Best Music of 2016

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.

Top 5 albums of the year

#5: Sorceress by Opeth

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.

#4: You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen

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.

#3: The Madness of Many by Animals as Leaders

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.

#2: Here by Alicia Keys

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.

#1: Dystopia by Megadeth

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. :)

Honorable mentions

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