10. Alcest - Kodama (Prophecy Productions)
Alcest are always in a unique position. Their releases are always among our most anticipated, but also in the most consistently excellent. They deliver, each and every time, with something you'll never forget. Kodama was no exception, as it saw Neige and company take a step back from the dream pop of Shelter, and embrace the harsher side of things in a delicate and majestic way. There is neither a note or drum hit out of place, and it makes for one of the most compelling listens of the year. No surprise there.
9. Epica - The Holographic Principle (Nuclear Blast)
You don't have enough hours in the days, weeks, and months of this year or any other to listen to all of the female fronted metal bands in existence. And while others made their mark (Persona, Midnight Eternal, Diabulus In Musica), Epica produced their best album to date, and catapulted themselves well ahead of their worthy consitituents. They've found the space between heavenly and hellish that suits them, and never has it been more hair raising than it is, right here and right now.
8. Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville Records)
In any other year, this album may very well have been at the top. Katatonia's most progressive album to date wasn't an out-of-the-box masterpiece; it took time to grow with each listen. But months later, it ranks as one of their strongest efforts, after line-up changes and acoustic tours, and also bodes well for the future of one of metal's darkest shining stars. Moreover, it was the logical next step for the band, who've been walking down the path to this moment for the last few album cycles. They've arrived, andhope they'll stay a while.
7. Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas - Mariner (Indie Recordings)
On paper, this pairing makes absolutely no sense. And given the reaction of their fans, not everyone thinks it worked in practice either. But if you heard the song The Wreck of S.S. Needle, and didn't have to pick your jaw up off the floor afterwards, I'm not sure you were ever going to be 100% on it this. To this moment, it ranks as one of the best songs, on one of the best albums this year had to offer. I'm not advocating for a permanent merger of the two artists, but as a one-off experiment, you'd be hard pressed to have predicted how deep and rich it'd be.
6. Numenorean - Home (Season of Mist)
I survived Numenorean's Home, and I've got the mental scars to prove it. It isn't easy to look at, and for the faint of heart, it's even harder to listen to, word for word. But they've done what droves of bands dream of in their career: they made their listeners feel something, good or bad, over the course of the record. And it isn't the fleeting, surface kind of emotion. Days, weeks, months later, you feel it in the very core of your being. It stays with you, for better or worse. In our case, it was for the better. This is an album that will remain important for a long time to come.
5. Ihsahn - Arktis (Candlelight Records)
There are a fuckton of great artists in modern metal, but the list of singular geniuses is small. Ihsahn tops that list in our minds, a progressive heavyweight the likes of which we've never truly witnessed. Arktis is just the latest of his masterpieces, but also the one that reaches the furthest into the ether for inspiration. Every song is nearly flawless, and some go even beyond that. The guests employed on the album, Jørgen Munkeby and Einar Solberg, in particular, bolster things to the point of supremacy. You can practically feel the cold.
4. Trees of Eternity - Hour of The Nightingale (Svart Records)
It feels like forever since this project began. I can distinctly recall listening to the original demos on YouTube endlessly. It's doom with an angel's voice at the helm, slow but melodic. But just like that, it's over. With the passing of vocalist Aleah Stanbridge, Hour of The Nightingale will stand as a monument to the woman, the band, and the sound they forged together. And it will show that the only thing that exceeds her voice and her talents, is the void that will be left in her absence.
3. Haken - Affinity (Inside Out Music)
I've lost track of how many times this album was played on our platforms; vinyl, CD, digital. it's that good, and that special. Maybe it's the confidence with which they operate, the full steam ahead attitude that refuses to be stagnant or redundant. Where it fits within the confines of their catalogue is harder to determine. The leap from The Mountain to Affinity is enormous, and they've made it seem like just a step over a small gap. Either way, in 2016, Haken proved to, once again, be the best progressive metal band in the world.
2. Year of The Cobra - In The Shadows Below (STB Records)
Let's rewind the tape to 2015, when Seattle's Year of The Cobra first crossed our path. Their potential was right in front of our eyes. Given time, the drum and bass duo would climb their way to new heights. Apparently, all it took was one year, and a session with producer Billy Anderson. In The Shadows Below is an album that would define a career, if it wasn't only the band's debut. That there are more albums, likely even better, left to come, speaks volumes more than my words ever could. It took everything in me not to go 1a and 1b at the top of the list.
1. Spotlights - Tidals (Independent/Crowquill Records)
Speaking of a band are their beginnings, Brooklyn's Spotlights are responsible for the album we listened to most in 2016, and also the best chunk of music we heard. It's not a coincidence that the two intersect here. And it didn't take much to make us into believers, either; one chord, in fact. The opening stomp of Walls shook us in ways all people should be shaken in their life. Dreamy vocal lines, tight riffs, and some of the best songwriting in the heavy music sphere all combine for the year's best album, and one that will remain in our rotation for a long time to come.