2016 was a remarkable year for music across the spectrum. Blues releases included cracking efforts from Joe Bonamassa (who released both the stunning ‘Blues of desperation’ and ‘Live at the Greek’), a steamy work from Sari Schorr and a life-affirming live release from Walter Trout. Meanwhile, the world of metal seemed to explode with amazing releases from the likes of Anthrax, Metallica, Meshuggah, and Raging Speedhorn, all doing their best to get fans around the world headbanging in glorious unison. Our list, as always, is not based on the highest scoring records or the most popular, but simply the records that were played the most here at SonicAbuse. With only twenty records to pick, much has been missed (and if we missed your favourite album of the year, let us know about it), but the records listed below stand as a testament to the enduring quality of rock music, both in the mainstream and the underground, and we hope that, if you missed any of these cracking releases, you’ll find a new favourite amongst them.
20 Best Albums
Whilst fans will undoubtedly argue over whether this is Joe’s best work, it is certainly one of the heaviest and most catchy albums of his career. Tracked with two drummers, the album has a rhythmic power that is irresistible whilst Joe himself shines both vocally and as a guitar virtuoso. Most importantly the album is a hell of a lot of fun to and it is hard not to find yourself taken in by its sheer exuberance.
Unutterably dark and unmistakably genuine, ‘La petite mort’ flirts with industrial, metal, prog and even jazz across its run time, simultaneously painting a bleak picture of life in a blue collar American town. Yes the imagery is violent, as recent controversies regarding the band’s concerts attest, but it is justifiably so as the band hold a mirror up to the underbelly of American society. A violent work of art.
Opeth may never be an extreme metal band again, but where the extremity may have been dialled back, the intensity still remains. Genuinely progressive, ‘Sorceress’ has both power and beauty and it builds majestically upon the promise of ‘Heritage’, neatly cementing Mikael Akerfeldt’s reputation as a master of the genre.
It’s unfortunate that the larger a band gets the more their output is scrutinized in minute detail. Metallica have undoubtedly erred over the course of their monumental career, but ‘Hardwired to self-destruct’ is an album that helps to explain the love that their fans continue to lavish upon them. Catchy, heavy and ostensibly a best of their post-black-album years, ‘Hardwired to self-destruct’ is a confident and powerful album from a band who continue to defy their detractors.
Dark, dense and yet surprisingly accessible, ‘the violent sleep of reason’ emerged amdist a great sense of anticipation and simply decimated the competition. Not that Meshuggah, the masters of complex metal, have much in the way of competition. Where ‘Nothing’ and ‘I’ were awe-inspiring rhythmic juggernauts that sacrificed humanity in favour of sheer, monumental weight; ‘the violent sleep of reason’ captures a band that have tamed their dizzying technicality just enough to allow a touch of light to creep back in. As a result, the album is a memorable tour-de-force that stands as a highlight of the band’s rich and varied catalogue.
Raging Speedhorn – ‘Lost ritual’
The return to action of Raging Speedhorn after a lengthy hiatus was rightly heralded, but no one could have anticipated the gloriously brutal ‘lost ritual’. A searing album, it is quite possibly the best album the band have recorded and the live shows that followed in its wake were devastating. A grueling demonstration of unhinged power, from the moment ‘bring out your dead’ grabs you by the throat and starts screaming into your face, ‘Lost ritual’ is the sludge-infused sonic nightmare that Speedhorn fans had always wanted and the fact that it only gets better form that deranged opening is nothing short of astonishing.
A mesmerising exploration of black metal’s frozen landscapes, ‘Ksiezyc milczy luty’ is simply essential listening for anyone with an interest in the evolution of extreme music. Utilising the beautifully lyrical Polish language instead of opting to sing in English, ‘Ksiezyc milczy luty’ is a darkly poetic work of art that deserves to be heard.
In which the king of gloriously over-the-top progressive pop metal continues to dazzle. With so many releases you would imagine Devin would have little left to say, but somehow that whirling imagination continues to spew forth moments of ethereal beauty.Tracks like ‘stormbending’ put the awesome into the album whilst majestic prog is given free reign on tracks like ‘Higher’.
The power and passion of the first two albums with the blistering production values of the band’s more modern output, ‘Serenity in suffering’ is akin to a best of, highlighting the band’s many strengths and putting it together in an accessible package that has fans and newcomers alike head-banging merrily. Tracks like ‘Rotting in vain’ are future live classics but the whole album proves to be a neon-drenched ride that puts Korn back at the top of their game.
Glenn’s heaviest album ever, ‘Resonate’ is catchy as hell, beautifully played and thrillingly loud. It is Glen Hughes unshackled and it sounds immense from the get go. If you’ve not yet got on board, just dial up ‘Heavy’ and prepare to be blown away by a musician who steadfastly refuses to bow to the fickle fripperies of fame.
