That said, two notable thrash heavyweights who released albums this year didn’t make the Top 10: Megadeth’s Dystopia grew on me as 2016 went on, and was on the bubble as I made my final decision, but didn’t quite make the cut. The other, I was a bit more disappointed by. Though Metallica’s Hardwired … to Self-Destruct contains a few standout tracks – including the best pure thrash song they’ve recorded in ages – I just found most of the record vanilla and unmemorable. Those songs that I love just weren’t enough to overcome the blah numbers that surround them.
That said, four classic thrash acts did find their way into a pretty strong final field, and one blew all the others away in my opinion. Here’s my Best Hard Rock and Metal of 2016 …
10. METAL CHURCH – XI: Here’s our first classic thrash entry already. The return of Mike Howe on vocals certainly piqued my interest, as 1989’s Blessing in Disguise is one of my favorite Metal Church albums, and the lead single “No Tomorrow” got me amped up. The album followed through on that promise. There’s nothing new or fancy here, but it’s just a great old-school thrash record.
9. AMON AMARTH – JOMSVIKING: The last release from metal’s premier vikings was my favorite album of 2013. With Jomsviking, they deliver their first concept album – and like many concepts, it does, at times, seem a little too focused on story and not enough on music. Still, it has strong performances, and the drinking song “Raise Your Horns,” with a melody that could have been co-written by Alestorm’s Christopher Bowes, is alone enough to earn this album a spot on my Best Hard Rock and Metal of 2016 list.
8. CHARRED WALLS OF THE DAMNED – CREATURES WATCHING OVER THE DEAD: It’s been five years since our last blast of music from Charred Walls of the Damned, featuring drummer Richard Christy (Death, Iced Earth), vocalist Tim Owens (Judas Priest, Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Iced Earth, Testament) and guitarist and noted metal producer Jason Suecof. Though still heavy, as the blast beat-laden opening of single “The Soulless” can attest, this record backs off a bit on the death and progressive elements found in their earlier work for a more straight-forward metal outing, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
7. TEXAS HIPPIE COALITION – THE DARK SIDE OF BLACK: As with Texas Hippie Coalition’s last record, I’m kind of torn on this one. I love the redneck noise of Peacemaker, and I miss that sound. Dark Side of Black is easily the heaviest entry in the band’s catalog, and it contains some fantastic songs, notably “Angel Fall,” which takes a little darker and more somber tone than their usual fun-loving, braggadocio-filled fare.
6. DELAIN – MOONBATHERS: Here’s another band that was going to have a hard time topping their last outing in my mind, but they gave it a heck of a try. Charlotte Wessels remains an amazing vocal talent, as she shows when the band fully embraces its 1980s influences with an amped-up cover of Queen’s “Scandal.” There’s another nice mix of sounds and influences on this record from goth to ’80s pop to heavier metal stylings.
5. THE DEAD DAISES – MAKE SOME NOISE: The band with the revolving door of star musicians may have found its best lineup on this album with the addition of guitarist Doug Aldrich and vocalist John Corabi. Make Some Noise is just a good, old-fashioned, fun hard rock record.
4. DEATH ANGEL – THE EVIL DIVIDE: While we may talk about comebacks for some of the classic thrash acts that released records this year, Death Angel just seems to keep getting better. In songs like “Lost” and “The Moth,” The Evil Divide has some of the band’s strongest offerings to date, while also delivering on the energetic thrash that fans expect.
3. ROB ZOMBIE – THE ELECTRIC WARLOCK ACID WITCH SATANIC ORGY CELEBRATION DISPENSER: Let me catch my breath after that mouthful of an album title. This Best Hard Rock and Metal of 2016 finalist is actually the year’s biggest surprise for me. I’ve not been all that interested in Rob Zombie’s albums for quite a while, but this one has some great songs. True, it’s short and has more than its share of what I consider wasted space tracks (though I’m sure Zombie would disagree), but it’s still some of his strongest material in years.
2. TESTAMENT – BROTHERHOOD OF THE SNAKE: So, when people tell me, “well, you know, the guys in Metallica aren’t in their 20s anymore,” this album is my response. The guys in Testament aren’t in their 20s anymore either, but you wouldn’t know it by the material here. This album just rages from start to finish with energy and intensity, and you can tell the band feels almost every song on it. Does it have flaws? Of course, it does. But it rips so hard that you don’t really notice them.
1. ANTHRAX – FOR ALL KINGS: No surprise here. I said in my initial review that I’d be shocked if any album knocked it out of the top spot, and nothing came close to this chart-topping Best Hard Rock and Metal of 2016 entry. For All Kings showcases a rejuvenated Anthrax. They’ve revamped their sound a little, incorporating bits of everything that they’ve done, but it’s still quintessentially Anthrax. This album features some of the best songs the band has ever written and presents a solid challenge to Among the Living and We’ve Come for You All as the band’s best album ever.
MEGADETH – DYSTOPIA: I wasn’t thrilled with this album at first, but it grew on me as the year went on. It’s certainly something of a return to form for the band, but they didn’t quite top their contemporaries on this Best Hard Rock and Metal of 2016 list.
HOLY GRAIL – TIMES OF PRIDE AND PERIL: Holy Grail’s debut Crisis in Utopia was a fantastic traditional metal album that they’ve never quite matched. Times of Pride and Peril doesn’t quite get there either, but it’s solid, with some great songs and fantastic guitar work from Eli Santana and Alex Lee.
JACKYL – ROWYCO: Jesse James Dupree delivers exactly what you expect from him – another raunchy and fun hard rock record.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
METALLICA – HARDWIRED … TO SELF-DESTRUCT: No surprise here, either. This is a very frustrating record for me because the songs that I like on it are absolutely fantastic. “Dream No More” grooves with a vengeance, and for once, it’s James Hetfield’s vocal delivery that makes the song. “Spit Out the Bone” is the best thrash song they’ve done in ages, but there are so many more songs that are just plain boring. There are only a few tracks that I think are downright bad, but much of the album is kind of like a beige wallpaper, just there. So much promise in the good songs, so much blah in the not-so-good ones.