The 2021 edition of our Annual Report continues with our list of the Top 30 Metal & Hard Rock Songs of 2021. 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.
Another heavy year deserves another heavy soundtrack of standout songs. While we still find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, our favorite acts continue to churn out tunes that stir inspiration, hope, anger, rage, sadness, and all the emotions that go with the uncertain world in which we live.
Music serves as an escape we need during difficult times, briefly diverting our attention from the daily grind or reminding us that there is still beauty in the world, no matter the circumstances. In 2021, we were once again blessed with a wide array of stellar music from metal and hard rock acts that did just that.
The iconic Iron Maiden showed no signs of slowing down, while fellow legends Guns N’ Roses finally released a couple of “new” songs. A number of acts — like Slipknot, Halestorm, Ghost, and Zeal & Ardor — didn’t release new full-lengths this year, but offered us a wonderful taste of what’s to come by unleashing singles in advance of their 2022 albums.
Meanwhile, young guns like Turnstile, Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH, and others proved that the future of heavy music is bright.
Revisit the best tracks that 2021 had to offer in our list of the Top 30 Metal & Hard Rock Songs below.
Managing Editor, Heavy Consequence
30. The Body – “Tied Up and Locked In”
What did the members of The Body reveal when they peeled back the layers of their usually dense sound? As proven by this track from the first of two albums the duo released in 2021, a silvery, pulsating core that was emitting the screams of a thousand dying souls and an unceasing rhythm that could very well crack open the nearest fault line. –Robert Ham | Listen on Apple Music
29. Des Rocs – “MMC”
Rising New York solo artist Des Rocs released his full-length debut album, A Real Good Person in a Real Bad Place, in September, and gave us one of the most exhilarating rock singles of 2021 with the anthemic “MMC.” The tune combines heavy riffs, post-punk verses, an infectious chorus, and even a vaudevillian piano break, making for an exciting four minutes of music. –Spencer Kaufman | Listen on Apple Music
28. Danny Elfman – “Happy”
What the heck is a gent best known for his work with new wavers Oingo Boingo and for composing soundtracks for Tim Burton films doing in this countdown? Well, Mr. Danny Elfman is no one-trick pony, as heard by his pleasantly surprising tune, “Happy.” Not to be confused with the Pharrell Williams nor the Rolling Stones tracks of the same name, Elfman’s “Happy” starts out as you might expect… before detouring into a delightfully foul-mouthed freak-out three-quarters of the way through. –Greg Prato | Listen on Apple Music
27. Andrew W.K. – “Everybody Sins”
Party-happy guy Andrew W.K. released the cheeky God Is Partying in 2021, featuring the glam-metal-influenced single “Everybody Sins.” The track has a guitar riff that’s uber-catchy yet brutally heavy, as well as a crazy operatic vocal delivery, which makes it an appropriately wild Andrew W.K. song in the best possible fashion. –Anne Erickson | Listen on Apple Music
26. Thank – “Good Boy”
UK act Thank are dabbling in some truly adventurous noise rock, as evidenced by “Good Boy,” the first single from their forthcoming 2022 full-length. As cacophonous as it is beguiling, the song sounds like a burst of manic energy, and on first encounter, actively affronts the listener with its discordance. As extreme as any song on this list without being sonically harsh or brutal, “Good Boy” is a credit to the artful, uncompromising songcraft this young band is cooking up. –J.H. | Listen on Apple Music
25. Warish – “S.H.M. (Second Hand Misery)”
Warish, fronted by skateboard legend Tony Hawk’s son Riley Hawk, came out swinging with their sophomore album, Next to Pay, powered in part by the fiery single “S.H.M. (Second Hand Misery).” The trio’s brand of street metal is part Stooges, part Nirvana, part Misfits, part Sabbath — matching heavy riffs with a punk-rock intensity. And it’s all juxtaposed with footage of Barney the Dinosaur in the official music video. –S.K. | Listen on Apple Music
24. Cynic – “Mythical Serpents”
The untimely passings of bassist Sean Malone and drummer Sean Reinert in 2020 left many fans wondering how Cynic could carry on. As “Mythical Serpents” demonstrates, the answer is extremely well, with the soaring vocals and biting guitar work of founder Paul Masvidal just as strong as ever. Likewise, new members Dave Mackay and Matt Lynch fill in the rest with perfectly suited soundscapes and percussion, ensuring that the track is another progressive/post-metal triumph. –Jordan Blum | Listen on Apple Music
23. Billy Idol – “Bitter Taste”
More than 30 years after nearly dying in a motorcycle crash in Los Angeles, Billy Idol comes to grips with the accident’s meaning for his life on a track that’s both reflective and redemptive. The lyrics find him vowing that “I’m gonna live so hard these broken wings will lift me up to the sun.” Idol wrote “Bitter Taste” with longtime cohort Steve Stevens and others, while Butch Walker produced it for The Roadside EP, an effort that shows even at 66, Idol is unbowed and still snarling — and just a little bit wiser. –Gary Graff | Listen on Apple Music
22. Spirit Adrift – “Forge Your Future”
Spirit Adrift have emerged as one of the most consistent acts operating in the realms of melodic doom metal. The title track to their 2021 EP might be their finest moment to date, honing the elements of past work — namely Nate Garrett’s unaffected melodic vocals and copious tasty riffs — into a remarkable singular composition. Spirit Adrift have been largely an album band, but with “Forge Your Future,” they now have their signature track. –J.H. | Listen on Apple Music
21. BIG | BRAVE – “Half Breed”
Big | Brave built a smoldering and majestic song with “Half Breed,” perfecting the meditative heavy tones that have shot the Montreal-based trio to the forefront of the post-metal scene. Freshly signed to new label home Southern Lord, Big | Brave now stand deservedly among the drone metal elite alongside such acts as Sunn O))) and Boris. –J.H. | Listen on Apple Music
20. Between the Buried and Me – “Revolution in Limbo”
“Revolution in Limbo” is the most epically erratic song on Colors II, plain and simple. Beginning with Between the Buried and Me’s beloved penchant of funhouse fury, it dances around immensely intricate instrumentation and guttural verses before giving way to a truly infectious chorus (“Over and over/ Day in day out/ Monotonous drought”). Along the way, other mellow asides and madcap transitions capture the band’s unrivaled sense of mischievous complexity, so it’s an instant classic. –J.B. | Listen on Apple Music
19. HEALTH & Poppy – “Dead Flowers”
Pop provocateur Poppy continues her certificate program in the art of heavy rock with a little help from lab partners HEALTH. What they’ve devised helps remove Poppy from her self-aware echo chamber, depositing her sweet and sour vocal stylings within a landscape of synthesizer assaults and industrial beats. The combination is as sleek and suffocating and sexy as a body clad in latex. –R.H. | Listen on Apple Music
18. Jinjer – “Wallflower”
Ukrainian metal act Jinjer released the mighty Wallflowers in 2021, and while many of the tracks roar, the sort-of title track, “Wallflower,” does just the opposite. “Wallflower” is a near-ballad, with dark, swelling sonics and vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk’s heartfelt lyrics about finding comfort in solitude and needing to get away from the world. Who doesn’t relate to that? –A.E. | Listen on Apple Music
17. Guns N’ Roses – “Hard Skool”
The second of two “new” Guns N’ Roses songs to surface this year — and the title track for an upcoming EP — “Hard Skool” was even better than its predecessor, “Absurd,” standing more fully realized and well-constructed. Axl’s got his chin out on this Chinese Democracy holdover, slamming former bandmates (“Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away/ You thought you were here to stay”) while a couple of those same people (Slash and Duff McKagan) pump away in the background. Truth be told, though, it’s probably a better track for their involvement. –G.G. | Listen on Apple Music
16. Dead Sara – “Heroes”
Los Angeles rockers Dead Sara unleashed their third album, Ain’t It Tragic, in 2021, and along came with it a punchy rock number called “Heroes.” The song features the band’s raw rock ‘n’ roll vibe, with vocalist Emily Armstrong exclaiming, “All my heroes are dead, all my heroes are dead now/ But they’re living in my head.” –A.E. | Listen on Apple Music
15. Code Orange – “Out for Blood”
Still riding the wave of 2020’s Grammy-nominated, critically hailed Underneath album, Code Orange look to the future with this one-off pulverizing blast of industrial metal, forged from the ghost furnaces of the steel mills that once dotted the Pittsburgh river fronts. New producer Rob Cavallo smoothed some of the sharpest edges on “Out for Blood,” but there’s still plenty of fire here that stokes our excitement to hear what’s next. –G.G. | Listen on Apple Music
14. Halestorm – “Back from the Dead”
Halestorm didn’t release a new full-length in 2021, but they did give us a taste of their forthcoming 2022 album with another chart-topping rock hit in “Back from the Dead.” Lzzy Hale and company serve up a fiery rock anthem, with huge guitars, steady beats, raspy vocals and a melodic, sing-along chorus that simply sticks in your head. –A.E. | Listen on Apple Music
13. Tom Morello & The Bloody Beetroots feat. Pussy Riot and More – “Radium Girls”
Tom Morello had a busy year, releasing two solo albums and a handful of collaborative tracks. “Radium Girls,” from his collaborative EP The Catastrophists with The Bloody Beetroots, is a standout among his many 2021 songs. Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova, White Lung’s Mish Way, The Interrupters’ Aimee Interrupter, and The Last Internationale’s Delila Paz provide vocals for the incendiary track — a historical tribute to the female workers infamously exposed to radium while producing glow-in-the-dark watches at an Illinois factory in the 1920s. –J.H. | Listen on Apple Music
12. Failure – “Headstand”
Failure’s new album, Wild Type Droid, was a late but welcome surprise in 2021. The cult alt-rockers gave fans barely a month’s notice before dropping the record in early December. The general consensus is that it’s Failure’s finest work since 1996’s Fantastic Planet, highlighted by sonically immense moments like “Headstand.” Singer-bassist Ken Andrews’ controlled coos and smokey vocals are backed by washes of Greg Edwards’ shoegazey guitars and Kelli Scott’s deliberate, pocketed beat. Failure are known for their hi-fi sound design and mastery of melody. “Headstand” delivers on both fronts.-–J.H. | Listen on Apple Music
11. Animals as Leaders – “Monomyth”
“Monomyth” showcases why Washington, D.C. trio Animals as Leaders have always been masters of creating characteristically batshit instrumental progressive metal. After all, it perfectly embodies their trademark juxtaposition of off-kilter djent riffs, frenzied rhythms, mystical coatings, and all-around imaginative trajectories. It’s at once traditional and surprising, simultaneously proving that the five-year wait (since 2016’s The Madness of Many) was worth it and that 2022’s Parrhesia will be just as mind-blowing. –J.B. | Listen on Apple Music