Where 2015 was full of good music, 2016 was absolutely stuffed. This year, I brought you over 160 reviews for various EPs and albums of note (and some that weren’t so noteworthy). Of the several albums I reviewed and the even more that I took the time to listen to, these are my personal favorites.
Within Destruction came out of pretty much nowhere with their Rising Nemesis Records debut this year, and the effect was devastating. Taking over the ears of heavy music fanatics world-wide, Within Destruction’s Void is a display of slam-meets-deathcore-meets-otherworldly-evil that defies the works of the band’s much more experienced peers.
I know I’m gonna lose some of you here—and this won’t be the first time I have to say this—but yes, I’m serious. Future didn’t use EVOL to prove his lyrical or rhyming talents to the world; he used it to make an absurdly catchy rap album. Short, sweet, to the point and featuring an out-of-this-world The Weeknd feature, EVOL is fun. Period.
In a word, Atrocity Exhibition is unique. So much so that I would guess it might be the most unique thing you’ll hear come out of all 2016. It’s both the album everyone figured Danny Brown might make after so much anticipation, yet, completely out of left field. Pick it up and see for yourself.
In Dying Arms are a band who have been growing steadily but slowly since their inception—until Original Sin. With this groundbreaking display of heavy music mastery, In Dying Arms leapt straight into stardom, erupting into the forefront of heavy music’s rather sizable stage and staying there for most of 2016, begging the question; what will 2017 hold for them?
Speaking of bands who kept listeners waiting with baited breath is to speak of Demolisher, whose 2016 full-length release (which was originally slated as a meager EP) did, indeed demolish the work of many of the band’s contemporaries. Well over half an hour of knee-breaking, wig-splitting intensity, Violent Society is well worth the wait and the praise.
Moody, mellow, catchy and incredibly erotic in the weirdest ways, Stoney is the type of jam that has you cruising with your crew one moment, then humping the closest thing with two legs* the next. Post Malone took 2016 by storm many times, but this maelstrom is far and away the largest.
*warn your homies if you put this on the in car.
2016 was a busy year for Floridian juggernauts, Traitors—and even with tours and an EP kicking off the year early on, the band failed to lose focus of their goal: constant improvement and growth. Mental State is just that. The group continues adding catchier hooks, more creative vocal patterns and improved writing (lyrically and instrumentally) to create something unique and intense without being dull and monotonous.
This one came out of left field. Pure, riff-driven aggression mixed with pulverizing heaviness and moments of melody and tranquility that catch the listener completely off guard. Mara will have you moshing one minute and contemplating the frivolities of modernity the next, all while beating you senseless with belligerent, abrasive hardcore mixed with scalding death metal.
Casey took the emotional hardcore world by storm with their debut three-track promo—laden with emotional turns of phrase and sullen, melancholy instrumentation that confidently strode the tightrope joining passion and power—and their debut full-length album, is, in many ways, a natural continuation of what their initial offering started. In a word, Love is Not Enough is raw—rubbing the listener’s ability to feel away like a smudge.
Shadow of Intent are the kind of technical/symphonic/blackened/old-school deathcore band that take everything good about all styles of deathcore and death metal and condense it—brilliantly—into one whirlwind of an album. Primordial is pissed and fast while being sludgy and slow—not to mention it sees Ben Duerr at the beginning of the climb to his current state of vocal stardom.
Yet another Tragic Hero Records release that dropped jaws and stunned the masses this year—especially the masses who find themselves more inclined to progressive metalcore. Proving that the band’s debut was much more than a one-off or a fluke, but rather, a hint at things to come, Stillworld is savage in some places, yet stunning and ethereal in others; in short, it captures both the beauty of an individual snowflake, and the frigid, fearsome might of a full-on blizzard.
2016 was the year of the comebacks—and perhaps the greatest among them was the return of chaotic, crushing deathcore-turned-mathcore progenitors Ion Dissonance. Cast the First Stone is the band honoring their roots while continuing to grow and change with the times, equal parts nostalgic and current—making it a must listen for fans of the band since their debut, as well as those who might just be discovering the wonderful world of heavy music.
