Madam XWow, to say that 2016 has been brutal is an understatement. Following on from Lemmy’s unexpected death towards the back end of December 2015, Jimmy Bain (bassist – Rainbow and Dio), Nick Menza (former drummer – Megadeath) and Aleah Liane Stanbridge (vocalist – Trees of Eternity) joined a long list of names, gone but not forgotten. Agalloch, Bolt Thrower, Blood Mortized and Twisted Sister officially disbanded, Manowar and Black Sabbath set out on their final tours and there were a host of albums (see Disappointments o’ the Year) that failed in one way or another to meet their (or is it my) expectation.

As the year winds to a close I find myself reflecting on what this year has been for me musically, and I have to say, unlike other reviewers on the site, I’ve found it extremely difficult to doll out any significantly high scores. This has led me to just one conclusion, Madam X’s Top Ten(ish) of 2016, shall instead be titled Madam X’s Least Disliked Ten(ish) of 2016 [Who authorized this??Steel Druhm]. Ever the contrarian, I hope my list brings you discomfort and sleepless nights over this holiday season. Jokes aside, to you our dedicated readers both old and new, thanks for your readership, your comradery and most of all, your comments and band/album advice. And to my fellow writers and contributors, thank you for making Angry Metal Guy the entertaining place it is.

Read em and weep!


(ish): Drought Year // All Symbols Are Swastikas – Dressed in the stigma of Fred Phelps and accompanied by victims of the Nazi genocide, this is an album that hovers between nihilism and pessimism, suggesting that, like the swastika, all symbols (religious, political, currency, and so on) are soaked in blood. Perfectly coupling beautiful and ghastly, memorable and discordant, All Symbols Are Swastikas combines the the dirge of Rozz Williams (Every King a Bastard Son) and the experimentation of Andrew Curtis-Brignell (Caïna) or perhaps Justin Broadrick (ex Napalm Death, Godflesh and Jesu) with the easy accessibility of Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine). I find it remarkable that Drought Year pulled together this concept with such cohesion. A late but haunting addition.

Messa - Belfry#10. Messa // Belfry – Looking at my listening habits, it’s becoming more the norm that a band will hold my interest when they turn convention on its head and establish a new way of doing things. Messa are trying to push their way to the forefront of that weirdness race by infusing Sunn O))) inspired dark ambiance and minimalist drone into old-school doom metal, and Belfry proves they’re onto something. Wrapped up in top-notch, doom-laden melodies easily comparable to those of Pentagram or Saint Vitus, and embodying all the best aspects of Jex Thoth and Avatarium, this frontwoman (Sara) concocts some of the best female vocals I’ve encountered this side of 2016.

#9. Brujeria // Pocho Aztlan – With guillotine sharpness, Brujeria dropped Pocho Aztlan on the necks of the unsuspecting masses and we at AMG were late to the bloodbath! Featuring members of Napalm Death and Carcass, it doesn’t take long to establish where Burjeria‘s catchy, head-banging core developed. With the subtlety of an out of control nail gun, Pocho Aztlan features not only a level of accessibility and catchiness that’ll attract new listeners like myself, but it’s loaded with enough brutality and warped GWAR-like comedic relief to satisfy even seasoned death fans.

#8. Votum // :KTONIK: – Certain regions have you sit up and take notice when it comes to music, Poland is one of those places. When Steel Druhm reviewed Votum back in February, I couldn’t help but get carried away by :KTONIK:. Delivering their take on sadboy post-rock prog metal, Votum put together a compelling album drawing from the likes of Anathema, Katatonia, Agalloch, Sólstafir and Chevelle. And yet, :KTONIK: never actually sounds entirely like any of these bands. This is primarily because Bartosz Sobieraj has a voice of stellar proportions. In the words of the great Steel Druhm “Now get out there and Votum!”.

#7. Vader // The EmpireVader needs no introduction! Death metal devotees the world over are well familiar with these stalwarts of Polish death-thrash. Straight out the gate, “Angels of Steel” whips into action giving you a veracious taster of what Vader is all about. Transitioning perfectly from one track to the next The Empire flaunts warped speed, anger, abrupt tempo changes and high-reaching and oft truly magnificent solos. The Empire is the work of a band that are content to stick to their core sound while at the same time echoing just enough of their Polish counterparts to keep things appealing and outright entertaining.

#6. Source // Return to Nothing – As an avid listener of Tool‘s 10 000 Days I’m somewhat intrigued by bands that are able recapture elements of that album and cleverly apply them to their own sound. None did this more successfully in 2016 than Source. Tracks like “Memories of Yesterday,” “The Essence” and “Return to Nothing” showcase a combination of Opeth-inspired death metal, Tool‘s syncopation, and Source‘s own kaleidoscopic, experimental guitar solos and penetratingly jazzy interludes. This results in a lightly progressive treat, that though a tad lengthy, is nothing short of enjoyable from start to finish.

#5. Dot Legacy // To The OthersDot Legacy is their name and fuzzed-out eclectic energy rock is their game. Tipping all that you know on its head, from genres to arrangements, “Horizon” gets this colorful parade on the road, the bluesy transmission even adopting some Blues Pills hum and familiarity. A minute and a half in, Damien Quintard invokes his inner Beastie Boys, turning to rap of all things. This shouldn’t work and on first listen it doesn’t, but through Dot Legacy‘s clever innovation and ongoing listening it eventually does! Though each track on To The Others quickly works their way into your resistant noggin, it’s “Grey Cardinal” and “Pioneer” that brings this odd journey together.

#4. Caïna // Christ Clad in White Phosphorus – Though unlike anything Caïna have undertaken before, this most resembles the flow of Mourner but with increased tenebrosity and fewer enticing melodies. “Oildrenched and Geartorn” begins by mechanically working its way under your skin, an understated throwback to the minimalism of the 80s darkwave scene and bands like Bauhaus. Carving away parts of Ulver (and more importantly, Kristoffer Rygg), Skitliv and Igorrr, Caïna presents you with 4 tracks of pure sound effect and noise element, broken by ruthless Norwegian-styled black metal tainted with some of the foulest doom and black ‘n roll experiments, all brought to a close with a seemingly misplaced 80s darkwave styled excursion. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Christ Clad in White Phosphorus is a hellish and demanding trip, well worth taking.

#3. Insomnium // Winter’s Gate – It was Omnium Gatherum that stole the show with their live performance when the bands played together in August of 2015, but it’s Insomnium‘s epic new tragedy, Winter’s Gate that’s the showstopper of 2016. A track that spans a gargantuan 40 minutes from start to finish – to many this would seem a daunting undertaking. In reality, the weightlessness, subtle acoustics and vocal varieties envelope you in a way that has the track ending, dare I say, prematurely. Winter’s Gate proved unusual, not only embodying all I’ve longed for in Insomnium, but also showcasing a band skirting stagnation. With the suggestion of Opeth early on, Insomnium successfully incorporate my favorite elements of In Flames Sounds of a Playground Fading before delving into the creativity of Ghost’s psychedelic rock base. Insomnium‘s Winter’s Gate proved a high point of a truly unforgiving year.

#2. Anthrax // For All Kings – Initially lured in when Steel Druhm referred to Anthrax as the “good times thrash band with the New York attitude” “Blood Eagle Wings” and “Monster at the End” quickly confirmed that nowhere is this more apparent than on For All Kings. Driven by sheer force, For All Kings begins with a tension-building drum roll and a war cry, and what follows is 60 minutes of pure adrenaline jam-packed with hooky, heavy choruses, crunchy riffage, dizzying guitar solos and lyrics that burn straight through you like demon eyes. Anthrax found the fountain youth and they’re selling it for a nifty $9.49 on Amazon. Best you get yourself some!

#1. Sink // Ark of Contempt and Anger – If you set out to buy a single unconventional metal album this year, let it be Sink‘s Ark of Contempt and Anger. Rising to the challenge set by artists like Tiamat, Sólstafir and Chelsea Wolfe, Sink patiently lure you into their world of discord using surreal melodies and sensual vocals, sugar-coated in atonal droning discomfort. Skillfully weaving the diversity of Tom Waits, New Keepers of the Water Tower, Hexvessel, Ulver, Andreas Vollenveider and My Dying Bride, Ark of Contempt and Anger develops into an extraordinary intoxication, brought to life with a production style so immaculate and dynamic, it perfectly exhibits every nuance and quirk.

 

Honorable Mentions: (in no particular order)

  • Sarke // Bogefod – Though much of Bogefod feels expected for the genre, moments like “Barrow of Torolv,” “The Wickeds Transient Sleep” and “Burn” elevate flaunting subtle similarities to the likes of Eudaimony, Celtic Frost, Borknagar and A Forest of Stars.
  • The Black Scorpio Underground // Necrochasm – This grinds away using only industrial noise and shock tactics delivering the kind of album that transports you into the ugly side of life.
  • Ranger // Speed and Violence – “This is music for the chronically hyperactive, tasteless, toothless retro-mongers, and as dumb as it is, I wouldn’t want it any other way.” – Steel Druhm
  • Avantasia // Ghostlights – An attention-seeking symphonic metal harlot flaunting the over-sized bombast of Meatloaf, Savatage and Nightwish. What’s not to love?!

Disappointments o’ the Year: (in no particular order of suckitude)

  • Metallica // Hardwired…To Self Destruct – Suffers more bloat than a refloat.
  • Pain // Coming Home – Nothing more than delivery on a record label commitment.
  • In Flames // Battles – Aimed at radio play for angsty teens, this a battle lost.
  • Avenged Sevenfold // The Stage – This city has lost its evil.
  • Alter Bridge // The Last Hero – Fails to uphold the Fortress or hold my attention.
  • Avatar // Feathers & Flesh – The Black Waltz has ended.
  • Opeth // Sorceress – The Baying of the Hounds are silent on this one.
  • Blaze Bayley // Infinite Entanglement – No blaze of glory here, just cheese.
  • Crematory // Monument – In the words of Steel Druhm “Poppy techno-death tailor-made for metallized strip clubs and sketchy back alley discos”.

Song o’ the Year:

  • Anthrax – “Blood Eagle Wings” – NSFW.

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  • El_Cuervo

    Well I’m still thankful for one of your recommendations this year Madam – Zhrine made my list! Thanks for your help this year.

  • Kelli Caltabiano

    king of fleshgod apocalypse?

    • Uuuuuhhhhhhmmm…. no.

      • The Nerd.

        Atleast she’s consistent.

        • And persistent. I’m sure Fleshgod Apocalypse would appreciate that.

    • AgonMcDuck

      Good lord. :)))))))

    • Reese Burns

      Did someone put you up to this? Is the band paying you?

    • Grymm

      king flashlight alpacalips?

      • Kelli Caltabiano

        uaauuu

    • Mephisto

      Poor kelli, but I think your ‘patience’ will soon be granted

      • Maybe Steel has Fleshking Apocalypse on his list.

  • madhare

    I share your sentiment. I don’t quite know why but this year has not grabbed me as hard as the previous. Last year offered so many new finds and gems. Whereas this year’s pattern has been:

    1. Huge expectations over some trusted band or because of reviews.
    2. Play new albums a few times thinking they’re kind of great.
    3. …until the initial excitement turns into “kind of good but kind of meh” and move on with a shrug.

    I can come up with something like top 3 or 4 list, but the rest are all ish-level for me.

    • When you find yourself scrambling through the 3-star album bin for your year end list, you know you’re in trouble.

  • I think Russia hacked your list. Jill Stein demands a recount!

    • No recounts!

    • [not a Dr]

      I recounted it: it still amounts to ten(ish).

  • greg ko

    a list i actually agree with

  • AgonMcDuck

    Very interesting list!

    I’ve never been into Alter Bridge. In theory, I should like them, I love Myles Kennedy’s work on other projects and Mark Tremonti is a guitarist I respect, but nothing ever clicks for me. Any recommendations?

    • Fortress clicked and that’s the album I go back to most of all – there’s not a bad moment and it’s got a nice hard-rock bordering on heavy metal heaviness that I enjoyed. I’ve been told that Blackbird is another good one, but it did nothing for me.

      • I agree that Fortress is their strongest work, but Tremonti’s soloing in Blackbird (I mean title track) is probably the best moment in AB entire catalogue.
        Plus that chorus is MASSIVE.

    • Owlswald

      Mayfield Four fan?

      • I didn’t know of them prior to your post. They don’t sound bad though from what I hear on YouTube.

      • AgonMcDuck

        Funnily enough, this is like the project of his I haven’t been aware of. It’s more a case of Myles Kennedy being one of the few things that made Slash’s solo work bearable (I still have that first solo album. Sadly not my finest purchase).

        I’m listening to them now though, thanks for pointing me in their direction!

  • Eldritch Elitist

    Cool to see Ktonik made it into your list. I haven’t listened to that one nearly enough but I definitely haven’t forgotten about it.

    • It needs the right listening environment and enough time to develop, good to hear it found its audience!

  • Joshua Walker

    Great list, Madam X. I loved the Votum and Source albums as well. And I have listened to the Dot Legacy album a handful of times and it is definitely one of my favorite non-metal albums this year. Looking forward to checking out Sink as well.

    • Glad they found their audience! Knowing that you’ve enjoyed Votum, Source and Dot Legacy, I’m interested to hear whether you enjoy Sink.

  • The Nerd.

    You really didn’t like The Stage Madam? I thought it was a return to form. Am glad to see Insomnium in the top 3 though.

    • I found it to be probably the most boring Avenged Sevenfold album released thus far – pretty much missing all the quirk and battiness and cheese. I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve done to this point, even Hail to the King … I hope this isn’t their new direction.

      • Iain Gleasure

        I have to agree. I don’t really want to listen to Avenged Sevenfold for proggy rock metal. I don’t even really want to listen to proggy rock metal at all.

        • Haha me either!

        • AgonMcDuck

          I like some proggy rock metal personally, but yeah, I don’t think I want to see Sevenfold going in that particular direction. But who knows.

      • Reese Burns

        I feel like this is more than anything, a transitional record. Personally, I loved it, but I feel like whatever’s coming next is gonna be a lot better, hopefully you’ll enjoy it!

    • I tried to resist Insomnium truth be told. After seeing the band live and not really enjoying their performance, I couldn’t see them doing a song of this length successfully. I was very wrong.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    I can understand the disappointment at Alter Bridge. I’ve been a fan of theirs from basically the beginning but I fear they are on a downward turn. Their albums are too long and have a lot of filler songs with only one good idea. I would enjoy it a lot more if they cut the thing in half. I did enjoy This Side of Fate, the title track and the opener (which was my alarm clock for a good part of 2016).

    Where’s New Keepers? I thought for sure it would be on your list!

    • I’ll go back and check out those tracks again, thanks for the recommendations!

      Good question… It probably should have appeared on my honorable mentions truth be told.

    • Akerblogger

      Unashamedly, Alter Bridge and Black Stone Cherry were two bands who I really became enamored with when I was making my way through school and they – alongside the nu-metal soundtracks of the WWE video games and hours spent listening to similar music lastfm stations as I played Runescape (giving my age away here) – guided me down uglier musical avenues.

      It’s a real shame about both bands really, particularly BSC who have traded their big-balled heaviness for flaccid radio-rock. Blackbird by AB will always be an absolute gem though.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Ah, that brings me back to the (not so) old days of WWE bootleg entrance music collections. It was a simpler time but we were dumb and System of a Down and Rammstein were the heaviest things I listened to, haha.

        I never got into BSC (and I hated Runescape with a passion) but Alter Bridge was a major player in my musical formative years. Blackbird being the first album I found and got for myself. I still treasure it.

  • AndySynn

    Where Fishdog?

    • Haha if I could give this two thumbs up I would.

  • metalcasket

    Totally surprised to see Pocho Aztlan on here. I didn’t even know a new Brujeria was out, but my buddy visiting from England a couple of months ago got me the album as a birthday present (on the basis that we used to listen to Brujeria back in the day). Easily one of the best surprises of 2016 for me.

    • I thought I’d check them out based on a fairly recent move to the US. Having no idea where to start I decided to check out this album and it was an instant hit. Big surprise for me too.

    • Reese Burns

      Pocho Aztlan was in the running for my top ten for a long while, it’s real good.

