The 50 best albums of 2021

It’s here: the Kerrang! verdict on the 50 albums that shaped 2021…

The 50 best albums of 2021
Kerrang! staff
Daniella Batsheva

After the delayed releases and forced opportunity to write during lockdown in 2020, this year saw a veritable flood of new music coming out every week. As such, there was a lot of sound to digest, and a lot of new chapters forged. But whether it was the glory of scooping a Number One album, or of simply having created something brilliant, it’s been a thrill watching so many amazing artists sending their new music out into the world. We even got to see some of it played on a stage, but this didn't change the fact that COVID has placed listening to records under more of a microscope than usual. On the plus side, this has been a great leveller – when all you have is music, the truly great bits stick out that bit more, no matter who you are.

As such, it’s been harder than usual to gather together the 50 best albums of 2021. Not just because of the sheer number, but because of how many of them were so fundamentally good.

Here, then, are the albums that made 2021. You may disagree, but just looking at these fantastic records, it’s impossible to deny what a broad spread of music and creativity we’ve had over the past 12 months.

Hey, 2022, you’ve got your work cut out…

50The Armed – ULTRAPOP (Sargent House)

In a world where the concepts of ‘genre’ and ‘heaviness’ are becoming more and more disparate and divided, Michigan experimentalists The Armed released perhaps the most subversive record of the year. From its cover looking more like a polished fashion shoot and the corpse-painted music videos, to the fact that nobody is actually sure who’s in the band and who is just trolling, this group of eight (possibly more, or less) musicians found a delicious disharmony in ULTRAPOP. Extreme in its intent and not just sound, everything was pushed to the nth degree, building up layer after distorted layer, engulfing the listener in a record that somehow straddled the worlds of Throbbing Gristle, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Les Savy Fav and, dare we say it, pop music. An album best served whole, there were countless sides to the polygon and punishment – from the claustrophobic BIG SHELL to the hyperactive MASUNAGA VAPORS to the oddly sun-drenched BAD SELECTION. No matter what genre you ascribe to ULTRAPOP, it's determined to be misunderstood. All we know is, we like it. (LM)

49Evanescence – The Bitter Truth

A few months shy of a full decade since we last got a new Evanescence album, the return of Amy Lee brought with it a new perspective for the singer. Where previously she had operated under a certain level of shadow and non-specific ambiguity, on The Bitter Truth there was a more clear, open heart. Ahead of the record last year, she took a pop at former President Donald Trump, realising that her position afforded the opportunity to say something meaningful and help make the world – however much of a grain of sand it was – a better place. Inspired by that year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations, Use My Voice – also featuring Lzzy Hale, Taylor Momsen and Sharon den Adel among others – signalled the new era for Evanescence as a whole, and throughout the final album six months later a spirit of defiance, positivity and building something good with others shone through. It may have taken an age to emerge, but it made The Bitter Truth another distinct, inspiring chapter in the Evanescence story. (NR)

48Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb (Spinefarm)

The most potent thing about the second album from anonymous, masked collective Sleep Token was how emotionally vivid it was, cresting a wave of dizzying infatuation before crashing back down to the depths of devastating heartbreak. Its intensity was matched by its sonic palette, with the likes of Hypnosis and Alkaline swelling with thick swathes of downtuned guitar, but some of its most striking moments came when it took a more a minimalistic approach. The a capella Fall For Me was heart-stoppingly compelling, while The Love You Want contrasted its passionate pleas with wavering synths reminiscent of R&B in the background. This was an album worthy of the same worship to which the shadowy quintet devote themselves. (EW)

47Deafheaven – Infinite Granite (Sargent House)

Not that Deafheaven were ever a threat to Judas Priest anyway, but if you were looking for the metal in Infinite Granite, you would have had a fallow experience. But that's not where Deafheaven were in 2021. Having almost entirely dropped the 'black' from their 'gaze', their fourth album was an introspective work of shadowy, moody music that was closer to Radiohead than Rotting Christ, where guitars sparkled and shimmered to create a very different cloak of darkness. And it was superb. In fact, for all the apparent shifting, it was simply Deafheaven being more Deafheaven than usual. (NR)

46You Me At Six – SUCKAPUNCH (Underdog)

There was much to admire about SUCKAPUNCH, not least the fact that it saved You Me At Six from the brink. Prior to making the band’s seventh album, frontman Josh Franceschi, stuck in the clutches of imposter syndrome, began to wonder whether he might be about to embark upon his band’s final album. It was a thought he took with him to Thailand, the perfect setting to create the record he and his bandmates had always wanted to make. It was a creative gamble that not only rejuvenated the band – and scored them another Number One album when it was released – but in songs like MAKEMEFEELALIVE and What’s It Like, they finally found that equilibrium between the maturity of their present and the spirit of their past. (JH)

