Live music came back with a vengeance in 2021. After a year and a half of being sidelined from the road, metal and rock acts returned to the stage this year with more pent-up energy and rage than ever before, resulting in some truly momentous tours and one-off performances.
Although the small club circuit was running at full speed this year, too, when we asked our readers to think back and choose the greatest live show they experienced in 2021, heavy music's big guns came to mind — which makes sense, considering the unique communal experience of losing your hearing in a rowdy pit with thousands of other headbangers. Below are the fans' picks for the top five live bands of the year, ranked accordingly.
Gojira's 2021 opus, Fortitude — which we named the No.1 album of the year — is premised on long-held principles like strength and perseverance, and that's the exact mindset the French crushers tapped into for their live shows this year. While hitting the U.S. with rising stars Alien Weaponry and Knocked Loose, the band mastered the challenge of blending their new, more melodic songs with the death-metal grit of older fan favorites. Of course, they killed it.
Slipknot's shows this year were full of surprises. Corey Taylor introduced a terrifying new mask at Rocklahoma fest, rowdy maggots started a massive bonfire in the crowd in Arizona, Clown played through the pain after tearing his bicep onstage at Knotfest L.A., and the Iowa maniacs played their thunderous new song, "The Chapeltown Rag," live for the first time. There ain't no party like a Slipknot party, and this year as full of them.
This year wasn't just a return for Evanescence — it was a rebirth. Amy Lee and Co. unveiled their first album of new material in over a decade, The Bitter Truth, and then hit the road this fall with Halestorm to remind everyone what they're made of. Unfortunately, the last few shows of the run were rescheduled for January after members of the touring party caught COVID-19, but the vivacious arena sets the band was able to knock out were nothing short of glorious. Here's to more of them in 2022.
For the last 20 years, Lamb of God have been one of the most dependably badass live bands in all of metal, and they continued to earn that badge with the gigs they threw down at in 2021. The Richmond, Virginia, wrecking crew got to debut new material off their 2020 self-titled LP throughout their two-month-long "Metal Tour of the Year" run with Megadeth, Trivium and Hatebreed. All of those bands are institutions in their own right, so LOG clearly made quite the impression to stand out among that crowd.
The universe didn't want Korn to have a successful tour this year, but goddammit they made it happen. First, bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu announced his hiatus from the band just a few weeks before their kickoff shows in July, so the nu-metal pioneers scrambled to tap Suicidal Tendencies' Roberto "Ra" Diaz for a helping hand. Then, COVID-19 came knocking. Frontman Jonathan Davis contracted the virus during the tour's second week, leading to the postponement of some dates and the singer performing while seated in a throne once he was cleared to return. Then, guitarist Munky caught it in September, and finally drummer Ray Luzier came down with it in October. Despite the tumult, the band managed to not just power through, but play hard enough to win this poll by a landslide. Unreal.