It's that time of year again and what a year it has been, and now it's time to start publishing the Best Of 2016s from our key people and on 31st December we'll be announcing the end result, one winner from each category. Here's Jools' Best Of 2016s...
BEST BAND: ENSLAVED
This year celebrating their 25th Anniversary and their contribution to the world of Extreme Metal, an impressive thirteen innovative full lengths and a myriad of EPs, but it's their dedication to each other as a band and the music they create along with their genuine appreciation of their fans that make them stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Masterminded by the hugely talented Zorn (ex-Dark Funeral) and technically a new band but in reality more of a Black Metal supergroup given the talent which has been assembled for this all encompassing concept. They are a band for whom I have great expectations for 2017, having heard a teaser of just what their talents are capable of.
With the dangerous and dynamic duo of Dave Ingram and Rogga Johansson at its core, Echelon are international Death Metal at its finest. They have worked on several other collaborations together but for me their best work has been under the Echelon moniker.
BEST GIG: ENSLAVED
My best gig is not one gig but a collection all by the same band, Enslaved, because from a quality of performance perspective I couldn't choose between any of the three I attended of the Enslaved 25th anniversary gigs. All were memorable experiences where the band gave 100% each time.
2. VADER: THE DOME, TUFNELL PARK, LONDON
I've seen Vader countless times live and they've never disappointed but their performance at The Dome, Tuffnell Park London this year was their best so far, dynamic, engaging and exciting and the sound quality was excellent also.
3. WARTOUR 2016
The London leg of the Wartour 2016 featuring Warlord UK/Warcrab/Wheeliebin Burial at The Devonshire Arms, an intimate event that had all three bands delivering superbly crushing sets. I couldn't fault the evening on any front; it delivered a good sound, great music, welcoming people and excellent wheat beer.
BEST ALBUM: HELLEBORUS: 'THE CARNAL SABBATH'
The debut full length for this project from the Houseman brothers, Jerred and Wyatt, who have had several past musical involvements, are both former members of Colorado's Brutal Death Metal band Execration and co-conspirators in the exotic Akhenaten. 'The Carnal Sabbath' is philosophically dark and diverse in sound but most importantly hugely listenable.
2. ESCHELON: 'THE BRIMSTONE AGGRANDISEMENT'
Their second full length and the best offering these gentlemen have produced to date. It's dark, compelling and wonderfully esoteric but with a subtle cheeky humour.
3. NIHILISTINEN BARBAARISUUS: 'MADNESS INCARNATE'
The 'Madness Incarnate' EP saw the band, masterminded by Mika Mage, honed down to a solo project with guest musicians and which took their sound to a whole new level of excellence. It's rich in sound and icy in content, with a sublime ambience and a dark melancholic beauty.
BEST FESTIVAL: BLASTFEST, BERGEN, NORWAY
Blastfest this year was a one time, all Norwegian line-up and an opportunity to witness "The celebration of the Norwegian Metal scene", a rare chance to see many great and often underrated bands under one roof including One Tail- One Head, Khold, 1349, Taake, Kampfar and Volouspaa.
2. EINDHOVEN METAL MEETING
Eindhoven Metal Meeting saw superb performances by Enthroned. Watain, Valkyrja, Destruction and Hail of Bullets with their new vocalist Dave Ingram making a triumphant return to the European stage.
3. DAMNATION FESTIVAL, LEEDS
Although not as strong a line-up as the previous year, the stunning performances by both Enslaved with another of their UK 25th anniversary celebrations and Akercocke continuing to enthral their audience with their well received and delivered performance since their return after an extended hiatus made it a memorable event.
BEST VIDEO: ZORNHEYM: 'THE OPPOSED'
Harrowing, compelling and superb, it's the first video from their upcoming release, 'Where Hatred Dwells And Darkness Reigns', and is about a man stricken with a growing demonic face on the back of his head, hell bent on possessing him for its own malevolent purposes.
2. ANAAL NATHRAKH: 'WE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU'
Described by Anaal Nathrakh as: "This is the core idea of the album. As a species, we are capable of love, of wonder, of staggering feats of creativity and sensitivity. Yet at the highest, global level, these are not the sentiments which rule. Large scale human history can be seen, as much as anything else, as a series of titanic dramas with the single animating principle: we will fucking kill you." And for me it's an artistic, hugely powerful and brutally honest observation of humanity.
3. KREATOR: 'GODS OF VIOLENCE'
The title track and teaser to their upcoming album of the same name, it's thrash-tastically gory, suggestively evil and has all those marvellous Metal clichés you love and expect from Kreator.
BEST NEW BAND: DARKRYPT
Darkrypt's debut album, 'Delirious Excursion', on Transcending Obscurity could easily fool you into thinking they were from Scandinavia when in fact they are from Mumbai, India. The subtle exotic intricacies within the composition give their true origins away, delivering Extreme Metal of the very highest calibre with a seasoned maturity that belies its debut status.
Swathed in mystery and darkness, their debut three track release, 'My Bones Hold A Stillness', is a chunk of Blackened Death Doom, alleged to be the "stuff of nightmares". It is in actuality just a damn fine listen, ultimately the only really important factor.
3. TIDES OF SULFUR
The Welsh Death-Sludge power trio blew me away with their superb debut full length, 'Extinction Curse', and not just as first releases go but compared to many band's subsequent offerings, it's one hell of an album.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2017
Enslaved playing 'Vikingligr Veldi' in its entirety for the first and last time live at Beyond The Gates Festival, Bergen in August, the release of the new Akercocke album, 'Renaissance In Extremis'; the new material I've heard live so far has been tantalizingly superb. The release of the new Zornheym album, 'Where Hatred Dwells And Darkness Reigns'; the singles released so far have been a stunning musical revelation to my ears.