Simon’s Top Ten Releases of 2021

Simon’s Top Ten Releases of 2021
By Simon Black

Beth here! There’s always one awkward bugger on every team isn’t there. And here at Ever Metal it’s our Simon (we love him though, so it’s ok)! He’s done his Top Ten a little differently, because he simply couldn’t pick his favourite – so well done to all on the list, you’re all joint first place! Enjoy Simon’s words of wisdom…

Happy Christmas you crazy bunch! First off, here are my journo statistics for 2021 first:

Albums Reviewed: 225
Web Sites Contributed To: 2
Live Gigs / Festivals Attended: 1 (just don’t, OK?)
Live Streams Watched: 4
Interviews conducted: 2
Pints of Beer Consumed: I’ve no idea, but there are countries out there with smaller I am sure…

There goes the year when everything didn’t quite get back to normal, but we’re getting there, aren’t we? OK, maybe not with yet another variant unexpectedly teaching us more of the Greek alphabet just when we thought that the end was in sight. Whatever your personal experiences of the last terrible, awful, heart wrenchingly brutal two years have been, the one positive thing that this period of history has delivered is some of the most well-crafted and innovatively created music I have had the privilege to hear in my 51 and a bit years circling this benighted rock. Having realised that this virus thing was not going away, that touring (and the cash lifeline that goes with it) was rapidly becoming a dream and a memory, it seems that lots of musicians found focus, had plenty of things to say and knuckled down in the studio … or indeed in their airing cupboards surrounded by soundproofing duvets… 

My big regret this year though has been missing Bloodstock, as despite having a ticket roll over, a last minute COVID outbreak in my family meant that went out of the window. But I am really heartened that emerging independent bands like Agrona and Ward XVI got the chance to break through into the next tier on that stage. It’s moments like that that make all this reviewing lark seem worthwhile.

Before I give you my personal highlights, a little about the methodology I’ve employed first. I don’t dish out full marks very often and when I do, it’s because I know this is likely to be a record I will want to listen to again and again. With over 200 records crossing my path across two websites, my time to revisit stuff does start to get limited very quickly, especially since I don’t spend my life on the road in the same way anymore. That said, when I find something I really like, it will make its way to my phone and car. So consistently good has been the output this year that whittling this down to only ten entries has not been that easy. So, in alphabetical order ….

The Top Ten

Arion – “Vultures Die Alone”

Part Melodic, part Symphonic, part Progressive, but a thoroughly Modern Metal Milly to boot, Arion came out of left field for me back in April. At the time they only scored a nine, but time and repeated listening has meant that they have certainly moved up to the top of the list of 2021 and they are a classic example of why sometimes bands should not rush out albums for the sake of it. This is timely and beautifully crafted, with some well-used guest features, and a vocalist with the most distinctive larynx I’ve heard in a long while (think of a more Modern Metal version of Chester Bennington, with all the soul and emotion that goes with that image). It’s catchy, it’s heavier than a two ton heavy thing, and it’s still got me going months later. Even the ballad rocks the bollocks off of most of the competition.

Highlights:
‘Out Of My Life’
‘Bloodline’
‘In The Name of Love’

Vultures Die Alone Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialArion

Beast In Black – “Dark Connection”

Former Battle Beast axeman Anton Kabanen has put together a truly odd little album here. I shouldn’t like it, but I really do. Whereas the first two albums were a little more in the traditional Melodic/ Power Metal mode (although starting to head in this direction), this piece melds Synthwave groove (to the point where 80’s Disco starts to come out loud and clear) with blisteringly infectious Metal tropes, as let’s face it I can’t think of a single other Metal record that could claim the Bee Gees as an influence. The songs on here are so catchy that you cannot help but tap along throughout, with the unexpectedly brutal vocal delivery of Yannis Papadopoulos, who could give Ripper Owens a serious run for his money, even when he’s channelling his inner Barry Gibb. Even my kids like it, so it must be good … the cover is less so though (see below)…

Highlights:
‘Highway To Mars’
‘One Night In Tokyo’
‘Moonlight Rendezvous

Dark Connection Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/beastinblackofficial

Dream Theater – “A View From The Top Of The World”

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, there can be no doubt that Dream Theater are absolutely top of the Progressive Metal totem pole. They’ve not always done that consistently over the years, with the challenges that line up stability always brings, not to mention the odd ridiculously over indulgent and naff double concept album along the way. That felt like it was a blip, as the current line-up that finally cemented when Mike Mangini joined the band a few albums back has been the strongest and most consistent in their long history. You can forgive them for something like ‘The Astonishing’ when this comes along, because this is seminal, distilled and spot on Dream Theater firing on all cylinders. Catchy and melodic, this album bizarrely remains highly listenable despite its length and the presence of a couple of crazily long tracks. This is pure DT at their absolute best.

Highlights:
‘The Alien’
‘Invisible Monster’
‘Sleeping Giant’
‘A View From The Top Of The World’

A View From The top Of The World Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/dreamtheater

Exodus – “Persona Non Grata”

I never understood why Exodus have been so criminally overlooked, as they were so much a part of the original Thrash scene’s birth in San Francisco’s Bay Area. It’s a shame, but line up stability had an awful lot to do with it. But time has continually proven their place in the history of the scene, and albums like this along with the righteous recent surge in their popularity underline clearly why. Bands in the 80’s in the genre often turned out their best material in pressured studio environments, on crap equipment and with engineers who didn’t understand Metal but still had a frisson that overcame those limitations, yet bizarrely lost that special something when better production values came along. But not here, oh no. This album is shit hot energetic Thrash of the finest quality, which has the hasty and frenetic energy of the early days combined with the maturity, craft and production values of right here and now. It really doesn’t get better than this, and the (remaining) members of the Big Four should take note, because Exodus deserve the slot vacated by Slayer for this album alone.

Highlights:
‘Persona Non Grata’
‘Lunatic Liar Lord’
‘The Years of Death and Dying’

Persona Non Grata Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/exodusattack

Flotsam & Jetsam – “Blood In the Water”

For the second time this year, and indeed, within this very article, I must bow down to the elder gods of Thrash for rising from the ashes with an album that both encapsulates their heritage and leaves it standing in the dust at the same time. This band had a deserved reputation, yet have struggled to get the popularity and consistency over the years. But for the best part of a decade they have come back bigger and better than their original heyday, which let’s face it was criminally undervalued at the time. It manages the same trick that Exodus pulled off of capturing their old zeitgeist in a new and crisply well-produced package, and A.K. Knutson’s vocal delivery is quite frankly exceptional. I stand by my original review comment that a 10 is not quite enough here, as sometimes things truly do go up to 11…

Highlights:
‘Blood In The Water’
‘Cry For The Dead’
‘Burn The Sky’

Blood In The Water Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/flotsamandjetsam.official

Helloween – “Helloween”

The template for Euro Power Metal really does begin with this band. From Kai Hansen’s Thrash and Speed Metal inspired debut, to the glory years when the frankly phenomenal vocal powers of Michael Kiske came on board, Helloween were one of the most influential and more importantly great Metal bands of the period and the lynchpin of the success of the Noise International label. When both of those two moved on, Helloween floundered, along with everyone else, as Grunge ripped the Metal scene apart. But they built themselves back up again from scratch with the stylistically very different but very strong singer Andy Derkis. Then a few years ago the unimaginable happened – both Hansen and Kiske re-joined Helloween alongside the existing line up to form a seven piece Powerhouse of Metal. The Pumpkins Reunited tour was a massive global hit and as this album proved, not just a one-off event. This line up has recorded what may just be their masterpiece, which successfully melds the three very different singers and all the better elements of their vast career into an absolute monster of a record, and would appear to be the way all things Helloween are done from now on. 

Highlights:
‘Out For The Glory’
‘Best Time’
‘Skyfall’

Helloween Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/helloweenofficial

Ignea & Ersedu – “Bestia” EP

I had come across Ignea last year and rather enjoyed them, but this split 5 track EP project with fellow Ukranians Ersedu is something else entirely. Covering between the two acts the stylistic fusion of Symphonic, Power and Death Metal with a distinctly Middle Eastern chord structure this conceptual EP exploring the mythical cultures of their home country is quite simply fabulous. It stylistically is so left field that it still leaves me with an uncanny feeling of surprise all these listens later, and I defy anyone not to be blown away by the vocal performances of the two frontwomen delivering roaring guttural shredding and clean and beautiful brilliance in equal measures between them. I normally save this end of year adoration for full albums rather than EP’s, but this is conceptually clever enough to be so close it’s not worth calling. The bands’ alternate tracks and then come together for the spectacular closer ‘The Eaters of the Sun’ and I am left bereft at the thought that this is just a one off, despite now having two new bands I know that I am going to keep following.

