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Best of 2016

Aaron's Top 10 Albums of 2016

From those mammoths of metal who continue to pave the way for the next generation, to a few surprises from some lesser-known names, these are the albums that defined the state of metal in 2016 for me.

From those mammoths of metal who continue to pave the way for the next generation, to a few surprises from some lesser-known names, these are the albums that defined the state of metal in 2016 for me.

Another year past, another year-end list. As far as metal goes, 2016 was a doozy (of course, the year was a doozy in other ways too, but this is a metal blog, so we won't get into that). It's been written and said many times before, but there's really never been a better time to be a metalhead. Whether you're a purist, a newbie, or revel in the "glory days" or metal (if there is such a thing), there's no shortage of fantastic bands continuing to breathe life into our beloved genre, no matter your preference. From those mammoths of metal who continue to pave the way for the next generation, to a few surprises from some lesser-known names, these are the albums that defined the state of metal in 2016 for me.

Before we get into it, a few honorable mentions…

Killswitch Engage – Incarnate
Moon ToothChromaparagon
Blood IncantationStarspawn
ZaoThe Well-Intentioned Virus
Sinister HazeLaid Low in the Dust of Death
MithrasOn Strange Loops
Mick GordonDOOM Original Soundtrack
Witchery – In His Infernal Majesty’s Service

Now…onto the good stuff.

a2980731506_1010. Defeated Sanity – Disposal of the Dead//Dharmata

Brutal death metal is very much an acquired taste, and once once that taste is acquired, it becomes very apparent that no BDM band does it better than Defeated Sanity. All of their albums are considered classics in the subgenre, but they really outdid themselves this year with Disposal of the Dead//Dharmata, which is essentially a split EP with themselves. The first six tracks of the album constitute some of the most ball-crushingly heavy slam in recent memory, but it's the Dharmata side that truly stands out. A true testament to the virtuosic musicianship of these twisted Germans, Dharmata is both an homage to classic death metal bands such as Death and Cynic and a total masterclass in how to prog as a death metal band. We already knew that Defeated Sanity slams harder than any other band out there, but they also proved that they're a better prog band than most prog bands, and they're not even a prog band.

a3054543695_109. CB Murdoc – Here Be Dragons

One of the unexpected surprises of the year, Sweden's CB Murdoc released one of the most technically insane albums of the year in Here Be Dragons. An endorsement from Meshuggah's Tomas Haake piqued my interest in them, and what I discovered was a band that takes a cue from old Meshuggah, certainly, but speeds it up about 1000% and injects a healthy amount of shred and insanity a la Strapping Young Lad. I have to concur with Mr. Haake's sentiments about CB Murdoc drummer Carl-Gustaf Bäckström; this album has some of the craziest drumming of the year. Extreme in every way, CB Murdoc is definitely a name to watch. If you like what you hear, be sure to check out their first album, The Green.

kvelertaknattesferd8. Kvelertak – Nattesferd

These crazy Norwegian party animals haven't disappointed since they freaking stampeded onto the scene in 2010, and this year's Nattesferd set a new gold standard for them. Kvelertak really wore their classic rock influences on their sleeves this time around, and as a result, they made the best album of their career thus far. Cuts like "1985" and the title track are total fist-pumping, headbanging anthems, while tracks like "Ondskapens Galakse" and "Heksebrann" showcase a more progressive side of the band not seen before. Most of all, Nattesferd is just a whole lotta fun, and is super easy to keep coming back to, time and time again.

Witchcraft - Nucleus7. Witchcraft – Nucleus

Though initially it didn't quite hit me as hard as its predecessor, Legend, the latest masterpiece from Witchcraft, Nucleus, was an album I kept coming back to all year. From its retro cover art to its Sabbathian dirges, Nucleus sounds like an album straight out of the '70s, its only hint of modernity being in the production. While the album's appeal to my love of all things retro played a big role in my love for it, it's really the quality of the songs contained within that solidified it. Frontman Magnus Pelander and company managed to seep deep into my psyche with Nucleus, and they've crafted an album that would make names like Iommi, Blackmore and Libeling proud.

