Outside of everything that happened in 2016, I found it to be a very interesting year for music. A chunk of bands I expected to release albums I would love didn't, and were surpassed by bands I'd either never heard of or never paid much attention to. Not to say those bands won't rise again when it comes to my own personal tastes, but as a whole I envisioned this list going much differently within the first few months of the year.
Don't view this list as one ranked from best to worst, but as one that showcases the 15 albums I'll likely be listening to over the next few years, from least to most frequent. Of course, "least" still being a ton of listens.
Now that the arduous task of ordering these album is over and a brief introduction you may or may not have read has been penned, here are my favorite albums of 2016.
15. Caricature – Unborn
Caricature is one of those bands I'm still patiently waiting to take off, and Unborn just might be the EP to do it. The EP spans the spectrum of rock and metal – from the bright skies of "Spark" to the absolute mayhem of "End Of Two Worlds" – meaning there's seriously something here for everyone. Not to mention it's a great gateway to the band/project's older and more expansive/experimental material.
Plus, I still think vocalist Joseph Spiller has one of the most unique voices in all of metal. Dude's got his own style and there doesn't seem to be much else that he's interested in being other than himself.
14. After The Burial – Dig Deep
What a hell of a record to have to write. After the tragic passing of guitarist Justin Lowe in 2015, After The Burial returns with a great album that also doubles as a fitting tribute to their lost bandmate.
Dig Deep is loaded with riffs that sound like much evolved versions of what you'd expect from Rareform, yet the band takes such a massive leap forward withDig Deep that it's still difficult to truly compare it to past works. There's thrash in there, there's tons of death metal influences, especially with the drums, and the leads might just give you callouses after a few listens.
Dig Deep is After The Burial at its best, sorrowful as it may be.
13. Panopticon/Waldgeflüster – Split
The Panopticon/Waldgeflüster split clocked in at about 33 minutes and consistently showcased more talent in four songs than some bands are capable of producing throughout an entire career. Each side consists of two songs from one of the two bands, who each contributed one heavier composition and one acoustic/folk composition.
One of my favorite things about the split is that the heavy compositions and the folkier compositions blend so well together, yet really have nothing to do with each. It's not some folky metal ballad as a b-side to each heavier track, but a genuine, heartfelt song played with nothing more than acoustic instruments and some ambient effects that stands on its own completely.
12. Mist Of Misery – Absence
The first single I heard off Absence made me think Mist Of Misery was going the route of a scaled-down orchestral black metal band, which would've been fine. Instead, Absence showcases a band that blends folk metal a la the grandeur of Wintersun, epic themes akin to what Borknagar has been up to, and genuinely interesting melodies that set each song apart from the last.
It's also worth noting that this is Mist Of Misery's debut full length album. So with a start like this, who the hell knows where they'll be in the next few years?
11. Lillake – Become
Ever since we first started posting about Lillake, the band founded by ex-Suicidal Tendencies guitarist/vocalist Nico Santora, I knew we were on to something special. The band's lineup was rounded out by drummer Eric Moore (ex-Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves) and bassist Evan Brewer (ex-The Faceless, Entheos), which is a hell of rhythm section, and together they crafted an album that I really can't jam into a genre.
Some of Become is straight up thrash, while other tracks are mournful progressive metal that border on the hypnotic with their repetitious riffs. Whatever you want to call it, it's a flawless debut from a band that has a bright, bright future.
10. Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner
Prior to this release, I never took much of a listen to what Cult Of Luna was doing, and I sure didn't know who the hell Julie Christmas was. Now with the release of Mariner, I'm much more familiar with the two artists, mainly because I felt obligated to do so after hearing such an original album.
Mariner captures an oceanic feel to its music perfectly with its use of keyboards, and even nails down the tumbling of waves the its percussion. Then there's Christmas' delivery of her well-written, storytelling lyrics, and at that point it's basically impossible to do anything but fall in love and listen to/lost yourself the album multiple times.
9. Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
The duo of vocalist, keyboardist, and drummer Dan Swanö (ex-Edge Of Sanity, ex-Bloodbath, etc.) and guitarist and bassist Ragnar Widerberg (Shadowquest, Witchcraft) cannot be stopped. Witherscape debuted in 2013 with its incredible The Inheritance album, and this year dropped the damn near classic progressive metal masterpiece, The Northern Sanctuary.
From singable choruses to extremely dark and heavy moments, The Northern Sanctuary is an adventure that really ought to be undertaken by any fan of bands like Opeth, November's Doom, or Swallow The Sun. That, or if you just need reassurance that Swanö is one of the best vocalists in metal.
8. Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Katatonia's career trajectory over the past few years has been interesting. From a less heavy and more somber album in 2012, to acoustic and orchestral renditions of the same album in 2013, to acoustic and orchestral renditions of its whole discography via a live album in 2015, you'd expect The Fall of Hearts to be pretty much an acoustic guitar, a cello, and short stories that rip your heart out.
