Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Best Of 2016

The Best Of 2016

Either the years seem to be going quicker, or I’m getting slower! Either way, 2016 brought me a ton of great music to lose myself in, even if I couldn’t lock down much time to write about them.
But despite the disappointing lack of time (And content for the blog), I did manage to listen to plenty of great music, with more than enough to make up a top ten list of my favourites for the year.

So here it is. And as always, the choices here are based on my own personal tastes, and not in any particular order of preference.

Abbath – Abbath (Season Of Mist)

I really didn’t know what to expect from former Immortal frontman Abbath’s debut solo release, but it took but a single listen to know that I liked what I heard. Sure, it’s not all that far removed from what he had produced in the past under the Immortal banner, but when you have tracks such as ‘To War!’, ‘Winter Bane’, ‘Ashes Of The Damned’ and ‘Endless’, the lack of boundary pushing can be overlooked at this point in time for one genuinely solid release.

Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast Records)

A rather tense and difficult gestation period, mixed with huge expectations from their legion of fans for a new Testament album had many wondering if the Bay Area thrashers still had it in them to stand tall in the so called ‘Big 4’. Well in short; ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ is an absolute gem in Testament’s crown. Fast paced, aggressive and catchy, this is Testament at their best. Stand out cuts include ‘Seven Seals’, ‘The Pale King’, the shredding title track and ‘The Number Game’. 

The Jelly Jam – Profit (Music Theories Recordings)

Powerhouse trio The Jelly Jam are somewhat of a strange outfit, and their releases are never immediate to me. But over time, this fourth release has certainly grown on me. Mixed equally between the soft and rockier side of things, the band showcase their diverse musical influences, and Ty Tabor’s ability to provide hooks that amaze. Song worthy of singling out include ‘Water’, the rocking ‘Mr. Man’, ‘Stop’, the mellow ‘Heaven’ and the climatic ‘Strong Belief’.

Cheap Trick - Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello (Big Machine Records)

Long running rock legends Cheap Trick are on a bit of a roll, with their latest effort almost rivalling their former effort ‘The Latest’ as some of the best work they’ve produced in years. From the up tempo rock opener ‘Heart On The Line’, the pop genius of ‘No Direction Home’, the Slade/T. Rex groove of ‘Blood Red Lips’, the riff heavy ‘Long Time No See Ya’ and the classic ‘The Sun Never Sets’, ‘Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello’ is everything a Cheap Trick fan could ask for... and then some!

Borknagar – Winter Thrice (Century Media Records)

If you’ve been a fan of Borknagar for some time now, then you will no doubt know what the band have to offer with ‘Winter Thrice’. While it’s a hardly glowing endorsement (The ‘If you’ve heard one album, you’ve heard them all’ scenario), but I believe that while this album is an extension of their last couple of release to some extent, it’s also a perfection of what they’ve attempted to do in the past as well. It’s hard to pick favourites as the album is perfect from start to finish. But at a push, the title track, ‘Cold Runs The River’, ‘Erodent’ and the opener ‘The Rhymes Of The Mountain’ are immediate favourites.

Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight (Inside Out Music)

Despite being branded a fine return to form, 2013’s ‘Darkness In A Different Light’ wasn’t quite up to the mark for me. It was good, but just not great. But ‘Theories Of Flight’ is the album I have been waiting from Fates Warning for some time. Ray Alder is in excellent form, and Jim Matheos sounds just as inspired on the song writing front. No further proof is needed beyond a listen to ‘From The Rooftops’, ‘Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen’, SOS’ and the lengthy epic ‘The Ghosts Of Home’.

 Voivod – Post Society (Century Media Records)

O.K., so this isn’t officially an album, but I found it’s worthy of its place here, so here it is. Voivod have packed some great tunes on this E.P., and proven beyond any doubt that there’s still life in this veteran act. The title track is a rawer edged up-tempo rocker that works in typically Voivod like fashion, while ‘We Are Connected’ is a driving track that is equal parts old school and modern sounding. Voivod fans who haven’t checked this out should. Voivod lives!

Megadeth – Dystopia (Universal Music)

To be honest, when I first heard this album, I swore it was never going to end up in my top ten for 2016. Yes, it’s miles above the cringe worthy ‘Super Collider’ (2013), but I just couldn’t get over how raw Dave Mustaine’s voice is on this latest effort. But once I got over that stumbling block, there was no denying that the reshuffled line up of the band had produced a winner this time around. ‘The Threat Is Real’ is a perfect opener that announces the band’s return to form’, while ‘Post American World’, ‘Lying In State’ and the band’s cover of Fear’s ‘Foreign Policy’ just further reinforce the notion of Megadeth’s return.

Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis (Warner Bros. Records)

Biffy Clyro have always been a bit hit and miss for me in the past, with their albums a mix of some great tracks and some real fillers. But ‘Ellipsis’ really caught my ear in a big way. It’s still a bit left of centre, and not everything featured on the album is a classic, but when it works, it works. Examples of some of the best the band has to offer comes in the form of ‘Friends And Enemies’, ‘Re-Arrange’, the stunning ‘Medicine’, ‘Flammable’ and the huge anthem like ‘Howl’. Put this one down to a guilty pleasure outside the metal realm.

Redemption – The Art Of Loss (Metal Blade Records)

I felt that Redemption went off the boil with 2011’s ‘This Mortal Coil’, with the album sounding like the band was going through the motions. But lo and behold, the progressive rock outfit have bounced back, and sounding better than ever. There’s not a huge change of sound and direction from what the band have delivered before, but Alder sounds inspired once again, with ‘Hope Dies Last’, ‘Damaged’ and ‘Thirty Silver’ showcasing what the band are truly capable of when inspired.

