We wrote a pretty big check to ourselves when we closed off 2015. Publishing not only a list which proclaimed the triumph of 2015 but also a whole editorial dedicated

7 years ago

We wrote a pretty big check to ourselves when we closed off 2015. Publishing not only a list which proclaimed the triumph of 2015 but also a whole editorial dedicated to the idea of “The Golden Age of Metal”, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Like the rest of the music establishment which, in numerous places implicit and explicit, was apparently ready to join in the social lynching of 2016, we were well positioned to find it a sobering, dreadful, faith shattering year for music in general and metal specifically. Except it was nothing of the sort and we cannot stress our amazement at metal/music journalism’s reaction so far. 2016 was an absolutely fantastic year, building on the trend of solid and often groundbreaking releases from established acts and simply astounding, out of left field releases from virtually nameless bands. Sure, it had its disappointments for us from huge bands we had expected more from (although signs of their demise were certainly forthcoming) but, overall, it was a year which will surely be remembered in our circles as one of the best years for music in general.

Yes, there are plenty of other reasons to be distraught, confused and worn out as 2016 ushers itself out. But music is not one of them. In general, we think it’s possible to summarize the disappointment from music in 2016 into three distinct camps. The first is the most deplorable and the easiest to hand-wave away: this camp bungles up music with the rest of the tumults of 2016 by bringing in Donald Trump, rampant social inequality, Syria or any other “social disaster” into the mix, directly comparing it to music. Yes. There’s even a legitimate trend of comparing metal to Donald Trump. While music is obviously intrinsically connected to social issues, these direct comparisons are simply absurd. They always cut away so much of the nuances and complexities that are embodied within metal (and music in general) to serve whatever contrived simile the journalist has conjured up at the moment. They’re baseless and crude and as such, deserve this somewhat baseless and crude response: come on.

The second and third camp are a bit more complex and founded in reality and thus deserve a more thorough answer. We’ll start with what we call “The Meta” camp. This group of writers, thinkers and industry figures look at 2016 as the year when either musicians, fans or critics of metal lost their “path”, giving into laziness, commercialism or both. They attack the metal journalism community for being too shattered or too cohesive, often at the same time. They claim that metal musicians no longer care about the craft and the suffering inherently contained therein or that fans have become jaded to “true” artists. To the former, we’ll be drafting an answer very shortly in the form our industry aggregate list, wherein we create a “meta” list from all metal websites and analyze it. Look for it next week. To the latter we are currently working on an answer in the form of our “Endless Sacrifice” on-going editorial. Look for our answers to these criticisms there (spoiler: we don’t think they hold too much water).

The third and final camp will be answered here, in our summary. This camp claims that innovation has died within metal and that everyone is reiterating the same ideas. It points towards releases by established names and their monotone nature, obsessed with the past, their own sound or “trend hopping” as these bands tend to be. This camp claims that enough of metal is infected by this derivative effort to proclaim the entire genre dead, defunct, extinct. Gone to join the choir invisible. To which we say: you’re not looking hard enough. Look (WARNING: masturbatory analysis of music journalism detected ahead), music journalism is hard. It really is a full time job even if it doesn’t look like one. A good music journalist spends hours challenges themselves with new music, constantly pushing themselves further and further out from their comfort zone. They must, by force, listen to hours and hours of music a week from various recommendation sources, outlets, and styles if they wish to stay relevant, to innovate and to bring truly fresh music to their audiences.

Sadly, it would appear as if many metal journalists just don’t do that. This is what enables so many establishment lists to include albums which are just fine on their end of year lists, some of them even in prominent or even #1 positions. Sure, opinions differentiate and they just might really, really love those albums where we didn’t. But when you look at the entirety of their list, you see the limitations. You see the absence of whole swaths of young, challenging music happening today (sometimes by “old” and veteran musicians). You see the patterns which led them to settle for something merely nice instead of the sheer excellence that 2016 gave us, both in “traditional” releases and in cutting edge works. And, finally, at the end of this ramble, we are here to talk about this excellence as a form of ultimate answer to all three camps. How can you look at this list, chock full of so much amazing, mind-blowing and in some cases, truly classic music and tell us that 2016 was a bad year for music or metal? We simply can’t comprehend that.

Take a look for yourself.

50. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

Atrocity Exhibition is Detroit MC Danny Brown’s magnum opus. It takes the energy and oddity that have made him a household name and places them over production that is more experimental and twisted than anything that came before. On the album, Danny takes the time to rap about money, drugs and outlandish antics all while subverting expectations of the listener. Not only does he touch on topics such as these, but he’s often talking about his own life, pain and struggles when doing so. Being personal is nothing new for rappers, but the pictures Danny paints are impressively vivid on top of being abstract and strange.

The album has no set mood or tone, either. You can go from a song about Danny being on a bender for days on end trapped in his house to a song that talks about licking a woman’s clit, causing her to do the Macarena. You can go from a sad, deranged version of Danny Brown to one that exudes confidence in his craft and himself, all in the same song. That, combined with the album’s easily digestible length of 46 minutes and some change, is what makes this album worth listening to. It’s not afraid to take you to a lot of different places in a short period of time, even if you might not always feel particularly comfortable with where it’s headed. Danny knows that when the people want a show, you’ve got to give it to them, even if it can get a bit messy or out there along the way.

-Ryan Castrati

49. SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages

In what proved to be another triumphant year for doom metal, few albums stood as tall as SubRosa’s For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages. To be fair, anything the band releases at this point is bound to stand out, by the nature of their blueprint alone. Though less monumental in stature, it can be said that SubRosa are to doom metal what Godspeed You! Black Emperor are to post-rock. Apart from the musical similarities between the two (e.g. the prominence of violins), they also tread the same path of refusing to bow to their genres’ conventions while staying true to their ethos. From this standpoint on the very outskirts of doom, SubRosa have honed their unorthodox sound over four releases in the past ten years. All of which culminated in 2016’s Battle, a sprawling opus that dazzles with both the complexity of its themes and the simplicity of its atmosphere. With its sense of grandiosity, painstaking attention to song structure, and stellar performances from each band member, Battle is clearly a labor of love – and a brilliant one, too.

-David Aleksov

48. The Body & Full of Hell – One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache

Pain. Loss. Sorrow. Suffering. The Body and Full of Hell touch on all this and more in one of the most challenging, abrasive and cathartic releases in recent memory. From the very beginning, this album batters the listener with shrieks, wails and walls of feedback and noise, pulling back every so often to let the music breath before plunging you back into the maelstrom. The Body are at their peak in the eye of this storm, the duo so used to this kind of music it must be second nature by this point.

Full of Hell, meanwhile, spend this release demonstrating just how much they’ve grown and matured as a band in a short period of time. This is the best and most interesting music they’ve ever composed, and the album is different enough from The Body’s usual fare that it’s a safe assumption that Full of Hell were responsible for quite a bit of it. One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache is a difficult album, sonically and emotionally, but if you’re in the right mindset it’s an experience worth having to hear two of the most interesting and vital acts in extreme music collaborating together to make the kind of art you just can’t get anywhere else.

-Colin Kauffman

47. Periphery – Periphery III

One might expect that a band releasing three albums worth of material within a span of a year and a half would be overstaying their welcome. It’s been argued that there’s some merit in having your audience miss you a little bit between albums, and I tend to agree. However, while lesser acts have fatigued audiences with an overabundance of material, Periphery have proven that there’s plenty of worthwhile material left to explore between their six songwriters. Periphery III is a ridiculously catchy record and has a hook-to-track ratio higher than any Periphery album to date, making it a nonstop spin. The spotless production, impeccable attention to detail, tight songcraft, and technical performances are all on point, and by some measures places PIII as a contender for best Periphery record to date depending on who you ask. Sure, there are no prog epics like “Racecar” or recurring motifs to tie the record together as a cohesive unit, but as a collection of songs, PIII is undeniably Periphery at the top of their game. While it definitely wouldn’t hurt for the group to take a little break and leave the fans wanting more, they’re certainly capable of being consistent and regular hit makers.

-Jimmy Rowe 

46. Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

It wouldn’t be a Heavy Blog top 50 without the man himself: Devin Townsend! Actually, it’s more than just him this time; It’s his whole project that’s along for the ride on this list. It’s been The Devin Townsend Project for years, but, Transcendence sees Devin loosening his grip on the reins and letting his bandmates take a bit more control of the direction of the carriage. Like it or not, Devin is getting older and just can’t do everything like he used to, but Transcendence makes a case for why the band are more than capable of pulling their weight and then some, while still staying true to Devin’s core vision.

