Few metal subgenres have boasted the same star-making power as metalcore, a veritable king-maker that has seen everyone from Avenged Sevenfold to A Day To Remember, Parkway Drive and Architects all make the leap up to arena and even festival headliner status.
2021 has proved to be no slouch for the genre's output, boasting some of the biggest names in the game either making their debuts or otherwise cementing their status as metal's shining stars with exceptional releases. That in mind, these are the top 10 metalcore releases of 2021.
10. Of Mice & Men - Echo
Compiling three separate EPs Of Mice & Men had released throughout 2021, Echo marked a moment where OM&M were coming (back) into their own after a few wobbles with their previous two albums. Reviewed by Hammer writer Dannii Leivers, Echo's 10 tracks “represent the strongest, most consistent, nuanced and yes, heaviest material the band have released since 2014's Restoring Force". Chuck in massive anthems like Obsolete and Timeless and it's hard to argue with Leivers' assessment that "Of Mice & Men are on the form of their lives".
9. Blood Youth - Visions Of Another Hell
The announcement that vocalist Kaya Tarsus would depart Blood Youth in 2021 came as a shock to many who expected the band to continue smashing their way through obstacles as they had in the past. But with Visions Of Another Hell the band at least made sure that their future was based on firm foundations, Hammer writer Ali Cooper describing it as "a maelstrom of intense metal chaos." As Cooper put it, "Visions… may be the end of an era, but it’s also a solid gold foundation for the start of a bright new one".
8. Beartooth - Below
Clawing their way up festival bills since their emergence with 2014's Disgusting, Beartooth's rise to prominence has been indebted as much to the band's ear for massive choruses as it has to the frank emotions sitting at the heart of vocalist Caleb Shomo's lyrics. With Below, Beartooth pulled no punches in showing just how ready they were for the big-time, their songs imbued with the kind of massive hooks that have helped metal bands take the leap up to arenas for the past two decades.
As Hammer writer Dannii Leivers put in her review, "what makes Beartooth such an empowering force in the metal community is the band’s ability to inspire anyone listening to grip on by the very tips of their fingers, turning the darkest of moments into catharsis. Below is the kind of album we can all believe in."
7. Ice Nine Kills - Welcome To Horrorwood: The Silver Scream 2
Horror-themed metalcore maniacs Ice Nine Kills proved to be masters of the craft with the release of their concept album sequel Welcome To Horrorwood: The Silver Scream 2. Turning taglines like "sometimes dead is better" into mosh-calls was an inspired move, but the sheer craft that went into the creation of the album (not to mention its stunning music videos) proved Ice Nine Kills were punching towards whole new levels of theatricality with their new record.
Hammer's Ali Cooper clearly approved, ruling "whether it’s Hellraiser ode The Box’s demonic riff, the anthemic F.L.Y. and the unmistakable Rammstein echoes on the Hostel-inspired Wurst Vacation, every immersive chapter makes its cinematic inspirations clear. Perfectly capturing the vast soundscapes, emotions and fake blood flowing through each movie stamped with their own metalcore trademark, Ice Nine Kills have crafted a flawless effort so deeply invested in its subject matter that it demands replay after replay… if you dare."
5. While She Sleeps - Sleeps Society
Appearing at the Download Pilot event in June, While She Sleeps proved themselves to be one of the UK's most beloved and exciting prospects. An incendiary set drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, sing-alongs erupting en masse for material old and new as the band set to proving just why they are so vital. Of course, two months prior Hammer's Dannii Leivers had already hit the nail on the head, her April review assessing that "throughout this album, there’s a message of self-love: of knowing your worth at a moment when mental health is on its arse and people are full of doubt and fear for the future. All of which makes Sleeps Society an album very much for these troubled times, from a band we can continue to believe in."
5. Jinjer - Wallflowers
Jinjer might have faced obstacles due to the pandemic, but Wallflowers proved they were a band more than capable of vaulting them. Unable to tour on a global scale, the band instead invested time in ensuring their fourth album was as ambitious as it could possibly be.
