Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
Iron Maiden – Senjutsu
Well, what would you expect from an album where the finished mixes weren’t even listened to before it was released? And to be fair, the importance of Iron Maiden within metal can’t be overstated, but when there are things like that that’ll so wildly inform anything even close to a negative opinion, it’s not even surprising that Senjutsu is so underwhelming. Hell, Iron Maiden’s most recent track record on its own could’ve said that, but even so, this plodding, meandering slog embodies every negative about A-listers falling into a holding pattern this deep. On top of that, it’s the first Iron Maiden album that feels old, as they squeeze out an hour-plus runtime that isn’t satisfactory in the slightest, but to them will be a worthwhile means of getting the numbers to tick up. It’s the cynical undercurrent that disappoints most here overall, where even Iron Maiden themselves can’t seem to figure out their own purpose, but keep slogging by regardless. Get ready for the Eddie NFTs, because you just know they’re on the way.
Red Fang – Arrows
The next two entries could basically be interchangeable, both in terms of why they qualify as disappointments, and for the inevitable controversy to come from them. Perhaps the latter is slightly lessened for Red Fang’s Arrows, an album whose impact seems to have passed by remarkably quickly for a band of their catchment, but that might just serve as evidence for how much it underwhelmed. For a band who used to be only a breath away from Mastodon or Baroness—and who could pull off a similar quality of muscular, back-breaking metal—Arrows wound up feeling so deflated and unimpactful. Between production that could generously be called unrefined (and bluntly be called a pure mess), and a simple, pure lack of memorability on every front, this is the polar opposite of the music Red Fang can and should be making, especially this far on. A bump in the road is forgivable, but when the ramifications have seemingly been this severe already, let’s hope there’s not much more like this to come.
At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being
This is probably the real controversial one, as The Nightmare Of Being actually found a fair number of fans this year. On a similar note, At The Gates deserve plenty of credit for looking to expand on a palette that had been almost purely stuffed with melodeath up to this point, a bold move for a band who formed over 30 years ago. The problem is that The Nightmare Of Being sets those goals up and will brush them at best; at least previous At The Gates albums had a driving purpose behind them, regardless of some repetition. Messy compositions will give way to prog flourishes that don’t feel in service of anything outside of themselves, which in turn lead to muted, disengaged adequacy that, even then, is really only buoyed by that experimentation. It does say a lot that, despite some good overall reception, there’s been nothing close to as vocal an endorsement as previous albums. An unwitting testament to this album’s shakiness, maybe, but testament all the same.
AFI – Bodies
It’s never pleasant putting AFI on lists like this, because they’re capable of so much more. But Bodies only continues the holding pattern their last few albums have found themselves in, elevated slightly by some neater ideas but not enough to keep it consistently working. This is another album that became deeply submerged in the onslaught of releases 2021 brought, something that a band this big operating on a definitively poppier tack should’ve been able to avoid. But Bodies was unable to pretty much from the jump, in stabs at pop-rock that flitted between being amicable and chronically underweight, and the continued sense that AFI’s best days are probably behind them now. Even if it’s not the worst thing ever, or the same sort of crushing blow as some of their recent catalogue, it’s just as hard to escape the nonplussed aura of Bodies.
A Day To Remember – You’re Welcome
It couldn’t really be anything else, could it? No band has embodied ‘disappointment’ as heavily as A Day To Remember over the last couple of years, and now that’s culminated in You’re Welcome, a title whose hubris remains astounding when, after over a year of delays and haphazard ‘marketing’, no fan could’ve possibly wanted this. It’s not as unsalvageable as many have supposed it to be, but the fake, forced presentation and unmistakably cold production style (hi Fueled by Ramen) act as the antithesis of what made A Day To Remember so great in the first place. The fact they’ve simultaneously realigned their branches of pop-punk and metalcore to fit the bland modern permutations of each is yet another chunk of salt wedged into the festering wound, and it becomes most apparent then how condensed You’re Welcome’s failures are. This is a band who’ve stripped out basically everything great about themselves, replaced it with its counterfeit version, and sought to reap some form of benefit from it, despite the swathes of burned bridges and incredulous gazes in their wake. It’s a bold move to effectively die on stage, but when A Day To Remember haven’t even finished the job and are just writhing around waiting for the end, it’s more sad than anything.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
dodie – Build A Problem
There’s been some real momentum behind dodie’s music career before 2021–her most recent EP Human flirted with gorgeous orchestral arrangements that elevated her acoustic bedroom-grown pop beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. But while her debut record Build A Problem took that concept even further, the measurements that went into it were definitely off. This record is far too twee considering the skills dodie has to offer. She has a beautiful voice, but not necessarily a powerful one, plus her taste in instrumentation leans more towards building texture with vocal harmonies rather than a fully beefed-up orchestra, leaving much of her album floating around rather than firmly grounded with a point of view. Lyrically, Build A Problem is a stunning album, but its actual music is what lets it sink to forgettable levels.
A Day To Remember – You’re Welcome
You’re Welcome has already been named one of our worst albums of the year, but a lot of the fuel behind that is the disappointment. Not only does it add to the recent strikes against A Day To Remember in their career both musically and personally, but it’s the first time their strong foundation songwriting-wise has crumbled. The seamless blend between carefree pop punk and crushing heaviness is gone, this record feeling inexplicably more formulaic and heavy-handed than anything the band have done before, the fire usually behind their releases replaced with a noticeable weariness. That could be explained by the constant pushbacks to this record’s release and need to close the book on the chapter, but it doesn’t explain the awful decision making behind a lot of these songs. Robot voices, mixed messages in lyrics and a complete tone-deafness to the pandemic-stricken world around them just illustrates what a mismatched mess You’re Welcome is, and the compromising of A Day To Remember’s core skills is just the cherry on top.
You Me At Six – SUCKAPUNCH
You Me At Six haven’t been known for being the most consistent of bands of late, but 2018 saw their career take a turn for the better with the more pop-leaning, less self-serious VI. This year, SUCKAPUNCH undid that good work, the band donning their black rockstar uniforms to yet again try and get in Kerrang!’s good books, this time with an added My First EDM Keyboard element. Likability tends to come from You Me At Six’s songs while Josh Franceschi plays his swaggering, cocksure part over them, but SUCKAPUNCH doubles the edginess so there isn’t a dilution or even so much a way in. It makes the often misguided ambition on this album, like the country-by-way-of-Royal-Blood Kill The Mood, overpowering drum’n’bass beat of Beautiful Way or frankly irredeemable What’s It Like, even harder to swallow than it would be normally. Of course the fact that You Me At Six are taking risks like these is more than many bands in the chart-flirting rock scene ever do, but that doesn’t by any means excuse them from the fact that SUCKAPUNCH should be much better than it is.
Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
Creatively, 2021 looked like a great year for Kacey Musgraves. Her marriage (the one that inspired her Grammy-winning Golden Hour) ended, with all resulting emotions being poured into what was promised to be a Shakesperian epic. Instead, we got star-crossed, an album that was vastly oversold in every way possible. Only a small number of these songs have any staying power, and the low key nature of those that do (like justified and breadwinner) ensures they don’t pop or graduate to anything past cutesy status. This obviously doesn’t gel well with the ambitious tragedy narrative of the record either, Musgraves’ sweet-sounding vocals not harbouring the strength and power needed to really sell the story or emotion the lyrics call for. There are just too many things going against star-crossed to see it as a successful idea, and Kacey Musgraves certainly could have fared better with a life-defining heartbreak story had she stuck to her roots.
Lorde – Solar Power
Her take on the world and unique way of putting it into words is why so many people love Lorde, but this year saw her surprise offerings fizzle like her cares for a celebrity lifestyle. Solar Power houses a more stripped back Lorde, where she favours ridiculously boring acoustic guitars to soundtrack her new enlightened thoughts. She doesn’t push what could be stranger aspects of the album to be stranger, the diaristic lyrics for the most part seem to completely bypass relatability, plus the supposed satire of wellness culture that’s meant to be all over this record is almost nowhere to be found and a little too believable when it is there. It’s all cohesive in its sundrenched dullness but messy at the same time, oftentimes meandering and overstaying its welcome, something old Lorde releases would never do. While change is healthy for artists, Solar Power definitely wasn’t worth the wait from Lorde.