When you see a ‘Top X Metalcore Albums’ list, you can make an educated guess as to which records will feature. As those listicles write themselves. It’s always: ‘Jane Doe,’ ‘Calculating Infinity’ (or ‘Miss Machine,’) ‘Hot Damn!,’ ‘We Are The Romans,’ ‘Controller’, ‘Until Your Heart Stops,’ ‘Define The Great Line,’ ‘Opposite Of December.’ Or its ‘Long Live,’ ‘Horizons,’ ‘Continent,’ ‘Hollow Crown’ (or a recent Architects album), and ‘Messengers.’ Always one of the first three Norma Jean and Killswitch Engage albums respectively. Tthere’s often a few ’90s releases from Zao, Hatebreed, Shai Hulud, Deadguy, or the OG influencer, ‘Slaughter Of The Soul.’
I love those releases as well. Yet such pieces from Kerrang!, Brooklyn Vegan, Loudwire, or Maniacs Online indirectly propagate a myth that metalcore was only good, only had merit, during a certain heyday – late ’90s up to around 2007-2008. Going off of them, you’d think there were only ever 30 or so good records released in metalcore. Which is horseshit if you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention to the great many newer and long-standing bands that have released fantastic works during the last 10-15 years. (Sometimes Metal Hammer or Chaospin mention a recent release, but that’s the exception more than the rule.)
So let’s go beyond the heavily repeated, endlessly talked about watermarks in metalcore’s Hall Of Fame, and spread that love elsewhere. To other popular newer releases and even a couple of overlooked oldies that deserve to be spoken of with the same reverence, to have their own spot in such lists that the classics constantly receive.
Silent Planet – ‘Everything Was Sound’ (2016)
Silent Planet transitioned from riffy technicality in ‘The Night God Slept‘ (2014) into a methodical, atmospheric metalcore style with the mental-health focused ‘Everything Was Sound.’ Through a metaphorical panopticon concept, each song thoughtfully tackled different mental illnesses – eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar, PTSD, anxiety, depression, multiple personality disorder, all inspired by their frontman’s conversations as a college councillor – Silent Planet painted a portrait of humanity. It’s an observation of trauma, how it affects people in a multitude of different ways, via some of their best-written songs.
There’s still sick riffs, technical performances and dope breakdowns, but the band took an alternative route to reach them. Never afraid to tackle death (‘Understanding Love As Loss‘) or to get political (‘Orphan,’ a scathing critique of the Obama administration’s extensive drone strikes), these guys meant what they said and said what they meant. This deep album created the Silent Planet set-staple ‘Depths II‘, had Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain lend his signature voice to the brilliant ‘Psychescape‘, and also showed off their cleverness: when the lyrics in ‘REDIVIDEЯ‘ invert in the middle and flow backwards as a palindrome. Silent Planet’s sophomore remains one of the most well-spoken, thematically interesting records of the genre’s modern landscape.
Employed To Serve – ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun’ (2017)
For starters, ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun‘? Sick album title! As for the performances and songwriting on Employed To Serve’s second LP, the U.K. quintet whipped up some of the crunchiest, discordant and metallic metalcore of the 2010s. ‘I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away,’ ‘Void Ambition‘, ‘Church Of Mirrors,’ ‘Good For Nothing‘ showcase the kind of wicked metalcore vision that Botch, Converge, Coalesce and Norma Jean wielded – Employed To Serve even covered ‘Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste‘ – whereas ‘Apple Tree‘ and the title track put this album’s theme of hopelessness and maladjustment at the forefront in melodic and dynamic ways. ETS even made lightning strike twice two years after this banger dropped, with ‘Eternal Forward Motion.’ Truly one of the genre’s modern greats.
Loathe – ‘I Let It In And It Took Everything’ (2020)
Loathe’s stunning second album is a glorious hybrid of textures, emotions and sounds, one that took the heavy music world by storm in 2020. ‘I Let It In And It Took Everything‘ is indeed informed by new-age, forward-thinking metalcore (‘Broken Vision Rhythm‘ and ‘Red Room‘), but so too is it inspired by film scores (‘Theme‘, ‘451 Days‘), direct Deftones worship (‘Aggressive Evolution‘), some shoegaze (‘Two-Way Mirror‘), twisted atmospheric black metal (‘Heavy Is The Head…‘), demented ’90s grunge and alt-rock (‘A Sad Cartoon‘, ‘Is it Really You?‘) and even new-wave (intro riff to ‘New Faces in the Dark‘.) This is an incredibly diverse, carefully made but still heavy album that deserves its spot in any “best metalcore albums” thread. A new classic.
