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 Johnny's Best Of 2016s...
BEST BAND: AVENGED SEVENFOLD
Wonderfully unpredictable. After their previous commercial (fan-grab) album, nobody expected a surprise curve-ball release and challenging new material and yet another new drummer. Nice work.
Still on the rise and for good reason. Consistently brilliant live, and with Rob Caggiano on board, capable of writing some infectious and deceptively hard-hitting songs. 'Seal The Deal' is definitely one of my favourite albums of the year.
Are they a band or a 'project'? I don't care, because 'Ghostlights' was one of my top three albums of the year and fans worldwide seem to agree. Avantasia will be headlining one night at Barcelona's Rockfest 2017 and are confirmed at Wacken 2017. Well worth seeing if you get the opportunity.
BEST GIG: LAST IN LINE/INGLORIOUS: O2 ISLINGTON ACADEMY
Last in Line with Inglorious (and Wild Lies), November, Islington Academy and MetalTalk's Liz Medhurst summed this up perfectly: "Top Class Hard Rock". Inglorious are a breath of fresh air, fun, talented and not afraid to cover Whitesnake but following them was easy for Last In Line who were simply brilliant. Viv Campbell can seriously (and effortlessly) play and the whole band oozed a relaxed classy confidence, secure in the knowledge these were their songs and they were playing to a deliriously happy crowd. Add in a top venue (Islington) and a great three-band line-up and it can only be my favourite gig of the year.
BEST ALBUM: MEGADETH: 'DYSTOPIA'
I suspect we all had high hopes for this record, because Dave Mustaine knows how to write a Metal album and recruit musicians but even he must be surprised just how hard and far he knocked this one out of the park. Strong, snotty, angry songs with vicious riffs aligned to accessible melodies; we've heard it all before, but it's rarely sounded better. Highlights include the entire album plus bonus tracks and every second of Chris Adler's phenomenal drumming. 'Lying In State' is definitely one of the most Metal moments of 2016.
2. AVANTASIA: 'GHOSTLIGHTS'
My most-played album of 2016 and therefore absolutely worthy of a top three spot. Released back in January, it's been a fantastic record to listen to again and again and again from the faux-Meatloaf intro, through the experimental and operatic 'Let The Storm Descend Upon You', the power Metal of 'Ghostlights', to the Sunset Strip rock'n'roll of 'Babylon Is Burning', this showcases brilliant, eclectic and imaginative songwriting. It also features star turns from Dee Snider, Geoff Tate, Bob Catley and the ever-present Jorn Lande and Michael Kiske. Pure operatic power Metal musical magic.
3. VOLBEAT: 'SEAL THE DEAL AND LET'S BOOGIE'
Immediately criticised by fans for going radio-friendly and selling-out, I'm here to put the record straight - it's fantastic. Admittedly there are more than a couple of 'filler' tracks, but for the most part it's a mood-lifting, fist pumping adrenaline inducing delight. 'Seal The Deal' and 'The Loa's Crossroad' dispel any doubts that Volbeat have gone soft. 'Black Rose' is Rockabilly heaven, while gentler numbers like 'Let It Burn' and especially 'Goodbye Forever' are just sublime. This one's a hit.
BEST VIDEO: BLACK STAR RIDERS: 'WHEN THE NIGHT COMES IN'
A preview of what's to come in 2017, and I for one can't wait. Their first two albums have been a huge success and seeing them live just blows you away. 'When The Night Comes In’ has that instantly recognisable and classic feel you expect from the band and it cries out to be played on repeat. Epic.
2. JUDAS PRIEST: 'HALLS OF VALHALLA'
"Vaalhaaalllaaaaaaaaaaaaa". Holy shit, when the Metal God turns up with Richie Faulkner and Scott Travis in tow, look out! This is one of the most exciting songs Priest have ever written; it literally has it all. If you haven't checked out the 'Battle Cry' DVD from Wacken yet, get on it. It's yet another landmark performance by the Priest.
3. MEGADETH: 'DYSTOPIA'
One of the years' best albums came with a surprisingly entertaining video for its title track, 'Dystopia'. It's a cool dystopian animation full of blood, Vic Rattlehead, riot police and more blood. Great song, great video, what's not to like?
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2017
Sabaton/Accept, Brixton Academy, January 2017. This is one way to start the year with a bang. Two of Metal's finest on one stage. Bring it on. The new album by Judas Priest. Still very much TBC, but here's hoping it lands sooner, rather than later. 'Heavy Fire' by Black Star Riders, coming February 2017. Based on the first single, this is shaping up to be yet another great classic rock album, with live shows to follow in March.