The decade has come and gone and we’re well on our way into the start of the ’20s. Now that we’ve had a few months to properly reflect on the previous decade as a whole, it’s abundantly clear that the 2010s was the best period for traditional heavy metal since the peak of the genre in the 80s. By 1990, metal as a whole was in steep decline in terms of popularity. Most of the metal community that remained after the exodus gravitated towards either more extreme styles or a more polished European brand of power metal.
It wasn’t until around 2008 that we started to see a global uptick in more traditional styles of heavy metal. An entire generation of metalheads that grew up idolizing Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were finally coming of age to become musicians of their own. Inspired by the classics of yore, the 2010s saw such a huge boom of traditional heavy metal bands that the term “New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal” (NWOTHM) was coined. Now whether or not you agree with the term or what it stands for is a different discussion, but a website like ours that focuses on traditional heavy metal would not have been able to really exist until recently.
With so many quality releases released over the last decade, we decided to collectively compile our favorite albums. You can find our top 30 traditional metal albums of the 2010s below!
The Best Traditional Metal of the 2010s
30) Illegal Bodies – Mindflayers (2011)
It’s only fitting to kick off our list with Illegal Bodies’ Mindflayers, one of the first articles that this website launched with! This short lived dynamic duo from Canada played epic heavy metal in the vein of Slough Feg and Brocas Helm, but with their own approach to it all. Alien sci-fi themes and black metal touches blend with a story-telling vocal approach to give us an odd, but incredibly memorable album.
29) Capilla Ardiente – The Siege (2019)
Hitting as hard as a sledgehammer, Capilla Ardiente’s The Siege was one of the best albums to come out in 2019. Epic, slow, and heavy, The Siege lives up to its name as the full weight of the music bears down on you from the onset. It’s not all crushing doom metal though as Capilla Ardiente have more than their fair share of Solitude Aeternus like melodies sprinkled throughout the entirety of the album’s 45 minute run time.
28) Magic Circle – Magic Circle (2013)
With three strong records under their belt, Boston’s Magic Circle have earned a reputation for themselves as one of traditional metal’s finest. They keep it old school taking strong influence from the riff-centric doom masters of old like Black Sabbath, Pagan Altar, and Witchfinder General. It was difficult to pick between the band’s three excellent records, but we ultimately settled on their self titled debut which is also their most straightforward. Each of their albums offers something a little different; the sophomore album Journey Blind hits a little harder and heavier while their most recent album Departed Souls is much more Sabbathian and leans in on the mid-late 70s. In any case, you simply can’t go wrong with Magic Circle!
27) Lunar Shadow – Far from Light (2017)
Lunar Shadow’s music can be called beautiful in a way many heavy metal albums can’t. Emotional melodies, smooth guitar leads, a hint of melancholy, and tasteful acoustic moments are accompanied by a prevalent melodic black metal influence, culminating in a style that’s best described as Dissection playing heavy metal. Out of the three releases in Lunar Shadow’s discography, Far from Light strikes the best balance between sorrowful atmosphere and killer riffs.
26) Mirror – Pyramid of Terror (2019)
Mirror’s style is a bit tough to exactly pin down, but there’s a notable amount of influence from late 70s and early 80s metal such as Deep Purple, Scorpions, Judas Priest, and especially Rainbow. While their sound is decidedly old school like these bands, there’s a very modern feeling to it all with a cleaner production and a style that’s an amalgamation of classics. To top it all off, there’s a nice dose of middle eastern melody that helps further distinguish Mirror from the rest of the crowd.
25) Borrowed Time – Borrowed Time (2013)
Borrowed Time formed in 2010 and were done shortly after their debut in 2013. Three years – that’s it. Despite their short lived time as a band, Borrowed Time put out some of the best epic metal material in the last decade. Their sound took heavily from the likes of Manilla Road, but like with every great band mentioned here, they really had their own approach to things. With both speed metal bangers and mid-paced epics, they demonstrated an ability to handle a broad spectrum of sounds well.
