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Coren McLeod's Top 21 Albums of 2016

Coren McLeod’s Top 21 Albums of 2016 
By:  Coren E. McLeod 

Well, kiddos…  It is that time of the year again and I am actual going to be able to get this done before we enter into the new year…  I have been officially at Unrated Magazine for a year and I still cannot believe I have the beauty to do this.   
This past year, I have accomplished what I sorted out to do:  Get more local and get more heavy.  What you will see this year is an even bigger list than last year’s Top 5.  We have a few repeat offenders, some local love, tributes to the ones we lost and paying deep respect to those that has rocked my fucking world with a vengeance.  
Let’s get this started and yes this is in a particular order…  BTW:  this is just my opinion.  Let us not get all PC about it…  Okay?  Thanks!!!   

21)  Dead Till Dark Self-Titled:  I had the privileged of reviewing this album back in February and I have to say it is just a blast back to the great sounds of classic 80’s rock.  Dead Till Dark brings a haunting, creepy and horror like sound to their music.  Storming out of Decatur, Illinois, Dead Till Dark thrilled me with such songs as “Restless Heart” and the one that is a panties dropper, “Screaming from the Inside.”   
Plus, I got to know the bass player Larz Cothem very well.  He is truly a musician with a heart of gold.  I feel we will be hearing a lot from Larz this coming year and I am patiently waiting to find out what he comes up with.  #Cheers Larz!!!! 

20)  Volbeat “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie”:  I will have to admit:  I have been a fan of Volbeat ever since I heard “Still Counting.”  Their sixth studio album came with more aggression and a heavier beat than ever before.  There is just something so unique about Michael Poulsen's voice that I just love.  He sounds like a man and it works on every song Volbeat makes. 
The leadoff single “Devil’s Bleeding Crown” proved that very theory.  Plus, with “Black Rose (featuring Danko Jones),” “Seal the Deal,” and “Mary Jane Kelly” Volbeat fans are given what they want.  Plus, it is all wrapped up in a pretty metal bow.  What else could you ask for? 

19)  The Pretty Reckless "Who You Selling For?"  What is it about a strong headed front women in rock that makes me all in a frenzy?  Well, let me explain:  It is because they are badasses and I can relate.  Taylor Masson and her band mates does it once again on this wonderful release that mixes gritty lyrics, soulful vocals with a mix of dark blues and eerie rock.  The 1st lead off single, "Take Me Down" shows  somewhat of a softer side of the leading lady.  Yet, when you listen to "Oh My God," you get full force Taylor that could not give one shit about what you think. One particular line in "Oh My God" stands out to me is "I am so white I shine like the sun.."  Who can come up with something like that?  A few other tracks to give a listen to is "Wild City," and "Back to the River (featuring Warren Hayes.)   

18)  Man the Mighty "PaperCrown."   I had the biggest pleasure of interviewing Man the Mighty at Penny Road Pub this past April.  Let me just say:  I love talented musicians that hales from the Chicagoland area who brings a level of rock above and beyond what is expected.  I was already impressed with Man The Mighty's EP "I Am Icarus."  "PaperCrown" just built among an already great foundation of killer guitar lickstantalizing drums and emotionally lyrics.  All of this was rounded off with gut wrenching vocals.  A few tracks I make sure I give a listen to daily is "Friend or Foe," "The Coldest Day in August," and the title track.   

17)  Green Day "Revolution Radio."  Well, I was hanging out with my 14 year old nephew, Dakota, the other day.  We were talking about what he thought was great in music this past year.  He told me, "Coco, Green Day's new album kicks butt."  And with that, Green Day is no. 17.  I love the fact that Dakota and I can share the same appreciation for a band I enjoyed back in high school.  "Dookie" will forever be a favorite of mine.  With "Revolution Radio," Billie Joe, Mike and Tre Cool still keep that classic punk sound that we all feel in love with.  Plus, the lyrics are still simple, fresh and to the point.  "Still Breathing" is seriously lovely along with "Bouncing off the Wall," "Too Dumb to Die," and "Revolution Radio," Dakota was right about this album.  #proudaunt 

16) Thrice "To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere."  If you did not hear the hypnotic song called "Black Honey" this year, you may have been living in a cave.  I may have to put this as one of my Top 5 songs of the year.  However, this is a Top Album list.  And Thrice delivers on this wonderfully creative  album that has all the feels in it.  After a 4 year hiatus, Thrice comes together to collaborate on what I found to be an  astounding album.   "Black Honey" is a stand out.  "Hurricane" "Salt and Shadow" and "Stay with Me" will also deserve your attention. 