45The Wildhearts – 21st Century Love Songs (Graphite)

Britrock innovators The Wildhearts – so pivotal to British music in the ’90s – had no business being this good in 2021. But with a perennial genius like Ginger at the helm, the one certainty is that there is no certainty. Only The Wildhearts fuse elements from seemingly opposing genres into the same four minutes and make it sound perfectly natural. Here, on 21st Century Love Songs, were spunky, singable harmonies, songs that confronted mental health issues, and head-twisting confections of prog metal, hardcore punk and poetic melody. It had one foot wrapped in the band’s mighty roots and another stomping into the future – all of it, as ever, was a joy to have in your ears. (SB)

44Weezer – Van Weezer (Atlantic / Crush)

What do you do when you’ve got a world-conquering stadium tour on the way? Write an album that’ll sound good in those venues, of course. And then when there’s a pandemic that scraps all those live plans? Go orchestral instead (hello, OK Human), before returning to the stadium stuff when the time is right. That’s exactly what Weezer did this year, delivering two completely opposing – but, it has to be said, equally fantastic – records for the times. We’ve gone and stuck Van Weezer in the Top 50, though, mostly for the riffs, with the California rock heroes adding a hugely fun ’80s hair metal spin to Rivers Cuomo’s classic songwriting. It’s going to feel so good when the Hella Mega Tour hits the UK in 2022… (EC)

43Pupil Slicer – Mirrors (Prosthetic)

There were few records in 2021 that came close to the unadulterated chaos of Pupil Slicer’s Mirrors. Instantly gripping from the moment you hit play, the trio’s unique blend of powerviolence, death metal, grindcore and mathcore was equal parts intriguing and terrifying. Incorporating elements of suffocating ambience and crackling noise, Mirrors hearkened likenesses to early Converge while simultaneously sounding fresh and vibrant. Pupil Slicer’s ability to muddle these elements together and deliver with such brutal, assertive force made their debut one of the most exciting to be released this year. (AD)

42Foo Fighters – Medicine At Midnight (Roswell / Columbia)

It’s a small wonder Dave Grohl found time for new Foos music at all during lockdown. Between turning his hand to more traditional storytelling in memoirs and authorised documentary series, transatlantic drum-battles against 11-year-old Nandi Bushell, and nailing down collaborations with everyone from Rolling Stones legend Mick Jagger to his own daughter Violet, he’d have been forgiven for leaving his main band on ice. Instead, they dropped down a nostalgic rabbit-hole, showcasing their take on ’70s and ’80s radio-rock on rambunctious 10th album Medicine At Midnight. Songs like Shame Shame and Chasing Birds stopped short of these legends’ high-octane best, but offered a sentimental salve for millions of fans suffering in semi-silence. And after all that, they found time to make a horror film. The silly, brilliant bastards… (SL)

41Royal Blood – Typhoons (Warner)

The genesis of Royal Blood’s third album came with a personal decision. In the spring of 2019, seated at a bar in Las Vegas, vocalist and bassist Mike Kerr ordered himself one final espresso martini before giving up drinking for good. “It wasn’t until I’d had some time being sober, and some clarity, that I realised the state I was in,” he told Kerrang! “I think [musicians are] good at getting used to feeling like shit, and feeling satisfied with that kind of living.” The result of this new calibration and clarity was the joyous-sounding Typhoons, an album that went to Number One while bringing the nation a bit of cheer in a very dark year. (IW)

40SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Romance Of Affliction (Pure Noise)

Sometimes you need a record that’s just going to punch you in the face. Hard. Forever. One of the darkest albums you'll have heard in 2021, The Romance Of Affliction was an unflinching exposé of SeeYouSpaceCowboy vocalist Connie Sgarbossa’s psyche, trawling through the trauma of addiction and mental illness. Enlisting Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley and Underøath’s Aaron Gillespie to add more dimensions to the destruction, The Romance Of Affliction plunged the depths of hardcore, dragging ’90s screamo and post-hardcore into the violent vortex. But more than just a straight bludgeoning, SYSC’s unerring passion and Connie’s determination to survive took centre stage – not least in the pure catharsis of The End To A Brief Moment Of Lasting Intimacy’s ‘Take my haaaaaand!’ This was a record for anyone in need of a release and to feel like they're not alone. (LM)

39Jinjer – Wallflowers (Napalm)

