Best Albums Of 2016

Jumalten AikaA pretty solid year with some stand-out records. This year I have a top-10 list, but first there are a few honorable mentions to list. You can read this and the past 20+ years of this list on my Best Records pages on my main site. Though, this year’s top record really is no surprise. I’ve known what it was for eight months now. Anyhow, let’s begin!

Noteworthy Mentions

Witchery – In His Infernal Majesty’s Service
Exactly what I expected here.

October Tide – Winged Waltz
So much better than the boring last album. But I never find myself putting it on. It’s heavy as hell at least!

Borknagar – Winter Thrice
So much weaker than the 2nd-best album of 2012. The disappointment is hard to swallow.

Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
In Flames – Battles

So, I moved to Gothenburg and within two months two of the most notable Gothenburg metal bands release albums? Both are good, DT has been solid the last few years and IF is catchy. Good albums.

Final – Live Reprocessed – Birmingham 2009
Justin Broadrick is prolific as ever and his diversity is his 2016 efforts. JK Flesh, Final and Council Estate Electronics all had strong albums, one making into my top-10.

Ghost – Popestar
A poppy new song and four covers? They may not be my favorite style of music but they are spectacular at what they do. I expect album #4 to be wonderful as well.

Now to my Top Ten!

Top-Ten Of 2016

10: JK Flesh – Rise Above (UK)

JKB conjured up a 2016 version of Techno Animal for a gritty entry into the top 10. It’s heavy and bleak and is what I’ve been missing from his discography as of late. It’s been 15 years since TA folded and even without K. Mart, Justin proves he still has what it takes to push the genre forward.

9: Abbath – Abbath (Norway)

After Abbath’s well-publicized split from the mighty Immortal, he issued an impressive and blistering-fast ‘debut’. The record feels a bit uneven, with some that I will often skip and others I’ll listen to far more frequently. This is a memorable record worthy of the top 10 and some songs are staples of my “I need speed” playlist. I’m curious to see what Demonaz and Horgh can pull together to counter this.

8: Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (USA)

It was the summer of ’89 and I, a 13-year-old boy, had just gotten into Metallica. It was prime because that is the critical point where Metallica was the best band that had ever existed. I still stand behind this. The 1989 version of Metallica was the best any band has ever been. I think we can fast-forward 20 years with no real issue as we know that story.

Death Magnetic was probably the second-best album in 2008 and I knew there was no way this double-CD (why?) could live up. However, the twelve songs could be culled down to make a pretty kick-ass EP. The singles were about the best songs on the album, of course barring the epic finale. Spit Out The Bone is clearly the album’s best. Just writing this makes me want to listen.

However, some of the songs on that second disc are just cringe-worthy. I respect the band. Essentially they can do whatever the fuck they want. Of anyone, they’ve earned that! OK, I’ll say this album is ranked #6 in their 30+ year library. The classic four, DM and then this. We fast-forwarded past it, but oh how I loathe that black album. Just writing this makes me angry. Let’s move on.

7: Einherjer – Dragons Of The North XX (Norway)

This isn’t fair. Dragons Of The North was released 20 years ago and it remains a classic in the era of budding Scandinavian metal. Just after I got into Einherjer I got their ‘new’ album. Odin Owns Ye All was my first purchase and after hearing their awesome, trademark sound, I was left utterly disappointed. Sure, they came back later with maybe the second-best album of 2003, then broke up, then released the best album of 2014…but back then, I wrote them off.

And here we are, the twentieth anniversary complete re-recording issued as Dragons Of The North XX! It sounds better. Sections were tinkered with and overall it’s a spectacular record. Does it belong on 2016’s list? I don’t care. This album is just as good as it was then and the outro of Conquerer is actually improved. So good.

6: Amon Amarth – Jomsviking (Sweden)

I was in radio when Once Sent From The Golden Hall came out and I’ve followed this band ever since. My interest waxes and wanes but they’ve yet to really put out a bad album. I listen to each and like each and then they get shelved. Perhaps due to 2016 being a very weak year for the first half (or 2/3rds!) I listened to this a lot. Perhaps it’s due to it being a solid and fun album! The metal anthem Raise Your Horns is deliberately catchy but The Way Of Vikings is the album’s best. It’s altogether heavy and memorable and it ends on a high note. It’s the first Amon Amarth record in a while that I’ve put on again after listening to it…always a sign of a solid entry.

