Top Seven Album Openers of the 2010s

The 2010s were a decade of great fecundity for metal. For a while, it looked like deathcore and djent would be the new torchbearers for heavy music in pop culture, while the mainstays of extreme metal – death metal and black metal – continued to embrace experimentation.

We started the era with the big metal labels snapping up everything with a Meshuggah influence and searching for the next Gojira. Big names such as Mastodon, Opeth, Lamb of God, Converge, and the Dillinger Escape Plan entered this new decade as the kings of the previous one, and all but one survived and continued to thrive. New gods earned their way into the pantheon of the immortals in the 2010s after years of development – Behemoth being the most notable example. We also saw the return of some legendary names after many years of inactivity, with Carcass, Faith No More, Possessed, and Atheist making triumphant returns.

Nowhere experienced more innovation than in the borderless field of progressive metal. Between the Buried and Me achieved legendary status; Periphery, Tesseract and Haken emerged as new invigorating forces; and even Tool produced a record at the tail end of the decade. And, of course, thrash metal experienced another strong decade with all the legendary artists releasing material at some point.

The influence of metallic hardcore informed much of the finest heavy music of this period, but the biggest developments were the intrusion of dissonant guitar puzzles into death metal; the black metal angle on everything from doom metal to hardcore and thrash; countless experiments with time signature quandaries in most extreme genres; and the surprise influence of shoegaze on many darker forms of metal.

So, what were the top seven album openers of this fertile period for metal? These are the Scream Blast Repeat favourites of the 2010s…

7. Prong – ‘Eternal Heat’ from the album, Carved into Stone (2012)

Though starting as a crossover band and setting the benchmark for industrial groove metal in the 1990s, Prong are at their best when playing thrash metal. 1990’s Beg to Differ is the quintessential album of the third wave of thrash, and it looked like it would be the one that defined their glorious head-banging days when they hit a rough patch in the 2000s with two mediocre records. But they returned with new vigour and a new purpose in 2012 with their sensational comeback LP, Carved into Stone. Here, frontman and guitarist, Tommy Victor, proved once more that nobody frets a pinch harmonic or palm-mutes the lowest guitar string with as much precision as he. Nowhere is this more evident than on album opener, ‘Eternal Heat’, with its stunning interplay of drum fill mania and fluttering string-picking techniques. And, of course, Tommy’s gruff mid-range vocals have a Jaz Coleman bite to their New York belligerence to deepen the gurn on your face as you reach for the air guitar.

6. Slugdge – ‘War Squids’ from the album, Esoteric Malacology (2018)

Lancashire duo, Slugdge, were one of the success stories of the 2010s with their stunning fourth album, Esoteric Malacology, winning universal acclaim upon its release. Those of you demoralised by Emperor’s retirement as a recording artist in 2001 will find much to satiate your appetite in Slugdge’s blast of blackened death metal. Even more unusual is their preoccupation with the sagas of a fictitious mollusc kingdom as the themes for their albums. You can spend as much time guessing which famous metal song titles they renamed with a mollusc pun, but the intensity and technical brilliance of opener, ‘War Squids’, will soon disabuse of the notion that this is a novelty band. Listen to the searing guitar chords hiss underneath a barrage of double-kick patterns and epic death metal roars. Eight minutes of complex but catchy extreme metal are a fine way to start an album, and the songs that follow are just as enthralling on Esoteric Malacology.

5. The Dillinger Escape Plan – ‘Prancer’ from the album, One of Us is the Killer (2013)

In hindsight, One of Us is the Killer might be the Dillinger Escape Plan’s finest album in a flawless discography. If not for the emergence of Periphery in the 2010s, we might also lament how no other band comes close to filling the void left by their departure from the heavy music scene. As the second record featuring drum colossus, Billy Rhymer, and one of the most fraught between Ben Weinman and Greg Puciato, the group’s fifth LP ramps up the murderous rage even higher than normal. How unusual, then, that opening song, ‘Prancer’, gives the illusion of grit and groove when repeat listens reveal it to be a chaotic piece of technical metal. Puciato’s screams of “How could it all be/ We’ve never been dead/ Just mirrors running scared,” over the top of Weinman’s body-slamming guitar shapes are the closest thing this song has to a hook before the violent staccato movements and pulverising drums steamroll through your brain. Watch the band’s performance of it at the 2015 ArcTangent Festival if you want a visual experience to match the visceral one.

