Best of 2016: Vincent Martinek’s List

Nine Circles Best of 2016 Standard

Hey all. This has been a great year for music, made better because I got to share so much of my thoughts about what I was hearing with you, alongside the rest of the Nine Circles crew. It’s been a pleasure to work with some of the most talented people I’ve had the honor to know. Thanks to Dan and Corey for getting me started, to Josh Stewart for being a phenomenal editor, and to all the amazing people I do this with whose writing inspired me to better my own. Here’s to many more. And now that the sap is out of the way, on to the tunes.

Top 20 Full Length Albums

20. Wreck & Reference – Indifferent Rivers Romance End

I still have fond memories of the first time I encountered this Los Angeles based duo: watching mesmerized as vocalist Felix Skinner smashed his sample pad and tore through howling vocals all while sporting the sickest Kate Bush shirt a sea of metal bros had ever laid eyes on. 2014’s Want kept my interest held steady, but Indifferent Rivers Romance End takes the band’s sound to new heights. The characteristic sample based heaviness is back but fleshed out with more lush production and emotional depth.

Listen here.

19. Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule

2016 has been a great year for death metal and this album, released in January, was one of the first to tip people off to that trend. Tight instrumentation, bowel-churning vocals, and crushing atmosphere abound. The best of Timeghoul and Demilich and Portal all wrapped up into one. And who doesn’t love a death metal song about Majora’s Mask?

Listen here.

[full review]

18. Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis

I was serious about this being a great year for death metal, you know. Any year that gives us a new album by these New Zealand giants is a year worth noting indeed. Dizzyingly complex song structures that manage to not sacrifice atmosphere and animosity along the way. If all tech death sounded like this, I’d warm up to it a lot easier.

Listen here.

[full review]

17. Ash Borer – The Irrepassable Gate 

Ash Borer were one of my introductions to black metal as a whole — my favorite genre of music — and as such they have always held a special place in my heart. The Irrepassable Gate is without a doubt their best work yet. Expertly combining blistering, unorthodox black metal with otherworldly droning ambiance, Ash Borer have proven themselves a cut above the rest once more.

Listen here.

[full review]

16. SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

Salt Lake City’s SubRosa have been crafting critically acclaimed emotionally rich doom metal for years, and somehow I had never given them a listen until this year. Just in time too, because this album flying under my radar would have been a critical misstep. 6 tracks of haunting beauty. “Troubled Cells” never fails to rip my heart out.

Listen here.

[full review]

15. Altarage – Nihl

Altarage came at me out of nowhere this year and bowled me over with this offering of horrifyingly crushing death metal. The Portal comparison is an easy one to make, but don’t write these boys from Basque Country off as mere clones. These riffs stand on their own.

Listen here.

14. Cantique Lépreux – Cendres Célestes

For all the experimentation that black metal lends itself very well to, there is something to be said for an album that gets back to the basics. That’s exactly what this Quebecois trio does. No gimmicks, just cold, hauntingly beautiful black metal done right. Sometimes that’s all you really need anyway.

Listen here.

13. Lycus – Chasms

I have a massive love for funeral doom, but I’ll be the first to admit that the genre can get stale sometimes. Thankfully this Bay Area crew are back to shake things up a bit. All the best parts of a great funeral doom record are here, plus fresh elements of black metal, sludge, and even post-punk and deathrock thrown in to keep the listener engaged. A wonderful witch’s brew indeed.

Listen here.

[full review]

12. Eight Bells – Landless

No other band quite sounds like Portland’s Eight Bells, and that’s no easy feat in this day and age. So many disparate elements are put together here that wouldn’t work for anyone else, yet are pulled off by the massive strength of this lineup, especially guitarist and head honcho Melynda Jackson. Landless is one of those albums that you always find something new to enjoy with each listen.

Listen here.

[full review]

11. Throane – Derrière-Nous, La Lumière

France’s Throane popped completely out of the ether with no fanfare and no hype behind them to release their debut album.  This is a risky move for any band, but as it turns out the music contained here speaks volumes more than any hype could have justified.  Cold and depressive black metal that bucks the trite “DSBM” label.  Think the best of Xasthur meets industrial-era Blut Aus Nord.  Also worth noting: this album has my favorite cover art I have seen all year.

Listen here.

Khemmis - Hunted

10. Khemmis – Hunted

As much as I loved last year’s Absolution, I found it to be a little unfocused in its songwriting as a whole. Hunted fixes any complaints I may have had and shows definitively what these boys can do. This is one of the most all-out fun records I have heard in recent memory. Glorious, doomed-out rock and roll that reminds me why I loved this music in the first place.

Listen here.

[full review]

mizmor yodh album cover

9. Mizmor – Yodh

I’ve been a long time fan of ALN’s brand of doom-y, droning black metal, and to see him partner up with my favorite label to release this beast of an album was truly something special. Far and away Mizmor’s most fully realized songs, Yodh is a crushing work of catharsis in the face of the tortures of every day life. Bleak, punishing, yet contemplative at times, this is no easy album to digest but it is worth the effort.

