Best of 2016: Erich

January 9th, 2017
by Erich Heintzelman

Top 20 Metal Albums 2016

1. Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight

Fates_Warning_-_Theories_of_Flight

I have been a fan of Fates Warning since 1985 and endured the many stylistic changes the band has undergone through the years and the nine-year interval between FWX and DARKNESS IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT. Through it all I have been objective, and though I felt DARKNESS IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT was solid, it was more reflective of Matheos’s other projects with John Arch and OSI than Fates Warning.  THEORIES OF FLIGHT feels like the first true Fates album in quite some time and it is outstanding.  The full range of the band is here and includes their current approach mixed with many excellent moments from past albums like PARALELLS and DISCONNECTED.  Apparently, much of the world agreed as THEORIES OF FLIGHT was one of the highest charting albums in the band’s history.

2. Tyketto – Reach

Tyketto has always been a band that straddled the line of hair metal and AOR, but their authenticity and lyrics that generally avoided the sex, drugs, and rock n roll clichés of most hair metal bands earned them a passionate fan base.  REACH blends all of the band’s strengths, most impressively their uplifting and gripping choruses as shown on the excellent title track.  REACH also sports some of the band’s heaviest songs (relatively speaking) such as “Kick Like A Mule.” Vaughn has never sounded better and though Brooke St. James was not part of the lineup, the band did not miss a beat.  Impressive indeed.   

3. Metal Church – XI     

It took Kurdt Vanderhoof 23 years to finally figure out that Mike Howe was the only way forward for the band.  Amazingly, Howe sounds like almost none of his range has diminished.  The band, to their credit, did not merely rewrite THE HUMAN FACTOR or BLESSING IN DISGUISE.  Sure there are elements of both, but it is the oft overlooked HANGING IN THE BALANCE that has most inspired the band. Even still, XI is modern Metal Church with plenty of experiments and new paths forward, like on “Shadow.”   The band sounds inspired and evidence of things working was the quick interval between Howe’s return and the album’s release.  At long last, the band has achieved chart success and received numerous tour and festival invitations making Metal Church more popular now than they were in their prime.

4. Evergrey – The Storm Within       

Tom Englund and company are an excellent band and while HYMNS FOR THE BROKEN was a welcome reunion, it is somehow surpassed by THE STORM WITHIN.   THE STORM WITHIN is the band’s 10th LP and coincides with their 20th anniversary.  No, it is not the band’s best album ever, but it is an accessible and melancholic album that drags the listener into the spiritual and emotional turmoil that often comprise parts of most human relationships.  Catchy and heavy alternately, it represents the band’s command of aggression tempered by melody and depth.

5. Anthrax – For All Kings

Compare this with the most recent releases of the Big Four and only Slayer’s REPENTLESS edges it out.  That is not to say that FOR ALL KINGS is a perfect album, especially considering nearly five years have elapsed since WORSHIP MUSIC was released.  Taken in that context, FOR ALL KINGS is about on par with WORSHIP MUSIC, which I guess is fine since that was a good album too. Still, after five years I guess I expected a more perceptible improvement.  Joey Belladonna continues to be the main distinguishing factor for Anthrax (in a good way) versus say Dave Mustaine, whose vocals seem to deteriorate with each album.  Melodic singing, crushing thrash riffs, and Benante proving that he might be the most consummate musician in Anthrax as he pounds the skins to NYC thrash glory.

6. Motus Tenebrae – Death Rising

7. Wicked Maraya – Lifetime In Hell

8. Delain – Moonbathers

9. Prong – X (No Absolutes)

10. Iron Mask – Diabolica

11. Primal Fear – Rulebreaker

12. Avantasia – Ghostlights

13. Striker – Stand In The Fire

14. Widow – Carved In Stone

15. Eden’s Curse- Cardinal

16. Lanfear- The Code Inherited

17. Iron Savior – Titancraft

18. Dream Theater – The Astonishing

19. Pretty Maids – Kingmaker

20. Beseech – My Darkness, Darkness

Honorable Mentions:

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Tigertailz – Blast
Darkwell – Moloch
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Megadeth – Dystopia

I include my favorite rock stuff under honorable mention, as neither of these are heavy enough to be metal but are eminently enjoyable.

