2016 will go down as a mother fucker of a year, however one of the shining lights in the dark has been metal. As the year crawled by and we saw things just get worse and worse, metal was there for us. It gave unrelentingly all year in both quantity and quality, and the quality was fucking immense.

I labored over this list since Oct/Nov. this list could have easily been 24 other albums (I’m not moving on my #1 album) and been just as vital, just as memorable, and just as inspiring. Metal, more so the musicians who make make it, upped the ante yet again and this year provided, again, some of the best music my ears have ever taken in. It’s truly the entertainment that enriches me the most, without fail, and with little to complain about.

2017 looks to be another dumpster fire of a year but I’m certain the music will be fucking killer. Until then, have a look back at some of my favorite, most spun, genre pushing, and fucking head-banging albums of the year. I’ve added clips just for eases sake and if you like what you hear, click those titles to buy some music.

1. Vektor – Terminal Redux

Vektor has been blowing my brains out consistently for the previous two albums and of course Terminal Redux does the same. Vektor is, in my opinion, the only band doing anything unique or original with thrash currently, and maybe for the past, geez, I dunno, Voivod? I’m not going to go through the Voivod comparison talk again except to say they are kindred spirits in theme and presentation more so then sound. On Terminal Redux Vektor produced a thrash metal sound that is entirely their own. The distance spaced out themes, the furious mile a minute riffs, the jam packing of riff after riff into each song, the eagle scream vocals, the orchestral choir. It’s all just simply amazing. And fucking fun to boot. Something that used to be inherent in the thrash genre. I’d hate to be a thrash band nowadays with Vektor storming around.

This album is creativity unleashed. There’s more to find your ear every time through this thing and I’ve listened to it dozens of times this year. It never grows old. It never tires and it’s inspiring every time through. It’s a masterpiece of metal for all time.

2. Blood Incantation – Starspawn What Vektor is doing for thrash I feel Blood Incantation is doing for death metal. And not just because both bands are dealing with space/science fiction themes. Typically bands of all genres, pull and pluck influences from all over and it’s typical they sound something like another band. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Blood Incantation don’t sound like anybody but Blood Incantation, or what I expect, is what you would hear while drifting off into the nothingness of space towards your unremarkable death. Sure you could use numerous tags to describe this band, and they’d all be accurate: technical, progressive, atmospheric, doom, but they all seem so trivial in the face of the actual music. Yes, they’re technical, but they aren’t a technical death metal band. Yes they’re progressive… etc. It’s a death metal big bang and Blood Incantation is providing the soundtrack, and just fucking leveling everybody in their wake.

Also, from Denver, so fuck yes.

3. Saor – Guardians
Saor just continues to impress and continues to one up himself in all ways. Saor has been topping my year end lists for the past couple years and I never thought he’d top his previous album Aura, but goddamn, this album did. It’s a fucking masterpiece of folk infused, nature worshipping black metal that reaches a level of beauty rarely approached by the genre. The whole album is an awe-inspiring feast for the ears. Main man also put out another album this year under the name of Fauth, which is more like the winter version of Saor’s summer. Also check that out as it’s pretty fucking impressive as well.

4. In the Woods… – Pure
After 17 year hiatus, In the Woods… showed up like nothing ever happened, adding an fourth album to their catalog that feels like a natural continuation of the bands sounds. It holds true to the progressive nature of each album by adding to the mix while still revisiting some of the sounds from previous albums. Every In the Woods… album is a masterwork in an of itself and this one is no different.

5. Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether
There was no way this was not going to end up on my list. Mare Cognitum, at this point in the game, is a name that stands for mind collapsing, incredible black metal. I knew this one was going to be a feast for the ears but after hearing his split from earlier in the year, it was certain. All the amazing magically intense, celestial worshipping black metal beauty has returned as well as the amazingly melodic, furious guitar work, but everything seems much more intense. More, well, epic. The whole album is like being on a journey, and yes, this is more cosmic, space themed black metal, where as other bands tend to focus on the crushing, all powerful force of the cosmos, this album seems to almost be in awe of it. It’s another work of beauty, and a tremendous album.

6. Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
I am endlessly enamored with Dan Swano, particularly the musical projects he’s mostly responsible for, Witherscape being his most recent. The previous Witherscape was a melancholic, progressive death metal monster but The Northern Sanctuary eclipses it. It goes without saying that Swano’s creativity as a songwriter is beyond reproach but he’s complimented amazingly by Ragnar Widerberg and the two of them have made some of the most engaging, undefinable metal of this, or any year. Every song on this one is a musical gift to the ears, but what else would you expect from Swano’s produdction and musicianship value?

7. Khemmis – Hunted
Goddamn I love this band. I’m just lost in their infectious, classic doom ladened twin guitar riffing, which was the seller on their previous album, an album that was on my 2015 best of list. This time though they’ve built on their strengths, abandoned the death growls blasted out a fucking mesmerizing doom heavy, head banging classic. It’s just so fucking smooth. So fucking metal. And goddamn, those riffs. They’ll spin around in your head for days on end.

Also, from Denver, so fuck yes.

8. Wędrujący Wiatr – O turniach, jeziorach i nocnych szlakach
One of the most touching and beautiful black metal albums of the year. Yes, those are words that can describe black metal, and if you’re familiar with Wędrujący Wiatr you’ll know those descriptions fit the band perfectly. It’s just an all out assault of atmospheric black metal, and yes, it has blazing fast parts, but it’s not that kind of assault. It’s more like a nature assault. A thing of sheer beauty.

9. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder
As an unapologetic Darkthrone fanboy (as I think a lot of people are) Darkthrone are likely to end up on any best of list of any year they release new music in. However, gleeful, fanboy clouded vision aside, I think Darkthrone really hit the mark here and just let themselves be Darkthrone for once in a great while. Fenriz seems less concerned with being the gatekeeper of all things “true metal” and while I’m sure the inevitable commentary track will be him talking about all the riffs he was inspired by, it feels much more like Darkthrone than Darkthrone being inspired by other styles, which was what their last few albums have been. Those are still enjoyable but this has the Darkthrone bite to it again. Nocturno Culto’s voice gets better with age and his nasty rasp is at full force. The riffs are down and dirty, and it sounds like the band is GASP having fun. I fucking love it.

10. Forteresse – Themes pour la rebellion
I just knew as soon as I heard Forteresse was releasing a new album this year that it would end up on my best of list. I just knew it. Based on their incredible output and their rightfully deserved legendary status amongst the Quebec black metal scene, this one was going to impress. And it sure as fuck did. A furious foray into atmospheric black metal with all the swirling, beautiful atmospheric stylings this band has been perfecting for years. This album is a force to be reckoned with.

11. Woman is the Earth – Torch of Our Final Night
I feel like this band is just being criminally overlooked. As far as atmospheric black metal goes, Woman has been making invigoratingly beautiful music which each release, and they just keep getting better. Their warm and dense production is a welcomed approach as it amplifies the music giving it a “earthy” feeling. Like humidity. It’s just so rich and vibrant and this band seems poised to make an absolute classic in their future.

12. Sacrilegium – Anima Lucifera
20 years didn’t seem to make a difference to Sacrilegium as their new album is just as vital and intense as their previous album from decades ago. Their slightly avant-garde take on black metal is played at breakneck speeds with adventurous riffs, drumming, and vocals that are tortured, crazy, and just perfect for this album. It’s good to know these guys still have the chops and that truly great black metal is indeed timeless.

13. Oranssi Pazuzu – Varahtelija
This band just continues to amaze me. With each release they’re lightyears ahead of their previous release and those are light years ahead of most other music. This is an opened floodgate of musical creativity, equal parts black metal, prog, and psychedelic mind fuck. Destined to be classics.

14. Thy Worshiper – Klechdy
Not seeing a lot of love on the year end lists for this album which is a damn shame because it’s one of the most original and unique albums to come out this year. This was the first album I heard by this band and it just blew my fucking mind from the get go. While using traditional metal genres like black and death, Thy Worshiper use a percussion heavy drive to unfurl they’re folky, pagan, cultish, avant-garde, eclectic sound, and it’s fucking brilliant.

15. Belenos – Kornog
God damn, right from the first note this album had me. You’d be fucking hard pressed to find a bad Belenos album, but holy shit, this one is a show stopper. Infusing just a bit a death metal into the already explosive black metal atmosphere, Belenos has progressed his sound without sacrificing the heart of it, which is purely, magnificently crafted black metal of the highest order.

16. Thornbridge – What Will Prevail
I wish power metal had a more productive year but alas, it was fairly sparse this time around the sun. There were some shining moments and Thornbridge shined the brightest for me. They’re like a magic potion consisting of equal parts Helloween’s grandiosity, Grave Digger’s straight forward approach, Blind Guardian’s old velocity and just some sheer Stratovarious majesty. Sure, it wears it’s influences on it’s battle ready sleeve but it’s such a refinement off all things I love of the genre, with great melody, killer sing alongs and epic fucking fist pumping.

