SBR Top 50 Albums of 2021

We reviewed 366 records in 2021 across a diverse spectrum of extreme metal, prog and dark alternative music.

This year saw releases from some of the biggest artists in the industry, with Gojira, Mastodon, Iron Maiden, Cradle of Filth and Dream Theater to name just a few. The legendary names in extreme metal were also at the forefront – both Carcass and Cannibal Corpse put out strong records.

2021 was also a notable year for blistering debut albums. New names like Spiritbox, Interloper, Autarkh, Urne and Pupil Slicer became an established part of the heavy music landscape. All should appear in future album of the year lists if they pursue their current path of evolution.

After much deliberation, we give you our top fifty albums of 2021…

50. Erra – Erra

49. Epiphanic Truth – Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms to a Sordid Species

48. Carnifex – Graveside Confessions

47. The Lion’s Daughter – Skin Show

46. Scar of the Sun – Inertia

45. Ministry – Moral Hygiene

44. Lotus Thrones – Lovers in Wartime

43. Alkerdeel – Slonk

42. WristMeetRazor – Replica of a Strange Love

41. Carcass – Torn Arteries

40. Nightfall – At Night We Prey

39. Deception – The Mire

38. Exodus – Persona Non Grata

37. Psykup – Hello Karma

36. Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Nightmare Withdrawals

35. Orphan Donor – Unraveled

34. Erdve – Savigaila

33. Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell

32. Thundering Hooves – Vestiges

31. End You – Aimless Dread

30. 1914 – Where Fear and Weapons Meet

29. Alluvial – Sarcoma

28. Employed to Serve – Conquering

27. Pupil Slicer – Mirrors

26. Aythis – Secrets from Below

25. Cicada the Burrower – Corpseflower

What we said at the time: “This album is torment personified; the music has an eternal quality to it that makes you want to keep walking onwards in the false belief that the horizon will eventually disappear. It won’t. Those things we put off with procrastination and trepidation will one day catch up with us. The weeping guitar melodies sound like Santana fronting avant-garde metal legends, Maudlin of the Well, with New York composer, Dan Weiss, providing the arrangements.”

Genre: Avant-Garde Black Metal

Country: USA

Released: 23/04/2021

Label: Blue Bedroom Records

Read the original SBR review of Corpseflower by Cicada the Burrower here.

24. Nervosa – Perpetual Chaos

What we said at the time: “Many fans might think it impossible to replace someone as charismatic as Fernanda Lira, but they can breathe easy after one listen to the band’s latest record… Napalm Records must be delighted with Prika Amaral’s determination to keep the Nervosa machine alive. The new line-up is an unmitigated triumph and the standard of song-writing as good as ever, if not better, on Perpetual Chaos. We all love a success story against all odds, and this could be the defining one for 2021.”

Genre: Death-Thrash Metal

Country: International

Released: 22/01/2021

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review of Perpetual Chaos by Nervosa here.

23. Blood Red Throne – Imperial Congregation

What we said at the time: “The chunky distortion emanating from the guitar strings of Død and Ivan Gujić is powerful enough to frack through the earth in search of oil. Listen to ‘Itika’ and ‘Conquered Malevolence’ for a masterclass in supreme riffing and expert phrasing. Only Carcass pay more attention to the quality of their melodic guitar solos. Likewise, the drum work of founding member, Freddy Bolsø, benefits from a stunning sound engineering job that can rival Fear Factory for its crisp brutality.”

Genre: Death Metal

Country: Norway

Released: 08/10/2021

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original SBR review of Imperial Congregation by Blood Red Throne here.

22. Wode – Burn in Many Mirrors

What we said at the time: “Like Swedish vampiric metallers, Tribulation, Wode conjure many ancient gods and summon the spirits of dead legends. They take the malevolence of black metal and the rhythms of death metal and hark back to an anthemic 80s era of classic Venom. But you’re wide of the mark if you rationalise this as blackened death metal… Wode prove you can mix showmanship and malevolence like a master poisoner who flatters his victims with praise before sending them to their grave.”

Genre: Black Metal

Country: England

Released: 02/04/2021

Label: 20 Buck Spin

Read the original SBR review of Burn in Many Mirrors by Wode here.

21. Danny Elfman – Big Mess

What we said at the time: “Cooped up in lockdown, Big Mess has leaked out of Elfman in a frenzy of inspiration: at no point did he say, “I think I’ll write an album.” That energy and passion shapes and colours every song here. The lithe strings of ‘Dance with the Lemurs’ and the shuffling mis-rhythms of ‘Serious Ground’, or the brutal industrial rock of ‘Choose Your Side’: the latter could be from when Foetus used Swans for a backing band. It’s a slug of a song.”

Genre: Industrial Art Rock

Country: USA

Released: 11/06/2021

Label: Anti-

Read the original SBR review of Big Mess by Danny Elfman here.

20. Jinjer – Wallflowers

What we said at the time: “Jinjer have now morphed into a full-on prog metal band with the elite echelon of Meshuggah, Gojira and Periphery in their sights. It would have been a big risk in the era of physical unit sales, and no major or mid-tier record label would have authorised an album like this twenty years ago at the greatest commercial potential of an artist. But metal bands are no longer at the mercy of CD sales. In the age of streaming and social media ad revenue, Jinjer can do what they want and suffer no decline in perceived popularity.”

Genre: Progressive Extreme Metal

Country: Ukraine

Released: 27/08/2021

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review of Wallflowers by Jinjer here.

19. VOLA – Witness

What we said at the time: “Rock music is not dead, and VOLA show it has more in common with metal than the meaningless indie nonsense that stained its reputation and purpose at the beginning of this century. Witness is a triumph of imagination and self-confidence. And it’s heavy. What more do you want?”

Genre: Progressive Rock

Country: Denmark

Released: 21/05/2021

Label: Mascot Records

Read the original SBR review of Witness by VOLA here.

18. Necronautical – Slain In The Spirit

What we said at the time: “Necronautical are masters of ambience among the blasting metal escapades. The emotion and agony of the guitar lines in ‘Slain in the Spirit’ give way to vintage thrash metal rhythms and remind you that black metal did not go into decline when Emperor called it a day in 2001. Their legacy lives on here, but Necronautical are more than mere custodians for symphonic black metal. The female choir harmonies at the end of the title track are like the heavenly melodies a Viking hears as he ascends to Valhalla.”

Genre: Symphonic Black Metal

Country: England

Released: 20/08/2021

Label: Spinefarm Records UK / Candelight Records

Read the original SBR review of Slain in Spirit by Necronautical here.

17. Horndal – Lake Drinker

What we said at the time: “Horndal might writhe in a permanent state of distress, but they know how to serve a colossal Mastodon dish of progressive metal. ‘Horndal’s Blodbad’ suits the rust belt environment of the music – masculine, proud, tough, prone to dark thoughts, never free from violence. It won’t surprise you to learn that the four bearded men in Horndal are in their mid-forties and look like truckers. Yet there’s nothing one-dimensional or predictable about their music.”

Genre: Progressive Sludge Metal

Country: Sweden

Released: 09/04/2021

Label: Prosthetic Records

Read the original SBR review of Lake Drinker by Horndal here.

16. Frontierer – Oxidized

What we said at the time:Oxidized is the record the Scots have been threatening to make since 2015. It’s pulverising yet experimental and never becomes a chore. This is a new chapter in the band’s career and could be the start of something even more exciting. Did we mention that it’s also heavier than the engine of a space shuttle?”

Genre: Mathcore

Country: Scotland

Released: 01/10/2021

Label: Self-released

Read the original SBR review of Oxidized by Frontierer here.

15. Scarred – Scarred

What we said at the time: “Okay, you’ve heard it all before. A band receive much hype and then fade away after five years. Yet Scarred never had the limelight and deserve hyping up if nobody else will do it for them. Think of the excellent albums from The Ocean, Haken and Black Crown Initiate last year, and rub your hands together. Scarred are right there with them and look set to make 2021 their own along with Interloper and Spiritbox.”

Genre: Progressive Extreme Metal

Country: Luxembourg

Released: 22/01/2021

Label: Klonosphere Records

Read the original SBR review of Scarred’s self-titled album here.

