The Best Albums of 2K16: TovH Editor’s Picks
We conclude our albums of the year lists with picks from your tireless editors: Lacertilian, Dubya, and Joe
Lacertilian’s Top 10 of 2016
Out of the 163 Colin Marston-related releases from this year, The Veil Of Control was certainly the one that resonated most deeply with me. Topping 2012’s breathtaking Test Of Submission was always going to be a tall order, but somehow Dysrhythmia found a way. Did they achieve this through letting a little more light into the densely-layered discordant labyrinth of sound? Did they spend extra time on making sure the compositions were more cohesive and subsequently more immediately penetrable than previous efforts? Does having 34 concurrent side-projects each somehow increase their individual creativity levels in some bizarre inverse manner? Are they time-wizards sent to explain the universe through the power of music alone? Why have you not listened to this stellar album already?
Before Disemballerina existed, finding the perfect music to score your funeral was a difficult task. On their fourth album of neo-classical gloom, the Portland-based trio have masterfully crafted a deeply textured album rife with lamentation and intrigue. These six beautifully composed songs periodically offer sombre melancholy, haunting anguish, and perhaps most interestingly, murderous malevolence. Without the use of distortion, drums, or essentially any of the fundamental components of what constitute your average metal album, Disemballerina have tapped into the very essence of what makes the genre so powerful, and created an opus for the ages.
On their second album, Poland’s Dormant Ordeal exhibited intense, technically-astute musicianship that avoids the pitfall of sterility that plagues many modern death metal bands. Every track is a molten blend of caustic riffs, dynamic tension, and surging turbulence. When I stumbled across this on the new releases section of bandcamp and gave it a cursory listen based on the awesome cover art alone, I had no idea that We Had It Coming would become so ingrained in my metal playlists and subsequently, my mind. While the likeness to their venerated countrymen Decapitated will be evident on first inspection, the cohesive mixture of styles that pervades each track will keep you coming back for more.
While my foray into the deceptively dense realm of dungeon synth has been relatively short-lived, I have no hesitation in declaring Thangorodrim’s Taur-nu-Fuin as the most magnificent album I’ve heard in the genre so far. The first time I heard this album back in April I was floored. I’d heard a lot of albums in this style that could be considered epic, and if indeed they are deserving of that title, then Taur-nu-Fuin is legendary. You do not need to be a total Tolkien-dork to appreciate the overwhelming grandeur of these four tracks; the intricate layering of unending chordal walls that seem to mimic the stolid masonry of timeless castles are constantly being washed over with a deluge of medieval melody, bestowing every moment with a sweeping majesty. Over the short time since its release the album has apparently impressed many of the niche genre’s forebears (warranting a remaster by Grimrik), which gives me all the encouragement I need to say that I consider Taur-nu-Fuin as the quintessential dungeon synth album of 2016.
Fluently combining the aphotic mood of of black metal, the hefty clout of death metal, and the bestial savagery of war metal, this debut album from Chile’s Henosis commands an authority usually reserved for genre stalwarts. After stumbling across this demonic album back in August I’ve been simultaneously getting my fix of ominous atmosphere, pulverising drumming, and most of all monumental riffing. Over the course of the year, this dark horse supplanted many of its playlist peers, managing to edge out Temple Nightside‘s sepulchral seance and Ifrinn‘s subterranean hypnotism; no small feat. Unleash the Ophidian Essence from the Reverse of Creation is a towering obsidian edifice of death, kneel before it, for you are nothing.
Experimental psychedelic Eastern-themed instrumental nirvana. From the moment I heard about the concept of this band/album, I was eagerly awaiting its release. Everything about that combination of tags made it seem like this release was specifically targeted at me. And even though I was reticent to let the hype instinct take over, potentially setting me up for disappointment, it was difficult to contain. Thankfully, Hashshashin’s debut delivered on all fronts. The Sydney trio’s debut will take you on a journey through a series of unique sonic landscapes; from deep meditative drone, spirited staccato stab riffs, psychedelic mind-warping shred, and everything in-between. Containing guitar, bass, drums, bouzouki, didgeridoo, and even field recordings taken by Lachlan Dale on his journey through Nepal and India, nihsahshsaH presents an eclectic mix of Eastern sounds with Western sensibilities.
Experiment Of Existence is essentially riff incarnate. These riffs went to the riff store, stocked up with a bulk order of riffs and bought a handy riff-belt to store extra riffs so as to always have riffs at hand. When these riffs finish their riff-shifts, they go home to Rifftown and make riffs to wind down. Many of you will be championing Vektor‘s ambitious saga of an album as this year’s best thrash album, and sure, if you asked me back at the start of the year which album I was anticipating most, Terminal Redux would have been right up there. However, like a pre-dawn erection, Experiment Of Existence got up early, consumed my mind, and stayed solid looking to bang for an unprecedented 45 minutes. Every. Single. Time. The replay value on this album is fucking ridiculous. Chile’s Ripper have whittled down what made Sepultura (circa 1987-89) such an integral part of the golden-era of thrash and somehow made it even more ferocious. No other album I heard this year thrashed this hard.
On the follow-up to the mind-warping esoteric clusterfuck that was their 2014 debut, Skáphe returned with what I found to be the most singular sounding album of the year. Building on the omnipresent psychotropic terror found on that intriguing first release, Skáphe² presents a profoundly perplexing soundscape of a somewhat paradoxical nature. While their bewilderingly abstruse style still prevails, the production is several degrees clearer; but contrary to what this may suggest, it is this facet of the record that actually renders it darker than the chaotic debut, for now you can truly drown in the depths of the songs’ dementia. The addition of D.G’s (Martröđ, Misþyrming, Naðra) vocals further enhanced the all-enveloping nightmarish mania. If you’re looking for an album that can offer you an amazing trip to the avant-garde side of metal while maintaining an undeniably aggressive atmosphere, Skáphe² will take you there, dose your drink with a psychosis-inducing ergot strain, skin your face, and scream with inexplicable angst through the void where your eyes once resided.
Easily my most listened to release of 2016. A watershed moment in his 20+ year career, The Impossible Kid is Aesop’s most accessible work to date yet it manages to retain his renown complexity. A perpetually rewarding jigsaw puzzle that upon completion depicts a map to the cursed treasure and profound talent buried deep within the artist’s mind. Handling essentially every aspect of this deeply resonant album himself, The Impossible Kid is clearly a very personal record for Aes; yet his unique skill as a writer keeps the (mostly) heavy material fun, not just maintaining the outsider’s interest but captivating it entirely. If you tried to convince me that I would spend most of my year listening to a biographical hip-hop record covering topics such as: becoming estranged from one’s family, visiting a shrink, being told to cold-turkey meds and get a companion kitteh, gopher murder at little league baseball games, being denied metal concerts as a youth, art and artists, life’s journey, and death itself, I would have laughed and thought “that doesn’t sound like my kinda thing”, just like you might be now. Well, we’re often wrong. For years I’d heard of people worshipping Aesop Rock like a modern day Shakespeare, and for years I didn’t get the hype. Now I’m one of them. Ever since Edward convinced me to give Aes another shot I’ve been enthralled, delving into his back-catalogue and side-projects (RTJ fans get in here) at the cost of many metal releases. And I’m incredibly fucking glad I did.
Offering the dynamic balance between a drifting flake of ash descending to grace basalt Earth and the pyroclastic surge of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption, Unortheta left me in awe. Analogous to the way their isolated island straddles the tumultuous rift between gigantic tectonic plates, this debut from the Icelandic band somehow manages to achieve a level of compositional balance other bands never grasp. Delicately sombre melody juxtaposes the suffocatingly sulphurous riffing, while the caustic riffs themselves are contrasted by the enveloping atmospheric gloom. The production is clear but far from sterile, while the music itself presents a degree of accessibility which seems to elude many of their peers, all without sacrificing the depth required for further immersion. Unortheta ripped a seething fissure in my psyche, an ever-deepening rift into which my physical being simply had no choice but to follow.
Sewercide – Immortalized In Suffering | Unspeakable Axe Records | Review + Interview
Elffor – Malkhedant | Independent | Review
Enthean – Priests Of Annihilation | Independent | Stream + Interview
Look, I hate year-end lists. What should be a time to honor the artists who’ve poured their lifesblood into these creations that add meaning and relevance to our lives becomes a frantic dick-measuring contest of consumer frenzy. Although I’m well within my right to abstain from publishing yet one more list in the endless cavalcade of foolishness that is December in the Blog-o-Sphere, this year I decided to take a slightly different approach and use this platform, however, small, to try to highlight underground bands that I think are well worth your adulation. To this end, I set a rule for myself to not cover any “major” releases, as arbitrary as major may be, so although I loved the new offerings this year from Cult of Luna, Vektor, and Meshuggah, you won’t see any of those names below. What you will find is a list celebrating the achievements of a bunch of hard-working artists in the underground, each with well under 10,000 likes on Facebook, if they even have a social media presence at all. I hope you find something new to cherish.
W.’s Top 10 of 2016
With such an early release date in the year, you’ve likely seen this album’s name repeated ad nauseam for a year-end contender, usually coupled with a slick namedrop of Demilich or Timeghoul just so that you’re perfectly aware of how informed that listener’s tastes are. Although those references are typically an intellectually lazy attribution, they aren’t entirely out of place in conversations regarding Chthe’ilist. Drawing as much inspiration from the classic school of weird death metal as they do from the cavernous confines of Incantation and Portal, Chthe’ilist successfully wed the nastiest, bounciest riffs to the murkiest low ends to create a harrowing and engaging ride through the darkest and dankest moonlit paths of the geek underworld.
Skáphe² is an unrepentant hellride through Dante’s Wild Inferno, full of hellacious twists and turns while maintaining a steady downward course into utter icy oblivion. Capitalizing on everything that made Skaphe so heinous, Skáphe² sees Alex Poole and new co-conspirator D.G. of Misþyrming trimming the fat, rendering the coiling, serpentine, dissonant riffs lean, taut, and deadly. All the better to strangle you in the album’s overbearing (but surprisingly lucid) atmosphere and leave you gasping for sweet release amid the sulfuric fumes. Only sweetening the deal is that the gaping maw at the end of the record only takes a brief thirty-six minutes to reach, so you can relive the hellish experience over and over!
The adjective “otherworldy” gets bandied about in metal writing far too frequently, but few bands embody that description as thoroughly as Howls of Ebb. The California duo’s commitment to the esoteric extends far beyond arcane imagery, monikers, and lyrics; this is a band that has breathed far too deeply of the old, bad blood, imbuing every fiber of their music with perverse, outré otherness. Unconvinced that Howls are the real deal (i.e. scions of the amoral lust of the Outer Gods)? Just press play on “The 6th Octopul’th Grin.” Riffs seethe and boil like the sinuous, ethereal tentacles of the Ogdru Jahad while the drums and manic vocals swirl and copulate in the echo chamber of lost sanity. And yet, all this madness is presented in an utterly intoxicating way that latches onto your brain stem and compels you to bang your head as your mental health deteriorates. It is that blend of the profane and the sublime, dada with catchy surf rock, that separates Howls from the pretenders.
I may be best known for my undying love for the weird and the avant-garde, but sometimes a former president just wants to bang his head while listening to riffs written by space wizards. Thankfully, the bountiful cornucopia of black metal runneth over in my favor and produced just such a record. Dying Light is five ripping tracks (six if you purchase digitally, natch) of galactic black metal tomfoolery. Meteoric blasts, burning up in re-entry vocals, and swirling-space-dust-meets-quantum-singularity riffs can be found aplenty on every song, but perhaps most surprising is the professionalism, heart, and passion (embodied in the killer, melodic and reverberating leads) with which all of these commonplace elements are performed. This record, and its embarrassment of killer cosmic riffs, sounds not at all like a sophomore album, and that’s a hell of a thing for a young band to pull off. Bang your head and watch the stars collide.
Morbid Angel‘s Gateways to Annihilation was one of the first death metal records I heard and remains a high-water mark for the down-tuned, murky branch of the genre. Although many bands have attempted over the years to surpass Azagthoth at his own game, none have succeeded. At least until this year, that is. NIHL is a masterclass in bottom-feeding, mud-guzzling, Elder God-worshipping death metal chaos, performed with such carnal passion and contradictory precision that it’s difficult to believe human beings wrote and played this music rather than simply conjuring it into being out of the primordial ooze of our race’s alien forebears. Though the comparison to Gateways is undeniable, the sheer variety and savagery afoot on NIHL make it the more compelling listen. Azagthoth, abdicate your throne.
Decathexis is 2016’s surprise smash hit for me, and despite my disdain for Roman numerals, I can’t deny the magnitude of VIII’s performance on this record. It is the great unifier, offering something for literally every metalhead under the sun. Vicious blast beats, ripping tremolo riffs, asylum-esque vocals, sexed-up saxophone interludes… this album has it all! Prog kids will love the Winchester Mystery House-esque contorting passages while the trve believers will cross their arms in grim approval of the unrepentant velocity and assault of this record. Decathexis just compels that level of respect, and it will likely be many, many moons before we hear another record that attempts so brazenly to link such disparate ideas and delivers on all counts.
Every year, without fail, the metal world produces a record that sounds absolutely massive. I’m talking something with the scale of Ozymandius’ monument pre-ruination. What a pleasant surprise that this year, that record was a thrash album! And a debut album no less! Songs and Dances of Death is a testament to the passion and heart that is so often missing in this genre; these are six massive, winding tales of war and bloodshed and truth and grandeur written by two guys who love what they do. It doesn’t hurt that the black metal-influenced riffs are absolutely triumphant and that the band accents those riffs with relentless drumming and heart-string-tugging keys that extend far beyond the mere window dressing of atmosphere on other records. Songs and Dances of Death is a smart album with boundless energy and palpable zeal. Look on their works, ye mighty, and despair.
I spent most of my summer listening to doom metal, and Hipoxia is almost single-handedly responsible for that. While other bands are content to merely sing about existential dread and lurking malice, Hipoxia revels in it, celebrates it, becomes it. S.D.E.O.E. is a work of abject terror, a hulking subterranean monstrosity, an insatiable predator that stalks you in your waking nightmares, always lingering just outside the peripheral vision, its presence ever felt. It is suffocation. It is ruination. It is absolutely killer, funereal doom with primordial riffs, glacial drums, and enough smog-belching atmosphere to ensure that you’ll never see the sun again. In a year glutted with endless facsimiles of the same stoner riff, Hipoxia have crafted not just my third favorite album of 2016, but also the best doom record you’ll hear all year. If you ever find your way back to the surface, that is.
Fans of the site may have noticed that I didn’t write about grind much this year. I guess it ultimately felt a little pointless after Morgue Supplier set the bar so high in February that not even Thor grinding up the Rainbow Bridge on Toothgrinder could reach it. On their self-titled sophomore release, Morgue Supplier not only finally realized the obscene potential they’ve shown over years of blasting but also pushed the entire got-dang deathgrind genre forward in a similar manner to Cattle Decapitation in 2012, but they did so not with melody but with an utter devotion to world-ending insanity. Simply put, Morgue Supplier is cosmic violence, and I challenge you to find anything that sounds as utterly apocalyptic as the wall of sound they unleash over the last fifteen seconds of “Moral Vacuity.” Morgue Supplier is a revolation, and I can’t wait to see what this band does next.
Every year, without fail, I can feel with utter certainty in my bones when I’ve found my album of the year. It’s that feeling of stumbling upon a great treasure in a vacant lot, looking around, and wondering if this wonderful thing really was meant for you to see and hear. Swallow Matewan is that record for me. From Torrid Husk’s elemental fury to End’s austere Hellenic glory, every riff, every blast, and every soaring passage is a quintessential moment of grandeur. Every time I listen, I can’t help but dig a little deeper, finding a new fill here, a new accent there. With each fresh spin, my heart soars a little higher when Miles and Tyler from Torrid Husk hit that major key clean guitar passage in the middle of “Rhododendron,” only for the whole damn levee to break and wash me away in a cascade of Tony’s roiling, cephalopodic drumming. Swallow Matewan is the storm, the flood, and the unfettered fury of nature, yet it is also the august beauty of something untamed, unbroken. With every riff, every blast, every shriek, I become further entranced. Thank you for this.
