AOTY 2016, as chosen by Jason Kolkey, Link Leonhart, and Boss the Ross!
We heard you like lists, so here are the Top 10 metal records of 2016 as selected by Dr. K, Link, and Boss the Ross!
Jason Kolkey’s Top 10 of 2016
10. Metallica – Hardwired…to Self Destruct | Blackened
Okay, I readily admit I have taken my role as resident Metallica apologist to heart. There are probably plenty of albums that deserve this spot more (a few that immediately spring to mind include Blood Incantation, Chthe’ilist, and Danny Brown), but I know I’ll be spinning this album far more than any of those. Why? Because it’s a catchy, groovy album, packed with all the Metallica trademarks I love. Hetfield and company manage to fuse a few choice callbacks to their thrash roots with their mid-period exploration of mainstream rock. There are four or five bona fide great songs on this album, and the rest still manage to get stuck in my head constantly. So, fuck it, metal up your ass forever!
9. Psalm Zero – Stranger to Violence | Profound Lore
I never really gave this band my attention until the opportunity arose to interview singer/bassist turned guitarist Charlie Looker for this site. When I did, though, I was immediately taken with the way the songs combined elements of 80s post-punk with extreme metal influences and then added certain inviting pop sensibility. Looker’s thoughtful, confrontational lyrics, full of unflinching reflections on the current political and cultural moment push the album over the top for me.
8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree | Bad Seed
Nick Cave had apparently completed much of the songwriting for this album before the tragic loss of his teenage son. Certainly, it’s not a huge departure from the band’s previous release – Push the Sky Away – which exhibited a mournful, introspective, and stripped-down sound after he had embraced harder rocking for a few years. Nonetheless, there’s no way to listen to this record as anything other than a father lamenting the worst possible loss. The overwhelming sense of grief, along with the stark, piano-heavy arrangements, and stark soundscapes provided by longtime Bad Seed Warren Ellis makes this record an intense, harrowing experience.
7. Thrawsunblat – Metachthonia | Broken Limbs
When Woods of Ypres leader David Gold died in 2011, it was a huge loss for metal. Still, some of his spirit comes through in this record featuring all three members of that band’s final lineup. Of course, guitarist and vocalist Joel Violette’s songwriting sticks to a more straightforward pagan/melodic black metal sound, but that works out just fine. The album is packed with majestic riffs and declarations of nature’s greatness that are convincing – rather than cheesy – in the way only the best exemplars of this style can be.
6. Ihsahn – Arktis | Candlelight
The Norwegian black metal great seems to have settled into a comfortable pattern in recent years, alternating between playing a few big ticket reunion gigs with Emperor and forging his way into more daring territory with his solo work. While all the albums Ihsahn has released under his own name have all been good in their own ways, this is the one where he seems to have struck the right balance between his black metal roots, love for King Diamond, and fascination with progressive rock and electronic sounds. The result is an album that touches on many genres and has an array of guests – including everyone from Shining saxophonist/frontman Jørgen Munkeby to Trivium’s Matt Heafy to a spoken word part by short story author Hans Herbjørnsrud – without losing its sense of cohesion.
5. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä | Svart
There were several excellent releases this year that fall under the rubric of weird, ambitious, exploratory, and vaguely black metal material. While I really enjoyed the work from, say Schammasch and Hail Spirit Noir, this was the most fully realized such album in my estimation. The psychedelia and the heaviness come together for a fascinating journey that doesn’t let up on the intensity even as it digs into unsettling rhythms and krautrock influenced soundscapes.
4. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker | Columbia
One of the greatest songwriters of his time faces his own mortality with his signature mordant wit and off-kilter spirituality. Cohen’s output since he was forced by financial necessity to emerge from a Buddhist monastery was largely solid but unspectacular. Though he suffered from mobility issues during the recording process, this final record exhibited a renewed focus and urgency that makes it his best work overall since 1992’s The Future. Even more than Dylan, with whom he is endlessly compared, Cohen has always made the limitations of his voice work for him. He’s world weary, bemused, and mocking his own sad sack reputation, usually while addressing either a departed love or a God whose creation is too full of pain and despair to ever quite make sense.
