GEM’s Top Albums of 2016

Alright, alright – cards on the table – we have 11 albums this year because we could not decide on ten. We just couldn’t possibly leave one of these top albums out. 

This was a good year for music. More importantly, at least to us, 2016 was a great year for rock and heavy music, and this list certainly represents that. Hell, every album we have listed here is of the heavy persuasion.

So, with that, let’s get right into it, shall we? Here are our top 11 albums from 2016.

Album Of the Year: Billy Talent – “Afraid of Heights” (The End Records)

With Afraid Of Heights, punkers Billy Talent have released their best record since the mid-aughts, an album that represents a shift for the band towards to the more mature end of the spectrum. Not only does Afraid of Heights feature some of the bands best songwriting to date; hard-charging “Big Red Gun” tackles the hot button issue of guns, weary epic “Rabbit Down the Hole” deals with the effects of drug addiction, the aptly titled “This Is Our War” is a battlefield call-to-arms, “Ghosts of Cannibal Rats” is one of the best songs Billy Talent has ever committed to wax, “Louder Than The DJ” is frivolous and bouncy fun and “Time Bomb Ticking Away” is purely classic Billy Talent. After 13 years and five studio albums, Billy Talent might just now be hitting their stride. Afraid of Heights is a statement and it might be the bands best one yet.

Frank Iero and the Patience – “Parachutes” (BMG Music)

At its core, Parachutes is part pissy, sneering garage punk rock with a snarling attitude (“World Destroyer,” “Veins! Veins!! Veins!!!,” “The Resurrectionist, or an Existential Crisis in C”) and part indie alt-rock (“I’ll Let You Down,” “Remedy,” “9-6-15”). The band does their best Brand New impression on “They Wanted Darkness…,” a four-minute monster that builds and crashes like a tidal wave of sound, the spastic, unpredictable and aptly titled “Dear Percocet, I Don’t Think We Should See Each Other Anymore” is a cathartic and seemingly therapeutic release for Iero, whose vocals devolve into manic screams swirling in a pool of grating guitars and “Miss Me” is sprawling and disparaging folk rock at its most emotional. If My Chemical Romance never decides to get the band back together, it might be for the best, because if we get more from Frank Iero and the Patience, we’re all better off for it.

Death Valley Dreams – “Death Valley Dreams”

The Drama Club, An Albatross, Stardog Champion, Lifer, frontman Nick Coyle has long been able to reinvent himself vocally, a trait which continues with his latest venture Death Valley Dreams. From the opening words ‘with words like fire underneath your breath’ of opener “Words Like Fire,” Death Valley Dreams is a truly transcendent anthem, one that's emotionally engulfing from start to finish. Death Valley Dreams is sonically immersive to say the very least (“The Darker Years” is full of waves of sweeping synth and soaring atmospherics, “Turn Out Those Eyes” is glossy modern alt-rock, “Take A Look At Yourself” is bouncy and emotional). On morose and melancholic closer “Never Meant For Anyone,” Coyle turns positively gothic, something of a guttural blend of Glenn Danzig and Type O Negative’s Peter Steele. With Death Valley Dreams, 2016 has its first great ep.

Lody Kong – “Dreams And Visions” (Mascot Label Group)

Helmed by brothers Igor and Zyon Cavalera, sons of Soulfly frontman Max Cavalera, Lody Kong continues on the Cavalera metal legacy in resplendent, heavy-as-hell fashion. And their debut full length, Dreams And Visions, is one of the best records to ever be incorporated with the Cavalera name, which is surely saying something. From spectacularly menacing riffs and vitriolic seething snarls to pit ready breakdowns (and that's just on opener “Chillin’ Killin’”), Dreams And Visions delivers crushing blow after crushing blow (title track “Dreams And Visions” is unapologetic doom and gloom, the maniacal “Pig In the Pen” is rife with sporadic dissonant guitars, “Rumsfield” is out and out devastating, the stomping and provocative “Topaz” sees frontman Igor Cavalera Jr. proclaim ‘I'll take her home tonight / I will go inside every single night’). Dreams And Visions is a scathing diatribe; a manifesto of metal plain and simple.

Throw the Fight – “Transmissions” (Bullet Tooth)

Throw the Fight’s seamless blend of latter day Eighteen Visions and Lead Sails Paper Anchor-era Atreyu is on full display from the outset on opening tandem “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Come Drown With Me,” one of the best one-two punches you’ll hear in metal anytime soon; a dizzying array of razor sharp riffs and bombastic vocals that shred as easily as they pacify, a purely enjoyable cacophonous concoction that produces one raging stomper after another (“Gallows,” “No Surrender,” “Scream Out Your Name”). Frontman James Clark shines when the pace tempers and he flexes his vocal muscle (“Bury Me Alive,” “Passing Ships”). Transmissions is a slick record and shows a band in Throw the Fight who has not missed one step, making for not only the best record of their young career, but one of the better metal releases you’ll come across in 2016.