Gutter Instinct – Age of the Fanatics | Prosthetic | Listen to “Death Cult”
Muscle and Marrow – Love | The Flenser | Listen to “Sacs of Teeth”
UNRU – Als Tier ist der Mensch nichts | Independent | Listen to “Hēdonḗe”
Joe Thrashnkill’s Top 10 of 2016
A huge thanks to Spear for all the hard work he does collecting and highlighting the very best metal releases each and every week with Toilet Tuesday. A few weeks back he gave a shout out to a little brutal tech death band from Argentina (originally Algeria) that scratched an itch that badly needed scratching. Earlier this year, the mighty BRAIN DRILL released an album that would ultimately leave me limp with its focus on more conventional structure and mellowed-out technical atrocities. Thankfully, Devast came along to claim the crown of Kings of Balls-Out-Widdly-Diddlies. Every track on Apocalyptic Human Extinction of relentlessly aggressive technical nonsense and I love it.
When II, the long-awaited second LP from D.C. punks Magrudergrind dropped early this year, I had these words to say, “II is roughly 20 minutes of perfectly executed punk/grind/powerviolence bouillabaisse. In a crowd overloaded with interchangeable riffs and blastbeats, II stands out with skillful tempo shifts, breakneck drumming, and thrilling arrangements. Half of the tracks here are essential listening, which, by my scientific calculation, may make II an all-time great grind full-length.” Do I still listen to this album? I’d estimate that I’ve listened to II at least once a week since February. Does it still rule? HELL YES.
It’s not enough to simply be a great old school death metal band in this, the year of our lord 2016. If you really want to make an impression on a jaded metal community, you’ve gotta take your cues and HM-2s from the greats of the genre, build upon where they left off and THEN, you better add some crazy-good Iron Maiden-esque classic metal guitar solos. Brutally Deceased surprised the hell out of me when Lacertilian first introduced them to me back in August. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of these careening death metal riffs ever since.
It’s not enough to simply be a great old school death metal band in this, the year of our lord 2016. If you really want to make an impression on a jaded metal community, you’ve gotta take your cues and HM-2s from the greats of the genre, build upon where they left off and THEN, you better add some crazy-good Iron Maiden-esque classic metal guitar solos. Sometimes it IS enough to simply be a great old school death metal band making new music in 2016. If you’re looking for a band that adds something new to the formula, I suggest looking elsewhere on this list. If you love Dismember and just wanna hear more fantastic, buzzsaw Swedeath, pick up Scent of the Buried.
Real talk: I was gonna pick a different record for this spot because I’m pretty sure the dudes in Blood Incantation don’t fuck with computers and putting them on this list would mean missing out on sweet, sweet click$$$$$ another band could provide. Then I remembered we don’t make any money from this blog and lists are mostly meaningless. Starspawn sounds like Morbid Angel in spaaaaaaaaaaace and that is tight. I love this record and you should too.
I tried my best to mini-review it a couple months back, but I’m still not sure how to write about this record. If you are or you have ever been interested in grindcore, death metal, supergroups, Mr. Bungle, xylophones, bossa nova, major key heavy metal, or vaporwave, you’re depriving yourself by not listening to Stench Price. Remedy your error at once and buy this album.
Guess who just got back today? Them wild-eyed boys in Kvelertak that had been away. I’ve been a fan of the band since I first heard their self-titled LP. After a 3-year absence, the boys are back with a brand new attitude. Nattesferd is the sound of a bunch of dudes fully embracing the rowdy fun that so many hard rock and metal bands pretend they’re too cool to enjoy. I can’t understand a single lyric on this record (cuz can’t speak Norwegian), but I believe every track is about boys coming back to town, chicks that are cool but also red hot, and driving old men crazy. You can’t convince me otherwise. Nattesferd is surely the air guitar record of the year 2K16.
Oakland’s Void Omnia put out perhaps the most memorable black metal album, and definitely the best black metal album art of the year. Lookit that intergalactic wizard! He’s hella evil, destroying planets and such! Raw but maintaining clarity, aggressive without being obnoxious, Dying Light is a is a riff-heavy black metal record that will please obsessive and casual fans of the genre alike.
There have been so many great records this year that celebrated the long-neglected sounds of traditional heavy metal but none of them were composed as tightly, riffed as hard, or sounded as massive as Sumerlands, the debut record from accomplished producer Arthur Rizk. From the opening riff of “Seventh Seal”, the band makes it clear that they’re here to shred harder than foolish enough to compete.
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