Exclaim!'s Top 10 Metal & Hardcore Albums

Best of 2016

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 8, 2016

Our Best of 2016 albums lists by genre continue today with our staff picks for the 10 best metal and hardcore albums this year.
Click next to read through the albums one by one, or use the list below to skip ahead to your favourites.
Top 10 Metal & Hardcore Albums of 2016: To see more of Exclaim!'s Best of 2016 lists, head here.

10. Deathspell Omega
The Synarchy of Molten Bones
(Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
It's not an easy thing to maintain an air of mystery and obscurity in the age of social media and surveillance, but French avant-garde black metal warlocks Deathspell Omega have done just that. No official band photos exist, and the members guard their real identities intensely.
EP The Synarchy of Molten Bones is a new beginning for Deathspell Omega artistically, a triumphant, vicious, visceral half-hour of music, that makes the absolute most of every violent second. Relentless and overwhelming, Deathspell Omega aim to batter and smother the listener into completely aural submission, and succeed admirably.
The record is dense and complex, with very little room to breathe, but possesses the rare control and brilliance to keep it from veering into chaos. It's a challenging record to be sure, filled with brain-bleeding riff structures, but like many tortures and trials, The Synarchy of Molten Bones rewards the brave. "Famished for Breath" stands out as a stunning brutal and beautiful track, and "Onward Where Most with Ravin I May Meet" even loosens its coils just enough to allow for some headbanging. If you're looking for something that will push you to your limit, Deathspell Omega have created just the musical flail with which to torment yourself.
Natalie Zina Walschots

9. Asphyx
Incoming Death
(Century Media)

Incoming Death is the ninth studio release from death-doom dealers Asphyx, and it's as savage and intoxicating as anyone could have hoped. The Dutch four-piece continue to precision-forge more of the sonic weaponry that has built them a global cult following, and their relentless, atmospheric, wide-screen sound is readily apparent on this album.
Asphyx perfect a balancing act throughout, maintaining equal parts doom and death aspects as well as dual-wielding a very addictive old-school sound in one hand and clutching near-flawless modern production in the other. From the very first riffs and splashing cymbals that introduce the opening track "Candiru," the straightforward instrumentation seems stretched across a vast horizon until it almost tears itself apart at the centre. Somewhere inside that vortex, vocalist Martin van Drunen spews tales of strike forces, parasitic infestations and intergalactic, apocalyptic robotic weaponry.
Incoming Death is a deep, front-to-back effort that's easily accessible to headbangers from the very first listen, yet offers many intricate layers and fresh nuances to be discovered over many repeats. 
Chris Bubinas

8. Ulcerate
Shrines of Paralysis
There are two schools of technical death metal: the overdone, showboating shred fest, more fire-breathing Dragonforce than anything legitimately hellish; and the nuanced side that shows its proficiency via on-a-dime time signature changes and song structures. Mercifully, Ulcerate are part of the latter — but that's about the only thing they do mercifully.
Shrines of Paralysis, their fifth LP, is unrelenting, with a suffocating atmosphere and epic, crushing songs. Despite six of its eight tracks hovering around or surpassing the eight-minute mark, their labyrinthine constructions never bore. Undoubtedly their cleanest album from a production standpoint, the quality here accentuates the interplay between the three members. The blast beats — and there are plenty of them — are often haunted by dissonant picking rather than always focusing on the death metal-standard tremolo riffs, so while there's still plenty of that, it's woven in rather than smacked on top.
With new music from Plebeian Grandstand, Deathspell Omega, Gorguts and Ulcerate, it's been a great year for thinking person's metal. These New Zealanders manage to stand apart, though, by taking the technical death metal of those French Canadians and combining it with the blackened darkness from across l'océan.
Bradley Zorgdrager

7. Deftones
Deftones have always made room for both beauty and aggression in their music, a hallmark that saved the group from the nu-metal dustbin. That yin-yang balance continues on the group's eighth album, the appropriately titled Gore, which finds the Sacramento, CA quintet leaving the mosh pit behind as they push out into increasingly impressionistic territory.
Following the precise, economical aggression of 2012's Koi No Yokan and 2010's Diamond Eyes, the group have used guitarist Stephen Carpenter's bludgeoning riffs as a tableau over which the group weave impressionistic rhythms and melodies, rather than letting themselves become fenced in. Gore pushes both sides of this dynamic to extremes, at times it feels like these two forces are working against one another. Emerging from that struggle is a record on which experimentation is matched only by Deftones' ability to inflict blunt-force trauma.
Ian Gormely

6. Nails
You Will Never Be One of Us
(Nuclear Blast)
In 2013, Nails set an absurdly high bar for themselves with their breakout record, Abandon All Life, but their latest, You Will Never Be One of Us, takes their brand of hyper-aggressive, grind-y powerviolence to entirely new heights. Focusing their frenetic energy here, Nails have crafted a sound across the 10-song set that remains as feral as ever, but now feels more deliberate and, ultimately, more cohesive.
Exuding confidence in their work and pride in their scene, Nails pull no punches in bookending the record with scathing anthems that take aim at the fairweather fans and members of the metal and hardcore community who come and go with the trends, driving their affronts home with apocalyptic breakdowns and hardcore grooves. You Will Never Be One of Us stands out as a massive milestone for the band, and is by far one of the most abrasive, chaotic and immensely powerful records to come out of the world of metal and hardcore in recent years.
Branan Ranjanathan

