Top 10 alt-metal albums of 2021

Fred Durst on a background of album covers
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images/Press)

When it comes to defining alt-metal, genre boundaries often get hazy. After all, a genre whose lineage spreads from early champions like Faith No More and Jane's Addiction to Korn and Deftones before metamorphasising into nu metal (whilst still largely exhibiting the same sonic characteristics), alt-metal is hard to pin down to any one sound or scene, particularly when so many of its champions were so sonically diverse. 

Instead, it becomes more important to acknowledge what the scene represents, the breaking down of genre (and cultural) barriers explored through the filter of the alternative, united by a sense of going against the grain to expand the definitions of what metal actually is. With genre lines again increasingly blurring, 2021 proved to be a bumper year for fans of artists who created their own sound and while the likes of Backxwash, Dana Dentata and Poppy were perhaps a little too transgressive to make this list (fitting into subgenres of their own, though they certainly belong in AOTY lists overall), they still helped expand the shape and scope of what metal could look like in 2021. 

That in mind, these are the 10 best alt-metal releases of 2021. 

Metal Hammer line break

10. Twelve Foot Ninja - Vengeance

Madcap Aussies Twelve Foot Ninja went big for their third record Vengeance, unveiling a video game and epic fantasy graphic novel to tie in with the album's release. Of course, that wouldn't amount to much if the album itself wasn't up to scratch and luckily Vengeance was as stylistically bold and unhinged as their past two efforts, chucking up shades of Faith No More-style funk metal alongside prog, metalcore and just about anything else they could get their mitts on. The band even drafted in Jinjer's Tatiana Shmayluk on the superbly anthemic Over And Out, showing that beneath some of their goofier affectations TFN are still a band with massive ambition. 

9. Chevelle - NIRATIAS

As part of the alt-metal scene for over 25 years, Chevelle have seen more than their fair share of scenes come and go, lumped in variously with everything from nu metal to post-grunge over the years. Ultimately though, it always comes back to the mid-90s alt-metal scene that they first emerged into, their ninth album NIRATIAS (an acronym for 'Nothing Is Real And This Is A Simulation') exemplifying this as it harkens back to early Tool albums, all thick-bass and pounding riffs with an unearthly quality further accentuated by Pete Loeffler's vocal. NIRATIAS even broke into the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 in the US, throwing back to the days when alt-metal still regularly scaled the charts. 

8. Sons Of Alpha Centauri - Push

For much of their 20-year career, Kent-based group Sons Of Alpha Centauri have inhabited a space within the instrumental post-rock scene, but third album Push changed that completely. Drafting in Far's Jonah Matranga and Mitch Wheeler of Will Haven, Sons Of Alpha Centauri took on the properties of the Sacramento musicians' alt-metal roots, with added splashes of Deftones in particular looming large in Sons Of Alpha Centauri's new direction. Hammer writer Stephen Hill was suitably impressed, ruling that "Push is a fantastic record and may be reminiscent of [Matranga's] heavier, earlier work with Far," in an 8/10 review.

7. Love And Death - Perfectly Preserved

Ever since Brian 'Head' Welch rejoined Korn in 2013, his work with Love And Death has been intermittent at best. Case in point: the band's second album, Perfectly Preserved comes five years after the first single was unveiled (Lo Lamento), but luckily the wait proved to be worth it, allowing Welch to explore his own psyche in an emotional outpouring that closely resembled his other group whilst affording him greater autonomy, reviewer Sophie Maughan writing "a sonic confessional of sorts, Love And Death’s second coming has managed to draw new triumphs from former tribulations."

6. God Damn - Raw Coward

Hot on the heels of last year's Sylvia Massy (System Of A Down, Tool, Skunk Anansie) produced self-titled third album, Wolverhampton noise terrorists God Damn doubled down on their most electrifying, aggro elements for album #4, Raw Coward. Catchy hooks were buried deep beneath the squall of guitars and chaotic drums, but not so much that Raw Coward didn't prove to be an addictive listen, Hammer reviewer Kez Whelan writing that "God Damn have taken their greasy garage rock sound to its heaviest incarnation yet, edging ever closer to more metallic, sludgier pastures."

