KAI'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016
What a good year 2016 has been for metal albums! With so many releases coming out from artists of international renown like Gojira, Alcest, Sabaton, Megadeth, Metallica, and so much more, narrowing it down to ten was no easy task. I waited until the last possible minute to narrow down my top 10, but here are the albums I found myself listening to over and over again during the abominable year that was 2016.
10. Amon Amarth - Jomsviking
Amon Amarth's 10th studio album didn't surprise, nor did it disappoint. Jomsviking is a perfectly stormy album full of the same apocalyptic riffs that made Amon Amarth popular, peppered with the cult-like charisma of frontman Johan Hegg which is detectable on each of the eleven tracks on the full length release. Though the songs on the album sound like they would also belong on any other Amon Amarth album, Jomsviking offers the unique benefit of containing an anthem assured to be a resounding live success. “Raise Your Horns” is just heavy enough and contains just enough singalong parts to please even the most casual of viking wannabes. Without the victory song and "At Dawn's First Light" in the track list, I'm not sure that Amon Amarth's latest would have made the cut, but by having those two songs in the mix of the other truly aggressive and bloodthirsty hymns, not having Jomsviking in my top 10 was not an option.
Favourite tracks: On A Sea Of Blood, One Thousand Burning Arrows, At Dawn's First Light
9. Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason
Nobody ever believes me when I declare my undying love for the Swedish extreme metal band Meshuggah. In the sea of power and folk metal that invades every playlist I've ever made, Meshuggah is also ever present. There is something about the chaotic, discordant, distorted, arrhythmic and the sometimes downright cacophonous sound of Meshuggah that has the power to turn my upside down world upright again. To say that I was pleased to hear a new album would be an understatement. Thankfully, The Violent Sleep of Reason is everything that a Meshuggah album should be. It’s fast, it’s angry, it makes you feel like you could destroy the world if you had a mind to it, and that level of destruction is just what 2016 needed.
Favourite tracks: Born In Dissonance, Nostrum, Ivory Tower
8. Fleshgod Apocalypse - King
Theatrics. Opera. More talent in one finger than my ancestors and I ever had. What else did I expect from Fleshgod Apocalypse? Not King. I was thoroughly unprepared for the chef d’oeuvre offered by the Italian band. Currently sitting pretty as the crown jewel of the Fleshgod Apocalypse discography, King’s genius is twofold. First: “The Fool” a deliciously demented single that combines a strange Vaudevillian piano, rare clean vocals, and heavy riffs in the most entrancing way . Second: The near-orgasmic instrumental tracks that were released alongside the album. King in itself is a musically beautiful and complex album that would have garnered praises and accolades without it, but with raw and powerful instrumental versions of every track, one can’t help but fall in love with Fleshgod Apocalypse all over again.
Favourite tracks: The Fool, And The Vulture Beholds, Syphilis
7. Ghost - Pope Star EP
I generally wouldn’t include an EP in my list of best albums of 2016 because I generally find it hard to compare a 10+ song release to something half as long, but the 5-song opus by the Swedish Scooby Doom band impressed so much, I had to highlight its magnificence. As Meliora earned Ghost a Grammy in 2016, one would think that the full length album would be a tough act to follow, but the fact of the matter is that Popestar is the perfect link between the acclaimed release and the next step in the Ghost saga. Featuring an original song with a ridiculously catchy hook and 4 covers, listening to Popestar is a near-religious experience that is sure to delight many.
Favourite tracks: Square Hammer, Missionary Man
6. Avantasia - Ghostlights
Those who claim (maybe rightfully so) that Tobias Sammet is a God were blessed with something worth worshiping to kick off 2016. From eerie and foggy songs like “The Haunting” and “Isle of Evermore” to more upbeat songs such as “Let the Storm Descend Upon You” and “Babylon Vampyres,” the album is all about the balance between good and evil, dark and light. With the outer worldly vocals of Sammet and his ribambelle of all-stars guests to share singing duties, Avantasia’s latest was destined to be larger than life. Dee Snider, Marco Hietala, Michael Kiske, and Sharon den Adel are only some of the legendary people who joined the German deity to complete yet another rock opera that could convince anyone of Sammet's greatness.
