From the hellish shrieks of blackened death metal to the technical ecstasy of the tech-death scene and beyond, death metal's landscape teems with life in the 2020s. Between the revival of old school greats and arrival of ferocious new talent, the sheer expanse of material on offer means death metal fans could find a new album to suit any taste in 2021.
It was our unenviable task to sift through and discern which albums provided the strongest guiding lights amdist the darkness and gore, promising a future that, if not necessarily bright, is at least thrilling in the most visceral way. These are the 10 best death metal records released in 2021.
10. Frozen Soul - Crypt Of Ice
Newcomers Frozen Soul may ply their craft within the bounds of old school death metal, but the band's mid-paced prowl proved there was plenty of treasure to be found in plundering the classics. Taking a few leaves of out the books of fellow Texans Power Trip and Creeping Death, Frozen Soul took a classic sound and shined it up fresh and new for a new generation of guttural-growling, riff-slinging metalheads, laying the grooves on just thick enough to suggest some very sore necks by the time they were through.
9. Aborted - Maniacult
Consistency has long proven to be key to the secret behind the longevity of Belgium's Aborted. 11 studio albums in, Maniacult doesn't throw up any surprises, instead delivering a baseline sense of quality that has carried the band for over a quarter-century. Hammer reviewer Adam Rees hailed the title-track's "maniacal atmosphere, a hailstorm of notes and pummelling grooves", before going on to note that "this is a band displaying a slick ownership of their craft, with every dynamic delivered with ruthless precision."
8. Ophidian I - Desolate
The nine-year wait for Ophidian I's second album saw the Icelandic tech-death monsters step up their craft in the pursuit of virtuosic perfection. Desolate effectively rebooted the band after almost a decade, placing Ophidian I as one of Iceland's most brutal 'new' (new here being a relative term) technical death metal groups, helping push the genre into the future in the process.
7. The Crown - Royal Destroyer
For their 11th studio album Royal Destroyer, Swedish death metal heroes The Crown let loose with both barrels in a gloriously cacophonous racket that was as indebted to Motorhead as it was to Entombed. The result was an absolutely delightful display of sonic bedlam, death'n'roll pushed to its snarling limits. Hammer reviewer Dom Lawson was effusive in his praise for the record, proclaiming "every last riff, roar and kick-drum thud connects with the kind of seismic force that simply cannot be faked. If you want subtlety, look elsewhere. If you would rather be smashed to bits by heavy fucking metal, listen to The Crown."
6. Asphyx - Necroceros
Blurring the boundaries between straight-up death metal and doom-death, Dutch nasties Asphyx showed there was no momentum lost in the five year wait for a new record. With menacing guitar tones sounding like Seasons In The Abyss hopped up on steds and furious about the fact, Necroceros finds Asphyx on their finest form in years, Hammer scribe Connie Gordon noting "for a band with a career-long laser focus on death and the dark side to lighten the mood with a song about the perils of vanity (Botox Implosion), and for Martin to pull cock-rockin’ moves like calling out 'Solo!' before Paul Baayens bends his strings skyward, shows a band unafraid to look beyond constraint. And they’re doing so with one of their best works yet."
5. Hypocrisy - Worship
Now in their third decade, Hypocrisy prove to still be masters of tone and craft, 13th studio album Worship making good on the band's longstanding capabilities for crafting anthemic, visceral death metal. In a glowing review, we said that "every inch of Worship is a testament to Hypocrisy’s masterful craftsmanship, mid-pace bone-powdering death metal meeting impossibly hooky choruses, the likes of Greedy Bastards, We’re The Walking Dead and Children of the Gray offering an intoxicating masterclass in how melodeath needn’t water down its most extreme inclinations. 30 years in, Hypocrisy aren’t shaving down any of the edges; they invite you for a closer look so they can take your fucking eye out."
4. Grave Miasma - Abyss Of Wrathful Deities
London blackened death metal trio Grave Miasma reached into the bowels of hell itself for their gruesome second offering, Abyss Of Wrathful Deities. Following up on the immense promise shown across the band's debut album Odori Sepulcrorum and follow-up EP Endless Pilgrimage, the band reached into the howling void and conjured spine-chilling magic for album #2. Hammer scribe Dom Lawson's glowing 9/10 review described the album as "avowedly dark as fuck and endlessly fascinating[...] further proof that Grave Miasma are operating on a higher plane than just about everyone else."
3. At The Gates - The Nightmare Of Being
Pioneers of the Gothenburg sound, At The Gates likely could have forever coasted on their scene-transforming legacy and still been a beloved force in melodic death metal circles. As it is, The Nightmare Of Being instead saw the band push their stylistic boat out to bold new territories. Tomas Lindberg and co. even strayed towards prog metal with their seventh outing, Hammer scribe Matt Mills describing it as " a progressive barrage that’s as brilliant as it is jarring" before ruling that "the last time At The Gates sounded this original, they transformed metal forever."
2. Cannibal Corpse - Violence Unimagined
Trust death metal legends Cannibal Corpse to go and trump just about everyone else in the game purely on the virtue of being, well, Cannibal Corpse. Violence Unimagined wasn't any massive transformation for the band's sound, nor did it represent a new watermark in extremity as a whole, rather it was Corpse delivering the same pulverising nastiness and brutality fans have come to expect over the past 30 years plus, drenched in offal and claret as the band barely came up for breath.
As Hammer's Alec Chillingworth mused in his review, "You already wrote Fucked With A Knife. What violence is there left to imagine, lads? Album number 15 doesn’t detail any new, exciting ways to remove someone’s scrotum using just a fidget spinner and elbow grease. Instead, Florida’s death metal daddies have weaned one of their most wretched, brutal babies this side of the millennium."
His closing statement proves to be no less descriptive in summarising just how much Corpse bring to the table - "the old-school death metal revival has gained steam recently, but most of those newbies sound like piss down the pan compared to this. Potent and perilously addictive, Violence Unimagined is, without question, 2021’s bloody benchmark for the genre."
1. Carcass - Torn Arteries
35 years of boundary pushing, tolerance testing extremity and still Carcass manage to astound. The Liverpudlians' seventh effort Torn Arteries unfolded with an ungodly level of (surgical) precision, each clattering drum-fill, nimble-fingered riff structure and throat-shredding snarl measured out to just the right level to assert exactly why Carcass are considered the grand-daddies of extremity whilst grasping for inhuman levels of virtuosic brilliance.
Hammer's resident death metal expert Dom Lawson had no hesitation in handing a 9/10 score for the sheer excellence on display throughout Torn Arteries. "Veteran status be damned, Carcass sound thoroughly vital and vivacious here," he wrote in a glowing review. "These songs offer a wonderfully organic and human antidote to the legions of Pro-Tooled conformity. Theirs is a proudly old-school approach, and yet from the ripping riff-splurge of the opening title track to the cudgelling pomp of The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing, Carcass always sound utterly contemporary too."
"The band are instinctively disinterested in rehashing past glories, and are still overburdened with brilliant, eccentric ideas," he continues. "Meanwhile, Jeff Walker’s ageless rasp and unerringly perverse and sardonic lyrics are as unique as ever. Once again, this is Total Carcass. No one does it better. In fact, no one else does it."
As if to prove his point, Carcass rounded out 2021 with a headline performance at the UK's prestigious Damnation festival, a snarling masterclass in their legacy that proved once and for all that the new material was every bit as iconic and unstoppable as in their formative years. Extreme metal champions, now and forever.