Scientists all agree that 2016 is the worst year of anyone’s life who has ever lived, including mine. We lost a lot of musical heroes this year (both metal and otherwise), and the current political climate has brought unprecedented levels of stupidity to my doorstep. Worse yet, I am often surrounded by terrible music made by dickheads.
I’m not sure I even want to live in a world where Lemmy Kilmister is dead while Ted Nugent, David Draiman, and all five members of Aerosmith still walk the earth somehow. However, the albums below are helping me deal with it. And as always, if you disagree with this list, too bad.
(ish) Ihsahn // Arktis. — To my relief and gratitude, Arktis finds Ihsahn retreating somewhat from the more avant garde/improvisational approach (read: saxophone solos) of his last couple albums, rediscovering his songwriting chops in the process. Arktis pulls influence from traditional metal (“Mass Darkness”), electronic music (“South Winds,” “Frail”), and even jazz (“Crooked Red Line”). Ihsahn is a musician of incredibly diverse tastes and abilities, and Arktis attempts to pull all of it together.
#10. Bob Mould // Patch The Sky — Rather than waste this spot on some shit pile of 9-string guitars and AutoTune, I’m gonna educate a few of you here. In the late ’70s, Bob Mould co-founded hardcore pioneers Hüsker Du, who eventually influenced metal bands like Anthrax and Entombed. Oh, and he also wrote this little tune which some of you may recognize. Mr. Mould has been enjoying somewhat of a creative renaissance lately, leading up to Patch The Sky this year. It’s a little slower and more introspective than its recent predecessors, but still clearly the work of a master songwriter.
#9. Abbath // Abbath — Ex-Immortal frontman and living meme, Abbath debuts his eponymous new band. Not surprisingly, the sound is a direct continuation of Immortal‘s later, riffier style, with just a hint of the more organic vibe of Abbath’s I project. The new band also allows for some new angles on Abbath‘s signature style — check out those trumpets on “Ashes Of The Damned,” or the folk guitar on “Winter Bane.” Extra old-school points are given for the ridiculous cover of Judas Priest‘s “Riding On The Wind” on the deluxe edition.
#8. Metallica // Hardwired…To Self Destruct — By the time you read this sentence, dozens of AMG readers will be tearing me a new butthole in the comments section for this pick. Don’t care. Yes, 2016 produced albums that were performed with more instrumental skill, written more effectively, and mixed with greater fidelity. However, for a span of about a half hour, 14-year-old me gets his favorite band back on Hardwired, and you can’t really argue with that feeling. Metallica‘s many flaws remain, but are often transcended through the sheer force of meathead James Hetfield riffage. Hate all you want, but Hardwired is easily the best thing that Metallica has produced in the last 25 years.
#7. Gojira // Magma — Stricken with grief and perhaps bored of chug riffs, the brothers Duplantier return from family tragedy with the hypnotic, oddly soothing Magma. The band’s usual mosh fodder is still there in smaller doses, surrounded by instances where they push outward into more trance-like, Gojira-as-Killing Joke scenarios. Most of the band’s trademarks remain (two-handed guitar tapping, atonal breakdowns), and work surprisingly well within this new framework. I still consider From Mars To Sirius the essential Gojira record, but I commend the band for trying new things and generally succeeding at them.
#6. John Wesley // A Way You’ll Never Be — John Wesley is probably best known to AMG readers as the longtime touring guitarist for Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, but he has a deep solo catalog as well. Wesley writes progressive yet deceptively simple songs, and delivers them with a soulful voice and some fearsome Dave Gilmour guitar chops. He’s backed by an ace rhythm section, including Cynic bassist Sean Malone, which ups the prog factor considerably. The resulting songs range from Rush-like virtuoso rock to singer-songwriter introspection. A Way You’ll Never Be feels languid and laid-back, but with an intensity boiling just below the surface.
#5. Opeth // Sorceress — The third album of Opeth‘s seemingly-permanent psychedelic/prog rock phase, Sorceress lacks both the shock value of Heritage and the consistency of Pale Communion. It breaks little new ground musically, instead refining and consolidating ideas explored on the previous two records. Yes, there’s a big mushy spot of filler in the middle of the record, and the sonics pale in comparison to Steven Wilson’s mixes on Communion. However, tracks like “Will O The Wisp,” “Chrysalis” and “Era” are satisfying chunks of retro goodness. Sorceress may not be quite up to Opeth‘s high standards, but it’s a fun record if taken at face value.
#4. Sumerlands // Sumerlands — Nothing makes a person feel older than seeing styles from their youth suddenly becoming “retro.” Sumerlands celebrates my exit from the target demographic with a spirited homage to late-1980s commercial-grade heavy metal. There are plenty of nods to Queensryche, Savatage, and especially Jake E. Lee-era Ozzy, wrapped in a thick atmosphere of doom. The band’s marquee name is singer Phil Swanson (Hour of 13) but for my money, the star of the show is guitarist Arthur Rizk, who delivers blistering, non-ironic performances on both lead and rhythms. “The Guardian,” “Timelash,” and opening cut “Seventh Seal” are all winners.
#3. Steven Wilson // 4 1/2 — Despite its status as an EP, 4 1/2 would be a full-length by most standards, and offers a wealth of prog-rock goodness. The opening track alone, “My Book Of Regrets,” is a 9-minute tour de force that single-handedly justifies this EP’s existence. There are some fine instrumental jams as well, and the upbeat-by-Wilson-standards “Happiness III.” The album ends with a re-imagining of Porcupine Tree oldie “Don’t Hate Me,” with incredibly dynamic vocalist Ninet Tayib at the mic. Wilson is currently the reigning king of progressive music, and 4 1/2 proves that even his so-called “leftovers” are easily on par with anything else the genre has to offer.
#2. Fates Warning // Theories of Flight — If 2013’s Darkness In A Different Light was a comeback, then Theories is the next leap forward for Fates Warning. The veteran band sounds energetic and rejuvenated, as evidenced by the surprising ratio of heavy, complex riffs and musical ideas here. When those elements are combined with the emotional weight of their more recent output, the results are effective on multiple levels. Vocalist Ray Alder sounds better than he has in years, and guitarist/mastermind Jim Matheos is in peak songwriting form.
#1. Hammers of Misfortune // Dead Revolution — Returning from a longer-than-usual absence, John Cobbett and his Hammers Of Misfortune remind me why I even bother listening to music in the first place. Great songwriting. Fantastic fucking riffs. Real drums. Real vocals, of the male, female and co-ed variety. This album takes almost everything I enjoy about rock/metal music and gives it a big-ass bear hug. Hammers of Misfortune have made great records before, but Dead Revolution is their crowning achievement so far. Let’s hope it doesn’t take them another five years to release the follow-up.
- Dawnbringer // XX
- Lybria // Apogee
- Vektor // Terminal Redux
- Moon Tooth // Chromaparagon
- Charles Bradley // Changes