15)  Meka Nism "Live From the Machine Shop."  Let us take a moment and remember the journey I have been on with this art metal band from Orlando:  1)  Meka Nism was the 1st touring band I interviewed.  2)  I have seen them a total of 4 times in 4 different states.  3)  I have major respect for what they want to accomplish.  So, here is repeat offender #1.  Meka Nism released this raw, in your face live album at the beginning of the year and it truly just brings me back.  Since I know this band, I love Bobby ripping away on his ESP guitar.  Meka with her ability to sing with such power is inspiring!  I love it all!  "Tyanny Reigns" and "Mouth of God" are for sure the stand outs on this live album.    

14)  20 Watt Tombstone/Left Lane Cruiser "Death Blues vs the Dirty Spliff." What do you get when you combine blues, dirty rock and 2 bands which gel together very nice together?  A great album from 20 Watt Tombstone and Left Lane Cruiser.  I actually got to witness the awesomeness of 20 Watt Tombstone when they opened for Royal Bliss at Rt. 20 Outhouse in Racine, Wisconsin.  And that was just a thrill.  There was just 2 dudes on stage playing as if there were 10 members there.  I seriously loved it.  After their performance, I went up to Tom lead singer and give him my business card.  
What I truly find great about this album between the two bands is how they are similar yet bring a different course to the table.  Left Lane Cruiser is for sure hard and 20 Watt Tombstone is hip with the bluesy side.  "Your Man's a Jerk" is a must listen. "Special Delivery" will make you want to take a shower.   

13)  Avenged Sevenfold "The Stage."  Okay M. Shadows and the rest of you.: You had your loyal fans worried with when your new album was going to be released.  Than, you pull a fast one and drop "The Stageunexpectedly.   Well done chaps!!!  I have been on board with Avenged since "Waking the Fallen."  I have seen the good and the sadness with this band.  "The Stage" is more grown up and longer than any of their other albums.  It is dramatic.  It is metal and it is awesome.  #Enoughsaid 

12)  David Bowie "BlackStar."  2016:   You put a plague on the music industry this year and we lost a few that were the cream of the crop.  One of those happens to be a long time favorite of mine:  Mr. David Bowie.  To me, this man is a musical genius.  I still wonder from the day of his passing if he knew this would be his "swan song."  I love the smooth sounds of the 80's Bowie always thrills me with.  I can hear somewhat of a NIN vibe towards this album which makes sense since the two have collaborated in the past.  With 7 tracks to enjoy, I am drawn to "Lazarus" as my favorite.  Bowie's sadness is on full display and it is haunting.  Well done. 

11)  Red Hot Chili Peppers "The Getaway."  Considering my older sister was kind enough to buy me my 1st CD when I was 11 years old, I have always appreciated that.  Brandi was 18 years old and there was a parental advisory warning on it.  Are you wondering what album it was?  "Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik..."  When RHCP put out "Dark Necessities" as their single from "The Getaway," I was hooked.  Flea's smooth bass line at the very beginning gets you on a high... 
To me, RHCP could do no wrong.  The entire band has been through enough that they deserve to ride on the wave of success they have established for themselves.  "Go Robot," "Detroit," and "Encore" are my favorites for me.  What are yours? 

10)  Gabriel and the Apocalypse "The Ghost Parade."  Are you still with me kids?  We are at the Top 10 and this will be exciting.  My editor sends me on the daily new Cd's to review.  This one stood out to me so much.  Gabriel and the Apocalypse graces us from the state of Minnesota.  I was literally in aww of this album from the very first listen.  It’s a true mixture of industrial rock, female empowerment and just overall amazement with a PJ Harvey element thrown in.   
What I found to one of the best moments of the year for me is the same week I got my review up, I was put on the guest list for GATA CD release party at The Red Zone in Madison, WI.  Not only did I get a live interview with the beautiful Gabriel, I got to meet the entire band and go all fan girl out on them.  It was truly surreal.  Seeing this band perform live was so metal and painful.  (Hee Hee).  I loved everything about it.  "Beauty Under Glass," "The Ghost Parade," and "Thrill of the Kill" are all worth your ears to bleed to.  Trust me... 

