Top 10 Metal Albums of 2021

A newcomer pips the old champion for the top spot this year, one in which I find myself quite divergent from the outlets that usually guide my taste. Decibel had Carcass at #1 and Khemmis #2?

Nope. And I like both those records. But not this year.

Let’s get into it:


Carcass–Torn Arteries

Carcass didn’t quite hit the heights of Surgical Steel here, but it is a quality record worthy of their catalog. I was initially butt hurt about this one. I thought Carcass had gone full-Melvins and just started taking the piss out of their fans. Songs with the word “skullduggery” or the name of a White Stripes album prominently featured in the lyrics will do that. But dig in further, and there is plenty of fun to be had, particularly with their most ambitious tune ever–the epic Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment. I even came to dig Eleanor Rigby Mortis and The Devil Rides Out after a few spins. Just watch your ass, Jeff.


I have not been able to crack Deceiver’s shell after 10-plus spins now, and that’s an issue, because Hunted and Desolation had tunes that grabbed you right away. This still sounds like Khemmis, but it is more Pallbearer than Crypt Sermon thus far, and I expect more in the songwriting department from these genre leaders.


This is basically a subjective obsession at this point. But fuck it, it’s my blog, so listen up–Lucifer has a new one, it rocks, so pick it up. And even if not, do yourself a favor and check out Bring Me His Head.

Outre-Tombe–Abysse Mortifere

Raw death metal with hidden sophistication that reveals itself listen by listen, and plenty of hooks and huge headbanging moments. What more could a Horrendous/Tomb Mold-obsessed fan want? That I couldn’t find a spot for it in the Top 10 says more about the depth of quality this year than any criticism I have of the record. Though if you twist my arm…ok, the french-language vocals take me out of it a bit. I respect it. But still. I want to comprehend what the fuckin spider on the cover is up to, goddamn it.


10. Mare Cognitum–Solar Paroxysm

This was my first exposure to one-man project Mare Cognitum, and I came away very impressed. I’m not sure exactly why the Memoria Vetusta series sits so high in the black metal echelon for me, but something about the warmth and melody amongst all the bleakness keeps me constantly seeking the feeling those records evoke. It is here in excess, and Mare Cognitum need not bow at Blut Aus Nord’s altar regarding songcraft, atmosphere, or musicianship, either. Emotive black metal without incorporating folk (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Solar Paroxysm is as much an embrace as it is an assault on your ears.

9. Between the Buried and Me–Colors II

I’m not familiar enough with Colors to know the degree to which, if any, these tracks line up or are informed by the first record. But I know enough about BTBAM’s pre-Great Misdirect output to say this is a return to that form, a hiatus from the Theater of Dreams, and a…Dog Fashion Disco record (?). If that sounds like your kind of thing, you are probably already a BTBAM fan. And because they can’t quite shake off that prog/concept album DNA entirely, riffs and lyrics repeat throughout different songs as motifs, making what could be disjointed feel like a whole. A bizarre, obtuse, thoroughly BTBAM-ish whole.

8. Wolves in the Throne Room–Primordial Arcana

I don’t always dig everything WITTR puts out, but the reviews this time around indicated there was some punch and even some death metal amongst the forest. Truth! This is my favorite WITTR record ever, with an addictive quality that their more meditative albums struggle to achieve.

7. Ghastly–Mercurial Passages

I was not super down with Death Velour, and when Ouroborus kicked this record off, I was apprehensive once again. It featured mood more than riffs, and that is not the death metal that gets my blood pumping. But then Out of the Psychic Blue starts, and fuck! Where did this come from? Finnish death metal can often leave me cold, but to my ears, these boys got just the right amount of old Amorphis mixed into their modern Colorado death metal to create a memorable, headbanging record that is still weird as fuck. Perdition, with its swirling maelstrom opening that transitions into a memorable, evil stomp, is maybe the best death metal song of the year. I would not be surprised to see Ghastly ascend to Blood Incantation/Gatecreeper status sooner than later.

6. Dvne–Etemen Aenka

I slept on this one for awhile because I am just about over bands in the Neur-Isis/Mastodon lane, as I’m sure many others are. But Dvne is up to much more here, and such comparisons do them a disservice. Those bands are starting points for what is primarily an emotionally ravaging hard rock record, told through long-form sludge song structures (not dissimilar to what Baroness was up to…wait, that’s another one…don’t leave!). This one is also sneakily engaging (vocally in particular), and you will find yourself reaching for it and it alone when you have even a moment’s hesitation of what to listen to next.

5. Oxygen Destroyer–Sinister Monstrosities Spawned by the Unfathomable Ignorance of Humankind

Do you like War Metal but also minorities? Then join Oxygen Destroyer and wage war against a real enemy, all these fuckin Kaiju! Seriously, if you miss Angelcorpse and Destroyer 666, buckle up. This record brings the heat, but also enough dynamism to avoid that wall-of-sound-blasting-monotony that kills most war metal. Well, that and the Nazism, of course. That’s bad too.

4. Paranorm–Empyrean

When a record’s firsts impression evokes Individual Thought Patterns, Rust in Peace, and Terminal Redux, you are likely dealing with year-end material. Welcome to Paranorm’s Empyrean. I had never heard of this band before this year, but apparently they spent the better part of a decade trying to get every note of Empyrean right. It worked. Engaging, intellectual, expertly-crafted thrash suites with first-class musicianship and socially conscious lyrics, Empyrean belongs amongst the classics and is original enough to stand on its own. I’d say it is the best thrash album of the year, but…

3. Soen–Imperial

Soen’s Imperial cements the band as the prog metal answer to Amorphis and Amon Amarth. They have their formula of soaring vocals, drum-led heaviness, and big hooks, and they pump out a record that perfectly executes that formula every couple of years. And that record always rules.

Soen is what I wish Leprous still was.

2. Iron Maiden–Senjutsu

Most new Iron Maiden is quality but impenetrable, so Senjutsu proved a pleasant surprise when amongst the 10-minute Harris epics there were once again hooks and engaging virtuosity. Stratego, the title track, and Writing on the Wall are all excellent songs and make sense as the singles, but it is the closing salvo of The Parchment and Hell on Earth which elevates Senjutsu above all post-Matter of Life and Death records into pantheon status. Especially The Parchment, my favorite song of the year, whose middle section causes goosebumps in a way Maiden hasn’t achieved since fucking 7th Son.

1. Enforced–Kill Grid

An absolute killing machine. Many (all?) metal bands try to marry Slayer and Pantera; Enforced are the first to get it right. Just don’t call them the new Power Trip. They aren’t trying to be Power Trip. They are fucking Enforced. And with Kill Grid, to hell with any successor status–Enforced has seized the crown of American Metal.

Best of 2020

An interesting year, with the top 10 list populated by entries spanning the genres of metal, and some probably not qualifying according to the more dick-ish of fans. A strong year that perhaps lacks the top-heavy strength of the recent Crypt Sermon and Atlas Moth list-toppers, but has a more consistent emphasis on records that provide some fucking fun. That’s no coincidence with the goddamn year we just had. Check it out, keep your heads up, and don’t let these MAGA fucks scare you.

Honorable Mentions:


Kvelertak - Splid (1 Black LP, 1 Gold LP) - Music

A return to the self-titled record’s feeling of abandon.

-Dark Forest–Oak, Ash, & Thorn

Just silly enough stay below the Pharaoh/Slough Feg tier, but the riffs and song structures are undeniable–there’s Iron Maiden-worthy material here.

-Xibalba–Anos en Infierno

Beatdowns aren’t really my jam, but when they are married to maybe the best late-era Morbid Angel worship I’ve heard, I’ll forgive some of the machismo nonsense. Turn it on and get your ass beat like you’re 15 in a Slipknot pit all over again.

-Svalbard/Ripped to Shreds/Lamp of Murmuur

These are on me, as I failed once again to complete my homework and have not spun these enough. Suffice to say, what I’ve heard is impressive, and each one is a likely candidate to force their way on to the list. Also, can anyone tell me who Svalbard fucking reminds me of with that shimmer guitar technique? I will be forever indebted. Is it Cave-In? Converge? Explosions in the Sky? Fucked Up? ARGGHHH.


10. Sweven–The Eternal Resonance

A blessing of needed meditativeness in this year. Though it is sonically more akin to the Morbus Chron record that coined their name, the vibe I got was something along that woodsy black metal feeling conjured by Agalloch and Panopticon, when you just need to adjust your goddamn brainwaves.

9. Kvaen–The Funeral Pyre

If Kvelertak scratched that peak Turbonegro itch, Kvaen just straight flayed off that skin that’s been bumming out that Destroyer 666…well, you know.

8. Ulthar–Providence

New Wave of North American Death Metal cannot be stopped.

7. Havukruunu–Uinuos Syomein Sota

Havukruunu sheds the Moonsorrow-worship to fully realize a style all their own, somehow melding the epic feel of mid-period Bathory with raw black metal ferocity and a strong link to their folk roots.

