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Top 10 Albums of 2016

10: Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason

Goddamn I was hanging out for this one. Hanging! In the end, I felt a little disappointed and this one, barely cracked my top 10. Don’t get me wrong, I dig it. I dig it a lot, but nowhere near the love I had for the previous opus Koloss. It’s unmistakably a Meshuggah record, no one sounds like this, but song structure and hooks get lost in the plethora of bludgeoning that this record puts the listener through. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more with repeated plays, but I don’t want to force myself to like it, and this is what it feels like when listening to this one.


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09: Deftones – Gore

I love this band. One of the most amazing live acts you are likely to see. They bring it live. Always. Whilst the records are much more subdued than the energy that their songs exhibit in the live front they’ve still managed to bring out a plethora of classic albums along their career. And let it be said, this is another classic! Beautifully brutal and brutally beautiful, a Deftones record always manages you to take you on a sonic journey full of lush guitars and the sublime vocal stylings of Chino Moreno. Are they Metal? Are they Alternative? Are they Punk? Who the fuck cares! They are phenomenal!


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08: Abbath – Abbath

Abbath was one of the surprise packets of the gigs of 2015. He toured in Australia late in that year and played a slab of great gigs throughout the country. It was easily one of my fave gigs of the year and I was eagerly awaiting to get my mitts on this album shortly after the tour. Someone within the Abbath camp handed me a copy of this long before it was due to be released earlier this year so by the time I did buy the physical copy, I had already heard it… and LOVED it. Having said that, I think this one would have ranked higher in my top 10 had it been released later throughout 2016. Still, it proudly sits in my top 10 as a fine example of catchy, riff-laden Black Metal from one of its finest players. Killer fuckn album!

p.s. if you love Immortal, well, you’re gonna love this one! Get it!


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07: Volbeat – Seal The Deal And Let’s Boogie

You know what you’re gonna get with Volbeat almost always. With a distinct sound and all-round vibe, they are masters at the catchy and memorable hook delivered with power and oomph by the Metal version of Elvis Presley, lead-crooner Michael Poulson. Their records sound as powerful as their songs with fantastic production that begs to be turned up nice and loud. This is classic drive-time music. Loud the car up with a bunch of buddies and sing along to each and every lyric. Another fun and freaking awesome release from the Danish masters!


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06: Korn – The Serenity Of Suffering

Boom! What a return to form this one is! Stoked to have Head back in the band because for the longest of whiles, these guys were absolutely lost without him… and he without them I take it. Sure they were together for the last release, but with The Serenity Of Suffering, Korn have embraced what made them great on those first few (classic!) records! Massive drums (Dave who?), huge guitars, HUGE breakdowns and a BIG, BIG sound that pounds you from start to finish. Unashamed huge fan of Korn, I wear my loyalty on my sleeve with these guys and I am freaking elated to hear them sounding like this again with all the electronic experimentation out-of-the-way hopefully, once and for all. Sure, there’s a sense of familiarity about it all, but when your past is so good, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a band sounding like what made them great in the first place!


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05: Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts

Sombre. Moody. Dark. Morose and oh so damn beautiful! They’ve kinda been unfairly labelled as Opeth clones, and sure, there’s argument to justify that – but with each passing album they are showing growth and awareness to move away from those comparisons. The Fall Of Hearts is the band’s finest hour and an album that showcases so much incredible ability and melodic songs that stay with you for a long time after the record has come to its ultimate conclusion. There is so much to digest here and the incredible hooks and melodies are so infectious. Incredible album!


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04: Opeth – Sorceress

Opeth have gone and done it. The evolution is absolutely complete. The Death Metal is all but gone and what is left is a band that can stake their claim as one of the best Progressive Rock bands on the planet. It has been a divisive evolution, they have lost many fans along their way who can’t handle or accept the profound change, but they have gained so much more. Personally, I prefer this direction and I look forward to each and every release these guys produce with bated breath. They remain as one of my favourite bands and are always incredibly fun to photograph live. Sorceress is a hauntingly beautiful record. So superbly crafted with meticulous playing and instrumentation throughout. They do the Prog thing so well, stripping away the pretentiousness that can infest this genre and creating a sound they can uniquely call their own.


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03: Khemmis – Hunted

Khemmis took away album of the year for me last year. And they very nearly did it again this year! Which is not to say their follow-up release to the brilliant Absolution wasn’t just as mega. It is equally as superb and probably would have rated even higher than number 3 had I had it ear-worming the fuck out me a little longer. These guys are gonna be massive and are probably the best exponents of Doom out there today. Whilst most of the Doom scene is too self-absorbed ripping off early Black Sabbath, these guys are defining what the genre should sound like from here on. Track 4 Beyond The Door would have to be the best song of 2016 bar none. Superbly crafted and executed it is an absolute masterpiece of head banging bludgeon riffola! So excited to kick back and watch these lads get bigger and bigger. You may not have heard of them yet, but oh you will! Soon!


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02: Letlive – If I’m The Devil

Fell in love with this one after two listens! I had it as album of the year for the longest of times, and then Metallica landed! This is a fantastic album and if you were lucky enough to catch these guys opening for Deftones a few years ago, you’ll know just how amazing a live act they are! According to my iTunes, this is my most played music of 2016. Each and every song drips raw emotion and incredible melody and hooks. Drips! They’ve toned down the raucousness a little and ended up sounding like modern-day AFI (a lot!) – which is a good thing! I gave their previous two albums a serious workout over the course of the past two years, good to see this stellar band crack the JR top 10! Killer fuckn album boys and girls!


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01: Metallica – Hardwired To Self Destruct

For most in my immediate circle, we grew up with Metallica. They weren’t discovered by us at a time when they had already made their mark on the world, but we found them way back in 1982 when record contracts were a figment of the band’s imagination and the only way they could get their music out was via the tape-trading circuit.

The thriving tape-trading scene of the day reached fever pitch on a global scale when the No Life Till Leather tape began doing the rounds. It is so incredibly hard to imagine (and remember!) a world without internet and instant communication but this was a time when if you wanted to hear new music and discover new bands – the deep underground Metal press and your postman were your best friend. Anyone remember Metal Forces magazine?

In my young teenage years, I was working for various Metal fanzines back in the day with regular articles in Metal Pussy and Heavy Duty fanzines. I struck up a relationship with fledgling independent record label Metal Blade and their owner Brian Slagel who would regularly send me the latest vinyl from the label. (Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Slayer, Bitch, Fates Warning, Trouble) and the debut Metal Massacre compilation album featuring demos of new bands.

Ending the Metal Massacre compilation on side 2 was a band called ‘Mettallica’ (SIC) with the song Hit The Lights. Yep, two t’s in the name and a truly horrendous version of the song with Hetfield sounding like a prepubescent skater boy. The vocals sucked, the production was 4-track woeful but there was one thing prevalent and in-your-face and completely unforgettable. And that was energy. Raw, blistering energy and a song that chugged along at a frenetic beat and pace.

By the time the aforementioned No Life Till Leather began to infiltrate traders’ hands and boom-boxes, Metallica was being eyed as the next big thing.

The rest is well-defined history which has been documented so extensively over the past few decades. And many of us were there to ride all the bumps with the band. I remember it as if it were yesterday when my closest mate called me to let me know about Cliff’s passing. There have been tragedies to overcome and a band, who for most of the last 20 years has appeared lost and way off point and on the verge of self-destruction as witnessed in the Some Kind Of Monster expose.

Metallica’s fan base was created and maintained over the lean times by those first four albums… ‘Kill Em All’, ‘Ride The Lightning’, ‘Master Of Puppets’ and ‘And Justice For All’. By the time the ‘Black’ album came and went, the best-selling LP of the last quarter century, they had long surpassed their contemporaries and peers. Bands they drew their influence from – Motörhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Diamond Head, and the plethora of NWOBHM goodness could only quiver in their collective boots at the juggernaut Metallica had become.

And it is a fan base the band have teased and played with along the way. For as masterful as the ‘Black’ album was and is, it was originally met with some distrust, hatred and cries of ‘sell-out’ by the diehards. Metallica on MTV? Are you fuckn kidding me?

When the first single Hardwired was released, the first thing… the very first thing I was listening out for was the production. Let’s face it, the brick walled Death Magnetic was absolutely annihilated with the worst sounding mix I have ever heard committed to any pro-release. It turned me off the album for the longest time and it wasn’t a year or two later that I could even appreciate some of it. And the less said about St. Anger the better hey? And we won’t ever, ever, ever, ever mention the utter wankfest that was Lulu hey? Fuck! These guys were lost and so far up their collective arses that it was embarrassing being seen outside with a Metallica t-shirt on!

Disc 1:

1: Hardwired (Hetfield, Ulrich)
2: Atlas, Rise! (Hetfield, Ulrich)
3: Now That Were Dead (Hetfield, Ulrich)
4: Moth Into Flame (Hetfield, Ulrich)
5: Dream No More (Hetfield, Ulrich)
6: Halo On Fire (Hetfield, Ulrich)

Hard Wired lands (hard!) Do I even bother giving these guys another chance… again? Well I need to listen to it at least don’t I? I owe it to the legend. One more chance. Ok. Here we go!

BOOM!

Whoa! Bass! I can hear bass. It grooves! It breathes! It actually reminds me of something that could have fit nicely on either Kill ‘Em All or even the better moments of the Load duopoly! There’s anger! Real anger as Hetfield spits out the lyrics with purpose and vigour! Holy mother of God, I am actually digging this!

By the time the third single Atlas, Rise! has been released, the band’s marketing machine has created a frenzy of anticipation in the Metal and Rock communities. The band begin an intense press and media campaign and whether you liked it or not, you had pencilled in the release date on your calendar. November 18 could not come soon enough! (And you’d wonder what the lads over at Avenged Sevenfold are thinking hey? This is how the big boys do it guys!)

The album kicks off with the three aforementioned tracks and is inter-spread with the plodding chugga-chug of Now That We’re Dead. All four of these opening tracks are some of the strongest on the album and they lay down the foundation for what lies ahead.

Featuring 12 tracks across two discs, all lyrics were penned by Hetfield with songwriting credits being split between Hetfield and Ulrich. Bassist Robert Trujillo gets a co-writing credit on one track – ManUNkind. Guitarist Kirk Hammett has no credits famously losing his iPhone with a ton of riff ideas he had recorded on it! “It’s a bitter pill to swallow!” – says Hammett to the non-participation in the songwriting department.

Dream No More pegs things back a little and it is here where one can hear moments of the Load and Re-Load albums. As chastised as those records are, they do feature some stellar moments and I was immediately reminded of them whilst listening to this track.

Vocally, Hetfield absolutely shines on this track and throughout the course of the entire record. He drives this album with superb backing from Lars and co. Seriously, no snickering in the back there, this is some of Ulrich’s finest drumming. Simple. Concise. And for once, he lets the songs breathe with no unnecessary fills and cymbal crashes. He may have called this ‘stock’ drumming a few years ago, but for these ears (and ex-drummer!) he plays it well here.

Wrapping things up on disc 1 is the plodder Halo On Fire which takes a while to kick in but takes it to another level from the mid-mark onwards. Clocking in at over 8 minutes long, it is the album’s longest song with some fantastic vocal stylings from Hetfield and solid, steady drumming from Ulrich. The song is almost divided into three parts as it changes and evolves again at the tail end of the track.

Disc 1 is incredibly strong. Some of the band’s finest work in a long time so as you take pause and digest what you have just experienced in this intermission period of either loading the new disc, flipping the vinyl or clicking your mouse, I am sure the question in everyone’s mind is, will disc 2 be just as strong?

Disc 2:

1: Confusion (Hetfield, Ulrich)
2: ManUnkind (Hetfield, Ulrich, Trujillo)
3: Here Comes Revenge (Hetfield, Ulrich)
4: Am I Savage (Hetfield, Ulrich)
5: Murder One (Hetfield, Ulrich)
6: Spit Out The Bone (Hetfield, Ulrich)

Whereas I found most of disc 1 more accessible and easier to get into, the second disc seems to be riddled with more of the grower songs. Like me, you’re going to have to spend some time before these tracks successfully wrap themselves into the sinews of your mind. I am sure Metallica HQ pondered long and hard on the sequencing of this record.

Whilst the first half takes you on a journey of classic-era Metallica the second begins with big guitars and drums on the track Confusion which has an Am I Evil? type of feel with the band locked in tighter than Hammett’s jeans in the mid 80’s!

ManUkind follows and it is clear this is where the album starts to linger a little. Don’t get me wrong, I like the track and its sexy Blues swagger but with the next track Here Comes Revenge that frenetic bombastic edge of the first disc is beginning to be missed. All of these first three tracks do have some wonderful moments scattered throughout, but one wonders had one or two of them been left off the album, would they have at all been missed?

The same can be said for Am I Savage? another plodder which just adds to the morose vibe of disc 2. It is almost Black Sabbath-esque in its pace and delivery with some fine wailing over the top. It’s heavy! Heavy as fuck and it sounds so much like it could have been at one with the Black album quite easily!

Murder One stands in tribute to the fallen Lemmy of Motörhead. Let’s face it, without Lemmy’s influence there would never have been a Metallica in the first place and whilst both bands have had a lasting friendship over the course of Metallica’s history, I thought it was so damn cool to immortalise Lemmy in song. Lemmy’s famous Murder One Marshalls have long rendered Motörhead fans deaf for many, many years.

Lyrically, the song is killer but musically as with the aforementioned tracks of disc 2, I am beginning to wish this was a shorter album. Disc 2 is no where near the excellence of the first and I would imagine most listeners of this album would feel the same.

And so we wrap it all nicely with the frantic Thrash goodness of Spit Out The Bone. Old-school ‘Tallica thrash from start to finish and the perfect book-end to the entire Hardwired project.

It’s not perfect. Far from it. But it is the best piece of work the band has released since the Black album. I wanted to like it even more, but as of today, as of right now, I need some more time with Disc 2. I like the songs on there. I like them a lot. But not as much as the first half.

It is an album by a band who has now, finally fully realised just where they have fucked up in the past and returned to a sound they know their fans want. Is it album of the year? No, but it is certainly up there and I am guessing it is going to sell like nobody’s business the world over.

With a masterful marketing campaign and promotion machine in full effect months before the album was due for release, the Metallica conglomerate has left nothing to chance. Not a thing.

Welcome home, boys!

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And the ones that didn’t quite make it: (but got tons of play at JR-HQ!)
Church Of Misery – And Then There Were None, Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence, Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight, Ghost – Popestar, Gojira – Magma, Hatebreen – Concrete Confessional, Haunted – Haunted, Killswitch Engage – Incarnate, Megadeth – Dystopia, Rob Zombie – The Electric Warlock Acid…, Rotting Christ – Rituals, Surgical Meth Machine – Surgical Meth Machine

Disappointments Of The Year:
Anthrax – For All Kings
Love Antrhax. Have done so since the beginning. Loved the last one Worship Music. Killer comeback album. This one… bores the hell out of me. I just cannot get into it. And I’ve tried and tried. Is it just me? I have no idea but I wanted to like this a whole lot more.

Devin Townsend – Transcendence
Ugh! I am so disappointed in this one. I have loved EVERYTHING that Dev has unleashed over the last few years, but this, this is dullsville and dare I say, a caricature of itself. Where are those freaking pop hooks over huge guitars that refuse to leave your brain gone? This sounds tired. Unispired. Boring. Dull. 🙁


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One thought on “Top 10 Albums of 2016”

  1. Def agree with #1. Biggest surprise of the year. I reckon we’ve got more overlap with our top 20. I really liked Fates Warning, Gojira and Rotting Christ. Not a huge fan of Khemmis or Volbeat. Also liked Witchery, Darkthrone, Blaack Crown Initiate and Dee Snider (yes! Check it out!).
    Also agree with your disappointments though I’d add Ghost’s Popestar which rates 2 out of 5 for me.
    All in all, a great year for metal.
    Cheers. m/

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