AOTY 2016, as chosen by 365 Days of Horror, Joaquin Stick, and Spear!
We’re in the full swing of Listmania with the top 10 albums of the year from our core crew of writers!
365 Days of Horror’s Top 10 Albums of 2016
10. Nadja – The Stone Is Not Hit By The Sun, Nor Carved With A Knife | Gizeh Records
Nadja puts out albums and EPs at a record pace that would make the members of Tool shriek in absolute terror. The duo consistently put out great atmospheric drum/bass/guitar/synth music and The Stone Is Not Hit By The Sun, Nor Carved With A Knife. Nadja manages to make you feel without saying much.
9. An Autumn For Crippled Children – Eternal | Wickerman Recordings
Dutch trio An Autumn For Crippled Children’s Eternal is a post-black metal depressive odyssey. It hatches in the emotional centers of the brain and slithers its way down into your chest where it lays in wait. Even ugliness can be pretty as heard in this album.
8. Eldamar – The Force Of The Ancient Land | Self-Released
The Force Of The Ancient Land is the debut album of this Norwegian one-man project. I randomly discovered Eldamar while randomly clicking around Youtube and I am really glad I did. This is atmospheric black metal combined with an intense, yet tragic beauty. It makes me want to trudge through a snow-covered mountain to find the true meaning of life. The synths and female vocalizations launch this album from good to great. I can’t wait to hear what else Eldamar has up his sleeve.
7. Zvi – Zvi II: Death Stops Us All | Halfpear Records
Though only 3 songs long, this album by Ron Varod (Kayo Dot, Sabbath Assembly, Psalm Zero) draws the listener in and holds them there until the very end. You feel yourself being drawn in with each somber note and every tortured scream. Guest vocals by Alan Dubin (Gnaw, ex-Khanate) hits all the right and painful notes. Zvi II: Death Stops Us All is a sleeper album that makes you regret shutting your eyes.
The inclusion of Babymetal’s sophmore album Metal Resistance will probably upset a fair amount of strangers on the internet, but you know what? The backing band is very talented, the girls can sing, and the entire package is entertaining. Take a look at the rest of my list. It’s pretty much all depressing music. Metal Resistance makes me happy. That’s reason enough for it to be included.
5. Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts | Peaceville
Katatonia specialize in a tender depression. While many bands pound the listener into submission, Katatonia gently rocks the listener into the sweet embrace of nothingness. Self-doubt, lost love, and general despair are par for the emotional course, but hopelessness never rears its ugly head. The Fall Of Hearts continues Katatonia’s Cal Ripken-like streak of great albums. Now excuse me while I find a rain-soaked window to stare out.
4. Zao – The Well-Intentioned Virus | Observed/Observer Recordings
Though it was just recently released, The Well-Intentioned Virus showcases just how great a band Zao really was and remains to this day. They came to prominence during the hardcore/metalcore explosion of the early 00’s, but they were never really either one of those genres. This album showcases just how diverse their sound can be while still remaining cohesive. While most albums tend to blend together, The Well-Intentioned Virus stands out and is a great jumping-on point for newcomers.
3. Killswitch Engage – Incarnate | Roadrunner Records
Metalcore has gone through many permutations, but Killswitch Engage has always remained a constant. They have their own sound and it has worked for them for many years. Incarnate is catchy while still remaining heavy, a KSE staple. Vocalist Jesse Leach lyrics are honest and heartfelt which makes every song on the album feel earnest and important. Incarnate helps reaffirm my love for Killswitch Engage. Here is my full review of Incarnate.
2. Trees Of Eternity – Hour Of The Nightingale | Svart Records
I have been intending on writing a full review for Hour Of The Nightingale, but I have not been able to bring myself to do it. It is not for a lack of want, but for an inability to put my thoughts and feelings into words. This past spring I wrote a highly personal tribute for vocalist Aleah Stanbridge following her death and I have not felt ready to revisit those feelings. Hour Of The Nightingale is a hauntingly beautiful album. It makes me sad in a happy way and happy in a sad way. I wish that everyone could listen to it at least once in their life.
1. Dark Tranquillity – Atoma | Century Media Records
Dark Tranquillity have always been consistent. They have their sound and they have stuck by it for the majority of their careers. Atoma shows that the band has really grown and matured into a force to be reckoned with. Each song is a standout as they are full of purpose. When people ask “What does melodic death metal sound like?” or “What is the Gothenburg sound?” I will point to Atoma.
Joaquin Stick’s Top 10 Albums of 2016
10. Vektor – Terminal Redux | Earache Records
This year, I have dipped into far more genres than ever before, so what better place to start than with some of my previously least-listened genres, technical and thrash. Though there were plenty of technical albums I enjoyed this year, I keep going back to this one. The opening and closing songs alone could have been released as an EP and it would still be up here. The diversity showcased is beyond impressive, and if the music is good enough for me to not just tolerate the weird vocals, but actually really LIKE them, that’s an achievement in itself.
Listen to – “Charging the Void”
9. The Dear Hunter – Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional | Equal Vision Records
Let’s take a sharp left turn and listen to some progressive indie rock. As I’ve stated many-a-time, these guys have been my favorite “band-that-other-people-can-tolerate-too” band for a long time. After far too many years off from making their “Acts” albums, IV last year was good, and now V this year is excellent. They stretch the dramatic early 20th-century theme even further by adding a host of new musical concepts. Since the next act will be much different, I’m happy with this “musical conclusion”.
Listen to – “The Revival”
8. Astronoid – Air | Blood Music
This album somehow mixes music that I love now with some garbage I may have like in middle school and makes it an amazing. This ethereal shoegaze rampages on with blast beat-like ferocity. This is the pinnacle of this kind of music, and no one should attempt to do it again, even Astronoid. They should probably do something else now because Air should stand alone.
Listen to – “Up and Atom”
7. iamthemorning – Lighthouse | Kscope
When it’s time to both lighten and darken the mood at once, I go with this Russian progressive chamber rock duo who created one beautifully somber album. This music hit me hard immediately, due to a mix of how vocalist Marjana slips between notes in the most beautiful and uncanny way and Gleb’s subtle piano work lays the perfect atmosphere. To my surprise, after I pledged my obsession, I found that they got some help from members of prog giants Porcupine Tree and Riverside. Figures.
Listen to – “Too Many Years”
6. Ihshan – Arktis | Candlelight Records
I like my black metal with a side of… well anything else really. Ihsahn gives you more “other things” than black metal on this one, but it’s somehow consistant with the rest of his work. Arktis incorporated some excellent electronics that gave the album an icy atmosphere and is just generally unpredictable. Almost every song on the album is memorable and distinct, yet the overarching theme is undeniably present and intriguing.
Listen to – “Pressure”
5. Somnus Aeternus – Exulansis | Epidemie Records
Now for the best album you’re not listening to. This one is harder to categorize, but it’s all the things I like at once. A little bit of old-school Opeth proggy death, building post-metal tendencies, and some of the best evil vocals all combine to make one wild listen. On top of it all lays a very dark and depressed concept that ties everything together musically and makes you actually feel something. These guys should be huge.
Listen to – “Frostbound”
4. Spirit Adrift – Chained to Oblivion | Prosthetic Records
Now it’s time for one of my new obsessions. Nate Garrett came out of nowhere and surprised me with this exceptional piece of cathartic doom. His not-quite-perfect vocals are ultimately the charmer here. In a world of over-modulated music and boring perfection, it’s nice to hear something that is human for a change. Some minor forays into experimentation and demonstrated songwriting ability show that he should be around for quite some time.
