Best Metal Albums of 2016, even more...
Hey there. I’m Sergiy Trushel, the bassist in Catatonic Society, the band that Jay from the podcast is in. I was listening to the METALHEADS Top 25 and cannot get rid of one thought: this is very subjective. One doesn’t just realize “this album is number 3” overnight. I’ve accessed my college days which filled with neverending math (and alcohol) to find a way to make a subjective process of finding top X number of albums a little more objective: with a help of computer and someone (me) comparing albums in pairs and picking the best. Not digging into matrices, eigenvalues, Monte Carlo methods and such, this is simply a result of thousands comparisons of almost 200 metal albums I’ve listened to. Mostly boring power metal. Now I hate power metal. Thanks, power metal, you ruined yourself for me.
Every album in this list was compared 111 times to other albums so the results should be more or less valid, though I was surprised by some of them. I could probably rearrange results more to my liking, but it would defeat the purpose, right? So here it is, a computer-generated list with human-generated comments for every entry.
People bitch about 2016 not being a good year for metal music and music in general but still, there’s enough good stuff out there so I went with Top 55 instead of 10 or 25 or even 50. Fifty five. That’s the number. It doesn’t contain EPs, live albums, or compilations. So shall we?
55. MYRATH - Legacy
Myrath is a band from Tunisia and they play… pop metal?... I guess. This is essentially a power metal album with a lot of keyboards and other ethnic instruments and strong Arabian folk influences. The album starts very strong, but definitely fall into “boring” category after a few songs. It’s a pity, but again, in the land of boring power metal, a power metal band with a shtick is a king.
54. HANSEN & FRIENDS - XXX - Three Decades in Metal
Kai Hansen, who we know from bands Helloween and Gamma Ray decided he doesn’t want to sing anymore at some point. Or wait, he decided that twice. Apparently, now he wants to sing again. But not alone. The results is the album that you could call a slower version of Gamma Ray with a lot of guest appearances of people you may know from other German bands. It’s good. But not as good as I expect from Hansen. Faster! Schnell!
53. ZARPA - Dispuestos Para Atacar
I live in California so my typical thought about music with lyrics in Spanish was… not metal. But Zarpa, a band formed in 1977 in Spain, has changed my impression with a hammer blow. This is a great heavy metal. Think of Judas Priest or Accept but in Spanish. I need to listen to their older albums now.
52. MOONSORROW - Jumalten Aika
Not much to say. It’s Finnish, folkish, keyboardish, blackish band you already know. Here’s another album.
51. WOLF HOFFMANN - Headbangers Symphony
Wolf Hoffmann, a guitarist from Accept, releases his second solo album. Just as the first one, it contains metal versions of several classical pieces you may or may not heard before. It’s interesting but it’s not as interesting as the first one. Worth listening to at least one though, but
haven’t we heard Symphony #40 already?
50. SKYLINER - Condition Black
Skyliner is a band from Jacksonville, Florida. They are categorized as “progressive power metal”, which is a euphemism for “I don’t know what style they play, but I kinda like it”. I like it too. It reminded me a little about Iced Earth and Blaze Bayley Iron Maiden era. I just wish “American power metal” had a more distinct name.
49. RUNNING WILD - Rapid Foray
Okay. I’m a huge Running Wild fan. If I’m about to be marooned on some uninhabited island with a CD player and solar battery and just one CD, I’d take Blazon Stone. But two albums released after their “reunion” are simply a bile vomit of someone who ate and regurgitated runningwild’s stuff with something else I cannot even name. They are abominations that should be marooned instead of me. But they will never go away. They can never be undone. And now we have the third one, and man, I’m kinda relieved. It’s not a bile vomit anymore. I can actually listen to this and find some good songs. But...
Technological advances have played a cruel joke on Running Wild. It’s so easy to produce music nowadays, even without leaving my mom’s basement, and some people will like it… or maybe fall for it. While this album shows a steady movement back to the roots, it’s plagued with the most boring drum line that could be generated by computer, flat synthesized bass guitar, and software driven guitar tone instead of a Marshall. If Rock-n-Rolf could replace a vocalist, that would happen here too, I guess.
Running Wild started to roll downhill when they stopped being an actual band and became a one-man project with a computer. I hope the next album will include an actual person who hits drum heads. Damn, even MY band uses an actual person!
48. BLAZE BAYLEY - Infinite Entanglement
Hey, if your band is called “Blaze Bayley”, it doesn’t mean we should hear only Blaze Bayley, with the instruments way, way back somewhere in the room! Other than imperfect production, it’s a typical Blaze Bayley album. If you liked previous albums, you’ll probably like this one too. But it’s not as good as his older albums.
