Jesus Christ did not receive any of these albums as gifts on the day of his birth, but I bet he would have been a lot cooler if he did. Welcome to the final installment of our trip through metal’s recent past.
2016 had a bumper crop of amazing albums. Since Metal Elitist was not yet even a glimmer in The Editor’s eye, he was forced to shout his 2016 best-of list into the void. Now he wields his meager platform to shout at you, dear reader, and remind you, as a sort of Ghost of Year-End-List-Season Past, that there are good things in this world for which it is worth opening your wallet and your heart.
So here it is, a brief look at Metal Elitist’s Albums of the Year for 2016.
(10) Inter Arma—Paradise Gallows
Paradise Gallows blends slow, fuzzed out sludge with some savage death metal sensibilities. It has some quiet interludes to set off the heavier stuff, but that’s not what you’ll keep coming back for. You’ll be hooked by the caveman drumming and the looming, oppressive tone of the album’s riff-monster doom tracks.
(9) Gorguts—Pleiades’ Dust
Pleiades’ Dust is basically one 33-minute avant-garde death metal jam session. Such a project could have gone wrong in so many ways, but Gorguts managed to turn it into some of the most exciting art I heard all year.
(8) Metallica—Hardwired… to Self-Destruct
I know, I know. Don’t judge me. There are some legitimately good songs on this album. Did you check out Spit Out the Bone, at least? Just listen to it. I’ll wait. Pretty good, right?!
Okay, I will freely admit that it was nostalgia that sealed the deal for me on this one. How can you not get excited when a band who has put out shit music for almost three decades suddenly shows up to play and doesn’t embarrass themselves? Everyone loves a comeback!
But okay, fine, if nostalgia isn’t a legitimate factor I’d plug The Zenith Passage into this spot. They were one of my runners-up and holy shit is their album Solipsist good. Or maybe Cobalt’s Slow Forever, which was also excellent. There, you happy?
(7) Ghoul—Dungeon Bastards
Fun-loving Creepsylvanian splatter-thrashers Ghoul serve up one hell of a good time on Dungeon Bastards. It’s enjoyable on so many levels—it’s a great death metal inflected thrash album; it’s a funny post-apocalyptic story-time romp through a world filled with zombies mowed down by skateboards, sadistic dictators in leather gimp suits, and loose nukes for the taking; its lyrics feature tons of thoughtful wordplay for those paying attention. There are zero downsides. It’s 100% filthy fun.
Dreamless improves on just about every aspect of the already enjoyable (if horribly mastered) The Flesh Prevails from 2014. These guys are doing something radically different from their technical death metal peers. It’s avant-garde, atmospheric, and spacey, but still razor sharp and aggressive when it wants to be. If I knew someone who was into interesting, progressive music but had no interest in death metal, I would use this as bait to lure them into our world.
(5) Exmortus—Ride Forth
Ride Forth is a little less raucous and a little more polished than Exmortus’s explosive major label debut in 2015. But it still rules! You can’t beat these guys’ classical music chops. And while it’s all too easy to shred with no heart when you have this kind of talent, Exmortus never falls into this trap. All of the tracks feel vital. This one is worth your attention.
(4) Amon Amarth—Jomsviking
Hail Odin and break out the barrels of mead! Jomsviking is a rollicking concept album relating the saga of an ancient teenaged swede who goes crazy over a woman, kills a dude in a fight over her, and gets kicked out of his village for it. He wanders around while coming of age, then joins up with the titular Jomsvikings after proving himself in a fight against one of their raiding parties. After following his adventures with the Jomviking crew we get a funny/sad twist—our subject risks it all to return home only to find out she’s just not that into him.
Then the villagers kill him. Sad!
So not only do we get the over-the-top catchy bravado of an Amon Amarth at the height of their powers, we get a surprisingly literary adventure to boot! What’s not to love?
Also worth mentioning are two great contextual songs for your themed playlists (don’t pretend you don’t have themed playlists.) Working on getting blind drunk with some friends? Throw on Raise Your Horns for a mead hall singalong. Getting psyched for a new PR in the gym? Play the training anthem The Way of Vikings for a quick power-up.
(3) Allegaeon—Proponent for Sentience
Hail Science and break out the vats of algorithmically optimized alcohol solution! 2016 was a great year for concept albums. Proponent for Sentience tells the story of the birth of self-aware machines and their inevitable war against their human masters. It’s darker and less playful than their previous work, but hey, the destruction of humanity is kind of a heavy lift. We still get beautiful orchestration and Spanish guitar from band leader Gregoroth. But we also get the treat of hearing recently added Son of Aurelius vocalist Riley McShane, whose performance on Under a Western Son should have earned it the number one spot on my 2014 list. The sublime cover of Rush’s Subdivisions was a brilliant pick for the closing track. If you haven’t heard it I recommend you check it out now.
(2) Ulcerate—Shrines of Paralysis
I’m struggling to put into words exactly why Shrines of Paralysis rules. It’s not easy to explain, considering how it is openly hostile to its listener. The album’s chaotic song structures will make your brain work for it. Actually, chaos may be the key to explaining what’s so compelling about this thicket of noise. Chaotic systems often have parts that make them resemble ordered systems, kind of like holes that randomly rolling bits can fall into, called attractors. The presence of attractors gives the appearance of order arising from rules governing the movements of things in the system. This is, however, an illusion. There’s not really order in the strict sense, since technically none of the elements in the system had to settle into the pattern that they ultimately fell into. Attractors make the system lean toward order while still being mostly random.
There are riffs and musical phrases on this album that work kind of like attractors. They make it appear that there is structure, even though they’re more like paths the track is likely to take. As a result, songs subtly writhe in and out of the boxes your brain wants to put them in. That’s what I enjoy about this album. You try to understand it by putting the tracks into neat structures, but inevitably your efforts are inadequate to capture what’s going on. It’s an unsolvable puzzle. If you enjoy the feeling of being teased by music then this album is a must-hear.
(1) Vektor—Terminal Redux
I can’t overstate how much joy I’ve derived from this album in the year and a half since it was released. If you had told me in mid-2016 that my conception of what metal could achieve would be smashed by a progressive thrash space opera, I would… well… I would agree. A fucking 73-minute PROGRESSIVE THRASH SPACE OPERA? If such a thing existed and wasn’t a hideous Frankenstein monster we’d have reason to question everything! Well, to paraphrase what a large-breasted woman once put to Jerry Seinfeld: it’s real and it’s fantastic.
Every instrument gives a nonstop virtuoso performance, and outside-the-box elements like a Motown vocal soloist and a Disneyesque choir performance push this glorious acid trip of an album into mythical territory. The song structures are just expansive enough to elicit a strong emotional reaction from the listener without becoming too repetitive or boring. And the riffs are so catchy you’ll want to hear all 73-minutes again after each listen. In short, Terminal Redux is the most ambitious metal album I’ve ever heard and I don’t expect it to be topped for at least a decade.
That's it. Check back in the next few days for our favorite albums of 2017!