This album takes a feeling that Devin explored on Epicloud and refines it down to a science. That feeling is filling the listener’s heart to the brim with emotion and this is the reason Transcendence has a real soul to it that comes through track after track. This is not to say that Devin’s previous works don’t have a soul, but that this one has a very unique presence in his discography. Many albums after Devin said he was going to end the DTP, we’re sitting here talking about this record and though this incarnation of the band may be coming to an end soon, this is a high note to go out on. It’s a product of perseverance, dedication and most importantly, it’s a product of individuals instead of just one man. When you remove the weight from a man’s shoulders he can transcend what he previously thought was possible, and in this case, Transcendence sees Devin letting go enough to be lifted by his bandmates to heights unknown to us mere mortals.

-Ryan Castrati

45. Insomnium – Winter’s Gate

Somber, elegant, impassioned, and engaging. Insomnium have a penchant for the dramatic in all the best ways, and they did not fall short with this year’s opus Winter’s Gate. The album is draped in ambient atmospherics and soaring melodies that tear at the heartstrings, a staple of their sound to be sure but irrevocably fused within the context of the “story” of Winter’s Gate. This matters when comparing to past efforts like 2014’s brilliant Shadows of the Dying Sun, a cohesive collection of tracks rather than one big song, as Winter’s Gate is so unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask) laid out. The story element of the vikings battling against the elements to find their lost brother is so masterfully delivered through the vocals and music, lending those aforementioned atmospherics a heightened level of credibility rather than just being attached to some cool songs.

The problem is, this writer was introduced to this album on a streaming service, which had the tracks neatly broken up into bite sized bits, making for an easy digestion. Others did not have such a nice time, but the very notion of easy digestibility within broken up tracks suggests that the one song format is potentially unnecessary and hindersome to the music and concept for some. No matter the case, the music is so masterfully written, performed, and produced that it’s worth the effort to ingest the album in whatever format is available. The middle acoustic passage into the dense and lush vocal layers crying “Still I bear the flowers of pain, of solitude” is worth the entire cost or stream of the album alone.

-Dan Wieten

44. Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness

On their seventh studio album, Explosions In The Sky have never sounded this vibrant since their 2003 masterwork The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place – which is saying a lot given their tendency to always produce quality. The Wilderness is up there with the best work in their almighty canon so far. Retaining the raw, emotional and evocative power of their previous work while adding new, exciting and creative touches to their arsenal, you could say that it’s given the band a new lease of life. “Disintegration Anxiety,” for instance, is quite catchy and playful; if the album’s title alludes to being out in the wild, this is the track which boasts the thrill of the adventure.

The Wilderness might not provide the grand scale, epic soundscapes of old to the same degree they’ve strived for in the past, but that doesn’t mean the album isn’t just as emotionally enriching either. However, what it does do is prove that this is not a band defunct of creative ideas either; it’s the Explosions we know and love already… only different.

-Kieran Fisher

43. Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us

In the words of their longtime producer Kurt Ballou, Nails is a wild animal. You’d be hard-pressed to find another band in any extreme subgenre of metal and hardcore with a sound as caustic, suffocating and overtly nihilistic. What makes You Will Never Be One of Us, the band’s third and longest LP to date (a whopping 22 minutes!) truly one of the most exciting and memorable pieces of music this year is just how instantaneous it is. It’s truly amazing how easily Nails is able to make such abrasive music sound so accessible without losing any of Unsilent Death’s initial intent of obliterating all speakers in its path. In a lot of ways, this album takes the best facets of the band’s first two LPs and mashes them together into what is arguably the band’s most cohesive work to date.

Whether it’s the insanely-catchy riff that backs the refrain of the title track, the way “Savage Intolerance” weaves between unadulterated Slayer worship and 2016’s nastiest breakdown, or how “In Pain” brings some of the most unabashed punk rock influences in the band’s history, You Will Never Be One of Us is an album that simply begs for dozens of replays. Don’t be surprised when that replay comes right after you just finished having your head ripped off by the hate-stompin’ chugs of “They Come Crawling Back” either. Nails have blown up a ton in this past year and for a damn good reason. If you’re looking for an album that feels and sounds like a roller-coaster ride that’s on fire while also being trampled by a thousand steel-toed boots, you can end your search right here.

-Kit Brown


Though I’ve technically followed BADBADNOTGOOD’s career since high school, the band hardly resembles their early days as an instrumental jazz trio covering Nas, Joy Division and the Legend of Zelda. These playful renditions helped establish the now quartet as a burgeoning group of musicians, currently comprised of Matthew Tavares on keys, Alexander Sowinski on drums, Chester Hansen on drums and Leland Whitty on saxophone and guitar. But after one play through of IV, it’s clear that BBNG’s true calling lies in composing eclectic, electronic-tinged blends of hip-hop and jazz that effortlessly push both genres forward. Seriously, if you generate more buzz with a solo album than a collab you just dropped with Ghostface Killah, you have to be doing something right.

Of course, there’s a reason one of Wu-Tang’s greatest members chose to work with a jazz quartet from Canada, that being BBNG’s flawless integration of every guest artist that hops on their songs. From the lush lounge background they lay down Samuel T. Herring (Future Islands) on “Time Moves Slow” to the phenomenal sax interplay between Whitty and Colin Stetson on “Confessions Pt. II,” every feature on IV feels entirely unique while simultaneously contributing to the album’s cohesive quality.

Speaking of Whitty, BBNG’s newest full-time member makes incredible contributions on IV, which leads one to wonder why he wasn’t promoted from his guest musician spot sooner. Just listen to the band leap into full-on jazz mode on the title track for the full-range of what Whitty has to offer. Then again, he and his bandmates are constantly pushing themselves and their music throughout the record, to the point where it’s difficult to pick either a weak moment or a single key highlight. Now that the quartet has truly come into their element, there’s no telling what heights they’ll reach on their next record. BBNG ain’t nuttin’ ta fuck wit.

-Scott Murphy

41. Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis

Ulcerate is undeniably one of death metal’s – if not the entire metal spectrum’s – most intriguing acts as they continue to push the limits of what can be acceptably described as death metal. The New Zealand trio is commonly labelled as a technical death metal band but their output isn’t at all what one would expect from most bands with the same label. Ever since the band’s inception in 2002, they’ve continuously forged their own unique sound in a genre that is plagued by copycats. Their use of dissonance, odd structures and perpetually shifting time signatures within in a relentlessly aggressive death metal framework has created what some describe as atmospheric or post-death metal.

This year saw the release of Ulcerate’s fifth studio album Shrines of Paralysis, a fifty eight minute assault on the senses that nearly clouds one’s judgment with its pulsating intensity and crushing heaviness. The intensity ebbs and flows throughout Shrines of Paralysis and it’s mostly a factor of what each instrument is doing. Interestingly, the vocals are integrated in such a way that they almost sound like an additional instrument and not really standing out with a clearly comprehensible form of language. Shrines of Paralysis doesn’t necessarily showcase Ulcerate discovering something new but it is a remarkable step forward for a band that has carved out a niche for itself in metal’s proverbial no man’s land and that is a clear sign of class.

-Aly Hassab El Naby

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40. Virvum – Illuminance

Accepting the fact that as a genre, technical death metal is, and has been an overly-saturated market for some time now, really lends to articulating the warm, new life that Virvum has breathed into the niche with their latest release, Illuminance. They’ve successfully merged a catchy, uber-technical death metal compositional style, with the more melodious and repetitive aspects of post-rock, allowing for soaring hooks, backed by a crushing rhythm section to blend seamlessly into sparkling guitar harmonies and huge swelling walls of sound, each riff as memorable as the last.

It’s this kind of songwriting approach that places Illuminance far above other releases this year of a similar vein, using the typical TDM tropes as sparingly as possible so to always keep the listener on the edge of their seat. Whether it be filthy, spacious slams like in “The Cypher Supreme,” or unforgettably melodic chorus’ like in “Ad Rigorem,” or the cinematic orchestral tone of “I: A New Journey Awaits,” Virvum’s Illuminance delivers on all fronts. An experience administered effortlessly by the relentlessly hard-hitting production, making complete use of each instrument’s home within the frequency spectrum. A truly unforgettable album.

