L. Mounts + Friends’ Top 25 Metal Albums of 2016

I hope all of our readers and contributors had an excellent holiday season. This year, I wanted to do something special on the metal end of things. I didn’t get a chance to review too many albums this year, which I admittedly regret and want to change come 2017. So, I rounded up some of my best metalhead friends to add in their favorite albums as well so we would have the chance to talk about all different types of metal albums to be released this year. Take it away, boys. – Logan

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JUAN FRANCO’S PICKS

I’m going to engage with the obvious cliché of introducing this segment with the meme that 2016 has been ZOMFG cursed. My personal 2016 (apart from being a shitty news year) has actually been pretty awesome, nerds. I got the chance to record and release my band Naga’s debut EP, go on tour twice, and overall I can’t wait for what the next year has in store. I’ve been asked, due to my absurd amounts of metal credibility, to put together my top 5 favorite metal albums of 2016. If you’re smart, you’ll take note, because I’m cool and my music taste is good.

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5. Blood Incantation – Starspawn (Dark Descent)

This album sounds like a barren wasteland in the best kind of way. As if Gorguts had taken a bunch of LSD but retained their technical proficiency. Barren and monolithic, there’s a deep sense of intensity that Blood Incantation provides that imparts the listener with a profound sense of primordial angst. As if the past itself is reaching out of prehistoric ooze to deliver a right hook to the listener’s feeble jaw. Twisting and Lovecraftian, this is some deeply unsettling black metal that leaves you with the feeling of an encounter with a great old one better than the band Great Old Ones could ever muster up. My only real complaint with this album is that it feels far too short, but given the potential this LP sets up, it’s exciting to think where this band is gonna go next.

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4. Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika (Century Media)

I am aware that I have just finished criticizing modern black metal for being all about mountains or Satan. HOWEVER, this album is about both mountains AND Satan. It’s a shining example of how to blend folk and black metal without coming across as a corny jackass. The songs, the shortest of which is just over 12 minutes long, are slow and plodding in their development and provide an example of how to build and release tension towards a fiery climax. If you’re a fan of Moonsorrow’s previous work, this album is going to sound like more of the same to you, but the stand out instrumentation, both in production and performance, makes you feel the kick drum in the pit of your chest. Jumalten Aika is an album for the modern black metal-ler that still uses words like “poseur” and “kvlt.”

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3. Batushka – Litourgiya (Witching Hour)

Look, I’m cheating on this one a little because it came out in the ass-end December 2015, but if this were the Oscars it’d be eligible for one in 2016. I think. I don’t really watch the Oscar’s, so shut up and take my word for it. This album combines so many things I love, it was hard not to think about it constantly during 2016. Eastern Orthodox inspired doomy black metal from Poland? I’m there, man. I’ll continue to be there, man. Litourgiya has that “mystic” vibe that I am constantly searching for, which seems to have fallen out of popularity in extreme metal as of late. It’s hard to point to one specific part of the release that stands out because the most obvious strengths of Litourgiya lie in how well the complimentary parts gel together. Each instrument and vocal track is thoughtfully layered in pursuit of one thing: the almighty atmosphere. The songs are melancholic, spiritual, and go against the grain of modern black metal in that they aren’t about how cool mountains or Satan are, which is a refreshing change of pace.

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2. Big Business – Command Your Weather (Joyful Noise)

One of the great crimes of 2013 was Big Business’ Battlefields Forever not getting as much attention as it deserved. I think I really only saw one major review site even mention that album and it was a darn shame because it’s very tasty. Big Biz has seemed to work out all the kinks in their homebrew record label this time around, as Command Your Weather has improved on pretty much every standard Battlefields Forever set, both commercially and sonically. They’ve dropped the guitar for the first time since Mind The Drift and are back to being the furious two-piece that I fell in love with. But instead of rehashing already treaded ground, they’ve fused the low-end fury of their earlier releases with the (at times) noisy and sassy sounds on releases like Here Come The Waterworks into a final product that feels like a logical next step for the band. The songs are fun, energetic, sometimes dark and forlorn, and show a newfound maturity without sacrificing their trademark sense of humor and playfulness. As the Melvins start to meander in their state of advanced age, we can keep our chins up knowing that Big Business has got us covered for the foreseeable future.

