The Best Heavy / Melodic Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2016


1.  Anthrax - For All Kings 288
2.  Grand Magus - Sword Songs 82
3.  Running Wild - Rapid Foray 69
4.  Sumerlands - Sumerlands 65
5.  Metal Church - XI 62
6.  Rage - The Devil Strikes Again 51
7.  Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct (write-in vote) 33
8.  Nemesea - Uprise 26
9.  Castle - Welcome To The Graveyard 19
10.  Cauldron - In Ruin 13
11.  Gygax - Critical Hits 11
Total votes:
772



For All Kings is catchier and more inspired than it has any right to be; it feels like Anthrax has truly regained its footing as a band. It might be wishful thinking to call Anthrax a thrash band at this stage, but they still bring a very clear thrash mentality to these traditional heavy metal songs, and with all that energy and crisp playing providing a foundation, each track on For All Kings shines with magnificent vocals and strong choruses. The album picks up speed as it goes along and finishes powerfully, leaving no doubt that Anthrax is going to play whatever the hell it wants and you're going to like it, dammit.

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Castle's classic doom-blues sound takes an old favorite and freshens it up [read: makes it even more retro] with Elizabeth Blackwell's soulful and hypnotic vocals. The hallowed haze closes in slowly around these pounding, unadorned, homespun heavy metal tracks while Blackwell croons and howls around them madly, drawing you into a world long dead. It's like Blues Pills, but with Black Sabbath instead of hippies.

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Behold! The triumphant return of Cauldron! Few bands understand and personify heavy metal the way they do. Whether you hear classic or contemporary, In Ruin serves all that the genre is and should be at its rollicking core. Once again, their performances are as tight as their jeans, and you should expect nothing less from the timeless Canadians.

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The Manowar-esque power metal-Viking attitude, the stoner-style guitar fuzz, and the familiar sing-along choruses of heavy metal days past all come crashing back into view with Sword Songs, the latest excuse for Grand Magus to show off how great they are at writing gut-punching, mead-chugging, adrenaline-pumping metal anthems. No stranger to our Metal Storm Awards, Grand Magus has offered up another thunderous bounty of glorious northern epics, now featuring stronger lead guitar work than ever and an array of melodies tailor-made for getting drunk and bench-pressing horses.

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In the proud tradition of Dio, Blind Guardian, and 10,000 black metal bands named after Tolkien's Legendarium, Gygax are huge nerds. We're going to resist the urge to make any terrible Dungeons & Dragons-related jokes (for now), but Gygax's cool, retro heavy metal style has a special magic of its own. The blunt, compact sound gives Critical Hits the feeling of an old NWOBHM album, and the attitude is totally Thin Lizzy. The loose bass work, highly-synced lead guitars, and occasional hints of thick keyboards have an effortless energy that goes even further in giving Gygax a veteran's sound. But enough of that; it's time to begin. Roll for initiative.

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Gloriously reunited with vocalist Mike Howe, Metal Church soars back into our radar with XI, an album that reminds us why the band accumulated such enormous street cred all those years ago. XI is easily Metal Church's strongest output in ages, first proving that the band is back in the fray and quickly moving on to see where it can go from there. Howe's voice is as tough and tempestuous as ever and Metal Church has the cohesion, attitude, and songwriting intuition of its much younger days.

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Uprise marks the swan song of Nemesea's founding member and vocalist Manda Ophius, and what a bittersweet exit it is. Before resigning, she gifted the band a strong and personal performance on perhaps their best album yet, but we fans will receive no more of her. This record shows us a renewed, confident energy, propelling forward the band's beautiful and facile take on melodic, heavy rock; this is an effortless record with huge replay value. Uprise saw them "rise up" above their previous discography, now we hope they rise beyond the loss of a gifted colleague and continue along this wonderful musical path.

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Changing a tried-and-true line-up doesn't always pan out, but in Rage's case, the devil did strike again and (musically) brought the band back to its glory days a la The Missing Link or Black In Mind. Frontman Peavy has fun and gives his all on The Devil Strikes Again, and newly acquired guitarist Marcos Rodriguez gives that extra flair that maybe was lacking in prior years. Rage is definitely back and here to stay.

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Rock 'n Rolf, the ultimate captain of all pirates, once again maneuvered his ship unerringly through the cliffs of German Metal. On Rapid Foray, not only does the classic Running Wild sound shine through in songs such as "Black Skies, Red Flag" or "Black Bart", but the band also makes sure to keep up with the times with a more complex overall song structure. Maybe the hourglass on the cover, with sand already halfway run out, is an indicator for newer, different things to come.

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This isn't tight jeans, big hair, "coke off a stripper's ass" heavy metal. But it'll blow your mind in the same way without you really realizing quite what's happening. No, this is "walk softly and carry a big stick" heavy metal. Sumerlands' is a warm, gentle, dark sound. Dark, and heavy with a doomy mood. There's almost, almost a retro fuzz in the air, coating the music in an imperceptibly thin layer of haze. Guitar solos are sensual, while the riffs are confidently, gently dominating. The record is wonderfully guitar-driven, though the drumming is a vital organ to this beast, never simply keeping time and always decorating the timeless tunes with luxuries we didn't know we needed but now cannot do without.

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