Top 20 Albums of 2016:
- Darkthrone – ARCTIC THUNDER
There were a lot of great records that came out in 2016, some of which I gave I higher review scores to, but none of which held my attention the way that Darkthrone did with ARCTIC THUNDER. This album is a middle finger hoisted defiantly in the face of scene fads and clickbait headlines; it’s satisfying at an almost primal level. ARCTIC THUNDER brings the sound of Darkthrone full circle, connecting the dots of their corpse painted past with their battle jacket speed metal present. The cult is still alive, and it sounds better than ever.
- Lord Vicar – GATES OF FLESH
Classic doom metal from a classic doom metal band; what else do you need? GATES OF FLESH is an almost passive aggressive record in the way it presents itself. There’s no flash, there’s no sense of urgency, but still the songs linger in your subconscious like the smoke from burning incense (or other stuff that burns). In all seriousness, it’s an impressively crafted and confident doom record that lets the music do all of the heavy lifting, no gimmicks or punchlines needed.
- Crowbar – THE SERPENT ONLY LIES
An alternate title for THE SERPENT ONLY LIES could’ve been “HOW WINDSTEIN GOT HIS GROOVE BACK”. For this album, Kirk took a trip in the way back machine and reacquainted himself with the bruising spirit of albums like BROKEN GLASS and TIME HEALS NOTHING, matching that punishment with the introspective, sage like ponderings of more recent material. Crowbar has never released a bad album, though some have been decidedly better than others. THE SERPENT ONLY LIES is arguably their best in a decade and one of the best in the entire Crowbar catalog.
- Striker – STAND IN THE FIRE
Striker singlehandedly reignited my love of traditional heavy metal with STAND IN THE FIRE. Tons of shred, huge choruses, catchy tunes and a deference for 80s metal that you can feel coming out of your speakers. It’s hard not to listen to STAND IN THE FIRE and not headbang your smiling face into oblivion. Heavy metal can still be fun, who knew?
- Cough – STILL THEY PRAY
The polar opposite of anything from Striker, Cough’s latest record is a bleak, depressing, and painfully slow behemoth of modern doom. So yeah, it’s pretty great. 2010’s RITUAL ABUSE was a tough act to follow, but STILL THEY PRAY pushed the band’s musical boundaries just far enough to sound like progress, while somehow managing to dig an already vacuous hole of nihilistic misanthropy just a little bit deeper. If there was an award for creepiest, most uncomfortable sounding album of the year – STILL THEY PRAY would win hands down.
Goatess – PURGATORY UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
Mercyless – PATHETIC DIVINITY
Obscura – AKRÓASIS
Flotsam and Jetsam – FLOTSAM AND JETSAM
Anaal Nathrakh– THE WHOLE OF THE LAW
Khemmis – HUNTED
Dark Funeral – WHERE SHADOWS FOREVER REIGN
Church of Misery – AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
Schammash – TRIANGLE
Graves At Sea – THE CURSE THAT IS
Rotten Sound – ABUSE TO SUFFER
Death Angel – THE EVIL DIVIDE
Testament – BROTHERHOOD OF THE SNAKE
Brujeria – POCHO AZTLAN
Wormrot – VOICES
Best Live Album: Mayhem – DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS ALIVE
Squeaking in just under the wire to qualify as a 2016 release, Mayhem’s live performance of their classic DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS album is every bit as horrific, intimidating and scary as its studio counterpart.
Best EP: Dawnbringer – XX
The swan song of Chris Black’s Dawnbringer turned out to be the band’s finest hour. Featuring five tracks that pull at your soul with absolute metal passion, XX is a bittersweet farewell to a band that appears to have just hit their stride.
Best Book: Candlemass – BEHIND THE WALL OF DOOM
I’m still catching up on all of the books I started in 2015 and never finished, so let’s not get started on the books I bought in 2016 and never even started…However, show me a 92-page coffee table book detailing the history of Candlemass, complete with never before seen photos and candid interviews with past and present members of the band, along with a stash of live performances on DVD and more, and I’d call that the best book of the year.
Best Metal DVD/Blu-Ray/Visual Media: Metallica – HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT videos
Regardless of what you think of the new album, there’s no denying that Metallica owned this space in 2016. The drip of music videos for early singles like “Moth Into Flame” and the title track quickly turned into a flood in the weeks preceding the album’s release, with every tune being treated to their own vid. The press coverage was constant – think about how many stories you read between October and November about new Metallica music, it was nuts. As each video was posted to the web, the metal community slowly settled in to the realization that we might actually be getting a good Metallica record, and the anticipation for HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT hit an absolute fever pitch. Well played, fellas.
Best Concert: Iron Maiden, Chicago IL
I missed the Ft. Lauderdale kickoff show in February, but schlepped it to the Windy City in April, as there was no way I was going to miss Iron Maiden on American soil – especially given Bruce Dickinson’s recent health scare. Maiden never disappoints live, and this run in support of THE BOOK OF SOULS was no exception. They’re consistently the gold standard in heavy metal live performances; nobody’s holding a gun to their heads to put on shows like this anymore, they do it because they want to give the fans an experience to remember. Pyro, production, inflatable Eddies and 2 hours of non-stop music performed by a bunch of 60-year old men who can literally run circles around all of us; I’m still blown away.
Runner Up: Venom Inc., Orlando FL
I saw the Cronos fronted version of Venom at Maryland Deathfest this year and it was a bit anticlimactic. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was Cronos looking like a heavy metal Richard Simmons in his Rolling Stones tank top and tight pants, or maybe it was the formulaic, by-the-numbers approach to a set of tunes that should breathe fire. A few months later, however, I saw Venom Inc. (featuring Mantas, Abaddon, and Demolition Man) rock the balls off of some hole in the wall club in Suburban Orlando, and wow, totally different dynamic. There was zero pretense or ego, just three guys cranking out classic Venom tunes with the energy and enthusiasm that they deserve. Even the activity in the pit was at a minimum; everybody in the joint was transfixed on what was happening on stage, nobody wanted to miss a second of the action. This is what Venom songs are supposed to sound like.
Best Local Band: Disevered (Tampa, FL)
Though they hail from the spiritual home of North American death metal, Disevered’s brand of musical abuse owes just as more to the European influences of early Entombed, Dismember, and Prophecy of Doom as it does to Morbid Angel or Deicide. These hometown heroes absolutely destroy; check out their HAMMERS OF BLASPHEMY EP here: https://disevered.bandcamp.com/album/hammers-of-blasphemy
Best New Band: No Gods (HPGD Productions)
These unassuming Philly metallers released one of 2016’s sleeper hits with their self-titled album. Mashing up old school thrash a la Overkill an Exodus with even heavier, grinding death metal flavors, NO GODS is a unique and memorable debut. Check it out via HPGD’s Bandcamp page: https://hpgd.bandcamp.com/album/no-gods
Things That Sucked in 2016, The Non-Dead Celebrity or Geo-Political Climate Edition:
- The (fairly substantiated) allegations against Pentagram’s Bobby Liebling sexually harassing female members of the bands gracious enough to open for his current turd storm of a band, among other shady practices. Almost worse than the act itself was the response from Liebling’s manager that offered gems like “He’s a single man” and “…there was no touching.” Seriously? I’m no SJW, but if his abhorrent live performances (when he decides to show up) weren’t enough to sour the legacy of Pentagram, this surely is. I’m out.
- Phil Anselmo won’t shut the eff up nor learn from his past mistakes. See Bobby Liebling reference above about souring your legacy.
- Bolt Thrower officially broke up.
- Katatonia’s THE FALL OF HEARTS turned out to be a cheap replacement for my Ambien prescription. Not the kind of benefit that I’d hoped for.
- In Flames, the same band that gave us albums like THE JESTER RACE and COLONY, is now doing co-headlining runs with Hellyeah and is part of the Summer rock festival circuit, alongside Alter Bridge and the Offspring.
- The overhyping of albums that the metal press won’t stop shoving down our collective gullets. Abbath, Meshuggah, Gojira, Baby Metal and Nails in particular – all of these records had their moments, but they’re all far from the world shaking events that the likes of Decibel and Sirius XM would have you believe. I get that metal is a business and the PR machines are only doing what they’re paid to do, but please, stop – you’re not helping anybody but yourselves.
Things That Didn’t Suck in 2016:
- Thrash Metal had a great year. New records from each of the Big 4 alongside the likes of Death Angel, Testament, and Sodom proved that thrash was alive, well, and still in very capable hands.
- The non-Bobby Blotzer members of Ratt finally came to their senses and reformed without him, promising a proper tour in 2017 and new material to boot. Don’t pretend like you don’t love some Ratt, and INFESTATION was as good as anything from their 80’s heyday.
- Kam Lee and Rick Rozz buried the hatchet (again), and will give us some form of a new Massacre (again). You’ve hurt me before, and I keep coming back. Why can’t I quit you? Because you’re the Jagger/Richards of Florida death metal, that’s why.
- So many fantastic shows in 2016. In addition to Iron Maiden and Venom Inc., we had Florida Metal Fest, Destroyer Fest, Maryland Deathfest, Carcass, Marty Friedman, At the Gates, Voivod, and the mighty Doro Pesch. These are just a few of the names that hit the US year, which bodes well for a busy concert calendar in 2017.
- Eyehategod’s Mike IX Williams succeeded in evading the reaper again.
Most Anticipated Albums in 2017:
- Kreator – GODS OF VIOLENCE
- Overkill – THE GRINDING WHEEL
- Immolation – ATONEMENT
- Obituary – OBITUARY
- The Obsessed – TBD
- Incantation – TBD
- Paradise Lost – TBD
- Sleep – TBD
- Morbid Angel – TBD
- Corrosion of Conformity – TBD
- These are just the ones off the top of my head that I’m aware of, 2017 is going to be a great year for heavy metal.