Another year burned into the history books. Another year older, another year wiser, another year deafer, another year dumber. Another year of failed projects and battle scars. Another year of experience in living and lessons in dying.
2016 was a dizzying blur. It feels like I just compiled and published my list of best albums of 2015, and am late to the gate in getting my “best of the previous year” blog out. But here I am again, counting down my faves of the year and wondering where another year went. The march of time is relentless, and the thunder of its boots seems to speed up as I get older. Case in point: the completion of this blog and my shout to the best music of last year was slowed by the launch of my new Seretic Studios website and the march of “Year of the Sere” content for 2017. These days, it seems very hard to keep up with all of my creative outputs and projects. Better late than never, and true to my annual commitment to let you know what’s worth listening to from year to year, here’s my blog representing the best music of 2016.
Thank you for your patience and interest in my opinion.
Last year featured the untimely exit of two music greats that influenced me as a kid (Prince and David Bowie), and was a strong reminder that the metal giants of yesteryear are still relevant in today’s music scene (Flotsam and Jetsam, Fates Warning, Death Angel, Testament — no, Megadeth and Metallica did not make this list, even though I grew up with their influential sound). 2016 was also an election year in the United States. As an artist, this was an important period in U.S. history because it featured the candidacy of one of the most classless, incompetent and loathsome people ever to be considered for the position: Donald J. Trump. I’m sure some of you who are reading this are swapping Drumpf’s name for Clinton’s, and that is your prerogative. I’m relatively positive that surfacing my political leanings in this music blog could deter my readership of it.
But I don’t care; as the adage says, “Stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” As an atheist/humanist artist, I stand for many positions that my host country finds challenging, as evidenced by the results of the election. And I’m not planning on changing anytime soon. However, this isn’t a political blog, so I won’t drone on about my issues with the United States president-elect or policy (I won’t capitalize that title if it involves Trump, as he is NOT my president).
I will say that the election influenced my decision on my selection of the best album of 2016, and I am extremely proud to have this platform to sing praises of that artist and highlight the struggles of this doomed generation.
Without further ado, my annual list of faves.
Blood Money (Part 1)
Edsel and his Dope brethren still crank edgy metal. After close to 20 years of being felons and revolutionaries, their rage is still present, even if it’s not as polished, perfect or edge-pushing as previous works.
The content is a little too preachy, but if you’re a Creed and Alter Bridge fan, you will appreciate the concentrated vocals and guitars from one of the men behind some of the greatest rock songs of the last couple of decades. I don’t get into Mark Tremonti’s message, but I do dig his solos and powerful voice.
Straddling the lines between big beat, dubstep and electronic rock, The Qemists are back with one of their most complete and polished efforts in their slight catalog. Anthemic songs like “The Jungle” and “Anger” are great examples of what this talented outfit from the UK is all about. Infused with screeching guitars, deep beats, and electro energy, “Warrior Sound” will make you move.
I discovered Cobalt by reading the reviews of top albums of 2016 from other esteemed metalheads. “Slow Forever” was an under-the-radar album that many in the business seemed to dig. Give it a listen, and you’ll understand why. It is raw, aggressive and relentless, emphasized by wild vocals that give you a sense of primal madness.
Theories of Flight
It’s hard to believe that Fates Warning is on their 12th album. It seems like yesterday that I was cranking “No Exit” and dealing with High School angst. While their popularity has waned over the years, the band is still cranking out powerful music, with most members in or near their 50s. By that measure, you’d think this was music made for a different generation, but “Theories of Flight” continues the complex and diverse musicianship they began with Ray Alder in 1988. Old school metalheads probably know who Fates Warning is; if you haven’t experienced them before, “Theories of Flight” is a great place to start. And work backward.
“Prayers for the Damned (Vol 1) & Prayers for the Blessed (Vol 2)”
“The Heroin Diaries”, Sixx AM’s first album, was one of the best rock albums of the last ten years. Nikki Sixx’s well-written and well-spun story about his battle with addiction during his time with Motley Crue was a revelation. Since then, the direction of Sixx AM has been less personal and honest, and more commercial and polished. While “Heroin Diaries” touched on concepts of religious faith and repentance, “Prayers for the Damned” and “Prayers for the Blessed” are thick with asking for forgiveness. This two-part album would be much better without the religious lyrics and calls for God to intervene in the sad state of life’s affairs. In the end, the Prayers albums smack of a rock’n’roll bad boy who is looking for absolution from being an asshole artist — not an honest and apologetic human who has dealt with struggles throughout his life choices. Nikki Sixx shouldn’t be asking for help from anyone but a Counselor or Therapist, certainly not a deity. Shout at the Devil often?
