Usually in our Best Of columns we try to tackle either something genre-specific or something conveying a very specific idea. Today we’re doing something a little different though. Given that we’re now officially more than halfway through the 2010s, it seems fitting to take a hard look at some of the albums that have defined the current generation of metal. Since this site was formed in 2009, this list encompasses the vast majority of the music we’ve had the pleasure to experience and review in real time. And as a site who strongly believes we’re currently in the throes of a new Golden Age of Metal, what better way to prove that than with this brief shortlist of phenomenal music we believe best encapsulates that notion.
Now, given that these types of lists are particularly prone to disagreement and comments of “What about X?”, let’s get a few obvious points out of the way. This list in no way represents the full spectrum of incredible metal released in the past 5 years. If you read Heavy Blog regularly you are well-aware of where our general interests and preferences lie and where we could be interpreted as having a blindspot towards. Also, before anyone complains that “X isn’t metal,” yes, okay, we know. If it’s something we felt was metal or metal-adjacent (basically something heavy that we covered on this site), it counted. Finally, even though we went through multiple rounds of voting to arrive at this list, it was in no way as thorough or rigorous a process as what we do for our annual AOTY list. This isn’t about ranking though. This is about taking a quick look at the past 5 years and shining a spotlight on some of the albums that still get us as excited today as they did when they were first released.
And with that, let’s take a look at our Best Of Metal from 2010-2015, listed in no particular order!
The Ocean – Pelagial (2013)
How post-metal collective The Ocean were able to successfully one-up the ambitious double-album conceptual experience that was Heliopocentric and Anthropocentric is basically a miracle considering the story behind the creation of Pelagial. Following the heavy Helio/Anthro global touring cycle, vocalist Loic Rosetti had lost his voice and was on the brink of never performing again, causing the band to reshape its focus and write as an instrumental outlet. Written as a soundtrack to the journey to the ocean floor, the band paid immaculate attention to detail in crafting a singular body of music that gradually took the listener from delicate and intricate prog to crushing doom over the course of the record’s hour-long runtime. Instrumentally, Pelagial is complex, textured, and memorable in its own right, rich in detail and successful at scoring the locations it wishes to depict.
However, Rosetti ended up coming through in the clutch and recovered enough to deliver a powerful and emotional vocal performance that added yet another avenue for conceptual storytelling and melodic delivery. The band doubled down on its conceptual journey to the unknown by taking inspiration from Tarkovski’s 1979 sci-fi film Stalker, which served as a metaphor for wish fulfillment and the nature of desire.
Taking everything into consideration, Pelagial is a cohesive masterpiece that makes the case for the art of storytelling through music in and of itself in the genre of metal, and is from top to bottom one of the most fascinating and artful metal records to see release in the last decade. We at Heavy Blog do not take it lightly when we say that Pelagial may well be the most important metal record released since 2010.
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Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind (2012)
It’s hard to describe an album as being faultless. However, there’s a few of them that simply are without any sort of issue, and are simply fantastic from start to finish. Converge made an album in 2012 that is the definition of a fantastic album with All We Love We Leave Behind, a momentous album and a landmark in the hardcore genre. I have yet to find an album in the genre that has the same effect on me that AWLWLB did the very first time I heard it.
Beginning with “Aimless Arrow”, the album is a journey through the psyche, though it might not appear as such from the onset. Lyrically the song paints some very vivid pictures, such as the opening lyrics on the aforementioned song: “To live the life you want/You’ve abandoned those in need/A necessary casualty/Or so you believe”. Songs of loss and regret populate the album with high frequency, each painting a different portrait. Jacob Bannon and company succeed at every turn, with the slower songs feeling sort of like stadium rock anthems you can shout at the top of your lungs. They don’t abandon their heaviness, however, and many of their songs are furious, short and sweet, blistering hardcore anthems.
It’s very rare to find one album in a genre not necessarily known for being filled with emotion to come out like it did, but quite frankly, I’m glad it did. It now serves as inspiration for countless other bands that are coming out of the woodwork, showing them it’s ok to wear your heart on your sleeve. There’s a reason this was my favorite album from 2012, and one of my favorites of all time. It’s because it’s absolutely flawless.
