2016 has been a great year for metal releases, but since everyone has their ears buried in the new Metallica album, it falls upon me to turn to the spotlight onto more underrated talent. Say, women, for example. When it comes to frontwomen in metal, the most obvious and predominant style is symphonic. While that can be a good thing, it can also become quite a task to find something that stands out. Fortunately, today’s ladies of metal are expanding their horizons and creating a more unique name for themselves.
While compiling this list, I came across bands that carried their singers, as well as bands that would have been mediocre without them – and since this is a top 5, I naturally found a plethora of honorable mentions. The first of which is a band that held a high ranking until I decided that it wasn’t “metal” enough to overshadow all of the actually heavy acts in contention: iamthemorning. The Russian progressive chamber duo really impressed me with ‘Lighthouse’, but for those who need a little push, it features Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison and Colin Edwin, and Riverside’s Mariusz Duda… so now that all of the prog nerds have gone off to frantically look up iamthemorning, I can talk about some underground melodic death metal from Texas. Exalt The Throne’s debut technically has some male harsh vocals thrown in, but the female operatic cleans are dominant enough to be mentioned here. As much of an unpopular opinion as it is, I liked the rough quality to their sound and recording; it gave the whole thing character. The Agonist also released material this year, in the form of ‘Five’, which I enjoyed more than some of their previous albums. I definitely recommend checking it out, along with an Italian band that I hadn’t heard of until very recently, Messa. ‘Belfry’ is a really great doomy, ambient metal album with powerful and well-delivered vocal melodies.
Just before I get into the top 5, I want to give a shout out to a local Toronto band that released a wickedly jazzy, progressive album in September, Half Past Four. ‘Land Of The Blind’ is an old school prog rock piece of art, complete with a solid Max Webster cover. And if you like that, go ahead and check out the strange and diverse EPs ‘Petroglyph’ and ‘Ossia’ by Mabachus (featuring yours truly – hey, take pride in what you do). But now, on to business.
- Entheos – ‘The Infinite Nothing’
With talent like Evan Brewer and Navene Koperweis, it’s no surprise that Entheos made the cut, but Chaney Crabb can hold her own just fine with those dirty, beastly growls. A step up from the already intense first EP, ‘The Infinite Nothing’ is progressive in the most brutal way.
- Epica – ‘The Holographic Principle’
The exquisite balance between delicacy and heaviness is what made this album great, but Simone Simons’ voice is what makes Epica my absolute favourite band of it’s genre. Like an operatic death metal film score, this might be one of the best in their increasingly lengthy discography.
- Oceans Of Slumber – ‘Winter’
From the moment I heard the single, “Winter”, I was hooked. Cammie Gilbert immediately won me over with her beautiful, soulful voice, supported by the backing vocals and overall musicianship of the rest of the band. They made good use of dynamics, going from deep heavy riffs to light melodies – sometimes simultaneously, like blast beats over a lullaby. Plus, as cheesy as I thought it would be, I love their cover of “Nights In White Satin”.
- Jinjer – ‘King Of Everything’
Ukraine’s Jinjer is another recent addition to my knowledge of music, and this is one of those moments where I’m so enamored with the vocalist, that it doesn’t really matter what the other members are doing as long as they’re tight. Tatiana Shmailyuk demonstrates fantastic versatility with her gorgeous singing voice, impressively deep growls, and attitude-driven rap-like sections. The angsty djent-core that backs her up could use a tweak of creativity, but I still really dig this album.
- Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas – ‘Mariner’
If I wasn’t already a Cult Of Luna fan, the addition of Julie Christmas would have done the trick. Every track on ‘Mariner’ is strong, but I’m pretty sure that “The Wreck of the S.S. Needle” is my most played song of the year. The way her high cleans and tantrums sit on top of everything is so well-written, and Cult Of Luna are just as fierce and profound as ever. This collaboration isn’t simply my favourite female-fronted album of 2016, it’s quite possibly the best release of this year, period.