Time for another SDMETAL list! Below you’ll find the year’s top releases. Factors like originality, production, and replay value all went into the ranking process. Since this list is strictly limited to metal (sorry Perturbator!) albums, no EPs, singles, live albums, or demos were included. And as always, make sure to emphatically remind me of everything I missed in the comments. Now…
17) Ascended Dead – Abhorrent Manifestation
A chaotic and mesmerizing ride through cavernous death metal territory. These San Diegans throw down some diabolical chops at pounding speed. Their sound is worthy of being called a Dark Descent Records release, and if any of their roster has caught your ear, then this album is right up your rotted alley.
Key tracks: “Subconscious Barbarity,” “Dawn of Armageddon”
16) Undergang – Misantropologli
To say that Undergang isn’t for everyone would be a massive understatement. But there are those who crave something more barbarous in their rotation… Something more noxious and foul. If Vader & Cannibal Corpse are malevolent, tactical assassins, Undergang is the brute bludgeoning its prey.
Key tracks: “Skåret i småstykker,” “Lymfatisk drænage”
15) Wode – Servants of the Countercosmos
Last year, Wode’s self-titled effort was considered for 2016’s year-end list. And as much as I enjoyed listening to it, I felt like the songs needed more contrast to truly be a contestant for a top spot. However their follow-up, released just over a year after their debut, shows huge amounts of growth in both their arrangements and songwriting. Specifically, Servants combines heavy riffs, blackened vocals, and harmonious breaks into a cosmic experience.
Key Tracks: “Temple Interment,” “Celestial Dagger”
14) Iron Reagan – Crossover Ministry
18 songs crammed into 28 minutes. Fuck yes. Richmond, Virginia rascals Iron Reagan stomped out their third album, affectionately titled Crossover Ministry. If the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, this record is a snot-nosed uppercut to jam sessions and popped collars. Every member is in top form and dishes out skanking choruses and frantic verses. Crossover is a punk-fueled extravaganza.
Key Tracks: “Dead With My Friends,” “Megachurch,” “Dogsnotgods,” “Parents of Tomorrow”
13) Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy
An unabashed and unpredictable dive into noise and terror. Classifying this plainly as “metal” would be a major disservice since Full Of Hell draws influences from all things chaotic. The album’s electronic effects interlaced with vigorous vocal patterns and dissonant guitars create monuments out of music. No wonder this band’s been slam-dunking their tours with the likes of 1349, Immolation, and Cattle Decapitation.
Key tracks: “The Cosmic Vein,” “Digital Prison,” “Ashen Mesh”
12) Witchery – I Am Legion
The opening track alone was enough to qualify them for this list. Seriously. Sweden’s Witchery leaves no indication of growing stale, now seven albums into their career. The band has been home to many talented musicians, including Mercyful Fate/Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo who keeps the bass fills swinging. Hopefully this release prompts the blackened speed ensemble over for some US dates!
Key tracks: “Legion,” “True North,” “Seraphic Terror”
11) Havok – Conformicide
Colorado thrashers Havok have spawned a triumphant fourth album. What started from the humble beginnings of Thrash Can and Pwn ‘Em All has clearly evolved into an articulate and deadly metal storm. This is Havok’s first album with string-slapper-extraordinaire Nick Schendzielos (Job For A Cowboy/Cephalic Carnage) and goddamn does he rip! The songs possess natural ebb-and-flow, which is critical for a record that clocks in over an hour. The band contrasts mosh-ready riffs with politically-charged and intricate songwriting, which sees Conformocide aiming high and nailing the mark.
Key tracks: “Masterplan,” “Claiming Certainty,” “Circling The Drain”
10) Municipal Waste – Slime and Punishment
Integrity is synonymous with this band. As it turns out they trashed the first incarnation of this album due to its inadequacy, so what you’re ultimately hearing is their second shot at the songs. And these boys have been busy releasing three albums between their respective projects! Mixed and mastered by the illustrious Bill Metoyer, Slime and Punishment takes campy voiceovers and biting lyrics into a cohesive, thrashing record.
