Up to this point, I avoided doing a Top 10 or Top 20 type of list. I don’t know why. Perhaps I didn’t want anything to come across as gimmicky as sometimes these lists can be. But we just ended a decade. I thought it was a good time to revisit some of my favorite albums of the past 10 years. These types of lists are highly subjective, so keep that in mind as you’re reading.
Without further ado, here’s my list of the best metal albums of the 2010s.
Avenged Sevenfold – Nightmare
Released July 2010
This takes me back… My very first article back when my site was just a small blog was about the drama that unfolded when Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater. I was already a big fan of Dream Theater and was so shocked about Portnoy’s departure that I had to write about it. Since this was right around the time he’d played on an A7X record and toured with them, I had to talk about that band too; except, I didn’t really know who they were…
Fast forward to today, not only do I know all of their music, I think Nightmare is one of the best heavy metal albums ever. It’s as simple as that. By the time Nightmare was released, they’d already had a considerable fan base, but I didn’t find their earlier material appealing. But this album is a different beast. It almost sounds like a different band to me. Every song is musically so rich and satisfying. The guitarwork is melodic, yet heavy; and M. Shadows’ vocals are beautifully executed with far more versatility than he showed in earlier albums. Each song offered something unique and I could never guess where they were going. The songwriting and execution were flawless. It was the perfect tribute to their brother, The Rev, as it was lyrically deep, and musically powerful.
I think this record and their latest, The Stage, are their best work. I don’t listen to the others too much. But two things will always be true for me. One, I admire their desire to try something different with each album. Whether you like it or not, a band that sticks to the same formula tends to get predictable. You won’t say that about A7X. And two, Nightmare is a perfect record from start to finish and belongs to any “best of” list metal fans may compile.
Anthrax – Worship Music
Released September 2011
The 2000s were a tumultuous period for Anthrax. And that’s probably an understatement. After a long stint with John Bush, the band tried to do a re-union with Joey Belladonna and Dan Spitz. It didn’t last. Band tried to get Bush back; he, understandably, refused to rejoin them. Then there was that whole Dan Nelson thing… I’m still not clear what happened there – but I don’t think anybody is… except for the band members themselves! The trouble was, there was lots of music already written with Nelson that the band needed to release. They, once again, tried to get John Bush but he didn’t want to commit to Anthrax full-time. From some old interviews, it also sounds like he wasn’t comfortable doing vocals on tracks where he wasn’t part of the creative process.
These all matter because Worship Music came after all this hardship. Through some magic, Belladonna came back into the band. Anthrax needed this album to be a triumph after so many years of showing up in metal magazines mostly with vocalist changes!
And to me, that’s exactly what this album is: a triumph. I like the Bush era too, but listening to Worship Music, I can’t now imagine anybody else doing the vocals. Not only did Belladonna do a phenomenal job with the vocals, he also brought a lot of fan attention back to the band as he’d already had a huge history with Anthrax.
Of course, it’s not just about the vocals. I love the songwriting too. Their album before this, We’ve Come For You All, was a step in the right direction but I thought the songwriting was too simplistic for a band that I knew could do so much more. Worship Music is not just heavy – but it’s also got great chorus hooks, melodies, leads, and of course, riffs. The album’s lead single, Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t is one of their best songs, in my view, regardless of what era you look at. That song, just like the rest of the album, exemplifies how Anthrax – with Belladonna’s incredible range – can combine heavy verses with a more melodic chorus.
Some prefer For All Kings over this. Both are great, really. I prefer Worship Music overall. Maybe it’s because I have a huge appreciation for the circumstances under which it was released. You gotta love the perseverance. Definitely one of the highlights of the decade.
Moonspell – Alpha Noir / Omega White
Released April 2012
Adding this to the list even surprised me… The album is spectacular. That’s not the surprise. It’s just that I didn’t know that much about Moonspell to begin with. To be honest, I still don’t know too much about them. The only albums I know are this one and Wolfheart. So, if you have recommendations on where I should go next, let me know in the comments!
But let’s get back to Alpha Noir… I’d always wanted to check out Moonspell. I figured it was the perfect time when I started seeing all these positive reviews about the album. One thing that had kept me from checking them out was the harsher vocals they utilized. I’m just not a big fan of that. I prefer melodic singing overall. But even I have to admit some bands make the harsh vocals (or brutal vocals, whatever you want to call it…) work so well with their music that it ends up complementing the music better than any other style can. In the end, I’m glad I finally checked them out!
