2016 may not have been the best year we’ve experienced for a host of reasons, but there’s no denying that 2016 produced some truly amazing metal records. All over the metal pantheon there were some stellar releases. As with the ‘non-metal’ version of this list, this is not to be considered a “best of” list. I will not pretend that I listened to every single metal release this year and can somehow tell you what the best records are. This is simply a list of my favorite metal releases of 2016 (in alphabetical order by artist). These are the 50 albums I spent the most time with this year and if you’re a metal fan (or not) I hope you find an album or a dozen that you love as well. Happy listening…
Abbath – Abbath
It would be an amazingly oversimplified thing to state that if you like Immortal, you’ll love this album. But the fact remains that the former Immortal front man picked up where his former band left off and ran with it like a blizzard obliterating everything in its path. Abbath gave us our first favorite album of 2016 with a stellar array of thrash-infused black metal madness that we’ve come to know and continue to love.
Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law
UK black metal tyrants, Anaal Nathrakh, returned with arguably one of their best efforts in the last decade. It is an absolutely blistering affair, completely unrelenting from note one onward. Few bands can write a song like “We Will Fucking Kill You” and you walk away feeling like that might actually be the case. A true ripper in every sense of the term.
Anagnorisis – Peripeteia
You may not find a more haunting, and certainly not a more personal album on this list than the newest one from Louisville black metal conjurers, Anagnorisis. If you listened to the Metal Dad Radio Show (or saw a similar list on Metal Insider) than you already know this is a Top 10 album for me this year. Stunning, atmospheric blackened metal is interspersed with home audio recordings from the family archives of vocalist, Zachary Kerr, to paint a vivid and, at times, harrowing picture. It’s as captivating a record as you will here this year, genres be damned.
Archaic Decapitator – Light of a Different Sun
Connecticut horde, Archaic Decapitator, delivered their best material to date with this 5-song blast of melodic death metal. Hearkening back to a time when “melodic death metal” still actually meant death metal was being performed, this album was downright addictive at certain turns. Looking forward to this band’s continued growth and progression.
Asphyx – Incoming Death
For my money, Asphyx is one of the most criminally underrated death metal bands in history. This album continues forth what is already a stellar legacy of pure sonic destruction. 2016 was once again an amazing year in the continuing ‘come back’ for death metal and this album was arguably at the top of the heat when it was all said and done.
Behexen – The Poisonous Path
A poisonous path indeed. Longtime, Finnish outfit, Behexen, delivered one of their finest efforts to date in 2016, the aptly titled, The Poisonous Path. This is a menacing album filled more darkness than a moonless night spent deep in the woods. It’s a completely eerie affair that’s as compelling as it is, at time, suffocating. Easily one of the more underrated album to poison ears in 2016.
Bethlehem – Bethlehem
Ask me who my all-time favorite black metal bands are and very early in the conversation I’ll be speaking about these German maniacs. I have waxed poetic on multiple editions of The Metal Dad Radio Show about this band and this album. It’s easily a Top 10 of the year for me as it may in fact be their best since the landmark Dictius Te Necare album. Top notch, insane “dark metal” unlike anything else on this or any other list.
Black Tomb – Black Tomb
Every year there are a handful of bands that come out of seemingly nowhere to smack me in the face with an album’s worth of amazing tunes. There are a couple of those on here this year, and this is the first of them. Hailing from “New England,” Black Tomb play a brand of sludgy doom metal you’d expect to hear crawling out of the swamps of New Orleans. Super heavy, riff-centric doom metal at its absolute finest. A crushingly heavy album that plods its way through your brain like an elephant destroying it’s circus handlers.
Blood Ceremony – Lord of Misrule
Few bands have transcended the whole occult rock revival to create music that is as captivating, as lush, and as downright gorgeous as Canada’s Blood Ceremony. Basing this album’s concepts on an ancient, and all but forgotten, religious footnote in British history, Blood Ceremony created an album that felt timeless. Their ability to create magic and pure atmosphere with every track us unparalleled. A crowning achievement in this band’s ever-expanding legacy.
Bog of the Infidel – Asleep in the Arms of Suicide
Few albums this year had such a raw and sinister edge to them the way this one did. Providence, Rhode Island isn’t the first place you think of when talking about second wave black metal, but the torch first lit in Scandinavia has found a flame in the smallest state in the U.S. Bog of the Infidel put themselves on the map with this album and from hence forth should be known as a black metal force to be reckoned with.
