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John Schreiber’s Top 20 Metal Albums of 2016

by John Schreiber
Editing assistance by Rob Perez

Howdy, metal heads! Well, 2016 has finally come to end and I think it’s safe to say it was one for the books. It’s certainly had its mix of ups and downs and regardless of how 2016 panned out for you – be it the best year of your life or the worst, for that matter – we are looking forward to making 2017 a better year for us all. One thing 2016 succeeded well at, was new metal releases. This may have been one of the best years for new releases I’ve seen in the metal world in a very long time. Picking a favorite seems nearly impossible but, when I decided to get my ‘yearly list’ together, I managed to narrow it down to a top twenty.

Listed are twenty head banging pieces of art that had me doing back flips throughout the year. There is a little bit of everything in this list: brutal death metal, the return of nu metal, prog, and the titans of thrash all make an appearance here. So, without further ado, here is my top twenty metal albums of 2016:

  1. Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole Of The Law

Black metal, to some people, is already a terrifying sub-genre in the metal world; believe it or not, however, some find it beautiful. Anaal Nathrakh, though, is truly just terrifying. The amount of brutality in their music is simply on a whole new level so, naturally, it’s worth mentioning that this album (and the rest of their catalog for that matter) is not for everyone. Now, if you dig metal that not only melts your face off in a matter of minutes but also might potentially resemble what the very bottom layer of Hell sounds like, then this is your album!

The two-piece metal act have truly upped their game on this one. Mick Kenney once again handles the music and production duties while vocalist David Hunt puts down another impressive performance of dark and brutal death/black metal style screams mixed with operatic high-pitched clean vocals that resemble King Diamond in a lot of ways. Anaal Nathrakh is not just full on black metal. The influence of grindcore shines through a lot of their music; there are even hints of industrial which simply gives it a more eerie feel. The songwriting throughout the album has a bit of stop and go to it, which sets it apart from a majority of black metal that’s out there (although some of it can be a nice and respectful nod to later Dimmu Borgir albums). The bottom line is that if you love extremely brutal metal, this is an album you simply must check out.

Favorite song: “Depravity Favors The Bold”

  1. Korn – The Serenity of Suffering

Now, I know what you are thinking…I do…but, before you decide to go ahead and click out of this article and label it as bullshit, hear me out. I felt like this album simply deserved a proper spot on this list. Growing up, Korn was always something special to me. I’ve often considered them my “gateway band”. It’s also worth noting that the band, for many years as of late, has struggled to put out even decent releases that captured the gold the band had in its early years such as their self-titled debut and “Follow The Leader,” which are clear game-changers in the genre. Then, the album with Skrillex came about and that definitely didn’t help. However, like a city devastated by a natural disaster, the band began to rebuild. First, we saw the return of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch. Then, there was the addition of drummer Ray Luzier (FUN FACT: that guy briefly played drums for Steel Panther). Their previous record, “The Paradigm Shift,” was a major improvement from recent records and then, finally in 2016, we received this – “The Serenity Of Suffering”. Hands down, this is the nu-metal icons’ finest work in many, many years.

The one thing that stands out the most to me is its similarities to the “Issues” and “Untouchables” era of Korn; i.e. the songs are really heavy and full of energy while still keeping a good attention to rhythms and melody. Frontman Jon Davis…well, he sounds like Jon Davis and I mean that in a good way – just as unique as always. Look, love them or hate them, Korn are pioneers within the genre and stand to this day as one of the biggest metal and rock acts in the world. As an old fan, it’s nice to hear this band finally put out something worthwhile again.

Favorite Song: “Black Is The Soul”

  1. Megadeth – Dystopia

Dave Mustaine and the gang are back at it again. Armed with his right hand man David Ellefson (bass), Megadeth recruited new guitarist Kiko Loureiro (also of the band Angra) and Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler to fill the empty slots left by former members Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover (both now members of Act Of Defiance). The result is Megadeth’s 15th studio album, “Dystopia,” and is easily the bands best material in a hot minute. One of my favorite things about this album is that it’s quite obvious there is a burst of creative energy on this album that has lacked majorly on most recent Megadeth albums. It’s not just a true return to form for the band as the guitar work continues to be flawless sounding, but there is still the desire to “move forward,” so to speak, in the songwriting department. As opposed to just re-doing “Rust In Peace” or “Countdown to Extinction” (which, while I love those albums, I’ve also already heard them), I’d prefer something new and fresh and “Dystopia” is just that. Megadeth fans should be rejoicing in this solid effort by a band that will almost certainly go down as heavy metal royalty.

Favorite Song: “Dystopia”

  1. Revocation – Great Is Our Sin

Boston’s Revocation are back with their sixth studio album (their first with new drummer Phil Dubois-Coyne) and, still, the band continues to produce their fresh brand of melodeath meets thrash metal. One thing, however, that makes “Great Is Our Sin” stand out more from the bands previous work is the bands influence of prog-metal.  It has always been a part of Revocation’s music, but is more noticeable on this album. Guitar work has always been a major stand out in Revocation’s music and that continues with the dual threat of David Davidson and Dan Gargiulo, who both shine in spectacular fashion (check out the solo on ‘Theatre of Horror’, a true face melter).

If you have ever been a fan of the band Revocation before this album, then it is sure to not disappoint as it meets the standard they have set for themselves of spot-on musicianship. They’ve crafted a fresh brand of metal that’s not only fast and aggressive, but melodic and tasteful. All in all, “Great Is Our Sin” is a well-rounded album that deserves to be on this list.

Favorite Song: “Crumbling Imperium”

  1. The Wretched End – In These Woods, From These Mountainsindex

Here’s a band that has been quietly creating a buzz in the underground metal world for quite some time now. “In These Woods…” is the 3rd full-length album by The Wretched End, which is a project that features Emperor/Zyklon guitarist Samoth, Mindgrinder guitarist/vocalist Cosmo, and Dark Funeral drummer Nils Dominator Fjellstorm (whom you’ll hear about later on this list). While the band’s first two releases “Ominous” and “In Roads” were fine albums, they also leaned more in the realm of thrash/death metal; “In these Woods…” is far more black metal.

What I loved the most about this album is, in a way, you can call it atmospheric black metal, but not the ‘modern day’ kind like Deafheaven. Furthering that point, almost on par with an old Immortal album, it gives a very cold and gloomy vibe throughout the entire record, which is perfect for black metal. The 3-piece even received the help of Mayhem vocalist Attila Cshar as a guest vocalist on the stand-out track, “Old Norwegian Soul,” giving the album even more credibility.  And, lets face it – when you have one song on your album that features members of 3 of the most important bands in black metal history, it’s gonna stand out. Overall, I felt this album was a delightful breath of fresh air for black metal, that fans of the old school Norwegian sound will surely embrace.

Favorite Song: “Dead Icons”

  1. Ion Dissonance – Cast The First Stone

With 11 songs clocking in at 35 minutes, Montreal’s Ion Dissonance is back with a vengeance. Ion Dissonance has always been a favorite of mine in the Canadian metal scene, which has had some killer bands come out of the country – Kataklysm and Despised Icon just to name a few. So when it was announced Ion Dissonance would be releasing a new album this year, I was pretty ecstatic seeing as their last full length album “Curses” came out in 2010.

It would appear as though this band simply hasn’t missed a beat. Their combination of math metal/grindcore mixed with modern-day hardcore is just as strong and skull-crushing as ever. Vocalist Kevin McCaughey remains very consistent with his style, of which helps a band like Ion Dissonance keep its identity. When you have music that’s this chaotic and “all over the place,” for lack of better term, it generally helps to have a vocalist that gives the music some familiarity and this dude does just that. He’s got a huge sounding roar, but his comfort zone is more of a ‘hardcore style’ yell. You can almost imagine hearing on an old Earth Crisis or Full Blown Chaos record, but it seems to fit perfectly with Ion Dissonance’s sound. All these years later, Ion Dissonance still proves to be a top dog in the combined world of metal and hardcore and I believe “Cast The First Stone” is an album fans of both genres can get behind.

Favorite Song: “Treading On Thin Ice”

  1. Sinsaenum – Echos Of The Tortured

Nowadays, the term ‘supergroup’ has become somewhat of a nasty label in the metal world. So much so that members of said supergroups tend to avoid the phrase all together. Sinsaenum, being one of those bands who I’ve seen in interviews claiming NOT to be one, is a supergroup. It just so happens however, that they are a damn fine supergroup.

