20. Deftones - Diamond Eyes (2010)
Diamond Eyes marked 15 years since Deftones’ 1995 debut, Adrenaline. In that time, the band had outgrown their reputation as the ‘thinking man’s nu metal band’ to be known more simply as one of the best and most respected metal bands of the 90s, as popular with Metallica fans as with Tool fans.
While 1997’s Around The Fur and 2000’s White Pony took their popularity to new heights, 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist was tepidly received. Two years after that, bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a tragic accident and left in a semi-conscious state. The decision to shelve the work in progress (Eros), recruit former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega and start work on a new album was doubtless no easy decision.
It just so happened that what could have been a confused, disjointed and depressing record became their most gripping. The generally directionless meanderings of Saturday Night Wrist swere gone, leaving a collection of songs that were urgent and direct – each one a lean, mean, emotional and sonic explosion.
Deftones, not least due to the versatility of Chino Moreno’s vocals, have always managed to emit a glorious ambiguity. You’ve Seen The Butcher, with its mass of increasingly frenetic percussion and Alice In Chains groove, Sextape and album highlight Beauty School were typical examples of such extremes here, the latter a writhing attack of sumptuous guitar tones, whirring bass and skippy beats.
On the other end of the spectrum, CMND/CNTRL was a heavy anthem with stacks of bounce, accompanied by a luscious chorus of driving chords and intricate vocal play through pounding beats.
Chino has always been evasive about what his songs mean. There were doubtless references to their fallen brother, and while specifics may have been obscured it was clear that the songs were brimming with meaning and alive with emotion.
Deftones had not only created a fitting tribute but a career-defining album.
Our score: 9/10
19. Bring Me The Horizon - Sempiternal (2013)
It’s easy to be blinded by the scenester fashion aspect of a band like Bring Me The Horizon – especiallty in 2019, when their music can be described as metal adjacent at best. But after emerging as arrogant kids back in 2004, by the time Sempiternal dropped in 2013, there was no doubt they'd grown into their own tattooed skins.
The manner in which Sempiternal announced its arrival in was little short of breathtaking. Exploding into life in defiant, uplifting fashion, Can You Feel My Heart was a stunning cascade of anthemic electronica and slow, methodical beats.
Both The House Of Wolves and Empire brought us into more familiar territory, with their barrages of crunchy, Slipknot-friendly riffs merging beautifully with delicate electronic flourishes and well-honed vocal lines (especially Oli Sykes’s venomously delivered ‘The wolves are at my door’ line in Empire). More importantly, they acted as a perfect foil to Sleepwalking; a grandiose piano, guitar and electronica-powered number that managed to nail the kind of ground that In Flames had been flirting with in the years prior. Glorious.
Crooked Young slowed things back down rather lusciously to a more grinding, sprawling pace, before an echoey spoken-word segment by Oli paved the way for Hospital For Souls – a soaring, strings and synth-propelled climax that, if you were in any doubt by this stage that it hadn’t happened already, threw just about everything BMTH had left in their arsenal into a huge, slow-burning, beautifully constructed, six-minute-plus crescendo of noise.
Put plainly, Sempiternal wasn’t simply the best album of BMTH’s career to date. It was one of the best albums of modern times – metal or otherwise. The time to embrace the genre’s modern trailblazers had come.
Our score: 9/10
18. Slayer - Repentless (2015)
Two years on from the tragically premature death of guitarist and founder member Jeff Hanneman – who contributed vastly to every album since the band’s inception and wrote many of the classics – the big question was can Slayer still be, well, Slayer? In short, the answer was: fuck yes!
It may not have come as much of a surprise but it did, however, come as a huge relief. We were used to percussive giants Dave Lombardo and Paul Bostaph playing musical drum stools, but with the loss of such an integral player as Hanneman, this, the band’s first album without him, could so easily have been a difficult record, perhaps Slayer-by-numbers, or somehow lacking the dark magic that made them so special.
Make no mistake, it wasn't. Repentless was prime fucking Slayer.
