It was a tough year to hone down the music to twenty of the best, because while almost everything else seemed to fall to pieces in 2016, the amount of excellent music that was produced was nothing short of astonishing. Still, we managed to come up with a list of 20 that’s sure to please no one except us, and we’re not even sure. One thing is for sure though – this was a helluva year for tunes.
Before the 20 that made it, a few that just missed out:
AIRBOURNE: Breakin’ Outta Hell
KORN: The Serenity of Suffering
DARKTHRONE: Arctic Thunder
12 FOOT NINJA: Outlier
And the ones that made it:
#20. THE BLACK QUEEN: Fever Daydream
The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato showed the world a different side of his persona with his debut from The Black Queen. Far from the manic mathcore angst of Dillinger, Fever Daydream presented industrial electronica with a warm familiarity that derived as much from Nine Inch Nails as it did 80s giants like Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode.
#19. ALTER BRIDGE: The Last Hero
Overwrought it may be, but Alter Bridge’s fourth album ticked all the right boxes when it came to heavy, soaring arena rock. A surprisingly potent statement about the current global political environment The Last Hero offered up one glorious riff-fest after another, crowned with some of the best rock guitar soloing of the year.
#18. MESHIAAK: Alliance of Thieves
2016 was a solid year for thrash metal releases, and Meshiaak weren’t about to be intimidated by the big guns, unleashing a formidable album of their own. Alliance of Thieves is crammed wall to wall with solid, aggressive groove-heavy thrash, an album of solid metal gems that just seem to get better with every listen.
#17. DESTRÖYER 666: Wildfire
It was a long time between drinks for D666, but early in the year Keith and the lads came back with a vengeance. Wildfire contains some of the most savage thrash metal ever put down, a furious, blood-splattering rampage of caustic vocals and violent riffs combined with a dark and unsettling atmosphere and some insidious melodies that only deepen the viciousness of the attack. A brutal and uncompromising album of pure unadulterated metal violence.
#16. KVELERTAK: Nattersferd
After two neck-breaking albums of insane black n roll, Kvelertak took their foot off the accerlerator for their third effort, and it worked. Simultaneously progressive, punk rock, black metal, NWOBHM (check out “1985”), accessible and off-the-hook, Nattersferd showed Kvelertak to be more than one-trick ponies and possibly only one album away from their true meisterwerk.
#15. NAILS: You Will Never Be One of Us
Nails showed that it was somehow possible to take one of the most extreme forms of music and push it even further. You Will Never Be One of Us is so intense it’s virtually a definition of the word: 22 minutes of crushing, relentless musical pulverisation that stands against falsehoods, fools and liars.
#14. METALLICA: Hardwired… to Self Destruct
The grand old masters have made many missteps over the last couple of decades, but Hardwired… proved that when they really want to, they still mean business. This was Metallica apparently wiping away twenty years of disasters, an unabashed attempt at returning to the glories of the past that almost completely succeeds.
#13. DEATH ANGEL: The Evil Divide
In a year that spawned a flurry of great thrash metal releases, 30-year veterans Death Angel still managed to show everyone how it was done. With nothing to prove to anyone but themselves, eight album The Evil Divide is a malevolent, neck-snapping onslaught of guitar shred-ridden old school thrash metal the way it was meant to be made.
#12. INVERLOCH: Distance|Collapsed
With monolithic, glacial riffs that suddenly churn with grind-like intensity, Distance|Collapsed rolled across the doom landscape like some crawling, nebulous horror. Inverloch created an atmosphere of disturbing unease on a slab of an album that recalls the past of its members and points to a new direction of eerie and haunting doom.
#11. DREADNAUGHT: Caught the Vultures Sleeping
More than 20 years into their career and Dreadnaught still haven’t lost their edge. Caught the Vultures Sleeping continues the band’s run of incredible work, dark, moody and explosive heavy metal played in a style and fashion that is theirs alone, showing why the Dreadnaught name is synonymous with quality and class.
#10. BLUES PILLS: Lady in Gold
Blues Pills left most of the heavy rocking guitar histrionics behind them on Lady in Gold, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t excellent. Infused with soul and Gospel, Lady in Gold turned the spotlight on the dynamic vocals of Elin Larson and long bouts of psychedelia that further enhance this band’s reputation as one of the best undiscovered rock acts going around.
#9. KATATONIA: The Fall of Hearts
Once again Katatonia proved themselves to be the masters of dark melancholy with The Fall of Hearts, the latest in a consistent arc of near-perfect releases from one of Sweden’s best ever bands. This was a more nuanced album, with more confident use of keys and synths and arabesque melodies that further enhance Katatonia’s already dark atmosphere. Another masterpiece.
#8. BE’LAKOR: Vessels
Melbourne death-proggers Be’lakor’s fourth album is a breathtaking excursion into existentialism, an album that ebbs and flows with time-signature changes and sweeping arrangements. Combining atmospheric synths, acoustics, grooves groove and dark ambience across its remarkable story arc, Vessels is progressive death metal at its best.
#7. MESHUGGAH: The Violent Sleep of Reason
Meshuggah don’t have to do much with what they do to make great albums. On The Violent Sleep of Reason they merely added a smidgen of groove and a whiff of thrash to their jackhammer riff intricacies as they laid it all down live in the studio to once again serve up an album of almost insurmountable dissonance that will set the standard for years to come.
#6. FALLUJAH: Dreamless
Dreamless is both more focused and more experimental than their 2014 breakthrough, crossing genre-boundaries between jazz and electronica like they don’t exist. Deeply layered and labyrinthine, Fallujah played every trick at their disposal – female vocals, drum and bass syncopation, acoustics, jazz signatures – to create one of the most innovative metal albums in a very long time.
#5. DEFTONES: Gore
Yet again, Deftones strike an astonishing balance between violence and beauty and come up with something truly special. The dichotomy of savagery and fragility has long been part of the band’s ethos, and Gore nails every aspect of their style while also incorporating flourishes of classic 80s metal and sonic experimentation. Gore is the Deftones at the peak of their craft.
#4. GOJIRA: Magma
Gojira stripped back their sound to a kind of minimalistic, minor key drone on Magma and created perhaps their finest musical statement to date. Inspired, like so much music this year, by personal loss and grief, Magma exposed a different side to the French band that confirmed them as one of the great talents of modern metal.
#3. OPETH: Sorceress
Opeth finally threw off the shackles of their death metal past and at last fully embraced the 70s prog rock that has been their muse for the last three albums at least. Marrying their influences with their own well-established expansive style, Sorceress is the ultimate statement of Opeth’s creativity to date.
#2. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS: Skeleton Tree
Sorry metalheads, but the top two on our list this year come from artists well outside the genre, with works that transcend musical categorisation. Skeleton Tree is a harrowing journey into the long dark night of one man’s soul. It calls to us because it’s a place we all must go, but never want to visit. Informed by the grief of devastating loss with only the merest hint of hope, Skeleton Tree is a stark vision of dark, humbling beauty.
#1. DAVID BOWIE: Blackstar
Few people get to write their own epitaph, but there’s never been anyone like David Bowie. The brooding, jazz-inflected Blackstar is Bowie’s farewell to a world where he had played a major role in every theatre of art, performance and fashion for more than 40 years. Blackstar is the final, surprising statement from one of the greatest talents of all time.