Many of you know Jonathan Petkau from his podcast Respectably Loud or his other podcast, which he does with his wife, The X-Hausted Files or from his tireless efforts with the almighty Skulltoaster on Metal Minute or from his black metal project Domestikwom or possibly for keeping the list for MetalBandCampGiftClub nice and tidy. To say Jon is a busy man is an understatement and what I’ve mentioned doesn’t even include Dad duties. So, it is with extreme pleasure and appreciation that we are able to present his Best of 2016 list. Honestly I don’t know where he finds the time to listen to music at all but even the busiest of people need a soundtrack so without further ado, click that continue reading button and jump in.
There have been years where I definitely struggled to come up with even 5 albums I thought were worth writing up on a list, but between #metalbandcampgiftclub and getting a Spotify account, the amount of good music I was exposed to this year was overwhelmingly immense. So much so that a lot of my mainstay bands like Devin Townsend, Opeth, Periphery and Gojira didn’t even crack the list. With enough time, I could put together a list of more than 30 without breaking a sweat. As it stands, we’ll go with my favorite 10 albums of 2016.
1. Astronoid – Air
There was some amount of handwringing over how to classify this album when it first came out as it didn’t comfortably sit in the abundance of genre classifications that we currently have. But regardless of the term I will eventually settle on, the mixture of blasting and thrashing drums, tremolo-ing guitars and ethereal vocals takes me to one inevitable conclusion. Air is the external manifestation of the intense joy I feel internally when I listen to heavy metal. I’m not concerned about hedging my bets here, this album hits something that other bands have been working towards but haven`t quite hit.
On the other side of the spectrum is an album so bleak and misanthropic, you’d be surprised that it’s actually a faithful interpretation of the book of Ecclesiastes. If you’ve ever felt the cognitive dissonance of people screaming at you that ‘Jesus loves you’, this album perfectly marries form and function, and the music rips to boot. It`s a swampy blend of black, doom and hardcore that expresses the injustice of this world, and there`s comfort to be found in that darkness.
After years of Rankin Family specials and a recent trip to Nova Scotia, I have a romantic idea of the Maritimes, but Thrawsunblat’s newest album Metachthonia feels rooted in a more profound love of that geographical area. The band expresses, through their folk metal, a desire to connect with nature all around them, especially in an industrial society that only considers nature in terms of how it can be made to serve us. The compositions are longer than on their previous albums, but that investment makes the moments of payoff all the more worthwhile and triumphant when they happen.
Listening to this album, I picture the shit-eating grins and eye-twinkles that must be plastered over the faces of the musicians that play this music because there’s a hyperactive playfulness that permeates every second of this album. The opening salvo of stupidly fast thrash sets a tone pretty early, but the band does manage to find other ways to show off their impressive chops. Think of that scene in Bill and Ted where Beethoven plays a bunch of synthesizers and that’s kind of where my head is at with this album. It’s a ton of fun.
While having a cursory familiarity with their older material, it was this year’s album Kodama that made Alcest click for me, and not just this album but their earlier stuff too. In some bands I find an increasing focus on melody at the expense of heavier riffs to be disappointing, but with Alcest I actually prefer it. I could languish in their reverb for days. The fact that it’s based on Princess Mononoke, one of my favourite Miyazaki films, is a sweet bonus.
More than other contemporary bands in this particular stream of metal, I feel like the vocals in Oathbreaker stand out and command your attention. While I wouldn’t accuse the other vocalists on this list of being forced or restrained, there’s something about both the melodic and screamed vocals on this album that feel to me particularly unhinged. And whether that’s informed by the music or vice versa, they work together to produce an incredibly tight, almost whiplash inducing batch of post-black metal.
The Whole of the Law has overwhelming and exhausting qualities that recalls albums like Strapping Young Lad’s Alien or Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Agony. And while SYL is no more and Fleshgod have broadened their musical palettes (at least a little), it’s nice that there’s still death metal albums dedicated to that kind of unrelenting sonic intensity.
The best part of Sumac’s second album, What One Becomes, is that it tightens up the flow of their previous album’s experimental take on the Aaron Turner post-metal approach. While The Deal reached monumental heights at times, it felt a bit uneven structurally in ways that didn’t always work. This time around, you still have those same elements of meandering noise sections and full on band assaults, but they seem to be more smartly arranged so that you never lose focus. It does what a sequel should do and that is to improve upon an already good idea.
To hear the members of Zao describe the recording process for most of their past (occasionally genre defining albums), the common thread seems to be “rushing.” But if seven years off isn’t enough time to put together the most solid and consistently great Zao album in more than a decade, I don’t know what else you could ask for. Production wise, it has the live and dirty energy of The Fear is What Keeps Us Here and the thoughtful scale and scope of The Funeral of God. Musically, it incorporates some sludgy riffs and post-metal slowness into the increasingly gumbo-like metalcore that Zao put on the map in the first place. Lyrically, Dan Weyandt continues the seemingly never-ending struggle to clear out his closet of demons, both personal and religious. And fuck, it’s just great to hear Russ Codgell on that 2nd guitar again. This one just came out in early December but has made an immediate first impression.
The whole social media conversation around this album has been the terrible album cover, which to be fair is terrible and worth calling out. However, I do believe that the cover was a gross error in judgement, and not a crass marketing technique. If you’re able to look past it (and no shame if you’re not), you’ll find a hauntingly beautiful album about the fruitless yearning for the simplicity of childhood that we’re simply not able to re-create as adults. Musically, the band certainly takes its cues from bands like Deafheaven and Alcest, but it is so well done (one big asterisk aside) that I believe it’s worth including here.