Heavy metal has had a strong presence in the last decade. 2020 will have a lot to prove to outperform, especially 2019, which had wildly anticipated releases that were gold. To reflect on that high bar, these are the best albums to release for every year through the 2010s.
To make an entry on the list outside of being a metal band putting out a new record in the time frame is that it needs to be a full-length release. EPs will not be counted for these purposes.
2010: Whitechapel – A New Era of Corruption
The gateway drug for me as I left the extreme metal scene and got pulled back in. Whitechapel’s criminally underrated third effort towers above almost anything for me regardless of year. The Knoxville natives balanced bone-shattering breakdowns, technical riffs, and world-ending vocals.
It is hard to hate on an album that has Chino Moreno of Deftones who comes in on the bridge of Reprogrammed to Hate, and Vincent Bennett from The Acacia Strain accompanies vocalist Phil Bozeman on Murder Sermon.
The record in which its title is a nod to their breakout Sophomore release This is Exile is full of underappreciated songs like End of Flesh, Darkest Day of Man, and Breeding Violence. This level of intensity from their older material is an excellent balance for the more melodic focused music they make today.
2011: The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual
No death metal band can top The Black Dahlia Murder. Skillful playing with some of the most disturbing songs out there. While most bands have at least one weaker album, even if it is still a substantial addition to a group’s resume, these headbangers cannot disappoint in the slightest.
A Shrine to Madness celebrates Halloween as the opening track. Its orchestral introduction and leading into a web of riffs that goes off into a world of Satan, jack-o-lanterns, and all things scary leads to the best way to start a death metal album I have ever heard.
Each song has its own theme leaning onto the group’s fifth record, Ritual. Moonlight Equilibrium is the ritual of transformation, The Raven is observation, and Blood in the Ink focuses on indoctrination. To this day, it is the most tied together the themes have been from any of the band’s eight releases.
On top of that, at this point in time, it was their most collaborative. Since his arrival on Deflorate, guitarist Ryan Knight was able to get enough footing within The Black Dahlia Murder to offer more to the production.
2012: Periphery – Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal
Periphery is one of the best and most influential bands to come into the scene in well over a decade. Expert musicianship and one of the most impressive singers lead a new movement in metal while establishing their own identity. The second outing cemented them in history.
The intricately crafted songs have an impressive song structure like all of their material with a variety of different directions taken in just one track. Adding to the layers is the mix of melody, complexity, and heaviness. Standout hits like Scarlet, Luck as a Constant, and Mile Zero prove Periphery’s supreme skill at songwriting.
2013: A Day to Remember – Common Courtesy
Sure, A Day to Remember may not be entirely metal with lighter tracks like I’m Already Gone (which rules anyways) and pop-punk hits like City of Ocala (seriously, what a great opening to the album). Still, they make it on the list with their more metalcore/hardcore focused tracks. They are a blend, but I am putting them on here, put down your pitchforks and let’s move on.
The band’s second-best album includes some of their heaviest tracks. Violence (Enough is Enough) slows down with its pre-chorus, but other than that, it is non-stop adrenaline. Then, later on, there is arguably the most brutal song in their career, Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way. They may not be entirely a metal band, but these songs alone prove their worth.
What really makes Common Courtesy the best of 2013, despite some great competition, is its diversity. Having a death metal album that does not take a second to slow down is awesome, but I love having some variety. Melding different sounds and textures allow for everything to breathe and mix too heavily into one another.
2014: Behemoth – The Satanist
You may feel burned on my pick for 2013, but Behemoth should, hopefully, satisfy you.
With nine albums before, album number 10 stands out above the previous work down by the blackened death metal group from Poland. Starting off with the Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, which sets the tone and much of the pacing for what’s to come. Going into a more brutal side, Furor Divinus is one of the most vicious creations from the band.
The one thing that stands out here is the ending. While it is eight tracks of pure mastery, the conclusion with O Father O Satan O Sun is the greatest way to end an album I have ever heard. From its long, epic instrumental introduction to Nergal’s drawn-out monologue, it feels both intense and monumental.
The Satanist is the perfect way for someone to get into black metal or any degree of extreme metal. Listen to the title track, and you will understand, or run into a church for safety.
2015: Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Cattle Decapitation has always had its stance on climate change while creating horror movie-level violence in their music. Vocalist Travis Ryan elevated his lyrical abilities to provide a more nuanced record that makes for the most impactful and intelligent album of the band’s career.
Manufactured Extinction sets the apocalyptic theme as it bashes through to end all of humanity. It not only establishes a tone and style for the rest of the album, but it also showcases so much of the talent from the band. From deadly riffs from guitarist Josh Elmore to Ryan’s shrieks and gutturals, and Dave McGraw’s lightning speed on the drums that are strategically executed.
