Editor Ken’s Top 10 Of 2021
EDITOR’S KEN’S TOP 10 OF 2021
2021 may have been another year dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, but there was still a ton of good music to keep us all company. Live shows resumed once again, and although Delta and Omicron are making life and touring a bit more challenging, we are beginning to see a glimpse of normalcy on the 2022 horizon. As for the year in music, newer bands such as Holding Absence and Caskets released vibrantly impassioned albums. Melodic rock experienced a banner year, with acts such as Newman, Vega, and Cruzh unleashed the auditiory goods in an epic way. And metalheads were treated to headbanging efforts from classic bands such as the mighty U.D.O. and the glorious Victory! Here are my Top 10 albums that kept me rocking in 2021. I have also included my Top 10 EP’s featuring several up-and-coming bands well worth seeking out.
Lost Souls by Caskets (SharpTone)
Caskets present post hardcore emo rock with a good amount of imagination and flair. SharpTone is definitely the label to find the very best in this style of music, and Caskets certainly presented one of the most poignant albums of the year. Each and every member of Caskets deliver from the heart of the matter, rendering their debut Lost Souls effort a deep and absorbing experience not to be missed. Songs such as The Only Ones, Glass Heart, and Lost In Echoes will have you singing along to their powerful refrains.
Caskets on Facebook
Tropical Thunder by Cruzh (Frontiers Music Srl)
Frontiers Music Srl released a whole bunch of melodic rock and metal albums to keep us all company in the pandemic year of 2021. Tropical Thunder by Cruzh was one of the most refreshing releases from a label now celebrating their 25th Anniversary. Cruzh is a new breed of AOR melodic rock, with super charismatic members delivering the sonic goods big time! Songs such as We Go Together, Turn Back Time, and New York Nights are instant timeless classics that truly set the imagination above and beyond these turbulent days. Tropical Thunder by Cruzh is definitely the feel good record of 2021 and beyond!
Cruzh on Facebook
T H R E E – 6 Feet Apart by Diane & The Deductibles (DRAIA Productions)
T H R E E – 6 Feet Apart finds Diane & The Deductibles in a world where creativity and hope remain alive even in the shadow of a deadly pandemic. Conceived during the tumultuous year of 2020, Diane & The Deductibles made the best of downtime from playing live, and present to their friends and fans T H R E E – 6 Feet Apart – the next chapter in their rocking legacy from these talented and diverse musicians. Let’s Live is about living your best life in the age of Covid-19 while Darkness is a powerhouse psychedelic anthem about suicide prevention. Say What You Mean is super infectious and should be all over the worldwide radio airwaves. Featuring current and former members of Air Supply, Hurricane, Bill Ward Band, and Brand X.
Diane & The Deductibles on Facebook
Two For A Lie by Herman Frank (AFM Records)
Herman Frank is best known as the guitarist for legendary bands such as Accept and Victory, and has also amassed a pretty impressive solo career. Two For A Lie is his latest heavy metal manifesto, bursting at the seams with explosive songs such as Teutonic Order, Venom, Hate, and Eye Of The Storm. Amongst the musicians joining Frank on his Two For A Lie journey is vocalist Rick Altzi of At Vance and Masterplan. Victory co-conspirator Mike Pesin is also featured within the ranks of Herman Frank’s Two For A Lie on dueling guitar. Two For A Lie is a solid metal effort, heavy on the sonic intensity, thrilling riffage, and absolutely memorable tunes!
Herman Frank on Facebook
The Greatest Mistake Of My Life by Holding Absence (SharpTone)
The Greatest Mistake of My Life by Holding Absence is certainly one of the most brilliant, moving albums of the decade. From the opening refrains of Celebration Song with it’s powerful “I’m alive” clarion call to the heart wrenching Mourning Song as the grand finale nears, Greatest Mistake is an epic listening experience and the album where Holding Absence suddenly surpassed all of their shoegaze / emo rock influences. Emotionally devastating and well worth seeking out. Songs such as Afterlife and In Circles would enrich radio airwaves all across the world.
Holding Absence on Facebook
Into The Monsters’ Playground by Newman (AOR Heaven)
Steve Newman has been releasing high quality melodic rocks albums since 1998, the most recent being Ignition in March 2020 right before Covid-19 was unleashed upon the world. Into The Monsters’ Playground could definitely be Newman’s soundtrack to these pandemic days, sweeping and moody, documenting the passages of time in a world gone wild with a wide-eyed intensity. Into The Monsters’ Playground is always compelling, with selections such as Time Bomb, Start This Fire, Hurricane Sky, and Icon presenting a sense of conviction and urgency that renders this recording an absolute stand out in the already brilliant AOR Heaven catalog.
