Half-Way Through 2016 – The Best So Far – Part 1

Each year, I bring you a round-up of the best album releases of the year at around the half-way stage. Up until this year, I was still writing for Powerplay Magazine and so, not all of my choices in this list would have been previously mentioned here. However, now that this is my full-time endeavour, I have tried my best to bring you in-depth and considered reviews of all of the albums that have made an impact on me over the previous six months.

As a result, long-term, loyal followers will already know all about the records that I will mention here. Nevertheless, for new converts to the Blog of Much Metal or for those of you who have temporarily forgotten all of the great releases of 2016 so far, I felt I needed to offer an overview.

All I can say is that 2016 has been monstrous. As a one-man-band, I have found myself really up against it to feature all the records that have pushed my buttons. Whatever genre of rock/metal you’re into, there has literally been loads of fantastic releases to get your teeth stuck into. And we’re only half-way through. Surely the quality can’t be maintained for the remainder of the year, can it? I can’t wait to find out.

But enough of the future – what do I consider to be the best albums of 2016 so far? Here goes:

Haken – Affinity
InsideOut Music

Press_cover (3)One of the very best progressive bands that the UK has to offer have returned with their fourth opus this year, entitled ‘Affinity’. Taking their trademark sounds and pushing the boundaries ever further, Haken have delivered an album that is challenging, fun and memorable not to mention full of stellar musicianship and fantastic song-writing.

“‘Affinity’ is one of the best progressive albums I have ever had the pleasure to listen to but more than that, it truly moves me and I connect to it on an emotional level; it makes me smile, it makes me cry and it makes me feel alive.” – read my full review here: Haken – Affinity

Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Peaceville Records

Katatonia-Fall-Of-Hearts-Medium-Res-Cover1Katatonia are one of the most important bands in my life and with ‘The Fall Of Hearts’, they have one again delivered an album that leaves me almost speechless. It is dark, heavy, deep, rich, bleak and strangely comforting. The songwriting is subtle and nuanced but also packs a punch, meaning that, to me, it is irresistible.

“…‘The Fall Of Hearts’ calls to me, it speaks to me on a myriad of different levels and I feel stronger and more enriched by it. And that’s more than enough for me right now…Majestic and peerless, where there is darkness, Katatonia is your master, so allow your heart to fall to them.” – read my full review here: Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts

Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Century Media Records

Press_Cover_01‘Winter Thrice’ the tenth album from Borknagar was the first album of 2016 to blow me away. Led by the magnificent title track, Borknagar demonstrate just how to deliver music that can be thunderously heavy but full of beauty and clever subtlety. The progressive and folk elements are a joy and the embarrassment of vocal riches is the icing on the cake.

“It is a sensational slab of intelligent, powerful and sophisticated extreme metal that is as beautiful as it is brutal. I have been captivated since the first listen and I cannot see how the spell that Borknagar has cast upon me can be broken. Mind you, I don’t want it to be broken. This is a near perfect aural experience and I am all the richer for having it in my life.” – read my full review here: Borknagar – Winter Thrice

Big Big Train – Folklore
English Electric Recordings

bbt folklore coverIn the world of progressive rock, there are few better bands out there than Big Big Train. Blending the pastoral prog of the UK scene in the 70s, with a myriad of different influences from folk to classical, this English-based octet are masters of sonic storytelling. The fact that the music is so engaging and beautiful just makes ‘Folklore’ all the more special.

“More importantly from my point of view, is the way that the album makes me feel. It makes me run the gamut of emotions if I’m honest, from elated to tearful, but does this in a very sensitive and subtle way. And, strangely enough, Big Big Train makes me proud to be English. It’s a rare feeling in this day and age, but they have a knack of focusing on topics and people worthy of our admiration and attention rather than the opposite.” – read my full review here: Big Big Train – Folklore

Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Inner Wound Recordings

universal_mind_project_artwork_1600The debut album from Universal Mind Project, ‘The Jaguar Priest’, has been one of the big surprises of 2016 for me. Featuring an impressive cast of musicians and guest vocalists, ‘The Jaguar Priest’ combines the very best of the progressive, power, symphonic and melodic metal genres, blending them into a hugely enjoyable and invigorating final product.

“Universal Mind Project have delivered the full package. Remarkably consistent, hugely engaging and expertly crafted, it has come out of nowhere to blow me away. As such, ‘The Jaguar Priest’ has ‘end of year top 10’ written all over it. Superb.” – read my full review here: Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest

Textures – Phenotype
Nuclear Blast Records

textures cover‘Phenotype’, the fifth album from Dutch metallers Textures, took a long time to sink in and work its magic on me. But with repeated listens, it has blossomed into one of the most impressive albums of 2016 so far. It’s heavy as hell and mind-bogglingly technical but is imbued with a sophisticated and subtle sense of melody and beauty.

“The melodies may be more subtle and hidden within the apparent aggression but they are there to be discovered. The technicality defies logic at times but it is never at the expense of the song. The same can be said for the potent ferocity and brutality; each track therefore delivers something interesting, exciting and beautiful if you’re prepared and up for the challenge. I adore ‘Dualism’ but sitting here now, I think I love ‘Phenotype’ even more.” – read my full review here: Textures – Phenotype

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