(Wil Cifer brings us one more year-end list to accompany his earlier ones.)
This could almost be the Top 10 Hard Rock albums of 2016, as many of these bands ride the line between what is considered metal and what might not meet today’s standards of metal. They are much more likely to be heard on Sirius Radio or any air waves that venture into metal, like KNAC. Some of these acts are veterans who are back in fighting shape, and the very fact that they are mainstream means they have already paid their dues in the clubs, at the very least. These are not bands some sites I write for like Cvlt Nation would cover.
Varied sub-genres like thrash, power-metal, and even folk metal are thrown in, but in terms of heaviness these album ride the middle road. If you have still not figured out how I am defining mainstream metal here, then go back to sniffing glue, as here are your Top Ten mainstream metal albums of 2016.
10. Flotsam and Jetsam – S/T
It’s been a good year so far for the legends of metal, with both Anthrax and Metal Church returning with strong albums. Let’s see if Arizona’s thrash lords can do the same.
Granted, their first three albums were their best; they did not have as long of a prolific run as Anthrax. Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner is on the throne for this one, but three of the original members are still intact. Eric AK’s voice has taken some wear and tear. It’s still powerful, but gone are the yodels that once rivaled King Diamond’s upper range. King Diamond still has it, so I expect to hear him attempt one. They can still thrash with authority on the opener and don’t slow down for better or for worse
9. Daniel Lioneye – “Vol. 3”
The solo band of H.I.M. guitarist Linde Lindstorm, takes out the bulk of the cheese that was stinking up the later H.I.M. albums. With music said to have been more influenced by black metal than his work with H.I.M., I’ll say it’s heavier but not black metal. The vocals are a baritone croon, not far from what Vile did in H.I.M., just less gasped and over-accented.
It’s right at the border of metal and hard rock for me. H.I.M. often referred to their sound as “love metal”, which was another way for saying we make music for girls and romantic boys. This is not as lovey as Linde’s former band, but it doesn’t cut it as black anything, regardless of how many times they opened for Cradle of Filth. Judged on its own merits as hard rock, it’s pretty decent.
8. Metal Church – “XI”
The metal gods of yesteryear came back strong in 2016. Things have changed since Metal Church’s electric steeple was held high. While well-written, I don’t think “Killing Your Time” is actually metal, and falls on more the the hard-rock side of the coin. Chances are, if this is your idea of metal you too have failed to change with the times. The strum of an acoustic guitar starts the more aggressive attack of “No Tomorrow”. When Blessing in Disguise came out the band was actually thrashing, but here they are only marginally heavier than W.A.S.P.
Mike Howe’s voice sounds great. He has a good blend of grit and singing actual notes. His melody on the chorus of “No Tomorrow” couldn’t be more solid. “Signal Path” has more of a classic metal vibe, which most of us think of us power-metal these days.
7. Moonsorrow – “Jumalten Aika”
It’s been five years since the Finnish overlords of pagan metal left us with Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa. The new album opens with folk instruments creating a ritualistic aura. After a minute and a half of this they storm into the kind of larger than life metal you have come to expect from them.
The black metal side of what they do is toned down on this album. They have more in common with the more epic side of folk metal. Holding true to their mission statement, this does have a commanding Viking feel, without inspiring you to go into a jig with your drinking horn.
The wait is in some part due to the ambitious production value this album was crafted with. The drums have enough thunder to make Thor jealous. Production-wise this might be their biggest drum sound yet. This drummer might have always been a monster, but this album really shines a spotlight on the fact.
6. Red Fang – “Only Ghosts”
In the past when I heard them I thought they were a little derivative of Kyuss. While they are not re-inventing the wheel here, and are arguably taking more inspiration from the more hooky direction Torche followed back in 2008 on Meanderthal, the songs are well-written, and by the time the vocals switch over into the hook, I am enjoying myself. The riff in “Cut It Short ” owes more to Devo’s “Girl You Want” or Kiss‘ “Rocket Ride” than any Black Sabbath song.
Ross Robinson did a good job here. I like the production on the vocals, and there is a great bass tone on this album. I am not sure this is metal in the strictest sense of the word, as it rocks about as hard as the Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age.
5. Deftones – “Gore”
Deftones are the last nu-metal band standing that changed in their house of flies enough to remain relevant as the years have passed. Sergio Vega from Quicksand continues to fill in on bass, making this his third album with the band. The album opens with the moody “Prayers / Triangles”, which benefits from one of Chino’s smoother melodies that fits like a velvet glove on the groove. A more trip-hop layer of atmosphere leads into “Acid Hologram”. It swells into a Mogwai-like drone, with very emo-tinged vocals giving a croon that sounds like something more fitting for My Chemical Romance or Coheed & Cambria.
