Well, we’ve reached the end of another year, which means I’m back with a list of my favorite music releases this year. 2016 was a pretty rotten year, but there was still a ton of fantastic music that came out, at least in the genres I enjoy. This year I’ve listened to more new music than I have in a long time, 45 albums in total, plus a couple EPs. There was so much good stuff that I had to expand to a top 20 this year. Here are my top 20 albums from this year!
20. Hardwired... To Self-Destruct by Metallica
It’s been 8 long years since we last heard a new album from the biggest metal band in the world. Back in 2008, Metallica gave us Death Magnetic, which saw them returning to their roots with more thrashy elements and complex song structures. That album was praised on that count, but the production felt lacking. The guitars felt flat and the snare drum was obnoxiously loud. Those problems don’t exist on Hardwired... To Self-Desturct. This new album feels like a blend of the direction of Death Magnetic with their 1991 self-titled Black Album and 1989's ...And Justice for All and it sounds great.
Across 2 discs, Metallica gives us 12 tracks, each clocking in at over 5 minutes, with the exception of the title track, for well over an hour of music. Standouts include the aforementioned “Hardwired,” the album’s short and aggressive opening number which feels structured like a song off Kill ‘Em All; “Atlas, Rise!,” “Moth Into Flame,” and “Spit Out the Bone,” which feel like Justice era thrashers; “Now That We’re Dead” and “Confusion,” which are slower numbers reminiscent of the Black Album; and “Murder One,” a tribute to late Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, who died at the end of last year. Of course, the entire album is really strong. A couple of songs, “Dream No More” and “Am I Savage?” feel like they drag on a bit, but that’s just my personal opinion. Overall, I can firmly say this is the best Metallica album since the Black Album.
19. The Violent Sleep of Reason by Meshuggah
The Swedish avant garde progressive metal stalwarts and godfathers of the djent movement in Meshuggah delivered another strong album in 2016. The Violent Sleep of Reason is packed full of sonic dissonance, polyrhythms, palm muting, and musical complexity, as you would expect from Meshuggah. This album starts off with the colossal track “Clockworks” and never lets up until the end of closing track “Into Decay,” both of which are standout tracks. Other songs worth mentioning are “Born In Dissonance,” “Violent Sleep of Reason,” and “Nostrum,” but there really isn’t a bad song to be found.
I saw The Violent Sleep of Reason at or near the top of many best-of lists this year, but for me the album doesn’t reach that point. It’s a fantastic listen, yes, but it’s not that different from Meshuggah’s other material. At the end of the day, it feels like just another Meshuggah album, albeit a great one.
18. Meta by Car Bomb
Meta is the third album from the mathcore quartet Car Bomb, a band I was only just recently turned onto. To me, Meta feels like it takes the songwriting principles of Meshuggah to their extreme. The sonic dissonance on this album is off the charts, and it is so, so, so heavy. I place it higher than Meshuggah’s offering this year as it is a much more unique sounding record. No two songs sound too similar and they’re all packed full of extremely technical songwriting.
There’s a lot of great music here, but the standout tracks are the opener “From the Dust of this Planet,” the chugging “Nonagon,” the chaotic yet somehow also melodic “gratitude,” “The Oppressor,” which features guest vocals from Gojira’s Joe Duplantier, who also served as the album’s prodcuer, and “Sets,” which features guest vocals from Suffocation’s Frank Mullet. Meta can be a bit inaccessible for those not used to such dissonant and chaotic music, but for those who really appreciate extremely technical metal, this album is a very rewarding listen.
17. Nightmares in the Waking State, Pt. 2 by Solution .45
The third album from Swedish progressive melodic death metal supergroup Solution .45 featuring members of various Swedish metal bands, and the second half of a double album, the first part of which was released last year. If the first half had released this year, it would be much farther up on the list as it is a much stronger album, but Part 2 is still very solid. The best part of this album, in my opinion, is frontman and former Scar Symmetry vocalist Christian Älvestam. His death growls are great and his clean singing is simply amazing. His range is pretty phenomenal.
