So the ball may have dropped long ago on 2016, which many deemed a dreadful year for entertainment due to many high-profile celebrity deaths. While our genre has lost some legends in recent years, hard rock and metal continue to thrive. I see bands rising and carrying the torch. We have the “world’s loudest month” in the U.S. for rock festivals. Metal is the most streamed genre on Spotify. Newer bands of all types of rock and metal subgenres continue to open eyes and ears not just here, but as always, worldwide. As usual, my list came down to the albums that not only initially knocked me on my ass, but also had me coming back time and time again. It mostly comprises reliable favorites, but there are a couple new surprise entries, as well.
First, we’ll start with a few honorable mentions:
Anthrax – For All Kings
Beartooth – Aggressive
Death Angel – The Evil Divide
Discharge – End of Days
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Now, my top 10 albums of 2016:
10. Walls of Jericho – ‘No One Can Save You from Yourself’ (Read review)
No One Can Save You from Yourself is Walls of Jericho’s first release since 2008, and I had all but forgot about the band. During this time period, the state of the world has changed drastically, and Walls of Jericho is pissed off about it. The album begins with a public address announcement stating martial law has been declared, and a rebellion ensues. As this concept-style album unfolds, frontwoman Candace Kucsulain and company mash out 12 anthemic hardcore songs as its soundtrack. One of the best hardcore records I’ve heard in some time.
9. Entombed A.D. – ‘Dead Dawn’ (Read review)
Not to be confused with “Entombed” (which reunited for a live show this year, performing its classic album, Clandestine, in its entirety), this is vocalist LG Petrov’s version of Entombed (with an A.D.) This is the Entombed continuing the legacy of the Swedish death metal forefathers by releasing new material. Dead Dawn is the band’s second album under the A.D. moniker, but this is the Entombed I remember. Combining the classic buzzsaw guitar the band innovated with the death ‘n’ roll of Wolverine Blues, Dead Dawn is an all killer, no killer album of death metal mastery. Nothing against those other guys, but there are tracks on Dead Dawn that will make the hair stand on the back of your neck, just like those classic Petrov-led albums of old.
Swedish Viking metal overlord Amon Amarth released its 10th album in 2016, Jomsviking. While metal purists will argue that these bearded, armor-clad warriors repeat themselves with each album, it’s also the band’s strength. Never straying from its path, Amon Amarth’s hard work and stubbornness has earned it a worldwide legion of fans, sold-out shows and headliner status. On Jomsviking, songs such as “First Kill” and “Dawn’s First Light” further carve out the band’s legacy, while “Raise Your Horns” can be deemed the drinking anthem for headbanger’s worldwide.
7. Volbeat – ‘Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie’
Volbeat always has been on my radar, but I had never been into them that much to listen to an entire album. Until Seal the Deal, that is. I usually shy away from radio-type rock, but the older I get, the more variety I need. And Seal the Deal has it all, from heavy-hitters, rockers and ballads that remind me of Metallica and Danzig’s glory days.
When French metallers Gojira released the first single, “Stranded,” back in April, it hit me like a ton of bricks. This was still Gojira, and still heavy, but with a new accessibility, cleaner vocals and more clarity within the music—the song even made it to rock radio. Then there was theh epic “Silveria,” followed by the album release, and like the band’s namesake, Magma is a monster. Gojira even received Grammy nominations for Best Rock Album and Best Metal Performance.
5. Testament – ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ (Read review)
Vocalist Chuck Billy said about the album title, “The Brotherhood of the Snake is actually about one of the first secret societies, formed over 6,000 years ago.” Well, even 30 years into its career, Testament still probably is one of the best kept secrets in metal. Brotherhood of the Snake shreds out modern thrash standouts, yet with a throwback appeal, on songs like “The Pale King,” “Born in a Rut” and “Seven Seals.” This one is my favorite of Testament’s “comeback” albums of recent years.
With the mighty Metallica’s first studio album in eight years, Hardwired … to Self-Destruct‘s response has been overwhelmingly high (according to the band it was even surprising). And with tracks like “Hardwired,” “Now That We’re Dead,” (my personal favorite) “Moth into Flame” and “Spit out the Bone,” it deserves to be included here. Metallica always is going to be scrutinized because they were the pioneers who laid the groundwork and set the bar so high. It’s good to have ’em back.
Epica’s seventh studio album may be its best yet, and the musicianship is nearly unmatched. This is metal played on the same level as Master of Puppets with the band’s trademark symphonic elements. Vocalist Simone Simons rivals Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia and Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel as the top female vocalist in metal. Standout tracks are “Edge of the Blade,” “Universal Death Squad” and the new crowd favorite, “Beyond the Matrix.” Be sure to check out the “Earbook” edition of The Holographic Principle (or on Spotify) for special acoustic versions of the tracks and orchestra instrumentals.
2. Avatar – ‘Feathers & Flesh’ (Read review)
On Feathers & Flesh, Avatar has created a work of art around its theatrical image and performances, channeling the theatrics and style of classic rock artists like Alice Cooper and Queen. Vocalist Johan Eckerström’s (“The Evil Clown”) vocal performance is among the best in recent memory. He’s a doppleganger of different styles, adapting to each song and what it calls upon him to do. It’s tough to compare anyone to the late, great Freddie Mercury, but a modern-day comparison might be Serj Tankian of System of a Down or Marilyn Manson in his prime. There’s been a glaring hole in our musical landscape for quite some time. There’s still good music being produced, but where is the entertainment? Where is the theater? Where is the deeper meaning? Now that we have Avatar’s Feathers & Flesh, I can suspend my search for a bit. This album is inspired, an instant classic and, most of all, a lot of fun. I can’t wait until the circus comes to my town.
1. Megadeth – ‘Dystopia’ (Read review)
Aside from taking a few “risks” and going a little commercial over the years, Megadeth has been about as rock-solid of a thrash metal band as there ever was. Thirty-plus years and 15 albums in, Dave Mustaine still has that war inside his head, a chip on his shoulder for a variety of reasons. Despite a failed Rust in Peace lineup reunion, once again, Dave has assembled a new supergroup to lead us into the bleak future. Dystopia is a welcome addition to the Megadeth arsenal and contains a number of new classics-in-waiting, such as “Dystopia,” “The Threat is Real,” “Post-American World” and “Poisonous Shadows.”