STAFF PICKS: Senior Editor Steve Tovey’s Top 25 Albums of 2021

So, at some point in our second year in Corona-world, the music industry decided to just get on with it, meaning a deluge of fantastic music sloshing around the last nine months of the year. If last year had some great moments, 2021 felt like a relentless barrage of them keeping us distracted and entertained.

From a personal point of view, I welcomed being more involved in the Ghost Cult universe after a work-enforced stepping back of the previous couple of years, which, while it meant more of you were subjected to my thoughts on a whole range of albums (sorry about that), also meant I was more on top of a host of albums I might otherwise have missed, and in terms of disgusting riffage I forced into my ears, my descent into hell (and Death Metal) carried on (and is documented here in the Ghost Cult Top Death Metal Albums of 2021).

So, with that in mind (and having removed Cult of Luna for being an EP and the ones that featured in the DM list above… Epiphanic Truth, Celestial Sanctuary, Memoriam, Worm, Wharflurch, Cannibal Corpse; I loved you too!), here are my Top 25 albums of the year. The ranking is pretty fluid and covers how I feel today, but these and those are the 32 releases that I bought either on CD or the digital library, innit…

Anyway, I’m rubbish at intros… So, thank you to Grand Moff Keefy for indulging me and my Album of the Year fetishes (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3 here for your vulgar delectation) for another year, for letting me share my thoughts on a string of albums throughout the year, and for sharing my favourite albums of 2021 here!


25=. Esa Holopainen Silver Lake (Nuclear Blast)

Amorphis‘ guitarist Esa presents a host of guest vocalists across a range of more reflective tracks than the ‘morph has released over the last few years, yet without stepping down the quality.


25= (what…? I’m cheating…!) At The Gates The Nightmare of Being (Century Media)

I’m a big fan of ATG doing things differently. Yes, there are elements of the melodeath past, but this newer, darker, Blackened and more thoughtful route works for me. Am glad they’re not just mindlessly retreading former duties.


24. The Bronx VI (Cooking Vinyl)

So, I’m new to The Bronx. Which makes me feel a bit stoopid, really, as their amped up rock n’ roll with a punked up ‘tude has proven right up my alley, really.


23. The Wildhearts 21st Century Love Songs (Round Records)

Following up Renaissance Man, the second post-reformation album from The Wildhearts (one of my all time favourite bands) is less straight-forward and took a few plays more to sink its teeth in. The darker, less hooky side isn’t always my favourite side of The Wildhearts, but I’m still a sucker for most things Ginger is involved in.


22. Volbeat Servant Of The Mind (EMI)

“Underpinning it all is a root Misfits-meets-Metallica-meets-Rockabilly core, and everything you want from a Volbeat album is here in spades, with every aspect – the psychobilly, the dirty Danzig moments, the Black album worship (‘Mindlock’), the arena rock choruses (‘Heaven’s Descent’ anyone!?), the big chugging stomps and the Dusk til Dawn satani-vampiric dance of ‘The Devil Rages On’ – all dialled up and all consistently delivering.” GC Review


21. Stormkeep Tales of Othertime (Van)

Yes! Melodic Black Metal in the gloriously melodic mid / late 90’s vein that Cacophonous records specialised in (e.g., early Dimmu, Gehenna and others), Stormkeep came from out of nowhere with an album cover that caught the eye and a blinding wintry romp Abbath would be proud to crab-walk across stage to.


20. Beast In Black Dark Connection (Nuclear Blast)

Ah, not quite as huuuge as their last album for me, but still bloody great Eurovision cheesy Pop Metal fun, particularly anthems like ‘Bladerunner’ and ‘One Night In Tokyo’. Love the cheese.


19. Helloween Helloween (Atomic Fire)

Look… I’ve loved the Deris iteration of Helloween. And they’ve added Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen to the mix. And played it straight (which pleasantly surprised me). And I’ve got no arguments with that. At all.


18. Møl Diorama (Nuclear Blast)

Like Sunbather, but with all the melodic bits happening at the same time as the fiery Black Metal bits. Or something. A brilliant mix of meloBlack, shoegaze and great dynamics. Oh, and a vocalist able to be both harsh and yet hooky in delivery. These have got something special going down…


17. Beyond Grace Our Kingdom Undone (Prosthetic)

Not entirely sure why I didn’t consider this for the Death Metal piece, to be honest. Anyway, bloody savage… like an actual series of considered and regular punches to the face. Modern, tech-based HEAVYness with a social conscience and hooks and lyrical prowess. Check ’em out. I liked the debut, and I like this one even more. Well chuffed for they’re on Prosthetic and that the album went down really well across the board.


16. Cradle of Filth Existence Is Futile (Nuclear Blast)

You should all know by now that I love Cradle. And that they’re in the second best vein of form of their career, bettered only by the run from Principle… to Midian. Existence is a bit lengthier of track, and a touch less ‘eavy Metal than its predecessor, but all very, very good.


15. Beartooth Below (Red Bull)

Big, contemporary tunes. Have always gone for uptempo rock / metal with hooks and quality, and, since being really impressed with them one Download, Beartooth have impressed more and more with each subsequent album. This, for me, is their best yet.


