Join us all month long as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. After revealing our Top 100 Albums of the 2010s, we’re now getting a bit more specific with genre-by-genre breakdowns. Next up, our Top 25 Metal Albums of the 2010s.
Heavy metal thrived in the 2010s, thanks to a wide-range of stellar albums from an eclectic mix of bands. While there is an inherent heaviness throughout the metal universe, different subgenres have expanded the realm of what is considered “metal.”
Bands like Zeal & Ardor, who incorporate slave spirituals over extreme metal music, or Deafheaven, who combine shoegaze and black metal, have helped advance the genre. And Ghost proved that metal can be as catchy as it is heavy.
Meanwhile, veteran acts like Judas Priest, Voivod, Marilyn Manson, Megadeth, and more released some of their best works this decade, while extreme metal bands like Behemoth, Gojira, and Carcass unleashed modern metal masterpieces.
And the numbers don’t lie either. A recent study by music distributor TuneCore showed that heavy metal was the fastest-growing genre in terms of streams and downloads from 2017 to 2018. And, a couple years back, Spotify declared metal fans as the most loyal listeners.
This proved that metal will never die, no matter what happens in this fickle music industry. The future for heavy music shines bright as we head into the 2020s, but for now, take a look back at the best metal albums of the 2010s.
Click ahead to see our Top 25 Metal Albums of the 2010s…
25. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit (2018)
One of the decade’s true pioneers in heavy music is Zeal & Ardor mastermind Manuel Gagneux, a Swiss-American musician who grafted slave spirituals onto a bed of extreme and industrial metal. Zeal & Ardor’s debut, Devil Is Fine, boasted one instant-classic song (the title track) alongside a number of solid cuts. Sophomore effort Stranger Fruit cashed the check the original wrote, with a bumper crop of indelible choruses plumbing the depths of occult wickedness in the blues. Defiant and delightful, Zeal & Ardor is one of metal’s most original contributions to the pop music tradition. Opposing white supremacy while in league with the devil, it’s one of a kind. –Joseph Schafer
24. Megadeth – Dystopia (2016)
Dystopia marked a crushing return to form for thrash metal legends Megadeth both sonically and artistically. Dave Mustaine returned to his favorite lyrical topics of conspiracy and corruption, and new guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler provide the musical spark that was lacking on Megadeth’s previous two albums, 2013’s Super Collider and 2011’s Th1rt3en. By comparison, Dystopia sounds massive, with a thick low-end and no-frills production that gives the album a live-in-the-studio aesthetic. This works in the band’s favor, presenting their technical musicianship plainly and without mixing gimmicks, which have sometimes convoluted latter-era Megadeth recordings. It’s straight-up thrash metal, and that’s all the band needed to notch their first-ever Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2017 for the album’s title track. —Jon Hadusek
23. Pallbearer – Sorrow & Extinction (2012)
Rising from the humble underground scene in Little Rock, Arkansas, Pallbearer conjured the magic and mysticism of classic doom metal with their debut album, Sorrow & Extinction. From the haunting acoustic intro of “Foreigner” to the transcendent cascading post-metal of closer “Given to the Grave”, the album evokes images of otherworldly realms, decaying catacombs, and smoky canyons. The songs build like slow epics, with lyrics that read like pleas from a tome of ancient poetry. Pallbearer create a suspended disbelief and fantastical atmosphere on Sorrow & Extinction, as if by listening to the album we are transported into its thematic universe, like a fantasy novel or roleplaying game. The band released two solid albums after this, but has yet to top their timeless debut. —Jon Hadusek
22. Voivod – The Wake (2018)
What is it with Canada and prog? Rush, Triumph, Saga, Max Webster, Klaatu … the list is endless. But what about Canadian sci-fi-thrash-prog? Voivod were deemed supreme rulers of this genre long ago (admittedly, without much competition) and continue on their merry way with 2018’s The Wake. The veteran group’s 14th studio effort overall contains all the hallmarks of a classic Voivod offering, including “Obsolete Beginnings” (the apparently required speedy album opener), “The End of Dormancy” (which takes many unexpected twists and turns), and “Always Moving” (which merges psychedelia and thrash!). More than 35 years into the band’s career, it’s good to know that fans can always count on the Voivod lads to stay strange — as heard throughout The Wake. –Greg Prato
21. Kvelertak – Kvelertak (2010)
