2016 reminded those of us who love heavy metal why we stick with it for life. An abundance of bands stretching the boundaries of the genre showed that there are still new musical planets to explore, while an equal abundance of groups stuck to tried-and-true methods to show that sometimes great metal is more like slipping comfortably into an old pair of shoes. We also got a Metallica album that was pretty damn good, though our picks below for the top 10 metal albums of 2016 were better.
10. Take Over and Destroy, Take Over and Destroy
This Phoenix group’s 2014 record, Vacant Face, made our top 10 that year thanks to the band’s expertise at infusing a psychedelic goth-rock aura to songs that were built on a foundation of groove-laden Swedish death ’n’ roll riffs. Take Over and Destroy’s newest record took that mix and cranked up the melodic goth-rock. Vocalist Andrew Leemont stood out on double duty this time, juggling his Sisters of Mercy–ish croons and death barks while also stepping in and delivering delightfully creepy organ work after the band’s keyboardist position opened up.
9. Reptilian, Perennial Void Traverse
Norwegian extreme-metal label Edged Circle Productions does a stellar job finding and nurturing the next wave of Scandinavian greats. Reptilian’s debut full-length is not a pretty listen, instead hearkening back to a time when death metal was an all-around ugly sound. The frenetic musical chaos and tortured screams of vocalist/guitarist C.B. would have made this record fit in well in 1991 alongside era greats such as Autopsy. In 2016, that ugliness is a breath of fresh air and foretells a promising future for Reptilian.
8. Blood Incantation, Starspawn
This Denver death metal act’s first proper full-length showcases some of the best all-around musicianship to be found in 2016 metal circles. The group balance both technicality and brutality while also shrouding their din in a cocoon of progressive atmospherics, displaying an ambition that goes far beyond showing how heavy they are. The result is a compelling, complex album that reveals new tricks with each listen, from another newer death metal band with a bright future ahead. '
7. Khemmis, Hunted
On their second record, this Denver quartet’s brand of melodic doom metal exploits the conflicting dissonance between darkness and harmony that has propelled many genre greats to success in the past. The group’s hard-rock riffs and compositions have more in common with the head-banging faster cuts from classic acts like Trouble and Candlemass than the slow-paced sludge that has swarmed the doom genre in recent years. Guitarists/vocalists Phil Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson shine with melodic vocals that attain the perfect balance of beauty and melancholy, making this strain of metal truly great.
6. Amon Amarth, Jomsviking
Ten albums into their career, there really are not any surprises left from Swedish metallers Amon Amarth. You know you are going to get well-made, melodic death-metal odes to Vikings, Norse mythology and battles of ages ago. You know that Johan Hegg’s growly barks are going to lend extra weight to catchy compositions that gallop along with heavy metal thunder. Amon Amarth are done breaking new ground and locked into a comfortable groove, and heavy metal is all the better and more awesome because of it.
5. Mare Cognitum, Luminiferous Aether
Since 2011, Lake Forest musician Jacob Buczarksi has been slowly generating sparks in the Southern California metal scene, releasing his self-recorded, self-produced, one-man bursts of black-metal creativity under the name Mare Cognitum. In 2016, on Luminiferous Aether, those sparks coalesced into a beautiful, roaring fire. Searching for metallic inspiration from the cosmos above instead of the hell below, Buczarksi adeptly balanced ambient beauty and pummeling brutality in a cosmic, black-metal opus that shined as brightly as the stars that inspire him.
4. Eternal Champion, The Armor of Ire
Few fan bases in music show loyalty to the tried-and-true sounds of yesteryear like metalheads. While many fans also crave innovation and advancement, sometimes it just feels good to receive a warm burst of traditional heavy metal goodness that reminds you why bands such as Iron Maiden made you fall in love with this music in the first place. Featuring members of Austin thrashers Power Trip and fellow trad-metallers Sumerlands, Eternal Champion’s first full-length featured a bounty of galloping riffs and epic compositions, making it the best “comfort food” metal record of 2016.
3. Oranssi Pazuzu, Värähtelijä
Earlier this year, we named Oranssi Pazuzu the scariest band in metal. That wasn’t based on any faux-Satanic imagery or costumed corpse paint but solely on the viscerally terrifying sounds of this, the Finnish group’s fourth record. Loosely categorized as black metal, Oranssi Pazuzu envelop their harsh din in a flood of psychedelic disorientation. The listener is bombarded with dizzying musical passages that result in a record that sounds more inherently evil than a thousand lesser thrash and death-metal bands shouting “Hail Satan!”
2. Astronoid, Air
A few years after testing the waters with a couple of EPs and a split record, this Massachusetts collective tore apart the prog-metal rulebook and showed that the riffs that drive some of the heaviest compositions in metal also can drive some of the most beautiful compositions in all of music. Black-metal riffs and blistering drumming that would normally fuel harsh, abrasive vocals here drive soaring, clean vocal harmonies that are more life-affirming than wrist-cutting. It’s the next logical extension from Deafheaven’s blending of black metal and shoegaze, with a touch of prog-metal musicianship to add even more beauty to the proceedings.
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1. Nails, You Will Never Be One of Us
This past year was a real punch in the gut at times. The state of the world in 2016 is such that even the strongest-willed couldn’t help but feel angry. Oxnard hardcore band Nails generated the angriest musical output of 2016 with their latest record. Vocalist-guitarist Todd Jones took the pure rage that swelled inside him and channeled it into a 21-minute outburst of ferocious riffs and paint-stripping screams, which were the perfect catharsis for anyone beaten down by life and needing to lash out and lay waste to everything in their path.