The more things change, the more they stay the same. We started 2021 locked up because of a virus and it’s looking like we may end it in a similar fashion. And much like every other year I’m written one of these year-end reviews, I’m flabbergasted that we’re at the end of another calendar year whilst reveling in another year of great music. Spoilers: we very much got one of those. From early on this year, I’ve had this article in the back of my mind, more so than past years because for releases, 2021 stands shoulder to shoulder with other great recent years like 2016 and 2018. So, shall we begin?
Album of the Year
As soon as I heard this back in February, I knew this was the album to beat. The Hyena Kill’s A Disconnect saw my favourite two piece transform into a quartet (which is handy for what will be discussed later in this same article) and deliver their most complete and mature work to date. Darker and more complex, the additional bodies to the line-up have pushed The Hyena Kill to the next step of their constant evolution. As a band I’ve constantly adored since their debut album landed whilst they consistently out-do themselves on each release, they’ve set a ridiculously high bar for the follow-up. There are very few legitimate masterpieces and we see less of them as time passes but this is one of them. This is the sort of album which reaffirms the belief that they deserve to be massive.
Top Albums (in alphabetical order):
- Bastette – Exposed. As a band who popped on my radar towards of the tail of the year, they pushed their way into regular rotation as they pulled a myriad of influences for a poppy but darkly rocker to show you it’s not just you who will question what is real.
- Crobot – Rat Child. I’m never going to say “No” to more Crobot. This was exactly that, pulling some extra songs from Motherbrain and a love letter to Queen’s grandiosity, the only problem with it was I wanted more tracks. But that’s why it’s called an EP and not an album.
- The Darkness – Motorheart. Listen, you put a love letter to my hometown as the opening track to an album and I’ll love it regardless. However, the following eight tracks were also blinders. “Speed of the Nite Time” is one of the greatest Darkness songs to date but as a whole album, it becomes one of their best to become the most Darkness-y album since the debut.
- Dee Gees – Hail Satin. It’s so wrong yet so right. As the best Foo Fighters release this year (because full album Medicine at Midnight was a bit middle of the road), this was genius. Covering a handful of Bee Gees classics, yet not all of them, it makes you want to hear some of the other hits as Dave Grohl hits notes you didn’t think he was capable of.
- God Damn – Raw Coward. I didn’t even know this was in the pipeline until I received an email from Bandcamp informing me it was out. It’s gloriously filthy and noisy and bleak. A bit like this year, really. “Yout” is an insane slice of God Damn and the whole album is their most sincere and real effort to date.
- Heavy Water – Red Brick City. As Biff Byford teamed up with his son, Seb, they each brought their respective talents to show the Venn diagram of their musical works. Bluesy, noisy, soulful, modern and retro all in one.
- Toby Jepson – Viewfinder. Whilst Wayward Sons released another great album this year, I felt this was more pertinent to include. It shows Jepson hasn’t been afraid of trends, fashions or genres, instead embracing them with open arms, questioning everything about the human race, the human experience and the world in his lyrics. It also draws a line under his solo activities post-Ignorance is Bliss as he looks to the future with the Sons and potentially more solo material.
- Myles Kennedy – The Ides of March. Continuing to be one of the greatest songwriters of the 21st century, Kennedy has captured the mood of a pandemic better than most. He balances escapism with hope alongside his questioning of the powers that be with a simple warning – the scales need to be balanced. If Alter Bridge has “Blackbird”, Slash has “Anastasia”, then his own solo career has the title track to complete a trifecta of grandiosity.
- IDLES – Crawler. This was very much a grower. It didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks like last year’s Ultra Mono and frankly, I think that was the point. More contemplative, the angst and anger we know the Bristolians for takes a more subtle route. Something I’d never ordinarily describe IDLES as.
- The Middlenight Men – Issue #1. This is one of the most fun albums I’ve heard in a long time. Songs as sugary sweet as the confectionary aisle of your local supermarket without the worry of cavities, there’s great musicality on show as the band straddle many subgenres for a light-hearted listen whilst tackling real issues.
- MuddiBrooke – Lunacy. Forming a band during a pandemic may be described as the title of this EP but this power trio play as a band who have been doing so for a number of years together. Brilliantly modern whilst evoking nostalgia in those old enough to remember the heyday of grunge, the juxtaposition of both make for a refreshing listen in scene mired by so many painting by numbers.