Highlights:
‘Mermaids’
‘The Eaters of the Sun’

Bestia EP Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/ignea.band/

https://www.facebook.com/erseduband/

Mad Symphony – “Mad Symphony” EP

This Canadian Melodic Hard Rock Supergroup released their EP in the summer, to universally and deservedly high praise across the board. What has become known as the New Wave Of Classic Rock (did we learn nothing with the NWOBHM acronym?) is more than just some retro bubble, but a genuine breathing musical entity that has one platform boot firmly in the Classic Rock world, with the other firmly ensconced in the present and, more importantly, the future. It quite frankly blew my socks off when I heard it for its unnerving ability to summarise so many of the sounds that got me here all those years ago, whilst also sounding fresh, modern, relevant and damned good fun. This EP was a toe-tester at the label’s behest, with a full album waiting in the wings for 2022 release. Watch this space, because these chaps are going to be phenomenal.

Highlights:
‘Do It All Over Again’
‘The Next Door’

Mad Symphony EP Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/madsymphonyband/

Manimal – “Armageddon”

This album is simultaneously one of the best and also the most frustrating things to have come across my desk this year. I had not encountered Manimal before, perhaps not surprising in that even though they’ve been going for over 20 years, this is only their fourth album. Let’s be clear – it’s an absolutely fantastic piece of music, with a vocal performance in the Halford and Ripper traditions (with a good dose of Primal Fear for good measure) that is quite frankly exceptional. In fact it’s everything that I was hoping that K.K.’s Priest would deliver, but sadly didn’t. The frustration though comes from the fact that, although I reviewed it way back in early September, its release has been continually put back, as Manimal, like so many others, have struggled to get their physical copies pressed and distributed. Those copies are existential life blood for bands when touring is still not fully up to speed, but the worry I have is that this may disappear if it’s released too close to Christmas. So I’m playing it loud a lot and so should you. 

Highlights:
‘Burn In Hell’
‘Slaves of Babylon’
‘Path To The Unknown’

Armageddon Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/manimalofficial/

Powerwolf – “Call of the Wild”

Given the number of Power Metal albums I cover, you may be surprised to read that Powerwolf had not really registered too much on my radar before this. I guess their image had always made me assume that they were something very different musically, but when it comes to anthemic Power tropes, these boys (along with Sabaton) are probably top of the game of the second generation of Power Metal in Europe. Their home country would appear to agree with them as this record made it to number 2 in the Germany charts. It’s not difficult to see why, being laden with catchy and anthemic tracks from start to finish. There’s an argument out there that says if you’ve heard one Powerwolf album, then you’ve heard them all, in which case make this your starting selection, as its them in a nutshell.

Highlights:
‘Faster Than The Flame’
‘Dancing With The Dead’
‘Alive or Undead’

Call Of The Wild Album Cover Art

https://www.facebook.com/powerwolfmetal

Notable Mentions

So this is where it gets tight. These are the ones I still think are fab, but fall below my criteria of repeated listens, although to be fair in some cases it’s simply because they’ve not been around as long yet. Either way, all are thoroughly recommended.

Against Evil – “End Of The Line”
Armored Saint – “Symbol Of Salvation Live”
Artillery – “X”
Blaze Bayley – “War Within Me”
Motorjesus – “Hellbreaker”
Ronnie Atkins – “One Shot”
The Spectre Beneath – “The New Identity of Sidney Stone”
Ward XVI – “Unplugged And Sedated”

Worst Album Cover Of The Year

Last year I signed off with an album from an established artist who really should have known better, that was so excruciatingly bad that it deserved everything it got and gave me a chance to go full on 80’s Kerrang! on his ass (sorry Glen). This year I’ve taken a slightly different approach to reviewing in general though… 

Basically with far more albums to review than I could possibly have time for and because I like to give them enough time to appreciate some of the work that’s gone into them (which means at least two listens apiece before I write so much as a word), I made the decision at the start of the year that if something was clearly going to be a bit of a flop that I would shift my attention elsewhere, which is why you rarely see anything from me with a score under 5. It’s not that I am being overly generous with my scores, it’s simply that I would rather spend my precious time in front of the keyboard being a little more kind to those who deserve it, than being bitchy for the sake of it. This means quite a lot of material gets filtered out after a couple of tracks and handed to a colleague more in tune with it, as it’s really better to say nothing than something nasty for the sake of filling electronic space.

That said, a couple of the albums that crossed my radar have raised my eyebrows in a different way this year. Now most of us ye olde folks probably own a couple of examples of some really atrocious album art – most likely dating back to the 80’s, when some labels were really not showing much love and care to their artistes. There’s plenty of websites dedicated to this phenomenon, with social media feeds periodically reminding us of some classic clangers, but like Christmas songs new entrants aren’t being given an opportunity to shine, so I have decided to do my small part to correct that. This last year has seen a revival of the The Truly Awful Album Art genre and so for your delectation and delight I present you with my two personal favourites in this category from 2021. 

