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 Steve's Best Of 2016s...
BEST BAND: MOTÖRHEAD
So they haven't played a gig or released a new studio album but it just couldn't be anyone else for Best Band Of 2016. They've been the most prominent and the most talked about band this year. Saxönhead brought it all home to us just how much this rock'n'roll institution meant and Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons brought it home just how much they will continue to mean and in between times, the tributes were like nothing ever seen before. The Bomber flew for the last time at Wacken, Mikkey landed a plum gig with the Scorpions and the train kept a rollin', all night long. It will never stop and the name will never die. Motörhead for life. Lemmy forever.
2. AMON AMARTH
An astonishingly good album, an amazing tour, an iconic gig at The Roundhouse, laying waste to Download on a wet Sunday lunchtime and just the most glorious year ever for the best Viking Metal band around. They could easily become the most successful Death Metal band in history if this upward trajectory continues and I'm backing that to happen.
A new live offering, a new box-set, new videos and more for Britain's favourite road warriors. Biff has become the elder statesman of British Heavy Metal and we couldn't have a better figurehead. He handled Lemmy's passing with class and dignity when the world was looking to him for leadership and the man deserves all the respect on the planet. And he brought Fast Eddie back in from the cold too. Hail Saxon. Long live King Biff.
BEST GIG: SAXON/FASTWAY/GIRLSCHOOL: SHEPHERD'S BUSH EMPIRE, LONDON
What a night this was. It was like all the posters that were on my bedroom wall when I was a kid had suddenly come to life. Girlschool were utterly magnificent, Fast Eddie was superlative after some years out and Saxon just completely smoked it. There were many special memories aside from the music too and the spirit of Lemmy was ever present. "I'm doing this for Phil and Lem," Eddie told us at soundcheck and when he came back on stage to play 'Ace Of Spades' with Saxon, the roar of approval was enough to wake the dead. Not just gig of the year, one of the gigs of a lifetime.
2. ORPHANED LAND: CAMDEN UNDERWORLD, LONDON
If like me, before this night, you have only seen Orphaned Land in the bigger venues as a support act, then make sure you get to one of their headline gigs in a smaller venue because it's a completely different experience when they are in control of their own sound and have their own audience, and what a multi-cultural audience it was too, encompassing every colour, creed, race, nationality and religion you can name. "I'm not closing my eyes, there is a problem, but what I do, I take a Palestinian band to tour with me and we get the Metal Hammer award, I share it with them," said Kobi Farhi before he took to the stage. This modern age visionary is singularly demonstrative of the power of Heavy Metal so more power to him. Utterly and totally inspirational.
3. ICED EARTH/ENSIFERUM: ELECTRIC, BRIXTON, LONDON
A dream billing for me and both bands made a special night of it, Ensiferum by playing a totally unexpected setlist for their second 2016 gig in London and Iced Earth by not trading on past glories, instead reaching out to the future and asking a question of heaven. Both bands were the best I can ever remember seeing them and both bands delivered sets of total quality, filled with the pride and passion that put them where they are. Iced Earth are future major festival headliners while Ensiferum are primed to go from strength to strength. Glory beckons for both.
BEST ALBUM: AMON AMARTH: 'JOMSVIKING'
"Viking ships come out of the mist, ominous sight..." Amon Amarth came of age with their tenth studio album. It's hard and heavy alright but there's a tremendous story behind it, some amazing songs and some of the best arrangements by a Death Metal band ever. OK, the middle part of 'At Dawn's First Light' is sampled from Muse's 'Knights Of Cydonia' but they score more than ten out of ten for the rest so we can overlook that. It's easy to pick album of the year as it's the one you've played the most and the one you sing walking down the street the most. 'Jomsviking' was released in March and I'm still annoying the neighbours with it nine months later.
2. SUIDAKRA: 'REALMS OF ODORIC'
SuidAkrA released their landmark album, 'Book Of Dowth', four years ago and two albums later, 'Realms Of Odoric' joins 'Book...' as a featured release in the SuidAkrA catalogue. 'Pictish Pride' would be a top contender for song of the year if we had that category and this album of mixed delights is one that is sure to reverberate over a period of several years. A masterpiece.
3. SKÁLMÖLD: 'VÖGGUVISUR YGGDRASILS'
Iceland's finest absolutely excelled themselves here with their finest offering to date, a nine track opus of pure Viking Folk Metal. On first listen, 'Vögguvísur Yggdrasils' is a hard hitting, driving, brutal affair but once you start to appreciate the subtleties within, you're in for a rich listening experience with anthemic, powerful and memorable tunes. All nine single word titles are a joy to behold and Skälmöld have upped their game majestically with their new album.
BEST FESTIVAL: BLOODSTOCK
Bloodstock 2016 was simply awesome, every single bit of it. Great people, great organisation, great beer and great, great non-stop Heavy Metal from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning. Gojira were the top band while Behemoth and Venom were outstanding and Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons got Dee Snider up to pay tribute to Lemmy. Dee took his twisted sisters on to a British stage for the final ever time on the Saturday and these are just some of the highlights of what was one simply amazing festival.
BEST VIDEO: AMON AMARTH: 'AT DAWN'S FIRST LIGHT'
It's those Viking ships coming out of the mist again...
2. UNLEASH THE ARCHERS: 'TIME STANDS STILL'
The girl's got rhythym...
3. FINSTERFORST: 'AUF DIE ZWÖLF'
German beer, football hooliganism, Heavy Metal accordions; that's three of my four favourite things...
BEST NEW BAND: deVience
deVience are a London based five-piece with a twin guitar assault courtesy of Donnie Roulstone and Jim O'Connor who put some serious gloss on some very punchy, brave, upbeat and hard, driving material. All thirteen tracks are superbly well written and presented with a kick and in a style that you'll find irresistable. The whole album has a sound that is fresh and it's very wild and sexy too. This is the band of Giovanni Spano who offers a vocal style that you can't pin down and compare to any of his peers but he's just landed the part of Ledoux in 'Bat Out Of Hell - The Musical' and an endorsement by Meat Loaf himself says all you need to know about this rising star.
2. THE DOOMSDAY KINGDOM
The Doomsday Kingdom, the band founded by Candlemass virtuoso Leif Edling (The Doomfather), have announced the release of their self-titled debut album for March 31st 2017. Doom Metal is about to receive an upgrade as this material surpasses anything ever heard in this genre before.
Stonewire are a rare talent with one hell of a frontlady at the helm and if you've seen them before, you'll surely agree that it's obvious they will be ramblin' their way to big success in 2017. Watch them take hero's journey as a frenzy of shots are downed by the female version of Robert Plant and the rock hierarchy make room for a more than worthy addition to their ranks.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2017
On the musical front, the continuing rise to the very top of Iced Earth, Amon Amarth at Bloodstock, a new Ensiferum album and the continuing development of Cellar Darling and Eluveitie, while on the professional front, another blazing year for MetalTalk which starts in Los Angeles where we will be at the NAMM exhibition and reporting for the UK on The Hall Of Heavy Metal History Induction Awards. By then, MetalTalk Radio On TotalRock will be in full swing. Oysters. Easy on the ice...