Sunday, January 1, 2017

Best of 2016

I should qualify this here.  Honestly, I have not heard that many new albums in 2016.  In fact, it is the fewest I have heard since well before I started this blog.  Because I checked out so few albums, all of the bands are safe bands for me.  I did not experiment with any groups I was not already familiar with and already enjoyed.  So this list is going to have some limitations.

Rotting Christ has been declining for several years now.  And this is my least favorite of their albums so far.  Aealo, their 2010 album was their last really good one.  The biggest problem is that this album is more of a collection of ideas than actual songs.  The band seems more interested in playing soundtrack scores for movies like 300 than in crafting real songs.  The spoken word sections and samples used throughout the album certainly add to the soundtrack feel.  It is a credit to the band's ability that even this sounds interesting enough.  There are definitely some good moments throughout the release, but this album is largely a disappointment.  

Skeletonwitch is easily one of the best metal bands going right now.  And this release shows why.  Every song on it is perfect, with great vocals, face-melting intensity, and infectious riffs.  The only problem is that it is an EP, and I had no idea that it was not a full-length album.  It seems a little cruel to hold that against the release, but it is my blog and I can do what I want.  So, because this is just an EP, it falls pretty far down the list.  I am just looking forward to the next album.

This is a weird one.  The title gives away that this is basically a split album, but it is a split album by just one band.  Let me explain.  Defeated Sanity has always been a little bit strange, combining some of the most brutal slam death with some bizarre jazz-like sections.  So the band took both sides of its sound and split them up.  The first six songs are straightforward brutal death/slam.  The next five emphasize the more experimental oddball side of the band.  Still brutally intense, but with some absolutely off-kilter moments.  It is an intriguing idea, and Defeated Sanity succeed.

Probably the most anticipated metal album for a lot of people (though not for me, we'll get to mine).  For the most part, Metallica has put out one of their best albums in a very long time.  The songs are tighter and punchier than anything on Death Magnetic, and I actually liked that album.  There are definitely some terrific songs on this album.  It also helps that the songs don't linger for too long.  They are not nearly as long as some of the songs they have been putting out lately.  They are still mostly incapable of getting through a song in less than six minutes, but then, Metallica has always been like that.  This is absolutely one of their best albums in years, but it is just not as good as many of the other albums this year.

Gothenburg-style melodeath has mostly disappeared into the ether over the years.  Many of the bands that popularized the form have changed their sound drastically.  But there are a few bands that still sound like the best that style had to offer and Finland's Omnium Gatherum are one of them.  I have only had this album for about a week, so it is still sinking in, but it is a good example of what made this style so interesting in the first place.  There is nothing much risky and ground-breaking here, it is just a solid piece of melodeath, similar to the best releases by In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and Soilwork.

The Italian symphonic death metallers keep getting better and better.  At first their symphonic elements were a little unwieldy, threatening to take over the sound and sounding a little clumsy.  But over the next few releases, they have been able to incorporate the orchestration more and more to the point that their sound is much more all-encompassing.  The symphonic sections are grandiose while the death metal sections are properly brutal.  And the two mix together very well.  This is a style that does not make much sense on paper, but Fleshgod Apocalypse pull it off nicely and have been doing so for a few years now.

One of the most ambitious albums of the year comes from the Finnish melodeath band Insomnium, who have put out a number of terrific albums.  This entire album is just one 40 minute long song.  Other bands have done that in the past (Edge of Sanity's Crimson comes to mind), and it is of course an extremely challenging thing to do.  The story is based on a short story written by the band's bassist.  The more I listen to it, the more this one grows on me.  It is extremely difficult to write a 40 minute song that doesn't completely lose the listener, but this one does a good job of retaining interest throughout.  It is more of a collection of movements than one cohesive song, but it manages to to not drift into the background.

It has only been three years since Wormed's last album, which is damn impressive since their previous album to that was ten years earlier.  The technical slam death band from Spain has outdone themselves yet again.  Each of their albums seems to be better than the last.  Their sci-fi lyrics fit in well with the unconventional song structures and constantly shifting progressions.  The drumming is particularly impressive throughout.  The only constant on the album is the overall uncompromising brutality.  This is not an easy listen for someone not familiar with the band, but after several sessions, it sinks in and doesn't let go.

The long-anticipated full-length release of the original guitarists from Mercyful Fate finally dropped this last year.  After a terrific four-song EP in 2015, the full-length features all new songs.  Michael Denner and Hank Shermann have been doing this for a long time and they know how to write some damn good riffs.  This album is very good from beginning to end.  The only real complaint that I have is that vocalist Sean Peck is not quite the powerful vocalist that would sound best with this blackened heavy metal style.  Someone more like Harry Conklin of Satan's Host would work better.  Other than that, this debut full-length is damn impressive.

The long-time Immortal member Abbath Doom Occulta (probably not his real name) has formed a solo album after years of playing just about every instrument the black metal legends.  All he does for Abbath is sing and play guitars, and of course write all of the music.  Abbath has always had more of a melodic sensibility to his riffing style, as opposed to the blazing fast brutality of previous Immortal guitarist Demonaz.  That sensibility shines through here as he writes his own music.  It is an infectious, powerful album with the kind of classic metal-infused black metal that Abbath has been hinting at throughout his career with Immortal and I.  His ideas are now fully-realized on this release.

Grand Magus can do no wrong.  Criminally underrated, the traditional heavy metal band just keeps putting out classic albums that almost no one seems to hear.  And that is a shame.  Heavily influenced by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and so many of the titans of the genre, Grand Magus forges its own identity through songs about warfare and battle.  Their sound is masculine and powerful.  There is no room for cowardice.  This is pure fucking metal, plain and simple.  There is nothing soft here, no emotions shrouding things.  Pure.  Fucking.  Metal.

Revocation is currently one of my favorite bands.  It has been that way for quite some time now really.  The technical thrash/death metal band is about as close to late-era Death as bands can get, and honestly that was my favorite era of Death's output.  But they take things much farther with some unusual moments of their own.  Revocation continues to grow and continues to improve on their already unique sound.  Each album seems to get better and better.  Plus this album features one hell of a Slayer cover on it.  It takes a great band to do justice to a Slayer cover, and Revocation is a great band.

It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Destroyer 666 will make my Top 5 every year that they release an album.  The only frustrating aspect is that they don't do it nearly often enough.  This is their first full-length album since 2009.  One of the biggest surprises on the album is the inclusion of a few clean-singing moments.  That is definitely out of left field for this group, known more for its extremely brutal brand of blackened thrash.  Featuring incendiary lead guitars, frenetic riffs, shrieking vocals, and some of the best songs the band has ever written, this is up there with the absolutely perfect Cold Steel...For an Iron Age among the band's best albums.  An easy choice to be this high on the list.

Yes, Megadeth's newest album is that much better than Metallica's newest album.  But that really should not be that surprising.  I have seen Megadeth live twice this last year and they continue to put on an incredible live show.  This is quite possibly Megadeth's best album since Countdown to Extinction, and that is really saying something because they put out a number of good, even great albums during that time.  But Mustaine's guitar riffs and solos and his sneering vocal style have not sounded this good in years.  After a couple of lackluster albums, Megadeth has come charging back into top form.  This is a fantastic comeback album and one of the legendary band's best albums in years.

I mentioned previously that the new Metallica album was not my most anticipated album.  That honor belongs to this one.  Sure it has only been three years, but anytime a new Testament album is coming out, I have to get it.  Testament is one of my favorite bands of all time, if not my favorite.  And this album definitely does not disappoint.  This is probably my favorite release by the band since they re-formed after singer Chuck Billy's successful bout with cancer.  The band's brutal blend of thrash, death, and groove metal has not sounded this good since 1999's The Gathering.  This is far darker and more intense than anything the band has done in years and it blows away most of the other albums I have heard this year.  Except for one.

I have been a fan of Vektor ever since I first heard the band.  They are the perfect blend of The Sound of Perseverence-era Death and Nothingface-era Voivod.  And this is their best album yet, which is really saying something as each of their albums have been incredible.  This one blows them away.  An intense, epic sci-fi concept album, this release is progressive and punishing at the same time.  Vektor has always been about pushing the boundaries of metal and they are in top form on this release.  All of the musical risks they take, and there are many, pay off.  This is an absolutely incredible album all the way through.  The very first time I heard it, I knew it would end up being the best album of the year.  It is hard for me to imagine anything topping this one this year either.      

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