The Serenity of Suffering
I’ll probably never shite on a Korn album, and “Serenity” is an interesting effort — extremely heavy and brutal, but not very unique or memorable. Even “A Different World”, which features Slipknot and Stone Sour vocalist Corey Taylor, is boring. That song alone highlights a bit of what is wrong with the rock and metal genre right now — too many repetitive experiences, not enough differentiation. I actually don’t like Corey’s vocals in the popular single, find them droning and tired. Illustrative of my current interest in radio-friendly music currently popular — if you’re looking for something fresh and new, look elsewhere. If you want the comfort of a decent Korn album, give “Serenity” a spin.
Rabbit Junk is a husband (JP Anderson) and wife (Sum Grrl) team out of Seattle, who have been making seriously rad electronic rock music since 2004. Their style mixes rap, punk, hip pop, and metal into a unique style called “Hardclash”. “Consolidate” is a compilation of a variety of EPs from the last few years — “Pop That Pretty Thirty”, “Invasion” and “Beast”. Since I was a fan of all three EPs, it’s easy for me to say that I enjoy all the songs on this album. I included “Pop That Pretty Thirty” in my best of list for 2014. I’ve been a fan of Rabbit Junk and their chaotic, frenetic sound since I first heard them. Rabbit Junk is a band that doesn’t fit well in a radio format, but it is better than most music you hear on active rock radio.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM
Flotsam and Jetsam
35: That’s the number of years this band had been together at the point of releasing their self-titled, twelfth album. When I was 8, Flotsam and Jetsam began playing together. They were a key part of my High School experience with “No Place for Disgrace”, and piqued during the 90s with hits from “Cuatro” and “Drift” — but this album may be one of the best in their catalog. After 3 decades, they can still wail, still crush, still power through edgy music that is better than most radio-friendly tripe.
Raw, brutal and beautiful. This short album from a relatively unknown band struck chords in me.
CIRCLE OF DUST
Machines of our Disgrace
You know if Klayton from Celldweller is involved in a project, it will be out of this world. Literally. Circle of Dust is brilliant electro rock set in a steampunk meets cybernetic future. Samples, spinning, guitars and pounding beats.
“Everything is Burning (Metanoia Addendum)”
If you follow this blog, you know that “Metanoia” was my favorite album of 2015. I have heaped endless praise on Chris Corner, his style since leaving Sneaker Pimps, and the awesome, heartfelt art he continues to create. His alternative/electro rock product, coupled with his amazing vocal range and incomparable style, keeps him at the forefront of artists that I follow. This Addendum to “Metanoia” is brilliant in tone and content, the perfect complement to his powerful catalog. As one who loves remixes, I appreciate the variations of “Metanoia” that he included in the Addendum.
The Last Hero
Not as consistently awesome as “Fortress”, and not near as powerful as “Blackbird” or “AB III”, the new album by Alter Bridge has everything you’d expect from this powerful rock band — amazing, soaring vocals from Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti, and blistering, impressive solos by Tremonti. It just lacks some of the classical polish, punch and power that was prevalent in previous albums.
Brotherhood of the Snake
Another band that I’ve been listening to since the 80s, showing no signs of stopping or slowing down. Still brutal. Still led by the imposing and talented Chuck Billy. Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnik and Gene Hogan fill out an all-star band. “Brotherhood” sounds and seems like it should be part 2 of their classic, “The Gathering” — in content and brutal approach. Much like Flotsam & Jetsam, Testament has been cranking metal since the early 1980s and their eleventh album does not skip a metal beat, delivering what we have come to expect from the doom powerhouses over the decades.
