Staff Awards: The Best And Worst Of Heavy Metal In 2016
Band Photo: Testament (?)
We're at the end of the year already somehow? It was a big one for me personally as my head banging, bouncer moshing son arrived in May ready to throw the horns straight out of the womb!
There was a whole lot going on in the metal world as well to mark the year of his birth, with about equal parts good, bad, and utterly bizarre.
With the notable exception of one long-dormant mega band whose name is on everyone's lips, it seems like the reunion / reboot craze has finally come to a rest, for now anyway, and we can once again forget about all those broken up '80s and '90s groups seeking another day in the spotlight.
That paved the way for both a crop of new bands (and there were some awesome newcomers this year!) and long-running groups who never called it quits to show us what they could do throughout 2016.
The Good: Metal Highlights of 2016
It was back in 2015 that we started asking why there wasn't more heavy metal invading the world of PC and console gaming, and this year we actually saw some new additions. The top-down bullet hell wonder of "Metal Tales: Fury Of The Guitar Gods" just arrived last month, while the rhythm game / RPG "Metronomicon" landed at the end of September.
The beginning of the year was also marked by the very metaltastic "Slain," drawing heavily from early Castlevania, and while it had an incredibly rocky launch, reviews are steadily getting more positive as patches are released.
On the music front, this was unquestionably the year of thrash!
New albums arrived from Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, Exodus, and even the long-awaited return of the band everyone loves to hate, Metallica (although as our reader poll and CROMCarl's review show, there's clearly still some fans out there in the metal underground).
After four long years since previous releases, extreme metal stalwarts Gojira and Meshuggah both brought out the big guns with new albums, and Gojira even managed to get nominated for a Grammy – which is a rarity for a legitimate metal band to do.
On the long-lost returns front, early black metal outfit Ancient had been off the metal radar since 2005 and finally returned with the (perennially delayed) comeback album “Back To The Land Of The Dead.” This overdue return made my inner 14 year old very happy indeed, as “The Cainian Chronicle” was the cheesy gothic black metal that young-me very much needed at the time.
There weren't as many major tours going up in flames or getting canceled at the last second this time around, with perhaps the possible exception of the Messe Des Morts festival getting shut down due to violent Antifa protests (nothing says anti-fascism like physically forcing people to not listen to music you don't like, right?).
There was still a whole lot of drama to go around in the metal world though, like Decapitated finally suing Earache for allegedly not paying out royalties. A few bands also took some unexpected turns musically (never a good move for stubborn metal fans), culminating in the Internet absolutely breaking over Amaranthe's pop-heavy, dance-along video for “That Song.”
I don't think I've seen that much hate splattered across Facebook since Wintersun decided to start talking about Nuclear Blast and hot tubs, although in this case, I agree with the dissenters: it's not a good song.
Sadly, we also lost more than a few metal brothers and sisters this year, most notably former Megadeth drummer Nick Menza and Piotr Grudzinski of Riverside. The up and coming outfit Trees Of Eternity also saw a devastating loss as vocalist Aleah passed away just as recording was wrapping up for a debut album. If you haven't heard it yet, you should look it up, as its truly haunting stuff, and even more so now in light of the album's tragic circumstances.
While looking at the true lows of the year, I'll also just take this opportunity to remind everyone that Opeth sadly remains a Jethro Tull cover band in 2016, and likely will for the foreseeable future.
It's Not Me... It's You
More than a few major groups went the way of the dodo in the past few months. Of course any given year sees a horde of bands hanging up their hats, quietly fading away with no more online presence, or having very public implosions that result in massive lineup changes. This year was notable for who broke up, who had to see major positions swapped out, and more importantly how they handled the issue.
Following Martin Kearns death last year, Bolt Thrower officially made the decision to disband, ending an astonishing 30 year career. All the Cascadian nature loving metal fans took a big hit in May when John Haughm decided to abruptly end Agalloch, while the chaotic mathcore crowd took to mourning as Dillinger Escape Plan announced the end was coming following a final album and tour (oddly a later interview seemed to walk back that talk, so its unclear just how official this break up really is).
Following two devastating technical death metal releases, Florida group Abiotic threw in the towel unexpectedly this year, which seemed like an odd thing to do for a local band that catapulted up to Metal Blade signees very quickly and was making waves across the scene.
Anyone who was planning to see Malevolent Creation was in for a shock this past fall, when the band canceled a U.S. tour with no notice of any kind and has reportedly split up – but all without a word to the fans.
That's a situation that still hasn't be rectified, as its been radio silence from the band on all social media fronts.
Finally comes the most public, ugly breakup from Leaves' Eyes, with dueling antagonistic posts, leaked mediation documents, and very different versions of who did what to whom.
Thankfully for the fans, the band continues on with a new vocalist, but it remains to be seen if that damage done the group's reputation may have been too much to bear for some long-time listeners.
We're almost at our official awards ceremony, but first a word on some of the most bizarre things to happen throughout the year, which has got to be topped by Ned Flanders-themed band Okilly Dokilly hitting the road for a tour with McDonald's-themed Black Sabbath tribute group Mac Sabbath. Metal is a weird, weird place you guys.
Ozzy couldn't keep himself out of the spotlight this year, reportedly going missing in early May after a nasty marital spat, then popping back up to announce the Ozzfest/Knotfest combo news and subsequently releasing an odd statement about being a sex addict.
There were two events this year that most strongly left fans scratching their heads, starting with the Dio hologram at Wacken that has opinion split on whether that's an excellent idea (dead musicians can tour forever!) or some serious sacrilege that never should have been attempted in the first place.
Finally, there was the infamous Ghost – who universally cause an avalanche of negative “that's not metal” comments anytime we post about them on Facebook – winning a Grammy for best metal performance. That video of the event is priceless, as the Grammy Award attendees clearly have no idea what in the hell is going on.
Alright, now that we've covered the highs and lows of the year, it's time to get to our staff awards: here's the best of the best you need to know about in heavy metal!
Best Metal Album of 2016
As usual, our Most Anticipated release from last year - Fleshgod Apocalypse's "King" - didn't manage to nab the Best Album award the following year. "King" was an excellent album, but there were just too many other amazing releases edging it out in the voting!
It's always tough to come to consensus with a wide range of contributors from across the globe and a huge diversity in sub-genre tastes among our staff, which is why we have everyone nominate 5 albums. When all the votes are tallied, we get a better look at what band hit the top of everyone's list, and this year that was unquestionably:
Testament - "Brotherhood Of The Snake"
Thrash isn't my personal favorite genre, but I can't deny Testament has a solid release here. You may recall that the group also won in 2012 with "Dark Roots of Earth," so clearly this thrash group is resonating with a wide range of metal fans for it to win with two albums in a row!
While Testament came out on top, Death Angel, Witherscape, Myrath, and Ihsahn also put on good showings that are all well worth taking a listen to.
Reader Pick Album Winners
This year we ran a reader poll to see what YOUR favorite album of 2016 was and how it stacked up against our picks (you can still vote it in right here by the way). At this point in time there are two albums very clearly head and shoulders above the rest:
Senior Fellows- "The Christened Remains of an Evolutionary Catastrophe"
AND runner up...
Metallica - "Hardwired... To Self Destruct"
Looks like the readers are into thrash as well, with the unexpected winner coming from a sludge metal outfit we'll have to keep tabs on going forward!
Best Live Metal Show of 2016
Another tough one to pick with tastes being so subjective and not everyone seeing every tour, this year our pick for the best metal performance landed on a classic band that regrouped just a few years ago:
At The Gates
These melodic death metal originators earned the spot (finally dethroning King Diamond, who consistently blew us away and won two years running in 2014 and 2015) but there was fierce competition, with Avantasia, Behemoth, and Eluveitie also putting on some jaw-dropping shows.
Best Metal Blu-Ray / DVD of 2016
There wasn't a ton of competition for DVD this year, where Devin Townsend usually wows whenever he has a release. In 2016 one name immediately rose to the top for a high quality live DVD sure to please fans:
Powerwolf - "The Metal Mass Live"
Other DVDs that dropped this year worth checking out came from Ayreon and Rainbow. For those of you dedicated fans who picked up a live Blu-Ray, which one would you recommend to us?
Best Debut Album / New Metal Band of 2016
Another category where competition is fierce, 2016 featured a whole lot of newcomers arriving on the scene to shake up complacent genres or give us truly classic takes on old school styles. When all the votes were tallied, a long-running musician breaking off from his band to go solo came out on top:
Abbath - self titled debut album
While Abbath's clearly not a “newcomer,” this was still the first release under this incarnation as a new entity, and his take on black metal was warmly received by fans. Sons Of Balaur, Eternal Idol, and Trees Of Eternity all put up a valiant fight, but in the end fell just a few votes short of winning.
Another one worth mentioning that featured a recognizable metal champion in a new setting was Scour, seeing Phil Anselmo dive into black metal following the unfortunate white power outburst heard 'round the world.
Most Anticipated Metal Album of 2017
Now that we've covered the best of 2016, its time to look ahead and what's on the horizon. One band stuck out head and shoulders above the rest:
Kreator, taking the award by a mile with "Gods Of Violence"
It's clear we've got a thrash fetish this year! There were lots of runner-ups though covering every sub-genre imaginable, from Ex Deo to Iced Earth and Dodecahedron, along with returning champions Carcass and Obituary.
If you've been a long-time reader you know we suffer from a peculiar curse: our most anticipated of any given year is almost never voted best album the next year! Do you think Kreator has what it takes to break out of that rut?
We have a mission to bring new and unheard metal to you, so while you argue with us about how massively wrong we are with our winning picks, be sure to also check out some bands from the full list of our nominated best metal newcomers:
Sons Of Balaur
Light & Shade
Goat and Your M.O.M.
Necromancing the Stone
Trees Of Eternity
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