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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Polis

Chewie's Top 15 Albums of 2021

2021 was an oddly good year. For music that is, everything else was still pretty fucked up. But for music? I’ve seen some of the best live performances and heard some of the best music I’ve seen and heard in a LONG time. Who would have thought that locking musicians up for almost a full year would yield a creative explosion. With coming in 2022 that could be even more explosive, like from ever growing artists like Shadow of Intent, Fit For An Autopsy, and Bad Omens and industry titans like Korn, Sabaton, and Porcupine Tree, maybe the whole lockdown thing was a good idea… Fuck that, musicians, just isolate yourself for a dumb amount of time to write, apparently it makes you sound damn good. These are the 15 albums that I think killed 2021.

15. Wage War - Manic

Wage War have been a metalcore staple for years, and with the release of Manic, they have proven yet again why they are where they are. Combining the talents from both Briton Bond and Cody Quistad, the second biggest band to ever come out of Ocala, Florida have brought their signature blend of clean and unclean vocals to new heights with Manic. From heavy breakdowns like “High Horse”, which has come to feature Caleb from Beartooth at just about every opportunity the band has, to the ever so melodic “Never Said Goodbye”, Wage War has created an excellent album, and a great start to my top 15 of 2021.

Chewie’s Pick: “Teeth”, when I saw them open for Beartooth before the album dropped, they pulled this one out as a surprise since it was going to be released as a single at midnight.

14. Lorna Shore - …And I Return to Nothing EP

I really shouldn’t have to explain myself on this one, like, at all. Via Spotify, “To The Hellfire” had one of the fastest growing listen count for a single, and fifth highest listen count of any song from my top 15 releases, and all four of the songs ahead of it came out in 2020. The only negative thing that can be said about this is that it was only an EP, and a very short one at that. The other two songs are the same quality as “To The Hellfire”, brutal, absolutely immaculately written by my home-state brothers, but it left us dying for more, which is already coming our way in 2022.

Chewie’s Pick: “To The Hellfire”, listen, even I have to be basic sometimes.

13. Tetrarch - Unstable

Admittedly, there is a little bit of a bias here, as I did get a little extra time to sit with the album before it’s release, but Tetrarch really did come out guns blazing. Diamond Rowe showed across this entire album why she is one of the best up-and-coming guitar players out there right now. The band is blending a more “radio” hard rock sound with the sounds of metalcore and deathcore artists that only really get radio love from Sirius, and they are doing it perfectly. Unstable shows that what people want to create and want to hear is starting to shift, heavy is back in, softer hard rock is out.

Chewie’s Pick: “Negative Noise”, “I’m Not Right” was a tight contender, but boy oh boy, this reminded me of some old fashioned Slipknot and I can’t go against that.

12. Slaughter to Prevail - Kolstolom

Holy deathcore, Batman! This album brings a new definition to brutality. Slaughter to Prevail came out more than swinging, they came out riding in a full on IS-3 tank. Aleksander Shikolai, better known as Alex Terrible, knows exactly what to do when it comes to keeping that brutality coming song after song, and that is to bring forth gutturals that would make a grizzly bear cry. Can I understand every word he sings? No, but that doesn’t mean anything when the rest of the band is blasting through some of the heaviest music ever. There is one downside to this album, and that is I had absolutely no clue when it was actually coming out. Sure, surprise drops are great and everything, but even though I had been jamming “Demolisher” and occasionally hitting back on “Agony”, I didn’t see a single advertisement or promoted post about the album being released. All I know is that one day, I looked on my Spotify, and saw the single was gone, and in its place was an absolute hammer to the groin of an album.

Chewie’s Pick: “Demolisher” like I said before, let me be basic, this song absolutely slaps.

11. Spiritbox - Eternal Blue

For a band that hadn’t even released a full length album yet, Spiritbox had been blowing up for at least the entirety of 2021, if not a good amount of time before. Usually bands with a big hype leading into a debut tend to be supergroups and pump out magic or up and comers that end up flopping hard, but Spiritbox did exactly what everyone had been hyped about, pumped out absolute gold. Courtney LaPlante and company have absolutely shredded expectations and come out with one of the most uniquely heavy yet melodic albums in recent history, if not ever. If there’s ever been a band who deserves the hype for album #2 before album #1 is even 3 months old, this is the band, and seeing how Eternal Blue was received, they are in for a long and historic career.

Chewie’s Pick: “Holy Roller”, this song is not only a banger on the album, but I was able to see it live with Will Ramos at his home-state show, making an already amazing performance absolutely legendary.

