The Best (mostly metal) Albums of 2016

It’s that time of year again! That glorious time where I get to throw out my opinion out there and pretend like it matters to you. It’s time for my Best Albums Of 2016 List! Now, full disclaimer, I mostly listen to metal, and this list is almost exclusively metal. If I broadened out to include game soundtracks, film scores, or even pop records, rest assured it would change dramatically. But metal is what I’m good at and metal is what I love, so metal is what you’re getting.

Let’s start with the Honorable Mention Albums, in no particular order:

Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason: An amazing record, but, frankly, not different enough from previous releases to warrant inclusion on the list.
Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us: A great record, but the hype machine, combined with the mean-spirited antics of the band definitely impacted my impressions on the record.
Violet Cold – Magic Night: A solid showing from Violet Cold, but I felt like other bands kind of did what they were doing better.
Vektor – Terminal Redux : A solid effort from a great band, but Vektor has never really been my style and so I don’t see myself really getting much more mileage out of this record.
Gojira – Magma: Like Meshuggah’s outing, it’s a solid record with no real fault except for not being distinct enough from it’s sibling albums.

10. Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy Productions)

I’m a sucker for concept albums. When I heard Kodama, I knew it was going to wind up on this list somewhere. Kodama is directly inspired by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. It’s dark and brooding, and brimming with emotion. It’s not quite as impactful as I found Les Voyages de L’Ame, but it’s an amazing and wonderful album in it’s own right, that really encapsulates the black-metal-meets-indie-rock-meets-shoegaze sound that they helped popularize.

9.Nine Inch Nails – Not The Actual Events (The Null Corporation)

I don’t care about the opinion that this is an EP and not a full length album. It rips. It’s only the second EP that the band has ever released, and everyone considers Broken to be a NIN classic, so why can’t this be? This one is unique: It’s the first time Trent has another bandmate. Atticus Ross now shares the spotlight and NIN is officially a two-piece band. It’s a short twenty-minute EP with very little frills. It’s a bit more The Fragile than The Slip and I’m more than okay with that.

8. Fleshgod Apocalpyse – KING (Nuclear Blast)

If you forgot that KING released this year, I would forgive you. The Italian titans of symphonic death metal released the first single, The Fool, on Jan 1st 2016 and then dropped the full length KING in February. It’s been out for a while now, and lots of other great albums have come into focus since. On this album, I think Fleshgod finally gets the production perfectly on point. There’s a finely tuned balance between the symphonies backing the band and the pounding death metal blastbeats. There is no reason for fans of either aspect of the band to feel like they have been forgotten about.

7. Harakiri For The Sky – III, Trauma (Art of Propaganda)

Harakiri For The Sky, at times, comes across like a lo-fi Darkest Hour, or Alcest if they took form from more traditional metal bands. I only relatively recently discovered them, and had I spent more time with this album I have no doubt that this album would be in the top 5 or even higher. There’s just so much melody buried in the music and it makes repeated listens all the more rewarding. My only complaint with it is that a few of the songs seem to drag a bit longer than necessary. I’m not entirely convinced, however, that I want to change that.

6. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation (Party Smasher)

The most bittersweet album I’ve ever listened to. The Dillinger Escape Plan is one of those bands that appeared to be immortal. They could suffer lineup change after lineup change. Death-defying injuries didn’t seem to faze them or throw them off their groove. Yet here it is: Their swansong. Like everything they’ve ever written, it’s bombastic. Full of fire, and heavy grooves, but with the same mind-twister riffs that they’ve had since Calculating Infinity. This is a band that will stay with me until the end. I only wish that they would stay too.

5. Car Bomb – Meta (Self-Released)

One would have to be daring to write an album that begins with a song titled ‘From The Dust Of This Planet’ and ends with one called ‘Infinite Sun’. Car Bomb can only be described as inaccessible and impenetrable. The music is meant to be enjoyed as much as it is meant to be solved. ‘Nonagon’ and other similar tracks are more like puzzleboxes of rhythmic patterns than contemporary metal songs. Nonetheless, the songcraft is waiting to be explored, and fantastic melodic leads are buried in the staccato riffs. With Meta‘s release, the comparisons to their legendary peers in bands like Meshuggah and Gojira are stronger than ever. And with The Dillinger Escape Plan soon to leave us, Car Bomb may become the new standard bearers for the mathcore genre.

4. Every Time I Die – Low Teens (Epitaph)

The difference between being cryptic and being ridiculous is that to be cryptic requires offering a cipher. And Low Teens has several ciphers with which to decrypt the riddles that are Keith Buckley’s lyrics. His struggle with alcoholism, fear of the “what-if”s around his wife and her pregnancy complications, his reflections and musings on the early days of the band, and millions of tiny fragments of his life colliding together are all represented. It clocks in at nearly an hour long, making it a marathon as far as punk and metalcore albums go. The album itself seems somewhat self-aware of its own indulgences as Keith croons, “I want oblivion all of the time.” Low Teens bears all the hallmarks of being yet another masterwork from Every Time I Die. This is a band that continues to explore the territory of hardcore and metalcore without ever a misstep.

3. Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (Indie)

Julie Christmas, the former vocalist of Made Out Of Babies, is more just than a guest; she is a primary force on this album, appearing on all but one of the five tracks. Her voice morphs between her trademark child-like whispers and sultry cleans, all the way to piercing shrieks and back again. It’s no easy feat, but she pulls it off while maintaining a sneer that you can almost envision. Mariner continues the thematic tradition of Cult Of Luna’s previous albums. Somewhere Along The Highway explored an organic and rural aesthetic, while Vertikal paid homage to the hyper-mechanical and urban themes of the movie Metropolis. Mariner continues this tradition and explores outer space, drawing textural inspiration directly from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s something beautiful about the way that these albums unfold and unravel over the course of an hour. Mariner is no exception.

2. Trap Them – Crown Feral (Prosthetic)

I feel like Trap Them’s effort went sorely unappreciated by the music community in 2016. Ryan McKenney is fierce, barking as frantically as ever. He promises to “bring the fucking battering ram,” and delivers, with the band engaging in a full-on assault that doesn’t let up for just over a half hour. It’s a bit difficult to talk much about this album: If you enjoy Trap Them, you know what you’re getting, and you’re getting it in spades. Far less of the frills found on their previous record, Blissfucker, are present. There are no seven minute slow-burners like ‘Savage Climbers’ here. If you don’t know Trap Them, well…expect them to bring the fucking battering ram. The production is dense, yet still melodic, despite the violence. It’s a non-stop onslaught, and one of the few albums with such ferocity that could ever hope to live up to the name Crown Feral.

1. Oathbreaker – Rheia (Deathwish)

I’m a fan of the post-Deafheaven metal scene. But it’s hard to keep up with the deluge of “blackened” bands ever since instant classics like Deafheaven’s Roads To Judah and Liturgy’s Aesthethica were released at the beginning of the decade. There’s a new one every week. But Oathbreaker truly stand out from the crowd with Rheia. It opens slow and sepulchral with the spoken word of Caro Tanghe in ’10:56.’ Her acapella aria is soon set against what can only be described as the sound of an oncoming train as the band roars to life just before ‘Second Son Of R.’ begins. The music evolves, and for just over an hour, the listener is carried between every musical extreme imaginable, guided as much by the meandering exploration of the guitars as it is by the howling vocals of Tanghe. It works, and it’s beautiful. Even at its most reserved moments, where a simple acoustic guitar is playing, there are undercurrents flowing in the background. Rheia is an album that rewards repeated listens, and it’s for that quality that I listened to this album regularly for nearly weeks on end following its release.