-William France

39. Pitts Minnemann Project – The Psychic Planetarium

Keyboardist Jimmy Pitts and drummer Marco Minnemann, from whom the project takes its name, have sought the help of guitarist Tom Geldschläger, better known as Fountainhead, and bassist Jerry Twyford to complete the lineup for The Psychic Planetarium. Despite how early in the year the album was released, it’s stuck with us as one of the most impressive examples of progressive jazz/metal fusion in quite some time.

What hasn’t been said about it? They did the impossible and surpassed their previous release, 2 L8 2 B Normal. It’s an astonishing piece of music for musicians, by musicians, that avoids the traps jointly set by their proficiency and their passion in order to deliver a smooth product without unnecessary wankery. Throw in a hefty dose of jazz, heavy and technical riffs, and mind-altering solos, and you’ve got The Psychic Planetarium. And that’s why it’s on this list.

-Dave Tremblay

38. Schammasch – Triangle

Avante-garde black metal doesn’t get much better than this. An ambitious triple concept album clocking in at just over 100 minutes in length, Schammach’s third full-length Triangle is truly something to behold. From the first strum of disc one’s ambient, unsettling, and chilling guitar, we know that atmosphere is going to play an enormous part in this record. It engulfs the listeners, enshrouding them in a veil and ensconcing them as they take us on a spiritual journey. Musically the record starts off as fairly standard atmospheric black metal, dedicating most of its time to permeating an eerie atmosphere, before occasionally exploding into pummeling blast beats and more urgent riffing. Gregorian chants make their entrance towards the end of the first disc, and the second disc doubles-down on the atmospherics. The black metal components are slowly stripped back, with choirs, chants and a focus on ambience becoming increasingly prevalent.

The final disc then completes this transition, as it is closer to world music than it is to black metal. The labels don’t matter here, what matters is that the chanting, mongolian throat singing, tribal percussion and all the remaining added elements perfectly fit into the record’s aesthetic. All three albums flow beautifully as a whole on a musical level, and so this record is extremely impressive before you even delve into the concept. The work is even denser lyrically than it is musically, making it one of the more difficult listens you will have for the year, but the payoff is most definitely worth it. The subject matter deals with enormously broad subjects, with lyricist CSR (who made a highly intriguing guest on the podcast) laying bare his personal philosophies on death, religion and spirituality. In what has been a tremendous year for black metal, Triangle undoubtedly stands as one of the genre’s opus’ for 2016 and beyond.

-Karlo Doroc

37. Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows

Paradise Gallows continues Inter Arma’s impeccable track record of producing expansive albums that urge a front-to-back listen. This album sees the band distilling the elements of their trademark sound to their greatest potency yet, making it less of a linear journey than Sky Burial or The Cavern, but no less unified. It’s an astounding showcase of songcraft, pushing everything to the extreme, each track sort of becoming its own voyage.

Sludge and doom are reduced to their most ultimate slow and heavy, forcing things to become singular and fully diminish. Blackened passages provide a suitable counterbalance, obliterating space and silence with dense and blistering chaos. Death metal and noise elements churn with dissonance, lending a crooked lurch over T.J. Childers’ cacophonous (and underrated) drumming. The ethereal psychedelics lather up into rich and more elaborate arrangements than on previous albums, giving a gloss to Paradise Gallows, an iridescent sheen atop their inky and grim palette.

This omni-metal style is even augmented by ventures into some uncharted territories, most notably by Mike Paparo’s addition of clean vocals, humanizing songs and making them more tangible. Breathtaking guitar harmonies and solos add contrast to the crushing riffing, imparting perspective to the scope of their sound, from brilliant beauty to violent and pulverizing heaviness, from minimal to avant-garde. Paradise Gallows parallels the opening scene of Contact, where it’s impossible to really understand how things can be so granular until you can grasp the enormity of it all.

-Jordan Jerabek

36. Anciients – Voice Of The Void


he echoes of rock still chime through metal today, especially as stoner influences intensify. After all, all that which might nowadays might be considered “stoner” was, back in the golden age of rock, just mainstream. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and more were household names and their sound was tinged with far-flung feedbacks and fuzzy chords. Perhaps that’s what many bands within stoner metal forget; what they’re doing isn’t exactly very innovative but it is very powerful when approached with the right mindset.

A mindset which Anciients have in droves. Voice Of The Void is chuck full of giant riffs, monoliths of groove that hit again and again as they carry you away into the belly of the album. The progressive tendencies, which have earned them the Mastodon comparison again and again, are just enough to keep things interesting but not too much to take away from the immediate power of groove and punch. Thus, Voice Of The Void is one of the best progressive stoner metal albums in recent years, as it remembers and reconnects with the basics of what makes (and made) the style work while layering growls, impressive guitar techniques and modern production over it all.

-Eden Kupermintz

35. GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object

Of all the terrific albums that made it onto our list this year, I have to say that the third album from the UK jazz trio GoGo Penguin was the one that surprised me the most to see on here. This isn’t at all a reflection of the quality of the music on Man Made Object or my personal feelings on it (it landed pretty high up on my personal list), but more that it doesn’t really fit the mold of anything else included in this list. Unlike the other jazz albums we’ve included here previously or this year (Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and BADBADNOTGOOD’s IV), Man Made Object is far less fluid or conventionally jazz-like, indebting itself as much to classical and electronic influences as traditional jazz or the spirituals, r&b, and hip hop that can felt throughout the other two albums mentioned.

These are the aspects that also make Man Made Object and GoGo Penguin stand out from the rest though. Deriving its strength primarily from its intense rhythmic play between bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner, GoGo Penguin’s compositions build upon themselves like grand mechanized structures, with pianist Chris Illingworth providing the flesh and warm exteriors to wrap the rhythmic bones and muscle. It manages to succeed both as music to chill out to in the background or to 100% get invested in. Tracks like the skittery “Weird Cat,” triumphant “Protest,” and absolutely explosive “Smarra” demand your attention and will consume you if you allow them to. Regardless of how you choose to listen to them though, we can guarantee that Man Made Object will be a rewarding listen time and time again.

-Nick Cusworth

34. Textures – Phenotype

I wasn’t hugely into Textures prior to Phenotype, having only heard a few singles here and there, their sound never really capturing my attention for all that long. That all changed with this release, however, with it confidently taking out #13 on my personal AOTY list. While there is an obvious air of density surrounding this album, requiring multiple listens to fully grasp its girth, the carefully-crafted nature of this release lends itself to situations where similar bands/albums simply wouldn’t be appropriate for the setting. Simply put, Phenotype is chock-full of catchy riffs, easily-recognisable motifs and rhythmic prowess, whilst still retaining a very approachable listening curve.

The band have implemented a meticulously thought out approach to songwriting, creating a deceivingly simple package that nearly anyone could rock out to. It holds appeal from not only a rock and metal perspective, blending shouted gang vocals, blues-derived rock riffs and blistering guitar solos, with the more avant-garde rhythmic complexity and progressive leanings that fans have come to expect from the band. What listeners get with Phenotype, is an album of single-worthy songs, each building upon slightly different facets of the Textures sphere, straying from the largely-divisive reception of the band’s previous release to favor the more successful sound of their second album, Sillhouettes. If you’ve always been a fan of Textures, this album is a must. If you’re not familiar with the band, then there is no better place to start!

-William France

33. Dark Tranquillity – Atoma

For the better part of three decades, Dark Tranquillity has consistently delivered at high standards. Having been an integral part of the Gothenburg scene in the early-to-mid 90s, the band has repeatedly refined its sound while becoming the proverbial yardstick of Swedish melodic death metal. Every fan of the band has fallen in love with their sound as a result of listening to one album or another, but a few things are certainly in common. A Dark Tranquillity album will grab your attention from the first spin with its memorable melodies while the perfectly balanced aggression and somber melancholy will have you coming back time and time again.

So what does a band do after ten full-lengths? Well, when in contact with people from the outside world, many Swedes have the habit of saying “In Sweden we have a system” when describing how things work in their idyllic Nordic nation. Dark Tranquillity’s eleventh release Atoma is a perfect example of that. Atoma is built upon the Dark Tranquillity blueprint from top to bottom with plenty of aggression on the likes of “Forward Momentum” and “Force of Hand”, brooding darkness of “Faithless by Default” and “Our Proof of Life” and overall genre-defining mastery on “Atoma” and “When the World Screams”. Dark Tranquillity has always been an exciting band and Atoma is definitely the kind of album that makes them worthy of a place on this list.

-Aly Hassab El Naby

32. Trap Them – Crown Feral

Are you starting to get the picture that we can’t get enough of Kurt Ballou’s impeccable mixes? Well, that and the fact that he consistently works with some of the most exciting bands in modern metal. While Trap Them haven’t exactly broken new ground with Crown Feral, they’ve certainly outdone their previous LP Blissfucker and cranked out arguably their most consistent batch of tunes yet. Trap Them has always been straddling the lines between old school death metal ala-Entombed and Dismember and the immediacy of the punk rock greats of the late 80s and early 90s, but this time it really feels like the band has reached the perfect middle ground between the two.

There’s even occasional forays into more black metal territory and a few fist-pumping breakdowns that will surely get crowds moving worldwide, but for the most part Crown Feral is an unstoppable juggernaut of deathpunk with Ryan McKenney’s greatest and most throat-shredding vocal performance in years (and arguably ever). Anyone looking for incredibly charismatic vocals paired wonderfully with lyrics that don’t rely on fantasy to be truly horrific have got both in spades right here. Look no further than “Twitching in the Auras,” one of the year’s absolute best songs in metal if you’re looking for something downright creepy. Or if you’re just in the mood for an uptempo ripper to shotgun a beer to, “Prodigala” is exactly the blistering banger you’ve been looking for. Crown Feral isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but it’s definitive proof that Trap Them are a well-honed bulldozer of a band that is better at this fusion of metal than most of their peers.

-Kit Brown

31. Shokran – Exodus

The whole package. Shokran haven’t simply outdone themselves here on their latest offering, but they’ve outclassed an entire genre. Containing every possible thing you could ask of deathcore, Exodus is a masterpiece. From the head bobbing breakdowns to the sweeping, synth laden choruses. Each song has such a standout moment; one of the fatal flaws of the album is you’ll be so engrossed in hooks, choruses and riffs that you’ll find yourself struggling to isolate one in your mind. It’s tough to really latch on when each moment gives way to the next in terms of sheer quality. What a wonderful problem for an album to have. But it mostly ensures that repeat listenings will have huge returns. It will be so easy to come back to Exodus on a week-by-week and year-by-year basis and find something new crammed between the dense expertly crafted songs. Between the layers of synths, technical riffs, punishing breakdowns and insane rhythm section, it so easily appeals to anything you’re craving.

Truly standout on this album is Andrew Ivashchenko’s vocals. Each chorus is sung beautifully. Each verse is growled or screamed with an unmatched range. Seemingly never using the same technique twice. The man is at the absolute top of the metal vocal hierarchy and our only question here at Heavy Blog is where the hell did he come from? It’s also worthmentioning that the solos are incredible. Ultimately, Exodus is an instant classic of it’s genre and I think, despite not being part of the more forward thinking genres of metal, it will hold up for decades to come.

-Cody Dilullo

30. Sumac – What One Becomes

When almost any band announces that they’re dropping another LP a year after their previous effort, it’s usually a red flag. Luckily for Sumac, they’re an incredibly experienced power-trio in every sense of the word. The band has proven with What One Becomes that they’ve started to find their groove, learned from the mistakes of the criminally-underrated The Deal, and expanded their sound into much more cinematic and adventurous territory. While their debut was already masterfully fusing forays into full-blown math rock with Aaron Turner’s (ex-Isis, Old Man Gloom) signature take on sludge metal mayhem, What One Becomes feels like a much grander and cinematic experience when taken as a single and monolithic piece of work.

Oh, and by the way, this album packs in some of the most spine-splitting slews of savage riffage you’ll be likely to encounter this year. If you can find something that tops the cacophonous and polymetric end to “Image of Control,” please let us know. “Blackout” seamlessly flows between numerous thematic changes throughout its 17-minute runtime without ever getting boring, and “Will to Reach” closes the record out with a blistering blast-beat section that will bring even the most seasoned metal fan to their knees. On top of that, What One Becomes is loaded with an incredible drum performance that’s as flashy as it is reserved, bass that rumbles and sizzles at exactly the right moments, and loads of improvisational moments, What One Becomes is an album that will challenge you as often as it will reward you for your patience. Sumac is the future.

-Kit Brown

29. Mithras – On Strange Loops

This one definitely came out of nowhere. Mithras were a relatively underground band who did old school tech death in the vein of Atheist and Nocturnus, and even Lykathea Aflame around the early 2000s. Now, suddenly, after a 9 year hiatus they return with On Strange Loops and they’re still excellent. Tech death has become standardized since its revival in the mid 2000s, and hearing the old, raw experimental sound from before that brought back to life by Mithras is a delight.

The album is entirely made by founding member Leon Macey, who plays the guitars, drums, and does the vocals. This is one of those albums that only happen when an experienced mastermind just dumps their raw creativity. Full of melodic work that is both disturbing, upbeat, melancholic and alien; On Strange Loops is unashamedly weird and unique. It harkens back to the era of death metal where young musicians who didn’t care for genre conventions pieced together a large array of influences. However, it isn’t a completely archaic relic, as the speed of the playing and the ingenuity of the writing is up to par with modern bands. What we have here in the end is what almost sounds like an updated version of a classic album from an amalgamation of the 90s tech death scene. In a way, this is weirdly circular, or, in other words, on a strange loop…


28. Cyborg Octopus – Learning To Breathe

Learning to Breathe is a succinct sampler of progressive metal. Showcasing a genre hopping troupe performing tracks that are clear cut genre worship while maintaining an impressive amount of their own identity. Each track is solid and super fun. Whether it’s the classical and pristine composition of “Divine Right (in D minor)” or the funky “Discobrain”, Cyborg Octopus have proven themselves a dynamic group. Each member has a knack for lending their prowess to the things they’re best at (which is seemingly everything) giving the album a really charismatic charm. When you set out to write a bunch of songs a certain way and are really careful to craft them with unique identities, it’s really easy to lose some humanity in that process or just misstep entirely. Cyborg Octopus however, don’t fall so easily to those pitfalls.

It’s most exciting seeing a band not strive to be any particular thing. It’s so cool to have your expectations tossed on their head. At Heavy Blog, Learning to Breathe is a breath of fresh air. It’s the fun hokey parts of Between the Buried and Me without the danger of being hamfisted. It’s the frantic goofiness of iwrestledabearonce but doubled down to the point of sheer sincerity. It’s irreverent in its ambitions but dead serious on delivering. To put it simply, this album is a Jack of all trades but master of none, and it’s fucking awesome for it.

-Cody Dilullo

27. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

It’s not much of a stretch to say that Radiohead are among the most beloved bands in the world, and one of the few that still exude a larger-than-life aura through everything they touch upon. Recent times, however, had seen even the group’s most dedicated fans put to the test. With just one album released in the span of eight years – met with more scorn than praise – it started to look like what was once an immaculately consistent band had begun losing gas. Under these circumstances, A Moon Shaped Pool had some high expectations to fulfill, and thankfully it delivers in spades.

Apart from being a great album in its own right, it proves that Thom Yorke & co. still had another masterpiece in them. Where The King of Limbs’ prominent electronics made it distant and impersonal, A Moon Shaped Pool feels warmly intimate, inviting the listener to explore a sense of fragility that even Radiohead have rarely displayed to such an extent. It also improves on the former’s brevity and lack of direction, but merely comparing it to its predecessor does the album a disservice, as this is an effort that demands it be judged by its own merits. Both on an album and song basis, A Moon Shaped Pool manages to strike the perfect balance between uniqueness and recognizability. With a distinct identity achieved through the melancholic tone, orchestral elements and recurrent lyrical themes, as well as a myriad of anthems, it manages to carve out a spot in the highest tier of the Radiohead pantheon. More than anything, it signals a kind of rebirth that is refreshing to hear in a year where many widely lauded albums happen to be swan songs.

-David Aleksov

26. Swans – The Glowing Man

Out of all the albums on this list, there aren’t many which are as sprawling and unhinged as The Glowing Man. That is a compliment of course; Swans have a distinct aura about them which makes their work so fascinating, but they don’t exactly strive to make music that’s easy to listen to either. The Glowing Man ended another strong chapter of their career quite brilliantly and definitively; mastermind Michael Gira has promised more new music under the Swans moniker, albeit with new collaborators to help him unleash his bizarre, demented vision.

