It feels like I was just working on HEAVIÖSITY’s 2015 year-end wrap-up, and lamenting the losses of Motörhead’s Lemmy and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, and the overall rough state of things (mass shootings, racism, sexism…). I wrote something to the effect of, “may 2016 be heavier on metal, and lighter on bad news.” Well, 2016 made last year feel like a fucking pizza party with bottomless pitchers of beer and KISS’s Alive! on repeat.
This year sucked. And it all started with the death of David Bowie way back in January—fuck, I bummed myself out just typing that. We lost a lot of great ones: George Martin, Merle Haggard, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, former Megadeth drummer Nick Menza, Gene Wilder, Alan Vega, Phife Dawg, and most recently the brilliant and underrated pop star George Michael. Gun violence and ignorance continue to divide us, exacerbated by a brutal election cycle that left us with an ignorant, thin-skinned dolt for a president-elect.
Writing and music—two things in which I’ve always found solace—seemed silly and insignificant at times. But art and escapism are hugely important in keeping us sane and strong, and being able to express myself through words helps me make sense of it all. We’ll need these things as we fight to make the world and our communities a better place for everyone.
This year I often retreated to old classics for comfort (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols was a savior), while still taking in a good amount of new music. The year in metal did not suck, although it didn’t exactly blow me way, either. My list is made up of records that effortlessly remained in rotation overt he course of the year—I typically followed my gut over my gray matter.
Interestingly, metal has grown to the point where it’s become less of a shared experience, evidenced by the number of contrasting year-end lists in 2016. But unlike with news, a growing number of outlets doesn’t lead to misinformation, only to more assholes with opinions. Well, here’s this asshole’s opinion. And may 2017 be…ahhh never mind.
20. Mantar – Ode to the Flame (Nuclear Blast)
This German two-piece continues to rip, chug and grind through their second album, bringing elements of thrash, punk and death metal to their bloody brew.
19. Blood Incantation – Starspawn (Dark Descent)
Death metal done right—murky, epic, frightening—and, thank dark overlord, not overwrought. The debut from these Colorado grinders takes off into deep space, and the loudness is deafening.
18. SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (Profound Lore)
With the exception of Eight Bells and Worm Ouroboros, no one released a more elegant yet vicious collection of songs this year. Captivating, commanding, and flawlessly crafted from front to back.
17. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder (Peaceville)
Seventeen albums in and these Norwegian black metal legends still deliver cindered thrash that is hostile but still approachable.
16. Martyrdöd – List (Southern Lord)
I don’t like crust punk. Or d-beat. And while Martyrdöd rose from those scenes, the Swedish quartet takes it to dynamic new places with riffs that’ll lodge themselves right into your thick skull.
15. Opeth – Sorceress (Nuclear Blast)
A full-on cerebral prog rock album susceptible to violent outbursts. Opeth is in complete control of their powers.
14. Castle – Welcome to the Graveyard (Ván Records)
Not much was made of this record, but Castle has made a taut and dynamic heavy metal record, and easily their best. Satan and magick riffs always win.
13. Crowbar – The Serpent Only Lies (eOne)
I did not see this coming, but Crowbar continues to make fantastic workman-like metal almost three decades on. The dark side of the sludge is still strong with these ones.
12. Eight Bells – Landless (Battleground Records)
A beautiful and terrifying journey into murky waters where lilting harmonies hover above intertwined guitars and bass. Easy to get lost in, and you may never want to come back.
11. Cobalt – Slow Forever (Profound Lore)
The time away and lead vocal change did nothing to stifle Cobalt. The riffs are memorable, even when they’re being stretched into epic passages. And the shrieks of vocalist Charlie Fell will haunt your nightmares.
10. Deströyer 666 – Wildfire (Season of Mist)
A no-frills, heavy metal joyride that left my neck sore. Sometimes that’s all you need, and if you’re asking for more, you’re just being a greedy asshole.
9. Fyrnask – Fórn (Ván Records)
One-man black metal can be an issues-loaded wasteland, but Fyrnask has created something atmospheric, biting, and cerebral.
8. Nervosa – Agony (Napalm Records)
Absolutely ripping heavy metal from this Brazilian trio. Relentless and evil in all the right places…which is tracks one through 12.
7. Holy Grove – Holy Grove (Heavy Psych Sounds)
Heavy-as-bricks rock ’n’ roll from this Portland four-piece leaves the Sabbath worshippers at the altar. Holy Grove’s debut is fun and no-nonsense, and devoid of all of the silly, modern-witch trappings.
6. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse)
There was no shortage of trad and power metal this year—High Spirits, Eternal Champion, Axxion—but Sumerlands had the most interesting riffs to these ears. Pure, uncut heavy metal candy.
5. Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution (Metal Blade)
At the center of the modern thrash universe is guitarist John Cobbett, most notably with VHÖL and Hammers of Misfortune. Hammers’ latest is another weirdo thrash-prog Frankenstein made by true metal scientists.
4. Oozing Wound – Whatever Forever (Thrill Jockey)
Not fully metal, but heavier than most things on this list. Don’t let the pleasant name fool you—Oozing Wound is a merciless slaughterhouse of riffs and raunch.
3. Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache)
The thrash revival has been done. And redone. And done again. Vektor have turned the whole thing on its head, and created their own genre—likely something unpronounceable by humans.
2. Kvelertak – Natessferd (Roadrunner)
Another record that garnered early attention, but dropped out of favor. I think it’s fantastic and fantastical. Each listen reveals something new and thrilling, as the band dips into post-punk, prog, thrash, black metal and pop.
1. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (20 Buck Spin)
Psychedelic space rock…oh, and some black metal thrown in. These Fins have created a cinematic opus that is guaranteed to devour and never spit you out.
The Best of the Rest of the Best
Wormed – Krighsu (Season of Mist)
Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (Blackened)
Malleus – Storm of Witchcraft (self-released)
Khemmis – Hunted (20 Buck Spin)
High Spirits – Motivator (HR Records)
Mark Lore is hibernating for the next four years. Please make sure he’s still breathing at @TheDaysofLore.