OK let’s face it people, 2016 has been a fucked up year. Politically things have never been more divisive and uncertain, and culturally the grim reaper seems to have absolutely no chill when it comes to celebrities and musicians. But, despite all the lowlights that made this year such a crappy time for a lot of people, there was one constant that we as headbangers could always depend on: heavy metal music. This year, we experienced a solid wave of creative output from our bands. From thrash, black metal, nu metal, death metal, prog, hardcore, power violence and more this list has got it all covered from the mainstream to the underground. We now present the top 20 metal albums of 2016, In alphabetical order.
For fans of legendary black metal band Immortal, this album was released in January, and features former frontman Abbath, who keeps the legacy of the dark arts alive with his debut solo band and eponymous album. Just as the music was with Immortal, Abbath brings listeners to the heights of speed, precision, melody, and the powerful nature of black metal’s sound. With tracks like “To War,” “Winter Bane,” “Root of the Mountain,” and “Eternal,” the mysticism, Abbath makes listeners feel the icy cold hearted spirit, through a savagely fierce musical attack that many black metal bands aspire to. Imagine Leather, speed metal style strumming of the guitar and lots of longhair, head banging and corpse paint. This album rocks.
2. Anaal Nathrakh
The Whole of the Law
The ninth offering from this British extreme metal band is full of abrasive misanthropy and tortured sounds. It brings the heaviness together with echoes and layers of industrial tinged madness. Anaal Nathrakh's The Whole of the Law is full of droning, pulsating metal mixed with so many nuances of classical, doom, atmospheric, industrial and experimental that it is impossible to classify. Scathing with venom and buzzing energy that is constant, this is the sounds of a sonic nightmare, Anall Nathrakh take listeners on a visceral Journey mixing the sounds of traditional black metal, progressive, grindcore and electronic sounds with so much more, making the music powerful enough to snap your neck and burst your ear drum. Tunes like ‘We Will Fucking Kill You,’ ‘And you Will Beg for Our Secrets,’ and ‘The Great Spectator’ all make this album a musical roller coaster of darkness, chaos, and madness.
This is the first album in 16 years by these Mexican, meth-fueled masked death metal madmen, and the timing is just right. With the the rise of the Right Wing due to Trump’s election, and the increasing talking of Mexican immigrants and a wall, it only makes sense that Brujeria would release an album to unleash the fury and rage that so many are harboring against the incoming administration. For years, the band hid on the underground, a cult like group with mysteries as to who was even in the band; albums were rare, and live shows were even more so. Now with Pocho Aztlan the band bring back their ultra brutal grinding, thrashing grooving death metal with sped up drums and a heavy a sinister vocal arrangement, all sung in Spanish. This is an attack against all the anti-Mexican sentiments that has been the basis of Trump’s immigration rhetoric, and the band takes these issues head on, with songs like “No Aceptan Iimitaciones,” “Profecia del Anticristo,” “Mexico Campeon,” and others are sure to get people violently moving in a slam pit. Plus, this album also features a cool Spanish cover of the classic Dead Kennedys song with a twist, “California Uber Aztlan.”
4. Dark Funeral
Where Shadows Forever Reign
In 2016, the spirit of old-school metal brought on by the initial wave of Norwegian black metal from the 90s is kept alive by bands like Sweden’s Dark Funeral. This album is the band’s latest slab of Satanic music that is the sixth in a career that has been in league with the Devil since day one. Where Shadows Forever Reign is a powerful piece of music, that is nothing short of blood and guts blaspheming black metal, obsessed with the Occult and darkness, as the band is known for. This record is no frills, from start to finish and full of the trademark sound of Dark Funeral with hints of melancholia and suffering amidst the minutia. Songs like “Unchain My Soul,” “As I Ascend,” “As One We Shall Conquer,” and “The Eternal Eclipse” offer listeners a bleak, hellish vision that band’s music encompasses perfectly. This is new album that is perfect for fans of bands like Mayhem, Dissection, Watain, and Emperor.
5. Death Angel
The Evil Divide
Bay Area thrash metal veterans Death Angel bring fans a new school approach to an old school art: thrash metal. Anthemic and clear, the record’s crisp vocals that stand out immediately. The band's eighth album contains urgent, vibrant singing from start to finish, with hints of clean background vocals that are almost power metal in nature, that don’t distract from the heaviness of the music. This is epic thrash metal that is meant to be played loud as Hell. Catchy songs like “The Moth,” “Cause for Alarm,” and “Father of Lies” make this album easy to remember and enjoy. Full of pummeling drums and insane guitar solos, this album is an excellent representation of the best of thrash metal in 2016.
With this release, the eighth in the band’s career, the Deftones have evolved to the point where heaviness is no longer the main course to the musical meal the band offers. More than any other in the past, this record is less about the aggressive tendencies the band once offered in its younger days, but more about a textured, layered musical rock experience. Fans have been divided ever since the third album White Pony (2000) began to make the sound less heavy and more experimental. With more of an emphasis on rock, melodies, and a more atmospheric sound, this album still has its rock centered moments, courtesy of guitarist Stephen Carpenter. But of course a pivotal component of the band’s sound is singer Chino Moreno. This duality, and even tension makes the band often sound like a mixture of The Cure and Meshuggah. The Deftones were at the height of the late '90s alternative and 2000s nu metal movements, but with this new album, Gore, much like their contemporaries in Tool they usher in their own iconoclastic take on metal/hard rock music.
7. Destroyer 666
This Australian black death metal band is extreme in both lyrics and music; the band is openly Satanic, and has been going at it in the metal underground like a cult like band since 1994. With this offering, the band’s sound has risen from the flames to burn above ground with violent songs that are furious at God and humanity. Relentless in both records and live shows, this band brings it with both music and message, a blast beat soaked, evil riff, inhuman vocal drenched musical ritual, that can be heard with songs like ‘Traitor,” “Live and Burn,” “Die You Fucking Pig,” and “Deathblow,” this is not music for the faint of heart. Expect a full-on. demonic extreme black thrash assault.
End of Days
OK so technically this isn’t a metal album. But it can be justified as being on this list for the sheer influence the UK punk band had on metal; influencing everyone from Metallica, to Napalm Death, and Slipknot. The new records is an ode to classic hardcore punk and speed metal tinged songs that chronicle the world’s demise in the form of Wars, a Nuclear Detonation and one world government. Caustic and political, the band is raging on against the Elites with the new album, and songs like “New World Order,” “Hatebomb,” “Raped and Pillaged,” “False Flag Entertainment,” “It Can’t Happen Here,” and others. This is an angry, musical statement of dissent against the status quo.
9. Dream Theater
The Astonishing is an epic rock opera. But, it takes times to digest, and is best listened to with open ears and an open mind. The technological build up is very robotic. But the slow initial eeriness lulls the listener in with musical stealth, the classical and power metal influence is strong and clear, but so is the alluring up beat tempo. There is heaviness and riffs that match but not just for the sake of being heavy. Fans of this prog metal band will love it, This is one hell of an epic concept album about the future, that takes time to understand but will grow on you when given the opportunity.
Soothing and beautiful, the band continues to expand and innovate heavy music with many other influences, nuances and overtones that create much more than your garden variety metal album. Though its heavy at times, it's also calming and cathartic during others and the clear and exuberant sounds of '70s prog rock, instrumental, jazz and world music can be heard in Sorceress. But it does build up to the heavy depth of sound that Opeth is known for. More than just any one sub genre of metal, Opeth is a band that is not confined and eternally evolving, keeping the best parts of its heavy foundation and constantly throwing in elements that keep listeners on their feet, with a shining and majestic, complex sound.
This NorCal-based prog death metal band digests the best of progressive metal and death metal with hints of metalcore to create a subliminal, and well oiled machine fueled by ferocity and technicality within the musicianship. These guys are good at their craft: splicing technical death metal and elements of prog and djent to create a spacey yet brutal album with Dreamless. This is organized chaos of the highest order.
This is the sixth release from Gojira and reveals the tensions and grief that the band was going through while writing and recording, including depression and the loss of a family member. Guitarist Joe Duplaniter and his brother Mario lost their mother during this time. The sense of sadness and grief can be heard on Magma, which was just received a Grammy nod for Best Rock Album. The music is heavy centric, but also exudes an existential creepy almost robotic vibe due to the time signatures and switching of tempo. Listeners might swear they have some sort of heavy metal mathematical formula behind their music due to the atmospheric echoes and sounds. Taking the best of bands like Fear Factory, Pantera, Mastodon, My Dying Bride and Swans, Gojira is metal for people that think, perhaps too much. It isn’t break neck fast, but it has speed in moments and is slow when it needs to be. This album is a an enjoyable trip.
13. Killswitch Engage
One of the leading forces in the metalcore movement returns with another album, and showcases the best of what the style has to offer. Incarnate features plenty of punishing breakdowns and melodic death metal, even thrashy guitar riffs, just the right amount of anthemic clean vocals and the imposing heaviness thrown in throughout, with lyrics that are semi-political and introspective. This album proves that KSE have indeed earned a place among the heavy hitters in metal, and whether you are into death metal, thrash or metalcore, the band have done what they do good for the past two decades and have earned millions of fans world wide. This could be one of the band’s strongest releases.
