BPMHILL’s Best Albums of 2021

As it turned out, 2020 was only part one of a difficult and frankly batshit time to exist on planet earth. Fortunately, through all the muck that was 2021, we’ve been graced with some truly stunning works of art. These are the albums that were able to blend all the pain and beauty this year had to offer. Here are the albums that I continue to spin since release and will be spinning for the foreseeable future:

Best EP’s:

  1. Bodom After Midnight – “Paint the Sky with Blood”
  2. Cult of Luna – “The Raging River”
  3. Soen – “The Undiscovered Lotus”
  4. Enslaved – “Caravans to the Outer Worlds”
  5. Insomnium – “Argent Moon”

Best Live Albums:

  1. Ulver – “Hexahedron: Live at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter” & “Scary Muzak”
  2. The Pineapple Thief – “Nothing But the Truth”
  3. Enslaved – “Cinematic Tour 2020”
  4. Devin Townsend – “Galactic Quarantine”
  5. Paradise Lost – “At the Mill”

Best Vinyl Variants:

  1. Opeth – Blackwater Park 20th Anniversary & In Cauda Venenum Connoisseur Edition
  2. Esa Holopainen – Silver Lake
  3. Ulver – Vargnatt reissue
  4. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
  5. White Ward – Love Exchange Failure reissue
  6. Freddy’s Nightmares OST
  7. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I & Phanerozoic II reissues
  8. Between the Buried & Me – Colors II, Come Ecliptic reissue, The Parallax II reissue
  9. Agalloch – Pale Folklore & Bloodbath – Resurrection Through Carnage reissues via Nesi Media
  10. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works & Miss Machine reissues

Best Studio Albums:

This definitely was not the easiest year to pick a best of list. I enjoyed a ton of albums but ultimately narrowed it down to twenty that have stuck with me for a variety of reasons. There are certainly some that didn’t make the cut and I’m still likely exploring those and haven’t quite figured them out yet. Devin Townsend’s The Puzzle/Snuggles and Swallow the Sun’s Moonflowers being a couple of examples. There are also a few that came very close like Maiden’s Senjutsu and Mol’s Diorama but ultimately I had to cut somewhere so here we are.

  1. At the Gates – “The Nightmare of Being”: What do you mean Carcass isn’t #1?? Well what can I say other than At the Gates put out the album that really defined this year for me. The dudes put out some of their best riffs and catchiest songs to date. “Spectre of Extinction” is easily one of the best songs they’ve written and a track I simply can’t stop listening to. Not only that but ATG went full prog and I’m a damn sucker for that. Check out “The Fall Into Time” for one example of this. This is epic, brutal and exactly what I want from one of the classiest Melo-death bands around. Songs to Listen To: Spectre of Extinction, The Fall Into Time, Eternal Winter of Reason
  2. Harakiri for the Sky – “Maere”: One of the most emotional and heartfelt albums this year comes from Harakiri for the Sky who took things up yet another notch with “Maere”. The album starts with a proper banger in “I, Pallbearer” and doesn’t let up. Songs to Listen To: I, Pallbearer, Sing for the Damage We’ve Done, Song to Say Goodbye
  3. Between the Buried & Me – “Colors II”: Very few bands would risk making a sequel to one of their most beloved albums. Count on BTBAM for fully embracing it and making an album that while attached to the core of the original Colors, is really its own beast entirely. It’s an incredibly varied album and truly distinct. It doesn’t rely on its sibling and yet clever traces of the DNA are woven in. This is how you write a sequel. Songs to Listen To: Revolution in Limbo, The Future is Behind Us, Bad Habits
  4. Leprous – “Aphelion”: While the last album, “Pitfalls”, was somewhat a change of pace for the band, Aphelion manages to mix the sound of that with some of their earlier albums and creates one of their finest moments yet. This has potential to become one of my all time favorites from the group and I’ve yet to grow bored of a single track. Songs to Listen To: Nighttime Disguise, The Silent Revelation, Silhouette
  5. Rivers of Nihil – “The Work”: Rivers of Nihil pulled off quite an ambitious record with “The Work”. This could have easily gone poorly with a fairly big leap from what they did on “Where Owls Know My Name”. Fortunately with this innovative band at the hull, we’re treated to a great blend of genres and excellent songwriting. Songs to Listen To: Clean, Terrestria IV, Wait
  6. Deafheaven – “Infinite Granite”: I’ll admit this one has been all over the map for me but I feel very comfortable where it stands on my list now. I was lucky enough to see the band perform the album front to back live and it changed the full experience for me. If you’ve previously written it off, I highly recommend catching Deafheaven’s 2022 tour if they make a stop in your city. Songs to Listen To: Great Mass of Color, Mombasa, In Blur
  7. Steven Wilson – “The Future Bites”: Possibly my most decisive choice here (along with Deafheaven) but where “To the Bone” felt like a warm up for this direction, Wilson fully commits to an electronic sound. For my money, it works brilliantly. That isn’t to say I don’t miss his guitar led albums like “The Raven that Refused to Sing” but this is still a prog album in its own way. Just perhaps not what most are used to in the traditional sense. There are plenty of masterful tracks to discover here for the open minded. Songs to Listen To: King Ghost, Man of the People, Eyewitness. Note: I’m cheating a little bit as Eyewitness isn’t from the album proper but one of the many great tracks that was recorded during the sessions. How it isn’t on the main album is beyond me as it’s wonderful.
  8. Dream Theater – “A View from the Top”: Did you really think Dream Theater’s latest wouldn’t be on my list? Admittedly, I don’t know if this one will stick with me as much as their last album, “Distance Over Time”, did which is why it’s lower down the list. Regardless, it’s a damn fine collection of songs by one of the best bands out there. Songs to Listen To: Answering the Call, The Alien, A View from the Top
  9. Mastodon – “Hushed & Grim”: This is an overwhelming and lengthy listen and yet it’s absolutely stunning. It may be awhile before I can claim it’s their best since “Crack the Skye”, but I can say with certainty that the band sound on top of their game. This was only further solidified when I saw them perform several of the tracks live earlier this month. Songs to Listen To: Pain with an Anchor, Pushing the Tides, Gigantium
  10. Tribulation – “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound”: I was debating as to which album would ultimately get the final slot in the top 10 and I found that out of the rest of the top 20 here, this is the one I came back to the most. Though it may not beat out 2015’s “The Children of the Night” in the bands discography, it’s a very solid album. Plus the vinyl exclusive track “The Damphir” is one of the best Tribulation songs period. Songs to Listen To: Hour of the Wolf, Leviathans, Funeral Pyre.
  11. Khemmis – “Deceiver”
  12. Vola – “Witness”
  13. Archspire – “Bleed the Future”
  14. Wolves in the Throne Room – “Primordial Arcana”
  15. Spiritbox – “Eternal Blue”
  16. Cynic – “Ascension Codes”
  17. Gojira – “Fortitude”
  18. Carcass – “Torn Arteries”
  19. Soen – “Imperial”
  20. Perturbator – “Lustful Sacraments”

2 + 2 Reviews: Thanksgiving Week Edition

Pardon our lengthy delay on this column. Both George and I got incredibly busy over the last few months but we’re back just in time for the holiday week. We decided to cover one album and one song each. George covered Mastodon’s new album and one song from the recently released Iron Maiden album. I covered Between the Buried and Me’s Colors 2 and one song from Dream Theater’s latest album. Anyhow, get that last minute turkey/Tofu Turkey shopping done and settle in for a few reviews from us.

Mastodon: Hushed and Grim

GF: A new Mastodon release is always something that I look forward to.

Have their last three albums measured up to their first three? Perhaps not, but at the same time, even those have tended to get at least a solid few weeks of constant listening from me… sometimes more.

While a bit too long and slightly unfocused, I thought, “The Hunter,” had some magnificent music on it— including one or two of the band’s best songs. “Once More Round the Sun,” was pretty underrated for my money, and perhaps the album where they figured out that they could write arena-worthy hooks with the best of them. “Emperor of Sand,” was something that I enjoyed quite a bit too. The quieter moments almost outshone some of the heavier stuff, and Brent Hinds continued to solidify his status as modern day metal’s most exciting soloist.

Those releases bring us to today, with, “Hushed and Grim,” an album that has rightly been hailed as their best work since, “Crack the Skye.”

This is a long album, but it goes down easy. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, I feel like it touches on just about everything the band has done, and done well, over the course of their career. 

While Scott Kelly’s once mandatory guest slot is dearly missed here, new collaborators pop in to fill the void, chief amongst them young country phenom Marcus King, and OG metal titan Kim Thayil.