As ever, the subject matters covered a bloody minefield of unpleasantness, but as evidenced on Jihad from 2006’s Christ Illusion, written from the point of view of a terrorist, not all lyrics were what they seemed. That said, Pride In Prejudice, with its ‘Don’t give me your power bullshit’ refrain, appeared pretty straightforward. On songs like Implode and Vices (‘A little violence is the ultimate drug… Let’s get high!’) they merely reflected a world, and, in particular, a country, where atrocities were commonplace.
Then again, we've never tended to look to Slayer for socio-political commentary. We've looked to Slayer for riffs so heavy they make your nose bleed, and Repentless had them in spades. Each one was unmistakably Slayer, with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt fitting the band like a leaded glove, but it was Kerry King who really raised the bar here, the opening instrumental Delusions Of Saviour stating the case as much as anything. Even without the war-cry of Tom Araya, it could be no one else but Slayer.
Again: yes, Repentless really was that good.
Our score: 9/10
17. Disturbed - Immortalized (2015)
In June 2015, Disturbed ended their five-year hiatus essentially overnight, announcing that they were not simply back in business, but that they had a brand new album already in the can. They even doled out first single, The Vengeful One, with the announcement.
The Chicago metallers had always polarised audiences, due in no small part to an unshakeable nu metal tag and, more pointedly, to their broad commercial appeal – an achievement rarely celebrated in the metal community.
Across the albums that preceded their hiatus, Disturbed scarcely tampered with their platinum-certified playbook. On Immortalized, we once again measured their progress in inches rather than miles. But if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
Immortalized sat comfortably in the middle of the Disturbed catalogue, offering a serviceable if familiar-sounding buffet of gym-friendly alt-metal. Testosterone-drenched belters like Immortalized, You’re Mine and Fire It Up were stylistically similar to 2010’s Asylum.
Then there was that cover of The Sound Of Silence to contend with. Talk about splitting opinion, that track was truly 2015's most marmite musical moment. Which meant that an equal number of people loved it as hated it. For a band tentatively feeling their way back from hiatus? It felt like a solid win.
Our score: 6/10
16. Devin Townsend - Empath (2019)
Devin Townsend made Empath because he needed to.
The Devin Townsend Project dissolved in 2018, but he’d teased Empath since the start of 2017, promising the epitome of everything he’d done before, from the violence of his former industrial/death/whatever outfit Strapping Young Lad to DTP’s “lower mid-tier prog metal” and everything betwixt.
That in mind, first song Castaway reintroduced Devin with ocean waves, steel drums, choirs and the sound of seagulls. Obviously. Genesis strayed into more familiar territory, Devin’s bombastic proclamation of ‘If you’re saying in your mind, you’re better off dead’, signalling six minutes of absolute nonsense. Less song than overture, it rattled through Empath’s touchstones: Meshuggah-esque heaviness, space-age fret-tapping, funky flights of fancy, clean interludes, electronic trickery, wall-of-sound production, hulking orchestration and, most importantly, hooks.
Empath proved that yes, Devin had levelled up. It was everything but more. A holistic beast, packed with lyrical leitmotifs that demanded commitment. Because throughout his career, Devin always appealed to our basic human truths. Whether that be on previous classics Ocean Machine and Terria, SYL, his dark ambient tangents or DTP’s evolution, it all came back to love, loss, failure, hope.
His fetish for Pro Tools and excessive multi-tracking didn’t change that, because Empath was Devin Townsend’s most comprehensive, overblown and emotionally accomplished work to date. In fact, it was his masterpiece.
Our score: 9/10
15. Mastodon - Emperor Of Sand (2017)
As with every band who dabbled in progs fringes this decade, the rumours that preceded Mastodon’s long-awaited Emperor Of Sand were that it was going to be their proggiest yet. Shock horror! Imagine the relief when this record proved to be simply a masterpiece of contemporary, heavy music.
While previous Mastodon albums delved into stories of oceans and mountains, their seventh conjured images of deserts and barren wastelands, danger lurking just below the surface. Telling the tale of a wanderer facing a death sentence, inspired by the band’s own experiences with cancer in their immediate families, Emperor Of Sand wasn’t just a concept on paper; the music within was powerful, defiant and steeped in anguish, and showed the quartet at their most vulnerable.
For a band whose sound had previously been akin to that of a fire-breathing monster, Emperor… was not so much a beast baring its teeth, but rather its wounds. And while Emperor Of Sand wasn’t lyrically overt about the cruelty of cancer, the references to life and death throughout were dripping in metaphor. This was the music Mastodon needed to write: powerful, passionate and performed by one of the most creative and ambitious bands in our world.
The rumbling highway of Show Yourself, the gigantic guitars of Roots Remain and the instant heaviness of Clandestiny proved that Mastodon were still very much a metal band – phew. But the MVP award on the tracklist went to Steambreather. Backed by a cosmic downtuned groove, the bellowing chorus and heavyweight instrumentals fused together into a Herculean beast that earwormed its way into your brain and refused to leave for days.
Big choruses, however, were the real cornerstone of this album. From tales of falling into a pit of lies, saving yourself and a prophecy being realised, these were huge sweeping lines of life, death, and the joy of existence. It wasn't a happy record, but it was defiant, emotionally raw and hugely resonant. Being alive is the one thing we all have in common, but it took a band as special as Mastodon to put life into perspective.
Our score: 9/10
14. Megadeth - Dystopia (2016)
It’s amazing what a difference a bit of turmoil and resolution can do to the creative life of a veteran metal band.
When Megadeth released Super Collider in 2013, the response was, at best, mixed. Although nowhere near as bad as some critics made out, it was a largely pedestrian collection that boasted very little of the aggression and edginess that Megadeth’s fans tended to expect. But one of the things that has long defined Dave Mustaine’s career has been his ability to confound the cynics and, with an imperious sneer, flex those genre-refining muscles again.
As a result, the fact that Dystopia was one of the finest records Megadeth had ever made should've been less a welcome surprise than a reassuring return to the natural order of things.
Much was made of the album's new lineup and its apparently harmonious constitution and it was certainly true that Megadeth sound like a well-oiled machine again. But with respect to the musicians involved, Dystopia’s brilliance was rooted in the songs themselves and how they demonstrated that Megadave had rediscovered the fire and finesse that made the likes of Rust In Peace and Endgame such milestone releases.
There were plenty of technical twists, deft changes of pace and bouts of blistering showmanship on the brooding title track and the epic menace of Poisonous Shadows, but there were also huge, rousing choruses and riffs that demanded the banging of heads. Best of all, that underlying sense of rageful disquiet that had always set Megadeth apart was back in abundance throughout.
Sonically, too, Dystopia suggested that Super Collider was a momentary lapse of sanity. It sounded fucking monstrous, fervently modern and precise but underpinned by several fuck-tons of the kind of oomph that only emerges when bands are in the zone and high on passion.
Invigorated by fresh blood and sounding more engaged and enraged than they had in decades, Megadeth were back on the very best of neck-wrecking form here. Thank fuck for that.
Our score: 9/10
13. Avenged Sevenfold - Nightmare (2010)
Avenged Sevenfold’s courage couldn't be emphasised enough when they released Nightmare in 2010. It’s not a stretch to say that the band’s decision to soldier on through the adversity that befell them with the tragic passing of Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan and to grab the bull by the horns and record and release a new album verged on the heroic.
The first half of Nightmare saw the band reigniting the complex blood’n’ thunder feel of 2005 album City Of Evil. Welcome To The Family showcased A7X’s love for SoCal punk rock with a Metallica-sized stomp, Buried Alive was part ballad and part arena-ready metal anthem and the title track was a tour de force of quality riffs and unshakeable vocal lines.
The second half of the album, including the near-11-minute closer, Save Me, was, understandably, a sombre affair. There was no way around it. The last three tracks were gruelling due to their intensity and melancholic feel, but the therapeutic effect this had on the band was something that came to be celebrated in the future.
The lyrics throughout Nightmare were so soul-bearingly raw that at points it straight up made you uncomfortable. ‘This can’t be real, I’ve lost my power to feel’ M Shadows grieved on the soulful tones of Victim, while So Far Away saw Shadows wondering, ‘How do I live without the ones I love?’
It was when the emotion and lyrics collided like an uppercut to the throat that things really kicked up a notch. The piano breakdown in Danger Line genuinely sounded like Shadows could burst into tears at any second as he sang, ‘I never meant to leave this world alone/ I thought that we’d grow old’.
That A7X continued as a band was reason enough to applaud them in 2010. That they managed to create a body of work that still kicked as much ass as they always had through those conditions, should've seen them rightfully recognised as one of the best bands of their generation. Nightmare was the ultimate tribute to a fallen friend.
Our score: 8/10
12. Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)
By their very nature, Nightwish's music has always been designed to challenge the metal status quo, whether it be through the progressive nuances of their Celtic influences or by injecting startling measures of bombast into everything they touch.
In 2015 things were no different. Floor Jansen had just come onboard, but news of their new recruit was somewhat eclipsed by their choice to eschew fantastic tales in favour of natural biology, with the inclusion of spoken-word sections by geneticist and staunch atheist Professor Richard Dawkins. So far, so Nightwish.
Beginning with Shudder Before The Beautiful, we were met by a moment of unadulterated metallic rhetoric. ‘The unknown, the grand show, the choir of the stars,’ chimed Floor on a chorus that rode above the crashing waves of symphonic bravado, matched in weight by the massive shredding section providing its climax.
The sonic upheaval continued through Weak Fantasy, with its death metal-esque intro, bursting like a nuclear explosion in a wash of operatic theatrics and a mass of strings and brass and woodwind and charging triumphant through melodies that, interestingly, hinted at Queensrÿche’s metallic assault.
The album’s closer, a 24-minute opus named The Greatest Show On Earth, was the defining moment here, and the point at which Richard Dawkins made his appearance by way of several arresting monologues.
“We are going to die and that makes us the lucky ones,” he uttered as the exhilarating histrionics faded out to the sound of whale song, and the album concluded its exhaustive tale of origin that upheld Nightwish’s legacy as the masters of bombast and flair.
Our score: 7/10
11. Judas Priest - Firepower (2018)
Come the year 2018, cometh the hour. Judas Priest were still screaming for vengeance – at the top of their timeworn lungs. They were still writing heavy-as-fuck new songs; still releasing heavy-as-fuck new albums.
Each and every one of the songs on Firepower were three-way collaborations between six-stringer Glenn Tipton, frontman Rob Halford and KK Downing replacement Richie Faulkner. And hell, the latter didn’t so much step up to the plate, as trample it into tiny little pieces.
In 1978 Talking Heads released a record called More Songs About Buildings And Food. In the case of Priest, what we had here was more songs about chaos, destruction, annihilation, violence, warmongering, brutality, intensity, insanity, the apocalypse, evil stalkers of the night, earthquakes, tsunamis, planet-splitting volcanic eruptions and – in the case of Lightning Strike – inclement weather.
Perhaps the best moment occurred halfway through; track seven of fourteen. A soul-stirring instrumental titled Guardian – part Trans-Siberian Orchestra, part Brian May on top of Buck House – preceded standout track Rising From Ruins, which could be described as the more mature son of Priest’s age-old cheeseball anthem United. Full of measured drama and with a surprisingly sensitive vocal performance from Halford, the song’s message was resoundingly positive and uplifting: ‘We’re carrying on, rising from ruins, staying as one…’
Of course, Priest being Priest, there were moments of unintentional hilarity. M’lud, I present to you the ejaculation ‘Immolate the bodies! No one will be saved!’ as irrefutable evidence.
This album proved that there was life in this battle-scarred British bulldog yet. What’s more, this mangy old metal mutt was far from toothless; he wasn't gonna be put down anytime soon.
Our score: 9/10