From Autumn To Ashes – ‘Holding A Wolf By The Ears’ (2007)
I’m pushing the definition of metalcore by including the final album by From Autumn To Ashes, a political manifesto by drummer/singer Francis Mark about America’s blood-stained history and its oppressive, imperialist and colonialist roots. (‘A Goat In Sheep’s Rosemary‘ and ‘Pioneers.’) Then again, Mike Schleibaum from Darkest Hour helped create it: he has writing credits for solid cuts like ‘On the Offensive‘, ‘Recounts and Recollections‘ and ‘Everything I Need‘, and you can really hear his influence in the guitars. As Mike and that band are metalcore royalty, I’m counting this FATA release. (Plus, certain heavy instrumental passages, along with Francis‘ dual-vocals, all radiate HUGE 2000s core energy.)
‘Holding A Wolf By The Ears‘ – a reference to a quote by Thomas Jefferson regarding slavery in America – had its lungs urgently breathe in some alternative, emo and post-hardcore air, which was the style at the time, and did so brilliantly. This would be FATA’s last record and you can hear them putting their all into every second, every measure. It’s just so pissed-off, so fast and so aggressive from the instance the waves of crashing guitars and furious cymbals hit during ‘Deth Kult Social Club.’ What a swan song!
Heaven Shall Burn – ‘Iconoclast Part I: The Final Resistance’ (2008)
Another great album where I’m pushing that metalcore perspective, just in the opposite direction of From Autumn To Ashes, yet Heaven Shall Burn’s 2008 LP stands parallel to the genre. This German extreme metal outfit was born out of melodic death metal – as we hear on all nine albums – but these guys also came out of a hardcore ethos in the social injustices and historical issues they address in their left-wing views. (One of their most popular tracks, this album’s own ‘Endzeit,’ is essentially an anti-fascist anthem.)
Considering the influence that Scandinavian melo-death had on metalcore during the ’90s and early 2000s, I’ll fight tooth and nail for HSB’s inclusion. As this band pulls from both schools of thought. You can hear that core influence and appreciation in their earthshattering breakdowns, riffs and chord progressions, and in how they ferociously mix volatile screams and surgical percussive assaults. Though a somewhat repetitive album, the variety of (still) relevant topics discussed here on ‘Iconoclast‘, as well as the sheer strength of bat-shit tunes like ‘The Disease‘ and ‘Against All Lies‘ makes it a metalcore staple that deserves more love.
The Callous Daoboys – ‘Die On Mars’ (2019)
One of the best new bands of the 2010s to come out of the mathcore and metalcore scenes is Georgia’s The Callous Daoboys. 2019’s ‘Die On Mars‘ full-length is this weird, eccentric and totally endearing art piece. Showing off a whos-who inspiration from Norma Jean, Every Time I Die, The Chariot, and Dillinger in this young bands tonality, songwriting quirks, vocals and instrumentation. It’s an album that has so many odd-ball twists and turns but it all feels purposeful and creative. Callous Daoboys are one of the smartest up-and-coming acts in the scene. Do not sleep on them – or this record – like I did; they’re making some wonderful noise.
August Burns Red – ‘Found In Far Away Places’ (2015)
While you might see ‘Messengers‘ (2007) or even ‘Constellations‘ (2009) mentioned in metalcore lists, the real gold of modern August Burns Red can be mined from their sixth album, 2015’s grandiose ‘Found In Far Away Places.’ Using a familiar metalcore template – both for the genre and for ABR – the band took to expanding it with pretty-sounding, virtuosic and tasteful instrumental passages that sidestep into different genres and moods. Surf-rock, bluegrass, jazz, folk, Latin, progressive shredding, and a few electronics, all represent the different places they’d toured in their time. For every straight-up metalcore rager like ‘The Wake‘ or ‘Ghosts,’ there’s songs like ‘Separating The Seas‘ or ‘Majoring In The Minors.’ It’s a shining example of ABR’s musicality and how they could switch between these two varying ideas so fluidly. ‘Found In Far Away Places‘ is an album that I wish other bands, whether peers or newcomers inspired by ABR, would take closer notes from.
Norma Jean – ‘Polar Similar’ (2016)
The brightest era of Norma Jean starts with the technical progressiveness of ‘Meridonial‘ (2010), running right through to their most recent album, ‘All Hail‘ (2019). Norma Jean’s been making the best music of their career during the last ten years. Their first three albums are good – no one’s disputing that – but the obsession with them ignores the insane quality they’ve produced since, especially with guitarist/songwriter Jeff Hickey kicking off on ‘Wrongdoers‘ (2013). Their last four albums are terrific, perhaps even too good for them, but it’s ‘Polar Similar‘ that hits so much harder. It’s a stupidly polished ass-beater that didn’t sacrifice its planet-sized heaviness or underlying heart; a bonafide classic for Norma Jean. Just look to ‘I. The Planet‘ or ‘1,000,000 Watts‘ and ‘A Thousand Years A Minute‘ and you’ll see what I mean!
(This segment isn’t an endorsement of Cory Brandan’s “Twitter moment” last year. That was incredibly braindead of him and quite telling about his personal beliefs.)
Vein – ‘errorzone’ (2018)
Vein’s debut LP is like the metalcore scene itself became sentient and produced something inspired by all of its legends: Converge, Dillinger, Botch and so forth, with various helpings of Slipknot and Deftones lumped in. Vein were underground darlings before this album, and this monster only elevated their status. ‘errorzone‘ is an album that takes what made the genre’s past work, updating it for the present, with just as much intensity and dexterity. ‘Untitled,’ ‘Demise Automation,’ ‘Old Data In A Dead Machine‘ and the wild-ride opener of ‘Virus // Vibrance‘? All some of the sickest songs to come out of this scene in the last few years. So many bands try to imitate metalcore’s yesteryear, but few do it as well as these guys. Vein are one of the younger bands carrying the torch for metalcore, ready to take it in whatever bold new or expertly done familiar directions they can. Bring on album number two.
Northlane – ‘Alien’ (2019)
When ‘errorzone‘ dropped, I remember thinking it was “futuristic,” even with how closely it pulled from the past. That assessment didn’t hold up. For one album that genuinely sounds like it was ripped from the future is ‘Alien.’ Northlane were pegged under that djenty metalcore umbrella early on, and rightfully so given their first two records. ‘Alien,’ however, saw them undergo a metamorphosis, channelling contemporary prog-metalcore very differently. Adding Prodigy-like synth patches and Health-esque dance risers but still retaining their intensity, this was some acid-bathed industrial-metalcore with slick cybernetic implants addressing deep-seated childhood trauma honestly. Insanely good.
Zao – ‘The Well-Intentioned Virus’ (2016)
Zao have A LOT of records. Counting their latest and greatest body of work, ‘The Crimson Corridor,’ we are now at a whopping 12 Zao records. Their impact and importance upon metalcore cannot be understated, and their growth and development is the kind that’s killed bands half their age and calibre. 2016’s ‘The Well-Intentioned Virus‘ captures the veteran five-piece at their best in terms of writing blackened and savage, occasionally cerebrally melodic, but always finely tuned metalcore that’s as discordant and dissonant in its riffs as it is thematically grim. (Lyrical topics range from miscarriages, suicide pacts, flawed morality, human history, and existential musings.) This is how you mature as a band. So for the love of God, can we please stop talking about ‘Where Blood And Fire Bring Rest‘? It’s not the only fucking Zao record worthy of our time and praise!
END – ‘From The Unforgiving Arms Of God’ EP (2017)
END’s debut EP showed a supergroup with real cojones. A collective who, made up of larger-than-life names of this scene – current and ex-members of Counterparts, Misery Signals, Reign Supreme, Fit For An Autopsy, and Structures/Trade Wind respectively – created a six-track work that was greater than the sum of its parts. ‘From The Unforgiving Arms Of God‘ packages so neatly what makes such confronting metalcore like this tick. What made it so appealing in the first place, and why the genre persists. Tracks like ‘Usurper‘ and Necessary Death‘ stand out as vehement pillars, though the whole EP will kick your teeth down your throat like few others in recent memory can. I hate using this term, but END really are a force to be reckoned with.
Bleeding Through – ‘Declaration’ (2008)
Bleeding Through usually get credit in metalcore for 2003’s ‘This Is Love, This Is Murderous.’ And yeah, cool album! But if you know what’s up, you’ll know that ‘Declaration‘ is their finest macabre creation. Produced by Devin Townsend and written about a fucked up relationship vocalist Brandan Schieppati had with an older woman as a younger man – how it affected/ruined his future relationships but how he was able to finally move on from her toxicity – ‘Declaration‘ is a dark descent into hell. It acts as a personal declaration for the singer’s growth after such a negative period and a huge musical statement about what makes Bleeding Through them.
This culminates in their strongest moments of bleak and bruising, Trustkill-era metalcore: ‘Germany,’ the title track, and ‘Death Anxiety.’ It’s a quintessential album for their sound, seeing a sickening blend of blackened and death metal influences work their way in deeper, with finger-mashing solos and skin-peeling blasts. Keys, synths and symphonic elements flew over these hectic songs in the smoothest manner such elements have ever done in the band’s career, too. (See: ‘French Inquisition.’) It also gifted fans their greatest melodic ventures, like on massive single ‘There Was A Flood‘ and the uncomfortable, venomous eight-minute epic that is the blood-curdling ‘Sister Charlatan,’ a personal favourite of yours truly.
Johnny Booth – ‘Firsthand Accounts’ (2019)
‘Firsthand Accounts‘ is the best metalcore album of the last few years that nowhere near enough people heard. Seriously, what an album! If you know, you know. Johnny Booth’s first record since 2012’s ‘Connections‘, ‘Firsthand Accounts‘ is something really special. Something that is so flawlessly executed that it’s damned hard to ignore. ‘Bury The Rose‘, ‘Beyond Repair,’ ‘Choke,’ and ‘Theif‘ will bury you in the goddamn dirt with just how relentless their instrumental and vocal aggression is (especially the latter’s double-kick blitzkrieg). It’s pure violence, and the band knows that they’re good at it. Such is the oozing confidence of this record on full impressive display. Then the melodic and harmonic undertows of ‘Feast Is Over‘, ‘Pneumonia Knife,’ and ‘Asymmetrical‘ are just as gripping, proving that JB sure ain’t a one or even two-dimensional act in how they put their own stamp on this genre.
If you like what you hear – and I sincerely hope that you do – check out their latest firestorm, ‘Crowd Control.’ It’s one of the best songs of 2021!
SeeYouSpaceCowboy – ‘The Correlation Between Entry And Exit Wounds’ (2019)
After their sassy and occasionally mathy label debut, the excellent Myspace-era smorgasbord of ‘Songs For The Firing Squad‘, SeeYouSpaceCowboy shifted lanes for what was their actual debut full-length. While the page.99, Heavy Heavy Low Low and Drop Dead, Gorgeous influences remained on ‘The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds,’ SYSC dug deep and unearthed a darker body of work. One that saw a change. The group added larger melodicism to their guitar work with some neat Misery Signals and Killswitch Engage inspirations; didn’t go as sassy or mathcore, sticking to a consistent metalcore framework; had solely instrumental songs for the first time; doing away with silly song names to maintain this album’s bleak subject matter of suicide and grief. SYSC, quite obviously, sound like metalcore’s past. That’s no secret. But when so many long-running bands of the genre were simply not growing or adapting their sound, not even in small ways, to see a younger act being open to trying out new things for themselves was refreshing. You’re looking at the future of metalcore.
Emmure – ‘Look At Yourself’ (2017)
You bet your bottom fucking dollar that Emmure are on this list. Solely because of ‘Look At Yourself‘. The best thing that ever happened to Emmure was Frankie Palmeri being mutinied by his old bandmates in 2015. From the brink, Frankie recruited three-quarters of Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza and the rest is history. From that transformation came this staggering LP, one of the heaviest and venomous records of the band’s entire career. Josh Travis‘ pants-shittingly heavy guitar playing lifted up Emmure to a whole new level, as did the aggro neck-snapping grooves that bassist Phil Lockett and drummer Josh Miller brought to the table. Then there was Frankie himself, sounding the angriest and most fired-up he’d ever been vocally, lyrically offering genuine self-reflection about his life, his art, and the following he’d grown. Actual maturity in an Emmure release? Why I never!
Ion Dissonance – ‘Minus The Herd’ (2007)
Sandwiched between 2006 breakdown-centric offerings like Bury Your Dead’s ‘Beauty And The Breakdown‘ mosh-opera and 2008 monsters like Mehsuggah’s ‘obZen‘ or Acacia Strain’s ‘Continent‘, resides one of the 2000s’ heaviest records. Prior to this 2007 beast being unshackled, Ion Dissonance was a mathier, grindier band. While that essence remains on their third record, it also turned over a monstrous groove-metal leaf. This bad boy is almost like the genesis of the modern-day, groovy down-tuned metalcore that’s so commonplace now. By no means their only great album – hello 2005’s ‘Solace‘ – this album was Ion Dissonance in many respects. Songs like ‘Kneel‘ are what made Ion D who they were; what made their impact so profound.
Code Orange – ‘Underneath’ (2020)
Outside of the grunge-rock detours, skips and silences, and cold electronic industrialism that Code Orange explored on 2020’s exceptional ‘Underneath‘ LP, lies an honest-to-god metalcore foundation. A jumpy and erratic metalcore base that can hang with the best of them, whether it’s in the riff patterns, the mosh-ready breakdowns, the harsh distorted vocals, or all of the above. Songs like ‘In Fear,’ ‘You And You Alone, ‘Erasure Scan‘ and ‘Swallowing The Rabbit Hole‘ sound, look and feel like a bygone golden era of heavy music, but the kind that’s also been imbued with a much fresher take. A new open-minded perspective. The kind that made Code Orange so innovative on their latest album, where they really came into their own. But maybe that got lost in translation for you when hearing that record? So here’s a playlist I prepared earlier with just those metalcore-honed cuts: