50 Best of 2016
From Norwegian Pop to Dad Thrash
2016 was a pretty good year for music. Admittedly, there was nothing that I would call a classic or game changer, but there was a huge influx of albums I would still refer to as excellent or outstanding. It wasn’t just the great albums that made 2016 special, it was also the bands that released them. We had albums from Korn, Metallica, Testament, and Anthrax that were some of their best in years (if not decades). We also had a lot of cool re-issues this year. Circle of Dust remastered and re-released their entire discography, including the Argyle Park side project. These weren’t just cash grabs either. These were totally remastered and released with one or more extra discs of unreleased and rare material. We also had remastered albums from Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog. The other one I can remember is the remastered version of Remedy Lane (only their best release).
Anyway, this list is my Top 50 albums of the year. This was a painstaking process as I took my ratings and bumped them against the average Sputnik rating while also checking them against the overall Metacritic value (where applicable) to confirm that my opinion was indeed correct. From there I would assign a number to each album based on how original it was and where it stood within a band’s discography and the genre it comes from because an album can’t be featured on a end-of-year list if it’s not absolutely the shit in the majority of people’s minds. At that point I entered all of that into a specialized Excel sheet that would quantify and stratify in order to find every mean, median, and mode that each album fell into. Only then could I be certain that my opinion was objectively (and subjectively, because why not?) correct. Unfortunately, all of that data was lost when the bullshit started oozing from underneath my keyboard.
So, if you’re still reading, this is the list of stuff that I enjoyed the most in 2016. I don’t care what the general consensus on any of these albums is. It doesn’t matter where the album falls in a band’s discography or within a genre. I definitely don’t care how original it was. I only care if I enjoyed it and continued listening to it.
Post Black Metal // Prophecy Productions // Album Review
Kodoma exhibits much of what made its predecessors so enjoyable and wraps the nuances together with a little something new. The end result is an album that evokes nostalgia and invokes inspiration. — Xenorazr
Alcest’s previous release, Shelter, dove straight in to the mellow atmospheric parts of post rock and Anathema worship. Kodama feels like a direct reaction to that release. It is grittier and noisier and features a return of the black metal vocals (in addition to the clean singing). The production, too, is more raw than its predecessor. If Kodama has an Achilles Heel it is that it lacks the focus of the previous release. There are too many times during this album where it feels like the songs just kind of meander around without much direction or differentiation.
Symphonic Metal // Nuclear Blast // Album Review
Maximalist bullshit like their past four albums. It is bombastic for the sake of it with little good songwriting to back it up and awful pseudo-intellectual lyrics. This album is so over the top that I can’t even take it seriously. — AngryChristian
The above soundoff isn’t exactly wrong. What will ultimately decide whether you like The Holographic Principle is whether or not you like over-the-top bombast or not. Personally, I’m kind of a fan of lack-of-substance bombast… it’s a guilty pleasure. Besides, Epica are easily the best of the symphonic metal bunch. They aren’t cheesy (very often), they know how to play their instruments (in symphonic metal that’s actually an issue), their songs are pretty damn riffy, they have great death growls and female vocals… and Simone Simons is hot.
Technical Thrash // EMP Label Group // Album Review
A successful sequel to Helstar’s magnum opus “Nosferatu”. — The NoTrap
Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of their 80s and 90s output, including their ‘classic’ Nosferatu. The vocals were kind of annoying, the productions were questionable at best, and they just weren’t my thing. Starting with their reformation in 2008, though, they started to catch my attention. Their music became more aggressive, riff-oriented, and dark. Also, the vocals improved (although they’re still the weak link). Vampiro is simply a continuation of their previous 2000s releases, and it is pretty damn good.
Modern Progressive Metal // Luxor Records
Huge improvement over the last album. Everything sounds a lot better. Lake of Fire and Something in the Way are great tracks. Nice blend of genres and the Devin influence is very nice. — Recreate
Imminent Sonic Destruction’s debut came from out of nowhere. It was an excellent blend of traditional prog and Devin Townsend, but with a tendency to break into dirty, riffy, sections that kept the songs from ever overstaying their welcomes. Triumphia improves on their traditional prog influences and makes use of the Devin Townsend sound in a much less blatant way, but they lost the unpredictable heavy sections which is what really set this album apart. Triumphia is a great album, but is just a little too safe.
Doom/Progressive/Atmospheric // Century Media // Album Review
The sideshow metalcore and death metal antics are mostly ignorable here and, with any distempered luck, will be dropped for the next full-length. Thankfully, the female-fronted clean leads more than make up the progressive metal balance. These are, without a semblance of a shadow of an enigma of a doubt, the most salient feminine musings I’ve ever heard — leycec
Oceans of Slumber’s female vocalist, Cammie Gilbert, carries this band. Of that, there is no doubt. Musically, the band blend death/black metal, doom, post metal, and even a bit of prog. The music can literally go from morose doom to high-tempo death/black metal without any warning, which is also a double edged sword. Oceans of Slumber’s music lacks just the slightest bit of direction and focus, and the songs themselves never get a chance to truly build. Having said that, there are definitely some really good songs on here, but they leave a little potential on the floor. I see good things for this band.
Black Metal/Progressive // Supreme Chaos Records
If the lack of ratings, soundoffs, and reviews are anything to go by, Todtgelichter is a tough band to get into. It’s not really surprising, though. They take the cold, abrasive sound of black metal (including the throat-shredding vocals) and push it through a morose form of progressive rock. The female singing, too, is tough to get into because her vocals occupy a semi-nassally niche that lacks emotion in order to maintain the dark, cold, atmosphere that dominates the album. The thing is, though, it’s all worth it. Buried behind that ‘price of admission’ are great progressive rock songs with a very unique sound.
Indie Pop/Noise Rock // Omnian Music Group // Album Review
Bad noise music and bad pop music. Fails in both categories. — FlipTrackz
That soundoff pretty much sums up any criticism I’ve seen of this album. In fact, the only soundoffs currently on this site are negative. I have to disagree, though. I think it’s good noise music and good pop music. I can see where the criticism comes from, though. This album definitely doesn’t try to blend the genres as well as the previous releases, and even within individual tracks there is a disjointed feel. I like it. I think it’s an enduring quirk that sets this album apart from its predecessors. At the end of the day, Jessica Rabbit is an album that makes the melodies, noise, and abrasive structures all more prominent without making any effort at integration; this leaves them battling for top billing. You’ll either love or hate the struggle.
Progressive/Hardcore/Metalcore // Spinefarm Records // Album Review
Album is great and very diverse! Has lots of progressive and hardcore elements and is catchy as hell! This is not a perfect album but it is very good and worth a listen! — VanFullOfSpooks
Nocturnal Masquerade has kind of a djent, tech metal, metalcore sound. It definitely sits more on the tech/prog side of things, though. Initially, Nocturnal Masquerade took a lot of listens to really click. There are a lot of twitchy rhythms, break-neck tangents, and abrasive shouts that just didn’t click on the first two listens. The smattering of catchy choruses and memorable melodic moments kept me coming back, though, and eventually everything fell into place. Just be prepared to give it a handful of listens.
Melodic Death Metal // Century Media Records // Album Review
DT with spacey vibes.. I really liked forward momentum and atoma, quite melodic. — thegreywind
In case you didn’t know, Dark Tranquillity lost one of their main songwriters during the writing of this album. If you didn’t know, it becomes fairly obvious after listening to Atoma. Atoma is basically Construct without any of the cool melodic layering, hooks or diversity. Basically, it’s a stripped down version of Construct. Don’t get me wrong, there are still cool melodies, growls and clean singing… but something is just a little off. Losing Martin Henriksson definitely left a huge hole in Dark Tranquillity’s sound, but despite its shortcomings, Atoma is still pretty great.
Atmospheric Progressive Metal // Peaceville Records // Album Review
In the case of The Fall Of Hearts, it takes the progressive leanings of Dead End Kings even further than before, and continues to make use of crisp melodies, moody atmosphere, and solemn, if a bit monotonous, vocals. — Alabaster Jones
Katatonia finally went and did it. Ever since the huge transition that took place between Tonight’s Decision and Viva Emptiness, Katatonia have been threatening to just take their music to its atmospheric progressive metal conclusion. They first attempted this on Dead End Kings, but they failed. This time they get it right. The problem with Dead End Kings was that it sacrificed the catchy nature of the previous three releases in order to be ‘progressive’. This time, they push the progressive side even further, but they also return the memorable hooks and melodies to their rightful place.
Thrash/Progressive/80s Rock // Prime Records
This is one album that definitely flew under the radar, and would probably have a tough time appealing to a large demographic anyway. Defecto takes Kamelot’s version of power/progressive metal and blends it with a Practice What You Preach era Testament sound, but pushes the whole thing through a Kings-X/Galactic Cowboys filter. The order of the day is huge, riffy, proggy songs with blazing solos and in-your-face infectious choruses. The vocalist even reminds me of 80s-era Chuck Billy (Testament) with maybe a bit more melody in places. There’s even some death metal vocals in places to accentuate various sections. Approach with an open mind because the array of genres means that there’s something to put off just about anybody if you let it.
Melodic Death Metal // Century Media Records
Alternative titles: Wanderer (Veto Part II) Wanderer (Iconoclast Part IV) Wanderer (Another HSB album – but this time with that one song with female vox and a great Sodom cover) — Malcontent
I don’t think anyone has even accused Heaven Shall Burn of being original. They started out stealing the sound of Carcass’ Heartwork and mixing it with the modern Gothenburg melodic death metal sound. Eventually they had a large enough discography (one or two albums) to begin ripping themselves off and here we are. Wanderer is maybe a little more aggressive and riffy than they’ve been in awhile, but it’s basically another cookie-cutter Heaven Shall Burn release. They should be capable of more, but this is still pretty good.
Industrial/Black Metal // Metropolis Records
Industrial black metal is almost always a train wreck. It’s either the sound of a black metal band with their first drum machine or an industrial band with terrible keyboard parts and even worse vocals. Dawn of Ashes have always been able to avoid those pitfalls, and they’re even better on Theophany. Dawn of Ashes seamlessly meld industrial beats with metallic influence, death/black vocals, electronics, and symphonic portions into a cold, black metal inspired sound that should have been what Samael morphed into after Passage. Excellent industrial groove combined with relentless double bass, powerful vocals, and heavy synth/riff combos.
Grunge/Shoegaze/Metal // Avantgarde Music
This is one tough album to crack. The entire 47-minute duration feels like one droning, lethargic trip. During that runtime is an album comprised of a blend of atmospheric doom, grunge, and even shoegaze. The vocals are fairly two-dimensional while still providing just the slightest bit of melody. The beats are all programed which gives The November Harvest a unique feel. So, what’s the draw? After repeated listens everything just starts to click and you’ll find yourself wanting to come back. The November Harvest is definitely one of those albums that works better as a whole and with repeated listens. Definitely worth the time and repetition.
Black Metal/Progressive Metal // Thrill Jockey
The greatest band in the motherfucking universe is back.. life can be great in times like these. — Spag
One of the new breed of dark, mellow progressive rock bands. This is the only album I’ve heard from In The Woods so I can’t be sure, but it definitely sounds like they probably started out as some sort of doom/black metal band. It’s obvious in the riffs that pop up under the progressive elements. It’s clear in the monotone vocal melodies, and subtle growls; and the doom/black metal influence is all over the atmosphere of the songs. So, while it’s not quite as accomplished as some of the other bands that have made the transition, it somehow ends ups just a little bit better because there’s still a dark undercurrent in the keyboard melodies, vocals, and riffs.
Death Metal/Metalcore // Metal Blade Records // Album Review
The shorter song lengths definitely help keep George’s rather one-dimensional delivery from becoming stale or ever overstaying its welcome. The shorter lengths also help keep songs energetic and moving–something from which melodic death metal especially benefits. This is short and to the point, full of riffs, and no filler. — zaruyache
The collaboration between Killswitch Engage’s guitar player, Cannibal Corpse’s vocalist and ex-The Black Dahlia’s drummer. So what does it sound like? The heaviest fucking Killswitch Engage album ever. There’s definitely a prominent death metal influence, but with Killswitch’s guitarist composing all the songs and their vocalist writing all the vocals, it can’t help but sound like a crushingly heavy Killswitch album; complete with more than the occasional clean vocal. As the soundoff above stated, the songs definitely benefit from their brevity with only one even breaking the four minute mark. This makes for what is essentially, short bursts of highly aggressive melodic death metal.
Post Punk/Goth/Industrial // Profound Lore
I think this is really good. — DDconjoined
With a persuasive soundoff like that, I don’t even know else there is to say… but I’ll do my best. The main draw of this album is its unique feel. It has a sound that kind of borders on Bauhaus-style goth and New Model Army-style post punk, but with a melodic undercurrent courtesy of some electro-industrial influences. The vocalist sits in that deep, emotive style you’d expect from the genre descriptions but he is surprisingly still able to deliver some pretty memorable vocal melodies (and even uses the occasional hoarse shout in places). The music, too, is almost instantly memorable and pretty damn entertaining. Stranger to Violence‘s sound definitely comes out of left field, but is well worth the effort.
Power Metal/Traditional Metal // Metal Blade Records
As far as bands partially inspired by Michael Douglas action-vehicles go, this is p good — David Mackowiak
In case it wasn’t obvious from the cover, band name, and album name… this is totally cheesy power/traditional metal. Despite what should be a laughably terrible output, the band manages to deliver a pretty damn good album. The reason Jewel of the Vile avoids burning in its own terrible cheese is that there is a prominent occult/black metal sound that really sets it apart and makes it a pretty great release. This is accentuated by some cool guitar solos and a solid percussive backing. The vocalist, too, avoids the high-pitched pitfalls of many of his peers by sticking to a slightly lower register accentuated by occasional death growls, but in the end he is still a power metal vocalist; for better or worse.
Metalcore // Long Branch Records
These guys have such a solid sound, and their songwriting drastically improved. Powerful screams, powerful cleans, and solid guitar work drive the album from front to back. — SteakByrnes
There really isn’t much to say about this album besides the fact that it really is just solid metalcore. The screams/growls are powerful. The clean singing is good and catchy. The music is really well done with a metalcore-meets-djent feel that also features just a little bit keyboard ambience around the edges. Each one of the band’s albums have incrementally improved upon its predecessor and Devil May Care is no different. There’s no out-of-left-field changes, no unique elements, no drastic improvements, but there’s also nothing wrong with that.
Black Metal/Folk // Spinefarm Records // Album Review
…Winterfylleth’s newest output isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s fairly decent–crappy Ulver cover aside. It’s solid-ish epic/folk/black metal; it’s just not amazing, and there’s not enough original material to make it as good as previous outputs. — zaruyache
First, I have to say I enjoyed the Ulver cover. Yes, it’s completely faithful to the original but I really liked the original so it was a nice surprise the first time I heard it here. Much like the band’s decision to do a no-frills cover song, though, the rest of the album is basically a no-frills approach to their folky black metal sound. I appreciate that direction, because when these folk-inspired bands start really laying on the cheese, I lose interest quick. These guys are still basically melodic black metal with a folk influence that accentuates instead of ruins the songs. The Dark Hereafter is another great release from these melodic/folk black metallers. The fact that they end with an Ulver cover just seals the deal.
