The 50 Best American Metal Bands From the Last Decade
Heavy metal seems to exist on a rift in time. Even as groundbreaking albums near their 50th anniversaries and famous musicians pass from this mortal coil, metal fans continue to hold new releases to the same standards as old classics.
This is especially true in America, a country whose youth makes it immediately defensive about its metal legends. Even as the ever-hungry U.S. gets excited for new bands, it often pits them against veteran acts. Lamb Of God and Slipknot, for example, are still considered “young,” even though they’ve put in decades of work. As a result, newer metal bands don’t get their due until several years after their biggest albums came out, and sometimes after the band is no more.
This year, Kerrang!‘s U.S. team decided to give this crop of younger artists their due. We got together and painstakingly listed the fifty American metal bands from the last 10 years who we think are leading the charge into the next decade, and will someday be remembered as greats of our time.
The selection process wasn’t easy, and to make sure we kept it relevant and young, we applied the following guidelines to each entry:
1. The band must be American.
2. The band must be actively playing shows, releasing albums, etc.
3. The band’s debut full-length must have come out in 2010 or later (apologies to Killswitch Engage, Pig Destroyer, Black Dahlia Murder, etc.).
4. The band must be discernibly metal or have metal roots (as opposed to hardcore or punk — hence, no Code Orange or Vein).
With those guidelines in mind, here are the 50 best American metal bands from the last decade.
(And be sure to check out our Spotify playlist — featuring every artist — at the bottom of the page!)
Mortuous of San Jose, California, have been kicking around for close to a decade, but the doomy death metal band only graced us with their first full-length album in 2018. And boy, was it worth the wait — Through Wilderness topped plenty of last year’s “best of” lists last year, with fans of Incantation and Paradise Lost especially bowled over by the album’s unbelievably filthy riffs and repulsive guitar tone.
49. Death Of Kings
Atlanta’s Death Of Kings hit a perfect middle ground. The band play ripping barbarian thrash about slaying your enemies with knife-hammers, and yet their tone is always smacks of Conan The Barbarian rather than Lord Of The Rings. The band’s 2017 full-length debut Kneel Before None is a riveting listen that’ll have fans of both Cannibal Corpse and Blind Guardian snickering with diabolical pleasure.
48. Bloody Hammers
Goth metal is done best when it’s entirely without inhibition, and Bloody Hammers from Charlotte, North Carolina, go as hard in the black paint as one can. The band’s two-pronged attack of haunting, slow death ballads and bass-heavy macabre power-anthems earn them the black and purple with which they drench their album covers. That this grungy darkness comes from a husband-wife duo adds a charm to the whole morbid affair.
It takes some serious chops to become one of America’s most exciting metal acts with one album. But Oakland trio Ulthar did just that with 2018’s Cosmovore, a bristling collection of Lovecraftian death metal that never loses sight of both the author’s creeping dread as well as his more traditional, wriggling horrors. The band is a must-listen to anyone who holds early albums by Morbid Angel and Autopsy close to their clammy hearts.
New Jersey has always been a fertile breeding ground for grueling, merciless metal, and Cognitive are the Garden State’s modern champions. While the quintet’s technical death metal is incredibly impressive, it’s the humanity and melancholy injected into it that sets the band apart from the blastbeat fold. Last year’s Matricide is so good, it’ll have you choking on your Taylor ham — or is it pork roll?
With just two albums over the last five years, Seattle, Washington’s Un are already paving the way for funeral doom metal in the early 21st century. While plenty of their contemporaries chase ever-heavier guitar tones and lyrical themes, the band offers glimmers of light and hope in their epically dirge-like music. Their 2018 sophomore release, Sentiment, may be their masterpiece to date, but their recent split with British doom outfit Coltsblood earlier this year — featuring the 21-minute opus Every Fear Illuminated — is a great place for the uninitiated to begin.
Ossuarium play old-school, knuckle-dragging death metal that feels as covered in grime as it is in the grey, morose weather their hometown of Portland, Oregon is known for. Living Tomb, their debut album for 20 Buck Spin, shows off the band’s incredible talent while cutting straight to the chase and omitting needless guitar moves. That said, despite their murky, filthy sound, they’re still fun as hell to listen to — just like a good OSDM should be.
American death metal will always have a place in its heart for the band that goes more disgusting than all the others. This decade, that award goes to Philly’s Pissgrave, whose buzzsaw death-grind goes hand in hand with its utterly repulsive album covers. You’ve got to love a band whose music and imagery outgrosses the competition, every time.
