The biggest takeaway we gleaned from writing Revolver's 15 essential deathcore albums list earlier this year is how much life the genre still has in the tank. While formative LPs from the likes of Suicide Silence and Job for a Cowboy still undoubtedly slap, the deathcore coming out today is bigger, sleeker, heavier and more open to a wide array of outside influences. And throughout 2021, the idiom's hunger to once again outdo itself was insatiable.
Between pioneers like Whitechapel and Carnifex reinforcing their relevance with epic transformations, and new-gen leaders such as Brand of Sacrifice and Lorna Shore repositioning the bar to even higher levels of brain-splattering heaviness, there was so much innovation happening on all corners of the genre's vast terrain. Below are our picks for the 10 best deathcore albums of the year.
Signs of the Swarm make old-school deathcore with a new-school veneer. The Pittsburgh band's fourth album, Absolvere, doesn't try to wow anyone with technical spectacle or symphonic bombast. Frontman David Simonich has a monstrous growl that sounds like a wart-covered goblin warrior going into rage mode, and his bandmates serve as fellow soldiers who fire off cannon-blast breakdowns and paint the battlefield with blackened textures. With vocal features from Despised Icon's Alex Erian and Shadow of Intent's Ben Duerr, there's something for every generation of fan on this bad boy.
The super duo of Chelsea Grin vocalist Tom Barber and multi-instrumentalist Josh Miller (Emmure, Glass Cloud) began making songs as Darko when they had downtime during the first leg of COVID, and their 2021 debut proved they were more than just a casual side project. Taking influence from the bands they've played in over the years, most of their songs are groovy, angry, glitchy and saddled with bouncy breakdowns, but outliers like "Donna" and "Daniel" have a spacious and yearning metalcore vibe that shakes things up.
Canada's Archspire began as an inhumanly fast tech-death band whose music sounds like the way it feels to mow down vehicles with the Minigun in Grand Theft Auto. Bleed the Future is just as sonically violent, but songs with chuggy parts like "Golden Mouth of Ruin" and "Drone Corpse Aviator" introduce a deathcore groove to their sound that wasn't there before — and it makes them an even more formidable beast to contend with. They're still one of the fastest, tightest and, crucially, most listenable tech-death bands going — which says a lot for a type of music that pummels the ear — and now their mosh pits will be even deadlier.
If you want to get super semantic about it, Vulvodynia are a slam band who clearly draw a lot of influence from brutal death metal and bands who wouldn't want to associate themselves with anything "core." However, the South African group's fourth album, Praenuntius Inifiniti, has enough melodic guitar sweeps and straight-up bouncy deathcore grooves to fall under the genre's ever-broadening definition. What's most important, though, is that this 56-minute onslaught of face-mauling blast-beats and pukey vocal gurgles fucking rips, and anyone with an ear for deathcore can find something to love about it.
A Hill to Die Upon, the third album from Germany's Mental Cruelty, is deathcore that sounds like it should be echoing through the towering halls of a grand castle. Standout "King ov Fire" begins with the type of medieval fanfare you'd hear on a Cradle of Filth album before it launches into numerous destructive slam sieges, while a song like "Abadon" is laced with majestic synths and croaky screams. Employing less brutish chugs per song than their last albums, Mental Cruelty have more space to peel back the chaos and reveal glowing guitar sweeps and epic black-metal stampedes like the engrossing one in "Eternal Eclipse."
Carnifex have been slowly adding more black-metal elements into their music for the better part of a decade, but Graveside Confessions feels like the full realization of their sinister vision. The San Diego vets are still one of the most unrelentingly heavy bands in the genre, and frontman Scott Lewis' vocals have only become more colossal. But the magic really happens on songs "Pray for Peace" and "Seven Souls," which blend the tree-trunk girth and tectonic force of deathcore with the orchestral ambiance, whirring guitar leads and miserable emotional register of black metal.
Swapping vocalists has been a common occurrence throughout deathcore's history, and bands are often able to bounce back just fine — but rarely as well as Lorna Shore did in 2021. The New Jersey band unveiled their new vocalist, Will Ramos, with one of the most mind-melting songs in the genre's lifespan, "To the Hellfire." Ramos' animalistic grunts and squeals during the final breakdown already feel iconic, and the other two cuts on the EP the song appears on are blackened deathcore par excellence.
Lifeblood is only Brand of Sacrifice's second album, but the anime-inspired Canadian crew already feel like they're on their way to household-name status. The band make deathcore that's fast and ceaselessly intense, packing in tons of groove, clamorous guitar noise, memorable leads, subtle vocal melodies, symphonic keys and plenty of brain-damaging breakdowns that keep things devastatingly heavy at all times. The first 11 tracks are nothing short of glorious, but the way the title track's choir chants harmonize with Kyle Anderson's cutting vocal attack is downright beautiful.
Slaughter to Prevail make the type of music that would play during an underground boxing match in a dilapidated warehouse. Kostolom, the sophomore album by the Russian destroyers, is one bloody deathcore barrage after another — from the fittingly titled "Demolisher" to the stupidly heavy "Baba Yaga," which ends with frontman Aleksandr "Alex Terrible" Shikolai croaking like Satan in a fury of torment. The devastation is knowingly over-the-top, rife with spine-snapping breakdowns that seem expressly written to accompany fists hitting flesh.
As one of the genre's pioneering acts, there's no blueprint for what deathcore bands should do when they're eight albums deep into a 15-year career, so Whitechapel are doing what they've always done: setting the standard. After experimenting with dusky clean vocals on 2019's The Valley, Phil Bozeman and his bandmates fully embraced melodic metal and rock balladry on Kin, stripping back their craggy deathcore exterior so that the frontman's intimate personal excavations can be properly absorbed. They're not abandoning what they've built so far (see: the crushing weight of "A Bloodsoaked Symphony" and "The Ones That Made Us"), but rather showing fans that the battlements they've spent years fortifying are still far from complete.