Key tracks: “Bourbon Discipline,” “Slime and Punishment,” “Low Tolerance”
9) Exhumed – Death Revenge
Isn’t it funny how what you enjoy most can sometimes be the same things you initially hated? That’s what happened here. I initially approached Death Revenge with the same expectations as Exhumed’s past releases like Necrocracy and was sorely mistaken. However closer inspection yields sharp results, and Exhumed have artfully pulled off a massive undertaking in assembling this concept album while still keeping their death/grind roots in heavy rotation. Welcome back, Ross!
Key tracks: “Defenders of the Grave,” “A Funeral Party,” “Incarnadined Hands”
8) Sicarius – Serenade of Slitting Throats
Inland Empire black metal terrorists Sicarius brandish a spiked, bloody fist in this vehement debut. While the tone is predominantly violent, Sicarius find wicked moments to boldly let quieter moments slither into the passages. Vocals are strong, guitars are fierce, and drums are tight. As far as I’m concerned, this band’s only going up!
Key tracks: “Serenade of Slitting Throats,” “Torture Trials,” “The Beast In Your Heart,” “Serpent Soul”
7) Kreator – Gods of Violence
“WORLD WAR NOWWWWWW!!!!” Petrozza screams amidst teutonic riffs and pulsating drums. Kreator’s latest effort sees the Germanic thrash vets flaunting some seriously mean auditory chops. This lineup is the most longstanding in the group’s history, and the rage-fueled choruses and expert musicianship reveal a band that’s cohesive and locked-in. Kreator has found a deadly formula that balances melody, speed, and aggression.
Key tracks: “Totalitarian Terror,” “Army of Storms,” “Lion with Eagle Wings”
6) Au Champ Des Morts – Dans la Joie
Translated: To The Fields of the Dead – In Joy. A somber, ambient record. Both the lyrics and music reflect the union of exuberance with desolation. Listening to this is a dark and alluring venture into some of black metal’s underground fringes.
Key tracks: “Nos décombres,” “L’étoile du matin” “La fin du monde”
5) Helheim – landawarijaR
The first of three Norwegian bands on this last, Helheim places for its earthy and authentic sound. Duel vocalists V’gandr and H’grimnir keep the melodies fresh over the rolling bass and warm drums. Helheim finds plenty of room for soulful, ballad-y movements and spectral timbre.
Key tracks: “Baklengs mot intent,” “Rista blóðørn,” “Synir af heiðindómr”
4) Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
You probably saw this one coming. Texas crossover act Power Trip has been making major moves this year in support of their second album, Nightmare Logic. Here, the quintet expands and improves on their already mammoth style à la Empire Strikes Back. The single-pedal bass drum action is exhilarating and chugging hooks and rhythms are downright infectious. Nightmare Logic is as crushing as it is catchy.
Key tracks: “Waiting Around to Die,” “If Not Us Then Who,” “Crucifixation”
3) Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon the Deep
Even 10 years ago I don’t think many metal fans would expect to hear contrabassoon, French horn, and mellotron on a Satyricon record. Nonetheless these Norwegian visionaries have set their own bar even higher with their ninth release. Frost and Satyr have been adamant about preventing stagnation within the band, yet there hasn’t been a Satyricon album quite as psychedelic and ethereal as Deep. The 43-minute runtime is remarkably paced and will engulf you in its coiling, twists and turns.
Key tracks: “The Ghost of Rome,” “Dissonant,” “Burial Rite”
2) Necrot – Blood Offerings
What in the unholy FUCK do we have here!? Blistering production? Check. Demoniac percussion? Check. Titanic vocals? CHYYYEEEECK! This is old-skull death metal paradise. The song structures aren’t very adventurous, which is something I hope they explore in future releases, but man have they found their bloody voice! I’ve had difficulty sharing this debut without foaming at the mouth.
Key tracks: “Shadows and Light,” “Empty Hands,” “Layers of Darkness”
1) Whoredom Rife – Dommedagskvad
True to their approach, Norway’s Whoredom Rife seizes the traditional template of black metal and injects invigorating musical motifs. What truly got me hooked on this over other entries was its eerie, chilling tenor. Much like Necrot, Whoredom Rife has a startling grip on their sound early on into their career. At times, the compositions feel like a morbid waltz in an ancient chamber hall. Immense, original, ambitious.
Key tracks: “Cursing the Storm to Come,” “Spir,” “Pilgrim”