So yeah, this year sure sucked in a lot of ways, didn’t it?
On a personal level…where to begin? My family said goodbye to our beloved dog, Bailey. I had a rough breakup at the end of April. I got into a deeper rut in my professional life than I’d ever experienced before, which culminated in me quitting my job and leaving New York. I also, briefly, quit Nine Circles. (You didn’t think I’d stay away for good though, did you?)
And that’s just my stuff! Beyond that…well, for starters, pretty much everyone died. Prince, Alan Rickman, Phife Dawg, Craig Sager…I mean, you kind of had to know 2016 was going to be shitty on that front after we lost David goddamn Bowie when the year was scarcely a week old. And that’s all to say nothing of the other shit: escalation of racial tensions across the country, continued apathy toward a changing climate, Christmas Eve / Day and New Year’s Eve / Day both falling on Saturdays and Sundays…it was a lot, man. Oh, and we also elected the personification of an Internet comment section to the presidency. That was neat.
In spite of all that, 2016 wound up being a goddamn banner year for metal. When I first started thinking about this list, I was envisioning maybe a Top 15 – but that quickly grew to a Top 25, and then to its current incarnation: a Top 50, with 20 “ranked” albums and 30 honorable mentions, not to mention EPs. It was just impossible to whittle it down any further; that’s how good metal was this year. Hell, I had a number of albums that featured in my mid-year list that didn’t even make it into the honorable mentions section of this one!
Make no mistake, this year would have felt exponentially shittier without all of those records. In times like these, cueing up a metal record that’s driving you bonkers, throwing your head back and howling at the moon kind of becomes essential to maintaining your sanity. And you know what? Sanity was maintained. (Well, mine at least…I dunno about America’s. All the more reason for America to start listening to more damn metal.)
This year may have thrown every possible pile of feces it could at us, but you know what? We made it through anyway. We’re still here and it’s not. And that’s nothing to turn our noses at. Here are the records that helped make that happen for me:
The Top Nine EPs:
Tombs — All Empires Fall
With each successive release, the Brooklyn crew grows closer and closer to something truly earth-shattering. All Empires Fall keeps them firmly on that path.
Gruesome — Dimensions of Horror
Eventually, Matt Harvey & Co’s art-imitating-Death schtick will start to get old. But today is not that day. This thing rips.
Krallice — Hyperion
Krallice sure book-ended the year rather nicely, didn’t they? Tough call between this and this month’s Prelapsarian, but gun to my head, I’d give the nod to this taut, devastating EP.
Sivyj Yar — The Unmourned Past
Incredible continuation (culmination?) of the style Vladimir’s been building to over the last several full-lengths. Just try listening to this and not finding yourself moved. Try it.
Ghost — Popestar
An inspired set of covers (Echo & the Bunnymen? Eurythmics?!?!) and one of the catchiest originals the band’s done to date? What more could you ask for from the Swedes?
Gorguts — Pleiades Dust
I mean…what can you say about this thing that hasn’t already been said? Oh, I know: “if you make an EOY list and leave this off, you have to surrender your metal card. You jerk.”
