2016, has been a pretty terrible year for humanity. On that, I think we can all agree without much furore (unless you voted Leave or voted for Trump…or somehow managed both). We’ve also lost way too many great musicians and artists, from Lemmy at the end of 2015, to David Bowie to legendary thrashers like Nick Menza…yeah, this year’s been a dead stinker.
BUT, conversely, 2016 has been an absolutely tip-topcat year for music, and for rock, metal and punk in particular. I suppose with a lot to feel uneasy about, musicians have just gotten an upsurge of untapped aggression and passion to release upon the world. We’ve had grizzled veterans return to fray after a lengthy hiatus from recording, up-and-comers have stepped up their game and fully solidified their top places, and we witnessed possibly the biggest surprise record drop in recent memory (oh, we’ll get to that).
I could prattle on and on about how good this year has been for music (and believe me, we all needed something good), but I can only type so much. So here’s my top 10 records of 2016.
NB: I know this is a little premature, but I’ve had a look at what else is coming out before the year’s end, and can safely say I have no interest in it. Sue me.
Also this list is limited to things that I’ve listened to. If you don’t see your favourite here, it’s either because I didn’t listen to it, or I did and I didn’t enjoy it. You decide.
10.”Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie” by Volbeat
Volbeat are probably best described as what would happen if Elvis had been cryogenic-ally frozen, woken up in a biker bar, covered himself in tattoos and turned up the gain on his guitar. I’ve been a Volbeat fan since 2010’s “Beyond Hell/Above Heaven” and their rockabilly infused brand of hard rock (jeez that was more rocks than a Flintstones joke) has only gotten better with age. “Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie” is , simply put a balls out rock record. Whether it’s the steady fist-pumping fight song “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown”, the bounding fastball of “Black Rose” (featuring Danko Jones) or the fiery riffage of the title track, Volbeat’s old school sound combined with frontman Michael Poulsen‘s rock’n’roll charisma shot the band right through to the upper echelon of the genre…and that’s a damn good echelon to be on.
9. “Bad Vibrations” by A Day To Remember
Floridian pop punkers A Day To Remember have been enjoying a string of successful records (if the last 8 years are anything to go by anyway). 2010’s “What Separates Me From You” saw the band fully embrace their trademark hardcore meets pop punk sound, whilst 2013’s “Common Courtesy” (yours truly’s favourite record of that year, LOOK IT UP) provided some of the greatest music of the band’s career. Of course, with most of the songs being positively charged, ADTR being who they are did a complete 180 and released probably the heaviest and darkest record of their career. “Bad Vibrations” is heavy. It’s very heavy. Songs like lead single “Paranoia” and the title track provide some of the harshest pop punk imaginable, whilst tracks like “Exposed” and “Reassemble” are basically djent songs (almost in the vein of Born of Osiris). Where ADTR shine on this record however, is on (arguably) the lighter tracks, with “Naivety” and “Bullfight” sounding like the perfect marriage between Descendants and Bad Religion. I honestly enjoyed this record and would probably be higher on this list were I not a bigger fan of their pop-punky back-catalogue. Still, “Bad Vibrations” is a solid record with plenty of enjoyable songs.
8. “A War Against You” by Ignite
Ignite’s first studio record for a decade did NOT disappoint. 2006’s “Our Darkest Days” was a punk album way ahead of its time, and following Zoli Téglás return from his stint with punk legends Pennywise, a 2016 record was all but guaranteed. It feels like Ignite have picked up right where they left off. “A War Against You” is the angriest punk record I’ve heard in a while. Angrier than a howling mandrill that’s just been fed the wrong cereal. Opening with the apt “Begin Again” (featuring some sweet sweet vocal harmonies) the album barely slows down, with Téglás displaying that his already high voice has about as much limit as Gordon Ramsay has Michelin Stars. Lead single “Nothing Can Stop Me” is an anthem for the underdog like no other, filled with unmitigated badassery from start to finish. There’s stuff for all punk fans on this incredibly versatile record: “This is a War” for the hardcore kids, “How is this Progress?” for those who prefer the political edge, and things even get a little bit poppy with the steady groove of “Oh No, Not Again.” A pretty much perfect punk record for all fans.
