TPM Top 40 Albums of 2021


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40. Existentia

The Planet in the Universe

The debut from Existentia was a surprise, to be sure. I was attracted by the great cover art, and what I found was a flowing, welling, and beautifully balanced progressive metal album. Great vocals, amazing musicianship, and groovy ideas are all commonplace here.

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39. A Dying Planet

When the Skies Are Grey

Combining one of my favorite vocalists with a guitar powerhouse, the new album from A Dying Planet was destined to be great. While I may have had a few reservations, overall this album is a fantastic throwback to the prog metal of the 00s.

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38. Lord Helmet – Get Back to the Ship

Lord Helmet returned in 2021 with a sophomore album that bested their debut in almost everyway. I’m still impressed with the sheer variety in tone from track to track, and also by the grit and raw energy this duo possesses.

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37. Tony Piccoli – Mercury at Dawn

I didn’t talk about this one enough. This ambient record from Imminent Sonic Destruction’s vocalist is a hidden treasure. With grace and wonder, this album delivers an emotional and thoughtful experience that surely requires good headphones and time to sit and ponder.

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36. Perfect Storm – No Air

The debut from Perfect Storm arrived early last year, and so I think it may have been missed by some. That needs to change. This album is insanely catchy, lush, and groovy. Three singers are present, and so the whole affair constantly feels like it is changing, morphing, and growing.

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35. Dynatron – Origins

Dynatron is a name synonymous with synthwave, and this new album is every bit as thrilling, dark, and hypnotic as I’d hoped. Combining sweeping synth with metallic riffs really paid off here, and gave us an album that is simply fun to hear.

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34. Moonspell – Hermitage

Moonspell is a legendary band, but this album showed us that they still have it where it counts. Hermitage is shadowy and heavy, yet also thoughtful and deep. This record is just as serene as it is raw, and that contrast makes it memorable.

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33. Lowxy – Unequal

Released on the Vill4in label, this ambient electronic album from Lowxy was an earworm for me throughout 2021. I love the lush tones and the gentle beats. There is something soothing and pensive about it, even though it is also more active than more ambient records.

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32. Justin Stewart Cotta

Melodies for Eulogies

Justin Stewart Cotta, formerly of the 00s alt metal band Memento, returned to music in 2021 with this wonderful solo record. With amazing lyrics, outside the box arrangements, and emotional performances, this really needs to be heard by more people.

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31. Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Feeling quite foresty and medieval, Empyrium presented us with an album where pastoral folk melodies meets dark metallic textures. The contrast is rather striking, and the sweeping, hypnotic vistas the band created are compelling, to say the least.

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30. Trope – Eleutheromania

I initially reviewed this one in 2020, and then the release was pushed back by a year. So, with a new cover and marketing strategy, Trope came back to us in 2021 and has proven themselves to have great potential. Mixing alternative rock with a bit of prog, the band harnesses some of that Tool sound everyone loves, and then takes it down a dreamier path.

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29. Kristoffer Gildenlöw

Let Me Be a Ghost

Evocative, surreal, and pensive, this new solo record from Kristoffer Gildenlöw took patience and persistence to process. Soon enough, its fragile beauty and illustrious lyrical content revealed themselves, making this an album I like to revisit often.

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28. Smalltape – The Hungry Heart

Smalltape feels like a project that should be much more popular. Their arrangements and eclectic compositions have the scale and melody to be loved by millions. For now, those of us who know can continue to enjoy such a vibrant work of art.

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27. The Vicious Head Society

Extinction Level Event

I liked the first album from The Vicious Head Society a few years ago, but this sophomore album bested it in every way. With searing vocals, fantastic guitar work and lyrics, and a cinematic presentation, this is one album that should result in a label contract.

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26. Grorr – Ddulden’s Last Flight

Grorr’s latest has such a rhythm and groove to it, both heavy and soft, that I have been continually returning to it. It feels magical, adventurous, and perilous.  It feels like harrowing dangers, but also gentle moments of peace.  It is clear that the band knows how to achieve a mature and arresting balance of sounds.

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25. Giant Sky – Giant Sky

A new project from Soup vocalist Erlend Viken, Giant Sky is a complete experience. The album explores all sorts of tones, qualities, concepts, and realities.  It doesn’t feel as long as it is simply because of how stimulating, vibrant, and distinguished the writing is.  This certainly feels like a colorful stream of memory, hope, and peace put to music, and I love it.

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24. Michał Łapaj – Are You There

Riverside keyboardist Michał Łapaj gave us a gift in his first solo album. This record features Mick Moss and Bela Komoszyńska on vocals, and their contributions are just as amazing as expected. Much of the album is a dark, in utero style of electronic music that relishes intangibles and abstracts, though the emotions it expresses are quite recognizable.

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23. Rose Riebl – Do Not Move Stones

Rose Riebl’s debut is a piano and cello album that, rather than exploring neoclassical, offers something more layered, muted, and ambient. Based on her trip to Iceland, the record is peaceful with pensive feelings expressed here and there. This is an album that has really grown on me over the last few months.

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22. RA – Intercorrupted

I’ve been a fan of RA for 20 years, easily. This new record brought back the original line up, and it is as good as the band has ever been. Vicious guitars, fantastic vocals, and astonishing drums bring this album together, but it is the strength of the melodies that really makes it memorable.

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21. Mariusz Duda – Interior Drawings

Riverside’s Mariusz Duda released two electronic albums last year. Both are great, but I think this one slightly edges out Claustrophobic Universe. This record closed the Lockdown Trilogy with a beautiful, hopeful sound that features lush piano, and accents from Riverside and Lunatic Soul, in my opinion. This album might feel the most nostalgic and recognizable of the three in this trilogy; really, though, all of them are wonderful.

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20. John Carpenter – Alive after Death

Carpenter wants to leave a musical legacy like unto his film legacy. I get that, and his new Lost Themes III record will certainly stick with me. The colorful and haunting electronic album has lots of ideas and executes them extremely well. You will definitely be humming these songs to yourself later.

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19. Candlebox – Wolves

I’ve been a Candlebox fan for 25 years, discovering them in high school. I love all of their albums, but this new Wolves record feels like their best since Into the Sun. With grit and character, and more than a few f-bombs, this album gives us plenty of rocking moments, yes, but we also get amazing ballads, great performances, and catchy choruses. It is a strong showing from this veteran group.

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18. Sunnata

– Burning in Heaven, Melting on Earth

Sunnata has a deep and looming sound, something that might sound a little scary to some people, I suppose. Still, combining doom with ritual and more accessible rock elements, this album has a huge presence; one that lumbers, grooves, and hovers with grace and evocation.  It is like entering a different world altogether, and it becomes an experience that is memorable, beckoning us to embrace it fully.  

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17. The Catafalque – Vadak

Thy Catafalque gave us a striking work of art here.  This album is one giant contrast, exploring the exquisite nature of the world and the ordinary objects within it through the lens of eccentric and eclectic music styles.  It is a paradox and a mystery of sorts.  And that is exactly why I love it.

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16. Leprous – Aphelion

Leprous continued their evolution with this stunning and smoking hot record. They may have dropped the metal sound almost entirely now, but that doesn’t keep this album from sounding heavy, even with how intense the melodies and grand the vocal climaxes are.

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15. Feeling of Presence

Of Lost Illusion

This haunting work is from Andreas Hack, mastermind behind Frequency Drift. This project, however, explores deeper and darker ideas. The record often comes off as a raw exploration of human vulnerability and entropy, all while the planet we inhabit continues its journey unabated. There is a sense of violence and darkness that ultimately leads no where for us, preaching finality from the naïve human perspective. You will hear hints of John Carpenter and other classic sounds, and the keys and drum performances are second to none.

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14. Jean-Michel Jarre – Amazônia

Jarre is brilliant and cool as hell. This new electronic record was less pop-electronic and more sweaty ambient experience, though. With a loaded atmosphere, rich accents and tones, and a liquid flow, this is more of an experience than a record.

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13. Ross Jennings

A Shadow of My Future Self

I have to admit, this debut Ross Jennings (of Haken) solo record did not hit me at first. As I persisted, though, I started to understand the flow and the heart of this record, from quirky songs to emotional ballads. There’s a bit of everything here, and I think anyone could find something to love. For me, the album gets stronger each time I hear it.

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12. Mission Jupiter – Talk to Me

Powerful, luxurious, and fresh, Mission Jupiter should be launching into orbit, in my opinion. This fantastic sophomore record fuses multiple genres, coming off as magnetic, larger than life, and luminous. They make use of every single second they have, and they execute their vision with focus and maturity.

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11. Lake of Tears – Ominous

I honestly didn’t think we would see another Lake of Tears album. The band is basically a solo project now for Daniel Brennare; he even did the cover art. Still, for a band that has evolved through various genres, this deeply meaningful, hallowed sort of metallic sound is just so good. There’s a good amount of variety from track to track, and the whole thing just speaks to my tastes directly.

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10. The Emerald Dawn

To Touch the Sky

The Emerald Dawn has been growing and getting better for awhile now. I liked their previous albums, but this is the first one that I truly can say I absolutely love. I love everything about it: from the spacey mix to the deep bass lines and glorious keys to the emotional guitars and deft drums. I love this album and I really wish it were available on vinyl.

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9. Amarok – Hero

Amarok are one of my favorite Polish bands, and this album strengthened that even more. With crystal clear vocals, interesting and abstract songs, and catchy melodies, this is a real joy to hear.

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8. Fragment Soul – Axiom of Choice

Heike Langhans makes everything better, but I have to admit that Fragment Soul’s debut stuck with me harder than I even expected. With only four lengthy tracks, the band manages to emote through wondrous melodies, unique riffs, and ambient segments that leave me breathless.

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7. The Paradox Twin

Silence from Signals

I liked The Paradox Twin debut a few years back, but this sophomore effort is simply superior in every way. Every song is rimmed as if with fire; every song has potent emotions and vibrant instrumentals. The album feels whole and satisfying, and I really can’t ask for more.

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6. Swallow the Sun – Moonflowers

I only got into Swallow the Sun over the last year or two, but this album came at the right time. I love the doomy sound drenched in poetry and sadness. You can hear the quality and the depth on each and every track. This is an album that will be remembered for some time.

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5. Epica – Omega

After losing interest in Epica for several years, the band made me sit up and pay attention again with this masterpiece. Omega is the best Epica album since Design Your Universe, and it might even best that with its focus on choir vocals, vicious riffs, and spiritual lyrics. I love this album through and through.

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4. Kauan – Ice Fleet

There are albums that keep popping up in your playlist—that you keep putting on for inexplicable reasons. Maybe they are comforting? Maybe they make you feel like more than you are? I think that is the case with this Kauan record. I’ve listened to it many, many times, and the seafaring sounds, dark riffs, vivid harmonies, and perfect transitions just feel like home somehow.

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3. ISON – Aurora

Of course, few bands produce music that practically heals your mind like ISON does. With Heike exiting the project, I was concerned, but Daniel showed that he can write on his own, and even push the sound into new territory. I love the healing and gracious lyrics. I love the lengthy and spacey songs. And I love all of the various guest vocal performances.

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2. Thomas Bergersen

Humanity, Chapter IV

Bergersen actually released two Humanity chapters in 2021. Chapter III did not connect with me; however, Chapter IV is the best one of them all so far. This album seems to celebrate both humanity and our universe, and the connection we share as inhabitants of this planet in this solar system in this galaxy. The songs are highly emotional and gloriously composed, not to mention eclectic and nostalgic. I just don’t see how Bergersen can top this one.

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1. Evergrey – Escape of the Phoenix

I remember getting this promo late at night, and I decided to play it through my earbuds anyways. I lay there in the middle of the night absorbing and processing what is certainly one of Evergrey’s greatest records. For me, every song is a majestic feat, even the thrilling guest spot from James LaBrie. Those signature Evergrey emotions are all over the place here, and the keyboard melodies come through loud and clear to make this one of the most luscious, inspired, stunning records I’ve ever heard. Escape of the Phoenix is definitely my favorite album of 2021.

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2 responses to “TPM Top 40 Albums of 2021

  1. Thanks for the awesome list, I’m working through the ones I missed. My list would have included Resident Human by Wheel, PORTALS by TesseracT and A View from the Top of the World by Dream Theater. All good proggy stuff from 2021 too!

    Liked by 1 person

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