a0219894529_106. Sumac – What One Becomes

The world wasn't ready when Sumac unleashed The Deal last year. When former ISIS frontman Aaron Turner is attached to a project, the metal world pays attention, but the fact that the project features in its ranks Brian Cook of Russian Circles and drumming wildebeest Nick Yacyshyn of Baptists makes Sumac a band that simply cannot be ignored. What One Becomes is a monolithic behemoth of an album featuring some of the downright heaviest songs of the year. Not only that, it is hands-down one of the best produced records of the year; metal producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou recorded the band in an empty church in Washington, and it just sounds huge. The sonic weight carried behind this record is at once immediate and imminent, and with this only being Sumac's second record, it is entirely possible that this project will be become as immense and important as those that Turner is known for. In fact, there's a strong case it already has.

aborted5. Aborted – Retrogore

Come in, come in, step into the delightful death metal grindhouse feature that is the latest album from Belgian gore mongers, Aborted. Retrogore will rip you to shreds, grind your flesh into a bloodied pulp, and leave you begging for more. Complete with killer guest spots from some of the best and brightest in the death metal scene, including Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation and David Davidson of Revocation, Aborted delivered one of the most delectable death metal feasts of the yearnot to mention a career high for them. Retrogore is as addictive as it is pulverizing. BLEGH!

khemmis4. Khemmis – Hunted

Being a Colorado native, I'm quite proud of the metal scene we have here in Denver, and Khemmis are one of the bands that make it such a hotbed. Last year's Absolution was a total surprise, taking the melodic doom foundation laid by bands such as Pallbearer and spicing it up with a bit of Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy influence. Even more surprising, though, was Khemmis cranking out another, even stronger album this year with Hunted. Building upon an already solid foundation, Hunted saw Khemmis focusing more on songcraft, and Hunted contains some of the best songs of the year, hands down. Each track on this 43-minute journey is drenched in emotion and played from the heart, from the Motörhead-worshipping "Three Gates" to the goosebump-inducing "Candlelight." With its staying power and towering presence, Hunted could easily be considered a doom classic someday.

opeth-sorceress-front-cover-final-jpg3. Opeth – Sorceress

What is there to say about the legendary Opeth that hasn't already been said? They may have abandoned all traces of extreme metal years ago, but there is no denying that Opeth is one of the greatest bands of this generation and will likely be looked back upon fondly by future music historians. Sorceress is a continuation down the path Mikael Akerfeldt and company have been journeying since Heritage in 2011, and sees the band further embracing their prog roots. Aside from the title track, which features the chunkiest, heaviest riff Opeth has written in years,  Sorceress is a mystical foray into prog bliss, one that engages the senses and plays like an instant classic. I pity those who disowned Opeth after going in this bold new direction they've gone, because they're missing out on some of the greatest, most artistically pure music ever laid to tape.

katatonia_-_fall_of_hearts_-_medium_res_cover2. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts

Few artists can convey exactly what they mean to through their art as well as Katatonia can, and with each album, they manage to paint a sonic canvas that is as accessible or as deep as the listener wants it to be. The Fall of Hearts is an album that perhaps doesn't give as strong of a first impression as some of Katatonia's previous albums, but with each subsequent listen, it grabs hold of the listener tighter and tighter until becoming both irresistible and unforgettable. This is a dark and beautiful album of very powerful music in which Katatonia explores the more progressive side of their sound, but doesn't stray from the subtle nuances and compositional brilliance that make them such a special band. Few songs this year captivated me and affected me more deeply than those on The Fall of Hearts. Each Katatonia album holds a special place in my musical heart, and The Fall of Hearts is no different.

meshuggah1. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

The influence of Meshuggah on modern metal cannot be overstated. The impending release of a new album from these Swedish wizards is always an eagerly awaited event, and with The Violent Sleep of Reason, it was perhaps more anticipated than any of the band's albums before it. As expected, Meshuggah delivered, and made what I consider to be the best album of 2016. Each Meshuggah album is a different beast, a calculated aural assault on the senses, propelled by machine-like rhythmic supremacy and precise musicianship that's second to none. In the case of The Violent Sleep of Reason, Meshuggah proved that they are still indisputably the masters of what they do, and, try as they may, no band will ever top them. The fact that this album was recorded live baffles the mind, and Tue Madsen did a superb job with the production. The jagged, robotic assault of album opener "Clockworks"; the incomprehensible rhythmic syncopation of the album's title track; the suffocating atmosphere of  "Nostrum"; the colossal riffs of "Into Decay" – only the five that make up Meshuggah could pull off music of this caliber. The Violent Sleep of Reason is yet another worthy addition to the gospel of metal according to Meshuggah. Bow before the altar of Meshuggah.

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