Every year I come up with a list of albums, and every year I have trouble trying to firmly rank them. Also, doesn’t everyone just scroll to the end to see what the best album is? I know I do. So here’s my list where the first entries are the best, and it gets decidedly fuzzier after that. But one thing is certain, every album on this list is one of the best albums of the year. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
(ed: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or just happy Wednesday, whatever. Consider this a break from the family deal where there’s too many bags of torn gift wrap and cousin Eddie is playing banjo on your last nerve. Enjoy Charles’ picks and check all these out seeing as you’ve got all those gift cards and/or extra cash burning a hole in that pocket.)
Numenorean — Adore
What can I say? I spent more time with it this year than any other album, and I will be going back to it for a very long time. Few bands even try to touch Gojira’s sound, and Numenorean manages to do so without compromising their own style in the process. On top of that, the album is an emotional juggernaut, dealing with the loss of a loved one, and it bleeds through entirely. I challenge you to listen to this album and not be moved.
Hope Drone — Void Lustre
Hope Drone’s raw emotional rampages speak to me in a way that most music rarely can. Where Cloak of Ash represented the bitter futility of our existence, Void Lustre is a monument to resisting entropy. It is the album I needed to channel the rage and anger I feel at what the world has become.
Pijn/Conjurer — Curse These Metal Hands
Sometimes I need to offset the emotional weight of life, and so I appreciate the rare times I encounter happy and uplifting metal, and the way this album clearly starts there and then morphs into… something else… is a wonder to behold. Conjurer can do no wrong, and Pijn are excellent at what they do, and this collaboration is one of the best I’ve ever heard.
Astronoid — Astronoid
When Air came out in 2016 it was a revelation, and I’ll admit to being terrified at what a follow up might bring; but my fears were unfounded. A counterbalance to Air, Astronoid’s S/T has an ebb and flow, and gives you room to breath between the epic riffs and unparalleled vocals. It’s a more mature and musical album than Air, and is all the better for it.
Moon Tooth — Crux
If you’ve never seen Moon Tooth live, you are missing out. I could never fully appreciate their last album until I experienced it in person, and Crux captures the energy and power of their live shows.
Special award: Best “Motherfucker” Of the Year for “Musketeers”
Iapetus — The Body Cosmic
Where DID this album come from? An absolutely unexpected late entry into my list, I cannot get enough of it. They do that… that thing. I don’t even know what to call it, other than “That Ne Obliviscaris thing.” But comparing this album to Ne Obliviscaris does them a huge disservice, because for all the similarities, this album is entirely its own. Listen to it and be amazed.
Special Award: Best Riff for “I Contain Multitudes” at 6:10.
An Isolated Mind — I’m Losing Myself
In a world where Genghis Tron broke up, this kind of electronic and noise-infused metal has been hard to come by. An Isolated Mind has managed to evoke that aesthetic while crafting one of the most affecting albums of the year.
False — Portent
Vince once called False the best active black metal band in the world in terms of advancing the form and I can’t disagree. They’ve aimed themselves in the direction of black metal’s evolution, and then leapt far past any other black metal band. There’s no adoration of times gone by here, just extreme devotion to the genre. If you like black metal for what it is or can be, this should be one of your favorite albums of the year.
Falls of Rauros — Patterns in Mythology
Where False is all about taking black metal as far as it will go without breaking, Falls of Rauros are all about bending black metal until it is almost unrecognizable. Defying explanation and categorization, drawing from so many influences it weaves an unexpected tapestry, this is an album you don’t want to miss.
Schammasch — Hearts of No Light
Grandiose and epic, operatic and theatrical, I probably shouldn’t like this album at all, as those are descriptors I usually use for albums I avoid. And yet, despite one part which strongly evokes the Dracula opera from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, this album is one of the year’s heavy-weights. Catchy and effortless, it lands in the perfect middle ground between False’s future extrapolation of black metal and Falls of Rauros’s deconstruction.
Special Award: Best Goth Rock for “A Paradigm of Beauty”
The Moth Gatherer — Esoteric Oppression
In a year chock full of excellent post-metal releases, The Moth Gatherer takes top honors. Esoteric Oppression manages to evoke all the greats without being copycatish or an attempt at fan service. I don’t think there’s a better album on this list to just soak in with the lights out.
Vukari — Aevum
Vukari’s latest represents their best yet, and one of my favorites of the year. The way they meld post-metal and black metal has always appealed strongly to me and I love that they keep evolving with each new release.
Rosetta — Terra Sola
Rosetta is one of the hardest working bands out there, as well as being extremely prolific. Their Terra Sola EP absolutely hit the spot for me this year, and I’m happy to continually see them crop up with unexpected new albums on Bandcamp.
Victims — The Horse and Sparrow Theory
Barebones and stripped down, aggressive tracks built over simple but catchy riffs, and political lyrics over d-beat drumming? Yeah, this album is a fuckin’ banger. Don’t miss it.
Liturgy — H.A.Q.Q.
Probably not a leap to call Liturgy the most polarizing band on this list. Love it or hate it, you can’t really argue that Liturgy isn’t doing something no one else does. Their particularly strange brand of glitch-based black metal is definitely at the intersection of inaccessible electronic and inaccessible metal. I loved Aesthetica and disliked everything since; for me H.A.Q.Q. is a return to form.
A Pregnant Light — Broken Play & Damian Master — Honeyhole
Damian Master continues to evolve and impress with every new release, and I love that he drops them regularly with little fanfare. Both albums bring even more riffing in that pure gibson meets rectifier style. His style defies categorization, but it also never stagnates. Releasing under his own name is an interesting turn of events, but Honeyhole isn’t so different from other APL releases that it was necessary. Either way, more is always better.
Mono — Nowhere Now Here
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that once upon a time, recorded music used dynamics. There were quiet parts, and there were loud parts. You either soaked in the waves or you scrambled for that volume knob. Mono is here to remind us that this still exists. Beautiful and haunting, with dynamics to smash your ears and wreck your speakers, Mono is making some of the absolute best post-rock out there.
Special Award: Best Album to Play At Your Death.
Alcest — Spiritual Instinct
I don’t even know what to say about this one. It’s blackgaze, but it’s not. It’s post-metal, but it’s not. Extremely melodic, with catchy riffs every time you turn your head, and clean vocals which blend flawlessly into screams. This album has it all, and does it all, and does it with style.
Obsequiae — The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings
When I first listened to this, I didn’t quite give it my full attention and as such didn’t appreciate it. Suspended in the Brume of Eos was like nothing I’d heard before, and somehow Aria of Vernal Tombs left me cold. But Palms of Sorrowed Kings is engaging and riffy, with production that’s a bit more full than Aria was, and it makes all the difference.
Inter Arma — Sulfur English
Do I even enjoy this album? Jury is still out. But listening to it demands my attention and locks me in place, preventing me from doing anything except listening. It feels like having the inner workings of my being reprogrammed. Probably not in a good way. But I still find myself going back to the album regularly for a listen, and that means something.
Allegaeon — Apoptosis
Allegaeon has long been one of the most interesting bands in modern extreme metal. Constantly pushing boundaries and never sitting still, Apoptosis represents both an evolutionary leap and proof of a newfound musical confidence. Technical progressive death metal at its absolute finest. Even if some of my cohorts here at Nine Circles disagree. (They are wrong).
Beastwars — IV
Never before has a brush with mortality so thoroughly been captured in musical form. Raw and uncompromising, brutal in its honesty, life and authenticity is what lets this sludge album rise above all of its counterparts.
White Ward — Love Exchange Failure
Avantgarde and jazzy, like Bohren And Der Club of Gore decided to dip their feet into black metal, Love Exchange Failure hits me directly in the same spot as last year’s Messa. More metal with these influences please.
Abigail Williams — Walk Beyond the Dark
Abigail Williams sounds like a different band with every album, but this one rises above all the rest. Creative and well structured, I hope this represents them finding their footing, and the promise of more.
A Secret Revealed — Sacrifices & Glassing — Spotted Horse
Both of these albums hit the same buttons for me, a perfect mix of post-metal and post-hardcore. The sweet spots are all there on both albums, calm ambient passages and roaring rage filled scream-fests. If you like your post-hardcore to have that emotional range, then both of these albums deliver.
Special Awards: Best Fermata for A Secret Revealed: “The Isolation” at 3:42, and Best Musical Non-Musical Interlude for Glassing: “Coven”
Cloudkicker — Unending
I love Cloudkicker. You should love Cloudkicker. Who doesn’t love Cloudkicker? Every one of this guy’s releases is gold, and Unending is no exception.
Special Award: Most Looped Track for “Xaoc”
Elder — The Gold & Silver Sessions
As an unabashed Elder fan, I voraciously consume everything they produce. The Gold & Silver Sessions step out of their standard sludgy riff-laden psychedelia and instead opt for a more free form musical flow, and the result is delightful.
Blanck Mass — Animated Violence Mild
I don’t listen to enough electronic music, but this one crossed my radar this year and stuck with me. Aggressively intense techno is a refreshing change of pace, and frankly doesn’t even feel particularly out of place on a metal list, especially when it rolls out black metal vocals.
Soilwork — Verkligheten
I’ll never not stan for a Soilwork album and Verkligheten is no different. Riffs for days, and full of that unique Soilwork sound. They’ve never made a bad album and I don’t expect that to ever change. Each one is just different enough to keep it fresh, while still being easily identifiable. If you’ve ever liked a Soilwork album, you’ll like this one too.
Town Portal — Of Violence
Dark and grimy math rock slash post-metal? Town Portal stuns again with this new album, a polar opposite to 2015’s The Occident. Slow and methodical, threatening and foreboding, Town Portal takes their math rock roots to a place math rock rarely ventures.
Clouds Collide — They Don’t Sleep Anymore
It’s hard to even describe the new Clouds Collide album. It continues the shoegaze thing laid down by previous albums, but then evolves far past it. Deeply musical and affecting, it is definitely one of the most unexpected releases of the year. I loved All Things Shining, but They Don’t Sleep Anymore exceeds it on all levels.
Cloud Rat — Pollinator
I am not a grindcore fan. In general, grindcore gets about eight seconds of play before I close a browser tab. But something about Cloud Rat’s energy and rage really works for me in a way that others don’t. I clicked with their music instantly and have been a fan since, and any new Cloud Rat release is a great Cloud Rat release.
Special Award: Song That Is Almost Entirely a Breakdown for “Biome”
Rabea Massaad — Grinding Gears Vol.2
Yeah, I know this is just a collection of tracks he’s made to pitch gear on youtube, but I literally don’t give a shit because he’s one of my favorite guitarists. His style is exactly what I’ve always aspired to, and his creativity knows no bounds.
Special Award: Best Triphop Song for “First Kontakt”
And all these albums are excellent too:
Infinity Shred — Forever, A Fast Life
Cult of Luna — A Dawn to Fear
Somn — The All-Devouring
Labirinto — Divino Afflante Spiritu
Shadow Limb — Burn Scar
Russian Circles — Blood Year
Boris — LOVE & EVOL
The End of the Ocean — -aire