Not a word you could apply to Tatiana Shmaluk, wallflower. Nor to Jinjer. Already on the way to being one of the biggest metal bands in Europe, the Ukrainians' fourth album was a surging statement that they refuse to be ignored. At times absurdly heavy, at other with the energetic kick of biting a power cable, it was an armour-plated work of metallic brilliance. And, putting Tatiana on the cover of Kerrang! for the first time ahead of the album's release, we found a true star. One who, having escaped war in her home country, seen a bandmate break his spine and, alongside the rest of Jinjer, had to fight her way out of an oft forgotten corner of Eastern Europe to get noticed, is fast becoming an icon for taking what you want and never backing down. (NR)

38While She Sleeps – Sleeps Society (Search & Destroy / Spinefarm)

Sleeps Society was not just an album, but a platform and fan-fuelled model for independent existence all rolled into one. It would represent an important milestone anyway for While She Sleeps (and any band looking for a sustainable way to operate), but luckily it also happened to be a quite fantastic slab of riff-fuelled metallic mayhem. It contained all the anthemic, gang-chant pit-stirrers we’ve come to expect from WSS, but there was also the odd musical curveball, as well as guest appearances from Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil, Deryck Whibley from Sum 41, and a number of Sleeps’ own fans. Another excellent showing from a band who never let their listeners down. (PT)

37Chubby And The Gang – The Mutt’s Nuts (Partisan)

Less than a year after the release of their Speed Kills debut, London’s Chubby And The Gang returned in August with this second showing of uncompromising Brit-punk anthems. While most of The Mutt’s Nuts’ 15 songs were brash explosions of belligerence like the forthright explosion of the title-track or Someone’s Gunna Die, there was also variety and depth here. Whether that was the sludgy chug of anti-racist anthem White Rags, the almost tender tones of Take Me Home To London or the wistful, doo-wop-inspired Life’s Lemons, it demonstrated that Chubby and co. don’t just have a lot to say, but many great ways to say to it. (MP)

36Bullet For My Valentine – Bullet For My Valentine (Spinefarm)

Just as their headlining slot at this year’s Download Pilot played a significant role in kickstarting the return of live music, so Bullet For My Valentine’s eponymous seventh album reinvigorated the band’s momentum, revisiting their thrashier roots in fine style. The Welsh quartet have often found their pendulum swinging between fiery metalcore and radio-friendly rock moves, but these 10 songs found them sounding as confident and controlled as ever. Deep enough into their career that they no longer give two hoots about anybody else’s opinions, this was the purest possible distillation of their metallic excellence. (OT)

35Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden’s Gate (Lava / Republic)

While making The Battle At Garden’s Gate, Greta Van Fleet missed touring so much that they packed their shit into a van and drove 2,000 miles from Nashville to Los Angeles. There, they made videos, did forward planning, and used this sense of being in the zone to write and record more songs for their second full-length. As a band most at home on the road, who've slept at an average speed of 55mph since they were high school aged, COVID's enforced pit-stop may have forced them into an unnatural reality at home, but it didn't rob them of their raw power. The Battle At Garden's Gate was a record of brilliant songs that made kissy faces at the golden age of ’70s rock, but it was in its desire to have things you haven't got – being able to play live, to be in your element – that it got its purring engine. You can take the band off the stage, but you can't take the wild, thrusting power of the stage out of the band. (NR)

34WILLOW – lately i feel EVERYTHING (MSFTSMusic / Roc Nation)

Listeners of a heavier persuasion were pleasantly shocked and surprised when, back in April, WILLOW returned with a brand-new single. Featuring (who else?) blink-182’s Travis Barker, t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l marked the start of a fresh chapter for the musician – one in which her early influences like Paramore and My Chemical Romance could be explored on a whole new level. And the album from which it was taken, lately i feel EVERYTHING, didn’t disappoint on that front either, embracing elements of everything from alt.rock to grunge and even nu-metal. Best of all was GROW, a collaboration with pop-punk queen Avril Lavigne that is seemingly signalling a return to rock for her, too. Now, can we keep this genre revival going well into 2022, please? (EC)

33Perturbator – Lustful Sacraments (Blood Music)

Five years on from the hyper-real, neon-soaked sci-fi synthwave of 2016's The Uncanny Valley, Perturbator's return was into a far darker place than he'd previously conjured. With a more gothic slant and a feeling of something more isolated, it was in some ways the difference between the bright lights of Blade Runner's Los Angeles, and the seedy darkness of its alleyways and back rooms. The genius of mainman James Kent, however, remained undiminished by this slight altering of course, and Lustful Sacraments was a record in which he built proudly and brilliantly on his early works while simultaneously shaking off any ties holding him too close to them. (NR)

32Dana Dentata – Pantychrist (Roadrunner)

