2016 has been quite the year for many. Good year or bad year, there is no denying that there has been an absurd amount of quality music released in the last 12 months. However despite the consistent quality across the board, I have some favorites. Favorites which I shall be sharing in the ever classy list format here.
Artist: Twelve Foot Ninja
Genre: Weird Metal
Favorite Track: Monsoon
Twelve Foot Ninja have returned! After their debut album 4 years ago, they went dark, until they seemingly poofed back overnight with a new album ready. Outlier takes all the bizarre stuff from their first album, and makes much more interesting songs with the weirdness.
This is a hard album to describe, it is such a one of a kind experience, hopping between almost Sublime-esque parts and intense djent riffing. All of this is glued together by Kin Etik’s vocals, he carries impressive range and a good voice that always compliments whatever chaos is going on in the music behind him. Throw in the occasional harsh vocal for added oomph, and you got... Something. I really can’t describe this album too much better, but it’s definitely worth a go if you want something a little different in the metal scene.
9. A Moon Shaped Pool
Genre: Art Rock
Favorite Track: Identikit
After 5 years away from the field, Radiohead decided to announce a record a week before it’s release, and what an album it is. A Moon Shaped Pool is the 9th album from the English rockers, and it’s some of their finest work to date. Featuring the quality electronics-infused rock compositions you come to expect from Radiohead, but the time away seems to have reinvigorated their sound.
Everything about this album feels... Peaceful. The peace created by having a greater emphasis on orchestral instrumentation creates an album that feels truly fresh for a band that has been around for quite a while now, and an album that will go down as some of their finest work.
8. You Can (Not) Die
Artist: Bleeding Skies
Genre: Progressive Metal
Favorite Track: Lohengramm
You Can (Not) Die is the fourth, and final release from Bleeding Skies, the instrumental progressive metal project of Darren Cruickshank. He pulled out all the stops for this final album. Deftly hopping between melodic and heavy elements in a more engaging manner than any of his prior albums. Calming melodies pave the way towards heavy chugging.
Everything moves along at a brisk pace, not a single riff overstays it’s welcome. An important detail in an instrumental record where you have no vocals to help add to/carry the music. Everything is on Darren as a musician and everything he presents here is absolutely on point. Bleeding Skies is definitely overlooked by far too many people, and worth a shot from any progressive metal fans.
7. Nocturnal Masquerade
Genre: Progressive Metal
Favorite Track: Dance of Damsels
The debut album Nocturnal Masquerade from New Jersey based 5-piece Toothgrinder certainly caught me by surprise. Imagine fusing fairly typical features of djent, with the sheer aggressive nature of a band like Chimaira. What you get is one of the most unforgettable records within this sect of progressive metal.
Crushing riffs, backed by powerful vocals are the driving force behind most of the album. However there are moments of calm within the storm including guest vocals from Periphery’s Spencer Sotelo. Despite the overwhelming ferocity of most of the album, these brief moments of peace are the perfect counterweight which really brings the album together as a whole. If this is any indication of what’s to come, Toothgrinder are going to be a band to watch in the coming years.
Favorite Track: A New Frontier
Afterworld is an album that quite honestly, I just randomly stumbled into while YouTube diving. I struck gold on this round. Bringing together elements from Drum and Bass and Dubstep you might go into the album expecting something on the more aggressive side of electronic music. Well you would be somewhat right, but there is oh, so much more to Afterworld.
While the album may feature the fast beats of DnB and some wubwubs, it isn’t on this list because of those elements. It’s the very prominent beauty that pervades almost all corners of the album. Frequently in the form of orchestral strings or pianos, but other times just a quiet synth. The contrast creates an atmosphere that is easy to get lost in for the nearly 79 minutes that it will take you to listen to the whole album.
Artist: Car Bomb
Favorite Track: Gratitude
Car Bomb are a band that have apparently been around for quite a while, but I have only discovered them fairly recently, and I am damned glad I did. Take many of the hallmarks of your typical Meshuggah album, throw a layer of mathcore onto it, then crank it up to 11. That’s an approximation of what to expect when you dive into Meta.
