The Pure Rock Shop Top Albums of 2016

The Pure Rock Shop

Yes, another list of the best albums of 2016 by a self-professed bunch of music experts.

The Pure Rock Shop Top Albums of 2016 were hashed out at the dinner table, in the car, at the gym, in a man cave and at 91.7FM WNJR in Washington, PA.

The albums are in no particular order.  They just happened to be the ones we thought stood out above all others for the year.

Iron Spell – Electric Conjuring

These traditional metal warriors hail from Chile and released a crushing traditional metal album in 2016.  Iron Spell can best be described as one of the elite NWOTHM bands.  Typically, when a band cites influences such as Riot, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate, you are setting yourself up for some backlash.  However, these guys deliver the goods and do an outstanding job of raising their swords high.

Primal Fear – Rulebreaker

Ralf Scheepers, Mat Sinner and the rest of the Primal Fear gang once again channeled the legendary Judas Priest “Painkiller” album.

Nordic Union – Nordic Union

Featuring Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids on lead vocals and songwriter, guitarist, producer Erik Martensson of Eclipse and W.E.T., Nordic Union is one of those blended groups that has delivered a powerful melodic metal masterpiece.

Axel Rudi Pell – Game of Sins

Perhaps as aficionados of the hard rock and heavy metal genre we take Axel Rudi Pell for granted.  On his 17th studio release since leaving Steeler, Mr. Pell continues to create memorable songs and epic compositions that are distinct while still paying homage to his forefathers such as Ritchie Blackmore and Mark Reale.  Hardline vocalist Johnny Gioeli once again fronts the band and it blends quite well with Mr. Pell’s writing.

Bryan Cole – Sands of Time

Bryan Cole released his debut album late in 2016 on Andrew McNeice’s Melodic Rock Records label.  Mr. Cole has crafted a majestic AOR release which recalls artists such as Survivor, Pride of Lions and Journey.  He also covers two tracks by the late Brett Walker.  Hailing from the greater Pittsburgh area, Mr. Cole further adds to the mystique of great artists from our region.

Axxion – Back in Time

Featuring one of the coolest album covers I’ve seen in a long time, Axxion once again delivers a kick-ass dose of Friday night party metal.  The songs are immediately catchy and in true Axxion tradition, they pull out an obscure cover.  This time they pay tribute to the Tyran Pace track “Criminal”.  Hopelessly old school and proud of it, Axxion has been a constant go-to band in my collection since their debut EP release in 2012.

Hammerfall – Built to Last

Another one of those dependable bands, Hammerfall once again delivers a melodic traditional metal release that is instantly pleasing to the ear.  Songs like “Hammer High”, “Bring It” and “Stormbreaker” should go down quite well during their North American tour in 2017.

Aftershok – Detonate

After years of work and having to replace vocalist Vic Hix (Shok Paris), Aftershok returned with an absolutely killer album in “Detonate” which was released on Auburn Records.  Guitarist George Mihalovich reached all the way into New Brunswick, Canada for vocalist Gord Sheffroth.  In Mr. Sheffroth, Aftershok found an incredible vocal talent who at times recalls James Neal of Malice and Rob Halford.  Overall, “Detonate” is solid end to end and is another release that further solidifies Pittsburgh as the best kept secret in heavy metal in the past 35+ years.

Striker – Stand in the Fire

Hailing from Edmonton, Striker released their 4th album “Stand in the Fire” on their own.  Shame on any labels that may have passed on this release!  “Stand in the Fire” reminds me of “Pyromania” era Def Leppard without actually sounding like the old school Leps.  The song structures are incredible on this album and “Too Late” is one of the best heavy metal songs I have heard in years.  There seems to be a buzz rising on Striker and with tour dates scheduled in the United States and Europe in 2017 further exposure will only help this incredibly talented band.

Tower – Tower (The End Records)

By far one of the most exciting debut albums I have ever heard, Tower, from New York City, have crafted an instant classic.  Warning: This album is as subtle as a steel-toed kick to the balls!  There is no holding back…the album is gritty, dirty and full of bad intent.  Vocalist Sarabeth Linden reminds me of Nina C. Alice of Skew Siskin, who is by far the closest band comparison I can find to Tower.  Rounding out the band are Philippe Arman (bass), James Danzo (guitar), Zak Penley (guitar) and Justin Sherrell (drums).

The song “Raceway Rock” is one helluva heavy rock ride, full throttle and caution to the wind.  The track was originally recorded by Kicks in 1981 which featured Marge Raymond of Flame on lead vocals and Jimmy Crespo of Flame and Aerosmith (while Joe Perry was on hiatus from the group) on guitars.

Other scorching tracks include, “Tower”, “Party” (Ready to Roll), “I’ve Never Been More Alive” and “Hold On to Me”.  Closing track “Elegy” is just a punishing slice of pure NYC street rock or street metal.  Whatever you call it, this is a fitting ending to a legendary underground debut release.

Honorable Mentions:

Q5 – New World Order
Resurrection Kings – Resurrection Kings
Scarblade – The Cosmic Wrath
Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
White Widdow – Silhouette
Scorpion Child – Acid Roulette
Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct
Monument – Hair of the Dog
Lady Beast – Metal Immortal EP
Exxocet – Rock and Roll Under Attack
Blues Pills – Lady in Gold