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The 50 best metal albums of 2021

Readers albums 2021
(Image credit: Future)

With the pandemic putting a halt on touring across most of the planet for much of 2020 and the first half of 2021, perhaps it was inevitable that this year would seem insanely stacked for new releases. With new albums dropping literally from January 1st (hello, Dirty Nil), the scramble to listen to every brilliant new record to pass by this year has presented nothing short of a Herculean task. 

And yet, collectively, a consensus has been made. With golden oldies getting back into the saddle, newcomers making their strident first steps into the world and heapings of brilliant music to cover just about every genre you can name (you want prog metal? black metal? death? metalcore? We've got you covered - and those are just the ones we've done so far), 2021 has been a year to seriously fall back in love with music. 

We asked you to let us know your absolute favourites from this year and many thousand responses later, we're here with the results, and a nifty Spotify playlist at the very end if you find yourself wanting to check out any of these excellent records. 

So with no further ado, these are the Metal Hammer readers' favourite albums of 2021.

Metal Hammer line break

50. The Armed - Ultrapop (Sargent House)

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Ever the unknowable entity, Detroit experimental-hardcore-noise terrorists The Armed continued to confuse and allure in equal measure with third full-length Ultrapop. Explosive hardcore and noise rock (among myriad other elements) obfuscated the fact that The Armed have an ear for sublime pop sensibilities buried beneath the din. Ultrapop pushed the dynamics heard on 2018's Only Love to their logical extreme, swinging the pendulum harder than ever before between melody and sonic bedlam. 

49. Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready (Sargent House)

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When Lingua Ignota released CALIGULA in 2019, she took the metal world by storm, channelling the personal traumas of domestic abuse into an arresting, terrifying record that harkened to metal's original capacity to inspire shock and awe. Follow-up Sinner Get Ready lost none of its unsettling potency, project mastermind Kristin Hayter turning to Americana as a sonic bedrock for an album which Hammer reviewer Hannah May Kilroy described as "a haunting, intricate, yet wonderfully complex piece of work."

48. Boss Keloid - Family The Smiling Thrush (Ripple Music)

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Boss Keloid continued to prove themselves a singular entity in the stoner field (both domestically and abroad) with their fifth album Family The Smiling Thrush. Shifting from its keys-heavy predecessor, Melted On The Inch, ...The Smiling Thrush instead went back to a rootsier sound for the Wigan sludge-psych stoners whilst still clawing their way to ever-more ambitious sonic plains. Reviewer Edwin McFee awarded the band 9/10, describing Family The Smiling Thrush as "an ambitious, exhilirating opus that delivers countless eargasms over the course of seven tracks."

47. Witherfall - The Curse of Autumn (Century Media)

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With neoclassical flourishes and more histrionics than a Saturday night on Broadway, LA's Witherfall continued to assert themselves as one of prog metal's brightest newcomers. A loving 9/10 review by Dom Lawson attested that "the band's technical chops and masterful blending of multiple metal genres are impressive enough, but these songs are beautifully crafted, too."

46. Employed To Serve - Conquering (Spinefarm)

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With arena shows alongside Gojira beckoning in 2022, it seemed like perfect timing for Employed To Serve to unveil their most anthemic album yet in Conquering. An early outing for Exist at this summer's Download Pilot showed just how massive the Woking Quintet could sound when the crowd were howling along. Meanwhile, reviewer Matt Mills praised how the band "refined their metalcore with every battering dished out... Kneeling at the altar of American groove metal, this fourth full-length indulges its creators’ nostalgia for Lamb Of God and early Machine Head. In the process it becomes their most surprising aural assault, without sacrificing any of the mosh-inciting bedlam we all crave."

45. Unto Others - Strength (Roadrunner)

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Forced to change their name from Idle Hands in 2020, Portland's Unto Others showed they were suffering no crisis of identity with Strength, their second full-length offering up the same goth metal majesty as its predecessor Mana. In his review, Chris Chantler summarised that while "there’s perhaps less of an indefinably magical, bottled-lightning quality than was evident on Mana[...] it is, however, absolutely no slouch, and it continues the band’s unique trajectory with increased maturity and depth."

44. Khemmis - Deceiver (Nuclear Blast)

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Back in 2018, Khemmis showed that affixing a classic doom sound to the galloping riffs of Iron Maiden was a formula for success, conjuring some of the most epic and stirring doom since Candlemass's legendary opus Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. Deceiver continued this trajectory with an even greater focus on classical heavy metal, "decimating the borders of doom while shimmering with melodic triumph" according to Hammer scribe Matt Mills, who also concluded: "The last time the genre felt this invigorating was when Ghost unveiled their Opus Eponymous."

43. Voices - Breaking The Trauma Bond (Church Road Records)

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Voices are exemplar of modern black metal's transgressive qualities, shifting the genre from kvlt stylistic conservatism to embrace a range of extreme metal styles stretching from old school BM to death metal and even progBreaking The Trauma Bond is emblematic of the band's stylistic unpredictability, the only consistent element being just how intensely brilliant this band are. Hammer reviewer Stephen Hill summarised that "individually you may have heard all of these elements before, but it’s hard to remember the entire history of bleak music, from Black Sabbath to The
Cure
, from Bathory to Siouxsie & The Banshees, ever being distilled together quite so expertly as this. Masterful."

42. KK's Priest - Sermons Of The Sinner (EX1)

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Even a decade on since his exile from Judas Priest began, guitarist KK Downing hasn't forgotten the base ingredients for heavy metal magic. Reconnecting with ex-Priest vocalist Tim 'Ripper' Owens, KK's Priest stormed the gates with Sermons Of The Sinner, his new band decidedly modelled on the sound of his past, reviewer Chris Chantler remarking, "KK has dropped a helluva heavy gauntlet here. Great news, folks: there are two Priests now."

41. Rise Against - Nowhere Generation (Spinefarm)

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20 years since they first announced themselves unto the wider world with The Unravelling, Rise Against's ninth record Nowhere Generation finds them no less furious about the ills of the world. With plenty happening in the world right now to help fuel their hard-hitting punk rock blaze, reviewer Nik Young described Rise Against's ninth as "catchy as it recognisable, this new 11-track offering from punk rock staples Rise Against is packed with hooks, chuggy riffs and vocals that ache to be sung along to."

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.