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  • Writer's pictureNick Villers

2021 Top 10 Albums of the Year

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

A deep dive into my top albums rooted in metal, hardcore, emo

By: Nick Villers




1. Spiritbox - Eternal Blue


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“Secret Garden”

“Holy Roller”

“Constance”


 

There are moments when everything comes together at the right time for a band. When the machine is running on all cylinders. When everything touched turns to gold. That moment is right now for Spiritbox. Husband and wife power couple, Vocalist Courtney LaPlante and Guitarist Mike Stringer were previous replacement members in the band iwrestledabearonce. Not being able to have creative direction, they left to start their own endeavor, hence Spiritbox was born. After two EPs and a handful of singles, “Eternal Blue” is the result of consistency and years of hard work. Due to their experience and talent, the entire package of “Eternal Blue” is intentional and meticulously well done down to the last detail - the musical technicality, the production quality, their visual aesthetic for the album art, music videos, and live shows. They thought through everything.


From the moment the needle drops onto the vinyl grooves, you feel as though you are about to head into battle over the ominous opener “Sun Killer”. Courtney’s haunting yet beautiful voice erupts over djent guitar riffs preparing you for what you are about to experience over the next 43 minutes. Then at 3:06, it unleashes. Courtney’s scream is relentless as she bellows out over and over, “Sun killer sing me to sleep.” This song is a microcosm of what Spiritbox encapsulates over the entirety of the album. Beautiful chaos.


You are brought along on a polarizing journey across lush landscapes only to be stricken by the evil layers underneath at moments you least expect. Through LaPlante’s vocals and the Stringer’s intricate guitar work, they have found the perfect balance between heavy and melodic. “Secret Garden”, “Eternal Blue”, and “Constance” provide some of the most beautiful choruses & hooks fit to be performed in Carnegie Hall, whereas “Yellowjacket”, “Holy Roller”, and “Circle With Me” show how heavy and dark Spiritbox can get. Courtney’s vocal range is expansive only to abruptly pivot and punch you with her deep growl. It is uncanny. She is hands down one of the best metalcore vocalists to pull it off. Spiritbox seamlessly laced each track into the next and truly wrote an experience from start to finish, giving the listener constant anticipation of what’ll happen next.


By no means is Spiritbox “Eternal Blue” groundbreaking or the “first time” we’ve heard this style of metalcore. So how have they separated themselves from the rest? They took the elements of what people love most about modern metalcore - catchy choruses, technical riffs, and punishing breakdowns, but did it in a way that is authentic to them. They set the bar high only to exceed those expectations even higher. It just goes to show that hard work, consistency, talent, and seizing the opportunity when it’s in front of you, really pays off in the end.








 

2. nothing,nowhere. - Trauma Factory


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“lights (4444)”

“pretend”

“nightmare”

 

I love when artists grapple you seemingly out of nowhere (no pun intended). This is nothing,nowhere. for me. I first heard of nn a few years ago from a Gen Z coworker who was deeply enriched in the emo rap music genre. I was in a galaxy far, far away from this world but for whatever reason, decided to give nn a listen. On the surface I could see the emo rap appeal, a mix of 808 beats, rapping, and guitar work that sounded similar to the emo/angst screamo tracks I listened to in my adolescence. Beyond this, I never really dug into nothing,nowhere. and saw him nothing more as just “another emo rap artist”. Fast forward three years later I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Joe Mulherin is the face behind nothing,nowhere, who humbly resides in rural Vermont. The more you willingly pull back the layers, the more you realize how incredibly talented Joe is and the experimentation he is bringing to the genre, becoming a bridge/crossover artist from emo rap to emo/post-hardcore. The strength in Joe’s fourth release, “Trauma Factory” is the authenticity you feel in his music. Joe uses his music to healthily cope with his depression and anxiety which you can feel in every facet of his writing. “Trauma Factory” became a voice for many who were struggling with effects of the pandemic, mental heath, and coming to grips with what was happening in the world. What sets this album apart from his predecessors is the incorporation of guitars, bass, and drums, hinting closer to his emo/post-hardcore/pop punk influences. nothing, nowhere. weaves in and out between genres from track to track, leaving no room for predictability. From classic nn tracks like “lights (4444)” and “buck”, to emo-driven “pretend”, to the infectious pop-punk jam “nightmare”, and the metal infused anthem “death”, you can see Joe continuing to push the boundaries of what nothing,nowhere. can be.


Trauma Factory” is a soundtrack to the somber feelings many of us have felt throughout a year that was brought with challenge. However through it all, Joe seems to be a voice of driving adversity and positivity, even when life is at its greatest challenge. Oh yeah, nothing,nowhere. is way deeper than just “another emo rap artist” and that is just refreshing.













 

3. Every Time I Die - Radical


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“Post-Boredom”

“A Colossal Wreck”

“AWOL”

 

It is rare for a band to transcend decades being together, let alone continue to be relevant in the music scene. ETID is the epitome of this rarity going on year 23, playing since 1998. The Buffalo Mafia, table-crushing quintet have blessed us with their ninth release, “Radical”. This album provides us everything we love and want out of an ETID record. Tracks like opener “Dark Distance” and “A Colossal Wreck” are classic fast, thrashy ETID with riffs provided by none other than Jordan Buckley and “Awesome” Andy, glued together by the technically fast drummer Clayton Holyoak.


The album provides us 16 glorious tracks which gives ETID enough space to experiment and explore their sound which keeps them fresh and engaging even after 23 years of relentless heavy metalcore. Tracks like “White Void” and “Things With Feathers” are perfect examples of this. Vocalist Keith Buckley showcases his southern-rock influenced singing vocals more prominently, whereas previously this was more reserved for his side project, The Damned Things. Keith continues to show he is a master lyricist with lines like in “AWOL”, “we are all out of this world, ‘cause all good drugs go to heaven”, a tongue in cheek homage to the movie, “All Dogs Go To Heaven”.


On a deeper level since this album’s release, Keith opened up about his lowest point battling alcoholism, drinking all the way up to the completion of “Radical”. Confronting his demons and determined to make change, Keith redirected his life, and is now 22 months sober. Writing “Radical” helped him see how miserable he was and guided him to his journey of sobriety. Looking back now, Keith was quoted, “There was no way that I was gonna go back to the person I was before…”. This album is a rollercoaster and embodiment of Every Time I Die’s musical career. It provides some of their heaviest material, yet is melodic, unpredictable, and pushes the envelope of a band who started when I was spending my 5th grade Friday nights at the roller rink. Things that better with age: Cheese and Every Time I Die.


 

4. SeeYouSpaceCowboy - The Romance of Affliction


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“Misinterpreting Constellations”

“…and My Faded Reflection in Your Eyes”

“Intersecting Storylines to the Same Tragedy”


 

For any fans of metalcore, SeeYouSpaceCowboy nostalgically throws you back to the early-mid 2000s metalcore sound of bands like Drop Dead Gorgeous, 7 Angels 7 Plagues, and HeavyHeavyLowLow. You’re instantly time warped to an era of discovering new bands on Myspace, moshing in girls jeans/Youth XL tee shirts purchased at Goodwill, and playing local shows in VFW halls & gymnasiums. SeeYouSpaceCowboy has grown from self-proclaimed “Sasscore” to an intelligent, chaotic yet controlled metalcore band that pays homage to their mid-2000s ancestors with their release of “The Romance of Affliction”.


The album is wrapped in sentence long song titles driven by Connie Sgarbossa’s brutal high and low screams, sassy spoken word, balanced with soaring singing choruses by original guitarist Taylor Allen. The album also has impressive features by artists who influenced SYSC including Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die, Aaron Gillespie of Underoath, and emo-rap/screamo crossover band, If I Die First.

Although this album is hard hitting and high energy, it drives a serious note lyrically with Connie addressing her personal issues with addiction, mental illness, and drives a dialogue of LGBTQ representation. Connie’s lyricism adds another layer of complexity and substance to a band that only continues to grow with each release. If you’re wondering what the early 2000s metalcore was all about, look no further than to SeeYouSpaceCowboy who is pushing the genre ahead.


 

5. Volumes - Happier?


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“Happier?”

“Bend”

“Lets Me Down”


 

Why am I happier? It’s because Volumes is back with their return to form release fittingly titled, “Happier?”. It is great to see this band come back after what has been a turbulent journey. Volumes has faced a string of member changes, with the departure of original vocalist Michael Barr, addition of vocalist Myke Terry (ex-Bury Your Dead), then removal of original vocalist Gus Farias, and reemergence of Michael Barr. Additionally, founding member guitarist and brother of Gus, Diego Farias, left the band in 2020 to purse personal interests only to tragically and unexpectedly pass away shortly after. All of this however led them to their fourth studio album “Happier?”. It’s a welcome sight for longtime, wearied -eyed Volumes fans, especially those who were married to the 2010-11 “Via/The Concept of Dreaming” version of the band.

“Happier?” incorporates all of the elements that have made Volumes great throughout the years. Tracks such as album-titled “Happier?”, “FBX”, and “Malevolent” are classic Volumes paying homage to their former “Via” works by providing a perfect blend of melodic reverb guitar lines over djent style riffs, reminiscent of Misery Signals earlier works such as “Mirrors". Tracks such as “Bend”, “Get Enough”, and “Weighted” show the pop infused side of Volumes relating to their later releases of “No Sleep” and “Different Animals”. This era of the band shows the singing/screaming strength between Michael and Myke who are equally talented in their abilities to balance metal vocals with pop sensibilities together, playing off of each other beautifully.



It is incredibly exciting to see Volumes back in the fold and they are coming back stronger than ever. I recently saw them at my first show since the start of the pandemic and I can tell you, they are even better live than what you hear through their recordings. For new and old Volumes fans alike, this is a metalcore must listen in your Spotify/Apple Music queue.


 

6. Turnstile - GLOW ON


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“MYSTERY”

“BLACKOUT”

“HOLIDAY”


 

Turnstile came out swinging this summer with their third studio release, “GLOW ON”. What is remarkable is this 90s influenced hardcore band has broken the barriers of mainstream cynics and gatekeepers receiving high acclaim from publications such as Pitchfork, Spin, and Rolling Stone. “GLOW ON” expands on the band’s experimentation from 2018’s “Time & Space” with percussive instruments & synths, shoegaze/80s new wave inspired vocals partnered with guitar chorus effects. However with their evolution, they don’t lose sight of their roots, digging into hearty hardcore riffs, breakdowns, and enough two-stepping to be the stars of a wedding reception dance floor. Vocalist Brendan Yates shows his versatility, continuing to show his ability and range to sing, yet screams that could very well be in a Beastie Boys cover band.


Turnstile has climbed the ranks for a reason and this is an album that reaches a multitude of fans from various genres, backgrounds, and ages. Hell, I even came out of “mosh retirement” watching Turnstile a few years ago and it’s easy to see why. I think what makes Turnstile so infectious, is they are authentic and unapologetic to who they are. Like said best on the track, “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION)” - “I want to thank you for letting me be myself.”


 

7. Darko (US) - Darko


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“Insects”

“Pale Tongue”

“Donna”


 

Every year there are albums that come out of left field and slap you in the face silly. Like a pie to the face. Except this pie is full of some of the heaviest, hard-hitting, downtuned deathcore, technical drumming, and vocal range full of nightmares.


Meet Darko (US), the brainchild of Glass Cloud/SPITE’s Josh Miller (ex-Emmure) and Chelsea Grin’s Tom Barber. Understanding where these two musicians come from, it comes to no surprise the level of quality and technicality their self-titled debut brings. You can hear their former project influences heard throughout, however they’re brought to a whole new level of what it means to be “heavy”.

Darko is 44 minutes of “what the fuck just happened?”, leaving you with whiplash in a tailspin. As one of the heaviest releases of 2021, they show their melodic/dynamic capabilities with tracks such as “Donna”. It’s enriched with haunting melodies and ballad-like guitar work to make you forget, at least for four minutes, the fury of an album you are listening to. Darko is a standout not just with the music itself but their DIY creativity to music videos, merchandise, and style. Watch the video for “Mars Attacks” (link above) and you’ll see what I mean. These guys are the real deal and only one record in. They will be a force to be reckoned with in the heavy music scene for years to come, if they choose to do so. Now, excuse me while I go get an icepack for my face.


 

8. Trippie Redd - Pegasus: Neon Shark vs Pegasus Presented by Travis Barker


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“PILL BREAKER (feat. blackbear & Machine Gun Kelly)"

“SWIMMING”

“GERONMINO (feat. Chino Moreno)”


 

Travis Barker has single handedly revitalized the early-2000s pop punk sound. Yes, artists like MGK have been a contributing factor, but it’s been Travis Barker’s presence on what seems like every up-and-coming emo rapper’s album over the last few years that has brought the genre back in full force, making us question whether we should bring back Dickie’s shorts that go down to our ankles paired with long tube socks. Meet one of the best examples of this, Trippie Redd’s “Pegasus: Neon Shark vs Pegasus Presented by Travis Barker”.


Leading up to this album, Trippie Redd has been dancing between the hip hop/rap/emo/metal genres. With the support of Travis Barker, “Pegasus” is brought to the forefront as one of the best emo-rap, pop punk tinged records of the year. Outside of Barker, Trippie receives support from an all-star cast including: Machine Gun Kelly, blackbear, Busta Rhymes, Future, Lil Wayne, Sean Kingston, Young Thug, Scarlxrd, and even Chino Moreno from Deftones! This isn’t even the full list of features. This album provides the best of mix of all genres, providing us pop-punk nostalgia on tracks like “SWIMMING” to surprising Deftones inspired melodies on “GERONIMO”.

It is a refreshing welcome to all genres, isn’t afraid of experimentation, and is chocked full of music. 40 songs…that’s right, FORTY. 1 hr and 53 minutes worth. Although it’s a commitment to listen through this album front to back in one sitting when we live in the world of shuffle and singles, there is surly something for everyone on this genre-bending ride driven by the operator himself, Travis Barker.


 

9. Fiddlehead - Between the Richness


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“Million Times”

“The Years”

“Heart to Heart”


 

Fiddlehead was destined to be a “supergroup” in the hardcore scene hailing members from Have Heart (Patrick Flynn and Shawn Costa) and Basement (Alex Henery), signing to Run For Cover Records in 2018. Their sound is a departure from what this trio is known for in their respective acts. (I didn’t even realize this was the make up of Fiddlehead until three months ago). “Between the Richness” is a breath of fresh fall air to hear, rekindling a Title Fight-esc sound that has been missing from the scene since 2013. It is a perfect blend of midwest emo sprinkled with New England post-hardcore angst. If you like a band where you can mosh like you’re 23 and equivocally nod your head like you’re 33 - Fiddlehead is for you.


 

10. Architects - For Those Who Wish To Exist


Tracks that will hit you right in the feels:

“Animals”

“Discord is Dead”

“Meteor”


 

This one was tough. I battled with Architects - “For Those Who Wish To Exist” to make my Top 10 List or not. It was a literal struggle between Architects and my honorable mentions from acts such as Teenage Wrist, iamjakehill, and LiL Lotus. 2014 me would be in utter disbelief with the words I am writing after their genre defining release “Lost Forever // Lost Together” appointed them as the metalcore/djent kings of the genre. What followed though could be to what have led to their transformation. Since then, many metalcore bands have become Architects carbon copies, head banging in RBG purple lit music videos, djenting Architects inspired guitar riffs to their heart’s delight. (Wage War’s opening riff on “Low” anyone?).


Not only have bands made it their quest to sound like Architects, even more so, the departure of their signature sound could be the impact of the passing of founding member Tom Searle. Tom was the heart and soul of Architects. Their 2018 release, “Holy Hell”, was a beautiful dedication to Tom led by his twin brother and drummer Dan Searle, which at first listen, has you second guessing if Tom was in fact on the record. You could see Architects hit an inflection point in their career and were ready to start a new chapter of who they were creatively and who they wanted to be. This decision and evolution in their sound is what led to “For Those Who Wish To Exist” into my Top 10. To be transparent, it is my least favorite record in their catalog, however, I highly respect what they wrote and I respect artists who make change for themselves, not others.


The best word that describes “For Those Who Wish To Exist” is “massive”. It has 15 tracks clocking in at 58 min 28 sec. The album art is beautifully shot depicting an astronaut in a church showered in sun rays. The record just sounds huge. It’s layered with beautiful effects, strings, and sound beds. The guitars, bass, and drums are drenched in heaviness. Sam Carter’s vocals simultaneously soar and pierce through all of the noise between his coarse screaming and singing. Most notably, Architects brought a heavy presence of Industrial, Nu Metal, and Rock to this album. The album feels like a story you are being told, providing a plethora of dynamic ebbs & flows - moments of heaviness we expect from Architects to beautifully written orchestral moments. Most recently, Architects performed and streamed the album at the legendary Abbey Road Studios with a full orchestra in support, pleasantly surprising many what is possible with this record. Knowing Architects is one of the greatest metalcore acts, seeing these songs in-person will only make this album a “grower” longterm, solidifying it’s place in their already well-decorated catalog.


Where I’m challenged is despite the “massiveness” felt throughout the entirety of this album, it just doesn’t quite hit the peaks and provide the dopamine rush Architects has had the knack to provide over the last 10+ years. Maybe I’m hung up on “old” Architects. Maybe I miss their technicality and brutalness. Whatever it is, it was enough for me to struggle placing it in my Top 10 and yet, here we are. Either way, have an open-mind, put on some audiophile headphones, and listen to this album from front to back. It definitely deserves a listen.


 

LP Honorable Mentions:

- Teenage Wrist - Earth is A Black Hole

- iamjakehill - dying lately

- LiL Lotus - Error Boy

- Dying Wish - Fragments of a Bitter Memory


EPs (In No Order):

- Brothertiger - New Life

- SeeYouSpaceCowboy, If I Die First - A Sure Disaster

- KennyHoopla, Travis Barker - Survivor’s Guilt: The Mixtape//

- If I Die First - They Drew Blood

- Bilmuri - 400LB Back Squat

- Knocked Loose - A Tear in the Fabric of Life

- Static Dress - Prologue…(Comic Book Soundtrack)


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