    • gus rodrigues

      I completely forgot about that. the first 2 brujeria albums are very entertaining…

  • Jason

    Nice to see some love for Vader. I haven’t seen that appear in many lists.

    • gus rodrigues

      I never was able to get into Vader… the word bland always comes to my mind whenever I hear them. Go figure!

      • The guitar solos on this album are something else. Pretty attention grabby.

  • Norfair Legend

    Fingers crossed that someone out there noticed Echelon and it will appear on someone’s list. (I secretly know it won’t but that’s ok, lol). No biggie though, just a band with Dave Ingram and Rogga Johansson.

    Great list though, Drought Year sounds up my alley and a surprise that I’ve never heard of!

    • The Dec 22nd release date may be what held Echelon back. Most of our lists were compiled by the 20th already with only small changes taking place after that. It’s a pity they didn’t get the release out sooner.

      Interest to hear if Drought Year clicks for you.

      • Norfair Legend

        Just a fanboy moment, album caught me off guard at how great Echelon is. No reinventing the wheel but some super solid, groovy old school death metal with hooks for days. Funny because you never know what you are just going to be blown away by, the splendor of metal I say!

        You had me at Justin and Kevin and Drought Year doesn’t sound too far off with what I was imagining. Sounds cool but I’m not sure I could take in the whole album in a sitting though. I was hoping for a more haunting type vocal over the abrasiveness. At least a little more of a clean delivery. What’s there works for the material but I could easily picture the song Pop Culture Reference in that Jesu drone or MBV shoe gaze cheese.

        • I hear you. Some vocal variety could be encouraged. That said, I’m a huge fan of this weird radio transmission style…. It’s so alien and cold.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Bummer about Avatar. I really enjoyed the two prior releases. I wonder if we’ll ever hear anything as catchy from them again as “Paint Me Red”.

    Glad to see Source and Messa getting some love. I share your admiration of Sara’s vocals. There’s that one song, Babalon I think, where things get really quiet and her whispered voice floats waif-like over the restrained strumming. Gets me every time.

    • I’m still confused by Feathers and Flesh. I loved Black Waltz instantly. Every song just leaps out at you and grabs your attention. Hail the Apocalypse I had to spin a few times to love but from that point it stuck and I return to it often. Feathers and Flesh came across as too laid back. It just lacks life by comparison.

      I know Black Waltz was a change in the bands style so let’s hope Feathers and Flesh isn’t the same.

  • Reese Burns

    Completely agree with your assessment of Avatar. I was hooked on the singles, but the album as a whole was just… I can’t even really describe it, it just wasn’t *right*.

    • Exactly! See my answer to Monsterth Goatom below also.

    • Owlswald

      I still have For the Swarm stuck in my head. So damn catchy.

      • Reese Burns

        I loved The Eagle has Landed too, shame the album as a whole wasn’t as good, not necessarily terrible, just disappointing.

  • Eli Valcik

    I always get excited for the Madam’s lists, I get to find a bunch of weird stuff that I will love but missed throughout 2016. This is like my Christmas.

    • This makes it all worthwhile! Hope you find something great here.

      • Eli Valcik

        I have, somehow Sink flew right over my head. I’m really enjoying it, thanks for the great list as always.

  • dedseed1
  • Clayton Haga

    Well I respectfully have to disagree as far as Avatar goes. Feathers and Flesh is arguably the best album they’ve released so far.

    • I’m intrigued by your comment. As a long-time fan of the band I want to love this album. What aspect of Feathers and Flesh hooks you?

      • Clayton Haga

        While the album feels a little schizophrenic at times, Johannes’ vocals really carry the album

    • Requiem

      Surely you mean… Feathers and Fleshgod? ;)

  • One More Thing

    Madam X, I completely missed that Sink album. I am listening to it now and cannot stop. I had already made my year end list and you now have me questioning it. Your lists do this jazz to me every year. Goddamn you and thank you at the same time (more the latter).

  • Alex Jackson

    Whoa whoa whoa where is Witchery’s “In his infernal majesty’s service”?

    • Haven’t spun it yet.

      • Alex Jackson

        I think it’s a great album but it might not rival some of your choices for this list. Great choices they are too.