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Gorguts – Colored Sands (2013)
Given Colin Marston’s prestige and his penchant for weirdness and off-kilter, atonal melodies, not to mention his prodigal technical ability as an instrumentalist, it was only natural that he would end up joining one of the most prestigious, weird, and experimental metal groups of all time: the almighty Gorguts, who, led by Luc Lemay, had one of the most noticeable and widespread effects on the landscape of extreme metal off the strengths of three albums from 1993 to 2001. Coming back from an almost decade-long hibernation in 2009 and releasing the followup to the touted turn-of-the-millennium LP, From Wisdom To Hate, in 2013, from the announcement day onwards it was clear to all that this was going to be no ordinary technical death metal album.
And, indeed, all were right in their expectations; Colored Sands takes every convention of the genre it occupies and throws them all to the side. In placing a much heavier focus on creating a grim, quasi-apocalyptic atmosphere than displaying the technical proficiency of the band’s members, Lemay, Marston, and company have put forth one of those rare albums that transcends any sort of genre-inherent limitations or boundaries through the strength and depth of its artistic vision and the sheer visionary quality of its music. Across the 62-minute runtime, reverberating drums and meandering bass guitar form the base off of which numerous guitar tracks (usually between 3 and 6) build to create a complex, interwoven musical tapestry rich with recurrent themes. A sense of ambience pervades the entire release, however, Gorguts do not sacrifice intricacy for the sake of mood; the entire album is laden with moments that are as musically intriguing as they are emotionally compelling.
Helped along by a raw, organic-sounding mix and a vocal performance that focuses more on bolstering the strengths of the music than making itself a focal point, Colored Sands is perhaps the most consistent and instrument-driven work in the past half-decade. Make no mistake, this is not an easy listen by any means; at times the music is overwhelming in its intensity and depth, but those who persevere will find a piece of pure art that, upon each new consideration, reveals different foibles and twists that makes every revisiting a unique foray into the virtuosic minds behind this album. Born from a marriage of genius songwriting, grandiose artistic vision, and an impossibly precise attention to detail, Colored Sands is an ever-shifting labyrinth that the attentive listener can delight in getting lost within time and time again.
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WVRTH – WRVTH (2015)
After a band changes their name, it usually comes with a significant stylistic shift. Normally, this pattern follows suit simply because the band feels that their old incarnation is no longer where they want to be or what they want to do. WRVTH, formerly Wrath of Vesuvius, shortened their name and ultimately decided to shift their sound a bit, focusing more on atmospheric sounds and creating an overall sound as opposed to just being brutal and heavy. The band managed to do both on their self-titled record, making for one compelling release.
From the opener to the album’s final song, there is definitely a change. The band stepped up their game significantly, blending creative melodic leads and atmospheric sections with some brutal, heavy death metal and technical guitar work to create an album that’s helping pave the way for the future of death metal for a younger generation of bands. Songs such as “Forlorn” and “Harrowing Winds” are a perfect example of a band that knows exactly where they want to be, and where they want to be is very good for the genre and for fans alike. This album is a call to arms to step up your game, to ultimately fine-tune your craft and set your standards high, because this album brings the bar up by a significant amount.
Whether or not you’ve ever heard of them, or have been a fan since their early days, you’d be hard pressed to dislike WRVTH. There’s a reason this album is regarded so highly by this site. It’s because it is filled with great music made by five guys who are committed to bringing us some of the most creative and game changing death metal there is to offer, and I cannot wait to see what they do next.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us Is the Killer (2013)
One would think that well over a decade into their career, the inimitable Dillinger Escape Plan might try to kick it back a notch and allow themselves a bit of room to breathe, especially after releasing four who albums of frenzied chaos. But Ben Weinman and friends had other ideas, with One of Us Is the Killer cutting back with the experimentation to be found in predecessors Ire Works and Option Paralysis to make a razor-sharp record that is simultaneously sleek and refined whilst dipping into territory nearly as cacophonous as the band’s earliest demo recordings.