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1. Hashshashin – Nihsahshsah (Art As Catharsis)

This has been a big year for shreddy instrumental music, but you’re a slobbering ignoramus if you missed this Sydney trio’s debut LP. It’s punctuated by eastern melodies, hazy production, and filled with rhythmic twists and turns.Close your eyes to the tracks ‘Immolation’ and ‘Levitation,’ and imagine yourself as a horsebound warlord tearing ass across the desert in search of a Hashish oasis. One of my favorite parts of this release is the use of the Bouzouki as a lead instrument in place of the standard electric guitar, it’s a unique choice that serves to set Hashshashin apart from the litany of other stoner bands that are kicking around the whole “eastern” thing. Nihsahshsah manages to fuse math rock, prog metal, and drone in a way that despite a yawn-inducing genre pedigree keeps it interesting, fun, and fresh. I’d recommend turning off the lights, rolling up a hog’s leg, and spending a little time getting to know Nihsahshsah if you know what’s good for you.

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JAMES GREEN’S PICKS

While 2016 was a shitty year for a lot of reasons like celebrity deaths, break ups resulting in fist fights, a broken two party political system, and a movie that had Superman and Batman in it that still managed to be terrible, it was pretty killer for music. I got to see Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, The Misfits, and half of the Big Four live. Plus, we got some pretty damn good albums.

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5. Gatecreeper – Sonoran Depravation (Relapse)

This record was a complete blind buy for me. With all the points I had saved up from my local record store the album cost me a dollar. Best dollar I’ve spent all year, ‘cause this thing fucking rips. It really feels like an album that sort of Frankensteins the best aspects of other bands within the genre into one while still having a strong identity on its own. Right from the get-go with ‘Craving Flesh’ you get a taste of that buzzsaw guitar tone reminiscent of Entombed blended seamlessly with the grit of bands like Asphyx. On tracks like ‘Patriarchal Grip,’ things are slowed down a bit in the vein of Obituary. But it’s the consistent groove of the album that kept my interest all the way through and left me excited to see what these guys do going forward. If you’re as bummed as I am about the recent break up of Bolt Thrower, Sonoran Depravation might be for you.

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4. Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner)

Gojira has been described as the product of Tool and Meshuggah having a baby. With Magma, the band ends up more on the Tool side of things. The best word I can use to describe this album is ethereal. It’s probably their softest and least riff-dense album, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its really heavy moments; just listen to a track like ‘Only Pain.’ The slower, atmospheric tracks like ‘Shooting Star’ and ‘Low Lands’ are really the standouts for me. It’s balanced pretty well between the soft and the extreme, and I felt a whole rollercoaster of emotions when I learned that this album was actually written when drummer and guitarist Joe and Mario Duplantier’s mother passed away. I went in expecting the child of Tool and Meshuggah, and I got the child of Sigúr Ros and Strapping Young Lad. Not bad for a couple of French dudes.

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3. Neurosis – Fires Within Fires (Neurot)

It’s really hard to classify what exact genre Neurosis falls into. I guess you could say they’re like the Swans of heavy metal. They’ve done everything from crust punk to post-rock, while at the same time not really conforming to the rules of any particular genre. They are simply Neurosis. With this album, they do what they do best, which is slow, atmospheric build-ups that come crashing down to then be built up again. The standout track is definitely ‘Broken Ground,’ which sounds completely different from any of the four other tracks. It’s an eerie light on an otherwise dark horizon. While it’s no Through The Silver With Blood, the band hasn’t lost any of their fire over their 30 years making creepy music.

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2. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation (Party Smasher)

This is easily the most versatile Dillinger Escape Plan album to date. With it being their final release, it feels like they went all or nothing. You can tell (more so than on previous albums) that they’re wearing their influences on their sleeve. Tracks like ‘Low Feels Blvd.’ and ‘Symptom Of Terminal Illness’ reminded me of something like Mr. Bungle or even Deftones. While a track like ‘Fugue’ has a straight up Aphex Twin thing going on, but doesn’t feel out of place. On the last two tracks, the band does something different and collaborates with a string quartet that had previously covered the band’s classic ’43% Burnt.’ You can really hear the influence of Greg Puciato’s side project The Black Queen on these tracks, and they give a great closing to the album.

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1. Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us (Nuclear Blast)

There’s no other way to say it: Nails kicked my fucking ass with this record. I loved their last project Abandon All Life, and was cautiously optimistic when they got signed to Nuclear Blast Records. However, this release was everything I wanted from a Nails album and then some. The title track conveys a great message for anyone who is a true lifer in his or her craft. While I’m not much of a musician, as a filmmaker, Todd Jones’ lyrics really struck a chord with me, reminding me of the amount of pretentious assholes I have to deal with in my creative field. In my opinion, producer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou can do no wrong, and the mixing on this record is great, especially in the vocals and drums. This is probably the tightest the band has sounded thus far, especially on tracks like ‘Violence Is Forever.’