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Released in the heart of last winter, there may be no better album to revisit roughly 11 months later as we begin to slip into the icy grasp of another season of deadly beauty. Borknagar have earned their legendary status for a reason and Winter Thrice is another example of the epic heights their sound can achieve. It’s a triumph of atmospheric metal and an album that deserves multiple listens from start to finish.
Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule
After what felt like an eternity since their highly acclaimed debut, this Montreal three-piece finally unleashed their debut full-length album. Needless to say the juice was worth the squeeze as Chthe’ilist delivered, hands down, one of the best debut albums of 2016. Filled with amazingly technical and hauntingly atmospheric death metal, these seven tracks are like Gorguts or Demilich being blasted inside some abandoned, haunted house by whatever malicious spirits inhabit it.
Coffin Dust – Everything Is Dead
Pennsylvania’s Coffin Dust describe themselves on their Bandcamp page as “Cemetery metal.” Pretty apt description, and not just because of the band moniker, album title, or lyrical content. Coffin Dust play a brand of death metal that draws heavily from several thrash and speed metal influences to create this galloping record that runs roughshod over everything in its path. Not unlike a bunch of kids out breaking headstones after a night of heavy drinking, minus the inevitable hang over or jail time.
Cough – Still They Prey
Had it really been almost six years since the last Cough full-length? Selfishly stated: that’s simply an unacceptable length of time to go between albums when you are one of the best doom metal band sin the world. We survived though and are now better for it, having Still They Prey to keep us company and bee the personal soundtrack on those dark, dreary nights when the world is collapsing in on us and all seems lost.
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner
Metal Dad Radio Show fans may have heard I liked this album quote a bit this year. If you took their collaborator, Julie Christmas, out of the equation this would still rank as one of Cult of Luna’s best efforts. Now add in the the beautiful and often mesmerizing vocals of Christmas over top of the bed of esoteric post-metal, and you’re left with a stunning album that has the potential to rock you right to your core.
Curse The Son – Isolator
Connecticut’s Curse The Son proudly carry the torch of traditional doom while constantly dipping their collective toes into the sludgier pools the genre likes to hide out in. Their newest album, Isolator, is their best to date, expanding on the already pummeling blueprint laid out on their two previous releases. Soaring, clean vocals, riffs for days, and a thunderous rhythm section all add up to a cacophonous good time.
Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign
Seven long years since the last Dark Funeral record, but we were finally treated to the return of one of Sweden’s darkest musical exports. Continuing to blast the earth with their brand of atmospheric, second wave black metal, Dark Funeral made seven years seem like yesterday as Where Shadows Forever Reign quickly became the rightful heir to some of this outfit’s best material.
Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder
There are few bands in the metal world that are still performing today that are as enigmatic and influential as Darkthrone. It is safe to say that at this point in their careers Darkthrone give zero shits. Every album this band puts out is a guessing game of sorts, in the best possible way, as they are constantly morphing their sound (sometimes slightly, sometimes not so much…). In a recent interview with Decibel Magazine, Fenriz was quoted as saying that (and I’m paraphrasing here) this is the album they would have produced in the late 80s if they were better musicians at that point in their young careers. I totally and completely concur, if for no other reason than the fact that this album screams forth with that proto-death metal/blackened thrash aesthetic that was prevalent at the time. However you want to categorize this record it’s well worth as much time as you’re willing to give to it.
Dead Register – Fiber
One of the last saving graces for me with social media is when a band I love turns me on to another band I might not have ever heard (or at least not heard until much later). So when Oakland’s Lament Cityscape posted a link to this album on their Facebook page I was immediately intrigued. The end result wound up being and album I spent an exorbitant amount of time with this year. Atlanta’s Dead Register play this esoteric and doom-laden brand of metal that just seethes atmosphere. It’s a unique and accessible brand of metal you can wrap yourself up in and that sounds fantastic on headphones with the lights turned down and the curtains drawn.
Death Fetishist – Clandestine Sacrament
When one of the creators of Aevangelist and the drummer from Panzergod get together to make music you should probably take notice. You should also probably be prepared to listen to this one with the lights on. Death Fetishist dropped their debut album this year and it will stand as one of the most shadowy musical experiences that 2016 vomited forth. If there was ever an album that proved that death metal could, in fact, be a terrifying musical experience, then this is it. Cacophonous, dissonant, and completely overwhelming at times, Clandestine Sacrament is an album for only those with the will to walk through fire and not worry about coming out unscathed.
Diamond Head – Diamond Head
Icons of heavy metal lore, Diamond Head, returned to the fold in March with the release of their self-titled, seventh full-length. To say this might be their best album since their halcyon days in the early 80s would not be hyperbole at all. Guitarist and sole original member, Brian Tatler, has pieced together an exceptional line-up that fires on all cylinders while delivery a blistering array of traditional metal.
Eight Bells – Landless
Simply put, there are no bands that sound like Eight Bells. This wholly unique project mixes in elements of atmospheric doom and blackened post-metal with ethereal vocals to create music that is as haunting as it is breath-taking. It’s the type of album you could listen to over and over again, and still find some nuance or layer you hadn’t noticed on the previous X number of listens. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their metal to take the occasional left turn into mystery and unexplored territories.
Gevurah – Hallelujah!
Another raging, Canadian (full-length) debut came from black metal two-piece, Gevurah. Easily one of the more underrated albums to see the light of day in 2016, Gevurah specialize in an unholy brand of atmospheric black metal that’s not unlike the storied second wave, yet expands what those black metal forefathers were creating. There’s a definite furious tone to these songs that’s matched by an uncanny ability to drift into more moody and dour territory. https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/hallelujah
Ghoul – Dungeon Bastards
The masked, metal marauders have returned with ten tracks of their patented punk meets thrash meets death metal. Ghoul’s sound has always been one that’s not easily pigeonholed as they throw in just about everything under the broad punk and metal banners to create this old school assault on the senses. Dungeon Bastards sees them at the top of their manic game (and actually includes a faux, manic board game) as they slice through a wild ride of an album like Leatherface through a group of horny teenagers.
Gnaw Their Tongues – Hymns For The Broken, Swollen and Silent
Less a metal record and more a seemingly endless barrage of night terrors and claustrophobia, the project known as Gnaw Their Tongues continues to create music that is simply nightmare-inducing at almost every turn. It never ceases to amaze me how deep into the human psyche composer Mories is willing to dig to find the darkest depths of the human condition, and then set it to music. This is an album that is simply not for the faint of heart or those not willing to truly explore the depressive depths that music can eventually travel.
Grave Miasma – Endless Pilgrimage
Exploding out of the UK, Grave Miasma are quickly establishing themselves as one of the premiere death metal acts in the world, and with good reason. One of the few EPs to make this list, Endless Pilgrimage is a masterwork of bludgeoning, oppressive death metal. With riffing that often hearkens back to past masters like Morbid Angel and some of their Swedish counterparts, Grave Miasma have upped the ante for others trying their hand at similar sounds.
Hemelbestormer – Aether
One of the most textured and alluring metal albums of the year comes from Belgium’s Hemelbestormer. Aether is a bold and brilliant combination of post-metal, various doom metal elements, and an atmospheric black metal aesthetic. It’s a completely immersive listening experience and one that should be undertaken as many times as possible. A top notch album from an act we hope to hear a lot more from in the future.
Horseback – Dead Ringers
The first time I played a track off this record on The Metal Dad Radio Show my 10-year old asked me off-air, “Dad, how is this a metal song?” Great question in all honesty, and one I pondered when trying to figure out which list I would include this album on. North Carolina’s Horseback spend this album stripping away most of the shoegaze infused, post-black metal that filtered through previous releases. Even the vocals have gone completely clean on this release as Horseback goes full on psych rock. But rest assured there are enough off-kilter and slightly deranged moments to keep the interest of even the most hardened metalhead.
Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows
San Francisco’s Howls of Ebb spawned a truly ominous and transcendent album in 2016. Building off their exceptional 2014 debut, Howls of Ebb play a brand of death metal that consistently rides the line between the canonical and the avant-garde, weaving random doses of experimentation into more orthodox passages. All told it’s a wide net of sounds they’ve cast into the void and what they’ve retrieved is something to feed an entire village.
Inverloch – Distance | Collapsed
If you haven’t noticed there are a ton of albums on this list courtesy of Relapse Records. This one might just be the best of the bunch. Born out of the ashes of influential death-doom act, dISEMBOWELMENT, Inverloch not only pick up where their former band left off, but expand upon it as well. Thunderous, plodding doom is met halfway by blistering death metal to create an album’s worth of pure sonic destruction. This thing could level entire cities if allowed to. Fans of both the death and doom metal genres will find a lot to sink their teeth into on this album.
King – Reclaim The Darkness
Another unexpected album that grabbed my attention and simply did not let go was from Australia’s King. Their Reclaim The Darkness album was a scorching array of blackened metal that not only hearkened back to second wave black metal, but threw in some Gothenburg elements as well. if these set out to reclaim the darkness from the poseurs of the world they’re off to a great start. One part melodic, one part scathing, completely essential.
