And so attention turns to the Ghost Cult Top 20. The albums of the year, as voted (democratically) for by the writers, crew, contributors, alumni and just cool as fuck people that make up the establishment here at Castle Ghost Cult.
As you’d expect by now, our Top 20 reflects the highest quality rock, metal and alternative music that was launched into our faces in 2021.
As always, our intention is to promote the music we love and, while our lists often reflect a more alternative bent, it is fair to say that 2021 very much brought out our Metal side. Hope you dig.
March on and into glory ride as we unveil the Ghost Cult Top 20 albums of the year, 2021…
20. Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon (Relapse Records)
Progressive, technical, catchy, dreamy, the returning Genghis Tron have dialled down the glitching, twitching schizophrenia, instead emphasising that this is an entirely different iteration of that which came before. Now, whatever you may think of this, Dream Weapon is an hypnotic, cinematic soundscape that cocoons you in its light progressive smoothness.
19. Between The Buried & Me – Colors II (Sumerian Records)
Not just a sequel in name, the continuation of Between The Buried And Me’s seminal 2007 album is a sub-genre shifting chameleon with its feet firmly planted in the heavier end of Technical Metal, that insists you take your time by refusing to give you quick wins. Yet, the grower’s always outshine the shower’s, and Colors II provides great reward to the patient, those prepared to wait for the quality and hooks to reveal themselves over time.
18. Cradle of Filth – Existence Is Futile (Nuclear Blast)
“Yes, in keeping with their perverse sense of humour, Cradle of Filth’s thirteenth full length studio release is a perfectly timed, hour long exploration of existential dread and fear of the unknown. Combining old school NWOBHM with savage black metal hooks, Gothic orchestrations and rampaging blastbeats, Existence is Futile is as playful and strangely uplifting as it is serious and oppressive. The end is nigh, there is no hope for mankind and Cradle of Filth is here to watch the world burn.” GC Review
17. Royal Blood –Typhoons (Warner Music)
We are not averse to a bit of indie / alternative rock here at GC Towers, particularly when it is as slickly delivered as by UK duo Royal Blood. Poppier and slinkier than their previous outings, RB are consolidating on their success by expanding their reach, exploring even more radio-friendly hooks and production and song-writing tropes not a million miles from where Mark Ronson took QOTSA.
16. The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic II (Nuclear Blast)
Bucking the trend that sequels aren’t as good, Aeromantic II continues the ridiculously retro rompage of its predecessor with a focus on disco choruses, Soft Rock verses and tales of space age mile high club entrants and, well, silliness. And it is all glorious and all great as the super-group continue to be both prolific in terms of quality and quantity. What better cure for the winter post-COVID blues than swinging your pants to ‘Midnight Marvellous’!
15. Khemmis – Deceiver (Nuclear Blast)
“The raw, artistic depths that this group can reach with their heaviness is tunnelling even deeper on this new record. By intensifying their emotional provocation and sound, Khemmis has struck gold. The poetic lyrics of emptiness and sorrow flame up with the passion delivered by each member. A feverish fervor is unleashed that projects a determined display of the sullen. The songs march with a resilience and provocative potency of varying emotions. They continue to impress with their evolution of Modern Doom sound.” GC Review
14. Carcass – Torn Arteries (Nuclear Blast)
“Another link in the continuing evolution of Carcass, Torn Arteries might be a far cry from the obnoxious, crusty grindcore of Reek or Symphonies but there are still moments when that familiar barely-held-together insanity returns. Never for too long though, the breakneck speed usually replaced by another bluesy solo or mid-paced chug… proof that Carcass knows how to adapt and survive.” GC Review
13. Cult of Luna – The Raging River (Red Creek Records)
Bridging the gap in the lead-up to the much awaited The Long Road North, Cult of Luna‘s February 2021 EP is long-enough to have been classed an album in it’s own right had they chosen to. Featuring all of the trademark dark, introspective, involved post-Metal elements that form part of the arsenal of one of our generation’s best unconventional bands, The Raging River is excellently claustrophobic and gripping.
