Another strong year is in the books for heavy music, so strong that making a year end list seemed unfair to every release that we did not include in our lists. The underground continues to thrive with releases from legendary bands such as DARK FUNERAL, VADER, and NEUROSIS that will stand the test of time. Actually, most of the long running bands did not fail to meet or exceed expectations. Thrash metal pioneers, MEGADETH, VOIVOD, and TESTAMENT, certainly released excellent records. What is more important is that 2016 saw a lot of great releases from less trendy, more obscure bands.
This past year is personally notable as lost a dear friend and contributor, Brandon Stratton AKA rocknro11chef13. As a small tribute, we’ve included albums that he would’ve likely picked for his year end list. Life is short, my friends. Embrace it.
VIRUS - Memento Collider (Karisma Records) The sheer genius that is Norway’s VIRUS is something to behold. Momento Collider is an absolute avant garde masterpiece. Ever eerie, disturbing and dynamic, the album’s perpetual momentum is potent and effortless. Czral is indeed a metal god. Hail.
WITHERSCAPE - The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media Records) Dear Dan Swanö, thank you for this gift. A perfect mix of EDGE OF SANITY, MOONTOWER, and NIGHTINGALE, The Northern Sanctuary is dense in content and substance. Look closer. There’s magic in there.
CULT OF LUNA & JULIE CHRISTMAS - Mariner (Indie Recordings) Never did I expect Mariner to anything but a mere side-project/experiment. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The marriage of former MADE OUT OF BABIES’ Julie Christmas and CULT OF LUNA is so perfect that it feels like it should’ve happened long ago. The atmospheres are simply profound. An instant classic.
THE WRETCHED END - In These Woods, From These Mountains (Indie Recordings) [Read our full review] In 2016, THE WRETCHED END lead the legendary Norwegian metal scene, with its best extreme metal release. Always sophisticated and armed to the max, the blackened atmospheres and epic moments make In These Woods, From These Mountains a mandatory listen. [Read our review]
IHSAHN - Arktis (Candlelight Records) Easily better than its predecessor, Das Seelenbrechen, Artkis sees a rejuvenated IHSAHN at the top of his game with powerful songs, great energy, and a healthy level of experimentation. Check out the awesome experimental, “My Heart is of the North.” Also, the Eddie Van Halen riffs on the album sounds so cool.
VOIVOD - Post Society EP (Century Media Records) Never sleep on VOIVOD. That’s the lesson learned from these aliens from Jonquière, Quebec. Memorable songs, perfect individual performances, and excellent production. Unlike their peers from the early 80’s thrash explosion, VOIVOD sound as relevant, modern, and cutting edge as they’ve always been.
VADER - The Empire (Nuclear Blast Records) There are some things in this world that we can always depend on and the Polish death metal kings, VADER, always deliver. Pure VADER perfection. Imagine a world where VADER ghostwrote for SLAYER!
DESTROYER 666 - Wildfire (Season of Mist) To me, the always excellent DESTROYER 666 are the modern day VENOM. Their sound is very diverse. Wildfire is a great mix of the ugly and dirty numbers and atmospheric, blacker ones. Never sleep on this great band.
NOVEMBRE - Ursa (Peaceville Records) Chances are that if you were into bands like OPETH, KATATONIA, and EDGE OF SANITY in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, then you also dug Italy’s NOVEMBRE. Eight years after calling it quits, they come back strong with another great atmospheric, doom-laden melodic album in Ursa. It’s a throwback to a great era gone by.
SURGICAL METH MACHINE - s/t (Nuclear Blast Records) This is the most supercharged, heavy and manic that Uncle Al (Al Jourgensen) has sounded in years. Brimming with attitude, his trademark Godzilla-side riffs, and just straight out, catchy songs, Surgical Meth Machine is a perfect album.
DARK TRANQUILLITY - Atoma (Century Media Records) Despite losing co-founder/songwriter Martin Henriksson while also gaining bassist Anders Iwers, Gothenburg, Sweden’s longest running band march forward with a strong, strong album. There is plenty of lifeforce on Atoma and those trademark invincible riffs, somber atmospheres, and excellent musicianship are omnipresent.