        • I’ll check it out, thanks for the recommendation!

  • Treble Yell

    Finally, someone else lauds the new Anthrax! I was starting to think I had lost my marbles.

    • I felt the same way. How can Anthrax be this good at such an advanced stage of their career?

      Had Sink not happened, it would have held the #1 spot.

      • Treble Yell

        Yeah, it’s incredible how they’ve wound back the clock. Reminds me of Killing Joke releasing “Absolute Dissent” 30 years after they started and possible their best album.

  • DeadHead

    Great list! Glad you gave Vader some love. They deserve it for staying a solid band for so long. I haven’t liked Anthrax for a long time but this album was extremely catchy and well thought out. Made for a good return to classic form.

  • Dymanic

    Y no Sting – Fresh Dogs And Lotsa Lips

  • ghiklnos

    Haven’t heard most of these. Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Flyingguillotine

    “Megadeath.”

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Nice work madam yours and Grymm’s list always seem to come out of leftfeild to me. Good to see you give anthrax and Vader some love. I really enjoyed both those albums this year with Vader being my go to Counter Strike soundtrack.

  • Arjan Zwamborn

    Being a big fan of Chelsea Wolfe and Sólstafir, your (to me unknown) #1 pick immediately intrigues me. I will most definitely check that one out. Furthermore, I agree wholeheartedly with the love Insomnium’s getting – definitely my personal AOTY.

    I don’t agree with the bad attention In Flames is getting – but that’s a battle I already lost in the comment section of that review.

    Finally, did you find the chance to check out Obscure Sphinx’ newest, Madam? It might be something you’d like if you haven’t.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      It was a heroic and entertaining effort though!

      • Arjan Zwamborn

        If I can amuse the masses with my failure, then it is my duty to do so. Much like In Flames I guess :)

    • I was actually set to review the newest Obscure Sphinx but had trouble getting into it. I love Void Mother, for some reason this newest album just didn’t grab me.

      • Arjan Zwamborn

        Too bad. I liked Void Mother better too, but that’s not saying Epitaphs is a bad one. I’d still be curious about your review of the album!

  • beurbs

    When I first heard Watershed I thought “this is the most progressive band in metal”. When I first heard Sorceress I thought “this is… a band”. It’s a shame that they made an album that’s completely Progressive but not at all progressive.

  • WIRED_Metal

    I love this list for including albums I would have otherwise never heard but am intrigued by—Dot Legacy and Sink in particular. And any list that includes Messa is one I will definitely be interested in. Thank you for some excellent recommendations.

    • It’s great to hear of these lesserknown bands reaching their audience. Thanks again for your comments and readership!

  • Kryopsis

    It’s a good year to be an Insomnium fan. Up until this year, the band was only ever mentioned by AMG himself, usually in the same sentence as ‘boring’, ‘snoozefest’ or some poorly-constructed pun with the same general meaning. While it is true that Omnium Gatherum and Mors Principium Est eclipsed Insomnium in the past few years, the absentee overlord’s derision was uncalled for, as ‘Winter’s Gate’ clearly shows.

  • LGT

    So happy to see Votum in the list. Theres something about that album that just has me absolutely hooked.

  • dduuurrrr dddduuuurrrr

    That Sink album is fantastic and I can’t believe I missed it until it showed up in your list.

  • Norpal Nordickson

    Yay for Vader being there. The Empire is like I went to them and was like “Yo guys make a new album” and Vader were like “ok” and Wiwczarek punched me in the face and that album fell out. It’s fucking awesome, strongest contender for my personal AOTY 2016 along with Monument’s Hair of the Dog.

  • Ta2dlam

    Life and shit so it took me a bit to get to some of these year-end lists. Thank you for Votum! It’s getting my Holy Shit rating upon first listen and I know further listens will open up so much more. Sink is next in my queue. Great as always, Madam!

    • Life can be such a beast! Glad Votum left it’s mark… Let me know the outcome with Sink.

      Thanks for the readership!

      • Ta2dlam

        I won’t beg pardon: It will take a while for what I just heard to Sink in. However, after seeing Messa on so many lists I finally checked them out and that is a pretty incredible release.