Despite whatever shitstorm last year might have been for you, 2016 was an undoubtedly strong year for all things heavy. But in true modern fashion these feats needed to be compiled into a list. This list by no means aims to be comprehensive, just to highlight some picks this editor found to be particularly strong. Unfortunately no EPs, live albums, or compilations are being considered here (sorry Voivod!). Since this collection is constrained to just 16 choices for the past year, honorable mentions include:
- The Great Electric Quest – “Chapter I”
- Exmortus – “Ride Forth”
- Rotting Christ – “Rituals”
- Red Wizard – “Cosmosis”
- Holy Grail – “Times of Pride and Peril”
16) Ghoul – “Dungeon Bastards”
Not many artists can blend horror and humor as exceptionally as Ghoul. “Dungeon Bastards” sees this variety act delivering their signature blend of thrashy riffs, quirky voiceovers, and entertaining gang vocals. Keep an eye out for the die-hard edition of the vinyl too, as it features a fun board game crafted by the members themselves.
15) Xoth – “Invasion of the Tentacube”
Seattle metallers Xoth has emerged from the strange depths of space with “Invasion of the Tentacube,” a charismatic collection of meaty sci-fi. “Invasion of the Tentacube” takes the best elements of their “Hostile Terraforming” EP and manifests them on this album with more elaborate passages and technical shredding that never grow tedious.
14) Zhrine – “Unortheta”
Landing at number 14 is the Icelandic ensemble Zhrine. “Unortheta” synthesizes catastrophically desolate lyrics with gloomy, bellowing vocals for an atmosphere that is altogether their own. The production alone is massive, but with “Unortheta,” Zhrine presents a dynamic range of volume and songwriting that is compelling.
13) Void Omnia – “Dying Light”
Next up is Oakland’s Void Omnia. Finding a terrific balance between ethereal melodies and crushing blasts, this quintet soars to profound territories with dynamic vocals, skilled drumming, and somber chord progressions. “Dying Light” features enough creative flare to impress black metal traditionalists as well as those hesitant with the genre.
12) Poison Headache – “Poison Headache”
Another debut on this list, San Diego trio Poison Headache has burst out opening for the likes of Rotten Sound and Killswitch Engage. Guitarists Phil Sgrosso and Andrew Kukta boast an impressive lock on their razor-sharp metalpunk riffs and drummer Kyle Rosa’s ability to switch between d-beats and blast beats boosts to the album’s aggressive tone. Poison Headache’s self-titled release is a cacophony of speed and sound for those interested in sonic fury.
11) Nails – “You Will Never Be One Of Us”
Much like the aforementioned pick, Nails is far from a heavy metal act. The group rests its roots in hardcore and powerviolence but goddamn if “You Will Never Be One Of Us” isn’t a hit with metalheads. Very few artists can create music as volatile as Nails. Everything about their records should leave you exhausted in the best possible way and their 2016 release is an abrasive testament to this. “You Will Never Be One Of Us” even tackles the weighty feat of forging an 8-minute behemoth of a song—their longest track to-date. And it couldn’t be better titled because no matter how long Nails go “Into Quietus,” we will always come crawling back.
10) Destroyer 666 – “Wildfire”
Australian war-fiends Destroyer 666 have returned with their first full-length record in seven years. “Wildfire” instantly asserts its seat in our countdown with lightning fast guitar-chugging and tasteful drum ornaments. Fist-pumping choruses from “Hounds At Ya Back” and “Live And Burn” ooze with trad-metal greatness, especially when filtered through K.K.’s melodic gutturals. Pick up “Wildfire” for fast n’ heavy tunes that won’t get old anytime soon.
9) Death Angel – “The Evil Divide”
With very few exceptions, many of America’s top-tier thrash acts have grown stale in the album department. Death Angel is one of those exceptions. “The Evil Divide” is DA’s eighth studio album and easily stacks up with the vicious cuts that put the band on the radar to begin with. Mark Osogueda’s vocals are sharp as ever and maintain the remarkable range he’s known for. The California quintet is on their A-game with “The Evil Divide”: a collection of music that’s as catchy as it is fast.
