UPDATED: Here Are The Best Albums of 2021 So Far

To quote some meme we recently saw, in six months 2020 will be two years ago. That idea is absolutely terrifying — sometimes, it feels like this entire year has simply been a hangover after the drunken catastrophe of the one before it. And yet, in reviewing 2o21’s metal output, one realizes that it’s been a year full of powerful, interesting releases. From young up-and-comers staking their claim to underground legends finally reaching mainstream success, the records released in 2021 has included some of the most intense, exciting, and fun music we’ve heard in a long time.

Here is a rolling list of the best albums of 2021 so far. Releases are listed chronologically, and will be updated at the end of every month. Enjoy, and keep slaying!

Frozen Soul, Crypt of Ice (Century Media)

Released: 1/8

For fans of: Witch Vomit, Asphyx, Of Feather and Bone

Standout track: “Merciless”

Man, you might hear that a band named Frozen Soul has released an album called Crypt of Ice and think, Oh, so, like, harsh black metal? But nah, man, this record is pure thousand-pound death metal, all the way through. Never going full cavernous but riding the low end the entire time, this album’s a solid listen if you need something grinding, furious, and deeply misanthropic to blast around the house. We’re here for the scowling.

If I Were The Devil, If I Were The Devil (Self-released)

Released: 1/8

For fans of: Behemoth, Bashiri, Pyrrhon

Standout track: “Wolves”

Holy shit, who knew philosophical satanism could rip this hard — and that it would come from Illinois? If I Were The Devil make noisy, grimy death-thrash that goes deep into the spiritual philosophy of Lucifer worship; imagine Behemoth’s lyrical themes without all of the European moustache-twirling, via a death metal band who listen to a lot of Zeke, and you’ve got an idea of what’s going on here. Heavy, involved, and super duper in your face, this band’s self-titled debut is packed with the promise of awesome work to come. Hail Satan!

Nervosa, Perpetual Chaos (Napalm Records)

Released: 1/22

For fans of: Warbringer, Destruction, Hypnosia

Standout track: “Genocidal Command”

When they first came onto the scene, everyone saw Nervosa’s all-female line-up as sort of a gimmick, but with Perpetual Chaos it’s obvious that dealing with all the shit female musicians are subjected to has pissed the Brazilian band off to an intense degree. The record is thrash, but without all the good-timey throwback nonsense; instead, guillotine riffs and sneering shrieks are the order of the hour. Those who’ve been keeping up with the salty underground of thrash metal over the years will be raising the claws to this sonic chainsaw in no time. Cool, fast, vengeful metal from a contemporary fixture of the scene.

Asphyx, Necroceros (Century Media)

Released: 1/22

For fans of: Autopsy, Pungent Stench, Tomb Mold

Standout track: “Botox Implosion”

How in the fuck do you make arguably the best album of your career 34 years in? Asphyx get better with each consecutive release, and on Necroceros, the Dutch death-doomers reach a new echelon of brutality. Fast and punishing one second, plodding and malevolent the next, this record is a sweet, delicious treat for everyone who likes their music ugly, fuzzy, and primed to choke someone to death as it crawls out of its grave. One of death metal’s most important bands, even to this day.

portrayal of guilt, We Are Always Alone (Closed Casket Activities)

Released: 1/29

For fans of: Full of Hell, Great American Ghost, Bloodbather

Standout track: “Masochistic Oath”

Man, portrayal of guilt have easily become one of the most exciting extreme bands out there, and We Are Always Alone is exactly why. Besides the seasick riffs, howling lyrics, and unpredictable rhythms, there’s just a feeling on this record that these guys believe it, that they’re really down in this emotional mire which they project. Fans of metal, hardcore, emo, and noise are all going to find something here they can go apeshit over. Easily one of the best albums of 2021.

Werewolves, What A Time to Be Alive (Prosthetic Records)

Released: 1/29

For fans of: Carnation, Jungle Rot, The Hell

Standout track: “Crushgasm”

Man, between this album’s cover and the fact that the band are named Werewolves, one might think you’re in for some full-on European folklore worship here. Instead, this Australian crew make absolutely punishing death metal with snotty lyrics about how hard you can go fuck yourself. It’s refreshing to know that in these subgenre-packed times, there’s still a band out there writing bone-snapping death metal that’s totally in your fat, ugly, stupid fucking face. And of course they’re Australian.

Wampyric Rites, The Eternal Melancholy of the Wampyre (Inferna Profundus Records)

Released: 1/29

For fans of: Horna, early Emperor

Standout track: “Tyrant’s Blood”

In the overly war-obsessed world of underground black metal, it’s cool to see a band dedicate themselves to vampire horror (sorry, wampyre horror). Ecuador’s Wampyric Rites go bigger and better than most, though, providing killer riffs, dungeon-synth atmosphere, and a production sound that’s still murky and necro while simultaneously listenable and clear in the ways that count. Though undeniably one for the monochromatic crowd, this album’s a worthwhile addition to any horror devotee’s record collection. The blood is the life.

Gravesend, Methods of Human Disposal (20 Buck Spin)

Released: 2/19

For fans of: Xibalba, Pissgrave, Maggot Casket

Standout track: “Verrazano Floater”

In the words of Uncle Fester, “Look, children…PUS!” Gravesend hail from New York, hence the references to the Verrazano and the cover with the subway nun (best cover ever, by the way). They’re also a rare example of a death metal band perfectly communicating the realities of the city. Grimy, overpowering, and caked with hobo semen, Methods of Human Disposal is a disgusting, rat-gnawed piece of music that’ll piss in a warehouse doorway while rolling a stem-spliff and calling a random passerby “cocksucker.” We live for this shit.

Thirdface, Do It With A Smile (Exploding In Sound Music)

Released: 3/5

For fans of: Botch, Fucked & Bound, Pyrrhon

Standout track: “Grasping At The Root”

Man, Nashville’s Thirdface are not fucking around with their debut full-length. It’s hardcore at its most compelling and uncommon — there are no pointless slogs here, no chest-beating, just a lot of really intense, grinding music that makes you think of the best basement shows you ever attended. This sweaty, organic vibe never ruins the record with atonal wankery, though; from start to finish, Do It With A Smile is deeply listenable, it’s just also unpredictable to no end. Grab this if you want the real heavy.

Brand of Sacrifice, Lifeblood (Blood Blast Distribution)

Released: 3/5

For fans of: Inferi, Enterprise Earth, Fleshgod Apocalypse

Standout track: “Altered Eyes”

Lifeblood might be on record to make Brand of Sacrifice the deathcore Cradle of Filth. The band have plenty of electronic influences throughout that give their music this incredible melodramatic mood, but that never comes at the expense of their ferocity. The result is basically merciless technical death metal that has this epic, operatic frame to it (which makes sense, given frontman Kyle Anderson’s love of anime, the ultimate art form when it comes to dramatic theme music). A really entertaining album that will alienate all the right people and draw in the rest of us.

Rob Zombie Lunar Injection

Rob Zombie, The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast)

Released: 3/12

For fans of: Coal Chamber, Wednesday 13, ‘90s Alice Cooper

Standout track: “The Satanic Rites of Blacula”

These days, Rob Zombie albums are like meals at your favorite restaurant chain: you want to know what you’re getting, because you want to actually like it. The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy is no different, offering big, distorted, southern-fried arena metal tracks about monsters, spacemen, and shaking asses. The album has some solid surprises — “Crow Killer Blues” is an ultra-heavy doom crusher, “Boom-Boom-Boom” revels in low-key shadows, and “The Satanic Rites of Blacula” has some believable ‘70s nastiness to it — but none are so shocking as to make you wonder what happened. Once again, Zombie delivers, and if you dig him, you’ll dig this.

Eyehategod, A History of Nomadic Behavior (Century Media)

Released: 3/12

For fans of: GG Allin, Bongripper, Acid Bath

Standout track: “Three Black Eyes”

Look, if you came to a new Eyehategod record to finally hear the band perform freeform jazz songs about life turning out okay, you’re shit out of luck. History continues the NOLA sludge pioneers’ tradition of making everything gross and brutal, and it does so extremely well. Even with the production value a little cleaner than that of albums like Take As Needed for Pain, this record gets across the band’s water-damaged MO incredibly well. Get sick.

Demiser, Through the Gate Eternal (Boris Records)

Released: 3/12

For fans of: Midnight, Nifelheim, Hellripper

Standout track: “Offering”

Fuck, man, albums don’t get much better than this. We may be living through a moment in metal where grit and commentary are at the forefront via acts like Code Orange and Power Trip, but Demiser are here to remind us that kickass riff-fests about the fucking Devil are what keep the fires burning in our hearts. Riffs that blaze, drums that gallop, big-ass choruses about blood and blasphemy — Through the Gate Eternal has it all and then some. 2021 needed this album.

The Crown, Royal Destroyer (Metal Blade)

Released: 3/12

For fans of: The Haunted, Bloodbath, Nightrage

Standout track: “Let The Hammering Begin!”

If Demiser are the new talent in the world of kicking ass with fast-as-fuck metal, than The Crown are officially the old guard keeping that tradition alive. The Swedish death-thrash crew are back in fine form on Royal Destroyer, a record whose title and cover are as brilliantly old-school as the songs thereon. There’s plenty of modern crunch on these muscular anthems — the band came about in the days when bad production value wasn’t yet fetishized — but the attitude behind them is pure nail-studded bicep gauntlet. The race never ends.

Blue Ox, Holy Vore (Self-released)

Released: 4/2

For fans of: Dillinger Escape Plan, All Pigs Must Die, KEN mode

Standout track: “Fly By Blight”

Whoa! Blue Ox’s new record is sort of like being mugged — when it’s all over, your first thought is, What the fuck was THAT?! Though loaded with the distortion and throat-punching breakdowns of modern hardcore, the majority of the album moves at breakneck speed, using thick, low riffs to make that momentum come off as heavier and more engaging than that of many thrash bands. We didn’t expect this kind of record from a band with this name, but we’ll never doubt them again.

Cannibal Corpse, Violence Unimagined (Metal Blade)

Released: 4/16

For fans of: Good death metal

Standout track: “Follow the Blood”

Violence Unimagined is living, dying proof that age is nothing but a number. While other bands are chilling out or getting more simplistic in their latter years, Cannibal Corpse have chosen to release one of their most exciting, enthralling, technically-proficient records to date. Maybe this is due to the inclusion of Erik Rutan on guitar, or the fact that Cannibal are coming off of a few more nuanced releases — in the end, it doesn’t matter. This is death metal perfection, a flawless illustration of why Cannibal Corpse is the world’s favorite death metal band. This, this is why we’re all here.

Gojira, Fortitude (Roadrunner Records)

Released: 4/30

For fans of: Meshuggah, Mastodon, Opeth

Standout track: “Amazonia”

Why is everyone playing Fortitude up like it’s this huge mainstream leap for Gojira? Obviously the band’s music has become more approachable with each album, but this one’s pretty resolute in its primal concrete sledge. Sure, “The Chant” feels a little tribal tattoo-ish at times, but “Born for One Thing,” “Amazonia,” and “New Found” still bring all of the ecclesiastical groove and unpredictable shrieks that France’s heaviest export have always done so well. This is Gojira at their surest, for certain, but it’s still one of metal’s heaviest bands writing songs that will set festival crowds ablaze. So yeah, get on this record.

Darkthrone, Eternal Hails (Peaceville)

Released: 6/25

For fans of: Aura Noir, Nachtmystium, Gehenna

Standout track: “Hate Cloak”

Weirdly enough, Eternal Hails suggests that all of Darkthrone’s left turns over the years have brought them full circle. The album isn’t exactly the ragged, lo-fi black metal of Transilvanian Hunger, but its reverb-drenched production and lumbering, misanthropic riffs definitely harken back to a simpler time in black metal. Maybe that’s why it rules so much — it sounds like how one imagines a good black metal record should sound, but that came out of the band not giving a fuck about what black metal should sound. Long story short, one of the best albums of 2021 so far.

Cerebral Rot, Excretion of Mortality (20 Buck Spin)

Released: 6/25

For fans of: Witch Vomit, Spectral Voice, Morbid Angel

Standout track: “Spewing Purulence”

Seattle’s Cerebral Rot have become the latest band to take the slimy cavernous death metal world by storm, and damn do they do so quite well. Excretion of Mortality has just enough weird, seasick guitar antics to keep its grodiness in check. At the same time, it is most certainly grody; the record has a real melt-your-flesh-off-your-skeleton tone to it that’ll have modern death metal fans drunkenly pretending they’re a swamp monster. You know, like you do.

At The Gates, The Nightmare of Being (Century Media)

Released: 7/2

For fans of: Nightrage, The Black Dahlia Murder, Arch Enemy

Standout track: “Touched by the White Hands of Death”

Wow, good for At The Gates! The Swedish melodeath champions could’ve easily just written another blast of delicious riffage, and we would’ve latched onto it with grateful smiles. Instead, this time around the band are doing interesting, theatrical new stuff — more melancholy, more intros, more tempo shifts. Though we may never have expected a challenging ATG record, we’re really happy they made one, because man, this rules!

King Woman, Celestial Blues (Relapse Records)

Released: 7/30

For fans of: Mantar, Chelsea Wolfe, Alice In Chains

Standout track: “Coil”

So rarely does a record stand up to its hype like King Woman’s Celestial Blues. From the moment Kris Esfandiari released her video for the single “Morning Star,” the metal world was abuzz about this album; now that it’s out, it’s every bit as killer as people expected it to be. From the ecclesiastic opening title track to the frantic venom of “Coil” to the lush shadows of closer “Paradise Lost,” the record is a breathtaking piece of Luciferian vitality that cements Esfandiari as one of heavy music’s most interesting and important artists. Hail horrors, hail.

Tombstoner, Victims of Vile Torture (Redefining Darkness Records)

Released: 7/30

For fans of: Nervosa, Power Trip, Frozen Soul

Standout track: “Sledgehammer”

If you had to take the Staten Island Ferry, you’d be this pissed off, too! Tombstoner’s name might make you think oozing death-doom, but their music is kinetic, thrashy, and brutal as hell. There’s just enough speed and dynamics in their rhythms and attitude to keep Victims of Vile Torture from sounding like just another cavernous death metal record. That said, these dudes still go tuned-down and wily with it. Might be one of our albums of the year — and we didn’t even know about them until today.

Wolves In The Throne Room, Primordial Arcana (Relapse Records)

Released: 8/20

For fans of: Emperor, Uada, Woods of Desolation

Standout track: “Spirit of Lightning”

Man, anyone who chalked Wolves In The Throne Room up to the whole hipster black metal thing back in the late 2000s is now eating their words with hot sauce. Like its predecessor Thrice Woven, the band’s new album Primordial Arcana is as eerie and dramatic a piece of black metal witchery as we’ve ever heard. Grand but grounded, melodic yet dirty, the record is a woodland witchcraft ritual set to music, the sonic equivalent to a rite one stumbles upon in the forest outside of town. Absolutely breathtaking.

Bonehunter, Dark Blood Reincarnation System (Hells Headbangers)

Released: 8/20

For fans of: Hellripper, Devil Master, Toxic Holocaust

Standout track: “Virgin Devil Princess”

Sweet fuck, man, Finland’s Bonehunter never disappoint. Dark Blood Reincarnation System is the kind of blistering, all-teeth blackened thrash that modern heads dream about. ‘Old-school’ could be used to describe the band’s dedication to delicious riffs and twisted subject matters, but that term does these motherfuckers an injustice — they’re not retro or remembering when thrash was great, they’re making extreme speed metal for the modern age, informed by the music in the underground around them. An absolute sackload of fun that’ll have you kissing a goat’s O-ring in no time.

Hooded Menace, The Tritonus Bell (Season of Mist)

Released: 8/27

For fans of: Coffins, Gatecreeper, Asphyx

Standout track: “Blood Ornaments”

Why isn’t every band Hooded Menace? The Finnish death-doom legends have been one of the world’s most enjoyable metal bands for over a decade now, and The Tritonus Bell only furthers this legacy. A little more kinetic and heavy-hitting than some of their oozier material, the record will still undoubtedly bring more traditional death metal fans into the fold while pleasing the diehards. Don’t worry, the whole thing still sounds like a church crumbling around a horde of sightless, crust-faced undead.

Spirit Adrift, Forge Your Future EP (Century Media)

Released: 8/27

For fans of: Haunt, High Spirits, Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy

Standout track: “Wake Up”

Wow, Spirit Adrift’s aggressive positivity is really on full blast with the Forge Your Future EP. Frontman Nate Garrett has obviously decided not to bury his messages of hope and perseverance in Frazettan metaphor anymore; instead, the album’s delicious old-school heavy metal songs go right for your better nature. It makes for a powerfully sunlit sound that never derivates from its fun-as-fuck riff-fest ethos. Crank it.

Oxygen Destroyer, Sinister Monstrosities Spawned by the Unfathomable Ignorance of Humankind (Redefining Darkness)

Released: 8/27

For fans of: Deicide, Hypnosia, early Kreator,

Standout track: “Slaughtering the Guardian Monsters”

So the gimmick with Oxygen Destroyer is that they write about Godzilla monsters, right? The Seattle-based band are kaijiu-obsessed, their name is a weapon from a Godzilla movie, et cetera. What we should be talking about, though, is just how fucking great these guys are. Thrashy, wily, and super evil around the edges, Sinister Monstrosities… is just a pleasure to listen to. Glad the monster thing has gotten some feet in the door, and hey, fuck yeah, Godzilla, but damn, these guys slay no matter what they write about.

Iron Maiden, Senjutsu (Sanctuary Records Group)

Released: 9/3

For fans of: …it’s Iron goddamn Maiden

Standout track: “Days of Future Past”

Man, the new Iron Maiden snuck up on us, but only now do we realize it’s what we’ve needed all year. And Senjutsu is certainly worth the wait, maneuvering the band’s steely storm of blades into some gorgeous, cinematic songwriting. As always, Maiden bring their patented acrobatics and dynamics, though this time around the songs are slightly more focused and easier to follow, taking the listener along on an epic journey. Meanwhile, the big singles still go huge, giving fans all the soaring choruses and excitable riffs they need. Up the irons, though c’mon, when were they ever down?

Carnifex, Graveside Confessions (Nuclear Blast)

Released: 9/3

For fans of: Brand of Sacrifice, Inferi, Winds of Plague

Standout track: “Cemetery Wander”

Yes to this kind of deathcore! It sucks that Carnifex had to lose hundreds of thousand of dollars on a canceled tour and worry they were done to make it to Graveside Confessions, but fuck, the end product is so awesome, we think the ends justify the means! The album is a macabre, energized blast of metal-oriented deathcore, never losing its beautiful fury in too many breakdowns or gutsfuck gurgles. Instead, the listener is engaged at all times, feeling like an arachnid cadaver crawling down a crypt wall. If deathcore’s going to make a comeback, it better fucking sound like this!

Andrew W.K., God Is Partying (Napalm Records)

Released: 9/10

For fans of: Rammstein, Carpenter Brut, anything by Devin Townsend

Standout track: “I’m In Heaven”

How in the fuck is it 2021 and Andrew W.K. is making an album this good? The white-shirted party rocker must have some interesting things going on in his life that he decided to only now release this metallic gem. Influenced by everything from sludge to industrial to prog, the music on God Is Partying is incredibly compelling, all the more so because it’s kind of unexpected. It’s still a party, but maybe a weirder, more menacing party, where some people are on some tough drugs.

Aborted, Maniacult (Century Media)

Released: 9/10

For fans of: Carcass, Dying Fetus, The Black Dahlia Murder

Standout track: “Dementophobia”

God damn, Aborted are truly masters of their craft. Not only have the band delivered yet another satisfying blast of gory death metal, they’ve done so without imitating themselves. These dudes could’ve churned out a replica of any of their slamming previous releases to thunderous applause; instead, they’ve changed things up on Maniacult, reveling in the empty spaces between the noise and enjoying tasty, almost thrashy riffs. Any death metal band can be brutal, but it takes guys as good as this to excite us this many times over.

Spiritbox, Eternal Blue (Rise Records)

Released: 9/17

For fans of: Deafheaven, ERRA, Bad Wolves

Standout track: “The Summit”

Months after the Internet had a crying fit over “Constance,” Spiritbox have finally released a full-length album. And if you were expecting that track to be an aberration, you’re out of luck — the whole record is a shimmery, soaring, emotional deep-dive. The addition of shoegaze and ambient music to their hard rock sound have made this band one to beat, and herald a new wave of pretty metal acts. In other words: get on this now before there are a million other bands ripping this sound off.

Trivium, In The Court of the Dragon (Roadrunner Records)

Released: 10/3

For fans of: Himsa, Battlecross, old In Flames

Standout track: “Feast of Fire”

When Trivium decided to put a big-ass gold dragon and a bunch of Centurions chivalrously murdering each other on their album cover, they were obviously aware of what they had. In The Court of the Dragon features Heafy and Co. sounding as imperious and grandiose as they ever have, really reveling in some for-the-love-of-metal shit. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone full elf rock; fans of their classic aggression will love this mythic new size of sound. Music to get your head lopped off to by a band who’ve been patiently eyeing your neck for some time now.

Monolord, Your Time to Shine (Relapse Records)

Released: 10/29

For fans of: Sleep, Windhand, Electric Wizard

Standout track: “I’ll Be Damned”

How can a band sound extra-harsh and extra-groovy? Monolord have somehow found a way on Your Time to Shine, an album as confusingly brilliant as its cover. The album definitely has a more aggressive edge than its predecessor, 2019’s No Comfort — and yet this record also brings even more thoughtful, hooky riffs than that album. The combination makes Your Time to Shine a winner that’ll scratch both of the doom itches at once. As disgusting as that sounds.

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Words by Chris Krovatin