7. “Incarnate” by Killswitch Engage
When former frontman Howard Jones (currently fronting Devil You Know LOOK THEM U….you know the drill) left Killswitch Engage I was pretty cut up to say the least. BUT (and that’s a big but) the return of original frontman and Wolverine lookalike Jesse Leach breathed a new surge of energy into our boys Killswitch, and “Incarnate” solidifies precisely that. We already knew that Leach could growl like some sort of enraged mongoose, but “Incarnate” shows off the guy’s clean vocal chops too! Tracks like “Cut Me Loose” and “Embrace The Journey…Unpraised” settle into the slower, marchier Killswitch that we haven’t seen for a while, whilst album opener “Alone I Stand” and “Hate By Design” charge ahead with all the strength of cheesed-off rhino. Lead single “Strength of the Mind” shines above all, bringing back the infectious groove of the Killswitch that we all know and love. “Incarnate” is KSE’s finest since 2006’s As Daylight Dies, and have proved this year that they are far from done.
6. “Afraid Of Heights” by Billy Talent
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Billy Talent. Ever since 2003’s self-titled effort, the Ontario quintet have gone very much against the grain. Sure, there’s songs like “Fallen Leaves” (Billy Talent II, 2006) and “Rusted From the Rain” (Billy Talent III, 2009) to draw in the alternative masses, but even the band’s most commercial joint, “Red Flag” (Billy Talent II, 2006) doesn’t exactly follow a predictable pattern. Enter “Afraid of Heights”, a politically charged record with a quiet fury about it. “Big Red Gun” serves as both a catchy rock song and a social commentary on gun laws in the USA, protesting the fact mass shootings have become commonplace Stateside. “Louder Than the DJ” is another standout, a mid-paced rocker serving as a celebration to the life changing aspects of rock’n’roll whilst also acting as a challenge to “Generation Narcissistic” to keep the genre going (“They say that rock will never survive, it’s up to youth to keep her alive”). Other standouts include “Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats” and “Time-Bomb Ticking Away.” In a year when most commercialised rock tended to be a bit naff (I’m looking at you Bon Jovi) Billy Talent were a refreshing splash of punk-infused rock with a sharpened lyrical edge. Welcome back Mr. Talent (NB: Nobody in this band is actually called Billy….or Talent).
5.”The Last Hero” by Alter Bridge
Alter Bridge have been a bit hit and miss for me in recent years. They’ve either absolutely nailed it (One Day Remains, 2004 and AB III, 2010) or things have gotten just a little bit too experimental (Fortress, 2013). “The Last Hero” sees Alter Bridge taking their already experimental brand of rock to the next level. Featuring the absolutely masterful songwriting of former Creed axeman Mark Tremonti, “The Last Hero” has been fed through the metal machine, and become one of the heaviest/grooviest records of the band’s career. Opener “Show Me a Leader” introduces the perfect fusion of chuggy 7-string guitars underneath a beatufiully crafted solo, whilst frontman Myles Kennedy sounds on top form, with some of the songs reaching notes that can only be heard by midget bats. This is best seen on “The Other Side” and “Crows on a Wire”, with the band dialling the heavy gauge up to 11 and Kennedy showing off his unbelievable vocal chops. Resident slow song “My Champion” is a brilliantly written arena song, whilst “Poison In Your Veins” and “Cradle to the Grave” sound groovier than a stampede of disco elephants (just picture that for a second). In their 12 year recording tenure, Alter Bridge have yet to put out a carbon copy of a previous album, constantly pushing that hard rock/heavy metal envelope to both overexceed and undercut people’s expectations. Heroes!
