The 100 greatest metal albums of the 21st century

9) Behemoth – The Satanist (2014)

Released in 2009, Evangelion had already blown Behemoth out of the underground, transforming the Polish blackened death metallers from cult heroes to one of the leading extreme metal bands on the planet. But in its aftermath came news of frontman Nergal’s battle with leukemia, as well as brushes with religious authorities back home in Poland following an incident where he tore up a Bible onstage, and five years would pass before a follow-up surfaced. The wait was worth it: The Satanist was not only voraciously received by fans and critics, but would prove iconic, demonstrating a more organic, honest and personal side to Behemoth – perhaps no surprise, given its origins.

“It was very much rooted in the healing process,” Nergal explains. “I don’t want to say that the album was a reaction to my leukemia, but it was definitely a reaction to my whole life, and I definitely had a need to redefine myself as a human being. That’s why The Satanist resonates on so many levels and so many dimensions. It was very much rooted in where I came from. It was like a rebirth of an artist, of a human being – there was this fire deep within that should be unleashed, and it was manifested in the form of this record.”

Recorded after touring with Watain, In Solitude and The Devil’s Blood, The Satanist took some of the former’s transformative energy as well as overtly occult themes that weren’t drawn from history so much as a personal call to enlightenment. Not just a response to the events of his own life, it was also a reaction to the more militaristically precise and calculating approach of its predecessor, and it stands in marked contrast to that record thanks to its broader, more cathartic emotional palette.

“I really had an inner need to make something new, especially after Evangelion,” says Nergal. “I really needed to liberate myself and to liberate the fans, so to speak – do a record that was going to be more emotionally driven, more real in every sense, more organic, more natural, not pushed, not stressed, just going with the flow with everything that is leaving your system. I really wanted to cut down the ‘intellectual’ factor; obviously, you need your brain to put things together, but I really wanted my heart and emotions to play the number one role when making the record, and you can hear that. It was really time to break new ground, and I felt this was maybe my only chance to do it.”

Though Nergal makes clear that he feels the album works asa complete whole, he will admit that there are still certain numbers that have a particularly profound effect on him today.

“When we play Ora Pro Nobis, Lucifer or O Father O Satan O Sun!, I feel the shivers running down my spine,” he concludes with a grin. “I always analyse things, but what I value the most is my own body’s reaction to something, and when I perform certain songs, I’m like, ‘Shit, this is real.’”

What We Said: “By this album’s closing moments, you’ll be tempted to sign up for Lucifer’s side. Behemoth have thrown down the gauntlet for extreme music.”

8) Mastodon – Crack The Skye (2009)

Band Pick: “I think it’s their best one. It’s got all the things that makes them great: brilliant musicianship, great arrangements, incredibly complex time signatures that stop and start, and a tornado of drums. It’s probably the most sustained sonic assault that they’ve come up with. I’ma big fan of all of their albums, but this is the one that speaks to the prog fan the most. You have to listen to it in its entirety. You have a band that are unconstrained by the pressure to come up with a single, so it’s better to listen to it in one sitting. A real album.

“On a musical level, you have to be impressed by the technicality, the virtuosity and the total unwillingness to conform to the trappings of the genre. It’s just untrammelled musical power and virtuosity and extreme twiddly-ness!” – Bill Bailey, Comedian

What We Said: “This is an involving, intricate and intelligent record that fulfils all the band’s promises of prog rock evolution. Prepare to be blown away.”

7) Killswitch Engage – The End Of Heartache (2004)

Band Pick: “It’s the greatest metalcore album of all time – every single track could have been a single. When Killswitch lost Jesse [Leach], a lot of people didn’t think that they were going to be able to replace him or make the impact on the scene that they’d already had, but what Howard did was bring an extra sense of melody and theatricality to the band. Also, as a metalcore fan, you know when a breakdown should be coming, because it feels right, and I think The End Of Heartache set a real precedent for that.There isn’t another metalcore album that opened up the genre like it did, and I honestly think Warped Tour, Mayhem Festival – even America would not be the same if that album had never been made. I think that’s so important, and I think that Adam D, as a producer, had his fingers in so many pies in that era of metalcore after this album. They could have released any song off that album and it would have done just as well, and it would have got them where they are today.” – Davyd Winter-Bates, Bury Tomorrow

What We Said: “This is a compelling and convincing synthesis of all that is good about contemporary heavy metal. A minor modern masterpiece.”

6) Avenged Sevenfold – Waking The Fallen (2003)

Though City Of Evil was the album that would see Avenged expand their sound, transcend their scene and begin the relentless upwards journey that has taken them into arenas and to the top of charts and festival bills, for pure, unadulterated song power, Waking The Fallen remains utterly untouchable. The album that put them on the map may have been a far more straight-up metalcore affair, but there were already enough sprinklings of overblown rock‘n’roll theatrics – see nine-minute monster I Won’t See You Tonight Part 1 – to mark them above their peers. And then there’s the songs. Unholy Confessions. Chapter Four. Remenissions. Second Heartbeat. It felt like a greatest hits set, and with barely any songs clocking in under the five-minute mark, Avenged already looked like a band ready for big things. Even we, however, didn’t realise just how big.

