As evidenced by our list of the 25 best albums of 2021, this was a particularly great year for heavy music, both for veteran acts and young talent alike. Seeing long-running metallurgical institutions like Mastodon, Converge and even Iron Maiden continue to earn their distinguished status was thrilling, but it was also exciting to see a whole new generation of artists stake their claim to the throne in a world where live music was finally possible again.
We asked our readers to vote on which lesser-known act deserves the title of 2021's breakout band, and among the many fervent responses, there were five groups from across the heavy spectrum who are each at the helm of very real movements. Below, are the top five vote-getters ranked accordingly.
Pupil Slicer make the type of music that rips the circuitry out of your head and re-solders the wires. This is lobotomy metal, so naturally, the dizzyingly skronky, dangerously heavy mathcore maneuvers on their 2021 debut, Mirrors, have rattled around their listeners' brains ever since the album dropped back in March. There are very few bands in their crowded field of chaotic 'core who are actually as fun, memorable and downright listenable as Pupil Slicer are, so it's no wonder that this young U.K. act have already found their true believers.
For people whose ears are to the hardcore underground, Knocked Loose have been scene leaders since their 2019 album, A Different Shade of Blue, but 2021 is the year that they began their conquest of wider metallic lands. In addition to releasing the devastatingly heavy A Tear in the Fabric of Life EP, the Louisville sluggers toured with Gojira and played a bunch of high-profile festivals throughout the fall that introduced their crowd-crushing sound to new audiences. The sky's the limit for these guys.
Formed in 2010, Lorna Shore have had a presence in deathcore for a while now, but this year they transformed into one of the genre's biggest forces. The first song they released with new vocalist Will Ramos, the scorching "To the Hellfire," became an instant classic and a viral sensation, largely thanks to Ramos' beastly screeches during the track's house-leveling final breakdown. Their best years are still ahead of them, and people from all aisles of the metal world are taking note.
Spiritbox had been patiently unfurling from their chrysalis for the better part of five years, and in 2021 they finally completed their metamorphosis into a colorful metal monarch. The Canadian duo featuring former iwrestledabearonce singer Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer put their long-awaited debut, Eternal Blue, into the world this year, and you'd have to plug your ears and cover your eyes to escape the universal admiration that people have thrown at their novel cocktail of prog, djent and crystalline melody. Why not join the party?
Way back in January 2021, our readers deemed Orbit Culture one of the top five bands to most likely break out in 2021, so if it wasn't obvious before, you all deserve a pat on the back for having such great instincts. Between this year's Shaman EP and the hype that continued to build off of last year's Nija LP, the Swedish quartet's proclivity for monstrous melodeath riffs, hooky Hetfield-ian vocals and Gojira-inspired groove-ertures has only continued to win over more zealots from all corners of the world. You better get used to seeing their name, because Orbit Culture are just getting started.