Best of 2016: Heavy Metal (Plus 2017 Chart Predictions)
If this year needed anything, it was loud and angry music, and man did we get some fantastic head-banging anthems to relieve our angst.
Of course, when you start writing about heavy metal, you know that you can’t just spend your time listening or researching mainstream radio hits. You need to delve deep into the abyss of metal subgenres and enter places you may have never heard of. In that darkness, you can find sounds like Viking Metal, Black Metal, Melodic Death Metal, Thrash Metal, Metalcore and the list goes on. There are so many subgenres of heavy metal that putting together a list of six great albums of 2016 is no easy task.
In reality, heavy metal can’t be labelled with pretentious subgenre tags anymore. I get that it’s easier to describe a band’s sound with a subgenre instead of saying that they sound like “Metallica with a mix of Cobalt and Mastodon” etc … However, far too many new bands have a variety of styles; their music can’t be labelled with any single subgenre. Heavy metal is the most specific label you can give it. But let’s not debate monikers. Let’s enjoy the music for what it is, except for maybe that Babymetal group because that K-pop sounding band is metal blasphemy.
As I continue my Best of 2016 lists (which have already covered EDM, Horror Movies, and Comic Book Adaptations), I give you six metal albums that kicked my ass this year along with new albums rumoured to be coming from the metal gods in 2017.
Of course, with the best-of portion, there will be many metalheads who jump on me for not including their favourite band. I get that Oathbreaker’s new album Rheia was great and deserves some recognition, and the new tracks from The Body’s No One Deserves Happiness were poignant and evil-sounding, but they just didn’t do it for me. And I only get to list six albums. (Yes, I set up those parameters, myself, so I could just change them. But that wouldn’t be very metal of me.)
While my best-of list obviously starts with my personal tastes, I’ve also factored in albums sales, streaming downloads, and critical response. I think it’s a nice and twisted mix.
Feel free to give me your top six in the comments!
Top 6 Metal Albums of 2016
6. Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
As I mentioned above, subgenres in metal are bit convoluted these days and it’s hard to label bands as one thing. Inter Arma’s new album, Paradise Gallows, is a perfect example of that. The band does such a great job of weaving together almost every ongoing stylistic thread in heavy metal into nine tracks. At one moment, you think you’re listening to death metal, but then they hit you with some black metal, sludge, post-rock, prog, even noise rock, and they make it all their own. This is one of those albums you can loop in your headphones while working or laying on the couch chilling out because it’s an absolute trip. It’s a true metal journey and that’s why it comes out of nowhere and makes it into my top six.
5. Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
Some of you will giggle when you hear the subgenre “Viking Metal” but rest assured it’s not just songs about the days of yore. When done right, Viking Metal is about kicking ass and taking names. The Jarls of this genre is Swedish band Amon Amarth who have developed a recognizable sound over their long career. Their songs are actually stories and the new album Jomsviking has a lyrical plot line about love, murder, and revenge. One of the best things Amon Amarth did was hook up with producer Andy Sneap who has smoothed the rough edges around the band’s rawness. They have produced ten studio albums but Jomsviking is one of the best. It has a nice blend of heavy guitar riffs and melodic moments mixed with some in-your-face intensity from lead singer Johan Hegg. This album surprised me and I listen to it on repeat now.
4. Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us
Some metal bands are known for long, drawn out songs. Nails’ You Will Never Be One of Us is at the opposite end of the spectrum, giving us short and violent fits. Sure, it’s only 21 minutes long, but man, that’s 21 minutes of pure rage. It’s music for when you look at life and see little hope, for when you’re feeling bitter, angry, and alone in the face of chaos. Vocalist Todd Jones has always made it his mission to “cause us pain” and that mantra is present in the album, which is chalk full of mosh pit anthems that are meant for working out, smashing things to pieces, or listening to when the kids aren’t in the car. Each song is built with blasts of distortion, familiarity with double kick drums, and of course Todd Jones’ shredding growls. Who better to sing a song called “Life Is a Death Sentence” than Nails? Everyone needs a little anger in their music collection.