My one major complaint with this album is that there is less clean singing and interesting guitar work than on Part 1. That said, there are still some moments where this album shines. “The Faint Pulse of Light” is a fast-paced headbanger that stands strong without any clean singing. “Built on Sand” showcases Älvestam’s higher range singing and some awesome lead guitar playing from Jani Stefanovic and Patrik Gardberg and is probably one of the best songs on the album. “Inescapable Dream,” is a catchy melodic offering. “The Curse That Keeps on Giving” is a slower number that is one of the only songs that contains only clean singing, which is a nice change of pace. The other one is “What Turns the Wheels,” which might be my favorite song on the album. Älvestam’s voice really shines on this track. Overall, this second part of Nightmares in the Waking State is not as strong as the first, but it is definitely still worth a listen.
16. For All Kings by Anthrax
The follow-up to 2011's return to form, Worship Music, For All Kings is another strong release from the New York thrash veterans. While not as diverse as Anthrax’s previous offering, this album is a focused thrasher all the way through. What immediately jumps out at me is the lead guitar work. In 2013, lead guitarist Rob Caggiano left the band and was replaced by Shadows Fall axeman Jon Donias, who is one of my favorite guitar players. I have to say, he fits right in with the rest of the guys in Anthrax and his contributions to For All Kings give it some of the best lead playing on an Anthrax album in years.
For All Kings has a lot of great thrashers like “You Gotta Believe,” “Monsters at the End,” and the title track, as well as some more radio-friendly type stuff such as “Breathing Lightning.” The biggest highlight of the album is the nearly 8-minute “Blood Eagle Wings,” which is one of Anthrax’s most epic songs to date. If you’re a fan on Anthrax’s thrashy 80s material and/or Worship Music, For All Kings is definitely worth a listen.
15. L’Eclisse by Save Us from the Archon
I had never heard of this band until I saw them open for Intervals back in March of this year, and I was floored. Save Us from the Archon are a progressive, somewhat avant garde sounding instrumental post-hardcore band with some pretty technical songwriting. My only complaint about L’Eclisse is that it’s only 26 minutes. Seriously, I want more of this! The guitar harmonies are awesome, the drumming is spectacular, and the bass playing is amazing. I see some great things in the future of this band.
Standout tracks include “la notte I: across the glass,” “only an ocean, almost forgotten,” “la notte II: through the rear window,” and “which keeps me from sleeping,” but everything on this album is spectacular. What I really enjoy is how the whole album flows nicely from one song to the next like one continuous piece of music. It makes listening through that much better. An interesting thing about L’Eclisse is the song titles, which also flow together: “blessed forgetful, i am” “only an ocean, almost forgotten” and “dearest forgetful, i have” “an unbearable lightness of being” “which roots me to the earth” “which keeps me from sleeping.” It’s an interesting thing I’ve never really seen before, much like L’Eclisse is an interesting listen unlike anything I’ve heard before. If you’re a fan of instrumental progressive music, definitely check this album out.
14. Magma by Gojira
Magma is the sixth album from the French progressive metal band Gojira and it’s one hell of an album. There’s a bit of a change in style on this disc, and that’s not a bad thing. The Duplantier brothers and co. pulled back a bit on Magma, dropping some of the extreme technicality from their music in favor of a riff-driven groove sound that fires on all cylinders. The Duplantier’s mother passed away during the writing of Magma and that can definitely been heard in the music. Some of the songs feel like they’re coming from a much darker place.
There is a lot to love about Magma. Songs such as “Silvera” and “The Cell” deliver big meaty riffs and “Stranded” feels like it takes a page out of Pantera’s playbook. The groove in these tracks is really strong. Then there are songs like “The Shooting Star,” “Low Lands,” and the title track that are slowed down and feature some less aggressive sounding vocals from Joe Duplantier and more melodic guitar sounds. The album closes with “Liberation,” a quiet acoustic instrumental that feels like a fitting end to the album. If you’re a longtime Gojira fan, you’re sure to enjoy Magma despite the change in sound, and if you’re checking the band out for the first time this is a great starting point.
13. Winter’s Gate by Insomnium
Winter’s Gate is the seventh album from the Finnish progressive melodic death metal band Insomnium. What’s really cool about this album is that it’s a concept album telling the tale of Vikings sailing to a fabled land in the form of a single, continuous 40-minute piece of music. The album is broken down into 7 individual “songs,” but it is intended to be experienced as one giant song. As is expected from Insomnium, Winter’s Gate is musically complex, full of layers of guitars, keyboards, and symphonic elements that come together to create a very atmospheric sound.
