SAGAN'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016
I like to think that one good thing about 2016 is that we were given a whole lot of great new metal to bang our heads to this year. 2016 was peppered with awesome new material across all genres of metal, and for someone like me who is loyal to a few but likes to dabble in many, it was a prolific year for eargasms.
So without further ado, here are my personal favourites of 2016.
10. Rhapsody Of Fire - Into The Legend
For a lot of people, THE voice of power metal is Hansi Kürsch, or Tobias Sammet. But to me, the genre has always spoken in the clean high-pitched voice of Fabio Lione. So while Rhapsody OF Fire is not a band I would consider one of my favourites, I am always drawn to giving their new material a listen.
Their latest record, Into The Legend, was released early in the year, and left any other power metal album coming out in 2016 some really big shoes to fill. Their unique elaborate orchestrations and guitar solos make Rhapsody Of Fire one of the top bands in the genre for a reason. This album was every bit as epic as you would expect from the Italian gentlemen. Being their last effort before the departure of my beloved Fabio, this album will probably stay in my heart for a while, so for that reason, and for all of the pure power that it is, it deserves a place amongst my favourites of the year 2016.
Favourite tracks: Realms Of Light, Winter's Rain, Distant Sky
9. Varg - Das Ende Aller Lügen
The wolves are back! So said Varg when they released Das Ende Aller Lügen at the beginning of 2016. Having given us a taste for blood with an EP released just a few months prior, I wanted to see what would come out of their first full-length since 2012.
This 6-song album was a solid contribution to their repertoire, with some darker socially-oriented lyrics, and some really powerful videos to go with them. This record was technically only 6 songs, but contained 2 CDs - the original Das Ender Aller Lügen, with all lyrics in German, and an English version, The End Of All Lies - totaling 12 tracks. I have to say none of the English versions particularly struck me as being better than the German ones, but it was a nice touch to an already well-executed record.
Favourite tracks: Achtung, Das Ender Aller Lügen, Dunkelheit
8. Witchery - In His Infernal Majesty's Service
I have to admit, I boarded the Witchery train extremely late. By the time I first heard of them, Witchkrieg had already been out for years, and the band from Sweden had several other albums under their belt.
When I heard that they were releasing a new album after over 5 years, they came out from the shadows and I remembered; that band wails!
Witchery has undergone several vocalist changes over time, but their new recruit, Angus Norder, slipped in perfectly for this album; it turned out to be a brilliant ode to their particular speedy, blackened death metal. It has some slow tortuous moments, and some freight train chase moments, and altogether, In His Infernal Majesty's Service is a rock-solid album.
Favourite tracks: Nosferatu, The Burning Of Salem, Feed The Gun
7. Every Time I Die - Low Teens
Here is a band that has consistently been with me for almost 15 years, and that I have yet to toss to the curb. These fine Buffalo gentlemen have managed to pump out album after album of dirty riffs, heavy blastbeats, and lyrical rollercoasters that make them, well, Every Time I Die.
One of my favourite albums of all time is their classic release Hot Damn!, and honestly, not one ETID album had grabbed me by the balls that way since - but this year, Low Teens swooped in and hasn't let go yet. It's fast, it's heavy, it's gritty; it's all the Every Time I Die I wanted! Hearing their sound evolve ever so slightly though always just enough to keep it fresh and crispy from album to album is a beautiful thing, and I always look forward to some new material from them. This one was a real sticky treat.
Favourite tracks: Just As Real But Not As Brightly Lit, 1997, The Coin Has Its Say
6. Equilibrium - Armageddon
2016 was a somewhat bleak year for the folk metal crowd. But German epic folk masters Equilibrium were one of the few bands to grace us with new material this year, and I believe it is one of their best yet.
Armageddon brings a slightly different Equilibrium to the table, with taking sort of a darker turn for areas where Erdentempel did not venture. This album was full of surprises, including straight up video game music, songs entirely in English, and a Fintroll-esque stop-and-go humppa-meets-black song. Armageddon is a fantastic album in its own right, but it’s worth listening to just to hear Equilibrium drop the bass like no metal band has done before on their new, aptly-named anthem Born to Be Epic.