What makes Alpha Noir a truly remarkable album is the production. It sounds amazing. It’s dynamic, powerful, and mixed well. It’s modern enough but retains some raw power that I tend to like. That alone grabs your attention. But the music is also astonishing. It’s groovy – so even a simple riff can carry a song to such great depths. The songs are streamlined and don’t drag on for too long without adding something new. Perhaps the best thing about the album to me is the second section – or the Omega White part, if you will. The band came up with something different on purpose – but it’s just as interesting. The songwriting is just as good, but the overall vibe creates a significant contrast with the first half. That contrast made the album much more riveting for me.
Alter Bridge – Fortress
Released October 2013 (U.S. release date)
Alter Bridge is a bit like Avenged Sevenfold to me. No, not because their music is similar. But because it’s one of those bands I appreciate very much but just can’t get into everything they’ve done. While I always follow their new releases, nothing comes close to the brilliance of Fortress. It’s not just my favorite Alter Bridge album, but it definitely earns a place as one of the decade’s best.
The Uninvited is my favorite track; it’s the song that caught my attention first. You can’t go wrong with any song on the album, though. They’re just that well executed.
What I love the most perhaps is the diversity in the songwriting. No two songs are composed similarly. There is an overarching sound to the album – you can tell the song you’re listening to belongs to this album – but they’re all so different. But no matter how heavy things get, Tremonti and Kennedy know how to create hooky choruses and they do it so well. They know how to get your attention. Bleed It Dry has a bone-chilling chorus with some amazing vocal performance from Myles Kennedy, for instance.
Alter Bridge combines Tremonti’s groovy and heavy riffing and Myles Kennedy’s higher pitched vocals. It works flawlessly on this album. No matter where you stand when it comes to their music, you should definitely check out this record.
Marty Friedman – Inferno
Released May 2014
When Marty left Megadeth in 2000, it was clear that he wanted some distance from heavy metal. And distance he got. Most of his releases throughout the 2000s, while exhibiting some heavy work, did not really resemble anything from his Cacophony or Megadeth days. So what is he doing on a best of list concerning heavy metal? Well, Marty simply wasn’t done with heavy music! And we got this beast of a record, Inferno.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Marty Friedman fan no matter what type of music he makes. I don’t define good music in strict terms; Marty for sure doesn’t either! But we all have certain things that we like more than others… I personally think Marty does his best work when he lets the heavier side of things take over. Hyper Doom, is just one example of how exhilarating this album can be. There’s just so much energy you’ll want to run around without knowing why!
When I listen to this, I hear Marty feeling refreshed, poised, and ready to rock! The collaborations he chose also created some really interesting songs that you wouldn’t really hear anywhere else. Take Meat Hook, featuring Jørgen Munkeby, for example… I can’t even begin to describe what it sounds like. It’s on a league of its own but well worth the listen!
While the overall feel is heavy, you won’t really hear two songs sounding alike here. That’s the way Marty wants it and that’s what he delivered. I missed him when he was supporting this album but at last I got to see him live a few years later in 2017. The energy of his music tripled when played live.
Ghost – Meliora
Released August 2015
Ghost is one of those divisive bands. You either love them or you hate them. I love them! Meliora is the reason why I got interested in them in the first place. But I generally appreciate the breath of fresh air they brought to the genre. Oh, and I don’t even care whether you consider them metal or not. To me, they are; but as long as the music is good, does it really matter?
I listened to this album a year after its release. I hadn’t heard anything else from Ghost. I was at work and needed an album to get me through a task I needed to get done. I put on my headphones, went into Apple Music and found the album. There was so much buzz about it. So, I figured I should hear for myself what this band was all about. And here it was… Meliora was so good that I couldn’t concentrate on work for a while there. There was no way I could ignore what I was hearing.
This album is flawless. Every song is beautifully crafted. There are haunting notes that create a darker scene in your mind; but they’re intertwined with melody that provide some light. It’s also much more guitar oriented than its predecessor, perhaps a good way to be introduced to the band.
Overall, I just couldn’t believe how original the tracks were. Usually, even when you listen to a great album, you can kind of hear the influences, or what other band the band you’re listening to sounds like. I couldn’t do any of that with Ghost. This was their territory and I loved every second of it. And the lyrics? Listening to those dark lyrics that come with melodic singing is the kind of contrast that makes captivating tracks! You’ve got to appreciate that. I certainly did.
Megadeth – Dystopia
Released January 2016
There aren’t enough positive things I can say about this album. I know it’s hard for me to stay objective here. I’ve been a Megadeth fan since ’98! But whether you’re a die-hard fan or not, you can’t ignore what the band accomplished here. This is pure Megadeth – the intricate riffs, dynamic drumming, complex but memorable solos, and poignant lyrics are all here. To me, this album is right up there with other fan favorites. I was so stoked when I first heard it – and it just gets better with each listen.