4. Tesseract – ‘Dystopia’ from the album, Polaris (2016)

Tesseract’s third album had much riding on it when it came out. Vocalist, Daniel Tompkins, returned to the mic after sitting out 2013’s Altered State LP, and the band knew they had to follow up what many considered an untouchable prog metal record. The traces of Meshuggah that defined their earlier work remained in the low-tunings and guitar rhythms, but the melodious sophistication of Polaris represented a big risk at a time when every other band seemed to be going in the opposite direction. From the first slide of the string-skipping guitar riff to the subtle offbeat of the drums, you know it’s Tesseract within twenty seconds of album opener, ‘Dystopia’. But this is a band that never rest on their laurels, and the way Tompkins demonstrates the full majesty of his tenor range defies belief. Listen how he follows the guitars then breaks free with an arms-to-the-sky falsetto harmony in the chorus. Every instrument here plays the optimal number of notes at the right time, in the right key, for the right duration. This is the moment when Tesseract became a distinctive artist – a prog metal group playing intelligent music for The Cure and Depeche Mode’s audience. How they’re not huge in America is baffling.

3. My Dying Bride – ‘And My Father Left Forever’ from the album, Feel the Misery (2015)

What better way to prove that the old guard from the 1990s and 2000s were still relevant in the 2010s than including in this list the English death-doom legends, My Dying Bride? Has there been a more consistent band in the annals of metal? Album number twelve was one of only two they released in the entire decade, but it reminded everyone of their supreme brilliance. They might be as miserable as a lonely sailor, but let’s not forget that My Dying Bride also have a riff lord in Andrew Craighan to match the pathos of Aaron Stainthorpe’s iconic voice. ‘And My Father Left Forever’ is Stainthorpe’s greatest ever vocal performance, full of finger-clenching distress and closed-heart regret as the guitarists thrash at their instruments and alternate tempos when the mood demands a sharp caress of the violin. How many artists have tried to emulate the My Dying Bride sound over the years? None can match their expert calibration of epic metal and sorrowful serenading.

2. Gojira – ‘Explosia’ from the album, L’Enfant Sauvage (2012)

Few ‘best of’ polls from the first two decades of the twenty-first century will omit Gojira, and we couldn’t ignore the French group’s sensational 2012 album, L’Enfant Sauvage. How this experimental death metal band ended up as one of the biggest selling artists of 2021 with their last album should be a case study for other metal bands. On the surface it seems obvious now – titanic riffs, rolling grooves, heroic vocal strains, technical drums, spacious structures, environmental and humane lyrical themes. But this is a band that eschew choruses, avoid guitar solos, and use screaming vocals in their songs. Track number one on L’Enfant Sauvage is a prime candidate for the finest song in their catalogue. Listen to the crunch of the opening guitar chugs as they make way for Mario Duplantier to introduce the head-spinning riff with a monstrous drum fill. Joe Duplantier seethes down the microphone like an enraged steward of a dying forest as he slides his plectrum against his strings and palm-mutes over the bridge of his guitar as if possessed by the spirit of a pagan deity. At six minutes and thirty-nine seconds, ‘Explosia’ explores the emotions of rage, grief, recovery, and rebirth in a cycle of colossal guitar riffs and varying tempos. You can imagine the adrenaline this generates on the live stage for band and audience alike.

1. Periphery – ‘Reptile’ from the album, Periphery IV: Hail Stan (2019)

It’s unusual to have a song that doubles and even trebles the length of every track in this list of seven, but did any other new band leave their mark on the 2010s like Periphery? They released six albums, influenced countless imitators, and introduced the heaviest dose of brutality and complexity into prog metal since Meshuggah came onto the scene in the mid-1990s. At over sixteen minutes, the opening track from 2019’s Periphery IV masterpiece is like an album within an album, and it goes out of its way to include everything you love – chunky riffs, double-kick grooves, polyrhythms, blast beats, pinch harmonics, screaming vocals, rock opera segments, epic chorus repeats, classical orchestrations, brooding post-rock tangents, and long non-repeating rhythms of mind-boggling complexity.

This is the sound of five musical maestros pulling in the same direction, challenging each other’s ability levels, and remembering the listener in the process. From Spencer Sotelo’s sensational anthemic piledriver choruses to Matt Halpern’s mathematical drum grooves, you can see, hear and read a future dystopian story unfolding in front of you as the metallic guitars thrust through your headphones like the aftereffects of a steroid boost. You can experience the highs, the lows, the obsessions, the contemplations, and the gratification of unleashing your inner demons and connecting with your higher state of consciousness in one song.

Prog metal will never be the same again.

Honourable mentions…

Code Orange – ‘Forever’ from their album, Forever (2016)

Immortal Bird – ‘Anger Breeds Contempt’ from their album, Thrive on Neglect (2019)

Jinjer – ‘Outlander’ from their album, Cloud Factory (2014)

Metallica – ‘Hardwired’ from their album, Hardwired to Self-Destruct (2016)

Triptykon – ‘Tree of Suffering Souls’ from their album, Melana Chasmata (2014)

Venom Prison – ‘Matriphagy’ from their album, Samsara (2019)

Woods of Ypres – ‘Lightning & Snow’ from their album, Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light (2013)