I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the world of heavy metal is suffering from an identity crisis. Popular styles of loud rock like deathcore and djent have splintered the community; capturing the hearts and minds of the youth while being almost universally despised by older fans. The “true metal vs. false metal” debate has seldom raged as vigorously as it does now. Thus, when I was thinking about my favorite releases from this year it was concepts like personality and sense of self that were at the front of my mind. The albums that make up this list showcase strong musical identities. Some of the bands are discovering theirs for the first time, some are rediscovering it, and others have always known and are simply reminding us what it is. Honorable mention to Voivod for “Target Earth.” It was tough cutting it from the list.
5. DARKTHRONE – The Underground Resistance
Underground metal institution Darkthrone continued their trend of creating the exact music they want they way they want this year and in the process delivered one of the strongest and most interesting albums of their career. A love letter to all things Metal, The Underground Resistance reminds us that good, honest songwriting and personal fulfilment trump everything else.
4. REVAMP – Wild Card
“Wild Card” was undoubtedly the album I was most surprised by this year. The Dutch band’s first release was fairly banal symphonic pop metal but with their second they begin to carve out a space for themselves by offering a unique take on some stale ideas and better showcasing Floor Jansen’s powerful voice. It’s a glossy, saccharine affair, to be sure, but it also has a hell of a lot of heart and hides strong songcraft and sophisticated compositions beneath the populist pomp.
3. AUTOLATRY – Native
Connecticut’s Autolatry bill themselves as a black metal band, which is awfully modest of them. That genre might be their foundation but they’ve built upon it significantly and created something wholly unique and utterly captivating. Equal parts contemplative and ferocious, Native is rooted in the past but is very much looking toward the future. This will be an interesting band to watch moving forward.
2. SATAN – Life Sentence
The comeback release by these legends of NWOBHM is a mixture of a million tropes that we’ve all heard a million times before. It seems to have been ripped directly from the decade where the band originally made their mark, without care for current tastes or trends. So why does it work so well? Because the songwriting is so good, because the performances are so passionate, and because the music is so honest. “Life Sentence” is not a cheap, desperate cash-in on the current trad-metal nostalgia, it’s an album that needed to be made by the only band that could have made it.
1. AGATHODAIMON – In Darkness
In Darkness is a breathtakingly dark fusion of black metal and gothic metal, anger and sadness, ugliness and beauty. While it is perhaps less “hollywood” and maybe even less stereotypically “metal” than the other albums on this list, but it is in no way less powerful. The execution of the band’s vision is so precise that individual songs lose impact when taken out of context. Combine that with the authenticity of its emotions and you have an easy #1 pick for me.