Across the 7 parts of Winter’s Gate the music alternates between fast, heavy sections and calmer, softer sections. Some sections emphasize melody, while others emphasize heaviness. Some rely heavily on keyboards and choirs and such, while others rely more straightforward metal instrumentation. Some use only death growls while others feature clean singing or spoken words. All these stylistically different sections flow together quite nicely and serve to further the narrative of Winter’s Gate’s story. This album is a great listen all the way through and is definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of Insomnium or melodic death metal in general.
12. Dystopia by Megadeth
Dystopia is Megadeth’s return to form after the 2013 disaster that was Super Collider, the band’s second worst album, surpassed in terribleness only by 1999's Risk. Dystopia is the best Megadeth album in years and a crushing thrasher all the way through. In 2014, longtime drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick exited the band to from Act of Defiance, so Dave Mustaine tapped Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler and Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro (the latter now a permanent member of the band) to perform on the album. The chemistry between all four musicians is immediately apparent. The music is tight and aggressive all the way through.
What Dystopia lacks in diversity, it makes up for with its focused sound and aggression. Standout tracks include the thrashy “The Threat is Real,” “Dystopia,” “Fatal Illusion,” and “Death From Within,” the symphonic “Poisonous Shadows,” the instrumental “Conquer or Die,” and a cover of Fear’s “Foreign Policy,” but every song is great and full of thrashy riffs and blistering guitar solos. Dystopia is what Megadeth sounds like when they’re on top of their game and is definitely worth checking out, especially for those who may have given up on the band after Th1rt3en and Super Collider.
11. Outlier by Twelve Foot Ninja
I think the best way to describe this Australian experimental metal band’s sophomore album is “weird djent.” These guys are a very interesting listen. Their music is a fusion of alternative metal, math rock, funk metal, and the “not-genre” that is djent. They pull it off really well too. Every song is extremely enjoyable and it’s produced very well. Frontman Kin Etik also has a very unique voice that had a pretty good range. He alternates from a very bassy sound to a falsetto with ease and his occasional harsh vocals are used to great effect. It also blends in with the music very well.
With such a great album, it’s hard to pick standout tracks because they’re all great, but some of my personal favorites are opener “One Hand Killing,” the heavy “Inivincible,” the catchy “Oxygen,” “Collateral,” “Post Mortem,” and the jazzy “Point of You.” These tracks cover a wide range of styles, but they all fit together quite cohesively. If you like a little bit of eccentricity in your djent, then Outlier is the album for you.
10. Incarnate by Killswitch Engage
In 2013, Massachusetts metalcore pioneers Killswitch Engage unleashed Disarm the Descent, the first album to feature frontman Jesse Leach since 2002's Alive or Just Breathing, which easily topped my list for that year. It was a fantastic album, so I felt a little disappointed by Incarnate, which isn’t quite as strong in my opinion, but with each listen I liked it more and more. Incarnate is similar to its predecessor, but it’s a little heavier, a little less technical, and a little darker. Killswitch Engage’s brand of melodic and aggressive music is just as good as ever. With Incarnate, I think Jesse has delivered his best vocal performance, especially when it comes to his cleans. There is just so much power in his voice.
Emotional tracks like “Cut Me Loose” and “Strength of the Mind” feature powerful vocal performances from Jesse alongside phenomenal guitar playing from Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel, pairing aggressive riffs with melodic hooks. “Quiet Distress” is one of the more melodic offerings on the album with very strong vocal and guitar melodies. “Until the Day” is one of the more guitar driven songs, with some really great dual lead harmonies in the chorus. It might also be Jesse’s best performance on the album. “The Great Deceit,” is a very aggressive cut with some killer riffs throughout the whole song. Incarnate closes with one of the album’s heaviest track in “Ascension,” which is another standout track. The actual heaviest track is “Triumph Through Tragedy” on the special edition. Overall, Incarnate is not as strong as Disarm the Descent, but if you enjoyed that album then you should like this one too.