Listen here.

[full review]

ustalost-the-spoor-of-vipers

8. Ustalost – The Spoor of Vipers

The Spoor of Vipers sees Will Skarstad, one of the chief songwriters for Yellow Eyes, take his signature outsider melodies and chord progressions and transform them from straight-ahead fury into a more sinister and medieval sound. Winding song structures are enhanced by shimmering, high-gothic sounding keys and dissonant guitar layers. A monumental first offering.

Listen here.

[feature]

oranssi pazuzu Värähtelijä

7. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

Despite hearing nothing but massive praise for 2013’s Valonielu, I had initially found Oranssi Pazuzu to be not to my taste. This album completely turned my opinion around, and even allowed me to go back and finally appreciate their back catalog. Full of textural embellishments that improve on the formula that got them where they are without sacrificing the groovy heaviness long time fans will love.

Listen here.

[full review]

Blood Incantation - Starspawn

6.  Blood Incantation – Starspawn

What praise can I possibly heap on this band and this album that hasn’t already been said? Starspawn is some of the smartest and most well crafted death metal I have heard in a long time. Old school songwriting that doesn’t recede into mere “throwback” territory. Enough prog elements to keep things interesting without feeling self-indulgent. Always in service to the riff. As it should be.

Listen here.

[full review]

Russian Circles - Guidance

5. Russian Circles – Guidance

Russian Circles have been my hometown heroes since I was in high school. Their brand of post-metal has always spoken volumes to me, and Guidance is my favorite release they’ve done yet. While the band may have shifted away from the more frantic days of “Death Rides a Horse”, the cinematic and engrossing feel of Guidance holds the listener in rapt attention. And trust me, it’s still plenty heavy.

Listen here.

[full review]

palace-of-worms-the-ladder

4.  Palace of Worms – The Ladder

Never content to stay confined for too long, the songs on The Ladder move seamlessly through black metal, doom metal, and goth/post-punk. Yet all of these moods are held together by a core atmosphere driven by sole member Balan’s impeccably soul-burning melodies. As apt to tug at your heart as it is to go for the throat.

Listen here.

zhrine unortheta

3. Zhrine – Unortheta

Iceland can do no wrong for me it seems. What has been far and away my favorite geographic region to look to for new music has produced one of the best and most memorable albums of the year. Zhrine take every element that I love about the stellar Icelandic black metal scene and expand upon it in both directions, adding death metal aggression and jazzy, ambient clean sections. Nuanced and brilliantly executed, especially in the live realm.

Listen here.

Mare Cognitum - Luminiferous Aether

2. Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether

A work of absolutely staggering beauty, Luminiferous Aether sees Orange County, CA’s Mare Cognitum still standing ever taller among some of the best the US black metal scene has to offer. Driven by huge, sincere melodies and given life by blasts of all out fury, Mare Cognitum take atmospheric black metal quite literally into the stratosphere. “Constellation Hipparchia” is one of the most captivating and beautiful songs I have heard all year.

Listen here.

[full review]

Alcest - Kodama

1. Alcest – Kodama

There is so much to be said for this band and what their music means to me, but on Kodama they not only met my expectations, but wildly exceeded anything I could have wanted from this album. Neige’s ability to craft otherworldly melodies is stronger here than ever, and though I will fight with my last breath to include Shelter among some of their best material, I can’t deny that I love hearing the black metal back in the songwriting equation. If anything, taking a break from metal has only made Alcest’s return to a genre they helped create sound that much more impassioned. Tracks like “Eclosion” and “Oiseaux de Proie” show any nay-sayers that Alcest still have plenty of bite to them. Yet the emotional depth and gentle, soothing melodies given to us by Shelter are not forgotten, merely folded back into the framework of the songs. Add in the fact that the album is conceptually based around Princess Mononoke, my favorite movie, and there’s no way this was not going to be my Album of the Year. More than that, though, it is also confidently my new favorite Alcest album.

Listen here.

[feature]


Top 10 EP’s

10. Dead Congregation – Sombre Doom

It’s Dead Congregation. You already know this rips. The slow burn of “Redemptive Immolation” into the eviscerating frenzy of “Wind’s Bane” is what death metal is all about. My only complaint here is that I desperately need more.

Listen here.

9. Hissing – Cairn / Husk

My obsession with this band was cemented seeing them open for Sunn O))) this year. I was so taken with their sound I practically bought out their merch table. The Seattle trio’s inaugural 7″ for Southern Lord mixes black metal, death metal, doom metal, and bits of industrial noise to maximum effect. A potpourri of everything there is to love in heavy and outsider music.

Listen here.

