Here we are again at the end of a very fast-moving year. As mentioned in a previous review, time has a funny way of working, and when looking into the past you realize how fast it truly moves. But, reminiscing on past times is a way of time travel and music plays a key role in that. Hearing a specific song brings a flood of memories about events in your life. And hopefully hearing those songs brings back good memories.
The ten albums I chose could have easily turned to 50, but after a painstaking process, I’ve successfully narrowed it down. The albums picked in this list were chosen out of love for the music and the inspiration it had in me with my own musical journey. Thanks to each band on (and off) this list for helping to fuel my musical passion.
10. Sergeant Thunderhoof ‘This Sceptered Veil’
The tone on Avon & Avalon Pt 1 and 2 are enough to land This Sceptered Veil on my Top Ten, but each song is incredible, and the clean vocals soar through the mix effortlessly with hints of aggression on You’ve Stolen The Words. Sergeant Thunderhoof offers the full package with incredible music and fantastic art rolled into a faultless album.
Label: Pale Wizard Records
9. King Bastard ‘It Came From The Void’
Kepler-452b was the introductory song of King Bastard for me and that was all I needed to hear to become all consumed with this album. Fuzzed out space-themed music with occasional saxophone!?! What else could you want? There is a constant groove to each song while ebbing and flowing between serenity and chaos. The seamless transitions from beginning to end make the entire album an incredible piece of art.
8. 10,000 Years ‘III’
I love sci-fi, continuous stories, and of course music. 10,000 Years have managed to combine all this into an incredible story told through music, and the concluding album III wraps up this tale in an amazing way. Or does it? To Suns Beyond is the emotional instrumental conclusion to the album, and trilogy, leaving the listener with their own perspective of how the story ends. Maybe the Albatross isn’t quite finished and will resurface in a future album, but for now, this well told story through heavy riffs, crushing bass, thundering drums, and course vocals, landed this album on my year end list.
7. Michael Rudolph Cummings ‘You Know How I Get’
The Blood And Strings series by Ripple Music crossed my radar with Wino. However, it captured my attention with Tony Reed’s incredible release Funeral Suit and made me a lifelong fan with Michael Rudolph Cummings last addition You Know How I Get. There is a mix of full band and solo acoustic songs, but no shortage of raw emotion poured into each track. Cummings has insane control of the music, his voice and what feels like the perfect timing, he lets out chilling screams from the soul.
Label: Ripple Music
6. Earthrise ‘Until We Rest Beneath The Winter Way’
I guess I like space. Whether it’s the fictional tales of 10,000 Years or the heart-wrenching story of Laika, I find space stories intriguing. Earthrise tell the tragic story of Laika on their sophomore album Until We Rest Beneath The Winter Way and the post-metal take in the music is everything I wanted to hear. Each song is a slice of time in Laika’s life and horrendous death as she was the first animal to orbit earth. From Below is a standout track and it’s a masterpiece. It showcases the talent of new vocalist Sam Halvorson who ranges from soothing clean vocals to pure gut-wrenching growls backed by inspiring post-metal music.
5. Valley Of The Sun ‘The Chariot’
It’s something I say often but Valley Of The Sun was one of the first bands to solidify my love of stoner rock, and to this day they’re still one of my favorites. The Chariot from start to finish is fantastic and builds off what I love from Old Gods and touches of earlier works as well. The band has gone through some changes over the years, but the current line-up consists of four super cool guys that have created something magical. It’s also pretty fucking cool Chris Sweeney is playing my acoustic guitar at my house on the title tracks video.
4. Brujas Del Sol ‘Deculter’
Brujas Del Sol‘s To Die On Planet Earth is easily one of my favorite songs ever and seeing it live was incredible… so good in fact it penned guitarist/vocalist Adrian Zambrano a new nickname. Derrick White (bassist), Joshua Oswald (drums) and Zambrano transition between songs and parts seamlessly and add many layers to the music. For example, the synth in Lenticular sounds great alone but when White and Oswald join on bass and drums respectively, around the two-minute mark, it catapults it to new heights. Then Zambrano adds layers of reverb-soaked lead and it’s chilling. A no-brainer it’s high up on this list.
Label: Kozmik Artifactz
3. King Buffalo ‘Regenerator’
I think this was obvious. Of course King Buffalo was on my Top Ten! The album art is always fantastic on their albums and even introduced me to some cool artists including Beksinski, but I especially love the cover of Regenerator. But it’s the seven songs within that landed this at #3 for the year! The three musicians are insanely talented and put forth a lot of new music recently. Regenerator pushes the limits of their past work while retaining their core sound to conclude their pandemic trilogy in grand fashion.
Label: Stickman Records
2. Russian Circles ‘Gnosis’
One of the biggest inspirations of mine and the new album Gnosis is epic front to back. Every time I turn it on, I have to listen all the way through because each part is equally as exciting as the last as there isn’t a dull moment. Eight albums in and I love this new one as much, if not more than any of Russian Circles previous efforts. Each member brings their unique multi-instrumental talents and being able to recreate the songs live is a spectacle. Gnosis pushes the band further, drawing inspiration from unique places such as jazz, thrash metal, and even African blues from Mali. These influences push the musicians limits further and brought out the best of each of them.
Label: Sargent House
1. Smoke ‘Groupthink’
I knew… well thought I knew Russian Circles would be #1 from the moment I heard they were releasing a new album. My obsession with that band slightly trumps my King Buffalo obsession, but it’s a close call. Then enters the band Smoke. A fairly local band (to me) in the neighboring state Virginia who completely blew my mind with their debut album Groupthink. A concept album about various cults, an outstanding album cover painted by lead singer/guitarist Dalton Huskin and music that reaches deep within.
Whether its the echoing thunderous drums of Alex Thurston starting The Son Of Man, the gut wrenching screams of Huskin during Temple, the incredible bass by Stephen Tyree on the title track, Groupthink, or the memorable riffs of Ben Gold and Huskin that stick with you long after the song ends, Smoke have set the bar insanely high on their debut album. I’m not worried that they may have peaked early but rather excited about what the future holds for this phenomenal band!
Mos Generator ‘Time//Wounds’
Someone beat me to reviewing this, so I didn’t have the opportunity to hear the full album before I turned my list in, which kept it out of the Top Ten, but be in no doubt this is an incredible album.
Elder ‘Innate Passage’
One of my favorite bands that would have made my Top Ten I’m sure, but, like Mos Generator, I didn’t have much of a chance to fully listen to it before putting this list together what with being consumed with everything listed above as there have been so many great releases this year.
Caustic Casanova ‘Glass Enclosed Nerve Center’
By far the most unique album created this year, in fact probably the last few years. It’s extremely well done and refreshing to listen to.
Abrams ‘In The Dark’
An outstanding album that frequently gets played anywhere I can. Small Stone Records has quite a line-up and Abrams fits in perfectly within their roster of talented bands as In the Dark proves they belong.
Scribed by: Josh Schneider