Let’s face it, Pantychrist was a rather chucklesome title. The music contained therein, however, was anything but. Dana Dentata is the alter ego of Canadian musician Dana Marie Wright, the first female solo artist signed to Roadrunner Records, whose teenage years were blighted by abuse that caused her to experience a dissociative disorder. Dana has reconnected with the world and her harrowing experiences on her debut album, which brought genuine shock in the term ‘shock rocker’. Caustic and confrontational, Pantychrist was the sound of a survivor thriving and liberally tossing genres into the scorching furnace of her ambition. At times disturbing, it was also never less than a gripping listen. (JH)

31Waterparks – Greatest Hits (300 Entertainment)

According to Awsten Knight, if you’re not making divisive, conversation-provoking art, then “you’re kind of fucking boring”. That’s how the Waterparks frontman prepared us in advance of the band’s wildly experimental fourth album – and he emphatically succeeded in being the polar opposite of dull. Across 17 songs (all new – this wasn’t a retrospective best-of collection despite its title), Greatest Hits saw the Texas trio scaling colossal new songwriting heights, meticulously fusing the million ideas in Awsten’s head into a record that Kerrang! called ‘stunningly bonkers’ in our review at the time. There was all the infectiously brilliant pop-infused rock we’ve come to expect from Waterparks – Fuzzy, American Graffiti, Numb, You’d Be Paranoid Too (If Everyone Was Out To Get You) – but also so much more besides. It now begs the question: where the hell do they go from here? (EC)

30MØL – Diorama (Nuclear Blast)

Back in 2018, MØL were deemed (and rightly so) one of the brightest lights in the pitch-dark abyss of the burgeoning blackgaze movement with debut album JORD. And, three years later, they rammed that flag even further into the ground with follow-up Diorama. Vocalist Kim Song Sternkopf’s glass-gargling vocals were nothing short of a delight to listen to, elevating the Danes' brand of spacious extremity to another level. Still surfing that astral plane, the dreamier shoegaze elements floated and fluctuated throughout, but here we found MØL diving further into the metallic realm, embracing the blackness and skull-crushing blastbeats alongside some glistening guitar lines. At times tender, at times taxing, Diorama ran the gamut of sheer metallic fury and emerged victorious. (LM)

29IDLES – Crawler (Partisan)

Given their status as one of the most arresting bands to emerge from the UK scene in the last half-decade, you might reasonably think you knew what to expect from a new IDLES record. As it turned out, fourth album Crawler expanded their sound in unpredictable ways, dragging everything from industrial to soul into their heartfelt sonic stew and pointing towards all manner of possible futures for their noise-punk racket in the process. Crucially, this broadening of horizons did nothing to dampen the flame of a band evidently determined to challenge preconceptions and steamroller through modern Britain’s crumbling status quo. (OT)

28Rise Against – Nowhere Generation (Loma Vista)

Over 20 years into their career, there’s still plenty for Rise Against to take issue with in this world. On Nowhere Generation, their ninth album, the politically-charged Chicago four-piece did so ferociously. By now, they’ve pretty much perfected the art channelling political and personal angst into riotous yet melodic expressions of discontent, and perfect examples here were opener The Numbers – a reminder that people do still have the power – and Broken Dreams, Inc., which dismantles the so-called American Dream and the oppressive capitalist fallacy that upholds it. Despite that systemic indictment, it was still human hearts at the centre of these songs and their message, something that remained crucial to Rise Against's power even after so long. (MP)

27twenty one pilots – Scaled And Icy (Fueled By Ramen / Elektra)

I can feel my saturation leaving me slowly…’ began Tyler Joseph on Scaled And Icy's deceptively uplifting opener Good Day. It was an admission that was reflected in just about everything to do with the album, following the dark ambition of 2018’s Trench: from the bold, bright album artwork to the colourful imagery, videos, and indeed, the music as a whole. As always with twenty one pilots there was more to their latest chapter than met the eye, but ultimately not being wholly tied to grand storylines and lore worked wonders. The likes of lead single Shy Away and the Greg Kurstin-produced Saturday were instant earworms, while the rocking Never Take It, heartwarming Formidable and emotional gut-punch of closer Redecorate proved that the genre-defying duo could still do what they do best – even on a more deliberately understated scale. (EC)

26Green Lung – Black Harvest (Svart)

There’s nothing in Green Lung’s iron cauldron that hasn’t been seen before. There are shades of Sabbath, naturally. There’s a haze of psychedelia, a flash of Queen-style grandeur and a huge nod to late Deep Purple maestro Jon Lord’s Hammond histrionics. Everything has been bequeathed by the Great Old Ones, but Green Lung made well-worn tropes seem new and vibrant on Black Harvest. It’s similar to the way director Ben Wheatley dragged his namesake Dennis Wheatley’s occult themes kicking and screaming into a new century with films like Kill List and A Field In England. Green Lung are one of the most exciting things to have emerged from the metallic underground recently, and here they proved that their cult was on the rise. (PT)

25Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Sticky (International Death Cult)

It would have been A Very Frank Carter Thing to make an album during lockdown which feasted on all the anger, frustration, isolation, boredom, fear, hate and bullshit of the past 18 months and puked it back up into half an hour of scalding punk. It's also A Very Frank Carter thing not to simply make Grey Britain: II Electric Boogaloo. Instead, he wanted sticky to lean into energy, and fun, and positivity as much as possible, to scratch around for those gold nuggets of reasons to be cheerful in dark times. Only, when he listened back to Sticky, he realised it was more of a painted-on smile, and that what they'd created was far more acidic and cynical than intended. "It's probably the darkest record we've ever made," he told us. But what there also was here was celebration, there was a weird kind of joy, because the energy Frank harnessed is one that pointed a flamethrower at your heart, that primal urge to break loose of all this hideousness and feel alive again. Apt, then, that he was picked as the opening night headliner for Download Pilot in June – nobody could have punched you back into the world of the living and live music better. (NR)

24DE’WAYNE – STAINS (Hopeless)

Coming to the attentions of many rock fans after his collaboration with Waterparks’ Awsten Knight on the track Perfume, rap-rock newcomer DE’WAYNE burst onto the scene with plenty of swagger and self-assuredness thanks to his stylish debut LP STAINS. A picture of positivity, creative freedom and belief in his craft – 'Young Kurt Cobain coming up,' was how he described himself on the track Radio-Active – there was a refreshingly upbeat attitude to all DE’WAYNE did here, something which could be heard across songs like Walking To Work and the breezy Super 8. An enterprising and composed album front-to-back, DE’WAYNE’s first full-length more than made its mark in 2021. (JR)

23Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY (Sargent House)

The intensity and bleakness of Lingua Ignota’s fourth album was quite unlike any other released in 2021. SINNER GET READY immersed the listener in the blood and thunder of Pennsylvania’s rural Christianity, achieving genuinely unnerving heaviness via the medium of avant-classical hymnals and deconstructed Appalachian roots music. Pieces like I WHO BEND THE TALL GRASSES and MANY HANDS didn’t just channel the Biblical fury of peak Nick Cave or Diamanda Galas – they equalled them. Give yourself over to this record and you’ll find yourself thrust into an inferno of visceral weirdness and soul-quaking religious terror. (OT)

22Don Broco – Amazing Things (SharpTone)

Dinosaurs. David Beckham. Power Rangers. If you thought these were the only things occupying Don Broco’s mind these days, you’d be wrong. Amazing Things was Don Broco being typically unpredictable; four Bedford boys who haven’t taken the easy (or obvious) route to arena-rocking status. To get too preoccupied with the album’s conceptual and musical eccentricities, attention-grabbing though they were, would be to miss out on the band’s newfound capacity for lyrical depth. So for every tune – the pulsing Swimwear Season, seething Uber or aching Easter Sunday – there was a thought-provoking topic (climate change, racism and the pain of loss, respectively). Whether you wanted big riffs or powerful sentiments, Don Broco delivered them amazingly. (JH)

21Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound (Century Media)

Black metal’s favourite Swedish spooky boys Tribulation delivered yet another gothic slab of decadence with Where The Gloom Becomes Sound. Thick and ominous atmosphere abounded alongside Johannes Anderrson’s evocative growls, as the riffs seduced the listener with seemingly infinite hooks. It was also a record in which they flexed their talent. Daughter Of The Djinn, for instance, had so many changes in tempo that it engendered a refreshed appreciation for what an astounding drummer Oscar Leander really is. One of the best albums that Tribulation have ever released, and a worthy AOTY contender. (AD)

20Beartooth – Below (Red Bull)

While Beartooth have never made a bad album, Below saw them spectacularly fulfil their potential. Without abandoning metalcore roots altogether – there was bulk, breakdowns and screaming galore here – this fourth release was closer to pure metal than anything they'd done previously, and the songs were so bouncy and energetic that they tussled like puppies for your attention. It was music that made you feel less alone, anthems addressing frontman Caleb Shomo’s lifelong battle with depression – raw and emotive on Skin, but finding resolution and hope on I Won’t Give It Up and Dominate, in which he roared: ‘When I return I’ll be stronger than I’ve ever been.’ What an album that will be. (SB)

19Biffy Clyro – The Myth Of The Happily Ever After (14th Floor / Warner)

