2021 was a great year for metal. It feels like we say that every year at Metal Injection, but this year felt different. With the end of the coronavirus pandemic in sight, 2021 brought us the return of concerts, festivals, all the things we had been missing during the long isolation of 2020. 2021 saw a burst of creativity from the metal scene, giving us new debuts and the rebirth of some old projects. This was a year that started out on hold. Through a unique combination of anticipation and unprecedented downtime, we got some of the most memorable moments in heavy metal history, as well as a reminder of how diverse the scene has become. Even with six weeks left, it was impossible to limit the year's best output to only ten records. Here are the Top 15 Albums of 2021.
15. Beartooth – Below
Caleb Shomo hasn't always had an easy time. But he's taken down all the haters by releasing one of the best albums of his career with Below. It's is honest, energetic, catchy and (most importantly) heavy as hell when it wants to be. "Devastation", "The Past Is Dead" "Fed Up" crest the wave of pop-punk resurgence while retaining their hardcore roots. In a post-Warped Tour world, Beartooth will be an important act in connecting the Hot Topic crowd to the larger metal scene.
14. Archspire – Bleed The Future
Canada has produced some of the finest technical death metal bands of all time. Archspire can certainly add their name to that list. Flying past at 400 BPM with warp speed drums and guitar wizardry, these guys have raised the bar for all tech-death acts to follow. Even vocalist Oli Peters sounds out of breath after spitting all four minutes of "Drone Corpse Aviator". Cryptopsy, Beyond Creation, and Beneath The Massacre have all left their mark, Bleed The Future sounds like a new era of technical precision coming out of the Great White North.
13. At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being
It's easy to forget how groundbreaking At The Gates were when they released Slaughter Of The Soul in 1995. The Nightmare If Being is the furthest they've ever gone outside their comfort zone since then and it's a sight to behold. With some Pink Floyd saxophone and jazz guitar on "Garden of Cyprus" and classical choirs on "The Fall Into Time," it's quite a shock coming from a band usually seen as traditionalists. Of course, there's still enough Gothenburg-style melodeath to keep the longtime fans happy. This is the best thing At The Gates have written since their reunion.
12. Gojira – Fortitude
The Duplantier brothers have become some of the most influential voices in heavy metal over the last decade. Fortitude may be a step down from the mainstream-smashing success of Magma, but it's still miles ahead of the pack. From the Sepultura-worship track "Amazonia " to the brain-crunching time signatures of "Grind," Gojira have always been predictably unique and trendsetting. Mario Duplantier can go stick-to-stick with any drummer in metal history and Joe Duplantier's pickslide remains his greatest weapon. What's weird is how very modern the whole thing sounds. Over 15 years after From Mars To Sirius, we've only just started to get on the level Gojira have been playing at this whole time.
11. Carcass – Torn Arteries
Sometimes, the old guard has to come out and remind us all how it's really done. Carcass can claim to have invented two subgenres – goregrind and melodic death metal – in their early career. Since returning to the studio in 2013, they have honed those two disparate styles into one personal sound. With their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks as always, Bill Steer and Jeff Walker snarl and grin their way through 49 minutes of pure nasty British death metal. Fans sick of modern production leeching the soul out of their music will love this old-school masterclass.
10. Lorna Shore – …And I Return to Nothingness
Most groups would be over by their third vocalist. Lorna Shore just released the best songs they've ever done. If his performance on "To The Hellfire" is any indicator, new frontman Will Ramos might not even be human. He screeches, screams, squeals and gurgles like something from the pits of hell, all over a symphonic assault that's like Dimmu Borgir decided to become deathcore overnight. In only three songs, Lorna Shore have recaptured everyone's attention. What could have been a disaster turned into the best EP of 2021.
9. Mastodon – Hushed And Grim
Mastodon could release an Album of the Year contender in their sleep at this point. The Georgia legends continued their unbroken streak of good material with record number eight, the first double album in Mastodon's two-decade history. It feels like drummer Brann Dailor has virtually taken over as lead vocalist by now, sharing duties with bassist Troy Sanders on nearly every song. He still gives the performance of his life, flexing his chops whenever he can. On "Dagger", Mastodon retreat into a meditative trance of psychedelic percussion where they've never gone before. After all this time, they can still surprise us.
8. Kid Kapichi – This Time Next Year
Punk has been through a lot in recent times. The pop-punk clique has dominated the mainstream for so long that it can be difficult to convince people that punk can still be dangerous. Thank god for bands like Kid Kapichi, a crew of uncompromising gutter rats that wouldn't know a "woah-ho" if it bit them on the nose. With the nastiest guitar tone this side of The Stooges and a distinctly British working-class sneer, Kid Kapichi are the real deal. With bangers like "Thugs", "Sardines" and "Self-Saboteur" in their pocket, they can pat themselves on the back for breathing new life into the UK punk scene.