47. SUIDAKRA - Realms of Odoric
Somewhat slow melodeath with occasional bagpipes and other folk stuff. It’s ok, but nothing more than that.
46. PARADOX - Pangea
Old German thrash metal band. This is not an “old German thrash metal” album though. It sounds quite modern and well-produced. It’s good but not too good. About #46 good.
45. DISTANT PAST - Rise of the Fallen
Hey guys, do you like Gloryhammer? Nah, I’m just kidding. Except for the guest appearance by Gloryhammer’s vocalist, it sounds nothing like it. Distant Past is more of traditional metal, just with awful double vocals. Everything else is quite good and up to par, but the vocals… An instrumental version would probably made it higher up the list.
44. ENTOMBED A.D. - Dead Dawn
A band that needs no introduction. But as much as I like Entombed, this album falls flat. I don’t know, maybe because of the muddy sound. Maybe I just want it more death-n-rollish. Of course, I want another Wolverine Blues even if all you purists hate it.
43. NOVEMBRE - URSA
Italian doom metal band Novembre releases their first album in 9 years. If I were to describe the music in three words to someone unfamiliar with the band – you for instance -- I’d say it’s a “melancholic version of Amorphis with a small dose of later Cynic or Aeon Spoke and even some amount of atmospheric black metal bands (too many to mention just one).”
It’s a good album, but you won’t bang your head to it.
42. PATH OF DESOLATION - Where the Grass Withers
I have a strange hobby. From time to time, in the middle of the night, when no one looks, I go to Kickstarter and back some metal bands I’ve never heard of before. I started doing this since my own band was successfully kickstarted. Usually, results are meh and the best I get is my name in liner notes. But not this time.
Path of Desolation is a melodeath band from Lausanne, Switzerland. This is their first full-length album, and it’s, well, melodic death metal. It sounds like that new In Flames album we’ve been waiting for, but never get, and probably never will. Not too fast, melancholic and in a minor key. Not breaking a new ground, just the stuff we like. If you don’t like it, you probably never played in a melodeath band. But I did. Also, according to the band, I’m the first person in the US who has this CD.
41. GHOWL - Ghowl
It’s a pure coincidence, but I kickstarted this album as well. And you’ve never heard of this band, I’m sure of it! They are not even on metal-archives (I plan to fix this injustice soon).
Ghowl is a metal band from Sweden. You probably imagine other bands from that glorious country, but this isn’t like those. It’s just heavy metal… sometimes even doomy, 90 to 120 BPM kind of metal. Clean vocals, downtuned but that’s about it. Lyrics are heavily influenced by horror movies. And it’s great!
You should try to find it if you can. It’s definitely worth a listen.
40. DISHARMONIC ORCHESTRA - Fear of Angst
You might be sensing a pattern here, but I kickstarted this one too.
Disharmonic Orchestra is a former grindcore turned avantgarde metal band from Austria. This is their first album released in 14 years (and second in 22). The result is interesting. Sometimes it sounds like Cynic when they were still a metal band. Sometimes it sounds like Metallica if they had a bassist and a drummer. Sometimes it falls into extreme territory. Sometimes it sounds completely unique. So check it out.
39. DARK FUNERAL - Where Shadows Forever Reign
I swear it starts with Abba’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” opening melody. Must be because they are both from Stockholm. But seriously, it’s a good black metal album. Believe me, in order to make this list, I listened to a lot of bad ones. I don’t know if I will regularly listen to it, but it’s ok.
38. MEGADETH - Dystopia
It’s hard to review Megadeth albums because the ghost of Rust in Peace is always standing right there behind you, whispering in your ear, and clouding your perception. That and you’re just old. You want another Rust in Peace but it never comes. Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame, Mustaine or you? Or both? Anyway, I tried to listen to this album with as clear mind as possible, though it was quite hard. I consider Rust in Peace the best thrash metal album of all time. What can you do after this, “Risk” again?
It’s a good album, but I just cannot connect with modern Megadeth to actually enjoy it. It has everything in place: musicianship is top notch, good riffs, good songs, but it just doesn’t click and stay in place. I wanted to enjoy this album but I couldn’t. It’s still a good album. You may like it more.
37. SVARTTJERN - Dødsskrik
Okay, if the opening track is called “All Hail Satan”, you know what you are getting into. I would call this “accessible black metal for teenagers”. It’s well produced and lyrics are deep if you’re 15, so there’s that. Anyway, I enjoyed it enough.
36. PATH OF DESTINY - Dreams in Splendid Black
Blackened death metal with background keyboards from Germany. Worth listening.