Favourite tracks: Master Of The Pendulum, Babylon Vampyres, Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose
5. Twilight Force - Heroes Of Mighty Magic
Twilight Force, the unexpectedly but understandably increasingly popular power metal band from Sweden, is the living proof that cheesy is not always a bad thing. Heroes of Mighty Magic features lyrics about swords, dragons, and adventures that are typically power metal, medieval instruments, and layers upon layers of borderline-overwhelming orchestrations that have the strange power to make listeners feel like the powerful wizards and herbalists from the songs. Though Twilight Force’s second album tries a bit too hard to be yet another epic power metal album, Heroes of Mighty Magic boasts one track to redeem them all. “Epilogue” is a beautifully-crafted spoken track featuring background noises of creaking floorboards, crackling fire and whistling wind while the monumental voice of keyboardist Blackwald echoes, flawlessly transitioning from one ear to the other as he paces the room. The track is a credit to its creator and Twilight Force’s magnum opus.
Favourite tracks: Epilogue, To The Stars, Flight Of The Sapphire Dragon
4. Delain - Moonbathers
I have to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed by Delain’s Lunar Prelude EP released in February of 2016, so I was a bit apprehensive to listen to Moonbathers. I allowed 4 months to pass before finally giving it a spin, but Moonbathers turned out to be my biggest surprise of the year. Finally, Delain produced an album that is up to par with its band members’ abilities! Refusing to rely on session musicians for the female growls any longer, Charlotte Wessels added harsh vocals to her arsenal and provided them on all tracks demanding them with the exception of the opening song “Hands of Gold.” Keyboardist Martijn Westerholt also seemed to have been used to his full potential for the first time in Delain’s history, producing rich symphonies to accompany the harsher, full-bodied music created by his bandmates for the 5th album. As Moonbathers is also the first album featuring Ruben Israel and Merel Bechtold, Delain’s latest offering also allows the listeners to feel the chemistry between all members, something that was ever-present in their live performance but lacking in the studio
Favourite tracks: Hands Of Gold, The Hurricane, Fire With Fire
3. Hell in the Club - Shadow Of The Monster
Though Hell In the Club falls more in the hard rock than metal category, Shadow of the Monster has become one of my favourite albums of all time. With Elvenking's Davide Moras bringing his unique voice to complement the plethora of distorted and memorable riffs, the Italian band created a truly unique blend of songs to get sticky in a dive bar to. Though most of the songs are about hedonism, devouring life and one another, Shadow of the Monster also features a track that is sure to delight music lovers everywhere. Written seemingly as a tribute to those who chant their name night after night, “Hell Sweet Hell” is Hell In the Club’s ultimate ode to showgoers. As an avid front row warrior, the presence of the lovely southern rock-sounding track dedicated to the diehard music fans cemented Shadow of the Monster as one of the best albums of the year.
Favourite tracks: Shadow Of The Monster, Hell Sweet Hell, Le Cirque Des Horreurs
2. Myrath - Legacy
From the moment Myrath announced the crowdfunder for their Prince of Persia-inspired video, it was clear that their next album was going to be extraordinary. The expectations set by their previous work were high, but the Tunisian quintet made sure to exceed them all. Legacy boasts an enchanting amalgam of progressive metal beats and intricate and delicate middle eastern melodies that elevates Legacy above anything Myrath has done before. Frontman Zaher Zorgati’s vocal performance is so phenomenal that he earned himself a spot on Ayreon’s next album alongside some of the best singers in the scene! Though Legacy is slower, darker, and moodier than their previous release, Myrath managed the mood shift perfectly. The balance between the epic "Believer", the softer-starting songs like “Duat” and the downright gloomy tracks such as “I Want to Die” created a stunning work of art that is sure to delight even the most difficult metalheads.
Favourite tracks: Believer, Get Your Freedom Back, Endure The Silence
1. Leander Kills - Túlélő
Before March 2016, I thought I had Leander Köteles all figured out. After devouring Leander Rising’s discography for years and recently getting a taste of the surprising AMIGOD, I thought I knew his style and limitations as well as my own, but the Hungarian musician somehow found a way to surprise me with the debut album of his new project Leander Kills. Full of fast, face-melting guitar and bass riffs, impeccably-timed drumming, and pluck-at-the-heart-strings ballads with somber piano notes and stupefying vocals to embellish the lot, Túlélő is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. Flanked by Miklós Czifra (AMIGOD) and Máté Bodor (ex-Wisdom, Alestorm) and backed by Valentin Jankai (Blind Myself), Köteles teamed up with musicians like himself who are at the top of their game and created a stunning and mind-blowing melodic explosion that is far above reproach. The sheer perfection of the album and everything else done by the Hungarian quartet this year also makes Leander Kills my Discovery of 2016.
Favourite tracks: Szeresd Bennem, Ketten Egyedül, Híd
▶ Listen to our Best of 2016 playlist on Spotify