2021 is off to a strong start, with a usually fairly sparse month packed with quality releases. Here are our picks for January 2021’s best new heavy metal albums.
1. Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound (Metal Blade)
Swedish goth metallers Tribulation return for their fifth proper album Where The Gloom Becomes Sound. Opening with “In Remembrance,” the band slowly makes their way into your ear cavity with chants of “Requiems” before the pace picks up on “Hour of the Wolf.” This is exactly what you want from a Tribulation song; catchy riffs, dark atmosphere, and Olof’s great throaty vocal style.
“The Wilderness” might be one of the best songs penned by the band yet. It builds throughout the first verse before it hits a magnificent riff, one that is brought back frequently throughout the course of the track itself, one that varies from a gallop to one that is played a bit slower in between each time it is re-introduced to the listener. Tribulation have returned to bring another album of theirs that will surely satiate the gothic lust sought out by their fans. Where does the band go from here without one of their most integral pieces? Only time will tell, but Where The Gloom Becomes Sound is already, without a doubt one of the best metal albums you will hear in 2021, and our pick for January’s best new metal album.
2. Yoth Iria – As The Flame Withers (Pagan)
Yoth Iria’s debut full-length As The Flame Withers is the product of three former members of Rotting Christ. Rotting Christ founding member Jim Mutilator joins vocalist The Magus (also Necromantia) and session guitarist George Emanuel. Mutilator played on seminal Greek black metal albums: Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract and Varathron’s His Majesty at the Swamp. As The Flame Withers has a definite European metal sound with obvious nods to Rotting Christ.
“The Great Hunter” opens the album and provides a preview of what’s to come — melodic leads, raspy vocals and blasting drums. Instrumentally, the band become more diverse and epic. For instance, “The Mantis” makes grandiose use of brass, kettle drums, choirs and a victorious riff from the school of Manowar. These parts help visualize the mythology of antiquity depicted in the intelligible lyrics. As The Flame Withers is an early year-end top contender that not only references newer Rotting Christ, but also the never-ending flame of old school metal.
3. Soen – Imperial (Silver Lining)
In the decade since their formation, Soen have become one of progressive metal’s powerhouses. After the tour de force that was 2019’s Lotus, expectations are high for the Swedish band’s fifth album Imperial. The band’s album titles have all been one word, and for the third consecutive album, all the song titles are also one word on Imperial.
As you’d expect from a Soen album, the songs are dynamic. Joel Ekelof has a very expressive voice that really brings out the emotions in a song, whether they are melancholy, joyful or somewhere in between. Mellow songs like “Illusion” are balanced by more aggressive and heavier songs such as “Antagonist.” The tracks are melodic and catchy, and at under 45 minutes in length, there’s minimal filler. Imperial is an enjoyable and well-executed prog metal release.
4. Asphyx – Necroceros (Century Media)
Along with bands such as Autopsy, Incantation and Winter, Asphyx realize one doesn’t have to constantly play death metal 500 miles an hour to be brutal. The Dutch group have perfected the art of death/doom metal since the late ‘80s. Tempering churning, chugging riffage with crushing down tempos, the band return to the fold with their latest full-length, Necroceros.
Album highlights include the ominous, Bolt Thrower-like harmony on “Molten Black Earth,” the melodic, Maiden-esque bridge and harrowing doom of “Three Years of Famine,” the victorious battle march of “Yield or Die,” and the scathing speed of “Botox Implosion.” Led by Martin van Drunen’s sandpaper vocal assault, the album’s lyrics expose some of humanity’s harshest realities, including starvation, cannibalism, war, and prison riots. However, “Mount Skull” is seemingly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional At the Mountains of Madness. Even after 30-plus years of material, Asphyx show they aren’t at a loss for creating memorable riffs and nightmare-inducing lyrics.
5. Frozen Soul – Crypt Of Ice (Century Media)
The Texas death metal band Frozen Soul is a recently formed entity, but many of their members are veterans of the scene. After issuing a demo in 2019 they have signed with Century Media for their full-length debut Crypt Of Ice.
Though several songs embrace the icy wasteland (“Arctic Stranglehold,” “Encased In Ice”), Frozen Soul’s musical approach is anything but cold and sterile. They do a nice job varying tempos both within songs and from track to track. Things like the brief piano intro on “Hand Of Vengeance” add even more diversity to the album. What Crypt Of Ice lacks in originality it makes up for in execution and the quality of riffs. Death metal is off to a strong start in 2021.
6. Therion – Leviathan (Nuclear Blast)
After 2012’s Les Fleurs du Mal, which featured covers of French pop songs, and 2018’s massively ambitious three plus hour triple album rock opera Beloved Antichrist, the Swedish symphonic metal band Therion return with a more traditional album. Drums on Leviathan were recorded by Snowy Shaw (Mercyful Fate, Dimmu Borgir), who has appeared on several previous Therion albums.
There are several guest appearances on Leviathan such as Marco Hietala (Nightwish), Mats Leven (Candlemass) and Noa Gruman (Scardust). Hietala and Lori Lewis’ vocals on “Tuonela” are an album highlight. While the songs on the album are atmospheric and have the depth and complexity you’d expect from Therion, they are even catchier and more memorable than usual. That, along with the fact that it clocks in at around 45 minutes, makes it one of their most accessible releases.