6. Deftones–Ohms

An unsurprising return to form after whatever the hell Gore was, Ohms has some of Carpenter’s best 2nd-era riffs and a mature lyrical approach to go with the familiar heavy-verse/soaring-chorus dynamic Deftones mastered on Diamond Eyes. Their reliance on this paradigm is also what keeps Ohms from the top-5, though, as a few more risks structurally would be welcome next time around.

5. Uada–Djinn

This album is much more accessible than I would’ve expected, with perhaps the most simplistic opening riff of an album I’ve ever heard for a well-regarded extreme metal band. Uada makes it work, with the moments of extremity mostly giving way to create a supremely unsettling yet inviting atmosphere. Unlike Sweven or Agalloch, I reached for this record to provoke existential fears rather than assuaging them. Which, fuck, this is black metal, sometimes that’s the point.

4. Necrot–Mortal

Pair with Gatecreeper and book ’em in Soldier Field, let’s will this stadium death metal thing into existence just like QAnon willed into existence a new country while we laughed at how stupid Trump supporters were.

3. Paradise Lost–Obsidian

Such is Paradise Lost’s mastery that they followed their heaviest records in decades with their poppiest, and both are amongst the best records anyone released in each year. Not sure it helped my early-quarantine mood to spin this literally every day, but that’s not really this band’s lane, is it? Simply, Mackintosh and Holmes are masters of their craft, and its a privilege to hear them perform it.

2. Spirit Adrift–Enlightened in Eternity

Spirit Adrift achieves their potential and unleashes the album Metallica should have made after …And Justice for All. Hyperbole? You put on Ride Into the Light on a walk home from the bar and see if you don’t nearly fall into the street from jamming too hard. Totally didn’t happen to me. I’m 36.

1. Midnight–Rebirth by Blasphemy

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of 2021 is that the lockdown occurred right before these boys were scheduled to play Empty Bottle. There is one track that isn’t a stone cold classic, and even that tune is about Satan’s fecal matter. The rest? The best NWOBHM/early speed/early black metal album maybe ever.

Venom if they could actually write good songs; Judas Priest dragged through the fire; Motorhead fucking Quorthon.



1. Opeth–February 14, 2020–Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL


10. The Rental

9. Borat 2

8. Possessor

7. Shirley

6. Palm Springs

5. Vast of Night

4. Mangrove

3. Spree

2. Black Bear

1. Bliss (I know it technically came out in 2019, but let me have this)


10. Devs

9. Search Party

8. Bojack Horseman

7. Ozark

6. Lovecraft Country

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm

4. Queen’s Gambit

3. The Boys

2. Rick and Morty

1. Better Call Saul

Best of 2019

Death metal dominated this year after black was on top for so long. Stellar quality across the board though. I didn’t make it to as many shows as I would have liked, but I did get to see current titans Tomb Mold and Khemmis, so can’t complaint too much. Psycho and Decibel Metal and Beer and Migration next year? Whos with me?


Honorable mentions:

-Essence of Datum–Spellcrying Machine

-Immortal Bird–Thrive in Neglect

-Obsequiae–The Palms of Sorrowed Kings

-Tool–Fear Inoculum

10. Blood Incantation–Hidden History of the Human Race

9. Gatecreeper–Deserted

8. Black Sites–Exile

7. Blut Aus Nord–Hallucinogen

6. False–Portent

5. Darkthrone–Old Star

4. Haunt–If Icarus Could Fly

3. Amon Amarth–Berserker

2. Tomb Mold–Planetary Clairvoyance

1. Crypt Sermon–The Ruins of Fading Light


  1. Under the Silver Lake
  2. Parasite
  3. Uncut Gems
  4. Ready or Not
  5. Velvet Buzzsaw
  6. Booksmart
  7. Midsommar
  8. The Irishman
  9. The Lighthouse
  10. The Perfection


  1. Watchmen
  2. Succession
  3. Rick and Morty
  4. Fleabag
  5. Mr. Robot
  6. Righteous Gemstones
  7. Stranger Things
  8. Broad City
  9. True Detective
  10. Russian Doll


  1. Riot Fest
  2. Iron Maiden
  3. Lucifer
  4. Amon Amarth
  5. System of a Down
  6. Baroness and Khemmis week
  7. Tomb Mold
  8. COC
  9. Black Lips
  10. Earthless/Maggot Heart

Best of 2018

I love all the year ends. They always bring new leads for excellent stuff that I missed, and reminds me to give a few additional spins to records I may have neglected for a few months. I got hot takes on all kinds of shit, so let’s go:



Clutch–Book of Bad Decisions

Sucks to put this here, but any Clutch record that isn’t an instant top 10 has to be considered a disappointment. I’m with the people criticizing the production–there’s a song on here called “Weird Times” that sounds like the Black Keys, and the Black Keys have a song called “Strange Times,” and just the prospect of finishing this thought makes me uncomfortable so I’m moving right along.

