Deathhammer's Top 10 Metal 2021
Updated: Jan 15, 2022
I love heavy metal, and I also love making spreadsheets, so let’s do this! Over the years, I’ve honed in on my sources for finding new content, or for getting announcements when bands I already follow were releasing albums, and this year had the most albums I had to sift through, ever! Usually I listen to around 30-40 albums a year. Last year I made a push to get to 50 because we were in the midst of a global pandemic and what else was I going to do? But this year, I got to 60 albums and I still had more, so I had to start eliminating some, and skipping EPs unless they were really spectacular. At the very end of it, I had still kept getting recommendations and they had to really impress me to have me listen all the way through.
I hate all the filler and fluff before recipes on blogs (yes I make a lot of recipes, most of them while listening to heavy metal), and it’s infuriating when you’re just trying to find the ingredients list and steps and you’re endlessly scrolling through the 16 paragraphs the author wrote telling their life story beforehand, so that being said – I am going to get on with it. First we’re going to have some statistics that I found kind of fun and interesting, and then I am going to post my top 10 albums, then my 11-20 Honorable Mentions. But first, some stats.
Now to get an idea of what genres I listen to in general, and what genres of heavy metal I listened to in my lengthy quest to find the best albums this year, here’s where the genres fell (I combined some for simplicity’s sake.) Yes, some might technically have been “Blackened Death Metal” or “Pagan Melodic-Black Metal”, But, we’ll categorize them generically. Black Metal, Death Metal, Power Metal. You get it.
And here are the countries these albums came from:
I guess I like a lot of Black and Death Metal, and most of it is from the USA. But also, our Swedish brethren were heavily represented this year. So now you can kind of get an idea for my taste, and make your own decision on whether or not the albums/bands on my list are worth checking out or not. But also I have to mentioned that this is also influenced by supply. These are also the genres of bands that conquered the monumental task of writing and recording an entire album in 2021. Anyways, I figured this would be a good way to add some transparency to my ratings.
Next up, my Top 10!
#10 Creeping Death - Edge of Existence
An awesome blend of thrash, that is sometimes blackened sometimes mean-mugging Death Metal (https://creepingdeathtx.bandcamp.com/album/the-edge-of-existence)
The real cherry on the top of Creeping Death is the outstanding vocalist. This is a fun EP, and better than average as far as death metal. It’s well-produced, it doesn’t waste your time. The cover is also gorgeous. I love a good album as much as its artwork. So if you like Thrash that is sometimes blackened, sometimes more Death metal guttural brutality, this is for you.
#9 Ereb Altor - Eldens Boning
PAGAN / MELODEATH
Short but sweet. Sounds like if ICS Vortex made Viking metal. (https://erebaltorhhr.bandcamp.com/album/eldens-boning)
The production is well done, the instrumentation interesting, and the clean vocals remind me slightly of ICS Vortex, what's not to like!? A short and sweet release from Sweden's Ereb Altor. Their previous LP from last year was awesome, and I am looking forward another LP announced for 2022. If you want to row a long ship and wield an axe, and connect with nature and the grim icy north, and need a soundtrack - this is for you.
#8 Unto Others - Strength
Well produced, well written, I kept coming back to it. (https://untootherspdx.bandcamp.com/album/strength)
I am a bit late to the game with Unto Others (Formerly Idle Hands), but they’ve finally grown on me. I overlooked their first album because I had just come off of listening to Ghost a lot, and wasn’t ready for another “metal-adjacent” band to take up my listening real estate. Overall Strength is a very well-produced album from our Portland goth rockers Unto Others. Between the hits there is some filler, and they’re certainly a unique band, in a good way. I love the 80’s throwback feel to their sound, while still being modern and at times, actually heavy.
#7 Mare Cognitum - Solar Paroxysm
COSMIC ATMOSPHERIC BLACK
His strongest release to date, with some truly well-crafted songs (https://marecognitum.bandcamp.com/album/solar-paroxysm)
I kind of dread listening to Mare Cognitum albums, as much as I love 10 minutes of blast beats, they can be a little dry for my taste and they are largely drawn out and repetitive. I am also usually too caffeinated and too impatient to meditate to some long-form black metal. So he hasn’t always been my favorite, but I recognize the skill put into the music and good performances happening. This album is a lot more refined and thoughtful than previous. And some tracks had genuinely great moments. I really got immersed in it by track 2, and I think he’s offering more and reaching a wider audience now.
#6 Cognizance - Upheaval
DEATH / PROGRESSIVE TECH
This is a master class in modern death metal riffs
Cognizance have been on my top list before. But this is their best record yet. Extremely riffy and precise death metal, with some good melodies which were not as present on previous albums. Also the solos are better than I remembered, most likely due to a new guitarist. This is expertly crafted, more so than most death metal. It's also groovy. I usually feel overhwhelmed listening to Tech because I am a geezer, and this is right at the sweet spot where you’re marveling at their skill, but you aren’t turned off. These guys aren’t having 32-bar sweeping solos, or playing at 300bpm and using a thesaurus to make each song title as long as possible. And that’s perfect.