10. Whitechapel - Kin

There’s something really special about what Whitechapel is doing with their future, and that is taking Phil Bozeman’s talents and working with them. The dude can sing, which wasn’t really shown until Mark of the Blade, expanded upon on The Valley, and even more so now with Kin. The Nashville, Tennessee locals have been deathcore powerhouses around the world for a number of years, but many fans and critics alike would argue that they dropped the ball with Kin. This is the band’s first time not even placing on every single North American chart since their debut The Somatic Defilement in 2007, and they took significant dives on the charts overseas. Even with this in mind, they still rounded out my top 10, because unlike a good portion of fans of the deathcore genre, I also listen to pop punk and emo, allowing me to appreciate the slight stylistic changes the band has gone through over the past three albums. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying this new direction is better than if they stayed with the relentless beatdown from their prior albums, as this shows they are more than just a chug-and-scream deathcore band.

Chewie’s Pick: “I Will Find You”, not only does it showcase literally everything the band has been working towards with softer and heavy instrumentals and vocals, but it starts with “The Devil is dead.”, it’s a no brainer.

9. The Devil Wears Prada - ZII EP

So, eating crow a little here, because I did say what hurt Lorna Shore’s …And I Return to Nothing was that it was an EP. This is still true here, because if this was a full album that ran with The Devil Wears Prada’s zombie theme, it would be much higher, but the reason this is in the top ten is in the same vein. ZII is a follow up to their Zombie EP from 2010, which in itself is already a metalcore masterpiece. This sequel takes the subject material from Zombie, and adds 11 years of growth both musically and personally from the band and takes off running. It is easily the sequel that we didn’t know we wanted, because dear lord does it rock and meet every expectation that a sequel EP should have and then excels beyond. I just hope a ZIII EP isn’t on the way, because after that it will be stuck in reboot, spinoff, and retcon hell like every quality franchise.

Chewie’s Pick: "Termination", out of an EP of very strong songs, this song stands out the most thanks to it's breakdown and accompanying buildup, absolutely massive.

8. SeeYouSpaceCowboy… - The Romance of Affliction

SeeYouSpaceCowboy… has been a band that has been garnering an underground following for quite some time now. They’ve been put on some pretty stacked bills like Knocked Loose’s tour supporting A Different Shade of Blue and now being put as support acts for countless other bigger tours and fests, they have dug and clawed their way out from the underground scene and into the limelight, and there was no better soundtrack to breaking through for them than The Romance of Affliction. This 13 track album takes the band’s signature no holds barred blistering sound to the forefront, along with the many vocal talents of Connie Sgarbossa, and ramps it up to 11. This may not be the band’s first release, but this is the time to get on at the bottom, because it won’t be long until they are selling out venues left and right.

Chewie’s Pick: “Sharpen What You Can (ft. Shaolin G.)”, the amazing feature from Unity TX’s Shaolin G. aside, this song absolutely slaps from start to finish, a true manic masterpiece.

7. Between the Buried and Me - Colors II

2021 was apparently the year of the sequel album, and if there was ever a band to make a sequel, it's Between The Buried And Me. While it was an odd choice to bring Colors back after 14 years, it lives up to the same hype that it would have had if it came out before their 2009 follow up The Great Misdirect. The album is a great blend of everything the band was able to do for the 14 years following the original Colors while still keeping the style and sound of the Colors era in mind. The band sounds as tight as ever, and following the two Automata EPs which included two of the band's biggest tracks, it's on track to be yet another high point in a career of highs.

Chewie’s Pick: "Fix The Error", the massive, 4 person drum solo is one of the biggest selling points I've ever seen in a song, and this drummer is sold.

6. Every Time I Die - Radical

This is exactly what the world was waiting for from Every Time I Die. Around the start of things opening up again, they dropped a double single, with a promise the full release wouldn’t be out until they can tour to support it, and for the most part, they did keep their promise, because they were finally able to tour the album shortly after its release. However, this album is also easily the most bittersweet release ever. Easily the band’s greatest success, the already massive band is growing bigger and bigger, plenty of touring opportunities announced and then suddenly the band breaks up over still unconfirmed facts. Regardless of the band’s status, this album fits right into what Every Time I Die was all about, mind-bending riffs and song design, the right mix of heavy and not, and Keith’s insane vocal talents. As unplanned of a farewell it was, for now or forever, Radical is definitely an album to be proud of for a final release.

Chewie’s Pick: “Planet Shit”, because when is there ever a time where yelling “Fuck you, die” doesn’t feel good.