In both cases, these gentlemen provide some rather brilliant lead guitar work, with the former injecting some down-home flavor into the Brent Hinds-led, “The Beast,” and the latter, adding a patented sonic exorcism, to “Had it all.”

As this album is so long, there are AMPLE opportunities for solos, and Brent Hinds plays like a man possessed all throughout the album. His uncanny, one-of-a-kind, fretboard slip-and-slide routine is still unlike anything practiced by his contemporaries. Here, he’s as good as he’s ever been, turning in career-best performances on songs like, “More Than I Could Chew,” and the album’s final three songs, most notably, closer, “Gigantium.”

Though the album has its more uptempo numbers, its overriding vibe is heavy, and sorrowful. A tribute to late band manager Nick John, these are sad songs reflecting on loss: songs that sound most honest when they’re crawling as opposed to running. The melancholy found on the slower numbers is beautiful in its own particular way, and the half-time numbers allow Mr. Hinds his best opportunities to flay his guitar alive.

While Hinds is certainly the star of the show here, it’s a bit of a bummer that he only has a few vocal turns on the album. Mastodon has become the Brann Dailor and Troy Sanders show in the singing department, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I do miss his voice. Dailor in particular is more than happy to pick up the slack, and his singing only continues to improve. If he’s not the best singer in the group at this point, he’s just behind Hinds.

With its greyscale cover art, save for a spare hit of gold, “Hushed and Grim,” is not only an astonishing piece of metal, but the perfect soundtrack for the bleak skies that we experience here in the midwest, during the fall. If you’re feeling down, this is an album that invites you to lean into your feelings, and be at peace with them.

Where the band goes from here, I’m not quite sure, but I feel as though they have certainly come upon a new stretch of their path. I’m very excited to hear what’s next, and I’m very thankful for the fact that they were able to channel their grief into such a tremendous piece of art.

Iron Maiden – The Parchment

GF: I feel like sometime around 2006, Iron Maiden very comfortably glided into what I’ll call mid-tempo Maiden mode.

This might sound like a knock, but it’s not. Save for the opener, “Different World,” their album, “A Matter of Life and Death,” was almost exclusively, full of numbers that stopped just shy of the band’s trademark gallop.

The frantic speed under which the band used to operate had been replaced. Here, in its stead, was epic proggy grandeur. It was a cool transition that 100% worked– it allowed the band to continue to make thoughtful and exciting music at a point in their career where most folks have run out of gas.

The music found on their most recent album, “Senjutsu,” cruises very comfortably in the new lane that the band carved out for themselves 15 years ago. These are long songs… knotty songs… that feature ample fireworks from the band. Of particular note, is the playing that we’re treated to, courtesy of Janick Gers, and Nicko McBrain, who steal the show.

While it’s ludicrous to expect men in their late 60s to go at things with the fury that was on display for songs like, “Gangland,” “Aces High,” or, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” I did find myself wanting to hear the band mount up just ONE more time on the album, and I feel like they got as close as they’re going to get during the grand finale of, “The Parchment.”

The song has three guitar solo sections. The best of course is the final one, and the proceedings kick off at the 9:52 mark. After a particularly epic, and proggy climb to the top of the mountain, (aided by a motif that recalls the verse riff of, “Hallowed be Thy Name,”) the band is finally ready to plant their flag, and show everyone what the business is.

As time has gone on, it’s become a bit harder for me to discern Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s leads, so until we’re graced with a live version of this, I’m not gonna know who plays the second solo (but it’s probably Murray). That said, I think we can all safely say that it’s Mr. Gers who fires the first shot across the bow in the song’s final solo section.

And wow-wee, what a shot it is.

In the past, I’ve seen mumblings criticising his soloing within the band, as folks say it sounds a lot like Rainbow-era Ritchie Blackmore. I don’t think that’s necessarily unfair, but in recording this, he’s proven that he’s transcended.

Even Ritchie wasn’t cooking this kind of shit.

Here, rampant whammy bar abuse, and speedy runs galore, feel like a shotgun blast to the head, as Gers’ tone is absolutely WHITE HOT. It sounds like perhaps he’s playing through a cocked wah, but whatever it is, he’s rolling out the most vicious shit of his life. At its most frantic, it sounds like he’s trying as best as he can, to literally disembowel his guitar. 

It recalls Pete Cosey, when he played the Osaka afternoon show, back in 1975– fully diabolical.

Against a boosted tempo, and killer rhythm work from the rest of the band (check Nicko McBrain’s Bill Bruford-indebted cymbal work) it might be his most picture-frameable moment as a soloist within the band E-V-E-R.

The solo that follows is more tempered, and reminds me of the spaced-out bliss that we were treated to on “Powerslave.” It’s classic Maiden, and the ideal piece of punctuation for the longest (and for my money) most epic cut on the album.

Between the Buried and Me – Colors 2

BH: I recently got back from seeing the band in my first concert since the Before Times and boy did they put on a show.  While the setlist mostly focused on celebrating The Great Misdirect record and their 21 years of being a band, they’re clearly excited about the new record.  And they absolutely should be.  This may very well be the Paddington 2, T2, Empire Strikes Back-all rolled into one-best Sequel we could have possibly been lucky enough to receive.  

While it’s somehow not the only sequel record of the year (I’m looking at you The Night Flight Orchestra), Colors 2 has been easily one of the most anticipated albums of 2021.  Any time Between the Buried and Me put out a new record, it’s reason for excitement but Colors 2??  Colors is not only one of the bands best efforts but also one of the defining prog metal albums of all time.  

“Monochrome” starts off the album in a somewhat traditional manner for the band (and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all).  A soft key-laden intro that eventually gives way to the overall heavier direction this album will go in.  It’s a really nice lead-in to one of my favorite tracks on the album, “The Double Helix of Extinction”.  Tommy’s vocals are as harsh as ever and then how about that break around the two minute mark with the basketball game sound fx, mixed with some great percussion work from Blake.  Also, while I wouldn’t normally be into a band shouting their name on a song, it works really well in this instance.  It feels like a perfect live song too.  Next up is the single, “Revolution in Limbo”, which was really the track that made me feel most confident about a Colors sequel pre-release.  It reminds me of elements from “Sun of Nothing” from the OG Colors but is really its own thing.  

The other single, “Fix the Error”, we covered a bit here but I’ll just say it has only grown on me further since then, particularly as the band played it live.  Blake nailed the solo section all by himself and it was glorious.  “Never Seen/Future Shock” is one of the two longest songs on the record but it glides by for me.  There’s also an Affinity era Haken section here in the first four minutes that made me super amped.  Paul’s guitar work on this song is really impeccable.  I would say this album is loaded with memorable riffs and licks but really dig everything he does on this particular track.  Oh and then there’s the incredibly beautiful final two minutes of the song that remind me of sections from the Alaska era.  “Stare Into the Abyss” feels like a transitional song leading into the back half of the album but it certainly makes an impact with a catchy chorus and a brutal final minute. “Prehistory” AKA the song with Crash Bandicoot SFX!  I love this track and it pairs really nicely with the following track “Bad Habits”.  This song is another favorite and has a great callback to “Ants of the Sky” from Colors I both lyrically and in the structure of the song itself.  Tommy once again delivers great vocal lines throughout this track.  Also at the five minute point of the song, there’s a really top-tier bit of musicianship with everyone that takes us through to the final minutes of the song.  

I’m not sure why “The Future is Behind Us” became initially controversial between fans but for my money it’s a definite favorite song here.  The 80’s vibes here kick so much ass.  The keys mixed with Tommy’s vocals and chorus is so insanely good.  Plus any song with a Ferris Bueller reference gets major props from me.  “Turbulent” feels a bit like a second act to “The Future is Behind Us” and has Blake go properly mad on his kit in the second half.  “Sfumato” is a one minute track that primarily sets us up for the finale similar to what “Viridian” did for “White Walls” on Colors I.  

The final song on Colors 2, “Human is Hell (Another One With Love)” doesn’t attempt to be “White Walls” part two.  Instead it sets its own path of monstrous destruction with a fifteen minute runtime that never overstays its welcome.

I’ve got to say Colors 2 is one of my favorite albums this year and this may be one of the best albums the band has done to date.    


Dream Theater – Answering the Call

BH: I thought about reviewing the entire new Dream Theater album as it’s really good (and who knows maybe I still will) but in the meantime, highlighting one of my favorite cuts on it entitled Answering the Call. 

Before I jump into it though, I want to point out that this is the fifth album since Portnoy left the band and fifteenth overall.  It’s impressive that the band keeps creating innovative new music and pushing their boundaries.  It’s not easy losing such a key member of the band and fortunately at this point, drummer Mike Mangini has really gelled with the group.  He’s a phenomenal player anyhow but between this album and their previous, Distance Over Time, he’s really come into his own with the virtuoso musicians in the band. 

