10. Gates (USA-NJ) – Here and Now
Here and Now sees Gates return with their first new music since 2016. Frankly, it’s like they never left, with the EP’s six songs residing firmly in the band’s sweet spot, ensconced in the lush middle of the triangle of post-rock, emo, and indie rock. It’s all good, although the staunchly post-rockian (that’s a word) intro “Out Of Nothing” and the melodious anthem “We Are” stand above the rest. If Here and Now doesn’t quite reach the quality level of the group’s two full-lengths, that’s quite OK. Hearing something new from these New Jersey boys is always a treat, especially given the long drought between releases. –Sunnyvale
9. Rebecca Black – Rebecca Black Was Here
8. Ulver – Hexahedron
I believe the Norwegian Wolves really surprised us with this release because probably none of us saw this coming (even though label House of Mythology had shared a song from the album in late May). To put this simply: this is pretty much “ATGCLVLSSCAP 2″, another live improvisation album that went through some serious studio magic. After the long, yet very pleasant drone opener “Enter the Void” came probably the absolutely smoothest, jaw-dropping jam of 2021. The album wanders through various soundscapes (new wave, dance music, electronics, ethereal ambient, all with a typical ‘Ulver-ish twist’), while maintaining a super light, dancy vibe, simply by letting the groove go wherever it pleases (“Doing whatever we want, not knowing what it’s supposed to become or where it will end up,” as explained by Tore Ylwizaker). Hexahedron is a constantly morphing experimentation, spiced with gorgeously textured and vivid instruments, effects, and of course some of Garm’s singing couldn’t have been missed, either. Honestly, how do we deserve Ulver? –Grump
7. Epica – Omega Alive
While it’s a shame that we couldn’t hear this setlist in an actual concert because of the pandemic, it was still a treat to see it performed in its entirety through a livestream event. Instead of just using a simple setup for the show, Epica decided to make the performance as close to a real concert experience as they possibly could: a full stage was used for a visual extravaganza that coincided with the songs themselves. It runs the whole gamut, from dancers to elaborate effects to fire-eaters. The entire thing is like a Cirque de Soleil show set to Epica’s music, and to top it off, there are some new — or otherwise revised — songs on the setlist as well. Particularly noteworthy is the a cappella rendition of “Rivers”, which is a great reminder of why Simone Simons remains one of the most mesmerizing vocalists in modern metal. The sheer effort put into Omega Alive places it in a class of its own, setting a bar that other livestream performances should strive to match. –Brendan Schroer
6. Circa Survive – A Dream About Love
Throughout the years, Circa Survive have established themselves as a catchy post-hardcore group with soaring melodies and intricate rhythms and riffs. However, with A Dream About Love, the group shifts slightly to focus more on atmospheric progression and dreamy composition. From the beginning of “Imposter Syndrome”, Circa Survive’s songwriting feels fluid and open, allowing the EP to breathe and develop in a natural way. Each track is drenched in ambient, lucid guitars and synths that encompass the listener in a warm embrace. Although much of A Dream About Love presents itself in a happy tone with tracks like “Gone for Good” and “Sleep Well”, Circa Survive also experiment with the dissonant and the sinister. “Our Last Shot” provides a dark aura with its deep, bass-y synth and haunting guitar progression while “Drift” soaks itself in an overwhelmingly foreboding atmosphere, backed by powerful vocals. Regardless of mood, Circa Survive’s 29-minute venture into experimental, atmospheric songwriting is a rather enjoyable endeavor, unveiling a somewhat different side of the band. –Tyler W.
5. Kero Kero Bonito – Civilisation II
In case you were looking for three excellent dream bop tracks, you have succeeded in your quest! The second installment of Kero Kero Bonito’s Civilisation EP series is an excellently relaxing and catchy foray into sparkly synth pop. Its fifteen minutes comprise more hooks than most full length projects, firmly planting themselves in your memory while simultaneously soothing anyone lucky enough to listen. The epic closing cut “Well Rested” constitutes more than half of the project’s runtime and provides a fitting conclusion to Civilisation II. It’s equal parts delirium and concentration, sending off the EP by transforming its repetitive patterns into something highly captivating and entirely smooth. –JesperL
4. Cult of Luna – The Raging River
Some things are inevitable. In everyday life, for example, we know that whichever queue we choose in the supermarket will be slower than the others. Likewise, Drake is bound to end up at the top of the charts even if he burps into a microphone — and maybe he should, idk. But when it comes to continuously producing high-quality content, there’s no one better than Cult of Luna.
Coming a year and a half after their last album, The Raging River constitutes a bridge between the previous album and the one to follow, The Long Road North. This is in keeping with the band’s logic: to move forward without breaking its foundations. The nods to their traditional sound thus occur during the first two tracks. One could criticize these reminders of the past, but it is extremely important to note that these two tracks, while not reinventing anything, are close to perfection in their execution — what did you expect? After reminding us how the CoL sound never gets old, the moment many fans have been waiting for comes: Mark Lanegan, who the band have wanted since 2006, puts his deep voice on a track that is an interlude in appearance only. “Inside of a Dream” acts more like a fracture, exaggerating the difference between the first two tracks, which could be described as “traditional CoL amirite mate?”, and the next two, more introspective and testifying of the band’s “new” direction. “I Remember” starts rough, before finally lurking in tension-filled corners. There’s a real sense of purpose here, which makes the violent release all the more enjoyable for having been so long in coming. The EP concludes with “Wave After Wave”, which, at first glance, contains everything you’d expect from a Cult of Luna closer: a slow crescendo laced with electronic touches, in the tradition of their classic “Dark City, Dead Man”. The difference lies in the way the build-up progresses. If a rhythm guitar traditionally imposes the tempo of the ascent, there is no trace of it here: the cadence is dictated by a synthesizer and hi-hats.
Taking a known template to modify its substance, that’s what Cult of Luna are used to. Whatever they do, the Swedes manage to strike the perfect balance, carefully avoiding repetition without throwing away their DNA, proving (as if we still needed it) that their sheer consistency makes them one of the most essential metal bands of the last 20 years. –Erwann S.
3. Poppy – EAT (NXT Soundtrack)
While Poppy’s recent brand of pop-infused nu-metal has caused some unease, this tiny dose is much easier to swallow. Gimmicky as ever, these five short cuts (not a weak link in sight, by the way) combine her campier sensibilities with the muscle and energy of a runaway freight train. Self-aware and sincere, this is a ballsy rock EP that plants a flag on her subgenre and serves as a threat to any potential challengers to her throne. –neekafat
2. The Devil Wears Prada – ZII
Even though I’m not deep into metalcore, it’s still quite safe to say The Devil Wears Prada are still among the most noteworthy bands out there. ZII delivers the riffs and breakdowns (RIP to my neck at the end of “Nora”), radiates energy, bears an emotional tone (as heard in “Contagion”), and the diversity within is more than enough to satisfy. Altogether, ZII is definitely one of those EPs that truly matters — better not miss out! –Grump
1. Knocked Loose – A Tear in the Fabric of Life
If you didn’t already know, the people of Sputnik Music Dot Com like their music heavy. 2021’s EP of the year proves that point very well: A Tear in the Fabric of Life is fucking heavy, its metalcore roots bordering on deathcore in some instances. A gargantuan rhythm section lays the foundation for the guitars to dive into the murkiest side of core music, while a madman’s delirious high-pitched screams cut through the dark. Still, some atmospheric elements manage to emerge from the stupidly heavy material, like on the descending riff on “Forced to Stay”.
This avalanche of heaviness does induce the one jab — and one jab only — that could be thrown at Knocked Loose’s jugular: it’s how they sound. To be blunt, when all instruments rejoice in a heavy ritual, the whole lot does sound a tad overcompressed and synthetic. Nevertheless, when you’ve got riffs and ridiculous breakdowns like these, you could play it from a shitty 2005 laptop’s speakers, and it’d still put a disgusting grin on your face. Because, yes, this is heavy, but this is first and foremost an engaging brand of metalcore that manages to stay interesting on repeated listens because of how carefully constructed these riffs are — the fact that they make you want to break your neck does help, too. Sputnikmusic, rejoice: with A Tear in the Fabric of Life, Knocked Loose have not only come up with the best version of themselves, but they’ve also established a new landmark in nasty heaviness. –Erwann S.