DARK FUNERAL - Where Shadows Forever Reign (Century Media Records) DARK FUNERAL is one of the last standing pillars of Swedish black metal and like a true great band, they continue to stand the test of time. Where Shadows Forever Reign is without a doubt of the best albums in their long discography. New vocalist Heljarmadr is one hell of a replacement for the legendary Emperor Magus Caligula. [Read our review]
TREES OF ETERNITY - Hour of the Nightingale (Svart Records) While the tragic passing of vocalist Aleah Stanbridge from cancer prior to Hour of the Nightingale’s release dominates the narrative for the band, it’s important to remember that this is a great record of pure melancholic doom. The all-star lineup of Aleah, Juha Raivio (SWALLOW THE SUN), Fredrik Norrman (OCTOBER TIDE, ex-KATATONIA), Mattias Norrman (OCTOBER TIDE, ex-KATATONIA) and Kai Hahto (WINTERSUN, NIGHTWISH) along with guest vocalists, Mick Moss (ANTIMATTER) and Nick Holmes (PARADISE LOST), have a great chemistry that feels like a “traditional” band rather than a “side project.” An underground classic.
rocknrollchef13 pick: AMON AMARTH - Jomsviking (Metal Blade Records)
VADER - The Empire (Nuclear Blast) ASPHYX - Incoming Death (Century Media Records) DEHUMANIZED - Beyond the Mind (Comatose Music) DEAD CONGREGATION - Sombre Doom (Martyrdoom Productions) DARK FUNERAL - Where Shadows Forever Reign (Century Media Records) TESTAMENT - The Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast) DARKTHRONE - Arctic Thunder (Peaceville) WORMROT - Voices (Earache Records)
IHSAHN - Arktis (Candlelight Records) DARK TRANQUILLITY - Atoma (Century Media Records)
1. SUICIDAL TENDENCIES - World Gone Mad (Suicidal Records) 2. SUBROSA - For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (Profound Lore Records) 3. ULCERATE - Shrines of Paralysis (Relapse Records) 4. NEUROSIS - Fires Within Fires (Neurot Recordings) 5. WOLVSERPENT - Aporia : Kala-Ananta (Relapse Records) 6. 16 - Lifespan of a Moth (Relapse Records) 7. VADER - The Empire (Nuclear Blast) 8. DISCHARGE - End of Days (Nuclear Blast) 9. METALLICA - Hard Wired to Self-Destruct (Blackened Recordings) 10. ASPHYX - Incoming Death (Century Media Records)
Oscar Martinez (JSR Merchandising):
1. BRUJERIA - Pocho Aztlan (Nuclear Blast) 2. METALLICA - Hard Wired to Self-Destruct (Blackened Recordings) 3. SIA - This is Acting (Inertia/Monkey Puzzle/RCA) 4. TESTAMENT - The Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast) 5. MESHUGGAH - The Violent Sleep of Reason (Nuclear Blast) 6. PAIN - Coming Home (Nuclear Blast) 7. ASPHYX - Incoming Death (Century Media Records) 8. MEGADETH - Dystopia (Tradecraft/Universal) 9. FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE - King (Nuclear Blast) 10. WITCHERY - In His Infernal Majesty’s Service (Century Media Records)
Andrew Sample (Drewcifer’s Pit):
Top 10 Metal Albums (alphabetical order): AMON AMARTH - Jomsviking (Metal Blade Records) ANTHRAX - For All Kings (Megaforce Records) BEASTMAKER - Lulus Naturae (Rise Above Records) DEATH ANGEL - The Evil Divide (Nuclear Blast Records) GOJIRA - Magma (Roadrunner Records) METALLICA - Hard Wired to Self-Destruct (Blackened Recordings) NAILS - You Will Never Be One of Us (Nuclear Blast Records) OPETH - Sorceress (Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast Records) TESTAMENT - The Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast) WITCHCRAFT - Nucleus (Nuclear Blast Records)
Others: MESHUGGAH - The Violent Sleep of Reason (Nuclear Blast) MEGADETH - Dystopia (Tradecraft/Universal) DESTROYER 666 - Wildfire (Season of Mist) BARONESS - The Purple Album (Relapse Records) YOUNGBLOOD SUPERCULT - High Plains (DHU Records)
Cool EPs: VOIVOD - Post Society EP (Century Media Records) NEUROSIS - Fires Within Fires (Neurot Recordings)
rocknrollchef13 pick: WITCHERY - In His Infernal Majesty’s Service (Century Media Records)
Reissue: DEATH - The Sound of Perseverance vinyl reissue (Relapse Records)