For the record, I’m not a huge fan of the first person approach when it comes to reviews or metal writing, but as this is a personal run down, and seeing as it’s you lot, I’ll break that particular fourth wall just this once…
From a personal point of view, 2016 has been such a mixed year, as I’m sure it has for so many of you. From deeply feeling the disappointment of Britain voting to leave the EU and the resultant rise in hate crime and the splintering of our already fragmented society which has torn at me and many friends, to the joys of several musical highs with my boys in The King Is Blind including the achievement of several life ambitions (Donington did, indeed, scream for me); from witnessing from afar our cousins in the States vote in a celebrity for president with leanings I personally find impossible to align with (views expressed here are entirely my own…), through the deaths of many icons throughout this year and an ongoing major refugee crisis, to continuing the greatest journey there is in life, that of witnessing and helping my kids grow up, it has been a testing but also rewarding year, and one that has been soundtracked by some incredible music.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about, innit…
One of the joys of curating the Ghost Cult Albums of the Year list is seeing the albums that have floated my colleagues’ boats, and dipping in on albums that I have either missed or skipped. I’ll admit, due to a very busy schedule around the release of the TKIB album and beyond, I didn’t really check out too many albums throughout the first half of the year and my peers have given me a nudge to check out and enjoy several at the last-minute.
I’d like to start with some honorable mentions for albums that I’ve not spent enough time with to add to my list, but are worthy of mention, along with other albums I have cared about this year, but didn’t quite made my final cut…
These albums include: Borknagar Winter Thrice (Century Media), Megadeth Dystopia (Universal), Blood Incantation Starspawn (Dark Descent) and Astronoid Air (Blood Music), with a special mention on behalf of my band mate brethren, Lee, who extolled unto me the virtues of Boss Keloid Herb Your Enthusiasm (Black Bow) and Nails You Will Never Be One Of Us (Nuclear Blast), and Cez and Barn who are fucking all over Raging Speedhorn‘s comeback Lost Ritual (self-released)
So, while all of the above are worth checking out – and I’m definitely interested in getting into that Astronoid further as it’s piqued my interest on first couple of plays – here come the albums that have made the biggest impact on me in 2016
20. Sum 41 – 13 Voices (Hopeless)
I’ve always had a soft spot for The Sums – I’d have their first 2 in my Top 100 of ever – and, while not quite hitting those peaks, 13 Voices is littered with bangers, including a few that more than earn status in a best of set.
19. Oceans of Slumber – Winter (Century Media)
I picked up on this due to their (frankly brilliant) ‘Nights In White Satin’ cover. While it took a couple of listens, the natural successor to The Gathering‘s Mandylion (ha, also Century Media) is deep, progressive and has some hefty surprises. Also boasts one of the years best songs with…
18. Allfather – Bless The Earth With Fire (self-released)
The bands’ “Beards. Metal. Fuck You.” slogan is missing only one word to be wholly accurate. And that word is “RIFFS”. Slugging it out in and around the High On Fire ballpark, Allfather deliver riff after headbanging riff and defy the position that they’re releasing their own shit.
New track, ‘Inherit The Dust’ is fundraising for refugees. Please buy and donate here.
17. Venom Prison – Animus (Prosthetic)
I first heard the buzz about Venom Prison when TKIB played Temples and VP tore the now-defunct festival a new one. I’ve kept a watching brief on them since, and Animus takes the promise of 2015’s Primal Chaos EP (Soaked In Torment) and delivers in spades. Really fucking heavy and ‘orrible spades.
16. Death Angel – The Evil Divide (Nuclear Blast)
This is one of those I completely missed when it came out. I didn’t even know Death Angel had an album out this year until it cropped up in several GC writers lists. Intrigued, I put it on… one blown off head later, this thrash / Heavy Metal beastie more than lives up to The Dream Calls For Blood and it’s not left the death decks for long since.
15. Metallica – Hardwired… To Self Destruct (Blackened)
From zero expectations, to brimming with childish anticipation following the release of the three preview tracks (‘Hardwired’, ‘Moth To Flame’, ‘Atlas, Rise’) I settled somewhere in between after a few listens. There’s a couple of duffers (‘ManUnkind’, ‘Murder One’), but once you get under it’s skin, with it’s mix of Load and Death Magnetic eras and tracks like ‘Dream No More’ and ‘Halo of Fire’, Hardwired… delivers when it could so easily have all gone horribly wrong.
14. Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast)
It took a few listens, but I came round to this one after initially being a bit unsure. When you’re following up three absolute ragers, though, these are hard levels to reach. Brotherhood… isn’t as full on all the way down as its predecessors, but it does prove to be chock full of HEAVY metal anthems.
13. Fleshgod Apocalypse – King (Nuclear Blast)
This was one I’d completely forgotten about and didn’t even check until later in the year, which considering how much joy I got, and continue to get, out of their sophomore album Agony, borders on lunacy, to be honest. And what a bombastic, majestic album it is, too; an absolute huge tour de force with everything louder than everything else. As these things should be.
12. Anthrax – For All Kings (Nuclear Blast)
I like that For All Kings isn’t just a straight rewrite of Worship Music, and that by adding in more melody and a couple of progressive touches it went down a slightly unexpected path. I also like that it’s still undeniably Anthrax and proves that 2011’s effort was no fluke. Joey Belladonna sustains sounding at his peak, while Scott Ian and Charlie Benante continue to back him with some top songs, anthems and stomps running deep.
11. Sabaton – The Last Stand (Nuclear Blast)
Dude, I love me some power metal, not gonna lie, and no one does it better than Sabaton. Yes, it smacks of big, dumb fun at times, but The Last Stand marries pounding, stomping rhythms, infectious guitar motifs, massive verses, stadium-sized choruses and smacks down a barrel-load of anthems. Just how I like it.
10. Rotting Christ – Rituals (Season of Mist)
Hello face, meet egg… So, I well and truly wrote Rotting Christ off some 15 or so years ago around the time they were meandering into some seriously ploddy Gothic Metal territory, and it was only when EVERYONE who saw them at Bloodstock this year went nuts about how great their set was that I checked Rituals out. And what an album it is!
9. Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage (Capitol)
Another one that was a grower, and that seems to have split opinions. Due to its scope, The Stage rewards repeated listens, as the hooks aren’t obvious, but several spins in, the quality definitely is. Following up their most straight-forward release with their most adventurous, A7X have made a bold musical statement and an excellent progressive rock opera.
8. Abbath – Abbath (Season of Mist)
Encouraging a more “heavy metal” bent to flow through and marry up with his distinctive croak, Abbath‘s self-titled début impressed early with it’s snappy riffing, and headbanging nature. The gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down, and Immortal are going to have to go some to even compete in the duel…
7. Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us (Epitaph)
I slept on this one a little bit, but through weight of praise from others I went back to it in the Autumn. It’s a hard album, in many different ways, and sits outside my usual sphere as the rhythmic djent underbelly isn’t one I tend to go for. For me, though, AOGHAU is worth persevering with. It’s deep, emotive, aggressive, melodic and a career achievement.
6. Amon Amarth – Jomviking (Sony/Metal Blade)
Deceiver of the Gods (Metal Blade) was top of my list a few years ago, but I wasn’t in the right place for Jomsviking at first. A couple of dabbles only, it was only when winter hit that I picked this up and dived in. No surprises, but Jomsviking sees AA explore the traditional metal components a little more, while still delivering melodic death metal pounders. One of the biggest and best out there playing HEAVY metal.
5. CRADLE OF FILTH – Dusk And Her Embrace… Original Sin (Cacophonous)
The original version of Dusk… is the stuff of legend round our way, and it had been nigh on 20 years since I heard a cassette copy of it before it passed into the ether, replaced by the Music For Nations version that was re-recorded and served to launch Cradle of Filth out of the underground. A more feral, rawer version, …Original Sin is more than a worthwhile investment as it sees Dani Filth spew forth his most vicious vocals of any Cradle release, and the album is swathed in the, frankly excellent, keyboards of Benjamin Ryan, producing the best synths of the whole Cradle canon. And those songs… Absolute classics, every single one of them. An album without a weak moment, let alone a weak track.
4. letlive. – If I’m The Devil… (Epitaph)
Yep, emo post-hardcore right up in my top 5… I’m surprised too… But you shouldn’t be, because If I’m The Devil… is, simply put, a collection of brilliant songs. And songs is what it’s all about, baby. On top of that, Jason Butler doesn’t just have a voice, he has a VOICE. Part Patton, part Michael Jackson, wholly expressive he dominates an album that pans from punk (‘Another Offensive Song’) to reflective and unravelling an emotive narrative (‘Foreign Cab Rides’), letlive. have truly delivered.
3. Deftones – Gore (Reprise)
Deftones don’t do bad albums, and for a good few months (until my number 1 was released…) Gore was my main aural squeeze. I loved Koi No Yokan but Gore, to me works even better and spirals out in more reflective and interesting directions. For a guy who plays in a HEAVY band maybe it’s odd, but my favourite Deftones is the one that meanders and drifts, that doesn’t bludgeon but reflects… Maybe it’s because creative tensions between Chino and Stephen Carpenter were rife that they pulled the best out of each other, but the light and shade of Deftones plays against each other perfectly. And to top it off, Jerry Cantrell bowls up and lays down a smoking lead to take ‘Phantom Bride’ to a whole other place.
2. The Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence (HevyDevy)
One of my favourite TKIB memories of the year was driving back from one of the shows on our run with Akercocke. It was just me and Barney left in the wagon and we stuck on Transcendence. The following hour was spent in near silence except for exchanging superlatives as the album washed over us, warming us with its glow as we fully immersed in it.
Don’t go into it expecting Epicloud III or any other Devin Townsend Project revisit, as Transcendence harks back to the more expansive, progressive territory ploughed by The Devin Townsend Band on albums like ‘Terria’ and ‘Synchestra’. With that style channeled through DTP’s filter, the results can only transcend that which has come before.
1. Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner)
I didn’t go for this at first. In fact, I distinctly remember being underwhelmed during the first few listens. But there was something about it gnawing away… and then one glorious afternoon, Magma clicked and unfurled its petals and made its nectar truly available. And since then I’ve drunk deeply.
See, this is a different approach to the previous Gojira albums, intricate and complicated as they are, for this time around the brilliance is in the simplicity. Yet a simplicity that is so hard to write and even harder to perfect in the way they have. Every song has its own triad of hooks; rhythmic, vocal and percussive, and each track is distinctive, clever and yet bare. Laced throughout this is an emotion and gravitas that mainstream heavy metal rarely, truly, touches upon, let alone pulls together with great song-writing. Chapeau.
For more on Gojira’s Magma album, read an extensive overview compiled by some of my colleagues on what is also the Official Ghost Cult Album of 2016 here. I can honestly say, I couldn’t put it better.
Thanks for having me back, thanks for indulging me, and hope you enjoyed my run through of my favourite albums of 2016 and hopefully you found something new or that you’d passed over. As you can see, several of my favourites of the year didn’t hook me in on first few listens. Patience is a virtue, friends and fiends.