In the modern day and age, it has become nearly impossible to list the “top” releases of the year. With bands around the world at your finger-tips, one has access to more music than one could give an ear to in a year. This has led to shorter attention spans, and a near death of the “big band” era. Has this depreciated the value associated with the art of music? The question is debatable, on one side it has led to decline in album sales, as people stick to singles streamed of the internet (not accounting the growth of illegal downloads). While on the other hand, good bands are getting an opportunity to a much wider audience than ever before.
It’s just that over the course of the year, it was the 25 albums listed below I found myself going back to the most.
2016 was like any other year a mixed bag, when it came to music, some fantastic releases from new bands, some “big” names disappointing, while others standing true to their legacy. With all these thoughts rumbling in the backside of my brain, I sat down to list my TOP 10 releases of 2016. After a few lists, scratched off names, I ended up with nearly 50 albums I considered to be my TOP 10! The reason being, that beyond a point it becomes nearly impossible to compare two albums from different sub-genre. Hence what follows is a mixed bag. Without any further ado, I list my most-probable Top 25 Albums of 2016. I call it most probable because, there is a nearly equally long list of nearly equally well deserving titles. It’s just that over the course of the year, it was the 25 albums listed below, I found myself going back to the most.
25. Year of The Cobra – In the Shadows Below
Year of Cobra are a fairly new two-piece act having come together only in 2015. The 2016 release ‘In The Shadows Below’ is the debut offering from the duo, offering 43 minutes of pure fuzzed out stoner rock/doom. With the vocals being accompanied with just bassist/vocalist Amy Barrysmith’s bass lines and drummer Jon Barrysmith’s chops, the album creates something absolutely electrifying. Without a doubt, one of 2016’s finest debuts.
24. Naðra – Allir Vegir Til Glötunar
Iceland and metal seems to be a combination, that is bringing out some of the most creative albums over the years. Naðra continue that tradition, with their debut ‘Allir Vegir Til Glötunar’. With members hailing from bands like Skáphe, Carpe Noctem and Misþyrming, the music here is raw and beautiful. The guttural cries, along with the drowning riffs create a glorious soundscape second to none. Over multiple listens, the softer elements of the music come to the fore, making the record feel almost poetic.
23. Beastwars – The Death of All Things
Beastwars from New Zealand play a mix of heavy-sludge metal, that has one drowning in the riffs from the go. After two fantastic full length releases, 2016 saw the band finish the trilogy with ‘The Death of All Things’. With a no-nonsense approach, the band sticks to creating thunderous, earth shaking tracks that are bound to hypnotise one and all. Matt Hyde leads the pack, with his fierce screams, shouting out to the whole of mankind. While the band has gone into a Sleep (hibernation) mode post release, they have left behind a solid slab of sludge-fest for the masses to consume. If you enjoy Mastodon, High on Fire, Crowbar, etc, this one is right up your alley.
22. Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon
Moon Tooth have probably released one of the most fun filled records you will come across in 2016. Their new album ‘Chromaparagon’ is oozing with chunky riffs, virtuoso leads, and energy filled vocals that are bound to put you in a crazy trance. Over the 12 songs the band brings in a total mix of stoner and prog rock, resulting in one high octane album! If you like anything ranging from Rush to Mastodon to Sikth, chances are you will enjoy this one quite a bit. Do I need to go on further?
21. Harakiri for the Sky – III: Trauma
In the past 5 years, Harakari for the Sky have established themselves as a well-known name in the post black metal community. 2016 saw them release their highly anticipated third full length ‘III: Trauma’. It is safe to say, that the band truly gave all they had on this record, as there is a significant improvement on every level compared to the previous works. The band still sticks to their old principles, delivering depressive lyrics lead by some clean melodic riffs, resulting in some beautifully crafted songs. One of the best post black metal record of the year!
20. Oathbreaker – Rheia
The Belgian act of Oathbreaker have been around for a decade, but have come under the spotlight only in 2016 after the release of ‘Rheia’. The band plays an interesting mix of hardcore and black metal, that is bound to hit the listener hard and knock them off their feet. The real beauty of the record lies in the powerful vocal chords of Caro Tanghe, as she brings in a rich array of sounds to the forefront. There are fantastic moments woven into the structure of each and every song, making the album as a whole a fantastic sonic journey.
19. Perturbator – The Uncanny Valley
Synthwave has exploded has a genre in 2016, partly thanks to the nostalgia brought on by Stranger Things. What is further surprising is the appeal certain acts have found in the metal community, leading the pack is James Kent, better known as Perturbator. 2016 saw the release of his fourth full length ‘The Uncanny Valley’. The darker synth melodies on this record, create a fantastic dark and heavy atmosphere that is bound to get even the elitist metal-head tapping their feet.
