2016 was a rough year for all of us. Each week seemed to rip something cherished or someone influential away from us forever. And yet, even as the impermanence of life’s joys became all too apparent, music remained a constant source of solace. And for those of us whose tastes lean towards all that is heavy and harsh, we were met with plenty of fantastic releases this year through which to vent our various frustrations and despairs. As Jon Hadusek and I have written on our previous lists these past couple years, metalheads are in the midst of a metal renaissance where bands, veterans and newcomers alike, continue to defy labels and genre tropes by seamlessly combining influences into something new and exciting. The Body’s pop phase is still turning heads, Oathbreaker embraced post-metal, a genre which Alcest continues to redefine, and Astronoid used elements of post-rock, shoegaze, and emo to create one of this year’s most uplifting albums.
Below you’ll find our 10 favorite metal albums released this year. These are the albums that have absolutely captivated us and aided us in our search for escapism, creativity, and self-discovery. And after everything 2016’s thrown our way, we hope they do the same for you.
10. Astronoid – Air
Massachusetts’ Astronoid have taken post-metal to stratospheric new heights with Air, their aptly named first full-length. Every part of this album feels light to the touch with its ethereal reverb and Brett Boland’s clean and yearning vocals, and yet the sound itself feels like flying at supersonic speeds high above the clouds. The shoegaze riffs are major-keyed, melodic, and blisteringly quick as they perform aerobatics on all sides, and ex-Vattnet drummer Matt St. Jean is more than able to keep pace.
It’s no mistake, either, that Astronoid bring to mind fellow New Englanders Vattnet as guitarist Casey Aylward serves as their current bassist and Boland himself acted as their touring bassist. Last year, we called Vattnet’s Settler the “most optimistic album” on our list, and it seems that now Astronoid has joined them among the ranks of purely triumphant post-metal, because shredding has rarely been this inspirational. –Sean Barry
09. Oathbreaker – Rheia
The sort of emotional turmoil that arises immediately after a separation can inspire varying states of thought, being, and creation. For Oathbreaker, it brought about the elements that would lead to one of this year’s most remarkable post-black metal albums. Knee-jerk reactions would categorize this Belgian quartet as Deafheaven-adjacent, but the band’s post-hardcore past lends itself well to notably harsher riffs, panicked vocals, and an existentially broader scope from which to pull.
Favoring to lash out through self-deconstruction rather than melancholic or outright vengeful lyrics, vocalist Caro Tanghe presents the pieces of herself through trembling pleas and harsh cries that demand presence from all involved. Meanwhile, torrential riffs form discordant maelstroms that surround her voice and only relent for Tanghe to rise up even more spiteful and menacing than before. Rheia is an uncompromising album that constantly lies to listeners about the amount of comfort it’s willing to provide, which as it turns out, is very little. –Sean Barry