Essentially two hours of pummelling noise and droning with a post-punk flavor, you better be ready to devote some time and effort into this album if you want to reap the full benefit of it. Like most great albums, it just gets better with replay value, and The Glowing Man possesses that grand ability to take the listener on a sonic adventure. But come the end of it you’ll feel spit out, exhausted and left for dead.

-Kieran Fisher

25. yndi halda – Under Summer

Over the past few years, I’ve tried very hard to move post rock closer to the core of the blog’s works. I’m happy to say that I have been somewhat successful, even if most posts are under my name. I’m happy because of albums like yndi halda’s Under Summer and the legitimacy I have to write about them. Simply put, Under Summer is a wonder of an album which shouldn’t exist; it was released almost a decade after their previous, debut release. It came out of nowhere to completely upend what I thought I knew about post rock in 2016. It’s the Album of the Year on my personal list. And it just keeps getting better.

Something about Under Summer, an album which eschews many of the accepted structures of how post rock works, is deeply in tune with what the genre is about as a whole. It’s about something softer and yet intensely solid and present. It’s about the balance between guitars, strings, bass, drums and vocals but it’s also about singular moments, like the crescendos at the end of opener “Together Those Leaves” or the last moments of the album, that stand out and breathe life into each instruments. It’s simply post rock at its best, unapologetic and yet, somehow, subversive and genre irreverent. It’s one of the best things to come out of the murky 2016. Please listen to it.

-Eden Kupermintz

24. Plini – Handmade Cities

Plini Roessler-Holgate, better known to the world as simply Plini, has made a name for himself in the last few years through his YouTube channel, exemplifying his smooth, soulful style in progressive instrumental music that echoes the greats like Joe Satriani and John Petrucci, but manages to be entirely his own. Handmade Cities is a culmination of years of work.

Single after single, EP after EP, there just never seemed to be a coalescing dream with Plini’s work. However, after much thought and time, Handmade Cities came to be and it’s dreamy and beautiful and all together wonderful. The fantastic overtones combined with the gentle guitar work merge so diligently, elegantly painting this imaginary, dainty playground among the stars in the sky. Even at a mere seven tracks, Handmade Cities manages to be huge in spirit and quite unlike anything Plini has released prior.

-Kyle Gaddo

23. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

Musicians with a career as long and fruitful as Aesop Rock’s seem to be left with two options: to sink or swim. Their new music seems to either disappoint a majority of fans or becomes a well of renewal for their artistry. Thankfully for Aesop, his latest release The Impossible Kid was the latter—it’s an album that has refined the style of abstract and/or alternative hip-hop he’s become famous for, but also redefines his self-perception in a huge way, offering new meaning to his past.

Simon put it best in Heavy Blog’s mini-review of The Impossible Kid earlier this year when he essentially described the album as a midlife crisis, wherein Aesop is constantly looking back and reevaluating everything about his life, from the fact that he’s now forty to his regrets as an art school dropout to his tattoos. Despite his tendency to overanalyze, The Impossible Kid showcases Aes starting to get past this speed-bump of neuroticism and (perhaps grudgingly in some places) accept his age and his life—some of his failures have become accomplishments, and vice-versa. Add to these overarching themes Aesop’s signature verbose flow and production that utilizes a veritable potpourri of styles and sounds—analog synth samples, horn stabs, chunky guitar riffs, classic hip-hop beat-boxing, record scratches, and intricately composed drum beats—and you’ve got yourself one of the best hip-hop albums of the year, period.

-Jimmy Mullett

22. Wormrot – Voices

Wormrot have stepped up their game immensely, and in Voices have delivered the best grind album since Maruta’s Remain Dystopian (the best grind album of 2015), and Gridlink’s swansong Longhena (the best grind album of 2014). In fact, it’s as if Wormrot have noted the nearly unfuckwithable level of ferocity and riff creativity on display by their peers and fought to either reach a level playing field, or simply surpass them. It depends on who you ask of course, but this album expands into territories that in some ways help it rise above the pack. The slight black metal overtones scattered throughout, the occasional mosh riff, powerviolence yells, and the most surprising element of all: the melody. The fucking melody! A typical grind fan might cringe at this idea, and certainly bands like Gridlink are no strangers to it, but songs like “Compassion is Dead” are rife with the risks needed to propel grindcore forward. This is the seminal album highlight: 0:46, a super fast D-beat foundation, topped with a post rock infused melodic riff and the most impassioned and furious screaming since we last heard Jon Chang. Voices will be hard to top for both Wormrot and their fellow grind comrades, and they are here to let the world know they are not to be fucked with.

-Dan Wieten

21. The Black Queen – Fever Daydream

Metalheads aren’t always the most open-minded of music listeners. They know their main genre of choice, and many don’t even venture too far from a handful of specific subgenres. Yet, if ever there was a non-metal, non-rock adjacent record that would appeal to us, The Black Queen’s Fever Daydream is it. Best described as dark synth-pop, this predominantly electronica based record is fronted by none other than Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Killer Be Killed. The record exclusively utilises his clean vocals, his voice delivering precisely what each track needs. He can be melancholic and somber, or dreamy and ethereal. He can yearn lustfully, or wistfully. He can croon longingly, or withdraw and give the music space to breathe. His performance is exceptional, yet he is not a lone hand and it would be an injustice not to give credit and praise to his bandmates.

Steven Alexander and Joshua Eustis round out the trio, with the latter a former member of both Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer. These associations will come as no surprise to those familiar with the record, with its lush synthscapes, heavy use of samples, and dark, brooding atmosphere typical of NIN. The music makes you want to reminisce. It makes you want to reflect. It makes you want to cry. It makes you want to dance. It does what great music should do, working in perfect harmony with the vocals to elicit emotional reactions and make us want to move our bodies. If none of the above sounds like it appeals to you, then join the club. I don’t like electronic music or pop, and the above write-up probably wouldn’t convince me to check it out. But I did. And I fucking love it.

-Karlo Doroc

20. Haken – Affinity

Haken’s Affinity takes listeners on a voyage to the future of the past by breaking new ground in revisiting previous glories of progressive rock and not staying locked in the 70s, like many of their neo-prog cohorts.

The 70s: it was a heady time when Peter Gabriel was still leading Genesis through intricate epics and Yes led everyone to some sort of New Age absolution through increasingly long and convoluted epics grounded in the European classical tradition. A time when artist Roger Dean illustrated musicians’ dreams. A time that ended when punk was created specifically to stomp this sound into submission.

The 80s: dinosaur bands like Yes and Genesis had recovered from the civilization-killing asteroid of punk and refined their sound into shorter songs that hid the intricacy of the playing behind a pop sheen on insanely listenable albums like 90125 and Abacab. Haken has taken a similar path on Affinity: though the songs aren’t shorter than their previous 70s-rooted masterwork, The Mountain, they are painted in the synth-driven tones and accessible melodies of the 80s. Any doubt is erased by song titles like “1985” and the color scheme of vocalist Ross Jennings clothes and glasses on the ensuing Affinitour. Their guided tour of the genre rolls through the album, and one of the highlights, “The Architect” featuring harsh vocals from Einar Solberg of Leprous. The path from the 80s through Dream Theater through the Opeth-led turn of the century is clear: let Haken be your guide.

-Mike McMahon

19. A Sense Of Gravity – Atrament

A Sense of Gravity’s debut album Travail was far and away the most pleasant surprise to come out of 2014, combining every single good thing about progressive death metal in a neat, cohesive package; be it brilliant twin guitar harmonies, soaring vocals, or even stunning keyboard solos. Topping a debut like that is no easy task, however, especially after a fair amount of lineup changes. But on Atrament, A Sense of Gravity maintain the spirit that made Travail so great, easily meeting the high standards on the debut with a ceaseless onslaught of jaw-dropping musical passages.

With the addition of second guitarist Morgan Wick particularly invigorating the band’s songwriting, Atrament covers even more musical ground than its predecessor, rendering the final delivery often almost cinematic in its scope (which is perhaps to be expected, given guitarist Brendon Williams’ background in film scoring). Carving out space for himself over the dense instrumentation, vocalist C.J. Jenkins impressively reins in the chaos, roaring through the riffage while occasionally doling out hooks left and right for good measure. Atrament is a breath of fresh air, and yet another stunning release by one of the best and most promising young bands out there today.

-Ahmed Hasan

18. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones

2016 proved to be an excellent year for black metal, seeing a large number of releases from a wide array of notable bands. However, no year could truly be marked an “excellent year in black metal” without France’s own occult masters of black metal, Deathspell Omega, unleashing a new slab of unholy terror onto the world.