8. Dagger Lust – Aggramica

Portland, Oregon’s Dagger Lust actually put out two demos this year, and while Dagger Lust was a scathingly heavy introduction to the band, Aggramica took that same anger and depravity to the next level. Three tracks of abrasive black metal driven by bass, drums, and noise. Filthy in all the right ways.

Listen here.

7. Endalok – Englaryk

Endalok are a bright young face among the bright young faces of Iceland’s black metal scene. Englaryk is four songs of foggy, mystifying black metal, soaked in reverb and caked in menace. This is a brilliant first offering, and it pleases me to know that more material from this group is imminent.

Listen here.

[full review]

6. Voidnaga – Demo MMXVI

There isn’t much I love more than some good, grimy, ritualistic black/death metal. Malaysia’s Voidnaga delivers everything I could want in spades. Born during its creators isolation from the material world, Demo MMXVI features lyrics that incorporate Malay magickal texts as well as demonology and occultism, plus riffs that will knock you senseless. Serious music that seriously rips.

Listen here.

[full review]

5. Kaffaljidhma – I

Raw black metal isn’t for everyone, and I get that. Even I get frustrated with tinny, blown-out sounding demos a lot of the time. This is one of those rare albums where the low production value is not merely a gimmick but serves to give the shimmering, ethereal black metal within a kind of charm that I would miss were it gone. The first of three demos released this year, I is a release that I have not been able to get off my mind, as strange as it may be.

Listen here.

4. G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge

G.L.O.S.S. were exactly the kind of vitriolic, righteous hardcore that the world needed, and though the band called it quits, they left us with Trans Day of Revenge as both a parting gift and a reminder of the ways heavy music can be used to empower those that need it the most. The phrase “too good for this world” gets thrown around a lot, but man does it ever apply here.

Listen here.

3. Krallice – Hyperion

Quite literally the first release of 2016, and one that stuck with me throughout the whole of the year. Last year’s Ygg Huur showed the band pairing back their often 10+ minute song structures, much to my liking. Hyperion, a collection of songs recorded in between Years Past Matter and Ygg Huur can be thought of as the genesis of this new, sleeker Krallice, and I am more hooked now than ever.

Listen here.

2.  Svartidaudi – Hideous Silhouettes of Lynched Gods

“Not another band from Iceland!” you groan. YES. I’m that serious. Any time we get new material from what is undoubtedly one of my favorite bands is a time to celebrate. Hideous Silhouettes… contains two songs from a 2010 session around the time of intense riots following a financial collapse in Iceland. A perfect showcase of the band’s signature brand of all-out chaos. I am extremely pleased these songs finally can see the light of day.

Listen here.

1.  A Pregnant Light – Rocky

Damian Master’s music as A Pregnant Light has always had a very personal feel to it, but on Rocky, Master gives the listener a connection to his life like never before. Consisting of a single twenty-one minute song, Rocky deals with the recent death of Damian Master’s father (for whom the album is named) and all the emotions that come with losing someone so close to you. It is impossible to not be affected listening to this; to hear someone so open and honest about the pain of loss but also the joys of remembrance reminds us of what is important in art. This is a true window into the soul, a profound work of catharsis, and a worthy tribute to someone whose life was clearly so important to so many people. My favorite EP of the year.

Listen here.


Lighter Fare

Owen – The King of Whys

If there’s one thing you should know about me it’s that I am an unapologetic Mike Kinsella fan. Growing up in Chicago will do that to you; you’re surrounded by the musical legacy of bands like Cap’n Jazz, American Football, Owls, and the countless other projects he’s had a hand in. For my money though, Owen has always been the one of his projects that seems to hit me the deepest, and on The King of Whys, that connection is as strong as ever. Recorded in Eau Claire, Wisconsin by Bon Iver’s S. Carey, the music on King contains many of the same cinematic elements found on albums like Bon Iver’s self-titled work, while retaining the same guitar acrobatics and tongue-in-cheek lyrics Owen’s music is lauded for. It was a step out of Kinsella’s comfort zone, but it was a step forward.

Listen here.

Tanner Garza – Eventide

Tanner Garza succeeds where many ambient artists fail by managing to put a human touch into these outsider sounds. There is a love and attention to detail in his music that makes it actual music and not just noise, and no where is this more present than on Eventide. Four tracks of gentle repetition of motifs draw the listener slowly farther and farther away from the world and it’s troubles into a peaceful slumber. Even if you have never thought of yourself as someone who would enjoy listening to ambient sounds, there is an honesty and humanity present in these simple melodies that is instantly accessible.

Listen here.


That about does it. There are a few releases I wanted to talk about, but in the end I had to cut them in an effort to not make this a chore to read. This is still the longest year end list I’ve ever written though, which should only be a testament to just how much great music came out this year. I hope you enjoyed reading about the albums I loved most this year, and if you take issue with any of my picks, you’re free to come find me on the internet and yell at me about it.

I would prefer if you didn’t yell, though.

– Vincent

3 thoughts on “Best of 2016: Vincent Martinek’s List

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