APESHIT’s Top Metal Albums of 2016

VirusAnother 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.

Trees of EternityThis 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.

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Let it be officially declared that THE HAUNTED are done thrashing. As if the band’s previous few releases were any clue, Unseen is an unequivocal statement that the former Swedish thrashers have long moved onto find new sounds. Leave your old views of the band behind if you want to give yourself any chance of enjoying Unseen.

Unseen is a further departure away from fist in the face metal, and demonstrates the band’s exploration of various heavy rock sounds. The pace is slowed to mostly mid-tempos. Aggression and heaviness do not compose the record’s hallmarks either. The album’s tone is brooding and slithering; perhaps not unlike TOOL to a lesser degree.

The record is a mixed bag in terms of quality. Some work, some don’t.
Motionless,” “Unseen,” and “The City” are, by far, Unseen‘s best tracks. “All Ends Well” is not bad; it’s got a great vocal chorus. “No Ghost” sounds a little out of place with its mid-tempo, heavy bluesy rock. “Catch 22” and “Disappear” are brooding tracks with plenty of TOOL influences. Songs like “The Skull,” “Ocean Park,” and “Done” don’t really do much.

Peter Dolving largely ditches his monotone yelling vocals (ala Tom Araya) and sings on the majority of the record. While it’s great to hear his charismatic and multidimensional singing, some vocal lines sound great while others don’t quite hit. There’s no doubting the personal and emotional nature of the lyrics though.

One can feel the effort put into this record but too often the execution isn’t there. Perhaps an EP of the strongest songs would’ve been best. However, that would’ve sacrificed artistic integrity. At the end of the day, the band has put forth too many solid, jawdropping records for lower standards to be acceptable. (Century Media Records)

WITCHERY – Witchkrieg

After taking a breather in their respective other bands, namely THE HAUNTED, OPETH, and ARCH ENEMY, the members of WITCHERY offer Witchkrieg, the first album with vocalist Legion (ex-MARDUK) on board. Upon first glance, Legion’s vocals are much more varied than when he had the monotone screech in MARDUK – unfortunately, most of his vocals are masked by too many effects, which cheapens the excitement of the new vocalist.

Witchkrieg” opens with the crunchy, old school WITCHERY sound, with nice, crisp production, as the album starts off with a lot of promise. Kerry King’s trademark solo fits the opening track perfectly, and sounds completely in tune with the music. But the album is quite bi-polar, as a song like “The God Who Fell From Earth” opens with a bland nu-metal riff, and even guitar master Hank Shermann cannot save this blunder. “Conqueror’s Return” has a few headbanging riffs, but the layers of effects on the vocals make the song almost unbearable. Witchkrieg thrashes away with “The Reaver,” and the trade off solos from EXODUSGary Holt and Lee Altus show that this album has glimpses of brilliance.

Witchkrieg falls into the cliché of cheesy songwriting, as “From Dead to Worse” has a great opening, but the chorus is so bland that it sounds like Nathan Explosion of DETHKLOK is singing; fortunately, the solos from Andy LaRocque adds a nice flair to the end. “Devil Rides Out” is classic WITCHERY material, and “Hellhound” is a fast, brutal, and all out thrash attack.

Witchkrieg is an average effort, as there are good riffs scattered around here and there, but is mostly mediocre and somewhat disappointing. The band should always be looked upon as just a side project, as guitarist Jensen has used up all his good riffs in THE HAUNTED. While the plethora of guest musicians add a nice touch to the album, it’s safe to say that people have given this band more credit than they deserve. (Century Media Records)

SEANCE – Awakening of the Gods

After releasing a strong death metal/thrash debut with Fornever Laid To Rest, SEANCE disbanded after the sub-par Saltrubbed Eyes album. These old school Swedish thrashers feature members of WITCHERY, and have since reunited to release Awakening of the Gods. While this may seem exciting at first, the end result is a disappointing “reunion” album. Comeback albums are usually disappointing since most bands have a very strong early discography, and the “reunion” albums are quite unsatisfactory, as SUFFOCATION‘s Souls To Deny , ANGELCORPSE‘s Of Lucifer and Lightning, and DISSECTION‘s Reinkaos immediately come to mind. Bands like EMPEROR and AT THE GATES knew better and chose not to record another album and taint their legacies.

Awakening of the Gods starts off with “Wasted“, which sounds like an unused WITCHERY song, and the vocals have way too much effects to the point where it becomes real annoying and real boring – real fast. The first seconds of “They” starts off with a more aggressive push but soon thereafter quickly fades into mediocrity. “Your Time Has Come” breathes some life into this album, and if the entire album was like this track, it would be decent. “Flight of the Wicked” is an instrumental track reminiscent of KRISIUN‘s “Diableros“, except it ends up sounding more like a PRIMUS outtake. “Forever Haunted” is the heaviest and best track by far on Awakening of the Gods, but does little to save this album. A far better attempt at an acoustic interlude is offered with “Revel in Death“, and finally segues into the last two unoriginal tracks.

Although there is plenty of talent with SEANCE, the songwriting falls very short, and the result is a watered down WITCHERY album. The days of the brutal Fornever Laid To Rest disc are over, and Awakening of the Gods ends up as a cliched and uninspired release. After this effort, not many people will not miss the band if they decide to hang it up and retire once again. Perhaps former riff-master Jensen, who did not participate on this album, knew better to stick with his current band, THE HAUNTED. (Pulverised Records)

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