The Synarchy of Molten Bones, the band’s sixth studio album, plays on many of the key elements that have led them to be held in such high acclaim in the first place. For the most part, this largely revolves around Deathspell Omega’s mastery of contrasts. Ferocious black metal is counter acted by ghostly choral arrangements, gelling together instantly, but also feeling as if they are worlds apart. It truly seems as if for every moment of intense disarray and chaos the band presents, blasting through them all with a high level of technical proficiency, they are able to meet it with an equally as impressive moment of relative-calm. Even more interesting is when they do both at once, such as on “Famished for Breath”, when the vocal screeches and blasts of the drums are met only with a highly melodic, seemingly distance riff. Of course all of this is what Deathspell Omega has been doing since Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice, but when they pull it off this flawlessly every single time it’s a bit hard to find any reason to complain.

-Jake Terran

17. Clipping – Splendor and Misery

2014’s CLPPNG was a wildly experimental thrill ride, combining all sorts of mind-boggling sampling with MC Daveed Diggs’ unbelievable technical skill. Between rapping over constantly shifting time signatures, an alarm clock, and even just a single sustained high-pitched note, there seemed to be no limit to what the three-piece made possible within the realm of experimental hip-hop, and CLPPNG appropriately found a comfortable spot on our Best of 2014 list.

Fast forward two years with a Hamilton stint in between, and we’re presented with Splendor and Misery. A brilliant concept album with heavy Afrofuturistic underpinnings, it’s probably not the sequel to CLPPNG anyone expected, but arguably all the better for it. Trying to summarize the extent of Splendor and Misery’s story in a short blurb like this one is more or less a fruitless endeavour (and Eden’s already done a stellar Clipping-approved three part job of analyzing it) but rest assured Diggs and co. expertly navigate through time and space, weaving the gripping tale of a lone slave on a ship that’s more alive than it seems. There’s lots of unpack within the depths of the album, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any other 2016 release that rewards attentive revisits quite like Splendor and Misery does.

-Ahmed Hasan

16. If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones Of A Dying World

If These Trees Could Talk typify post-metal at its absolute best, and third album The Bones of a Dying World is a thunderous and soaring triumph which encapsulates the raw power the genre beholds. Although carefully crafted and impeccably performed, it’s the transcendent qualities of the album which make it – to borrow an overused term – epic.

Passages of ambient soundscapes take float along like a mellow breeze before roaring guitars and percussion come crashing down like lightning storms. It has all the hallmarks of post-rock/metal, but it’s executed with such finesse and urgency that it serves as a reminder of why it’s a genre so many of us can’t get enough of. That said, The Bones of a Dying World is an album with layers and considerable depth, and despite its bleak title, it’s anything but a gloomy experience. Take “The Giving Tree’’ for example, which is considerably upbeat and evokes feelings of hope. On the other hand, “The Here and the Hereafter’’ sounds sad and reflective, but beautifully so. The album encapsulates a range of moods, tones and emotions, and that’s what makes it such a rewarding and impactful listening experience.

-Kieran Fisher

15. Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail

When New Jersey progressive outfit Thank You Scientist announced their sophomore follow-up to the incredible Maps Of Non-Existent Places earlier this year, and, furthermore, that that album would be released on Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria fame’s Evil Ink Records, our mouths salivated to an almost dangerous extreme. For many of us here and elsewhere, Maps was one of the, if not the best, releases of 2013, and expectations could not have been higher. For many bands this kind of pressure would create the kind of second-guessing and compromises that so often mar sophomore releases from promising bands. But Thank You Scientist have no time for such trifles. Stranger Heads Prevail not only is a worthy successor to Maps in every way that the previous album succeeded, but the band’s commitment to pushing themselves creatively and fundamentally reaped enormous rewards in ways few of us could’ve predicted.

From the harder edge of tracks like standout “Caverns” to the humongous choruses of “Mr. Invisible” and “Blue Automatic,” the more intricate and beautiful horn and string arrangements on tracks like “A Wolf In Cheap Clothing” and “Need More Input,” and whatever the fuck the jukebox shuffle of “Rube Goldberg Variations” is, Stranger Heads Prevail is more daring and experimental than what came before it without sacrificing any of the aspects that made them so fun and addictive in the first place. It’s with great pleasure to see the band finally getting the kind of wider-spread recognition they deserve, and needless to say, we cannot wait to see whatever they manage to concoct next.

-Nick Cusworth

14. Astronoid – Air

Had the term not been unfortunately co-opted by the terribly oxymoronic Christian death metal genre, Astronoid’s exhilarating full-length debut, Air, might appropriately be described as “life metal.” The album brims with positively beautiful high-speed riffing, and the cherubic sounds of Brett Boland’s high-pitched, emotive vocals. Air comes out of the gate with the clever “Incandescent,” which serves to introduce each element of the band’s sound by adding it on top of the cascading riffing. Though much more riff-oriented than My Bloody Valentine, the legendary alt/noise rockers are arguably the most obvious antecedent for Astronoid. Like MBV, Astronoid relies on an absolute wall of guitars, a technique similarly co-opted by spiritual brethren Alcest, though these two bands’ music lies on opposite ends of the spectrum of introspection. By time the blast beat kicks in for the end of “Incandescent,” it’s a feeling similar to getting to the top of the first hill on a roller coaster and knowing it’s all thrills from here on out. This feeling is confirmed by the intricate riffery that opens the second tune “Up And Atom” (oh these punsters!). Other highlights include “Tin Foil Hats” and the closer “Trail Of Sulfur.” A band to watch in upcoming years, as their mix of an original sound and great songwriting is a recipe for success.

-Mike McMahon

13. Fallujah – Dreamless

While Fallujah have been rather prominent for a while now, 2014’s The Flesh Prevails was a watershed moment for the band, as it saw them combine their tech death sound with a heavy atmospheric sound and creative usage of the whammy bar on guitars for lead playing. While this idea was so fresh that its existence was enough to put the band on a whole different map, the execution was sometimes lacking coherence, with the band almost seeming like two separate compositional entities mashed together. Dreamless sees the band seamlessly blending these two separate aspects of their sound, and building on it.

Dreamless is so cohesive and so well made. The heavy sections with all their trem picking and blast beating lead perfectly into the smooth leads and electronics. The band have adapted a dreamgaze flair to act as the glue, and it works perfectly. There are even a few songs that are barely metal, and they somehow manage to not sound out-of-place with the rest of the album. Fallujah have learned that buildup and release are essential to make their songs have lasting impact, and the set of varied tools they have on Dreamless give them the ability to do this with brilliant ease. Dreamless is fantastic, in every sense of the word.


12. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust

Gorguts has always been known for their ability to push the boundaries of death metal to their furthest point, so it came as little to no surprise when they announced their newest – and perhaps most ambitious – project; the 33 minute long Pleiades’ Dust. However, what is so impressive and what makes the track so captivating (and yes it is a singular track) is not its length, but the level of consistency and intrigue it manages to maintain throughout. There are definitive “movements” to it, well defined sections that help to give the track enough variety to maintain the listener’s interest, but it is easily discernible as one continuous track.

This feat is commendable on its own when looking at just about any genre of music, but becomes even more so when viewing it through the “death metal” genre tag that Gorguts has often become associated with. Death metal is, after all, recognizably less tied up in atmosphere and epic feel than its sister genres of black and doom metal. Often it is short and to the point, packing a punch in a neatly wrapped package. Death metal is all about quickly made points and shock value, making it akin to the slasher horror movie. But if the average death metal record is akin to the slasher horror movie, than Pleiades’ Dust is the psychological masterpiece that keeps you turning on every light switch for weeks. It is an expansive masterpiece, captivating the listener from the get-go and erasing any preconceived notions that a 33 minute death metal track may be a chore to get through.

-Jake Terran

11. Ihsahn – Arktis.

Arktis. by the legendary Ihsahn is one of the greatest progressive albums we’ve had this year, to the point that it borders on being a masterpiece. There are two reasons behind why this album works so damn well. The first is that each of the ten tracks has its own unique characteristics, to the point that the record is a veritable mini-encyclopaedia of rock and metal. Blues, classic rock, 70s era prog, black metal, death metal, classic heavy metal; this is just a taste of what we encounter. We have the intertwining of harsh and clean vocals, prominent synths, bluesy guitar riffs, twin guitar leads, eerie atmospherics, pummelling drums, gorgeous harmonies and so much more. Guest spots abound, with the angelic vocals of Leprous’ Einar Solberg, the crooning saxophone of Shining’s Jurgen Munkeby, and the excellent guitar and vocal work of Trivium’s Matt Heafy.