Listen to – “Form and Force”
3. Khemmis – Hunted | 20 Buck Spin
As hard as I tried to keep my list diverse, I couldn’t help but put two similar stoner/cathartic doom albums on here. Seriously, Hunted and Chained to Oblivion are like brothers separated at birth. I am so unreasonably excited for this new era of doom. As much as I love some dark demented growls, bringing clean vocals back to good metal is something I look forward to. Hunted manages to mix both very well, adding some extra contrast to a solid sophomore album. These guys are deservedly on the hype train.
Listen to – “Candlelight”
2. North – Light the Way | Prosthetic Records
This is how you do post-metal. North disregard the theory that you have to be a little boring in the genre by packing Light the Way with melody and sludgy goodness. This album is a slow plodding death march that is full of surprises. The growls are punching and low, contrasting the soaring riffs and the rhythmic shapeshifting of the drums. My EOTY lists tend to have some recency bias, but Light the Way is one of the albums from early this year that I can not stop going back to. North is filling the Isis-sized hole in my heart and I hope they keep up to this new standard they set for themselves and the genre.
Listen to – “Primal Bloom”
1. Alcest – Kodama | Prophecy
Alcest is back in business. After releasing an album that I just sorta enjoyed, they dropped this blackened shoegaze piece of perfection. There are so many unique things happening on this album that I have a hard time talking about it. Seriously. I’m listening to it as I write this, trying to come up with a reason for why it is on my list, and I just can’t. It’s a beautiful, shape-shifting mystery that I can’t stop listening to. In Neige we trust.
Listen to – “Oiseaux de Proie”
Spear’s Top 10 Albums of 2016
10. Zealotry – The Last Witness | Lavadome Productions
This has been a year filled with weird, gross death metal, and most of it was excellent. Any of them could have feasibly occupied a spot on this list (or indeed have made up the entirety of it), but I went with Zealotry, as I returned to them the most for repeat listens. A big part of the draw is that while this is very technical music, there is very little glitz beyond some shreddy guitar solos; The Last Witness is thick and ugly, moving like an undercurrent of sludge at the bottom of a river. That said, it’s also surprisingly clean- it’s easy to pick out and follow each part individually if you want, and that makes it all the more impressive hearing how it’s all put together. It’s dense and oppressive, but creative, and not much else sounds quite like it.
Defining Track: “Yliaster”
9. Unfathomable Ruination – Finitude | Sevared Records
Brutal death bands take note: this is how you do it. Finitude is absolutely insane, veering between the mind-numbingly fast and the crushingly heavy with reckless abandon. Songs go through rapid mutations from beginning to end, but they’re able to keep it all sounding coherent and bring each song full circle. It’s incredibly tight and varied, and it sheds many of the genre’s typical trappings for a uniquely brutal experience.
Defining Track: “Neutralizer”
8. Obscura – Akróasis | Prosthetic Records
With the departure of super-duo Hannes Grossmann and Christian Muenzner, Obscura were in a prime position to redefine their sound. They did just that with the addition of Tom Geldschläger (Fountainhead) as their new lead guitarist and Sebastian Lanser on drums, as well as spreading the songwriting duties more evenly among their members. What really makes Akróasis is Fountainhead’s otherworldly fretless guitar playing, which brings a very distinctive flavor to the solos and adds an alien microtonal quality to a lot of the music overall. The album also has an oddly warm quality to it; even at it’s heaviest, it feels like there’s a sun at the center of it, burning with a powerful passion. It’s only a shame that we’re unlikely to hear another Obscura album like it.
Defining Track: “Weltseele”
7. Deviant Process – Paroxysm | PRC Music
I get why people don’t like tech death; you come for riffs and instead get something that sounds like Vivaldi on meth. You want something with some substance; music theory is good and all, but you want meat with those veggies. What you want is Paroxysm, the steak of the tech death world. This offering has everything you could ask for; beefy bass, guitar tone seared to perfect crispness, juicy vocals, and some super technical drumming (I’m running out of meat analogies). I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: this is the everyman’s tech death album, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you skip out on it.
Defining Track: “As the End Begun”
6. Saor – Guardians | Northern Silence Productions
Aura, Saor’s 2014 opus, was a source of both solace and sorrow for me in what was one of the most trying times of my life. It evoked a powerful sense of nostalgia with its beautiful Highland melodies, starkly contrasting the bleak grayness I saw in the day-to-day. It made me feel like I was wasting myself when I could be working on something greater. Guardians is a worthy successor to Aura, bringing about many of the same feelings, though my own headspace is much clearer than those days. Intense yet meditative and surging with emotion.
Defining Track: “Autumn Rain”
5. Mithras – On Strange Loops | Willowtip Records
Putting this album at number five makes me feel a little dirty; it’s easily good enough to top this list, but having a five-way tie for number one feels like cheating, so the rest of this is based on which albums I listened to most frequently. There’s not a whole lot I can say here that I didn’t already bring up in my review, so I’ll say this: On Strange Loops is a goddamn masterpiece. It’s melodic but heavy, savage yet beautiful, and it makes great use of effects and melodies that tie into the overarching concept of the album itself. Even after numerous listens, I’m still finding new things; a part I missed before, a connection I hadn’t yet made, and it gives me chills every time.
Defining Track: “Between Scylla and Charybdis”
4. Crator – The Ones Who Create : The Ones Who Destroy | Independent
Much like Alkaloid and their fantastic debut last year, Crator are more than just worthy of the moniker “supergroup;” they transcend it. The group is greater than the sum of its parts, and this is one of the most intense albums of their respective careers (which is saying something). The Ones Who Create is an intricate dance of dissonance, moving at an agitated fever pitch. In terms of raw, naked aggression, nothing can top it. It’s dark and unsettling on top of being brilliantly composed and produced, truly exemplary in every facet.
Defining Track: “The Ones Who Create, The Ones Who Destroy”
3. Whispered – Metsutan – Songs of the Void | Redhouse Finland Music Publishing
Metsutan might not have the instant gratification factor of its predecessor Shogunate Macabre, but I feel it’s a better album in the long run. Whispered toy with some new ideas without sacrificing too much of their distinctive Japanese folk-influenced sound, and it pays off greatly. This is a huge step forward for the band; they’ve put a lot more care and effort into their craft than the average run-of-the-mill melodeath act, and it shows. Most importantly, it’s a damn fun album, and it only seems to get better with repeated listening.
Defining Track: “Bloodred Shores of Enoshima”
2. Vektor – Terminal Redux | Earache Records
Seeing Vektor perform “Ultimate Artificer” back in February cemented in my mind the fact that Terminal Redux was going to rip, but it still didn’t prepare me for the sheer scope of the experience. Here’s an album that is over 70 minutes long with the majority of its songs running over six minutes in length, and yet it still blasts by at warp speed with its cinematic presentation of an awesome sci-fi story. Vektor hits you with riff after riff after riff all the way up to the end, where it briefly recalls Pink Floyd’s “On The Turning Away” of all things before going into one of the most incredible conclusions of a metal album I’ve ever heard. Terminal Redux was an instant classic, and I have no doubt that it will go down as legendary in the annals of metal history.
Defining Track: “Recharging the Void”
1. Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule | Profound Lore Records
As great as 2016 was for metal, nothing changed the game for me quite as much as Le Dernier Crépuscule. Chthe’ilist plays the same field as bands like Demilich and Timeghoul, but without feeling like they’re worshiping the past; indeed, I feel like it takes the style in a sinister new direction. This album drips with a vile ichor from every orifice, gleefully diving headfirst into the void and dragging you kicking and screaming with it. The music is deceptively complex, bending and twisting in odd directions on a mind-bending excursion through hideous ruins and desolate planes. It’s a journey I have been on many times since its release, and I imagine I will walk its winding paths many more times in the future. Even if you ignore everything else on this list, do not skip Le Dernier Crépuscule.
Defining Track: “Tales of the Majora Mythos Part I“