I was just thinking the other day how I was going to have to have a tough time with my top 5 metal albums of 2016. Not for the wealth of awesome titles, but for a lack of really standout ones. (I ended up being super wrong, but more on that in a bit.)
I had a few I knew would probably be on there (Gojira, Borknagar), but I couldn’t think of many more albums that had come out that “felt” like they deserved to be there. Not like last year.
For reference, I spent much of last year spinning the same albums, over and over again. Leprous’s The Congregation was equal parts prog and tech-infused black metal, while Tribulation’s Children of the Night met my needs for a grim yet rockin’ good time (and with raw, natural production to boot). Gorgoroth’s Instinctus Bestialis was short and so, so sinfully sweet; I couldn’t tell you how many times I listened to it during the final half hour of a Friday afternoon to make the weekend come sooner. Pyramaze’s Disciples of the Sun was a gift from a band I’d all but written off (seriously, how do you follow up an album with Matt Barlow on it?), but still it grabbed me with its fresh take on power metal. Finally, Ghost’s Meliora, my 2015 metal album of the year — well, it felt like album of the year. It’s such a well-crafted album, with so much care put into the songwriting and production that I knew it was in the running from the first time I heard it.
So when I reflected on all that and thought about the albums I’d been returning to this year, nothing really stood out. Then I had a rare moment of clarity; I thought to myself, “That can’t be right, can it? Surely there are albums out there to give Magma and Winter Thrice a good run.”
I keep a Google Docs page filled with albums I’ve listened to throughout the year. It has the month and day they were released, as well as a tentative “score” numbered 1 through 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The score indicates how I felt about them at the time, and it could increase or decrease on subsequent listens. Top contenders are bolded, and are (usually) 4s and higher.
Turned out I had a lot of bold 4s in the 2016 doc.
I really, really, wish I had a more satisfying conclusion to this bit of drama. But the reality of it was that I just plain forgot several albums I’d enjoyed. So I spun them again, and whaddya know? They’re great, and it looks like 2016 is going to be even more heated than 2015 was.
Here’s what’s coming:
My Contenders for 2016 Albums of the Year
Borknagar, Winter Thrice – I like albums that “sound” cold. It helps that “winter” is in the name of Winter Thrice, as this is a very cold-sounding album. I picture a lot of black mountains covered in frost, and the boughs of trees weighed down by snow when I listen to this. You know, Necrolord album art kind of shit. It also helps that I think the songs here are really good, which is why I’ve returned to it so many times. I just can’t get enough of the style of harsh vocals they have (I could take or leave the clean?) and their sense of melody is particularly strong. For an album to have come out so early in the year and still have me coming back to it — that says a lot.
Amoral, In Sequence – Artwork tends to play a large part in getting me to check out bands I’ve never heard of. This one looks like a card from Magic: The Gathering, so points there! I’m also digging Amoral’s prog-metal groove, particularly the two opening songs. I’ll admit, I’m not crazy about the drum production or the vocals, and I get kind of murky toward the songs on thr end of the album. I’ll definitely give it some more listens to give In Sequence a proper shot at the top 5, but honestly, I don’t know. It had a solid chance at its January release, but the competition is fierce.
Prediction: Honorable Mentions
Raubtier, Bärsärkagång – Since discovering them a couple years ago, I’ve always turned to Raubtier when I’ve been listening to Rammstein but want a little more oomph. I was delighted to find they had a new album this year, and that delight turned into sheer headbanging enthusiasm once I heard Bärsärkagång. It’s ferocious and fun, and every bit deserving of a spot on my top 5. But we’ll have to see.
Ihsahn, Arktis – So I told you I liked Leprous, right? I told you that, right? Arktis reminds me a lot of last year’s The Congregation, and not just because some members of Leprous were in Ihsahn’s live band a few years back. This album continues the unique combination of progressive, melodic black metal that I thought was just a one-time thing. Granted, I don’t think it’s as strong as Congregation, but that’s not an album it’s up against this year, is it?
Kvelertak, Nattesfard – This one came out of nowhere for me. It was from a Game Informer editor I follow on Twitter, one who I hadn’t up until now associated as being down with the devil horns. But maybe he is? I don’t know. What I do know is that he provided me with one hell of a recommendation. Nattesfard is a pretty eclectic mix of rock ‘n’ roll and black metal, but without being straight up black ‘n’ roll. Like, there’s too much pop-oriented melody going on in Nattesfard for it to be shelved next to Aura Noir and Darkthrone. But I like “different;” hell, last year was a top 5 composed mostly of “different.” There’s a good chance Kvelertak could place pretty high.
Katatonia, The Fall of Hearts – I feel like I just got done talking about “different,” and then along comes The Fall of Hearts. But I’m a fan of bands that do things with confidence, and Katatonia pulls of a kind of gorgeous progressive metal that sucked me right in from the start. This is metal I wouldn’t be afraid to play around my child, but it’s just so damn artsy that I can still feel like I wasn’t holding back. Anyway, there are some heavy hitters this year (emphasis on the “heavy”) and I don’t know if this has a place as AOTY. But the top 5? Easily.
Gojira, Magma – Ohhhhhh boy. There are just some albums you just know are going to be contenders, and Magma fits the bill. The riffage is just as memorable as its melodies, with a range of song dynamics that make me say, “why, yes, I will listen to this again.” I don’t want to say too much about it, lest I run out of things to say when it gets album of the year.
Oh, I meant “if.” If it gets album of the year. Ha ha.
Black Crown Initiate, Selves We Cannot Forgive – I talked about bands that pull off a certain style with confidence, and Black Crown Initiate definitely does that. The most remarkable thing about Selves We Cannot Forgive is how damn messy it sounds. But it’s an appealing messiness, or else it wouldn’t be here. I’ve only listened to it once as of this writing, but that should speak to how much it impressed me. I don’t know if it’ll make the cut, but a few more lessons should make its final position more apparent.
Prediction: Honorable Mentions
Revocation, Great Is Our Sin – So this only came out last week, and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be seeing it on my top 5. Great Is Our Sin just has so much going for it in terms of dynamic songwriting and sheer metal-ness. It has parts that really haul, but then pulls it back in a way that doesn’t feel forced. It’s just an unnaturally good metal album; Gojira may have a hell of a fight for this one.
And that’s all I’ve got for now. More albums await in the months to come, not to mention all the ones I’ve overlooked. There’s new Dark Tranquillity on the way, as well as Devin Townsend Project, Evergrey, Insomnium, and even some blasts from the past like Sonata Arctica and (don’t laugh) Korn. My musical tastes have broadened over the years, so who the hell knows? I probably won’t have another post like this until next year, but expect some proper album reviews? Maybe?
Like the final top 5, we’ll just have to wait and see.