In case you are unaware, Sinsaneum is the brain child of Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq (who plays guitar in this project) and former Slipknot drummer (and current Vimic drummer) Joey Jordinson. The two are joined by Seth’s Heimoth (bass), Loudblast’s Stephane Buriez (guitar), former Daath vocalist Sean Zatorsky and Mayhem’s vocalist Attila Csihar who both share frontman duties for this project. So, see? Supergroup.

The result is a well-crafted blend of death and black metal. The album sits 23 tracks long, 10 of those tracks are interludes that give the album a bit of beautiful breathing room it deserves that separate the tracks when necessary. I’m generally very skeptical on bands with two vocalists, but it certainly works for Sinsaneum as both vocalists gives off two completely different feels that, when combined, flow wonderfully together. The songwriting is an extremely well-crafted piece of extreme metal that combines black and death metal perfectly with neither influence over-dominating the other. It manages to have a Deicide feel, then dives straight into something you’d hear from Paradise Lost and Goatwhore without sounding like a forced change. As I mentioned earlier, it all just flows perfectly. Fans of extreme metal that makes you want to bang your head straight through a wall do not need to sleep on this album. It’s that good.

Favorite Song: “Condemned To Suffer”

  1. Every Time I Die – Low Teens

Here they are – eight full-length albums into their career and Buffalo’s ETID continues to simply kick ass and take names. There are three simple moving parts that make up the machine that is ETID – rock n’ roll, hardcore, and heavy metal – and these guys know better than most how to combine the three and make it work like no other. Throughout ETID’s career, they have stayed very consistent in making damn good albums that make you either wanna rage hard into the early morning or head butt someone right in the face just for fun. However, the newest ones don’t always outdo the previous album (which is the case with A LOT of bands). “Low Teens” has a certain spunk to it that feels much more refreshing than the bands last several albums. It’s almost as if the band took all the best ingredients from their previous two albums (“From Parts Unknown” & “Ex-Lives”) and put them all together for this album.

One thing you can definitely count on with literally every damn ETID album is great lyrics and vocal delivery from Mr. Keith Buckley, who has cemented himself throughout the years as one of the best frontmen out there in the metal/hardcore/rock world. The dude works crowds like no other, has one of the most unique vocal deliveries that touches a little bit of everything, and lyrics that are simply poetry. It’s worth noting that this album is the first one he’s written since giving up alcohol after he was forced to leave the road briefly last year when he learned that his wife was having complications with her pregnancy; both, who by the way, are fine and healthy now (SIDE NOTE: several members of ETID throughout the years, specifically Keith and Jordan Buckley, have gained a reputation of being hard partiers – making the previous statement about Keith giving up alcohol worth mentioning). Every Time I Die just keeps on keeping on and, with “Low Teens,” they managed to hit their fans with another home run album!

Favorite Song: “Glitches”

  1. Superjoint – Caught Up In The Gears Of The Applicationsuperjointcaughtupcd

So, you might be asking yourself – “This is Superjoint Ritual, right?” The answer is, “Yeah, basically.” If you’re unaware, lets catch you up: Superjoint Ritual was one of the bands formed in New Orleans, Louisiana by Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo (many agree this is what helped end Pantera, but that’s neither here nor there) and the band abruptly disbanded after two albums. The band reunited in 2015 simply under the name Superjoint (dropping the word Ritual for some sort of legal reason that to me remains unknown) with a very similar lineup. There’s obviously ‘The Kid’ (Phil Anselmo) still at the frontman position with past Superjoint Ritual members Jimmy Bower (guitar) and Kevin Bond (guitar). Joining the newly formed Superjoint is Phil Anselmo & The Illegals members Stephan Taylor (bass) and Jose Gonzalez (drums) to complete the bands lineup. So, are we caught up? Good, ok. Moving on now.

“Caught Up In The Gears Of The Application” resembles the original sound of Superjoint Ritual in a number of ways, but brings a little bit of a new flavor to it. At times, I found myself thinking it resembled The Illegals more than it did old-school Superjoint Ritual albums but overall, the recurring theme in this album is the bands classic style of hardcore punk and thrash mixed with groove metal, which is just fine with me. If you’re a Phil fan, you’re probably gonna love this album like I did and crank it as loud as humanly possible (a.k.a. the best way to listen to this kind of music). If you’re not a Phil fan, well then, I’d skip over this one.

Favorite Song: “Sociopathic Herd Delusion”

  1. Dark Funeral -Where Shadows Forever Reign

“I raise the dead to reclaim my throne in Hell.” That is a lyric repeated several times throughout this album’s opening song “Unchain My Soul.” That’s what kind of album you’re getting. There has been a ton of black metal that came out this year (as you have already read about throughout this list) but, this one might be hands down the absolute best. It’s just black metal in all of its hideously evil glory. One of my favorite attributes about Dark Funeral is that, regardless of the number of member changes the band has had (and believe me, there has been a lot), they remain consistent with their style while never appearing to be weak or stale.

Lead by guitarist Lord Ahriman, the structure of the record is well-crafted in bringing over haunting melodies mixed with aggressive playing that flows all too well with long-time drummer Nils Dominator Fjellstorm, who delivers another blast-tastic performance. Dark Funeral’s newest addition on this album is vocalist Hejarmadr (who replaced long time member Emperor Magus Caligula). He is a stunning fit to the band, whose vocal patterns and tones sound just as eerie and soul-hitting as the bands previous work. Overall, I just think Dark Funeral hit the nail on the head with this one when it comes to black metal. When listening to a good black metal album, you should feel as though your parents would be ashamed of you for listening to it and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” does just that!

Favorite Song: “Unchain My Soul”

  1. Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct

Much like Korn way up at the beginning of this list, Metallica did something similar themselves – they made a major comeback. Now, here is where arguments happen so I’ll get get my point across right quick: I’ve always loved and respected Metallica. The “Load”/”Reload” era? It’s whatever to me. I don’t blame them for it. The 90’s were an odd time for metal and they managed to stay a relevant band throughout it because of those albums. If that makes them sellouts, then so be it. But again, whatever. Now “St. Anger?” I think most of us can agree that album was just a bummer in a number of ways (that snare drum tone…Jesus Christ). Then, we received “Death Magnetic”…and my opinion was that its ok. Just ok. Throughout all of this, I’ve still kept my admiration and respect for the band because they have released some of the greatest metal records of all time (hello, “Ride The Lightning”) and, come hell or high water, have managed to become one of the biggest bands in the world.

Now here we are: 8 years after Death Magnetic, we receive “Hardwired…” and I found myself letting out a huge sigh of relief thinking “finally…..finally it’s here – a new, awesome Metallica record.” There is so much to this record that makes it such an enjoyable listen from start to finish; however, it’s a double album, clocking in at an hour and seventeen minutes, so make sure you got some time to kill. It’s fast and it’s slow. It’s heavy and it’s melodic. It’s all the things that have made Metallica, Metallica up to this point. All these years later, Metallica is still not afraid to let their influences shine throughout a record as the Motörhead, Iron Maiden, and Diamond Head vibe are still very much part of their sound; maybe more so on this record then in recent memory. Basically, look, haters are gonna hate and people love to hate Metallica for all kinds of reasons. But, truth be told, the better and/or bigger you are at something, the more people learn to despise you for it. The bottom line with this album is simply this: Metallica released a damn good heavy metal record this year and deserve to be where they are at. Period.

Favorite Song: “Atlas, Rise!”

  1. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reasonmeshuggah_-_the_violent_sleep_of_reason

You know what the coolest thing about Meshuggah is? It’s that, in a time where tons upon tons of bands are simply attempting to rip off or write heavily influenced music by Meshuggah, no one can do it like Meshuggah can. Twenty some odd years into their career and they still sound as fresh and aggressive as ever while keeping their winning recipe for kick-ass technical metal together. Hell, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You know you have made your mark as one of metal’s most important acts when an entire subgenre is based off of your sound (see: djent). All the things that give Meshuggah their signature sound are all here and sounding as good as ever. Vocalist Jenes Kidman continues to sound consistent with his immediately recognizable, huge vocal tone. Fredrik Thordendal and Marten Hagstorm signature tones remains very well intact as they have carefully perfected their craft over the last several albums alongside drummer Tomas Haake. Seriously, need we say more? Meshuggah has simply done it again!

Favorite Song: “Clockworks”

  1. In Flames – Battles

With the release of their 12th full-length album “Battles,” In Flames returns once again, continuing to further push their ever-evolving sound that started as a staple blue print for Swedish melodic death metal and has slowly transformed into what we have today. The catchiness and modern alternative influence remains strong in In Flames’ music mixed in with the presence of its former self; it’s sorta almost a coming together like an Iron Maiden meets Slipknot. It should be known that, by my opinion, In Flames had themselves quite a drop over the last few albums. However, when you release damn near perfect album after perfect album (minus a few weak songs), it can eventually become hard to top and that’s just what happened with the bands last 3 full length albums: “Siren Charms,” “Sounds of A Playground Fading,” and “A Sense Of Purpose.” Not that they’re terrible albums, but each seemed to have a couple of huge-sounding songs mixed in with a bunch of weak ones.

“Battles” avoided this by sticking to their newfound style of writing, but executing it better than in recent memory. This is also the first In Flames album recorded with new drummer Joe Rickard (ex-Red) who joined the band permanently during the tracking of this album. The bottom line is In Flames has been a long-time favorite of mine. They simply never have gotten old to me and, with the release of “Battles,” they prove that as the times move on, In Flames is here and don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

Favorite Song: “Battles”

  1. Serpentine Dominion – s/t

Here we have another supergroup on the list. This one, however, has been in the making for quite some time. For those unaware, Serpentine Dominion is the death metal brainchild from Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and also features Cannibal Corpse frontman George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher on vocals and drummer Shannon Lucas. Lucas, whom not only was a former member of The Black Dahlia Murder, also has done work with the likes of Battlecross and All That Remains. Serpentine Dominion’s origin goes all the way back to the 2009 Rockstar Mayhem Festival where Killswitch Engage, Cannibal Corpse, and The Black Dahlia Murder all took part in the tour together. Adam D. was inspired to write his own death metal record specifically for George Fisher to do vocals on and quickly tapped Shannon to do drums (as history has proved, he is MORE than capable).  The project has been in the works for many years but finally, this year it sees the light of day and the wait was totally worth it.

At times on this album, it is about as aggressive as death metal can get; however, there is a lot of melodic aspects within the song structure (including background clean vocals on some choruses) that give Serpentine Dominion its own identity in the death metal world. History in the past has shown us more often than not supergroups can generally be a bit of a failure; however, 2016 graced us with several home run supergroup efforts and Serpentine Dominion may stand as the top dog of it all!

Favorite Song: “Divide, Conquer, Burn, and Destroy”

  1. After The Burial – Dig Deep

If After The Burial would have put out a bad album this year, it still would have been a victory. However, the fact that the band has released quite possibly one of the best albums as a band is nothing short of amazing. For those unaware, “Dig Deep” is the first release for ATB since founding member Justin Lowe had passed away after suffering a mental breakdown caused by paranoid schizophrenia. After The Burial falls only slightly in the djent category but musically, on every album, has proven to be much more than the average Meshuggah inspired tech-metal band. In fact, where a lot of bands in a similar genre as After The Burial fall short is being capable of moving forward in a positive direction. Only certain bands can only explore new territory, but still keep the same foundation the band was built on in tact; ATB has managed to do this nearly every release.

Some may call “Dig Deep” as return to roots which, in a lot of ways, wouldn’t be untrue as the songs bare some similarities to the bands 2nd album “Rareform.” But this time, the songs have much more balance to them than just the controlled chaos (and I mean that in a good way) that “Rareform” was. The production is also a healthy step in the right direction as well as it’s not only spot on tight sounding (as ATB as had on every album), but is as crisp and clean sounding as a good tech-metal record can get all thanks to the duties of Will Putney (who has worked with the likes of everything from Stray From The Path to Fit For An Autopsy to Body Count). Overall, “Dig Deep” is not just another great record for ATB, but perhaps their greatest. With technical metal mixed with melodic rhythms and face melting shredding all shinning throughout the album, there is something for all metal heads to dig (deep) on this album and I simply can’t recommend it enough.

Favorite Song: “Collapse”

  1. Aborted – Retrogore

It appears that tech-death or brutal death metal (whichever you prefer to call it) is more popular than ever before. Tons upon tons of bands are there, making music as brutal and extreme as humanly possible. Hell, if you can do it, then do it. It doesn’t take a music major to know that perfecting said style of music is extremely difficult to pull off. Belgian act Aborted have been a full on staple for the modern day death metal and deathcore genre for nearly 20 years now. With the release of “Retrogore,” they continue to prove themselves as true leaders of death metal.

Much like with past albums by Aborted, “Retrogore” is devastatingly heavy and brutally violent-sounding (both lyrically and musically). One thing that makes “Retrogore” stand out from some of Aborted’s past death metal masterpieces is the band has dipped their toes in to some unknown territory. With select tracks, the album showcases some melodically sinister sounding guitar riffs (and even piano on one song) that give that songs a darker feel – something you rarely hear extreme metal fans complain about. When it comes down to it if Aborted had not done so already, “Retrogore” is definite proof that when the “history of death metal” is written and sealed shut, Aborted will have cemented their rightful place in it by their uncompromising dedication savage brutality!

Favorite Song: “Termination Redux”

  1. Nails – You’ll Never Be One Of Us

It would appear as though Nails can do no wrong. Once again, the punk/metal (or ‘power violence,’ as its more popularly categorized now) trio founded by former Terror member Todd Jones release a full-length album receiving praise across the globe. “You’ll Never Be One Of Us” is about as simple and to the point as it gets. Full of chaos and aggression, the albums opening title track smacks you RIGHT in the mouth and the punches just continue after that.

One of the most exciting things about Nails is that, while the band is straight forward in their sound, they manage to pile a huge and powerful blend of hardcore, thrash, death, and even a small hint of black metal all at lightning fast speed – giving it the punk attitude widely associated with Nails (and other bands in the ‘power violence’ genre). There isn’t a whole lot that can be said about Nails’ newest musical bitch slap other than it’s worth your time and, clearly, I’m not the only one who seems to think so; nearly every “top metal album of 2016” list out there has included this album. It’s definitely a record that both hardcore fans and metal fans are sure to love. P.S. – the album is 10 songs and clocks in at 21 minutes. However, the final song, “They Came Crawling Back,” clocks in at 8 minutes and 14 seconds, so that should give you an idea as to how the first 9 songs play out.

Favorite Song: “You’ll Never Be One Of Us”

  1. Gojira – Magma

France’s Gojira are now 6 albums in to their career…and it would appear as though things are only getting better. “Magma” not only holds some of Gojira’s strongest work (and for this particular band, that is saying something), but has quickly become their most successful. It managed to sell nearly 17,000 copies in its first week of being released and has since been nominated for not one, but two Grammys (Best Metal Performance and Best Rock Album). “Magma” is also the first album by Gojira to be recorded in the bands very own studio in New York named Silver Cord Studios. Quite an impressive list of accomplishments, if you ask me. It’s all earned for the Duplantier brothers and the rest of their crew.

“Magma” just feels like a great metal record all the way through. It’s just heavy enough to hold its own with some of metals hardest hitting acts, it’s progressive enough to please the average prog metal nut, and, lastly, it’s catchy enough to be played alongside some of today’s most successful bands in metal and rock. In a lot of ways, one could call it the perfect metal album. Gojira has always been good about never repeating themselves and experimenting with new things each record. So, when they took a bit of a more prog approach, I was extremely pleased to see them keep it within reason, i.e. they didn’t just slam every song with impossible-to-follow song structures and drawn out jam parts that make the songs unnecessarily long (which is, hands down, my ultimate pet peeve with prog music). Instead, they use their technique to the songs’ ultimate advantage and manage to craft something both heavy and beautiful. The vocals (performed by Joe Duplantier) are simply perfect for a band like Gojira. His clean vocals fit perfectly in the bands twists and turns between their prog material and more straight-forward material while also maintaining an appropriate screaming voice; he manages to use both accordingly without drowning out the music in any way. It’s pretty safe to say Gojira has ultimately proven there is a reason they continue to climb the ranks of today’s metal acts. With the release of “Magma,” they’re only going to continue to climb higher. If you haven’t experienced this band, you need to do so.

Favorite Song: “Stranded”

  1. Avatar – Feathers & Flesh

After I listened to this album in whole for the first time, I felt as though I had just ran a marathon. ‘Surprised’ simply didn’t do it justice. Look, I’ve always thought Avatar was a cool band with a great live show (saw them blow Five Finger Death Punch out of the water in Mobile, not to mention hold their own beautifully at Welcome To Rockville 2016 on the mainstage), but I simply was not expecting this kind of record from them when I sat down to listen to “Feathers & Flesh.” There are several different great and unique things about this record that make it stand out from so many others released this year. First of all, it’s a concept album inspired by French fable writer Jean de La Foutine; essentially, it’s about an owl that goes to war with the sun to prevent it from rising. The story in the album has several other characters that are supposed to represent human psyche or different human behaviors and what not. The story as a whole can be told in a 60-page, 109 verse poem that you can order on the bands website along with this album. So, needless to say, vocalist Johannes Eckerstorm put quite a bit of thought into this whole concept.

Vocally, he delivers an incredible performance on this album. He balances his style between singing (in my different tones) to his signature scream almost perfectly throughout the whole album. The album producer, Sylvia Massy (who has worked with the likes of Tool and The Red Hot Chili Peppers in the past), spoke of Johannes as having a “wild energy and charisma” throughout the album’s tracking. Something else that makes “Feathers & Flesh” such a stand out record is all the different twists and turns the album takes. Everything from head banging, guitar-shredding, in-your-face metal, to nearly radio-friendly chorus heavy hits, to oddly structured songs full of spastic vocal patterns and random time signatures are featured here. It’s probably my favorite thing about this album; honestly, almost every single song is completely different from the next. It really doesn’t matter if you have been a long-time fan of this band or never really got into them or simply have never heard them prior to reading this…when it comes down to it, this album is fantastic and deserves to be given a shot from metal heads far and wide.

Favorite Song: “House Of Eternal Hunt”

  1. Ihsahn – Arktis

Ihsahn is truly one of a kind. Already praised for his work as one of the key song writers and lyric composer for one of black metal’s greatest bands, Emperor, he has managed to since then pursue a solo career that is matched by few, if not any. Each solo album he has released has been a step in front of the other – all with the end result of being a complete masterpiece that, while having only a very small resemblance to his work with Emperor, has more a style all in his own that some could say is a combination of Borknagar, Opeth, and The Devin Townsend Project. “Arktis” is his 6th solo album and, much like his back catalog, he continues to push all of his limits that give most American prog-metal/rock outfits a bad name all together. The man was able to incorporate a saxophone in one of the songs with it not even being slightly forced, which I say is pretty damn impressive.

Vocally, Ihsahn can do it all: eerie and haunting screaming mixed with a singing voice that ranges from high mighty and powerful to low dark and melodic. His range, as a song writer, is just as wide. Songs on “Arktis” take many different forms; from calm and gloomy to aggressive energy while all being done in an extremely catchy structure. Right in the middle of the album is the song “Until I Too Dissolve,” in which Ihsahn takes a complete left turn, putting together a head-banging ode to classic Judas Priest meet The Scorpions. It’s that style of song, which at midway through, it will have you smiling from ear to ear yelling “Bravo, Ihsahn! Bravo!”  The album’s second track “Mass Darkness,” which features guest vocals from Trivium’s Matt Heavy, also stands out with its epic riff-filled intro that takes many turns throughout the song. It includes dark and creepy sounding verses beautifully flow into a huge sounding chorus made for fist-pumping metal greatness. Since the beginning of his career, Ihsahn has managed to gain the respect from many around him and that seems to continue more so now than ever. “Arktis” is an album that is both stunning and beautiful and stands as a true masterpiece from one of metal’s greatest living song writers.

Favorite song: “Until I Too Dissolve”

So, there you have it boys and girls – my top 20 for the year 2016. Hopefully, you enjoyed the read and maybe even found something new for yourself to whet your metal palate with. I’d love to hear feedback from you all on my podcast, The Underground Pub Show, which airs live every Wednesday night at 8:30 PM. Check us out at www.facebook.com/undergroundpubshow for info on how to watch us live on YouTube and call our hotline and chat with me about anything you did or didn’t like about this list. Until next time, stay metal my friends!
-John Schreiber

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This entry was posted on January 23, 2017 by in Posts.
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