A tragic and fully-aware final bow from one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Recorded in the shadow of the cancer that would eventually claim his life, ‘Blackstar’ remains a powerful and life-affirming piece of art that caps a unique career in the annals of music. Suffused with the spirit of jazz and wilfully unique, ‘Blackstar’ is a masterpiece and should be remembered for its driving rhythms, scattershot vocals and intriguing melodies rather than for the circumstances in which it was made.
Katatonia have enjoyed a run of inspiration over the last eighteen years or so that puts most bands to shame. Put simply, they have not got a bad record in their extensive catalogue, but since 1999’s ‘tonight’s decision’ their steady evolution into a full-blown prog band has been nothing short of astonishing. Even so, there has been an ebb and flow in the band’s output with some albums in particular standing out as highlights. ‘Night is the new day’ is one such release but standing tall over even that masterclass in atmospheric progressive metal is ‘the fall of hearts’. Heavier than ‘dead end kings’ and wonderfully varied, it contains the very core of Katatonia’s emotionally charged sound and it is, in every sense, a masterpiece.
Despite a series of setbacks and that dreaded, cliché-laden ‘second album syndrome’, Maschine returned with a stronger, more concise set of songs with this follow-up to ‘Rubidum’. Focused on the perpetual struggle of humanity, whether it be against nature (‘Magacyma’) or itself (‘night and day’), ‘Naturalis’ is an intelligent, ever-evolving journey that demonstrates the range of influences that inform the band’s music.
Words fail when it comes to describing this unassailable work of art from the French metal kings. A complex, multi-tiered listening experience, it towers over this year’s impressive list of releases like a colossus and is arguably the album of the year. From the melodic pulse of ‘the shooting star’, an elegant introduction to the record, via the complex battering of ‘the cell’, the band don’t waste a single moment on this flawless masterpiece and it only increases in potency upon repeated listens.
Progressive, other-worldly, beautiful and brutal are all adjectives that come mind when attempting to describe this impressive collaboration between the post-metal titans and Julie Christmas. Mesmerising and yet surprisingly memorable too, ‘Mariner’ is easily one of the best records Cult of Luna have ever put their name to.
With Joey Belladonna now firmly back in the fold, Anthrax went and released a blistering thrash monster that perfectly captures both the fun and the excitement of their live shows. Thrilling stuff that only gets better the more you listen, ‘for all kings’ is a latter-day Anthrax classic that pairs crushing riffs with high drama.
With blistering tracks like ‘speak to me’ resting in your cranium for days and even weeks after listening, Beholder truly outdid themselves on ‘reflections’, an album so good that the band played it in its entirety on the ensuing tour. A refreshingly heavy, powerfully melodic work from a band that increasingly have come to epitomise all that Is great about the state of British metal right now, ‘Reflections’ earned its place on this list thanks to the band’s exquisitely-judged sense of quality control. Ten tracks never flew by so fast.
Meshiaak – ‘Alliance of thieves’
The living, breathing spirit of heavy metal, ‘Alliance of thieves’ is an absolute belter of an album from start to finish. Heavy, with a powerful groove to it, ‘Alliance of thieves perfectly combines technical mastery and memorable hooks and deserves a place in any metal fan’s collection.
Pixies – ‘Head Carrier’
If you can erase ‘Tenement song’ from your head in less than three weeks, you’re doing well. Quite aside from that ‘Head Carrier’ just goes to show that the Pixies’ reunion was about far more than just reliving past glories. More coherent than ‘Indie Cindy’, albeit in a similar vein, ‘Head carrier’ sees the band at their fuzzy, obtuse best. Hugely catchy, wonderfully short and to the point, ‘head carrier’ is a wonderful record.
Beautiful, progressive and alive with the spirit of the alternative scene that loomed large over the late 90s, John Wesley draws together elements of Porcupine Tree, Soundgarden, Tool and more on this elegant and powerful sequence. Lyrically intelligent, it captures the very real sense of dislocation felt by many as they struggle to adapt to an increasingly compartmentalised world in which the technology for communication is used to segregate rather than connect.
Best Concert Blu Ray
Joe Bonamassa may produce excellent records but where he truly excels is on stage, as this thrilling document of the ‘Three Kings’ (Albert, B.B. and Freddie) tour proves. Beautifully shot and edited with crystal clear sound, this set not only demonstrates the power of Joe and his live band, but it also stands as a perfect demo disc for your AV set up. Do yourself a favour, if you missed this the first time round, get yourself a copy, you won’t regret it.
Best Video Clip
Sari Schorr – ‘Black Betty’
A classic Leadbelly track given a potent soul-infused, hard rock makeover, ‘Black Betty’ is one of the standout tracks from the amazing ‘force of nature’ album and a perfect debut for Sari who simply shines in this video clip. Watch the video, buy the album, it’s pretty damn simple.