Like most music genres, the validity of "djent" as a distinct style of music is always up for debate. After all, the word itself was just a half-serious onomatopoeia that djent's unwitting creator, Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thorndal, once used to describe his quirky guitar tone while drunkenly talking to a fan. "'We want that 'dj—' 'dj—,' 'dj—,' 'dj—,'" Meshuggah's other guitarist, Mårten Hagström, explained during a 2018 retelling of the night Thorndal christened a genre. "And that guy was, like, 'What's he saying? Is that a Swedish word? Must be. Sounds like dj_, maybe 'djent'? Maybe something like that.'"
The origins of the term are silly, but once Meshuggah's way-ahead-of-the-curve sound finally started spawning a whole scene of imitators in the late 2000s, "djent" became a useful way to classify bands who were explicitly vying for Meshuggah's down-tuned, syncopated, polyrhythmic riff style. By the early 2010s, there was a whole cottage industry of bands — many signed to the then-fledgling Sumerian Records, and all strapped with seven-, eight-, nine-string guitars — who were linked by the djenty tones they were incorporating into other genres like deathcore, metalcore and prog-metal.
While the controversies djent attracted — from people who simply thought the word was dumb to those who hated the style altogether — have settled quite a bit over the years, the sound remains one of the most popular metal innovations of the 21st century, and it's still going strong today on all corners of the world. Whether you're a newbie who needs a primer or an old-school fan who wants a refresher, we've highlighted 10 essential albums that collectively demonstrate what djent sounds like and where it's ventured throughout the last decade-plus.
Of all the bands on this list — save for their clear idols, Meshuggah — After the Burial have the most overwhelmingly intense, cascading sound. Their 2008 album, Rareform, is a pioneering djent classic, and its 2010 follow-up, In Dreams, was a superb transformation into brighter, more melodic and even more decimating songwriting. However, 2013's Wolves Within is when they perfected what they were going for, cultivating gigantic waves of rubbery riffage that can turn a car stereo to dust on tracks like "Pennyweight" and "Anti-pattern." The guitar tones are impeccable, and there's a surprising number of rippin' thrash solos on here, but frontman Anthony Natarmaso's piercing vocals improbably cut above all the racket and arguably steal the entire show.
While Animals As Leaders have long been at the forefront of the djent movement, they've also always occupied their own lane. The D.C.-based trio make instrumental music that's as genetically akin to ambient, jazz-informed prog as it is traditional metal. While their 2009 self-titled debut was a formative record during the genre's initial explosion, its production and compositional creativity pales in comparison to the sound they accomplished on 2014's stellar, Joy of Motion. On this record, AAL guitarist-mastermind Tosin Abasi struck a beatific balance between glassy clean licks and powerful, earth-rumbling djent hiccups. Opener "Kascade" is an impressive showing of how this band learned to push djent into abstract, dazzling directions — all without uttering a single word.
Between their Myspace-era deathcore debut, 2007's The New Reign, and its 2009 successor, A Higher Place, Born of Osiris leveled up from primitive breakdown bandits to eager tech-death trapeze artists. On 2011's The Discovery, they added djent. While still partial to the bludgeoning force of a double-bass deathcore breakdown, the Chicago band really benefited from the extra punch that a djent tone gives a bouncy groove, and virtuosic guitarist Jason Richardson — who only recorded on this album before departing — heightened their technical flair. Opener "Follow the Signs" is a true gem of its era — a chuggy, proggy, dance-able banger that swung open the door for more bands to incorporate eerie keyboards into the djent toolkit.
Meshuggah had invented the djent sound long before obZen, but their 2008 album ushered in the djent movement. After spending a couple records experimenting with new writing styles, the Swedish band returned to the destructive form they perfected on 1998's Chaosphere, while also cranking the melody dial, thereby providing an accessible gateway into their catalog for a whole new generation of listeners. Glorious songs like "Bleed" and "Dancers to a Discordant System" had all the cannon-blast force and technical wizardry of classic Meshuggah, but the subtle catchiness of the leads and chord progressions was highly instructive to a whole new crop of musicians, who'd take things a step further and add clean vocals, bright keyboards and more — creating the fluid, amicably experimental djenre we know today.