Songs like Mammals in Babylon showcases Ryan’s unique range. He does all the normal lows, gutturals, high screams that will make your ears bleed, but he has a melodic voice that confuses the metal scene as it blends screams and clean singing techniques. These are no clean vocals but has that melody while maintaining the brutality that Cattle is known for. This album alone proves why Ryan is one of, if not the best vocalist in the extreme underworld of heavy metal.
With an album that is front to back equally intense and genius, you need every member firing on all cylinders. Too many times, metal records, especially on this level of heaviness, drown out the bass player in both the mix and the sheer levels of sound and various layers that get developed for each track. Thankfully producer and mixer Dave Otero let Derek Engemann have a voice with his bass that slams through everything to stand beside the rest of his friends in the band.
2016: Beartooth – Aggressive
The Sophomore release from Beartooth hits everything I would want out of an album. Heavy, melodic, memorable, and poignant. Mastermind Caleb Shomo uses his band to belt out his struggles with mental health, and it hits hard no matter when you listen to these tracks.
The title track comes off safe until blowing up with fiery, which should be expected with a name like Aggressive. It is an anthemic call to the band’s young fans that fits perfectly with small or big crowds to sing-along.
Hated, Loser, and Sick of Me are all great examples that Shomo makes some of the catchiest choruses out there. It is impossible to not bang your head during any verse then sing along with the vocalist during the choruses that will stick with you for a countless amount of time.
2017: The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers
Another winner for TBDM. Nightbringers is one of their fastest records while having some variety to not get stale.
Widowmaker has a booming, epic introduction that leads into a violent and classic style that any fan would recognize. Sure, they keep to a formula, but damn, they know how to make it as tasty as any other release.
Of God and Serpent, of Spectre and Snake and Good as Dead are some of the fastest songs in recent memory from the death metal legends. Not only do the guys in the band all play their instruments fast, but vocalist Trevor Strnad impressively matches the speed with his iconic screams that make him sound like a cartooney witch.
The title track enters an evil underworld that will surely get some protestors at their shows if they have not since the release of the band’s eighth album. Showing off the evil reputation of heavy metal by poking at the Christian bear is as metal as it gets.
Ending off on this short 33-minute journey of death metal comes to The Lonely Deceased. A somber start that leads to a story of a mortician’s desire to bang his dead clientele. Sounds about right to have some necrophilia in a TBDM record.
As mentioned with Ritual, Nightbringers is top notch in every element of music-making. The standout from the already superb craftsmanship is the replacement of Knight on lead guitar with a new, young stud, Brandon Ellis, who nails his part flawlessly. He understands the TBDM sound while lending his own style to the mix.
2018: Behemoth – I Loved You at Your Darkest
I know in my 2018 list of the best rock and metal albums, I did not put Behemoth as number one. What places them here is that I don’t think of Ghost as a metal band, I think of them as rock as controversial as that is. Deal with it, I still love Ghost, but I have to give it to Poland instead of Sweden.
Right away, Behemoth goes into a terrifyingly epic direction with the introduction of Solve. A choir of children can go either way of creepy religious or beautiful, in case you can’t guess it, the answer is the former.
Like The Satanist, ILYAYD can be just as vicious with songs like Wolves ov Siberia and We Are the Next 1000 Years. While the band has gone for more melody, rhythm, and technicality, they can still crack open a few skulls with pure heaviness.
Meanwhile, God = Dog blends a grand scale of production, brutality, and some haunting beauty with the return of those damn kids. You will probably feel many different things with the first single off the album. Plenty of other tracks offer the same complexity in texture like Bartzabel and If Crucifixion Was Not Enough.
2019: Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
Iowa and the self-titled albums had the perfect mix of experimentation and raw heaviness. Slipknot has not made a bad album, but their third, fourth, and fifth efforts lack that same level of magic. We Are Not Your Kind is what everything in their career has built up towards, as this is what the band has learned for their achievements and mistakes.
The anthemic chorus mixed with the headbanging verses of Unsainted is exactly what Slipknot has gone for in previous releases but finely tuned in to one of the biggest highlights of the 2019 album.
A hint of experimentation with that raw emotion from the Iowa days returns with songs like Birth of the Cruel, and Nero Forte reminds fans that the old school style is far from dead.
Going off the deep end of unusual sounds for the nine Iowans comes with the profoundly emotional black metal inspired track A Liar’s Funeral. Then getting weirder with songs like Death Becomes of Death and Spiders. In their older age, the surprises have not gone away by a long shot.
WANYK is not only my favorite Slipknot album or the best 2019 had to offer, but it is also my top record of all time. The sixth release has everything I could want from any band, especially the legendary Knot.
What are your picks for the best metal album of each year through this past decade? Let me know in the comments.
Images via Red Bull Records, Roadrunner Records, Metal Blade Records