21. AFI – Bodies (Rise Records)
The sooner you realize that AFI is never going to be the band you loved in the early 2000’s ever again, the happier you’ll be to just move on. Trust me, I’ve been there. I will admit that it is odd how “safe” AFI sounds now when compared to how absolutely cathartic they once were. But unless a song title like “I Wanna Get A Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)” still resonates with you, or you somehow still have the desire to chant “through our bleeding, we are one!” pushed up against a barricade in 2021, you should probably be more than happy to shift gears. In which case, you really should give Bodies a fair listen. Clocking in at just 36 minutes, Bodies is a short burst of energy that mixes The Cure and Morrissey with alt-rock and post-punk to create a collection of 11 songs that maybe never really reach greatness, but are still pretty great to listen to nonetheless. The whimsical “Dulceria,” which was co-written by Billy Corgan from The Smashing Pumpkins, is the best song the band has released in ages. Who knows—maybe they are still planning their masterful rebirth, or perhaps “safe” is the new counter-culture, and thus this was AFI’s plan all along. Either way, Bodies is a solid body of work in one of punk’s most important and forward-thinking band’s catalog.
20. Underoath – Voyeurist: Digital Ghost (Fearless Records/Moment House)
19. A Day To Remember – You’re Welcome (Fueled By Ramen)
ADTR has always been the band that you either love to hate or hate to love. They weren’t the first band to introduce hardcore/metal breakdowns into pop punk, but let’s just be real here—they were the best at it. And once you hear You’re Welcome front to back, it’s clear that they’re still the reigning champs of the genre (I’m looking at you, I Prevail!). It’s the subtle things that turn ADTR’s good ideas and songs into great ones, like a vocal harmony here, a drum fill there, etc. After all, we are talking about the band who once turned the sound of a T-Mobile Sidekick’s battery dying into a breakdown (!). And on their Fueled By Ramen debut, you get classic ADTR: catchy pop punk choruses (“Viva La Mexico”), nasty beatdown breakdowns (“Resentment”), radio rock hits (“Mindreader”), and a couple of ballads (“Only Money” and “Everything We Need”). And of course, a song called “Fuck You Money,” because it is ADTR we’re talking about here. So, although I’m not quite sure if this album’s title is in response to all the bands that came later and completely jocked their style (ahem, I Prevail), it very well could and should be. Now you can thank ADTR by giving You’re Welcome a spin.
18. Atreyu – Baptize (Spinefarm Records)
This is Orange County, California’s Atreyu’s first album without frontman Alex Varkatzas, who was ousted from the group in 2020. This time around, drummer Brandon Saller handles the lead vocal duties, which is just fine, since his clean singing always defined the band anyway. And bassist Porter McKnight’s backing screams are as gnarly as Varkatzas’ ever were. So, regarding personnel, Atreyu doesn’t miss a beat. But the production on this album is what really shines. At the helm again for the first time since their 2007 major label debut (Hollywood Records’ Lead Sails Paper Anchor), is producer mastermind John Feldmann. Feldmann has always had a knack for getting “hits” out of his bands, and this record is chock full of them. “Save Us” sounds absolutely huge, as does “Untouchable” (featuring Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach) and “Warrior” (featuring Travis Barker). You even have Trivium’s Matt Heafy guesting on “Oblivion,” and Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus co-writing throughout. It’s a varied album that pulls influences from all these names mentioned and more, and even without Varkatzas, is so Atreyu.
17. $uicideboy$ - Long Term Effects Of Suffering (G59 Records)
New Orleans’ “SoundCloud rap” duo $uicideboy$ are one of the strangest anomalies in the music industry. They have essentially had no commercial success whatsoever—no radio hits, no major TV performances, no standard merch deal (we would know!). Yet they are one of the biggest acts in the world right now, outselling some of the most iconic names in every genre, even outside of rap. They’ve sold millions of units and continuously sell out arenas, and they do this all without even really having any hooks. So, what’s the story then? It’s exactly that actually—it’s the stories. Just like its brutally bizarre cover art, Long Term Effects Of Suffering is a woven tapestry of addiction, extreme violence, mental health issues, suicidal thoughts and pure desperation. It’s a constant reminder of just how fucked up everyone and everything really is, and it’s these harsh realities that I think resonate so strongly with their predominately young fan base. The album’s closing track, “The Number You Have Dialed Is Not In Service,” is the closest thing to a “hit” that the boy$ have ever written, and also features the band’s most hopeful and inspiring lyrics as well: “when life gets hard, keep on marchin’ on, even if the finish line is far or you have to push the car, keep on marchin’ on.” But in typical $uicideboy$ fashion, it ends after just two loops, voiding its chances of becoming a commercial “hit.” Art imitating life perhaps?