From start to finish this is a chaotic, dissonant, technical beast. Borrowing the groovy riffing of Meshuggah but injecting it with a level of ferocity and technicality which elevates their music to a whole new level. There really is nothing that sounds quite like Car Bomb, and within their own music, each and every song has it’s own unique identity, no two sound truly alike. If you’re in the mood for something different, or just something crazy, you could make much worse choices than Meta.
4. Atrocity Exhibition
Artist: Danny Brown
Favorite Track: Ain’t It Funny
Danny Brown has become one of my favorite rappers in recent memory and his 4th LP Atrocity Exhibition is great proof as to why. This album feels like a bit of a sequel of sorts to his second album XXX, in fact the title of the first track “The Downward Spiral” is pulled from a line on the first track of XXX. On that same page, lyrics on Atrocity Exhibition go back to having a heavy emotional focus, depression and drugs take the forefront again, with references to XXX all throughout.
It’s not just the meaning behind that lyrics that’s good, it’s the words themselves. Danny has a wonderful talent to rhyme and he always puts it to maximum use to create memorable lines in his lyrics. This is even farther emphasized by his older-school approach to rap music, less collaborations more focus on himself, however when he does bring in a guest artist the results are incredible. Raw and emotional, Atrocity Exhibition is an album I seem to have on speed dial very often, and so should everyone else.
3. A Peaceful Death
Genre: Melodic Metal/Vocaloid
Favorite Track: Heart
OkameP knows exactly when to surprise drop a new album, when I’m having a bad day, and needed a something to brighten the day. On top of being a nice surprise release, it ends up being his best work by a mile. While his prior work had always put the heavier aspects of his music to the background while he puts his effort forth into the calmer side. This flips that philosophy on it’s head. OkameP brings his attention towards a heavier sound, that he still manages to bring his trademark melodic side into it.
While the music is great, OkameP stands in the top dog in the way his vocaloids sound. I don’t know what wizardry he pulls, but he makes Hatsune Miku’s voice sound far better than anyone else out there. This album is also his first to feature Megurine Luka who takes on about half the songs, and his skills apply to her as well. Pounding riffs and virtual girls with pretty voices, what more could you ask for in your life?
2. Not the Actual Events EP
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Favorite Track: The Idea of You
Last year Trent Reznor tweeted to expect new NIN music in 2016, months went by without a whisper of it. The silence was broken when he announced a new EP among other things last week. Was the long wait worth it? Absolutely. 5 tracks, clocking in at 21 minutes this is a potent shot of late 90's NIN, but still fresh and new. It kicks massive ass the whole way.
Take The Fragile-Era NIN, and give it a hint of Hesitation Marks and this is what you get. Bringing back some more guitar-oriented rock, while maintaining still giving nods to the electronic grooves of Hesitation Marks. This EP also features multiple... noisier tracks that are very reminiscent of 90's NIN. Seriously, go listen to this, as soon as possible.
Genre: Progressive Death Metal
Favorite Track: Wind For Wings
Dreamless is an album that I quite honestly forgot to listen to until about a week and a half ago, it was also my first foray into Fallujah’s work. Goddamn did I feel bad about missing out for so long. This was the first album in a very long time that I was actually left completely speechless after listening. The band takes death metal brutality, but distills it down into something prettier.
Blast beats and growling suddenly part ways for peace, electronics, quieter guitars and drums, all utilized in-between the brutality. It truly strikes the perfect balance between the chaotic storm of death metal, and peaceful progressive elements. There are even a couple of tracks that are entirely without death metal. This album is a trip, and one worth taking, I think it would rank amongst my favorite albums ever as I’ve listened to it more and more times.
No end of year list is complete without honourable mentions! Below is an unsorted list of some of my other favorites from the year, that don’t quite crack the top 10.
The Divine Feminine
Artist: Mac Miller
Favorite Track: Dang! feat. Anderson .Paak
Mac Miller is always a fun listen for me, and The Divine Feminine is some of my favorite work of his. Drawing from his lounge singer Larry Lovestein project, (however instead of singing, he’s rapping) he creates an album that just oozes good vibes. This has become my go-to feel good music lately. Unfortunately, one jarring, and terrible guest performance on Cinderella drags this album down a few pegs.
Genre: Progressive Metal
Favorite Track: Disfigured Hand
Shokran is pretty damned awesome. Their first album was good, and this one is even better. Great vocals, on top of some seriously cool music make for a very fun album to listen to. There is really nothing I can complain about here, the only reason it didn’t make top 10 is... Well I like the 10 albums just a little more.
The Serenity of Suffering
Favorite Track: Everything Falls Apart
Korn have been on the comeback since 2013's Paradigm Shift which was the first record they had since the return of guitarist Brian Welch. While the Paradigm Shift was a step back towards their roots (and a damned fine one might I add). The Serenity of Suffering, is a giant leap back. Everything about this is bathed in the sounds of early 90's Korn, and it is fantastic. While I find Jonathan may have lost a little bit of his bite lyrically, the music and his vocal delivery more than make up for what little has been lost.
A Slow Death
Favorite Track: Six Feet Closer to Hell
Carnifex are a band I had largely written off because their early work was not really my thing. They started to prove me wrong with their last album, and A Slow Death just further does so. Stepping farther away from the -core elements and getting closer to death metal, they have really found their stride. Heavy and brutal, this is easily my favorite work of Carnifex’s to date.
Favorite Track: Queen
Yes yes, it’s Attila, but on the other hand it’s Attila. Attila is a band that I never cease to have fun listening to and Chaos is no exception to that. By far their most diverse album, offering older deathcoreish Attila, newer rap/deathcore, pure nu-metal, and more. The lyrics are on about the same page as always, profane and trashy. Attila always ends up being more than the sum of the parts for me, silly, and fun.
Artist: Death Grips
Genre: Experimental Hip-Hop
Favorite Track: Trash
It’s more Death Grips, that’s always a good thing. If you are already familiar with Death Grips you should know what you’re getting into, and that’s some weird shit. Noisy electronics, a few rock elements, MC Ride yelling/rapping over everything? Yep it’s a Death Grips album, and a damn good one at that.
Artist: After the Burial
Favorite Track: Laurentian Ghosts
The first After the Burial album since the unfortunate passing of guitarist Justin Lowe. The album is full of creative nods to him, and is some of their strongest work to date. Intense djenty riffery is at it’s peak here, with some of the most memorable riffs they have ever had. Absolutely a step above their last effort, and one every metal fan should give a peek.
The Elysian Grandeval Galeriach
Artist: Infant Annihilator
Genre: Death Metal
Favorite Track: Pelt of Innocent Flesh
Infant Annihilator totally surprised me in actually coming back for a second record after their debut in 2012. Armed with new vocalist Dickie Allen and recording that doesn’t sound like mud, this record is insane. Dickie has vocal range that is inhuman. Toss him onto the insane, machine gun drumming that has only gotten better since the debut album, and give the guitars more than “perpetual breakdown mode,” and you have one of the most intense listening experiences around.
The Madness of Many
Artist: Animals as Leaders
Genre: Progressive Metal
Favorite Track: Cognitive Contortions
Did someone say Animals as Leaders? Do I even need to say that this is a quality album, or is that just a given? In all seriousness, this is some of my favorite work of theirs to date. Cranking the bass grooviness up to 11, on top of the always impressive guitar and drumwork, this album does nothing but build on their sound that they continue to evolve with each album they release.
Artist: Fit for a King
Favorite Track: Deathgrip
Fit for a King have become one of the higher quality acts in standard metalcore over the last few years. Deathgrip continues the quality train, coming off of the more melodic approach they took with their last album Slave to Nothing they’ve gone back to basics. Crushing breakdowns permeate all corners of the album, along with catchy choruses. If by-the-numbers metalcore done extremely right is your thing, this is the place to go.
Artist: Eric Prydz
Favorite Track: Black Dyce
Eric Prydz is back with new material! After his massive 3 disc debut Pryda in 2012, and plenty of smaller releases he is back with his second full length album Opus. Clocking at at just over 2 hours in length, this album has plenty to like. Ever catchy melodies, sweet beats, Rob Swire vocal collaboration, you got it. The only detractor here is a few tracks that could’ve been a bit shorter to avoid some tedium, but the pros here, vastly outweigh the con.
So there you have it folks, hope you all enjoy, and perhaps discover something new. What were some of your favorite albums of 2016?