9)  Blink 182 "California."  I am going to be very honest here:  I did not give the new album from Blink 182 the time of day when it first came out.  I was somewhat in disbelief with the departure of Tom DeLonge.  However, after a few months of friends telling me to get out of my cloud, I gave it a listen.  Guess what?  It is good.  I believe Mark and Travis made the right choice in bringing in Chicago's own Matt Skiba.  "California" is classic and fun Blink 182.  "Bored to Death" was a great lead off single along with "She's Out of her Mind," and the stand out song "Los Angles" gives new/old fans the Blink they wanted.  Plus, Travis is still a stellar drummer..  #IMO 

8)  Motorhead "Clean Your Clock."  Here we are at another live album and the loss of another great.  I reviewed this album in February and it was hard.  I knew when I was hearing it, I had fans that were going to read what I put down.  Were they going to agree with what I had to say?  Did I give the right tribute to the man Lemmy?  #IsLemmyGod or #IsGodLemmy 
Well, here I go again giving the man and his band a #HornUp on an album which captures Motorhead at their finest.  Recorded live in Munich in December 2015, Motorhead just seemed so on during this performance.  The sound was mesmerizing, fans were in amazement and it was just a great overall feel.  I love hearing "Metropolis," "Ace of Spades," and "Whorehouse Blues" at the height of a wonderful moment.  Thank you Lemmy for all the rock and metal!!!  #Cheers and we are drinking a rum and Coke in your honor!!! 

7)  Gojira "Magma."  I am going to give a little shout out to a favorite person of mine.  He does not know this, but he is the one that introduced me to this band.  Mr. Bobby Keller of Meka Nism posted on FaceBook one day about this album from Gojira.  So, I gave it a listen and fucking loved it!!!!  I believe it was a week later, I was at Chicago Open Air witnessing the magnitude of Gojiria live!   
"Shooting Star" plays on different levels of slowly building to an epic conclusion.  "Stranded" just makes you want to thrash and head bang all night.  "Magma" is just an album you need in your collection.  It is apparent why it got a Grammy nod.  #Justsaying  

6)  WAH30 (Werewolves At Hour 30) EP.  So, I have another story to tell.  If you haven't notice, I like to tell stories:  
My older sister got married on August 6th.  I was celebrating with the family in Elgin, Il. At a steak house.  It was a low key sort of thing.  I kept getting text messages from my friends of the Mississippi Stranglers to come out to Spring Grove, IL. to this metal festival that was happening that night. I kept thinking, "Shit, should I go?"  Well, of course, I went.  (When do I ever turn down a good time?) I got my ass out to KC's Cabin in Spring Grove and BOOM!!!!  I am glad I got there because I got a taste of Chicago's own Werewolves At Hour 30. 
And that is where it all began:   The precise drumming, uncompromising vocals, fast pace guitar and the effortless bass all combines very well on WAH30's EP.  I love hearing local Chicago music that actual brings something to the scene.  There is no doubt Art, Andrew, Tony and James knows how to come together to write great songs.  "Knocked Up" brings on rock in its full element and it is for sure a fan favorite.  "We Fight The Night"  will be a forever favorite of mine based on its fast pace ability.  I know we will be hearing a lot more from this talented group of dudes.  Let me just say I am #ChiTownProud of #WAH30!   

5)  Stitched Up Heart "Never Alone."  Top 5!  Top 5!!!!!  And what better album to put at that spot than "Never Alone" from the all mighty Stitched Up Heart.  I fell hard for the single "Finally Free."  It displays a great base from a group lead by a fearless chick.   Stitched Up Heart has a sexy yet spooky level within the metal scene.  "Catch Me When I Fall" holds true to a classic 90's rock tune and "Monster" brings in your face hard core screaming to the forefront.  Oh and the tune "Turn You On..."  Without a doubt, a favorite of mine.  Mixi brings a sassy mood equipped with killer drums and fantastic guitar.   Love you girl!!!!  I will be seeing you soon!!!

