The Top 20 Albums of 2016 (Part One)

Saying goodbye to the year 2016 won't be hard; it's been a year of turmoil for much of the world, a year where some of our celebrity icons - musicians, especially - seemed to pass away in droves. But like any year before, time continues to trudge forward, whether you like it or not. And the incoming period of 365 days may, or may not, show signs of improvement.

So as we put this calendar year behind us, it's also time to reflect on the positive. It was, inarguably, another exemplary year in heavy music. Regardless of your taste in style or genre, there were more releases placed before you than you could possibly listen to in one lifetime. No, they weren't all spectacular, but many of them were. And, most notably, 2016 found a decadent balance between veteran, established musicians, and those who will someday take up the mantle in their stead.

And that, above anything else, is what makes our Top 20 list feel as though it's our best yet. In a year where some of our favorite artists released new albums, they were bested by those who are merely starting their journey. If you had told me that Megadeth, Sonata Arctica and Opeth would all release albums, and not one would make the final cut, I would have greeted you with obvious cynicism. But that's where we've arrived in the 2016 metal adventure.

That doesn't mean that there weren't albums that missed the cut, but were more than deserving of praise. Our review cycle decreased this year, something we hope to remedy in the coming months, but if we had reviewed every record that struck us, good or bad, our fingers would be bloodied and sore. And perhaps we'll cover some of the near misses in the not-too-distant future. Hell, we may have completely spaced out and forgotten an album altogether. But until then, we present you with our Top 20 metal albums of 2016. No live albums, no EPs, no reissues.

20. Gojira - Magma (Roadrunner Records)
You're going to see this record on damn near every list you read this year, and for good reason. Gojira have once again pushed themselves beyond any discernible boundary, delivering an album full of tracks that are equally extreme, heavy, and somehow beautifully personal. Fans of the band are sure to be to delighted, while many of their detractors, assuming there were any left to begin with, were won over this time around. And yet, with all we know of Gojira, you get the feeling that this isn't even the best they have to offer.

19. pg.lost - Versus (Pelagic Records)
Inayear full of surprises, this was one of the welcome ones. This isn't just a side project for Cult Of Luna keyboardist Kristian Karlsson, but a complete and separate entity playing a style of post-heavy that resonates, both literally and figuratively. It was almost too easy to get caught up in the bass heavy construction of the album, while never feeling too weighty along the way. It also represents a next evolution of the genre, one that their label, Pelagic Records, deals in heavily.

18. Spirit Adrift - Chained To Oblivion (Prosthetic Records)
We postulated earlier in the year that Nate Garrett and Spirit Adrift could be responsible for two of the year's best release. And if we'd included EPs in this list, and may have come to fruition. But this full-length bears out everything the EP began, a new wave of American doom that feels personal and emotional.Watching the meteoric rise of the band wasn't at all surprising, but knowing that Garrett is already hard at work on the next Spirit Adrift record? We've only just begun.

17. Mono - Requiem For Hell (Pelagic Records)
We could argue their place on this list for days; metal or not, Japan's Mono deserve every ounce of attention given to them. And if Requiem For Hell hasn't made its way onto your turntable, into your CD player, or through your computer speakers, you're missing out. They embrace the artistic side of music that many so-called artists either ignore or eschew altogether. Ely's Heartbeat is a shining example of a band that thinks and operates on a higher plane. Remember that mention of Pelagic Records? Another spot on the list.

16. Perihelion Ship - A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring (Independent)
Comparisons to Opeth aren't invalid, but it doesn't do this band justice. They've embraced the progressive, the psychedelic, and the extreme, all on one transcendent album. It shows that mellotron and Hammond organ can be used to elevate heavy music, without replacing or nullifying any other element. And, more than that, it's the progressive metal album we wanted this year, even if we weren't totally sure we were ready. And between this and that other band, only one made the list.

15. Astronoid - Air (Blood Music)
Even months later, I haven't totally settled on what to call Massachusetts' Astronoid; melodic dream thrash, thrash happy, pop thrash. It could be all or none, and frankly, it doesn't even matter. Air was heavy throughout, while embracing the airy, dreaminess of it all. It's a marriage of opposites that shouldn't work, but it does. And it appeals to you in a different way that most of the others albums you likd or love this year. That is to say, it maintains its individuality without sacrificing the secret recipe that helped them arrive there.

14. Lotus Thief - Gramarye (Prophecy Productions)
The artist tree of San Francisco's Botanist is growing, and I hope it continues to for a long time to come. Lotus Thief is excellent in their own right, an exercise in atmospherics and melodies that surpasses the point of the sublime. The first listen to Gramarye will open your eyes, the second will raise your eyebrows, and beyond that, you'll spend the next fifty listens trying to figure out how you went this long without this band in your life. We arrived at that point a week after the album's release, and it isn't going away.

13. Blizzard At Sea - Ruminations (Independent)
This album just came out too late to make a larger dent in our Top 20 list. Iowa's Blizzard At Sea were thought dead by many of us, but as it turns out, they were writing and recording their most diverse and eclectic album to date. If you've experimented with the band before, you'll find yourself happy with the post-sludge dynamics they've carried over here. But When they step outside of their comfort zone, they do it in a major way. And one eerie, horror movie-esque organ solo later, an album less than two weeks old is one of our favorites.

12. Russian Circles - Guidance (Sargent House)
Is there a band that has done more for the post-metal and post-rock genre than Russian Circles? They're a band that could be used as an introductory class in instrumental heaviness, or fed to the most discerning of critics. Guidance is their magnum opus, and a testament to what this style of music can and will be. It's accessible, yet massive, loud and boisterous, yet magnificently subtle. It's everything and anything you could want, except for the vocals. They've got no place here.

11. Devin Townsend Project - Transcendence (Inside Out Music)
This year, we proved it possible to be both disappointed and completely in love with an album, at the same time. Coming down from our Ziltoid fueled high was difficult, but Devin Townsend and company made an album that was a much needed departure from that world. Transcendence lives up to its name, with some of the songs contained on the album ranking as the best we heard this year. And watching all of the behind-the-scenes featurettes helped us, and many others, to appreciate the fragile, and self-deprecating genius of one of metal's most eclectic madmen.