Top Ten Songs For 2016

I make no secret of the fact that this really is a continuation of my top ten favourites of 2016 listed above. So what makes up this list? Well, it’s really albums that don’t quite have the same consistency all the way through, but still have enough killer tracks to make them worth checking out.

Steven Tyler – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me (From ‘We're All Somebody From Somewhere’)

It’s taken a few years, but Tyler finally unveiled his debut solo effort in 2016, and I’ll be damned if it was better than I was expecting, and a whole lot better than Aerosmith’s last album. Yes, it does have some issues (A little too country flavoured for my liking, and a couple of songs too long), it does have some hidden gems. And one of those gems is ‘Only Heaven’. To put it into simple terms, this is Tyler doing what he does best, and all without the help of his regular sidekicks. And it rocks!

Soto – Time (From ‘Divak’)

If you liked the first Soto album, you’ll no doubt love ‘Divak’. Jeff Scott Soto continues his foray into modern heavy rock for a second effort under his surname, and it’s a winner all round. There’s plenty to pick out as a favourite here, but it’s the slower paced and heavy Black Sabbath influenced ‘Time’ that wins the coveted spot here. Soto’s vocals and hooks are in full force, while the band packs plenty of punch on the musical front to match.

Metal Church – Sky Falls In (From ‘XI’)

The announcement of Mike Howe returning to Metal Church was the best news to emerge from 2015. But as thrilled as I was, ‘XI’ turned out to be a bit disappointing. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have its moments. ‘Sky Falls In’ is one of the stronger tracks on the album, and one that showcases how much the band and Howe have grown in their twenty-three years apart. Progressive, heavy and catchy, this track really is one of the stellar efforts. Here’s hoping that when the band return, it’s be a worthy contender to 1991’s ‘The Human Factor’.

Steven Wilson – Happiness III (From ‘4½’)

After being a little letdown with ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ last year, I was hoping for something a little more satisfying with his new release. And sure enough, this stopgap E.P. does boast enough to keep me believing that Wilson can still create magic. While it does bear a slight similarity to ‘Postcard’ from 2001’s ‘Grace For Drowning’, I can help but love ‘Happiness III’ for what it is. Catchy, up-tempo and easy on the ears, this track is typically Wilson like, and the kind of stuff fans like me will praise to no end.

Soilwork – Helsinki (From ‘Death Resonance’)

While technically not a new album as such, this compilation is the kind of release I love from my favourite groups. Aside from boasting a host of hard to find tracks, this collection also features a couple of new tunes from Soilwork, one of which is the opening track ‘Helsinki’. Not too far removed from the recent direction found on their critically acclaim 2015 release 'The Ride Majestic', 'Helsinki' is hook-laden, guitar heavy track that is a worthy addition to the band’s vast and ever growing catalogue.

Black Sabbath – Cry All Night (From ‘The End’)

I wasn’t expecting much from an E.P. that contains leftover tracks from their 2013 album ‘13’ (Especially given the disappointment of shelling out money for the the bonus track 'Naïveté In Black'), but surprisingly enough, the four new tracks offered in ‘The End’ are strong efforts that could have easily been slotted onto their last album. It was hard to single out any one track, but I think on ‘Cry All Night’, Iommi really stands out on the guitar front, and when it’s fused together with Ozzy’s inspired melodies, you have one killer track.

Anthrax – You Gotta Believe (From ‘For All Kings’)

Much like a couple of the album’s featured in this send top ten, Anthrax’s latest was a real mixed bag of killer tracks mixed with a bunch of filler. And it’s a shame too, because I loved 2011’s ‘Worship Music’. One of the true killer cuts is ‘You Gotta Believe’. It’s hardly anything new for Anthrax, but musically this had a bit more to say than most of what was on the album. Belladonna clearly still has the pipes, but musically, ‘For All Kings’ is a bit hit and miss.

Death Angel – The Moth (From ‘The Evil Divide’)

If there’s a track that signals Death Angel’s intentions from the word go, it has to be the album opener ‘The Moth’. Full of tight knit thrash riffing, powerful vocals and some truly searing solos, this track has it all – In spades! Death Angel show no signs of slowing down, still remain a firm favourite of mine. The only reason it’s on this list is because it is a little one dimensional overall. With a little bit of variation in tempos and moods, this would have been a firm favourite of 2016.

Katatonia – Serein (From ‘The Fall Of Hearts’)

I’m a huge fan of Katatonia, and they’ve rarely disappointed. And to be perfectly honest, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is a another flawless album from the Swedes. The only problem is that the band has reached the point where they’re not too hard to mine anything outside their comfort zone. But that’s merely a personal grip, because as I mentioned, this album is damn near perfect. My pick of the album would have to be ‘Serein’. It’s a classy heavy driving rocker, which is the kind of song that Katatonia used to produce in the past with fantastic results.

Diamond Head – Bones (From ‘Diamond Head’)

For the better part of the last quarter century, Diamond Head has been living off old memories. But lo and behold, the band are back with a new album that truly rocks, and one that's every bit worthy of their legendary status. While not everything on the album is a classic, the addition of vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen has an undeniable positive effect on the band, with Diamond Head’s latest the best they’re produced in an age (I'm thinking at least as far back as 1993!). If proof is needed, then check out ‘Bones’. This track rocks in a huge way, without straying too far into nostalgia territory.

© Justin Donnelly