Top Ten Heavy Metal Albums of 2016

Top Ten Heavy Metal Albums of 2016

Dec 29


Top Ten Heavy Metal Albums of 2016


With each year in the past decade seeing an ever-increasing diffusion of heavy metal and its ocean of sub-styles, it is getting harder to crown a single trend or movement as the defining character of the previous twelve months. 2016 did nothing but continue that evolution, ushering in attention-worthy developments in many disparate corners of the heavy spectrum. Releases from Nails and Wormrot put a spotlight on grind while Vektor put out a near-universally lauded album that showed what thrash can be if it ever moves past the retro-worship of recent years. Because of my personal leanings, I feel that 2016 was an unexpected banner-year for doom in particular. With new records from established acts like Khemmis, Subrosa, Lord Vicar, Goatess, and Vainaja delivering great results while completely new groups like King Goat, Messa, Spirit Adrift, and Kroh dropped albums of equal–if not greater in some cases–quality, it is hard not to see the last year as a strong one for the world of the slow and heavy.


Here’s my personal Top Ten for 2016, in no particular order, along with some worthy mentions and non-metal favorites.

2016’s Best in Heavy Music


Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary

Swedish metal master Dan Swanö’s newest musical endeavor had one hell of a debut with The Inheritance, easily making its way onto this site’s end-year list in 2013 so I had big hopes for the follow up. Well, it delivered. The Northern Sanctuary is easily on level if not a step up from its predecessor and is without a doubt an example to live by in modern progressive death metal. With crushing heaviness, powerful melody, and a strong penchant for soulful interludes, Witherscape may be doing more than any other band to fill the gap left by fellow countrymen Opeth after they embarked on their new phase of exploration, although bands like Barren Earth certainly deserve mention in that category as well.

Abbath – Abbath

There are several reasons why Immortal was the first black metal band that clicked with me way back in the days of high school. The classic rock and metal vibe, the epic grandeur of the songs, and most of all the riffs. Good lord, the riffs. Hearing that the crabwalk king was breaking off to march under his own banner brought equal amounts of skepticism and eager anticipation; would it end up being retreaded and watered down Immortal, or would the freedom from band politics, personality conflicts, and bureaucracy allow Abbath to release the album we could have been blessed with after 2009’s All Shall Fall? Considering that much of this record was originally written for the next Immortal it’s no surprise we get the latter, and it’s a hell of a way to launch a new era for the ‘Elvis of black metal’ (thanks for that, Matt Pike).

Vektor – Terminal Redux

The wave of retro-thrash, re-thrash, or whatever you want to call it has been going strong for nearly a decade now, and while it has offered up some solid releases by great bands, it hasn’t been known to have the most forward-looking of attitudes. After all, the raison d’etre of the genre itself is to ape the sounds of the 80’s heavyweights, and aside from a predilection in a few groups to marry those styles with death metal and hardcore, not much in the way of new has been happening. Enter Vektor and their frenetic brand of sci-fi-themed progressive thrash metal. Terminal Redux is an absolute killer of an album packed to the gills with grand epics and face shredding metal that the heavy community embraced with zeal and praise. And for good reason too; just spin it and try not to be damn impressed.

Oceans of Slumber – Winter

The band had already proven they had something good going with their debut, 2013’s Aetheria, but the formula seemed to miss something to really get all the pieces clicking together. Adding singer Cammie Gilbert and broadening their songwriting range to encompass a stronger leaning towards doom was the perfect step, and Winter ended up not being just a step up for the band, but a giant and triumphant leap. Eschewing the brands of prog most widely embraced by the current metal world–the melodeath/folk/70’s flavor of Scandinavia (Witherscape, Opeth, etc.), or the technical wankery of bands like Periphery and Between the Buried and Me–the band charted a course on a path that is absolutely theirs and theirs alone. Winter is a breath of fresh air and one of the highlights of recent progressive metal.

Fleshgod Apocalypse – King

When Fleshgod formed as a band, someone must have gave them the old adage, ‘Go big or go home’, because that’s all this group seems interested in doing. Their albums of symphonic death metal are grand, epic, and bombastic blastfests of sonic overindulgence and the metal world is all the better for them. King is a monster of an album back to front, the well-written orchestral elements really help drive the songs, rather than act as frilly filler. With the exception of some poorly performed spoken sections this is an excellent record and it finds the band at the top of their game.

King Goat – Conduit

It’s one thing to have a banner year for doom metal, it’s quite another to have debut artists leading much of that charge. In a year that boasted stellar albums from Lord Vicar, Spiritus Mortis, and Khemmis (see below) it was a cherry on top to have first releases from newcomers like King Goat, Messa, and Spirit Adrift. Conduit is also an album that sits firmly in its own corner; many of the staple doom outings of the past year worshipped at the altars of the godfathers while these UK boys drifted along a decidedly more modern and progressive current. And despite the subtle wanderings, hazy passages, and spacey explorations, this may also be the hardest hitting doom release in this list, owing to a penchant for huge vicious builds and choruses.

Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

I actually had to talk myself into including this one. Not because I don’t like the Dev, I love everything he’s ever done (including the Devlab stuff), and not because I don’t like the album, I absolutely love the album. Rather, it’s because I feel like Townsend has an unfair ‘shoe-in’ status for me as a reviewer and metal blogger; if he puts out an album it’s going to be end-year list material, and that’s not quite fair to everyone else, right? Well, this album doesn’t quite live up to its namesake, but it’s still a gorgeous collection of progressive music and I couldn’t bring myself to snub it just because it had a reserved spot. Instead, I split the difference and left Opeth off the list (though theirs is a mighty fine album as well).

Ihsahn – Arktis.

And speaking of great progressive music, there really aren’t many people pushing boundaries quite like Ihsahn. First of all, just given the fact that he actually is pushing boundaries, something many using the prog tag have forgotten is a character of the ‘genre’, means that when he puts out a new album it will be worth listening to. This time around he has really hit it off with great songcraft, something the ex-Emperor architect was already known for excelling at. The music is wide ranging, but in the larger context of the album as a whole feels very cohesive; there’s the scorching fury, the soaring melodies, the instrumental wanderings, everything you’d need for an engrossing listen. The only questionable part is the overlong part-ambient, part-spoken word “Till Tor Ulven” that doesn’t really fit, but that’s technically a bonus track so it’s hard to really complain.

Oathbreaker – Rheia

The releases that really stick with you well past their year of release are the ones you didn’t expect in the least. This one wasn’t on my radar at all and I had only ever heard of the band in passing, but these Belgians delivered an album that easily made it onto this list after only a couple listens. The mix of shoegaze, black metal, and the haunting vocal artistry of singer Caro Tanghe creates a musically captivating tapestry that holds onto you for the whole ride. And it is a ride; the sombre valleys and scathingly furious peaks take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster that isn’t easily forgotten. This album is a good step forward for the band, and it will be really exciting to see where they go next in their evolution as musicians.

Khemmis – Hunted

I was a bit skeptical when these guys announced they were putting out an album just one year after their debut record, which was on my end-year list of last year. Then, the opening chords of Hunted seemed to admonish me for my doubt, as if saying, “Oh, ye of little faith”. The album is a step up from their fantastic debut, steering more comfortably towards the classic doom vibes of Candlemass, Cathedral, and Witchfinder General rather than the stony haze that could be heard in the debut. With a sophomore release this strong, Khemmis prove themselves to be one of the forerunners of the new doom generation, along with Pallbearer, Wretch, and others, along with helping to make 2016 a year marked by stand-out doom releases. If Conan had a road mix-tape while on his steed, this would be on it.


Worthy Mentions


Pig – The Gospel

The Lord of Lard was away from the stable for far too long. Last year’s EP was a nice taste, but the following album had the debaucherous payoff that we needed so bad. Get converted.

Vader – The Empire

The polish death metal masters are still on the warpath and still putting out quality head-bangers. This one kills in every way a fan could want, and it’s nice to have an old stand-by like these guys be so reliable.

Opeth – Sorceress

Another great release from one of modern prog’s standard-bearers. The only reason it didn’t make my top ten is because they seem to be spinning around their 70’s rabbit hole without really moving forward much.

Messa – Belfry

In a year defined by great doom releases, this was a shining example of some of the great debut bands making their first mark.

A Sense of Gravity – Atrament

An absolutely strong sophomore effort by these Seattle prog maniacs. Tightening their sound, they dialed into a style and exploited it perfectly, making for a much more cohesive listen than their debut (which was also quite good). Check out my review here.


Un-metal albums

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Fatima Al Qadiri – Brute
Perturbator – The Uncanny Valley
Obsidian Kingdom – A Year With No Summer
Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked for Death
Drive By Truckers – American Band