Well, it’s been a year, 2016 has. A year where a gorilla getting shot was one of the least shitty things that happened, 2016 opened with the metal community still in shock over the passing of Lemmy and closed with the death of Princess Leia and her mom a day later, meaning all bets are off. Yet with three of the big four bands putting out albums, tons of tours and reunions happening, and the quality of music overall high, it’s been a pretty eventful year for metal. At the end of each year, we like to run down the top ten most shocking moments of the past year, and this year’s no different. So without further ado, here are some of the more surprising, or at the very least, noteworthy, events that took place over the past 363 days.
10) Avenged Sevenfold surprise-release an album, many too surprised to buy it
Earlier this year, we had a Headbangers Brawl in which we debated what band would be able to surprise-release an album, like Frank Ocean, Beyonce and Radiohead did this year. The main bands we came up with were Tool and Metallica, both bands with sizable fan bases that were overdue to release a record. Shortly after that, Metallica kind of surprise-released “Hardwired,” the first single from Hardwired… To Self Destruct, but that set off a long campaign for the album, which came out months later. One band we didn’t mention, however, was Avenged Sevenfold, who sprung their seventh album, The Stage, on an unsuspecting public.
The record sold 72,000 copies in it’s first week, a number than any artist, especially in 2016, would kill for. However, that’s less than half of what their last two albums, Hail to the King and Nightmare sold in 2013 and 2010, respectively. It’s hard to fault anyone here. The album was well-reviewed, and it’s still one of the biggest metal/hard rock releases of the year. Also, the band’s switch to a new label has found them thinking big. Hell, they announced the album by playing on top of the Capitol Building in L.A.! It’s impressive that they have ambitious plans for the album, and it was a big gamble to put out an album with almost no warning. It turns out not to have worked out in the band’s favor, however, suggesting that either the band might not be quite big enough to spring an album with no advance notice, or that maybe hard rock and metal fans need more notice before a band drops something with no notice.
9) The nominations for Grammy’s best metal album are… actually not terrible
If there’s one rule of thumb for the music industry circle jerk known as the Grammy Awards, it’s to expect as little as possible when it comes to metal and hard rock. We’re talking about the organization that gave 70’s classic rockers Jethro Tull a Grammy in the first year there was an award for metal in 1989. This right after Metallica played a blistering version of “One” at the ceremony. Most recently, Tenacious D picked up the award for an acoustic cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver.” Tone deaf? Yep. Maybe the tide’s changing, however. Ghost picked up a Grammy for best metal performance earlier this year, which is pretty radical considering they basically sing Satanic hymns.
Then there’s this year’s nominees, which were announced earlier this month. Are there some establishment bands in there? Of course, but it’s a good kind of establishment. Megadeth and Korn may have released their best and biggest albums in the ’80s and ’90s, respectively, but both released albums this year that were returns to form, and better than anything they’d released in a long time. And there’s some great newcomers that picked up nominations. We never thought we’d see Periphery nominated for an award, and Baroness came as a surprise as well.
But what’s even more surprising is the coronation of Gojira. The French quartet have been quietly gaining fans for the last decade or so, and this year’s Magma is a monster. It’d still be pretty impressive and forward-thinking if the band were nominated for best metal performance this year, which they were. However, they were also nominated for best rock album alongside the likes of Weezer, Blink 182 and Panic! at the Disco. That’s pretty unbelievable, and while it’s likely one of the establishment alt-rock bands will walk home with the award, it’s great to see them in such good company. Also, perhaps most shocking was that Winger was nominated for a Grammy as well – for his classical album.
8) The Dillinger Escape Plan announce they’re calling it quits
When a band disbands, it’s usually for a reason that’s perfectly logical: death of band member, a noticeable drop-off in popularity, show attendance or quality of music, old age. That’s why it was particularly surprising when, in August, The Dillinger Escape Plan announced that they would be retiring after the touring cycle for their sixth album, Dissociation, was complete. By all accounts, DEP have one of the most intense and best live shows out there, and their spastic math-metal has been the blueprint for many other bands. Furthermore, Dissociation is as good as any of their other albums, and the band appear to be growing in popularity, making their decision a surprising one.
It’s understandable why they might want to call it a day, however. The shows they put on are extremely physical, and while the band range in age from mid ’30s to early ’40s, jumping off a balcony or crowdwalking a decade from now is going to be a lot harder to pull off. Also, it’s not like the band don’t have other creative endeavors. Guitarist Benjamin Weinman has Party Smasher Inc., which is not only the band’s label, but also a culture website. He’s also in Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, a supergroup of sorts with Alice in Chains’ William DuVall and Mastodon’s Brent Hinds. And singer Greg Puciato has a few other projects too. His synthpop band The Black Queen just did their first tour in support of their debut album, Fever Daydream. He’s also in Killer Be Killed, alongside Mastodon’s Troy Sanders and Soulfly’s Max Cavalera.
Lastly, if there’s any silver lining to The Dillinger Escape Plans’ premature disbandment, it’s that they’re going out on a high note instead of with a pathetic whimper. Also, if they decide to get back together for a tour, festival appearance or new album a few years down the line, they’ll return more popular than they left.