42. Imperial Triumphant
New York’s Imperial Triumphant prove that using the raw materials of black and death metal with the aesthetic of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is as rad as it sounds. If their ceremonial robes and golden masks weren’t enough, their harsh, dystopian atmosphere use of saxophone in their music only adds to the jazzy aesthetic. Fans of extreme metal looking for something entirely different should immerse themselves in 2018’s Vile Luxury, a sky-scraping album that simultaneously exudes a desperate fear of its own heights.
41. Artificial Brain
The technical death metal scene has been seeing much more of an interest in science fiction in recent years, no band is more invested with making this connection more than Artificial Brain. The band’s last record, Infrared Horizon, was centered around the exploration of a new world after mankind polluted its own beyond a point of hope (also, there’s a song about a space lava monster). The band’s technical yet spacey sound bring these concepts to sonic life, making this relatively new band one that continue to reinvigorate the genre.
The members of Fórn hail from both coasts, and three cities at that — Boston, New York City, and Oakland — and their utterly beautiful yet completely miserable brand of sludgy, blackened funeral doom seems to sprawl the entire length of the country in and of itself. The band take the weight of their music very seriously: Frontman Chris Pinto often stares beyond the audience with a piercing, terrifying look in his eyes — and they once played a show in a cave, under the blood moon.
39. Holy Grove
There’s definitely a bit of the Pacific Northwest to Holy Grove’s sound. The Portland quartet’s guitar tone has a roiling, overcast vibe to it that seems to channel the band’s surroundings. However, that does little to tone down the band’s old-school biker witch feel, serving heavy metal to the genre’s traditional fans with ample muscle and confidence. Good to know someone in America is carrying the torch. Both of their records, including 2018’s II, were engineered by Billy Anderson — the same dude who brought you Sleep’s Dopesmoker and many other monolithic American metal records.
Delaware’s Scorched give you what you want before you knowing it. They’ve got enough old-school death metal to get you through the door, but then offer up heaping helpings of guitar antics and menacing doom to keep things interesting. While 2016’s Echoes Of Dismemberment is pretty rad, 2018’s Ecliptic Butchery took things to a whole different level, establishing the band as one of the genre’s most exciting and promising acts.
Sprawling and patient, the music of Sacramento’s CHRCH is the kind of long-form doom metal that everyone can sink into. With ample doses of melancholy and highway savagery, the band groan and hum with the sound of a heartbroken person having a lethal stomach ache. Last year’s Light Will Consume Us All has an apt album title, given how much this California five-piece seem to revel in huge, droning swaths of total darkness.
36. Glacial Tomb
Guitarist Ben Hutcherson’s main band Khemmis is known for their melody and thick riffs, but in Glacial Tomb, he’s able to get out his scathing side. As socially conscious as they are totally devastating, the Tomb play the kind of “sludge-corrupted” blackened death metal that could peel paint off of a wall. They only have one album, but fuck, that’s plenty.
35. Primitive Man
Being loud and heavy doesn’t always mean you’re angry, but Jesus, Primitive Man are absolutely furious at the world. Whether going broodingly slow or throttlingly fast, this trio from Colorado sound about as happy as a salted slug. That this noisy, churning blackened sludge metal is made by some of Denver’s most beloved musicians — especially scene staple Ethan McCarthy — only furthers their power, importance, and total fucking darkness.
For many, Pyrrhon is East Coast America personified. Their combination of technical death, Sonic Youth-esque noise rock influences, and Botch-ish mathcore come together to create music that sounds like a city rising to its feet and lumbering toward you. This is all topped with vocals that will go from the highest screams to the lowest growls instantly, with shouting and hoarse sludge rasps. Records like The Mother Of Virtues and What Passes For Survival have proven to be some of the finest hours of not just death metal, but New York music as a whole.
It’s rare that barbarian-themed fantasy metal can feel organic and relevant, but Salt Lake City’s Visigoth found a way. Yes, their music is deeply imbued with a lot of the swords and sorcery that power metal bands hard on exhaustively. But their crunchy, thunderous riffs and tone add a humanity to those concepts that makes them sound totally relevant to the everyday fan’s life.
Denver, Colorado’s Dreadnought play a blend of prog and black metal that is both exquisitely beautiful and drop-to-your-knees moving. Their sprawling, symphonic, often 10-plus minute songs employ the use of not only the general black-metal instruments and vocals, but also flute and keyboard, adding a delicate, shimmery quality to their music that sets them far apart from their harsher peers. Their latest album — and first on Profound Lore — entitled Emergence, showcases their talent beautifully and secures them as a must-hear in American metal.