3 Dominic Marchica.jpgDOMINIC MARCHICA’S PICKS

2016 definitely had its fair share of highs and lows. But the highs outweighed in the form of countless bands putting out absolute bangers of albums and putting on absolutely killer performances. Throughout all the political and social upset that the year brought us, the music community continued to be inseparable. No matter what the situation, shows provided a safe haven from all the bigotry and hatred happening outside. This year more than ever, music was an escape. Here are the five albums that meant the most to me from the past 366-ish days.

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5. Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us (Epitaph)

Architects have always been one of those bands that never disappoints. Since their debut in 2006, the band has consistently released records pushing the boundaries of both progressive music and metalcore. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is no exception to this trend. Here, Architects bring forth another offering of everything that made me fall in love with the band in the first place. Crushing breakdowns and finger-breaking technicality blend together effortlessly with Sam Carter’s incredible vocal abilities. What makes this record so powerful to me, however, is the fact that it’s so emotional. During the time of recording, guitarist Tom Searle was amidst a long and harsh battle with cancer. The pain and hopelessness can be felt throughout each song, making it much more impactful and meaningful of a listen.

3 2 Thank You.jpg4. Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail (Evil Ink)

Thank You Scientist is one of the most unique bands in their genre. Ignoring the traditional four or five piece lineup, the band consists of seven members, including a trumpeter, saxophonist, and electric violinist. Even though they’re relatively new to the scene, they’ve already made a name for themselves, touring with bands like Coheed And Cambria, Haken, and Periphery. Following their 2014 record Maps Of Nonexistant Places, Stranger Heads Prevail is another dose of their trademark blend of prog and jazz. Vocalist Salvatore Marrano really shines on this album with his extensive range and talent. I was lucky enough to be able to experience one of the band’s live shows, and it was by far one of the best sets I had seen all year. Thank You Scientist is quickly garnering a massive fanbase, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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3. Dance Gavin Dance – Mothership (Rise)

Anybody who has ever met me knows that Dance Gavin Dance is my favorite band. Last year, their album Instant Gratification greatly exceeded any of my expectations, so naturally I was stoked when they announced that their eighth record would be dropping in the fall. The first single, ‘Chunky vs The Giant Tortoise’ ended up becoming one of my favorite songs that the band has released yet. I waited until midnight on the night of Mothership‘s release to hear it the second it dropped. Spoiler alert: I fell in love with it instantly. This is their third album with singer Tilian Pearson, and I feel like they’ve finally found their groove with him. After having a solid lineup for a few records in a row, Mothership sounds incredibly refined. Pearson sounds the best that he has on any of his previous records with the band. To me, this album is another reminder that even after over ten years, Dance Gavin Dance is still going strong.

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2. Street Sects – End Position (The Flenser)

This debut album from Texas industrial noise-punk duo Street Sects is unlike anything I have ever listened to before. End Position is a sample-driven, dark, and soul crushing record that has quickly become one of my favorite albums of all time. This record is unrelentingly aggressive from front to back, yet still keeps to a cohesive and digestible format. Upon first listen, I was more confused than anything else. I didn’t know what to make of the harsh sampling being used in lieu of the standard instrumentation, but after a few listens I realized the genius behind the album. Lyrically, End Position dives into some dark places that fit right in with the overall theme of the record. Its visceral sound is so gut-wrenchingly intense at times, and the samples get so abrasively harsh, it’s like a hideous car wreck you just can’t look away from.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but End Position is an absolute monster of a debut, and Street Sects are just getting started.

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1. Cough – Still They Pray (Relapse)

Truth be told, I hadn’t actually heard of Cough until this year. I also had no idea that psychedelic doom metal was even obtainable. Well, it very much is, and it’s magnificent. With Still They Pray, Cough create a sonic masterpiece that absolutely blew me away from the first note. The first single, ‘The Wounding Hours,’ instantly hooked me in; it’s long, trippy, heavy, and full of pained vocals and crushing guitar riffs with emotional leads. I anxiously awaited the full album, and had every expectation shattered when it finally dropped. Cover to cover, Still They Pray is a haunting love letter to old school doom bands, like Candlemass and Eyehategod, while bringing forth a sound all their own. Produced by the Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard, this record is some of the most well-polished doom and sludge metal I’ve ever heard. While many bands in the genre go for more of the low-budget sounding aesthetic to their music, Cough does the exact opposite. Still They Pray sounds so clear, making each element surround the listener with this massive cacophony of unrelenting agony. Ending with a pessimistic and dreary acoustic track, Cough have carefully crafted one of the best doom metal albums of the past ten years.