I was blown away the first time I heard this album. Literally, jaw on the floor. Many rock fans have come to know Filter based on classics like “Hey Man, Nice Shot” and “Take a Picture”. Those were pedestrian, radio-friendly versions of Filter. Even “Anthems of the Damned” included some very classy and classic radio songs. “Crazy Eyes” is Filter on steroids, with anger and political positions to push. It questions humanity at every turn and is one of Filter’s most introspective albums. Frontman Richard Patrick pushes his vocals to the next level with “Mother E”. “Nothing in my Hands” dives into the complexity around the Ferguson and Michael Brown shootings. Crazy Eyes reflects the way most of us feel these days — disillusioned and dizzied by strange things humans do.
The Evil Divide
Another band on this list that has been thrashing for decades: formed in 1982, Death Angel peaked with “Act III” (1991), and then broke up soon after. They reunited 14 years later, and picked up where they left off. “The Evil Divide” is their most cohesive and brutal work in decades. The modern day version of Death Angel is a force to be reckoned with.
The Negative Space
I don’t get the opportunity to work with musicians much, especially ones that are fans of my art. So, when Eric Powell first expressed interest in my art, I was proud and humbled; when he asked whether or not he could use my art for “The Negative Space”, I was beside myself. 16volt is a band that I’ve been a fan of since the 90s, in all of their incarnations and directions. Working with them was a highlight of my artistic career, and lending my art to this album was an honor. But I didn’t drop this at #4 in my Top 20 because I was lucky enough to create cover art for the album — it is a spectacular piece of craftsmanship from 16volt, with nuanced machine rock power and energy and engaging lyrics and chords. This is an underrated and underappreciated album, one that I highly recommend to anyone that has grown tired by the norm.
But the story doesn’t end there: I’m excited to announce that my art will be involved in their follow-up EP “Dead on Arrivals”, to be released in 2017.
Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie
I love this album from start to finish. The stories it tells, the characters it creates, the world it paints through the landscape of soaring vocals and brilliant guitarwork. Anthemic “Devil’s Bleeding Crown” highlights the glory of Poulsen’s vocal style and range, while “Gates of Babylon” and “Seal the Deal” allow Caggiano to show off his diverse skill on guitar. This album was the first time I’d ever heard Volbeat, and I gravitated towards it right away, maybe because I grew up in Europe and appreciate the diverse approach to metal across the pond (as echoed in my #2 on this list). This isn’t your typical growly-anger metal; it is rock with character and style, with personality and poise.
“Magma” is an outstanding piece of craftsmanship, from composition to lyrics. Each song spans a heavy and gloomy soundscape guided by well-constructed vocals and layered guitars; each song is a dark adventure. Palpable anger bubbling beneath the crust of our bitter time; given all the pain that France has endured at the hands of terrorist madmen over the last few years, the well of this darkness is deep. I liken “Magma” to Tool’s best work, like “The Grudge” or “The Pot” or “Jambi”, synthesized into shorter, tighter songs, with a bit more consistent edge and torturous vocals. This is an album that will take years to fully appreciate, unwind and decipher. Tight, technical, impressive musicianship and deep, ponderous lyrics make for a gorgeous monster of an album.
“On the first light of the day you march on
Departure has arrived, don’t look back
Avoid the darkness, stay away, stay out of sight
Until you feel the blast of a shooting star”
Much like many names on this list, I’ve been a fan for decades. I first encountered Otep on a large Ozzfest video screen with her song “T.R.I.C.”; her band was playing a side stage and she was virtually unknown. Many years, albums, books and creations later, I consider her an artistic idol. In fact, I dedicated a “Special Thanks” section to her in my first book “Obscurious” for being an inspiration to me and my artistic development. The experience of my first book — the layout, structure, and brutally honest approach — was based upon her creation “Caught Screaming”. No doubt, she is one of the most talented creators on the planet right now, and I am greatly honored to notch her at the top of this year’s best Albums list — despite the fact that she has landed on Trump’s watch list for her political leanings, has been boycotted for her message, has been greatly dismissed by rock radio — both for being an outspoken liberal feminist and for being politically aggressive — and has had to forge her artistic path without the aid of anyone but her fans and her passion. “Generation: Doom” isn’t perfect, but it perfectly represents Otep and perfectly addresses the imperfections of our present time with anger, vitriol, and collateral violence. She is the warrior queen of the Anti-Trump movement, and I support her — and her art — without reservation, as it should be.