5. Oranssi Pazuzu
(Svart Records)
This year brought a variety of quality metal records, but none as off-the-wall and bizarre as Oranssi Pazuzu's Värähtelijä. The Finnish quintet produced three albums before 2016, but it's here that their formula of psychedelic avant-garde black metal finally reached its true artistic potential. Combining black metal with psychedelic rock is a novel idea in itself, considering the two genres are linked by tight, repetitive melodies, but the way Oranssi Pazuzu use it here defies the high expectations by mixing the nightmarish guitars of metal with the synthesizer freakouts and long improvisational passages of rock without missing a beat.
Dual guitarists Jun-His and Moit alternate perfectly between crushingly heavy riffs and otherworldly, effects-ridden chords for a winding musical journey that lasts over an hour, barely letting up for its duration. Where Oranssi Pazuzu can even possibly go from here makes one shudder with pleasure to think about, but if Värähtelijä is any indication, it should only get weirder from here.
Adam Nizam

4. Gojira
Gojira seem hell-bent on proving that their success to this point has been no mistake, or maybe they're just staying the course and letting sonic waves splash about them as they may — either way, they are making it sound easy. The band's sixth release, Magma, offers a brilliantly intense soundscape: spacy, groovy, gut-wrenching and earnest.
Joe Duplantier's vocals shift from desolate ferocity to a soaring elation, conducting the emotional storm from above the intensity swirling beneath — and swirl it does, the instrumental foundation pulsating with enormity: relentlessly chugging, brain-breaking sweeps and bends invoke pity for the strangled guitars. The vocals and instruments play off one another nicely, providing nimble shifts in tempo and mood. At times, it seems like they are planets dancing with one another, at other times colliding.
Well-grounded and unapologetically intense, whispers of Voivod, Pink Floyd and Tool seep into the mix here, as they usually do. Magma is a stalwart an entry as anything in the Gojira catalogue — with maybe a couple extra ccs of LSD — and provides one of the most intense and deepest metal albums of the year.
Chris Bubinas

3. Exalt
The Shape You Took Before the Ache
(New Damage)
As we crawl towards the end of days, few albums this year seemed more apt than the crushing heaviness (and Rapturous lyrical poetry, provided by Tyler Brand) of Exalt's The Shape You Took Before the Ache.
Exalt's influences (the main ones here being Converge and Deftones) are fully assimilated into a sound that they've made their own. It's heavy and groovy and melodic and raw, without ever feeling contrived. Their on-a-dime transitions are informed by the preceding and following grooves; a connective tissue runs through each song, demonstrating the band's compositional skill.
Pete Grossman and Andy Nelson's production comes as close as possible to capturing Exalt's inimitable live energy here, though tracks like "The Ache" (an acoustic interlude with menacing bass sounds coming through the wall) and "The Shape" (a melodic guitar-and-vocals-only affair) also show consideration for the flow of the album, the headphone or home listening experience — and yet, they don't sacrifice the weight of the rest of the album. In short, The Shape You Took Before the Ache is balanced and still heavy.
Peter Ellman

2. The Body
No One Deserves Happiness
(Thrill Jockey)
Coming off a string of collaborative projects that saw the band trying to further expand their already mutable sound, No One Deserves Happiness serves as a punishing survey of how far the Body have come since their inception nearly two decades ago.
Although it is their first "solo" record since 2014, they use every tool in their arsenal, to cataclysmic results. Even at their poppiest, the Body remain one of metal's most unforgiving bands; from the blown-out synth-bass assault of "Two Snakes" to the glacial doom of "Starving Deserter," they approach each song with abandon.
The band have been known for imbuing their specific brand of doom with considered dynamism, and this album is no different. Perhaps it's the inclusion of collaborator Chrissy Wolpert's chorus arrangements and vocals that give the album its human lifeblood; her vocals, both haunting and ethereal, offer a welcome reprieve from the album's considered chaos. Because while No One Deserves Happiness dulls the senses through foggy, repetitive rhythms, it's also the perfect score for an abysmal, unpredictable world.
Though we may not deserve happiness, the Body are willing to offer hellish bliss as a consolation.
Cole Firth

1. The Dillinger Escape Plan
(Party Smasher Inc./Cooking Vinyl)
For their final full-length, Dissociation, metalcore legends the Dillinger Escape Plan gave us the expected unexpected, ending off their incredible run of albums with one final declaration of complete musical freedom.
Gone is the surprise of hearing "43% Burnt" for the first time and knowing that something big just happened; instead, this album, like their past few, raises the most eyebrows when it's exploring the band's quieter and subtler sides. That's not to say Dissociation doesn't rage hard and heavy, because it does: killer opener "Limerent Death," for example, is as heavy as this band have ever gotten. But songs like "Fugue" and the title track are the most surprising and, therefore, the most rewarding cuts, as they dive deeper into the band's flirtations with quieter sounds and electronica. It's proof that Dillinger were growing as artists right to the very end.
There are lots of people talking about how sad it is that the Dillinger Escape Plan are calling it a day, but really, we're lucky that we got this much out of them, given that they've always seemed to be on the verge of total implosion and self-destruction. Dissociation is a perfect summation of their career and all that the legendary band left behind.
Greg Pratt

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