The most exciting heavy bands of 2021… aren’t actually metal

(Image credit: Season Of Mist)

Music is always most thrilling when boundaries are pushed and genre boxes removed. And the most exciting bands in our scene right now are the ones who are reinventing the notion of what it means to be “heavy”.  

The new issue of Metal Hammer features four bands, all making their cover debuts, and three of them aren’t metal bands at all. There’s mystical folk phenomenon Heilung, doo-wop Satanists Twin Temple and Mongolian quartet The Hu who blend western rock with traditional instruments and throat singing. All very different bands, all brilliant. And all taking the spirit of metal and making it their own.

And they aren’t alone. At the moment, the best music out there is coming from artists like Wardruna, Carpenter Brut and Poppy, who aren’t metal by standard definition, but who have been welcomed into our shadowy coven. And although traditional heavy metal isn’t going anywhere, in the last year albums such as Forever Blue by A.A Williams, Ghostemane’s ANTI-ICON, Jonathen Hultén’s Chants From Another Place, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It by Backxwash and Anna Von Hausswolff’s All Thoughts Fly, have captured the imagination of metal fans.

Of course, there are plenty of refuseniks who like things just the way they are. But the fact is our scene is all the better for it. Like all music, metal needs to evolve and it’s artists like this who will ensure metal continues to shake itself up. It’s a step change that’s been a long time coming, with disparate movements over the last few years, bubbling from different corners of the scene.

“A lot of artists are embracing mixing genres, and not just being ‘a rock artist’ or ‘a folk artist’,” Chelsea Wolfe, whose take on gothic Americana has long made her a Hammer mainstay, told us earlier this year. “We can be both things and incorporate whatever we want in our music. That’s the future: combing elements that don’t sound like they work together.” 

Whether it be the rise of trap metal, which has seen rappers like Scarlxrd, Bill $aber and Ghostemane, augmenting caustic, fragmented beats with shredded screams, metal riffs and horror aesthetics, or synthwave artists like Carpenter Brut and Gost mashing together thunderous electronica and 80s dystopia, the blurring and broadening the boundaries between genres, has meant any templates have gone out the window. Now an entirely new generation of fans are discovering metal, and their access routes are being expanded way beyond familiar Metallica, Slipknot or Limp Bizkit gateways. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a host of artists proving you don’t need to be brutal, or even loud, to be ‘heavy.’ Take “death gospel” artists like A.A. Williams, and Emma Ruth Rundle, who blend classical and soul textures with dark, gothic ambience.

“I’ve listened to heavy music ever since I was a kid,” says Williams. “But when I started writing music, I didn’t worry about what kind of category it fell into.

 Then you’ve got bands like Norway’s Wardruna and cover stars Heilung, who draw on pagan rituals, the power of nature and ancient folklore to create ethereal soundscapes that have captured the imagination of metal fans on a visceral, spiritual level. Heilung don’t even have a guitarist or bass player, but use human bones for percussion. It all proves being ‘heavy’ can be just about tapping into the heart, feel and texture of metal, as much about emotional weight as blastbeats or riffs.

A common criticism levelled at the metal scene – not always unfairly – is that we rely too much on the glories of our past, rather than looking to the future. But you don’t have to look far to see there’s a flood of inventive, thrilling and challenging artists, who are crossing boundaries and inspiring the next generation, who will no doubt push our scene in directions we can’t even imagine yet.

So, the next time you see someone pop up on social media moaning that  music has gone stale, point them in the direction of any of these artist.  The New Heavy is here – and metal has never been healthier because of it.  

The brand new issue of Metal Hammer, featuring The Hu, Heilung, Twin Temple and Alien Weaponry on four separate covers, is out now

Metal Hammer new issue

(Image credit: Future)
Dannii Leivers

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.