February may be the shortest month of the year, but in 2021 there was no shortage of quality metal albums. It made it difficult to narrow things down, and some worthy albums that may have made the list in a different month had to be left off. Here are our picks for February 2021’s best heavy metal albums.
1. Iotunn – Access All Worlds (Metal Blade)
A space-themed concept album? Sure. Technical death metal with a few other influences tossed in? Okay. Jón Aldará, the singer for Hamferð and Barren Earth, on lead vocals? Now you’ve got me! Danish progressive metal band Iotunn present us with their debut full-length, Access All Worlds, five years after they released an EP with a different singer.
The only nitpick with Access All Worlds is the somewhat mellow (and loudly mastered) production. This is more than made up for with incredibly strong songs that incorporate prog, death, and power metal seamlessly, and a tour de force vocal performance from Aldará, as expected. Access All Worlds most certainly will feature on year-end lists.
2. The Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires (Ván)
The Ruins of Beverast return with The Thule Grimoires. The sixth album of this forward-thinking band from Germany is a continuation of Alexander von Meilenwald’s distinct vision. He crafts a unique style of black/death/goth metal with particular attention paid to atmosphere. Low-end guitars drone and churn in the primordial abyss. There are hints of funeral doom in the languid tempos and keys, but Meilenwald’s compositions are more progressive in scope than the average funeral doom band.
Tracks such as “The Tundra Shines” and “Polar Hiss Hysteria” have a lulling effect in the droning rhythms, but moments of speed will catch the listener by surprise. There is an eastern-world quality to the female vocals in “Anchoress of Furs,” further adding to the album’s exotic flavor. The Thule Grimoires demands attention because the songs are often long, but patience will pay off as the atmosphere and idiosyncrasies are magical, which results in an intellectually and imaginatively fulfilling experience.
3. Harakiri For The Sky – Mӕre (AOP)
Going on ten years now, Austrian duo Harakiri For The Sky have been wowing fans with their wrenchingly emotional take on post black metal. The band writes long songs loaded with melody and atmosphere, along with agonizing black metal vocals. Here on their fifth album Mӕre, they do not deviate from the style that’s gotten them this far. As with 2018’s Arson, drumming is performed by Septicflesh’s Kerim Lechner, and a guest vocal from Gaerea on “Silver Needle – Golden Dawn” is also gripping.
Clocking in at a whopping 85 minutes, Mӕre is not for the faint of heart. Track after track of emotionally powerful blackened post metal will drain the listener. Highlight track “Sing for the Damage We’ve Done” features vocals from Alcest’s Neige, if one needs even more of a reason to check Mӕre out. Harakiri For The Sky feel like a band that’s always just on the cusp of releasing a masterpiece, and Mӕre once again flirts with greatness, falling just barely short. Another stellar release.
4. Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix (AFM)
Dark prog masters Evergrey return with Escape Of The Phoenix, their twelfth album and first since their conceptual trilogy of albums that spanned the last seven years. Producer Jacob Hansen feels that Evergrey have taken a more metallic and direct approach with Escape Of The Phoenix. This is true. Songs like “Where August Mourn” and “Eternal Nocturnal” both hit hard with a sense of urgency, much like the band in a live setting with more aggression than recent output. And once again, Tom S Englund and lead guitarist Henrik Danhage wow us with both tight riffing and perfectly arranged solos.
Escape Of The Phoenix serves as a reset of sorts for Evergrey, allowing Englund to explore more lyrical themes than the last three albums did, and in turn seeming to allow the band to dig in and really hit hard. The sharp songwriting, aggressive production, and outstanding performances all add up to a winner of an album, one that is sure to please long-time fans and newcomers alike.
5. Spire – Temple Of Khronos (Sentient Ruin)
I rarely dive into the black metal end of the pool, but with relatively unknown Australian duo Spire I’m sure glad I did. The pair have been around for over a decade now, and Temple Of Khronos is their second full-length release. They promise that the album will be “immensely evocative, and shrouded in a profound and majestic mysticism,” and they live up to that promise.
There are plenty of blast beats and tremolo picking, but Spire deliver so much more. There is a ritualistic aura about the album, with eerie effects and atmospherics heightened by the various vocalizations used, which range from chants to shrieks to Primordial-like singing. The succinct nature of the album only adds to its allure, pulling the listener in and not letting go for the entire 40-minute journey.
6. Suffering Hour – The Cyclic Reckoning (Profound Lore)
For Suffering Hour, the four years between their debut album In Passing Ascension and their latest album The Cyclic Reckoning has come with a purposeful evolution in their black/death metal. Their 2019 single-track EP Dwell was the first sign of this, taking their whirling music and driving it over 18 minutes. This album continues that with a momentous closer in “The Foundations Of Servitude” that goes almost as long as that EP.
The songwriting as a whole has undergone some renovations, with a concerted effort to inject a melodic bent to the fierce sonic undertaking. A few of these songs are longer than the ones on In Passing Ascension, though it never feels forced. While layering some atmospheric elements, Suffering Hour doesn’t lose any of its hostile nature on The Cyclic Reckoning.