Abandoned By Bears – “The Years Ahead” (Victory)

With shredding riffs, pissy snarls and perhaps as much razor sharp melodies and gang vocals as you can possibly cram into a dozen tracks, The Years Ahead might call to mind a slew of bands that have come before them, be assured that these Swedish purveyors of easycore are anything but a mere carbon copy. The Years Ahead stays true to ‘core form, occupying an area that falls somewhere between bouncy radio-ready candor (“Good Luck Next Year,” “No Rush”) and destructive, vitriol-fueled pit inducers (“Out Of Bounds,” “True Colors”). The standout “Act As If” offers the best of both worlds, devolving from an introspective ballad into pure mayhem, while the penultimate “Bad Luck” sounds like Motion City Soundtrack and Four Strong got together and had a sonic baby and the closer “Compromise” introduces some djent-y riffs into the mix. The Years Ahead is fun as hell.

Ghosts Again – “The Closest Thing To Closure” (Independent) 

With The Closest Thing To Closure, Ghosts Again are reminding us all over again just as to why we fell in love with this scene in the first place. From the initial strums of powerfully emotional opener “Skeleton Boy,” The Closest Thing To Closure is rife with driving post-hardcore that will have you thinking it’s the turn-of-the-century all over again (“Pant’s Division (The End is Silence)” is textbook bleeding heart-on-sleeve screamo, “Les Enfants Terribles” and “Relive_Revive” encapsulate everything there is to love about Ghosts Again – dynamo hot and cold vocals, anthemic, driving hooks and angular riffs - and powerhouse closer “Eleven” is both heartfelt and earnest). The Closest Thing to Closure is more dynamic than it is nostalgic, so to pass this EP off as just another trip down memory lane would be incredibly foolish. Don’t make that mistake because this record is nothing short of fantastic.

In Lights – “Running With Scissors”

Grab your sunglasses, roll down the windows, put your foot on the gas, turn up the volume and let In Lights’ Running With Scissors EP do the rest of the work. This EP delivers an urgent dose of modern pop-punk (think Knuckle Puck or Neck Deep) in the form of four highly-caffeinated shredders (“Running With Scissors” is near perfect; a driving salvo you’ll hope never ends, “One Year Down” shines bright with an overwhelming nostalgic vibe you can’t help but try and sing along to, “Play Your Cards Right, Kid” will put a beaming smile on fans of All Time Low’s So Wrong, It’s Right, the pulsating closer “Turn Tables” has seemingly no OFF switch, leaving you wanting more). This is four tracks of pop-punk that will remind you why you love summer.

Cage9 – “Illuminator” (EMP Label Group)

Picking up where 30 Seconds to Mars left off on their eponymous debut, Cage9 adds the immersive troposphere of Starset’s Transmissions to the mix on their latest, Illuminator. The result is nonetheless engulfing; a sonic meld of dense layers of atmospherics (“Open Your Eyes,” “Illuminator”) and heavy alt-rock backed by steady prog undercurrents (“Starry Eyes,” “Take Back Tomorrow”). Massive lead single “Everything You Love Will Someday Die” pays homage to Coheed and Cambria’s “Welcome Home” with grandiose riffing and towering hooks, while the equally stunning “Oscuro” follows suit with chugging riffs and infectious melodies. Like peeling away the layers of an onion, notable moments are unearthed as Illuminator wears on (Cage9 flexes the breadth of their chops on “Birds of Prey,” one of the albums heaviest outings). Illuminator never loses steam and doesn’t fade, which speaks to how strong of a record it really is.  

The Apprehended – “At Arms Length” (Imminence Records)

There is a striking sense of urgency woven into every note of this EP; lead single “Still Flyin’” out and out shreds thanks to intricate, angular riffs and absolutely soaring hooks, the spastic “Lysie Royalton” is Saosin meets From Autumn To Ashes, “Seam’s Gorge, WV” manages to somehow be bouncy one instant and caustic the next, the devastating “Wisteria” is perhaps all the best of what At Arms Length has to offer rolled into one explosive track. The fact that the Apprehended’s At Arms Length is so many things – honest, passionate, volatile, unpredictable – at only five tracks long really speaks to just how talented this band really is.

Slaves On Dope – “Horse” (Independent Label Services, Inc.)

Slaves on Dope seem to have found a perfect sonic middle ground on Horse with steady doses of Rockman’s gravelly-throated barks and guitarist Kevin Jardine’s wah-wah-laced churning riffs (“Electric Kool-Aid,” “P&P”) and tempered offerings that shine the light on Slaves on Dope’s penchant for crafting striking hooks (“Freebasing,” “Disco Biscuit”). Slaves on Dope pull out all the stops on Horse, including bringing out Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels on “Script Writer,” one of the albums most memorable moments, where he shows he is still at the top of the rap game. Elsewhere, Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher lends some six-string love to the sludgy and mountainous “Interplanetary Mission,” legendary Bad Brains frontman H.R. delivers the grime on the menacing “Liquid Sunshine” and songstress Lee-La Baum adds a unique vocal dynamic alongside Rockman on “Codependency.” Horse is proof positive that you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks.