10 Instrumental Releases of 2021

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Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of discovering some real gems in the wide field of instrumental releases. In the following, I’d like to introduce ten instrumental solo artists, projects, and bands that stood out for me this year, with six of them even offering impressive debut records. They’re all telling their very own stories, welcome to follow on this musical journey…

10. STATIC LIMIT – Existentia

Let’s start this round-up with guest that came a bit late to the party – more precisely on December 12th, 2021, when I had narrowed down my list here already – but took me by surprise, so it’s a worthy beginning. STATIC LIMIT are hailing from Rio Grande Valley in Texas, were formed in 2003, and “Existentia” is their second album. It is meant to be an an ode to thought provoking, discovery of one’s self, connecting to nature, and a stark reminder to our own humble lives. Music-wise, they offer a very diverse record, with the focus on the great guitar playing and amazing synth soundscapes – often complex and highly technical, but nevertheless accessible, and sometimes just mesmerizingly beautiful.

Listen to “Existentia” here.

9. ANTTI MARTIKAINEN – Carmina Gloria

The music of Finnish composer and producer Antti Martikainen is best described with the word “epic,” and could also be used as movie or videogame soundtrack. His new opus “Carmina Gloria” came out on July 21st, 2021, offering instrumental symphonic power metal as the cover art already suggests. Mighty background orchestration, varied song-writing, and great guitar work are the most striking elements here, melted together by excellent production.

Listen to “Carmina Gloria” here.

8. THE OMNIFIC –Escapades

Who needs guitars? This Australian trio – consisting of the two bass players Matt Fack and Toby Peterson-Stewart, as well as drummer Jerome Lematua – definitely do not, as they delivered an incredibly groovy and diverse debut album. “Escapades” was released on October 8th, 2021, via Wild Thing Records and is, after three EPs, their most adventurous work to date by wandering between progressive rock, djent, funk, nintendocore, and synth-driven electronic sounds. All-together a challenging, yet impressive listening experience.

Listen to “Escapades” here.

7. COEVALITY – Multiple Personalities

COEVALITY is a progrock fusion trio from Los Angeles, consisting of Jon Reicher (guitars and composition), Derrick Elliot (bass and arrangements) and Andy Prado Jr. on drums. After having been 10 years in the making, their debut album, “Multiple Personalities,” was released on April 9th, 2021. The concept behind the seven songs reflects the different personalities we all go through during our life while it progresses. But, as life itself, this album works best as a unit and can be seen as one long track, which brings us straight to the music. Stylistically, they use elements of rock, metal, jazz, funk, or even a bit of country or orchestral arrangements here and there. All three musicians bring in impressive technical skills on their respective instruments, the song-writing is on a consistent high level. Even though the rhythmic and song structures are very complex, the music is always accessible and comes with a certain lightness.   

Listen to “Multiple Personalities” here.

6. LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT

The musicians involved here don’t need an introduction, as John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, Jordan Rudess, and Tony Levin are all well known for their impressive work. The return of LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT with their first studio album after more than two decades, just named “Liquid Tension Experiment 3,” led to huge excitement among prog-lovers, and they shouldn’t be disappointed, as what we got here is excellent instrumental prog metal (read our review here). What makes this release special for me is the joy of playing that can be felt within most of the songs, so “LTE 3” became musically as colorful as its cover artwork.

Listen to “LTE3” here.

5. SOLUM – Encountering Murk

Best known for his work with the heavy prog rock band VULKAN, Swedish guitarist Christian Fredriksson also started a solo project a while ago under the name SOLUM. On November 5th, 2021, he released his first album, “Encountering Murk,” which is a mesmerizing listening experience in its entirety. Christian Fredriksson knows how to create mystical soundscapes and compose music with great variety as well as amazing flow. The songs have a certain lightness, but nevertheless an atmospheric depth and sometimes it’s the little things that make something special: a moments of silence, a light piano melody, or just a bright tone here and there. With this debut, SOLUM offer a very fine piece of music – Listen closely, as there is a lot to discover.

Listen to “Encountering Murk” here.

4. PLEXIMENTS – The Maze Within

Here we go with another exciting solo project and Siberian artist Evgen Tsibulin, who released his debut album “The Maze Within” under the name PLEXIMENTS. The concept behind the release deals with our inner selves and the voices in our head. Trying to understand them can be like walking inside a maze, searching for an exit. Whether we get lost in it, or if we can leave behind anxiety, self-criticism, or mediocracy depends on a strong decision, and Evgen impressively describes the wandering on these winding paths with his music. The most striking element is the fantastic guitar playing, which alternates between heavy, aggressive, virtuosic, and very smooth when needed. Mixing electric and acoustic guitars gives the sound something special here. The rhythm section supports the songs perfectly, the piano is very present as well and makes for truly enjoyable listening. Even though this is an instrumental release, you can hear clean and harsh vocals in the middle section, representing the voices and thoughts “Inside the Maze.” Now it’s up to you to step in and see where PLEXIMENTS will take you.

Listen to “The Maze Within” here.

3. MANUEL BARBARÁ – Moonrise

Finding inspiration in a wide range of classical, neoclassical, as well as contemporary artists and bands, New Jersey based guitarist and composer Manuel Barbará managed to find his very own style and sound over the years. With “Moonrise,” he released his debut album on March 19th, 2021, and besides the guitar wizard himself, you can also hear Nick Thorpe on bass, as well as drummer Joey Ferretti. The songs are complex and sophisticated, but always well-composed and with good flow. The guitar playing is fantastic and creates very own sound worlds: often dark, but brightened by gleaming, mystical soundscapes. This album is modern, highly technical instrumental prog metal, and if you’re into artists like PERIPHERY, I’d recommend to join Manuel Barbará on his journey. 

Listen to “Moonrise” here.

2. PAUL WARDINGHAM – Cybergenesis

With “Cybergenesis,” Australian based guitar wizard Paul Wardingham released another firework of cyber metal shredding on November 21st, 2021. The overall sound is best described as futuristic, coming along with a hard-hitting rhythmic section and epic synth soundscapes, on which he lays his high-energetic riffs and otherworldly solo sections. The contrast between the dark, mechanical background orchestration and the fast, yet smooth melody lines is mind-blowing, always a blast to crank it up.

Listen to “Cybergenesis” here.

1. FOTIS DELINIKOLAS – Alma

After having gained a lot of experience by performing with bands of different genres over the years as a professional musician, Greek guitarist Fotis Delinikolas released his first solo album on May 28th, 2021. The title “Alma” means “soul” in Spanish and reflects him letting his spirit free to express himself through the music, what he does in a mesmerizing and exciting way. You can hear nine songs on “Alma,” all different in mood, with various influences from prog, metal, funk, and more. From “Chimera,” which starts with a nice, twinkling melody, but transforms into a beast due to the challenging rhythmic and Fotis’ outstanding shredding; the groovy, yet heavy “Dualism”; or the beautifully light “Raindrop,” he always grabs me with his soulful compositions and fantastic musicianship – a real gem for fans of sophisticated, virtuoso guitar playing.  

Listen to “Alma” here.

Written by Katha