In a glowing 9/10 review, Hammer writer Elliott Leaver declared "Wallflowers is, from the first note to the last, Jinjer’s finest work to date. Although they can no longer be considered a cult band – previous album Macro’s critical acclaim moved them away from that particular tag – this record will send them into the metal stratosphere with consummate ease. There haven’t been many releases in 2021 with the combined technicality and brutality that this offers across its 50 minutes, and there probably won’t be many more to come in the next few months, either. If you consider yourself a metalhead, this is essential listening."
4. Pupil Slicer - Mirrors
The sheer hyperactive bedlam of Pupil Slicer makes them nearly impossible to classify; metal, grind and math all flung into a blender where the only common element was 'core'. More on the scale of Dillinger Escape Plan or Converge than arena conquering behemoths like Parkway Drive or Architects, Mirrors is testament to the pure chaos of metalcore's bleeding edge, pushing boundaries like few others in the modern scene.
As Hammer’s Stephen Hill put it, "The angular grind that slowly morphs into a slow crush of doom on the seven-minute Mirrors Are More Fun Than Television hints at a band with a restlessly creative mind, not to mention a serious amount of talent. There’s a raft of exciting and innovative bands coming from the UK right now. Pupil Slicer are on par with all of them."
3. Architects - For Those That Wish To Exist
Since the tragic passing of guitarist and main songwriter Tom Searle, Architects have transcended all expectations, and with For Those That Wish To Exist the band prove they were on an entirely different level from their contemporaries - certainly within the UK, if not the wider world. Nine albums in, Architects grasped a sense of enormity perfectly befitting a band whose eyes are firmly on arena headline spots, displaying all the credentials needed to make them the biggest UK metal sensation since Bring Me The Horizon.
Hammer scribe Stephen Hill summed the quintet’s stylistic shift towards more anthemic material best in his review, noting "when the band plunge themselves neck-deep into lighter terrain, they point towards a very exciting future. They’re too good a band for us to keep to ourselves forever, and with For Those That Wish To Exist, a lot more people are going to discover just how great Architects are."
2. Employed To Serve - Conquering
Woking's Employed To Serve have never lacked for a sense of muscular force in their thundering take on metallic hardcore, but with Conquering the band made a conscious shift to lean in on metalcore's most seismic and arena-worthy inclinations. This was the sound of a band ready to take on arenas (which, as luck would have it, is exactly what they plan to do in 2022 alongside Gojira) slinging some of the biggest riffs going and offering anthemic choruses that never sacrificed the sheer visceral unstoppability of the band. Speaking to Hammer scribe Paris Fawcett, ETS described the album as being "about empowerment - about conquering yourself".
Hammer reviewer Matt Mills certainly agreed with the assessment, noting that in the past, 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."
1. Spiritbox - Eternal Blue
Has any band galvanised the metal world more than Spiritbox in 2021? Since causing a stir with the stunning Holy Roller last summer the band became one of the hottest names in metal despite the fact a debut album hadn't even been officially announced as 2021 dawned. Luckily, Eternal Blue lived up to the hype and then some, with an incredible sense of ambition that cemented the band as rising stars, each of their videos clocking over 1,000,000 views on YouTube.
Hammer's Dannii Leivers wasn't beating around the bush when she declared Eternal Blue was "the most anticipated debut in years". Leivers' glowing 9/10 review highlighted just how seismic the album was: "Spiritbox’s true power is their ability to resonate emotionally. That vulnerability is laid bare in the mellow flow of The Summit, and on Secret Garden and Circle With Me, both of which burst into cacophonous walls of sound. They’re so lush and dense, they’re almost holographic in their effect, exploding in a shock of vivid purples, reds and greens. But if there’s one song that sums up what Spiritbox are all about, it’s towering closer Constance – a beautiful mediation on the cruelty of dementia that has spawned its own tearful reaction series on Youtube. As waves of sound compress and crash and deafening guitars lead into the track’s serene end, fear, frustration and longing spill and bleed into each other, leaving behind an impression that will continue to burn for a long time to come. Eternal Blue is a staggeringly brilliant record that resoundingly delivers on the hype."