9. The Madness of Many by Animals As Leaders
The instrumental prog metal trio Animals As Leaders have continued to evolve their sound with their fourth album, The Madness of Many. They’ve continued to move further away from the djent sound in favor of a more chilled out sound. Of course their are still some heavy hitting tracks on the album. As always the guitar work of Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes is insane. They are one of the best 8-string duos in all of metal. From djenty aggression, to chilled out melodies, to blistering and technical solos, to slap grooves, to finger picking pretty much everything, these guys do it all. All this is accompanied by the amazing drumming of Matt Garstka. Having seen these guys perform live on their tour in support of this album last month, I have a new appreciation for just how talented they are.
There are a ton of great tracks on The Madness of Many. The album opens up with “Arithmophobia,” which is one of the more aggressive numbers. It has a very Eastern sound to it, which is layered on top of some really heavy and djenty riifs. “Ectogenisis,” is a slower track full of electronic grooves that really showcases Matt’s drumming. Then there’s “Inner Assassins,” which is full of great dual lead guitar parts and so much melody, all layered on top of a constant groove to create what is one of the band’s best songs to date. “Private Visions of the World,” is a really catchy, melodic song that has a really chilled out vibe to it. It has a really heavy section in the middle to mix things up before pulling back to the calm melodies to close out. “Backpfeifengesicht,” aside from being hard to pronounce, is another great song that starts of melodic before getting really aggressive at the end. “The Glass Bridge,” is another extremely catchy tune that never lets up on the groove. The biggest departure comes on “The Brain Dance,” a song that is full of some amazing acoustic guitar playing. It’s a very chilled out tune with a lot of complexity to it, and the acoustic and electric guitars blend together so nicely. The Madness of Many is a solid listen all the way through and is a must listen for fans of progressive metal or rock. It strikes the perfect balance of aggression and relaxing that will appeal to a wide range of listeners. And, of course, the sheer level of technical musicianship on this album can’t be ignored.
8. Set Course for Andromeda by Sithu Aye
Set Course for Andromeda is the third full-length album from Scottish guitarist Sithu Aye, who plays some of the happiest sounding instrumental progressive metal you’ll ever hear. With Andromeda, he has really taken a giant leap forward, stepping further away from the djent sound of his first two albums and first few EPs and continuing to expand into different sounds as he has been doing on the past couple of EPs. Oh, and the production quality has also taken a huge step forward as well. As it has been 4 years since we got a full album from Sithu Aye, he decided to deliver us a double album full of some of his best work to date. The first “disc,” features seven tracks and an amazing list of guest musicians. These songs are loosely related and tell the story of a group of space cadets leaving Earth to travel to the Andromeda galaxy in a poorly made space craft. This is a very diverse set of songs that cover a wide range of different sounds. Then there’s the second “disc,” which is split into six tracks, but is actually a continuous 30-minute piece called “The Andromedan,” which tells the story of an alien life form the cadets find when they arrive in Andromeda.
The album opens with “Space Cadet,” which serves as an intro to the next song “Set Course for Andromeda!!!” and builds up and leads right into it perfectly. It’s a great way to start off the album. “Set Course for Andromeda!!!” is a fun song with a great main melody. There’s also a great acoustic interlude in the middle that features Yvette Young of Covet on violin. The song also features a guest guitar solo from The Helix Nebula’s Jake Howesam Lowe. Next up is “Constants and Variabes,” a slower song with a chugging groove throughout accompanied by some great melodic guitar work. This song also features a guest guitar solo from The Helix Nebula’s other guitarist Stephen Taranto. “Spiral” stands out as the biggest departure from Sithu Aye’s past work as it is a straight up jazz song. The big highlight is Sithu trading guitar licks with rising prog star Plini at the end of the song, but the whole thing is phenomenal. It’s just a really chilled out song that also features piano from Luke Martin, who has played piano on several of Plini’s songs. His style mixes very well with the bluesy guitar sound Sithu Employs on this track. “Beyond the Boundary,” is a fantastic example of what progressive music can be. It starts off slow and calm before building into a much heavier piece. It features some of the most relxing parts of the album as well as some of its heaviest and djentiest. All throughout this song there are amazing guitar parts, including a guest guitar solo from Destiny Potato’s David Maxim Micic. “Transient Transistors” is the grooviest song on the album. The rhythm guitars on this track just have a really neat sound to them and it combos well with the palm muted riffs. Oh, and the lead playing on this song is some of the best on the entire album. There’s even a guest guitar solo from Aaron Marshall of Intervals. Closing out “disc one” is “...We Actually Made it to Andromeda!!!” This song is full of great lead guitar parts, but what makes it stand out is how it reprises the main melody of the title track in certain places. Oh, and it also has a guest solo from Periphery’s Mark Holcomb! It’s a perfect way to close out the first half of the album.