14. Wolves In The Throne Room Primordial Arcana (Relapse)

So, I managed to write a review (here) that I couldn’t find an appropriate pull-quote from, so I need to go back to Tez-school 101 and Do Better Next Time. So… what did I think of this? My second favourite all in WITTR album behind Two Hunters and a step into the more straight-forward, yet more intimate and warm, in a way that really suits them. I’m all in on this one.


13. Turnstile Glow On (Roadrunner)

Yeah, while this isn’t something I’d have thought it would be my bag, by 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 for all adds to a recipe for success. And one I’m well happy to get stuck into.


12. Converge & Chelsea Wolfe Bloodmoon I (Epitaph)

So, I’ve still not listened to this as many times as I want, or need to, for this to rank higher, but everything I said on the Ghost Cult podcast (here) still stands. I LOVE the combination, particularly when Wolfe sings. The diversity of song compared to the Converge norm, and how well her voice fits, is a stunning winner.


11. Green Lung Black Harvest (Svart)

Still a little surprised this l’il beastie hasn’t lit up more end of year lists… bits of Sabs, Purple, Puppy and more, I was impressed from the first listen, to be honest. Retro, progressive, a touch of Doom (but, not too much), and a sprinkling of Satanic panic, ah, you all need to check it. Just good 70’s influenced tunes played out through the contemporary underground UK stoner scene, innit.


10. Employed To Serve The Conquering (Spinefarm)

“No longer too hardcore for the metal kids, or too metal for the hardcore kids, The Conquering hits that sweet spot that Brainwashed, There Is A Hell… and Ire once found…, and that helped catapult their protagonists to the forefront and across the bridge to the promised land, though perhaps with a bit more vitriol in its spit. Here’s hoping this does the same for EtS”. May have reviewed this one… link here


9. Amenra De Doorn (Relapse)

Bloody horrible, dense granite of aural monoliths and a really dark, immersive post-Metal nastiness to it that, at the same time, is weirdly entrancing and enthralling, and an abrasive endurance test that leaves you feeling better for the experience at the conclusion, if not always during the act of listening, such is its depth of torment. Or something.


8. Mastodon Hushed & Grim (Reprise)

Maybe it worked out for me that for the first few weeks, I got into this album in the car through a series of short three-or-four song runs going to and from work, so I didn’t attempt to eat the elephant in one go. And doing it that way (which wasn’t particularly deliberate) worked for me, particularly with my “less is more / 46 mins or less or GTFO” approach to albums. Mastodon may have dialled down the distortion but not the songwriting quality.


7. Voices Breaking The Trauma Bond (Church Road)

LOVED London. Frightened lost me a bit to be honest, so I’m delighted for the guys with their more recent release. Such a clever mix of dark styles of music, all woven together, and more than back on track, Unsettling, in the best way.


6. Trivium In The Court of the Dragon (Roadrunner)

Speaking of form… I’ve never not liked a Trivium record, and this one clicked from Day One. They’ve found a sweet spot over the last few albums in particular, and the quality of their Metal seems effortless. Following the line on from the last two, this is everything you want from the Triv, all pulled together into one excellent modern Heavy Metal album.


5. Der Weg einer Freiheit Noktvrn (Season of Mist)

“There are nods to music heroes past – ‘Morgen’ references Emperor and Dissection with tasteful reverence and there are elements of early Arcturus and Borknagar in snatches throughout – but most impressively in a style of music where we have heard most of it before, Der Weg einer Frieheit continue to carve their own niche.” GC Review


4. Iotunn Access All Worlds (Metal Blade)

“At the very heart of the appeal of Metal music, for me, are those moments that cause an involuntary response. A slowly creaking grin; the invoking of horns / hammer / invisi oranges; the Jens Kidman gurn; the penguin neck; the exhalation. The response that, no matter the number of times that you have heard a track, still produces that endorphin rush and natural high. Access All Worlds (Metal Blade) is habitually punctuated and decorated by a series of them”. And then some. GC Review



3. Deafheaven Infinite Granite (Sargent House)

This one will always remind me of Mat. And that’s a really, really good thing. And I reckon he’d have absolutely loved it. Stripping out the metal, switching to clean vox, and Deafheaven has done it again with an absolutely stunning release.


2. Anneke van Giersenbergen The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest (InsideOut)

Aware this isn’t either my usual fare, or something in other people’s lists, but don’t care, to be honest. Something clicked on this, and clicked early, for me, and this collection of singer-songwriter, fairly stripped down songs that showcase the brilliance of Anneke’s voice is the album I’ve probably listened to the most this year. Lovely stuff!


1. Iron Maiden Senjutsu (Parlophone / BMG)

I’ll be honest, my expectations were fairly tempered even though Maiden are my all time favourites, and I’ve really liked a huge swathes of their post-2000 output. The Book of Souls had it’s moments, but, if I’m honest, I was expecting something decent, but not too special… Booooooy was I wrong. Senjutsu may be a lengthy beast, but it’s a bloody excellent one.


As always, favourite not best, and hope you all have an awesome Xmas and a very Happy & Heavy New Year.