Top Ten Of 2021: Martin Williams
My 2021 like most people’s I’m sure, was slightly, SLIGHTLY, better than 2020. However, despite the orange monster being in hiding (for now), there was still plenty of death, plague, chaos, instability, paranoia, conspiracy theories, and racism to go around. I find it’s helpful to find gratitude when I can, and there was also MUCH to be grateful for in 2021.
As of this writing (*knock on wood*) all those that are important to me personally are unscathed, and all that is valuable to me professionally is functioning smoothly and intact. Additionally, never in a million years would I have dreamed I’d be a published music ‘writer’. Music is something, that outside of my family and art/business, are as important to me as anything on earth. I turned 50 in 2021 and realized I’ve pretty much been listening to music all day, every day, for 39 years. It’s ingrained in my DNA, so to say that I’m beyond grateful to The Sleeping Shaman for taking a chance on me, would be an understatement.
I’m excited to write my first ‘best of’ list, but they can be a little dubious as even in these plague years, mountains of music has been released, and there’s simply no way to listen to and absorb it all. I mean, three bands and albums vaulted their way into consideration on my list with records that were released in October and November 2021, to say nothing of the records that I meant to listen to but didn’t or haven’t, that are still sitting in the ‘pile’ for whatever reason. So, without further ado, here is my first list for The Sleeping Shaman: I present my top ten records of 2021:
10. Snake Mountain Revival ‘Everything In Sight’
Snake Mountain Revival came on late for me, as this was released in late November, but good lord was this album great. An eclectic, weird, psychedelic, spacey album with hints of surf and garage. Riffs are there too, guitarist, producer and engineer Zack Trowbridge has plenty of those, but I thoroughly enjoyed his more eclectic playing, conjuring up comparisons to John Frusciante’s weird solo albums in places. Everything In Sight was a fully accomplished debut from a band that allegedly used to play all-improv sets. Their musicality and diversity, honed in those aforementioned improv sets, are on full display with Everything In Sight.
Label: Rebel Waves Records
9. Red Fang ‘Arrows’
It had been five long years since Portland Oregon’s finest beer-swilling, funny-video-making, riff-dealing, native sons Red Fang released Only Ghosts, a long time for Red Fang and evidently during that time, the band decided to get weird. Arrows, recorded in 2019, but not released until 2021, is a darker, murkier, Red Fang than we’ve become accustomed to, reminding me in places of 90s noise-rock that’s been put into a Houdini-era Melvins blender.
With hints of lo-fi psych in places, Red Fang should be given some props for evolving their sound, without changing it too much. A band that I would consider one of the best stoner rock outfits of the last ten-to-twelve years, it was nice to have Red Fang back after what felt like a too-long hiatus.
Label: Relapse Records
8. Kadabra ‘Ultra’
Kadabra were another band to come out of nowhere to blow me away with a fully accomplished debut. Ultra sounds like the work of a veteran band, not one dropping their first record. Released on Heavy Psych Sounds, Ultra was a record that seamlessly blends heavy, Sabbatharian riffage with a trippy, psychedelic approach, and the results, while not breaking any new ground necessarily, was fresh, executed artfully, and welcome to my ears. I spun the shit out of this album, before, and since I reviewed it, and my opinions haven’t diminished, if anything the case for putting Ultra on my best-of list was solidified.
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
7. Butcher In The Fog ‘Exonerate Me, Baby’
I chose to review Butcher In The Fog’s Exonerate Me, Baby early in my tenure at The Sleeping Shamansolely based on their name. I knew absolutely nothing about this London trio, and I wondered how it had taken THIS LONG for a London band too come up with that name, or something similar. Well, the name isn’t the only thing cool about Butcher In The Fog. This band and this album fucking slay. I championed the shit out of this record this year, for a few reasons: One it’s an absolute rager. Two, because Exonerate Me, Baby is an original, heavy rock release. It’s not stoner rock but has some stoner elements.
It also has elements of 90s noise rock, like Unsane, as well as a Motörhead/Discharge aggression in places. But that’s not all, Butcher In The Fog are perfectly capable of getting weird, and dropping into some trippy, psychedelics, then before you know it guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Yanni Georgiou, has brought you out of the vortex, and pummels you again, reaching into his seemingly bottomless suitcase of riffs. An unexpected face-melter of an album, I can’t wait to see what Butcher In The Fog come up with next.
Label: Sleight Of Hand Music
6. Green Lung ‘Black Harvest’
All eyes were on London’s Green Lung to see how the band would follow up their much-loved debut full-length Wooodland Rites. The band did not disappoint, evolving their sound, expanding organist John Wright‘srole, thus making Black Harvest sound bigger, grander, epic, massive.
The songwriting expanded as well, the band not settling for simply battering the listener with proto-stoner riffage, but injecting some real dynamics, that of course are amplified by vocalist Tom Templar’ssoaring histrionics. I mean Woodland Rites made a lot of year-end lists in 2019, and Black Harvest is a quantum leap forward. I’m sure some purists will groan about any hint of evolution, but I for one commend the band for evolving and making such a massive-sounding, and frankly, excellent album.
Label: Svart Records
5. Carcass ‘Torn Arteries’
The Liverpool death/extreme metal legends Carcass return eight years removed from their outstanding reunion album Surgical Steel with Torn Arteries. While not quite able to live up to the colossal heights achieved on Surgical Steel necessarily, Torn Arteries is nonetheless stuffed to the gills with absolutely ripping riffage from the one-and-only Bill Steer, and as usual, gory, dark-humored lyrics barked out in his inimitable fashion by Jeff Walker.
We’ve come to expect this from the Carcass figureheads, but drummer Daniel Wilding, absolutely lives up to his surname throughout, his drumming being of particular note and giving these tracks manic energy. Torn Arteries was welcomed with open arms by me as I’m always a sucker for their very singular brand of metal.
Label: Nuclear Blast
4. At The Gates ‘The Nightmare Of Being’
At The Gates need no introduction. The Swedish death metal legends put their stamp on the template of the genre with Slaughter Of The Soul and have been reunited and releasing new music since 2014’s At War With Reality to mostly positive results. The Nightmare Of Being is by far the most experimental of the reunited At The Gates releases.
The band feels free of former guitarist Anders Björler considerable influence by now, evolving, as they consistently do, forward. The sax flourishes on Garden Of Cyrus sound cool, not cringe-inducing, and although Thomas Lindberg’s considerable vocal chops are showing some age and wear, he’s still able to deliver more than capably with the new material. Another classic to add to a discography full of them.
Label: Century Media
3. Borracho ‘Pound Of Flesh’
I heaved a lot of love on DC riff-lords Borracho’s fourth album Pound Of Flesh this year, and it ultimately wound up in my top five. This record is a heavy, crushing, massive, fuzz-fest, complete with all the paranoid, conspiracy-filled lyrics that the last two to five years have warranted. I’ve had It Came From The Sky on repeat since I received the promo. Four albums in, the power trio know exactly what they want to achieve with their sound, and just how to achieve it. Borracho have always been a great band, but they took it to the next level with Pound Of Flesh.
Label: Kozmik Artifactz
2. Greenleaf ‘Echoes From A Mass’
My biggest problem with Greenleaf has always been that they’re not Dozer. Greenleaf vocalist Arvid Hällagård in particular has caught my sideways glance. His Josh Homme-like moans are sometimes unwelcoming to my ears. Why? Because I instantly, and ridiculously compare him toDozerguitarist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin. Lame, I know, but that’s the pedestal I put Dozer on. When I’m able to set all my bullshit aside and focus on Greenleaf’s music, they never cease to amaze.
Tommi Holappa, at this point, must be considered a riff-lord, and a figurehead of the genre. His early Kyuss/Homme-isms, have long ago morphed into his own unique tone, style, and riffing. Echoes From A Mass, while not drastically different from its immediate predecessors, continues this version of Greenleaf‘s evolution and trajectory forward. The songs are stellar, heavy, well crafted, and as always showcasing Holappa’s unique sense of space in his music. WithDozerreformed, I’m imagining Holappa might put Greenleaf on the backburner for a bit, but despite what I said earlier, I have thoroughly enjoyed these last four albums with Hällagård, and will no doubt be pining for Greenleaf before too long.
Label: Napalm Records
1. Monolord ‘Your Time To Shine’
This was an easy choice for me. I had a pretty good idea Your Time To Shine would, at the very least, be in consideration for the top spot, but all it took really was just a few spins and I had my record of the year. Monolord’s evolution has been a marvel to behold. The Gothenburg trio have been able to artfully add not only some melody but some real emotional heft to their pulverizing riff hypnosis.
In achieving this, Monolord haven’t lost one iota of their crushing heaviness. If anything, the emotional weight of a track like To Each Their Own or the title track, simply make them heavier. Additionally, with only five songs, Your Time To Shine is long, but it’s so fluid, and sequenced so well, that it flies by, bearing another repeat listen, of which yet another layer is uncovered. Monolord really are at the top of the global doom scene, and they have only solidified their place at, or near the very top, with Your Time to Shine.
Label: Relapse Records
Melvins ‘A Five Legged Dog’ – Hearing Melvins classics from their bottomless discography acoustically was a treat. Their cover of The Stones Sway alone was worth the price of admission.
Low Orbit ‘Crater Creator’ – Heavy, fuzzy, cosmic stoner rock from Toronto. This record definitely created some craters in my listening towards the end of 20201.
Bentrees ‘Two Of Swords’ – Coming out of nowhere for me, this Italian duo impressed with their spacey, psychedelic take on heavy rock, conjuring up early Dozerand Jalamanta-era Brant Bjork.
The Bronx ‘Vl’ – The best American punk band of the last twenty years returns with another blast of punk-n-roll fury, only this time they have drumming legend Joey Castillo (QOTSA, Bl’ast, Danzig) pounding the skins and the results were great.
Monster Magnet ‘A Better Dystopia’ – The New Jersey stoner rock legends offered up a stellar cover’s album of obscure 60s/70s songs curated by mastermind Dave Wyndorf. His own personal Brown Acid series.
Scribed by: Martin Williams