Instead, The Fall Of Hearts, is heavy, gorgeous, extremely varied, somber with tons of nuance, and will probably be viewed as a game changing landmark within the progressive metal world for years to come. Katatonia took the standard songwriting book and instrumentation guide to progressive metal, threw it out the window, and rewrote the whole thing about 100 times better than it's ever been before.
7. Insomnium – Winter's Gate
Insomnium's albums have always been incredibly coherent. The introductory track generally sets up the mood for the rest of the album, and the ensuing songs generally follow suit and elaborate on that mood. So it makes sense that Insomnium took the step into releasing an album that's just one giant song, right?
Winter's Gate is actually a short story with the album written as its soundtrack, and what a soundtrack it is. There's not a second within Winter's Gate that I felt was overblown or unnecessary, or even a little frilly compared to the meat and potatoes of the track/album. Front to back, Winter's Gate is a chilly tale that takes you to white lands unknown if you'd only close your eyes for just a second.
6. Sumac – What One Becomes
Fuckin' Aaron Turner, man. The dude was in Isis, Isis made undeniably perfect music, and ever since then, Turner has been carrying on his tendencies to be great elsewhere. Armed with a rhythm section consisting of drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) and Brian Cook (Botch), Sumac produces long compositions that rarely repeat themselves and never once even appear to consider having a hook.
Instead, Sumac concentrates on atmosphere, movements, and the power of a singular rhythm, riff, or even note, to build up a song just enough that it can safely and logically succumb to its own weight. Then the process starts all over again, and by the end of What One Becomes, I guarantee you're looking to hear it all over again to truly digest what you just heard.
5. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Coming into this album, I genuinely thought I knew what to expect. Meshuggah would put out another very Meshuggah-esque album, there'd be some great riffs and rhythms, and I'd have some excellent car and gym jams for years to come. Instead, I heard The Violent Sleep Of Reason and my head exploded.
The Violent Sleep Of Reason is the culmination of everything Meshuggah has ever done up to this point, expertly summarized into one album that puts its wanna-bes to absolute shame and truly plays like an album. There's some Metallica-ish thrash in there, courtesy of extremely early Meshuggah (Psykisk Testbild, y'all), all the way up to the band's modern dizzying rhythms. There are frankly fucked up guitar solos, drumming that just isn't human, and a very feral sounding Jens Kidman fronting a band that's very clearly in a class all by itself.
4. Haken – Affinity
At this point, I'm not sure Haken is capable of writing music that isn't an instant classic. Affinity pushes aside the more straightforward progressive rock Haken put out with Visions, and elaborates more on its electronica elements and thematic structuring that it showcased on 2013's The Mountain. Haken also brings back the death growls briefly on the track "The Architect," though they're handled by Einar Solberg of Leprous.
Affinity explores the ideas of AI, travel among the stars, and the idea that we're likely not alone in the universe. The end result is an album that evokes 1980s montage music, the advent of technologies and their advancements over the ages, and of course, ridiculous musicianship that's just so damn tastefully performed and expertly written.
3. God Body Disconnect – Dredge Portals
God Body Disconnect's Dredge Portals cannot truly be defined as metal, but as a dark ambient work of art. Though with more and more black metal utilizing dark ambient passages, and the fact that God Body Disconnect's subject matter is genuinely darker and more horrifying than some fictitious demon or murder, I feel 100% safe putting Dredge Portals this high on my list.
Dredge Portals deals with a man in a coma who confronts his inner demons, which is a theme explored both musically and through narrative. Bruce Moallam, who you might know from NJ death metal unit Dripping, does an unbelievable job evoking abstract horror and helplessness through field records and sparse music, creating an album arguably "heavier" and more terrifying than some metal offerings.
2. Khemmis – Hunted
I've seen this album all over the place in year end lists, and I know that plenty of our writers also have it in theirs. So it is just some mediocre album that's getting overhyped? Hell no. Hunted is an instant classic that you'd be a fool to dislike.
Khemmis entered the scene in 2015 with its debut album Absolution, and it was a pretty solid effort. Clearly between then and Hunted, Khemmis took up studying how to write the perfect chorus for every single song, what are the most scientifically memorable dual guitar leads, and painstakingly went over every minute of every song (all of which are 7+ minutes) until they were sure that there wasn't even a half of a second of boring music in there.
#1. Vektor – Terminal Redux
Vektor's Terminal Redux came out in May, and I'm not sure there's a week that goes by where I don't listen to it. Terminal Redux is inherently a thrash record, though there's so many progressive elements and extraneous influences going on throughout its runtime that I truly cannot understand how people aren't at least admitting how objectively fantastic it is.
From the militaristic opening of "Charging The Void" to the space horrors of "LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)," from the infinite emptiness of the semi-ballad "Collapse" to the ultimate triumph of "Recharging The Void," Terminal Redux has floored me.
Themes come and go, riffs swirl and dazzle, leads tear whizz by as if they were comets, and in the end, Vektor has crafted its mark among the proverbial metal (and sci-fi) stars.