16. Thrice – Horizons/East (Epitaph Records)
15. Lorna Shore – …And I Return To Nothingness (Century Media Records)
Mixing the over the top, symphonic black metal musicality and production of Dimmu Borgir with the early, guttural pig squeals of the band that’s responsible for deathcore, Job For A Cowboy, Lorna Shore’s first new material with vocalist Will Ramos, would have made my Top 5 easily, had it been longer than three songs and 20 minutes. But if this is the direction they’re headed in? Get ready for the next big name in metal.
14. Amigo The Devil – Born Against (Liars Club Records)
Danny Kiranos, better known as his moniker/persona Amigo The Devil, is impossible to pigeonhole. Born Against starts with “Small Stone,” which begins with his signature blend of southern gothic alt-country folk, but quickly spirals into Amigo belting operatic style. “Quiet As A Rat” and “Murder At The Bingo Hall” sound like tall tales being told in front of a circus sideshow tent. Kiranos’s storytelling will have you on the edge of your seat as you wait for the punchlines. One minute he sounds like Elvis Presley, the next Johnny Cash, yet his background is obviously in hardcore, heavy metal, and punk rock. And lyrically, he’s got morbid plans to murder his victims (“Drop For Every Hour” and “Better Ways To Fry A Fish”), wrapped up with a haunting and heartbreaking confession in the form of “Letter From Death Row.” We don’t know who Kiranos really is or whose point of view he’s singing these songs from, and that’s what makes the mystery of Amigo The Devil’s Born Against even more intriguing.
13. Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile (Nuclear Blast)
Coming in at lucky number 13 is extreme metal’s gothic horror act Cradle Of Filth’s 13th album: Existence Is Futile, and it’s simply fantastical. Despite its title and gruesome artwork, ‘EIF’ isn’t quite as abrasive as some of COF’s previous material. A lot of the speed has been traded in for an almost rock ballad feel that accompanies the entire album. This may sound weird given it’s Cradle Of Filth we’re talking about here, but it works oh so well, giving the band an even more theatrical feel to their ominous presence (as if that were even possible). And make no mistake—when band mastermind Dani Filth comes in with his signature screeching, it’s classic Cradle Of Filth—unmistakable, undeniable, and downright filthy.
12. Knocked Loose – A Tear In The Fabric Of Life (Pure Noise Records)
One simple word can be used to best describe hardcore’s youngest and brightest (or darkest, depending on how literal you want to get) new stars Knocked Loose’s concept EP: heavy. Both musically and emotionally, this 21 minute ripper will figuratively, and quite literally, punch you in the gut with just how heavy it really gets. It’s best served while watching the animated short film that accompanies it. The film is a creepy black and white animated video that marries a Tool music video with a video game like Limbo, creating a masterful work of art that’s just as unsettling as it is beautiful. It’s an audio and visual experience that explores the different stages of extreme grief, and the levels a person is willing to go through to get rid of it. Honestly: it will crush both your ears and your soul. Have fun!
11. John Mayer – Sob Rock (Columbia Records)
I love everything about this record. From the ridiculous LP title and promo photo album cover to the genius ad campaign—it’s all self-deprecating nonsense from the most nonchalant and laid back guy in Hollywood. Ever since joining Grateful Dead’s Dead & Company, the guy who never really seemed to care about much anyway went full stop to not giving a single fuck whatsoever. Yeah, he plays yacht rock. And he looks and sounds cooler than ever.
10. Angel Du$t – YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs (Roadrunner Records)
If YAK had released in the 1990s, it would have had numerous music videos played on MTV’s 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation in heavy rotation, and probably would have gone platinum too. But instead, it’s an overlooked gem of a 2021 record that pays homage to underrated and often forgotten about “stars” of the 90s alternative power pop scene (The Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, etc.).
9. Converge – Bloodmoon: I (Deathwish, Inc./Epitaph Records)
Five years in the making, Bloodmoon: I is a collaborative effort between hardcore’s most revered band (Converge), goth’s answer to Stevie Nicks (Chelsea Wolfe), and the lead vocalist to space rock/metalcore group extraordinaire – Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky. Yet somehow, the project doesn’t collapse under the weight of all that talent, and instead sounds as big and important as the names themselves. Definitely slower, more ambient, atmospheric, and experimental than anything Converge has ever done, Bloodmoon: I takes you on a strange trip that mixes the very best of these artists’ abilities, creating something entirely new in the process. “Flower Moon” channels the psychedelic sludge of Alice In Chains, “Tongues Playing Dead” features the riffage of Black Sabbath, and “Failure Forever” contains the Antenna era poppiness of Cave In. It might be laden with doom metal layered behind Jacob Bannon’s signature wails, but it’s neither Sunn O))) or Jane Doe. It’s Bloodmoon: I, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
8. nothing,nowhere. – Trauma Factory (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen)
“Time: so remorseless, so relentless, so unavoidable–human life is a trauma factory” is the end line of the spoken word intro that kicks off emo rapper nothing,nowhere’s sophomore effort Trauma Factory. A bit depressing, sure, but this is “emo rap” after all—what did you expect? Released on Fueled By Ramen, the same record label that broke emo/pop punk powerhouses Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, and Paramore, nothing,nowhere. feels just as monumental as those aforementioned artists, and Trauma Factory is as breakthrough of a record in this relatively new genre if there ever was one.
7. Gojira – Fortitude (Roadrunner Records)
For an album and band this “Prog” to somehow remain this catchy, mainstream, and memorable, is as gigantic of a feat as the band’s mammoth sound itself. Fortitude strikes the perfect balance between being a crushingly heavy metal album, to being downright beautiful too. Its delivery and soundscapes are both tribal and otherworldly simultaneously, yet I can’t recall a more accessible metal album in recent years either. It’s quite astonishing really, and I can’t wait to see what they conquer next.
6. Lucero – When You Found Me (Liberty & Lament)
It took a while, but American alt-country/punk rock and roll act Lucero finally got me hook, line, and sinker with their 11th studio album When You Found Me, which is a pretty fitting title for the occasion–no? Lucero was a band I always admired from afar, respected greatly, and understood the inspiration and significance they have had on some of my actual favorite bands (like The Gaslight Anthem, for example), but were one I personally never sought out (for whatever reason). Yet here we are after 11 albums, and I honestly can’t imagine life without this record now. It’s the perfect road trip set piece, and oddly enough, the landscape seems to fit the music and narrative no matter what. Whether I was driving through the Midwest in the dead of winter or driving with the windows down during an epic summer cross-country trek, this album just has an overall nostalgic feel to it and is about as American as apple pie to boot. If you don’t get the chills when you hear “Back In Ohio,” then you probably don’t when you listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” either. Blue-collar, working class, no frills rock and roll. Thanks for sticking around for so long, Lucero–I finally found you.
5. Turnstile – Glow On (Roadrunner Records)
Since Turnstile’s formation in 2010, they came right out of the gate with the kind of buzz and hype that most new bands can only dream of. And like how Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come forever changed hardcore music back in 1998, many heralded Turnstile as the “next big thing” that would transform punk rock as we know it. Don’t get me wrong, I always thought Turnstile was cool, but I honestly didn’t really “get” where everyone was coming up with all the larger than life scenarios. To me, they always sounded like if 311 were a hardcore punk band, which I personally never saw as something that would exactly catch on. And although I did think 2018’s Time & Space was good; I didn’t love it either. But fast forward to 2021, and either the group made huge strides forward, or I finally just “get” it now, but yep—looks like punk has been reinvented for years to come by a new generation. Layering hints of 90s alternative rock and grunge, R&B, hip hop, and jazz into the band’s energetic, bouncy and downright magnetic sound, Glow On feels entirely fresh and new. Glow On is truly something you’ve never heard or even dreamt was possible—and even with all that praise and hype, Glow On oddly enough still sounds like 311. I'm down.
