This past year has been excellent for metal music. We saw a lot of great newcomers and debut albums, a return to form from the genre’s heavyweights, and a lot of fantastic releases covering many different types of metal music. For someone like myself, who just recently started exploring more of the genre, it’s been a ton of fun.
This is the first time that I’m doing a Best Album list, and I don’t think I could have picked a harder year to give it a shot. There were legitimately 25-30 albums that I was considering for the top 10 spots and they all deserve to be listen to. But this is my best attempt at narrowing it down to be what I consider the 10 best releases in metal music for 2016.
Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct – A return to form from the legendary thrash metal band, which sees them return to what made them great. Tracks like “Moth Into Flame,” “Spit Out The Bone,” and “Hardwired” are some of the high points on the band’s best album in 28 years.
Hatebreed – The Concrete Confessional – Hatebreed has been around since 1994, perfecting their blend of hardcore and metal full of anger and aggression. The Concrete Confessional doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but it’s a really solid release full of some awesome songs.
Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty – Periphery is back with their blend of djent, prog and metalcore, and this album kicks ass. “Marigold” is the highlight of the album, but their heavier tracks like “Motormouth” and the Grammy Nominated “The Price Is Wrong” showcase their many talents and abilities.
Whitechapel – Mark of the Blade – Phil Bozeman is one of my favorite vocalists, and the addition of clean vocals on this album add another dimension to the band’s sound. The album goes for a bit of a mid-tempo style on a lot of their songs, with groovy, heavy riffs and consistently good songs throughout the album.
Sabaton – The Last Stand – Sabaton is one of the cooler power metal bands around, singing about war and famous battles with a grandoise, epic feel. There are some really cool songs here, all having to do with famous battles and heroes, with themes ranging from Samurais to Spartans. With everything from a synthesizer to bagpipes, this album is packed with great songs and tons of surprises.
Wormrot – Voices – Grindcore done right. This Singapore trio has released two critically acclaimed albums, and came back with a stellar third release. Infusing a bit of melody into the hectic and aggressive grindcore sound, Voices is a genre defining release.
10) Far Beyond – A Frozen Flame of Ice
I don’t know how many people know about this band, because I didn’t until I discovered them in a post from Metal Injection. This album can probably be described as a blend of melodic death metal along with some gothic, atmospheric vibe. It’s still pretty fast but it manages to sound elegant and beautiful at the same time, with orchestral and electronic elements meeting amazing riffs and guitar melodies, and wonderful vocals, both clean and harsh. The songs are progressive in nature, featuring tempo changes going from slower melodies, to the melodic death metal part, to an emotionally charged chorus. The first song on the album, a 12 minute epic called “Evernight – Part I,” is the perfect example of everything this band is, which is incredible.
But the most impressive part about this album is that it’s made completely by one person. Eugen Dodenhoeft of Germany plays the guitar, the drums, the bass, sings all of the vocals and presumably mixes a lot of it all by himself. It’s an amazing feat and this album deserves to be listened to.
9) Candiria – While They Were Sleeping
This was my first introduction to the Brooklyn band, and While They Were Sleeping delivered on all of the hype surrounding it. A blend of hardcore with jazz, rap, metal, and just about everything else, Candiria is a truly unique band that perfected their craft on this album. Frontman Carley Coma does everything from hardcore to punk to jazzy singing, combined with a lot of experimental sounds and songs. At times they’re very heavy, other times it’s more of an anthemic sound. Their music is really hard to describe, and the best way to understand how cool and great they are is by listening to them.
8) Black Crown Initiate – Selves We Cannot Forgive
Black Crown Initiate had already made a name for themselves in the prog/death metal community after their incredible debut album in 2014. It can be very hard to release a solid sophomore debut after the first album was so well received, but the Pennsylvanian outfit did exactly that, and perhaps even surpassed expectations. Selves We Cannot Forgive sees the band expand on what they did in their debut, continuing to display their mastery of combining technical death metal with melody and clean vocals. One of the reason’s they’re so good is because they don’t try to shred and show off guitar skills, but place an emphasis on song structure. Every track on this album is fantastic, and Black Crown Initiate continue to show expertise in their sound.