5. Quicksand - Distant Populations

Wielding some serious heft, Quicksand's fourth full-length Distant Populations sits in the blurry boundaries between post-hardcore and 90s NYC alt-metal, distant echoes of Unsane and Helmet coming up in the car-crash clangs of their sound. While Quicksand's career has been fairly stop-start, album #4 loses none of the momentum that the band have enjoyed since their second reunion began in 2012. Hammer reviewer praised the band for not just mindlessly trying to recreate their past, writing "the frenzy and harshness of Quicksand's early days is often missed, but the sweeping songwriting, thoughtful lyrics, and fresh sense of urgency is special in its own right." 

4. Limp Bizkit - Still Sucks

Surprise dropping their first album in a decade over Halloween weekend and with Fred Durst appearing almost completely unrecognisable in a bizarre marketing stunt to promote the first single, Limp Bizkit are no less ludicrous now than they were at the height of their powers at the turn of the millennium. Yet, Still Sucks proved to be exactly what most fans had been clamoring for, tongue firmly in cheek as they came back with some massive anthems set to bounding, chunky riffs. Stephen Hill reviewed the album for Hammer, noting that "if you’re just happy to have a few more Limp Bizkit songs to jump up and down to the next time their party rolls into town, then you’ve got your wish. Limp Bizkit do still suck. They still rock, confuse, confound, entertain and confuse as much as ever as well. Even with a 10-year wait, that’ll surely do, won’t it?"

3. Evanescence - The Bitter Truth

While Evanescence haven't exactly been away since the release of their self-titled third record in 2011, it has been a decade-long wait for entirely new material from the Arkansas-based band. 2017's symphonic reimagining Synthesis went some way to plugging the gap, but with The Bitter Pill Amy Lee and co. make possibly their boldest and most personal artistic statement since 2006's The Open Door. Hammer scribe Dannii Leivers approved, noting "On The Bitter Truth, Amy has returned to her rock roots, making an album that will both delight and surprise fans: darkly emotional, empowering and now, politically charged."

2. Tomahawk - Tonic Immobility

Effectively one of the biggest stars in the alt-metal sphere, Mike Patton seemingly brings a weight of expectation and unpredictable magic to whatever project he happens to pop up with in any given year. Tomahawk made their return in 2021 with Tonic Immobility, their first album in seven years, roaring back to life with the idiosyncratic sense of brilliance fans have come to expect. Hammer reviewer Alec Chillingworth was suitably impressed, awarding the album 9/10 and calling it "their most immediate, raucous record to date", adding that "if you just fancy the hits, stick with Faith No More. But if you want premium Patton, his band playing from the heart rather than to the crowd, then Tonic Immobility’s your poison."

1. Sleep Token - This Place Will Become Your Tomb

When it comes to establishing a new lineage of alt-metal, Sleep Token have been blazing a path like no other. Drawing on the soulful elements of RnB and pop, then affixing them to hard-driving riffs that sit somewhere between traditional alt-metal, tech-metal and metalcore, their sound is far and away one of the most unique things currently operating in metal. 

The fact that nobody knows pretty much anything about Sleep Token is just an extra layer of delicious mystery to unpick, whilst not detracting from the immense emotion and pathos at the heart of their songs. This Place Will Become Your Tomb marked a moment where Sleep Token truly started to shine as a band, breaking into the UK top 50 for the first time whilst playing to near sold-out crowds every night in November. 

"Sleep Token have a strong, individualistic sound, albeit one that oftentimes threatened to tip over into a repeated formula across their earlier material," wrote reviewer Remfry Dedman. "This Place Will Become Your Tomb goes some way towards addressing this without throwing away the elements that make [Sleep Token] such an idiosyncratic proposition in the first place."

Rich Hobson

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.