14. Thy Catafalque – Vadak

What we said at the time: “Thy Catafalque always give us a lot to unpack – it’s what they do. Yet this album opens up new vistas and possibilities on every new listen. Like the mastermind behind Igorrr, Tamás Kátai knows how to merge extreme metal with the weird and wonderful and shows no signs of exhausting his imagination or capacity for innovation.”

Genre: Avant-Garde Metal

Country: Hungary

Released: 25/06/2021

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review of Vadak by Thy Catafalque here.

13. Aborym – Hostile

What we said at the time: “The group’s eighth album contains no traces of their black metal roots and continues their evolution into a genuine collective of songwriters. This means we get choruses and orthodox structures wrapped in dazzling studio wizardry and heavily distorted rock guitars. The standard of composition is high, like a band tied to a major label in the late 1990s with a brief to replicate the sales figures of Nine Inch Nails. Only, it works, and the end product is far superior to anything Trent Reznor has put his name to since The Fragile.”

Genre: Industrial Metal

Country: Italy

Released: 12/02/2021

Label: Dead Seed Productions

Read the original SBR review of Hostile by Aborym here.

12. Vexed – Culling Culture

What we said at the time: “If all great albums boast at least six instant classics, Vexed can claim a minimum of eight on Culling Culture. Yet the biggest surprise is the way they end the record like prog metal maestros unleashing the type of sorrowful melodies and angelic vocals that often come with years of experience and fine-tuning… Vexed stand head and shoulders above the hordes like new conquerors surveying the potential of a new sea route.”

Genre: Progressive Deathcore

Country: England

Released: 21/05/2021

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original review of Culling Culture by Vexed here.

11. Twelve Foot Ninja – Vengeance

What we said at the time: “If ever you needed a reminder that subversive pop music stained with a vicious streak of metal is a recipe for demented genius, the Australians are happy to oblige… Twelve Foot Ninja are wise to shun categorisation, but Vengeance is alternative metal for the twenty-first century. This is the standard all like-minded artists should aspire to, including Faith No More, if they ever return with album number eight.”

Genre: Alternative Metal

Country: Australia

Released: 15/10/2021

Label: Volkanik Music

Read the original review of Vengeance by Twelve Foot Ninja here.

10. Autarkh – Form In Motion

What we said at the time: “Place a finger behind you ear and listen to the bass guitar rumblings underneath the miasma of distortion. Could this be a new genre of futuristic doom metal? Is that a flash of Killing Joke in the chorus to ‘Introspectrum’? It’s hard to think of a band that write the exact musical equivalent of their claustrophobic and dystopian lyrics, as if fusing sound and word into one… Our money is on these Dutchmen as the next cult favourite and potential influencer of a new wave of extreme metal bands.”

Genre: Extreme Metal

Country: Netherlands

Released: 12/03/2021

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original review of Form in Motion by Autarkh here.

9. Go Ahead And Die – Go Ahead And Die

What we said at the time: “This is an album that aims to salute every patch sown onto your retro denim jacket. It’s the record Max has yet to make with Soulfly and the one Sepultura tried to create without him on 2003’s disastrous Roorback effort. Go Ahead and Die is crusty, violent and vitriolic. The hybrid between death metal, hardcore and thrash is seldom this good. Father and son can be proud of this release and might even see it become the cult metal record of the 2020s, just as Terrorizer’s World Downfall did in the 1980s.”

Genre: Crossover Death Metal

Country: USA/Brazil

Released: 11/06/2021

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original review of Go Ahead and Die’s self-titled album here.

8. Between the Buried and Me – Colors II

What we said at the time: “Those intimidated by the colossal running time or those new to BTBAM should view Colors II as a triple album… This record is a palette of many shades and emotions, and you can never accuse it of being one-dimensional or formulaic. As a sequel to a legendary opus, it’s a worthy follow-up and one that need not intimidate if you give it the special treatment it deserves. Few artists would dare to write something as ambitious as this, and few have the musicianship to realise such a vision for their art.”

Genre: Progressive Metal

Country: USA

Released: 20/08/2021

Label: Sumerian Records

Read the original review of Colors II by Between the Buried and Me here.

