2021 was a year that weighed heavily on many shoulders, but metal delivered uplifting heaviness in return. As a new decade of music continues to unfurl, there has been a strong resurgence of classic heavy metal stylings as well as new releases from some of the genre’s titans. Newcomers have ambitiously faced the legacy of Iron Maiden and Flotsam and Jetsam while contending for recognition alongside those very same masters of the craft, while other legends yet have pulled themselves out of the shadows for fiery comebacks.
Our end-of-year compilation weighs heavily towards the strong explosion of heavy metal and thrash metal, interspersed with offerings from furious death metal maestros and innovative doom outfits. No matter one’s preferences within metal’s welcoming umbrella, there are countless riffs ready to be devoured as we look back on a year brimming with talent and metallic fire. Continue reading to see Sonic Perspective‘s top metal albums of 2021. For our favorite metalcore albums, click here.
OUR TOP 15 METAL ALBUMS OF 2021
15. The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock and Roll (Fearless Records)
The Pretty Reckless stormed through 2021 with their fourth studio album “Death By Rock and Roll,” their first output with Fearless Records. This record solidifies the band’s reputation as stunningly consistent, evolving their sound without abandoning the solid groundwork of their style. From rollicking choruses reminiscent of glam rock to carefully crafted riffs with a progressive flavor, this album is a solid heavy-hitter without a weak track in the bunch. Vocalist Taylor Momsen is still at the top of her game, and adds rich charismatic flair to each verse. “Death By Rock and Roll” serves as a strong addition to an already impressive discography. The grunge-infused ‘Only Love Can Save Me Now‘ which features Soundgarden‘s Matt Cameron & Kim Thayil and the poignant and somewhat comforting ‘Rock and Roll Heaven’ are worth the price of admission alone.
14. KK’s Priest – Sermons of the Sinner ()
This metallic debut packs modernity and nostalgia in equal measure, pulling talent from provided creative contributions.
13. Swallow the Sun – Moonflowers (Century Media Records)
Masters of melodic doom Swallow the Sun have returned with “Moonflowers,” an album drenched in both melancholy and grace. Driven by the deeply personal mourning of guitarist , there is no shortage of opportunity to drink in the beautifully crafted agony across an additional full instrumental album and string arrangements by the group Trio N O X. If there were ever an example of artists pouring their hearts and souls into their art, it would be “Moonflowers” – not just with its sonic brilliance, but evident in the cover art painted with Raivio‘s own blood. A beautiful display of finding beauty in suffering, this album is the sort that seeps into the listener’s very bones and lingers like a chill.
12. Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida (Century Media Records)
After a career spanning nearly two decades, Spain’s aggressive thrashers Angelus Apatrida have finally released their self-titled album “Angelus Apatrida.” If the band was looking to make a statement with this decision, they certainly succeeded: this is an album defined by brutality and speed, digging deep into all of the classic thrash staples. For all of the age and wisdom they have gained in their years, Angelus Apatrida remain committed to never compromising. The album never falters in its course, delivering listener breakneck speed, face-melting riffage, and unrelenting vigor without faltering. While there may be little experimentation from prior albums, and the band sticks close to the classic thrash template laid decades ago, it serves to feel like a homecoming to both longtime Angelus Apatrida fans and newcomers alike. Relive their brutal and most recent live-stream event with our chronicle of the night here.
11. Volbeat – Servant of the Mind (Republic Records)
Pop rock sensibilities communicated through a metallic bullhorn are the order of the day for Denmark’s Volbeat, but their eighth studio effort “Servant Of The Mind” still offers up plenty of surprises for even the most experienced of ears.
10. Accept – Too Mean To Die (Nuclear Blast Records)
9. Khemmis – Deceiver (Nuclear Blast Records)
One of the more curious phenomena to arise from the North American doom metal scene, Khemmis recaps their unique composite of nearly every variation within the sub-genre’s umbrella with their Nuclear Blast debut “Deceiver.” This album delivers a thought-provoking slab of slow dirges and contemplative laments that far exceeds the standard expectations of a doom-metal billing. The contrast of an extremely gritty and dark instrumental attack with what could best be described as borderline angelic vocals is an interesting twist on a style that is generally not known for its pristine crooning, but cements Khemmis as a unique force among their contemporaries. Check out our thoughts on the album here.