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CHRIS “BOB” PRUNOTTO’S PICKS

I believe that 2016 was a great year for music. You can tell because nobody has the same top 50, top 10, or even top 5 albums. This year, I’ve been solicited for my (probably terrible) opinion, and asked to write my own top 5 Metal Albums for 2016. I tried to think carefully about what records impacted me the most. I asked myself what records were a surprise to me and thought about which ones I kept coming back to, long after others may have put them down. I looked for the ones I could see myself listening to for years on down the road.

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5. Car Bomb – Meta (Self-Released)

It’s a bit daring to write an album that begins with a song titled ‘From The Dust Of This Planet’ and ends with one called ‘Infinite Sun.’ Car Bomb is a band that can only be described as inaccessible, impenetrable. The music isn’t meant to be enjoyed, it’s meant to be solved. It’s a puzzlebox of rhythmic patterns and melodic leads that sound more like sound effects than musical notes, but the songcraft is there, waiting to be explored, especially in tracks like ‘Nonagon.’ With the release of Meta, the oft-made comparisons to their legendary peers in bands like Meshuggah and Gojira are just as deserving as ever. With the imminent (and mournful) escape of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Car Bomb may just be the new standard bearers for math metal as a genre.

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4. Every Time I Die – Low Teens (Epitaph)

The difference between being cryptic and being ridiculous is that to be cryptic requires a cipher. Low Teens has several ciphers with which decrypt the riddles that are Keith Buckley’s lyrics. His struggle with alcoholism, his emergency departure from the band’s tour to be with his wife and then-unborn daughter due to pregnancy complications, his reflections and musings on the early days of the band, and what probably amounts to a million other fragments of his worldview all colliding together. It clocks in at nearly an hour long, making it a marathon as far as punk and metalcore albums go. At one point, the album itself seems self-aware of its own indulgences as Keith croons, “I want oblivion all of the time.” Low Teens bears all the hallmarks of being yet another masterwork from Every Time I Die.

4 3 Cult Of Luna.jpg3. Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (Indie)

Let’s start with the obvious: the appearance of Julie Christmas on Mariner. Julie, formerly the vocalist of Made Out Of Babies, is more than a guest; she is a primary force on this album, appearing on all but one of the five tracks. Her voice morphs between her trademark child-like whispers and sultry cleans, all the way to piercing shrieks and back again. It’s no easy feat, but she pulls it off effortlessly while maintaining a sneer that you can almost see in the mind’s eye. Mariner continues the thematic tradition of Cult Of Luna’s previous albums; Somewhere Along The Highway explored an organic and rural aesthetic, while the Vertikal paid homage to the hyper-mechanical and urban themes of the movie Metropolis. Following in the steps of many of its forerunners, Mariner seeks to explore outer space, and draws textural inspiration directly from 2001: A Space Odyssey. My belief is that there’s something sincerely beautiful about the way that these sorts of doomy, post-metal albums can unfold and unravel over the course of an hour, and Mariner perfectly fits that description.

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2. Trap Them – Crown Feral (Prosthetic)

Though a lot of fans in the hardcore and grind scenes specifically lauded Nails’ You Will Never Be One Of Us, I feel like Trap Them’s effort was sorely unappreciated by the music community in 2016. Ryan McKenney is fierce, barking as frantically as ever, and promising to “bring the fucking battering ram” …and he does, with the band engaging in a full-on assault that doesn’t let up for less than a half hour. Beyond that, it’s extremely difficult to talk much about this album. If you enjoy Trap Them, you know what you’re getting, and you’re getting it in spades. There are far less of the frills that were found on their previous record Blissfucker – certainly no seven minute downtempo burners like ‘Savage Climbers.’ If you don’t know Trap Them, expect the battering ram. The production is incredibly dense (as Kurt Ballou records tend to be), yet still melodic, despite the violence. It’s a non-stop onslaught, and is one of the few albums that could ever hope to live up to its name.

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1. Oathbreaker – Rheia (Deathwish)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m a fan of the post-Deafheaven metal scene. It’s hard to keep up with the deluge of “blackened” metal bands coming out of the woodwork since instant classics like Roads To Judah and Liturgy’s Aesthethica were released at the beginning of the decade. An attempt to do so is akin to drinking from a firehose. But Oathbreaker finds themselves at the top of their game with Rheia, opening slow and sepulchral with the spoken word of Caro Tanghe in ’10:56.’ Her acapella aria is soon set against what can only be described as the sound of an oncoming train as the band roars to life just before ‘Second Son Of R.’ begins. The music evolves, and for just over an hour, the listener is carried between every musical extreme imaginable, guided as much by the meandering exploration of the guitars as it is by the howling vocals of Tanghe. It works, and it’s beautiful. Even at its most reserved moments, where a simple acoustic guitar is playing, there are undercurrents in the emotion. Rheia is an album that rewards repeated listens, and it’s for that quality that I listened to this album regularly for nearly weeks on end following its release.

