The Best Albums of 2016, #16

band0116. High Spirits, Motivator (High Roller)

After a year that saw the world seem to collapse into turmoil, metal fans in search of new music in 2016 desperately needed something to smile about. Well, this metal fan, anyway. Thank goodness for the great Chris Black, whose latest High Spirits album (one of many projects he has on the go, including the great Dawnbringer, who also released music this year) remembers that it’s perfectly okay for heavy metal to smile, to have fun, to love life. Derived from the classic 1980s sounds of Y&T, Dokken, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Blue Öyster Cult, High Spirits is a shameless tribute to the glory days of 35 years ago, but unlike Steel Panther, this is not a joke. It’s metal of steely-faced conviction, where you sing about strength, passion, glory, and rock ‘n’ roll. At the same time, for all the seriousness you’re still supposed to sense the smile. That’s the key. It’s all in the delivery, and on this gloriously exuberant album you can practically envision the sparkle in the man’s eye as he spouts that tried-and-true metal rhetoric. It feels as though not enough people in metal smile anymore. With such empowering tracks as “Flying High”, “This is the Night”, “Down the Endless Road”, and “Do You Wanna Be Famous”, Black assures grim-faced skeptics that it’s okay to show a little happiness. At just under half an hour, Motivator is a distillation of everything that’s great about heavy metal music, impeccably executed.