Every year in this space we post our favorite metal albums of the year. This Top 40 list is accompanied by a two-part episode of The Metal Dad Radio Show where we play tracks from our personal Top 20. Unfortunately, depending on which one posts first it renders the other a little anticlimactic.
So this year we are doing something a little different. Below are the albums we deemed worthy of making our annual Top 40, listed in alphabetical order by artist. If you’re curious as to which albums cracked our Top 20 we’ll be counting them down on Thursday, December 9 and Thursday, December 16 at 7 pm over at CygnusRadio.com. (Miss a show? No worries, check them out in the Metal Dad archives linked above.)
To say that 2021 was another fantastic year for metal releases would be a huge understatement. This may have been the most difficult year we’ve ever had trying to pare this list down and then sorting it. Did we miss a record that you loved? Let us know in the comments section.
Without further ado, here’s our favorite metal albums of 2021…
A Secret Revealed – When the Day Yearns for Light
Powerful and heady post metal from Germany. A Secret Revealed delivered a truly emotive effort on this album while still packing a punch. This album surprised me with how cold and brutal it could feel at certain turns (and that’s always a good thing in my book).
Altarage – Succumb
Downright violent blackened death/grind from Spain. For a band that’s been consistently churning out quality releases over the last 5+ years, Succumb may be the best of the lot. This unrelenting barrage of brutality could make your ears bleed after multiple listens. Highly recommended if you need to break stuff.
Amenra – De Doorn
Looking for a soundtrack to the impending apocalypse? You could do a lot worse than the newest Amenra long-player. The album is bursting with atmosphere, yet somehow leaves everything feeling amazingly desolate at the same time. As we wrote in July, De Doorn is an album that sees the band lay down their most experimental work to date upon their patented foundation of doom-inspired post-metal, and is one that will stick with you long after the record has stopped spinning.
Antichrist Siege Machine – Purifying Blade
Looking for an album that gives zero shits about hauling off and punching you in the throat? Look no further than the new full-length from Richmond, Virginia’s angriest metal export, Antichrist Siege Machine. Purifying Blade is the type of blackened death metal album you throw on and open the windows up when you want the neighbors and/or family members to think you’re just a little bit psychotic.
Asphyx – Necroceros
Dutch death metal masters Asphyx released one of the first great albums of 2021, all the way back in January. With as much amazing death metal as was released this year it would have been easy to forget an album that came out nearly twelve month ago. But there’s nothing forgettable about Asphyx or their newest album Necroceros. Pummeling as always and a fitting addition to one of the better discographies in death metal history.
Carcass – Torn Arteries
UK legends Carcass returned with another barn burner of an album, one that Decibel Magazine recently named their album of the year. I’ve read in a couple places that if Carcass had released another album between Necroticism and Heartwork that it might have sounded something like Torn Arteries. The more I listen to this album the more I have a hard time arguing that sentiment.
Cerebral Rot – Excretion of Mortality
Here’s what we had to say back in July about the newest full-length from Seattle’s Cerebral Rot: Deftly mixing elements of death/doom with thrash-tastic riffs/solos and a swirling, churning sound, Excretion of Mortality is the type of album that grabs you by the throat from the jump and never really loosens its grip. Unlike a lot of their contemporaries, Cerebral Rot have created songs that are wholly memorable with riffs that are equally as catchy as they are pummeling. Five months and copious listens later this still holds.
Darkthrone – Eternal Hails……
I think what I love most about Darkthrone is that over multiple decades and now 19 albums this band has consistently put out records that they themselves would want to listen to in the moment, metal sub-genres be damned. And so it goes with Eternal Hails…… that Camp Darkthrone was clearly on a first wave black metal meets trad metal kick when they sat down to write and record. For about the 18th time in a row that fictitious formula worked. Eternal hails indeed.
Doodswens – Lichtvrees
I’m not going to pretend I knew who Doodswens was prior to this year, but you better believe that when this Dutch duo started dropping singles from their debut album they were forever implanted on my radar. Lichtvrees is raw, organic, primal black metal in the same vein as all of those classic second wave albums you know and love. There’s also a distinct element of dark atmospherics at play here as this album is as captivating as it is savage. Doodswens is a name black metal fans should quickly familiarize themselves with.
Dread Sovereign – Alchemical Warfare
Ireland’s Dread Sovereign were another band who helped jump start 2021 with an early year masterwork. Mixing elements of doom and stoner rock with traditional and thrash metal influences, Dread Sovereign delivered one of their best albums as it waxes and wanes between lumbering passages and bursts of energy unlike few others. Throw in some ripping solos and you’ve got a record that will appeal to a lot of metal palettes.
Genocide Pact – Genocide Pact
Three words to describe this record could be ‘riffs, brutal riffs’. Chock full of head-bobbing riffs and a distinct sense of malice for anything in their path, Genocide Pact brought the hammer on their eponymous full length. Upon release of their first video from this record I was struck by one member’s Sepultura “Arise” t-shirt. Replace that record’s thrash aesthetic with something a little more doom-laden and that’s a pretty solid starting point if you are looking for some sort of mile marker for this record.
Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell
Who said death-doom doesn’t have any tricks up its collective sleeve? Certainly not Finland’s Hooded Menace. On their newest album, The Tritonus Bell, Hooded Menace find themselves traversing down the traditional metal pantheon in search of something wholly unique within their respective sub-genre. This is certainly the most melodic sounding death-doom record of the year and one that continually offers up different nuances upon every listen.
Hulder – Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry
Belgian/American one-woman black metal act Hulder took the metal world by storm earlier this year with her debut full-length album. Mixing unrelenting second wave black metal with USBM’s penchant for driving the genre outside of its comfort zone, this record weaves in various influences to create one of black metal’s more memorable offerings in 2021. As rollicking and atmospheric as it is unrelenting, Hulder is another act that have quickly established themselves as one to watch going forward.
Illudium – Ash of the Womb
Few records caught me off-guard the way that the sophomore album from California’s Illudium did. I’m not really sure what I was expecting upon first listen but it probably wasn’t something this breathtaking. Mixing elements of doom and post metal with shoegaze and atmospheric rock, Illudium created a vast landscape of ethereal music that had the power to transport the listener on epic journeys across time and space. Certainly not the heaviest album on this list, but what it lacked in heaviness it more than made up for in dark beauty.
Iron Maiden – Senjetsu
It’s Iron Maiden. What can be written about this band, or this album, that hasn’t already been said? I’ll keep it short. One of metal’s greatest bands released a record worth repeat listens. Enough said.
Khemmis – Deceiver
It’s not easy to continually outdo yourself or to top what the majority of your fans believe to be your best album. Denver’s trad doom kings Khemmis just did though. For my money Deceiver is easily their best record to date, full of epic, soaring moments juxtaposed with pounding, driving sections. It’s the type of album that really demands multiple listens and never gives you the same experience twice.
King Woman – Celestial Blues
Few albums set a tone of darkness and foreboding the way that Celestial Blues from San Francisco’s King Woman did. Filled with elements of doom, post metal, and shoegaze, King Woman is led by the mesmerizing vocals of Kristina Esfandiari. While she paints pictures filled with introspection and despair, her band mates build esoteric canvasses that go from crushing to emotive and back again.
Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready
In 2019 I named Caligula by Lingua Ignota my number one record of the year. It was a slightly controversial choice at the time as the music of Lingua Ignota could be considered more metal adjacent than metal itself. I stood by my decision then and still do as the heaviest moments on that record were as harrowing as anything else I had heard that year (or since). Kristin Hayter’s follow up album, Sinner Get Ready, forgoes a lot of those exasperated moments for something more subdued and experimental, thus rendering this even less of a “metal” record than previous outings. With that said, there’s still enough darkness and depression on this album for metal fans to fully embrace it. I know I did, and I embraced it enough to make it one of my most listened to albums of the year.
Lords of the Opium Church – Lords of the Opium Church
Edmonton, Alberta’s Lords of the Opium Church dropped their debut album in 2021 and it would not be hyperbole to state that this eponymous gem just might be the best stoner rock album of the year. Killer vocals and a thunderous rhythm section are lined up alongside thick, meaty riffs throughout. I was a massive stoner rock fan in the ’90s/early 2000s and this record more than any other this year sent me back to the heyday of the genre. If you ride a Harley you best have this thing blasting down the highway. Just saying.
Mortiferum – Preserved In Torment
We talk all the time about things sounding ‘heavy’, but few records this year truly felt as heavy the new full length from Washington’s Mortiferum. Preserved In Torment is the kind of record that just suffocates the listener in doomed brutality. It rolls from blasting madness to lumbering doominess and back with ease, and the entire time you’re just waiting for the Earth to crack open and swallow everything whole.
Necrofier – Prophecies of Eternal Darkness
There weren’t many acts who dropped a debut full-length as proficient in the dark arts as Houston’s Necrofier. Prophecies of Eternal Darkness is chock full of melodic USBM madness, tinged with thrash elements and a propensity for galloping darkness. When listening to this record I literally envisioned four black-cloaked warriors riding into battle and beheading everyone along their path in the name of Lucifer himself. I’m guessing that’s a fairly close approximation for what they were going for, so mission accomplished.