24) Tarot – Reflections (2016)
Blending hard rock, old school heavy metal, and folk is not easy, but Tarot certainly make it look like it is. This Australian bands’s love of classic heroes like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Rainbow is more than apparent in the songwriting of Reflections. The crooning vocals of Will Fried work seamlessly into the guitar lead driven music and give a very Mythical & Magical feeling to Tarot’s sound that few bands besides Pagan Altar are able to capture.
23) The Wizar’d – Ancient Tome of Arcane Knowledge (2013)
The Wizar’d are the perfect segue after Tarot. Sharing primary songwriters with Tarot, The Wizar’d also understandably share a lot of similarities with their sister band. The music is very lead driven and has that same mystical feeling to it all, but this project is much heavier. The songs are firmly rooted in traditional heavy and doom metal with comparatively little hard rock influence. Ancient Tome of Arcane Knowledge is the third full length album from The Wizar’d and it’s the culmination of years of consistent improvement and strong songwriting.
22) Pharaoh – Bury the Light (2012)
Pharaoh’s sound can be simply described as power metal, but to stop there would be a disservice to the band’s complexity and nuance. While firmly rooted in the more aggressive, riff-driven US power metal sound, Pharaoh’s songs are still progressive in structure and the vocal melodies are just as intense. There isn’t a single dud in the band’s discography and Bury the Light, while their only release in the 2010s, also stands as one of the Pharaoh’s finest offerings.
21) Ravensire – The Cycle Never Ends (2016)
Ravensire represent the barbaric side of epic heavy metal. Their brand of metal is slow to mid-paced and their approach to songwriting isn’t complex, but every single note carries its weight and has significant meaning in the broader picture. The music is laid forth in a very deliberate manner with an emphasis on conveying a story above all else. The Cycle Never Ends is Ravensire’s sophomore album and when the band really found their footing.
20) Sumerlands – Sumerlands (2016)
Sumerlands burst onto the scene in 2016 with their self titled debut album and immediately carved a name out for themselves as a band to watch out for. They’re one of the few bands whose style is nearly impossible to pin down – there’s clear influence from acts like Manilla Road and Ozzy Osborne, but Sumerland’s style is quite different. The music is drenched in reverb and the vocals are distant and melancholic. Sumerlands not only traverse a range of sounds and emotions that’s difficult and atypical for traditional metal, but they do it very well.
19) Briton Rites – For Mircalla (2010)
The best doom metal albums around are those which firmly anchor their style in riffs and For Mircalla has riffs a plenty. Formed as a project of Cauldron Born songwriter Howie Bentley and veteran vocalist Phil Swanson, Briton Rites put out their only album at the very start of the decade in 2010. Although it doesn’t look like we’re getting anymore material, this lone album is more than enough to be considered a modern classic. The songs are equal parts heavy and catchy and while they pay a great tribute to the doom heroes we all know and love, they distinctly retain their own identity. A must listen album for all doomsters.
18) Twisted Tower Dire – Make it Dark (2011)
In a time when many abandoned traditional heavy metal and few had any interest in it, Twisted Tower Dire carried the banner high and with pride. They formed in 1995 and released the majority of their output in the 2000s. Guitar melody after guitar melody mix together with vocal hooks and fast-paced riffs resulting in a sound that straddles the line between the chorus-heavy European variety of power metal and the riff-driven American variety. However, 2011’s Make it Dark represented a shift in the classic Twisted Tower Dire formula. Longtime vocalist Tony Taylor (RIP) left the band shortly after the recording of 2007’s Netherworlds and Make it Dark is the first release with Jonny Aune whose brighter vocals and more upbeat singing style are reflected in the songwriting.
17) Chevalier – Destiny Calls (2019)
Chevalier are not a band for the faint of heart. Their sound, production, and approach to music is one of the least accessible in the traditional heavy metal sphere and they make it abundantly clear that they don’t give a fuck about making it easier to listen to. Their style has been described as “medieval speed metal” and that’s simply the best way to put it – Chevalier’s music reminds you of a medieval dungeon and it sounds like it was recorded in one. Blending the epic songwriting of Manilla Road, the hectic energy of bands like Brocas Helm, the intensity of ADX, and the end result is what we have with Chevalier. This isn’t an album that will immediately sink in. With incredible complexity from each and every instrument, Destiny Calls takes many listens for its full depth to be properly taken in.
16) Portrait – Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae (2011)
Early Mercyful Fate and King Diamond is some of the absolute best heavy metal has to offer. The dark undertones, high pitched ghastly wails, non-stop riffs, and high action drumming – what’s not to love? It’s only natural that a sound this unique and powerful would serve as strong influence to the newer generations and Portrait are one of the best at harnessing that influence. Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae is the band’s second album and where Portrait really found their groove – the songwriting is impeccable and the riffs never stop coming. Portrait now have a total of four full length albums under their belt and each of them is well worth the listen.
15) Argus – Boldly Stride the Doomed (2011)
Whether they are playing crushing doom metal riffs, fast paced bangers, or midpaced anthems, Argus do it well and you are guaranteed a variety of sounds and song structures with each record. What really sticks out relative to other bands is their excellent use of acoustics and instrumentals. Their interludes are used sparingly and to an incredible, complimentary effect. Argus’s catalog consists of four full lengths and a handful of other releases, but Boldly Stride the Doomed stands as the band’s crowning achievement.
14) Procession – To Reap the Heavens Apart (2013)
In 2013, a Chilean quartet attempted to rip the heavens asunder and from a musical standpoint, they certainly achieved that goal. Procession’s To Reap Heavens Apart is a testament to epic doom metal. It isn’t a groundbreaking release by any means and you won’t find a sound here that you’ve never heard before, but it’s very obvious that this band reveres and respects epic doom metal. This is Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus brought to the modern age. It’s epic doom metal done the way we know and done right.
13) Terminus – The Reaper’s Spiral (2015)
Terminus play a style of Manilla Road influenced epic heavy metal that relies on weighty, mid-paced riffs with the closest comparisons being cult-legends Isen Torr or a more compact Visigoth. The Reaper’s Spiral is characterized by powerful guitar leads, infectious choruses, and pounding riffs and it’s simply an album that’s impossible to forget. It’s one thing to sit here and tell you how incredibly memorable and catchy an album is, but you really have to just listen to it yourself. The Reaper’s Spiral has been in my regular listening rotation since the very first time I laid ears on it and I can’t sing the album’s praises enough.
12) Solstice – White Horse Hill (2018)
Solstice formed all the way back in the early 90s and released a pair of excellent epic doom metal albums with their sophomore album New Dark Age often being touted to as one of the genre’s finest. Solstice’s signature style takes beautiful, winding guitar melodies and superimposes them onto crushing doom metal riffs and accompanies them with English-folk acoustics. White Horse Hill came a full 20 years after New Dark Age, but all the quality you’d expect from Solstice is still there. This album ups the overall tempo and firmly solidifies Solstice’s transition towards a more traditional heavy metal slanted sound.
11) Satan’s Hallow – Satan’s Hallow (2017)
There’s a sea of bands playing NWOBHM worship and while many are good, very few are memorable. That’s not to say you can’t make a memorable album playing like the NWOBHM bands of old, but it takes hell of a lot more to be noticed. That’s exactly what Satan’s Hallow did. Taking heavy influence from the classic NWOBHM bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, their lone album is a high energy, up-tempo affair with riffs and melodies for days. Vocalist Mandy Martillo is charismatic and powerful, bringing about an aura reminiscent of the legendary Doro. Satan’s Hallow went as quickly as they came, but despite such a short tenure as a band their self-titled album is more than enough.
10) Tales of Medusa – The Fatal Wounding Gaze (2010)
Shrouded in mystery and hidden identities, Tales of Medusa have become cult metal legends in their own right. Stylistically, they fit snugly into the epic heavy metal label with a notable amount of influence from Manilla Road and various US power metal acts like Dark Age. They released two full length albums and a handful of ancillary releases before disappearing back into obscurity. The Fatal Wounding Gaze was their last release and relative to the rest of their material, this album is a bit on the slower side of things with a bigger doom metal touch.