5: Alcest – Kodama (France)

Alcest was done. You know how it goes. You love a band and then they change and well, that was fun. You know they’ll never get back to the form that you loved. And after 2014’s Shelter, that was where I was at. Nothing will live up to 2010’s Écailles De Lune. While that’s true, Kodama destroys the last album and when, on the third track, Neige lets loose, I lost it. They’re back!!! I don’t need a full album of raspy vocals. But when that contrast hits, it stands out all the more. This is the first victim of genre bias. At one point this album was my #2. But since my numbers 4, 3 and 2 are more of the style I’m into…Alcest dropped. Not fair, but what will I go back to and listen to in 5 years? Despite that unfairness, Kodama still made the top 5. Pretty solid for a band that was done, right?

4: Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (USA)

I know their last two records were good and people quite liked them, but I never loved them. But, the band has not really made a bad album since the entirely-forgettable The Ritual album 25 years ago. And here we are, almost 30 years after The Legacy with a consistent, solid and spectacular 11th studio LP. It is a heavy and crushing record from start to finish with impeccable production. Hoglan’s drumming is the relentless and mixed perfectly. Skolnick’s solos are the most metal he’s done in years (far less jazz influence IMO) and I welcome back DiGiorgio after a 15 year absence. I always felt he was better than Christian anyway. Peterson’s writing is top-notch, riffy and catchy, heavy and melodic. And Chuck is in top form, doing everything right. His voice has that natural deep end and this is among his best efforts.

Brotherhood is a great album front-to-finish, with more fun, anthem songs breaking up the thrashy groove. To me, this album is right up there with the best in their catalogue. Not as good as 1999’s The Gathering, but much better than anything since (well, only 2 LPs came out). This one will be a record I go back to and a reminder, it sounds fantastic. Just like they did in ’99, there’s no excuse for any album to sound less than this. Guitars, bass, vocals, drums…all sound perfect.

3: Skeletonwitch – The Apothic Gloom (USA)

The only problem with The Apothic Gloom is that it’s a mere four songs long. The twenty-minute listen is essentially perfect despite its brevity. While many people rue the loss of their original vocalist Chance, I was never really loyal. A new vocalist in tow, the band’s new EP tinkers with some new concepts including a 7-minute epic (by Skeletonwitch standards). The four songs offer a more mature feel without losing anything that made me love the band on prior releases. Like the record, this review has little more to say. It feels as if it’s over as soon as it begins. So, like the record, go back and re-read this review again. I promise it’ll be just as good, if not better, each time!

2: Insomnium – Winter’s Gate (Finland)

I never stopped liking Insomnium like I did with Alcest. I just figured they wouldn’t recapture the magic that made me love them so much. My experience with “our new album is going to be one long song!” concepts always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Green Carnation’s Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness comes to mind. Sometimes you just want to hear that one bit, but oh, damn, it’s 40 minutes into the song and I’m not fast forwarding that much! (that was mostly a pre-digital complaint).

So, with the band’s last really not impressing me and with the one-long-song concept, my expectations were low. But the long-song idea gives the band time and freedom to explore lengthy passages before returning to their best metal segments in a decade. The melodic parts are beautiful and the heavy parts crush. The album flows and feels like a journey through the frozen seas in search of a fabled island. The record has everything I love in music and it’s why I placed it above Testament and Skeletonwitch. The clean sections are beautiful, Niilo’s vocals are equally strong in singing and growling segments, and the production is spectacular. I’m fortunate enough to have the record split into seven tracks for easier digestion, but it wouldn’t matter. This record doesn’t suffer the issue that Green Carnation did. The whole thing is fucking awesome. Finland represents again as it has been in recent years, and if only it weren’t for that pesky Moonsorrow, this would be #1.

1: Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika (Finland)

It took me about three days. My first listens resulted in, “This is good. Not as good as Varjoina, but good.” By day #3 or so, it was Album Of The Year. I’ll remind you that this LP came out on the 1st of April.

There was no question. The epic scope of a Moonsorrow song (the four main songs average 14 minutes in length) cannot be immediately appreciated. But if this was already deemed AotY on the 4th of April, imagine how much I loved it two weeks later. It was spun endlessly. Despite the so-so nature of Suden Tunti, the other four are just utter masterpieces. Let us not diminish the strength of that word. Masterpieces they are, embarking upon a musical trek of vast proportions. Additionally one of the two bonus tracks is among my favorite cover songs of all time.

I know of no band whose sound is like Moonsorrow’s and I know of no way to perfectly convey what a glorious gem Jumalten Aika is. In the eight months since its release, I’ve gone back to it thinking, “Is it still *really* that good?” And after I listen to the entire thing, I somehow marvel, not only at its brilliance, but at how I could ever have doubted it. Pagan, folk, black metal? I don’t care what genre it is. It is hands-down the Album Of The Year much as its predecessor was five years ago. As good as that one? I can’t say, but since that was probably favorite album of the last 15 years, it could be forgiven if it were #2. This is the best of the year without question. Finland #1 and 2 this year. Impressive.

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