Thanks to the demands, deadlines and drudgery of my day job, this stocktaking listicle was delayed two weeks past its intended publication date at the half-way point of the year. In the intervening time, additional waves of releases were unleashed, a reminder of the golden era of quantity and quality we are currently living in. It has become increasingly challenging to stay on top of must-hear releases, even with obsessive research and vigilance, but the untold satisfaction of unearthing new records that hit you like a brick in the face, make being a metalhead in this day and age such a thrilling glory ride.
I had a difficult time narrowing the following list (in alphabetical order) down to only ten releases (ultimately, the aforementioned day job dictated its final length) that have made a lasting impact in my heart of hearts during the first six months of this year, thanks to their creativity, vision, emotion, pummeling ferocity, gripping melody, riff mastery, headbangability, confident musicianship and that certain je ne sais quoi that elevates some albums and the whole genre to dizzying artistic heights.
Aversio Humanitatis – Longing for the Untold
Earlier this year, I called Longing for the Untold “the equivalent of the seventh mass extinction event on a planetary scale.” Ever since, countless spins of this colossal tour de force have served to further strengthen my conviction. Aversio Humanitatis has locked incendiary black metal fury and death metal muscle into a perfect ratio with a total control of dynamics and tension, unleashing crushing intensity that hits like a rail gun salvo. This band devours worlds.
(Sentient Ruin just re-released Longing for the Untold with three bonus tracks from earlier releases)
Black Anvil – As Was
With As Was, Black Anvil finally breaks through and accomplishes the vision and excellence its previous albums hinted at, yet had fallen slightly short of. You can hear the air around the progressive compositions crackle, bursting with ideas and surprising turns. Bold use of soaring melodies and clean vocals beautifully complements the underlying black/thrash attack and grit, culminating in the stunning devotional coda of “Ultra” which ranks among the most majestic and catchiest metal songs in recent memory.
Emptiness – Not for Music
Somehow Emptiness managed to top their 2014 mindbender Nothing but the Whole by slithering further into uncharted experimental territories. And what a genre-defying trip and an instant classic Not for Music is, carving twisting paths through liminal spaces where the music engulfs the listener into a dreamlike state where time and space bend according to the band’s masterful vision. Not for Music oozes eerie ambiguity and channels an uncanny sense of danger and unease. At the same time, as if to enthrall further, it nonetheless feels warm and welcoming, and sounds outright seductive and sexy.
Fen – Winter
On paper, Winter should be a depressing affair, a stark reminder of one’s mortality and of a life cut short, devoid of meaning and purpose, but in the hands of Fen, the bleakness transcends despondency and reaches a triumphant zenith of acceptance and celebration of fading memories and the final lungful of air before succumbing to darkness. Winter however stays with you, as your mortal coil’s companion, with its larger-than-life beauty providing comfort and, paradoxically, a cathartic sense of purpose.
Foscor – Les Irreals Visions
Two years ago, I visited Foscor’s hometown Barcelona for work-related training that for some unexplained reason was held at a convent populated by octogenarian nuns. After a particularly long day of training, yours truly and a group of like-minded ne’er-do-wells escaped downtown and proceeded to get drunk with exuberance that was way too late for our respective ages. I recall a moment of elation around 4 am, when our taxis drove full speed side by side, windows rolled down, and we were all screaming, savoring the intoxication and freedom without any mortal fear of disturbing the nuns’ sleep upon our unruly arrival or the already imminent early wake-up call for a full day of training with a dreadful hangover.
Les Irreals Visions brought back that moment and feeling with vivid passion. Having jettisoned most of the signifiers of its black metal past, Foscor’s latest release manifests a yearning, a longing for liberation and endless joy, in the throes of aching melancholy and desire. This exercise in restraint builds tension and constantly threatens to release it. When it finally happens, it is a thing of beauty, a cornucopia of vibrant colors bursting and blossoming, ringing ethereal guitars swirling above blast beats (particular praise goes to Jordi Farré’s passionate, towering and multifaceted drumming that and Fiar’s lush, evocative vocals, both incredible highlights in their own right). This is the work of a band at the height of its power, comfortable in its new skin while also acknowledging its tender vulnerability .
Inferno – Gnosis Kardias (of Transcension and Involution)
Gnosis Kardias forms a portal into the warm bosom of a transcendental realm of rapturous revelation and ecstasy. Other black metal bands might riff harder and faster, but Inferno outshines its peers in conjuring a gorgeous otherworldly ceremony full of intricate arcane texture to marvel at and study to unravel.
The Ruins of Beverast – Exuvia
When taking stock of 2016, I rejoiced how metal had gone truly cosmic and psychedelic during the year. Alexander von Meilenwald’s singular masterpiece continues this trend with a unique idiosyncratic artistic expression that branches out deep into the realm of ecstatic trance. Exuvia forms a visionary totem pole around which devotees, disciples and pretenders alike will congregate for worship and inspiration and a rare glimpse into what may await behind the veil, in the folds of the in-between.
Schammasch – The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite
It is nigh-unfathomable how Schammasch could produce another massive statement of artistic brilliance so soon after the universally lauded triple-headed monster Triangle. Although smaller in scale and length, Hermaphrodite is nonetheless further testimony as to Schammasch’s unrivaled vision in contemporary metal landscape, a grandiose display of how metal becomes atmospheric, riveting storytelling that rivals great literature, without a hint of pretentiousness.
Venenum – Trance of Death
Adventurous yet cohesive, full of vicious stabs of death metal penetrating through a haze of psychedelia, Venenum launched a spiraling tornado of delicious riffing coupled with an unnerving atmosphere of bottomless depth and strange breadth where anything is possible. Trance of Death is a work of wonder and magick, meticulous in execution with ever-flowing rampant creativity.
White Ward – Futility Report
In the case of a lesser band, saxophone would have been a gimmick or an afterthought, but White Ward knows how to write captivating, triumphant songs and elevates those with the brass. Saxophone forms an integral part of White Ward and a central element of Futility Report’s enticing charm and soul. Whether running wild and alternating with melodic guitar leads during frantic black metal assaults or taking the lead in soothing noir jazz sections, Alexey Iskimzhi’s sultry saxophone evokes a sense of intimacy and passion rarely heard in the realm of metal.