The circumstances under which it was released makes it an even more enjoyable album. Megadeth is resilient. The band lost two members before the recording of this album: Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick. I was happy about the member changes. I liked Drover and Broderick as people – but I never thought they really fit the band musically. I wrote about the reasons in another article so I won’t go into that here. Their replacements, Chris Adler on drums and Kiko Loureiro on guitars, were such great additions that their contribution made the playing on the album stand out even more. And Dave Mustaine once again showcased why he’s the riff master in this genre.
The first time I listened to Dystopia, I was awestruck. This is pure, unadulterated Megadeth. This is where they prove they’ve still got plenty left in the tank. An ode to their late ‘80s – early ‘90s glory with a touch of modern production. I have a hard time naming a favorite song here because they’re all good. I sometimes say Bullet to the Brain is my favorite – but in all honesty, I can’t really choose. This album was exactly what I needed and I loved every minute of it.
Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
Released March 2017
Mastodon is a special band, in my opinion. I will always have so much respect and admiration for bands that can carve an entire genre for themselves. Not only is their music original, but what they play can’t easily be described by anyone. Now, that’s real magic! The first Mastodon album I heard was Blood Mountain years ago. Much like my reaction to the Ghost album, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Who were these guys? And how the hell did they come up with that riff, and that melody, and how do you sing like that?
Over the years, Mastodon released a few new albums. Crack the Skye definitely made the same impact as Blood Mountain. And while some of the following albums had some great moments, the that magic wasn’t there until we got Emperor of Sand. I said a lot about this album when I reviewed it. I’m happy to say after these two and a half years after its release, I love the album even more!
What Mastodon accomplished here is not easy. Some fans complained it wasn’t as “progressive’ as some other albums. I disagree. It maintains that Mastodon sound we’ve come to appreciate. What it does better than some of the previous album, however, is that Mastodon focused far more on melody and song construction. They’ve matured as songwriters over the years and I think they’re much better musicians today. The track Show Yourself got some weird criticism from some fans for being “too simple” but seriously, who cares how complicated a track is as long as it sounds great? It’s much harder to write a good song than it is to write a complex song, if you get what I mean… All songs are good here and if you wanted complex arrangements, it definitely has those too.
This album has tons of depth – you will discover more with each listen. Especially when it comes to the lyrics. Easily on of the best of the decade.
Judas Priest – Firepower
Released March 2018
I wrote about this album in detail earlier too. The mighty Priest released their best album since Painkiller, in my opinion. This was Richie Faulkner’s second with the band; but it’s the first where his influence can openly be heard. The songwriting is fresh, the riffs are plenty, and Rob Halford’s singing is as great as it ever was! What’s not to like?
The band also executed an amazing strategy for the overall sound of the album. Instead of hiring one producer, they let Tom Allom and Andy Sneap handle production duties together. Sneap knows modern production incredibly well but he tends to stick to certain formulas which sometimes makes bands sound alike. Working with Allom, who comes from a different musical background, the band was able to get the best of both worlds. The sound in the end is modern but retains its dynamic character.
I didn’t necessarily think some of the albums before Firepower were bad. But they didn’t have the consistency in songs. This one, however, is a great listen from start to finish. It makes an impact. To me, it was a great way for the band to say to the whole world that they are still relevant in heavy metal even after all those years. I recommend it to all fans of melodic heavy metal.
Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
Released February 2019
Last entry on this list belongs to a band I’ve been a fan of since hearing Scenes From A Memory all the way back in 2000. I’ve seen them live twice and follow every new album they release.
Some people didn’t like the post-Mangini era albums but I liked the direction of A Dramatic Turn of Events and their self-titled follow-up. The Astonishing, however, was a different story. I wrote about that album in detail in a different article, but suffice it to say I didn’t like it. It wanted to be this big, epic thing but ended up being underwhelming. I thought Dream Theater would be better off just letting the music flow instead of trying too hard to execute something that didn’t come naturally.
And that’s what Distance Over Time is. A phenomenal album where the band took some time to write songs. There are videos of them on YouTube where they jammed somewhere in New York and just hung out as a band for a few weeks. In other words, they let the music do the talking. As a result, the songs are more interesting, better structured, and they don’t drag on for too long just for the sake of it. Even the longer songs offer something different so the listener is always engaged. To add to all this, the production is so much better on this than those of the previous two records. To me, this is their best since Systematic Chaos (one of my favorites from them).