Vulvodynia are a band I wouldn’t have ever thought would make such a huge impression on me. After being asked to cover their debut EP—and being less than thrilled with it at the time–I was ready to give up hope on them. However in the years since then, they’ve grown into a staple when it comes to slamming Death metal. If you aren’t brandishing hammers when this album kicks in, you’re wrong.
Last year when I was writing this list, I said pretty much the same thing about Drake that I’m saying about Kevin Gates this year: at the beginning of 2016, I couldn’t stand Kevin Gates. All it took, however, was the chorus to “Not the Only One” to get stuck inside my head and sit there for a week or so—and after that, Islah skyrocketed up my most-popular albums list. With tracks like “Not the Only One” and “Pride” that are bizarrely emotional, yet songs like “2 Phones” that are classic, hard-trappin’ Gates at his best. It’s the best of both worlds, even if it takes a little time to get into.
I’m not sure how I ended up falling so completely in love with this album—just as I’m not sure where exactly this band was hiding my whole life, but now that My Place of Solace and Rest is out and in the wild, I can’t imagine my music collection without it. Beautiful, dark, brooding and…well, pure, Vesuvius do the immensity of their name justice.
A lot of people overlooked this release when it came to compiling lists for the end of the year, and I can’t imagine for the life of me why. Frontman Ricky Lee Roper is absolutely insane—the very voice of Satan himself—and the rest of the band is just as vicious. This was one of Siege’s first big bombs that dropped on 2016, and many people are still reeling in the aftermath.
10) Left Behind – Seeing Hell
Left Behind took their sweet time writing an album that felt like a real trip through hell itself—and they pulled it off without a hitch. Another album that simply be defined as unique, Left Behind made a wonderfully bleak and dismal record that combines hardcore, metalcore and thrash metal in one blistering, infernal whirlwind.
When it comes to any given band in any given genre, most would count themselves lucky to even play a role in changing the game even slightly. Yet here stand Darke Complex—formerly Widow—who, after reinventing nu-metalcore once with their monstrous 2015 EP, do it once more in a slightly different arena with Point Oblivion. Alternative and J-rock come together with metalcore, nu-metal and…something intangible to create a listening experience unlike any other.
Views seemed to be really polarizing for a lot of people—and part of me gets it. Some of Drake’s sultrier cuts on Views may seem a little unorthodox or maybe a little too much, but then again, if we wanted 15 more tracks that did little but show off that Drake is somewhere between a rapper who can sing pretty well and a singer who can rap pretty well, we could just revisit his discography. Views is honest—steamy at parts and sullen at others—plus, any artists that kicks off an album with a song like (or as good as) “Keep the Family Close” deserves at least an honorable mention.
If there was any indication that 2016 was going to see a massive reentry of deathcore into the heavy music forefront, this was it. Emerging from the depths of the UK, Surrender to Suffering came out of nowhere to create an album that is positively haunting. Heavier than ten elephants wrestling with Paul Bunyon, Cruciatum Aeternam is a display of devastating aggression if ever there was one.
The Sign of Four are the very definition of underrated, if you ask me. While, true enough, their debut EP showed little more than megatons of potential packed inside a relatively solid offering, their debut full-length absolutely annhilates it—making it an album you definitely won’t be sick of spinning.
Taking the attitude and aggressive persona of a punishing Beatdown act and infusing it with a little bit of hip-hop and a lot of crushing heaviness, Drowning’s full-length record EgoTrip is one of the most satisfying listening experiences you’ll have all year—as it isn’t much more than catchy, cruel heaviness at its catchiest.
Face Your Maker reinvented their own sound and 2016’s hierarchy of heavy releases in one fell swoop with their breakout full-length, Ego Death. Yet another example of Siege Records blasting a crator in the earth’s crust with cruel-and-unusual heaviness, Face Your Maker can do little wrong—whether it comes to low, slow downtempo or fast, furious deathcore.
If you know me, then you were probably just waiting until you saw this album on this list. I am a proud Beacons fanboy—and I have been since being approached to work with the band on their debut EP. They’ve gotten consistently better with every release and Dark World is no exception.
How often does a band take 3+ years to release a full length and it manages to live up to every ounce of hype—and then some. It doesn’t matter, because this year, Immoralist did it better than any of them. Unholy could also be named unstoppable or unmatchable, because when it comes to heavy music, that’s exactly what it is.
I remember when I put Infant Annihilator’s debut record on my 2012 albums of the year list—and I remember typing “this will probably be the only time I ever put a band with this name so highly on my year-end list.”
Well, I was wrong. There is little I can say about this band that their reputation or talents can’t say for themselves. While it definitely isn’t for everyone, I will say this; if you are a fan of heavy music and still somehow fail to find merit within this hour of pure power, then…are you really a fan of heavy music?
This is probably the least surprising number one pick from anyone on any list you’ve read this year. This is not simply the best album of this year, but it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. With distinct funk, disco and hip-hop influences all blended into a chaotic, crushing and emotional style of street-smart metalcore, Yüth Forever made an album that is purely, without compromise and totally themselves that managed to speak to so many people, so loudly It’s deafening in the process.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Knocked Loose – Laugh Tracks, Run the Jewels – RTJ3, Gucci Flute – Persimmon Hollow, NAILS – You Will Never Be One of Us.
Appearing two times in one year-end wrap up, it’s been a banner year for Kevin Gates. While Murder for Hire II isn’t as sprawling a display of his talents, it is catchy and fun with a couple pretty moving portions, adding substance to the otherwise straightforward styles Gates offers.
Raw, gritty, powerful and intense from start to finish, Landfill blend metallic, riff-friendly ruthlessness with hard-hitting, heavy hardcore. The result? The gruesome display of barbaric aggression that a band with the name Landfill implies.
One of the reasons many people probably checked Pains out was because they share members with the legendary Illinois-based band Kingmaker. Valid enough reason—but thirty seconds into Drown the Earth, it should be evident that Pains are nothing like Kingmaker. No filter, no frills and all the fury you can imagine, Drown the Earth is heavy in ways that defy explanation and can only be experienced.
Old school heavy deathcore legends, Colossal—you know, one of the ones who serves as progenitors to the heavy music’s scene obsession with low and slow—came back swinging in 2016 with NOWHERE. Filled with features and flawless displays of murderous malevolence, Colossal live up to their mammoth name with ease and expertise.
While Exile’s 2016 offering could, honestly, fall as either a short full length or a long EP, it holds the brief, blistering and brutalizing flare of an EP—which is good, because as far as 2016 goes, it was one of the best. Deathcore done right with a quintessentially Australian flair, Exile blend technicality and terrifying power like alchemists—and the result is pure gold.
I was thrilled when these fine fellows reached out to work with me again after defining progressive metalcore on their debut EP, Idylls. In short, there isn’t much not to love about this record. Heavy in parts and creatively, brilliantly catchy in others, World Divide is an excellent example of progressive showmanship done without being…well, show-offy.
Not even a little bit what one would expect from members of Enterprise Earth and Extortionist, but every inch the intensity and aggression one could want, No Salvation sees a relative “supergroup” from some of the Pacific Northwest’s heaviest hitters leap into bone-busting beatdown-turned-hardcore-turned-metalcore mode.
I almost didn’t like this EP, but I’m glad I gave it more time to grow on me, because once it sunk its teeth in, there was no letting go. Catchy and cruel, you owe it to yourself to check out this album, because Kharma are making big waves for a good reason.
After spending plenty of time refining and working on a more distinct sounds for their sophomore release, Pathways surprised many by joining the ranks of Tragic Hero Records shortly before Dies Irae’s release—giving the band and the album the push they deserve. More than just flagrant Within the Ruins worship, Pathways are an energetic and intelligent young band that blend symphony with sinister aggression better than most.
Vacive’s debut offering may have felt overdue to any of the band’s earlier fans, but there’s no denying that whatever wait it took to release, it was worth it. Catchy and fun for its entire duration, yet still substantive and meaningful, Personalities is nostalgic metalcore with a contemporary twist done very well.
Far from what one would expect by an album of this title, Soulkeeper attack the listener with aggression and raw, scathing self-loathing. Laden with breakdowns that pack a meaty punch and grooves that stay stuck in your head for eons, Soulkeeper’s debut offering is definitely one to keep close.
For a while, I’d honestly just assumed Every Hand Betrayed were dead—but Forsaken proves that they are anything but. While this EP doesn’t have quite the same feel as Kingless, that’s actually perfectly okay, because the sound that Every Hand Betrayed bring to life here is just as crushing and powerful.
More than celebrity deaths or deathcore comebacks, 2016 seemed to be the year that bands with long overdue releases actually were able to put them out. It’s been the case for several bands mentioned already and it is definitely the case for Advocates. The Complex Truth is an intense EP that blends metal and groove with heavier, darker undertones in a way that only Australians can.
I’m honestly not even sure that this EP was officially released this year. However, I saw these fine gentlemen open for the infamous I Set My Friends on Fire on their “release” for this self-titled EP and, let me tell you, if ever there was a band carrying on the attitude and catchiness of ISMFOF’s You Can’t Spell Slaughter Without…, then it is The Four of Us Are Dying.
On a personal level, I couldn’t be more proud of what Dethrone the Deceiver have accomplished with this EP. Even as a fan of their debut release and the singles released in the interim, by comparison, those are dull compared to even the softest moment on this EP (spoiler—there are very few). If I had never met these guys before, I would still be in love with their sound because this is one of the truest examples of deathcore the way it was when 99% of its current fanbase fell in love with it. Nostalgic and vicious, this release will have your jaw scraping the floor by the time the first song even reaches its apex.
As savage and brutalizing as their name might imply, Clawhammer shook the slamming deathcore world to the core with their debut EP this year. Simultaneously catchy and corrosive, Infernum in Terra is like listening to an STD that rots your brain from the second you press “play,” but in the best way possible.
It might be a little cheesy, but Watch the Stove is an absolutely delicious display of meaty, substantive hip-hop that sounds as if the artists behind it are as seasoned as the meat they rhyme about.
For real, it’s a mixtape about Hamburger Helper, and honestly, I don’t know that I heard a better song than “Feed the Streets” this whole year.
With Rooks emerging back from what many assumed to be their graves, their placement on this list wasn’t a matter of if, but rather, where. Infinite III sees the original musical line-up joined by new frontman Eli Martinez, who brings the very same intensity but new, gruff and aggressive attitude to this project—proving him to be as versatile as Rooks are bouncy.
As hard as everyone tries to put downtempo deathcore in its grave, there will forever be examples of it done so perfectly that it just refuses the very thought of death. Nodus Tollens, like Bodysnatcher’s Abandonment and Traitors’ self-titled debut, is one of those examples.
As many two-man projects and three-man projects as there are in the heavy music scene, there are very few one-man projects…and none of them are as good as Methwitch. Cameron McBride is a madman with talents that know no end; from pure, powerful speed to bludgeoning slams, Methwitch is as evil as the name implies and then some.
Mercy Blow made 2016 their pawn. In essence, they practically did with this year what Varials did in 2015—came out of nowhere to conquer the likes of slam-tinted, hardcore-based, beatdown-dusted insanity. Whatever genre you choose to call them, there is no denying the heaviness they boast so proudly, making other artists who call themselves “brutal” seem like bunny rabbits.
Neutral Until Provoked changed so much from its original conception to its final product it’s hard to even call it the same release—but at the end of the day, it’s the final project that matters, and this EP is nothing less than pure insanity. With odd tempos and technical touches that make it stand out from the heavy-hardcore likes of their peers, Sustenance are exactly what their name imply—they’re the lifeforce the listener needs to thrive and survive.
2016 was a big year for Wicked World; tours all over the country, a new label signing, and Witch Hunt, their most ambitious release to date. Conceptually driven and crushing to the core, Wicked World set out to do a lot with this record, and they accomplished it all and more. From riffs to ruthless heaviness, Witch Hunt will burn you alive.
For whatever reason, Dogma didn’t get nearly the attention they deserved with this release, and that might be one of the biggest crimes 2016 saw.
…Okay, maybe not biggest, but it definitely is a crime. Bouncy, bold, brutal and thoroughly unique, Dogma craft a captivating experience on Mute Message that will have the listener screaming with joy…if they can even find their voice.
Possibly the breakout release of the year from probably the breakout band of the year, Rejection//Dejection has it all: politics, punishing aggression, brooding misanthropy and slam-slathered brutality that could turn nursing homes into mosh pits. Newcomer may be new to the game, but they are the very definition of prodigally talented.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Misgiver – Cruelty of Life, Vince Staples – Prima Donna, HIVE – HIVE