3. Gojira – Magma
I’ll admit it. I’m a Gojira fan, so maybe they make the list due to favouritism. Oh and maybe because they also had one of the top-selling metal albums of 2016. Gojira’s Magma stays true to what the band has always been. It’s faster and more complicated than the majority of new sounds coming into the genre. But what people forget is that their music is smart and catchy, too. There is a reason they sell out stadiums and move huge numbers of records; their metal is angry yet accessible. Magma is not a love story, or an ode to anything but anger. Gojira are pissed off at the world and they let you know it. Enjoy the ten tasty tracks and remind yourself why this band is considered among the elite of metal gods.
2. Astronoid – Air
Astronoid loves to shred but in a very atmospheric, hypnagogic daze. This Massachusetts band has taken the genre to new heights with its debut LP, Air, which is the perfect name given that it has a touch of ambient with heavy riffs and dreamlike vocals. The vocals are clean and textured with rich harmonies that will take you away to the metal clouds. I won’t try to classify this album as anything but great. Some metal purists might crap on it, but this is the type of music that the genre needs, in my view. It’s a compelling listen by a band that’s not just retooling the metal genre, but making wholesale changes. This is one of the best albums of 2016. An absolute triumph. Keep an eye on Astronoid as they blow up in the year(s) to come.
1. Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct
How can I not include the thrash metal Gods new album on the list? Many might poo-poo the idea of Metallica being metal and might groan about the band being nothing more than shills for the corporate rock scene. But trust me, their new album is an ode to their metal roots. It’s arguably their best album since The Black Album.
I get it, they haven’t had the greatest “winning streak” when it comes to producing great metal albums. But 20 years later, we now have a Metallica album we can be proud of. This two-disc collection takes us back to the days of thrash metal’s primordial period when Metallica became something. It’s impulsive, unpredictable and, like Death Magnetic, the band actually makes a real effort to return to its roots. The only difference is that, this time, Metallica seems like they are being genuine and – dare I say it – having fun?
Metal Albums Coming Soon and Odds They Chart in 2017
Below we look at metal artists who are rumoured to be releasing new albums next year and the odds they chart on Billboard’s Top 200 for 2017. To be fair, most of these bands have a hardcore underground following so even coming close to charting will be tough. But metal fans will love them regardless.
Once again Tool makes the list because every year they tease us with the possibility of a new record, which at this point better be 50 tracks long and sung by angels of death. Apparently people need a decade to make new music nowadays. No Maynard, making new music is not like making a fine wine that needs to age for 10 years.
The list below is subject to change as more information and details roll in.
- Tool: TBA (Who knows when this is happening, but when it does it will dominate all charts): 1/49
- System of a Down: TBA: 1/3
- Marilyn Manson: Say10 (working title) – summer 2017: 2/3
- Judas Priest: TBA: 1/1
- Bullet For My Valentine: TBA: 3/2
- Ghost: TBA: 3/2
- Miss May: TBA: 3/2
- Black Veil Brides: TBA – fall 2017: 2/1
- Mastodon: TBA: 2/1
- Suicide Silence: Suicide Silence – early 2017: 3/1
- We Came as Romans: TBA: 3/1
- August Burns Red: TBA: 3/1
- Kreator: Gods of Violence – January 27th, 2017: 10/1
- New Years Day: TBA – summer 2017: 10/1
- All That Remains: TBA: 15/1
- Sepultura: Machine Messiah – January 13, 2017: 15/1
- Overkill: The Grinding Wheel – February 10th, 2017: 25/1
- Rings of Saturn: TBA: 25/1
- Motionless in White: Graveyard Shift – winter 2017: 30/1
- Wage War: TBA: 35/1
- Ice Nine Kills: TBA – winter 2017: 35/1
- A Lot Like Birds: TBA – spring 2017: 40/1
- Silverstein: TBA: 40/1
- Volumes: Different Animals – February 2017: 50/1
- Behemoth: TBA: 50/1
- Carcass: TBA: 50/1
Feature Photo Credit: By Kreepin Deth (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons