The 50 best metal albums of 2016

A press shot of Architects in 2016

50) Of Mice & Men - Cold World

Austin Carlile and his crew shrugged off health problems to deliver a crushing, nu metal-inflected comeback. We caught up with frontman Austin Carlile here.

49) Abbath - Abbath

Immortal’s co-founder launched his hotly anticipated solo career with a siege of windswept, riff-powered anthems.

48) Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä

The psychedelic black metallers conjured a mesmerising and wildly inventive headtrip into the recesses of the cosmos.

47) Venom Prison - Animus

Powered by UK hardcore sensibilities, Animus was a menacing, vicious death metal assault with a serious societal message.

46) Wovenhand - Star Treatment

Wondrous explorations as folk preacher David Eugene Edwards continued to captivate and hypnotise metal’s congregation.

45) Oceans Of Slumber - Winter

A journey through death, doom and progressive metal whose intensity and grace was personified in vocalist Cammie Gilbert.

44) Bölzer - Hero

The Swiss cult duo’s debut album arrived with a head- spinning thunderstorm befitting such electrifying extreme metal.

43) Touché Amoré - Stage Four

Touché Amoré delivered 2016’s most emotionally raw album. As heartfelt, sprawling and moving as punk rock gets.

42) Jonestown - Aokigahara

Sinister, technical and brutally heavy, Brighton’s Jonestown delivered their knockout debut with sledge-hammer force.

41) Kvelertak - Nattesferd

The Norwegian wildmen blended strutting 70s rock influences with their rabid, punk’n’roll-blackened brew.

40) Anthrax - For All Kings

Anthrax played once more to their strengths, but still had a wildcard up their sleeve with the epic Blood Eagle Wings.

39) Vektor - Terminal Redux

The sci-fi thrashers’ third full-length release was a deep-space dreadnaught armed to the teeth with radioactive riffs.

38) Giraffe Tongue Orchestra - Broken Lines

This prog metal supergroup showered gargantuan riffs and smooth hooks on an undeserving world.

37) Blood Incantation - Starspawn

Occult malevolence reached astral heights through Morbid Angel-esque extremity and hallucinatory experimentation.

36) Every Time I Die - Low Teens

ETID cemented their status as bona fide legends, expanding on every aspect of their career with glorious results.

35) Winterfylleth - The Dark Hereafter

Another stirring and well-constructed work of epic and ferocious black metal by one of the UK’s finest bands.

34) King 810 - La Petite Mort Or A Conversation With God

Metal’s most controversial band continued to defy expectations and parameters with bold new ideas.

33) Heck - Instructions

Everyone knew Heck were great live. Instructions proved they have the songwriting chops to match the madness.

32) Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows

Inter Arma’s magnum opus, a captivating, stylistically diverse voyage through post- metal’s wildest possibilities.

31) Subrosa - For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages

Twin-violin doom saviours’ emotionally affecting soundscape set around a 1920s dystopian novel.

30) Babymetal - Metal Resistance

The sugar-coated Japanese powerhouse chucked us another tank-load of massive, catchy hooks. Thank the Fox God!

29) Deströyer 666 - Wildfire

We needed every aspirin in the bottle to recover from the neck-snapping intensity of this blackened-thrash beatdown.

28) Dream Theater - The Astonishing

More epic than ever, Dream Theater whipped out a double-disc conceptual rock opera of staggering proportions.

27) Alter Bridge - The Last Hero

The Last Hero was the closest the ex-Creed, Myles Kennedy-fronted mob came to metal, and it rocked hard.

26) Bury Tomorrow - Earthbound

With stadium-sized hooks and blazing riffs, Bury Tomorrow made a serious play for metalcore’s upper leagues.

25) Oathbreaker - Rheia

Gut-wrenching melody and scorching post-hardcore musicianship merged in perfect form on Oathbreaker’s finest album yet.

24) Skuggsjá - Skuggsjá

We could almost smell the pyres while immersed in this Enslaved/Wardruna collaborative brooding canon of folk and metal.

23) Periphery - Periphery III: Select Difficulty

The tech-metal heroes inundated their fifth album with epic hooks and irresistible choruses.

22) Alcest - Kodama

France’s ‘blackgaze’ pioneers revisited earlier records and reinvigorated their sound, with a spellbinding, Far Eastern feel.

21) Neurosis - Fires Within Fires

A legend 30 years in the making, Fires Within Fires, Neurosis’s 12th album was a crucible of existential frustration.

20) Wardruna - Runaljod – Ragnarok

The third and final part of the Wardruna’s first trilogy proved their most focused to date. Its esoteric ambience was all-encompassing yet its songwriting surprisingly tight, despite the ritualistic magick of the whole affair. Wardruna’s music awakens something primal and universal within the human spirit and the energy here suggested that broader success is more than within the band’s reach.

19) Rotting Christ - Rituals

Rotting Christ’s decade-long return to the cutting edge of extreme metal has been characterised by a dynamic and bombastic approach to songwriting and Rituals epitomised that approach from its opening number. Epic, dramatic and surprisingly accessible thanks to its heavy metal influences, the band crafted a moody yet uptempo masterpiece and one of their most powerful works to date.

