2016 has been a shitty year overall but a great one for metal across all sub-genres. Consequently I have a list that runs the gamut from post metal to death metal, stoner rock to space thrash but is still not quite as cool as that of my esteemed peer, Cody Davis.
So though this has been a year defined by celebrity death, great orange menaces and that godawful Metallica album, there has still been a helluva lot to enjoy. 15 entries isn't nearly enough to showcase all that I've loved this year, so many of my favorite bands have done cool stuff and new ones seem to crop up. With this list I tried to showcase a nice mix of older more established acts and new bands doing cool shit but I'm aware I probably missed a ton of great stuff.
There's a lot to pick apart here but I genuinely hope you find the time to check out at least a few of these records.
15. Gygax – Critical Hits
Some of you may remember a little band called Gypsyhawk, well from the ashes of that group Gygax has formed with the addition of a member of Night Demon. Their debut, the appropriately titled Critical Hits, feels like a natural extension on the work of Gypsyhawk, which is of course always a good thing. There's a lot to dig with Critical Hits, it's a high powered rock and roll record with tons of sick guitar harmonies and a general sense of fun that will make you want to spin it time and time again. Though I'm afraid this record will fall by the wayside since it came out so early in the year I think it suggests that this band is going to go on to do some great things.
14. Cult Of Luna/Julie Christmas – Mariner
This album was a sort of combination made in heaven. It makes for a record that is, in my opinion, far superior to both that of Cult Of Luna and Julie Christmas on their own. The vast soundscapes presented here with the monochromatic assaults of Cult Of Luna contrasted with the delicate lilting magic of Julie Christmas is delicious and reminds me of bands like Subrosa. The balance of dark and light on Mariner is stunning and invites many a listen. It's hard to properly pick apart everything that was presented here, but by god am I going to keep on trying. Mariner is an album you can listen to dozens of time and still find new stuff to enjoy, I know because that's exactly what I've done.
13. Vektor – Terminal Redux
Vektor remain perpetually a decade ahead of anything else going on in thrash metal, and though there was quite a wait for this record, Terminal Redux lived up to the hype and blew all of our minds. It's an album that can't help but to excite the listener and leaves me in constant awe. The overarching story is epic and the sheer quality of the album from a song by song perspective is stunning. I will never forget riding down the I-95 in a van with the band at 2 AM and jamming this for the first time and realizing simply how above and beyond all competition Vektor are. These guys don't need to follow any of the conventional rules of the game and will continue to rock until we all just about explode.
12. Mothership – Live Over Freak Valley
I've long wished that Mothership could capture the majesty of their live performance on wax and Live Over Freak Valley does exactly that. A band who have long been known throughout the world for the quality of their shows, Live Over Freak Valley is a humble look at the band, from technical difficulties and encouraging the crowd to move up ("Butts to nuts!" is the siren cry) to righteous guitar solos and epic choruses. Mothership are a band who can't help but to excite and this record encapsulates why so many people have fallen in love with them over the last few years. So come along, spin this motherfucker of a record and join me, and countless others, on a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a trip on the ship.
11. Sylvaine – Wistful
This album really took me by surprise. I mean yeah everything Season Of Mist does as a label is usually pretty excellent, but Wistful is an album that stuck with me throughout the year. It builds on the work bands I have always loved, Alcest chief among them but adds an exciting and distinctly feminine twist. This is a record that any and every fan of post metal should be able to get behind. It focuses on being purely beautiful and means that we, as listeners find ourselves perpetually lost in its watery clutches. Wistful is a masterpiece that will encourage you to come back and slake your thirst for years.
10. The Body/Full Of Hell – One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
While Cult Of Luna and Julie Christmas may have been the match made in heaven The Body and Full Of Hell were a pairing from hell – and best of all it seems like this is only the beginning of their unholy work together. After a highly successful collaboration tour I get the impression that these bands are only going to continue their fucked up tandem journeys. One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache is an album that sounds like a Hieronymus Bosch painting and as the record unfolds you see and feel the world melting around you. It's an album that hits you with a very precise sort of evil and the shrieking demented glory of these odes to misery will leave you on the floor begging for mercy. Suffice to say – it's a good time.
9. Wrekmeister Harmonies – Light Falls
The fact that a band like Wrekmeister Harmonies could collaborate with Godspeed You! Black Emperor speaks great things about the state of the music industry today (And the quality of Wrekmeister Harmonies' management). Their record is a sort of sonic journey, with a logical and devastating climax coming after track after track of build up. The ebbing and flowing of Light Falls is mesmerizing, it's an album that you want to stay deeply invested in from start to finish and another one of those records that just has so much to offer. JR Robinson is a truly masterful arranger and Light Falls might be his strongest accomplishment to date. It shows us a band who understand the pain of modern life and who will never fail to find a way forward.