Among Denver’s many excellent metal bands, Wayfarer stand out for their mixture of noisiness and elemental beauty. On the one hand, the black metal four-piece play the kind of jarring, jangling black metal made famous by east coasters like Krallice. At the same time, as their 2018 release World’s Blood shows, injection of Americana-influenced frontier guitars and mountain-range vastness give them a power and grace most other bands among the Rockies can’t quite lock down. An excellent, if unorthodox, contemporary act.
It’d be easy for Baltimore’s Noisem to just write loud, concussive grindcore. Instead, the band use a mixture of melodic riffs and intelligent lyrics to bring a sense of catchiness and social responsibility to their music. One listen to this year’s Cease To Exist, and fans will understand why this band is at the forefront of modern grind.
America’s doom will always howl at the moon a little harder than others’, and Windhand do that harder than most American doom bands. The Richmond, Virginia, quartet’s complete dedication to fuzz, echo, and a sense of zen depth gives their music a witchy thickness perfect for smoking weed in nature, as their 2018 release Eternal Return shows. As a result, the band are a vital part of the States’ doom scene, giving diehards a band to love who go all-in.
28. All Pigs Must Die
Featuring Ben Koller of Converge and former members of Trap Them and Doomriders, Boston’s All Pigs Must Die were first hailed and promoted as a hardcore supergroup. But when they dropped their 2011 debut God Is War, it became immediately clear that this band had a sound all its own. Devastating, yet incredibly sing-along-able, APMD’s songs are some of the most angry music in the world you can tap your toe to, cementing them as one of America’s most likable bands for those consumed by uncontrollable rage.
27. King Woman
While a band like Bloody Hammers focuses on the woodsy goth of the East Coast, King Woman is all about the yawning goth of California. Both the north and south of the state are represented in the band’s music — the clammy, overcast experimental side of their hometown San Francisco, but also ample doses of Los Angeles’s sun-razed wasteland. The perfect band for a long drive heading to something sinister.
With Oakland’s Necrot, you get both sides of the ODSM coin. On the one are the thick, iron-pumping riffs and monstrous vocals of first-wave acts like Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. But on the other are the serpentine guitar leads and ribcage-rattle drums of more eldritch bands like Morbid Angel or Celtic Frost. As a result, the Oakland three-piece’s tunes — especially those on 2017’s subterranean Blood Offerings — give death metal fans everything they want, from the spiritually blasphemous to the anatomically merciless.
25. Blood Incantation
The obvious elements of Blood Incantation’s music that make them so special are pretty immediately — their belligerent doominess, their hissing and roared vocals. But what makes them especially mean is their noisiness — that extra bit of crash and shriek that gives them a destructive edge on top of it. A band that’s equal parts a destructive monster lumbering across the earth and the blood-soaked rubble in its wake.
24. Black Fast
Man, how much fun are Black Fast? The St. Louis, Missouri, four-piece play the kind of arch, bloody thrash popular in early 2000s Sweden, but with the sure footing of fiery American groove. The result is three full lengths — and specifically among them 2015’s Terms Of Surrender — of charging apocalyptic rider thrash that doesn’t feel cornball or retro. Just a goddamn blast to listen to.
23. Immortal Bird
The only predictable thing about Chicago four-piece Immortal Bird is that a band with their name rules. Their music shifts so effortlessly from trundling blackened death metal to dissonant, staccato doom that you won’t be entirely sure what to expect. And yet, between all the drum rhythm changes and angular guitar parts, there’s a creepy-crawl core to their sound which will satisfy even the most conservative metalheads. A band making beautiful music for a broken sort of person.
22. Temple Of Void
Though they only have two studio albums under their collective belt, Temple Of Void have easily joined the ranks of death-doom bands Hooded Menace and Coffins. The Detroit quintet’s mixture of ooze and stomp have made them a fan favorite amongst those who like their death metal gross but simultaneously kinetic. An awesome act to hear recorded, but an even more exciting one to catch live.
21. Inter Arma
Virginia’s Inter Arma has the full package. Four records into their career, these guys continue to make waves across underground metal, taking influences from all across the musical spectrum and crafting hypnotic, monolithic tracks that always deliver something heavy as all hell by the end. It’s all put together with awesomely cavernous atmospherics and incredibly percussive vocals. This year’s Sulphur English is a sprawling, long-form gem with which you might have to take your time — but the payoff will be immeasurable.
