2016 has been a tough year all round, but it seems to have been an exceptional year for new music releases. When compiling my end of year lists, there have been some years where I have to confess that I’ve struggled to fill all five allotted spots of my list. This year I had the opposite problem; with so many impeccable releases, it seemed a travesty to leave them out of my top five, so I decided do a top 15.
Note that numbers 1-5 can be found in the staff picks of 2016 article. Below are numbers 6-15, presented in descending order.
15. Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law
It’s vile, it’s abhorrent, it’s depraved and it’s exactly what you’d expect from an Anaal Nathrakh album. On their ninth full-length outing the duo pick up where Desideratum left off, making heavy use of the symphonic and industrial elements of their sound, which often eclipse the raging guitars, creating an absolute cacophonic mess of terror. As usual Hunt pushes his vocals to their ultimate limit, the utterly ridiculous falsetto of ‘Extravaganza’ proving a fine example of Nathrakh’s instinct to constantly innovate and push the boundaries of extreme music. The Whole of the Law is the soundtrack to the most terrifying, perverted horror film imaginable; if only someone were capable of creating visuals as utterly repulsing as their soundtrack.
14. Kvelertak – Nattesferd
Not satisfied with releasing what I think we can all agree is indisputably the greatest song written this year (‘1985’, obviously), the Norwegian nutcases only went and penned another eight songs to go with it. Nattesferd features a surfeit of classic rock melodies (see the aforementioned ‘1985’ and ‘Svartmesse’) which, combined with the three-guitar-attack gives it that larger-than-life sound. It’s an album that very much pays homage to the roots of its influences with the punk-influenced ‘Bronsegud’ and the rather Led Zeppelin-esque ‘Ondskapens Galakse’ without losing any of its extremity or window-licking schizophrenic madness. If you’ve been trying to get into Kvelertak and have so far failed, there’s no better starting point than Nattesferd.
13. Killswitch Engage – Incarnate
Solidifying Jesse’s homecoming, Killswitch return with another collection of their trademark metalcore anthems, featuring monstrous riffs and cavernous vocal melodies. As always, the Bay Staters are at their finest when their unrestrained ferocity and balladrous melody meet halfway, and ‘Hate by Design’ and ‘Strength of the Mind’ are both fine examples of this. My favourite thing about this album is Adam D’s backing vocals, which are a prominent part of their live show but have rarely been used so brazenly on record. Here their introduction is subtle but adds a frightening weight to the compositions. 17 years into their career, Killswitch prove once again that they are completely untouchable in the genre that they spawned.
12. Dawn of Disease – Worship the Grave
Taking its cues from Kataklysm, Worship the Grave occupies that narrow niche of brutal death metal that has more groove than the space between Presley’s hips and enough hooks to neatly and safely store the coats of an entire year two classroom. It’s got choruses the size of battleships that’ll lodge themselves between your ears for days and the kind of powerhouse chugging that could fuel a loaded steam train. The vocals are dense and boisterous while maintaining perfect clarity and the leads are loaded with melody. This is good-time death metal – the kind you can sing along to and enjoy without having to decipher time signatures constructed around random number generators.
11. Volbeat – Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie
After 2013’s conceptual and chronically consistent Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, Volbeat return with a more eclectic collection of heavy rockabilly anthems. Honing their infectious melodies, Seal the Deal… comes in peaks and troughs but its peaks are enough to make those of the Himalayas look like mere foothills. More so than ever before the Danes exhibit their terrifying talent for writing monolithic anthems with the power to move stadiums – see ‘Black Rose’, ‘Goodbye Forever’ and the title track – hanging them around a framework of meaty hard rock riffs that belong firmly in the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. This one’s going to be an essential resource for rock club DJs around the world for years to come.
10. Aborted – Retrogore
The kings of brutal death never fail to disappoint and their ninth full-length release sees them experimenting with the blueprint upon which they’ve built their career. The slam section of the title track adds a new dynamic to their relentless onslaught while the discordant arpeggios of ‘Cadaverous Banquet’ add a sense of unease. The strings on ‘Bit by Bit’ pay ode to the theatricality from which the band take much of their influence but most interesting of all is the sluggish melody of ‘Divine Impediment’ (featuring none other than Travis Ryan), which sounds as if it were inspired by Behemoth’s The Satanist. Retrogore is certainly the most experimental of their works and it’s all the more engaging for it.
9. Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
Dark Tranquillity’s albums tend to fall neatly into one of two pigeonholes; Anthemic and Atmospheric. Atoma finds itself haphazardly wedged in the crack between the two, delivering slabs of substance while avoiding canonical song structures. Stanne’s clean baritones feature heavily this time around, reminiscent of a calculating Count Dracula serenading his next meal, while the compositions meander between ferocious string-skipping riffs and more ambient keyboard-led passages of restraint and composure. For the most part it avoids the big choruses with immediate hooks that prevailed on the likes of Fiction, instead begging repeat listens to reveal its dark, brooding secrets that have been wrapped up in methodical layers of melodious melancholy.
8. Allegaeon – Proponent for Sentience
Proponent for Sentience was my go-to tech metal release this year, though with its heavy inclusion of symphonic, classical and even flamenco elements, the tech metal label seems somewhat restrictive. New vocalist McShane has a peerless ability for writing catchy choruses and vocal hooks that you can actually sing along to, which is completely atypical of the genre, and his dense roar gives the intricate tapestries a backbone of steel that prevents everything from spiralling off in opposite directions. Rarely pausing for breath, the blistering guitar and bass lines incorporate a calculated balance of melody and technicality, which keep everything constantly moving and evolving so that the listener barely has a moment to get comfortable, let alone restless. Oh – and it includes a blinding cover of Rush’s brilliant ‘Subdivisions’.
7. Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct
In the absolute shitstorm that has been 2016, the last thing anyone expected was for Metallica to return with an album that wasn’t a completely unsalvageable pile of incoherent ideas and misguided trend hopping. With enough hooks to wipe out the Atlantic Ocean’s entire cod population, and vocal melodies the size of Lars Ulrich’s ego, Hardwired… is prime driving music. It also harks back to …And Justice… without at any point sounding calculated or contrived. But my absolute favourite thing about this album is the sheer sense of energy and adrenaline locked within each of the riffs. It really sounds like it was written and recorded by men half their age at the apex of their performing careers. It’s a feeling that few bands ever manage to recapture even with significant lineup changes – just take a listen to final song, ‘Spit out the Bone’, and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.
6. Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign
Where Shadows Forever Reign succeeds MGLA’s 2015 release Exercises in Futility as my black metal pick of the year and it’s hard to ignore the similarities between the two records. With a richer, more rounded production, Shadows is much less concerned with serrated riffs and epileptic blast beats and instead focuses on building a foreboding, sinister atmosphere without sounding as if it were recorded in a submarine on a water-damaged four track. For the most part the riffs are considered and deliberate, underpinned by malicious arpeggios that build tension only to be broken by a passage of rapid tremolo. New vocalist Heljarmadr is a huge asset to the band’s new sound, his shrieks ringing with anguish while remaining completely decipherable. Shadows is a perfect marriage of traditional and contemporary black metal.
For numbers 5-1, check out OneMetal’s top albums of 2016.