7) Revocation – Great Is Our Sin
Revocation has never released a bad album. Originally a trio, the band has pushed out an album every year or two since 2008, improving with each release. There’s a clear focus on technicality, and Great Is Our Sin marks the pinnacle of their musicianship. Each release marked an improvement and evolution in songwriting, and founding member David Davidson has done a remarkable job of creating an album with strong flow, excellent structure, killer riffs and solos, and a great vocal performance from him as well. This album is a bit more melodic and part of that has to do with how well the album was produced. No part of the music overlaps the other, and sounds like it was made by expert musicians. This is a heavy, heavy album with clear influences in thrash and death metal, yet still unique and fantastic in its own right.
6) Megadeth – Dystopia
As soon as I heard the opening to “The Threat Is Real,” I knew I was in for something special with the latest release from Megadeth. As a member of the “Big Four” of thrash, Megadeth will always have a place among the gods of metal music. But the past two releases weren’t all that good, and the band had some major lineup changes (Kiko Loureiro on guitar and Chris Adler on drums). Despite all of that, Megadeth came back and released their best album in years. Listening to every track, you can hear the mastery from each of the members of the bands. Dave Mustaine and Loureiro both have their fair share of memorable riffs and solos, David Ellefson’s bass is more prominent and complements the guitar well, and Adler does a great job on the drums. The album is not frontloaded with good songs and the quality is spread throughout. Plus at 46 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome with filler tracks. Mustaine’s vocals seem rejuvenated, which really ties everything together well. A great release like this one makes me excited for what Megadeth has to offer in the future. They’re back with a vengeance.
5) Gojira – Magma
Gojira is one of the most talented, innovative, and greatest metal bands on planet earth in my opinion. In the 15 years that they have existed, they’ve cemented themselves as one of the most influential and important bands of this century, all while crafting a style and sound that is uniquely their own. Their first two albums flew under the radar, but From Mars to Sirius is an absolute classic. The Way of All Flesh is almost as good, and L’Enfant Sauvage continued to evolve the band’s sound and style. But Magma marked a left-turn, something very different this time.
Four years removed from their last album, Joe and Mario Duplantier continue to prove themselves as some of the most gifted songwriters in all of metal, and the dark, gloomy atmosphere on Magma is a product of the hardships they faced during the recording. The brothers lost their mother to cancer during the recording process, and the raw emotion is felt throughout the entire album.
The opener, “The Shooting Star,” is very different from their high-octane openers you usually hear on Gojira allbums, instead going for clean vocals and a deeper, intellectual song. It’s a strong opener, but it’s followed up by the Grammy nominated “Silvera,” featuring the eco-friendly theme they’ve hah on many albums, and an incredibly heavy and groovy main riff with an incredibly catch chorus. “Pray” and “Only Pain” carry some of the traditional, earth-shattering Gojira riffs we’ve come to know and love, while songs like “Low Lands,” “Magma,” and “Liberation” introduces some slower songs and more of the experimental Gojira sound.
Overall, the 43 minute, self-produced album serves as a reminder why Gojira is one of the most important bands in metal music. It’s an incredible tribute to the Duplantier’s mom, and an unforgettable album. This is worth of a 9.5 rating and deserves to win the Grammy for Best Rock Album of the Year.
4) Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
Amon Amarth has fine-tuned their sound over the last 20 years, helping pioneer the melodic death metal genre and effectively creating “Viking metal.” At this point of their career, they’re not doing anything particularly or groundbreaking, but that’s okay. Because they’re consistently working towards perfecting their sound and releasing really, really good songs. As you can probably tell by the name of my blog, I’m a massive fan of Amon Amarth and their new album. I reviewed it and gave it a 9.5, because of the variety of the songs on the album. You have mid-tempo, catchy chugging riffs in “Raise Your Horns,” brutal tracks like “On A Sea Of Blood” and “The Way Of Vikings,” and anthems such as “One Thousand Burning Arrows” and “Back On Northern Shores.” Their first concept album is very cool thematically and adds more depth to the songs. It’s everything you know and love about Amon Amarth, and it’s a fun album from start to finish. It’s another fun, catchy, stellar release full of killer riffs, brutal vocals and a bit of a new twist on their trademark Viking metal.