Anyhow, this song is one hell of a banger and actually has some Octavarium vibes on it which as a long time fan, is greatly appreciated.  That opening riff is super catchy, the chorus is strong and the outro (and build to it) might be one of the strongest moments in a DT song in some time.  It reminds me of a Gojira outro and is really heavy.

When I gave the new album its first spin, I was immediately drawn to this track.  It’s classic DT through and through.  I also noticed that not only with this song but the majority of the album, the band is doing a great job of balancing the technicality with accessibility. 

Jordan’s keys here are mostly subtle layers and work nicely alongside Petrucci’s riffs.  Also, Myung is really crushing it.  I really dig his interplay with Petrucci on the previously mentioned outro. 

For whatever reason, part of the fanbase has felt Labrie is the weak point with the band but quite honestly Dream Theater wouldn’t be the same without him.  He has a knack for catchy vocal lines and he still sounds top-notch.  Particularly on this track he’s really on his game.

Dream Theater remains one of the most important bands in the prog space and Answering the Call further proves this is the case.  

2 + 2 Reviews: Record Store Day Weekend Edition

Apologies for the lengthy delay.  Both George and I have been swamped with our day jobs but glad to be back for a new batch of tunes on Record Store Day weekend.  Speaking of, if you haven’t gone and supported the artists and your local store, now is as good of a time as any.  Personally, I nabbed the Soen special RSD release and also Opeth launched their Blackwater Park 20th Anniversary vinyls on Friday which is one of my all time favorite albums.  Check out my Insta (@concertcam) to see my posts coming soon. Anyhow, this week we have new cuts from Between the Buried and Me, Deafheaven, Whites Stones and…checks notes and eardrums…IRON MAIDEN!! 

Between the Buried and Me – Fix The Error

BH: Ok first things first…Between the Buried and Me is releasing Colors 2 in August.  This is not a drill.  It is very ballsy though, particularly since Colors is widely considered one of the band’s best albums.  Fortunately, BTBAM doesn’t release anything less than stellar so even if the album doesn’t end up being as good as Colors, it’ll still rule. 

Which brings us to the first single, Fix the Error.  I’ve spun this probably fifteen times since it dropped and it just gets better with each listen.  I will say the first few listens, I didn’t quite know what to make of it.  

The guest drum solo section featuring Mike Portnoy, Navene Koperweis, Kenneth Schalk and of course, Blake Richardson was immediate for me though.  Each of them are phenomenal here and at this point I can tell who is playing each solo but they all blend together perfectly.  

The “have you seen the rainbow” section is probably the most baffling initially but I really enjoy it now.  It actually plays nicely off a few sections from their classic song, Selkies, in my opinion.  

George, what was your first reaction to Fix the Error?  I know you’re familiar with the band but what’s the last album you’ve heard from them?  Are you a fan of Colors?

GF: I’m not gonna lie the first time I heard this, I raised my eyebrow at a couple of things, but the more I thought about it (and listened) it felt like the band was being very true to themselves. If this song is any indication of the album as a whole, I expect Colors 2 will be a worthy successor to the first album.

My history with the band is a little funny, as I didn’t actually give, “Colors,” a full listen until last year.

Sacrilegious, I know.

Here’s the thing though– “The Great Misdirect,” is one of my favorite metal albums OF ALL TIME, I was kinda scared to listen to what most people considered BtBaM’s masterpiece, lest it dethrone an album I held so dear.

I still like, “The Great Misdirect,” better, but, “Colors,” is worthy of its acclaim– this is a metal album that has a hoe-down section after all. 

Yes, you read that right– go listen to, “Ants of the Sky,” and make sure you have your cowboy hat ready for when the banjos come out.

In any case, there were a few things that made me pause in here, as I thought they were tending a little more towards silly than I would have liked: the bass solo, and what we’ll refer to as the song’s, “twisted carnival,” sequences.

Hearing these, I was like, “really?” but then I realized that BtBaM had precedents for both of these things in their previous songs, and they were simply building upon what they’d established on earlier albums.

While I prefer the fretless (or double-bass?) action heard within, “The Great Misdirect,” the bass solo on here is actually pretty gutter. It’s some nimble shit, and the tone is a bold statement for a metal song. I’m with it.

Re: your mention of the drum solos Brandon, that was the first thing about the song that I fell in love with. I didn’t know that they got Mike Portnoy to provide them with a BLESSING, and the other gentlemen who feature on here are throwing it down too. It’s definitely my favorite part of the song.

For the same reason that I was afraid to listen to “Colors,” I’ve not sought out the band’s more recent releases, but I’ll have to do so now. 

Like you, my appreciation for this song has only grown as I’ve listened to it more, so I think we’re in for a treat.

Between the Buried and Me’s Colors 2 will release on August 20th which you can preorder here: https://www.betweentheburiedandme.com 

Deafheaven – The Gnashing

GF: I feel a bit bad giving Deafheaven two slots in a row, but they keep bringing the heat, so that’s just what it is.

It seems like the internet has been evenly split on the band’s new direction, and I’ve had a little waffling since these songs have come out, but I’m firmly back in the camp of, “this is great.”

More propulsive as a whole than, “Great Mass of Color,” this song is a pretty straight-ahead rocker. The choruses are big, the guitar leads start in, “meltdown mode,” off the bat, and the band seems like they’re really enjoying what they’re playing.

These are all good things, and it leads me to discuss what we’ll call the song’s, “cookout,” section.

As with “Great Mass of Color,” the band saves it’s most powerful moment for the tail end of the song. Here, it arrives in the form of some severely deep-fried reverb/wah action that recalls some of both, “Baby Blue,” and, “Canary Yellow.” It’s funny as this song has no sort of color in its title, but so it goes.

In either instance, the fleet-fingered, back-mixed lead work that closes the song out is just an aural feast for anyone with a good sound system or headphones. I’m hoping they’re able to keep things this exciting as they release more from the album.

Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite arrive on August 20th and you can pre-order here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/deafheaven.  I grabbed the picture disc which is just so slick.

White Stones – Chain of Command

BH: If you don’t know already, I’m kind of a die-hard Opeth fan (and perhaps my intro clarifies this).  This includes being a fan of the side bands from the respective current and ex-members.  I’ve written about Soen several times on Indiepong but not too much on White Stones.  

WS is Martin Mendez’s other band and it’s clear that since Opeth is no longer releasing even remotely death metal albums now, White Stones will take on the role.  

Chain of Command hits really strongly right out of the gate so I’m increasingly excited to see what else awaits on the second album from the group.  Yes, this sounds a lot like Opeth used to, particularly the bass tone and guitar riffs.  And that’s pretty great by me.  

I love the eerie whispers at the beginning of this track and man alive, that lead riff is super catchy.  I dug the debut album a lot but this song *might* be better than any of the songs on there. 

The vocals absolutely crush and I love how tight the drumwork is.  Other than Mendez, I wasn’t too familiar with the other members of the band but he certainly surrounded himself with top-notch musicians.  

White Stone’s second album, Dancing Into Oblivion, will release on August 27th, which you can preorder here.  

Iron Maiden- The Writing on the Wall

GF: When Brandon sent the link through for this song, I was both excited and nervous at the same time.

Excited because… well, new Iron Maiden.

Nervous, because… I feel like the law of averages is going to have to catch up with the band at some point, and they’re going to *winces* release some music that’s *double winces* not very good.

Thankfully, that’s not the case here, and Bruce and the boys are back in business.

This seems to be cruising pretty comfortably in the lane of what Maiden put out back in ‘06, with, “A Matter of Life and Death,” an album that just so happens to be my favorite Maiden studio release when it comes to their 21st century output.

That’s no knock against “Book of Souls,” or anything else that they’ve put out since Bruce re-joined the band either, I just feel like, “A Matter of Life and Death,” was a pretty special album. Its strength is especially impressive, considering that they recorded it so late into their career.

In any case, this is mid-tempo Maiden with a bit of groove to it. Bruce it still giving it everything he has, and it sounds like both Dave and Adrian get to spin the wheel when it comes to the guitar solos?

It sounds like whoever bats second throws a little half-cocked wah and some slight inflection into the mix which is always appreciated, and the solos in general serve as a marvelous set of exclamation points in the song.

The chorus is probably going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the evening, and perhaps, well into tomorrow too, so I’d say mission accomplished, if these gentlemen were looking to put another notch on their belt of anthems.