7. Rivers Of Nihil – The Work
Rivers of Nihil scored an unexpected hit with Where Owls Know My Name in 2018. Anyone who expected the band to go back to their tech-death roots was mistaken. The Work is a labyrinth of wildly ambitious progressive metal, one that gets better and better with each spin. Weird and unique to a fault, it's unlike anything Rivers of Nihil have ever attempted. This masterpiece will please fans of Tool just as much as fans of Behemoth. Owls was just the beginning. On The Work, Rivers of Nihil establish themselves as a genre all of their own.
6. Idles – Crawler
Rude of Idles to sneak an Album of the Year contender in with only a few weeks left to go. The Bristol bruisers dialed up the distortion for their most chaotic album to date. 2020's Ultra Mono sanded down the clean cut edges Idles made for themselves on their 2018 magnum opus Joy As An Act of Resistance. Crawler brought back all the industrial noise punk vibes that we were missing, driven by Joe Talbot's lunkheaded shout and Adam Devonshire's unmistakable bass tone. From the drunken boogie of "The Wheel" to the aptly named "Car Crash," Crawler is a return to form from one of England's most exciting bands. Between these guys and Kid Kapichi, it's safe to say the future of punk is in good hands.
5. Employed To Serve – Conquering
Sounding like Code Orange and Slipknot is a good place to start, but Employed To Serve have taken their rage to a whole other level. Conquering is a ferocious display of piss and vinegar, one driven by riffs as heavy as they are catchy. Justine Jones and Sammy Urwin make a great team, her breathless yelling paired with his rock frontman voice. They manage to tread the difficult line between basement hardcore and stadium thrash metal experience. By channeling their anger and proudly wearing their influences on their sleeves, Employed To Serve have written their greatest album yet.
4. Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined
Contrary to the title, Cannibal Corpse have been imagining violence for over thirty years now. The addition of Hate Eternal frontman Erik Rutan on lead guitar gave these veteran psychos the perfect kick they needed to deliver their best album in years. "Inhuman Harvest", "Surround, Kill, Devour" and "Ritual Annihilation" (the last of these written by Rutan himself) all attack with the same frenzy we've heard across the decades, now with the added layer of tonal dissonance in the guitars. On "Slowly Sawn", Alex Webster delivers another slow-motion steamroller riff in an endless cascade of steamroller riffs. Cannibal Corpse may be the AC/DC of death metal, but this is their their best effort since 2012's Torture.
3. Brand Of Sacrifice – Lifeblood
2021 was a year of ambitious deathcore releases. Toronto's Brand Of Sacrifice delivered a monster with Lifeblood, their second album after 2019's God Hand pushed them on to the scene. With a dream lineup of guest vocalists and one of the best frontmen in deathcore today, there was no way Brand Of Sacrifice could lose. Lifeblood is a non-stop attack of blast beats, pig squeals, sampling and breakdowns that always manages to one-up its own brutality with each song. The way Kyle Anderson crushes his vocal performance sets Brand of Sacrifice way above the average 'core group. They are the kings of the deathcore resurgence.
2. Dead Poet Society – -!-
Super producer Tom Dalgety (Ghost, Rammstein, Opeth) plucked Dead Poet Society from total obscurity and ended up turning out one of 2021's best records. Tom's distinctive low-end production has these Berklee grads sounding like Muse covering Mastodon and Alice In Chains through Deftones' equipment on fifteen tracks of heavy rock bliss. ".futureofwar." uses apocalyptic feedback to set the tone. ".intoodeep.", ".SALT." and ".lovemelikeyoudo." showcase Jack Underkofler's ability as a singer and a songwriter. If there is any justice, these guys will be huge before the decade is over. There is simply too much talent here to waste.
1. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue
Ever since "Holy Roller" dropped last year, the world has eagerly awaited Eternal Blue. Spiritbox exceeded all expectations to deliver one of the best debut albums in recent memory. Packed with wall-to-wall bangers and driven by Courtney LaPlante's outstanding voice, Eternal Blue launched Spiritbox on to dozens of magazine covers and straight to the Billboard charts. The songs delved into deeply personal topics like isolation and dementia, all told through an effortless mix of metalcore, djent, pop and prog. It's through this mix that Spiritbox became the band everyone was talking about in 2021.