The Serenity of Suffering
It’s been just over a quarter of a century since this band named after a vegetable from Bakersfield launched onto the metal scene creating the sub-genre nu-metal and taking the world by storm. in 2016, the band is on top of its game, on fire and still playing concerts to fans world wide. With the Serenity of Suffering, the band’s old school ethos returns and the heaviness they began with is now taking the front seat once again. It is no secret that frontman Jonathan Davis was/is a tormented individual, and through the stardom and success this dark past never seemed to really escape him. This album sees much more down tuned, dirty, nitty gritty chugging and whiplash inducing head banging sessions where the entire crowd jumps in unison. The guitar duo of Head and Munky truly brings back the sound and vibe the band’s 1994 debut instilled, and drummer Ray Luzier is a monster behind the kit, his incredible speed, stamina and presentation of percussion is the glue that holds the band together. Songs like “Rotting in Vain” “Black is the Soul,” and “The Hating” bring back the spirit of the band’s previous albums.
Along with Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson, this album featured guitarist Kiko Louriero, and drummer Chris Adler from Lamb of God. With 15 albums under their belt, Megadeth is no stranger to thrash metal recordings. Dystopia’s superb musicianship, timing signatures, guitar harmonies and head bang inducing songs are that it flows much like past favorites Rust in Peace, and Engadme among others. Recently the album was nominated for a Grammy. Louriero’s guitar work compliments Mustaine’s almost symmetrically and Adler’s systematic approach to drums on record was the best fit to Ellefson’s powerful hands on style of bass playing. The music is paired with Megadeth’s usual bleak vision of the world, with endless wars, political corruption and global destruction seen on the horizon. This all only adds fuel to the fire for Megadeth to create the modern rendition of hard rock and thrash metal for generations to come.
Hardwired to Self Destruct
Talk all the shit you want about them, some of it might be deserved(Napster), but when it comes down to it, Metallica are known as one of the best heavy metal bands because they are top notch musicians. It can be argued the band will never top the days of classics like Master of Puppets, or Ride the Lightning, but this album proves the band is not done yet creatively, despite being in the scene now for approaching four decades. Many have said this record is a mix of the best of albums like the Black Album and Justice For All, with songs that focus on fast drumming solos and the riff heavy thundering sound that Metallica have nearly perfected and mastered in their early career. Many welcome this throwback to the old school sound and vibe, and claim the band has found a new source of fire and energy, with a new sense of anger coming out of singer James Hetfield that hasn’t been seen in years. Songs like “Atlas Rise,” ”Hardwired,” “Now That We're Dead,” showcase Metallica’s neo-thrash metal revival within this album.
You Will Never Be One of Us
This is the third album from local powerviolence heros Nails. Musically, imagine the sounds of very pissed off hardcore, and generous servings of doom and grind. With an album just over 20 minutes, these guys aren’t bullshitting. The songs are like a sledgehammer to the temple and a brick to the torso. Get ready to be thrown in the feet first, keep those fists up tough guy. This album is loud, aggressive, fast and ready to pummel anyone or anything that gets in its way. Scathing in both force and speed the songs are fast and best experienced live in a setting with hundreds of other fans running around in a circle while simultaneously beating the shit out of each other.
Caught Up In the Gears of Application
After shortening the name (formerly Superjoint Ritual), vocalist Phil Anselmo is back along with Jimmy Bower and Kevin Bond on guitars and bassist Stephen Taylor and drummer Joey Gonzalez. This is the group’s first release since 2003’s A Lethal Dose of American Hatred. This record is heavier, fuzzier, faster and believe or or not just as if not more aggressive than the last two albums the band has released. Given it has been well over a decade, but the hardcore punk energy and caustic black metal approach is still deep within the music of Superjoint. Always bringing both the sounds of metal and punk to the table Superjoint’s music pick up where the band left off, welding black metal, hardcore punk and even hints of southern metal into the mix. With slight line up adjustments, the band is on fire again and ready to tear it up with new songs like “Today and Tomorrow,” “Ruin You,” “Clickbait,” and “Sociopathic Herd Delusion.”
Brotherhood of the Snake
Eleven albums in, and this seminal SF Bay area thrash metal unit show nothing but power, stamina and speed in one of the fastest and most precise records of the year. Keeping the basis of thrash metal’s foundations, the band isn’t afraid to take their art to a new level of musicianship, technicality and speed, and Testament somehow fuses old school skull crushing thrash with a new school vibrant riff soaked, guitar solo based aggressive death metal sound that proves the band is at the top of its game. In 2016, this album is a perfect display of what Testament is best at: sonic thrash metal played sharp, fast, and heavy.
In His Majesty's Infernal Service
It has been six years since their last album, but the black thrash assault of Witchery is back. In His Majesty’s Infernal Service is a fast, savage, brutal attack of black metal and thrash with music that is full of macabre, guitar melodies and ancient, religious, dark spiritual motifs throughout. Exploding from the beginning with an old school thrash metal vibe, the band bring back the vibe of the classic death-thrash-black metal hybrid sound they were known for. The evil, sadistic, mechanic and somewhat ghoulish vibes of the album are intertwined with the virtuoso style guitar, blast beats, a slightly punk sound, and ultra technical death metal riffage that makes for a sound akin to At the Gates, Bathory, The Haunted, Goatwhore, Kreator and Celtic Frost.