Kingcrimsonprog’s Metal Nerd Blog Albums Of The Year 2021:

Its been a strange old year, but there’s been a lot of good music.

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01. Gojira – Fortitude – The album that got me into Gojira at long last, the album I’ve listened to most out of anything this year, the album I knew would be my number one from the very first listen, and yet has still grown on me more with each listen. A straight up masterpiece in my eyes that will go down as an eternal classic album in my head-cannon. Beautifully melodic, deliciously groovy, and still some great heavy moments and masterful musicianship at times. I can’t recommend it enough.

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02. Helloween – Self Titled – Well, I was never not going to like this. I love Helloween with Kai, I love Helloween with Kiske, and I love Helloween with Deris. The idea of all three coming together on one super-group-esque album bringing all the eras together (sometimes even within one song) with artwork evoking the band’s peak, but song-writing not too far away from the band’s modern style and not just a rehash of the past but also acknowledging all the progress they’ve made over the years, with tasteful tribute paid to late drummer Ingo, self-referential lyrics and yet the whole thing feeling like a proper album and not just a gimmicky cash-grab. Excellent.  

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03. Trivium – In The Court Of The DragonTrivium have been on such a hot streak in the last half-decade, and this current line-up have released arguably their three best ever albums (or at a minimum, three of the best even if you disagree on the exact placement of the best) and ‘Dragon continues that fine formula of the last two albums while also leaning into the more expansive and technical direction of their Shogun record (one of their all time best records so a very good decision) and even reworking an old Shogun-era demo into an amazing album closer for this one. Great work.

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04. Volbeat – Servant Of The Mind – A deliberate course-correct from the slightly disappointing over-polished, overly-commercial previous album. This album leans back into the band’s heavier (in relative terms, its still catchy radio music, its not exactly Alter Of Plagues or something) side, with some deliberate Sabbath tribute, a sneaky death metal riff once hidden in there, a lot more up tempo moments and a lot less bland American-sounding radio rock. They also took some lessons in diversity and stole the best parts from the previous record, making it a sort of best-of-both-worlds situation.

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05. Rob Zombie – The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy – Probably his second or third best album to date, this record is fun, diverse, energised, eclectic, interesting and deeply memorable. They never lose the core sound, but there’s all sorts of fun diversion. Alright, there may be slightly too many interludes, but that’s always been a part of Rob Zombie, especially on the first two albums, and there’s still 11 real songs to sink your teeth into, from the catchy singles ‘King Freak & ‘Howling Man to the dance-able “Shake Your Ass, Smoke your Grass” and the unexpected country-tinged ‘Ghost Train.

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06. Powerwolf – Call Of The Wild – Speaking of fun, Powerful are back, and don’t disappoint. This album is such a big-smiles good time barrel of fun. Imagine Sabaton covering Helloween’s  Latin-language “Lavadete Dominum” & Type O Negative’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” at the same time and you’re somewhere in the ballpark. Now imagine they’re dressed up as monks and singing about Warewolves.

In terms of stacking up against the rest of their discography, the band are so fiercely consistent that this is as good as any album you care to name in the whole catalogue.

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07. Todd La Torre – Rejoice In The Suffering – Current Queensrÿche frontman (and sometimes drummer) releases a solo album with a childhood best friend on guitar, and the results are phenomenal. There’s a mixture of songs that could fit on recent ‘ryche albums, with branching out into more traditional metal territory, as well as branching out the other direction into heavier harsher realms. A brilliant debut from this act, and while I hope he never leaves, if ever Todd were to leave the ‘ryche I would dearly love him to continue releasing albums like this.

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08. Exodus – Persona Non Grata – A very strong album, I confess I may not have listened to this album enough to really honestly select the appropriate position on this list, but if its anything like the last three Exodus albums, the fine first impressions it has created in me will stay forever, and only grow more over time. Already the pre-released songs like “Clickbait” and “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves” are constantly stuck in my head and raise a huge smile in me whenever they come on, and “Lunatic Liar Lord” is so good it could have been on Tempo Of The Dammed. Last month I called this album “as good as, if not better than” any measure of expectation, and I’m sticking by that!

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09. Angelus Apatrida – Self Titled – A new band to me, but this is actually the Spanish Thrash-revivalist’s 7th release. Bludgeoning, pummelling, furious… these are just some of the words to describe this beast of an album. There is also some serious groove on the album to break up the speed, but its thrash through and through. If you like bands like Evile, Dust Bolt or Power Trip, then you really need to get on board. Check out the opener “Indoctrinate” from this album for a Vulgar-Display’ album-cover style punch to the face (in musical form).

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10. Accept – Too Mean To Die – Much like Trivium, Accept are on a hot-streak right now (for about a decade this time, since their reformation and the introduction of Mark Tornillo on vocals… that’s Kreator-levels of hot streak!). They have a definite identifiable style and formula, which some people might feel is beginning to get a bit samey by now, but when the formula is this good, I can live with quite a few albums in that style. Alright, its not as good as my favourite, Stalingrad or its very strong follow-up Blind Rage, but I’ve listened to it a lot this year, and have enjoyed it every time.

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Honourable Mentions:

Salem – Salem II EP – Wasn’t included because it is an EP, not an album, but probably would have been number 2 or 3 on the list if it did count. Really great fun, super catchy, super memorable, and my go-to car record this year.

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Weezer – Van Weezer – I’ve only owned this a few days, so can’t objectively rate it against things I’ve had almost a whole year (eg. Todd La Torre and Accept), but I feel very positively towards it and just want to give it a little appreciative nod. Imagine if The Green Album had even better guitar solos and paid deliberate homage to some classic tracks like “Crazy Train,” “Girls Girls Girls” and “Panama.”

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And just in case you want it, here’s my list from last year. See you again next year!

Gojira – Fortitude Review

I have been putting off reviewing this album for a while since I feel a little unqualified to talk about it. Sure, I bought their live DVD about 7 years ago and listened to it a few times, and I bought two of their studio albums as a gift for my brother about 5 years ago and have heard those in passing. I’ve always known I should get into Gojira, but never quite got around to it. Basically, I have been hearing a constant gushing stream of praise about this band since about 2005 in print, online, in podcasts, from word of mouth and just about every source imaginable, yet somehow never really properly tried the band enough, and had certainly never personally “got” them.

For a good few years I had heard that they had toned down the extreme metal sections and upped the amount of prog on their previous album, Magma, which I kept meaning to buy but didn’t get around to, but I heard one single from it at the time which I was thoroughly impressed by, and I had already always said to myself, “if they get a little bit less extreme, I’ll start listening to Gojira.” Cut to 2021, and the environmentally-themed French Prog—Metal released their seventh full-length studio album (on Roadrunner Records), and to my delight all the reviews and press beforehand had been talking about how it was less heavy and more proggy, with a huge chunk of groove metal added to their palate. I finally decided to take the plunge.

Review in short: Love. At. First. Listen.

I listened to it every single day, sometimes twice, for about a month after release day and still try to listen to at least some of it very regularly now. I’m going to be coming back to this for years. I don’t think it is unfair to say this album has had as big an impact on me as some game changing album that you heard back in high-school and bonded with forever. Wow, I wasn’t sure you could get that feeling again as an adult, but wow, this record really floored me.

Take all the best parts of the proggy but accessible Crack The Skye by Mastodon, mix it with the best parts of the groovy but experimental Against by Sepultura, add in the best sort of Architects’ thought provoking the-planet-is-doomed lyrics, blend them together with an utterly unique and singular musical voice (which is the Gojira signature sound, I later discovered when going back to all their previous albums after this), and out comes Fortitude, one of the most instantly loveable metal albums I have heard in years and years.  

From the teasing drum build-up of the disjointed and rhythmic opener “Born For One Thing” to the delicate acoustic fade out (following the otherwise brutal sonic bombardment) of “Grind” this album is sheer bloody perfection from start to finish, with not a wasted second. Everything is so perfectly balanced; each song is such an intriguing and hypnotic journey and they strike the perfect balance between expansive and catchy. It feels at times just about as cosmic and floaty as you can without disappearing up your own ass, but then by contrast still so instantaneous and crushingly metallic when it wants to, bouncing between the two at just the right moments so you never get sick of one style, and never staying at one pace long enough to get boring.

You know how some albums have to be listened to from start to finish in one go? This isn’t one of those. Its certainly benefits from that don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t reliant one it. The album has a brilliant flow, sequencing and journey, and travels across the sonic landscape with a clear beginning, middle and end, however, if you want, all the songs sound great without that context, and literally any single track from it sounds great away from the album if it comes up on shuffle. Basically, it has all the best features of a concept album without the drawbacks.

The production, by singer/guitarist Joe Duplantier is majestic, and Andy Wallace (who mixed Iowa and Toxicity) mixes everything to perfection. The actual sound of this record feels like it was made just to appeal to me. I can’t get enough. I just melts in the ear. Speaking of Duplantiers, drummer Joe Duplantier is one of the most instantly loveable drummers I have ever heard. What a drummer, such a unique drumming “voice.” Such a balance between virtuosity and restraint. Utter magnificence.

Possibly the best thing about the album though, is that I always wanted to like Gojira but was a bit intimidated, and this album finally “unlocked” them. I’ve since gone back and been blown away by all their other amazing albums (I’m damn partial to a bit of The Way Of All Flesh now, and can finally see for myself what everyone was telling me about From Mars To Sirus for years. I guess some fans who love the heavier early days could potentially be a bit disappointed by the band being a bit too accessible with this album, but on the other hand, if anyone else like me out there knows they could like Gojira but don’t yet, this album is the way in for sure. For a few years, one of the thing that stopped me fully going in on Gojira was that the vocals were just a bit too abrasive for me, and the music was a bit mysterious. However, like the leap between Mastodon’s Lifesblood EP and their Crack The Skye album, the vocals here are so advanced and impressive compared to the earlier Gojira records my friends all told me to love in college like The Link of the fan-beloved From Mars To Sirus that it is like night and day. Sure, the more brutal vocal stylings suited those albums because the music was more brutal itself, but here, you can actually say, these are objectively fantastic vocals. The mid-section vocals on “Hold On” send a shiver up my spine in the way Tool sometimes do when they’re being particularly majestic.

If I was to choose one song to suggest to newcomers to test the waters, I think I would recommend the groovy mid-paced “Sphinx.” It has a few heavier moments, it grooves, the lead guitar section is proggy and weird and overall I think it is probably the mid-point of everything on the album. That said, if you do like things heavier, the one to go for is definitely the energetic and punchy album closer “Grind” which despite the aforementioned outro, is the most punch-to-the-face pick-scraping stomper on the record, and the closest thing to their more famous albums. For the opposite end of the spectrum, the surprising stoner-rock left turn of “The Chant” has the cleanest vocals of any Gojira to date, so if you don’t like any extreme metal at all, that is the one to check out first, after which you can graduate to “The Trials” which reminds me a bit of a darker version of the Title Track to Coheed And Cambria’s The Afterman mixed with the haunting end of Roots Remain by Mastodon.

Never a dull moment, delicate, crushing diverse, intriguing, infinitely replayable, Fortitude is all these things and more. I don’t use this word often, and my opinion might not be worth much coming to the band so late, but to me this album is an utter masterpiece. Can’t recommend enough.