Dec 032016



As part of our annual NCS LISTMANIA extravaganza we re-publish lists of the year’s best metal that appear on web sites that appeal to vastly larger numbers of readers than we do — not because those readers or the writers have better taste in metal than our community does, but more from a morbid curiosity about what the great unwashed masses are being told is best for them. It’s like opening a window that affords an insight into the way the rest of the world outside our own disease-ridden nooks and crannies perceives the music that is our daily sustenance.

One of those sites is PopMatters. It has been in existence since 1999. In its own words the site “is an international magazine of cultural criticism and analysis” with a scope that “is broadly cast on all things pop culture”, including “music, television, films, books, video games, sports, theatre, the visual arts, travel, and the Internet”. PopMatters boasts an audience of “over 1.4 million unique monthly readers”.

As in past years, yesterday PopMatters published a list of “The Best Metal of 2016” under the by-line of Adrien Begrand, who has been writing about metal for a broad spectrum of metal publications for a long stretch of years. And what does he tell those 1.4 million unique monthly readers, or at last the subset of them who care enough about metal to read his article?

Well, he presents a list of these 20 albums:

20. Voivod – Post Society
19. Oceans of Slumber – Winter
18. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
17. Vektor – Terminal Redux
16. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
15. Grand Magus – Sword Songs
14. Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
13. Anciients – Voice of the Void
12. Aluk Todolo – Voix
11. Psalm Zero – Stranger To Violence
10. Sabaton – The Last Stand
9. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts
8. Cobalt – Slow Forever
6. SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
5. Gojira – Magma
4. Opeth – Sorceress
3. High Spirits – Motivator
2. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
1. Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct

I usually refrain from commenting about the lists from “big platform” sites such as this one, because often they are the result of a compromise or a vote reflecting the opinions among many writers (though this one doesn’t seem to be), and because they are often obviously geared to appeal to the tastes of readers whose musical interests are much more diverse than my own, including people who may only have a superficial interest in metal, and who may generally shy away from the more extreme variants of the genre.

But I can’t resist expressing some visceral reactions to this list.

On the one hand, there are some very good albums listed here, including some that I would guess most PopMatters readers would shy away from if they ever listened to them — albums such as those released by the likes of Gorguts, Vektor, Oranssi Pazuzu, and Cobalt. I also respect the recognition given to bands like Oceans of Slumber and Khemmis, whose music has crossover appeal but is also intrinsically very good. And you won’t catch me criticizing any list for giving a high ranking to Meshuggah’s new album.

On the other hand, this list seems to give more weight to the historical popularity and name recognition of many bands than to the quality of their 2016 releases as compared to everything else this year has brought us. For example, I have a very hard time understanding a No. 4 ranking for Opeth’s new album (which arguably isn’t a metal album at all) or a No. 10 spot for Sabaton. But the most striking example of this tilting of the scales of justice is the naming of Metallica’s new album as the best metal album of the year.

Hardwired… may well be, in Mr. Begrand’s words, “a side of Metallica that’s been sorely missing for the last 29 years: fiery, focused, aggressive, disciplined.” But that doesn’t make it the best metal album of the year. The fact that a legendary band has managed to surpass the mediocrity of many of their late-career albums with a new one doesn’t mean the album is better than everything else released in 2016.

Making a Number One pick is damned difficult for most people, and anyone’s choice is necessarily going to leave room for spirited debate about the wisdom of the pick. But I submit this choice is so off-the-wall that it’s difficult to explain it without taking into account the vast number of Metallica fans out there and the fact that naming the album Number One is a sure-fire way to draw clicks — including page views by people who think it’s a ridiculous choice.

I’m happy to have you disagree with me in the Comments. My ego is actually very small. So what do you think of this list?


  1. [insert comment about Gorguts being best album of the year and this site only appealing to hipsters now]

    • Gorguts fanboys are about as blindly loyal as Tool fanatics. When I first heard Terminal Redux I figured it was going to be my album of the year (though I probably only buy a relatively small number of new albums compared to most readers of this site). I just got back into the habit of listening to it and am even more blown away by it now.

  2. I found Sorceress and Magma to be disappointments. Wouldn’t call either bad, but I just don’t have any interest in hearing them again. Similar case with Metallica’s new one. It’s perfectly fine, but I don’t see it having too much of a shelf life.

    I’ll never complain about giving Voivod love, and I agree Vektor, Oceans Of Slumber and Gorguts released some of the year’s best metal.

    Overall, I’m not mad at this list or anything. I just get nothing from it.

    • I thought this was an apt reflection about the album from Craig Hayes explaining why he left the album off his Top 42 list altogether:

      “I did briefly consider including Metallica’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct on my list. I thought the band’s latest album was an improvement on 2008’s Death Magnetic. And I enjoyed the first couple of tracks the band shared online. But the nostalgia/goodwill I felt for Metallica wore off far quicker than I expected, and I rapidly grew bored of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct when I had the album in hand.

      I know it’s kind of hip to hate Metallica these days, but in truth I can’t even muster the enthusiasm to do that. I’m of an age where those first four albums from the band are essentially sacrosanct, but rather than bear the band any kind of grudge, it just turns out I’ve got nothing invested in Metallica in 2016: I doubt that’s a rare or even controversial opinion.”

    • Personally I don’t find Magma to be a disappointment as such… but I do feel like it’s getting more hype than it deserves. Granted, Gojira are “a big deal” ™ these days and, as such, are getting more coverage than your average band, but I feel like their popularity is starting to colour people’s ability to be objective about them.

      Honestly, 6 or 7 of the tracks on Magma are fantastic in my opinion… but the other 30% or so is pretty forgettable. It’s 3/4 of an awesome album.

      Same with Oceans of Slumber, if I’m being brutally honest. I mean, I love that album, don’t get me wrong, but it’s 7 GREAT songs, and a bunch of interludes/song ideas that feel unfinished. They definitely have the potential to produce a truly GREAT album next time around though. They’ve got all the skills, the talent, and the vision for it, but I just don’t think that this is IT… despite how much I like it.

      (Also it’s weird how much 75% of the publications talking about the band focus heavily on the cover track.)

  3. If they genuinely believe it’s the best metal album of the year, they either have poor taste or haven’t listened to enough metal this year. And if they’ve only picked it to draw in clicks and views, they lack integrity. I don’t know which one of those two it is, but neither looks great.

    • Personally I find it interesting to analyse lists like this in terms of what you can learn from them about it must be like to write for a “corporate” site (and I’m not using that word as a pejorative, just a handy classifier).

      In particular how it seems like it may be a trade-off between getting exposure for certain bands by using OTHER bands to attract attention. I’d be interested to know from writers (or, more likely, ex-writers) from sites of a more “corporate” nature how much pressure there is from editorial to include certain bands (due to their popularity) and how much of a trade-off there is between bands which writers WANT to push and bands which writers are TOLD to push.

      • Very good point. For that matter, do you think the Decibel of ten+ years ago that pushed Dillinger, Isis, Converge or Mastodon when no one in the mainstream had ever heard of them would have put Metallica on the cover? I highly doubt it. At a certain point in order to maintain a certain viewership, retain your advertisers and pay your staff (those lucky fools who get to think and write about music for a living, bless their hearts), you just have to cater to the lowest common denominator. And in 2016, that is Mehtallica.

    • I had the exact same reaction to the list. Subjectivity be damned, I find it stupefying that anyone with ears could rate Metallica’s effort as the year’s best release.

  4. AOTY lists – that sweet time of the year where someone’s opinions are seen by some metal sheeple as attempts at shattering their perception of bestness or AOTY-fitness, because they are righter than the rightest and have better opinions and tastes than other guys’ and gals’ bestest (oh that butthurt). Get a life, just wank up your AOTY lists and move on, and stop whining like pussies just because in someone’s opinion album X is higher up in the rank than your favourite album Y.
    P.S. the key information here is “opinion”

    • Seems like the only “butthurt” here is coming from you my friend.

    • On behalf of No Clean Singing, I would formally like to apologize for wanting to talk about metal on a metal website. We will endeavor to do better in coming months

    • Yeah, I’m not butthurt. I have no personal stake in what PopMatters puts on its Best Metal list and honestly don’t really care. I’m sharing it here because it may be of interest to others. And what I’m expressing is not butthurt but skepticism that the writer would have put the collection of songs in “Hardwired” at No. 1 if the name Metallica hadn’t been attached to it.

    • It’s not that anyone here takes a magazine titled “PopMatters” too serious.
      Re-publishing mainstream and other year-end lists is a tradition here.
      Readers and writers alike dissect, analyze, criticize, discuss and hava a laugh.
      Just look at SurgicalBrute in reply number 6. He’s laughing his balls of.
      I’m just shaking my head, though. And than I move on.
      Yes, everyone here have different opinions, and if you’ve seen the readers lists, not two are similar.
      But that’s okay, cause we respect that as long as folks around here are honest and hold integrity above commercial interests.
      Also, I’m rightest, my lists are bestests as asbestos, and the universe orbit around my butt hole. Amen.

      • That’s not how it works. If you have an opinion on someone else’s opinion… you are a pussy. That’s clearly just a scientific fact.

        Of course if you’re commenting on a website to leave your angry, misguided opinion about someone else’s opinion, that’s entirely different. And there’s no hypocrisy at all in telling someone else they’re not allowed to have an opinion on someone else’s opinion. None at all. No sir.

      • Now I’m tempted to change the site subheader to “THE UNIVERSE ORBITS AROUND OUR BUTTHOLE”, but I’m concerned that it might be misinterpreted.

        • Good thing than that “A SACK FULL OF WEASELS HAVING HATE-SEX IN A STEEL DRUM” is perfectly sanitized.
          (Also, you had a 24 karat line in some comment a few weeks/months back that I replied you should make make subheader. Sadly, I can’t find it for the life of me.)

  5. Well, I did think that High Spirits album was pretty awesome. The best Chris Black thing since Into the Lair of the Sun God (though I also thought that Aktor album was very cool).

    Opeth is my favorite band ever and I’ve generally enjoyed their foray into full-on prog rock, but I wouldn’t even give much thought to putting Sorceress on my top 40.