8. Downfall Of Gaia – Atrophy
With their third personell change in as many records it's kind of surprising that Downfall Of Gaia sound as good as they do – but with every new member it feels like the band moves forward into exciting new sonic territory. They are a step above almost all of their peers in the post black metal world. Michael Kadnar's drumming in particular elevates the band to a whole new level and shows us how much a strong rhythm section can elevate a black metal group. Meanwhile, this record sees an incredible development on the bands approach to guitar and the general feel on this album is far more polished than ever before. As whole, Atrophy is perhaps the bands strongest achievement to date with songs hitting like movements in a classical piece and capturing the imagination for the albums masterful 40 minute run time.
7. Gorguts – Pleiades Dust
In my opinion Pleiades Dust was exactly the album that Gorguts needed to release in 2016. In a world where far too many bands are making feeble attempts at aping the bands unique style, Luc Lemay and his merry men wiped away all competition with a colossal half hour long track that left me scraping my jaw off the floor. Pleiades Dust is the be all and end all of one song records, it makes the form as dense as it can possibly be but also opens up brave new sonic pastures, not just for Gorguts but for heavy bands in general. This is an album that could very well be seen as a turning point – and it's so thorough that I get the impression metal nerds will be trying to properly dissect it for years to come.
6. Tower – Tower
Tower is hands down the most exciting rock and roll band to come out since The Donnas. This is a band who kill it on every conceivable level, from their devastating live sets, a show which defines the term 'rock and roll party,' to their endlessly exciting music. Tower is an album that can't help but to put a smile on your face because Tower so clearly had a good time making it. Sarabeth Linden's voice resonates powerfully and sets her in a class of her own. Meanwhile the songs are brilliantly composed with epic guitar harmonies and badass solos. While they certainly hearken back to a time forgot, their unique mix of thrash metal, punk and classic rock is something that could only exist in 2016.
5. Adept – Sleepless
I know that on a list like mine that seems to focus on doom metal, post metal and good old rock and roll it's a little weird to have a straight up metalcore band, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles. I'll be the first to admit, if Adept weren't on Napalm Records I never would have heard of them, but I'm very glad I did. Sleepless is a triumphant record, with big cheesy choruses, powerful riffs and over the top arrangements. I'm fully aware of how angsty Adept can sound, but I think that they are too. It means that Sleepless is one of those records that hits you just right and makes you far too nostalgic for a time you probably regret more than you care to admit. Adept are all that metalcore can and should be, and that's both a great and a godawful thing.
4. Alcest – Kodama
Many metalheads thought that Alcest's uncharacteristically light Shelter was a misstep. It seems like they have all been won back over by the power of Kodama. An album that retains that classic Alcest polemic but also is unafraid to incorporate the influences of their peers, bands like Mono and Wolves In The Throne Room. Alcest have developed in a fresh new direction yet shown that their past is a valuable part of their sound. In the end it means that Kodama is one of the group's strongest releases ever and one that folks who simply love beautiful music will be coming back to for years to come. It's hard to stop listening to Kodama but I know that the band is able to go beyond even this.
3. Eight Bells – Landless
Eight Bells are the sort of black metal band who could take over the world. Their unique balance of multilayered female vocals with twisted growls and fierce guitar sounds is impossibly easy to get lost in. Toss in some old school prog into the sound and you start to see why Landless was so highly lauded early on. Landless hits on the first listen but the melodic content is so strong that you can't help but keep coming back. Melynda Jackson, the mastermind behind the band has a unique vision and sifting through what she has crafted here is endlessly exciting. She's an unheralded hero of our time – but it feels like after a tour with Voivod and Vektor the power of this band's music might finally be getting the attention it deserves.
2. Khemmis – Hunted
Hnnnnnngh. I listened to this record almost every day for a month when I got the promo. I texted my friend Chris about it for almost every day of that month about how fucking good this record was. It's an album I still listen to at least a few times a week, because Khemmis are that goddamn talented. Hunted hints at a breadth of sound, from the bands renown take on epic doom metal to touches of death and roll making it abundantly clear that Khemmis can do it all. They are transcendent and beautiful, crafting lyrics you can sing along to and sonic masterpieces that you just want to sit back and take in. Hunted is perhaps my most listened to record of the year and I'm not sure I will ever fully get over how fucking good it is.
1. Subrosa – For This We Fought The Battle Of The Ages
Subrosa are my favorite presently active band who aren't named Black Sabbath. At their album release show in Las Vegas I felt my hairs stand on end and goosebumps rise up on my flesh. This isn't just a band this is something more. Their ethereal violins, powerful haunting vocals and mesmerizing riffs make for music that you can't just cast aside. Subrosa is an all out sonic experience that function on every level and makes you feel alive, sometimes for the first time in years. They touch me in a way that no other band ever has and I can't help but to proselytize for them at every opportunity. With big things coming up in their future it's impossible not to be in love with For This We Fought The Battle Of The Ages. It expands their sound and shows us that they can do so much fucking more. So why even question it?