With our 20 Best Metal Albums of 2016 list already out, it's time to look at the best individual tracks of the year with the 20 Best Metal Songs of 2016!
Ever year, metal's greatest hits list grows as new classics are added to the canon, keeping everything alive and well as the genre inches closer to its 50th anniversary. From legacy acts like Megadeth and Anthrax enjoying continued success more than three decades into their careers all the way to modern heavyweights in Ghost, Avenged Sevenfold and Gojira, as well as up-and-comers such as Mantar and Fallujah, we cover numerous branches of the metal tree here.
So, which song earned the title of Best Metal Song of 2016? Scroll down to find out!
Babymetal have enjoyed an unprecedented rise to the top in a relatively short amount of time and with songs like “Karate” it’s easy to see why. For a band that doesn’t sing primarily in English, it can be challenging to gain widespread attention, but for Babymetal, their memorable riffing and vocal phrasing works to overcome these hurdles. “Karate” boasts a jarring, djenty rhythm juxtaposed by a rapid-vocal delivery that switches from sharp bursts to an explosive, cinematic chorus that just won’t leave your head for days.
Fallujah are one of the most exciting, inventive acts in the current progressive/technical death metal sphere. “The Void Alone” is the prime example of how the band deviates from the mindless guitar theatrics of their peers, utilizing gleaming, simple leads to great effect amidst dazzling fretwork. Even at their most furious paces, these leads help to keep everything in “The Void Alone” grounded, aided by ethereal female vocals that play perfectly into this style.
"The Fool"Fleshgod Apocalypse
Fleshgod Apocalypse are renowned for their sheer relentless brutality accented by bombastic orchestral moments. On “The Fool,” they’ve perfected their recipe, playing with assaulting rhythms and a relentless mix of tempos, allowing for the orchestration to have some much-needed breathing room. This track exemplifies everything Fleshgod are about in just under five minutes and is possibly the best song of their still relatively early career.
Famed Immortal frontman Abbath ventured solo for the first time following a split with his former outfit. The difference was in name only as Abbath dialed up more of his signature icy riffing and iconic vocal croak on the eponymous debut. “Winterbane” is among the highlights on the album, splintering the door with heaving, battering riffs that carry a slight flair for the anthemic. Any fan of this black metal mastermind knows exactly what to expect and received it in spades on “Winterbane.”
"Stormbending"Devin Townsend Project
The Devin Townsend Project are one of the most diverse acts out there and they showcased their dynamic abilities once again on Transcendence. The album is a far cry from Devin Townsend’s bombastic, rage-fueled mania with “Stormbending” as proof positive. This airy track is centered around controlling your surroundings, turning negatives into positives, getting a like-minded boost from grandiose chord progressions and delicate synth work.
"Raise Your Horns"Amon Amarth
Amon Amarth are metal’s modern-day vikings with a propensity for melody and sing-song elements woven into their barbaric brand of death metal. “Raise Your Horns” is one of the band’s most positively infectious songs of their career, mixing together two of their favorite things: vikings and drinking! This track is about raising your drinking horn in honor of slain comrades, promising “we will meet where the beer never ends.”
"The Stage"Avenged Sevenfold
Avenged Sevenfold only released one song prior to dropping their surprise new record. “The Stage” serves as the title track, opening with eerie synths and a spotlight guitar tapping melody as the rest of the band falls into place. Back on the more metallic side of things than their previous record, this track has a deft balance with storytelling set against a tense gallop that is relieved by the sweeping moments of the chorus.
"From the Rooftops"Fates Warning
More than 30 years later, Fates Warning are still pushing themselves and, as a result, remain one of progressive metal’s most crucial innovators. With the Theories of Flight opener “From the Rooftops,” Fates Warning play with the familiar airy and emotional elements with Ray Alder’s timid delivery setting the tone. The song quickly switches gears, accelerating with counterpoint guitar work, Bobby Jarzombek’s intricate drumming and an undying sense of urgency. The chorus is an immediate earworm that will have you singing along before the track’s end.
The splatterthrashers from Creepsylvania struck again in 2016 with the remarkable Dungeon Bastards. Ghoul's newfound anthem, “Ghoulunatics,” is equal parts thrash, death metal and, well, unabashed fun! When these masked maniacs aren’t playing party-starting guitar leads, they’re dishing out pit riff after pit riff and sometimes both at the same time. The gang chants in this track are a great contrast to the growled and gravel-gargling vocals, giving off a lighter mood that makes “Ghoulunatics” a complete rager.
Katatonia’s “Serein” may be the most consistently catchy song released this year with every moment as memorable as the last. As the ear-fetching guitar melody weaves in and out of the track, this infectious lick is milked for everything it’s got as the Swedes stitch together gorgeous, cascading passages with singer Jonas Renkse’s soothing voice and buttery delivery. Just about every part of “Serein” contains a hook and don’t be surprised if you hit repeat a few times before moving on from this one.
German sludge rockers Mantar may not be on every metal fan’s radar, but allow us to make a blip on your screen with “Era Borealis.” This duo just needs a guitar and drums to deliver pile-driving riffs played with a slight rock ‘n’ roll, feel-good heft to contrast the raspy barking. The chorus is as simplistic as it gets, proving less is more with a steady kick drum solidifying the anthemic refrain as one of this year’s best.
Old school Korn fans got the treat of a lifetime when the band dropped The Serenity of Suffering. The song “Insane” is a nod back to the band’s classic period with those familiar bar chords and slugging, down-tuned guitars that ultimately spurred the nu-metal genre. The twitchy, eerie lead notes meander through the verse of “Insane,” set to more tribal-like drumming and the paranoid delusions of Jonathan Davis’ lyrics and unnerving vocal contrast.
"Hate by Design"Killswitch Engage
Killswitch Engage singer Jesse Leach has been quite vocal with his social commentary, making a huge statement on “Hate by Design” off the metalcore stalwarts’ latest full length, Incarnate. Tackling senseless hatred of others, this Killswitch track starts off with a bottom-heavy energy and overdubbed demonic vocals before stepping into cleaner vocals that dance around the head-bobbing rhythm. There’s a playful sense to the arrangement, ultimately invoking a feeling of uplifting empowerment to right societal wrongs.
"Blood Eagle Wings"Anthrax
Anthrax took bold steps in plenty of new directions on For All Kings, one of them being the sprawling “Blood Eagle Wings,” the longest song of their historic career. Exploring a multitude of moods, Anthrax focus on a thick, bass-driven verse that plods with a grueling mid-tempo and soaring chorus before reining in the more familiar thrash elements half-way through the track. “Blood Eagle Wings” is capped off by gorgeous, minimalist, delicate guitar melodies making it one of the best songs in Anthrax’s immense catalog.
Gojira’s reputation for mammoth, stampeding riffs grew with the release of Magma this year. The band decided to cut down on their lengthy songwriting, instead authoring more lean cuts without compromising their style. “Silvera” stands as the perfect introductory song to the quartet’s new record, still playing with those hulking riffs, but with interwoven melodies that pit their more delicate moments straight up against those hardened metallic efforts. Joe Duplantier’s implementation of clean vocals adds a new element to the more radiant aspects of Gojira and here they dominate with seeming ease.
You might want to get your house retro-fitted for seismic reinforcements before hitting play on the foundation-cracking “Clockworks” from Sweden’s Meshuggah. The band never strays from a calculated formula of bottom-heavy polyrhythms, somehow concocting new riffs and arranging them in the most complex ways. This bludgeoning track is one of the most barbaric songs released this year as well as a gem in Meshuggah’s dense discography.
After a minute of fuzzy keyboard work and a slinky bass line, Opeth’s “Sorceress” quickly cuts into one of the heaviest moments authored by the prog legends since abandoning the death growls. Frontman Mikael Akerfeldt still plays with multi-shaded vocals, reaching into his upper register to serve as the contrast rather than brutish grunts. The marching stomp of “Sorceress” shows this is still the same Opeth everyone fell in love with years ago, just filtered through different levels of distortion and a raw, honest production.
"Moth Into Flame"Metallica
Metallica have never been shy about their influences, especially when it comes to cult NWOBHM acts and on “Moth Into Flame” they pay tribute to the bands that started a new trend in heavy metal circa 1980. The thrash legends employ twin guitar leads at times on this song, injecting a fresh sound into their otherwise rhythmic-intensive brawn. James Hetfield is also in peak form with one of his most emphatic vocal deliveries, giving just enough play to the cadence to make “Moth Into Flame” a real hard-charger.
Coming in at No. 2 (in a fair world we wouldn’t have to choose) is Megadeth’s “Dystopia.” Every single nuance of this track is just sublime from that unforgettable guitar melody in the verse to Dave Mustaine’s gritty delivery and the steady sway of Chris Adler’s drumming. The screeching solo section dips into the song’s thrashiest elements with staccato riffing and scorching guitar exchanges.
Ghost appear to be heading in a more radio-friendly direction on their next album as indicated by “Square Hammer.” Inarguably the band’s finest moment yet, there was little apprehension crowning this track the Best Metal Song of 2016. Combining an obvious love for the most beloved aspects of Blue Oyster Cult, Def Leppard and the occult, Ghost added their own signature flair, culminating with a song that hits all the right spots be it riffs, a can’t-live-without chorus or the pristine production job. The arrangement here is truly flawless, highlighting the band’s unique abilities to favor those catchy pop-like moments without catching the least bit of flak or even bringing to mind that naughty word “sellout.”