    As for Metallica, I haven’t heard the whole thing yet but I’m inclined to believe the general consensus that it’s a solid to good album but not a great one. I think putting it #1 either means that the writer is such a fan of their earlier work that they’re blindsided by them making a non-embarrassing album or there’s some pressure to put a band with name recognition at the top.

  6. “1. Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct”


  7. Usually this would be the time to listen to all those bands that I don’t know anything about, but it’s hard for me to listen to any list that chooses Metallica (I am totally against those mainstream albums, probably the reason why I am sticking with you guys) on their first rank. I am respecting their choice of various metal styles and albums. Some of these albums have a high chance to be in my top 30 albums of the year 2016 too. Is Gorguts “Pleiades’ Dust” considered as an album or an ep? I get confused with these one track releases. Voivod doesn’t give me any musical pleasure, same goes for Oceans Of Slumber, Vektor (although instrumental is really nice), Amon Amarth (your average Pagan Black Metal or what ever they are playing nowadays), Opeth (man they bore me with each new release more and more), Grand Magus, Aluk Todolo, Sabaton? (urghs), Psalm Zero, Meshuggah (I don’t get this djent genre at all and found this release average at best) and High Spirits (buttrock). I like or at least can deal with the rest of this list. With that said I listened to those bands I didn’t know before although I said I wouldn’t.

    • You beat me to it, but yes, Pleiades’ Dust is an EP.
      With 33 its minutes duration, it could have passed as an album, but as it is, it doesn’t belong on a “best albums” list per se.

      • Do we need to list classic albums here that have been of similar duration, or can we accept that it’s a gray area? The lack of track breaks isn’t really important. Neither is a couple minutes here or there. Pleiades’ Dust is an eventful piece of music that capitalizes on the best of what the new lineup has to offer, and it’s a compelling experience live as well as an impressive recording. I generally find annual lists a bit arbitrary, but I have no problem with calling it my favorite of the year.

        • I’m not trying to be disputatious, we all know that Reign in Blood set the unofficial limit at 29 minutes.
          The question is solely what a release has been released as. If Gorguts says this is an EP, I’ll accept it as such. Pleiades’ Dust is very likely to end up on my list to. My list of best EPs, that is.

  8. “The fact that a legendary band has managed to surpass the mediocrity of many of their late-career albums with a new one doesn’t mean the album is better than everything else released in 2016.” Exactly. It seems to be that by consistently releasing sub-par rock albums Metallica have set the stage to return to a level of dubious ‘quality’ that earns them a number #1 spot in the hope that these mainstream publications will gain some sort of credibility within the METAL scene. Yet in doing so, simultaneously spits in the face of Metallica’s peers who have been proudly, staunchly flying the steel flag for decades and delivering aggressive, technical and quality albums (Overkill, Testament, Anthrax, Death Angel, etc.) Hell, even Megadeth have kept the flag flying!

    • This pinpoints one of the problems I have with putting it at No. 1. And another problem is this one: In the current age it may be impossible for a young band to make a record like Metallica made when they released Kill ‘Em All or Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets, something that changes history and lasts forever. But lists like this one (and many others) aren’t looking for albums like that. So not only are the old school bands who put out much better albums getting neglected, so are young bands who have done amazing things this year that people may be still talking about 10 or 20 years from now. Makes me wonder whether PopMatters would have put those early Metallica albums on a list if PopMatters (and the internet) had been around in the mid-’80s.

      • Absolutely agree. I criticized Decibel in another comment, but to their credit, putting Khemmis, last year Horrendous and the 12 years before then Converge at number one does go against the mainstream and shines a spotlight on young, more innovative bands.

        • I disagree about Decibel going against the mainstream…Theres nothing particularly wrong with their lists, either this year or previously, but they are almost always “safe” choices. A friend of mine once called their lists lazy, and I still feel like thats a prefect description of what they do

          • I see what you mean. I wasn’t necessarily referring to their lists as a whole, just the recent top finishers.

            • Even then though…I mean I made a crack about taking a shot every time someone mentions Khemmis in the listmania post because EVEYONE is riding that album…

              …and that dosnt make it bad or anything, I certainly enjoyed it, but there has been a lot of buzz around that album since it came out and choosing it as album of the year isnt really what I would call daring

              • It doesn’t need to be daring though. If you legitimately think something’s the best album of the year, then I say pick it and stick to your guns, regardless of whether it’s popular or not.

                • Thats kind of beside the point though..I was addressing what was said about Decibel going against the mainstream with their picks. Places like Decibel, Terrorizer, or Metal Hammer arent going to look outside the box for hidden gems, its just not what they do. At best you’ll see them scratch the upper levels of the underground, and Im not saying theres anything wrong with that, but I wouldnt say theyre going against the grain either

  9. For some reason, I’m reminded me of how everybody was busting Jethro Tull’s chops for winning the hard rock/heavy metal Grammy instead of Metallica (in spite of the fact that a Grammy is an otherwise worthless award). Fast forward to 2016, and Metallica is now Jethro Tull–getting attention over more-deserving bands who didn’t peak 26 years ago.

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