8. Exodus – Persona Non Grata (Nuclear Blast Records)
7. Todd LaTorre – Rejoice In The Suffering (Rat Pak Records)
6. Hypocrisy – Worship (Nuclear Blast Records)
Hypocrisy brings to the table some of the most thoughtful and intentional death metal to come out of 2021 while simultaneously crafting lyrical themes of humanity’s brush with extraterrestrial life. “Worship” is a portrait of ferocity and fury, with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Peter Tägtgren bringing out some of his most inhuman growls to date. The riffs bring with them memorable melodic qualities, complimenting the consistent percussive groove that shows the near-decade of work put into the album’s creation. While “Worship” does not stray into the realm of adventure or experimentation, each note seems to speak to what listeners have long been craving. Commonly inspired by the fusion of the modern and the ancient, HYPOCRISY has once more found a way to combine innovative ideas with classic sound in order to deliver another brutally vigorous collection of metal anthems.
5. At The Gates – The Nightmare of Being (Century Media Records)
Continuing the rebirth of the vintage melodic death metal sound, At The Gates unleashes a tidal wave of woeful melodies and biting metallic anthems to recapture the heart of the mid-1990s with “The Nightmare of Being.” Drawing upon the bleak and cold intellectual musings of modern misanthropic philosophy, this is an album that similarly maintains the classic underpinnings of the original Gothenburg sound, yet remains of a more nuanced character, often compartmentalizing its softer and harsher moments to build a sense of crescendo and release. The organic journey across each track builds a story that draws the listener in, satisfying them with every apex and conclusion. Check out our full review of the album here.
4. Trivium – In The Court of the Dragon (Roadrunner Records)
3. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (Parlophone Records / BMG)
There are few end-of-year lists neglecting the latest output from metal’s most famous name, and rightfully so: this is not a placement wrought from fame, but from continued skill. “Senjutsu” is many things, but above all it is brave, it is ambitious, it is unapologetic, and it is most definitely Iron Maiden. The length of the album gives listeners much to digest over repeated listens, allowing each of the carefully composed choruses and melodies to bond with the soul. “Senjutsu”
2. Gojira – Fortitude (Roadrunner Records)
“Fortitude”, the latest claw of ferocious Gojira, is a daring, defying, and provocative record full of aggressive, heavy, and technical moments that ingeniously converge with melodic hooks. The resulting output is a collection of anthemic tracks that seem to explode at the touch, and promise to set the stage afire in future live performances. This record continues in the same vein that the French behemoth has followed throughout its discography, in which its music constantly defies all categorization and typecasting. Furiously dynamic and unflinchingly ambitious, “Fortitude” skillfully tackles the environmentalist themes Gojira has long been known for while dipping into pure sonic darkness. Without an ounce of compromise, “Fortitude” takes a top spot as one of the year’s most unforgettable records. Read more of our thoughts here.
1. Flotsam and Jetsam – Blood In The Water (AFM Records)
here.Ambition brings unrelenting speed alongside thoughtful mid-tempo bangers, further illuminating Flotsam and Jetsam’s place in metal’s hallowed halls. Read our metal album of the year full review
METAL COMEBACK ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Massacre – Resurgence (Nuclear Blast Records)
Massacre‘s history has been punctuated with periods of frustrated silence, with prior studio albums released in 1991, 1996, and 2014. The struggle to reform has finally culminated in “Resurgence,” as the band has reformed under the leadership of its now restored helmsman and a new contingent of British and Scandinavian veterans. here.Not even a hint of their many setbacks remain, as the music stands strong in and of itself. Nostalgia hounds will find a grand smorgasbord of decrepit death metal entrees here that will take them back 30 years plus in an instant, while the current generation will find something powerful enough to sink their ghoulish teeth into, so let all eat in moribund health. Read more on this historic comeback
METAL LIVE ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Armored Saint – Symbol of Salvation Live (Metal Blade Records)
Continuing the tradition of classics never getting old, California heavy metal trailblazers Armored Saint unveil treasures from the recent and more distant past, culminating in a riveting, 2018 live rendition of their acclaimed 1991 LP “Symbol Of Salvation” in its entirety and a smattering of lost treasures from the songwriting sessions of said album.
METAL EPs OF THE YEAR
Spirit Adrift – Forge Your Future (Century Media Records)
Keeping the metal end up in the continental United States, one of the more curious doom turned old school heavy metal projects from the southwest delivers a streamlined yet highly effective dose of metallic traditionalism that dovetails quite closely with the ongoing New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal craze. “Forge Your Future” splits the difference between the grandiose character of classic heavy metal entries and the more working class ideals of the rougher end of the NWOBHM almost evenly, leaving a fruitful foray through nostalgia with the benefits of modernity. here.Check out our thoughts on the EP
Cirith Ungol – Half Past Human (Metal Blade Records)
If you are still here, and you are curious about our picks in some other genres, make sure to check out the lists below!