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Top 30 Metal and Hard Rock Albums of 2021

These standout heavy releases helped get us through another rough year

top metal hard rock albums 2021
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    Our 2021 Annual Report continues with our Top 30 Metal & Hard Rock Albums list. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.


    After a rough 2020 that saw a global pandemic take over our lives and the concert industry shut down, 2021 was hopefully primed to be the year of the comeback. While live music has returned to a certain degree, it’s been a bumpy ride thus far, as bands deal with COVID outbreaks amidst their camps and fans enter venues with extra caution. One thing we can all still count on is new albums to get us through difficult times, and while 2021 may not have been super prolific as far as new releases, it still proved to be another strong year for the heaviest genres.

    The legendary Iron Maiden were perhaps the biggest metal band to release a new album in 2021, and they did not disappoint, unleashing the epic Senjutsu, which holds its own among the band’s iconic LPs. Modern-day metal torchbearers Gojira and Mastodon both delivered strong efforts, as well, while veteran prog masters Dream Theater once again displayed their stunning musicality.

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    Hardcore had a year to remember, with bands like Turnstile, Regional Justice Center, Every Time I Die, and Thirdface all unleashing thought-provoking and dynamic new efforts. And extreme metal was also alive and well in 2021, with Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Rivers of Nihil, and others giving us new music to melt our faces.

    Finally, a few newcomers came out of the gates swinging, with Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH and Spiritbox among the acts offering up very strong debut albums.

    As we head into 2022 hoping for things to open up a bit more, we look back at the Top 30 Metal & Hard Rock Albums of 2021, as picked by the Heavy Consequence staff.

    — Spencer Kaufman
    Managing Editor, Heavy Consequence


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    30. Wardruna – Kvitravn

    Wardruna - Kvitravn
    Pagan Folk band Wardruna, who received international attention after contributing music to the TV show Vikings in 2016, released their fifth album, Kvitravn, featuring guest appearances by traditional folk singers assembled by Norwegian scholar Kirsten Bråten Berg. Kvitravn may have an expanded production, but it still maintains the ghostly harmonies and traditional instrumentation the band is known for on songs like “Kvitravn” and “Skugge.”

    Wardruna’s fascination with ancient culture remains relevant, whether it’s Norwegian, “Slavic, Siberian, or African.” As the band explains, “If you go back in time far enough, you’re going to see all these similarities, how we are connected.” — Colette Claire | Listen on Apple Music


    29. Red Fang – Arrows

    Red Fang Arrows
    When we dubbed Red Fang’s fourth studio album “feel-good” metal, we weren’t kidding. The Portland, Oregon, band hones in on an upbeat, raucous brand of stoner sludge that is perfectly complemented by some hilarious music videos. If we were doing a list of the best heavy videos of the year, Red Fang would be a shoe-in for that list, as well. We’ll not only remember Arrows by its joyous music, but for clips like the faux self-eulogizing funeral for “Rabbits in Hives.” — Jon Hadusek | Listen on Apple Music


    28. Myles Kennedy – The Ides of March

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    Myles Kennedy The Ides of March
    Whether he’s singing leads for Alter Bridge, Slash or his solo project, Myles Kennedy has proven himself to be one of modern rock’s strongest vocalists. While his debut solo album, 2018’s Year of the Tiger, showcases his softer side with a collection exclusively unplugged tunes, Kennedy switches gears with his sophomore solo record, The Ides of March. On the latter, Kennedy displays his electrified side, including some impressive lead guitar skills, with songs that are introspective but still pack a punch. — Anne Erickson | Listen on Apple Music


    27. Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana

    Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana
    Brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver, who record at their home studio in the middle of the Washington woods, add an American flavor to the traditions of black metal music. Wolves in the Throne Room’s seventh album Primordial Arcana is no exception. Moving away from previous experimental phases of the band, Primordial Arcana harkens back to second-wave atmospheric black metal bands like Emperor on songs like “Spirit of Lightning,” “Primal Chasm,” and “Through Eternal Fields.” On this latest effort, Wolves in the Throne Room stick to what they do best, creating crushing riffs and otherworldly soundscapes. — C.C. | Listen on Apple Music


    26. Evanescence – The Bitter Truth

    Evanescence - The Bitter Truth
    After emerging with their mega-selling alternative metal debut, Fallen, in 2003, and becoming one of the biggest rock bands of the 21st century’s first decade, Evanescence returned in 2021 with their first album of new material in roughly 10 years. The Bitter Truth offers a collection of rock anthems that signal to the world that Evanescence are here to stay despite the long wait between albums. The haunting vocal melodies of Amy Lee work well with the dark and catchy rock riffs on songs that also feature political and emotional lyrics. — C.C. | Listen on Apple Music


    25. Greta Van Fleet – The Battle at Garden’s Gate

    Great Van Fleet - The Battle At Garden's Gate Album Cover
    Greta Van Fleet expand their aural palette considerably on their second full-length album, The Battle at Garden’s Gate. Working with a new producer, eight-time Grammy award winner Greg Kurstin, the quartet stays true to the earnest bombast and frantic blaze of its previous work but add prog-like layers of musical exploration, including orchestrations on several tracks and a full-on sonic sojourn in the nearly nine-minute closer “The Weight of Dreams.”

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    It’s a dynamic assault that’s grounded as much in composition and arrangement as songwriting — a Battle victory that’s well-earned, and on the band’s own unapologetically ambitious terms. — Gary Graff | Listen on Apple Music


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