18) Avenged Sevenfold - The Stage

Leaving behind the no-nonsense heavy metal simplicities of Hail To The King, Avenged Sevenfold crafted a wondrous journey through shifting tones and moods, progressive, exploratory sounds and, in the 15-minute conceptual epic Exist, the boldest sonic leap of their career. The album itself was a surprise; what shocked even more was Avenged’s ability to rewrite their own rulebook yet again.

17) Katatonia - The Fall Of Heart

Katatonia’s creative spark burned bright once again on this follow- up to 2012’s Dead End Kings. Sumptuous, refined songwriting, expert pacing, and Jonas Renkse’s spellbinding vocals set the scope towards cinematic vistas; while additionally, the Swedish innovators held their metallic roots firmly. This resulted in a seamless balancing act, from masterful beginnings to its restful end.

16) Killswitch Engage - Incarnate

The metalcore veterans have been on rare form since the return of Jesse Leach, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Incarnate showcased a far more introspective KSE than we were used to. And whilst there were still the buzzing, squealing riffs from Adam D that were classic Killswitch, a more melodic, yet no less inspirational, performance from Jesse made songs like Strength Of The Mind essential listening.

15) Testament - Brotherhood Of The Snake

The semi-conceptual Brotherhood Of The Snake marked three classic consecutive albums for Californian thrashers Testament, the honorary fifth members of the Big 4. The return of Alex Skolnick, whose shredding liaison with Eric Peterson always creates sparks, has played its part, but a set of killer songs that includes Born In A Rut, Neptune’s Spear and The Pale King would always seal the deal.

14) Deftones - Gore

Deftones aren’t capable of making bad albums. Their first since the death of original bassist Chi Cheng, Gore added another work of ethereal turbulence to an already immaculate back catalogue, with tracks Doomed User and Hearts/Wires walking the shimmering line between beauty and brutality with elegance and integrity. They remain one of the most innovative forces in our world.

13) Nails - You Will Never Be One Of Us

The mystery of their on-off-on hiatus may have marred the legacy of Nails’ third album, but musically the uncompromising collision of punk, hardcore and the fiercest metal left nothing to question. Whether it was merciless minute-long assaults or the nightmarish descent of They Come Crawling Back, You Will Never Be One Of Us was a savage redefinition of what it means to be heavy.

12) The Devin Townsend Project - Transcendence

TDTP unveiled a darker and more ambitious vision, synthesising blood-pumping riffs, orchestral layering and psychedelia into a work of staggering depth and scale. Devin channelled his most heartfelt and personal lyrics into a richly nuanced work that balanced explosive climaxes against moments of striking fragility. A feast for the senses.

11) Grand Magus - Sword Songs

Much like Thor wielding the mighty Mjolnir, Grand Magus can always be relied upon to deliver pure, unadulterated heavy metal thunder and, as expected, eighth album Sword Songs was as sharp as their bulletbelts. Soaring at the behest of JB’s richly valient vocals and full of battle-hardened, neck- bothering headbangers, the Rainbow-influenced opus saw the Swedes at the very peak of their powers, Forged In Iron/Crowned In Steel proving an audacious anthem to echo through the ages.

10) Metallica - Hardwired… To Self-Destruct

While two discs and a whopping 80-minute running time proved to be just a little too much for some, the fact remains that Hardwired… To Self-Destruct produced some of the best songs the Four Horsemen have written in decades. The return to their thrash roots on many of the tracks banished the memory of the so-so Lords Of Summer EP, and the album boasted a few ragers that will sit nicely along- side the classics in upcoming Metallica setlists. Read our extended feature with Metallica here.

9) Black Peaks - Statues

For any band to release an album that attempts to mix Every Time I Die’s hardcore fury with Mastodon’s technicality, Deftones’ ethereal quality and Tool’s epic prog nuances takes some balls. To pull it of takes some skill. For it to be your debut album? Well, that’s a hell of a statement of intent. Somehow, Brighton’s Black Peaks managed it, creating something lithe, coherent and captivating from their many disparate parts. Statues provides fertile ground for many years to come.

8) Ihsahn - Arktis.

Even by his visionary standards, Arktis. was an epic adventure for Ihsahn, conjuring vast expanses, dizzying endeavours and effortlessly immediate motifs from his fertile imagination. Playing to his strengths after the overt avant-gardism of Das Seelenbrechen while heroically exploring new territory, the album’s bewitching charm was due to the way the disparate songs and ideas sounded like such a cohesive whole. What more did we expect from such a genius?

7) Korn - The Serenity Of Suffering

The first album since Head’s return to include the guitarist in its writing process, The Serenity Of Suffering was simultaneously a nostalgic montage of Korn’s finest moments and a leap forward for the nu metal pioneers. With electronic music now a comfortable aspect of their musical palette rather than its defining feature, it blended seamlessly with the band’s trademark subterranean, downtuned riffs and lyrical introspection.

6) The Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation

The Dillinger Escape Plan’s excellent sixth studio album, Dissociation, turned out to be a fitting epitaph for one of the most important, inimitable metal bands of all time. From the instant cacophony of Limerent Death to the unexpectedly moving orchestral title track closer, it was as forward-thinking, sonically varied, weirdly surprising and vital as one would have hoped for from TDEP’s final release.

5) Letlive - If I’m The Devil…

Over the course of three albums and 10 years, Letlive had been pigeonholed by many as just another set of punk rock rabble-rousers. This, of course, was nonsense, as two legitimate classic albums behind them will attest. But with the release of If I’m The Devil… they firmly shut the mouth of even the most cynical naysayer. Whilst Jason Butler’s manic, maniac yelp was still very much evident on tracks like A Weak Ago, it’s a weapon that was used in controlled and strategic ways. The Letlive heard here allowed the soulful nature that has often been slathered under feedback and chaos to breathe, whilst never losing any of its menace. When they get the mixture to this Molotov cocktail spot on they are still the most exciting young band on Earth. The fact Good Mourning America is already being talked about as an era-defining anthem says it all. Read our extended feature with Letlive here.

4) Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep Of Reason

Modern metal’s most influential band have stayed 10 steps ahead of the curve by releasing ever more captivatingly complex machinations, but if they have a failing it’s that they can be too intentionally inaccessible at times. There were no such worries with The Violent Sleep Of Reason, which arriving after 2012’s gauge-melting Koloss, was set to ‘kill’ from the off, delivering track after track of utter bangers for your bewildered glee. Recorded live instead of individual performances precisely assembled posthumously, the record was their most organic-sounding in years. Their rage and frustration at the ills of modern man constantly spilled over with customary seething intensity, albeit in ever more engaging forms. The infectious groove of Born In Dissonance in particular willed every cell in your fragile carcass to pulsate in time to the rhythm as it hydraulically pounded your flesh.

3) Opeth - Sorceress

Twelve albums in, Sorceress was to prove one of Opeth’s most diverse releases. It retained the by-now usual mix of hard rock, prog, folk, symphonic music and, of course, heavy metal, but still coming to terms with a marriage breakdown that had occurred two albums previously, Mikael Åkerfeldt was in a more reflective mood than ever before. Sorceress was not full of songs written about lost love, but listen and absorb and it became apparent that several of its selections did indeed reflect those changes in the Swede’s life. Mikael’s mission of writing “songs that didn’t musically connect” only made it more interesting still. From the colossal Strange Brew and the Eastern-flavoured The Seventh Sojourn to fragility of Will O The Wisp, there was something here for just about everyone, offering proof that life affecting art is not necessarily a bad thing.

2) Architects - All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us

The steady return to form of Architects was said to have peaked with the excellent Lost Together//Lost Forever in 2014, but, somehow, the Brighton quartet managed to rise to the occasion and make the finest record of their already outstanding career. It was full of wounded, introspective anger, genuinely shocking turns of pace and rhythmical shifts in gear, and in the staggering post-rock journey of Memento Mori, it also had the greatest single moment the band have ever committed to tape. The tragic passing of band visionary Tom Searle a mere few months after its release has given these songs an even more moving, heartbreaking quality. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is an awe-inspiring swansong from one of British music’s finest talents. An album of such undeniable quality will see that Tom’s memory lives on wherever Architects’ path may now lie.

1) Gojira - Magma

In truth, few Gojira fans were surprised to discover that Magma was really fucking great. The Bayonne-based band have been so consistent since they burst into our collective consciousness over a decade ago that great things are now expected as a matter of course.

What was surprising, however, was that Gojira had somehow managed to pull off the neat trick of being simultaneously more accessible and more experimental. Pre-album single Silvera suggested that the band had stripped everything down to its primitive, riff-driven essence, but when the full album emerged in June, it was clear that Gojira were still pushing the boundaries of modern heavy music, too. Opening track The Seventh Star was a bold statement in itself: seven minutes of darkly psychedelic grooves and eerie, earthy atmospheres, it showcased a major evolution from the more cluttered and claustrophobic riff collages of previous albums to a more liberated and expansive sonic realm. Similarly, the militaristic menace of Pray’s sprawling intro was both familiar and thrillingly alien, as Gojira turned their trademark sound inside out with almost comically exciting results. Earth-shaking riffs have always been the band’s stock in trade, but this time round every groove and every syncopated rhythmic twist jabbed at the gut and the heart with equal persistence.

As a result, Magma’s appeal stretched far beyond mere musical concerns. The emotional turmoil Joe and Mario Duplantier were going through during the recording process, after the death of their mother, is a conspicuous and moving presence throughout. Notions of love, loss and longing hang heavy over even the record’s more succinct and brutish moments. So deft was its evocation of oh-so human distress and defiance, Magma forged an instant and profound connection with nearly all who heard it. Fittingly, the band’s performances at Download and Bloodstock festivals both confirmed that the new songs are already as unanimously adored as Gojira’s finest past anthems. A life-affirming work of art, and perfect for these troubled times, Magma dared to transcend the ordinary and aim for the limitless skies. All we could do was stand and watch, rapt and in awe. Click to read an extended interview with Gojira here.

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