It's already 20 years since the turn of the new millennium and Crystal Logic thought to present you the greatest metal debut albums of 2000 - 2020. For start we will have a brief look of how metal music has changed and evolved over the years, reaching the present day and the recent years where those albums are part of. And then, you'll have the albums!
written by Andreas Andreou
Chapter I: The evolution and changes of heavy metal music and industry through the decades.
The '70s were the years where giants shaped heavy music. It was the decade where record labels' executives gave a chance to everything new or everything they couldn't understand. The albums of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Rainbow, Scorpions and Uriah Heep (to mention a few) shaped what we learned in the '80s as Heavy Metal. Just within a year in the '80s (the year 1980) you already had the albums that completed the template of heavy metal music. Albums like Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell, Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Ozz and Judas Priest's British Steel set new standards, even in terms of the "sound" (production) thanks to producers like Martin Birch. And it took no long for heavy metal to even reach the top of Billboard Charts with Quiet Riot's Metal Health in 1983, in a time where charts really mattered.
During the '80s, there were just a few metal genres and the melodic and glamorous part of it dominated the charts, the radio stations and MTV. Still though, even more traditional metal acts like Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne had a huge commercial and artistic success. An industry was formed around (that new then) metal music, with record labels specialized in all the genres of heavy metal, magazines and festivals.
Repeating once again Warrel Dane's line "so ends a decade now what will the nineties hold" from Sanctuary's "Future Tense" track of the 1990's album Into the Mirror Black, the page actually turned a year later even if we were already in the '90s. During September of 1991, Nirvana's Nevermind was released and suddenly, many record labels that used to release metal albums, turned into the grunge scene and alternative rock music. You still had a couple of major '80s acts ruling over the industry and selling millions (like Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, even Queensrÿche with Empire) but in its majority, metal music also followed different paths and changed. The '90s was the period of changes.
Traditional heavy metal remained mostly in the underground, power metal met success in Europe and Japan, Dream Theater with Images and Words (1992) established progressive metal, the new face of Pantera with Cowboys from Hell (1990) brought something new with their groovy heavy and thrashy metal that dominated the decade, while Sepultura's change with Chaos A.D. (1993) and mostly Roots (1996), was a main influence for Nu Metal. At the same time, Doom Metal actually became a subgenre since in the '80s there were just a handful of bands and not even a scene, and many new subgenres appeared. Different things where you can place many bands like Paradise Lost, Therion, Type O Negative, Tiamat, Nightwish and countless more. The tags vary depending each band's period, even album, but subgenres like Gothic Metal, Doom/Death Metal, Symphonic Metal, Atmospheric Metal were there and shaped in the '90s, while the (old) spirit of Heavy Metal could mainly found in the second wave of Black Metal, that also dominated the '90s.
In the 2000s, there was everything. Not everything had a huge success, but you had everything and even more. So much more, that sometimes you couldn't properly describe a band and suddenly, there was a new generation of fans that didn't care how someone would label a band. A few bands even evolved to something that didn't have a connection with heavy metal (like Anathema and The Gathering), and they didn't care, just like a few of their fans, even if they were mainly marketed by metal media and labels.
During that decade, the music industry started to change rapidly, just like technology's evolution. The more technology was evolving, the more the music industry started losing power and the decline of the physical formats was already there. Physical sales were already low and digital became the new standard in the music industry. And that was in general during the new years of technology and mobility. It wasn't just the actual music, but everything. Printed media were selling less and in the years to come many of them didn't manage to survive, and the internet was the new face of everything, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.
In the 2010s though, the underground and the traditional metal scene became more powerful. The festivals became stronger, older underground metal bands were already reformed and were relevant again, media started covering all of them, new labels were formed, older labels felt more powerful and during the digital years, physical products started selling again. Definitely not like 20 years ago, but better than the recent (then) years. That brought a few more changes in the music industry. The charts didn't matter. Actually, they were no longer subjectively correct and the physical sales have many different faces. The top bands of a mid-range metal record label can sell many more copies than the mid-range bands of a major metal record label. And you might not see these sales in "charts" (since the "charts" don't really include everything, therefore they're not "real"), but you can definitely understand it by their impact on the fans. Or simply by checking online sites like Discogs where you can see those bands of mid-range labels having more different formats of each album already (meaning more sales and represses), than other bands of top labels that might "chart" but you can still find their first-1000-copies vinyl pressing everywhere.
At the moment you're reading these lines, the music industry has changed so much that vinyl factories are working with overcapacity, something that looked impossible 10 years ago. In the end, everything is coming in circles and besides the morality and the inexplicable changes in the music industry we wrote for the first time in this blog a few years ago, a few bands have become masters of their music and more and more bands deal with record labels on their own terms. That's another important change in the music industry. Of course, not everyone can make it, and a few bands might underestimate their will and power over the music industry, but many of the established ones deal in their own terms. For example, bands like Dream Theater, even Triptykon, release their albums in record labels like Century Media, but those albums are "under exclusive license to Century Media" and bands retain both copyright and publishing. Bands don't really care about joining a "powerful" record company as they were known in the '90s, since most labels don't offer tour support anymore.
What does a band really need? A professional label with people they can communicate easily, a label with a proper distribution and promotion. A label that really "exists", and you can really see it all the time. You can find its releases in record stores and distros worldwide, printed media, festivals. And then, the band should build the tour campaign themselves or with a booking agency. If they're signed to a professional label and the albums are widely available, it will help them more. You don't have to be on a "major" label, whatever "major" means nowadays.
In 2018, Believe (formerly Believe Digital) from France, acquired a majority stake in Germany-headquartered metal record label, Nuclear Blast. Just a few days ago (November 2021), Nuclear Blast founder Markus Staiger with two former Nuclear Blast employees (Florian Milz and Markus Wosgien) launched a new record label called Atomic Fire. Bands like Helloween, Opeth, Meshuggah and Michael Schenker Group will be released (effective immediately) with the new label. In the end, all that the artists need is professionalism and people who know their business, not a "brand name". That's how the music industry works today. And that's what new bands need to look for.
Most of the "greatest" debut albums you're gonna read about below didn't owe everything to the labels that released them. The main factor was the music itself while in the "old" days, the record label was a major factor for the album's success (whatever "success" means).
Chapter II: The greatest metal debut albums of 2000 - 2020.
It's not just new bands but debut albums. And there are new bands too. A few of them had a huge impact in their genre, others instantly, others over the years. A few of them include iconic musicians in a new beginning, others are just a new beginning by passionate youngsters. These are the Top-10 greatest metal albums according to Crystal Logic.
Additionally, you will find 10 more albums noted (listen also), and a third chapter is next, with 3 more debut albums from each year during 2000 - 2020. That means that Crystal Logic offers you a database with 83 metal debut albums released during 2000 - 2020 and worth checking out.
10. HALFORD - Resurrection (2000)
The wizardry of Roy Z meets the spells of the Metal God and his saints, putting to shame the Ripper-era of Judas Priest, just like Bruce Dickinson did to the Maiden's Blaze-era with Accident of Birth. And while fans still remembered the failed 2wo project and the later Fight stuff (War of Words rules) Emperor Dickinson joins for a duet at "The One You Love to Hate" while later the vultures who spitted all those small deadly spaces, voyeurs and skunkworks would praise both returns to their throne. That was indeed a resurrection, a return much needed, a great modern traditional metal album with highlights such as the same-titled track and "Silent Screams".
Listen also: RIOT CITY - Burn the Night (2019)
You might have the future of priest-trad-maiden metal here. Over the top, screaming, wild heavy metal.
9. LOST HORIZON - Awakening the World (2001)
There are a few European power metal albums that put our beloved USPM to bed with nightmares, and one of them is the debut album of the intergalactic bringers of metal salvation. Their human form came from Sweden but their music and that album have a cosmic power that's not really appreciated by the masses. As for the voice of Daniel Heiman, it still sounds unbeatable. No fate. Only the power of will.
Listen also: SHAMAN - Ritual (2002)
Leaving Angra and its guitarists in 2000, Andre Matos, Luis Mariutti and Ricardo Confessori recorded more power metal magic.
8. JACOBS DREAM - Jacobs Dream (2000)
We've said that there are a few European power metal albums that put our beloved USPM to bed with nightmares, but there will always be albums like the same-titled debut of Jacobs Dream that put things in order. That's a huge and perfect US power metal album with massive songs like "Kinescope" and "Funambulism", that was probably released at the wrong time and still remains unappreciated. The album is full with majestic riffs, bittersweet melodies, an amazing rhythm section, a godlike voice, a matched use of keyboards and excellent lyrics. Just listen to "The Bleeding Tree" that combines all those elements creating pure perfection. One of the greatest power metal albums ever recorded!
Listen also: SACRAL RAGE - Illusions in Infinite Void (2015)
There aren't many bands out there creating and performing the technical and powerful kind of metal, Sacral Rage do. They're at the top of their game.
