By Greg Maki
On the business side, it might be harder for a band to exist now than it ever has been. But in the world of hard rock and metal, that hasn’t stopped countless acts from releasing album after album of quality material. Anyone who says there’s no good music today hasn’t looked past the FM dial. The previous year was one of the strongest in recent memory, highlighted by a number of veteran acts releasing albums that stand up to the best of their impressive back catalogues and newer bands still carving out names for themselves. Here are my favorites of 2016.
Avatar – Feathers & Flesh
Black Wizard – New Waste
Crobot – Welcome to Fat City
Killswitch Engage – Incarnate
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Megadeth – Dystopia
September Mourning – Volume II
Sick Puppies – Fury
Sixx:A.M. – Vol 1: Prayers for the Damned
Zakk Wylde – Book of Shadows 2
10. ADELITAS WAY – ‘Getaway’
Led by fearless, outspoken frontman Rick DeJesus, Adelitas Way left the major record labels behind and seized control of its career, then presented the best argument in favor of the move in the form of Getaway, its fourth and strongest album to date. It’s packed with 11 hard-rocking tunes, bearing strong ‘90s grunge and classic rock influences, and absolutely no pandering to the current state of rock radio.
9. KYNG – ‘Breathe in the Water’
When describing bands, why is the word “power” used only in reference to a three-piece act, as in “power trio?” Where are the “power quartets” and “power quintets?” Anyway, my favorite “power trio,” Kyng, released another strong batch of tunes on its third album, showcasing thick, meaty rhythms and riffs contrasting splendidly with Eddie Veliz’s smooth, almost Chris Cornell-like vocals.
8. PERIPHERY – ‘III: Select Difficulty’
It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, and 2016 was the year I finally took a closer look at Periphery. And while I don’t know enough yet to discuss the finer points of djent with you, I can say that Periphery, arguably the most prominent band of the growing sub-sub-genre, employs some of the most innovative and interesting arrangements and production in metal today. Select Difficulty, the band’s fourth or fifth full-length album depending on how you look at the 2015’s two Juggernaut releases, demands your full attention and repeat listens.
7. TREMONTI – ‘Dust’
The companion to Cauterize, Tremonti’s 2015 release, is nearly as good, showcasing Mark Tremonti’s speed metal riffs and Garrett Whitlock’s ferocious, thunderous drumming. Not quite as heavt as Cauterize, Dust allows Tremonti’s songwriting and vocals to come to the fore, particularly on the epic chorus of the title track. Recorded all at once, the 20 songs that make up these two albums are an impressive body of work.
6. ALTER BRIDGE – ‘The Last Hero’
Speaking of Mark Tremonti, here he is again with his central band, Alter Bridge, which, on its fifth album, continues showing it just might be the best current act straddling the lines of hard rock and metal. The Last Hero continues in the heavier, progressive vein of 2013’s Fortress, while also showing Tremonti and vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy still can lighten up and write a great rock song (“My Champion”) while losing none of their power.
5. KING 810 – ‘La Petite Mort or a Conversation with God’
KING 810 stormed onto the scene with 2014’s blunt, forceful Memoirs of a Murderer. La Petite Mort or a Conversation with God, album number two, continues to emphasize the violence of the band’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, but also goes deeper into a more contemplative side and ventures further from the heavier material on songs such as “I Ain’t Goin Back Again” and “Life’s Not Enough.” KING always will be a divisive band, but this record shows it could be one with real staying power.
4. GOJIRA- ‘Magma’
Gojira moved away from its progressive and death metal tendencies on its sixth studio album–a sure way to alienate longtime fans. But something miraculous happened. Instead of the lazy, unthinking cries of “sellout,” fans and critics greeted Magma with almost universal praise. The album–especially my favorite track, “Stranded”–leans on the groove that always has been a part of the band’s sound, offering more accessible material without sacrificing heaviness.
3. VOLBEAT – ‘Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie’
More rock than metal, Volbeat’s sixth studio album might be its most polished, but it also showcases some of frontman Michael Poulsen’s finest songwriting and vocal performances to date. Initially, I was disappointed not to get something heavier, but that feeling quickly faded as I realized what a great batch of songs this is, genres be damned. “Black Rose” is one of Volbeat’s best ever and my favorite song of 2016.
2. METALLICA – ‘Hardwired … to Self-Destruct’
Much has been made of Hardwired returning Metallica to its thrash roots. It does that but only really on the opening title track and the closer, “Spit out the Bone.” The other 10 songs draw from Metallica’s entire career, minus the ill-conceived St. Anger. There are even a few tunes here that would sound at home in the Load/Reload era (which has aged remarkably well, in my opinion). The production is a significant step up from the all-volume, all-the-time approach of Death Magnetic (2008), giving the material a strength Metallica hasn’t had on record since the ‘90s. Hardwired seems designed to remind Metallica fans why they love Metallica, and it succeeds splendidly. It’s Metallica’s best album in 25 years.
1. ANTHRAX – ‘For All Kings’
It’s been almost a year since I first heard For All Kings, and I still find myself going back to it again and again. Spreading the Disease (1986), Among the Living (1987) and Persistence of Time (1990) are classic metal albums that placed Anthrax in the “big four” of thrash. For All Kings is a masterpiece. It finds the band thrashier than it’s been in decades on songs such as “You Gotta Believe” and “Evil Twin,” but also includes some of its best melodic material in “Monster at the End,” “Breathing Lightning” and “Blood Eagle Wings.” In his mid-50s, vocalist Joey Belladonna sounds better than ever, while lead guitarist Jonathan Donais takes things to the next level with his incendiary solos. The core of the band–guitarist Scott Ian, drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Frank Bello–has never been tighter, and as the driving creative forces, they’re clearly firing on all cylinders. Early in the year, For All Kings set a bar no other album released in 2016 could hope to reach.