2021 has been, without a doubt, one of the most memorable years in modern music history. The invisible elephant in the room was obviously COVID-19, which triggered the unprecedented year-plus blackout on nearly all live shows. Thankfully this spring's widespread vaccination rollout proved effective enough for the restrictions to lift, and by summer bands were finally able to hit stages throughout the country.
While we're not quite in "post-COVID" times just yet, the sheer joy of experiencing the cranked sounds and singular live energy of gatherings big and small — from sweaty Turnstile club gigs and raucous Slipknot road shows to massive Metallica-led festivals — was beyond rejuvenating.
Plus, there's also been a bunch of killer albums released this year to keep us entertained in between mosh pits. Old-school heavies Iron Maiden, Carcass and At the Gates brought the heat, scene leaders Mastodon and Gojira upped the ante, Converge and Chelsea Wolfe dropped a bomb collab and a clutch of up-and-coming trailblazers — Spiritbox, Jinjer, Turnstile, Scowl, Portrayal of Guilt and more — pushed heavy music into exciting new territories. (See Revolver's 25 favorite albums of 2021 here.)
As we close the books on 2021, we're catching up with some of our favorite artists to get their picks for the best of the best of the past year. Below, Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante shares his favorite shit: from Every Time I Die's "stream-of-consciousness" journey and Run-DMC quarantine collabs to WandaVision and beyond.
Twenty-one was a very strange year because we were still dealing with the COVID pandemic, but it wasn't as crazy as '20. I think a lot of bands tried to put records out in '21 because they thought it might be a better place — touring would be starting, things would just be back to normal — but it wasn't. So, I don't know if there were a lot of records that came out or a lot that I found out about. But there were a few bands who made some records that I thought were really good. My favorite was from the band Every Time I Die. I think that they put out one of my favorites this year. I've always loved this band, but their new album, Radical, reminded me of some of their previous work: Gutter Phenomenon and The Big Dirty. I just enjoyed this new record. I love the fact that the band makes songs that are almost like a stream-of-consciousness. Every song has a ton of riffs and it just keeps going and building, and there's never a real chorus that you can sing — some songs have them, but for the most part, they're like a stream-of-consciousness. Keith [Buckley], the vocalist, is the same way with his lyrics, and I enjoy the journey that each song takes me on. So, I would say that Radical was my favorite album. There were a couple of other bands: Turnstile, I liked their last record [Glow On], even some of the Code Orange records.
My favorite song of '21 came from myself, actually, and some of my friends. On my Silver Linings record, I did an arrangement of a bunch of Run-DMC songs that featured DMC, Rob Caggiano, and Ra Diaz on bass. Whenever I listen to it, I get so excited because it was something that was put together during the pandemic and it makes me happy when I hear it because I was treating this as if I was playing live, and in a sense, I was a DJ arranging it and performing it live as it went down. There were no overdubs or anything by me — the way I played it is the way it went down. And it came out so good. So many people have told me, "Dude, that Run-DMC track is one of the best." For me, I love the entire album, but that song stands out, just because of the way we did it, how the other guys put their magic on it. So, that was a favorite.
I can honestly say that '21 has had some great shows for me. I loved the show Only Murders in the Building with Steve Martin and Martin Short; I thought it was awesome. I've been waiting years for this Peter Jackson documentary on the Beatles' Let It Be [The Beatles: Get Back]. I've seen clips of it, and I can honestly say that will be my favorite for '21. Let it Be was always my least favorite album by the Beatles, and it was always my least favorite time because … when I first saw the  movie Let It Be when I was younger, it was just a band breaking up. That's what I was told by watching it. It just didn't have the charm or the sparks that other Beatles records had. So that's why Let It Be was always kind of a downer for me. But now I hear that Peter Jackson has [included] a bunch of new footage that may change my perception of that time for the Beatles. So, I am anxiously waiting for this. I also loved a couple of other series. WandaVision was one of my favorites on Disney. I loved The Mandalorian, and I look forward to that again.
My favorite musical moment this year was the fact that Genesis got back together to do a tour. After seeing them here in Chicago, I was realizing that this is a band that is going to go away, and I'll never see them again or hear … maybe I'll hear new music, but the way Phil Collins looked, he didn't look very healthy and that really disturbed me. But I enjoyed the shit out of the show. It's sad when our heroes get older, it's just a reflection of how things are nowadays. We're all getting up there in age, and a lot of the things that we loved when we were younger, well, a lot of those things are going away. We will always have what they put on this earth, but seeing Genesis was bittersweet. And, unfortunately, I feel like I've been seeing a lot of that. But that was my favorite musical moment.
My other favorite music moment was playing these festivals this summer, especially two of them stood out: Aftershock in Sacramento, and the Welcome to Rockville in Daytona Beach. I felt and saw the excitement by everybody … even the people on the stage who were watching us were so excited. I felt this tremendous amount of love and excitement from both our band, the people around us and in the audience. It was just an amazing time. People once again loved and appreciated live music — and that I truly loved.
Making a new record is one thing I'm excited about. I'm also excited that '22 could be the year we're all functioning, we're all positive, we're all working together to make '22 the year that we get America back on track — so that all of us can get out there again, doing what we love and what we want to do.