When we talk about legendary metal albums, we often go way back. After all, in a genre that’s both as young and as obsessed with idol worship as metal, it’s easy to think that classics only exist in the ’80s or early ’90s. But what that does is create an unfair environment where any new bands or records are forced to stand next to monuments within the genre that’ve stood the test of time. Meanwhile, surface-level fans bitch about how there’s no “new Metallica” while never giving today’s Metallicas the time of day.
To combat this mindset, we decided to examine those metal albums from the last decade that are already classics. These albums made a huge impact on metal and changed the genre, whether they got the time of day or not. Hopefully, moving forward, we can include them in the grand scheme of metal legends instead of just thinking of these bands as newcomers.
Here are 14 metal albums from the last 10 years that have changed the game…
Vein, Errorzone (2018)
By 2018, everyone had heard that nu-metal was coming back, but it was Errorzone that let everyone know how heavy that could comeback could be. Boston’s Vein took that once-maligned genre to new and agonized lows, reminding everyone of the unhinged psychology that first made nu-metal the fresh and volatile scene that would eventually take over metal. As hostile and anguished as it is personal and human, the record is a daring exploration of extreme music without rules borders. Not the kind of record you want to meet in a dark alley.
Clutch, Earth Rocker (2013)
That Clutch are almost certainly the oldest band on this list speak to just how awesome Earth Rocker was for them. The album took the Maryland boogie masters from much-loved stoner phenoms to impervious road-rock royalty with a bum-rush of positive-minded lyrics and bonafide weed riffs. Suddenly, Clutch was being played between touchdowns on Sunday Night Football and opening for the hairiest metal acts around. While the band’s light never truly dimmed during their career, this album definitely got a new legion of listeners to put on their shades.
Trap Them, Darker Handcraft (2011)
Before Darker Handcraft, bands’ worship of acts like Entombed and Discharge had often been folded into more polished death metal sound. But on their 2011 release, Trap Them ushered in a new era of fury, darkness, and filth which would spawn countless imitators. The record absolutely rips, but also includes black metal’s stygian introspection and hardcore’s boundless energy in ways that acts like them hadn’t fully explored before. A powerful record that makes one feel like a living weapon.
Gatecreeper, Deserted (2019)
It’s hard to imagine someone reinvigorating a genre as entrenched as death metal, but Gatecreeper found a way. The Arizona act decided to blow off the time-honored tradition of blasting mercilessly into oblivion, instead adding humidity and groove to their developing sound. The result, Deserted, was a considerable step up from 2016’s already-impressive Sonoran Depravation, taking the band to the massive scale they always had in mind. Since then, they’ve become the band to beat in a genre where standout acts are hard to find.
King 810, Memoirs of a Murderer (2014)
Before nu-metal saw its revival, King 810 were championing a return to its ethos. Memoirs of a Murderer didn’t sound like it was trying to be anything other than effective, with its stomping riffs, eerie harmonies, and half-rapped lyrics about guns, poverty, and misery. That and the band’s tendency to have armed hangers-on take the stage during their shows presented a no-frills dangerousness that metal had been missing for some time. For the first time in years, metalheads were invited to stop overthinking and just take in the world around them.
Khemmis, Absolution (2015)
While it was 2016’s Hunted that earned Khemmis top chart positions and worldwide acclaim, it was their debut Absolution which shifted metal’s strata in their favor. The record is the rare and perfect example of how a stoner metal album could have everything fans wanted, from biker-rock solos to galloping charges into the breach. Not only did the album introduce the band’s delicious church-doom to metal at large, it ushered Denver in as arguably the most fertile American city in the metal world. A true mountain-mover.
Black Breath, Sentenced to Life (2012)
It’s rare that an album is so powerful from its very first kick. Sentenced to Life saw Washington riff-worshippers Black Breath taking their sound to new heights and spearheading a movement of merging Swedish death metal and D-beat hardcore to excellent results. The record sounds fresh to this day, without a single song dragging it down or softening its blow. It’s a shame that this band have kind of fallen off the radar, because we’d snap up another album like this in a heartbeat.
Behemoth, The Satanist (2014)
Overall, Behemoth are the perfect example of a band slugging it out in the underground for ages – until one album changed everything. Not only did The Satanist thrust the band into the spotlight and earn them tours with Slayer and Arch Enemy, but it also introduced surface-level metal audiences to a nuanced understanding of devil worship. With this record, Nergal dove headfirst into his Nick Cave-ish satanic hipster persona, and inspired countless casual goths and metalheads to do the same. The album that launched a thousand bruja Instagram accounts.
Power Trip, Nightmare Logic (2017)
Sometimes, an album is just too good to be ignored. Power Trip were still up-and-comers when they dropped 2017’s monumental Nightmare Logic, but the band instantly became frontrunners of modern metal on the power of this record’s songs alone. All at once, these Texans were the promising future for the genre at its most genuine, devoid of any attempt to appease mainstream audiences. Sadly, with frontman Riley Gale’s death, we may never get the follow-up that this modern classic deserves.
Avatar, Hail the Apocalypse (2014)
It’s amazing to watch one record turn a band from part of a roster to a headlining act, which is exactly what Hail the Apocalypse did for Avatar. The record officially shoved this band into the spotlight, so that by the time 2016’s Feathers and Flesh came out the band was on every journalist’s radar. And how did it do all of this? Fresh songwriting, interesting experimentation, exploring new sonic frontiers — all of the things that metal bands claim to try but are usually too cagey to dip their toes into. Who knew that all these years after ICP, a clown would show us the way?
Kvelertak, Kvelertak (2011)
The 2010s were the perfect time for Kvelertak. Serious genres like black metal were coming to terms with their exhausting grimness, while the stoner-doom party on street level of metal was feeling a little tired. In a blinding instant, this band combined the two halves of the genre and reminded the world that at its heart, metal is about music that made you smile to even as you body-slam through a coffee table. If not for these guys, we might still be entirely lost up our own asses.
Blood Incantation, Hidden History of the Human Race (2019)
It’s not a likely story. An underground death metal band making a wonky, experimental album, and somehow ending up one of the most talked-about acts in the scene? Doesn’t sound very obvious, But maybe that’s why Blood Incantation’s last full-length album was so awesome and effectual: because it didn’t check any boxes or fall into an easily-defined category. Instead, the band went ambitious and entrenched, and it paid off considerably. Hopefully, in the unfolding world of rock post-COVID, more bands will do the same.
Wormrot, Dirge (2011)
In 2011, you can bet that no one was thinking, The next great grindcore album of our time is going to come out of Singapore. But Wormrot wowed the world with Dirge, their furious yet dynamic follow-up to 2009’s Abuse. The band knocked critics dead with this release, a rabid blip with a twisted sense of humor that felt weird and fresh enough to make one wonder if all grind needed was an uncommon point of view. An unexpected and under-appreciated gem that only sounds scarier with age.
Bring Me The Horizon, Amo (2019)
Simply put, Amo showed the world what a scene band could be. Bring Me the Horizon’s beginnings were all tank-top deathcore and emotional breakdowns, and the band could’ve easily dug that grave as deep as it would go. Instead, in a flash of oversized blazers, electronica experimentation, and club lighting, the British act reinvented themselves to the tune of massive mainstream recognition. Sneer about it all you want, these guys did something that’ll be copied for ages onwards.
Words by Chris Krovatin