35. FORTERESSE - Thèmes pour la Rébellion
Canadian (or judging from lyrical themes) Quebecois atmospheric black metal band. It sound like that other band you know. I mean, it’s not like the style allows too much variety. Maybe not as good as Mgla or Drudkh but quite similar, you if you’re a fan of either band, check Forteresse too.
34. UNEARTHED ELF - Into the Catacomb Abyss
I’ve never heard about it until it was mentioned on podcast, so I checked it on bandcamp… and immediately bought a CD.
Unearthed Elf is a one-man project from Milwaukee, WI. It’s labeled as “doom metal”, but it’s actually a gothic metal at its foundation. Next level of doom, more energetic and faster. Good songwriting. Go and buy it already!
33. CHTHE'ILIST - Le dernier crépuscule
Quebec again. But this time, it’s death metal. I’ve heard several people comparing it to Demilich, so you get the idea. I think this is where the relative popularity of this debut album comes from. Well, we won’t have any new Demilich albums in near future, so Chthe’ilist will do. It’s not bad, just not really original. Then again, this is death metal we’re talking about. A lot of bands just copy other bands. Such is the circle of life (and death…metal).
32. PATRIARCH - Rage of Gods
Thrash metal from Belgium. Would be much higher if not for absolutely awful production. Kinda like Psychotic Waltz meets Control Denied. And then recorded the album in a cave, with cavemen acting as engineers, mixers, and producers.
Don’t go cheap on production, guys. Because your result sounds like a demo.
31. METALLICA - Hardwired... to Self-Destruct
Ha, didn’t expect that?
Shitting on Metallica is like reading in this day and age… everyone does it (well, not anymore with reading, but at least you’re reading this). I never even expected to listen to it, but in my darkest state of mind I managed to pre-order Hardwired on Amazon and was actually surprised when it came in mail in its 3 CD glory. It was lying on my desk for about a week until I actually find some time to listen to it.
Well, it’s undoubtedly Metallica. You can tell from a few seconds of listening. It’s well-written, well-produced, but I still want them to hire an actual drummer. Leave this kind of “drumming” to Running Wild already (see number 49 here). Take your example from Arch Enemy. I also liked my Metallica when it had more than two riffs per song, but that’s probably too much to ask.
It would be a well-received album if released by some other band. Metallica just has too much baggage, both good and bad. People who won’t listen should try this. It’s not bad, Metallica’s had worse. Multiple times.
30. VICIOUS RUMORS - Concussion Protocol
Is 2016 a good year for bands from 80ies? You decide. Vicious Rumors is a Bay Area thrash band that never became as successful as other bands from the Bay, and it’s a shame. This is a solid album. Must listen if you’re a thrash fan, and probably even if you’re not.
29. PRIMAL FEAR - Rulebreaker
Okay, finally some power metal. It’s simple, straightforward, melodic, and heavy. And, comparing to a whole bunch of modern power metal that was left in 100th numbers of this list, it’s actually riff-driven.
Remember, guys, real metal is about riffs. Ralf Sheepers does a great job of singing and screaming, and always in the right places. Guitar solos and fills are quite generic (and I swear I heard that in insert album name), but who cares? The drums are pounding and bass is filling all the rest of the space. Everything you want, but maybe sometimes you just want more?
28. THE UNGUIDED - Lust and Loathing
The Unguided sounds like what you would expect. Mix everything Swedish in a cauldron, add modern production..there you go. Can I call this post-gothenburg metal? That’s the best description. I just wish they’d cut breakdowns and “cue clean vocal over keyboards” because that trick is getting old and I don’t really want to hear it anymore.
27. DEATH ANGEL - The Evil Divide
Death Angel consistently releases good albums and 2016 was a good year for 80ies thrash metal in general…so that’s all I want to say. Now go and listen to this album if you haven’t already!
26. PARAGON - Hell Beyond Hell
Another power metal album done well. Sometimes it’s fast and thrashy, sometimes it could be simply an Accept or U.D.O. homage, sometimes it falls into typical boring power metal choruses but not for too long. A good, enjoyable album for fans of German metal.
25. EXUMER - The Raging Tides
Did I already say “2016 is a good year for thrash metal”? This album’s blueprint is simply stolen from the 80ies or earlier 90ies. Did you like thrash metal from that era? Then go and listen. The album is produced by Waldemar Sorychta so it sounds a little like Despair with a modern production. Grip Inc. cover is a nice tribute but doesn’t really compare to the original. I listen to the cover and the original version one after another and… no, it just doesn’t work here. But the rest is good.