8) Darkthrone – “Arctic Thunder”
Releasing 17 albums in under 20 years might seem overwhelming. However for the duo in Darkthrone this is just a matter of fact in their catalog. Named after an ancient Norwegian thrash band, “Arctic Thunder” is an innovative arrangement of black n roll. The record approaches the lo-fi heavy metal attitude but adds smoother edges that make the songs more refined without losing their bite. Whether or not “Arctic Thunder” is just another notch in the band’s bullet belt, this album is loaded with hooks and grit that stand out among their discography—a quality which is further amplified by the album’s organic cover art.
7) Gatecreeper – “Sonoran Depravation”
Turns out the desert is a prime location to write death metal. Arizona’s Gatecreeper is without a doubt one of the most exciting bands to erupt in heavy music. The band’s released splits with likes of Homewrecker and Young And In The Way, but their 2016 debut, “Sonoran Depravation” is a supreme display of their skill. Rolling guitar licks and cave-crushing vocals dominate this union of brutality and even sneak in key changes à la Dismember at times. If you like death metal and don’t suck, “Sonoran Depravation” is for you.
6) Alcest – “Kodama”
Post-metal/shoegaze isn’t normally the type of material that earns my approval. However, French duo Alcest’s “Kodama” is a magnificently fresh breath of air. Relying on predominantly clean vocals, the record soars between gorgeous guitar melodies and warm, soulful drum patterns. This pinnacle is reached with the hypnotic “Oiseaux de proie” (meaning birds of prey): a nearly eight-minute magnum opus that balances out its cleanliness with the raspy screams black metal fans crave.
5) Ravencult – “Force Of Profanation”
After hearing the blistering ruthlessness found on “Temples of Torment” and “Morbid Blood,” Greece’s Ravencult immediately grew to be one of this writer’s favorite upcoming acts. Fortunately, Ravencult has soldiered on in their high standard of punishing heavy metal with “Force of Profanation.” The band’s third full-length release delivers a vast array of crushing riffs that combine the vigorous vibes of thrash n roll with sharp tinges of black metal. “Force of Profanation” is infectious, deadly, and fast.
4) Sodom – “Decision Day”
As if it wasn’t enough to leave an indelible mark on heavy metal with the headslamming anthems found on “Persecution Mania,” and “Agent Orange,” German thrashers Sodom knocked some sense into the new millennium with modern gems like “M-16” and their self-titled release. And as if THAT wasn’t enough, the Teutonic titans have emerged on top once again with “Decision Day.” This thrashterpiece pummels through larger-than-life choruses, solid production, and the ingenuity of Sodom we know and love. This album pulverizes start-to-finish.
3) Obscura – “Akróasis”
Another German treasure, the intricate masterminds of Obscura has voyaged deeper into progressive depths with their fourth album “.” The record marks a full decade since the band released their first full-length “Retribution” in 2006. “Akróasis” opens with the illustrious “Sermon of the Seven Suns” and does a stellar job showcasing Obscura’s affinity for fretless bass and intellectual songwriting. This record is one hell of a ride that rockets through space, destroying all traditional expectations of death metal along its way.
2) Uada – “Devoid of Light”
Taking its band name from the Latin word for haunted, Uada has stormed onto the scene with their first ever release, “Devoid of Light.” Uada is a prime example of an ensemble doing everything right, and this record is a flawless experience both musically and lyrically. The Portland, Oregon quartet has honed in on what many bands take years to crystallize. Prepare to be mesmerized by the woodsy production, singular vocal delivery, and engrossing assembly of bleakness and bewilderment.
1) Vektor – “Terminal Redux”
Only a band as wild as Vektor could snag our #1 spot over Uada’s triumphant debut. Nevertheless, the sci-fi metallers have collectively created a celestial tour de force that involves a story of colossal proportions. The vibrant storytelling combined with some of the band’s most intricate songwriting to-date make for an epic that warranted playing the record start-to-finish on their last US tour. “Terminal Redux” towers at 1-hour 14-minutes and acts as a perfect addition to the band’s hallowed catalog of sideways metal. News of Vektor’s recent lineup changes have come as a shock because these four minds have crafted some of the most extraordinary musical compositions this era has seen. Regardless, “Terminal Redux” remains a gargantuan monolith to some of humankind’s truest musical potentials.