“Disc two” is a completely different experience. As mentioned before, its a 30-minute piece of continuous music that is unique from anything Sithu Aye has done before. There’s a lot more use of acoustic guitars and symphonic elements that all blend really nicely together with his more familiar prog metal sound. It was intended to capture the idea of the hero’s journey and I really think Sithu succeeded with that. Throughout the 6 parts of “The Andromedan,” you can really feel a narrative through the music despite the lack of lyrics. It really shows the true power of music. Sithu also uses a few recurring motifs throughout “The Andromedan” that make it feel connected. My personal favorite is the main one that opens the song. It has this really cool East Asian vibe to it. Set Course for Andromeda is a really amazing album and should be a must listen for any fan of progressive music. It is a wholly unique experience that gets better every time I listen to it.
7. Dig Deep by After the Burial
It’s not sympathy for After the Burial due to last year’s unfortunate passing of guitarist Justin Lowe that ranks the djent maintays fifth album so high. In my opinion, Dig Deep is the best album this band has ever produced, finally toppling the reissue of Rareform as my favorite of theirs. While their last album, Wolves Within, was pretty solid it suffered from mediocre production quality and some of the songs didn’t really feel like they matched Rareform in terms of songwriting. That is not a problem here. The boys in After the Burial are on top of their game here and the production is spot on. I can’t help but feel that Justin’s untimely passing drove his bandmates to produce the best album they possibly could in order to honor him. Anthony Notarmaso delivers his best vocal performance with this band, Trent Hafdahl, now handling both lead and rhythm guitar has some amazing melodies and riffs, Dan Carle is a best behind the drum kit, and Lee Foral, making his final appearance with After the Burial, is doing some crazy stuff on bass. I do wish the bass was a bit more audible in the mix, but it is there if you listen hard enough.
There’s a lot of great songs here and each one has something that makes it stand out. Opening track “Collapse” is an extremely aggressive tune with some great djenty riffs and one of Trent’s best solos in recent memory. Then there’s “Lost In the Static,” which has a constant groove throughout the entire track and a really catchy Eastern-sounding guitar lick. Anthony is spot on with vocals here, alternating between lows and highs to great effect. “Mire” is just full of chaotic and groovy riffs. Then we get to two of the best songs that After the Burial has ever written. “Deluge,” has some great djenty riffs and fantastic lead melodies and harmonies, combined with really great lyrics delivered perfectly by Anthony. You can just feel so much emotion in this song. The same goes for the next song, “Laurentian Ghosts,” which serves like a tribute to Justin and is easily the best song this band has ever written, hands down. It opens with a beautiful acoustic melody that Justin used to play during their soundchecks, then moves into a riff that just exudes emotion. Just like “Deluge,” this song is full of powerful lyrics and you can just hear the pure emotion in Anthony’s voice and in Trent’s guitar work. There’s also one hell of a breakdown, proceeded by an air horn which is an inside joke amongst the band members that serves as yet another tribute to Justin. This song alone could carry an album. Next up are “Heavy Lies the Ground,” and “Catacombs,” which are heavy as balls and a real punch in the gut after the two emotional numbers that proceeded them. The last two songs, “The Endless March” and “Sway of the Break,” are standard fare After the Burial: heavy, djenty riffs with a hint of melody. “Sway of the Break,” has a really heavy breakdown at the end that serves as a great way to end the album. If you’re a fan of After the Burial and/or djent in general then you absolutely have to check Dig Deep out.
6. Dreamless by Fallujah
I wasn’t expecting to like the third album from the progressive tech death outfit Fallujah this much. A couple years back, a fellow TAYer tried to get me to check out the band’s previous effort, The Flesh Prevails, but it didn’t do a whole lot for me, but Dreamless is one hell of a second impression. While Alex Hofmann’s vocals still don’t do much for me, this album is musically amazing. From moments of crushingly brutal riffs and rapid fire drums to moments of soaring melodies and solos, to calmer, more atmospheric moments, Dreamless has a lot to offer. While I really appreciate a lot of the technicality and brutality, it is those calm moments and melodic bits that really stand out to me and make this album land so high on this list.
For me, the standout tracks are “The Void Alone,” which features some beautiful guitar work and soothing clean vocals performed by a female guest vocalist, “Abandon,” which perfectly blends heaviness with ambiance and once again features a female guest vocalist, “Dreamless,” my personal favorite track on the album, which is a beautiful, mostly instrumental piece of music that features a guest solo from former Cynic guitarist Tymon Kruidenier, “Amber Gaze,” which alternates between extreme brutality and amazing melodic sections, “Wind for Wings,” which has a fantastic build-up that gives way to so many amazing riffs and melodies before ending with some unexpected clean vocals from Alex, and closing track “Lacuna,” which is an amazing blend of extremely heavy rhythm riffs and extremely melodic lead melodies that once more features a female guest vocalist that really adds to the piece. Also of note are “Fidelio,” which is an interesting bit of spoken word conversation over a simple piano piece and atmospheric synths, and “Les Silences,” a nearly 6 minute ambient electronic piece. Dreamless is a damn near masterpiece of modern technical death metal that strikes the perfect balance between brutality, technicality, melody, and atmosphere. This album is definitely worth a listen for any fans of metal music, even those that may not have enjoyed Fallujah’s previous offerings.
5. Nocturnal Masquerade by Toothgrinder
The debut album from New Jeresy prog metal act Toothgrinder caught me by surprise. This band feels really fresh and sounds like a combination of the djent style of Periphery and the sheer aggression of Chimaira. Groovy, technical riffs, complex drum lines, super aggressive vocals, and melodic hooks all come together to great effect. For a debut album, Nocturnal Masquerade is extremely well produced and features some high quality song writing. It starts off so strong and never lets up and never feels like it repeats itself. I expect very great things from this band in the future.
Nocturnal Masquerade opens with “The House (That Fear Built),” which is an immediate punch to the face, so full of aggression, but it also gives way to melodic bits that are super catchy. “Lace & Anchor,” is another aggressive number, but it has a really upbeat gang vocal chorus that is extremely catchy. The band slows things down with “I Lie In Rain,” which is a sad sounding melodic number that still captures the aggressive essence of Toothgrinder. “Blue” features some great grooves all the way through and alternates between fast and slow very tastefully. “Dance of Damsels” has some fantastic grooves and one of the catchiest choruses on the album. “Diamonds for Gold” really stands out as one of the best tracks witch another great and catchy chorus and a very welcome guest vocal performance from Periphery’s Spencer Sotelo. “Schizophreic Jubilee” has one of the grooviest riffs on the album and it blends so nicely with the melodic guitar playing. Closing track “Waltz of Madmen” is a slower, more atmospheric and melodic track that eases the listener out, which I think is a neat way to wrap things up. Overall, Nocturnal Masquerade is a great listen all the way through and is definitely worth checking out. If this is what this band is capable of right out of the gate I can’t wait to see where they go next.
4. Phenotype by Textures
Phenotype is the fifth album from the Dutch prog metal outfit Textures, and the first half of a double album, the second half of which is slated to be released next year. I was really blown away by this record in many ways. Complex guitar riffs and melodies and drum lines are interwoven with ambient synths and electronics to paint an interesting soundscape, and frontman Daniël de Jongh brings it together. His harsh vocals have an aggressive bite to them and his cleans are amazing. The way he alternates between the two styles on some tracks makes for an interesting listen.
This album is packed with great songs so it’s not easy to pick songs that stick out more than others. Opener “Oceans Collide” is a great introduction to the album that gives a taste of what’s to come. “New Horizons” really highlights Daniël’s melodic clean vocals with its really catchy vocal hooks. “Shaping a Single Great of Sand” is packed full of interesting and complex riffs from Bart Hannephof and Joe Tal and is one of the more aggressive tracks. “Illuminate the Trail” has lots of interesting lead guitar melodies that blend very nicely with the keyboards and the vocal harmonies and at over 7 minutes in length it plays around with a more complex and progressive song structure. “Zman” is a beautiful instrumental piano piece that does a fantastic job of conjuring up emotions and transitions perfectly into the closing track “Timeless,” which is one of the best songs on the album. “Timeless” is one of Daniël’s best vocal performances and his voice layers so nicely with the beautiful guitar work and the keyboards, which reprise the melody of “Zman.” Overall, Phenotype is one of Textures’ best offerings and is a great starting point for people new to the band.