Albums — Honorable Mentions:
Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule [listen] [review]
Lycus – Chasms [listen] [review]
Magrudergrind – II [listen] [review]
Sig:Ar:Tyr – Northen [listen]
Nucleus – Sentient [listen] [review]
Alaric – End of Mirrors [listen] [review]
Victims – Sirens [listen] [review]
Latitudes – Old Sunlight [listen] [review]
Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika [listen]
Sarabante – Poisonous Legacy [listen] [review]
Fates Warning – Theories of Flight [listen]
ColdWorld – Autumn [listen]
Mizmor – Yodh [listen] [review]
Russian Circles – Guidance [listen] [review]
Dysrhythmia – The Veil of Control [listen]
Imperium Dekadenz – Dis Manibvs [listen] [review]
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason [listen]
Alcest – Kodama [listen] [feature]
Khemmis – Hunted [listen] [review]
Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law [listen]
Ghoul – Dungeon Bastards [listen] [review]
Fuath – I [listen]
Martyrdöd – List [listen]
Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones [listen]
Wode – Wode [listen] [review]
Cobalt – Slow Forever [listen] [review]
Anicon – Exegeses [listen] [review]
Gojira – Magma [listen]
Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether [listen] [review]
Winterfylleth – The Dark Hereafter [listen]
Albums — The Top 20:
20. Schammasch – Triangle
I’m hard-pressed to think of another triple album I’ve even given the time of day to, let alone enjoyed as much as this. With a combined run-time of over 100 minutes, Triangle represents a bit of a time investment, but it’s one that ultimately pays off. [review]
19. Jassa – Lights in the Howling Wilderness
Lights in the Howling Wilderness is a far cry from the beautiful, atmospheric black metal Vladimir and Aeargh peddle in Sivyj Yar, but it’s also more exhilarating than just about any other album the genre gave us this year. “Crescent Moon over Dark Water” might be my favorite metal song of 2016 when all’s said and done. [feature]
18. Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
The single-song-as-album card takes some kinda cojones to play, and Insomnium deserves a hell of a lot of credit not just for doing so, but also for pulling the damn thing off as well as they did. It’s no secret that I’m not quite as into melodeath as I was two years ago, when the Finns dropped their last album, Shadows of the Dying Sun, but consider my interest rekindled. [review]
17. Anciients – Voice of the Void
What a step forward for the Vancouver prog crew. Everything’s just been kicked up a notch here on Voice of the Void. The album’s a little more mesmerizing, a little riffier, and a little better, period, than its predecessor, 2013’s Heart of Oak. “Pentacle,” in particular, might be the best thing the band’s ever done. Listen, and be entranced. [review]
16. Gadget – The Great Destroyer
I dug through quite a few grind records this year, but none of them did it for me quite like this. Released a full ten years after Gadget’s previous full-length – a period that saw the band release just one split with Phobia, back in 2010 – The Great Destroyer is 17 songs and 26 minutes of pure, unadulterated rage. [review]
15. Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis
Another near-hour of intense, immersive death metal from the New Zealanders, one that simultaneously hits you like a ton of bricks and leaves you marveling at its myriad intricacies. As monumental as 2013’s Vermis was, Shrines of Paralysis can absolutely hang with it. [review]
14. Wormed – Krighsu
What a beautiful cacophony this was. On their third full-length – yet, technically, the first part of their backwardly told story of a post-apocalyptic machine takeover – the Spaniards are as brutal and ruthlessly articulate in depicting their dystopia as ever. And frankly, has the world ever needed a total coup from robotic overlords any more than it does now?
13. Sumac – What One Becomes
Even if you approach What One Becomes expecting a sonic challenge, expecting immersive, quicksand-thick soundscapes, it’ll still find ways to blow your mind. Hell, the opening 3+ minutes of “Image of Control” are 3+ of the most difficult minutes of music I heard this year, bar none. But stick with it, and you’re rewarded mightily. [review]
12. Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Is there anything Inter Arma can’t do? With crushing, ten-ton doom riffs, heart-achingly pretty harmonized leads, and roar after deafening roar from vocalist Mike Paparo, Paradise Gallows cements the band’s status as one of the most consistent in metal today. They’re at the top of their game in almost every facet here. [review]
11. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder
It’s fucking Darkthrone. ‘Nuff said.
10. Gatecreeper – Sonoran Deprivation
These Arizonans really love their Swedeath. And you know what? I really love their Swedeath, too. Sonoran Deprivation has riffs for days, each one propelled into your eardrums with a perfect, HM-2 tonal assault. All told, it’s a stellar full-length debut, and might be the most fun I had listening to death metal all year. [review]
9. Astronoid – Air
How many death grunts did we hear this year? How many searing, tremolo-picked black metal riffs? Enough for probably 90% of it to start blending together, right? And then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, comes Astronoid – with a sound wholly their own, and totally unforgettable. More than six months after its release, Air is still every bit as mesmerizing a listen. I couldn’t care less whether you think it’s metal or not – this thing kicks ass, pure and simple.
8. Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution
I’ve been trying to articulate just what that “X factor” is in Dead Revolution that makes the album so damn irresistible. I think it’s just that this thing’s a whole lot of fun. Seriously, I’m hard pressed to think of a contemporary prog album I’ve had anywhere near as good a time listening to. It’s dexterous, it’s virtuosic, and it kicks an ass. Can John Cobbett just write all the riffs? For everyone? Please?
7. Forteresse – Thèmes pour la Rébellion
Just an absolute onslaught from start to finish. On album number five, the Québecois nationalists are as vicious and uncompromising as ever. Despite a run time of just under 43 minutes, each song feels like a mini-epic, and the album as a whole is pretty much guaranteed to make you want to take up arms and join the battle. Probably the best atmospheric black metal record I’ve heard since Memoria Vetusta III, if I’m being honest. [review]
6. Ihsahn – Arktis
Guys, I’m not wrong to think this is Ihsahn’s best solo album yet, am I? Cause I totally think it’s his best solo album yet. It makes a strong case as his most accessible offering so far, yet also retains just enough of his classic eccentricity so as not to feel like a total departure. And good lord, the directions the man takes this thing in – from vengeful anthems (“Mass Darkness”) to wrenching, melodic ballads (“In the Vaults”) to…vaguely ‘80s-power-rock-sounding? (“Until I Too Dissolve”) The man can do little wrong in this world, and he’s certainly done no wrong here on Arktis. [review]
5. Blood Incantation – Starspawn
Opening your debut album with a 13-and-a-half-minute roar is one hell of a statement of intent. That’s how Blood Incantation roll on Starspawn, and we’re all the better for it. That track, “Vitrification of Blood (Pt. 1)” never once loosens its grip on the listener, and while the rest of the album keeps to a slightly more conventional scale, none of those tracks do either. It’s a monstrous, confident album and a cosmic bludgeoning of the highest order. Never before have the wonders of space felt quite so brutal – and never will they again. [review]
4. Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Mariner
Mariner has haunted me since my first listen. Both the band and especially Christmas are at the top of their respective games throughout, and the result is an immersive, ethereal album in which it’s all too easy to lose yourself. The album draws upon the theme of space travel – with the artists even going so far as to base its closing song, “Cygnus,” on a sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey – so the expansiveness of its song construction feels like the perfect approach. Mariner, as with space exploration, goes deep – and even after a near-hour of its brilliance, you’re still left wanting it to take you further. [review]
3. Vektor – Terminal Redux
This thing. Good god, this thing. Just when you think the final brick in thrash’s creative wall has been lain (all “paid for by Mexico,” because #TrumpsAmerica), along comes Vektor to smash the whole thing to the ground and rekindle hope in the genre. Blisteringly riffy and with many a nod to the late Chuck Schuldiner (technically, vocally, you name it), Terminal Redux is an endlessly re-listenable album. If its final two tracks hadn’t taken such a dip in quality, this would be a shoo-in for the top of my list. As it stands, third place’s still pretty damn good.
2. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts
In a surprise turn of events, this thing’s still awesome! Katatonia’s best album in a decade, and for my money, one of their best ever. The Fall of Hearts is a tricky beast – it’ll just as soon rip out your heart as have you singing along and banging your head. Oh! By the way, I think I’ve settled on a favorite song from the album. It’s “Shifts”! For now. Until I decide to change my mind to one of the other tracks. Again. Which I’ve done for just about all of them so far. (Yes, it’s that good.) [review]
1. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
What more can I say about this thing? Oranssi Pazuzu was my favorite album of the year from wire to wire. (Well, okay, from the end-of-February-when-it-dropped to wire.) The band’s addition to the lineup of next year’s Maryland Deathfest singlehandedly convinced me to buy a ticket to the festival. I totally understand arguments other people will make for other bands or albums in this spot, but for me, 2016 just belonged to the Finns. Sorry, not sorry. [review]
That’ll do it for me. Be well, all. And fuck you, 2016.
Keep it heavy,