- Shame – Drunk Tank Pink. As my tastes turn towards darker and moodier sounds, this stands with the best of them. Shouldering a heavy burden as it follows a great debut, this is a band holding their own high standards to account and beating them into submission.
- Unto Others – Strength. Part metal, part gothic and delightfully 80s in it all but every inch up to date in 2021. Refreshing and bright yet as dark as the Winter Solstice, it should speak to so many sub-genres and fans.
- Weezer – Van Weezer. I’m typically not a Weezer fan. I can name a handful of the hits and that’s about it. But when I heard about this album, it piqued my interest. Much like Foo Fighters’ ode to the Bee Gees, it’s so wrong but so right. Most purists (read: snobs) will likely turn their noses up at the mere idea of Weezer venturing into 80s rock but they do it so well you can’t help but grin and sing along.
- The Wildhearts – 21st Century Love Songs. As the follow-up to the best album of 2019, there was a lot riding on this, much like P.H.U.Q did following Earth Vs… Whilst it may not have hit the same heights for me as Renaissance Men, there are some great numbers on this. “Sleepaway” is as good as anything Ginger has written up to this point, as bouncy as “Sick of Drugs” and lyrically, could be termed as cousins, it was a song I couldn’t tear myself away from.
Best Live Shows (in chronological order):
Whilst it looks like live music once again hangs in the balance at the time of writing this, I did manage to get out of the house for something other than my day job. And even if does turn out to be for a brief window of time, it was glorious.
Haggard Cat – The Garage Attic, Glasgow (13th September). Cathartic for the band as they saw the release of their second album right as the world began to shut down last year as well as the duo going their own way without a record label or any other behind-the-scenes support. This was my first gig since the pandemic and a pandemic hasn’t stopped them from being one of the noisiest and frenetic bands I’ve ever seen. I’m really not one for doing things by halves, am I?
The Wildhearts – Albert Halls, Stirling (21st September). Ticking off another town I’ve visited for a gig, finally (despite working there for six months once upon a time), The Wildhearts assaulted Stirling with everything they had to an aloof and agitated crowd. Whilst the latter can’t be blamed under the circumstances, Ginger and co. took it in their stride to deliver a typical stormer of a set.
The Virginmarys – Academy 3, Manchester (16th October). Last year was weird in writing this because they didn’t feature at all for the first time ever. Thankfully, normal service has resumed and the true sign of that was being back at the barrier with my people and enduring a rather unenjoyable support band before them. Armed with a plethora of new material and down-sizing to a two-piece (thankfully The Hyena Kill’s new line-up meant they don’t have to duke it out for my favourite duo), this was the most important tour of their career. Smashing it as if they’d never been away this final night of their English tour was the victory lap they had more than earned as one of the best performances I’ve seen from them.
God Damn – The Hairy Dog, Derby (30th October). With a slight line-up reshuffle from the last time I saw them at Download 2017 and two new albums since, it was the tightest performance I’d witnessed from God Damn to date. Noisily assaulting the eardrums like they haven’t in so long, it was totally worth the 600 mile round trip.
Myles Kennedy – O2 Academy, Glasgow (6th December). Following up his second solo album saw Kennedy make his triumphant return to UK stages under his own name. Pulling from most corners of his career whilst giving a fresh lease of life to his solo debut, this was Kennedy at the top of his game as he looks a pandemic in the eye and simply says “I can use this.”
The Darkness – Barrowlands, Glasgow (9th December). What better way to return to the legendary Barras than with the fucking Darkness? Sounding just like the albums, and an electrifying atmosphere that only the Barras can provide, The Darkness worship at the altar of the glory of rock, pulling us along for the ride. Without falling into the realm of pastiche, the quartet remain one of the most entertaining live bands with the skill to back it up.
Gun / The Virginmarys / Gin Annie – Barrowlands, Glasgow (11th December). As the last gig of the year, it was back to back Barras shows. Sure, The Virginmarys may have already appeared here but as a band who have been playing Glasgow for well over a decade, this was their Barras debut and I wasn’t about to miss it. Add to it Gun’s legendary Christmas shows and there’s not a better way to draw a line under the year.
Best New Band I Discovered:
So many bands can fight for this title this year where in past years there’s always been one band head and shoulders above the rest. For 2021, it has to be Dirty Honey. Throw Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith in a blender and you have Dirty Honey. Speaking to my old classic rock sensibilities, “Gypsy” is one of the best earworms I’ve heard in years. Never veering into parody, there’s a reverence baked into their album as if they stepped out of the mid-70s. Had I heard this band in my late teens, they would have been one of my favourites but nowadays as my tastes change and evolve, it’s akin to a respectful nod across the room between two old friends whose paths diverged without a falling out.