3) Khemmis – Hunted
This band came out of absolutely nowhere for me, taking me completely by surprise and forcing their way onto my Top 10 list. I’m not really an avid fan of doom metal and I don’t know much about the genre, but this album quickly became one of my most played over the last month or so. While this is Khemmis’ second release, it sounds like they’ve been doing this for decades because the songwriting and structure is perfect. It’s a streamlined, refined doom metal record that helps make it accessible and easy to listen to, which isn’t always the case for that genre. From start to finish, each of the five tracks are full of cascading, mammoth riffs and a remarkable vocal performance from Phil Pendergast. His depth and range is astounding, and the vocals are soaring and emotional, raising this album to the next level. The stoner elements from the first album are stripped away, leaving a classic doom sound with enough modern metal influences to make everything sound fresh and exciting. The rhythm section on bass and drums lay the groundwork for the guitar and vocals to build upon. It’s a beautiful album and one that sets new standards for the genre of doom metal. I won’t be surprised if two or three decades down the line, Khemmis is regarded as a legendary band. They are THAT good, and this album is their masterpiece so far.
2) After The Burial – Dig Deep
In 2015, After The Burial suffered a tragic loss when guitarist and founding member Justin Lowe suffered a mental breakdown and wound up committing suicide. Facing uncertainties and a potential collapse, the group replied with their best record to date, continuing the album they had started and marking a turning point in their career.
The first song I heard by them was “Collapse” when it came on the radio. The riffs, vocals and guitar solo are groovy and infectious, and it’s all super heavy (Luckily that’s the entire album!). I didn’t think any song on the album could top it, but then I heard “Lost In The Static,” and the guys absolutely killed it on this track. The guitar melody is so infectious and appealing, and the chorus gets stuck in your head. I thought that couldn’t be topped, and then I listened to the next three songs. “Mire” and “Deluge” are a bit more traditional djent and metalcore, but with After the Burial’s own twist on it and executed flawlessly. “Laurentian Ghosts” starts out with a subdued, slowed down, and honestly beautiful sounding intro before building up and hitting you with an amazing hook to kick of the song. The chorus is powerful and possibly the highlight of Anthony Notarmaso’s vocal performance on the album. This is an anthemic piece, one full of emotion and maybe the tribute track to Justin.
It’s rare that every single track on an album can be considered the best song, but you can make a case for every single one here. A problem I sometimes have with djent music is that it can sound like a chug-fest at times with little variation, but not here. The rhythm guitar and lead guitar work together beautifully on the album, and the leading riffs take precedence hear, adding a brutal edge to the chugs behind it. Everything sounds perfect here, and these nine brutal tracks have allowed After The Burial to make a name for themselves as one of the best djent and metal bands around.
1) Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Fleshgod Apocalypse is one of the most interesting bands when it comes to extreme metal and symphonic death metal. Featuring a full time opera singer, a pianist, and an orchestral backing combined with some of the most brutal drumming, guitar work and vocals around. The band has had some great ideas when it came to the type of sound they were going for, but each problem had an issue when it came to the production and mixing. The debut album Oracles was good, but the drums were overwhelming. 2011’s Agony was better, but the melodies and riffs where overwhelmed by the orchestras. And while Labyrinth had the coolest theme for its concept (Theseus and the Minotaur on the Island of Crete), it was a production nightmare in just about every aspect. But finally, the band has perfected their studio sound on King, and it’s amazing now that it’s all come together.
Jens Borgen, the genius behind the production on this album, found the perfect middle ground where the incredible, brutal riffing and drums intertwine with the orchestra, and it works. The band finally has an album that truly reflects their musical genius and the sound they’ve been working at for years. “Marche Royale” and “In Aeternum” sets up the album perfectly, starting with the buildup of the dramatic orchestra, followed by their heavy riffage and the incredible drumming of Francesco Paoli. Tommaso Riccardi delivers arguably his strongest vocal performance yet, and Paolo Rossi’s clean vocals are used sporadically throughout the album but to great effect. All of these elements come through on the first two songs. You can tell that the band took time to make sure that every song was perfectly constructed, and the subtle changes and variations throughout each songs, like time and tempo variations, represent a band at the top of their game. “The Fool” is one of the best songs on the album, which blends melodic death guitar sounds playing off of the orchestra and the harpsichord. Veronica Bordacchini, the opera singer for the band, has a pretty big role in some of these songs, and her incredible talent adds another dimension to tracks like “Gravity” and “Syphilis.” It adds to the storytelling element of this concept album, giving and epic, dramatic feel to the album.
The production from Borgen finally allows Fleshgod Apocalypse’s musical genius to shine through, uninterrupted by mixing issues and the listener can finally immerse themselves in an hour of operatic death metal that will astound you. It’s extremely powerful and dynamic, and easily the best album they’ve ever put out. Words don’t do this album justice, so make sure to listen to one of the most incredible releases of this year, and get ready for a beautiful yet brutal cascade of symphonic death metal.