This might be my most polarizing sub-genre listing here. I was going to write about my favorite hard rock/metal songs of 2016, and there are plenty (most folks don’t know that I have a not-so-hidden love for the head-banging), but one thing I realized while going through my list of albums released in 2016 was how many hard-rock bands whose heyday was in the ’80s put out great stuff this year. I mean, look at this list: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Anvil, Ace Frehley (Kiss), The Cult, Suicidal Tendencies, Whitford/St. Holmes (Aerosmith offshoot)….I could go on. It was a sad year for the rock world in terms of how many great musical icons passed, but that didn’t stop the world from rockin’ in 2016. Here’s 5 of my favorite songs that prove that the ’80s never ended, they just wrinkled and botoxed a little bit.
Ace Frehley – Emerald (Featuring Slash)
I am not a big Kiss fan. Sure I dig “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll All Night.” But even as a long-haired, hesher, suburban 15 year old, I never really “got” Kiss. But Ace Frehley was always a decent enough guitar player, and apparently has great musical taste, as he does a stellar job covering the great Thin Lizzy on his latest tribute album, Origins – Vol. 1 (I assume another volume is coming). And choosing Slash to play lead was a great choice; the key to being a true musician is knowing when someone else might be a better fit for a song than oneself and this song works in large part due to Slash’s great fretwork.
Anthrax – Defend Avenge
I actually have found more to like on the last couple of Anthrax albums than pretty much all of their earlier, more acclaimed albums. (Although their cover of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time” was amazing.) I think maybe there’s a maturity or a clearer sense of what sort of band they are now. In the past there were always great songs, but entire albums didn’t hold up. Now the songs really feel fleshed out and more dynamic than ever. Both louder and quieter. And I love me some dynamics.
Dream Theater – Dystopian Overture
The youngsters of this list, Dream Theater does qualify as an ’80s band in that their debut was released in 1989. I picked this one because it best captures the place where prog-rock meets metal, with supreme levels of bombast and over-the-topness. Also I wanted to pick two songs for this list with the word “dystopia” in it. And I thought an instrumental interlude in the middle of these 5 songs would be a nice palette cleanser.
Megadeth – Dystopia
Megadeth were always the ugly stepsister to Metallica. Even though guitarist/vocalist Dave Mustaine was an original Metallican, his offshoot, though successful in their own right, never reached the heights of his ex band-mates and I have read that this drove him nuts back in the day. I expect he’s gotten over it, 30 plus years later, and if he has any residual animosity, he can bask in the fact that his band has put out the stronger album of 2016, (re)capturing the 80s crunch, grit and excess that I know and love.
Anvil – Daggers and Rum
Oh boy. How do I express how happy this song makes me feel? Anvil are the real-life Spinal Tap, but somehow even better in many ways. They have at least 15 albums to keep all of us corny metal snaggle-toothed rockers satisfied. They’ve released at least 50 genius, hilarious head-banging sing-along songs over the past 25 years, but IMO none more fun than this pirate-metal tune, “Daggers and Rum.” They keep the lyrical content simple, allowing for screaming along to. A sample lyric:
Upon the seven seas/We are the dread We shackle our foes and keelhaus’ em dead Walk the plank/Fall in the sea Food for the sharks/Your destiny Scurvy Scum/Daggers and Rum/Daggers and Rum/Daggers and Rum
Sing along and enjoy!
Grand Magus – Varangian
OK – one more. I just can’t leave the next song out. I love the anthemic-warrior sub-metal genre, that really began with the great Manowar back in 1981. Now we have the inestimable Grand Magus to take their place. I just love metal that doesn’t take itself seriously and plays up the super manly, muscle-bound loincloth look. It’s so ridiculous and so fantastic. We are warriors! Defenders of steel! Fight through our wars, hunger and need!
Their 2016 album is called Sword Songs, so if you like this, there’s 8 more tracks just like it waiting for you.