4. Every Time I Die – Radical (Epitaph Records)
Considering ETID’s mere two songs from this album released last year made my “Best Of 2020” list, I knew their then unannounced new album was going to be a doozy, but hot.damn, does Radical slap! The first album to feature “new” drummer Clayton “Goose” Holyoak, who is easily their best yet, ETID is as fast, noisy, and spazzy as ever. It’s downright ferocious and hardly ever lets up, moving at a breakneck pace so frantic that it feels like the wheels are about to fall off at any given moment. And then there’s the lyrics. The opening line that starts the album screams “Spare only the ones I love, slay the rest…make us pay…give us our plague now.” It’s typical, tongue in cheek genius from one of the sharpest lyricists in the game, Keith Buckley, and he’s on absolute fire throughout all 16 tracks. If there’s one ounce of slight criticism I can give Radical, it’s that it’s almost too much at times. It’s so chaotic, so intense, and so fast, that I often found myself hitting “pause” just to catch my breath and check my bearings. It almost feels as if you’re being mauled by vicious dogs (in the best way possible of course) and could have maybe benefited from a bit of respite. But that’s almost the genius behind Radical in the first place. This band has been at it for more than 20 years, and yet with this much ferocity, it feels like they’re somehow just getting started. I’m not quite sure how ETID will up the ante after this one, but like they always have before, they’ll figure it out. Perhaps we’ll feel like we’re getting mauled by vicious lions next time instead, dudes? Sounds Radical.
3. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (BMG)
2. Architects – For Those That Wish To Exist (Epitaph Records)
For Those That Wish To Exist is a bleak and melancholic hour-long existential crisis; obsessed with the very concept of death. From the opener “Do You Dream Of Armageddon?” to the closer “Dying Is Absolutely Safe,” it’s packed full of song titles like “Dead Butterflies” and “An Ordinary Extinction.” On paper, it may sound about as fun as a funeral march, but sonically? Leave it to British progressive metalcore act Architects, who always struck me as the thinking man’s metal band anyway, to get the mosh pit started—even if the themes are at times heavier than the other, “quiet” half of ‘FTTWTE.’ Architects’ musicianship and technicality is as impressive as ever here, but perhaps most astonishing of all, is just how quintessential ‘FTTWTE’ sounds. From the very first listen, the album feels instantly recognizable. But not in a bad way mind you, like we’ve heard this all before. Quite the opposite in fact. What I mean is that it’s hard to imagine a world in which this album doesn’t exist, but just a mere 11 months ago, it didn’t. It’s honestly just that impressive. “Giving Blood” sounds like it could have been one of Linkin Park’s biggest hits, while “Animals” is a chunky, chugalong anthem that probably shouldn’t be on the radio for all intents and purposes (“We’re just a bunch of fucking animals” is the chorus after all), yet its catchiness is an undeniable force to be reckoned with (think Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”), so FCC be damned! Maybe the overall theme of ‘FTTWTE’ is that we are all indeed just a bunch of fucking animals, stuck on one big sinking ship on a dying planet, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. But hey—if this is the soundtrack to the apocalypse? Then at least we’re going out with a bang. Besides, as the album’s absolute standout track “Impermanence” aggressively and almost condescendingly asks: “do you really want to live forever?”
1. Foo Fighters – Medicine At Midnight (RCA/Roswell Records)
We’re almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic now, and the material released this year really shows the toll that it’s having on artists. As outlined above in my Top 21 of 2021, most of the lyrics and themes centered around mortality, making for kind of a dark year (to put it lightly). So, what makes Foo’s 10th album my #1 then? It just has good vibes. Medicine At Midnight is not quite an 80s album, but instead sounds like the Foos released an alternative/grunge album in the height of the New Wave craze of the 1980s–if that makes any sense? It’s not really a dance, new wave or pop album, but man is it a danceable rock and roll album, through and through. It harkens back to the feel good escapism that dominated the airwaves throughout the 80s, which I have to admit, is a nice feeling for a change. Because although the world might still be a shitshow right now, we still need to enjoy life and rock out when we can. And in a year where live music finally filled music venues once again, it only makes sense to award the crown to perhaps the best live rock band in modern history. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear this album’s closing track, “Love Dies Young,” in a packed stadium soon, since it’s easily one of the best songs the band has ever written (right up there with “Everlong,” “Best Of You,” and “Learn To Fly”). This record is fun, strong, and packed full of riffs that will remind you that rock music is very much alive and kicking (or in this case: dancing). In other words, it’s the Foo Fighters. Now take your medicine at midnight—here it is.