Ninkharsag – The Dread March of Solemn Gods
If you like your black metal on the more melodic side with plenty of frostbitten glory then look no further than England’s Ninkharsag. England’s black metal scene has produced some absolute gems over the years and The Dread March of Solemn Gods only adds to this ever-growing legacy. I’ve seen comparisons to Dissection floating around the internet, and while that’s not too far off I’d argue that Ninkharsag are a little more blackened than their predecessors. Looking for an album to take you deep into the icy grips of winter? You could do a lot worse than this one.
Nixil – All Knots Untied
I literally had a conversation today with my radio show co-host, The Candyman, about what a great year it was for black metal, especially the type of atmospheric/experimental black metal that consistently pushes the genres boundaries to new and interesting places. Baltimore’s Nixil would absolutely be counted as one of those bands. Their debut album, All Knots Untied, is a gem of atmospheric black metal and fitting of its moniker as it really did untie all the knots that sometimes tether the genre to the proverbial shore.
Oxblood Forge – Decimator
After two excellent EPs and a split with Connecticut’s Mourn The Light, Boston’s Oxblood Forge dropped their debut full-length album and the juice was worth the squeeze. Mixing traditional and doom metal with a stoner rock aesthetic Oxblood Forge have delivered an album’s worth of tracks that are as headbanging and sing-a-long ready as just about anything else you’ll hear this year. Mount thy steed and get ready for the metal attack.
Panopticon – …And Again Into Light
For my money one of the most consistent metal entities over the last decade or so has been Panopticon. Austin Lunn’s vision of emotive, atmospheric, blackened metal mixed with ambient folk passages has constantly been one of the more interesting takes on the genre. Newest album …And Again Into Light is no exception. A perusal of the liner notes and info readily available on the web will tell you that this record is even more personal that previous efforts, dealing with themes of depression and various personal/interpersonal struggles. It shows as this is one of Panopticon’s most engaging and breathtaking albums to date.
Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy
After two promising EPs over the last three years Ontario, Canada’s Plague Weaver delivered their debut full length early this year. Here’s what we wrote back in March: Taking cues from the storied second wave of black metal and mixing in elements of crust-covered doom, Plague Weaver have created a swirling, churning sound that will drag you under wave after wave of extremity until you’re practically drowning in it. Sombre interludes and sludge-filled riffs help to belie their affinity to any one genre in particular, and therein lies the beauty of this album.
Reaper – The Atonality of Flesh
Looking for something that successfully mixes black metal with heavy doses of the ’80s speed/thrash sound that helped formulate black metal’s first wave? Then look no further than the sophomore album from Sweden’s Reaper. Upon first listen you get the vibe that if this album were a person it would have no problem setting fire to abandoned buildings and then throwing rocks at anyone trying to put it out. It just gives zero shits about your or its own safety. Buckle up when listening to this one. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Rise to the Sky – Let Me Drown With You
One of the recurring special segments we do on The Metal Dad Radio Show is something called the Heavy Metal World Tour, where we pick a random place and try to find three bands we’ve never played before. It was during our spotlight on Santiago, Chile that I was finally turned on to one-man death/doom act Rise to the Sky. It’s safe to say that this outfit will not be flying under my radar again. Let Me Drown With You was the first of two albums Rise to the Sky released this year, and really you can’t go wrong with either of them. Chock full of powerfully emotive death-doom, I found this record simply beautiful and powerful from first listen. Stellar stuff from an act I hope gets more and more recognition moving forward.
Skepticism – Companion
One of my most anticipated albums from 2021 was the first full-length in six years from Finland’s Skepticism. It was well worth the wait. Few bands have been able to take funeral doom and make it as fascinating and bewitching as Skepticism. Companion picks up where previous efforts have left off, and the band continues to drive their brand of pummeling doom to new and even more ethereal heights.
Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst
One of my favorite black metal releases came fairly early in the year when Montreal’s Spectral Wound delivered and absolute mammoth effort back in April. This record is wholly unrelenting, and one that just feels dangerous from start to finish. There’s a certain type of darkness that just hovers over this record, one that feels like impending doom for anyone brave enough to sit through it. It’s exactly the type of feeling that black metal in its most primal form should elicit and Spectral Wound have perfected it on this album.
Steel Bearing Hand – Slay In Hell
I’m often heard on our radio show using the term “ripper” to describe an album that jut completely shreds. Well possibly no other album this year deserved the “ripper” tag as much as Slay In Hell from Dallas thrashers Steel Bearing Hand. Steel Bearing Hand’s first album in six years was easily their best material to date, and in my mind quickly established them as one of the best blackened thrash units the U.S. has vomited forth in quite some time. Do you have it in you to circle pit and praise Satan at the same time? You’re about to find out.
Stone Healer – Conquistador
My home state of Connecticut might be small but contains within its borders a mighty metal scene. There were several great releases from my backyard that just missed the cut for this list, but one that most definitely deserved to be called one of the top metal albums of the year was the debut full-length from Stone Healer. Mixing ambient black metal with a distinct prog rock aesthetic, Conquistador was definitely the type of album that required multiple listens to truly take in every nuance. The album has an almost cinematic feel to it at certain turns, and perfectly achieved its goal of retelling one man’s journey from dark days to self-actualization.
Succumb – XXI
Way back in 2017 San Francisco’s Succumb blew me away with their debut album and it was firmly planted on a similar year-end list. Four years later we are finally gifted with a follow up full-length and once again Succumb was an easy choice to be here. Succumb’s brand of death metal often times feels completely untethered from genre restrictions, as they weave in everything from doom and sludge to grind and post-metal elements. It’s a swirling, churning, cacophonous album that never plays out the same way upon repeat listens.
Suffering Hour – The Cyclic Reckoning
One of the first albums in 2021 that I locked into for multiple front-to-back listens was The Cyclic Reckoning from Minnesota’s Suffering Hour. This truly unique take on blackened death metal was instantly captivating. Here’s a little of what we wrote about this record back in March: Angular riffs and punctuated bombast are woven into a tapestry of nightmarish delights giving this entire album a somewhat cinematic feel, or at least as cinematic as blackened death metal can get before it accidentally pushes itself out of the way.
Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers
When a band unleashes a magnanimous, grandiose concept (such as releasing both a new album of material simultaneously with a classical remix of the entire album) it’s either going to be genius or disaster. History has proven that there’s very little room for grey area. For Finland’s Swallow The Sun, it was indeed genius. Say what you will about the classical takes on the songs from Moonflowers (I happen to enjoy them), but one thing you can’t deny is that this is one of the most emotive and powerful releases from a band that’s carved out a pretty fantastic legacy of melodic death/doom. From the day this album was released back in November it may be my most played. Crushingly heavy when it needs to be, and daringly sparse and beautiful at several turns. This may wind up being my soundtrack to another long, cold winter.
Tower – Shock to the System
Few records this year really were a shock to my system (see what I did there) than the sophomore full-length from New York City’s Tower. Mixing dirty, sleazy hard rock with traditional metal, this record honestly made me feel like I was transported to my ’80s youth when every metal record felt dangerous and like I was somehow offending the universe by secretly partaking. Filled with killer riffs and memorable hooks, I literally couldn’t stop bopping my head and air guitar/drumming every time I partook. Not to mention that Sarabeth Linden is hands-down one of my new favorite vocalists. Sister has some serious pipes. (Think Doro meets Halford when it comes to delivery and power.) Throw on your best denim and/or leather, buy this record, and blast the shit out of it. You won’t be sorry.
Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound
Released at the end of January, Where The Gloom Becomes Sound by Sweden’s Tribulation quickly set the bar for what it would take to make this year-end list (and just about every other one I’ve seen so far). Tribulation’s trademark brand of death-n-goth is tailor-made for long winter nights when the cold and darkness seem never ending, and this album in particular seemed to ratchet up the gothic undertones leaving it feeling even more grim and despair-filled than previous efforts. Looking for something to give you a reason to don some black nail polish and a hooded cloak before heading out into the forest at sunset to conjure spirits? Grab this album and good set of headphones because you won’t be disappointed.
Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors
Another band brilliantly carrying the blackened metal torch out of the UK is Wode, and in April they delivered one of their best offerings to date in Burn In Many Mirrors. Filled with fiery, thrash-infused blackened death metal, this album hits hard right from the jump and never really lets go. It’s a predatory album filled with enough rage to rock foundations and bring the walls tumbling down.
Wolves In The Throne Room – Primordial Arcana
If you were to make a list of the greatest USBM bands in the history of the genre you better damn well be prepared to discuss Wolves In The Throne Room. Roughly two decades into their careers the Washington-based trio show no signs of relinquishing their claim to the crown. After a four year gap between records Primordial Arcana was one of my most anticipated albums of the year upon its announcement. We were all rewarded with one of the most emotive, atmospheric, and visionary black metal releases of the year, and an album that adds to this band’s continued legacy of phenomenal releases.
Worm – Foreverglade
Did you ever sit down and ask yourself, in a good way, ‘what the hell am I listening to?’ I had that light bulb moment when partaking in the newest album from Florida’s Worm. Foreverglade is an impeccable display of just how unique and forceful good death-doom can be. Filled with enough meaty riffs and dirty sludge to fill whatever Floridian swamps these guys crawled out of, you could actually feel how heavy this record is right into your core. Don’t lie down while you’re listening to this album because the weight of it will pin you right to the floor. Truly brutal and brilliant.