It's almost annoying that, barely a year after they released 2020's outstanding A Celebration Of Endings, talented bastards Biffy Clyro were able to return with another lockdown album, The Myth Of The Happily Ever After, that was every bit as good. And they'd done it more or less for something to do and to keep the darkness from the door since they weren't going to be touring again for a while. But then, Biffy being brilliant is as surprising as white milk, and songs like A Hunger In Your Haunt, Witch's Cup and Denier were classic Clyro, while the unflinching experimentation of Slurpy Slurpy Sleep Sleep scratched an itch for their less conventional early works. What an album. What a treat. What a band. (NR)

18Scowl – How Flowers Grow

How long does it take to make a first impression? On Scowl’s debut album How Flowers Grow, just 15 minutes and 34 seconds was enough to cement themselves as one of the most exciting bands in the blossoming Californian hardcore scene. In vocalist Kat Moss, the K! cover stars showed they have a formidable mouthpiece, barking ‘The more you talk the less I listen!’ with unrivalled vitriol on opener Bloodhound. More than just a high-octane blast to the finish line, the LP rollicked along with a snarling attitude and a two-step swagger built for opening pits. Cramming as much aggression into the compact space as possible, from the swampy riffage of Trophy Hunter to the scorching vocals on Four Walls, they still found time for a saxophone solo on the summery serenade Seeds To Sow. Punk as fuck. (LM)

17Trash Boat – Don’t You Feel Amazing? (Hopeless)

Comfortably Trash Boat’s most accomplished and mature work yet, Don’t You Feel Amazing? was a far cry from the band’s gruff pop-punk roots. It packed a punch throughout, with the brooding Silence Is Golden and the groove-laden Bad Entertainment – the latter of which features Wargasm’s Milkie Way – both demonstrating Trash Boat’s impressive and ever-improving songwriting capabilities. The standout moment was He’s So Good, where vocalist Tobi Duncan took centre stage to spit venom about the prejudices he’s witnessed and the effects they have on those who are victimised. A potent and powerful album, Don’t You Feel Amazing? was the record where Trash Boat truly came of age. (JR)

16Poppy – Flux (Sumerian)

Poppy’s finest album to date went rather near to the knuckle. After a well-publicised split with her creative partner Titanic Sinclair, a man she subsequently accused of “manipulative patterns”, the 26-year-old let fly with a collection that grappled with notions of control and finding your place in the world. And Flux wasn’t only personal in its words — by marrying them to songs inspired by bands as diverse as Jack Off Jill and My Bloody Valentine, it provided a playlist of the influences that transformed Moriah Rose Pereira into Poppy. Thankfully for an album detailing liberation, both creative and personal, Flux found its creator sounding absolutely free. (JH)

15The Bronx – The Bronx VI (Cooking Vinyl)

Eighteen years after unleashing their excoriating self-titled debut album on an unsuspecting world, by now, were they a lesser band, The Bronx might be running out of road. It is, then, a testament to the LA quintet’s skill and fury that their sixth studio LP was one of the year’s best. The key, unsurprisingly, was in the strength of songs, compositions that could easily be pared back to an acoustic guitar and singer Matt Caughthran’s impossibly expressive voice. But when aided and abetted by The Bronx’s ferocious yet forensic skills as a musical unit, the overall effect was both tightly controlled and boundless in its irresistible energy. A triumph. (IW)

14Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (Parlophone)

It was good larks, following the trail of breadcrumbs Iron Maiden had laid out leading up to the release of Senjutsu's first single, The Writing On The Wall. The writing had literally been on the wall at Download Pilot, in the form of posters for something called Belshazzar's Feast (Biblically, The Feast Of The Writing On The Wall), and nobody noticed. Almost as good as when the song it was leading to dropped, followed by the album. At nearly 90 minutes in length, it was a feast in itself, but one that felt fresh and invigorated, even when The Parchment and Hell On Earth knocked on for a quarter of an hour each. Forty-one years since their debut, Iron Maiden remained not only brilliant, but fearless, interesting and sharp. And there's nothing cryptic about that. (NR)

13Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon (Roadrunner)

Ten albums in and, far from hitting a rut, Trivium seemed to be building a whole new sense of momentum in 2021. Last year’s What The Dead Men Say marked an explosive return, and In The Court Of The Dragon was even better. Where the former dealt with gritty humanity, their latest built its own grand mythology and provided a soundtrack that was suitably epic in scope. No other contemporary band are as adept at bringing together strands from metal’s various subgenres and forging them into an instantly recognisable whole, and at this point Trivium, are in a field of their own. Not only that, they’ve rarely sounded better. (PT)

12Mastodon – Hushed And Grim (Reprise)

Mastodon have evolved hugely from the band whose breakthrough release was a crushing sludge-metal concept album about a whale, expanding their sonic palette and emotional reach while still retaining that primal sense of heaviness. Weighing in at an hour and a half, Hushed And Grim was the longest album they’ve yet put out, and gave full rein to the prog-rock tendencies that have always swirled beneath the surface. Add the emotional resonance of songs that revolve around the passing of the band’s long-time manager Nick John, and you had an album of immense depth, subtlety and power. (PT)