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L. MOUNTS’ PICKS

I already gave a little intro up top, so all I’ll say here is that 2016 was a momentous year for metal music and I was hardly able to listen to everything I wanted to. Also, it’s pretty goddamn impressive and beautiful that out of the five us, there were zero crossover album picks. That’s the heavy metal brotherhood for you.

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5. Kvelertak – Nattesferd (Roadrunner)

Norwegian metal sextet Kvelertak are one of my favorite bands of the last ten years. Their fusion of black metal, rock and roll, and punk rock has made for some of the best modern heavy records. Following their self-titled debut in 2010 and Meir in 2013, Nattesferd fits snugly in the band’s catalogue. It features the band’s signature sound turned up to 11 and totally in your face. Kvelertak focused more on bullshit-free rock music this time around and less on the TRVE KVLT black metal, but it’s all a step in expanding their sound in every way possible. Kvelertak is one of the most consistently impressive bands in metal today, and Nattesferd is no different.

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4. Bossk – Audio Noir (Deathwish)

One of the most surprising releases from the Deathwish imprint this year was the debut full-length from UK post-metallers Bossk. Though the band has been on-and-off since 2008, their full discography up to this point has consisted of just a few EPs and splits. The group is known for their expansive, atmospheric, and lengthy tracks, and Audio Noir isn’t much different. Though separated by seven individual songs, the album flows seamlessly from one piece to the next, making it feel like it’s one cohesive 45-minute post-sludge metal symphony. The riffs are heavy, the production is huge, and Bossk came through with one of the absolute best metal albums of 2016.

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3. Hatebreed – The Concrete Confessional (Nuclear Blast)

Hatebreed is one of the longest-standing and most recognizable names in metallic hardcore. Their classic albums like 1997′s Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire and 2002′s Perseverance are still revered as some of the best in the genre. On their eighth studio album The Concrete Confessional, Hatebreed comes through with one of their heaviest and most fun albums in their entire career. Every track here is a punch-in-the-face banger, with some of the sharpest and most poignant songwriting that Jamey Jasta and company have ever put onto record. The riffs are hard-hitting, the grooves are impeccable, and The Concrete Confessional is without a doubt the year’s best hardcore album.

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2. Boris with Merzbow – Gensho (Relapse)

This is not the first time that prolific Japanese musicians Boris and Merzbow have come together for a project, but it is possibly the most interactive release of their respective discographies, and of 2016 altogether. Gensho is separated into two CDs – one of Boris’ music, and one of Merzbow’s music. The catch is, to properly listen to the album, both CDs of music should be played at the same time. Boris first experimented with this idea on their 2005 album Dronevil, but this is something much more. You could listen to the discs on their own; Boris’ contributions land more in their hypnotic drone-based territory, while Merzbow’s are akin to his signature harsh noise sound he’s become known for. But together, Boris and Merzbow’s music together create a nearly 75-minute composition of drone, noise, metal, and more. The ups and downs of each artist compliment each other perfectly, and the piece of art that is Gensho is some of Boris and Merzbow’s most interesting and captivating music in years.

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1. Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct (Blackened)

If you’re a metal elitist, the “cool” thing to do is hate on Metallica. It’s “cool” to hate on arguably one of the five most important groups in the evolution of heavy metal music. 2008′s Death Magnetic showed the band returning to their thrash roots for the current era, and since then, Metallica fans have been wondering when the next offering would arrive. Right before November’s end, the double-album Hardwired… To Self-Destruct was unleashed unto the world. And for dudes in their fifties who have been putting out records since 1983, it is an incredibly impressive achievement. James Hetfield’s vocals are up front and melodic, the riffs are full force, Lars Ulrich’s drumming is still as pounding and intense as ever. Whether it’s the thrash n’ bash tracks like ‘Hardwired’ or ‘Spit Out The Bone,’ or the slower, melodic tracks like ‘Now That We’re Dead’ or ‘Halo On Fire,’ all the elements of Hardwired… come together to make a perfect midway point between the 1988 thrashterpiece …And Justice For All and the 1991 self-titled melodic monument commonly known as Black Album. Metallica did what few bands of their stature can do; deliver nearly 80 minutes of new material over two discs and have it be as captivating and exciting as their classic material.

Written by L. Mounts, Juan Franco, James Green, Dominic Marchica, and Chris “Bob” Prunotto 

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