7. Whitechapel – Kin

What we said at the time: “At times you wonder, if Whitechapel have Metallica’s Black album in their sights, such is the ambition and confidence of the craftsmanship. Is there anything more daring than an extreme metal band stepping out of their comfort zone and into the pantheon of the immortals? Seldom do these delusions of grandeur succeed, yet Kin is an unmitigated triumph in this regard. It’s brutal in its metallic delivery yet poignant in its emotive outpouring, almost as if the band can see themselves playing it in the glory of slow-motion posterity.”

Genre: Progressive Deathcore

Country: USA

Released: 29/10/2021

Label: Metal Blade Records

Read the original review of Kin by Whitechapel here.

6. Mastiff – Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth

What we said at the time: “Perhaps the biggest surprise here is the atmospheric quality of the music despite the murderous levels of aggression. Closing track, ‘Lung Rust’, is like Lithuanian noise merchants, Erdve, covering the avant-garde doom metal of Triptykon. You don’t slit your wrists to this type of oppressive noise – you hang your self with a garrote wire in the hope it will take your head off in one gruesome sweep. The sludge-thrash hybrid of ‘Scalped’ is morbid enough to make you smile. How can a band record music as hostile and fiendish as this?”

Genre: Blackened Sludge Grind

Country: England

Released: 10/09/2021

Label: MNRK Heavy

Read the original review of Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth by Mastiff here.

5. Interloper – Search Party

What we said at the time: “It’s refreshing to hear a band with origins in shred metal focus on the harmony of voice as much as sixteenth note triplets… This is how you spruce extreme music with pastel colours and transcendent arm-raising gestures… With the commercial might of Nuclear Blast backing them, Interloper have the agency to take their art to the next level. This is a sensational start to what should be a long career ahead.”

Genre: Progressive Death Metal

Country: USA

Released: 11/06/2021

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original review of Search Party by Interloper here.

4. Voices – Breaking The Trauma Bond

What we said at the time: “You’ll be hard pressed to pick favourites from an album of such stunning ambition and expert execution. Could it be the pan-flute keyboards and noise rock guitars that adorn the effulgent chorus of ‘Methods of Madness’? Or maybe the latent channel of gothic orchestration buried in the distortion and jagged swing of ‘Whispers’? How can they write music as hostile and violent yet retain a hand-on-heart sorrow at the same time?”

Genre: Avant-Garde Extreme Metal

Country: England

Released: 26/11/2021

Label: Church Road Records

Read the original review of Breaking the Trauma Bond by Voices here.

3. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

What we said at the time: “Without doubt, people will sit up and take notice after listening to Eternal Blue in what could be a watershed moment for heavy music penetrating into the mainstream for the first time since grunge and nu metal… This is not alternative music with the standard metallic window dressing; this is metal music exploring the sophisticated emotional play of intelligent pop – you know, the type that wins Ivor Novella awards and Spin magazine accolades.”

Genre: Alternative Metal

Country: Canada

Released: 17/09/2021

Label: Pale Chord

Read the original review of Eternal Blue by Spiritbox here.

2. Rivers of Nihil – The Work

What we said at the time: “If you thought the last one was prog, this one is prog with a capital ‘P’ and far more receptive to non-metal influences. It might even shock those that worship the band’s technical death metal roots… This is a record defined by melancholy, sorrow, and shattered dreams. It rages with frustration; it retreats into depression; it dares to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty. But the ending is a tragic one where no God or angel of mercy can scoop up the anti-hero at the end to give him the grace he deserves.”

Genre: Progressive Death Metal

Country: USA

Released: 24/09/2021

Label: Metal Blade Records

Read the original review of The Work by Rivers of Nihil here.

1. Urne – Serpent & Spirit

What we said at the time: “If you think the opening two tracks are epic, wait until Urne take their low-tuned guitars and throbbing distortion into progressive thrash territory with the eight-minute blast of ‘Memorial’. This is the moment when you realise Serpent & Spirit is the sludge metal version of Metallica’s …And Just for All. Imagine a hardcore band interpreting Black Sabbath with James Hetfield’s posturing and the boundless technicality of Between the Buried and Me… This album could continue north of one hour and still keep you engaged. You might even lament that the record is only fifty-three minutes – how often can you say that about an LP?”

Genre: Progressive Sludge Metal

Country: England

Released: 25/06/2021

Label: Spinefarm Records UK / Candlelight Records

Read the original review of Serpent & Spirit by Urne here.