7. ATLANTEAN KODEX - The Golden Bough (2010)
Following the Kodex since their early Hidden Folk and Pnakotic Demos years, meeting them and seeing them live many times here and there, there is no doubt that they create and perform the kind of epic metal that the subgenre needed in order to be relevant again. Having a deep knowledge of the story and the myths of Europa, they combine the best lyrics the subgenre has to offer with music that dwells in old Manowar, the Asatru period of Bathory and Solstice, offering the best epic metal albums of modern times. Even if the "modern" word is crushed by the invincible puritan blade.
Listen also: CALADAN BROOD - Echoes of Battle (2013)
The epic and atmospheric black metal of Caladan Brood is based in the Malazan Book of the Fallen and their Summoning-like music is already an underground classic.
6. CRYPT SERMON - Out of the Garden (2015)
What the Philly band really did with Out of the Garden (and the follow-up album) is offer us the best doom metal of the 2010s. Sounds bold? It's not. Actually, the Crypt Sermon albums can look in the eye many doom metal classics, and they're even better than a few of them. Flawless songwriting and the best performance you can get by the genre. Songs like "Byzantium" and "Into the Holy of the Holies" could be placed into the greatest doom metal albums you can think of. Really. Yes. Crypt Sermon's alchemical epic doom metal is a "paradox" of a modern release that's better than most of the classics you know.
Listen also: KRUX - Krux (2002)
Somewhere between the 13th Sun and the second coming of the Monk, Doomfather Edling is joined by a team of diverse musicians releasing the album that contains "Omfalos", "Pococatépetl" and doom metal weirdness.
5. SUMERLANDS - Sumerlands (2016)
The visionary Arthur Rizk is spinning Ozzy's The Ultimate Sin and brings the underground legend that is Phil Swanson to sing about the seven seals, guardians, blind eyes and splinters of lucidity, creating a modern classic heavy metal album. Perfect from start to finish, Sumerlands' debut album is a celebration of traditional metal in its full glory. An exciting modern classic deeply rooted in pure talent and passion. If you haven't heard this album yet, you're missing your modern favourite metal album.
Listen also: HOUR OF 13 - Hour of 13 (2007)
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Chad Davis with singer and lyricist Phil Swanson created a spectral occult doom metal album with a ghastly power. That's the sound of darkness.
4. THORNS - Thorns (2001)
There are no borders in black metal. It's the most evolving and wide metal genre. The phenomenal frenziness of the Thorns debut album is a mechanical adrenaline shot of futuristic blackness right to the neck. Snorre Ruch might (co-) created what we know as "black metal riffing" but there isn't any standard black metal formula in Thorns. It was the turn of the new millennium when Thorns embraced a new black metal world and offered us a glimpse of a cyberfuture we haven't reached yet.
Listen also: TRIPTYKON - Eparistera Daimones (2010)
Thomas Gabriel Fischer formed Triptykon when he left Celtic Frost (the band was laid to rest) and continued creating and performing cold, deathly and dark art, as a true originator of extreme metal.
3. ETERNAL CHAMPION - The Armor of Ire (2016)
Mostly in the '70s and the '80s, but in the '90s too, there were albums that upon their release, it was like pressing a button and instantly the next day, you had bands influenced by them. At once. On a smaller level, Eternal Champion's debut album is a modern classic that achieved the same. One of the Top-20 metal albums of the decade according to The Encyclopaedia Metallum (Metal Archives) poll, was a turning point transforming fans of Mastodon to fans of Manilla Road and swords & sorcery. At once. Other and new bands started sounding like Eternal Champion even if the reincarnating hero had just one album released at that moment, but what an album! The album that established them along with Atlantean Kodex as the pioneers of "modern" epic metal. The Hammer!
Listen also: WRATHBLADE - Into the Netherworld's Realm (2012)
Original and true, the epic heavy metal of the Greeks remained deep underground but their followers are few in number, huge in passion!
2. HELL - Human Remains (2011)
The story of Hell from England is one of those legendary yet obscure, unknown chapters in the book of heavy metal. One of the greatest heavy metal stories. Formed in 1982 and disbaned in 1987 when singer Dave Halliday commited suicide, without releasing any album. Hell were reunited in 2008 thanks to producer and guitarist Andy Sneap who was a huge fan of the band and also learned to play the guitar thanks to Dave Halliday, who was also young Andy's mentor in the early '80s. The remaining members, with Andy Sneap (who also funded the project on his own) and David Bower, a professional actor and voiceover artist on vocals, recorded all those old songs, presenting the best classic heavy metal album of the 2010s.
