Let the indie bands hang with the big dogs where they deserve to be? Or let them shine on their own? Tough call. Next year I think I’ll bring it back to one list, but for now, I wanted to highlight some great indie releases under a spotlight of their own. These were my favorite discoveries this year.
This album grows on me more each time I listen. It’s like Spiritual Beggars with a sprinkle of Alter Bridge. Melodic, soft and heavy in turns, and just flat out good. I saw them live in San Francisco with Clutch and Zakk Sabbath, but they were too loud for their own good and the music didn’t get a chance to breathe the way it should. However, this album is definitely worth picking up, it’s the only one that I’ve bumped the new Metallica for lately. I would have put this on my top five of the year if I had only one list.
The debut full length release of this Seattle duo is a revelation of slow burn sludge, tasty and timeless. White Wizard is an instant classic. Amy rocks the bass and vocals, __ kills it on drums. There’s still a little of the LA rock fuzz punk from her previous band HDR in tracks like Temple of Apollo. The rest is pure slow stoner bliss.
Debut EP from new San Francisco stoner supergroup of sorts – the Watchers is made up of members of Spiralarms, Orchid, and . They’ve been touring heavily on the west coast since they put this EP together, catch them if you can!
Damn this is some solid heavy rock. Right in there with some of the best stoner type rock I’ve heard lately, this Quebec City band’s debut gets you going right away with Damn Judas and just ramps it up from there. Dead in Time is just flat out killer. Keep an eye on these guys.
Best albums of 2016? Please. Who’s qualified to pick the best albums? What criteria would you even use? Best is subjective. Instead, these are the albums that I either couldn’t get enough of, or they just impressed me enough that I had to put them first.
I will say that there was a mind-boggling amount of good music released in 2016, way more than I could realistically make a single list from. So this year I split my lists into major label favorites and indie favorites.
Part one, my top five major releases of 2016, in no particular order.
For All Kings is the band’s 11th studio album, and their second since bringing singer Joey Belladonna back into the fold after being fronted by John Bush of Armored Saint. While the previous album Worship Music was well-received, it was partly written with then-vocalist Dan Nelson in a period of membership turmoil. For All Kings is a true return to form for the legendary Big Four members, sounding like they picked up right where they left off after their outsanding 1990 opus Persistence of Time.
This is an excellent, solid album, the way albums are meant to sound, ebbing and flowing and chock full of strong cuts like Blood Eagle Wings and Breathing Lightning. It cracked the Billboard top 10 albums, which means you’ve probably bought it already or at least heard it. And if not, what are you waiting for? It’s fucking Anthrax!
I think this one’s on everyone’s list, and I’m not kidding when I say it has barely left the CD player of my car since I bought it. The long-awaited release by a rejuvenated Metallica, this album is their most solid, heavy, and musically sound since the Black Album.
The basic version of Hardwired includes 12 new songs including the dark, relentless, thrashy title track, and other early favorites like Moth Into Flame and Spit out the Bone. The alternately soft and heavy Halo on Fire is a testament to a mature, confident band. I have a feeling that one will grow on a lot of people and get some serious airplay in areas that still have the stones to play hard rock on the radio. The deluxe 3 CD set includes 4 additional new songs plus 10 live classics, most of which were recorded at their killer small show at Rasputin Music in Berkeley in April 2016.
A7X’s 7th studio album, dropped with no advance notice in October, is incredibly coherent, mature, and brilliant, really a next level for the veteran band from southern California. Producer “Evil” Joe Barresi brought a new humanized, fun feeling back to this band. The ambitious AI-themed album even has a cameo from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. A concept album that doesn’t play like one, it’s simply a super solid outing that hangs together like an album in a way that you might not expect given the subject matter and the new musical direction of the band. I mean, a horn section in heavy metal, and it works (Sunny Disposition). Next level. Check it, it’s a future classic.
The latest release from the Bayonne, France, cult favorites Gojira is a relentless assault of mature metal, somewhere in the vein of Mastodon and with its own sludgy-thrashy-melodic sensibility that is like and unlike all kinds of things I can think of. From the opening riff, this album transports you to a place of brutal, yet somehow warm and comforting energy that’s hard to describe. Just wrap yourself in the riffs and trust the experience.
‘Oh my God’ indeed. I knew I’d liked all the songs I’ve heard of theirs, but I never really listened listened to one of their albums. And this was like a jaw dropping revelation that made me feel a little embarrassed for not having seriously checked them out sooner. It is good. Like, really damn good. Like, you wish you wrote these songs and your band sounded this good, good. Just go check it out. It’s not metal, it’s dirty yet slick rock & roll, and will appeal to just about anyone who likes everything from Screaming Trees to the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to Bonnie Raitt. Momsen is a talent.
Other notable 2016 releases:
Disturbed – Immortalize
Another solid outing by Distubed, a long time favorite. Standout tracks: The Vengeful One, The Light, and of course the brilliant cover of the Sound of Silence. Disturbed always kill it with covers, and this is maybe their best yet. Standout track: The Vengeful One
Megadeth – Dystopia
Dave Mustaine takes us back to a ‘golden era’ Megadeth sound, this time with Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler and Brazillian virtuoso guitarist Kiko Loureiro moving into the lineup for this killer album. Standout track: Death from Within
Russian Circles – Guidance
With Guidance, this Chicago-based instrumental prog-ish metal-ish trio have dropped the epic soundtrack to the apocalyptic dumpster fire that was 2016. Very accessible, highly listenable, in parts like a brutally relentless river of magma and in others like a pleasant trout-filled river. With bears. I wish this was played in supermarkets instead of that canned pop music crap.
Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
Brilliant album from Bay Area thrash veterans Testament. Standout track: Brotherhood Of The Snake
Tremonti – Dust
The third solo release from the Creed/Alter Bridge guitar titan, Dust is a heavy album of killer guitar rock that fits right in with the Alter Bridge catalog. Standout track: Once Dead
RHCP – The Getaway
Mature and sonically pure, with a relaxed 1970s funk soul vibe, this is a treat for your earholes and frankly your soul. Standout Track: Dark Necessities
It’s February, and in San Francisco, that means two things. One, the beginning of allergy season, but more importantly, the long-awaited return of Strong Beer Month!
(No, I don’t know of anything else going on around here at the moment, why do you ask?)
Strong Beer Month is a collaboration between Magnolia Gastropub and 21st Amendment Brewery, where they collectively present 12 special strong beers brewed just for the occasion. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to drink all 12 and turn in your punch card to receive a commemorative glass before they run out. I have a small collection of the glasses but these days I just stick to sampling a few of the delicious brews. One of them is Magnolia’s Old Thunderpussy Barleywine, which inspired my song “Thunderpussy”.
Historical reference: Magnolia Thunderpussy was the legendary madam at the brothel where the Magnolia Gastropub on Haight Street resides. Yes, now it makes sense.
Your bonus – for the month of February, I am giving away my song “Thunderpussy (Salty Sweet Mix)” on Bandcamp! You can choose to pay for it if you like, or you can enter your email address and get it for free. It’s long been one of my most popular songs, let alone one of my best remixes. I won’t do anything with your email address except send an occasional newsletter. Good deal, eh? Happy February!
There’s an old friend in town We love when she comes… around We can’t wait to get down With that velvet brown pussy
She’s so salty sweet The taste will knock you off your feet So come in off the street And try to take the heat of
When Thunderpussy comes around Lick it up and suck it down You’ll howl and stomp your feet When you taste her salty sweet she’s
There’s an old friend in town We love when she comes… around