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The Best Metal of 2016

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

10 - 6

Artist: Sabaton

Album: The Last Stand

Label: Nuclear Blast

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The Last Stand

The reigning kings of power metal rebounded from 2014's decent-but-underachieving Heroes with an eighth album that plays to all the Swedes' strengths. The gimmick has not changed one bit -- war-themed songs with the crowd-pleasing shtick played up to a cartoonish degree -- but Sabaton have proven to be so consistent when it comes to writing catchy, fist-pumping anthems. "Last Dying Breath" and "Blood of Bannockburn" are two stellar examples from this record, and by the end of this brisk, rousing album, you can't help but feel caught up in the joy of it all.

Artist: Katatonia

Album: The Fall of Hearts

Label: Peaceville

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The Fall of Hearts

As sublime as Katatonia's transition from classic death/doom to sleeker, melodic gothic metal has been, 2012's Dead End Kings took things too far, placing more focus on softer sounds to the point where every song bled into the other. The contrast between heavy and melodic has always been the Swedish band's forte, and thankfully they return to that sound on their majestic tenth album. It's a pleasure to hear them turn the guitars up once more, and coupled with Jonas Renkse's understated buy powerful singing, it marks a very welcome return to Katatonia's classic form of 2001-2009.

Artist: Cobalt

Album: Slow Forever

Label: Profound Lore

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Slow Forever

Seven years after the instant-classic Gin following up one of the most acclaimed metal albums of the 2000s was already a tall order, but even more so when vocalist Phil McSorely parted ways with longtime collaborator Erik Wunder. In McSorely's place, Wunder brought in former Lord Mantis vocalist Charlie Fell, and the resulting double album Slow Forever, not surprisingly, is a very different beast than Cobalt's past work. Part of it is Fell's own persona and vocal style, which is less confrontational than McSorley's, but most crucially, Wunder's songwriting it a lot more well-rounded, less raw. Touches of Americana creep into his already unique mix of progressive metal and black metal, giving the music an elegiac touch, yet at the same time it never comes at the expense of the music, which as "Hunt the Buffalo" and "Beast Whip" prove, is just as raw and primal as ever.

Artist: Khemmis

Album: Hunted

Label: 20 Buck Spin

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Part Candlemass, part Witchfinder General, part Maiden, Denver band Khemmis was a revelation a year ago when Absolution seemingly came from out of nowhere to the surprise of many. They wasted no time putting the follow-up together, and Hunted is already a big improvement on a very cool sound. Unlike Pallbearer, who transform classic doom metal into a meditative progressive rock hybrid, Khemmis steer their sound more towards a New Wave of British Heavy Metal direction, offsetting slow, mournful passages with thunderous gallops and twin harmonies. Best of all, it's pulled off with a sense of authority: there's no hint of caution nor trepidation, just supreme confidence. The band sells it well, which is why this album is guaranteed to please the old-school metal crowd, and likely surprise even more new listeners this time around.

Artist: SubRosa

Album: For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

Label: Profound Lore

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For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

The Salt Lake City, Utah band turned in -- dare I say -- one of the finest doom metal albums ever released three years ago with More Constant Than the Gods in 2013, and the greatly anticipated follow-up delves even deeper into darker territory. Once again, the core of the band's unique sound is the interplay between Rebecca Vernon's sludgy riffs and the dual violins of Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack, and this album, which was greatly inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian novel We, leans hard on that instrumental give and take over the course of four gargantuan compositions. The coup de grace, however, is closing track "Troubled Cells", in which Vernon confronts her Mormon upbringing with unflinching courage and sorrow.

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