20. Devil Master
To some, Devil Master might have seemed to appear out of nowhere with the release of this year’s Satan Spits On Children Of Light. But for fans watching them closely, the band has been on a steady boil for the past four years, refining their snotty, ramshackle sound over several demos and EPs. That said, it’s with Satan Spits that the Philadelphia six-piece have truly broken through to America, with its ultra-catchy metal-plated sleaze riffs exciting even the most traditional, old-school fans.
19. Rivers Of Nihil
Pennsylvania’s Rivers Of Nihil have been making some of death metal’s most exciting music for a while now, and they continue to push boundaries. With every album, the band has broadened their sound more and more, incrementally opening up the definition of what death metal can be. 2018’s Where Owls Know My Name, with its experimental shimmer and yearning sax parts, is a fitting culmination of all their hard work. The closing show for the band’s recent U.S. tour was a perfect live display of how far this band has come, and what they can do.
As we’ve pointed out in the past, the true power of Colorado death metallers Allegaeon lies in their ability to harness overkill. Their songs are elaborate, insane, and entirely overwhelming — but at the same time, they’re incredibly catchy and melodic. This year’s Apoptosis is a smorgasbord of killer riffs, blinding solos, and unpredictable rhythms, but is so catchy you can consume it all in a single sitting. Not bad for a band of dudes known for their use of a giant crab costume.
When most people hear “progressive death metal,” they imagine a band with more flare than power. But Philadelphia’s Horrendous prove that concept wrong, writing awesome, acrobatic songs that hearken back to Iron Maiden and Possessed as much as they do Gorguts. This band’s live show is a blistering combination of crushing riffs and classic metal stage presence, and is a reminder of just how killer the live death metal experience is, even if the band is taking musical riffs.
16. Oozing Wound
By the early- to mid-2010s, everyone had come to associate thrash with a quickly revived and commodified fashion genre. But Chicago’s Oozing Wound took speedy metal-punk in a whole new direction, forsaking nostalgic reference-metal for scathing, irritated song about very real, very relevant anxiety and anger. The result feels truer to thrash’s original ethos than any throwback band, with the focus pointed square at the ever-present notion that the world might end at any moment.
15. Black Breath
In 2019, powerviolence is a genre most American metal fans are at least passingly acquainted with, but in 2010 that wasn’t the case. Seattle’s Black Breath thrust the concept right in America’s face with their debut Heavy Breathing, an album with riffs so hostile, lyrics so venomous, and choruses so catchy that it couldn’t be ignore. The follow-up, 2012’s Sentenced To Life, only doubled down on this formula. The band taught metal how to be blindly, unfairly angry again.
Many people who heard about former ISIS frontman Aaron Turner’s new band Sumac assumed they’d get more of the same long-form prog metal for which the guitarist was known. Instead, Aaron gave skeptics a run for their money with this massive, boulder-heavy act full of staccato drums and hostile, relentless riffs. It’s a rare and beautiful thing when a band sounds as poisonous and invasive as the plant after which it’s named.
13. Outer Heaven
What makes Pennsylvania’s Outer Heaven especially exciting is how they take classic death metal a la Barnes-era Cannibal Corpse or Tucker-era Morbid Angel and give it a gross, doomy twist packed with absolutely inhuman vocals. Their 2018 debut, Realms of Eternal Decay immediately earned them a place of esteem among current death metal fans, who found their moldy, noxious tone way more exciting than another polished blast of slice-and-dice death metal. We can’t wait to see what these guys have in store next.
12. Fit For An Autopsy
On paper, New Jersey’s Fit For An Autopsy might sound like a mere studio exercise: one of metal’s best producers writing technical deathcore for a band with which he doesn’t tour. And yet, what has always set FFAA apart from the genre’s aimless breakdown merchants is a palpable level of heart and moody atmosphere lurking below the surface of every song, as heard on their most recent record The Great Collapse. (Not to mention that the band’s members are all masters of their instruments.) That only makes the brilliant technical musicianship on the band’s albums that much more impressive, proving that even for those behind the boards, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
Where else could such primal evil come from but fuckin’ Ohio? Midnight are the metal band for those modern fans unafraid to brandish the title “metalhead.” Their grimy, nihilistic street thrash is the stuff out of every mother’s nightmare, while their songs about repugnant sex and switchblade justice somehow feel inclusive and welcoming. Leather, flames, and sweaty fucking — all of which are American dreams.
With the rise of the djent community, Baltimore’s Periphery became the frontrunners of the progressive metal world, incorporating technical, time-signature breaking riffs in their already complex music. Each member of this quintet has become immensely respected amongst the music world for their ability, songwriting, and dedication to music as a whole, putting out various different products for gearheads worldwide to toy around with. Now on their sixth full length record, Periphery IV: Hail Stan, the group continues to bring out some of the catchiest yet most complicated progressive metal.
9. Spirit Adrift
The progression Spirit Adrift has undergone might be better defined as a mutation. The band swiftly morphed from far-out doom side-project by Take Over And Destroy’s newly-sober Nate Garrett to an acrobatic trad-metal supergroup. This Arizona quartet has become one of the most interesting musical forces in metal right now, and their 2019 album Divided By Darkness is one of the most enjoyable releases in decades. Listen to that album, and then buy that van you’ve always wanted.
No modern metal band best represents America’s northwest like Uada. The Portland quartet sound as overcast and ethereal as their surroundings, imbuing their black metal with all the mist and organic roughness of the fern-choked mountain woods. 2016’s Devoid Of Light exploded the band onto the scene, but it was last year’s Cult Of A Dying Sun that truly expressed the band’s inimitably thunderous approach to aural darkness.
7. Spectral Voice
It makes sense that, as pointed out by Khemmis’ Ben Hutcherson in our profile of Colorado’s metal scene, Spectral Voice play with all the lights turned out. The band’s eerie, long-form doom-drenched death metal is cavernous, huge, and draped in complete darkness. And while this moldy, unsettling style is very popular in extreme metal right now, few acts do it with as much grace, agony, and skin-crawling atmosphere as this Denver quartet. It’s the kind of music that just slimes its way up your spine and infects you with beautiful dread.
Though polarizing to say the least, San Franciscan black metallers Deafheaven have left an undeniable footprint on modern metal. While their 2011 debut Roads To Judah got them noticed, it was 2013’s gigantic Sunbather that earned them their legacy. The group took the raw energy of black metal and combined it with the beautiful crescendos and atmosphere found in post rock and shoegaze, creating a record that could only be properly described as a nightmare disguised as a dream. Love or hate them, you can’t deny the massive impact this band has had on metal as a whole.
5. Mutoid Man
Brooklyn supergroup Mutoid Man have done something many metal fans might have considered unlikely: they’ve made speed metal important. Rather than fall back on traditional anthems about breaking laws and chasing strange, the trio pen delicious, riveting tunes about addiction, depression, and keeping your head together. 2017’s War Moans proved to us that a band can be traditional and ridiculous while grabbing us by the heartstrings.
The rise of Denver’s Khemmis has been nothing short of meteoric. Since the release of their 2015 debut Absolution, the rollicking four-piece highway metal act have shaken off the boring rehashed Sabbath riffs of the 2000’s doom revival, instead showing just how atmospheric, powerful, and most of all fun stoner metal is supposed to be. Last year’s Desolation only further cemented that these guys are making the metal we never realized we needed.
By 2010, doom metal had become a pigeonhole, and Pallbearer refused to fit in it. The Arkansas quartet traded the fuzzy-sweating guitar tone that so many bands wanted to imitate for a steely, delicious sound that smacked of Tears For Fears as well as Trouble, Sabbath and soaring prog. With every album, Pallbearer have refined that unique take, so that by the time they released 2017’s Heartless, they had narrowed their focus to a frightening point. Simply put, it is extremely difficult not to like this band.
In case you’ve been in a coma for the past three years, Arizona’s Gatecreeper are taking death metal by a storm. After releasing their debut record Sonoran Depravation back in 2016, the Phoenix quintet caught the world’s eye by being, simply put, heavy as all fuck. Everything about their sound screams attitude, from their sweat-drenched riffs to their utterly insane live sets supporting acts like Full Of Hell or Power Trip. Every track they release is an event, solely because it means another example of the most exciting death metal we’ve heard in years.
1. Power Trip
Fuck yeah, boys. When it came time to assemble this list, Dallas’ Power Trip was the first name on the lips of everyone at Kerrang!’s American office. Sure, it helps that the band are constantly touring, supporting other important up-and-coming metal acts, and mixing hilarity and unwavering social consciousness in their online interactions with fans. But let’s face it: Power Trip get the number one spot here because they’re making the most exciting, relevant, and utterly fucking kickass thrash metal in the world right now. Every track on 2017’s Nightmare Logic is a modern classic, echoing (quite literally) all the things we loved about metal and hardcore when we first found them. Everything about this band rules, and they couldn’t have come from anywhere in Texas. Pay the executioner.
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