Music

The Best Metal of 2016

Adrien Begrand celebrates the best heavy metal of the year in all of its thrilling diversity.

15 - 11

Artist: Grand Magus

Album: Sword Songs

Label: Nuclear Blast

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Grand Magus
Sword Songs

Perennially underrated, the Swedish trio have been consistently releasing album after album of simple, catchy melodic heavy metal, especially over the past decade. Grand Magus have evolved from a rather doom-oriented band to one that celebrates the vintage sounds of Judas Priest and Viking-era Bathory, and true, some albums are better than most. Eighth album Sword Songs is a nice improvement over 2014's somewhat complacent Triumph and Power, benefitting from a much stronger sense of conviction and energy. Sure, the chorus of "Viking metal" in "Forged in Iron -- Crowned in Steel" is as goofy as it gets, but it's crucial to never forget that metal is inherently goofy, and Grand Magus celebrate that fact, in style, every time out.

 
Artist: Amon Amarth

Album: Jomsviking

Label: Metal Blade

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Amon Amarth
Jomsviking

Having become one of the most popular live bands in the entire genre, Amon Amarth have shown admirable resilience and longevity, outlasting trend after trend while building their fanbase with every new album. The key for these Swedes is how they've been able to subtly evolve from album to album while still remaining loyal to the melodic death metal sound they forged for themselves 20 years ago. What Jomsviking does so well is incorporate more melody than ever before, without compromising the visceral power of their music. Two fine examples are the unabashedly fun "Raise Your Horns" and the elegiac "A Dream That Cannot Be", which features the great Doro Pesch. Still, though, the aggressive moments deliver wonderfully, as on "First Kill" and "The Way of Vikings".

 
Artist: Anciients

Album: Voice of the Void

Label: Season of Mist

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Anciients
Voice of the Void

After a longer-than-expected wait between albums, Vancouver foursome Anciients returned in 2016 with a second album that comes closer to realizing their enormous potential. Having found a very unique middle ground between mid-2000s Mastodon and 1990s Opeth, it's very impressive -- not to mention gratifying -- to see these guys keep their hyper-ambitious arrangements concise. It's all about the discipline on Voice of the Void, as these tracks never slip into self-indulgence. Instead, every choice they make serves the song, and the end result is a collection of tracks that leave an immediate and lasting impression, whether it's the barnstorming opener "Following the Voice" or the daring, Tool-esque "Ibex Eye". Toss in some very impressive singing by guitarist Kenny Cook, and you've got a supremely confident album that'll have many excited to hear what this band has up its sleeves next.

 
Artist: Aluk Todolo

Album: Voix

Label: The Ajna Offensive

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List number: 12

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Aluk Todolo
Voix

It's easy to lump French band Aluk Todolo and Finland's Oranssi Pazuzu together; after all, they both combine black metal, krautrock, and psychedelic rock to create highly unique hybrids. And indeed, Voix succeeds in exactly the same way that Värähtelijä does. When comparing the two, though, the slight edge goes to Aluk Todolo, whose fourth album is so remarkably concise and immediate, achieving its goal in 43 minutes as opposed to 63. The shorter length allows the music to sink in faster, and the way the trio crafts and molds the music into an amorphous yet shockingly solid whole is fascinating to hear. Drones soar and weave amidst a hypnotic, kraut-inspired rhythm section, atonal cacophony slowly metamorphoses into a coherent and alluring melody.

 
Artist: Psalm Zero

Album: Stranger to Violence

Label: Profound Lore

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Psalm Zero
Stranger to Violence

Avant-garde musician Charlie Looker turned a lot of heads with Psalm Zero's 2014 debut album The Drain, which combined the punishing industrial metal sounds of Godflesh and the more meditative sounds of Katatonia. The follow-up mixes the two sides even more confidently, but even better is how a very strong Depeche Mode influence creeps into the music. The end result is a darkly exquisite contrast between harshness and beauty, as Looker and former collaborator Andrew Hock create a constant push and pull between two seemingly disparate sounds.

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