Newman on Facebook
Standing On The Edge by Robin McAuley (Frontiers Music Srl)
Robin McAuley is known around the world for his time spent with McAuley/Schenker Group and Michael Schenker Fest, his powerful voice sending any song into stratospheric heights. With a little help from friends such as Alessandro Del Vecchio and Frontiers Music, McAuley has unleashed the grand and glorious Standing On The Edge – and what a magnificent solo endeavor this one is! With his towering vocals and such radiant melodic rock tapestries on tap, Standing On The Edge presents Robin McAuley in his finest hour. Another absolutely thrilling album courtesy of Frontiers!
Robin McAuley on Facebook
Game Over by U.D.O. (AFM Records)
Udo Dirkschneider might be best known as the original voice of Accept, but he’s created even more albums under the U.D.O. moniker. And what a rock solid effort Game Over is a massive collection is 16 world class hard rock selections! On Game Over, we find some reflective worldview lyrics that send the already raging songs into the stratosphere. Kids And Guns, Holy Invader, Fear Detector, and Metal Never Dies are among the future classics to be found within the confines of Game Over – and it presents Udo and company at the very height of their creative genius. Along with the amazing Live in Bulgaria 2020 – Pandemic Survival Show which was unleashed early this year, U.D.O. has given us all plenty to rock out to as these Coronavirus days rage relentlessly on.
U.D.O. on Facebook
Anarchy And Unity by Vega (Frontiers Music Srl)
UK rockers Vega are back with Anarchy And Unity, their seventh studio album overall and the culmination of a string of releases which started in 2009 with their debut album Kiss of Life. Jam packed with solid melodic rock, songs such as Beautiful Lie, Sooner Or Later, End Of The Fade, and Ain’t Who I Am are sure to bring on a rapturous response for genre fans. Their previous album Grit Your Teeth, released in 2020, was also a raging affair, and combined with Anarchy And Unity, Vega is definitely at the height of their creative energies. Anarchy And Unity is an inspiring album to rock out with in these turbulent times!
Vega on Facebook
Gods Of Tomorrow by Victory (AFM Records)
Ten years after their last studio album, Don’t Talk Science, hard rock titans Victory return with Gods Of Tomorrow – and it’s just as epic as the title would suggest. Founding member Herman Frank is joined by vocalist Gianni Pontillo from The Order and a batch of new members, the results being a glorious Victory album that will thrill the senses of music fans the world over. Powerhouse songs such as Love Hate, Cut To The Bones, Into The Light, In Rock We Trust, and the sweeping title track are sure to leave a lasting impression on the already remarkable Victory legacy. Here’s hoping this powerhouse Victory lineup makes their way to the States again at long last. An instant classic!
Victory on Facebook
Desperate Times Desperate Pleasures by Boston Manor (SharpTone)
Boston Manor has come a long way since their humble pop punk beginnings. Now on a new label, the UK collective has unleashed Desperate Times Desperate Pleasures. This next chapter is filled with seething lyrics and spiraling melodies that will grip like a vice on your senses. Vocalist Henry Cox presents the dark, haunting lyrics with a ton of passion while the rest of the band unleashes the auditory odyssey like a pulsating heart on fire. The five songs found within area stunning and vibrant, clearly taking Boston Manor to the next level. Looking forward to their full length in 2022!
Boston Manor on Facebook
Arising by Dirkschneider & The Old Gang (AFM Records)
And now back to Udo Dirkschneider and the absolutely prolific year this legendary performer has experienced in music. Dirkschneider & The Old Gang, features the one and only Udo and his longtime companions Peter Baltes (bass; ex- Accept), Stefan Kaufmann (guitar; ex- Accept, U.D.O.) and Mathias Dieth (guitar; Sinner, U.D.O.) as well as Udo’s son Sven Dirkschneider (drums; U.D.O., Dirkschneider) plus singer Manuela Bibert. 3 epic songs in all on a glorious EP that ends way too soon! When The Angels Fly is a very special track, recorded as a tribute to the frontline workers who have protected others from the pandemic.
Dirkschneider & The Old Gang on Facebook
The Fifth by The Fifth (Weapon / Vanity Music)
North Carolina hard rockers The Fifth has returned with a new lineup, presenting what is easily one of the very best EP’s of the year. Featuring founding member Roy Cathey from Cold Sweat and SteelCity, the five tracks found within The Fifth’s Self-Titled EP are instantly memorable and leave you craving a whole lot more. Cathey is definitely one of the most epically underrated rock vocalists on the planet, and he delivers the goods tenfold within the ranks of The Fifth. A thrilling relaunch of a band ready to bring kickass 80’s rock back with a vengeance.