Northlane's current music certainly has djenty qualities, but their 2013 sophomore album, Singularity, was a major turning point in the genre's trajectory. Founding frontman Adrian Fitipaldes (who left after this record) had a uniquely ragged vocal style that was closer to a melodic hardcore approach than a deathcore bellow, which immediately set Northlane apart in the scene at that time. Moreover, the instrumentation on Singularity songs like "Windbreaker" and "Worldeater" nestle urgent drumming, driving power chords and lots of melody in with the chugging djent grooves and pirouetting prog leads, essentially splitting the difference between a band like Counterparts and a group like Volumes. Along with their extremely inspirational lyrics — especially on centerpiece "Quantum Flux" — Singularity gave djent a tonal makeover and thereby opened it up to a whole new audience.
While Meshuggah are a "progressive" band in the sense that their music has literally pushed metal forward, they're by no means a down-the-middle prog-metal band. Periphery, on the other hand, are, if not the first, then arguably the best and most popular group to incorporate djent into straight-up prog-metal songwriting. Acrobatic musicianship, through-composed song structures, high-flying melodies and a penchant for taking the eccentric left turn whenever you think the song is about to go right. Any of their records are good starting points for the uninitiated, but 2012's Periphery II had the most impact on the djent scene, setting the bar for how a record should sound production-wise and posing a challenge to any band who thought they could skate by on recycled Meshuggah riffs.
Sleep Token are to djent what Ghost are to heavy metal. The mysterious U.K. band operate as an anonymous collective who perform in masks and black hoods, and although their music doesn't sound like Tobias Forge's Satanic doom-pop, as with Ghost, metal only makes up a fraction of Sleep Token's genre-blurring palette. The majority of "Levitate" —a song from their bold 2019 debut, Sundowning — is a sparse piano ballad with poignant vocals that doesn't sound the least bit heavy until its final minute, when it climactically erupts into glorious waterfalls of djent guitars and pummeling drums. Other tracks like "The Offering" and "Higher" exercise the same restraint, using occasional bursts of down-tuned chugging to emphasize emotional stakes rather than suffocate endlessly.
Spiritbox moved far beyond djent on their breakthrough 2021 debut, Eternal Blue, but their 2017 EP certainly exists within this milieu. The band — helmed by former iwrestledabearonce members Courtney LaPlante and Mike Stringer — reinvigorated the djent sound on their majestic self-titled affair, basking in the no-man's land between studious prog, mountainous post-metal, bone-chilling metalcore and hooky alt-metal. The elastic djent gyrations on "Aphids" and "Everything's Eventual" are there to accent LaPlante's stunning vocals, which range from scabrous growls to glowing belts. There's nary a frontperson in the djent world who can sing like LaPlante does on "The Mara Effect, Pt. 2," but just when you think you've become accustomed to her undulating croon, Stringer drops in a bottom-heavy djent detonation that sets it all ablaze.
TesseracT's Altered State is the rare djent album that you can just throw on and chill out to. For their sophomore record, the British band — who are as foundational to the genre's early wave as groups like After the Burial and Animals as Leaders — nixed all of the unclean vocals present on their 2011 debut and fully embraced new singer Ashe O'Hara's svelte, soaring cleans. Whatever heaviness is missing is exceedingly made up for by the tuneful and efficient prog compositions, which seamlessly waft between glistening pools of ethereal instrumentation and rippling djent guitar. The whole record basks in the genre's beauteous prog potential, even letting a slick saxophone glide through the djenty mist on "Of Reality - Calabi-Yau" and "Of Energy - Embers."
Along with After the Burial and Born of Osiris, Veil of Maya are another band who made the leap from deathcore to djent at the turn of the Aughts. The Chicago band's third and fourth albums, 2010's [id] and 2012's Eclipse, the latter co-written and produced by Periphery's Misha Mansoor, were full of great ideas that shined through during their tight live shows, but 2015's Matriarch is when they truly came into their own on record. The Veil of Maya sound hinges on taut, jittery syncopations dotted with glitchy effects, arpeggiating synths and dramatic strings. But for as technical as their musicianship is — and despite the clean vocals on a song like "Ellie" — Matriarch still boasts plenty of nasty breakdowns that can easily serve a deathcore pit.