list is a slow exploration of a supernatural landscape, The Stuff of Legends is compact and energetic half-hour of satisfying math rock riffs with some great solos. This fast-paced album captures your attention for its entirety.

Their music video for The Great Calamity is also pretty fun.

Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole
Diablo Swing Orchestra
Released November 2nd, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

I hadn’t yet followed Alice down the hole of avant-garde metal, but this album by Diablo Swing Orchestra made me fall hard. The eclectic mix of prog, heavy metal, folk, and other genres, could make for a disjointed listen, but it is so well done that is actually just refreshing, and keeps you on your toes the whole album. Speed Dating an Arsonist is my favourite track of the album for its catchy bits, funny lyrics, and satisfying finish, but the entire album is worth a listen.

This is my first DSO album, and I definitely plan on going through their earlier work in 2022.

Fear of an Obtuse Earth
Home Brewed Universe
Released January 25th, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

Home Brewed Universe is the one-man band backed by Arka Sengupta from Hyderabad, India. Fear of an Obtuse Earth was an early coup de coeur for me. It came out on January 25th, just before Vertiges. I was immediately enthralled by the rough metal sound, and the interesting prog melodies.

It suffers from a bit of repetition towards the end though. Home Brewed Universe also release Tranquil Taboo Time this year, which feels a bit more of the same, and suffers from the same repetition issue.

Sorella Minore
Released May 11th, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

Like the entry above, Australian band Teramaze released two full-length albums this year. While Sorella Minore unfortunately suffers from the 2112 syndrome, it also has its redeeming quality in that the the bombastic first track is makes it an excellent album. At once both easily digested and surviving more attentive listens, the 25-minute epic manages to make you forget its length by carefully layering complex compositions as time goes on.

This album is a continuation of the story set forth in Her Halo, but I must admit I haven’t paid too much attention to the lyrics. Even skipping the story element, the four vocalists put on an amazing performance.

Days Before the World Wept
The Agonist
Released October 15th, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

It is always good to discover a band with a female vocalist who can do both clean and harsh vocals, especially when it is a local band! Vicky Psarakis, who’s been with the band for their last 4 releases now, is heavily showcased through the album, and to the benefit of the album.

Dark Horse White Horse
Dark Horse White Horse
Released April 16th, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

Dark Horse White Horse is a collaboration between Marcela Bovio, Ruben Wijga, and Jord Otto, the last two both ex-ReVamp. This heavy album is a 22-minute compact EP that showcases each member’s talent. Mixed by Joost van den Broek, this record is definitely heavier than what I’m used to hearing from Bovio, who I have mostly heard through the lens of Arjen Lucassen’s rock operatic universe, and it works quite well with her vocal style.

To Where the Light Retreats
Hannes Grossman
Released June 1st, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

A very good album to scratch that Alkaloid itch. The Great Designer, the album’s opening song, could be a continuation of Rise of the Cephalopods, as they somewhat similar in composition and theme. I pretty much like anything Hannes Grossman produces, so any negative comment should be taken as being relative to his other work. While I found Alkaloid’s albums to be stonger overall, I very much enjoyed To Where the Light Retreats. It has the characteristic heaviness and technical prowess of his other work, but manages to be distinct while not feeling too incremental.

Iron Maiden
Released September 3rd, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

It is impressive how Iron Maiden has consistently put out high quality records throughout their entire career (bar a few exceptions). While the titular opener is strong, my favourite part of the album is definitely the three closers: Death of the Celts, The Parchment, Hell on Earth. It seems that Maiden recently started liking longer songs again (all three songs have runtime upwards of 10 minutes), and I can only approve.

A View from the Top of the World
Dream Theater
Released October 22nd, 2021
YouTube Music | Spotify

DT’s outings in the last couple years have been hit-and-miss for me, but A View from the Top of the World sees them returning to their more traditional formula, and it is a definitive success. Like Maiden’s Senjutsu, this record boasts of a stronger opener and an amazing closing trio. The titular song, which is a 20-minute epic, doesn’t have the same impact as my nostalgia-coloured memory believes, say, Octavarium, to have, it is definitely a masterpiece of the genre. John Petrucci seems to have finally reached the speed that Mikael Åkerfeldt reckons he has.

Honourable Mentions

  • Void – The Hollow Man Based on the T.S. Eliot poem of the same name. I love their interpretation of the poems, even if black metal is not my favourite genre.

  • MFTJ – My Mom’s Getting a Horse Zappa-esque rhythms, quite quirky. The guitarist, Mike Keneally, was involved in the Zappa 1988 tour and is quite accomplished. Scott Schorr, the other half of the two-man band, has been involved in the prog scene as a producer for decades.

  • Acrylazea – A Cavalcade of Cosmic Calamity An interesting blend of genres, with Unexpect influences. Similar to DSO. (Another avant-garde metal? I apparently have a new favourite genre.)

  • Keor – Tearoom Clean riffs, and good musicianship. A good all-around album. It bills itself as emotionally explosive, and I think Keor delivers this with Tearoom. LEARNING GOD especially.

  • Neptunian Maximalism – Solar Drone Ceremony Definitely something that needs to be listened to multiple times to be digested, studied, and understood. I found it a little too over the top to make the list. Angry Metal Guy recommends their earlier Éons however, so I’ll probably take some time to look into Neptunian Maximalism.

  • Others By No One – Book II: Where Stories Come From Not sure if genius or insane.

  • Prospectors – Proven Lands Another avant-garde album, definitely my favourite genre of the year. Or maybe I just enjoy experimentation and exploration in music. This debut album has an interesting mix of aggressive parts, but also slower build-ups leading to cathartic releases that I’ve come up to expect of prog-rock albums.

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