Favourite tracks: Born To Be Epic, Zum Horizont
5. Twilight Force - Heroes Of Mighty Magic
If you doubted my love for over-the-top power metal until now, let me tell you about my love for Twilight Force. This album was assuredly the one I was looking forward to the most this year.
The Swedish band's second opus is an epic Disney-meets-Lord Of The Rings homage to cheesy power metal. Their orchestrations layered over fantasy sampling and masterful guitar-playing, coupled with the incredible vocals of Christian Eriksson (aka Chrileon) inevitably makes you imagine an entire movie to go along with this soundtrack. While Heroes Of Mighty Magic is at times overwhelming in terms of how much Twilight Force is throwing at you at once, it is, altogether, a shiver-inducing record for the ages, and as the band evolves I really hope they keep this magical Disney-esque flame burning.
Favourite tracks: There And Back Again, Powerwind, Flight Of The Sapphire Dragon
4. Khepra - Cosmology Divine
This one was a highly anticipated album for me this year, and it certainly did not disappoint. Risen from the ashes of the band Gürz, the Turkish outfit now known as Khepra had been working on the concept of Cosmology Divine since before they reinvented themselves, so when they announced 2016 was the year, I grew antsy.
This entire album flows so well as a full-length listen, I found myself listening to it 3 times in a row on my first spin. Their signature sound makes them one of the highly-prized oriental folk-inspired metal bands in my collection. Although relatively unknown by comparison, the quality of what Khepra put out is right up there with bands like Melechesh and Orphaned Land, and I truly believe they deserve the same recognition. This album is a beautiful contribution to this style, and well-worth a listen.
Favourite tracks: Evil Incarnate, Enki (Diaries Of A Forgotten God), Cosmology Divine
3. Orphaned Land & Amaseffer - Kna'an
As an avid Orphaned Land fan, I will devour or at least taste anything the (even former) members release. So when I heard that they were working with Erez Yohanan (Amaseffer) on creating a soundrack for a live theater play, I was all ears.
This album is beautiful, and I know, some people will say 'But Sagan, that's not a metal album!', to which I will respond 'But who gives a fuck?'. Sometimes you have to sit back and enjoy things for what they are - and this album is just it. A beautiful, soulful album with fabulous vocal and musical performances. This is one for chill times, but you will not regret giving it a try, if your mind is open to doing that much.
Favourite tracks: There Is No God For Ishma'el, Naked - Abraham
2. Nothgard - The Sinner's Sake
I tend to listen to artists in waves, but this year, one band I have had in constant rotation no matter what is this epic melodic death quartet from Germany. Nothgard is a band whom I feel is severely underrated, at least on my side of the pond. So while the news of their upcoming album didn't make many waves on my shores, I was waiting for the storm with great anticipation.
I was really hooked on their previous album, but their newest effort, The Sinner's Sake, quickly worked its way into my veins from the first listen. Dom R. Crey's grinding vocals and guitar solos, with the valiant effort of his bandmates (undergoing a big lineup change since Age Of Pandora) delivered well-above my expectations. It's every bit as deadly and melodic as you would expect from Nothgard, with their particular epic flair, and an air Black Forest witchery. Perfect.
Favourite tracks: Draining Veins, From Lambs To Lions, Descendants Of The Sun
1. Wisdom - Rise Of The Wise
Hailing from Hungary with masterful musicians and a magnificent vocalist in tow, Wisdom is a band that always conveys powerful feelings of strength in every one of their songs. I love everything they have ever done, for their particular use of choirs on most tracks, their thundering drums, and singer Gabor Nagy's signature vocal pitch.
Their newest release, Rise Of The Wise, came early in 2016 packed full of seriously good, heavy power metal. I thought right away that it would be one of my favourites of the year - and the record held the fort, pitted against others in the genre throughout the year.
Wisdom has the power to leave you feeling like you can conquer all. And I think that something that can reach deep inside you in that way deserves praise for it. Therefore, I want to give Rise Of The Wise the well-deserved top spot on my list of best releases of 2016.
Favourite tracks: Nightmare Of The Seas, Haunting The Night, Rise Of The Wise