I think it goes without saying that 2016 was a shitty year for the music world, not to mention the world in general. Lemmy Kilmister , the Platonic ideal of the hard living rock 'n' roller, shuffled loose this mortal coil on December 28th, 2015 and the deaths haven't stopped since. David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Jimmy Bain, Nick Menza and so many others have died this year, and the combined creative loss is unfathomable. Aside from deaths in the entertainment industry, here in the United States our increasingly militarized police force continues to execute black citizens with few repercussions, oil companies are using these same police forces to terrorize Native American protesters in North Dakota who are trying to protect their own water supply, the worst mass shooting in our nation's history took the lives of 49 people in a Florida night club and, oh yeah, millions of our citizens just elected a thin skinned, emotionally unstable, reality show authoritarian to one of the most powerful positions in the world. So things are going great here. Let's not even get into the Brexit vote and the escalating geopolitical tensions all over the world. So, we're all doomed, right? Actually, the world is getting progressively better as more people become more free every day. If we can avoid nuclear holocaust or environmental catastrophes, the human race might be alright.
It's not always easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel, though. I found myself gravitating to more escapist forms of heavy metal instead of bleak black metal and gruesome death metal in 2016. I mean, I still listened to a ton of extreme metal this year, but much of what connected with me was lighthearted, fun or, at the very least, somewhat uplifting. Maybe it's just me, but Scandinavian dudes screeching about Satan and EC Comics-style evil looses a lot of charm when a narcissistic buffoon and his cadre of corporate goons and right-wing extremists are gearing up to crash the United States into the side of a mountain. That's enough social commentary, though. Let's get to the real reason you're here: The metal! Below you'll find a list of 15 of my favorite albums of 2016. These records aren't arranged in any particular order save for my number one pick which is an album that I've been listening to regularly since it was released a couple months ago. I hope you find some new music to love and I look forward to commenters telling me a completely subjective list of music is wrong because it doesn't include Vector/Meshuggah/Gojira/Cobalt/Your friend's mediocre melodic death metal band.
15. Eight Bells – Landless
Hundreds of heavy metal albums get released each year so it's easy to lose track of records from the first few months of the year. Landless from Eight Bells was released in February, but it's so good that it's stayed with me throughout the year. For their sophomore album, the Portland act is joined by Immortal Bird's Rae Amitay on drums and the trio crafts a moody conglomeration of doom, black metal and psychedelic rock that will lull you into a trance before repeatedly punching you in the face.
14. Mesarthim – .- -… … . -. -.-. .
Australia's Mesarthim has been putting out gloriously weird cosmic black metal since July of 2015. This one-man project started out combining depressive suicidal black metal with ambient electronica and the results were similar to fellow Aussie one-man black metal project Germ. In the past year and a half Mesarthim has released a full length album, two EPs and a single leading up to the August's .- -… … . -. -.-. . which represents a creative leap forward. I enjoy all of Mesarthim's music but there was always something disjointed about it. The electronica elements didn't quite mesh with the black metal songs they were a part of. But on this new album, the synthesizers aren't front and center and I think the music is better for it. I'm really looking foreword to what Mesarthim has in store for us next.
13. Anagnorisis – Peripeteia
Peripeteia is Anagnorisis's follow-up to their 2013 album Beyond All Light. Peripeteia is a concept record that deals with vocalist Zachary Kerr's troubled childhood and it's one of the most emotionally taxing metal albums I've experienced in a long time. Aside from being emotionally crushing, this is also one hell of a black metal album. The songs have riffs for days and the music is incredible evocative.
12. Bethlehem – Bethlehem
Germany's Bethlehem just released their 8th full length album and it features vocals from Onielar of Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. Bethlehem marks a return to the band's 90s sound and Onielar's vocals are as unhinged as the experimental blackened thrash that assaults you from the moment the album begins. This is truly unsettling music but it's still a blast to listen to.
11. Blood Incantation – Starspawn
Blood Incantation's first full length album is an exercise in death metal that's pummeling, concise and progressive. The opening track of Starspawn is a whopping 13 minutes long, but the rest of the album cruises by at a nice pace. The entire affair clocks in at only around 35 minutes, but you'll feel like you were run through a meat grinder by the end, none the less.
10. Lotus Thief – Gramarye
Like Eight Bells, Lotus Thief is a West Coast band that fuses multiple styles of rock and metal into a coherent whole. Gramarye, the band's second album, is a combination of doom metal, space rock, post-rock, black metal and a smidgen of ambient electronica. It seems like a heroic feet to craft a listenable album out of all that musical cross-pollination, but Lotus Thief have created one of the best albums of the year. Gramarye is a legitimately stunning album.
The self-titled debut from Sumerlands is one of the more pleasant surprises of 2016. The band shares two members with Eternal Champion (Arthur Rizk and John Powers) and there are definite musical similarities, but their are also enough differences to allow each band to stand on its own. While the influence of Manila Road is apparent in both groups, Eternal Champion is the faster and more aggressive of the two. Sumerlands takes a more measured approach to songwriting and there seem to shades of early Van Halen here and there, too.
8. Tyfon's Doom
– Yeth Hound EP/2015 Demo
Tyfon's Doom is the brainchild of a Finnish man named Tommi Varsala and his debut EP, Yeth Hound, is one of the strongest collections of traditional heavy metal anthems that I've heard in a very long time. Earlier this year, Gates of Hell Records released CD and LP versions of Yeth Hound that include all of the songs from a demo Varsala recorded in 2015 and the collection is an album's worth of stadium-ready riffs and choruses. The music of Tyfon's Doom is rough around the edges but that only adds to the charm. This guy is the real deal and I guarantee fans of old school heavy metal will love Yeth Hound.
7. Imperium Dekadenz – Dis Manibvs
Germany's Imperium Dekadenz are one of the most under-appreciated black metal bands in the scene today. They've been releasing albums since 2006 and really hit their stride with 2010's Procella Vadens. On the band's latest effort, Dis Manibvs, they manage to craft an album full of atmospheric black metal that's grandiose and cinematic without resorting to corny orchestration. This isn't trve kvlt black metal and scowling purists will likely take issue with the major chord riffing and post-rock elements, but metal fans who don't mind a bit of sunlight breaking through the gray skies will find a lot to like on Dis Manibvs.
6. Waldgefluster – Ruinen
Like Imperium Dekadenz, Waldgefluster is a German black metal band that relies heavily on atmosphere and post-rock elements to create music that can almost be described as uplifting. But, unlike Imperium Dekadenz, Waldgefluster incorporate folk rock into their music which lends Ruinen a pastoral vibe that distinguishes it from Dis Manibvs's sense of cosmic awe. Waldgefluster also utilizes clean singing throughout Ruinen to break up the monotony of harsh vocals. The interplay between different vocal styles lends more personality to the music and prevents the listener from falling into a growly rut. If there's one major criticism that can be leveled at Ruinen, it's that the album is really long. At over an hour, this is a listening experience that demands a time investment. But it's well worth the time to take this album in.
5. Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law
The Whole of the Law is Anaal Nathrakh's best album since In the Constellation of the Black Widow. The album combines the cacaphonic fury of the band's early work with their more restrained later material. The result is 11 tracks of black noise intermingled with some of the catchiest riffs of Anaal Nathrakh has ever written.
4. Gatecreeper – Sonoran Depravation
Sonoran Depravation is almost certainly going to be an album that shows up on most people's Best of 2016 list – and rightfully so. It's hard charging death metal with a heavy dose of hardcore thrown in for good measure. There are no fancy production techniques to distract listeners from the relentless pummeling Gatecreeper delivers over the course of the albums brief 33 minute run time. It's true that Gatecreeper isn't reinventing the wheel on Sonoran Depravation, but if you're in the mood for ignorant death metal that will pulverize you with riffs, then this album should be your go-to.
3. Helion Prime – Helion Prime
There was a veritable landslide of high-profile power metal bands that released albums in 2016. Avantasia, Sabaton, HammerFall, Iron Savior, Civil War, Running Wild and Freedom Call all released good records this year, but none of this material rose to greatness. None of these records were as bad as the band's worst effort nor were they as good as their best. But that doesn't mean 2016 was devoid of excellent power metal. Sacramento, California's Helion Prime came out of nowhere with a debut album that's not just great for a first effort, but great for a heavy metal album, period. Their self-titled debut is jammed with catchy songs, soaring guitar solos and energetic vocals that sound earnest without crossing over into melodrama. Helion Prime is one of the few albums I've returned to over and over again throughout 2016 whenever I want metal that's upbeat and fun.
2. Ghoul – Dungeon Bastards
Lots of people write Ghoul off as a GWAR clone, but that's only because those people are lazy dorks. Aside from the costumes and stage show, there's very little similarity between the cretins from Creepsylvania and everyone's favorite scumdogs. Ghoul has always been a crossover thrash band a heart, albeit one with death metal tendencies, but on Dungeon Bastards they bring the theatricality of their stage show to their recorded work and the result is the best album of their career. Dungeon Bastards deserves a spot on this list for "Ghoulunatics" alone. And did I mention the physical copies of the album comes with a full size Dungeon Bastards board game?
1. Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire
Eternal Champion's debut is exactly what a heavy metal album should be. Full stop. It's loaded with infectious riffs and bad-ass swords and sorcery lyrics. This is music you put on when you want to fight dragons or battle an evil wizard. This is heavy metal to steel your resolve as you ready yourself for the final battle. It's unpretentious, straight-forward metal that hearkens back to a time before the labyrinth of sub-genres fans have to navigate in the 21st century. The entire album is great but "The Armor of Ire" could easily be one of the best heavy metal tracks of the last decade. It's definitely my favorite metal song of 2016 on the best album of 2016.