  1. The Cult – Hidden City
  2. Ace Frehley – Origins Vol. 1
  3. Autograph – Louder
  4. Enuff Z’Nuff – Clowns Lounge

 

Best Debut Album

Persona – Elusive Reflections

Throwing you name in the hat of symphonic female-fronted metal at this point of saturation is either brave or foolhardy.  Persona are brave for a reason, hailing from Tunisia, and offering more of an outsider approach to the genre.  That does not mean it is devoid of many of the expected clichés, but there is huge promise and potential here.  A fine debut.

Helion Prime – S/T

 

Best Live/DVD Releases

  1. Powerwolf– The Metal Mass Live
  2. The Gathering – TG25: Live at Doornroosje
  3. Orden Ogan – The Book Of Ogan
  4. Judas Priest – Battle Cry

Best EP

  1. Frenzy – Lethal Protector
  2. Delain – Lunar Prelude
  3. Candlemass – Death Thy Lover

Best New Discovery

The Man-Eating Tree

Hailing from Finland, and with links to one of my favorite bands Sentenced, I am surprised I did not discover this sooner.  The Man-Eating tree blends atmospheric music with progressive and goth metal for a unique sound that does not resemble Sentenced at all.  Nevertheless, it is highly engaging and introspective music.

Biggest Disappointments

Death of Nick Menza former drummer of Megadeth – Nick was a great drummer that propelled the band during the period of its greatest critical and commercial acclaim.  He will be sorely missed by many fans.

Death of Jimmy Bain former bassist of Rainbow and Dio – Without the thump of Bain’s bass, it is hard to imagine how these band’s best albums would have sounded.  A stunning loss, especially coming only six years after Dio himself.

Kirk Hammet’s solos on Hardwired…To Self Destruct –  The album is no better or worse than I expected but I quit wondering if Metallica would ever release an authentic album again some time ago (“Spit Out The Bone” kicks ass though).  Still, Hammet seemed like the guy most level-headed about their legacy in Some Kind Of Monster, the dude you expected to be the one that would step up while Lars and James continued to compose pedestrian tunes. Nope, unh uh.  Talk about tainting your legacy, Hammet’s lazy and uninspiring adherence to the wah- wah pedal and blues scale has grown wearisome.  Unfortunately, his solos on this album, with a few exceptions, are so far beneath his capabilities that it is disconcerting because it seems that the last guy with integrity in the band finally gave in wholly to the machine that values money before substance.  Put simply, he mailed it in, which makes me wonder if the album was named for Hammet’s efforts here.  When you get outperformed by Lars, something is really wrong.

Reckless Love’s inVader Album –  I suspected trouble when the promotional material stated, “A perfect example of this can be heard in latest single, “Monster”, an ode to a modern kind of female. The song has echoes of theatrical rock legends such as Alice Cooper and Motley Crue, but there’s also a sly nod to `90s pop giants like Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.”  I doubt the band can overcome this debacle, and it was a disappointing blow from one of the leaders of worldwide sleaze/hair metal movement.

Death Angel’s The Evil Divide – Not a bad album but not a good one either.  It is no surprise that not a single member of the Metal-Rules staff found the album worthy of reviewing.   It is now patently clear that ACT III will remain the band’s high water mark.  Perhaps it is time for the band to ditch Jason Suecof and his trendier-than-thou-production and musical influence on the band. Time to become Death Angel again and not some third-tier contemporary wannabe.  

Metal Triumphs

The return of Tigertailz –  Was never a big fan, liked a few songs.  However, with the failure of Reckless Love and the unlooked for and pleasantly surprising headbang of BLAST, Tigertailz have picked up the torch they used to carry in the name of glam metal!

Ratt Reforms – Yeah, yeah without the man Bobby Blotzer is disappointing, but having Croucier and De Martini back with Pearcy is worth at least monitoring closely.

The Obsessed Reforms – Doom and stoner fans the world over rejoice!  What will Wino bring us in the near future?

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