The Fifth on Facebook
Brazen Whisper by Frozen Tears (MR Records)
The timeless melodies found within the realm of Brazen Whisper by Frozen Tears should be all over the worldwide radio airwaves. Expansive, passionate and supremely memorable, Frozen Tears from Australia know how to deliver a hard-hitting melodic rock song, and the seven tracks found within Brazen Whisper are like a sonic love letter to a timeless genre that continues to enrapture music fans everywhere. Songs such as Hold On Tight, Love Can Be Real, and the dynamic title track will rock your world and leave you craving a whole lot more of those Frozen Tears! And be sure to stay on to the end and hear their kickass interpretation of the KISS classic C’mon and Love Me.
Frozen Tears on Facebook
Retroject EP by Little Us (Famined Records)
Little Us may be a subtle unassuming band name, but the soaring post hardcore reveries this Connecticut based collective unveils are massive and wondrously imaginative. There may be only a trio of songs within the confines of the Retroject EP, but Little Us makes every last note count, leaving a lasting impression on all who give a good listen. Not only is Little Us a band well worth seeking out, but their label Famined Records is also signing a lot of very interesting bands as of late. Stay tuned and expect great things from Little Us and the Famined front in 2022 and beyond.
Little Us on Facebook
Nocturnal Overdrive Part One by Madman’s Lullaby (MR Records)
Hailing from San Jose, California and signed with MR Records of Australia, the almighty Madman’s Lullaby is ready to rock an entire world with their raging anthems. They’ve opened for the likes of Michael Schenker, Lynch Mob and WASP, and judging by the hard rocking goods heard within the grooves of their latest album Nocturnal Overdrive – Part 1, it won’t be long until Madman’s Lullaby serenade fans on their very own headlining tours. With an album as powerful as Nocturnal Overdrive – Part 1, it will be thrilling to see what the band has in store for us with the next chapter of this sweeping magnum opus. Stay tuned because the passion Madman’s Lullaby exudes within their sonic art is insanely addictive and well worth seeking out.
Madman’s Lullaby on Facebook
XOX by Misery! (Revival Recordings)
Misery Loves Company has dropped the Company and has been rebranded as Misery! After unleashing some absolutely compelling singles, the mighty Misery! now unveils XOX upon the great big world – and what an absolutely exhilarating comeback from a band ready to take their post hardcore legacy into the next great and glorious chapter. Six dark, absorbing and ultimately inspirational selections may be found within the ultrasonic world of Misery! and it’s one that music fans will want to revisit time and again. The final track H.O.P.E. features XOX producer Ricky Armellino of This Or The Apocalypse infamy on guest vocals.
Misery! on Facebook
Days Like These by Phil Martin’s Drive (MR Records)
Imagine the warmth of AOR melodic rock with grand progressive inflections found within, and you are only beginning to uncover the auditory artistry of Phil Martin’s Drive. The perfect soundtrack to travelling the glorious highways of this life we live, Days Like These by Phil Martin’s Drive may only possess six songs, but each selection is a rich and rewarding tapestry. Opening with the should-be hit single Ordinary, this track alone would launch any band into melodic rock greatness.
Phil Martin’s Drive on Facebook
Rhema EP by War Of Ages (Facedown Records)
War Of Ages re-emerged this year with the almighty Rhema – a short yet very intensive recording with the long running band presenting the very best songs of an already glorious career. On the Christian metalcore side of the spectrum, War Of Ages has been a staple of Facedown Records since their debut Self-Titled EP in 2005, and it’s been enlightening to see the partnership persevere and yield such epic results throughout the years. With an EP dazzling as Rhema, it will be exciting to see what adventures a new War Of Ages full length will possess for fans of the metalcore genre.
War Of Ages on Facebook
We Might Be Alright by Waxflower (Rude Records)
Waxflower is on the rise, based out of Australia and ready to take on the world with their super infectious and vibrantly introspective songs. We Might Be Alright is their latest album now available via the Rude Records compound. Produced by Stevie Knight (With Confidence, Stand Atlantic), We Might Be Alright by Waxflower is quite a discovery for pop punk fans looking for an exciting new band to enjoy. The band has opened for the likes of Simple Plan and has been on and off the road with their We Might Be Alright Tour throughout Australia due to the current ongoing pandemic. Expect to hear a lot more from this band in the New Year!
Waxflower on Facebook
A sampling from the very best releases of 2021. Now bring on the music classics of 2022!
(Compiled by Ken Morton for Highwire Daze Magazine)