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The 10 Best Metal Albums of 2021

Arena fillers, dwellers of the underground, and more. We run down the year’s finest — and heaviest

The year's best metal records included the latest from Iron Maiden, Mastodon, King Woman, and Portal (pictured clockwise from top left).

from top, left to right: courtesy of John McMurtrie; Clay Patrick McBride; courtesy of Portal; Nedda Asfari

Metal has always served as the perfect vehicle for catharsis, so it’s no surprise that the most notable metal offerings of 2021 — some of which were made while the world reeled in agony during Covid-related shutdowns last year — each provided a unique sort of escape: the determination of Iron Maiden, the chaos of Portal, the brooding of King Woman. Elsewhere, everyone from big-name headliners like Mastodon and Gojira to underground torchbearers like Skepticism and Panopticon took their dark arts to new heights (or depths). Here are the 10 best metal albums that got us through the year.

From Rolling Stone US


Iron Maiden, ‘Senjutsu’

As much as Maiden fans may wish the band would rehash warhorses like “Run to the Hills” or “The Trooper,” the long-running headbangers have never looked back. Senjutsu, their 17th album, is their most progressive masterstroke yet. They still play the sort of hypnotic, vaguely Celtic riffs that made them famous, and frontman Bruce Dickinson could still win a John Henry–like battle with an air-raid siren, but as on 2015’s The Book of Souls, they’ve elevated their songwriting with more intricate structures and smarter lyrics than when they started out 40 years ago. Senjutsu’s longer epics (“Hell on Earth,” “The Time Machine”) are the best here — the group gets lost in the journey and brings listeners along with them — proving Iron Maiden are still innovators as much as they are legends. K.G.