Although this is only my second time doing the Top 5 format, I must say that it was nearly impossible to prune the list this year. An unexpected result is that there is not a single growled-vocal band in the top 5 (not for lack of trying: Fleshgod Apocalypse, Obscura, and Alleageon just missed making the list). Make sure you dig into the honorable mentions this year for more fantastic music.
Opeth have fully made their transition from melodic death metal to progressive rock. This year's Sorceress has moments that can be described as heavy, but there are no real metal roots left in the music. Instead, we're treated to some absolutely sublime moments (including Will 'o the Wisp, embeded below). In some ways, Sorceress didn't quite grip me as fully as Pale Communion did, my hands-down favorite album of 2014.
2016 will go down as the year that took some of our most beloved musicians. I think the loss of Leonard Cohen was something I felt most personally. Like David Bowie, he managed to craft a knowing departure album; to me, this may be the best album Cohen has ever penned. As the title suggests, it's dark and it's personal. He claimed he would live forever, and while his body may have failed, he surely will live forever in the hearts of his countless fans.
Animals as Leaders is a nearly one-of-a-kind band today: a fusion of a dozen genres, rooted in guitar-centered rock. They had a little success with earlier albums, but their latest yielded no actual videos (only audio tracks from their label). Nevermind that, though: the skills on display here are mind blowing. The easiest way to explain it would probably be: imagine a guitarist of the skill of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, except the whole band is that good. These musical masterpieces do not need vocals.
Alicia's freshman outing Songs in A Minor remains one of my favorite R&B albums of all time, one of the few that I bought in DVD-Audio so I could wrap myself in the wonderful 5.1 mix). With her recent stint as a judge on NBC's The Voice, a whole new generation is getting to appreciate her exquisite talent. Here is a terrific listen from start to finish, effortlessly blending R&B, hip-hop, and classical.
A lot was made this year about the return of Metallica. That's what happens when you put out a record every 6 or 7 years. For the amount of time we waited, it wasn't particularly overwhelming. Megadeth, on the other hand, have been putting out record after record of extremely solid, old-school heavy metal, and Dystopia is a phenomenal addition to their catalog. With a title like Dystopia, you know Mustaine is going to be at his political, post-apocalyptic peak. It's difficult for me to rank their albums; that said, this is their most enjoyable album since Rust in Peace. Yeah, it's #1-spot good. :)
Proponent for Sentience by Allegaeon
Jomsviking by Amon Amarth
Atoma by Dark Tranquillity
Transcendence by Devin Townsend Project
The Astonishing by Dream Theater
King by Fleshgod Apocalypse
Falling Satellites by Frost
Memento Mori by Gemini Syndrome
Magma by Gojira
Affinity by Haken
Winter's Gate by Insomnium
The Fall of Hearts by Katatonia
Alliance of Thieves by Meshiaak
The Violent Sleep of Reason by Meshuggah
Hardwired...To Self Destruct by Metallica
Akróasis by Obscura
Santana IV by Santana
Nightmares in the Waking State, Pt. 2 by Solution .45