24. HELSTAR - Vampiro
This is really good. Thrashy American power metal from Texas. I don’t care about vampires that much, but the music, riffs, and vocals are really cool.
23. DESASTER - The Oath of an Iron Ritual
This album is a killer. A nice mix of black and thrash, so if you’re a fan of either genre, you need to listen to this album. You won’t be disappointed.
22. STEVE GRIMMETT'S GRIM REAPER - Walking in the Shadows
When I see First/Lastname Band, I always imagine the same thing. Put another way, “the worst.” I’m sure you do too. But this time I was wrong and I’m glad I was.
Grim Reaper is (was? still is?) a NWOBHM band founded in 79, split-up in 88. Reformed by vocalist Steve Grimmett in 2006 but they never recorded again anything until now. So first album in 10 years for this incarnation and first in 29 years total. How many of you are over 29 anyway?
The result is a good solid HWOBHM that doesn’t sound dated. I listened to it several times and I’m I’m a fan now. If you like old British metal with modern production, this is for you too.
21. HERMAN FRANK - The Devil Rides Out
Another (now former) Accept guitarist on this list, but much higher. Herman Frank left Accept because he wasn’t allowed to write his music, and look who lost that battle?
I hope I play music like this when I’m 67.
20. EQUILIBRIUM - Armageddon
A little slower than previous albums, with more keyboards and even some dancey NDH additions. Still, very enjoyable folky/symphonic metal from Germany. I like NDH, so if Equilibrium starts sounding more NDH-y, I still win. And those 8-bit synths added here and there are just funny.
19. TESTAMENT - Brotherhood of the Snake
Not the best Testament album. Not even better than the previous two, so my expectations weren’t met. Still, a solid thrash metal, and I’m glad they are around.
18. DARK TRANQUILLITY - Atoma
Not the best Dark Tranquillity album. Not even better that the previous two… wait, did I just write this already in some other place? Still, a solid… oh man, no. I’m glad they have a bassist now. I just liked We Are the Void more.
17. PROTECTOR - Cursed and Coronated
Swedish thrash metal that sounds a lot like mid-80ies German thrash a-la Sodom or Violent Force with a little black metal influence. Despite the obviously awful rhymes like “fire/desire” and mispronunciation of “xenophobia” as “kse-no-pho-bia”, it’s actually quite good. If you like 80ies German thrash, of course.
16. DESTRUCTION - Under Attack
I’ve never been a fan of Destruction. I always preferred other German thrash metal bands and I’m mostly unfamiliar with their music. So Under Attack came as a pleasant surprise to me.
15. INSOMNIUM - Winter's Gate
Finnish melodic death metal band decided to record just one song for this album. It lasts 40 minutes though. I usually listen to albums as opposed to just songs so it doesn’t bother me much but when doing parties, we using chromecast and every person just queues a song to listen. No chances for this song to be heard, it’s too long!
Anyway, it’s a good album. I just found the format strange.
14. ARTILLERY - Penalty By Perception
80ies thrash metal band? Check. Mispronunciation of words? Check. Great stuff anyway? Check.
As someone who is not a native English speaker, I regularly check Merriam-Webster to find a correct pronunciation of words that I know, but don’t use in actual conversations. Like “scythe”. “Excuse me officer, but this is just a scythe and I think it’s legal to carry it in public outside school zones”. So if I wanted to record an album that is expected to stand the test of time, I’d be checking every damn word.
13. DESTROYER 666 - Wildfire
What’s that? Another blackened thrash album in the list? These two things are not even my favorite genres!
The first album recorded by a new lineup, but still has the same quality.
12. LONEWOLF - The Heathen Dawn
Comparing to Rapid Foray, a “Running Wild of a smoker”, this is “Running Wild of a healthy person”, and a power metal that I actually like a lot! I don’t even know if it’s correct to call Lonewolf power metal. It has all the parts, but is much more enjoyable than other 50-something power metal albums from 2016 I had to listen to. It’s just fast and heavy and epic and… just check it out.
11. FLOTSAM AND JETSAM - Flotsam and Jetsam
Flotsam and Jetsam. The band you all know. The band you never cared about. I hope you’ll change that now, because their self-titled album is a killer. Since they released the song “Iron Maiden” I was like OH MY GOD, IF ALL SONGS ARE LIKE THIS, I’M GONNA DIE. You cannot go wrong with writing a homage to “The Trooper”, right? Unfortunately (or fortunately), the album is more diverse, and fortunately, it’s very good. Flots had some albums of questionable quality, but this one goes up to Doomsday and No Place. Keep the good work, Flotsam. Let the next album be as good.
10. KRYPTOS - Burn Up the Night
To me, Bangalore is associated with software engineering and not heavy metal. What a pleasant surprise to find out that India’s Silicon Valley has some other similarities to SF Bay Area.
Kryptos sound as if modern thrash metalheads went back in time and kidnapped Judas Priest. Or Judas Priest went forward in time and kidnapped some modern thrash metal people and probably one black metal guy too. Then they all made love, and this is the direct result.
Absolutely must listen.
9. RAUBTIER - Bärsärkagång
Raubtier is considered an “industrial metal”, and therefore looked down by snobs on metal-archives or other purist places, but this album is much closer to Finntroll than to Ministry, KMFDM, or Static-X. And it’s goddamn great! The title track is now officially my favorite song with riffs that contain only three or less notes.
I don’t know about you guys, but I listened to this album on repeat four times, and now it’s starting the fifth round. Bärsärkagång, bärsärk!
8. WITCHERY - In His Infernal Majesty's Service
Another blackened thrash metal from Sweden, and it’s really, really good. Go listen to it now!
7. ABBATH - Abbath
I don’t even need to tell you anything about this (pulls down the Abbath balaclava).
6. NOTHGARD - The Sinner's Sake
Nothgard call themselves “Epic Melodic Death Metal“. But actually it means “Power Metal on Steroids”. And it’s great. Yes, it sounds a little like That Other Band, but since That Other Band didn’t release an album this year, I’m going to listen to this.
5. ASPHYX - Incoming Death
Old school death metal with a lot of slow death/doom. I wanted to say “they don’t make this anymore” but immediately realized that they still do. Guitar melodies are actually quite a modern addition to this dark and raw genre. I kind of miss it sometimes so maybe that’s why this album went so high in the list (remember, it wasn’t really me, it was a program).
4. ANCIENT - Back to the Land of the Dead
Full disclosure: I like black metal when it’s melodic enough, but don’t really care for bands like Mayhem. Ancient, with their first album in 12 years, are definitely in the first category. It goes even further, sometimes falling into Fields of the Nephilim kind of stuff. Then, probably no one really cares about actual musicianship in black (I think it’s started with You-Know-Who), so you can only say “I like the atmosphere”. And yes, I like the atmosphere. And those Nephilim parts too.
3. OMNIUM GATHERUM - Grey Heavens
This is so good I don’t even know what to say. Absolutely great, though quite simple. I’ve checked reviews on internet and they are mostly negative, but I just don’t care. Don’t blindly take other people’s opinions into consideration. Yeah, this one too.
2. METAL CHURCH - XI
A year and a half ago, Mike Howe, the vocalist from their most commercially successful lineup, was reunited with the band (now with an otherwise completely different lineup though). Being a huge Howe-fronted Metal Church fan from my school and college days, I was looking forward to this and preordered a deluxe edition. And I wasn't disappointed even a little. Vanderhoof still writes great riffs and Howe, after keeping his voice in a fridge somewhere in Tennessee for twenty-something years, still has one of the best vocals in metal genre. I’ve seen them twice on their tours recently and they kill live. Mike also looks like a nice guy who listens to other bands on the tour along with his family in the crowd, taking pictures with fans like me. I wish them about 20 more albums, just don’t “borrow” riffs from Mestatoll’s Kuu anymore!
Oh, and Christmas postcard from the band was a really nice gesture.
1. SODOM - Decision Day
Sodom is a band that never disappoints. I could pre-order their next album now and be sure that I’ll like it. I just want the current musical collaboration between Tom Angelripper and Bernemann to continue forever. This album has everything a Sodom fan would like: Tom’s vocals, great riffs, motorheadish bass, crazy drumming and uncompromising thrash metal that is not stuck in 1987. There’s nothing wrong with that but I always liked that Sodom albums had contemporary sound. Decision Day sounds like Sodom but it also sounds like Sodom from 2016. I listened to it maybe few dozen times and still think this is the best of what I got in 2016, hands down.
What else was in 2016 that isn't metal but still interesting? Bowie’s last album is dark and depressive, your favorite black metal band cannot even come close to it. Die Krupps had nice live album. Lots of people died. What’s next? In 2017, there will be new releases by Kreator, Trollfest, Overkill, Pyogenesis, Deep Purple, maybe Voivod will release a full-length (I had to omit their last EP for not being an album enough but it’s great); Skyclad, Triosphere, King Diamond, Judas Priest, Coroner, Carcass, Queensryche all planned to release new albums soon. Should be a good year. We’ll see.
Here’s a Youtube playlist for you to enjoy. Insomnium is excluded for being non-radio-friendly.