5. Beartooth - Below

I had the pleasure of seeing Beartooth as an opening band for Pierce the Veil back in 2014. Fast forward to a few months back when they headlined The Fillmore in Philly supporting Below, and the only thing that has changed is the size of the venue, because they still know how to rip one of the best live shows around. The thing that allows them to rip such killer shows is their ability to put out bigger and better albums, and Below is no different. Caleb Shomo and company have put out their strongest album to date, mixing their signature heavy with songs like “Devastation” and “Dominate” with Caleb’s vocal talent and personal writing with songs like “Skin” and “The Answer”.

Chewie’s Pick: "Phantom Pain", it takes a little bit of everything from what Beartooth does, it has the heavy, Caleb's absolutely majestic vocals, a bit of the heavy-style lyrics, and a touch of the mental health messaging for good measure, making it an all around perfect Beartooth song.

4. Gojira - Fortitude

The French flying whale watchers have brought forth yet another masterpiece. I remember when “Another World” dropped in 2020, I was on the phone with someone in the industry who told me that, while it would be quite a wait for the full album, it would be worth it. Boy was he right, because the next two singles, “Amazonia” and “Born For One Thing” took everything the band created with Magma and the rest of their prior discography, and took it to an entirely new level. That’s not even considering the last two singles, with “Into The Storm” giving something absolutely insane and “The Chant” bringing a different new sound expertly crafted to fit right into the album. And when you factor in the rest of the album? C’est beau.

Chewie’s Pick: “Born For One Thing”, in the same phone conversation I mentioned, I was also told this was the song Jose from Sirius was most excited for, I can definitely see why, plus you don't argue with the Metal Ambassador.

3. Ice Nine Kills - The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood

To anyone who knows me, you know Ice Nine Kills is easily one of my favorite bands ever, and it’s a surprise they are not in the top spot. Well, there are a few reasons for this, the first being that, while yes I am biased given my affinity for the band, this list is based on actual performance and not just a popularity thing, so I had to give it a fair shake. The second follows the first, in that I felt the two releases after this did that much better. Third, I’m done explaining the list, because this album was absolutely phenomenal. They have been growing their schtick, and their loyal and devoted fan base for years, and it has culminated in this masterclass in writing. Some may say that they cheat a little, seeing how they are using existing books and movies as source material, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have to put in major effort to make it a song. With tracks like “Würst Vacation” and “Take Your Pick” bringing the heavy sound the band has been working with over the years, while radio-focused earworms like “Hip To Be Scared” and “Rainy Day”, Ice Nine Kills has created the absolute best album that they could without sacrificing their horror movie mentality.

Chewie’s Pick: “Take Your Pick (ft. Corpsegrinder)”, I mean come on, Corpsegrinder’s feature melted the speakers in my car for crying out loud!

2. Architects - For Those That Wish To Exist

The metalcore titans from the UK have struck hard yet again. This time around, they took risk by taking a step back from those metalcore roots in favor of a more radio-friendly approach, and it payed off immensely. From this entire 15 album list, not only do they have the song with the most plays on Spotify in "Animals", and not only does the song have more than double the plays of the song before it on the list, but the album also has "Black Lungs", the third highest play count of any song from these 15 releases. This album was an absolute powerhouse, and it's no surprise why. There is not a single bad song on the entire album, each song more catchy than the last. They truly knocked this one out of the park, and allegedly there's even more coming in 2022, so color me ecstatically excited.

Chewie’s Pick: “Impermanence (ft. Winston McCall)”, an album full of amazing songs makes for a tough choice, but you can never go wrong with Winston on the track.

1 . Knocked Loose - A Tear In The Fabric of Life EP

Alright alright, how can I say being an EP hurts a release, then stick an EP at the number one spot on the list? First off, because it’s my list and that’s how I’m running it. Second, because Knocked Loose has consistently blown up bigger and bigger with every release, and with this, they exploded as if they released a double album. It was the surprise drop to end surprise drops. No singles to get a taste, no fancy pre-order packages, nothing. We got the change from blue to red in their social media profiles and then wham, six new songs with an accompanying animated short film. Although it seemed almost impossible to outdo A Different Shade of Blue, let alone the rest of their discography, with just an EP no less, but the boys from Kentucky really pulled it off with this EP. From start to finish the concept EP is an endless rampage of pure rage with an amazing storyline to boot.

Chewie’s Pick: The whole EP, I physically cannot bring myself to choose one song over the rest.

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