3. Vektor – Terminal Redux | Earache
Immediately upon hearing the latest from these Arizonan Voivod worshippers, I felt they had transcended that tag and created one of the best thrash albums I’d heard in years. My stance has not changed after many spins and watching them perform every track live. I’ve heard others complain that the album is too long, but it’s so packed with great riffs from start to finish that I’ve never been bored by it. Also, the way more and more progressive elements, including some melodic vocal parts, come in over the course of the record adds another dimension to this interstellar journey. This has been a great year for sci-fi-themed metal, and this was my favorite of the lot (but Nucleus rules too!).
2. Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner | Indie
This is one of those albums that seems like it was made for me. I’ve been a huge fan of Julie Christmas’s various projects, especially Made Out of Babies, and I think Cult of Luna are one of the best bands around to be stuck with the dubious label of post-metal. On first listen, I felt like Christmas was a little underutilized on certain tracks, but on further reflection I came to appreciate the tasteful way her voice is incorporated into the bands sound. Her eerie, chameleonic stylings become a part of the orchestration, sometimes pressing with the manic urgency that makes her such a compelling frontwoman and at other times fading into the background while Cult of Luna deliver their usual brand of slow-burning, atmospheric riffage.
1. David Bowie – Blackstar | ISO, Columbia, RCA, and Sony
Where Cohen’s last album is a man facing and ultimately embracing death, Bowie’s is an apotheosis. The ultimate chameleon takes on one final transformation, exploring Scott Walker-like art rock with infusions of jazz and other experiments. Bowie was never going to strip down for some Rick Rubin-helmed rediscovery of his definitive self. He was characterized by constantly pushing new boundaries and finding different ways to write songs that were tied together only by the overwhelming power of his voice and personality. His love for embracing what was new and interesting carried on to the end, drawing on artists like Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar as influences to develop the production for Blackstar. The album makes a perfect epitaph for one of the greatest artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but that has as much to do with its inventiveness as its somber tone.
Listen to: “Flight of the Sapphire Dragon”.
Power metal saw a great resurgence this year for me. The army of the power STEEL had commanders in Angel Sword, Derdian, Dyscordia, Helion Prime, Iron Mask, Iron Savior, Knightmare, Rhapsody of Fire, Sinbreed, Wisdom and Zephaniah. But, Twilight Force is the true commander of this realm. With soaring high vocals, speed solos and a bombastic chivalry of orchestrations. The sound of Heroes of Mighty Magic is expansive and bright, and it made me remember my childhood and all the imaginative fields inside my head since then.
Listen to: “Astral Adventure (The Escape)”.
Chris Amott impressed me this year again with Armageddon. This time, we have the re-recording and re-imaging of the debut of his project, originally released in 1997. Chris repeated the lineup choice with Joey Concepcion and Martón Véress on guitars and drums, respectively, but he also brought new blood with Antony Hämäläinen on the vocals. Antony gives me a certain Johan Liiva vibe that I truly love, but the compositions and the new production enhances the listening experience too. Melodic death metal as its finest, once again.
Listen to: “Above the Stars of God”.
This was a difficult listening, probably because the long 3 CD format, but it paid every second of it when I felt in need of a ritualistic magical experience. I found their vision pretty enthralling and alluring on this wonderful interview, made by my brother Dubya with C.S.R. My low-level synesthesia spell cracked up with the whole listening sessions, going up and down showing me visions of darkness and light. It is a very special record, for sure, since, for the first time in my metal life, I found a black metal band that deals with the real twilight reality of the magical side of the humanity.
Listen to: “Suden Tunti”.
This is the blizzard I needed on my list. It is slow and harsh, but the plodding heaviness of the Moonsorrow trademark sound is certainly reminiscent of a huge avalanche coming through your preferred sound system. An expanded sound of the folkloric side of the band is tied up with a heroic mythical style. Jumalten Aika is the definite Moonsorrow album, a mix of the melancholy and the legend in right doses.
Listen to: “Byrdesong”.
It is incredible that this record got under the radar this year, but I felt better when Spear praised it over our humble blog. Bergen’s Nifrost pay homage to their ancestors and uses old Viking metal stylings as a template to sing about the nature and the mystery of death. Overall, the riffing is amazing and the rhythmic counterpoint the druidic songs. Such an amazing debut! (And I hope this band goes and goes in the future).
Listen to: “Wake of Infinity”.
Dan Swäno and Ragnar Widerberg wrote the best Witherscape record, and one of my favorites of this year, for sure. The progressive linings of The Northern Sanctuary meet the melodic death/hard rock/heavy metal inspirations of their own harvest. The darkest cuts are ace choices, but the short energic songs are so good too! I do not know how many times I have listened “In the Eyes of Idols” these months. Check out our review.
Listen to: “Tales by Tavern Hearthglow”.
I won’t cheat on this one. I freaking love it! Fief’s debut cross paths with the traditional dungeon synth instrumentation, but turns the formula with a more bright and playful presentation. Unlike its peers, the unknown bard of Fief face the magical landscapes, the nature and the mythical creatures with delicate honesty. Is a journey through your mirror. His new record is amazing as well, do not forget to check it out, to cover your magical needs. My mellon, Boss the Ross, informed us about this.
Listen to: “What Doesn’t Kill You”.
I waited for this album and Spiritual Beggars do not disappointed me. Mike Amott rewards my melodic needs with his soulful guitar leads, and the band sounds tight, professional and competent in each role they have. From the Deep Purple inspiration, the band touches different shades in just one listen. This record deals it all: melancholic pieces, hard-rocking anthems, and a gorgeous multi-colored analog mixing. Sunrise to Sundown makes me so happy! This is our review.
Listen to: “The Night Subscriber”.
Their best? I still do not know the answer to this, but Katatonia really slashed my heart and threw it through the window once again. Following the enchanting effects of Sanctitude and Dead End Kings (including the revisited stripped down version), the Swedes turned the page and went to a more progressive (and sometimes more aggresive) route on their map. A varied record that does not stop into mindless reflections, instead, it is brutally honest, highly engaging and deeply touching. Katatonia have my heart once again.
Listen to: “The Pitiless”.
Few bands have a consistent sound like Dark Tranquillity, given their long-standing career they have since the 90s. Morphing and changing through the pass of time, Mikael Stanne & co. symbolize with their career the life of a being that pursues with his entire soul to reach new levels and unveil new truths, but also willing to stay at his own path with a pure heart. Atoma can be resumed as masterful melodic death metal honesty, blended with the experimental side of their gothic melancholic masquerade. You have, probably, be a fan of all these things to enjoy this record, but I love every instant and second of it.
Boss the Ross’ Top 10 of 2016
10. Maligner – Demon | Unspeakable Axe Records
This top 10 list very well could have run rampant with Unspeakable Axe releases, but it is Maligner’s Demon that hath dethroned Ripper and Sewercide as UAR release of the year for me. Short, concise and unrelenting, this EP tears it up from front to back. “Shattered Reality” has been stuck in my head since first listen and has paved the way for this band’s future. They should have no problem coming back with an even stronger full-length to kick the world’s teeth in.
Listen to – “Shattered Reality”
9. Solstice – To Sol A Thane | White Horse
I was hoping beyond hope that Solstice would, in fact, release their latest album upon the world in 2016. Alas, that was not the case and I must wait until next year for the glory. However, the band was so gracious as to release a demo in the form of To Sol A Thane to satiate the lust for true metal I had. The three songs that lie within are mountainous in their own right and stand proudly among the remainder of this list as some of my favorites this year. If this demo is any indication, next year’s release will truly be grand.
Listen to – “White Horse Hill”
8. Twilight Force – Heroes of Mighty Magic | Nuclear Blast
Heroes of Mighty Magic is an epic fantasy tale come to life with many bright colors and bright sounds, I mean, just look at that cover. Twilight Force really outdid themselves with their sophomore album, no slump for them, just full force ahead with dragonic power and white magic might. Heroes is drenched with symphonic grandiosity that, in my opinion, aligns itself more to movies scores than it does any other metal albums this year. It also stands as the only album on my list to somehow procure a smile from my face for the majority of its play time. A big fat, cheeseball, life loving smile.