Lament Cityscape & Theologian – Soft Tissue
Oakland’s Lament Cityscape didn’t just spend 2016 posting about other bands. They were also hard at work giving us one of the best metal collaboration records of 2016 as well. Take Lament Cityscape’s brand of thoroughly epic, blackened, atmospheric metal and merge it with the hysterical outbursts of New York noise-mongers, Theologian, and the end result is the controlled cacophony you might imagine.
Magrudergrind – II
There just isn’t a ton of grind/crust/powerviolence on the list this year. (Down year or did I miss some killer albums? Probably the latter.) Regardless, one album I certainly couldn’t miss was the newest one from sonic whirlwinds, Magrudergrind. I couldn’t have missed this album even if I wanted to because the violence and auditory malevolence held within are likely still reverberating into the stratosphere, roughly 10 months after its release. Just an absolute beast of a record that spews grind like a volcanic explosion.
Necrot – The Labyrinth
Normally I wouldn’t include a compilation record on a list like this, but when that comp includes the first three demos from an up-and-coming act like Necrot you don’t bat an eyelash. Oakland’s Necrot are a power trio from hell, ripping through brutal, unadulterated death metal. The frills are at a minimum, yet Necrot still manage to captivate with their brand of old school, pummeling death metal. It’s raw and unfiltered, the way some of the best extreme metal has been created in the past.
Neurosis – Fires Within Fires
Confession time: Neurosis is one of my all-time favorite bands, and frankly I fell this band has done no wrong when it come to their back catalogue. So it should come as zero surprise that when forced to admit out loud what my favorite metal record of the year was, this one was a fairly easy choice. But not just because it’s Neurosis. No, it’s because it’s Neurosis and they are still, after all these years and all these records, at the absolute top of their game. Tracks like “Fire Is The End Lesson” stand alongside some of the best material of their career. It’s another masterpiece in an amazingly long line of them.
Occult Burial – Hideous Obscure
Another stellar debut out of Canada this year came from Ontario thrashers, Occult Burial. According to their Bandcamp page Occult Burial play “vicious 1st wave black metal laced with witching speed metal.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Doing their best to raise the ghosts of black metal past, Occult Burial really do hearken back to the glory days of acts like Venom ad Bathory while sprinkling in thrash and speed metal elements. It all makes for a raucous, headbanging album worthy of carrying the flag of those earliest black metal pioneers.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Every year there’s that one metal band that all the hipster blogs and mainstream website fawn over and usually the rest of the metal world jst kind of nods and pats the kids on the head with a hearty, ‘Good try, Tiger.’ This year though most of them got it right. Finland’s masters of psychedelic heavy metal, Oranssi Pazuzu, have returned with another album boldly blazing a trail that has seen very few, if any, travelers. Blending blackened metal with psych/acid rock sounds interesting on paper but when this band get a hold of it things go completely off the rails in the best and most unique way possible.
Ritual Chamber – Obscurations (To Feast on the Seraphim)
Few labels had the 2016 that Profound Lore did. One of their first great releases of 2016 came in the form of Ritual Camber. This one-man death metal jam, led by scene vet Dario Derna, proved that it’s not the number of people who play on an album that counts, it’s how talented they are of course. Derna riffs and blasts his way through nine tracks of monstrous death metal like a man possessed by the spirits of all the unholy and blasphemous classics that have come before. This would be a massive and impressive album for five dudes to undertake, but Derna manages to knock it out of the park on his own.
Seven Sisters of Sleep – Ezekiel’s Hags
Southern California’s Seven Sisters of Sleep gave us one of the first best albums of the year with their Relapse debut. Ten months or so onward and you’d still be hard-pressed to find an album that successfully melds as many genres together as this beast does. Grindcore, death metal, doom, crust/d-beat, even little bits of black metal are all thrown into the kettle, simmered to a boil and served to scorch. It’s a wild ride of a record that takes more left turns than you can count, yet never seems to be lost.
SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages
This second I heard this record I thought, ‘There is no way this isn’t going to wind up on a million year-end lists.’ It’s just too dynamic not to. This band has always written some pretty impressive and distinctive compositions, but this album is next level. Hell, it’s next world. It’s a massive record that goes from epic doom metal to interludes that sound like they could be part of various film scores. Few bands have the ability to create something as special and memorable as SubRosa did with this album.
Suspiral – Delve Into The Mysteries of Transcendence
The debut full-length from Spain’s Suspiral is the type of album that’s so frantic you are literally washed over and over again in layers of sound until you can barely breath. It’s best described as blackened death metal, but feels much more ritualistic in nature than your average death metal record. I found myself on more than one listen drifting into the music in an almost meditative state, until I realized that this was sinking into a darkness I probably shouldn’t go to. Hopefully you’ll feel the same…
T.O.M.B. – Fury Nocturnus
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, hopeful about this album. That is to say, if you are looking for something to lift your spirits, something to give you hope that the world isn’t going to just implode upon itself and take us all with it…you’ve come to the wrong album. T.O.M.B. stands for Total Occult Mechanical Blasphemy and that’s a good summation of what you’re getting on this album. This long-running act has a history of giving us depraved musical gifts, but they’ve upped the ante on their Peaceville debut. It’s an often harrowing musical experience and one that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon some black mass that you should have never gained entry to. It snakes its way between industrial black metal and ambient dark noise like that great Biblical serpent dooming mankind for all eternity. It’s a top five record for me this year, hands down.
Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
With all due respect to the various members of the “Big 4” who apparently had “comeback” albums this year, it was Testament who delivered the best thrash album of 2016. Period. I recently read an interview in Decibel Magazine where vocalist, Chuck Billy, talked about how difficult this album was to finish. Well, we are all better for their pain because you can feel the blood, sweat, and tears they put into this thing. It’s a fiery record and one that does their amazing legacy quite proud.
Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis
In 2013, New Zealand’s Ulcerate proceeded to melt all the faces and destroy all the year-end lists with their stellar Vermis album. Three years later they are back to make sure your faces are still melted with the equally exceptional Shrines of Paralysis. Playing a brand of death metal that’s equal parts brutal and technical, Ulcerate are the rightful heirs to their label’s (Relapse) death metal crown once worn by the likes of Suffocation, Incantation, and Nile to name a few. Heavy is the head that wears this crown, but from this vantage point they seem up to the challenge and then some.
Vanhelgd – Temple of Phobos
Of course you already know about Sweden’s long and storied death metal history, right? (You better.) But did you know that one band is doing their best to take the genre back to its buzz saw roots while still advancing it into the next generation? Well, now you do. Vanhelgd pretty much blew my face right off my skull with their 2014 album and I’m happy to report that two years later my face is once again on the other side of the room. This is dirty, nasty death metal done in the ways of the old masters, yet with enough atmosphere and ingenuity to erase any thoughts of it being some sort of copycat act. There’s a reason this record made the Metal Dad Radio Show year-end playlist: it’s f*cking amazing.
Waldgeflüster – Ruinen
There were few records in 2016 that got me addicted to them like an addict on crack the way this record did. This German five-piece write some of the most monumental metal you’ll ever lay ears to and this album was the perfect showcase for their talents. Ambient post-metal, mixed with atmospheric black metal and neo-folk interludes. There’s just so much going on here and when all brought together it’s a highly emotive musical experience. I can’t speak highly enough about this record. Grab your headphones and let this thing just melt into your brain. You’ll thank me for it later.
The Wakedead Gathering – Fuscus: Strings of the Black Lyre
Back in February, Ohio’s The Wakedead Gathering was another act that delivered the perfect soundtrack to the icy death grip of winter. Now, as we enter another cycle of frosty despair (at least in Connecticut), revisiting this album is the perfect anecdote to the question, ‘What should I listen to while I can’t leave my house because the frosty air outside will burn my face off.’ Blackened death metal, cut with ambient, doom-like interludes, and thrown into a meat-grinder so that the pulp is extra juicy and bloody.
Warm – The Human Exemplar
Managed to catch these guys opening a show here in CT in the spring and they were so good I literally can’t remember who the touring act was they opened for. Elements of post-metal are deftly woven into a tapestry of stoner rock, sludge, doom, and even some traditional metal thrown in for good measure. Happy to report that their recorded material is as captivating as their live performances.
Worm Ouroboros – What Graceless Dawn
This album is example numero uno as to why you should never try and create a year-end list prior to Thanksgiving. Because when you do you risk missing one of the best albums of the year. (Hell, even doing this list now I’m missing out on some killer records…) Oakland’s Worm Ouroboros write some truly enthralling pieces of music that wax and wane from surreal doom metal to ethereal, ambient passages. It’s just a beautiful record that’s going to be in constant rotation well into 2017.
Zhrine – Unortheta
Las, but certainly not least, is the stunning effort put forth by Iceland’s Zhrine. They recently toured the U.S. opening for Ulcerate, but don’t let that fool you. While they certainly fit on that tour and they dip their collective toes in the black and death metal pools, this band is swimming neck-deep in experimentation. Sweeping, massive soundscapes are held together through blasting brutality. While most bands of this ilk are simply trying to out-muscle you, Zhrine are holding your hand and leading you on a completely unforgettable journey. It’s a stellar release from start to finish.