METAL

Howl’s Top Howls: Best Metal Albums 2016

Unbeknownst to some, hip-hop isn’t our only love here at Howl & Echoes; we don’t discriminate when it comes to great music, whether it’s rock, pop, electronic or metal. This year has been as outstanding for the world of heavy music as it has been for every other genre, so we thought to showcase some of our favourite picks from Australia and beyond.

Curated by your two heavy-loving Howlies Alasdair and Lauren, here are our favourite metal albums of 2016 (in alphabetical order).

Enjoy!

Architects, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us

Before you even listen to this record, the album title and bleak artwork was clear indication that Architects were going deep. The UK band’s seventh outing is their best, and heaviest yet; dramatic and intense reinterpretations of the sounds they had already familiarised fans with on previous records. Lyrically it’s nihilistic as fuck (the opening track is indeed called Nihilist); “Sorry son, but we destroyed your home, we murdered your family, now you’re on your own,” he spits on A Match Made In Heaven. “Just let me burn the bridge that leads me nowhere, because it’s gone and it’s never coming back.” Metalcore doesn’t always grab me, but Architects have a knack for kicking you in the guts and enchanting your ears all at once. 

On a more intimate note, this album has great meaning for Architects fans and the band themselves, as guitarist Tom Searle passed away from cancer just three months after it was released. At the time, Searle’s brother and Architects drummer Dan Searle announced, “I don’t know what will become of Architects. Me and Tom started playing in a band together when we were 13 and, really, Architects is just an evolution of the band that we started all the way back then, over half my life ago… We want to carry on, that is important to say, and we will strive to do so, but we will not release any music unless we truly believe that it is something that Tom would have been proud of. Whether or not we can achieve that is something that we will have to discover in time.” – LZ

The Body, No One Deserves Happiness

It’s been a busy few years for experimental duo The Body. They’ve released two albums this year, both of which are on this list, and last year they released three collaborative records. No One Deserves Happiness did not take time to settle in like some albums do. On first listen it hit me instantly, and it hit me hard. The Body have long honed their skills for challenging one’s conception of what heavy, like, really heavy, music can entail, and on this record they perfect those intersecting moments where metal meets other elements. Not many bands can champion a sound so terrifying and huge, while incorporating synths, 808s and pop influences throughout. This is a beautiful, dark album that envelops me from Chrissy Wolpert’s haunting guest vocals on opening piece Wanderings, to the Liars-esque Two Snakes, to the final distorted chaos of closer The Myth Arc, and everything in between. I’ve listened to this more than almost any other heavy record this year and I continue to discover new elements each time. – LZ

The Body and Full of Hell, One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache

This was an incredible collaborative album from two bands who each released two albums this year; The Body’s aforementioned solo record, and Full of Hell’s fantastic split with Nails (who also appear on this list). To be honest I had not really listened to FoH before this album was announced, and I didn’t know what to expect from a collaboration between the pair. Well, goddamn. This album is so sonically and emotionally overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to describe. The soundscapes don’t seep into your pores so much as they suffocate them. It’s merciless to the point of disorientation, which doesn’t necessarily sound like a positive review, but it’s hard to do this album justice without simply insisting that you strap on your headphones and turn the volume up to 11. – LZ

Cobalt, Slow Forever

It can’t be easy to release an album after a seven year break, especially after Slow Forever was first announced back in 2013 – the hype is almost impossible to live up to – more so because it is their first with a new vocalist, Charlie Fell. But Cobalt have managed to traverse these murky waters and the 12-track double album is their best yet (and Cobalt are already a fucking good band). Another group who make far more sound than two people should feasibly be able to make, Slow Forever is powerful and incredibly well-structured in spite of the 84-minute running time, which includes two 11 minute tracks; every layer feels refined and crucial. An outstanding return to the fore. – LZ

Cult Of Luna, Mariner

For their latest outing, the Swedish doom-metal progsters enlisted the help of ex-Made Out Of Babies frontwoman Julie Christmas to splash new colour into the band’s iconic, grim sound. The result is crushingly heavy riffs that feel as though the pressure of the entire ocean is pressing down upon you, with the vocals of Christmas adding a shrill sense of desperate anguish to the entire affair. A stunning, dynamic outing that details an adventure through space. – AB

Cursed Earth, Enslaved By The Insignificant (Australian)

The Perth quintet have been turning heads for some time, and their debut record shows precisely why they are worth the time. The group strike up a might racket with their blackened hardcore and keep things going until the last shriek of album-closer Stark. But that’s exactly how this music should be. Aggressive, fast and loud. An awesome debut. – AB

The Devin Townsend Project, Transcendence

The beauty of Devin Townsend is that listening to each new record feels like the beginning to read a book that you know will be brilliant, or watching a movie that has already been hailed as one of the greats. The sense of anticipation will almost always be rewarded ten-fold, and Transcendence is no different. Bombastic drums, powerful riffs and soaring vocals, it’s a combination of all the best elements modern metal has thrown up in the last 10 years. Brilliant. Nobody else makes feel-good wall-of-noise epicness quite like Dev, and this is one of his best releases ever. – AB

The Dillinger Escape Plan, Dissociation

It is with bittersweet emotion that I write about this album, TDEP’s final ever record, and ultimately their best and most passionate since 2007’s Ire Works. Although I understand their reasons, news of their break-up was truly heartbreaking, and listening to this album filled me equally with joy and sadness. They were one of the very first metal bands I ever truly loved and the first heavy concert I ever attended (it was at the Gaelic Club in 2005 and they played with Stockholm Syndrome and Pure Evil Trio, I was 15), and I have seen them live across at least three countries since. Emotive and melodic at times, utterly horrifying at others, this album is a richly diverse, triumphant finale to an incredible career. RIP DEP. – LZ

Gojira, Magma

I guarantee you haven’t heard death metal performed in a way that can truly be described as beautiful until you hear this record. The heartbroken musical result of the loss of founding members Joe and Mario Duplantier’s mother, the band strip back the unnecessary layers and gift us with a raw, melodic progressive death metal. The sound ranges from the smooth, uneasy tones of title track to the pulverising effect of The Cell. One of the faces of contemporary heavy music at their best. – AB

Graves, Monster (Australian)

It was a long-time coming, but after years of constant touring, line-up changes and setbacks, Wollongong outfit Graves finally signed to Greyscale Records and dropped this absolute whopper on the music community. Slow, doomy riffs make up the bulk of the album, with tracks Fear, 505 and Father all containing an undertone of horror. The blood-curdling shrieks, pounding kicks and grainy guitars are all hard to take in one sitting, but as a body of work Monster is a daunting yet impressive work of art. – AB

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Nonagon Infinity (Australian)

The uproar caused when this band took the ARIA Award for best hard rock/ heavy metal performance was both laughable and thought-provoking, but one can’t escape the fact that this record is HEAVY. Just because a band doesn’t produce metal records for a living doesn’t mean they can’t dip their toe in from time to time, and the Melbourne psych-machine delivered this stellar LP as a tribute to the likes of Motorhead and Black Sabbath, the forefathers of the genre. Across the nine tracks come powerful riffs in People Vultures and Evil Death Roll, dazzling drum fills throughout Big Fig Wasp and Gamma Knife, and speed in the title track and Rocket Train that prove this band can certainly stick it with the bearded, tattooed minority. A well-deserved award. – AB

Lifesick, 6 0 1

Danish metal group Lifesick were announced as Southern Lord’s newest signees back in August. Their debut album 6 0 1 came out last month (well, some online listings date it 2015 but it was officially released through Southern Lord this year) and blew me away with its unhinged brashness; I’m not usually a hardcore fan, but the rapid rhythms are weighted down by enough of a grungy, sludge anchor that it quickly won me over. This is the shortest record on this list, with eight tracks filling up just 24 minutes, but those 24 minutes are an unforgettable onslaught of thunderous riffs and aggressive growls. A tremendous debut from a band to keep an eye on over the next couple years. – LZ

