The Best Albums of 2016

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Music-wise, this has been such a tremendous year for me. Living in Toronto and having a fair amount of free time on my hands, I was able to listen to over a hundred albums and attend 15+ concerts. More than any other year, I’ve delved into different sub-genres, reviewed a bunch of albums for the mighty SleazeRoxx (one I wish I could take back), and found new bands and albums I wasn’t aware of.

So when my good friend and editor of SleazeRoxx, Olivier, asked me to send him my top five albums of the year, I sat down to make the list. Owing to the sheer amount of records released in 2016 that I was able to listen to, my initial list consisted of over twenty, from which I had to choose five to send over to him, but in the end felt that at least another ten deserved to be mentioned, and that’s how this post was conceived.

By no means meant as a definitive list, my intention is to inspire you to visit some albums (if you haven’t already) and/or turn you onto some of the great efforts of 2016. Here is my complete list of records that, in my opinion, deserved to be heard. I consider Artwork important and a big part of the experience when listening to an album, thus I’ve included all album covers along with some videos for a taste. Wherever I’ve done a full review for the album, you can click on the album’s name to read it. Let’s get to it then…

 

1. Epica – The Holographic Principle

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I’m a fan of Epica, but I’ve never considered one of their albums the very best I’ve heard in a year. Until now. The Holographic Principle is absolutely everything you would want from a symphonic metal record and then some.

Every single element and metal style you can think of is dropped in The Holographic Principle at some point, and in some uncanny way it all works. It’s easy for me to call this album the best album in Epica‘s career. and “Beyond The Matrix” one of the best songs they’ve ever produced, it makes me jump and sing along every single time, amazing stuff!

 

2. Avantasia – Ghostlights

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My love for theatricals in music is no secret. Tobias Sammet is the master in that regard and along with his all-star group of friends he manages to deliver an astonishing and powerful hard rock/power metal album for the ages.

Ghostlights hits the nail on the head at every turn, whether it be with Geoff Tate‘s best performance in ages on “Seduction Of Decay”, Dee Snider‘s best appearance (maybe) ever, or at the 12-minute certain to become a classic tour de force “Let the Storm Descend Upon You”. Either way, Avantasia excels with every album.

 

3. Redemption – The Art of Loss

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Damn progressive metal, I’ve loved the sub-genre ever since that fateful day when I first heard Dream Theater‘s now legendary Images and Words.

But this is almost twenty-five years after, and the music has come a long way, as have I. Things have gone heavier with much more complex arrangements like it is with Redemption, who fronted by the wonderful Ray Alder and led by songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist Nick van Dyk have released a magnificent record that makes it easy for me to name it the best prog metal album of 2016.

 

4. Messa – Belfry

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This album caught me completely off guard. I enjoy doom metal — and love Black Sabbath to death — in general, but I would neve call it my favorite genre (as it can be seen from this list), but with Belfry Messa has delivered a truly original, unique, and enjoyable mixture of genres. An album, and a band, that dares to be different, to innovate, especially in a genre that is well known for often sounding monotonous.

If you like your music to be novel, and don’t mind bands that take bold chances at blending different music styles, do yourself a favor and check Messa‘s wonderful debut album, Belfry.

 

5. Opeth – Sorceress

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Opeth is another band that doesn’t care about being different, or about what anyone thinks.  Mikael Åkerfeldt dances to the beat of his own drum, and thank the music gods for that!

As I mentioned in my review earlier this year: “If Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, and Yes had sex, Sorceress would be their love child. The whole thing is a marriage of psychedelia, progressive rock, heavy metal, hard rock, and a touch of folk.” And what a beauty Sorceress is, an album that grows on you with every spin.

 

6. Evergrey – The Storm Within

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Am I glad that Evergrey is back on track! I love their early albums, especially The Inner Circle, and after a streak of only competent albums, Tom S. Englund completely reformed the band and came back full-force in 2014 with Hymns for the Broken.

Well, The Storm Within is nothing but another step up, reminding me often of the aforementioned The Inner Circle, filled with the band’s trademark melancholy sound. A fantastic album in par with Evergrey‘s greatest work, a complete and utter comeback that further proofs that the band is on course again.