Brandon, what are your favorite parts of the song? Did you know that Maiden was even going to put new music out? How does this compare against what the band has put out these last 20 years in your mind? Where does it fall in terms of your appreciation?

BH:  So I did know that Maiden was up to something because they had made a few hints recently on social media but it wasn’t really clear what exactly they were doing.

Then they drop this rad new song on us and well…as usual for Maiden…it’s super good.

Before I get too into it though, this song got me psyched to go back through their discography yet again.  I was starting to go in order but now I’m kinda jumping all over the place.  I’ve got to say that their debut album might be one of my favorite debut albums out there.  It’s almost perfect even without Bruce.  

That all said, nothing quite compares to some of the classic Bruce albums like Powerslave, along with the “Return of the Bruce” albums from Brave New World and on.  

Very interesting to hear how connected you are with A Matter of Life and Death, George.  I like that album a lot too, though Dance of Death was actually the album that I’m closest to from the “Return of the Bruce” period.  To clarify, it’s not my favorite of this batch (that would be Brave New World) BUT I snuck out of high school with some friends to grab this album on release day so it’s near and dear to me regardless of that godawful cover art.

Anyhow, this new song definitely has me eagerly anticipating the next album.  I love the opening Western-ish guitar lick.  Feels like something different for Maiden.  When it kicks into gear, the song reminds me of a track from The Final Frontier sessions in terms of build up and pacing but it’s really quite different too.  The chorus feels like a standard one for the group but that’s not a bad thing.  

I also really appreciate the more progressive second half with the killer guitar solo. 

To answer your question George, I tend to be an album guy particularly with Maiden in the sense that the single is usually just one small piece of the bigger picture.  It’s a little hard to gauge how this will stack up on the upcoming album, but I’d say it would have fit nicely on the last couple of albums.  Is it better than tracks like If Eternity Should Fail from The Book of Souls…eh maybe not but that’s no slight as again this is a damn solid song and I think as I hear it in the context of the new album, it’ll only grow for me.  Up the Irons!  

2+2 Reviews: Memorial Day Weekend Edition (Mastodon, Chelsea Wolfe, Esa Holopainen, An Autumn for Crippled Children)

Welcome to the Memorial Day Weekend Edition of 2+2.  I was out of town this weekend, relaxing by the ocean which has done wonders for me but also delayed this post.  Anyhow, I’m so glad to have a bunch of new tunes to jam while I watch the waves knock down some unsuspecting beach-goers.  Excited to share these very tunes from Mastodon, Chelsea Wolfe, Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen and An Autumn for Crippled Children.

Mastodon Forged by Neron

BH: It’s so good to have another new Mastodon track.  Between “Fallen Torches”, “Rufus Lives” from the Bill & Ted Face the Music soundtrack and now “Forged by Neron”, we’ve had several solid singles in between full length records.  

While Emperor of Sand wasn’t among my favorite Mastodon albums, I’m very excited to hear what they’ll do next.  If these three singles are any indication, the new one should be pretty damn good.  

“Forged by Neron” is the lead track for the Dark Nights: Death Metal Soundtrack based around the DC comics.  The soundtrack will also feature Greg Puciato, Gunship and Chelsea Wolfe (which we discuss below) so Mastodon are among great company.  

Anyhow, I really enjoy this track overall.  Troy’s vocals sound great here and the lead riff hits hard.  The more I listen, the more the song’s hooks dig into me.  I will say I wish the ending wasn’t quite so abrupt.  It has some uneasy build-up but then just stops suddenly.  Still, I do keep going back to the track so there’s enough here to keep me happy until the next album.     

George, what do you think of Mastodon generally speaking?  What does this track do for you, good or bad?  I know you initially had trouble getting into certain aspects of this track…Can you elaborate and have things changed for you over more spins of the song? Also, were you already familiar with the Dark Nights: Death Metal comic series and now soundtrack? 

GF: I’ve been on Team Mastodon since late 2006. Shortly before I went to college, I saw the music video for, “The Wolf is Loose,” and something clicked for me. While I wasn’t initially jazzed about the half of the song that featured the harsh vocals, Brann Dailor’s Billy Cobham-turned Superman drumming had me hook, line, and sinker. As I dove deeper into their music, I actually came to appreciate the harsh vocals more, and to this day, “Blood Mountain,” reigns as my favorite album of theirs. 

This song makes some unconventional choices with regards to melody, and certain passages (especially within the chorus) don’t resolve on the note that my brain sees as the, “logical choice.” At first, this is kind of frustrating, as it’s like, “erghhhh, why can’t you go a step or two up?!”, but because of this, you’re listening in a way that’s more intentional, and I appreciate that.

I also had a hard-time with the solo at first, but now, I’m on board. Brent Hinds have started to veer into Kerry King-style atonality in certain spots these last couple of years which hasn’t always been my favorite thing, upon first listen. After understanding what time it is, with regards to the song as a whole though, I think his playing is right on the money.

DC put out a soundtrack with some of these same artists a few years ago, which yielded a couple of songs that I really liked. “Brief Exchange,” which saw Chino Moreno, Tyler Bates, Gil Sharone, and Mike Elizondo team up, was definitely the highlight of the set. I still play it to this day.

I’m excited to see this soundtrack continue to roll out, as both this song and Chelsea Wolfe’s track are magnificent.

Chelsea Wolfe – Diana

GF: Ooh, boy– the supreme Scorpio empress of sunless lands did a song about Wonder Woman?

Sign me up.

This shit is a certified cooker– a song that will (hopefully), fully-catapult Ms. Wolfe towards the limelight, giving her the large audience she deserves.

The Tom Morello-esque guitar theatrics that open the song deliver a jolt to your ears right off the bat, and provide the perfect counterpoint to Chelsea’s breathy, delicate, yet tortured vocals that follow.

Ms. Wolfe’s vocals recall Amy Lee of Evanescence, but they’re heavier. It sounds like the weight of a mountain rests upon her chest, and it’s going to take everything she has to obliterate said mountain, and free herself.

Of particular note here is the chorus, which has a turbo-charged addition, the second time it comes around. Here, we get to see Chelsea go full-on banshee, with all sorts of blissful chaos weaving in and out of stereo behind her. 

It’s truly incredible– a powerful moment that stopped me dead in my tracks, the first time I heard it. I can only imagine how fun that section was to mix, and play around with, in the studio.

Brandon, how did you first hear of Chelsea’s work? Have you been a fan for awhile?

What parts of the song stuck out most to you, or, what did you find most satisfying in here?

BH: I actually first heard about Chelsea when Pain is Beauty released in 2013.  I believe her label, Sargent House, had advertised for it on one of the albums I had bought from them.  She also made an appearance on a Russian Circles album that I adored and then was featured on a Deafheaven track a few years back, so she has continued to be on my radar.  

Anyhow, I really have only heard certain songs from each of her albums over the years so haven’t fully explored her catalogue.  “Diana” certainly proves why I need to spend the time.  

I think what really struck me out of the gate was how damn twisted this song is.  I expected it to be dark but it really creeps me out in a good way.  The off-kilter piano does wonders for me.

Also when we hit the chorus, I was just really blown away.  If we ever get a truly gothic film version of Wonder Woman, this had better be the end credits song.  

“Diana” gets pretty chaotic but Chelsea keeps it firmly together and her voice is really something special.  Additionally, I do hope if there’s another season of Twin Peaks to come that David Lynch hires her as a musical guest as she would fit right into that world.

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen – Ray of Light

BH: Esa Holopainen is primarily known as the lead guitarist and a founding member of the insanely influential and awe-inspiring band, Amorphis.  

While his main band have been hard at work on the next release, Esa found some time during the pandemic to work on his first solo effort and it really has an incredible collection of vocalists.

One of my favorite tracks is “Ray of Light” which features Einar Solberg’s (Leprous) soaring vocals.  This has some gorgeous melodies within and Einar is on top form here, locking in nicely with Esa’s composition.

Though it’s unlikely we will ever see a tour of Esa’s solo album (at least stateside), I’m secretly hoping Amorphis and Leprous will tour together and I will get to see this song performed.  

An Autumn for Crippled Children- Melancholia

GF: You ever have songs come across your radar where the second you hear the first note, you know you’re going to love it?

This was one of those songs for me.

This song was made to blast at sunset on the highway, while driving in a drop-top, somewhere out in LA.

I guess that means that traffic has to be moving, which– is a big ask, but it’s possible if you just think hard enough about it!

The guitars here are sun-kissed in the most beautiful way you could ever hope to imagine. On top of that, the 80s new wave synths that soar behind them, are kind of the greatest thing in the world.

In some ways, I feel like this is predicting where Deafheaven will most likely find themselves at some point, if they give up the blastbeats. 

Until then, An Autumn for Crippled Children are riding in this lane by themselves, and the open road ahead of them is glorious. I can’t wait to listen to more of their music.

2+2 Reviews: Easter 2021 Edition (Harakiri For The Sky, Bodom After Midnight, Genghis Tron, and Xiu Xiu featuring Sharon Van Etten)

Welcome to the Easter Weekend Edition of 2+2 with BPMHill and George Folz.  Thanks for coming back or joining in for the first time.  I can’t say that any of these tracks have a particular Easter vibe; hell the first track out of the gate is most definitely about some dark shit.  That said, nothing wrong with some tracks that are perfect for an easter egg hunt within a living room circle pit.  Fun for the whole family!  Without further ado, check out the latest songs we recommend:

Harakiri For The Sky – Sing for the Damage We’ve Done

BH: Though I’ve heard of Harakiri For The Sky previously, I’ll admit their new album Maere is the first I’ve listened to fully.  What really reeled me in was that one of the guests on the album is none other than Neige from Alcest.  

The track “Sing for the Damage We’ve Done” is the very one to feature him.  It’s one of the stronger tracks on the full length, though Maere is a consistent bruiser and well-worth a listen!

Anyhow, one of the first things I noticed is how good the production on this album is.  Really crispy.  There’s a nice balance of the more clean, beautiful segments of the song mixed with the brutal passages and main riff.  

The drums are really good here.  Which, side note, there are only two members in this band.  Matthias Sollak handles drums, guitar AND bass duties on the studio releases.  Michael V. Wahntraum handles vocals.  

And here I thought Rush had a pretty large sound with 3 gents but Harakiri for the Sky is a 2 man project and you’d never know it.  

I do get some Deafheaven and Alcest vibes throughout this song (and album) but honestly, Harakiri for the Sky are definitely on their own path.  This is one of my favorite songs of the year so far.

George, I’d love to get your thoughts here.  I know you’re familiar with Neige and Alcest.  What did you think of his vocal contributions on the song?  Is this the first song you’ve heard from the Austrian duo?  What caught your ear here? 

GF: I thought the vocal contributions here were wonderful. Neige is a perfectly capable singer, and I love his traditional vocals on Alcest’s releases. That said, when he gets wild it, and opts to scream instead, I’m all for it.

There’s a passion to his harsh vocals that strikes me as very genuine– he’s real-deal, going all the way in, and I feel like this separates him from some of his peers.

I’m glad you mentioned the drums on here, because they’re magnificent, and probably the first thing after Neige’s guest vocals that really caught my ear. Mr. Sollak is really, really, working, and I appreciate both his precision and energy level. In both instances, he’s bringing some enviable craft to the proceedings.

I’d not heard of them until you put me on to them, so I’m definitely glad to hear that the album itself is strong too. I’ll definitely be giving it a spin this week.

Bodom After Midnight – Paint the Sky with Blood

BH: Where do I even begin here.  This is one of the final three songs created by Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom) before he passed away late last year.  Laiho has been a part of my musical life since high school in the early 2000’s when some friends got me hooked on the COB album, Follow the Reaper.  The way Laiho and the band managed to repeatedly blend raw aggression, power metal synths a la Stratovarius and some seriously catchy melodies completely blew my teenage mind.  

They were actually one of the first bands I saw live towards the end of high school and I actually flew out of state to see them perform with Evergrey and Iced Earth.  I also was lucky enough to see Laiho during his final concert in the LA area which was a phenomenal concert.

Bodom After Midnight was formed recently as Laiho parted ways with his old bandmates in Children of Bodom and the rest of the group kept the band name.  So Laiho created a new group that would stay in the spirit of Children of Bodom.  

“Paint the Sky with Blood” sounds like a brew of songs from the albums Hate Crew Deathroll, Are You Dead Yet?, and Hexed which I’m ALL about.  

This song absolutely slays with the old school synths laced in with typically brOOtal Laiho riffage and vocals.  Love the gang vocals here too.   

Can’t wait to hear the other two songs from the upcoming EP that will be releasing this month.  In the meantime, back to jamming this soon to be classic from Bodom After Midnight AKA Laiho, Waltteri Wayrynen, Mitja Toivonen, and Lauri Salomaa.

Ghengis Tron- Pyrocene

This is my first exposure to Ghengis Tron, and… yow.

Idk, I feel like this song really SHOULDN’T work, but it manages to be nothing short of transcendent– at least to these ears.

If you were to blend the more rickety-sounding bits of Zach Hill’s drumming from his Team Sleep days with Ultravox, Duran, Duran, and the proggier aspects of Elder’s latest album, you’d have this.

I’m sure that doesn’t sound appetizing at face value, but please trust me when I say that this is one of the more adventurous and rewarding pieces of music that you’ll hear this year.

Is this metal? I dunno, maybe not. It’s not straight-up new wave either, and it’s also not the collision of those two things that say… 80s King Crimson might bring to mind.

I think calling it prog would be acceptable, though it features no sorts of guitar theatrics. The is pretty frenzied throughout, but the instrumentation morphs over and over throughout the song’s runtime. Synthesizers in the song’s introduction sound tense against an analog drum kit (with the occasional synth snare hit?) but as the song moves along, things get with much more cohesion.

I feel bad that I’m not able to talk about this in a way that’s not so vague, but I feel like you really have to listen to it to fully understand. 

If you hate me, sound off in the comments, but I have a feeling that you’re gonna love this.

BH: Yeah I’m with you, George, in that I’m not totally sure how to categorize this track but I think that’s ok.  Has some Nintendocore and Synthwave vibes in certain parts I suppose but they’re kind of operating in a few different genres here.  

Speaking of, the brightness of the synths is really appealing and Genghis Tron do bring to mind various prog bands such as Cynic that utilize synths in this way.  

With the drumming, I want to point out that this album is actually the first album from the band to actually use a drummer as the other albums have had a drum machine.  I find this a little funny, particularly that their previous albums are more traditionally heavy where as this track is really led by the synths and much calmer in general.  I do love that the group recruited Nick Yachshyn from Sumac and Baptists to handle drums as the dude is an absolute monster behind the kit.  I’m a big fan of Sumac and he’s an incredibly tight drummer despite doing a ton of improv-ish segments in those songs.

Anyhow, “Pyrocene” has a really nice groove throughout.  There’s also a very dreamy passage towards the end that is probably my favorite part of the song.  I’m very curious if the vocals are clean throughout the new album as previous Genghis Tron albums implemented extreme vocals.  I do prefer a mix of the styles, though on this particular track, I think the vocals work quite well.

Xiu Xiu featuring Sharon Van Etten- Sad Mezcalita

I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a Xiu Xiu track, but Sharon Van Etten is most certainly one of my favorite vocalists making music today.

I’ll listen to anything that she does. I believe her to be a master craftsperson, with an uncommonly beautiful voice.

In collaboration with Xiu Xiu, she gets to flex in both departments, but not in an egregious way.

The verses are a low-key, subtle affairs. They almost recall Deftones, “Pink Cellphone,”– big on atmosphere and mood, but not explicitly narrative? There’s singing, kinda– both from Jamie Stewart and Van Etten, but I feel like they’re really just an excuse for a respite in between the explosion of aural bliss, that is the chorus.

Is it possible to HEAR the most dazzling flower known to humanity, bloom to life with the speed on a firework over and over? If it is, that’s what we’re treated to in the chorus, and it’s lovely. To be clear, I’m speaking to the rhythmic nature, and sensation of the strummed guitar we hear during this section of the song. It’s bright, and filled with warmth, rising and falling like a plant. It’s a perfect backdrop for the twin vocal leads from Stewart and Van Etten, which in and of themselves, are also quite striking.

If it’s not obvious, I’m over the moon for this song, so instead of attempting to heap more praise upon it, I’m just going to leave the link below, and you can enjoy it yourself.

2+2 Reviews: Evergrey, Cult of Luna, Soen, Gojira

Welcome to 2+2 with BPMHill and George Folz.  Thanks for coming back or joining in for the first time and hope you will continue to check out our posts through the year.  We’re expecting a lot of new tracks/albums to come from the summer through fall 2021 as bands start to unleash what they’ve been sitting on during the pandemic.  In the meantime, we have terrific new tracks from Evergrey, Cult of Luna, Gojira and Soen to discuss. 

First up is Evergrey:

Evergrey – The Beholder

BPMHill:  Long time fan of both Evergrey and Dream Theater here, so having a collaboration track between Evergrey and James Labrie, the vocalist of Dream Theater, is kind of a huge deal.