Killer is pure, unadulterated fury: the catchy title track aside, every song is absolutely violent in one way or another, from the hair-raising outro of “Hero of the Soviet Union” to the slow burn of “Crossburner”. Greg Puciato is in top form on the record (though when is he ever not?) with his borderline terrifying delivery, sealing everything about Killer into a neat, cohesive package.
Most importantly, however, the album solidifies Dillinger’s position as one of the most vital bands in heavy music into the new decade, while their relentless touring indicates that they have no intention of losing steam. It only remains to be seen what new material the unpredictable juggernauts have in store for us over the rest of the decade, though it wouldn’t be unreasonable to bet on it being as brilliant in its innovation as it is merciless in its assault.
Deftones – Diamond Eyes (2010)
I, and many of my Heavy Blog colleagues have noted the interesting contrast between heavy and soft sounds in the Deftones catalog. Part of what makes the band so great is their ability to combine both ends of the rock/metal spectrum into something that hits harder than most music, yet has a poetic soul. Diamond Eyes is, arguably, the epitome of this meeting of opposites, whether it’s the album’s title track—which features some of the heaviest riffs in the band’s catalog—or the incredibly lush “Sex Tape.”
Yet, Diamond Eyes is so much more. Like the phoenix rising from its own ashes, Deftones were able to reinvent themselves for a new generation of fans after an album met with mixed reviews (Saturday Night Wrist) and the hospitalization—and eventual death—of bassist Chi Cheng. Even more amazing, they were able to do this without completely abandoning their signature sound, showing that even through the toughest of times, the combined talents of Chino Moreno, Stephen Carpenter, Frank Delgado, and Sergio Vega, could overcome with incredible results.
Anathema – Weather Systems (2012)
What does a memory sound like? In the case of Anathema’s Weather Systems, a memory sounds like the most shocking, sweet, nostalgic and sorrowful album I’ve ever heard. If those seem like somewhat of a contradiction, that’s fully intentional. This album is all made up of contradictions: it’s a hopeful album recorded by a band known for their sorrow, a powerful album that communicates through fragility and a small album that somehow manages to be bigger than anything out there.
At its base, Weather Systems is one of the only iterations or a genre we here at the blog have coined “power pop”. It relies on classical, poppy elements of rock that were set in stone by Steven Wilson and The Pineapple Thief in the past decade or so. But these elements are injected with a sensation of bigger than life pomposity, over the top melodrama that should both dash you to the rocks and lift you to the clouds. Thus, Weather Systems has it all: the dreamy declarations of opener “Untouchable: Part I”, the ecstatic peaks of “Lightning Song” and the lost, terminal delusions of “Internal Landscapes”.
Through it all run twenty years of experience with music, making sure that those things you once thought were simple are really not simple at all. The opening track is actually a prime example of that: listen closely to “Untouchable: Part I” and the interaction between backing, acoustic guitar and the thin electronic line which ducks in and out of primacy through-out and you’ll see what I mean. Essentially catchy lines are transformed in the relationship between each other into something more, something complex and musically enthralling. For this gentle ease of sonic tapestry-weaving, Weather Systems is one of the best album since 2010. And beyond. Far, far beyond.
Swans – The Seer (2012)
Now that we’ve all been throughly wrought up by The Seer, it’s a bit strange to recall the contextual awkwardness that preceded the album’s release. For while My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky remains a great album, it wasn’t exactly the triumphant follow-up to Soundtracks for the Blind that Swans fans were clamoring for. In all fairness, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise; matching an album of such magnitude while also satiating reunion hype is no small feat, even for a band like Swans. With this considered, it’s clear now that a gap album such as My Father… was an essential set up for what Gira and crew would accomplish on The Seer. Having gingerly established that Swans was once again a perturbed beast with unhinged jowls and gnashing teeth, Gira and his new cast of sonic pervertors had the opportunity to craft a truly exceptional experience.
