Liam Savage – Staff Poll 2016

Top Metal Albums of the Year

1) Anciients – Voice Of The Void
After thoroughly enjoying the band’s debut album, especially with it coming out of knowhere, I was incredibly psyched and excited for new material.  My high hopes were immediately surpassed with an album that not only grew on their original song structure, but took the band on new sonic adventures that fans could only hope were possible with the promise of new material.

Album review


2) Watchtower – Concepts Of Math: Book One
One of the originators of technical/progressive metal finally put out new material that had been promised for the better part of a decade.  The results were immediately hard-hitting and mesmerizing, with the band showing that age and abscense of new material for decades wasn’t even a factor in their legacy.  I was blown away by the material, and cannot wait to see the next step in the band’s evolutionary process.

 


3) Haken – Affinity
Haken has, since their inception, slowly built a reputation for a unique take on progressive metal, with influences from modern-day contemporaries to the legends of the golden age of progressive rock.  With the release of “Affinity”, the band culminated the afformentioned qualities in a perfect blend of prog brilliance, and have set the bar disturbingly high for all other bands in this unique genre.

Album review


4) Lesbian – Hallucinogenesis
Minor word of mouth is all I had to go on when delving into this band.  Their sound comes across as “Crack The Skye” era Mastodon on a drug-addled binge of psychadelic tendencies.  Long songs with a ton of adventure and mystery await the listener, and it’s a winning formula for both people wanting to not only escape reality, but to enhance it on many levels.


5) Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage
After the critical highs and lows given to the band for their previous album “Hail To The King”, the band rebounded with a new drummer, record label, and outlook.  What the boys came up with was a concept album that distanced itself from the stripped-down output of their previous album, and went into new territories of progressive flirting and a resurgence of what made their past material so special and unique.  What a special album, and a return to their classic form in some senses.

Album review


6) Long Distance Calling – Trips
This is a band I wasn’t familiar with before receiving a review copy from their label.  What I noticed, and what ultimately stuck with me, is that the group played by their own rules in creating a special progressive album full of memorable melodies and feverish output. Synth driven themes and a looming post-metal vibe also contributed to the multitude of aspects and flavours that go into this band’s original sound.

Album review


7) The Reticent – On The Eve Of A Goodbye
While I’m not usually a huge fan of concept albums, this collection of songs represented a true-life story about band leader Chris Hathcock’s close friend who committed suicide, which is new territory for concept stories.  It chronicles her final hours on Earth, and does so musically with giving us not only heavy and harsh segments, but beautifully orchestrated emotional moments that show the range of emotions from not only her viewpoint, but from Hathcock’s as he has to view and process the eventual demise of his friend.  Powerful and moving to no end.

Album review


8) Ihsahn – Arktis
Despite his epic contributions to black metal in the first part of his career with Emperor, it’s Ihsahn’s solo career that continues to push boundaries that he only touched on with his former band.  The man proves to be one that thoroughly expands on what it means to make progressive music.  It’s all about pushing boundaries with a perfect mix of brutal and serene, and that’s exactly what “Arktis” has in spades.  This album may not hit you at first, but it will definitely grow and develop with repeated listens.


9) Bent Knee – Say So
Bent Knee defines the often bastardized term of “avant-garde”.  What they do is play music by their own rules, without giving fans a predictable outcome.  Singer Courtney Swain gives us the manic and gorgeous side of her vocal range, and the rest of the band play their own unique brand of art-rock in a perfect cohesion with those very vocals.  While not a metal band (please don’t come at me with pitchforks!), Bent Knee draw some parallels with metal in the sense that they don’t want to be pigeonholed; they just want to make some original and memorable music.


10) Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
The legendary Dan Swano has been around the metal world since the late 80’s, not only with producing and engineering countless genre-defining metal releases, but with his countless multi-instrumental offerings not only in a guest capacity, but to his numerous musical projects.  His current band Witherscape followed up their previous full-length and EP with their current album, which embodies all the best qualities of Swano’s diverse vocal styles and instrumental talents.  I don’t know how he and fellow bandmate Ragnar Widerberg will follow this up, but I’m sure it will be a triumph as this album was.

Album review


11) Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon
After the release of their EP “Freaks”, I was instantly clamouring for more from this group, and the full-length follow-up didn’t dissapoint, and built on the energetic and off-kilter prog tendencies that the band gave us a taste of on the previous release.  This infectious mix was a definite breath of fresh air for progressive metal in 2016, offering a vibrant and infectious take on the varied sub-genre.


12) Abbath – s/t
Few knew if Abbath’s departure from black metal legends Immortal would be a smart move, but with the release of his self-titled debut, we see that his adrenaline-soaked and death-march approach was a winning formula outside of his former band.  A totally gripping album from beginning to end, and with such great material contained within, it’s only makes the mind wonder what else he has up for his sleeve in the future.


13) Be’lakor – Vessels
Australia’s making some great progressive music these days, and helping to lead the charge is Be’lakor, with their masterfully executed formula of progressive death with hints of post-metal expansiveness to really set the mood.  Naturally, there’s hints of the classic era of Opeth and other contemporaries like Insomnium and Edge Of Sanity  in “Vessels”, but the band make a sound their very own with their own progressive and melodic approach to death, and confidently move in other directions at the very same time.

Album review


14) Maschine – Naturalis
Melody, interesting arrangements, and expert detail to their song craft is what makes Maschine a standout to me in 2016.  The alternating male and female vocals, powerful and epic heavy sections mixed with transfixing and beautifully arranged melodic moments give this album a special flair that certainly surpasses their previous release by leaps and bounds.


15) Hammers Of Misfortune – Dead Revolution
I love how some bands can feature an energetic flow of old and new, and Hammers Of Misfortune has done this for years in perfect detail.  With “Dead Revolution”, the band continues on it’s quest of satisfying the old-school prog-rock fans with a metal sensibility that gels incredibly well, which continues that perfect marriage with not only robust and detailed long segments, but with fun and punchy organ-driven jaunts.

Album review


16) Frost* – Falling Satellites
For a band that seems to take a lifetime to release material, and with various member changes, the quality of “Falling Satellites” doesn’t show this history.  The compositions are performed brilliantly with an energetic determination to the overall sound.  The quieter and more broad pieces also show the scope and layers of their sound.  Now let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for another release from the British group!

Album review

17) Opeth – Sorceress
Mikael Akerfeldt and the band have abandoned their old sound for good, and with this being their third album in their post progressive-death metal sojourn, they have now cemented a new sound that people have become used to hearing.  On “Sorceress”, the Swedish legends are still making the music they want, with nods to the old-school but with an increasing heaviness that still seperates itself from the pre-“Watershed” material in an interesting way.  One of 2016’s most anticipated releases showed that the band have no signs of slowing down, and they continue to make the music that they want to hear first and foremost, and for that reason, I give them my utmost respect.


18) Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence
Townsend has shown a consistency that is very hard to find not only in a metal catalogue, but in many musical catalogues to be honest.  Fans of his previous work with DTP rejoiced with a band that made a band album, meaning that all members were called on for the songwriting process instead of Hevy Devy creating everything on his own.  The results show one of his most mature and accomplished works in years.  And even if his hinting that this might be one of the final DTP records to be put out comes true, fans can walk away knowing that the group put their all into constructing a masterful work.

Album review


19) Fallujah – Dreamless
Melodic progressive death is done by Fallujah in an aggressive and powerful way.  The band has built on their past releases with making “Dreamless” their crowing acheivement thus far.  The signature guitar tremolo effect is a constant through all the songs, and helps weave a theme that gives the individual songs a much broader scope and an continuous feel.  The experimentation and electronic elements only help to solidify their original sound, and it’s a sound that demands repeated listens.

Album review


20) Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rounding out the Top 20 is a group that expanded on their already potent sound with the addition of phenomenal vocalist Cammie Gilbert, which to me was the missing piece of the puzzle for this group.  With the line-up solidified, the group ventured forth with “Winter”, and expanded on their progressive side with melancholy and even doom aspects, which enriched and accentuated the sound.  Big things are ahead for this group if they can expand on this great collection of songs.

Best Newcomer of the Year

Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon
After the release of their EP “Freaks”, I was instantly clamouring for more from this group, and the full-length follow-up didn’t dissapoint, and built on the energetic and off-kilter prog tendencies that the band gave us a taste of on the previous release.  This infectious mix was a definite breath of fresh air for progressive metal in 2016, offering a vibrant and infectious take on the varied sub-genre.

Best Metal Songs of the Year

Oceans Of Slumber – Winter

An incredible song that builds perfectly on the subtle start of the song, and ventures through an amazing build and climax, complete with soaring clean and death vocals, great guitar solos and expert bass and drum patterns that make the whole song come together.  A winner on all levels.

Borknagar – Winter Thrice

Although their current album didn’t crack my year-end list, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this song, along with the other entry, were constants for me throughout the year.  The legendary Scandinavian group put forth one of their greatest songs to date, complete with four, yes four vocalists, and a masterful back-and-forth song that keeps you gripped throughout it’s entirety.  This is what I, and I’m sure many fans of the band, think is a textbook answer to anyone that wonders what an introduction to the band should consist of.

Defecto – Sovereign

This song is so fun and to the point that it stuck with me constantly through the year.  It’s playful and bombastic take on prog and power mixes perfectly and shows why this new Danish band have all the tools to come up with even more special music for their next release.

Best Videos of the Year

Defecto – Sovereign

This might be a weird choice, but the comedy aspect of this video interspersed with the powerful song just makes for a perfect marriage.  While the singer and his girlfriend are having a romantic and quiet dinner, she inquires about how the new music is coming along, to which the singer asks if she’d like to hear it.  What follows is the entire band setting up in the dining room, the girlfriend putting in earplugs, and the group belting out the song full force.  It’s hilarious and different.

Biggest Surprise of the Year

Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage

This release surprised me in the sense that their previous album was the first of theirs that I didn’t connect with, so when their latest effort came out, I expected the downward slide to continue.  What resulted instead was a total rebound, with an eye on the future, which made this album such a shock to me and some of their fanbase.  It’s a welcome return to form to say the least.

Top Artist of the Year

Anciients

They are the top artist for me because not only did they top their incredibly good debut album, but they built on their sound and expanded it to a degree that people probably didn’t think was possible.  This is one of the best examples of a band starting out on a high note and continuing at a perfect artistic pace.

Top Concerts of the Year

Opeth & The Sword – Toronto, ON, CANADA (Oct. 5, 2016)

It might have been a combination of the fact that I hadn’t seen Opeth live in many years, or the excitement of the new album, or that they played material from most of their recorded catalogue, but I was blown away in the present day like I was when I first saw them live in 2001.  Complete with a great visual stage show, and on the legendary Massey Hall stage, the band kept fans on the edges of their seats throughout the entire set and encore.  It’s a night I won’t soon forget.

Opeth & The Sword – Toronto, ON, CANADA (Oct. 5, 2016)

Haken, Thank You Scientist & Astral Bell – Toronto, ON, CANADA (Sept. 1, 2016)

After digesting their stage show for the first time on the “Restoration” tour, I was incredibly excited for their return to Toronto, and the band didn’t dissapoint.  Playing a set largely comprised from their newest album “Affinity”, the crowd was delighted with spot-on renditions of those songs plus old favourites.  It was one of the more high energy shows I’ve been to in recent memory, which is saying something for a progressive metal band.

 

Biggest Disappointment of the Year

Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason

This band has been on a steady decline for me since “Chaosphere”.  This may sound insane to some people, but the constant refusal to grow and push boundaries like they once did (except for their surprising effort on “Obzen”) makes them sound to me like a group that is comfortable.  And for me, comfort in a band isn’t a good thing because it suggests complacency once it stagnates.  While they are technically as proficient as ever and have shown themselves to be incredible performers, I don’t get excited for their releases anymore as I know that they will most likely play the same type of music they always have, and to me that’s just boring.

Biggest Wishes for the coming Year

I wish for more original and exciting music to come out.  I don’t just want this from established bands (although I’m praying the new Mastodon is a return to form), but from new bands that will show us that metal can continue to evolve and progress without having to rely on the past.

Liam Savage
About Liam Savage 46 Articles
I've always enjoyed metal music, but only had that real breakthrough moment while watching music videos on TV, and Pantera's "Mouth For War" and Sepultura's "Arise" came on back-to-back. This started a love affair and passion for metal that has happened since the early 90's. Since then, I've amassed quite a large CD collection, have written for Unrestrained! magazine in the early 2000's, and after taking about a ten year break from writing, joined "Power Of Metal" in 2016. My favourite sub-genres in metal are Progressive, Technical, Death, Power, Folk, Experimental and more.

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