3. Periphery III: Select Difficulty by Periphery
Only a year and a half after unleashing their monstrous Juggernaut double album, which topped my albums list for 2015, Periphery returned with the true follow up to 2012's Periphery II, and it turned out to be quite a diverse offering. I would describe Periphery III as the most Periphery-y album the djent pioneers have done yet, pulling stylistic elements from all their past albums while also throwing plenty of new stuff into the mix to give the album its own unique vibe. The result is a very polished album that I keep coming back to.
The album opens with the aggressive “The Price Is Wrong,” which gives off a similar vibe to the Periphery’s self-titled debut album. Up next is “Motormouth,” which leans more toward the Periphery II sound. “Marigold” is the first track that’s uniquely Periphery III, featuring a catchy chorus laced with gang vocals and symphonic elements are present throughout the song. Spencer Sotelo also lays down some fantastic vocal work showcasing his wide range, especially the falsetto he hits in the second verse. Then there’s “The Way the News Goes...,” which is one of my favorite Periphery songs. It features some really catchy and soaring vocals from Spencer, and the blast beats drummer Matt Halpern lays down in the chorus are something else. “Flatline,” gives off a similar vibe to some of the songs found on Juggernaut, and alternates between aggression and melody in a very succinct way. The chorus is extremely catchy, and the second half of the song once again showcases Spencer’s soaring vocals. “Absolomb” is another track that really feels like a song from the debut album, which is not surprising since guitarist Misha Mansoor composed an earlier version of the song before that album even released. It’s been updated with the symphonic elements present on Periphery III and sounds great. “Catch Fire” is a major departure from Periphery’s normal sound and has a fun, poppy sound that actually works really well with Spencer’s vocal style. Closing track “Lune” is an amazing and emotional piece of music that is another big departure for the band. It’s a beautiful love ballad that you really need to hear for yourself. With Periphery III, Periphery has found a beautiful blend of musical complexity and accessibility that is a satisfying listen all the way through. It may not be the band’s best album, but is a damn good one that is definitely worth checking out.
2. Exodus by Shokran
Exodus is the second album from Russian prog metal band Shokran, and it caught me totally by surprise. I was only just recommended this band this month and I’m glad I was since I would have missed this album. Shokran combines djenty rhythm guitars with a heaping of melodic lead guitars and eastern-sounding keyboards and synths (that make a ton of sense given the lyrical themes of Egyption mythology ever-present in this album) alongside a mix of harsh and clean vocals. The result is something that sounds similar to The HAARP Machine, except better. What jumps out at me most on Exodus is vocalist Andrew Ivashchenko’s clean singing. It really adds an amazing layer of awesomeness to the album. And then there’s main songwriter and guitarist Dmitry Demyanenko. Exodus has some of the finest melodic lead guitar playing I’ve heard in this style of metal.
There’s a lot to love across the album’s 10 tracks. My one complaint is that Exodus only clocks in at 35 minutes. I want to hear more of this! Every track is enjoyable and packed full of musical goodness. Standout tracks include “Creatures from the Mud,” “The Swarm,” “Living Arrows,” “Disfigured Hand,” “And Heaves Began to Fall,” and “Revival of Darkness.” “Disfigured Hand” in particular stands out for the ridiculously good lead guitar and the way it beautifully intertwines with Andrew’s voice. Then “And Heavens Began to Fall” concludes with vocals handled by a female guest singer who really adds an interesting vibe to the song that really makes it shine. I would love to hear more of this style of music with only a female vocalist because this particular part of the song sounds amazing. Of course, the songs on the album I didn’t mention are also amazing. There is not a single bad track. Exodus is one hell of an album and you definitely need to give it a listen if you’re a fan of djent and/or progressive metal.
