The 21 best U.S. metalcore albums of all time
True metalcore is, at its heart, an American phenomenon. Sure, the UK and elsewhere have spawned plenty of metalcore acts over the years. But the genre emerged wholly from the U.S. with the rise of metallic hardcore bands in the late ’80s and ’90s.
Today, the term can be defined in a million ways. Is it metallic hardcore? Punk-influenced metal? Is mathcore metal, or is it something entirely different? We can debate these questions all day – and believe us, we have – but we’ve weighed up the merits of thousands of records and determined that these are the all-time best metalcore American albums.
Converge – Jane Doe (Equal Vision, 2001)
Whack “Converge + best early album + Petitioning The Empty Sky” into Google and you’ll be presented with this link. Now, we’ve cleared that matter up, let’s talk about Jane Doe, Converge’s landmark album. With the addition of drummer Ben Koller solidifying their line-up, the band revolutionised their sound for their fourth studio album and simply delivered 45 minutes of pulverising riffs and stellar drumming, soundtracking frontman Jacob Bannon’s raw meditations on relationships and heartache; a trudge through a pitch-black abyss of despair with no respite. “My life was dark at the time and creating the album gave me something to focus on,” Jacob told The AV Club. From the opening artillery blast of Concubine to the grindingly epic title track, Jane Doe distilled the very essence of what metalcore should be. One of the heaviest albums ever made.
Norma Jean – Bless The Martyr And Kiss The Child (Solid State, 2002)
Despite releasing the album Throwing Myself under the rap-sounding monicker Luti-Kriss some 18 months previously, Norma Jean’s debut marked a fresh beginning for the Georgia act’s revamped line-up and harsher direction. With 11 tracks clocking in at just under an hour, Bless The Martyr And Kiss The Child was recorded live by Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz – they even kept the sound of Josh Scogin clearing his throat before a vocal take – and quickly became a benchmark of the metalcore genre. Opener The Entire World Is Counting On Me, and They Don’t Even Know It and Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste – the latter featuring a guest appearance by mewithoutYou vocalist Aaron Weiss – are two examples of their ability to mix technical brilliance with a sonic assault bordering on claustrophobia.
Shai Hulud – That Within Blood Ill-Tempered (Revelation, 2003)
Named after one of the terrifying sandworms in Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, Shai Hulud breathed new life into the metalcore scene with the release of their thuggish second studio album. Almost six years in the making, That Within Blood Ill-Tempered saw the debut of singer Geert van der Velde, who replaced Chad Gilbert after leaving to concentrate on bouncing around on stage with New Found Glory. The album is tighter and more impactful than their debut, packing crunching hardcore, flashes of metal and off-kilter drumming around van der Velde’s impassioned bark. Some metalcore purists say that Reach Beyond The Sun is a better album, but we dare you to come out of your mother’s basement and say that.
Poison The Well – The Opposite Of December (Trustkill, 1999)
Yes, we’ve chosen this over You Come Before You. Before you thrash out an angry comment on our Facebook page, take a deep breath and hear us out. The Florida five-piece’s full-length debut satisfyingly ticks all the boxes: discordant, immense riffs? Check. Sternum pummelling drums? Check. A vocal style that sounds like a Japanese Mastiff being unfairly singled out in the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991? Check. Jacob Bannon artwork? Check. Listen to A Wish For Wings That Work and tell us that anything on You Come Before You matches its sheer ferocity. We dare you. What’s that? Cat got your tongue?
Zao – Where Blood And Fire Bring Rest (Solid State/Tooth & Nail, 1998)
Despite their beginnings as a Christian-leaning metalcore band, this West Virginia quartet’s crushingly heavy third album is the first album to feature the demonic vocals of former Season In The Field frontman Dan Weyandt. Whereas the roots of their 1995 album All Else Failed and its 1997 follow-up The Splinter Shards The Birth Of Separation were somewhat preachy, the addition of Weyandt and his deeply personal lyrics – which were inspired by the recent loss of family members and friends under tragic circumstances – makes Where Blood And Fire Bring Rest offer something for religious and non-secular metal fans alike, all wrapped up in one truly abrasive package.
The Chariot – Long Live (Good Fight Music, 2010)
After recording Bless The Martyr And Kiss The Child, Norma Jean vocalist Josh Scogin left the band and formed The Chariot. Sure, we could have gone the easy route and picked The Fiancée as their contribution to this round up of releases, but that’d be too easy. Long Live packs more punch than any other album in their back catalogue. The song Evan Perks sets up the half-hour ear battering and begs the question, ‘Why wasn’t this album used in the U.S. army’s psychological warfare playlist?’ Because it rips so much, the military feared that the resulting mosh pit from their aggressors would overcome the might of their troops. Well, probably. We’re just speculating. Anyway, don’t play this album while driving. You might have an accident.
Integrity – Those Who Fear Tomorrow (Overkill, 1991)
Forming in Cleveland, Ohio, Integrity’s 1991 debut is one of the original metalcore albums. A menacing hybrid with fuses righteous hardcore fury with chaotic metal chugging and soaring solos, Those Who Fear Tomorrow is a stone cold classic; frontman Dwid Hellion’s irate vocal delivery deals with harrowing themes of death, destruction, the apocalypse and various forms of human suffering. You know, just the usual thoughts that plague our mind when doing the big shop on a Saturday morning.
Vision Of Disorder – Imprint (Roadrunner, 1998)
Their best album, no contest. Yes, even better than their self-titled debut. Now we’ve got that indisputable fact out of the way, let’s remind ourselves why. A churning vortex of chugging metal riffs and Tim Williams’ impressive ability to switch from black metal screams to melodic clean vocals, Imprint is a damn near distillation of what metalcore is and should be. Even Phil Anselmo duets with Williams on By The River, if you call two grown men screaming each other’s guts up a duet.
Killswitch Engage – Alive Or Just Breathing (Roadrunner, 2002)
For sheer aggression and melodic nous, Alive Or Just Breathing is greater than its follow-up The End Of Heartache, and here’s why. This Massachusetts quintet’s second album paved the way for the likes of As I Lay Dying and Shadows Fall; over the course of 44 minutes, Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel dish out masterful, stomping metal riffs via Gothenburg’s school of melodic death metal, while Jesse Leach’s impressive vocals reverse from blood gurgling screams to a soaring croon, used to stunning effect on album highlight My Last Serenade. Alive Or Just Breathing set out the band’s sonic blueprint, with which they’d seek to emulate to varying degrees of success with Leach’s successor Howard Jones.
Underøath – Define The Great Line (Tooth & Nail, 2006)
Define The Great Line is a far superior album to They’re Only Chasing Safety, so zip it. This Florida sextet’s fifth album marked a distinctly darker shift towards heavier riffs and largely abandoned the emo moments that informed their previous work. With dashes of electronica scattered through Timothy McTague and James Smith’s crunching guitars, their strength is found in vocalist Spencer Chamberlain’s lacerating, confessional vocals, providing the perfect foil for drummer Aaron Gillespie’s melodic style. The album debuted at Number 2 in the US Billboard 200 charts and remains a career highlight. You’re still thinking about They’re Only Chasing Safety, aren’t you? What’s the matter with you?
Earth Crisis – Destroy The Machines (Victory Records, 1995)
While this Syracuse quintet aren’t much company on a pub crawl, their contribution to metalcore cannot be overlooked. Their follow-up to 1993’s criminally short Firestorm EP, Destroy The Machines remains their greatest contribution to the genre. Cherry-picking the best bits of ’80s thrash and punchy hardcore, the likes of Forced March and Inherit The Wasteland give a platform for Karl Buechner’s indignation at the world around him. Sure, Gomorrah’s Season Ends might have had better production values, but nothing matches the sheer baleful nature of the songs that make up their debut.
Coalesce – 0:12 Revolution In Just Listening (Relapse, 1999)
Well, of course Coalesce were always going to be included in this list. We could see your eye twitching just after you read about Norma Jean. There’s no argument that they’re a massively important band. But here’s our quandary – do we choose the Missouri quartet’s 1998 release Functioning On Impatience or their equally intense follow-up? 0:12 Revolution In Just Listening is a longer release by three minutes and is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s crushingly heavy and even prog-like at times; this is thanks, in part, to their drummer James Dewees – who later went on to play keyboards in The Get Up Kids, Reggie And The Full Effect and My Chemical Romance – who keeps you on your toes with mind-boggling time changes, complementing Jes Steineger’s inventive riffing and Sean Ingram’s deathly bellow. One of the heaviest albums on this list – and we’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. But not in the immediate future. We’re just really busy at the moment.
Nora – Dreamers And Deadmen (Trustkill, 2003)
The old man – who locals feared may be a Jedi knight – paused for a moment and took in the harsh desert environment around him. He paused to scratch his grey and white beard, his eyes widening as his stoic features melted into a smile. “Nora… now there’s a name I’ve not heard in a long, long time.” Nora. Nora. Remember them? Named after the lass in Pump Up The Volume? Did sweet merch. Yeah. Them. This New Jersey quintet’s second album is notable for two things: it simply thunders with a discordant chug and Carl Severson – who founded the Ferret label – has a raspy bellow which could level a cow. Crank up That’s A Good Looking Machine and wonder why this fantastic album failed to raise Nora above cult status remains an utter mystery.
God Forbid – IV: Constitution of Treason (Century Media, 2005)
We can hear you now, ‘There’s no way that album is better than Earthsblood, that album is the business.’ Save your tears. IV: Constitution Of Treason is a benchmark release and here’s why; when God Forbid released this record in 2005, it was considered something of a apex of the metalcore genre. The New Jersey sextet’s fourth release is a concept album about a crumbling society who rebuilds itself, only to collapse again, told over 10 flawless tracks. Doc and Dallas Coyle’s old school chug fury is exemplary, while Byron Davis’ vocals stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries, particularly on closing track Crucify Your Beliefs. Right, any questions? No? Good.
Hatebreed – Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire (Victory, 1997)
There’s no denying that this album sounds just as brutal as it did upon its release over two decades ago. Fusing hostile thrash riffs to driving East Coast hardcore drumming, Hatebreed’s debut – packed full of songs about loss, betrayal and suffering – cemented their place at the top table and even helped bag the Connecticut quintet a major label deal with Universal in the process. While their subsequent releases have maintained their intensity, there’s something about Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire that leads to repeated spins. Ah yes, because it’s heavier than a lonely elephant’s balls.
Botch – We Are The Romans (Hydra Head, 1999)
Coming just one year after their debut American Nervoso, this Seattle quartet’s second was unique at the time of its release; We Are The Romans is the sound of barely-contained fury; tangled time-signatures and complex riffs propel vocalist Dave Verellen’s larynx-lacerating bark through the likes of To Our Friends In The Great White North and Mondrian Was a Liar. We Are The Romans was to be their final studio album; drummer Tim Latona told Alternative Press that they “weren’t meshing anymore on a creative level”. This was a regrettable move on the band’s part as they spawned many imitators and flooded the record shops with piss-poor facsimiles.
Cave In – Until Your Heart Stops (Hydra Head, 1998)
This Massachusetts quartet went through numerous personnel changes before releasing their 1998 debut album. Produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou at his God City Studio, Until Your Heart Stops is a relentless swarm of metal riffs, disorientating time-changes and harsh, guttural vocals. But most interestingly, Cave In set themselves apart from their contemporaries by adding hints of the space rock and psychedelia that would inform their follow-up Jupiter two years later.
Between The Buried And Me – Colors (Victory, 2007)
How many albums on this start like a Queen jam before crashing into a growling prog odyssey? Uh, one. But then again, this is Between The Buried And Me, who describe this as “adult contemporary progressive death metal”. Rivalling The Dillinger Escape Plan in terms of intensity and sheer ambition, Colors never sits on one idea for too long and brings in strands of metal, prog, jazz, pop and even animal noises into one dizzying package.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Miss Machine (Relapse, 2004)
Released five years after the New Jersey quintet’s complex, disorientating debut Calculating Infinity, this was the first album to feature vocal acrobat Greg Puciato and bassist Liam Wilson. While the aggression and staggering tempo of their debut was still very much in evidence, Miss Machine has more of an experimental bent; there are strands of jazz, electronica and pop threaded through their maelstrom of crunch. While some would call Calculating the more groundbreaking album, Miss Machine – with the addition of Puciato, the human embodiment of testosterone in a v‑neck – is less hardcore and far more metal, making it the purer metalcore release.
Snapcase – Progression Through Unlearning (Victory, 1997)
Some of your nose might be wrinkling and mouthing the words Designs For Automotion. You’re allowed an opinion, sure, but you’re wrong buddy. This is Snapcase’s landmark album and incredible contribution to metalcore. The crisp snare that opens Caboose will deaden your eardrums – it sounds like a pistol – but that’s a price you’ll have to pay. Progression Through Unlearning is a masterclass in metalcore; listen to precise, crunching guitars, thundering bass lines and frontman Daryl Taberski’s formidable screaming vocal style make tracks like Guilty By Ignorance a absolute classic.
Starkweather – Crossbearer (Harvest, 1992)
Hailing from Philadelphia, Starkweather pioneered the metalcore sound and even counted The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Liam Wilson among their number for a brief period. Their debut album is petrifying; Rennie Resmini’s snarls and screams his way through a punish squall of breakneck thrash, teeth loosening hardcore and discordant metal on the turn of a dime. The original release’s so-so production values only add to the sheer intensity of their oeuvre.
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