Why My Favorite Metal Bands of All Time Didn’t Release My Favorite Albums of 2016
Some of my favorite bands of all time — by many accounts, some of the BEST metal bands of all time, period — released new music in 2016; Meshuggah, Killswitch Engage, Periphery, Lamb of God, In Flames, Metallica, Opeth, Deftones and The Devin Townsend Project, just to name a few. All of those bands have at least one album in the past (or several) that’s been incredibly important to me, and that I still listen to regularly many, many years later.
Yet none of those bands’ new albums ended up on my “Best of 2016” list. And I wasn’t alone.
It’s a phenomenon I’ve observed the past few years as the annual parade of “Best Of” lists makes the rounds each December. The occasional episode of fanboyism excepted (like, there was no way Meshuggah weren’t ending up atop Rob Pasbani’s list, and of course that one Sevendust album a couple years back ended up on mine), the “big” bands everyone expects to see on year-end lists often don’t make it there. Decibel’s Top 40 list was heavy with new/younger bands up top, with more established acts filling out the bottom. And forget the press lists, those albums aren’t discussed as much in person between friends, either; way more people I know are excited to talk about Astronoid than they are the new Metallica.
What’s more: in 2014, Babymetal nabbed my #1 spot. Fallujah, Revocation and Black Crown Initiate all appeared high up on past lists. Yet none of them ended up with my 2016 honors. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like those albums; I quite did.
This, of course, after ENDLESS pre-release hype, from this website and others. MetalSucks posted 12 articles about Meshuggah prior to the release of The Violent Sleep of Reason. We posted 9 times each about Periphery III and Killswitch Engage’s Incarnate. I don’t feel like counting how many times we posted about Hardwired before it came out, but it’s easily more than 20. We premiered tracks by both Fallujah and Black Crown Initiate, and we wrote about Babymetal so much our readers revolted.
And then… nothing. Pffffff…. like the air audibly draining from a balloon. Not only did we stop covering those albums day in and day out — simply because there was nothing left to talk about — but I also just forgot about them. Completely. I listened to Hardwired twice the day it came out, and then I forced myself to listen to it for a third time yesterday, nearly two months later, after chastising myself for forgetting about it. Hardwired, as well as several of the albums by bands mentioned in this article’s opening paragraph, made nary an appearance on our contributors’ “Best of 2016” lists.
So: what happened? Did all these bands just happen to write lackluster albums, or is there something else at play?
While I said above I don’t think it’s the case that all the big metal bands who released albums in 2016 delivered duds, it’s worth considering that those bands aren’t what they used to be. As bands age, they lose the fire that drove their earlier material. As good as the new Meshuggah album is… is it as good as Chaosphere? Or even ObZen? Giving Meshuggah a year-end list spot simply because they’re Meshuggah seems a bit disingenuous, and would simply be rewarding them for being metal royalty (unless you’re Rob Pasbani and you really do love Meshuggah that much!).
As their careers progress, bands also tend to repeat themselves instead of exploring challenging new directions, which can get boring for long-time fans. I’ve discussed this topic at length in the past so I don’t feel a need to dive into it again here, but style fatigue is a very real trap SO many bands fall into. Killswitch Engage are a perfect example of this: we really, really wish Adam D. would just write a different fucking riff for a Killswitch record. Clearly he’s capable: look at what he did for Serpentine Dominion! Not coincidentally, that album ended up on my “Best of 2016” list.
It’s definitely worth considering what role our own ever-evolving personal tastes play in this equation. The End of Heartache was a monumentally important album for me, as was Periphery’s debut. I’ve liked everything both bands have put out since, but the amount I’ve connected with each new album has diminished with each one. The Clear EP was my favorite thing Periphery have put out in recent years, which the band members themselves would probably find odd, but I think it’s the most different and interesting thing they’ve done, no contest. I’m not the same person I was eight years ago, hence I don’t want Periphery IV, I want something that represents what I am now. I doubt the dudes in Periphery are the same they were back then either (personal evolution aside, shit, half the lineup is different), which is why Clear made so much sense: it was a pure representation of where each of those guys were at at the time it was written.
Shifting personal tastes may also explain why some of the smaller bands mentioned above didn’t resonate with me as hard this year as they did the first time around. Did Fallujah or Black Crown Initiate write albums inferior to their previous ones? I highly doubt it. Perhaps it’s simply that those bands — both of whom have highly original sounds — don’t seem as novel to me as they once did. I’m an adrenaline junkie, and I love a new kind of high. Which isn’t to say I’ll stop liking those bands — I very much still do! — and also isn’t to say that both bands’ careers will go anywhere but up from here. It’s just… I dunno, it didn’t connect as much this time around.
Did the new albums your favorite bands of all time released last year make it into your year-end lists? Or are you, too, always searching for something new?