Progressive/Alternative/Jazz // Evil Ink // Album Review
The whole album truly sounds like it’s coming from the heads of mad scientists, which appears to fit a story the album is telling that I’ve yet to fully piece together. If there was a downside, it’s that there isn’t a radio-friendly song in sight… because so many tracks here change wildly overtime, and they can be up to 9 minutes long. — VirtualBlaze
Alt Prog with jazz influences, to include all kinds of brass instrumentation. As should be expected with that kind of description, the price of admission is pretty high. I expect that there are just as many people that hate this as like it. To me, it kind of remind me of Coheed and Cambria meets Art By Numbers meets Fair to Midland. Yes, you have to be in the right mood for this or the horns and nasally vocals will drive you crazy, but when the mood is right, Stranger Heads Prevail is excellent and definitely delivers a unique listening experience.
Technical Death Metal // Relapse Records // Album Review
If you don’t mind listening to “Everything Is Fire” v.1.4 then you’re going to enjoy another slab of atmospheric death metal from the best in the game. — Xenophanes
That soundoff basically sums up my opinion of the album. With Shrine of Paralysis, Ulcerate serve up another batch of dark, chaotic, technical death metal. I’m sure there are subtle differences that people ultra-familiar with the band’s discography can point out, but I’m not one of those people. I hear basically the same chaos, tones, riffs, and growls I’ve heard on every other one of their albums. Before it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. This is still really good, but if it wasn’t for the subtle differences in production, I wouldn’t have any clue what album any Ulcerate song came from… and since we’re being honest, even the different productions wouldn’t really help.
Electronic/Indie Pop // Casablanca // Album Review
I’m not a Crystal Castles fan. I’ve never thought they sucked, but they’ve never really kept my attention either. From what I can remember, their previous albums were just a little too noisy for me (or I could be remembering completely wrong). Either way, this one is very atmospheric and warm with some great melodies, creative beats, and an excellent use of samples and occasional vocals. There’s still the prerequisite noise that I vaguely remember from their previous releases, but it seems more well done this time around.
Black Metal/Post Metal // Season Of Mist
Zhrine meets Ulcerate meets DsO. Pretty straightforward, but damn good stuff. Easily one of my favourite albums this year. gg, tasmania — ramon
Failure, Subside was a tough album to appreciate. There’s just so many parts where there isn’t really anything ‘happening’ if you’re just passively listening. That passively listening ruined this for me the first few times. If you were to focus your attention on nothing but the music, though, you’d hear that the great use of atmospheric noise coupled with excellent riffs and melodies that slowly end up building towards a chaotic crescendo full of throat-shredding growls and relentless double bass. You’d figure out that each song kind of takes you on a journey through different movements that almost require those more subtle moments so that you’re not just beat over the head for 50 minutes. Going back and forth between atmospheric post metal and chaotic Ulcerate-inspired technical death metal, this is one hell of an album.
Pop // Interscope Records
There’s no Sputnik reviews (or even soundoffs) for a mainstream pop album. That isn’t really surprising. It is a shame, though, because Natural Causes really seems to have more in common with trip hop or electro pop than it does any faceless mass-produced top 40 pop album. I know there’s a (small?) audience for that kind of music here, and I don’t know if they’ve bothered with this… but they should. There’s definitely an electro-ambient feel to Natural Causes that is way less pop and much more down-tempo electro that almost borders on trip hop.
Alternative/Metal // Reprise Records // Album Review
ahhhh, new Deftones and people calling each other virgins. feels like middle school all over again :’) — Hellscythe
I’m not sure why every new Deftones release brings so much negativity. It could have something to do with their loose attachment to the nu metal movement, even though that has been null and void since the release of their sophomore album. More likely, it’s all the kids that used to like the band that have ‘grown up’, and now have to prove to everyone that they’re too mature for a band like this. Kind of like when you see an ex that you really used to like and you have to immediately start talking shit to prove that you’re over her… but you’re fucking not. Get over it. Deftones are still the same Deftones that you used to love, but unlike your ex, they’re still willing to take you back.
Progressive Metal/Post Metal // Season of Mist
Mastoolopeth!! Anciients is definitely a band to keep an eye on in the future. A lot of potential here. — Fractal
Anciients is another one of those bands that kind of hovers in obscurity because they don’t fit comfortably in any one genre. There’s some traditional progressive metal elements, some modern prog, some Opeth-inspired death metal, some down-tempo post metal stuff, and even bits of black metal. This is definitely a heavier album than debut release, Heart of Oak. As such, if there’s one negative to Voice of the Void it’s that it isn’t nearly as memorable as their debut. This one requires much more active listening and a familiarity with the songs before they really start to grow on you. Either way, Anciients are doing great things.
Alternative // Vagrant Records // Album Review
Thrice have done something really special here by coming back from a hiatus to deliver possibly their best musical album to date. They kept talking about their equipment and search for a great guitar tone in interviews, and it’s easy to see what they’re talking about. They absolutely nail it there. — TheSupernatural
I haven’t really been a fan of Thrice since Vheissu back in 2005, and the last album of theirs that I totally enjoyed was Artist in the Ambulance in 2003. Around the time of The Alchemy Index their ambition and desire to move on from their roots just totally lost me. Based on the hype, they were definitely onto something, but I had missed the boat. Of course, they’ll never go back to their roots or even the hybrid-sound that was Vheissu, but at least To Be Everywhere is better than the Alchemy albums or anything that came after them. At this point, Thrice have settled comfortably into a chill, adult-oriented alternative rock that isn’t exactly ground breaking, but they’re doing it really well.
Electronic/Indie Pop // Polyvinyl Records
I’m not really familiar with her earlier albums, but apparently this is the weakest in the bunch. I’m kind of skeptical about that because this is really good. Wild Things is a catchy, lush, electro-pop release that is huge on hooks. The cool thing is that the album isn’t just a slave to almighty chorus. It’s obvious from the well done electronics that back every song that this wasn’t just some cookie cutter pop release. On the other hand, if that’s your thing, the hooks will more than keep you coming back.
Progressive Metal // AFM Records
Wasn’t crazy about the album initially (and a little disappointed to be honest), but the more I listen my opinion changes for the better. Love that they added in more keyboards and there are concurrent themes throughout the album and that it feels like 1 complete piece rather than a random collection of songs… — KJ Swantko
At its core, The Storm Within is just another typical traditional progressive metal release that shares plenty with song-oriented bands such as Queensryche and Fates Warning. There’s the obviously excellent musicianship, powerful choruses, classy solos, and soaring vocals that make up any good progressive metal album, but there’s also a bit more. The Storm Within takes most of the good parts of traditional prog and mixes them with a subtle djent/modern prog edge. Admittedly, I don’t really keep up with Evergrey, but I’m pretty sure the modern elements are new for them. Whether or not they are, the band pulls off their sound really well.
Progressive Metal // Karisma
Would benefit greatly from a reduction in the number of slow, ballad-esque tracks, but it’s still an entertaining prog metal record with interesting and varied female vocals. — David Mackowiak
I’ve never been a huge fan of Madder Mortem. It has been years since the last time I checked out one of their albums, but I remember not really liking them… although I can’t recall why. I also didn’t know that it had been nearly seven years since the release of their last album. Is this a comeback album or do they just subscribe to Metallica’s album release schedule? Again, I don’t know. What I do know is that despite whatever shortcomings they used to have, they got it right on Red in Tooth and Claw. Madder Mortem’s defining characteristic is the powerful (and forceful) female vocals of Agnete M. Kirkevaag that buck convention by eschewing the operatic vocals the metal genre is known for. Instead she simply busts out the melodies. Red in Tooth and Claw is a moody, riffy, dark progressive metal album with a powerful female vocalist.
Metalcore // Century Media Records // Album Review
Definitely superior to their last album, the riffs are thunderous and the guest appearances add some nice diversity to the vocals, although the lyrics can be quite lackluster at times. — cloakanddagger
I’ve always had a soft spot for Caliban’s music despite the fact there’s nothing extraordinary about them. The most unique thing about Caliban is their excellent use of electronics in order to create some awesome melodic elements within the chugging. They’re also really good at churning out memorable choruses even if they sometimes get in the way of the overall pace of the song. Other than that, the best thing that could be said about Gravity is that it is another step above their previous releases with some cool vocal variety and a flawless representation of the metalcore genre. Gravity made an excellent addition to my gym playlist.
Thrash/Metal // Blackened Recordings // Album Review
I am really enjoying this. I feel like a teenager again hearing new Metallica music that isn’t mediocre. I’d give this a higher rating if Lars Ulrich wasn’t the worst Metal drummer of all time. The drumming is too generic and better fills would elevate the sludgy/doom feel on some of these tracks. Luckily, the rest of the band carries the performance very well and James sounds better than he has in about 15-20 years. — Malconstant
Throughout Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’s extended runtime, it becomes pretty clear that this is the sound the band is comfortable with. With few exceptions, that sound seems to be one that uses the riffs and song structure blueprint of Justice, the crunch and tempo of the black album, and the hooks and songwriting from Load. To be honest, that mix works pretty well and leads to Metallica’s best release since the early 90s. There’s no attempt to recapture their classic sound, no blatant radio single, and not even an attempt at performing more than what they’re comfortable with. If you’ve followed Metallica beyond the black album, you’ll find a very good, honest, release in Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.
Modern Progressive Metal // Pavement Music
Really enjoyed this album. The bass is what really stood out to me, along with the mix of tool style. Can’t wait to hear whats to come. — cryovive
This band was one of those surprises you can find when you use the ‘recommended’ section of one of those streaming services. It should be noted that despite the quality of their music, they definitely don’t have an original sound at this point. Source are kind of a mix of Tool/Soen and Rapid Eye Movement-era Riverside… but mostly Tool and Soen. There are even moments where I can hear classic Opeth in the melodies and riffs. Despite the blatant influences, Return to Nothing is a really great album that features a pretty cool rhythm section. Also, this album is definitely one of those growers. Let it grow, and hopefully they’ll pull out something a little more original next time.
Black Metal/Progressive // Temple of Torturous
The Eternal Deformity that I’m used to is that of the Beauty of Chaos/Frozen Circus era. A band known for classic Depeche Mode covers and quirky progressive black metal. I’d imagine, though, that Eternal Deformity’s earliest material was more of a pure black metal style. If I’m right, then I’d be able to call No Way Out a ‘back-to-roots’ album because it is definitely way more black metal than weird prog. It still has it’s share of clean singing and keyboard melodies, but they’re more along the lines of what you could expect from a normal black metal release. It also has much more of a riffy thrash influence than their previous two releases. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of melodic progressive elements, but they’re not prominent and definitely not strange. The two best songs are easily the two 10-minute tracks. Overall, No Way Out is still a really good release, it’s just a different sound for this band.
Indie Pop/Electronic // Glassnote // Album Review
Now this is the kind of indie pop that I really like. It’s chill and kind of quirky with a female vocalist, memorable melodies and a strong electronic influence. The lyrical topics range from your strange acid trip inspired songs such as ‘Running With the Wolves’ to more serious topics such as the first person narrative about receiving assisted suicide. If you watch her videos, it is kind of clear that maybe she’s trying a little too hard to be strange or whatever, but the album is pretty awesome, so she gets a pass. Similar to stuff like Kerli, Bjork, Florence + The Machine, Ladytron, etc.
Industrial/Symphonic Death Metal // Independent // Album Review
This is by far the best sounding, catchiest, and most mature Mechina record yet. I am blown away by how good this is. Besides Empyrean, I only liked a few songs from each of their other albums. Most of their songs seemed to blend together without much variety, but not on this record. — Darkwatch025
Mechina are basically a one trick pony. They do an ultra-melodic, symphonic industrial-death metal thing, and they do it really well. Also, they’re kind of lucky in the fact that there’s not really anyone else out there doing exactly what they do. The problem from my point of view is there really isn’t much else to say. They’ve definitely improved their little formula with every new release to the point that that Progenitor is actually excellent. They’ve improved and diversified their symphonic elements and they’ve augmented the two-dimensional death vocals with an increased use of female vocals which finally helps to (almost) differentiate the songs. Mechina may be a one-trick pony, but it’s a trick that they’ve totally mastered.
Thrash/Metal // Megaforce Records // Album Review
For All Kings is not as thrashy as 80s Anthrax, but it demonstrates that 29 years since Among the Living they are still one of the best. With this album, they continue to be one of the (if not the) most fun and upbeat thrash metal bands around. — marf1300
In all honesty, For All Kings is great, but it is definitely front-loaded. It could have used a few more thrashers down the line to really push it to the next level, but it is still the best thing they’ve done since Persistence of Time. During For All Kings’ runtime, there are classic, nostalgia-laced moments mixed with an embrace of modern metal, wrapped in some of the band’s strongest songwriting. It’s an album that can riff its way into your head, but it’s going to stay there because of the excellent choruses. Like a cross between Persistance of Time and Worship Music. Riffy and relentless like PoT, but catchy and song-oriented like Worship Muisc. Definitely the best they’ve done since PoT.
Nu Metal // Roadrunner Records // Album Review
It builds off Paradigm Shift in beefier more substantial fashion. Tighter instrumentals and better written songs focusing on their older signature sound from issues/untouchables/take a look in the mirror era. Jon Davis has not lost one bit of his passionate vocal versatility. They are definitely back to their roots with this one. — tresm87
If your stance on Korn is one born of cynicism, then there’s probably nothing the band could do to win you over. Jonathan still wears his angsty feelings on his sleeve, and the core Korn sound is still very much present, but it is being done better than it has in nearly fifteen years. It seems the band have taken stock of their 20+ year career and selected the parts that would best work for them today and combined them with some newer ideas and fresh sounds. The result, to me, sounds like a natural evolution from their best release, Untouchables, with stronger songwriting and a significant increase in aggression. The Serenity of Suffering is easily Korn’s most diverse release; featuring melody, aggression, new sounds and old staples in just about equal measures wrapped into some of the band’s strongest songs in years.
Atmospheric Metalcore // Epitaph Records // Album Review
No Architects release as of yet had wowed me on first listen, but this did. It isn’t necessarily that the album doesn’t have its flaws – like most other Architects albums, it suffers from sounding a bit too similar throughout. The atmospherics and vocals blend in a way that make many tracks sound similar to one another. But that doesn’t change the fact that they sound awesome… — MegaResurrectedJake4
I’m going to be honest. When I first heard All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, I wasn’t too impressed. It was basically melodic semi-progressive keyboard-driven metalcore. I appreciated the cool use of keyboards, but most of the songs kind of blended together due to similar vocal melodies on every song. What initially kept me coming back at all was the song “Gone With the Wind”. That was the song where all of Architects’ musical pieces came together perfectly, and I kept coming back to it. It never compelled me to bother with the rest of the songs, though. That incentive came with the death of their guitar player and primary songwriter, Tom Searle. People were talking about the songs on this album being tied to his battle with cancer, and it got me curious. After a few listens, the subtle differences really started presenting themselves and eventually I was sold on the entire album. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of similarities between the songs, but additional listens should reveal each song’s unique features.
Thrash/Metal // AFM Records // Album Review
Excluding The Cold, Flotsam and Jetsam erase 20 years of mediocrity, with an album firmly rooted in ’80s thrash and classic metal (no wonder why they are still warmly heralded in old school metal lairs such as Greece, namely their 2015 live concert in Athens). The current line-up shreds instrumentally, whereas Erik AK’s vocals are still distinguishable from a light year away. Album could have been a true rival to the band’s classic stuff, should its sound was livelier, more raw. — Voivod
With the constant personnel rotations, it’s always a bit of a surprise when it comes to a new Flotsam and Jetsam release. Sometimes it’s a good surprise and sometimes it’s a little bit of a disappointment. Flotsam and Jetsam’s new self-titled release is definitely a good surprise. It brings back the 80s thrash vibe in a way that even the band’s No Place for Disgrace re-recording couldn’t pull off, and it blends it with the modern moody aggression of The Cold. This blend easily places it in the top 5 of Flotsam and Jetsam’s discography, led by the standout track ‘Verge of Tragedy’. If Ugly Noise made it seem like Flotsam and Jetsam were kind of going through the motions and lacking direction, their self-titled release with returning member Michael Spencer and fresh blood Jason Bittner completely make up for it while proving that sometimes a little member churn can be a good thing.
Melodic Death Metal // Century Media Records // Album Review
Despite failing to dethrone “Vessels” as the best album of the year within the genre, “Winter’s Gate” is certainly one of the best 2016 releases. The overall atmosphere and interesting songwriting always manage to captivate the listener throughout the entire album. A must-have for any melodic death metal fan. — The Notrap
It seems there are two camps when it comes to Insomnium. There are the fans that think their best times started with the debut and stopped with Above the Weeping World. They appreciate the dark, emotive, side of the band. The other group is more into the albums that started with Across the Dark. They appreciate the more aggressive approach Insomnium started using on that release. Of course, the people that are mostly into this album fall into the latter fanbase, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something here for both side. This is the pinnacle of Insomnium’s sound. The best of their melodic death metal sound mixed with progressive tendencies, acoustic guitars, and even a few black metal-ish moments. The clean singing, too, finally works for the band in a way it never has in the past. Not a single wasted moment in the entire 40 minutes.
Atmospheric Progressive Metal // Inner Wound Recordings // Album Review
Brooding and atmospheric, Votum make some interesting shifts on the bizarrely titled :KTONIK:, slipping through post and progressive elements in a way that easily calls to fans of recent Katatonia albums. — Xenorazr
Maybe it started earlier, but I started to notice a new breed of dark, atmospheric progressive metal bands around the time Porcupine Tree started making a name for themselves. It wasn’t long after that when bands like Riverside starting getting bigger and bands like Katatonia started moving in that direction too. Votum is another one of those bands, but they actually do it even better. Their darker parts are more moody, their heavier parts are heavier, and their vocalist is much more expressive. On top of that, the songs themselves are just better. They’re catchier and more interesting. Just check out the opening track to hear what I am talking about. This is like a cross between Dead End Kings-era Katatonia blended with Rapid Eye Movement-era Riverside, but heavier and more entertaining than either one of those.
Progressive Metal // Metal Blade Records // Album Review
I feel like this is to Redemption as Blackwater Park is to Opeth; competently made and solid progressive music that serves as a comfortable reference point for the band. — Xenorazr
Someone once said that Redemption does what Dream Theater seems incapable of doing. They can write classy progressive metal tracks that are full of heavy riffs and technically proficient solos while still keeping their focus on the actual songs. Redemption also has a vocalist that is a benefit to the band, and on The Art of Loss all of those things have come together to create another excellent album. The fact that they somehow managed to pull a myriad of awesome guest musicians, including Chris Poland, onto the recording only goes to show how much this band is respected. The Art of Loss is an album that had plenty going against it, but instead of calling it a day, Redemption has endured once again. The Art of Lossmaintains the heavy riffs and driving rhythms of This Mortal Coil, but returns the focus to the classy progressive metal that defined the band’s earlier albums. If The Art of Loss isn’t considered Redemption’s best album, it’s damn near close.
Thrash // Nuclear Blast Records // Album Review
Definitely more varied than their more recent work… ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ finds Testament assembling concepts and song structures from all across their discography, while pushing out some new aspects as well. Good to see the death metal passages return as well. — David Mackowiak
Apparently this album was a rushed pain in the ass to write; you couldn’t tell by listening to it. Brotherhood of the Snake is easily Testament’s best release since reforming the classic team on The Formation of Damnation. What really sets it up is the diversity that is present. If there is a quintessential album that blends just about everything Testament has done into one release, this is it. I hear The Legacy, The Gathering, Practice What You Preach, Souls of Black, Low, Demonic, and even some occasional black metal influence from Eric’s Dragonlord side project. It’s also good from beginning to end, which wasn’t the case on their last album. The only influences lacking from this album are The Ritual and any kind of power ballad.
Post Black Metal // Nordvis Records
I first heard Waldgefluster on their split release with Panopticon. The folky melodic black metal song was really good, but the acoustic track was dull. That left me wondering whether this album would be full of great black metal interspersed with tedious, meandering folk. The great answer is that the first part is true, but the second part never happened. Instead, this is probably one of the best post black metal albums I’ve heard. It is dynamic and varied, and the songs actually seem focused (as opposed to the tedious meandering that seems to ruin so many post black albums). There are elements of folk, early Ulver, 90s melodic black metal, and post rock. Well worth checking out.
Progressive Metal // InsideOut Records // Album Review
sounds like some astral spyro fuckin terria fuckin decon laced riffage and emochuns and shit. — Piglet
Devin Townsend has never been very consistent. For every City, Terria, or Ocean Machine album there’s been any of the post-City SYL albums, Physicist, and also a majority of the Devin Townsend Project releases. That’s just the trade off we make in order to benefit from the times his manic personality has created a gem, but it had started to be a long time since we had received gold. I’m not sure what changed (other than he let his band be included in the writing), but Transcendence is excellent. It takes the best parts of his Ocean Machine and Terria albums, and mixes it with the catchier parts of his DTP stuff, and the end result is his best album in a long time. Easily his best to be listed under Devin Townsend Project, if nothing else. It’s about time.
Djent/Post Metal/Progressive // Pelagic Records // Album Review
Simply for its aggression i give it a high rating. The singer doesn’t have the dreadful black/death metal dirty vocals but more of a hardcore style of screaming. The clean singing is pretty good, pretty smooth. The atmosphere of the album is what really shines though. Moods i would say are introspective, aggressive, cathartic, and at times liberating. — Smashingfrogballz
Like its predecessors, Shores of the Abstract Line is a sprawling behemoth of an album that requires attention and multiple listens to truly appreciate. Unlike its predecessors, though, the work is enjoyable and never feels tedious. The mellow sections that often derailed songs on the previous releases have taken on a more focused direction thanks to less spoken word parts combined with stronger melodies from both the instruments and the vocals. The heavier sections, too, have improved immensely thanks to a wider variety of influences and tempos. Shores of the Abstract Line finally delivers on the potential that previous Hypno5e albums only hinted at. The mellow sections are poignant and compelling while the heavier sections pummel the listener with more nuances than ever before.
Technical Death Metal/Metalcore // ViciSolum Records
Instantly refreshing sound for a band in this genre. — ericleb010
I’m not a huge fan of most modern technical death metal. A lot of it is basically uncontrolled chaos and noise that is (admittedly) excellent in the moment, but doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Here Be Dragons is different. First, the death metal that they seem to draw from is more Slaughter of the Soul era At the Gates than Morbid Angel or whatever bands a lot of these other tech death artists find influence from. This At the Gates influence immediately affects the more melodic (yet ferocious) riffing style as well as the grittier, higher, vocal style. Another one of their obvious influences is Atheist; a band very capable of busting out technical, yet wholly memorable, riffs and melodies. This is all combined with the occasional rhythmic acrobatics of bands such as Meshuggah. Basically, this is like At the Gates combined with the technical chaos of Atheist combined with the quirky rhythmic experimentation and heaviness of Meshuggah without all the repetition. Yeah, it’s that good.
Progressive Metal // InsideOut Records // Album Review
Theories of Flight picks up from where its predecessor concluded, and marks a further refinement/improvement in terms of song writing and Alder’s vocal delivery. For the former, Fates Warning still have it in them (albeit things get a little repetitive towards the end), when it comes to making prog metal elegies like “The Light and Shade of Things”, in which every possible human sentiment can be readily felt. As for Alder’s work, the fact that he allowed some vibrato to (re-)emerge from his chords here and there, is a well intended innuendo to old school (metal) fans (of the band). — Voivod
The traditional progressive metal genre is in dire need of another classic album. While staples of the genre continue their downward slope, Fates Warning has been consistently excellent… but not quite classic. That stands to change with the release of Theories of Flight. Of course, it’s probably too early to announce that this album deserves to join that elite list, but there’s no denying that the argument should definitely begin. When a band somehow manages to take the most solid and memorable moments of their breakthrough release and seamlessly mesh them with a sound they’ve been circling around for years, and do so flawlessly, then it is at least worth proclaiming that they’ve released a milestone within their own career. But is it worth stopping the discussion there; I don’t know? While it’s too early to start calling Theories of Flight another pinnacle of the progressive metal genre, in 10-years’ time that may very well be what this album has become.