12. Every Time I Die – Radical (Epitaph Records)
Every Time I Die have brought the kitchen sink on their ninth album! Everything you’d expect from one of the most trusted guarantees in post-hardcore music, from riffs to grooves to soundbites to the odd curve-ball, they’ve got it all in spades. There may be a minor element of filler here and there across the fifty-plus minute run time, but the killer more than makes up for that.
11. At The Gates – The Nightmare of Being (Century Media Records)
“Tomas Lindberg Redant sears the senses with his ever persistent and passionate vocals. There is an indignation carried in his tones that each member complements with their intuitive playing. His declarations of inner struggle simmers in each song. The depth of the duelling guitars resound with a powerful edge that drips with purposeful outrage. Their fury gets under your skin and stays there from the beginning to the end of the album. This is a record to put on repeat again and again.” GC Review
10. Wolves In The Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Relapse Records)
“Whereas predecessor Thrice Woven (Artemisia) raged and scythed with icy canker, and previous offerings entreated forests and mountains vast, Primordial Arcana is a cinematic and luscious soundtrack of immediate rural imagery with each song conjuring scenery and mystic feelings aligned to a closeness with nature. This is not a panoramic, drones-eye experience; these songs feel lived and shared and personal, with a sense of intimacy. While bears may still fish in bitter rivers nearby, …Arcana carries a campfire’s warmth. While perhaps not as important – externally at least – as Two Hunters, Primordial Arcana is every bit as vital and just as monumental.” GC Review
9. Turnstile – Glow On (Roadrunner Records)
Having delivered a contemporary post-hardcore masterpiece last time around, Baltimore quintet Turnstile are at it again with the soundtrack to the summer of ’21, the uplifting Glow On. Dialling down the discordance, and amping up the 90’s alternative hooks, Glow On is packed with anthems. Adding Helmet style shuffle and groove into the riff pack along with nailing the stoner-skate understated vocals the likes Fu Manchu are known all adds to a recipe for success.
8. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue (Rise Records)
“What I’ve learned from Eternal Blue is that these songs don’t overstay their welcome and jump right into the next with an economy that recalls Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and Meteora. Another ace up the sleeve is Courtney LaPlante’s Killswitch Engage-level penchant for catchy choruses and hooks. You liked ‘Secret Garden’? Well, congratulations, because it’s going to reside in your head for the next four months.” GC Review
7. Mastodon – Hushed and Grim (Reprise Records)
“Considering the progressive nature of Atlanta genre dodgers Mastodon, the only real surprise regarding the band’s choice to record an eighty-eight minute double album is that it’s taken them this long to do it in the first place. A dark, trippy and thought-provoking masterpiece, do not expect to absorb Hushed and Grim in just a couple of sittings. This is a bold, brave record which requires time, patience and your full undivided attention.” GC Review
6. Gojira – Fortitude (Roadrunner Records)
“Although not following the likes of Opeth in discarding their distortion pedals, or copying Metallica by writing more commercially acceptable songs, Gojira is just finding different ways to be heavy. The most varied and heterogeneous record from the band thus far, some of the more experimental material on Fortitude is likely to be met with a certain amount of resistance, but there’s still more than enough heads down, neck-breaking heaviness to please the most devoted Gojira old-schooler.” GC Review
5. Rivers of Nihil – The Work (Metal Blade)
“Having already set 2020 aside to concentrate on writing, the Coronavirus outbreak only made minor dents in the Pennsylvanians plans and conceptual album The Work is the exhilarating and wonderfully confounding result. Cerebral, emotional and challenging, The Work is a beautifully schizophrenic piece of art from a band unafraid to smash through boundaries and set their own rules.” GC Review
4. Amenra – De Doorn (Relapse Records)
“[Amenra] has always been just scary good the way it creates; extreme oppressive waves of riffs and shrieks just gouge you all the way in the feels. These are expert music makers at every level, and everything on De Doorn feels naturally created, but unsettling all the same. Graduated up from their past work, with a full-on Felini film nightmare psychosis inducing pace, De Doorn is set to reshape what you think you know about Amenra, Brilliant enigma Colin H. van Eeckhout and his cohorts turn in a spellbinding performance that only further cements this band as one of the hall-time greats.” GC Review
3. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined (Metal Blade)
“After producing five of their last six albums, Hate Eternal frontman Erik Rutan now not only rides the mixing desk but has also become Pat O’Brien‘s official full-time replacement. An absolute no-brainer of a decision and the band hasn’t missed a single beat: Rutan and Rob Barrett pushing each other to the max. Not to be outdone, drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz raises the bar again, putting pretenders half his age to shame while vocalist and walking neck George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher turns in another exemplary display of guttural throat-ripping carnage.” GC Review
2. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (Parlophone / BMG)
“Bruce’s mid-range still sounds as fierce as ever, his voice only ever showing understandable signs of strain when reaching for some higher notes. Six string legends Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers continue their nimble-fingered ménage à trois while Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain keep the Iron Maiden machine rolling as Kevin Shirley delivers another trademark production job. Raising eyebrows one moment and producing beaming smiles the next, Senjutsu is yet another triumph from a band still unafraid to take risks and make music purely on their own terms. Up the Irons indeed.” GC Review
1. Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon (Roadrunner Records)
Before we go on about our so deserving choice of Trivium for Album of the Year 2021, a word of thanks has come in from the band to Ghost Cult for bestowing this honor upon them!
