Hello 2021. You’re looking better than 2020 already. Just a few months into the year, and we’ve already had a glut of killer new albums courtesy of everyone from metal’s next generation of superstars (Gojira, Architects, Tetrarch) to returning heroes (Evanescence, Cannibal Corpse, Tomahawk) and all points in between. Here are the best sounds 2021 has served up so far.
Accept – Too Mean To Die
German metal warhorses Accept’s late-career hot streak continues with their 16th album. Too Mean To Die is crammed with gnarly yet hummable nuggets of ferociousness, polished to perfection by producer Andy Sneap, who miraculously pulled the album together across thousands of miles despite lockdown restrictions. You want proof that metal’s past can be transposed into the present? Look no further.
Architects – For Those Who Wish To Exist
After a decade of epic highs and tragic lows, Architects’ first album of the 2020s is a triumph on every level, cementing their position as one of modern’s metal’s boldest new bands. A cleaner, vaster, stadium-sized version of the band they’ve always been, For Those Who Wish Exist it’s the work of band demanding their seat at the heavy music’s top table. The fact that it gave them their very first UK No.1 album was a sign that they’ve succeeded in getting it.
Cannibal Corpse - Violence Unimagined
It wasn’t broke, so Cannibal Corpse haven’t bothered fixing it. Fifteen albums in and Violence Unimagined deliverers exactly what you want from death metal’s big daddies, from guttural low-end extremity to George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher’s mountain-quaking barks. But this is also the catchiest they’ve sounded in a while too – Surround, Kill, Devour packs a genuinely singalong chorus. Potent and perilously addictive, Violence Unimagined is exactly what death metal should be in 2021.
The Crown – Royal Destroyer
Packed with bursts of speed and wielding hooks like bloodied machetes, The Crown’s 11th album is unapologetically metal-as-fuck from bruising start to cataclysmic finish. With a production that packs such an eye-watering punch that you may fear for your skull’s integrity, it finds the Swedes dispensing with subtlety in favour of vicious intent on Baptized In Violence and the hell-for-leather Full Metal Justice. Long may they reign.
Epica – Omega
Hulking great choirs? Unadulterated bombast? Epica lived up to their name on their eighth studio album, Omega. While the Dutch symphonic metal linchpins were preaching to the converted, they did it with such conviction that it’s hard to argue: the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and a children’s choir underpinned their cinematic soundscapes, while Eastern flavours and angry-man growling added to the mix. Proof that that too much of a good thing is a good thing.
Evanescence – The Bitter Truth
Where 2017’s Synthesis hinted at an intriguing new direction by giving Evanscence’s biggest hits given an orchestral and cinematic makeover, The Bitter Truth saw Amy Lee returning to her rock roots with darkly emotional, empowering and politically charged album. Nestled between the bold and the familiar, and just the right side of overwrought, it was everything Evanscence fans could want.
Gojira – Fortitude
For album number seven, Gojira channelled the experimentalism of 2016’s Magma into into what can only be described as The Fucking Hit Factory. Fortitude is a breathtaking showcase of heaviness and dedication to the craft, teasing out tones, passages and emotional resonance other bands just can’t access. It’s metal for the masses, and Gojira’s crowning achievement. If they aren’t playing arenas at the end of this album cycle, it’s probably your fault.
Harakiri For The Sky – Mære
Austrian duo Harakiri For The Sky’s melding of ethereal, expansive melodies and frosty riffs helped push them to the front of the post-black metal pack. Mære is a refinement of the sound they’ve been crafting of their four previous albums, although that’s not to say there aren’t a few surprises along the way – not least the epic 11-minute journey of I’m All About The Dusk and Silver Needle – Golden Dawn’s plaintive piano turned blastbeat tsunami of noise.
Korpiklaani – Jylhä
The days of Korpiklaani as grog-addled folk-metal hellraisers are slowly receding. The Finns’ 11th album was their most concerted effort yet to step away from the shtick and reign in the buffoonery. Diehards may miss the sound of flagons being raised on high every five seconds, but Jylhä is the sound of a band finally growing up.
Loathe – The Things They Believe
Loathe may be a metal band, but the surprise-released follow-up to 2020’s I Let It In And It Took Everything bears absolutely none of the hallmarks of the genre. Razor-sharp riffs and hulking grooves are replaced by a sound that evokes electronic visionaries Boards of Canada and the atmospheric soundtrack work of Trent Reznor. It takes multiple listens before its full depths are revealed, but those with enough patience - and broad enough minds - will be rewarded.