One important point – both these albums scored 6 or above, in fact one of them is in my top 10 above, however, someone needs to have a word about how to make an impression with artwork.. Here goes:

Beast In Black – “Dark Connection”

Now, the whole mood of this piece drips with 80’s tropes and thematically is a homage to Blade Runner. It’s a fantastic piece of music but the cover really needs to fall through the time warp that brought it soon…

Bloody Hell – “The Bloodening”

Joseph, Mary and the Wee Little Donkey why, why, why?

The Bloodening Album Cover Art

Read some of Simon’s original reviews here:

(Written by Beth Jones)

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Manimal – Armageddon

Armageddon Album Cover Art

Manimal – Armageddon
AFM Records
Release Date: 03/12/21
Running Time: 43:01
Review by Simon Black
10/10

Now on their fourth album, Swedish Powerhouse Manimal are absolutely unashamedly proud of what they deliver – and with good reason. In a crowded marketplace you need two things to get you noticed – solid and high-quality delivery, or a unique selling point. To stay noticed, keep focussing on point one. Manimal don’t have anything massively new or original stylistically in their mix – they absolutely and openly wear their influences on their collective sleeve, however in the delivery department they are totally top notch. No, that’s too small a description – ‘bloody fantastic’ is far more appropriate.

Singer Samuel Nyman has a lot to say about the pigeonhole of Power Metal itself. Being Swedish, for him that genre means the mostly upbeat major chord style of Euro Power Metal acts, from Helloween onwards, but Manimal sound more like their North American variant cousins (a movement that really start with stalwarts like Armored Saint). And for the same reason, the common influences of both continental variants are classic Metal stalwarts like Judas Priest, and in this instance, the far Blacker Mercyful Fate (for whom the look and make up is a direct snatch).

Nyman is just plain and simply gifted with one of those voices that makes you sit up, notice, and think “How the actual fuck did a human being do that?” I am very strongly reminded of Ripper Owens opening contribution to Judas Priest’s history, in terms of style – that and the fact that the whole album has a similarly brutal feel to the sadly underrated ‘Jugulator’ album … only a bit darker and dirtier. Not only that, but he has that Scheepers / Halford high end shrieking, piercing scream, which sends a chill down your spine, nailed down to a tee. Add to this the top-notch consistency and standard of song-writing, with catchy and addictive arrangements, clever use of melody, and some absolutely blistering hammering of the instruments, and this album has snuck straight into my top spot for the month relatively unchallenged.

Is it original? No. Is that a problem? Absolutely not. This is blisteringly delivered, solid Heavy Fucking Metal of the calibre that got me into the genre thirty-five years ago, and will keep me here as long as the newer acts can continue to run with that torch, because frankly, it doesn’t get much better than this.

TRACKLISTING:
01. Burn In Hell
02. Armageddon
03. Slaves Of Babylon
04. Forged In Metal
05. Chains Of Fury
06. Evil Soul
07. Path To The Unknown
08. Master Of Pain
09. Insanity
10. The Inevitable End

LINE-UP:
Samuel Nyman – Vocals
Henrik Stenroos – Guitars
Kenny Boufadene – Bass
André Holmqvist – Drums

LINKS:

Manimal Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

The Metal Priestess’ Top Ten Albums of 2018

The Metal Priestess’ Top Ten Albums of 2018

Hi there. I have reviewed some cracking albums this year and it was really hard to pick just ten. But here is my Top Ten. Enjoy!

cover

10. Kaine – “A Crisis Of Faith”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/kaineband/


Perfect Storm Cover

9. Volster – “Perfect Storm”
https://www.facebook.com/volsterband/



15419380_973599226073587_1426458234_o-1024x1023

8. Satan’s Empire – “Rising”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/SatansEmpireOfficial/



Apocalypse Cover

7. Primal Fear – “Apocalypse”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/PrimalFearOfficial/


cover

6. Seven Sisters – “The Cauldron And The Cross”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/sevensistersheavymetal/


658023

5. Brainstorm – “Midnight Ghost”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/officialbrainstorm/


Ataraxis EP Cover

4. Zero Theorem – “Ataraxis”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/zerotheoremband/


07 4 Judas Priest - Firepower

3. Judas Priest – “Firepower”
https://www.facebook.com/OfficialJudasPriest/


The Calling Cover

2. Primitai – “The Calling”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/primitai/


240304

1. Manimal – “Purgatorio”
https://en-gb.facebook.com/manimalofficial/


And there you have it. Would any of these have made it on to YOUR Top Ten of 2018?

Manimal – Purgatorio

240304

Manimal – Purgatorio
AFM Records
Release Date: 07/09/2018
Running Time: 42:01
Review by Dawn “The Metal Priestess” King
10/10

Every once in a while, an album pops into your inbox that just grabs you from the onset and has a lasting impression on you, so much so that you just have to give it ten out of ten when you review it. I can’t remember the last time I gave a ten for a review but this album by Manimal certainly deserves it.

Formed in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2001, the four piece have previously released two albums, The Darkest Room in 2009 and Trapped in the Shadows in 2015, both showing how the band have stayed loyal to heavy/traditional influences and are prime examples of modern and trend-setting power metal.

Fast forward to 2018 and their latest album, Purgatorio, sees the band takes their outstanding qualities almost to the point of perfection. The album is nine tracks long, and the band have pulled out all the stops, creating different tempos and atmospheres throughout and writing choruses that have “true anthem potential!”

Says frontman Samuel Nyman: “our goal has always been to write songs we love and believe in. The challenge is to make a song with strong hooks without being too predictable. It’s just a bonus when we realise that people around the world seem to have the same good taste in music as we do!”

The album has been produced by Manimal themselves, says Nyman: “Just like the previous two albums we produced this one ourselves; mainly because we like to have full control of the production. We are control freaks to the bone, and the thought of putting our creations into hands of an external producer simply scares us!”

Each band member, however, still had their own little piece of the album to concentrate on. Singer Nyman is the epicentre of this amazing album. Inspired by singers such as Rob Halford, Geoff Tate and Michael Kiske, his voice oozes self-confidence and passion, the kind that makes you go “wow” as soon as he opens his mouth.

The fabulous song writing is courtesy of guitarist, Henrik Stenroos, a true riff icon, whose hooks and licks provide the foundation for many of Manimal’s songs and drummer André Holmqvist, whose tight and powerful drum style is comparable to that of legends such as Tommy Lee and Mike Portnoy, co-wrote the lyrics.

Finally, bassist Kenny Boufadene was in charge of mixing the album and also produces the band’s videos.

Despite undertaking much of the album, themselves, they also enlisted the help of some well-known support. Firstly, the drums were recorded by Jakob Hermann (Anthrax, Europe, Machinehead and Evergrey) at Top Floor Studios. Secondly, the album was mastered by Tony Lindgren at Jens Bogren’s famous Fascination Street Studios, and lastly, the album cover work was designed by Claudio Bergamin (Judas Priest).

This album has soooooo much to offer. The title track and “Edge of Darkness” are a typical variety of haunting melodies and classy grooves, with a hidden sadness, that has become one of the band’s trademarks. But, after a little research, there are a few tracks that are a little different for Manimal, such as “Denial” with its Rammstein-esque riff, and “Spreading The Dread” with its remarkable rhythm.

This is an album that, to quote the press release notes, “sounds monolithic despite the fact that the individual songs ooze a wide range of different details and special features.” There is exceptional compositional talent that they have now mastered for the third time.

If I had to explain Manimal’s sound to someone who had not heard of them, I would describe them as this….they are the best bits of a variety of metal genres all rolled into one, Judas Priest meets Primal Fear meets Angel Dust meets every other goddamn band there ever was!

I was in love with this album from the very first note of the very first song. Even now, as I write this review and the album has been played almost to death (although not quite) in my car for my journeys to and from work, I am listening to it again! There really is not a bad song on the album, and although the whole “all killer, no filler” quote is a bit of a cliché, its one that is actually true of this album, and I actually think its gets better the further into the album you get (which is really saying something as it starts on such a high anyway!)

The last three tracks “Denial” (my absolute favourite! Its one of those tracks you can play on a loop time and time again and still not tire of it!), “Edge of Darkness” and “The Fear Within” are my stand out tracks, although the title track, “Traitor” and “Behind Enemy Lines” are just as good. And the remaining two tracks, “Manimalized” and “Spreading the Dread” are not far behind. The first track on the album “Black Plague” is an intro and sets the scene for some awesome metal to come.

I could talk all day about how much I loved this album, but I think the best thing you can do, is go out and get yourself a copy and see for yourself! I would bet anything that you won’t be disappointed!

I just hope these guys are planning on doing some gigs over here in England (hint hint guys!) because I will be right down the front for it!!

The album was only released on the 7th of September 2018 (today’s date is the 12th September!) and I am already looking forward to the next album of awesomeness these guys produce!

You have definitely got yourselves a new fan here!!!

TRACKLISTING:
01. Black Plague
02. Purgatorio
03. Manimalized
04. Spreading The Dread
05. Traitor
06. Behind Enemy Lines
07. Denial
08. Edge Of Darkness
09. The Fear Within

LINKS:

929646

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Dawn “The Metal Priestess” King and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.