Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Top XVI of 20XVI

There was a lot of quality music released this year, but probably most notable was the Great Thrash Metal Revival.  The year saw new albums from Testament, Megadeth, Anthrax, Death Angel and Metallica.  In fact, the only classic thrash acts that didn't release albums were Overkill (due in February), Slayer (last year) and Exodus (Gary Holt is on tour with Slayer, but likely to be an album next year).  The best bit about this was that they were mostly bloody good albums that put a lot of modern bands to shame!

Anyway, on with the list:
16. Planet of Zeus - Loyal to the Pack

This Greek hard rock outfit deliver a crushing opening to the album, with the title track evoking the raw power of the likes of High on Fire.  The rest of the album doesn't quite hit the same highs, but it's solid nevertheless.

15. Metallica - Hardwired... to Self Destruct

When I said the Great Thrash Metal Revival was mostly bloody good, this was the one exception.  Granted, there's some solid highlights here on tracks like Atlas, Rise! and Spit Out the Bone.  The problem is that there's also a lot of overlong, turgid filler - a lot of dull 7 minute tracks that could've been good 4 minute tracks.  To put it bluntly, Metallica are resting on their laurels, whilst their contemporaries are producing better material, more often.

14. Kyng - Breathe in the Water
It might lack any out-and-out classics like Electric Halo, but Kyng's third album still had a lot to like.  Veers smoothly between pretty melodies and tight hard rock grooves, most notably on The Dead.

13. Black Stone Cherry - Kentucky
There's never been anything overly complicated about BSC's work - this is classic Southern rock, think Lynyrd Skynyrd a few decades on.  Doesn't make it any less fun, though, especially when they also pull out a great cover of the classic War.

12. Korn - The Serenity of Suffering
You heard that right.  Korn are alive, and well, and releasing decent new music in 2016.  Not entirely sure what's been in their Kool Ade lately but this is comfortably their best output since their mid-90's heyday.  Aggressive, melodic, and some huge riffs - 2nd place in the 'comeback of the year' category after Filter (see below).

11. Megadeth - Dystopia

Speaking of revitalised, Megadeth certainly sound that way also.  After the lackluster Super Collider, this was a big return to form, combining old-school thrash attitude with new-school thrash technicality and production.  Big highlights include The Threat is Real, Fatal Illusion and Foreign Policy.

10. Chevelle - The North Corridor
The remarkably consistent but often overlooked Chevelle produce yet another bleak, powerful slice of hard rock.  Probably not quite as good throughout as its immediate predecessor La Gargola, but has a couple of huge highlights in Warhol's Showbiz and Last Days.

9. Dunsmuir - Dunsmuir
Well, there had to be at least one supergroup on here.  Admittedly, this is not an obvious supergroup, but with Neil Fallon (Clutch), Vinny Appice (ex-Black Sabbath, Dio, Kill Devil Hill), Dave Bone (The Company Band) and Brad Davis (Fu Manchu) that's unquestionably a lot of ammunition.  Old school, heavy, and kicks ass.

8. Crobot - Welcome to Fat City
After bursting onto the scene a couple of years ago with a pile of bombastic riffs, Crobot return two years later with, uh, a whole lot of even more bombastic riffs.  Named for Hunter S. Thompson's suggested name for Vail to keep all the tourists out, Welcome to Fat City is a straight up headbanger of a record that sees Crobot taking a step up from their debut album.

7. Filter - Crazy Eyes
To be fair, Filter's last three albums since Richard Patrick re-emerged have been a mixed bag.  While The Trouble With Angels was consistent and worthwhile, Anthems for the Damned and The Sun Comes Out Tonight both had a few highlights and a lot of predictable filler.  I honestly didn't have a lot of expectations for Crazy Eyes and was starting to wonder if Filter had much left to offer.  Turns out they did.  There's an unpredictable, industrial edge to this record reminiscent of Short Bus and Welcome to the Fold - you never know quite where the ride is headed but you're damned if you're gonna get off the thing when it's this good.

6. Death Angel - The Evil Divide
Really, you just need to hear the opening riff of The Moth to know that The Evil Divide was going to be a highly enjoyable chapter in the 2016 book of thrash metal.  I'll be damned if vocalist Mark Osegueda isn't getting even more snarly with age and it fits Death Angel's aggressive, up-tempo style perfectly.  The songs on here are amongst the best the band have written - precise, tightly coiled, and just waiting to unleash.  

5. Testament - The Brotherhood of the Snake
There is a legitimate case for Testament's current line-up being the most technically proficient in all metal.  Singer Chuck Billy seemingly gets better with age, Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick are one of the great rhythm / lead guitar duos (albeit those lines are increasingly blurred), and then you've got a rhythm section comprising legendary bassist Steve diGiorgio and The Atomic Clock Gene Hoglan on drums.  Of course this is no good if you can't write good songs.  While The Brotherhood of the Snake was a difficult album to make (according to the band), the effort was certainly worth it as this album continues their astounding recent momentum from The Formation of Damnation and Dark Roots of Earth.  Stylistically it's closer to the former than the latter, eschewing the prog leanings of DROE for a more ballistic thrash sound.  At 10 tracks, it's all killer and no filler, with particular highlights being the bombastic Stronghold and the pulsating closing track The Number Game.

4. Tremonti - Dust
When Mark Tremonti releases Dust just a year after Cauterize, the logical assumption is that it comprises material that didn't make the cut first-time around.  Well, that's entirely not the case.  Dust, if anything, is stronger than its predecessor, and with Tremonti having a hand in three very good albums over the last two years, you've gotta admire both his work ethic and his musical ability.  Dust leans slightly harder than its predecessor overall - and while as expected the riffs come thick, fast and heavy, there's no mistaking Tremonti's ear for a good melody too: the title track is a standout, and the mid-tempo Tore My Heart Out might be the album's highlight.  

3. Throttlerod - Turncoat
After a 7 year absence, Throttlerod return with Turncoat, an album that was undoubtedly worth the wait.  I don't often take the time to write a full-blooded review of an album these days, but this particular gem was worth it.  Long story short, it's a welcome return from obscurity, for a band that will probably continue to be tragically overlooked. 

2. Anthrax - For All Kings
In a year of great albums by classic thrash metal bands, Anthrax's For All Kings stood tallest.  For a band that has probably endured more ups and downs than any of the Big 4, and at times had to fight like hell just for their musical survival, this is genuinely a triumphant statement.  It opens with the epic You Gotta Believe and doesn't really ever relent from there.  Highlights include the melodic Breathing Lightning, lead single Evil Twin, and the hard-hitting closing track Zero Tolerance.  Like Testament, this is also the sound of a band in all-time form musically, with singer Joey Belladonna and drummer Charlie Benante being the particular standouts this time around.

1. Alter Bridge - The Last Hero
For a little while, I wondered if Alter Bridge's outstanding second album, Blackbird, would become a bit of a weight around their necks in terms of subsequent albums being good - but just not quite as good.  Their fifth album, The Last Hero, defiantly throws that theory out the window.  From start to finish, this is undeniably an outstanding album - everything you could hope for from a band that includes two of the great songwriter/guitarists of the current generation in the form of Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti.  Overall, it leans toward the heavier end of the Alter Bridge spectrum, but also includes some unbelievably catchy hooks.  And the sheer volume of 'holy shit' moments on offer here is just ridiculous - the intro (and chorus) to Show Me A Leader, the super sludgy main riff on The Other Side, the epic bridge on The Last Hero... the whole record is just absolutely massive.  When it comes to bands that have emerged over the last decade, Alter Bridge are absolutely in a league of their own.


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