I’ve made it! Welcome to 30th and final instalment of my ‘Album Of The Year 2021 Top 30 Countdown’. Today, I will reveal the winner of this year’s accolade. In terms of prestige, this must surely rank with the Grammys or The Oscars, so it’s a big deal! If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. However, it has been a great deal of fun, and I’ve really enjoyed bringing it to you. I’ve also enjoyed all the comments and the interaction I’ve had with many of you.
It has been a tough year, much like 2020 was. But for me personally, 2021 has been worse. Thankfully my friends, family, and music have helped enormously – I couldn’t have done it without the support. And today’s pick at number 1 reflects that as I’ll explain in a moment.
But I want to thank all the musicians out there who have released new music this year – you’ve all helped many of us to get through some tough and uncertain times, even those of you who released utter dross, because it still made me smile regardless…albeit in a slightly different way.
I also want to thank all of you for visiting my website once, twice, or on a much more regular and loyal basis. As I type, I am nearing 1 million hits at manofmuchmetal.com, an achievement that I wouldn’t have reached without every last click – thank you & here’s to the next million!
Lastly, there’s just enough time for the usual reminder to anyone new to this series, to check out the links at the bottom of the post to find out who made the cut, from 30 down to 2, as well as my lists from previous years too – hopefully you’ll take a look and become a regular reader.
But on to the main event…here’s the gold medal winner, my personal Album of the Year for 2021…
“Escape Of The Phoenix”
Release Date: 26 February 2021
Score Of Much Metal: 100%
The worst-kept secret of 2021!
Regardless of the score I gave it, when I was putting my end-of-year list together, I did think long and hard about whether this was actually my favourite album of 2021. Other albums made a big impact upon me throughout the year, that’s true, and there were times when I wondered about mixing things up a little. But then…I listened to ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ again, and any doubt was quickly erased.
I will be the first to admit that I am a fanboy of this band, but there’s a reason for that. And that reason isn’t because they are the best looking band (sorry Gents), the trendiest band, the most technical band, or because their keyboardist is an enlightened Spurs fan. They are my favourite band because of the fact that they play the music that I want to hear, music that speaks to me, music that moves me. Listening to Evergrey brings back a thousand memories, both happy and not so happy. The last show I went to before the pandemic was in Malmo thanks to a special person. I met up with great friends, I got a shout-out from Tom and met the guys after the show. It was a great night. But now, as I am no longer with that special person, those memories are tinged with sadness.
For that very reason, 2021 has been a tough year and so I’ve needed Evergrey more than ever. And it’s entirely possible that my feelings towards this album have grown even stronger because of the emotional support that it has provided me.
Regardless of personal circumstances, I simply cannot speak highly enough of ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’. It is a monster of an album, from start to finish. It contains huge, hard-rocking numbers like ‘Eternal Noctural’, through to beautiful and emotional rollercoasters such as the magnificent ‘Stories’. It is also the album that made me re-evaluate my feelings towards Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie, as he delivers a devastating duet with Tom Englund on ‘The Beholder’.
Throughout the year, only Omnium Gatherum have come close to having the same effect on me from an emotional point of view. Alongside the Finns, it was Evergrey and this record that gave me the strength and the courage to make some tough decisions and to keep plodding on during such an horrendous time. And, when out on my bicycle in the wind and rain, this is the album I turned to most to motivate me and help me knock out those miles.
So it’s now December, a few days before Christmas, and not only have I made it through to the end of 2021, I arrive in a stronger, fitter, and much more healthy state than I was in as 2021 began. Music can’t be the catalyst for all this can it? Well in my case, yes. Yes it can. Thank you Evergrey for once again being there for me when I needed you. The fact that the album kicks ass is just the icing on the cake.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’, my Album Of The Year 2021!
What I wrote at the time:
“Evergrey is comprised of my favourite singer of all time. Tom Englund could sing the contents of an Ikea catalogue and I’d still listen. In Johan Niemann, Evergrey are blessed with one of the greatest bass players of this generation…Jonas Ekdahl is a monster behind the drumkit, offering dexterity, subtlety and power…Keyboardist Rikard Zander has grown over the years to become ever more integral to the band’s music, offering…depth and richness to the compositions. And finally, but by no means least, we have guitarist Henrik Danhage. His strapline ‘old shredders do it better’ could not be more apt and accurate…”
Taking all this into consideration, how could the quintet ever disappoint? The answer, having been blessed with the company of this record for a number of glorious months, is that they couldn’t. And they haven’t. Not even slightly. If anything, ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is better than I could have dared imagine…
I’m well aware of the scores I have given this band on manofmuchmetal.com over the years. And I’ll take whatever criticism that you wish to throw at me. However, I stand by my reviews because there is no other band on this planet that affects me so profoundly on so many levels. And, going back to the original point I made at the beginning of this review, since the current line-up have been together, I cannot fault a single second of the music these guys have created. To these ears, ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is damn-near flawless in every way. It is special. It is magic. And it contains the essence of what I love about heavy metal and what I love about this band in particular. There is no other possible conclusion – ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is a dark, melodic, emotional, and heavy slab of metal perfection.”
Read the full review here.
The list this year so far…
Also, if you’ve missed my lists from previous years, you can check them out here: