A long time ago, I intended this site to include more music writing. And then I acknowledged that the vast majority of my audience was here to read about golf. Not metal. This will be the rare exception.
The obvious question: Why release rankings for the Top 100 Metal Albums of the 2010s more than two years late? The short answer is because my buddy JT, whom I’ve always hated, didn’t suggest I do so until Summer of 2021. So it’s his fault.
Here are some essential stats: Eighteen of the album covers feature some level of skulls. Four were painted by John Dyer Baizley.
The rest is for you to find. I hope that if you’re new to metal, you find one album you can appreciate. If you’re old to metal, I hope you find something new. Or something to yell at me about.
Also, as a side note, all of the descriptions below were written as drafts, intended to be worked over later. But then WordPress broke, so I can’t edit it now. Apologies.
100. ‘The Destroyers of All’ by Ulcerate
Auckland, New Zealand…Death Metal leaning Doom
Kicking off our countdown is a theme that has somewhat become its sect within the metal community: Death metal bands speaking not of the death of others, but of the death of all. Although the dark humor of Carcass and Napalm Death make their respective screeds more bearable for the common listener, the doom / post-metal vibes of Ulcerate make both the music and the message heavier, and the technical components of its songwriting make it even more difficult to shoulder. Perhaps that’s why the aforementioned bands have remained as popular as they are, but one can’t help but feel that doomsaying should hurt somewhat.
99. ‘The Armor of Ire’ by Eternal Champion
Austin, TX…Heavy Metal leaning Power Metal
Metal writers, whether because they’re of a lesser caliber or because it’s difficult to tell the difference between songs and acts with so many notes crammed into such a small space, struggle to differentiate acts to their readers. There is an overreliance on the same old adjectives. Perhaps the best way to communicate the sound of a band is with a proper visual. For Eternal Champion, that visual is Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, rocking out during his brief, long-haired period. As the album art metaphorically explains, the most metal of armor is not metal at all, but one’s own well-oiled physique and a healthy swig of swagger.
98. ‘Colored Sands’ by Gorguts
Sherbrooke, Quebec…Death Metal leaning Classic Prog Rock
Where Opeth’s path to prettiness usually relies on long stretches of clean vocals to contrast its more aggressive half, Gorguts (and leader Luc Lemay) surrender nothing that could eventually result in them becoming, like the former band, a hard rock radio format option. Rather, fragile fabric bridges (and occasional violins) connect Lemay’s balanced empathy and criticism for the people of Tibet. It’s a more accessible format for, say, the Yes fan, albeit much more sprawling than the tighter Obscura, considered among progressive death metal’s best albums. For its size, it can fairly be considered classically-trained Lemay’s opus.
97. ‘Sorrow and Extinction’ by Pallbearer
Little Rock, AR…Doom Metal leaning ’70s Heavy Metal
I’ve never been wild about the album art on Pallbearer’s first two LPs, somewhat science fiction in nature. Although third album Heartless hardly reaches the levels Sorrow and Extinction does, its human mountain better represents the voyage across the latter. The bearers of pall marching to these charges sound to be walking from the church, not to the graveyard but following a path into the forest. Long passages of inward contemplation mark the journey, with snow beginning to fall with the heaviness, and — lest this accessible act seem too dire — Sabbathian tendencies toward soloing jams although at the same funeral pace.
96. ‘End Position’ by Street Sects
Austin, TX…Hardcore leaning Industrial
Noire is kind of stupid in the same way that election conspiracy theorists flocking to Mayberry is stupid, except in the former case we’re waxing nostalgic for Humphrey Bogart while acknowledging the universe around him was terrible and not pie-in-the-sky…same romantic vision of poverty Americans have always had, I guess. Street Sects is the counterpoint, a sample-driven, bottle-to-the-face. A hardcore act for industrial enthusiasts. I tried to go a show scheduled at a campus basement a few years back but the house was empty, which sucks because a campus basement is about as clean a venue as a band like this should be experienced in.
95. ‘Gods of Violence’ by Kreator
Essen, Germany…Thrash Metal Through-and-Through
Let me potentially cut this feature short for a significant percentage of you: There are no Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, or Testament albums featured here. I’m not Rolling Stone and I’m not the Grammys. I’m not financially-compelled to include these bands. There will be a single legacy thrash metal act: Kreator. One of the biggest exports in the history of a very metal-centric nation, Kreator still didn’t garner enough rock radio attention to merit streamlining. Ironically, however, the group’s “Satan Is Real” features a hook more catchy than any of those other acts put out in the past decade. And heavier than most, too.
94. ‘Serpents Unleashed’ by Skeletonwitch
Athens, Ohio…Death Metal leaning Thrash
Skeletonwitch did the right thing, evicting original frontman Chance Garnette following an arrest for domestic assault. And, for the average critic, the band did the right thing in taking the music in a new direction, to bigger, blacker forms of metal for the acclaimed Devouring Radiant Light. Metalheads are ironically among the most sentimental of fans, and I’m guilty as any. That’s why you’ll find Unleashing The Serpents on this list and not the newer LP. One last dive into the thrashy depths of death and the band’s fantastical hells before the real world behavior of its vocalist created a real one. We are slowly growing to love the band’s new identity.
93. ‘I Shall Die Here’ by The Body / Haxan Cloak
Portland, OR…Industrial Metal leaning Doom
The Body sometimes serves more so as a symbiote (for those familiar to the comic book reference) than a band, based strictly on the number of collaborative releases it’s dropped. The best of which may be that with The Haxan Cloak, an excellent experimental electronic producer, although not within the realms of what I’d call “metal.” He does his job with heavy hands here, bleeding over enough to lure the aggrotech fan into relaxation before The Body itself takes over. This is truly among the least comfortable acts in the world, due both to Chip King’s smothered wails and the themes of hopelessness that run throughout.
92. ‘What One Becomes’ by Sumac
Vancouver, British Columbia…Sludge Metal leaning Doom
Aaron Turner may forever be tacked with the descriptor “the ISIS guy” but, in an era where that Egyptian goddess / band name has become a terrorist organization, perhaps it’s better we finally recognize him as “the Sumac guy.” Although he has another several dozen bands under his belt at this point, Sumac remains his most consistent organization — both in terms of involvement and heaviness. It’s a a heaviness that speaks to this outfit’s less ponderous nature compared to his other famous act, but the group still wanders through progressive song structures with the same scandent tendencies as the stem it takes its name from.
91. ‘Atonement’ by Immolation
Yonkers, NY…Death Metal through-and-through
Legacy death metal bands may not receive quite the privileged push that similarly-aged thrash contemporaries enjoy but there’s always the opportunity to stagnate (bad when the focus of the genre is decay). Part of this stems from bands in the scene remaining conservative in style. Consistency of songwriting remains key lest one become boring…and we’re not talking about lyrics here. No one expects Immolation to branch into philosophical commentary on Tibet. But technicality for technicality’s sake can lose our interest, so for Immolation to carry the New York City style as well in 2017 as it did in 1997 deserves kudos.
Albums Nos. 90 – 81 continue below on Page 2.