Nails, You Will Never Be One Of Us

In the amount of time it has taken me to write this article so far I have nearly finished a second run of this album. It’s short, fast, heavy, loud and angry. Most tracks only just grace the 90 second mark with blast beats, solos and guttural roars making up the short but impressive body of work. Low-fi death metal has never been this brutal, nor unique. This trio has found something impressive and here’s hoping they stick to it. – AB

Opeth, Sorceress

For the better part of 25 years the Swedish proggies have been stunning fans and critics across the planet with their unique blend of death metal and folk. However, over past 5 years the band have abandoned the growls in favour of more jazzy and mind-bending compositions. It took them awhile to master it, but on Sorceress everything comes together beautifully for the band. The fusion of bluesy metal with acid-jazz influences works a gem and proves that the bands new direction has well and truly paid off. – AB

Plini, Handmade Cities (Australian)

The second decade of the 21st century has been something of a lap of honour for bedroom guitar nerds, and Sydney-sider Plini is no different. His wonderful debut album takes listeners on a journey of the musical imagination, with doses of funk, jazz and soul mixed into a wonderful melting pot of a djent shred-fest minus the conspiracy theories. From guitar pro to international tours alongside Animals As Leaders and Intervals, the future is bright for this man. – AB

Russian Circles, Guidance

I somehow managed to sleep on this album for about four months after it came out, but I’ve barely stopped listening to it since. The Chicago trio have been one of my favourite heavy instrumental bands for years, and they continue to prove their prowess and talent on Guidance. Across 41 minutes we’re treated to lush, towering walls of sound and a foreboding, wildly varied topography. From the melodic folksy opening of Asa, to the plucky introduction to Mota, the solemn Overboard and beyond, each track descends into beautiful, enveloping noise. It’s so easy to lose yourself among these soundscapes that you’ll probably find yourself needing to listen to it on repeat at least twice in succession. Another triumph for one of instrumental metal’s all time greats. – LZ

RLYR, Delayer

Although only four tracks long (the final track is 23 minutes), this album is an absolutely breathtaking journey through heavily rhythmic instrumental pieces which possess a surprisingly positive, and, dare I say it, happy, feel about them. It’s unsurprising that this album is so fantastic considering the pedigree of its members – Pelican‘s Trevor Shelley de Brauw (guitar), Russian Circles’ Colin DeKuiper (bass) and Steve Hess of Locrian (percussion). RLYR (pronounced Relayer) began as an improvisational exercise, and when the chemistry was palpable, they put it to record. More than any other metal album this year, this is the one to share with people who think they don’t like heavy music. – LZ

Swans, The Glowing Man

Since the early 1980s Swans have been untouchably legendary, and although their reformation in 2010 was addressed with caution at first, many of their subsequent releases are among the very best of their career. 2016’s The Glowing Man is a beautiful, gut-wrenching and dramatic. Admittedly it’s hard to approach such a beast; you know that feeling where you buy a 1000-page book, the sheer size is so daunting that you keep stalling to open it, but as soon as you read the first chapter you can’t put it down? That’s how I feel about this album – at two hours long, it’s not easy to absorb, but it is absolutely worth every moment. – LZ

Void Of Vision, Children Of Chrome (Australian)

These angsty Melbourne upstarts are like your friend’s new puppy-small, writhing with energy and ready to take on the world. Things have escalated quickly for the group this year, with multiple tours followed by a whirlwind signing to UNFD and debut album- and what an album. Fast, loud and hard-hitting, the boys pull no punches and let their simple form of Metalcore shatter eardrums. The lads will have to mature further musically to ensure their place on the world stage, but this record is great fun. – AB

Words by Alasdair Belling and Lauren Ziegler