It's that time of the year again where I list down my favorite metal albums of 2016. This is a practice that I've been following over the past two years (Czech out the 2015 and 2014 lists). 2016 started off weak with very few releases catching my fancy. But fortunately, the latter part of the year dazzled me with some stellar releases. Traditional heavy metal ruled the roost for me and newcomer bands like Eternal Champion and Sumerlands got multiple plays. There were also some off-kilter releases from Khonsu and Mithras. Overall, the list below is representative of the different genres in metal. Without further ado, I'll dive into them one by one.
10. Khonsu - The Xun Protectorate
Khonsu's sophomore album might fly under the radar for many but let's give them the attention they deserve. The band hails from Bergen (Norway) and their sound can be best described as industrial/progressive metal with a healthy dose of black metal injected in it, making it sound fairly evil. Khonsu is very accessible and for all I know, they may appeal to the Gojira/Ministry fan as well. The sci-fi theme, really detailed artwork, blast beats overlaying industrial sounds and stomping choruses, all make it a grandiose record.
9. Ripper - Experiment of Existence
Ripper from Chile play death/thrash in the vein of early Sepultura and Possessed. The production on the album does justice to the 80s sound and I'm most pleased about that. The second most satisfying thing to hear on the album is the bass. Ripper have paid adequate attention to the bass, as if they are the garnishing atop the onslaught of riffs. This young band will go far!
8. Blood Incantation - Starspawn
Starspawn is the only pure death metal styled album that caught my fancy this year. Blood Incantation do riffs excellently and by Jove, will the riffs hit you hard! The band primarily lies in the intersection of old school death metal and tech-death sound. On a side note, the more you listen to this album, the more you will appreciate the song arrangements and the good use of atmospheric passages (which build up to full fledged songs).
7. Mithras - On Strange Loops
Mithras make a triumphant return with an album after 9 years and it did not disappoint at all. Sure, I could rank it higher but I was severely biased towards other sub-genres. Attempting to classify On Strange Loops would be a task carried out in vain but nonetheless here goes nothing. While the foundation of the album is laid in tech-death, Mithras have also created modern-sounding atmsopheric and progressive elements in their songs. It took a while to appreciate the album but when I was able to, it was very satisfying.
6. Thrawsunblat - Metachthonia
I can't recall many melodic/folk black metal albums that have made an impact on me in the past couple of years. Well, Thrawsunblat have certainly done so with Metachthonia. The album meets all the expectations one might have before listening to songs in this genre. There is never a dull moment while listening to this, which only exemplifies the excellent songwriting. Vocals alternate appropriately between clean and harsh. There are acoustic-foresty snippets which add fresh and new dimensions to the songs. The catchy melodies will get your head bobbing in no time. The album clocks in close to an hour and at the end of it, you'll probably tell yourself that this band needs to keep going to make many more such albums!
5. Mare Cognitum - Luminiferous Aether
Mare Cognitum is the brainchild of Jacob Buczarski, who has been unrelenting with his project's releases year after year. While Luminiferous Aether may not be his best work, this album does carry on in the same vein as his previous albums; Dripping in cosmic themes, lots of tremolo-picked riffery while at the same time creating that warm characteristic black metal atmosphere. The album serves as excellent background music as well as one to be discerned with scrutiny.
4. Eternal Champion - The Armor of Ire
We're moving into traditional heavy metal territory now. This piqued my interest because of a Manowar-like album cover. Eternal Champion is a name taken from an epic fantasy Multiverse novel series by Michael Moorcock. Naturally, the lyrical themes do justice to that. As far as the musicality is concerned, the band plays traditional heavy metal with some first wave traditional doom-laden parts too. It's a great debut full length release for the band, although I would've liked to hear more anthemic memorable choruses in this.
3. Vektor - Terminal Redux
Enter the mad scientists of who thrash as much as they prog! This has probably been one of my most anticipated albums of 2016 and they delivered an album which sounds as fresh today as it will many years down the line. The songs, much a characteristic to Vektor's style of writing, are long and winding. This needs repeat listens to gain an appreciation of the intricate layering put forth in this record. Terminal Redux is easily the best thrash album of the year.
2. Khemmis - Hunted
Khemmis is the only doom band on my list. But it rightfully earns this position because of a stellar sophomore album. While I did say 'doom', many of the songs delve into heavy metal and stoner rock territories. I think what won me over is the vocals - clean, soaring and somewhat reminiscent of Solstice (UK band). Another aspect of Khemmis that I really liked was the variation. Doom bands can get caught in the rut with monotonous songs but not Khemmis. They switched it up a bit with galloping tunes like Three Gates. Almost sounded like the band High On Fire and before you know it, they were back to their epic doom parts. The guitar work (riffs and solos) is top-notch on Hunted.
1. Sumerlands - Sumerlands
So it came as a massive surprise to me that the two guitarists from Eternal Champion play for Sumerlands too. The other surprise was seeing Phil Swanson, of Hour of 13 fame, do vocals here. For lack of a better word, Sumerlands' debut is a very complete album. This is heavy metal at its finest and I think Phil's voice suits this kind of music brilliantly. I can liken his vocals to early Black Sabbath. With each of the 8 songs averaging at around the 4 minute mark, it's fairly easy to get through the album in no time. There's no fluff. Sumerlands packs as much as they can into those minutes, while giving each song a different treatment. The quality of music spreads across all songs evenly (if there's such a thing like that) and that's my main criteria for ranking Sumerlands numero uno. So give this album a spin and enjoy riding its glorious riffs!