It’s clear to all and sundry who follow metal review sites that 2016 has been another bang-up year for extreme music. Hardcore-inflected brutality, slickly produced progressive epics, and mind-bending tech-death journeys have had reviewers swooning with delight. Sure, I’m personally not so much into all of that, but even I have found several outstanding releases in the past six months that have made their way into constant rotation.
Wolvserpent – Aporia:Kāla:Ananta
To classify Wolvserpent’s latest as an EP seems a bit misleading. Even though the release only contains a single track, its sprawling 40 minutes find the listener immersed in various stages of chthonic anti-bliss. Melancholic violins, dense feedback, and ritual rhythms fade in and out, weaving a darkly enchanting soundscape that transcends drone to become almost cinematic. This is a record to invoke dark dreams.
Alaric – End of Mirrors
It’s 2016 and nobody wants to be called “goth.” I get that — even though there are musical high points to be found within that genre, it’s a terrible scene populated by old people, navel gazers, and fashion victims. That makes it even more of a shame that Alaric’s incredibly fine gothic rock offering End of Mirrors will never be heard by certain misery addicts who desperately need to listen to new music, simply because the magical G-word is never invoked in its promo materials. Imagine, if you will, a muscular version of the Cure injected with the jangly menace of early Christian Death and bass lines that sound as if Joy Division was magically struck with virtuosity. Or ignore all of that invocation of spooky giants of the past and bask in the glorious darkness of what’s being equally accurately billed as a post-punk/doom hybrid.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
OK, so this one could arguably be filed under “slickly produced progressive epics.” Cosmic, psychedelic, and creepy, this may be the apex of Oranssi Pazuzu’s career. These Finnish bizarro metallers have been on my radar since their sublimely strange debut, Muukalainen puhuu, but Värähtelijä manages to transcend the oddness-for-oddness’ sake, weirdo black metal roots of their previous albums. Everything these guys throw at the wall sticks in this record, creating a challenging listen that ultimately rewards listeners with a captivating, surprising journey through some truly avant garde metal spaces.
Zeal and Ardor – Devil is Fine
Everyone with whom I’ve shared Zeal and Ardor’s Devil is Fine has had the same reaction: “this is not like anything I’ve ever heard before.” The one-man project of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Manunel Gagneux combines American slave spirituals and Delta blues with the tremolo picking and symphonic passages of black metal, plus elements of electronica, ambient sound, and hip-hop. This is incredibly ambitious stuff and there’s a potential for absolute disaster, but the resulting under-half-an-hour album skillfully navigates an astonishing amount of stylistic ground. The record plays like a post-modern ode to Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil. I’m excited to see what musical sorcery Gagneux creates next.
– Tenebrous Kate