And for anyone with adequate dexterity and stamina, that’s exactly what The Seer provides. Whereas My Father… was a lighter mixture of Swans and Gira’s side projects, The Seer is two hours of pure sonic mayhem that leverages every aspect of Swans career into an immaculately woven quilt riddled with disease. Once the ominous, disorienting chants of “Lunacy” give way to the devastating whittling of “Mother of the World,” the listener is ensnared within a maze of tension. Swans maintain utter dominance over this tool, mounting insurmountable levels of anxiety with riff after riff after riff. By the time the crescendo arrives in “The Mother of the World,” Swans has built up palpable unease that makes the release of Gira’s ugly sneer feel like the coo of morning songbird. Of course, this pales in comparison to the title track’s half hour pressure builder, one of three tracks on the album that scoff at the twenty minute mark. Above all else, The Seer is flagrant disrespect for standard musical fare; a towering pillar of noise, drone and ambient that must be experienced rather than heard. From the blistering cacophony of “93 Ave Blues” to the gorgeous acoustic ballad of “Song for a Warrior,” these are the sounds Gira knew were essential, if not anticipated.
As Gira plans the conclusion of “this incarnation” of Swans, The Glowing Man will bookend yet another exceptional chapter in the band’s untouchable career. Admittedly, picking a favorite Swans album is comparable to ranking your favorite bastard children; The Seer, To Be Kind and The Glowing Man all have distinct qualities that set themselves apart in phenomenal ways. But only one member of this trio was the impetus for it all, and that fact – as well as the album’s indisputable quality – will forever mark The Seer as a pinnacle moment in Swans’ discography.
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The Contortionist – Exoplanet (2010)
Deathcore, like it or not, was an interesting movement in the scene. It caused ripples and changed how many view music. Near the tail end of that phenomenon, there was an album to end the genre. That album was Exoplanet, and they left a lasting effect. What did people like about deathcore? Death metal riffs, breakdowns, high energy. What did The Contortionist bring to the table with Exoplanet? They added so much more to that mix. Transcending the expectations of the genre, they added elements from post-rock and progressive metal to create a progressive, emotional and powerful album while still retaining the aggressive edge of deathcore.
That sounds cool and all, but why is Exoplanet one of the best albums of its era? Because it’s just perfect at doing what it sets out to. They know so well when to have each riff hit, when to pull back and let the atmosphere consume the listener, when to drop that one vocal line that sets off your insides. Many have tried the same formula after them, but none have come close to being as focused and well-made as Exoplanet. Even the band’s attempt at retouching the album a few months ago didn’t reach its original heights. The album is just incredible. The mix is so timeless too, still holding up unlike many of their peers from the era, still enhancing the musicianship on display without getting in its way. At least one other album on this list is quite obviously inspired by Exoplanet, and this yet again goes to show how powerful it was and still is. Regardless of one’s mood, there’s a track in here that will be right, be it the upbeat opening of “Flourish”, the spaced-out, mellow “Axiom”, the one-two punch of “Primal Directive”… Exoplanet is one of the best albums of not just this time period but its genre overall.
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Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction (2011)
Let’s get one thing straight: Deconstruction is pure theater. It’s positively overwhelming and it’s smothered in a thick coat of cheese garnished with fart jokes. It’s also one of the best progressive metal albums that has come out in years. At over 70 minutes in length, this was easily the densest album of the Devin Townsend Project’s initial four album suite, featuring the Prague Philharmonic and probably the most stacked vocal lineup you’re likely to ever see in the next twenty years. Devin & Co. seamlessly navigate through each of these features and always seem to draw from whichever band the particular vocalist is from. With Deconstruction you’ve got the obvious Meshuggah influence (which Devy breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges in “Planet of the Apes”), the avant-black metal of Ihsahn in the song “Juular,” and the churning grooves of Gojira, all of which are done at an astounding level of confidence.
And that only scratches the surface! One can also expect references to Ziltoid in the industrial/techno interlude of “The Mighty Masturbator,” getting uncharacteristically sensitive and beautiful during Paul Masvidal’s (Cynic) vocal feature at the end of “Sumeria,” and plenty of crude absurdity from none other than Gwar’s Oderus Urungus! It’s been around for almost five years now at this point, but if for whatever reason you’re a diehard Strapping Young Lad fan and missed this one; know that it’s easily the most overwhelming Devin Townsend album since Alien. Few other albums in metal’s history have come close to matching this level of grandiosity and creativity. You’ll also be hard pressed to find vocal performances finer than in tracks like “Stand” and “Praise the Lowered.” At this point it could be totally feasible to see this as one of the last statements of Devin’s insanely heavy side, and if that’s the case, Deconstruction was an incredibly successful way to close things out.
Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things (2015)
Not every band releases its opus five albums already into a career, but Intronaut is not like most bands. Metal’s biggest dolphin lovers have proven time and time again that they’re quite the difficult beast to pin down when it comes to defining their style – or predicting it, for that matter. The Direction Of Last Things’ two predecessors saw the band steer towards a sound that was more expansive and less aggressive than their earliest output, culminating in the complete absence of harsh vocals on Habitual Levitations. One might have expected, hence, that this album would follow suit and go further down the same path.
Then came “Fast Worms” and pretty much obliterated any such expectations within its first minute. Taking its namesake and running with it, the opener and first single of the album makes for the fastest track in the band’s catalog since “Australopithecus”. In somewhat typical Intronaut fashion, however, the unbridled fury of its riffs and screams is juxtaposed with a soaring chorus and a delightfully melodic, mini-jam-session of a second half. That can extend to the entire LP, too: The Direction Of Last Things is an ideal blend of elements of every style the band has toyed with, during every era of their career, all balanced in a way that none of them are overshadowed by their counterparts. For every pummeling belter like “Fast Worms” and “The Pleasant Surprise”, there’s one like the entirely cleanly sung “Digital Gerrymandering”. For every heavy section within an individual song, there’s a jazzy bass solo or post rock-inspired atmospheric part right around the corner. Even the album’s artwork depicts this amalgamation beautifully, recreating the imagery of 2008’s Prehistoricims with a color palette that strikes closer to that of 2013’s Habitual Levitations.
Yet, much more than it intertwines the sounds of albums past, The Direction Of Last Things also expands into the next chapter of Intronaut’s journey. Whether through Devin Townsend’s razor-sharp production, or surprises like the sublime “The Unlikely Event Of A Water Landing”, this album carves out its own niche in the band’s discography and keeps the air of unpredictability that surrounds them higher than ever. As Heavy Blog’s favorite album of 2015 and one of just two entries from that year making the cut here, we’re confident The Direction Of Last Things has all but proven its status as an instant classic.
The Safety Fire – Mouth of Swords (2013)
As of now, officially a year broken up and still one of the finest mathcore acts ever to grace the planet. The Safety Fire‘s special brand of progressive metal/mathcore blended the finer elements of really intricate riffings with ever-changing time signatures and tempos with a fine mixture of harsh and clean vocals. Their meager two-album discography, comprised of Grind the Ocean in 2012 and Mouth of Swords a year later, would, to some, leave an indelible mark in many listening catalogs and, moreover, progressive music as a whole.
With Mouth of Swords, however, The Safety Fire took the sound they had seeded with Grind the Ocean and allowed it to flourish. The peaks and valleys contained in this 46-and-a-half minute album are so incredibly engaging that each track is simply similar to the one that preceded it in relative tone, but far removed from a typical blueprint. The title track is simply representative of the whole, while “Glass Crush” will misdirect with a soft opening only to be a quick-paced love affair with riffs. The extremely dissonant “Yellowism” comes with far and above the most aggressive staccato riff on the album, whereas “Beware the Leopard” takes a more relaxed approach to the band’s sound. This whole mentality carries on throughout the end with “Old Souls,” as the band’s sound coalesces once more to represent an amalgam of pretty much everything you’ve just heard in the previous 40-odd minutes.
Mouth of Swords is a gift. A truly great gift. It’s only a shame that we will unlikely see another record added to their repertoire. In the meanwhile, we have Good Tiger, which scratches a similar itch quite nicely.
As always, fuck The Safety Fire.
A Few Other Albums That Weren’t The Very Top But Also Were Supremely Awesome
Behemoth – The Satanist (2014)
Native Construct – Quiet World (2015)
Tesseract – One (2011)
A Sense of Gravity – Travail (2014)