Norwegian quintet Kvelertak had their sound locked in from the jump and haven’t veered from that path in the decade since their self-titled debut was released in 2010. And why would they mess with a winning formula? This band have perfected a sound that skims the edges of parody, right where power metal, boogie rock, and glam wiggle and ooze together like primordial creatures in mating season. The X factor for Kvelertak — the band and the self-titled album — was the vocals of since-departed frontman Erlend Hjelvik. Where you would expect a wail or a croon, he gave you shouting and growling and a death metal-inspired fury. Mix all these elements together for volatile results. –Robert Ham
20. Tool – Fear Inoculum (2019)
Perhaps no other album in the 2010s was as highly anticipated as the new Tool LP … and Fear Inoculum did not disappoint. In fact, you could make a checklist and mark off the following prerequisites — mysterious album title, eye-popping artwork, zen-like lyrics, rubbery guitar riffs, prog-metal song structures, etcetera, etcetera. But when you’ve hit upon such an original-sounding and winning formula as Tool, why the heck change it? And while the 13-year gap (!) between Fear Inoculum and their previous offering, 2006’s 10,000 Days, came dangerously close to Chinese Democracy territory, the layoff did not dull the band’s focus — as exemplified by the slowly unwinding album-opening title track, plus “Pneuma” and “7empest”, while also saving some space to get a little artsy-fartsy (“Chocolate Chip Trip” and “Mockingbeat”). –Greg Prato
19. Mastodon – The Hunter (2011)
Following two lofty concept albums, Mastodon returned with an album that is nothing of a concept piece. On 2011’s The Hunter, the band fleshed out a meat-and-potatoes metal record, with each track presenting a contrasting style and sound. The Hunter may not be as cohesive as Mastodon’s concept albums, but that’s the point — and that’s the beauty of it. The LP features Mastodon pushing themselves outside their musical comfort zone, whether it’s introducing a wild-and-crazy riff or going with nearly exclusively clean vocals. Standout tracks include the album’s dark title track, which was written about guitarist and vocalist Brent Hinds’ brother, who passed away after suffering a heart attack while hunting, and “All the Heavy Lifting”, with its massive chorus and mighty riffing. While Mastodon would follow The Hunter with two more solid efforts, the 2011 disc stands as the band’s strongest release of the decade. –Anne Erickson
18. Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down (2017)
The 2010s were a good decade for Marilyn Manson. After a bit of a musical slump in the first 10 years of the 21st century, he upped his game with Born Villain in 2012 and the Pale Emperor in 2015. While Manson’s eponymous band has seen a revolving door of members, working with film composer Tyler Bates seemed to reinvigorate Manson’s creative spirit, and the duo really outdid themselves in 2017 with Heaven Upside Down. The album is tight all the way through with no filler, highlighted by the punk-ish sound of “Revelation #12”, the quirky groove of “Tattooed in Reverse”, the sexy sleaze of “Kill4Me”, and the epic ballad “Blood Honey”. Manson’s new sound has definitely evolved over time into something equal parts alternative, industrial, rock, metal, and country all converging into something as fresh as it is familiar, solidifying it as one of the top albums of the 2010s. –Colette Claire
17. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum (2019)
Long gone is the death metal stylization that made for the first chapter of Opeth; nowadays, the veteran Swedish band are more interested in tapping into various blends of psych-rock, blues, and folk. While they’ve been utilizing these genres throughout their previous few records, In Cauda Venenum sees frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt and company fully realizing their artistry. Not only does the record display a plethora of enchanting sounds, but each track captures the band’s progressive mentality. From the bombastic drumming and wild flourishes of guitar and bass, In Cauda Venenum exudes a lovely serene nature. Each cut makes for a fascinating composition, presenting unique structure and style. In Cauda Venenum is a superb step forward for Opeth, as well as a stunning addition in the world of progressive metal. –Michael Pementel
16. Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower (2015)
For their third full-length, Richmond doom metal band Windhand enlisted legendary Seattle engineer Jack Endino, responsible for some of the grunge era’s most lauded recordings. Warm, golden amp tones emit from the tracks on Grief’s Infernal Flower, though the songs here are far from bright. Vocalist Dorothy Cottrell sings with a sultry pain, her words contemplating bleak phrases of sadness and despair. The band’s stoner rock leanings are restrained into a droning catharsis, and while there’s still plenty of heavy riffs, they’re focused to compliment the album’s emotional weight. There’s a personal yearning to Grief’s Infernal Flower due to the palpable honesty in Cottrell’s voice, not unlike that of the inimitable Mark Lanegan, whom Endino also recorded in Seattle nearly three decades before working with Windhand. —Jon Hadusek
Click ahead to see more of our Top 25 Metal Albums of the 2010s…