That “The Beholder” is such a catchy and excellent track just makes this collab even more exciting.  

Oddly when this track first dropped on Thursday, I saw several people say they couldn’t find Labrie on the track, which unless they didn’t actually listen to the song, it’s pretty hard to miss his vocals.  Tom Englund’s and Labrie’s vocals are both really distinct and I think the contrast here is part of what makes the track special.  Not to mention that when Labrie comes in, the rest of the music (other than synths) drops out, leaving a perfect spot for Labrie to shine.   

Englund and Labrie are actually two of my favorite vocalists so hearing them work together is a real highlight of the year so far. 

I also have to mention how much I dig the synths throughout this track.  Rikard Zander (keyboards) has been with Evergrey since 2002 and he’s continually added really hooky moments with his keys throughout their discography.  

By the way, this track comes from album number twelve, “Escape of the Phoenix”, for the band and I’m impressed that the singles I’ve heard so far sound as fresh and unique as they do.  I’m eagerly awaiting my copy from Germany as we speak.      

I’m curious George, are you familiar with Evergrey?  If so, have you kept up with them through the years?  I also would love to know your thoughts on Labrie and his work with Englund here.

GF: So, this was the first I’d heard of Evergrey, and the first time I’d heard LaBrie sing in a long time. 

Dream Theater is one of those bands whose chops I respect more than I can say, but I just… it’s hard for me to get into their music as a whole. 

Strangely enough, the DT tune I listen to most often is a live medley off of their, “A Change of Seasons EP.” It’s basically them running through various sections of, “The Rover,” “Achilles Last Stand,” and “The Song Remains the Same,” with LaBrie outsinging Robert Plant at every turn.

Pretty great stuff.

I really appreciated this, as it had a really classic metal feel to me– something that could cruise comfortably in the lane of the tunes found on “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.”

The three most formative bands when it came to my metal experience as a young person were Metallica, Deftones, and Sabbath, so I’m always appreciative of a heavier tune where there’s some real-deal singing involved. Both LaBrie and Tom Englund show up to work here, and I’m for it.

I actually dug the synths a lot here, too. I felt like they really added a lot of color to the track– warm earth tones, that sound hot, without overwhelming the other instruments. 

While not especially long, the song has a somewhat epic feel about it, and I appreciate that too. It kinda towers in its own particular way, and I think that’s cool.

Cult of Luna – Three Bridges

GF: I’m not gonna lie, YouTube is kinda killing it with their music recommendations as of late.

In February, they showed me the VOLA track we reviewed, and this month, they put me back onto Cult of Luna.

I’ll admit, I’m not SUPER familiar with CoL’s music, but the first time I heard, “Vertikal,” wayyyyyyyyy back in October of 2012, I made note of it.

While this track has been out for a couple of months now, the EP that it’s from, “The Raging River,” just came out on February 5th.

It’s the EP’s introductory track, and what an introduction it is.

The song begins as a low-key, eerie, affair, that almost has shades of industrial music to my ears? 

I think one of the things that endeared this to me is that when the screamed vocals come in, the music doesn’t explode in the background as a compliment, or, at least not initially. It’s an unconventional choice, and I think it only adds to how uncomfortable the minor-key magic is, bubbling in the background?

The song doesn’t really develop anything along the lines of traditional, “pretty,” melodic work until about a third of the way into the song, and after it’s initial introduction, it slips into the background.

I think what I appreciate most about this song is how intentional it is– the band knows exactly where to layer what, and how to both add and subtract flavors to give this some seasoning that’s almost proggy?

Idk– how did you feel about these elements of the song, Brandon? As someone who’s listened to more Cult of Luna than I, does this feel like a real evolution of their sound? What are your thoughts?

BPMHill: George, I’m so glad you’re rediscovering Cult of Luna.  I think they’re one of the most consistent post-whatever bands around.  Even if the tracks on the “The Raging River” EP are leftovers from “A Dawn to Fear” (their last full length), they are all uniformly good songs.  

“Three Bridges” is one of my favorite songs offered on the EP.  It might be a touch predictable for the band but I don’t think that hurts the track in any way.  It reminds me a little of the atmosphere they had on their album, “Eternal Kingdom”, which I absolutely love so I’m all for a continuation of that style.

Johannes Persson’s absolute throat destruction just blows my mind every time.  He’s very precise live as well and I think he’s at the top of his game right now.  I actually filmed a bit of their last concert in LA so you can see what I mean on my Insta:

Also, to your point George, I love when the vocals come in, as perhaps what you might expect to happen musically, doesn’t.  Cult of Luna are masters at this kind of foreplay.  They build layer upon layer and then (sometimes abruptly) will leave your jaw on the floor.  

The section that does this the most for me is the buildup at around the six minute mark.  It’s haunting and you know we’ve been building to a crushing climax and then Johannes comes back in, along with drums.  Also, good point on the proggy, yet organic nature of the structure here.  I definitely feel that as well.  As typical, Cult of Luna delivers.

Soen – Lumerian

BPMHill:  What a killer opening to the new album, “Imperial”, from Soen.  I liked the singles initially released, but this has become my favorite track on the album.  Love Lopez’s intro on drums and Cody Ford’s opening riff.  It really kicks off the song in an exciting manner.

I’m also a huge fan of the production on this song.  It’s really clean and you can hear every instrument and Joel’s vocals clearly.

When this band first appeared, some were quick to dismiss them as a TOOL and Opeth worship group, but I think the band is really operating on their own level entirely.  Particularly here on their fifth album.  They sound like Soen…which is a very good thing.  

The chorus is hooky and I think it’ll play exceptionally well live with an audience.  While everyone in the group is a technical player, their particular blend of prog metal generally doesn’t go off on random tangents with insane guitar solo’s.  While I’m all for that style too, it doesn’t suit what Soen has been aiming for  

“Lumerian” balances some heavy riffage with top-tier clean vocals, in addition to some light but stunning synths.  I can’t wait to see where the band goes from here. 

Gojira – Born for One Thing

GF: So, I’m gonna lose any and all metal cred that I might have, because (I think) this is *winces* the FIRST Gojira song I’ve heard.

I know, I know… sinful.

But, do you ever have that thing with a band where you’re like, “Oh, I know I’m gonna love them. There’s no rush to check them out, because I’m sure they’re gonna be great?”

That’s how I’ve felt about Gojira for as long as I’ve known about them.

In any case, this song has sold me.


There are pinch harmonics…

There’s some OG Slayer flavor…

The bass rides up in certain spots, and goes to WORK, WORK, when it’s not busy sounding like Clayface, engaging in a mutation celebration (#rhymeslikedimes).

In any case, I pretty much love all parts of this song. The chorus was a little bit of a hard sell for me at first, but I’ve come to appreciate it, as I feel like it almost throws a little bit of swag and groove into the mix. That’s not especially common in modern day metal, and I’m glad they’re rocking with that sound.

I had to draw two different St. Louis apartment complexes this week for a commission, and this powered at least one of those drawings, exclusively.

This is a muscular tune, with equal doses of immediacy and panic, so it gets two thumbs up from me.

If you like what you’ve heard, drop us a note in the comments section and please support the artists.

Fresh Earworms: 2021 Albums to Shape the Year

2021 is looking to be another great year in music even if we don’t get any live concerts. Several artists delayed their latest releases during the ongoing pandemic and as we’re inching closer to a time when they can tour again, some of the albums are finally seeing the light of day. Without further ado, here are some of the releases I’m most excited for.

  1. Steven Wilson – “The Future Bites”: Releases Jan 29 This album has been in the can so to speak for nearly a year but naturally was delayed until Wilson might have a chance to tour with it. Now we’re only a day out and I’m excited to see what he will bring to the table. It’s clear he’s going a very different direction with his latest, appearing to abandon his prog roots almost entirely and embracing retro art pop fully. Regardless of any genre labels, Wilson is consistently brilliant and “The Future Bites” looks to be the next big step in his evolution.

2. Soen – “Imperial”: Releases Jan 29

Soen has been cranking out terrific albums since their inception. Their last album, “Lotus”, was a near masterpiece in my eyes so the hype is incredibly high for “Imperial”. The singles so far have been total bangers, so I expect we will have another great album in our hands come Friday.