9) In Solitude – The World, The Flesh, The Devil (2011)
Like Portrait, In Solitude were one of the finest bands in heavy metal to take direct influence from Mercyful Fate. There’s more than just heavy metal at work here as a healthy amount of Goth rock ala Sisters of Mercy sneaks its way into the music. In Solitude’s goth rock tendencies are the most apparent with their third album Sister, where heavy metal is more of an afterthought. Their sophomore album The World, The Flesh, The Devil is still very firmly tied to the Mercyful Fate strain of heavy metal and is subsequently the most balanced and consistent In Solitude record.
8) Demon Bitch – Hellfriends (2016)
Demon Bitch are a band that are unlike any other. Their music is inaccessible and unfriendly to put it in the simplest terms. The vocals are frantic and erratic with the instrumentation and production matching suit. On the very surface, Hellfriends looks like a mess but that’s part of the charm here because by far the most important thing about traditional heavy metal is the riffs and Demon Bitch bring the damn riffs. Each song has a staggering number of leads, vocal melodies, bass/drum sections, and complexities – it’s 35 minutes of non-stop action. Hellfriends always feels like it’s coming apart at the seams, but somehow the band contains the insanity just enough to give us one of the decade’s best albums. This is not an album for the faint of heart and that’s just fine.
7) Agatus – The Eternalist* (2016)
Agatus’s The Eternalist pushes at the very boundaries of what we can possibly consider traditional heavy metal. Fully acknowledging that fact up front, the author team here decided to still vote for it based entirely on its incredible songwriting. Agatus’s story begins in Athens, where they were one of the key players in Greece’s black metal scene. Those familiar with the scene will notice that over time it’s become obvious that Hellenic black metal bands love one thing: adding new elements to their sound or in this case, altering it entirely. The Eternalist is the end result of a very long journey, with songs on the album in the works since late 90s. The final result here is an experimental and epic album along the lines of viking-era Bathory through the lens of classic Agatus. There’s still strong remnants of the black metal roots here, particularly in the vocal approach, so keep that in mind when listening.
6) Vultures Vengeance – The Knightlore (2019)
The Knightlore handily made our top of 2019 list and now that there’s been some time since the end of 2019 it’s only become even more clear that this is an album that will age beautifully. Vultures Vengeance’s songwriting is incredibly thoughtful with each note and melody building upon the last to paint the full picture. While influences are very clear (Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, Dark Quarterer), Vultures Vengeance push the boundary and play a style of their own devices. The Knightlore is the perfect example of how a modern band can look to the past for influence, but still create something unique.
5) Wrathblade – God of the Deep Unleashed (2017)
Wrathblade are an epic heavy metal band from Greece that use their country’s deep and rich history as thematic influence to great effect. Their sound draws heavy influence from the unconventional and spacey song structures of Manilla Road and from the fast paced, bouncing riffs of bands like Brocas Helm. They take the template established by the classic American bands and infuse it with their brand of Greek muscle to create a compelling and unique style. God of the Deep Unleashed is the second full length album from the Greeks and it demonstrated a clear step up from their already stellar debut. It’s an epic musical journey that lives up to the colossal backdrop of its mythological themes.
4) Atlantean Kodex – The White Goddess (2013)
With three excellent full length albums and a growing cult following, Atlantean Kodex have staked their claim as one of the premiere traditional metal bands of the last decade. Their slow burning, wall of sound approach makes them the natural successors to the epic legacies of Manowar and Bathory. The songwriting on The White Goddess is meticulous and brings out the best of the band. It’s easy to just put this record on and get lost in its emotional riffs and well written, meaningful lyrics. Sitting here and dissecting Atlantean Kodex’s sound doesn’t really do them justice – they are the perfect example of a band whose sum is greater than its parts and their music is something you need to experience for yourself.
3) Hell – Human Remains (2011)
Hell’s story dates all the way back to 1982 where they released a series of incredible, but sadly overlooked demos over the course of a few years before disbanding. Band frontman Dave Halliday would tragically take his life shortly after (RIP). Many years down the line, guitarist Kev Bower would reunite with Andy Sneap (Sabbat, Judas Priest live), a former guitar student of Halliday. They brought together the members of Hell in 2008 and a few years later brought us Human Remains in 2011.
