Heavy metal may not have been as productive as it was in previous years, but 2003 was more about quality than quantity. Some of today’s biggest bands were still in their infancy; be it age, popularity, or sometimes both. Some of metal’s elite continued to deliver and newer influential bands were just getting started.

The year was a bit of a melting pot, with critical releases from bands all across the vast spectrum which defines the genre. Melody, groove, speed, prog, and power all strived for a piece of the metal pie. With this diverse year, we invite you to take a trip down memory lane with the 10 Best Metal Albums of 2003.

  • Spitfire

    'Killbox 13'


    New Jersey thrash stalwarts Overkill fared far better than most thrash bands through the 1990s and into the new millennium. The band adapted the groove that had been dominating heavy music over the last decade and still maintained that definitive Overkill sound. Bobby Blitz's attitude remained the same as he spits his vocal fury while bassist D.D. Verni lays down the low end on the pit-worthy songs ‘Devil by the Tail,’ ‘Damned’ and ‘The Sound of Dying.’ The band had never backed down yet and refused to do so in 2003 as well.

  • Hammerheart

    'Sumerian Demons'

    Septic Flesh

    Symphonic death metallers Septic Flesh combine a wicked fury of melody, brutality, and beautifully textured symphonic arrangements to create some of the most unique music in extreme metal. Spiros Antoniou’s vocals are so deep that they sound like a demon crawling up from the depths. The band showcase their diverse songwriting ability on tunes like ‘Virtus of the Beast’ and ‘Mechanical Babylon.’ Their knack for injecting hooks among the savagery and orchestrations are just impeccable.

  • Spinefarm

    'Winterheart's Guild'

    Sonata Arctica

    ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ is often regarded as Sonata Arctica’s crowning achievement as well as a modern power metal classic. With live staples live ‘Gravenimage,’ ‘Victoria’s Secret’ and the adventurous ‘The Cage,’ it is no wonder this album is held in such high regard. Tony Kakko’s lovable thick Finnish accent shines through in his mesmerizing voice while the rest of the band plays at breakneck speed. Things are slowed down occasionally, allowing for emotional power ballads to give listeners time to catch their breath.

  • Osmose Productions
    Osmose Productions

    'Below the Lights'


    While numerous black metal pioneers had disbanded or were lost trying to recapture the greatness of their ‘90s contemporaries, Enslaved were branching off the black metal tree. The Norwegian group had begun to incorporate heavy influences from progressive rock bands like King Crimson a couple years earlier; striking the perfect balance in 2003. The raging opener ‘As Fire Swept Clean the Earth’ begins with a warm mellotron before breaking loose and setting up the dynamics for the rest of the album.

  • Hopeless

    'Waking the Fallen'

    Avenged Sevenfold

    Avenged Sevenfold’s sophomore album was the first to feature guitarist Synyster Gates. Gates’s lead playing allowed for singer M. Shadows to utilize his clean singing voice more than on their debut album, which was received with overwhelming praise from fans. The Iron Maiden-eqsue guitar leads created soaring hooks like on ‘Waking the Fallen’ and ‘Chapter Four.’ The addition of Gates on guitar also led to a slew of guitar solos to add to the band’s melodic elements.

  • Prosthetic

    'As the Palaces Burn'

    Lamb of God

    Lamb of God were at the forefront of the metalcore movement that reigned supreme on the festival touring circuit during the early and mid 2000s. Taking influence from Pantera, the band stood out among the heap of upcoming metalcore bands by taking the more extreme edge, as evident in ‘Ruin’ and ‘11th Hour.’ Randy Blythe lets his banshee wails loose and never breaks for a catchy, clean sung chorus like countless others. Lamb of God know how to keep things heavy at all times.

  • EMI

    'Dance of Death'

    Iron Maiden

    The music found within ‘Dance of Death’ couldn’t be more of a polar opposite from the cheesy and confusing album art. Iron Maiden incorporated string synthesizer arrangements throughout most of this album, which works well in ‘Paschendale’ and ‘Face in the Sand.’ The British group stuck with more expansive and longer songs for the most part, but still took the time to pen the more traditional Maiden songs like ‘Wildest Dreams’ and the fantastic ‘Rainmaker’ in addition to their first acoustic song 'Journeyman.' This album is quite different than most of their records, but Maiden managed to capture magic once again.

  • Peaceville

    'Viva Emptiness'


    Katatonia got noticeably heavier in 2003 as they started to incorporate more modern metal elements into their melancholic and morose music. Singer Jonas Renkse retains the same silky smooth voice in perfect contrast to more aggressive songs like ‘Ghost of the Sun’ and ‘Will I Arrive.’ ‘Viva Emptiness’ is a snapshot of the more mainstream sounds of 2003 without giving up the ground Katatonia had gained over the last few years by carving their own niche.

  • Music for nations
    Music for nations



    Yeah, you’re right. This isn’t technically a metal album, but progressive metallers Opeth shocked the music world when they released a clean-toned recording with no extreme vocals and drums that were delicately struck with brushes. ‘Damnation’ embraces the beautiful side Opeth had explored in prior albums and execute it marvelously. Mikael Akerfeldt’s singing voice is soothing to the ears, perfectly suited for the relaxing music that accompanies it.

  • Spinefarm

    Hate Crew Deathroll

    Children of Bodom

    The hyper-melodic extreme metallers from Finland continued their hot streak with more of their dazzling guitar and keyboard madness. Children of Bodom strayed a bit from the neoclassical influences and picked up some straightforward speed and intensity. Some disapproved of this shift, but the group had reached their apex with ‘Follow the Reaper’ and needed to take things in a new direction. ‘Needled 24/7,’ ‘Bodom Beach Terror,’ and ‘Triple Corpse Hammerblow’ are all tremendous songs that saw the band achieve greatness once again, but with a fresh new direction.

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