The heavier “Doomed User” is the second single from the album. It is much more in-your-face metal, with a riff that reminds me of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. Chino’s vocals are all over the place on it until finding a smoother hook. The intro “Geometric Headdress” fakes like they are taking a darker turn until the more chugged riff comes. Chino throws in some his old screams. It feels like Slipknot getting more melodic, and if it weren’t for the way the riff resolves itself, then I would think this is an April Fools joke and someone slipped some Mudvayne in on me. It’s unapologetic nu-metal.
They earned their place, but still writing some good songs and being heavier than expected.
4. Alcest – “Kodama”
It seems the French purveyors of what was once hailed as black-gaze have decided to at least try to be a rock band. The title track has more of a Pink Floyd-like jangling drone to it. While this is far from black metal, it is a more suitable extension of growth than their previous album, which had little in the way of balls to it. They do flirt with blast-beats on the second song, but it smooths out into something more like indie rock. In some ways this is closer to what they once did than the title track, however my initial impression is that the title track is better, even though harshly screamed vocals re-surface. I respect this, since between Opeth and The Used, this seems to be something many singers are unwilling to re-visit, which I think is as much of a cop-out as only relying on screaming.
There are some pretty awesome guitar tones on this album. While there is little by way of soloing, I think the tones are impeccable. They do have plenty of the older shoe-gazey epic guitar lines soaring over the fairy forests for you. I don’t need Alcest to re-make their first two albums. I just want to hear that they are still the band I used to love and haven’t abandoned their metal roots altogether, along with well-written songs. This album tends to fall within those bounds. They do also eventually revert back to almost full-blown black metal; the only thing keeping them from it is that the guitar sticks to a dreamier sonic scope.
3. Rob Zombie – “The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Dispenser”
I love me some White Zombie. I was on for the ride with the more Stooges-like Make them Die Slowly, so when La Sexorcisto came out I was confused as to why they sounded like Metallica. The band hit their stride during the peak of my drug summer when Astro Creep came out. I have caught Rob a few times live since the band broke up, but never caught on with his solo work ‘cus I wanted White Zombie. “Satanic Cyanide/ the Killer Rocks On” slows down and has more rock to it than the more electronic thump I associate with his solo work.
Overall the songs can hook you in for some big dumb fun, much like his movies.
2. Katatonia – “The Fall of Hearts”
The gloomy Swedes have pretty much become a prog band at this point. The Opeth-like cadence that builds the opener when the distortion is stomped on makes sense considering the acrobatics the guitars have already engaged in leading up to that point. In Absentia-era Porcupine Tree might also come to mind. This is not to say there isn’t plenty of the band’s own DNA all over this song. Jonas‘ vocals are unmistakable.
The album is very crisp from a production standpoint, which lightens the shade of gray cast over these songs. Jonas doesn’t have the same melancholic desperation fueling his vocals, yet he doesn’t stray from his style. He sounds more hopeful, though lyrically the same themes seem to be present. The guitar work on this album is stunning. I am not sure how much of that owes thanks to Roger Ojersson from Tiamat. who is another new addition to the band.
Their new drummer Daniel Moilanen does’t make me go “Damn, Daniel”, but he does play very tastefully around the more progressive parts to create more jazz-influenced passages. This is a surprise, knowing he comes from Heavydeath and other more extreme Swedish acts.
If you are going to do prog-rock, this is the way to go, as songwriting and melody have more value than showcasing chops or trying to create some kind of obtuse sonic puzzle.
1. Anthrax – “For All Kings”
Anthrax used to be one of my favorite bands, and to this day Among the Living is without a doubt one of the best metal albums ever, with Spreading the Disease not too far behind. I hung tough with the band for the first six albums, even liking Jon Bush’s first album. Then we grew apart.
Worship Music saw the return of singer Joey Belladonna, but I never gave it a shot. I am giving them a chance here, and while Belladonna might be 55, I just reviewed the new David Bowie and he was 69, so nobody is slipping by due to age.
Age might have helped Anthrax here, because with age Belladonna’s voice is lower, even than on Persistence of Time , but it gives him more aggression, which might have helped on albums like the almost too happy State of Euphoria. There is also younger blood injected in the band as Jonathan Donais from Shadows Fall is now in the band.
They inject a surprisingly melodic section into the middle of the opener before thrashing back into it. They do not let up on the heavy with “Monster at the End”, though it has a smoother groove, allowing Belladonna’s vocals to coast into a hookier chorus. A little less thrash and closer to mainstream metal, it’s still a solid headbanger.