“South Winds” manages to combine subdued black metal vocals with electronic beats and synths, commanding you to move your body. It’s pretty simple: when Ihsahn commands, you obey. Finally, this masterclass of an album concludes with a lesson in how to write an album closer, with “Celestial Violence” meeting and exceeding every lofty expectation that the album had hitherto established. I’m not even going to bother describing it, this is a song which needs to be heard (in context) to be believed. Now we started by saying there are two reasons that this album works well, and it’s time to share the second reason. Despite the disparity of sounds and genres to be found, this record somehow manages to flow beautifully as a whole. It shouldn’t work, and it shouldn’t make sense, but Ihsahn is a mercurial man and he manages to pull it off. If you’re a fan of progressive music, then you’re doing yourself a serious disservice by not checking this record out.

-Karlo Doroc

10. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation

Leave it to The Dillinger Escape Plan to write their own eulogy. Of course, considering that the band had already assembled one of the most stunningly cohesive discographies of any band in the last few decades, Dissociation being an excellent record from start to finish was effectively a given.

But where one may have expected the band’s most polished effort yet for their very last offering, especially in light of their musical trajectory leading up to it, Dillinger instead deliver unto us what is perhaps their rawest and most furious release; a record whose chaos may not exceed that of Calculating Infinity, but one drenched in so much raw emotion the listener is left with hairs standing on end throughout. Where 2013’s One of Us Is the Killer sharpened Dillinger’s calculated attack even further, even going so far as to be their most accessible album at times, everything about Dissociation feels stripped back down in the best way possible. Vocalist extraordinaire Greg Puciato shrieks and croons alike through the cacophonous instrumentation, his lyrics more personal, painful, and self-reflective than ever before, while also forming the basis for the dozens of instant-classic moments scattered across the album (“All your secrets/Never shared/Programmed into me”).

Dissociation’s title track and closer, however, deserves extra special mention. Instead of constituting a progressive opus with a massive chorus along the lines of Ire Works’ “Mouth of Ghosts”, “Dissociation” has Puciato softly lamenting the band’s own dissolution, and what is effectively the closing of a chapter that has dominated the band members’ lives for almost two decades. There is no grand finale to the song; no explosive moment at the end to drive the point home. It just stops, leaving the listener in stunned silence, contemplating what on earth they’ve just experienced. A more fitting end to the Dillinger Escape Plan is hard to conceive of.

-Ahmed Hasan

9. Wormed – Krighsu

The perfectly executed followup to 2013’s landmark brutal-tech-slam-whatever death metal album Exodromos, this year saw Krighsu undeniably cement Wormed’s place in the canon of extreme music. Their first release, Planisphaerium, was a decent-to-good brutal death metal record that showed a promising young group with a tendency towards the genre’s more technical end; a decade later, we were graced with Exodromos, an album that perfectly fused hypercharged, light-speed techdeath and the bludgeoning heaviness of brutal death metal into an irresistible combination that didn’t toe the line between the two subgenres so much as take each to its logical extreme and then smash any border separating them. Krighsu is where anomaly becomes manifesto: the group has shown themselves not only capable of replicating their sophomore album’s magic, but of taking this genre fusion and turning it into a sound wholly its own.

For a band so obsessed with high-concept science fiction and technology beyond our wildest imaginations, Wormed have always maintained an impossibly organic sound, even when they’re rocketing across entire galaxies in a matter of minutes. There is no clunky “here comes the slam” part of any track on Krighsu; songs just naturally evolve, constantly wavering between technical insanity and monolithic grooves. Both parts bolster each other, too: Wormed switch so fluidly and consistently between 300 bpm fretboard frenetics and ultra-chunky breakdowns that neither manages to leech any power from the other, instead seeing their momentum transfer perfectly so that the fast parts always feel lightning-quick and the heavy parts hit like a speeding semi every time.

This marks the second album where the sheer power and skill that Wormed exude have threatened to rip apart their sound at the seams, but the band knows how to operate on a compositional level just as much as on a technical one, and so the unstoppable explosion of outward force that defines the 30-minutes-and-change running time of Krighsu is never too much to handle. As an exercise in blending two disparate ethe within the same structure, Krighsu is a masterful achievement; as a death metal album, Krighsu is an instant classic.

-Simon Handmaker

8. Obscura – Akroasis

One trap technical death metal always falls into is getting entangled too much in the execution of musicianship and forgetting about the art of music. While there is value to both, albums that can combine both can be truly exceptional. Obscura have always been one of the most important bands in the genre, with their unique style and their perspective on lyrics. With the departure of key writing member Christian Munzner and Hannes Grossmann, the future of the band was in jeopardy. However, with the addition of the wizard-genius Tom “Fountainhead” Geldschlager, the band was able to reach new heights.

Featuring fretless guitar work and impossible solos, the band’s core sound that had already established their considerable fanbase was augmented with a different angle. A tech death band writing a new album must ask themselves: “How do we one-up our previous release”? Often the answer is either “just play faster and harder riffs”, but that is eventually going to result in diminishing returns. Akroasis has a different answer to that question: “Just go weirder”. If anything, Akroasis is slower than Cosmogenesis yet it still manages to take a step up from it. There’s a surprising diversity of tracks on Akroasis, too. Tributes to influences ranging from Cynic to Morbid Angel, fast and heavy songs, ballad-like riff fests and anything in between. The closing track, “Weltseele”, is a masterpiece that is just so odd yet works so well.

Once every few years we get an album that redefines tech death and what’s possible, and Akroasis does just that thanks to its new lineup (that didn’t last long). At times bordering on avant-garde, this album shows that you can still do a lot more within the genre that doesn’t simply involve playing fast, while also playing fast.


7. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason

The inclusion of new Meshuggah is not a given on any year end list. Don’t get me started on bands that hang around to release “well received” safe records after twenty years; 2016, I’m looking at you. This wasn’t the case when the Swedish trendsetters let rip with another crushing batch of groovy math metal. The “safest” thing Meshuggah have released in years? Barely. This is not a safe album.

The punishment delivered by the tone and attack of the band on The Violent Sleep of Reason is devastating. Easily the most precise, locked in rhythms the Swedes have conjured, listeners rejoiced at the live performance of one Tom Haake. Quite rightly so. The percussionist is the leader of the band, pushing everything forward into oblivion, mechanically calculated to be as crushing as possible. Kidman’s vocals used, as ever, to punch home the groove in tracks dominated by lurching, sometimes space age guitar work. All of this and more, giving the long time fan something to laugh/cry/smile about.

People are lying if they think Koloss was better. The beast that is Meshuggah hit banging form just in time to remind people why half the world ripped them off. The music may be as straight forward as a band like this can be but the destination is Snapped Neck City, so who cares?

-Matt MacLennan

6. Alcest – Kodama

Alcest are perhaps the single most important act in post-black metal. Frontman and primary songwriter Niege is an undisputed icon and progenitor of the scene, and he continues to be involved in many projects that define the genre’s fierce and floaty nostalgia and reverb drenched sound. So you can imagine the collective disappointment among longtime fans when the band broke rank in 2014 with Shelter, which nixed the black metal influence entirely in favor for a purely dream-pop approach to shoegaze. The album was well-received, critically, but it was hard to not feel somewhat betrayed by the departure.

The heartache wouldn’t last long, however; 2016 saw Alcest’s triumphant return to form with Kodama, which might just be the best record the band has ever dropped. In many ways, the Shelter experiment paved the way for Kodama’s glorious rise; Kodama is informed by Shelter’s tangible and immediate songwriting, but reaches into the back catalogue of diverse sonic textures that makes for a dynamic, breathtaking, and catchy record that captures the delicate balance of upbeat atmospheric melodies and dark, blackened crescendos. Though the screams and blast beats are reigned in, their presence provides an edge that Shelter was missing. Kodama’s balance shows that the power with Alcest resides in the ability to craft propulsive, dynamic, and larger than life songs that resonate on a deeply personal and profound level, and in that regard, the band are currently at their peak.