11Amyl And The Sniffers – Comfort To Me (Rough Trade)

A band so rough and ready they make The Ramones sound like Dream Theater, the idea that Amyl And The Sniffers had the wit and space to express themselves as deftly as they did on Comfort To Me might have seemed for the birds. But with songs about yearning for love, the plight of lacking a pot in which to pee (or a window out of which to throw it) and the difficulties of combating loneliness, the antipodean quartet’s second album was a case study in how to combine red-blooded rock’n’roll with an emotional maturity that pointed to an even brighter future for one of the most exciting bands on the scene. (IW)

10Converge – Bloodmoon: I

Five years ago, Converge unveiled their Bloodmoon project onstage at Roadburn and London’s Electric Brixton. For all intents and purposes, we thought it was a one-off to which only a select few would ever bear witness. But thankfully that was not the case, as arguably the greatest hardcore band of all time teamed up with members of seminal post-hardcore band Cave In and the incredible Chelsea Wolfe. Which was just as good as it sounds. It was menacing, it was mournful, it was a miasma of darkness, with Jacob Bannon’s signature barbed vocals tearing through the cacophony, which often found itself meandering into more esoteric and expansive territory (see the final half of Viscera Of Men). Pushing every available boundary and preconception of what every artist involved is capable of, tracks like Coil showcased the might and majesty of the seven minds involved in Bloodmoon: I’s creation. Proof, if it was needed, that heavy music is still evolving, and that when true artists find a kinship, magic can happen. (LM)

9Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Capitol)

When Halsey announced that their fourth album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power would be co-written and produced by Nine Inch Nails supremos Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, it was a game-changer. The New Jersey pop artist had already fleetingly collaborated with Thirty Seconds To Mars, Bring Me The Horizon and Machine Gun Kelly, but to be crossing streams with arguably the greatest minds in the past 30 years of alternative music signified a bold step up. A head-spinning stream of consciousness exploring Halsey’s recent experiences with “the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth”, IICHL,IWP veered spectacularly between glassy synths and Dave Grohl drum solos, capturing the teetering vulnerability and bosom-baring defiance of becoming a young mother at the cutting-edge of the music industry. What’s more punk than that? (SL)

8Gojira – Fortitude (Roadrunner)

Cometh the hour, cometh the band. COVID might have been a wake-up call for humanity, but it felt like a grim inevitability for French heavyweights Gojira, who’d finalised imagery for their seventh album that warned ‘The virus is spreading’, and had written lyrics seeking ‘another world, another place to be’ long before the C-word had crossed any of their lips. Rather than basking in vindication or descending further into doom and gloom, however, Fortitude was an 11-song ode to mankind’s stubborn ability to endure. Combining some of their heaviest-ever songwriting (Sphinx, Grind) with spells of their most accessible (Hold On, The Chant), this was music to elevate listeners out of the mire – and its creators to the forefront of metal. (SL)

7Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine Of Hell (Sargent House)

Engine Of Hell was a beautiful record, a gentle thing made of the most bare guitar, piano and vocals, the very essence of fragility captured and distilled. But once you heard its full story, Emma Ruth Rundle's stark confessional became something even more powerful. Written during a period of change in which isolation, drug abuse, feelings of being on the wrong path and a loss of identity had come to a head, Emma told Kerrang! before its release that the more she delved into these things, the more she found. "I was excavating myself, like soul retrieval, trying to find my history again," she said. Emma also told us that she "credits being able to make this record" to the "exorcism" she went through during a stay in a mental hospital last year. Where there is darkness, though, there must also be light, and that came in a sense of shedding skin and liberation. The shine around Blooms Of Oblivion and Razor's Edge came from properly sorting through their contents and being able to properly get rid of them. Fragile, painfully honest and sublimely articulated, it was a beautifully personal statement from a genuinely singular talent. (NR)

6Employed To Serve – Conquering (Spinefarm)

Employed To Serve wouldn't know 'not very good' if it got the train to Woking and turned up on their doorstep. Like 2017's The Warmth Of A Dying Sun and its 2019 follow-up Eternal Forward Motion, Conquering was a heavy, slamming, aggressive affair constructed with delicate skill and presented with the grace of a fist. Even losing three-fifths of their line-up and recruiting another didn't leave a bruise. In Mark Of The Grave and the stomping Exist, they served up mosh-ready riffs, while elsewhere a truly nerdy understanding of what makes metal – all of it, from Slipknot to Testament – such a thrilling, energising, cathartic thing is deployed to devastating effect. If you hadn't caught up yet: Employed To Serve simply can't do bad. (NR)

5Holding Absence – The Greatest Mistake Of My Life (SharpTone)

Pontypridd’s Holding Absence grew into their skins beautifully on second record The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, creating a stunning meditation on life, love and death with wisdom beyond their years. They fulfilled every drop of their potential carried over from 2019’s self-titled debut, with a lusher, richer sonic palette, and Lucas Woodland wielding more control over his spine-tingling voice. Some of these tracks, particularly the rousing Celebration Song and ebullient Afterlife, were the life-affirming, tear-jerking anthems that felt perfect as the springtime brought longer, sunnier days and the promise of hope with the world finally opening up again. These songs may well be the emo anthems that are remembered for generations. (EW)

4Turnstile – GLOW ON (Roadrunner)

With their third record, Baltimore’s Turnstile both furthered hardcore’s infiltration into the mainstream and reshaped the already-nebulous confines of the genre. GLOW ON was the five-piece’s most accessible set of songs to date, but driven by the same punk ideology as ever. It’s just that now, the abrasive aggression of Don’t Play was tempered by quasi-tropical instrumentation, while Alien Love Call and Lonely Dezires – both of which featured shapeshifting indie-pop firebrand Blood Orange – took sharp left musical turns. As T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection) showed, however, they could still blast out old school hardcore like the best of them. Better, in fact. (MP)

3Architects – For Those That Wish To Exist (Epitaph)

It was while making For Those That Wish To Exist in New Zealand last year that Architects drummer Dan Searle had a realisation. As Australia burned in the heat of bushfires, forcing the band to shift their recording plans, he had a question about the climate catastrophe he was seeing in real time: 'Why aren't I doing more?' It's a question that often appears through the album's lyrics, and an important one. But the vessel in which Architects presented these thoughts are as impressive as these worries are serious. Often leaning into a Linkin Park-ish sense of melody and Rammstein's stomping authority, it was a record with grand ambition and a sense of place. And that place was big stages in front of big audiences. Animals thrusted heavily and effectively, while Black Lungs thundered on a fat groove as Sam Carter asked 'You wanna make your hell a reality?' When it went to Number One, it was vindicating. With their music, Architects remained one of the UK's finest bands in 2021, and with their message, they were unquestionably right. Both needed to be heard. (NR)

2Spiritbox – Eternal Blue (Rise)

It twisted and it turned, and it caressed and it stabbed. If you had to pick just one great thing about Spiritbox's debut, Eternal Blue, it was that you genuinely had no clue where it was going next – only that it’d be exciting when it got there. Holy Roller’s caustic power, its sheer density, contrasted so starkly to the softened pastel melodics of opener Sun Killer, or for that matter the dramatic closing track, Constance, which from delicacy evolved into lurching, attention-grabbing noise. Put simply: Spiritbox made the debut of the year. (SB)

1Every Time I Die – Radical (Epitaph)

It's been 20 years since Every Time I Die put out their Last Night In Town debut album. How, you should wonder, can they remain one of the most exciting, intelligent, feral, cunningly clever and electrifyingly brilliant bands on the planet? By whatever metric you choose to measure them, they continually exceed whatever requirement asked of them. Again, how? This was not a question answered in Radical so much as reaffirmed in its underlying truth: they are the best band.

Even by frontman Keith Buckley's own open-diary standards, Radical was an album of deep depth. Reaching up to his armpits into the subjects of drinking and his new sobriety, mental health, separating from his wife and daughter, and the road to rediscovering himself, it was the most open he'd ever been on record, something he told Kerrang! when discussing the impact his words would have on his own life. “I had to write about how miserable I was in my life to see that I didn’t belong there,” he told us. “It was radical, because I knew that once the album came out, there was no way that I could go back to the person I was before.”

This feeling of importance ran right to the centre of Radical. On Sly, Planet Shit and The Whip, they were incendiary, volatile. Everything was urgent, caught in a frenzy, as though trying to shake itself off itself. But even when Radical eased up, such as on the breath-catching Thing With Feathers, there was a feeling of a boiling pot beginning to go over.

So, the question again: in a year of music as thrilling, creative, broad and articulate as this, how have a band two decades and nine albums in topped things, with a record that still finds them cutting a little deeper and pushing a little harder than previously? We don't know. It's a riddle without an answer. But they have. And they're still doing the best version of themselves. (SL)

Words: Steve Beebee, Emily Carter, Angela Davey, James Hickie, Sam Law, Luke Morton, Mischa Pearlman, Jake Richardson, Nick Ruskell, Olly Thomas, Paul Travers, Emma Wilkes, Ian Winwood

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