1. Handmade Cities by Plini
Anyone who knows me knows that Plini has become one of my favorite musicians in the last couple of years, and his debut full-length album did not disappoint. With Handmade Cities, the Australian guitarist has unleashed some of his finest music to date, blowing away what he’s done on the trilogy of EPs that proceeded it, and all of those were fantastic. Even the great Steve Vai himself has showered this album with praise, and for good reason. From start to finish, across 7 tracks, Handmade Cities contains some of the best instrumental progressive music I’ve heard, combining elements of jazz, rock, djent, and other genres. While Plini handled the bulk of the songwriting, he also tapped touring band mates Simon Grove (of The Helix Nebula) and Troy Wright on bass and drums respectively, both of whom are also fantastic musicians. My only complaint is that there’s only 35 minutes of music here.
Opening track “Electric Sunrise” has quickly become one of my favorite songs of all time. Starting with a calm and clean intro before piling on layers of delicious lead melodies that are just so full of emotion. Then there’s the title track which has a really funky bass part and, much like the opening track, the lead guitar melodies carry so much emotion. And I can’t neglect to mention how insane Troy’s drumming gets at the end of this song. “Inhale” is a calmer track with more symphonic elements mixed in with the guitars. There’s also a great mix of simple melodies and more complex riffs. Track number 4, “Every Piece Matters,” is a rerecording of a song Plini produced for charity at the beginning of the year and it sounds a lot better while staying true to the original. It’s one of the calmer tracks on the album, focusing mainly on jazzy guitar melodies. The coolest thing about this track is the crowdsourced choir at the end. Next up is the 7 and a half minute “Pastures,” which is a rerecording of a track from Plini’s previous project called Halcyon. The new version of this song is so much better, both in terms of production and arrangement. “Pastures” is definitely one of the most melancholy sounding songs Plini has done, and it’s a welcome departure from his more upbeat material. There is just so much emotion in this song, especially in the amazing guitar solo. “Here We Are, Again” is a short 2 and a half minute track that feels like a brief interlude, but it is a welcome addition to the album to mix things up. Here, the guitars take a back seat to the synths and symphonic elements and it works great. Handmade Cities concludes with “Cascade,” which is nonstop with amazing upbeat guitar melodies. It’s just a really fun song and the perfect way to close out this fantastic album. Handmade Cities is simply amazing and left me excited to see where Plini’s career will take him. I don’t care what kind of music you like, you have to give this album a listen.
As always, I have a few albums that didn’t quite make the cut, but I felt they deserved a mention. This year, there were 6 albums that almost took the #20 spot, but were ultimately beaten by Metallica. Here they are in no particular order.
Delirium by Lacuna Coil
With their eighth album, Italian metal outfit Lacuna Coil delivered what is probably their heaviest effort yet. The soaring clean vocals of Christina Scabbia are a great juxtaposition to Andrea Ferro’s harsh vocals and the guitars and bass have a meaty, heavy tone to them reminiscent of Korn. Delirium is a solid listen all the way through.
The North Corridor by Chevelle
Just like Lacuna Coil, Chicago alt metal trio Chevelle’s eighth release is their heaviest. The North Corridor is consistent all the way through and it’s packed full of aggressive riffs and vocals, making for one of the band’s best albums. It’s a very refreshing change of pace for Chevelle.
Gore by Deftones
With their eighth album, California alt metal veterans Deftones released another consistent album with a mix of calmer, more radio friendly songs and heavier, more aggressive tracks. There’s a lot of good songs here, but overall, it doesn’t hold a candle to their best works.
Machines of Our Disgrace by Circle of Dust
At the end of last year, Celldweller mastermind Klayton announced that he had reacquired the rights to the back catalog of Circle of Dust, his industrial metal project from the 90s. After going through and remastering all those albums, Klayton decided to release a new album under the Circle of Dust name instead of making another Celldweller album. The result was Machines of Our Disgrace, an incredibly enjoyable old school industrial metal album. It’s incredibly consistent all the way through.
Renaissance by Polyphia
For their second album, Texas-based instrumental prog metal/rock band Polyphia turned up the chill for a very enjoyable record packed full of feel-good summer vibes. Renaissance is a fun listen all the way through but some of the songs feel a little bit samey.
You Can (Not) Die by Bleeding Skies
You Can (Not) Die is the final release from Darren Cruickshank under the name Bleeding Skies, an instrumental progressive metal project. This album is packed full of djenty riffs and is an enjoyable listen all the way through. It’s definitely some of the best music he’s produced and it’s a good way to end the project.
Remember these are just my opinions, so feel free to kindly share your own picks below! Also, be sure to check out Meathead373's picks for a second opinion!