4)  Metallica "Hardwired.... To Self Destruct..."  Did someone say Metallica?!!!!  I just did and the guys from the band that will never quit fucking delivered on this album..  When this was released on November 18th of this year, I know a lot of people young and old were getting their jollies off.  And why not?  It is James, Lars, Kirk and Robert at their finest! 
"Hardwired..." Reminds me of the classic "In Justice for All."  Fast guitar, killer drums and the unparalleled fact its metal....  Of course, "Atlas, Rise!" Slays and so does "Moth to the Flame.."  However, I found  "Spit Out the Bone" to be the heavy favorite of mine.  Lars, dude!!!!  Your drumming just puts me in a state of shock!  I think I must move on from this now.  If you haven't already, get this damn album.  Seriously.  Don't be a tool... 

3)  Avatar "Feathers and Flesh."  A concept album you say?  Something that is different from the pack?  Yes.  Avatar.  You have earned my respect with "Feathers and Flesh."  The guys from Sweden took a different approach on this album and it works all so fine.  Plus, I got to see a few of the songs performed live in Green Bay, WI back in May.  What a triumphant spectacle that was to see.
The Swarm still brought what they are known for:  heavy music with even heavier lyrics. Yet a story line about an owl is what makes this a concept album. "The Eagle Has Landed" as the 1st release was accompanied by a wonderful music video.  "Tooth, Beak and Claw" has this weird, happy feel to it yet it still remains metal on every level.  Than, you listen to "Black Waters" and you get it.  You get what Avatar wanted to accomplished:  An album which delivers depth.  Bravo!!! 

2)  Gemini Syndrome "Memento Mori."  At this year's Chicago Open Air, I got to interview the drummer, Brian, from the mega group Gemini Syndrome.  To this day, it is still one of my favorite interviews I ever did live on Facebook.  And with that, I applaud all the guys in GS for this album that is beyond great.  It seriously takes you on a trip of life, love and this journey we are all apart of.   
"Remember We Die" gives all of us hope.  "Gravedigger" faces what can be  somewhat challenging in life.  The line "Bury the darkness that is inside of you" can be so haunting and truthful all at the same time.  With aspects of metal, rock and industrial, "Sorry Not Sorry" tells its like it is.  Everyone is different is life.  Why don't we all just deal with it and move on?  Simple right?   
This album from the guys of Gemini Syndrome will forever be in my rotation. 

1)  Highly Suspect "The Boy Who Died Wolf."  And here it is.  The No. 1 spot.  Considering last year, Highly Suspect was #5 on my Top Albums of 2015, they deserve to take a bow on this fucking astounding album.  It is literally giving me chills thinking how much I love this 3 piece group of guys.  "The Boy Who Died Wolf" is the 2nd album from Highly Suspect and they avoided the sophomore slump.  With lyrics that are truthful and coming from a man's point of view, the entire album is relatable to every gender.  
Take for example the shit storm of a political season we had.  Listen to "Viper Strike" and you will get it.  "We all are equal.  Expect for you.  You're an asshole with an ugly point of view..."  Well said, Johnny!!!! 
 Now, let us talk about the sweeter side of this album.  The song "Little One" is just that.  A person  declaring his/her love to the one he/she wants to be with.  Yet, it is a love that is somewhat difficult to deal with.  "Today I have lost my only friend..."  How can we not feel that?
I guess that is why Highly Suspect speaks to me.  Their songs takes us on  those emotions that we do not want to accept.  Yet, we have to.  
I can go on and on about "The Boy Who Died Wolf..."  "For Billy" sounds like a tribute to those great friends we all have had in our lives.  "Chicago" mixes great vocals with a lovely piano.  I need to stop or this will be the longest article ever.

Thank you Highly Suspect!!!!  You deserve the #1 spot!!!!  #Cheers boys!!!

So, there you go!!!  My Top 21 Albums of 2016.  I hope you enjoyed because the Coren McLeod Machine is not stopping in 2017.  I want to travel to more shows, festivals and meet as many bands as I can.  Thank you so much to all the wonderful people out there that have supported me this past year!!!  I love you all and know you are all special in my heart.  Until next year!!!!  

"Buy the ticket...  Enjoy the ride..."  Hunter S. Thompson


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