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?