The heavy hitters were out in full force this month, making for an outstanding month of new metal releases. It was jam packed, with some worthy albums that would have easily cracked the top 6 most months, but had to be left out. Here are our choices for October 2021’s Best Heavy Metal Albums.
1. Mastodon – Hushed And Grim (Reprise)
Releasing a double album in today’s short attention span, single-driven music industry is a risk, with many being bloated and teeming with too much filler, boring interludes, self-indulgence and ambitions that fall short. A band of Mastodon’s caliber has the skill and self-awareness to avoid those pitfalls, and manage to do so.
The 15 tracks on Hushed And Grim revisit some of the band’s older stylistic ventures, continue some of their recent musical forays and move in new directions. Mastodon push the progressive envelope hard on this album, while also writing songs that are accessible and radio-ready. They often blend the two sensibilities. A nearly 90 minute album is a lot to absorb, and there are a lot of subtleties that reveal themselves after multiple listens. But the quality and quantity of great riffs and memorable melodies also make Hushed And Grim instantly accessible, a combination that’s hard to beat, and tops our list of October’s best.
2. Green Lung – Black Harvest (Svart)
One of the best self-released albums of 2019 was Green Lung’s debut, Woodland Rites. Adroitly mixing classic hard rock with horrific themes, folk rock, doom, and stoner, Woodland Rites captivated and engaged from start to end. Now the U.K. quintet is back with their highly anticipated follow-up, Black Harvest. Two years wiser, Green Lung have further refined and perfected their style to stunning effect.
The classic rock influences remain. One can hear plenty of Rainbow and Black Sabbath again, but the creepy eccentricity of Atomic Rooster and an unabashed (and frankly far too brief) homage to Boston also rear their heads. Combine this with excellent songwriting and an Uncle Acid uneasiness in the lyrics and we are left with a catchy, charismatic slice of retro hard rock with an updated, modern feel to it. Black Harvest is one of the month’s best releases.
3. Trivium – In The Court Of The Dragon (Roadrunner)
Without the ability to tour until recently, album cycles have been accelerated, reminiscent of the old days when bands would release an album every year or so instead of three or four years between records. That compressed time frame did not reduce the quality of the songs on In The Court Of The Dragon. Trivium embraced their past along with continuing down the path they’ve forged recently, creating an album that’s wide-ranging and engaging.
Overall it’s more epic in scope than What The Dead Men Say, especially the second half of the record. Trivium have a lot of influences, and expertly combine them on In The Court Of The Dragon. Accessible hard rock shifts into melodic death metal and thrash. The combination of singing and harsh vocals is very effective. The amount of filler on In The Court Of The Dragon is minimal, an album that is consistently good from beginning to end.
4. Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World (InsideOut)
After more than three decades as one of progressive music’s elite bands, it’s easy to take Dream Theater for granted. Writing and playing complex yet catchy songs certainly isn’t easy, but the make it seem like it is. The title of their fifteenth studio album A View From The Top Of The World is appropriate, as they are still at the top of their game.
At this point in their career, Dream Theater aren’t as innovate as they once were, but there’s still plenty of creativity on display. A View From The Top Of The World is a more epic album than 2019’s Distance Over Time, with fewer songs and a 15 minute longer run time. No matter the length of the tracks, they are dynamic with numerous shifts in tempo and texture and plenty of instrumental breaks. It closes with the 20 minute title track, which meanders from time to time but still satisfies. Pristine production, memorable songs and next level musicianship makes this another quality addition to Dream Theater’s impressive discography.
5. Black Sites – Untrue (Self)
Three albums into their career, it is safe to say Chicago’s Black Sites have come into their own. While 2017’s In Monochrome and 2019’s Exile were both outstanding releases, on Untrue the progressive metal band delivers their most cohesive album thus far, melding influences from Black Sabbath to Queensryche to Voivod into a singular, unmistakable sound.
Untrue is a slightly darker-sounding album than its predecessors, and the work Sanford Parker (Voivod, Spirit Adrift) does as the producer suits the material perfectly. Featuring incredibly complex yet memorable arrangements, stellar solos, charismatic vocals that have improved on every release, and some of the year’s best riffs, Untrue is an album that is quite likely going to find its way onto numerous year-end lists.
6. Hand Of Kalliach – Samhainn (Trepanation)
Samhainn is the debut full-length from Scottish duo Hand Of Kalliach. Named after the Gaelic celebration of autumn, this record weaves Gaelic and Celtic folklore into its lyrics and melodies, while still staying firmly rooted in melodic death metal. Contrary to most death metal, Hand Of Kalliach’s music isn’t guitar focused. Sure, there is guitar for most of the 42-minute runtime of Samhainn, but the drums and vocals are clearly running the show.
The pacing and songwriting are excellent, with nary an overextended section and very few duller moments, and the mix strikes the perfect balance between clarity, atmosphere, and power. The crystalline gossamer of harp sits atop the raging drums and roaring guitars like a thin layer of frost, occasionally taking over for brief moments of respite. Meanwhile, Sophie Fraser’s beguiling clean vocals alternate with her husband John’s death growls, both delivering excellent performances. Hand Of Kalliach have delivered one of the best debuts of the year.
Other 2021 Best Monthly Albums Lists
January 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
February 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
March 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
April 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
May 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
June 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
July 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
August 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
September 2021 Best Heavy Metal Albums
Uh, what happened to Archspire? The top 5 albums you listed are good, but Archspire tops them all.