-Jimmy Rowe

5. David Bowie – Blackstar

After two dozen full-lengths and over twice as many years shaping the landscape of music, David Bowie’s legacy was well established by the time he announced his 25th album. But unlike his other classic records, Blackstar will be considered a masterpiece in two completely unique contexts, the second of these periods solidifying it as the new apex of swansongs.

Bowie’s death illuminated everything I felt while listening to Blackstar on the drive home from buying the album on release day. Though it would be three days before word spread of his passing, Bowie’s raw, waning croon on “I Can’t Give Everything Away” filled me with a starkly bittersweet feeling – a premonition of what was to come without complete comprehension. His death the following Monday would bring the music world to its knees to mourn and praise a discography unmatched in the history of the art form, due in no small part to his final, triumphant statement on Blackstar.

There are innumerable strengths to highlight when discussing Blackstar: a skilled roster pushing Bowie’s art rock tendencies to their darkest, boldest fringes; Donny McCaslin’s expertly arranged and performed saxophone parts; and an overall theme which pristinely embodies reminiscence and courage in the face of death. But it’s Bowie himself who connects these elements to create such a masterful work of art. Hearing his voice overcome the throes of cancer speaks to his indomitable spirit, one which capitalized on the power within his strained body. This particularly elevates his singing on lyrics like “Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen” (“Lazarus”) and “Seeing more and feeling less/Saying no but meaning yes/This is all I ever meant/That’s the message that I sent” (“I Can’t Give Everything Away”). These moments are the ouroboros which connect the initial mystery of the album’s message with the eventual illumination Bowie’s death provided.

On ‘“Lazarus,” Bowie proclaimed that with his death, “You know, I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird,” and this line captures a crucial aspect of Blackstar. The album is as much a lasting testament to music as it was Bowie’s own cleansing, self-scribed eulogy. And as we all honor him in our album of the year lists, here’s to hoping he truly has found peace.

-Scott Murphy

4. Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner

There are so many ways in which Mariner, the seventh album from post-metal legends Cult Of Luna in collaboration with the powerful vocalist Julie Christmas, could have failed miserably. Collaboration albums between well-established acts coming from rather different milieus have a pretty spotty track record as both artists or groups compromise their respective strengths to the point that the result is a formless mass of almost unrecognizable mush. The most infamous of these failed experimentations is, of course, Lulu, and it’s not surprising then that CoL frontman Johannes Persson spoke openly about his fear of Mariner turning into a Lulu-like catastrophe. Thankfully for them and us though, Mariner is anything but a failure as it proved to be one of the most emotionally-powerful releases of the year and the perfect culmination of CoL’s and Christmas’s respective talents.

Mariner succeeds in large part because it is, first and foremost, a terrific Cult of Luna album. All of the deliciously grim and mammoth sludge, snarls, and cutting riffs of the band’s best work are present, and Persson does the album a great service by retaining his own powerful vocals as a pitch-black counterpoint to Christmas’s hair-raising screams and deviously clean melodies. It’s Christmas’s own contributions though that serve as the emotional locus of the entire album and elevate it to true greatness. Giving her near free-reign to write her own vocals and lyrics to match CoL’s instrumentals, Christmas took full advantage of the bubbling cauldron of the band’s energy and charged head first straight into it. The result is a partnership that displays the best of each respective party while combining to create something that stands up on its own separate from the other’s respective body of work. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be here screaming maniacally into the void over the grim euphoria of “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” again.

-Nick Cusworth

3. Oathbreaker – Rheia

One thing that the post-black movement has always attempted to capture, but usually failed in the pursuit thereof – due to its foremost concern with the sublime, the celestial, the impossibly large – is human frailty. Sure, plenty of bands in the genre have found some sort of ultimately human conceit in their view, whether they’re staring at the stars or their shoes, and there are other albums that have done a fantastic job of finding the midpoint between a grandstanding existential angst that we all experience together and the personal emotional trichotillomania, that grinding of teeth and picking at scabs we can only ever know individually, but none before have so viscerally wrought human suffering through black metal the same way Oathbreaker have on Rheia, their third LP.

Two factors are chief to the Belgian quintet’s ability to offer such a personally gut-wrenching experience here. The first is a healthy mixture of crust punk and hardcore into their metal, allowing for moments that build from blast beats and tremolos into waves on waves of bone-crunching distorted guitar, letting shimmering radiance concede its presence to something much darker, dirtier, more brutal and barbaric in nature. It’s a brilliant “set em up, knock em down” trick that manages to make hair stand on end every time. A second element – and one that no band could currently seek to emulate – is the insanely talented Caro Tanghe. Her sheer clean vocal prowess alone elevates Oathbreaker to a new level (it’s not uncommon to see the criticism that she’s unable to sing thrown around, given her pitch-imperfect singing, but after watching her replicate everything note-for-note in a live setting, it’s clear she knows exactly what she’s doing), but her harsh vocals are where she truly shines. Her voice is somewhere between a banshee’s scream and the wail of the dying, with the exact throat-shredding emotional weight and piercing animalism the spectrum implies. Tanghe is, unmistakably, one of the best black metal vocalists in the game right now, if not the best.

Rheia is an album that grabs you instantly and refuses to let go. From Tanghe’s soliloquy at the beginning of “10:56” to the last thrumming note of “Begeerte,” Oathbreaker stays at a level of emotional resonance most bands can only dream of achieving once in their career. A depressing, beautiful, absolutely sincere manifesto of human anxiety and suffering, Oathbreaker have crafted the sort of album that only comes along once every ten years or so and totally upends its genre when it does. I mean this as the utmost of compliments when I say that we’re going to see a lot of Oathbreaker clones in the near future. And if any of those new bands are even half as good, you’ll probably see them getting just as high on this list.

-Simon Handmaker

2. Vektor – Terminal Redux

Terminal Redux may be one small step for Vektor, but it’s one giant leap forward for thrash. Vektor’s third full-length, Terminal Redux is one of those rare, cosmic instances of everything going just right to achieve a slice of perfection in a universe hurtling towards entropy. With David DiSanto’s inhuman shrieks and a uniquely futuristic, alien sound, Vektor is perfectly suited for the ultra-ambitious space opera they’ve composed. The music is appropriately encompassing and larger-than-life, and despite the furious technicality, the concept album stays grounded in excellent riffing. The dazzlingly quick licks of lead guitar tell the album’s epic tale nearly as well as the lyrics. An instrumental and a well-executed thrash metal power ballad help to counterpoint the intensity. In an album filled with potent tracks, some of the best, like “Pillars of Sand” and “Recharging the Void” deserve to go down in the annals of thrash metal as some of the genre’s highest peaks.

So now the question stands: How much further can we go? It’s particularly revealing to consider this album with Metallica’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct to see just how far Vektor have evolved from their thrash forefathers. Although they’ve been run through a Vektor-ization, the riffs on Terminal Redux remain firmly rooted in the thrash style. And yet so much of Vektor’s idiosyncratic, beautiful noise has come to rely on elements derived from black, death, and prog. But maybe it doesn’t matter if Vektor belongs on thrash metal’s Mount Rushmore – because, somewhere else in the universe, they’re building an Everest all their own.

-Andrew Hatch

1. Car Bomb – Meta

What, when you get right down to it, is metal all about? The answer is, of course, many, many things, different things for different people. But if anything might be placed at its base, it should be the gut wrenching sensation, the head-in-hands wonder which besets one when they are taken by surprise. You know that moment, where the room seems suddenly larger and the music takes over your gut, sending electric signals all across your body. Meta is an album of that, a condensed state of thrill, of engaging heaviness which crashes over you, again and again.

Whether you accept the man-machine narrative which we had placed at the basis of the album earlier this year or not, it’s hard to deny how mechanical some of the sounds which Car Bomb produce are. However, somehow, they are also deeply emotional and organic, twisting around your hips and neck and bidding them “move!”. This can be traced to the fact that the album is a blend, a melange of metal approaches and influences. Equal parts Meshuggah, Gojira, and The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meta assaults you from multiple directions. Thus, when you have grown accustomed to the lows (on “Sets” for example) it hits you with fuzz and speed (in the form  of“Lights Out”).

It is an unpredictable album which still manages to return again and again to cohesion. More than anything, it represents the freshness of purpose and vigor which seem to have swept through metal in 2016 and is thus our Album of the Year. Fiercely technical, deeply groovy and overall heavy and convincing at the same time, Meta is everything a metal album should be in 2016.

Here’s to many more.

-Eden Kupermintz

Heavy Blog

Published 7 years ago