Dave’s Top 10 Albums Of 2016

As John Oliver aptly put it, “Fuck 2016.” While I am very happy to bid the year a not so fond farewell, I was at least able to take some comfort in some really fantastic releases this year. Interestingly, while Alex and my best of the year lists are usually pretty different, (“Do you likes it? Then I hates it!” -Alex) this year there was a surprising amount of overlap. Too much really, and so some albums that would probably have made my list ended up on the cutting room floor just to keep things interesting, which of course isn’t to say that any of the following are undeserving.

Dynamically, I’m afraid the industry is still largely stuck on DR6. Although on a positive note, it does seem like more bands than ever are finally starting to become aware of the issue, and are starting to look at releasing alternative, more dynamic masters if there’s enough demand for them. One such band is Mithras. On Strange Loops likely would’ve made my list as well, were it not for the intolerably loud production. I was hoping that the dynamic version released on Bandcamp would salvage things, but as with Fallujah, this is an album that was already destroyed at the mixing stage, and so the ridiculous mastering was just beating a dead horse. Here’s hoping for a more dynamic 2017.

As is always the case, the following albums are presented in no particular order, with the exception of the last one, which is my favorite of the year.

2013’s Construct was a definite step in the right direction after the very disappointing We Are The Void, but man did the band deliver this year. Atoma is classic Dark Tranquillity in every way, standing shoulder to shoulder with the band’s best work from the early ‘00s. Whatever they do, whatever they say, just GOOOOOOOO and buy it.

Words In Ruin from new to me Belgians Dyscordia is an album that I kept returning to over and over. With stellar musicianship, a really enticing blend of progressive, folk, and power cues, and dangerously addictive hooks, this thing is tough to put away. Just do yourself a favor and skip “A Perfect Day,” with its K-pop levels of annoying happiness. Insert your own grumpy cat meme.

Fates Warning have been at it for well over twenty years, and with Theories Of Flight, they show no signs of slowing down. This album is packed with infectious riffs from beginning to end, and the excellent production makes the most of every inch of available headroom. There really are no weak spots to speak of, but “The Light And Shade Of Things” in particular is over ten minutes of progressive bliss, and stands out as one of my favorite songs of the year.

I never quite know what to expect from Ihsahn, and Artkis turned out to be quite the surprise – the surprise being that it’s a better Opeth album than Opeth have released since they started worshiping at the altar of ‘70s prog. If you were as underwhelmed by Sorceress as I was, definitely pick this up, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Seventeen years off is quite the vacation, but happily Pure delivers everything you could ask for after so long away. Imagine Tiamat and November’s Doom blended together, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect here. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” in particular is just exquisite.

The sad passing of Aleah Stanbridge, most known for her backing vocals on the last few Swallow The Sun albums, is yet another reason 2016 can go fuck itself. On the bright side, Hour Of The Nightingale is a fitting tribute, allowing her to take center stage and shine. This isn’t an album you’re going to spin over and over, but when you’re in the mood for beautiful gothic doom, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Maestro, once you get past the pointless opening track, is an album that grips you and won’t let go. You could call it melodic black metal, but it won’t be pigeonholed that easily. There’s just so much to like here, from the wonderful combination of violin and acoustic guitar to the blistering riffs. It may not quite be the new Xanthochroid album that I’ve been dying for (any minute now, right guys?) but it’s a blast.

I’ve been guilty of using the “C” word too often when describing an album, (the C word being Crimson) but it definitely fits here. Blending the very best of Edge Of Sanity with more recent Nightingale, The Northern Sanctuary is basically Dan The Man defined, and of course the fact that the version on disc two is DR13 is just icing on the cake. You just want to turn it up, and up, and up.

As I said, I tried to avoid overlapping Alex on my list, but Affinity is so good that it just had to be on here. The Mountain was a huge leap over Aquarius and Visions, and Affinity, amazingly, takes a similar leap forward. It would’ve been my album of the year, were it not for…

Allow me to explain this one (Oh, here we go again… -Alex). Just as poor production can really drag down an otherwise very promising album – Mithras, multiple Allegaeon albums, Be’lakor (sorry guys, but it’s true) – truly stellar production can elevate very solid if not necessarily spectacular albums far above where they would be if they sounded merely ordinary, and that is the case with The Empire on vinyl. It may not have the mega production talent behind the new Avenged Sevenfold, but honestly, I think it sounds even better. When we talk about why dynamics are so important to metal, tracks like “Iron Reign” and “The Army-Geddon” are why. The combination of the pounding drums, thundering riffs, wailing solos, and Tomasz Halicki’s earth shaking bass (seriously, that bass guitar) was by far my favorite aural experience of the year. If you have a turntable, buy this record. Today. If you don’t have a turntable, buy one, and then buy this record.