And you know what was a “Bad Decision”…A crab cake song! Nailed it.

Honorable Mention

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats–Wasteland

Tomb Mold–Manor of Infinite Forms


Scars on Broadway–Dictator

Revocation–The Outer Ones

Top 10

10. At the Gates–To Drink From the Night Itself

Image result for to drink from the night itself

The band doesn’t miss a beat with a new guitar player (somehow–how can there be only one Bjorler in At the Gates?) and picks up the energy from the return album. A savage live show at the Decibel Beer and Metal Festival didn’t hurt either.

9. Horrendous–Idol

Horrendous Idol.jpg

They seem to keep pumping them out. A little concerned that nothing has topped Ecdysis for me, but that’s like saying I’m concerned that Covenant and Domination aren’t quite as good as Blessed are the Sick. These guys are reaching that pantheon, and they are still early in their career. An Enslaved-like trajectory towards a decade of brilliance (say, Isa through RIITIR?) is not out of the question.

8. High on Fire–Electric Messiah

High on Fire.jpg

Thunderous return to form. Fuck that Sleep record, fuckin HIGH ON FIRE!!! (not really, but kinda).

7. Skeletonwitch–Devouring Radiant Light


The initial reviews were confusing for this one because I just did not see a legit black metal turn for this band–maybe because my favorite record of their’s, Breathing the Fire, is basically a Kreator record. But damned if they didn’t go from Kreator to almost Memoria Vetusta-style Blut Aus Nord. Very impressive.

6. Agrimonia–Awaken


This sounds like Opeth if Opeth still sounded like Opeth. I see sludge and post monikers when looking at reviews of this. Don’t believe it. If you want to hear some mid-period Opeth type shit, look no further. Those sludge and hardcore tinges help keep Agrimonia just original enough. But again. Opeth.

5. Judas Priest–Firepower



4. Khemmis–Desolation

Khemmis Desolation.jpg

Could have been the best record if not for the opener Bloodletting, which I still can’t figure out after dozens of spins. I have no idea what that song is supposed to be. But Isolation and Flesh to Nothing? Crystal clear on those–trademark Khemmis epics. Also, any takedowns regarding the alleged quality of the sparse harsh vocals should be dismissed immediately. Its just someone trying to find a reason to be contrarian. Khemmis rules, jump aboard.

3. Amorphis–Queen of Time


Maybe their two best records back to back roughly 30 years into their career. Stunning…but not number 1 because nothing here quite reached the heights of something like the The Four Wise Ones from Red Cloud. But still better than almost anything else out there, and The Golden Elk comes close.

2. Zeal and Ardor–Stranger Fruit


I thought Devil is Fine was an interesting curiosity and nothing more. If you had a similar impression of this band overall, divest your self of it immediately and check this out. If you like rock, you’ll like a lot of blues. And if you like the blues and black metal, this shit will blow you away.

1. The Atlas Moth–Coma Noir

atlas moth.jpg

The Atlas Moth has had many great qualities across their first few albums, but straight up metal was not amongst them. Not anymore–the title song rips your face off in the middle (and the beginning, and the end), and there is somehow no let down as the record continues. Each song has an aspect that grabs you and makes you excited for the next track as the current one before it is winding down. That is the core quality of a great record, not just a record with some great songs on it. Coma Noir works as a whole (even when you can’t tell what Stavros is shrieking about). I had no idea they were capable of this.

Just for fun, here are my best of lists for TV, live shows and movies from this year as well:


10. Altered Carbon

9. Atlanta

8. Sharp Objects

7. Killing Eve

6. The Americans

5. Haunting of Hill House

4. Big Mouth

3. Bojack Horseman

2. Better Call Saul

1. Succession


10. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Live–April 4–Vic Theater

9. How Did this Get Made?–June 2 and 3–Athenaeum Theater

8. Judas Priest–April 6–The Venue

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs–May 29–Aragon

6. The Chasm–August 16–Reggies

5. Zeal and Ardor–September 29–Subterranean

4. Decibel Beer and Metal Festival–March 31 and April 1–Philadelphia

3. Primus and Mastodon–June 6–Northerly Island

2. Pearl Jam–August 18 and 20–Wrigley FIeld

1. Nine Inch Nails–October 27–Aragon


*Shit, I forgot Sorry to Bother You–Let’s say #5*

10. Bad Times at the El Royale

9. Cam

8. Roma

7. Searching

6. Black Panther

5. Death of Stalin

4. Hereditary

3. Widows

2. A Star is Born

1. Annihilation