All right! Back on track. Here is my “Top 10” list for 2016.
10. Borknagar – Winter Thrice
I’ll admit I never really even discovered progressive black metal supergroup Borknagar until this year. And I was even late to the game on listening to Winter Thrice, but I was totally on board the minute I hit play on epic opener “The Rhymes of the Mountain.” And if black metal isn’t your thing, this album features a heavy dose of fantastic clean vocals. This is also a great listen in the cold of January and February.
9. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason
2012’s Koloss was in my top 10 from that year and 2016’s The Violent Sleep of Reason continues the trend. It’s at times a harsher, less structured listen than Koloss and the music takes a few spins to digest. The album is driven by Dick Lovgren’s bass and Thomas Haake’s drums (the duo get the majority of songwriting credits here), and because of this, Meshuggah’s The Violent Sleep of Reason feels fresh and full of groove.
8. Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
If you found Metallica’s Hardwired…To Self Destruct to be enjoyable, but a little too long-winded in the back half, then Testament’s Brotherhood of the Snake is the album for you. It’s a 45 minute thrash thrill-ride that demands repeat listens. In the words of Chuck Billy “smoke ’em if ya got ’em.” Preach on, brotha.
Once you get a paying gig as a writer and editor your blogs tend to go by the wayside—at least that was the case for me in 2015 and 2016. However, before posting my Best of 2016 list, I thought I’d dig up the list for 2015 that I actually did put together last year, but somehow never managed to actually post on here.
As usual, let’s start it up with No. 10!
10. Gama Bomb – Untouchable Glory
I’ve been a casual fan of Irish thrash revivalists Gama Bomb ever since listening to Citizen Brain and Tales from the Grave in Space (I think I discovered both in 2009 or so). The band is very comparable to Municipal Waste in terms of lyrics/style, but Gama Bomb delivers that extra “oomph!” of pure thrash with less hardcore styling in the vocals. And its those same vocals that catapulted Untouchable Glory to the No. 10 spot.
9. Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death
I got real into Black Breath’s Sentenced to Life back in 2012. The album pulled a lot of inspiration from Entombed. In 2015 Black Breath released Slaves Beyond Death, which wins the band some originality points and also ups the ante with the riffs. Riffs that’ll make you say “ugh.” And then get into the pit.
8. Lamb of God – VII: Sturm and Drang
VII: Sturm Und Drang is Lamb of God’s comeback album in two ways—it is the band’s best front-to-back album since 2006’s Sacrament and it also is the first to be released following vocalist Randy Blythe’s Czech Republic prison ordeal (in which he was eventually found not criminally liable for a fan’s death). Perhaps because of this tragedy—or in spite of it—the band delivers its most inspired performance in years.
Yes, it’s now well into 2015 and I haven’t posted on this blog since my ‘Top 10 Metal Albums of 2013’ list. Life happened. However, still like putting these lists together for my own personal review of the year in metal.
Here’s my list starting with No. 10!
10. Killer Be Killed – Killer Be Killed
Most musical “supergroups” tend to sound better on paper than in actual practice. And while Killer Be Killed’s debut, featuring The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato, Soulfly’s Max Cavalera, Mastodon’s Troy Saunders and former Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch, does have a few filler tracks, it provides a mostly consistent listen, where the “supergroup” star of the show is the vocal efforts from the three frontmen.
9. Skull Fist – Chasing the Dream
I’ll admit I was late to the game in checking out Skull Fist’s Chasing the Dream (and it was actually my point of entry for the band’s music). The follow-up to the group’s 2011 debut, Head of the Pack, is an infectious blend of unadulterated speed metal, combined with all the guilty pleasures of the ’80’s glam scene. This album quickly catapulted into my top 10 on first listen. Skull Fist delivers.
8. Opeth – Pale Communion
While Opeth surprised many longtime fans by going “full prog” (you never go full prog) on 2011’s Heritage, the band dialed things back just a tad on Pale Communion, returning with some heavy moments, while still embracing the new sound. This is the effort of a band perfecting its musical direction and fans that haven’t fully rejected the new Opeth flavor can rest assured there is plenty more awesomeness still to come.
Mark 2013 as the year I became a fan of Clutch with Earth Rocker and the year Alice in Chains continued to keep radio rock tolerable with The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (seriously, this disc gets a ton of play on the radio in these parts at least). While both albums could fall under the category of metal – and were reviewed on this very site – they are more rock than metal.
Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
Alice in Chains is on a roll with its post-Layne Staley era releases. In fact, my biggest complaint for The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here was it felt like William Duvall wasn’t allowed to take charge as often as I would like to see (check out “Phantom Limb”/”Hung on a Hook” I want more of this!). Jerry Cantrell continues to deliver as always though in a proper balancing of trademark grooves and melancholic acoustic numbers.
Another year down and a pretty memorable one in terms of music released. While I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with the reviews, it still feels right to once again share the albums that stuck with me the most in 2013.
10. Chimaira – Crown of Phantoms
Chimaira is one of those bands metal elitists (and the review section of Decibel magazine) always seems to hate on year after year, passing them off as somewhat generic tough-guy music that spawns the macho crowd you don’t need at a metal show. However, I was a big fan of 2009’s The Infection and now 2013’s Crown of Phantoms. Mark Hunter delivers his usual brand of guttural vocals which you probably know whether or not you like at this point, but it’s guitarist Emil Werstler who gets weird on each track to keep things feeling fresh with fun riffs, fills and squeals. And hey, it’s also a great weight-lifting album!
9. Evile – Skull
Wild card! I have followed UK thrashers Evile’s music over the years and always thought they were the closest thing we have to the good ‘ol days of Metallica, but the band’s music just seemed to be missing that lasting power the Bay Area thrashers had in their heyday. So when I purchased Skull via Amazon MP3 I was expecting sometime highly listenable, but not all that memorable. This is not the case at all. If you are looking for an example, go on YouTube and listen to the song “Head of the Demon.” The entire album is like a mix of Slayer meets Testament meets Metallica thrash goodness. Give it a spin!
8. Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
Skeletonwitch puts on a mean live show, but the band has never fully managed to capture the full experience of the blackened thrash stage goodness in a studio recording – until now. Serpents Unleashed is a quick and fierce album that never outstays it’s welcome. It also has some of the best metal bass production of the year, with every galloping rhythm and slide played by Evan Linger coming in through the speakers.
Dave Mustaine says and does some of the dumbest things these days. To the point you have to wonder what the other members of Megadeth are thinking (including the more recently reunited Dave Ellefson). I’m sure it’s along the lines of, “What have I gotten myself into?”
The internet reviews have been highly critical of Super Collider, where some are saying it’s the worst thing the band has ever done. Others have argued the album really isn’t that bad. I don’t think I have seen anyone claim it is the group’s best output anywhere, though I’m sure it’s possible (this kind of person probably also argues Lulu – by Metallica and Lou Reed – is a great record).
I have argued Megadeth has been on the decline since The System Has Failed, due to seeing them several times in concert and just being bored. The band lacks passion even when its playing the old tunes live. Granted I haven’t seen them since Ellefson rejoined the fold.
While Super Collider is nowhere near the top of Megadeth’s catalog, it is different, and that makes it interesting. If I had to categorize the band’s discography into groups, this would go into the bin I’d call “Wild Cards” also containing Hidden Treasures (awesome), Risk (not so awesome, some good moments) and The World Needs a Hero (not as bad as people think). I actually enjoyed listening to Mustaine’s crazily conservative rants and conspiracy theories set to the background of Megadeth guitars, bass and drums, which is basically what Super Collider boils down to.
So don’t be afraid, give Super Collider a full listen. It’s more interesting than United Abominations, Endgame or Thirteen, though I don’t think it’s musically better than those recent releases.
Alice in Chains is a tough band to impartially review. There is the old iteration of the group, featuring the late Layne Staley on vocals, which released all the classic records – Facelift, Sap, Dirt, Jar of Flies and the lesser, but still solid, Alice in Chains. This catalog is untouchable in many fans’ minds who believe there is no Alice in Chains without Layne Staley.
Then there is what could be referred to as the coping/hibernation phase of the band, or the Jerry Cantrell solo albums, Boggy Depot and Degradation Trip, the latter record being an awesome reflection back on Cantrell’s career and the passing of Staley. It’s a monster in its own right and one hell of a double-album.
Which brings us to Alice in Chains circa 2013, featuring Jerry Cantrell in full-on frontman mode and adding William DuVall on backing guitars and vocals (with some standout leads peppered throughout). At this point, Alice in Chains is very much Cantrell’s band (though there are plenty of core members still around). So we get sort of a blurred mixture of his solo efforts without the raw emotion Staley added to the mix
Black Gives Way to Blue was the huge 2009 comeback record, and while perspectives (and reviews) were a bit biased, this was one of the best returns to form in quality for any reuniting band. Alice in Chains in 2009 was still foreboding and dark, but also more cleanly produced and polished, which could be good or bad depending on your perspective. Staley was declining rapidly towards the end of his career and this album was easily better than the band’s last self-titled record.
And now, in 2013, the at-first strangely titled The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here marks the next point in Alice in Chains’ career. The album does not grab the listener the same way Black Gives Way to Blue did, but there is no way it could. While the previous release had some amazing songs (“Check My Brain,” “Last of My Kind,” “A Looking in View,” the list goes on), the follow-up record is a more complete listening experience due to the band no longer having to prove it can still move forward without Staley on vocals.