So, with video games and TV shows (things I’ve written about before) out of the way, it’s time to turn my attention to music. I’ve never written about music to any extent but I was inspired by sheer amount of fantastic albums that came out this year. For my money, 2016 may just be the best year for heavy metal in my life time.
10. Periphery III: Select Difficulty – Periphery
Periphery are one of those bands who have totally slipped by me for years. As a bassist myself, it wasn’t until I stumbled onto a YouTube video featuring bassist Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood that I really paid attention to the band. Nolly’s bass sound was unique and I went to check out Periphery III: Select Difficulty as a result. In the process of searching for music videos, I found Remain Indoors, the documentary about the making of Select Difficulty. It introduced me to the other band members properly and I listened to the album front-to-back straight away after. I’ve listened to it at least once per week since then and have spent many more hours working out how I can save up for Nolly’s signature Dingwall bass.
9. The Last Hero – Alter Bridge
It’s been 3 years since Alter Bridge’s last release so that means we were due another one in 2016. Seriously, since 2004, these guys have put a new album out every 3 years, it’s pretty impressive. While The Last Hero is not a big departure from the band’s previously established sound, I found myself spending most of August listening to this album and really enjoying the thematic elements woven throughout the 13 tracks. 2016 has been an interesting political year (that’s the nice way of putting it) and the lyrics of this album have an interesting, and pretty ambiguous, take on the political climate at the moment. Oh and, pound-for-pound, this is probably AB’s heaviest album to date.
8. Brotherhood of the Snake – Testament
Speaking of politically charged albums, Brotherhood of the Snake is about an illuminati-esque secret society who run the world from the shadows. It also talks about the ancient astronaut hypothesis (yes, as in Ancient Aliens). Lyrics aside this time because not only is this my first Testament album (a little late to the party, I know) it’s also the thrashiest album I’ve heard in a long time. Chuck Billy’s vocals growl and snarl through every song and every riff and solo by Skolnick and Peterson is blistering without sounding too similar too each other (I’m looking at you, Slayer). The real reason I love this album so much is that it features arguably the best rhythm section in metal, Steve DiGiorgio and Gene Hoglan. DiGiorgio is easily one of the best bass players in the history of the genre and his chemistry with ‘The Human Drum Machine’ Hoglan has been chronicled since they first worked together on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns in 1993. Now, it’s time for me to go back and check out Testament’s previous 10 albums!
7. The Fall of Hearts – Katatonia
Katatonia are a band that I’ve followed on-and-off for many years. Their tenth album, The Fall of Hearts, is my favourite by a stretch. Much like their contemporaries Opeth (more on them later, don’t worry), over the years, Katatonia have moved away from their death metal origins and headed towards prog rock territory. Much like Opeth did a few years, they’ve fully embraced the prog-ness and it really paid off. Jonas Renkse’s soaring vocals echo around in my head and keep me coming back for more. These 67 minutes are full of dynamics of loud and quiet, heavy and soft, light and dark. Somehow, it’s simultaneously Katatonia’s most accessible and most complex album.
6. Voices of the Void – Anciients
A late entry to the list, I had never heard of Anciients before they were mentioned on an Overkill Reviews video in October. I was quickly intrigued by Sam’s positive review and went to Spotify to check it in full. Needless to say, I was completely swept up in their sound. It felt like the first time I heard Leviathan by Mastodon (one of my favourite albums of all time) all over again. Voices of the Void is the album Mastodon could be making if they hadn’t left their heavier stoner-metal roots behind a few albums ago. The combination of Kenny Cook and Chris Dyck, who share both vocal and guitar duties, is nothing short of inspiring. Formed in 2011, Anciients are one of the younger bands I’ve listened to recently and I’m fascinated to see what they can do with their future third album.
5. Jomsviking – Amon Amarth
Much like the aforementioned Testament, Amon Amarth are one of those bands who have been around for years (24, to be exact) and have completely passed me by. It was never on purpose, I just managed to never notice them. But holy shit, Jomsviking made a hell of an impression on me. The tragic story told by these 11 tracks is a classic viking tale and the guitar harmonies and crushing riffs brilliantly convey the despair and violence of the young man’s life. I did a typical “Let’s browse the new releases in the metal section of Spotify and see what happens.” and gave this album a try. I ended up listening to it non-stop for about 3 days. As I was listening to this album, I realised I need to talk to someone about it. Unfortunately, most of my friends don’t share my taste in music but, thanks to Brian Letendre, the fantastic Thrash It Out podcast just happened to do an entire episode about this album. Of course, this only helped solidify it in my top 5 of the year.
4. Magma – Gojira
Unlike some of the other bands on the list, I’ve been a Gojira fan for a long time. I have loved basically every song they’ve released since I discovered From Mars To Sirius in 2005. I saw them live in my home town of Norwich around ’08-09 and since then, I’ve argued that Gojira are one of the absolute best bands in the world. Thanks to their signing to Roadrunner Records and the release of L’Enfant Sauvage, they seem to finally getting the spotlight they deserve. Both lyrically and musically, the Duplantier brothers have crafted some of the most intelligent and imaginative music and Magma is no exception.
3. Hardwired…to Self Destruct – Metallica
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Metallica released a new album this year. Their first in 8 freakin’ years. First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room, the terrible mix of Death Magnetic is long gone. The drums have been turned down and you can actually hear Rob Trujillo’s bass. Sometimes. Unfortunately, Hardwired is not the most consistent album on this list and there is a significant slump when you go from disc 1 to the first half of disc 2. Thankfully, the bookends of this album are some of Metallica’s best songs in 25 years. The song above, Spit Out The Bone, is easily my most listened to song this year. It’s not a perfect song but it perfectly epitomises the album as a whole. Oh and it features a bass solo. Need I say more?
2. Sorceress – Opeth
Of course, Opeth are on this list. They had to be. At first, I wasn’t sure that this album would be one of my favourites of the year. It grew on me with every listen. I already liked the title track (apart from the jazzy intro) and The Wilde Flowers, which were released before the whole album. I haven’t completely loved the aforementioned less metal more prog-rock sound that Opeth have been developing over the last few years but Sorceress, as a whole, is their best album since Ghost Reveries, which is one of my all-time favourite albums. The shift in Opeth singer/guitarist/leader, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s songwriting style for this album shines through in the best way possible. This is an album that gets better with every single listen and demands to be listened to in its entirety every single time.
1. Catalyst + Centered & One – Dorje
This is kind of cheating since the first half of this album (Catalyst) came out in 2015 but I couldn’t possibly have anything else at number one. I have listened to more Dorje in the last 12 months than any other band, by far. I feel I know every lyric, note and riff of the two-part release. Fronted by Youtube sensation Rob Chapman, Dorje have changed the way I look at fan interaction and video production when it comes to bands. Through the band and Rob’s personal Youtube channel, we see behind-the-scenes of touring, songwriting and album release. It also helps that Rob is a phenomenal guitarist and has developed into a formidable singer and frontman. The rest of the band are equally virtuosos in their fields. Dave Hollingworth is an innovative and spectacular bass player, Ben Minal is a force of nature behind a drum kit and Rabea Massad makes the vast majority of guitarists seem bland in comparison. If I were a betting man, I would guess that Dorje are going to be huge in the near future. They’re my #1 of 2016 for a reason and deserve every success coming to them.
Next up, my Top 10 Films of 2016!