 

7. Rhapsody of Fire – Into the Legend

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Now that Fabio Lione announced his exit from (this version of) Rhapsody of Fire, this album certainly marks a defining point for the band. Strangely enough, when I reviewed this album earlier this year, before Lione‘s announcement, I mentioned that his vocals have always been a trademark for the band. I can’t imagine the band without him, we shall see what happens next and how the new singer turns out because he has some very big shoes to fill.

Anyway, Into the Legend is an exemplary piece of Rhapsody of Fire‘s unique style, symphonic epic Hollywood metal (or whatever you want to call it). Adding more to the band’s canon of what they’ve been producing since the early 90s: great, fantastic, over-the-top symphonic metal.

 

8. Megadeth – Dystopia

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2016 was a huge year for thrash metal, with new releases from heavyweights like Metallica, Death Angel, Artillery, Testament, and Anthrax. But, in my opinion (and of other very knowledgeable individuals), the album that gets this year’s thrash metal gold medal is Megadeth‘s Dystopia.

What changed after the band’s recent so-so releases? Enter the band’s line-up guitarist Kiko Loureiro from Angra and Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler. The result? Dystopia finds Megadeth right where they belong and right where we want them. Think Countdown to Extinction height, need I say more?

 

9. Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour

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What can I say? Sonata Arctica may be cheesy and over-the-top but vocalist/songwriter Tony Kakko‘s uncanny ability to create catchy melodies is undisputable and have put the band at the top of Europower for more than fifteen years now. Awkward as some of their lyrics may sometimes be, I have been a huge fan and fell in love with the band ever since I first pressed play on their debut album Ecliptica.

I’m happy to say that Angry Metal Guy, whose opinion I greatly respect, feels similarly about the band and this album than me. The Ninth Hour is filled with great Sonata Arctica songs and is, more simply put, an amazing power metal album.

 

10. Darkher – Realms

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Another album that surprised me out of nowhere. Nowhere being (again) the Angry Metal Guy blog (thank you!). I’ve been reading (and re-reading) a lot of H.P. Lovecraft lately, and Darkher‘s Realms has functioned as an astonishing soundtrack for it more than once.

I really can’t find better words than AGM to describe this beautiful album, so I’ll cite him here: “Realms isn’t just slow and heavy, it’s harrowing and bittersweet. Jayn [H. Wissenberg]—who wrote, produced, and played the majority of the instruments—relies on a sometimes bare and sometimes claustrophobic production to guide the listener through realms of emotion.” Realms is a fantastic, utterly unique record, that deserves a lot more attention on it.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

11. Karmakanic – Dot
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  • One of the finest symphonic prog bands today. Karmakanic is, by far, the best side project to come out of the legendary Flower Kings, and, in my opinion, often surpassing them. If you like Pink Floyd and Spock’s Beard, check their album Dot, for it doesn’t disappoint.

    12. Myrath – Legacy
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  • Another damn fine progressive metal release from Myrath, Legacy is full of intricate and gorgeous arrangements filled with their signature middle eastern motifs.

    13. iamthemorning – Lighthouse
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  • Beautiful, inspired, atmospheric, heartbreaking, and much, much more. This duo from Russia which blends chamber music with touches of progressive rock is simply a feast to the ears, to say the least. Not to be missed.

    14. The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude of a Dream
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  • A monumental release as it is very characteristic of the symphonic prog genre. A double CD that displays the talents of everyone involved, to the extreme. Neal Morse has called it one of his crown achievements and I can’t disagree, progressive rock at its finest.

    15. Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
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  • Ray Alder. Again. The guy can sing, and he proves it twice over this year. Theories of Flight is easily Fates Warning‘s best album since their early 90s classics.

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    That’s it! 2016 has been one of the best years of my life, with the most changes, and the biggest lessons. There’s too much life left for me and I certainly hope that this much great music accompanies me through the years as I live it. 

    Let me know if I missed any great albums or your opinion of my list on the comments below. If you got this far, thanks for reading!

    This is the place where I happily share my experiences and passions.

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