What We Said: “OK then, who’s ready for goth-metal emo? The second album from this Orange County quintet gives the band a mature, coherent voice.”

5) Lamb Of God – Ashes Of The Wake (2004)

‘If there was a single day I could live. A single breath I could take. I’d trade all the others away.’

When Lamb Of God signed to Epic for their third studio album (and no, we’re not counting Burn The Priest’s one-off as a Lamb of God album in this context), many wondered if the Virginians’ savage riffs, ground-shaking grooves and status as the People’s Metal Band would be diluted by the allure of major label cash and that ever-risky Holy Grail of a mainstream-denting hit single. No such bad luck: Ashes Of The Wake landed with all the grace and subtlety of Godzilla on a three-day stag do. Producer Machine gave an extra layer of weight and grit to Messrs Morton and Adler’s battering riffs and Randy Blythe’s snarling, razor-throated vocals, while standout ‘singles’ like Now You’ve Got Something To Die For hung around hooks so visceral they were less likely to be featured on Top Of The Pops than used to drive viking gods out of the very skies themselves. It would launch the band onto an international stage and accelerate their ascent into metal’s upper ranks – though Randy believes it was all part of the grand plan.

“In our career, everything feels like a very slow, very organic climb,” he argues today. “We don’t really see any one moment where things ‘changed’, but Ashes Of The Wake was our first album on a major label and our first with Machine producing, and it was a snapshot of where we were at.”

As Randy explains, having a Big Name metal producer stepping into the ring with a vocalist who was a tad, to say the least, volatile at times, produced a dynamic that he wasn’t entirely ready for – and it pushed him to give one of the performances of his career.

“It was the first time I had had anyone produce my vocals, and it startled me at first,” he admits. “Before, normally it was just someone pressing record, because we’d be on a tight budget or time constraint, but on Ashes…, Machine was very, like, [waves his arms around], ‘Arghhhh!’”

Machine’s Hype Man antics took Randy by surprise initially, but once the two clicked, things started rolling along nicely.

“The first time I recorded vocals with him, I remember he jumped up after I got two lines in and kicked the chair over,” he continues with a laugh. “I was like, ‘What the fuck are you doing, man?!’ He was like fucking [Public Enemy’s] Flavor Flav or something. He’d get really pumped up and throw things and scream at me, and we’d keep getting vocal takes, but then it started really working.”

‘Working’ is an understatement. Ashes Of The Wake went on to become Lamb Of God’s most commercially successful album, putting them on stages around the world and solidifying them as modern metal’s most vital band. And to this day, it still fucking slams.

What We Said: “LOG guitarist Mark Morton says, ‘Armageddon needs a heavy metal soundtrack’ and Ashes Of The Wake is a fine album.”

4) System Of A Down – Toxicity (2001)

Band Pick: “The Toxicity album came out when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and I’m getting chills just talking about it now, because I remember hearing and seeing the singles on MTV, and being dumbstruck that heavy, mainstream music could sound like that. It just removed all the borders of music and came in this package of zany, weird-ass, folky metal that I still have trouble accurately describing to people this very day. I just know that it changed people’s view of heavy music, it changed my view of heavy music on television, and it changed my view of all music on television. Everything in that band was groundbreaking.” – Mark Heylmun, Suicide Silence

What We Said: “It’s been a long time coming, but this second album is worth the wait. Its contents may sound as mad as a mongoose, but they’re totally moshable.”

3) Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal (2015)

It was time for everyone to stop laughing. While Suicide Season and There Is A Hell… had taken great strides in winning over their doubters, BMTH took drastic measures for their next step, replacing guitarist Jona Weinhofen with synth wizard Jordan Fish and jumping into the studio with legendary Pantera producer Terry Date. The results were stunning. From the keys-powered opening notes of Can You Feel My Heart, to the final, thunderous crescendo of Hospital For Souls, Sempiternal merged Slipknot-heavy riffs with swathes of atmospheric electronics and unstoppable choruses, as the band finally earned themselves a seat at the heavyweights table.

What We Said: “This isn’t simply the best album of BMTH’s career, it’s one of the bets albums of recent times – metal or otherwise.”

2) Machine Head – The Blackening (2007)

Riding on a wave of confidence inspired, in part, by the success of 2003’s Through The Ashes Of Empires, Machine Head arrived at their sixth studio album as men on a mission to push modern metal as hard as possible. The Blackening stunned everyone. The songs were darker, heavier and, in several cases, much longer. From the snarling sprawl of Clenching The Fists Of Dissent to the cataclysmic melancholy of closer A Farewell To Arms, it was such a brave statement that even the band themselves seemed surprised at its impact. And then there’s Halo: what a song. So fucking heavy.

What We Said: “Not only is this the finest album of Machine Head’s career, it is their victory address. We never doubted them, they never doubted us.”

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