It has been a strange and unpredictable year of experimentation for metal, with no one style or genre reigning dominant. A wild level of creativity defines the relevant heavy releases of late. Gojira’s dabbling with djent, The Body went pop, and Kvelertak sound like the Scorpions playing black metal. When you turn on any of these records, you have no idea what to expect — each a sonic adventure of its own, the bands not content with making records just to make records, but instead testing their own limits as composers and musicians.
Metal is convenient and fun to segment and compartmentalize into sub-genres, scenes, and regions, but this is becoming trickier as the bands get weirder and harder to pin down by recognizable tropes. The truly modern metal band is informed by elements of metal’s past, but not constrained by them. The door to complete and limitless freedom has been kicked open. It’s been open for a while. Bands are finally passing through and getting to a place of creative comfort where they can write whatever songs they want. Damn, it’s a good time to be a metalhead.
Senior Staff Writer
10. Wode – Wode
Origin: Manchester, UK
The Gist: 2016 is the year for outstanding debuts, and Manchester’s Wode leads the way with some monolithic black metal.
Why It Rules: Immense, dynamic, and fearlessly melodic, Wode’s self-titled is full of battle-ready energy and addictive riffs that prove you don’t need the prefix ‘post’ in front of your genre in order to be interesting anymore. –Sean Barry
09. Cobalt – Slow Forever
Origin: Greeley, CO
The Gist: Erik Wunder adds new vocalist Charlie Fell for the first Cobalt album in seven years.
Why It Rules: At times, Cobalt remind me of the melodic black metal of Melechesh, and at other times I hear the fat riffs of Quicksand and truly undeniable grooves rare to music this intense. Fell mixes a hardcore snarl with more standard shrieking, which might not work for those attached to former member Phil McSorley — who was effectively half of Cobalt for 15 years. This new Cobalt is just as worthy if you give it a chance. Slow Forever is a vast and daunting record, but try “Beast Whip”, a contender for best metal song of the year, and go from there. –Jon Hadusek
08. Sarcoptes – Songs and Dances of Death
Origin: Sacramento, CA
The Gist: The work of this black metal/thrash duo nearly snuck past us this spring, but cleverer ears prevailed, and now Sarcoptes needs to be shown to the world.
Why It Rules: Songs and Dances of Death pleasantly blends the best of ’80s thrash and ’90s black metal into one of the most captivating debuts this year. This album absolutely rips. –Sean Barry
07. Mondo Drag – The Occultation of Light
Origin: Bay Area, California, by way of Davenport, IA
The Gist: Flashback-inducing ’70s heavy psych in the Deep Purple/Pink Floyd mold.
Why It Rules: Mondo Drag have the songwriting and virtuosity to pull it off. The Occultation of Light is the first record to feature contributions from its current touring lineup, arguably the tightest band playing progressive rock. The songs here are both varied, wonderous, and catchy. And the album never tires, no matter how often you reach for it, standing up over multiple plays. Pretty much everything on RidingEasy kills it, but there is none more killer than Mondo Drag. –Jon Hadusek
06. Vektor – Terminal Redux
Origin: Philadelphia, PA, via Tempe, AZ
The Gist: The science fiction-obsessed tech-thrashers spent a good five years writing this mammoth work, and it shows.
Why It Rules: Terminal Redux pushes the thrash metal forward in a time of desperate need. The dinosaurs (Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax) are stagnanating in creative repetition, but Vektor prove there are still unexplored territories in the vastness of thrash. Among the insane, million-chord riffing and shrieking vocals are sonic anomalies like horns and choirs, lyrics that make poetry out of astronomical terminology, and song structures that baffle and entertain. Vektor is about to blow up. Talent like this can’t go unnoticed. –Jon Hadusek
05. Kvelertak – Nattesferd
Origin: Stavanger, Norway
The Gist: Norway’s heavy rockers who famously and expertly blend elements of black metal into their own undeniably fun brand released their third full-length just earlier this month, and it’s quickly finding its way into the hearts of headbangers and non-metalheads alike.
Why It Rules: Kvelertak have transcended the label “black’n’roll” by traversing across so many more heavy rock genres and pulling the best from each to create something wholly their own. Nattesferd is the most fun you’ll have this year listening to metal. –Sean Barry
04. Ustalost – The Spoor of Vipers
Origin: Brooklyn, NY
The Gist: Yellow Eyes’ Will Skarstad presents the first album under his solo project, Ustalost, a name roughly meaning “fatigue” in Russian.
Why It Rules: Gloomy and atmospheric black metal that sounds archaic in the best possible way. Instead of the mysticism and brisk weather of the northern woodlands, think of the decay and humidity of the cellars and catacombs of Gothic cathedrals, and there you’ll find the pleasant nuances that serve as the difference between Yellow Eyes and Ustalost. –Sean Barry
03. Eight Bells – Landless
Origin: Portland, OR
The Gist: Billy Anderson produced the PDX post-metal trio’s sophomore record. An all-female ensemble, Eight Bells employ haunting three-piece harmonies and elements of prog, doom, and choral music.
Why It Rules: It sounds amazing, per all of Anderson’s works, lathered in just the right amount of reverb and analog warmth. The songwriting builds on the Rush-like symphonies of their first record, with Anderson’s production bringing out the captivating atmosphere of the band’s arrangements. The opening notes of “Hating” take you, evoking a sense of deep yearning, and the rest of the record never lets go. Fans of Pallbearer and YOB, pay heed. –Jon Hadusek
02. The Body – No One Deserves Happiness
Origin: Portland, OR, by way of Providence, RI
The Gist: The experimental gloom-and-doom duo promised the “grossest pop album of all time” with the release of their fifth non-collaborative LP, and well…
Why It Rules: It absolutely delivers. The Body is well known for maintaining their harsh and nihilistic identities despite the group’s progressive spirit. And with the welcome introduction of an 808 drum machine into their oeuvre, Chip King and Lee Buford have made one hell of a harsh record that chronicles the deep sense of loss that inevitably comes with love.
01. Deftones – Gore
Origin: Sacramento, CA
The Gist: Chino Moreno and Stephen Carpenter blend their disparate visions for the future of the Deftones’ sound and achieve greatness through their empathy.
Why It Rules: Gore is that classic album archetype where the two strongest creative forces have different ideas on the direction of the band. Coming off more ambient- and electronic-influenced projects like Palms and Crosses, Moreno is content to steer the band toward a more sensual sound. Meanwhile, Carpenter, the guitarist, is repulsed by the material and vows to put his stamp on it via his distinct riffs and melodic lines. It’s a logical reconciliation and the inevitable evolution for the band. –Jon Hadusek