3. Tribulation – “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound”: Releases Jan 29

Three potential albums of the year are all releasing this week. Tribulation‘s last two albums were some of the best music in the previous decade. If you haven’t yet checked out the song “Strange Gateways Beckon” from their 2015 album “The Children of the Night”, time to draw the shades, light some candles and slap that baby on the vinyl player. Tribulation‘s new album is likely to feature some changes in the band’s sound and even includes a nearly 20 minute epic as a B-side. Check out one of the singles below:

4. John Carpenter – “Lost Themes 3”: Releases Feb 5

John Carpenter is one of the best filmmakers and composers of all time and he’s continuing to stay busy during the quarantine with his musical endeavors. The last two “Lost Themes” albums have been like hearing your new favorite score to a film that doesn’t yet exist. That is to say Carpenter‘s songs are so well crafted, you can easily imagine a film that would fit perfectly with each song. Needless to say, his latest should kick all kinds of ass.

5. Cult of Luna – “The Raging River EP”: Releases Feb 5

It may be an EP but given this is Cult of Luna, every song here should be fucking grand. Seriously though, Cult of Luna never fails to impress. Their previous full length, “A Dawn to Fear” was fantastically brutal and they’re one of the best live acts around. Don’t miss this.

6. Evergrey – “Escape of the Phoenix”: Releases Feb 26

Evergrey is back with album number twelve and the band looks to be re-energized with new catchy songs and seriously terrific artwork. Can’t wait to see what singer, Tom England, and the rest of the group have in store for us.

7. Liquid Tension Experiment – “LTE 3”: Releases March 26

The last album from Liquid Tension Experiment released when I was in junior high, which was (double checks current age) 22 years ago. Additionally, this is the first time John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess have jammed on record since Dream Theater‘s 2009 album, “Black Clouds & Silver Linings”. If the first single is any indication, this may well be their finest hour. The hype is very real.

8. Panopticon – “…And Again Into the Light”: Releases TBA

Though not much is known about Panopticon‘s new album, it was just announced to be releasing in the first half of the year. If you haven’t yet been introduced to Austin Lunn AKA Panopticon‘s blend of atmo-BM, folk, bluegrass, it’s a great time to start. Austin generally plays every instrument on his albums and the ridiculous thing is he’s exceptional no matter he’s playing on. If you want to see a true DIY artist in the scene, give Panopticon a listen.

9. Carcass – “Torn Arteries”: Releases TBA

Another casualty of the 2020 release schedule, Carcass‘ latest should release at some point this year. Based on last year’s excellent EP, “Despicable”, which consisted of the tracks that didn’t make the cut on the album, this should absolutely CRUSH.

10. Devin Townsend – “Puzzle”: Releases TBA

Devin flirted with releasing this last year but realized “Puzzle” needed more time to develop and he pushed it into 2021. It is unclear when it will be released (or what it is exactly) but whenever it does (and whatever it is), it is sure to be a doozy. Devin is also working on a number of other projects that could be released as well which should surprise no one if you’ve followed his career to date. He’s one of the busiest artists out there and “Puzzle” is sure to be another crowning achievement.

There are a number of other artists who are currently in the studio or have hinted at having a release in the works so I’ll add on more releases as the 2021 schedule firms up.

BPMHILL’s Best Albums of 2020

More than almost anything in a hellish year that we’ve all just had, music has been the glue keeping me together. No matter what mood I’m in, there’s a variety of great new tunes that can either help me feel better or conquer whatever problem is in front of me. I found that this year in particular I was not only listening to older records I’ve always loved but also exploring a lot of new artists I had previously not given a chance. I’m so glad I had some time to really dig into new artists as there were several great finds, some of which are on this list. Without further ado, here are my favorite Albums, EP’s and Live releases for the year.

Best EP’s:

I don’t always mention EP’s on my lists but when I do it’s because they’re F*#@in’ awesome so maybe check these out.

  1. Nuclear Power Trio – “A Clear and Present Rager”
  2. Soilwork – “A Whisp of the Atlantic
  3. Ihsahn – “Telemark” and “Pharos”
  4. Carcass – “Despicable”
  5. Thomas Giles – “Feel Better”

Best Live Albums/Virtual Streaming Shows:

Since mid-March in the US, artists had to start cancelling their tour plans and many bands either released killer previously recorded live albums or got creative and did a live streaming show (or both if you’re Devin Townsend).

  1. Devin Townsend – “Order of Magnitude: Empath Live Vol 1” (and all of his virtual shows)
  2. Katatonia – “Dead Air” (Live Stream/Album)
  3. Greg Puciato – “Fuck Content” (Live Stream/Album)
  4. Deafheaven – “10 Years Gone” (Live in Studio)
  5. Tesseract – “Portals” (Live Stream)
  6. Dream Theater – “Distant Memories: Live in London” (Live Release)
  7. The Black Dahlia Murder – “Yule ‘Em All” (Live Stream)
  8. Insomnium – “Winter’s Gate” (Live Stream)
  9. Imperial Triumphant – “An Evening With Imperial Triumphant” (Live Stream)
  10. Leprous & Ihsahn (Live Stream)
  11. Swallow the Sun (Live Stream)
  12. Iron Maiden – “Nights of the Dead: Live in Mexico City” (Live Release)

Best Studio Albums:

  1. Haken – “Virus”: The album I’ve listened to the most and has stuck with me through the year. Haken continue their upward trajectory with “Virus”, one of their best albums yet. Incredibly catchy vocal melodies and terrific musicianship. Do NOT miss. Songs to listen to: Canary Yellow, Prosthetic, Carousel
  2. Intronaut – “Fluid Existential Inversions”: Intronaut knocked it out of the park with their latest album. New drummer, Alex Rudiner, adds a new layer to the band and his work (along with the rest of the band) is very impressive. I keep coming back to this album and rotating my favorite songs as every single one is great. Songs to listen to: The Cull, Cubensis, Pangloss
  3. Imperial Triumphant – “Alphaville”: I know I’ve said it before but Imperial Triumphant are one of the best bands today and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t listen to their new album, “Alphaville”. Featuring some of the best musicianship this year or any other, they are not a band you simply put on in the background. This is a challenging, disgusting and truly rewarding listen. I can’t wait to see what the group does next. Songs to listen to: City Swine, Atomic Age, Transmission to Mercury
  4. Myrkur – “Folkesange”: I can always count on Myrkur to do something different with each new album and on this one, she does away with any trace of metal and instead embraces folk entirely and it’s beautiful. Songs to listen to: Leaves of Yggdrasil, House Carpenter, Harpens Kraft
  5. The Ocean – “Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic”: Confusing album title aside, The Ocean continue evolving with one of their finest albums to date and one of the most enthralling works of art about (checks scribbled notes while listening to said album)…dinosaurs since “Jurassic Park”. Songs to listen to: Jurassic |Cretaceous, Triassic, Holocene
  6. Enslaved – “Utgard”: I’ll admit that this album took awhile to stick for me but when it finally clicked, I fell for it. I should never doubt Enslaved as every album is excellent. The band is at their creative best and have a seemingly endless amount of brilliant riffs at their disposal. Songs to listen to: Homebound, Storms of Utgard, Flight of Thought and Memory
  7. Greg Puciato – “Child Soldier: Creator of God”: If you’ve been reading my posts for a bit, you’ll already know I’m a big fan of Greg’s and thus two releases with him made my top ten. His debut solo album is absolutely stunning. On an initial listen, it might seem bi-polar in nature, bouncing between aggressive songs like “Fire for Water” to dark synth-wave tracks like “Temporary Object”. However, I found the more spins I gave it, the more it opened up to me and all the pieces came together to form a truly wonderful piece of art. Songs to listen to: Temporary Object, A Pair of Questions, Fire for Water
  8. Old Man Gloom – “Seminar VIII: The Light of Meaning & Seminar IX: Darkness of Being”: Old Man Gloom made a new double album and it’s both devastating and crushing. Aaron Turner has been one busy dude between this band, Sumac, his solo albums and multiple other projects but somehow every single release is top-notch. This release is one of the bands most varied and perfect for newcomers to start with. Songs to listen to: Death Rhymes, By Love All is Healed, The Bleeding Sun
  9. Killer Be Killed – “Reluctant Hero”: This insanely talented group have been secretly working on their second full length for a few years. The time since their debut has given the musicians a chance to stew on each track and it really paid off. This is even better than their first release and a must-listen for metal fans of all kinds. Songs to listen to: The Great Purge, Dream Gone Bad, Deconstructing Self-Destruction
  10. Finntroll – “Vredesvävd”: We’ve had to wait seven long, cold years in between albums but Finntroll made it count with their seventh studio album. Catchy and inventive, there’s no band that sounds quite like them and that’s a very good thing. Songs to listen to: Att Doda Med En Sten, Forsen, Mask
  11. Paradise Lost – “Obsidian”
  12. Ulver – “Flowers of Evil”
  13. The Black Dahlia Murder – “Verminous”
  14. White Stones – “Kuarahy”
  15. John Petrucci – “Terminal Velocity”
  16. Pallbearer – “Forgotten Days”
  17. Katatonia – “City Burials”
  18. Silent Skies – “Satellites”
  19. The Night Flight Orchestra – “Aeromantic”
  20. Sumac – “May You Be Held”

In case you missed it, here’s my list of top songs for the year. For more Best Albums lists check out FancyMemo‘s, and UndercoverSadGirl‘s lists.