“2021 has been such a massive year for metal albums and to get recognition like this really means so much to us! We worked incredibly hard to make our tenth album one that would stand up against anything else we’ve made. Can’t wait to hit the road next year to play a bunch of these songs. ” — Paolo Gregoletto
Trivium had cemented themselves as leaders of modern metal, long before releasing 2021’s stellar In The Court of the Dragon (Roadrunner Records). Closing in on twenty-years as a band with a lineup solidified for three albums in a row, they have unbelievably churned out those three albums in four years and two during the last two years of the global pandemic, all with pivots professionally and really, in the entire industry. Sure, the popularity and earning capability of front-man Matthew K. Heafy on Twitch is astounding, and the band made so much money in their shut down live stream event they bought a their own “Hangar 18,” but if the talent weren’t there, the consistency wasn’t among the greats of the genre, or if the songs weren’t all bangers, would we still laud this album? In a word: nah.
On the heels of the already great What the Dead Men Say (Roadrunner) – the band returned to bang out another incredible album of sick songs, killer modern Thrash Metal anthems, and much more. As told to Ghost Cult by the band a few years ago, the band doesn’t woodshed and write a lot in advance or do a ton of pre-production. They get in a room, write a bunch of songs and just walk away. This is not how most bands work in this day and age, but it speaks volumes about their confidence and skills at composing, as well as their belief in each other.
The album itself is a tour de force – complex songs, shredding solos, brutal drumming, sweet bass lines and killer vocals support nearly every track. When they need a hooky chorus they have them. When they want to blaze to crazy BPM’s for the circle pit, they can! Vocally this is the strongest Trivium album bar none. On repeat listens, this album holds up as much as any other Trivium album. The much beloved amongst the die-hards Shogun (Roadrunner), often hailed as their pinnacle, was an album made by a hungry band with something to prove to the entire world and themselves. Years later, In The Court of the Dragon shows the maturity and moxie of a bold band leading the pack, and far out in front by every measure we use for quality here at Ghost Cult Magazine.
As our master scribe Gary Alcock put it in his review of the album:
“A glorious combination of voracious energy and ridiculous earworms, the band’s tenth full length studio release opens appropriately enough with ‘X’, an ominous choral and orchestral intro composed by legendary Emperor frontman Ihsahn. Kicking things off properly, the title track is a supercharged venomous thrash attack with groove, breakdowns and a chorus not a stone’s throw from Soilwork territory. ‘Like a Sword Over Damocles’ possesses a distinct Slipknot groove, a memorable chorus that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any recent Anthrax album and some reliably nimble-fingered fretwork from guitarist Corey Beaulieu.”
If that description doesn’t get you excited, you are reading the wrong website.
There will likely never be a band that came from the underground with the career arc or popularity of Metallica. For a long time, and like many, Trivium were disciples of the Four Horsemen and really all of the Big 4 of Thrash. In a modern sense, they are poised to be the Metallica of the next generation. Firmly ensconced in the pantheon of the greatest bands, it will be exciting to see where the next album goes, or what new mountain they can conquer.
Check out all or our album ofth year coverage here
Other GCM AOTY coverage: https://bit.ly/GCMAOTY2021