Vince Neilstein’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2016
2016 was a year. There were metal records released. You’re not reading this intro anyway so just go ahead and scroll through quickly as you glance at the purdy artwork of my #15 through #10 choices, then get impatient and skip right to #1.
15. Lotus Thief – Gramarye (Prophecy)
The press copy for Lotus Thief’s Gramarye promised “something entirely different and beautiful in its own new way,” and that is absolutely what the band accomplished. Lotus Thief mix post-rock, psych, black metal and prog to create something, well… entirely different and beautiful. Looking forward to following this band in the future.
14. Khemmis – Hunted (20 Buck Spin)
Few that had been paying close attention to the metalwebs were surprised when this album blew everyone’s socks off mid-year, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t delighted anyway: Khemmis delivered every bit of the promise they’d shown on their previous release and then some, taking their blend of stoner, doom and traditional heavy metal to the next level. Extra props for the guitarmonies.
13. Allegaeon – Proponent for Sentience (Metal Blade)
This band will never put out a bad record; they’re just so, so talented. Proponent for Sentience sees chief songwriter Greg Burgess stretching his talents further still, introducing orchestral elements to his patented brand of progressive, technical death metal.
12. Death Angel – The Evil Divide (Nuclear Blast)
I never thought a Death Angel album would end up on any year-end list of mine — I’ve always had a healthy respect for the Bay Area thrash veterans, but never really got into them — but The Evil Divide just hit me in that spot. It’s got the songs! Death Angel are writing the best music of their careers some 25+ years in.
11. Serpentine Dominion – Serpentine Dominion (Metal Blade)
The project featuring George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (Cannibal Corpse), Adam D. (Killswitch Engage) and Shannon Lucas (ex-The Black Dahlia Murder) made us wait for years after first teasing their collaboration, but it was well worth it. The coolest thing about the self-titled debut is hearing how far Adam D. can branch out when not confined by the limits of writing for Killswitch Engage; quite a bit, it turns out.
10. Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner)
It took me a while, but I’m now fully behind the new direction Gojira took on their latest album. I’m all about pretty much anything they decide to do, actually, because they’re one of very few metal bands who actively push themselves into new territory instead of simply re-hashing the status quo their fans have come to expect. No risk, no reward.
9. Sumac – What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey)
Aaron Turner has found life after Isis together with Brian Cook (Botch) and Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) on this, Sumac’s second and by far most fully-realized album. Sumac sound very little like the sum of their parts — they’re a new entity with a fresh sound. What One Becomes is one of the most devastatingly heavy albums of the year.
8. Snaked – Year of the Snake (self-released)
As unlikely as it seems that classic metal, late ’80s / early ’90s shred and wompy dubstep blasts could go so well together, Snaked — the LA duo featuring guitarist Hugh Myrone and DJ Depressed Teenager — are living proof. I doubt anyone else could’ve made the combination sound so fucking good.
7. Mantar – Ode to the Flame (Nuclear Blast)
Axl Rosenberg perfectly summed up what I love so much about Mantar in a post about their then-new single, “Praise the Plague:” “The verse has got a beat you can dance to, and might even sound kinda optimistic if not for the dude who sounds like he routinely gargles Drano and broken glass screaming the whole time.” Mantar go hard as fuck but they also groove, and Ode to the Flame is a helluva breakout effort.
6. Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache)
As MS scribe Max Frank noted in his official review of Terminal Redux, Vektor are one of very few modern thrash bands that are taking the genre to new places. Terminal Redux is the ultimate realization of their progressive forays into a metal tentpole, at once ferocious and experimental.
5. Astronoid – Air (Blood Music)
Astronoid lie somewhere in the “doom pop” continuum that Torche occupy so well, but their brand of dreamy metal tunes is a bit more varied, sub-genre wise: black metal pop, prog pop, grunge pop, even Weezer pop. Never have blast beats and high-pitched, harmonized vocals gone so well together. One of the most truly unique sounding metal releases of 2016.
4. Exmortus – Ride Forth (Prosthetic)
We all need some metal about sorcerers, dragons and riding forth into battle in our lives, and these young shredders (though they’ve been around for a minute) from California have taken the mantle as the best of the bunch. They’re dazzlingly technical players, but their skill at writing catchy melodies and memorable songs is second to none in the genre (most songs here are between four and five minutes long). They’re also one of the most fun live bands in metal today. Superb effort!
3. Toothgrinder – Nocturnal Masquerade (Spinefarm)
It’s so much fun when a young band comes along that has such a firm grasp on their own completely original sound so early on in their careers, and Toothgrinder are a rare example. Their combination of myriad styles of metal and hard rock is completely developed on this, their sophomore release, and the sky’s the limit from hereon out. Also: songs for days.
2. Textures – Phenotype (Nuclear Blast)
Fanboy as though I am, I didn’t think Textures would be able to match Silhouettes and Dualism, two hall-of-fame worthy albums. But they did it, proving that more bands ought to take as much time between albums as they do. Phenotype doesn’t change the game for the Dutch outfit, but it one-ups every aspect of their sound and it’s a stellar addition to their already-impressive resume.
1. Youth Code – Commitment to Complications (Dais Records)
I’m just as surprised as you to see this here, but the truth is this: it’s the album I listened to the most all year. Maybe the ’90s industrial metal nostalgia hit me right in the sweet spot, or maybe it’s the logical conclusion of my obsession with synthwave, But goddamn, this album goes so fucking hard! Ryan George’s programming is hypnotic and driving, while Sara Taylor’s hardcore-influenced scream is full of grit and venom; both members contribute catchy hooks via their chosen instruments, and the results are Youth Code’s best songs to date.