Listen to – “Battle of Arcane Might”
7. Occult Burial – Hideous Obscure | Electric Assault Records
Hideous Obscure is an effort of Black Metal in its most primal form. Playing off of my favorite band formation, the power trio, Occult Burial create an album of well-articulated riffs and ample atmosphere that take the listener through classic speed and black metal tropes with ease and precision. Not only are the lyrics simple to howl along to, but Hideous Obscure also has my favorite album cover of 2016. The mysterious blue fog surrounding the band sets the mood perfectly for this haunting album that, according to the liner notes, is dedicated to both Quorthon and Lovecraft. Hail!
Listen to – “A Witch Shall Be Born”
6. Discharge– End of Days | Nuclear Blast
D-beat innovators and hardcore legends, Discharge, have returned in 2016 with one of the strongest albums in their extensive history. These old farts, complete with new vocalist JJ, prove that they can still outperform today’s young whippersnappers with ease. 15 songs in 33 minutes, that’s how it’s done. Tighten your Dr. Martens, don your studded jacket, crack a beer, smash play and have one helluva a time.
Listen to – “End of Days”
5. Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire | No Remorse
There isn’t much more to be said about this album that hasn’t been said already by our own Simon Phoenix in this stellar 5 out ov 5 review, so read it and then get back to me. Are you back? Excellent! Now here is my take on this glorious album: The Armor of Ire is simply True Metal in its purest, most epic, form. “I Am The Hammer” has been stuck in my head since I first heard the preview track and constantly sing out “I AM NOT! NOT TO BE CROSSED!” at impromptu times. Join me as we raise our hands on high and praise the TRUE METAL TEXAN WARRIORS!
Listen to – “I Am The Hammer”
Everyone here already knows about my adoration of the immortal Wu-Tang Clan, or at least they should if they paid attention. The Wu’s master wordsmith, Inspectah Deck, has yet again paired with 7L & Esoteric to release the third installment of CZARFACE, a Hip Hop superhero. By the looks of things, there is no holding back this powerful force. A Fistful of Peril proves the group’s prowess as an unstoppable showcase of beats, intricate rhymes and the most excellent comic and movie references. I better be getting CZARFACE pajamas for Christmas this year.
Listen to – “Monster, Man and Machine”
2016 has been a pretty important year for me in my musical journey, it has introduced me to Dungeon Synth and for that, I am very thankful. I have listened to many albums and figuring out which album needed to be represented on this list was a daunting task. However, my choice became clear when I realized how many times I had listened to Taur Nu Fuin. This album represents the deepest and darkest origins of the Dungeon Synth genre and will forever remain a staple in my personal collection as I continue to listen to this masterpiece.
Listen to – “In Hills of Shadow Bleak and Cold”
In their 15 years of recording history, Grand Magus have done no wrong. They first started as a quasi-stoner band, worshipping at the Sabbathian altar, but throughout the years have grown into another beast completely. Step -by-step the band has gathered tomes of the mystical arts, discovered the secret of steel and felt the glory of battle. Now, in their most current form, Grand Magus have embraced the way of the mighty falcon and spread their wings throughout the nine realms. Brought forth to you in the vein of the mighty allfathers Manowar, Sword Songs is a chronicle of power, triumph and pure glory that will truly be a tale for the ages. WIMPS AND POSERS LEAVE THE HALL!
Listen to – “Forged In Iron, Crowned In Steel”
1. Wastëland Riders– Speed Rock & Roll | Independent
Speed Rock n Roll has been the most infectious release for me this year. I have played and sang along with it countless times, this EP never let’s go and never gets old. Wastëland Riders’ blend of Venom, Motörhead and Mad Max is pure fun in the most old-school of ways. Sure, there isn’t anything groundbreaking on this release, but if you don’t find yourself headbanging along to the likes of “Fire”, “Headbanger Bitch” and “Wastëland Riders” you can, well, follow this link. Not only does the band rip false ones to shreds, but the members are extraordinarily righteous dudes. I am seriously stoked for their future.
Listen to – “You Will Die”