BPMHILL’s Top 26 Songs of 2020

As we’re nearing the end of the year, it’s time for a roundup of all the best ear candy this difficult year had to offer us. Others on this site (Mates…) will claim their top songs of the year are the best, but I promise the songs below are all you really need to hear. ANYWAYS, I’ll be further discussing full albums from several of these artists on my Best Albums of 2020 list in a few weeks, but for now, check out my personal favorite (read: THE BEST) tracks listed below.

Haken‘s “Canary Yellow” – Haken continues to impress with their latest album and “Canary Yellow” may just be one of my favorite songs they’ve composed to date. It’s very hooky and remarkably beautiful. If the last minute of the song doesn’t give you full body goosebumps, I don’t know what will.

Intronaut‘s “The Cull” – The last concert I was able to see before the pandemic hit was Cult of Luna and Intronaut in early March. I had been familiar with Intronaut but hadn’t fully explored their music. The live experience was incredible. I picked up the album immediately and it has continued in rotation ever since. While these songs aren’t really ranked in order, this is certainly in the top 5.

Imperial Triumphant‘s “City Swine” – I discovered Imperial Triumphant this year and have quickly become addicted to these dingy, yet elegant metropolitan doom-slayers. The track “City Swine” is overwhelming but in a really wonderful way. It takes many listens to fully comprehend what the band is accomplishing here. The drumming is insane too and Tomas Haake (Meshuggah) even shows up!

Myrkur‘s “Leaves of Yggdrasil” – What a stunning song. Myrkur has been a fascinating band to watch evolve. The first album was pure black metal no matter what the true kvlt haters may say. The new album however is Danish folk music and I absolutely love this composition and Amalie’s amazing vocals.

The Ocean’s “Jurassic | Cretaceous” – One of the longest tracks on my list and one of the longer songs period by The Ocean. The band never settles in one place too long and this song shows just how creative they are. Plus, Jonas from Katatonia shows up for guest vocals so you just know it’s going to be killer.

Enslaved‘s “Homebound” – This may very well be Enslaved‘s catchiest ear worm to date. It’s a total ripper but then that chorus hits and it soars. There are a bunch of tasty riffs throughout the album but I keep coming back to this song.

Finntroll‘s “Att Doda Med En Sten” – Finntroll really knows how to kick off an album and this is an absolute barnstormer. If you ever need an anthem for kicking some evil troll ass, this will be the one.

Old Man Gloom‘s “Death Rhymes” – This isn’t really like anything else in Old Man Gloom‘s discography, which ends up making this stand out from their other songs. A touching and beautiful song from an extraordinary band on the top of their game.

Greg Puciato‘s “Temporary Object” – There are numerous tracks I considered going with from this album but I feel like this one needs more exposure. It’s lush, addictive and perfect for a late night cruise on an empty highway.

The Black Dahlia Murder‘s “Removal of the Oaken Stake” – Riffs upon glorious riffs, The Men of TBDM never fail to impress. Need to take down some vampires impervious to light? Just blast this crusher of a song (and open a freakin’ curtain bro) and they won’t stand a chance.

Ulver‘s “Nostalgia” – I had considered going with one of the more typically Ulver songs on the album (honestly, what does that even mean with this band?) BUT “Nostalgia” is seriously infectious and more people need to discover it.

Katatonia‘s “Lacquer” – Atmospheric and moody as ever, this feels like it was made for the darkness we’ve all been shrouded in this year. It fits nicely next to “Unfurl” in the bands catalogue of songs and is destined to be on their setlist whenever concerts can happen again.

John Petrucci‘s “Temple of Circadia” – There was no way that a new song featuring guitar hero John Petrucci and drum god Mike Portnoy playing together again WASN’T going to make this list. I’m just so glad the whole album is top-notch. The two artists have such great chemistry and it really comes off in abundance here.

Killer Be Killed‘s “The Great Purge” – You’ve heard the singles and want a deeper cut from the band? Look no further than “The Great Purge” which is my favorite on an album filled with great songs. Oh and did I mention Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Greg Puciato (The Black Queen), Max Cavalera (Soulfly) and Ben Koller (Converge) are all on this track and uhm the entire album because this band is made up of brilliant musicians?

Fates Warning‘s “The Longest Shadow of the Day” – The longest song on Fates new record and also my personal favorite. It encapsulates the feel of the album but also what the band has accomplished since 1982. If you listen to only one Fates song this year (and WHY would you even do that??), make it this one.

Pallbearer‘s “Riverbed” – Not unexpected from the group, but this is one BLEAK track. It’s gorgeous, melancholic and tugs at the heartstrings. If you haven’t experienced Pallbearer‘s special blend of Doom and Prog, give this track and their new album a listen.

White Stones‘ “Rusty Shell” – Martin Mendez from Opeth launched a new group this year and if you’re a fan of old school Opeth, this will most certainly be for you. This track kicks hard out of the gate and that solo in the middle section hits all the right notes. Can’t wait to see where the band goes from here.

Panopticon‘s “Rune’s Heart” – Sorry but not remotely sorry for all the long songs featured on this list. Particularly when they’re this good. This is definitely in my top 10 songs from Panopticon. Austin Lunn AKA Panopticon, wrote this about his son who was born with a rare heart condition. It’s epic (nearly 20 minutes!), stunning, and as always with Panopticon, incredibly unique.

Ihsahn‘s “Manhattan Skyline” – Ihsahn covers a-ha with Einar from Leprous? And it freakin’ rules? YUP. Speaking of, Ihsahn and Leprous are playing a livestream concert December 20th, which is obviously a must-see.

Sons of Apollo‘s “New World Today” – I’ve been enjoying Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian’s new group (plus Jeff Scott Soto, Ron Thal and Billy Sheehan!) a lot the past few years and this song is one of my favorite tracks of theirs so far. It has some mid-90’s Dream Theater vibes and is just a damn good prog song, allowing each musician plenty of room to shine.

Nuclear Power Trio‘s “Ukraine in the Membrane” – I’m so glad I discovered that Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-Un formed an instrumental power metal band. You think I’m kidding. Check out this music video from one of their other songs for actual evidence…It’s incredible.

The Night Flight Orchestra‘s “Divinyls” – Need some stylish 80’s synth-driven hard rock in your life? Of course you do. This track and really any song from the group will fit like a Power Glove. Plus it features Soilwork‘s Bjorn Strid, David Andersson, Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy) amongst others as band members so it’s a must listen.

The Pineapple Thief‘s “Demons” – I got to see this UK alt-prog band on their US tour last year and they were incredible on stage. For album number thirteen, The Pineapple Thief went for a more stripped down approach and “Demons” is the perfect intro to the group if you’ve yet to discover them.

Silent Skies “Solitude” – Tom Englund from Evergrey is one hell of a vocalist and in this new project, his somber, yet beautiful voice takes center stage. “Solitude” may be one of the saddest songs on this list but also one of the more hopeful going into 2021. It’s an ideal song choice for the cold winter ahead.

Soilwork‘s “A Whisp of the Atlantic” – Did Soilwork just drop an absolutely insane 16 minute track. Hell yes they did. It’s completely different from any of their other songs, featuring many layers to explore in a good pair of headphones. I’m really excited to see if they’ll continue in this direction for future songs and albums.

Sumac‘s “Two Beasts” – I was going to cut this list off at 25 but then Sumac comes strolling in with one of their best songs ever right at the tail end of the year. It’s an enormous, sprawling, vicious, and mesmerizing song that shouldn’t be missed.

Metal in the Morning – Soilwork’s “The Nothingness and the Devil”

I’ve been a fan of Soilwork since “Stabbing the Drama” released in 2005 and they’ve continued to be one of the most consistent and catchy bands out there today. They have a brand new EP called “A Whisp of the Atlantic” that is due for release December 4th. One of the singles featured is called “The Nothingness and the Devil” and as usual for this group, it’s really good. The drumming from Bastian Thusgaard is very tight and Björn Strid’s vocals are excellent. Soilwork has been busy cranking out a few different singles this year and the title track on the new EP is sixteen minutes long so can’t wait to hear what they’ve been working on.

Anyhow, check out the music video below and pre-order “A Whisp of the Atlantic” here.