Listen also: HEAVEN & HELL - The Devil You Know (2009)
Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice and the Old Nick. Just the Devil you know.
1. REVEREND BIZARRE - In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend (2002)
When the debut album of the Finnish band was released, it shook the traditional doom metal community. It was the essence of doom metal, that according to their guitarist Peter Vicar, as once said at Crystal Logic, is "The traditional Sabbathian riffing, clean vocals, full of intensity and power. It’s music that will, if done right, shake your foundations." And so it did. The archaic deep accent of Sir Albert sounded like echoes from an ancient past. He feels each and every word and every song sounds personal. Even if the lyrics look like something that cannot be personal... He makes them personal and deeply emotional. Darkness, biblical themes, misery, when you listen to "In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend" for the first time, there is a feeling of sin. The tone and behemoth riffage, the low frequencies, the crushing drums of doom, the Lovecraftian atmosphere of decay and slumber, everything sounds like sin; like something that is forbidden and opens the gateways to Hell and sorrow. Reverend Bizarre isn't an easily accessible band but no one said that true doom metal is easily accessible for everyone. Shocking album.
Listen also: LORD VICAR - Fear No Pain (2008)
After hammering the final nails to the coffin of Reverend Bizarre, Kimi Kärki (Peter Vicar) followed his vision of a new doom metal band and brought to life Lord Vicar, joined by the mighty Christian "Chritus" Linderson on vocals. Doom metal is alive and well, even if it smells rotten at times.
Chapter III: More and more debut albums (3 more per year).
2000: IOMMI - Iommi, PAGAN'S MIND - Infinity Divine, SHADOWKEEP - Corruption Within
2001: AVANTASIA - The Metal Opera, GRAND MAGUS - Grand Magus, ONWARD - Evermoving
2002: DREAM EVIL - DragonSlayer, FIREWIND - Between Heaven and Hell, ZOOL - Zool
2003: CIRCLE II CIRCLE - Watching in Silence, MASTERPLAN - Masterplan, ORODRUIN - Epicurean Mass
2004: CANS - Beyond the Gates, EVIL MASQUERADE - Welcome to the Show, FEINSTEIN - Third Wish
2005: COMMUNIC - Conspiracy in Mind, ISOLE - Forevermore, RAM - Forced Entry
2006: BULLET - Heading for the Top, CRESCENT SHIELD - The Last of My Kind, I - Between Two Worlds
2007: BLAZE - Blaze, BLOTTED SCIENCE - The Machinations of Dementia, CRYSTAL VIPER - The Curse of Crystal Viper
2008: DEAD CONGREGATION - Graves of the Archangels, ENFORCER - Into the Night, IN SOLITUDE - In Solitude
2009: FUTURES END - Memoirs of a Broken Man, SINISTER REALM - Sinister Realm, VEKTOR - Black Future
2010: BRITON RITES - For Mircalla, GHOST - Opus Eponymous, WHITE WIZZARD - Over the Top
2011: ARCH/MATHEOS - Sympathetic Resonance, DEMONAZ - March of the Norse, HIGH SPIRITS - Another Night
2012: AIR RAID - Night of the Axe, PALLBEARER - Sorrow and Extinction, TRAIL OF MURDER - Shades of Art
2013: AVATARIUM - Avatarium, BLACK TRIP - Goin' Under, POWER TRIP - Manifest Decimation
2014: CROSSWIND - Vicious Dominion, DÄNG - Tartarus: The Darkest Realm, DOOMOCRACY - The End Is Written
2015: NIGHT DEMON - Curse of the Damned, TERMINUS - The Reaper's Spiral, VISIGOTH - The Revenant King
2016: ASSASSIN'S BLADE - Agents Of Mystification, TAROT - Reflections, THE TEMPLE - Forevermourn
2017: LUNAR SHADOW - Far from Light, PAINFUL PRIDE - Lost Memories, SANHEDRIN - A Funeral for the World
2018: GATEKEEPER - East of Sun, MANACLE - No Fear to Persevere..., WOLFTOOTH - Wolftooth
2019: IDLE HANDS (changed name to UNTO OTHERS) - Mana, SMOULDER - Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring, TRAVELER - Traveler
2020: LORD OF LIGHT - Morningstar, SACRED OUTCRY - Damned for All Time, STYGIAN CROWN - Stygian Crown
What's your favourite debut albums in metal music during 2000 - 2020?