4. “California” by Blink 182
2016 has seen a pop punk renaissance. So much so that this entire year (musically anyway) has felt like 2001. With Sum 41, Green Day, Simple Plan and Good Charlotte all putting out new records, and even The Offspring poised for a comeback, the angst has clearly made its way back into music. But, of course, in such a heated battle of breakdowns and major keys, pop-punk kings Blink 182 have come out on top. The first record to not feature longtime whiner and strummer…sorry, vocalist and guitar player Tom DeLonge, there were a couple of people who were slightly apprehensive about “California.” Those people had clearly never listened to Alkaline Trio. Bringing in Matt Skiba was one of the best decisions that Blink have ever made, largely as his voice sits so well with frontman and pop-punk legend Mark Hoppus (who sang all of the good Blink 182 songs anyway…search your feelings, you know it to be true).
Skiba‘s introduction has given Blink 182 a cheeky bit of CPR and breathed some much needed new life into them. “Cynical” lulls us all into thinking the band have re-recording “I Miss You” before launching into some of the fastest rolls of Blink’s career (courtesy of one of the best drummers in the world, Travis Barker). Every song on this album is catchy as hell, and while it’s a little overlong, I really didn’t mind it. “Bored to Death” brings in elements of post-hardcore songs of the modern day with its breakdown infused chorus, whilst “She’s Out of Her Mind” invokes the familiar pumpy feeling of older Blink classics like “The Rock Show“ and “What’s My Age Again?“ (the video even parodies the latter!). Of course there’s still poppier cuts here in the form of “Sober” and “No Future”, and it’s clear that the band haven’t lost their goofy side (see “Built This Pool” for more). It’s easy to just label “California” as a nostalgia trip, but this is some of the best music of Blink 182’s storied tenure. They’ve made a triumphant return to claim the pop-punk crown, and given this year’s competition, I think it’s safe to say they’ve earned it.
3. “Aggressive” by Beartooth
Given that frotman Caleb Shomo‘s previous band were notorious flops Attack! Attack!, I was pretty skeptical when Beartooth debuted with “Disgusting” in 2014. The album ended up being phenomenal and I ended up looking like a lemon, and not just any lemon, like a lemon who’d just eaten their sour lemon words….lemon. 2016’s follow up, “Aggressive” provides an even bigger sound than it’s predecessor’s anthems, whilst amping up the grit to Arabian Desert levels. The title track is more furious than a rabid badger who’s come home to a messy burrow, whilst “Hated” is so emotionally infused that you can’t help but get riled up. This album is definitely a lot more emotional, with a guitar tone about as raw as the Hell’s Kitchen menu. “Loser” and “Fair Weather Friend” all strike brilliant chords, ducking flowery language for a more direct and well…Aggressive approach. “Rock is Dead” makes another brilliant statement about the state of rock music today and it’s importance, with Shomo bellowing “I’d rahter be deaf than bored out of my mind” and “If rock’n’roll’s dead, you can kill me right now.” This is all rounded of by the almost spoken-word track “King of Anything” where Shomo pulls out some of the most visceral vocals that I’ve ever heard. “Aggressive” isn’t just this album’s name, its the a signal that this is probably on the emotional side of the scale. Beartooth have definitely stepped up their game, and if “Aggressive” is anything to go by, they can only climb higher from here.
2.”Hardwired…To Self Destruct” by Metallica
We did our waiting. 8 donkey-boffing years of it. With 2008’s “Death Magnetic” being a return to form after that colossal pile of dead goldfish that was 2003’s “St. Anger.” To make up for lost time, Metallica have given us not one, but TWO albums (well…one album split onto two discs). I don’t think anybody expected this record to be as good as it was, but this is perhaps ‘Tallica’s best effort since 1991’s self-titled opus (aka The Black Album). “Hardwired” both sets the charge and explodes in the opening seconds, in song that very much sets the tone for a true return to their trash roots (it’s also under 5 minutes…that’s unheard of with modern Metallica). “Atlas, Rise!” and “Moth to the Flame” lead on from this, bringing crazy solos a plenty from axeman and wah-pedal enthusiast Kirk Hammett, whilst James Hetfield belts out vocal lines in a tone gravellier than Brighton beach. Metallica also display elements of their groovier cuts with songs like “Now That We’re Dead” and “Dream No More.” Lemmy tibute “Murder One”, while a little simplistic lyrically, more than compensates with anthemic phrases and a slow-groove, fitting of rock’n’rolls last true outlaw. Album closer “Spit Out the Bone” is, dare I say it, the best song Metallica have written since the 90s, with an unrelenting pulse of a drumline (well done Lars Ulrich…he had to get it right eventually) and even a mid song bass solo from Robert Trujilo!
Sure, “Hardwired…To Self Destruct!” is by no means the perfect Metallica record, but it’s still a damn good metal record and an effective display of what the band are still capable of. Long may they reign.
1.”The Stage” by Avenged Sevenfold
One of the most anticipated releases in recent memory turned into the biggest curveball that a band could possibly throw. The lead up, the release, the upcoming tour. Everything was more pitch perfect than Idina Menzel (which now that I think about it isn’t that difficult, but still!). From the projections of the A7X‘s Deathbat mascot through the world’s major capital cities, acting like a beacon of the grandest order for metalheads everywhere, to the Chris Jericho (the Ayatollah of Rock’n’Rollah himself) punking everyone with the hashtag “#VoltaicOceans” and a bogus release date, to dropping the album at a day’s notice! Avenged Sevenfold took a real risk here, completely unfamiliar to the rock world, and it’s safe to say that it paid off in the best of ways.
Musically, this is the band at not only their most unusual, but with their creativity at sky decimating all-time high. The album opens with title track “The Stage“, featuring a distorted organ and double-kick drum combination (so far the first and only single released), where new stickman Brooks Wackerman has clearly been let off of his chain and allowed to run wilder than a Tasmanian Devil on a feeding frenzy. From the tempo changes in the aformentioned title track, to the Danny Elfman-esque horn section of “Sunny Disposition“to the almost completely instrumental, 15 MINUTE album closer “Exist“, this is experimental Avenged at their absolute zenith. Tracks like “God Damn“, “Paradigm” and “Creating God” display that our boys A7X are still more than capable of writing the explosive brand of hard rock that brought them success on “City of Evil” (2005) and “Nightmare” (2010), whilst songs such as “Angels” and the epic “Roman Sky” that show Avenged Sevenfold really pushing the boat out….the space boat, out into the primordial sea of rock that they’ve created amongst the stars.
Everything about this record was unexpected, and, like a peanut butter cupcake at the bottom of a pile of paperwork, the surprise was extremely pleasant. Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeace are as versatile as ever with more dueling guitars than a Dethklok concert, whilst M. Shadows appears have decided to take his voice, in all of its glorious raspy-ness to newer heights (seriously, he’s singing even higher than usual, that’s pretty damn high). Basically, if there’s one album you listen to this year, make it this one. It’ll change your view of rock and metal. I guarantee it.
So there’s the list:
Whelp, that’s the list. Honestly, this was tough, as there has been so much great music out this year. So some honourable mentions are definitely in order:
- “You Want it Darker” by Leonard Cohen – because fuckyeah dark atmospheric poetry
- “Magma” by Gojira – because fuckyeah groovey aggression
- “Periphery III: Select Level” by Periphery – because fuckyeah djent
- “13 Voices” by Sum 41 – Because fuckyeah pop punk
- “The Serenity of Suffering” by KoRn – Because fuckyeah the nu-metal kings are back
- “Aftermath EP” by As Lions – (I really wanted this on the list, but it’s an EP so we’ll have to wait until the album’s out!) but also because fuckyeah!
Yes, this list is mostly comprised of punk, rock and metal. Those that know me are more than aware that this is mostly what I listen to. Once again, other genre’s just couldn’t keep up (in this guy’s humble opinion anyway), or they were streaming on some stupidly exclusive version of Spotify for Jay-Z and his mates that I avoided out of protest.
If you didn’t see your favourite record on here, or if you feel I’ve missed the mark entirely, then stick a comment down below and let’s have a chat 🙂 I’ve always loved finding new music, so feel free to send some my way.
2016 may have been a colosally shit year in general, but the music has been awesomely awesomeified, and will (hopefully) lead us into a better 2017…not that that’ll be hard.