17. Vex – Sky Exile
This was the one that took me by surprise this year as it was just so fucking good and I didn’t really expect it to be. The perfect combination of death metal, death doom, with progressive leanings, a dabble of black metal and a fuck ton of atmosphere. This album is simply, and purely, beautiful.

18. Sojourner – Empires of Ash
I can’t even recall how I stumbled on to this band this year but did they just punch me right in the epic black metal gut. Equal parts Saor and Summoning worship, Sojourner use the grand, wide open, folk, melodic, serene black metal riffing of Saor and the medieval, synth heavy, epic fantastical nature of Summoning and make those elements form a new beautiful beast. Years past we’ve had plenty of killer epic black metal of this nature but this year is pretty scarce and Sojourner just stepped in and fucking owned it.

19. Hyperion – Seraphical Euphony
This one is probably the most fun album I’ve heard all year. It’s nothing new or really all that unique it’s just so fucking well crafted and so fucking catchy. They’re Swedish and all that melody the Swedes are known for is on display here, mixing both Swedish black metal and Swedish death metal tropes into a furious storm of infectiousness. This has seldom left my ears this year and I don’t see it letting up any time soon.

20. Tardigrada – Emotionale Ödnis
This album was a grower for sure. The first time through I enjoyed it enough. I kept seeing people talking about it and praising it and I thought maybe I’d missed something so I gave it a closer listen and that second time through, it just fucking floored me. Atmospheric black metal mastery that veers incredible close to depressive black metal but stops just short but retains that beauty. You wouldn’t think based on dark, foreboding, sketched cover that this is an album that would be described as beautiful but goddamn, it so is.

21. Cultes Des Ghoules – Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love
As if Cultes Des Ghoules wasn’t already making incredible nasty and evil black metal, they’ve taken all that makes them so enduring and turned it into a engaging and masterful concept album. From the presentation of the CD case, the liner notes detailing the movements or scenes of the “plays” parts, the character list, and of course the music, this is an incredible work of art, through and through. Cultes Des Ghoules may have crafted a masterpiece here.

22. Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows
Sometimes I come across a band that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before, a hard task to pull off nowadays, but Howls of Ebb does it without pause. I guess the base ingredients would be black/death metal but that’s just a launching pad for this dissonant, filthy, dark and wholly original band. Trust me, you haven’t heard anything like this and most likely, will not hear anything like this. The guitar playing alone is enough to qualify this as completely unique with it’s weird twangs, crushing riffs, bizarre starts and stops, but combined with the rest of the music it’s something you need to experience. It can descend into utter noise and chaos but there’s enough cohesion to make it still music, in a broad sense of the word. Put it on, get blown away.

23. Katatonia – Fall of Hearts
I can’t even count how many times I describe bands by saying “they have a Katatonia vibe” or “they sound like mid-era Katatonia.” Well, there’s a reason, and it’s because Katanonia is fucking phenomenal. Typically they’re always consistent but the past couple albums have been above and beyond and this one is even further. True to themselves while still exploring, Katatonia school everybody and while you’re all waiting around for that new Tool album, Katatonia is over here being fucking constantly amazing.

24. Virus – Memento Collider
One of the most creatively satisfying albums of the year, Virus proves the term “avant-garde” metal was coined for bands like this, but what do you expect from members of the insanely amazing Ved Buens Ende? If that sentence makes no sense to you I suggest looking Ved up and prepare yourself for amazement. Virus is made up of members from other Norwegian classic bands and veers more towards the progressive, guitar driven, rock side of things, as opposed to metal. Nonetheless, it’s a heavy head-trip of musical prowess and creativity. This band is fucking incredible. So far ahead of what so many others are doing.

25. Mizmor – Yodh
Fucking crushing, dismal, foreboding, imposing, black/doom/drone metal from sole member A.L.N., who does live duty for the band Hell, so if you’re familiar with Hell, you have somewhat of an idea what’s going on with Yodh, at least sonically. Musically this is less devoted to just crushing your skull and throwing in some melody and faster, infectious riffing, but this album is still devastatingly heavy. Unrelentingly so and after an hour of this it’s a bit draining. Not in a bad way, just is a “holy fuck” what happened sort of way. It’ll take you a few times through and if any album was a headphone album it’s this one but the reward is worth it.