18. Tyfon’s Doom – Yeth Hound
Tyfon’s Doom is a Finnish one man project, composing traditional 80’s heavy metal music. There has been a real dearth of traditional acts in the metal scene in the recent years, and Tyfon’s Doom helps keep that fire of the 80s-sound burning with ‘Yeth Hound’. Pure old school music, a mix of the early thrash sounds with the guitar riffs of the NWOBHM era. While its raw and un-polished production may put off some people, its exactly that nostalgic charm that helps this debut EP stand out. Must listen.
17. Void Omnia – Dying Light
Californian band Void Omnia released what is probably one of the finest black metal album to have come out this year in their debut album ‘Dying Light’. The music on display is fast, aggressive and completely raw, stripped to the very basics. The sound being a mix of inspirations, ranging from the 90s second wave black metal to the modern atmospheric black metal. The vocals do add a slight post-rock component to the overall drive of the song structures, giving the album a different edge. Being backed with some strong song-structures and near perfect production, this album really stands out from the crowd. Highly recommended.
16. Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika
They say music transcends all barriers and regional boundaries. In the realm of metal, one would not find a better example than Moonsorrow in that regard. The band makes 15 min+ tracks in the modern age, and sings in Finnish, but is still well acclaimed worldwide. Their latest release ‘Jumalten Aika’ sees them deliver another fantastic 67-minute-long gloomy pagan-black metal record. What helps the album stand apart from their earlier works, is the vigor and energy put into the more folksy side of the sound. Listening to the entire record, feels like setting off to a journey into the unknown.
Listen to ‘Suden Tunti‘ from the album HERE.
15. High Spirits – Motivator
One of the late entries on to the list, High Spirits is everything I want and expect from classic old rock-n-roll! If you are unfamiliar with the act, now would be a good time to correct the mistake, as it is the pet project of Chris Black (of Pharaoh fame). What really helps ‘Motivator’ stand apart, is that it feels an album lost in time, a true 70s classic, in the veins of Thin Lizzy, Scorpions and the likes. There is nearly no forced riff-age or unwanted aggression on display. A minimalist album, with a proper run time of just under 30 minutes. This one is for those who miss the old days!
14. Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
There is always a band that seems to be good but never reach their true potential, that was what Fleshgod Apocalypse was to me before 2016. All that changed with the arrival of ‘King’. In the decade, long career of the Italians, ‘King’ finally sees them take their sound up a notch. The structures are complex, melodic and truly operatic and the album holds enough variety to keep the listener engaged throughout. Epic, energetic and excellent!
Listen to ‘Cold as Perfection’ from the album HERE.
13. Abbath – Abbath
While Abbath may no longer be a part of Immortal, that does not mean they can take away the creative black metal force he truly is! On his self-titled debut, Abbath is truly unleashed from his chains, as he gave us one of the best black metal record of the year. In his new avatar, he is much more open to experiment, as he brings in elements of traditional heavy metal to a fantastic effect on the record. The album is literally just a continuation of what Immortal was to be, and if you liked the latter, you will like this too.
12. Blood Incantation – Starspawn
If there was one band that took the death metal by a storm in 2016, it was Blood Incantation. The band paying no heed to current trends of death metal are truly rooted in the past, with their stripped down, basic raw death metal sound. The band’s latest album, ‘Starspawn’, sees them bring a perfect blend of technicality and brutality. This is some truly ‘alien’ death metal, with some blazing solos, and crazy riffs. Twisted and insane!
11. Sumerlands – Sumerlands
If the inclusion of Tyfon’s Doom and High Spirits was not sufficient to indicate, Summerlands goes further to put the nail on the head of how much I enjoy the 80s-traditional metal. The self-titled debut sees the band deliver some top notch heavy metal, with just hints of prog and doom. The best way to describe the music is a mix of the old Ozzy Osbourne/Dio with a bit of Queensrÿche influence. There’s really nothing here to complain about. If you like classic metal, this is your album of the year.
P.S: A special mention here to Eternal Champion for their fantastic debut ‘The Armor of Ire’. Another fantastic classic old school record, that just missed the list!
10. Dark Tranquility – Atoma
The pioneers of melodic death metal have truly risen and delivered a masterpiece! Dark Tranquility’s strength has always been in the perfect balance of heavy, as well as gentle moments they bring to the table, and ‘Atoma’ perfectly showcases that. The album is crisp and to the point, with not a single note astray or riff over-stretched. Front man Mikael Stanne’s baritone voice continues to lead the proceedings, with his trademark snarls and cleans. For 2016, ‘Atoma’ truly keeps the melodic death metal flag flying high.
9. Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Mariner
Over their career, Cult of Luna have become quite instrumental in the very definition of what post-metal is. With their seventh full length ‘Mariner’, the band took a new creative outlook by teaming up with Julie Christmas and hence bringing in a complete fresh perspective to their sound. The result is a beautiful amalgamation of two separate forces. Julie’s delicate vocals perfectly oppose the harsh sounds of the band, creating something bigger than the individual parts.
8. SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
SubRosa have always stood out from the pack of traditional doom acts. Their latest album ‘For This We Fought the Battle of Ages’, sees them further hone their skills resulting in what is their best album till date. In the day and age of instant gratification and hit singles, the album is indeed a test of one’s patience and resolve. But the attention is awarded, as the intricacies of the album reveal some beautiful moments to the listener. If you enjoy a doze of slow melodies, and are ready to sit and give time to a record, this is the one album you should pay attention to.
7. Hail Spirit Noir – Mayhem in Blue
Hail Spirit Noir have never been one to follow conventions, while their debut saw them mix black metal with the prog-Floyd sounds, their sophomore saw them take a much more jazzier approach. Come 2016, the band has released its third album in ‘Mayhem in Blue’, further expanding their soundscapes into more twisted and trippier territories. The band mixes a whole lot of psychedelic stoner into their black metal sounds, to create something fresh and unique. Moreover, the album is highly addictive and you will find yourself going back to the record multiple times. Weirdly good!
P.S: To know more about the sounds, inspirations, etc for Mayhem in Blue, read this INTERVIEW.
6. Touché Amore – Stage Four
Hardcore is often described as an honest form of art, leaving everything out there, sharing every feeling. The same holds true for ‘Stage Four’ by Touché Amore which is probably the most grief laden melodious album you may come across in 2016. The album, is in fact Jeremy Bolm, singing/saying things to his mother, who died of cancer in 2014. All thoughts left unsaid are finally pouring out. The whole album is about her, and that is what makes it so tough. Each one of us can associate with those thoughts, it makes us squirm in our own guilt’s. The lyrics, such as “She passed away about an hour ago while you were onstage living the dream,” truly strike the heart. A must listen for all.
5. Khemmis – Hunted
Khemmis surprised one and all with their fantastic debut ‘Absolution’ last year. But, what no one could have seen coming was the band would come out with even better album ‘Hunted’ in just over a year! Anyone who has heard them will be well aware of the fantastic mix of classic rock and doom metal the band brings out in their songs. The album has some of the heaviest, loudest and also catchiest riffs throughout its playtime. Where the album really excels is the fantastic song-structure, as it really ebbs and flows through its 45-minute run time. If there ever was a bastard child of Thin Lizzy and Candlemass, it would be Khemmis!
4. Saor – Guardians
For anyone who loves atmospheric black metal, Saor is a name held in high regard. The solo project of Andy Marshall, Saor returns after a break of two years to deliver ‘Guardians’, what can only be called an immersive journey through the Scottish Highlands. The opposing forces of the melodies of the flute, violin and bagpipes, to that of harsh tremolo riffs and vocals, create something astoundingly beautiful. You may call this “Scottish Atmospheric Celtic Black Metal” or you can just consider it as art of the highest order. Your choice.
3. Astronoid – Air
Every year, there comes an album that makes everyone pause and give it notice. This year it was Astronoid’s debut album ‘Air’. While the music here is barely metal, it still has a very extreme vibe to it. It’s a mixture of thrash, shoegaze, post-metal, doped in some catchy dream-pop ending up with something totally unexpected and extremely beautiful. Its captivating, infectious, and probably the most “happy” album you will come across. The multi-layered pop driven vocals, along with the melodious guitars are bound to get you hooked quickly. A truly engrossing record that no one should miss out on!
2. Plini – Handmade Cities
Over the past few years, Plini has somewhat become the role model for many, in the current age of bedroom producers. Having released an EP trilogy, a split with Sithu Aye and a few singles, it was finally time for the first full length record. Anyone into instrumental records, knows that delivering a good EP and a immersive full length are two extremely different challenges. This is where ‘Handmade Cities’ stands out, as its energetic, passionate, and probably his best work till date. It’s playfulness and creativity showcase the fantastic talent on record. Give it a spin, and you are bound to be found smiling by the end.
1. Haken – Affinity
Haken have rapidly climbed the popularity charts among progressive music lovers, and their latest record ‘Affinity’ surely cements their place as one of the best prog acts in the world. After releasing the highly acclaimed ‘The Mountain’ in 2013, one would expect the band to stick to their successful sound. Instead the band takes an experimental approach making a record for the 80s with the present-day production quality, delivering a high-octane album that is bound to infect all those that come across it. Every single note is executed with perfection. Masterpiece.
As I said at the start, there were so many good releases this year that it is humanly impossible to highlight every single one. So what were YOUR top albums for 2016? Let me know in the comments below. These lists are made with a much bigger motive, than just share an opinion, they are for sharing and spreading good music. I hope, you discovered something that rang well with your ears. Signing off. – Vidur Paliwal