As a massive fan of metal and rock, 2016 was a killer music year for me. It marked releases from most of my all-time favourite bands, refreshing musical directions from bands I used to despise and a move away from 2015’s dodgy nu-metal revival. Needless to say, picking five of my favourite songs from such a stellar year was difficult – really bloody difficult. Here goes…
5. ‘Moth into Flame’
Unlike a lot of other people, I quite enjoyed Metallica‘s 2008 offering, ‘Death Magnetic’, mostly because I was an angsty 17-year-old who only listened to ‘real metal’ *shudders*. Even back then, I knew something was missing; the magic that defined the band in the 80s and early 90s was missing – it was a half-arsed metal album that was overproduced and overly long. Eight years later, Metallica released the first single from the follow-up to Death Magnetic’. ‘Hardwired’ is a track that showed a new, revitalised Metallica, a band with a reinvigorated ferocity and drive. I thought to myself, this has gotta be a fluke, but nope: ‘Moth into Flame’ – the second single from ‘Hardwired… to Self-Destruct’ – was more powerful, deeper and catchier than the already great first single. From the moment the song’s opening dual guitars blasted out of my speakers, I knew that Metallica were back.
The track echoes the greatness of ‘…And Justice for All’, the best Metallica album in my eyes. James Hetfield makes full use of his diverse vocal range, bouncing between the shouty verses and the melodic chorus with ease. Lars‘ drumming is the best it’s been for years – nay, decades; it’s technical, fast and unrelenting, rhythmically complemented by bassist Rob Trujillo’s trademark grooves. The whole experience is completed with huge riffs, slick harmonies and proggy build-ups that make this track the full package. And don’t even get me started on Kirk’s goosebump-inducing solo at the three-minute mark. Let me put it like this: if the rest of the album were up to the quality of ‘Moth into Flame’, it could’ve been up there with metal’s greatest.
4. ‘Good Mourning, America’
Charged by the band’s strong political and social beliefs, ‘Good Mourning, America’ packs one hell of a punch. Instantly, the song flaunts a more mature letlive.; heaviness and a punk-driven sound take a back seat for a jazz-infused song that’s more influenced by Motown than Metallica. The track addresses the issue of racially charged police brutality and discrimination in the US, as exemplified in the song’s super-catchy and oft-repeated verse, “‘We ain’t so different now are we?’ Said the cop to the killer inside of me.”. Hard-hitting stuff.
Jason Bulter borrows more than an element or two from Michael Jackson‘s iconic singing style; he’s even joined by a soulful all-female choir in some sections, which really fits in with the sound and direction of the song. The guitar work and drumming are toned-down to make room for the impactful vocals, but that doesn’t stop the odd bouncy riff and a huge breakdown being thrown into the mix. It all comes together to make for a catchy, meaningful single – one of the best songs of their career, in fact. Sure, it’s more radio-friendly than the band’s previous offerings, but – in my view – this isn’t a negative: the new style is a smart, natural evolution of what letlive. have always stood for.
These Norweigan metalheads are known for their savage riffs, brutal vocals and all-around heavy metal sound. With this in mind, ‘1985’was one of my biggest surprises of 2016. The song is a slow-paced, power-chord-laden romp that sounds like a cross between Baroness and Van Halen. The characteristic Kvelertak vocals and production are still present, but the tempo, melody and feel of the tune are vastly different, and it really works. As soon as I heard the track’s Thin Lizzy-inspired intro riff, I knew the band were onto a classic with this one. Who knew Kvelertak were capable of producing such a feel-good traditional rock tune? Great drinking song, too.
While She Sleeps
This Sheffield-based metalcore five-piece have been slowly gaining quite the fanbase over the past few years. Rightly so: their down-tuned guitars, thick bass tones, blistering drumming and dominating vocals are some of the best in the biz. Their last album, 2014’s ‘Brainwashed’ is one of my all-time favourites, so they had quite a lot to live up to for me. They lived up to it, then some. Disgruntled with the state of the music industry, 2016 saw the band dropping their label, going independent via crowdfunding and building their own warehouse studio, The Barn, from reclaimed and recycled materials. While She Sleeps quickly learned how to bricklay, how to plaster and how to sound-proof – all so they could build The Barn brick by brick and by their own hands.
The band released two singles in 2016, both absolutely spectacular and both a showcase of what’s to come for the band. My favourite of the two is ‘Hurricane’. The song starts off beautifully, soft like a ballad, but that gets cut short pretty quickly when a typically WSS riff and Loz’s piercing vocals erupt. Bass-heavy breakdowns, lightning-quick drums, purposeful lyrics and pure passion make this a real metalcore gem. The hook of the chorus, shifts in tone and tempo, and on-point backing vocals add to this, solidifying the song as one of my favourites of 2016. While She Sleeps are truly leading the charge for British metal, and they deserve every ounce the attention they’ve been getting lately.
I honestly think Avenged Sevenfold‘s 2016 album, ‘The Stage’, is the band’s crowning achievement, and that’s a lot coming from me (trust me, they’ve been one of my favourite bands for over a decade.) The album is the band’s first-ever concept album, presenting physics, artificial intelligence and the imminent downfall of society through a progressive-metal lens. ‘Exist’, the album’s closing track, is a 15-munute epic that is the band’s musical representation of the Big Bang, with the first half focusing on the creation of the universe and the latter half dealing with Earth’s creation. You’d think that things would get stale after 15 whole minutes, but the sporadic key changes and modulations ensure that the song never loses momentum.
The track is absolutely phenomenal and a gripping ride from start to finish. Things kick off with an eerie electronic ambience that is swiftly cut off by some colossal duelling guitars. What follows is a guitar lick that was made for the pit; guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates poured their hearts and souls into this track, and you can really hear it. Around the five-minute mark is a beautiful interlude that introduces a soothing guitar melody, segueing into M.Shadows‘ haunting vocals, which are complemented by the other members’ captivating vocal harmonies. We then get an abstract solo that would make Tom Morello himself jealous. The drumming throughout is tight, eclectic and creative, proving that adding Bad Religion alumnus Brooks Wackerman to the band in 2015 was definitely the right move.
The ending, however, is what secured this song’s place at the top of this list. Zacky V and Synyster Gates cast a synth-like melody that gradually builds in speed and aggression. This melody serves as the backdrop for spoken word from astrophysicist and celebrity Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Tyson’s monumental three-minute speech about humanity and the cosmic perspective is the perfect end to a perfect song. ‘Exist’ – and naturally, the album it belongs to – simply must be heard by everyone.
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