Human Remains is a rearrangement and re-recording of Hell’s original demos, finally making what should have happened thirty years prior a reality – a proper full length record. Kev Bower enlisted his brother David, a professional actor, to take on vocal duties and there is no one else on this earth more suited to bring justice to the late Halliday’s theatrical style. Human Remains doesn’t listen like your typical heavy metal album at all. It’s a journey – the music is incredibly dynamic and with Hell’s borderline overuse of samples on top of a charismatic vocal performance, it really feels like you’re experiencing a story unfold before you. The very polished production and general over-the-top experience of the album may be off putting to some, but this is in my mind easily one of metal’s crowning achievements in the last decade.
2) Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire (2016)
The Armor of Ire captured the attention of the metal underground in 2016 and immediately catapulted Eternal Champion to the genre’s forefront. One listen of the album makes it very clear why Eternal Champion has received so much praise. The Armor of Ire demonstrates all the hallmarks of a quality band; killer riffs, flawless production, a captivating aesthetic, well crafted lyrics, and a genuine passion that just radiates from the music. The songs are relatively straight forward and you won’t find anything over the top here, but therein lies the beauty of it.
The Armor of Ire is pure and simple epic metal molded after American greats like Manowar, Omen, and Manilla Road. Although Eternal Champion proudly wear their influences on their sleeve, they make sure not to be a worship band. The Armor of Ire is a powerful, but modern testament to the past that has cemented Eternal Champion’s place as torchbearers of the new generation. This is pretty much as good as it gets and I have no qualms calling The Armor of Ire a classic right now. Time will only cement that.
1) Satan – Life Sentence (2013)
With near unanimous top 2 rankings from our author team, Satan’s Life Sentence resoundingly comes in first place! This should come as no surprise if you’ve heard this album before. Satan’s story is similar to Hell’s in some ways. The band were a NWOBHM staple active in the 80s and their debut album, Court in the Act, is one of the movement’s best albums. Satan put out quite a few other albums across a number of different names including one as late as 1997. They disbanded and went quiet for a while before releasing Life Sentence in 2013 with the original line up, a full 30 years after their debut album.
Listening to Court in the Act and Life Sentence one after another, it sounds impossible that they were recorded a full three decades apart. Life Sentence has the same layered dual guitar attacks, intense vocals, memorable melodies, and organic drumming – Satan absolutely didn’t miss a beat. With so much time between releases, bands usually lose touch of what made them so great and subsequently “comeback albums” are often disappointing. Satan made sure they were the exception to this rule.
Transparency: Our Ranking Methodology
I wanted to use this section to give some insight into how we went about putting together these 30 albums. The simple explanation is that I asked each of our main authors at the beginning of 2020 to put together a list of their top 30 traditional heavy metal albums. Albums were given weighted points depending on where they were in everyone’s list (i.e. #1 got 5 points, #2-5 got 4 points, etc.) and then the lists were aggregated.
You might read this list and notice that your favorite band isn’t included – and that’s totally okay. There are plenty of bands that I personally love and listen to on a weekly basis didn’t quite make the cut. The bands that are highlighted tend to be different and unique, each pushing the envelope in their own respective way. The author team here prioritizes such bands because after decades of traditional heavy metal, we’ve heard it all. Last year in 2019 alone, I personally listened to over 100 new releases! There’s a countless number of competent Judas Priest and Iron Maiden clones, but very few of them make it above the cut and are memorable. That’s not to say you can’t make an excellent album playing traditional heavy metal the classic way – it just takes a lot more to rise above the rest. That’s the reason bands like Satan’s Hallow, Portrait, Hell, and Satan still had very definitive spots on our list.
|1||Atlantean Kodex||Atlantean Kodex||Hell||Tales of Medusa||Corsair||Agatus||Eternal Champion||Doomsword|
|2||Satan||Satan||Satan||Satan||Sumerlands||In Solitude||Satan||Vultures Vengeance|
|3||Hell||Solstice||Twisted Tower Dire||Acerus||Satan||Ravensire||Atlantean Kodex||Chevalier|
|4||Wrathblade||In Solitude||Eternal Champion||Hell||Agatus||Sumerlands||Hell||Satan|
|5||Eternal Champion||Agatus||Procession||Agatus||Demon Bitch||Vultures Vengeance||Wrathblade||Eternal Champion|
|6||Demon Bitch||Demon Bitch||Agatus||Eternal Champion||Satan's Hallow||Borrowed Time||Attic||Atlantean Kodex|
|7||Briton Rites||Eternal Champion||Argus||In Solitude||The Wizar'd||Satan||Enforcer||Lunar Shadow|
|8||Procession||The Wizar'd||Tales of Medusa||Wrathblade||Vultures Vengeance||Wrathblade||Visigoth||Magic Circle|
|9||Tales of Medusa||Tales of Medusa||Solstice||Procession||Eternal Champion||Satan's Hallow||Ambush||Mirror|
|10||Argus||Wrathblade||Terminus||Atlantean Kodex||Terminus||Solstice||Iron Maiden||Demon Bitch|
|11||Terminus||Hell||Atlantean Kodex||John Gallow||Black Viper||Traveler||Accept||Portrait|
|12||Satan's Hallow||Procession||Satan's Hallow||Christian Mistress||Atlantean Kodex||Eternal Champion||Warlord||Satan's Host|
|13||Vultures Vengeance||Satan's Hallow||Portrait||Argus||Illegal Bodies||Chevalier||Smoulder||Capilla Ardiente|
|14||In Solitude||Terminus||In Solitude||Blood Farmers||Quicksand Dream||Terminus||Sumerlands||Hell|
|15||Solstice||Chevalier||Pharaoh||Terminus||Flight||Lunar Shadow||Crypt Sermon||In Solitude|
|16||Portrait||Attacker||Vultures Vengeance||Satan's Hallow||Riot||Iron Griffin||Solstice||Smoulder|
|17||Borrowed Time||Portrait||Ravensire||Chevalier||Tarot||Ironsword||Ancient Empire||Wrathblade|
|18||Capilla Ardiente||Argus||Wrathblade||Twisted Tower Dire||Quartz||Magic Circle||Mirror||Iron Griffin|
|19||The Wizar'd||Vultures Vengeance||Demon Bitch||Tarot||Hell||Attic||Briton Rites||Tanith|
|20||Pharaoh||Twisted Tower Dire||Slough Feg||Demon Bitch||Pagan Altar||Demon Bitch||Angel Witch||Tony Tears|
|21||Mirror||Quicksand Dream||Capilla Ardiente||Capilla Ardiente||Tanith||Hell||Judas Priest||Church of Void|
|22||Lethean||Capilla Ardiente||Road Warrior||Solstice||Cauchemar||Portrait||Black Sabbath||Nightfyre|
|23||Enforcer||Lunar Shadow||Witchtower||Sumerlands||Solstice||High Spirits||Vultures Vengeance||Pharaoh|
|24||Illegal Bodies||Ravensire||Xenotaph||The Lord Weird Slough Feg||The Hounds of Hasselvander||Illegal Bodies||Helstar||Lord Vicar|
|25||Sumerlands||Dark Forest||The Wizar'd||Vultures Vengeance||Acerus||Briton Rites||Tales of Medusa||Black Magic|
|26||Attacker||Dawnbringer||Christian Mistress||Steelwing||Metalucifer||Blazon Stone||Satan's Hallow||High Spirits|
|27||Helstar||Briton Rites||Tarot||Sacral Rage||Borrowed Time||Iron Maiden||Demon Bitch||Iron Curtain|
|28||Tarot||Borrowed Time||Attacker||Orodruin||Pharaoh||Vulture||Satan's Host||Pulver|
|29||Twisted Tower Dire||Illegal Bodies||Mirror||Portrait||Briton Rites||Black Magic||Riot||Angel Sword|
|30||Ravensire||Tarot||Lethal Steel||Magic Circle||Tales of Medusa||Witchtower||Argus||Pagan Altar|