#5 Iotunn - All Worlds
PROGRESSIVE / MELODIC DEATH
Superb production and arrangement. Amazing clean & harsh vocals, just great! (https://iotunn.bandcamp.com/album/access-all-worlds)
What a stunning debut from Denmark’s Iotunn! There is so much metal out there, and such a small portion of it is absolutely flawless, and this might be in that category. It’s well-produced, well arranged. Excels at both Melodeath and Prog. The harsh vocals are almost like Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth, the clean vocals are angelic with a perfect vibrato. I listened to this fairly late in my rating spree, and it greatly impressed me. It immediately made it to the top 10. Fun fact: the band name 'Iotunn' is Old Norse for 'jætte' in Danish; 'Giant' in English
#4 Hooded Menace - The Tritonus Bell
DEATH / DOOM
If Power Trip were KVLT, and made you want to headbang the entire record. (https://hoodedmenace.bandcamp.com/album/the-tritonus-bell)
I cannot pinpoint what I like about this record, but so far I know it has the perfect cavernous vocals, it's heavy but not trying too hard and you can mean mug almost through its entirety. It has the right amount of chugs and riffs and good solos. It's just fun. I can't stop listening to it. The artwork absolutely slays too. Who wouldn’t want to ring a skull bell? This album wins the “best album to chug a tall boy to” award.
#3 Be'lakor - Coherence
Very catchy, unique vocals, cohesive and strong album all the way through.
I will admit, this is the first Be’lakor album I have listened to all the way through. I mistakenly thought they were a Satanic Black Metal Band, and then I remembered, that’s Belphegor. Anyways, a lot of albums on my list this year have sounded uninspired, cliché, or lacking in unique melody or that intangible care that makes something great. They seem like the band is just going through the motions yet again. Be'lakor's release is the opposite of all of that. This is a great album. I bought it on vinyl and it showed up today! Cheers!
#2 Empyrium - Uber Den Sternen
NEO-FOLK / PAGAN / BLACK
Beautiful. One of the best albums in years.
In the words of Angry Metal Guy, “What a sober and mature release. Nothing is goofy, or off-putting, or out of place. Even the ecclesiastical classical vocals, which could have been cheesy, are perfect here and the record would not be the same without them. Empyrium draws you into their valleys of mist and moonlit fields with pure musicality rather than ham-handed atmosphere-building attempts. A truly lovely work, full of beauty and nature and yearning.” I couldn’t have said it better. This record sounds like Fleet Foxes trying to write an Agalloch album, and that rips.
#1 Stormkeep - Tales of Othertime
MELODIC / BLACK
It's like Windir only less melodic and more headbang-worthy (https://stormkeep.bandcamp.com/album/tales-of-othertime)
I don't compare bands to Windir lightly, but Denver-based Stormkeep SLAY. They're not as melodic and folky as Windir, but they have many headbanging moments. I am not sure if they're a joke or not. They almost seem like a joke, but it's really good black metal so I don't care either way. This record is KVLT, it makes me want to headbang, it has just enough melody to keep me engaged. It’s number one. I only hope the members of Stormkeep never drink too much at their winter cabin, and wander into the wilderness.
And now my honorable mentions, #11-#20:
Artist / Album
Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana
BLACK / FOLK
Tribulation - Where the Gloom Becomes Sound
GOTHIC / METAL
Havukruunu - Kuu Ekylian Ylla
BLACK / PAGAN
Fluisteraars - Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking
BLACK / PAGAN
Steel Bearing Hand - Slay in Hell
THRASH / BLACK / DEATH
Hypocrisy - Worship
Heavy Sentence - Bang to Rights
THRASH / CROSSOVER
Baest - Necro Sapiens
Evile - Hell Unleashed
Paranorm - Empyrean
Last, but not least. Here’s my Spotify playlist, the 2021 Year in Metal Sampler. I picked the best tracks from each album on this list for you to check out:
And now for some awards based on you guessed it, data!
The label of the year is Van Records because Stormkeep scored the highest and they released it, but also I didn’t realize Van records is colossal and has everything from King Diamond to the gnarliest sweatpants death metal. They also can’t keep Stormkeep’s vinyl in stock. Just an incredible achievement from a debut album!
The worst label of the year was Nuclear Blast because the Exodus and Carcass albums were pretty meh, you guys.
The Best Month for Metal in 2021 was August because it had the most highest rated albums in my spreadsheet. In August we had Fluisteraars, WITTR, Hooded Menace and Wormwood’s albums drop.
The Best-Performing Genre in 2021 is Folk / Doom / Neo Folk because of Empyrium’s album Uber Den Sternen, and also probably due to how few albums I rated in that genre… only 2. Okay that’s not a good data. My bad. Well the lowest scoring genre was Tech and I rated 5 albums in the genre this year. I sat through about an hour each of Archspire, Inferi, Rivers of Nihil, Demon King, and Obscura – which was by far the best out of them. I DO enjoy some Tech, there just wasn’t anything groundbreaking this year in the genre.
The Country That Had the Highest Average Album Rating in 2021 was Australia because of Be’lakor mostly. The lowest rating went to Italy because I really did not care for the Vomit The Soul album despite a half dozen people telling me it was so brutal and heavy and awesome. I said “Immediately no” when I heard the first minute of it. Not my jam.
I hope you enjoyed reading this. Be sure to share in the comments what your top 10 was.
How do you rate your albums? What’s your method? How do you find new bands and albums? What ones did I miss? I’m all ears!