Naturally, it has to be the return of live music. It’s a given, right? If music is our religion, which for many it is, then venues are our places of worship. There may be doubt over whether it’s back for good or if it’s a brief fleeting moment. Regardless, we have this small window to remember fondly. However, a special mention has to go to the return of Black Spiders. As I said in my review of their self-titled comeback album, if a global pandemic is the price we had to pay, then it was worth it.
Worst Thing That Happened:
Like most years, we lost some icons and influential people, some of whom helped shaped my musical tastes like Charlie Watts and Joey Jordison (if that doesn’t show the range of my musical tastes, I don’t know what will). Then, there’s a couple of other bad notes in the year. Mainly in the form of the thoroughly awful Royal Blood album. Seriously, fuck that album for having the audacity to even exist. Whilst it wasn’t a bad album per se, similarly, Florence Black’s debut album is another bad event of 2021. It’s one thing to release a bad album – I’m looking at you, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and the Dead Daisies (yeah, you know the one). But it’s another to release an album so painfully boring it makes fucking Coldplay sound exciting.
Most Looking Forward to in 2022:
- Finally seeing IDLES after literal years of waiting (I know I’ve said a couple of times that it looks unlikely but let’s even out the negativity with some positivity).
- The new Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators album. Come February, I’m listening to 4 until friends have to stage an intervention. Slash and the boys haven’t put a foot wrong in their decade-plus career and with a new producer, a mere ten tracks with their most simple album name and art and I think we could be in for their rawest and intense album yet.
- New material from The Virginmarys. Whilst the band have already debuted a number of tracks on their October tour, to have it on record, whatever that may look like, is something I’m already foaming at the mouth for. Because when you have the band’s mantra on your body forever, it’s always about more than simply liking them.
- The Virginmarys/Anchor Lane tour. Yeah, didn’t think I’d miss out the best band to come out of Glasgow, did you? And another mention of Macclesfield’s finest? Yeah! Ricky Warwick as the headliner for this tour isn’t bad by any stretch but for me, as a fan first and foremost of all of this, but this is literally my dream tour.
- 2000 Trees. I mean, have you seen that line-up?!
- Steelhouse 2022. With an already strong line-up, it looks like after four years away, I’ll finally be back up a rainy Welsh mountain.
- Bloodstock 2022. Having watched 2021 unfold from home as I wasn’t vaccinated yet, with Lamb of God headlining, wild horses won’t tear me away from Catton Park.
- The return of Ghost. Ever noticed how the world went to hell in a handbasket when Cardinal Copia ascended to the title of Papa Emeritus IV in March 2020? Perhaps when he returns to lead Ghost the pestilence shall leave the land.
Overall View of the Year:
2021 turned out to be a great year for rock and metal. At the cost of repeating myself like most years, we’ve had releases from titans like Mastodon, Gojira, The Quireboys, Dee Snider, Buckcherry and Iron Maiden (well, maybe not that last one because their most recent effort was a messy slog) and they didn’t feature on this, shows how great the unsigned/grassroots scene is. However, a pandemic is just the latest hurdle that our genre has looked in the eye with defiance and will work until the last breath to overcome. The fight may not be over quite yet but, in time, it will hopefully be something we look back on, rather than join other continuous thorns in our sides like Brexit impacting the touring industry, overblown additional fees on ticket prices (looking at you, Ticketmaster) or worrying that we may lose grassroots venues.
Now for the usual Oscar acceptance speech. Though this year I was tempted to do a Ricky Gervais Golden Globes monologue instead as the pandemic pulled away the last vestiges of hesitancy of speaking my true feelings. But let’s end it on a nice note.
- Mosh – first and foremost, as tradition dictates. For keeping this going in the face of adversity and putting us all to shame in still being the most prolific of us. As well as doing most of the publishing duties because in 2021 I abhor social media more than I ever have.
- Rob Town for a wealth of reasons.
- Cosa Nostra PR
- Valeria at Duff Press
- You – yes, the person reading this. Last but never least. Because if it wasn’t for the people reading this, I’d just be an asshole with an opinion and a keyboard. Which I’m sure some folk think I am. But at least we have a rewarding reason to continuing doing it.