16 Dec 2016

2016 Top 10 - Part I: The Metal Part

2016 has been an incredibly strong year for music. Although we've had to say goodbye to several legends, many new hopes continue to arise and bring the sound and feeling that we crave.

I've had the chance to listen to a relatively high amount of new albums this year, and only few of the albums I was anticipating were disappointing. Of course choosing just ten was incredibly tough with many huge contenders sadly having to be left out.

Though the list contains many different types of metal, black metal has reigned supreme this year, with many genre heavyweights returning with insanely good offerings. Fully half of this list consists of black metal albums, which is saying something because so many black metal bands - old and new - continue to phone it in and offer only a minimal amount of effort. It's good to know some still pride themselves in good songwriting.

Metal is what lies closest to my heart, but many other genres continue to astound me as well. As a result, I have resorted to make 3 lists: A metal top 10 including honourable mentions, a top 10 with different genres including honourable mentions, and a top 5 EPs of the year.

1. Asphyx - Incoming Death
I was personally exceptionally late to the party when it comes to Asphyx. It wasn't until the release of 2012's Deathhammer that it really hit home, and even then Martin Van Drunens vocals sort of rubbed me the wrong way. So imagine my surprise when Incoming Death pushed all the right buttons, both in terms of engaging songwriting and gore-drenched heaviness. Van Drunen's ghostly howls are rivaled in intensity only by Paul Baayens' war-mongering guitar work, as Zuur and Hüskens pound you into oblivion with their carnal rhythm section.

2. Stone Magnum - Holy Blessings to None
Leave it to Stone Magnum - Michigan City's dictators of doom - to carve a monolith of magnificent, dogmatic doom metal. While their style is obviously born from the influence of classic doom metal bands, the quintet offer their apocalyptic sermons with a trace amount of creeping magnificence that reaches far and wide around the riffs and vocal melodies that only they know how to extract from their equipment.

3. Void Meditation Cult - Utter the Tongue of the Dead
The wait has been too long between Void Meditation Cult's demo and the release of their debut album, but the wait has been completely worth it. The Ohio project continues as arguably the filthiest black metal band in the spotlight today, and Utter the Tongue of the Dead is everything one could have hoped for - And more! Each sacrifice is more vile and repulsive than the last, and this is exactly what the scene needs today - Not more over-produced bullshit.

4. Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
For a band that found their trademark sound relatively late, they've been keeping up with demand at an astounding rate. Bloodshed Across the Empyrean embodies all the unique and quirky aspects of the duo, and even if we had high hopes that they would make another Ominous Doctrines or Obscure Verses, they really blew expectations out of the water with tracks such as Wings of Anu and The Flames of Infinite Blackness Before Creation.

5. Forteresse - Thèmes pour la rébellion
About halfway through 2016 Forteresse from Quebec, Canada, returned with their first album in five years, and they immediately set the bar for 2016's black metal incredibly high. The riffs alone are delivered with such force that they could level an entire city, and behind it all is an inherent hatred that shines through the tiny cracks at any given opportunity.

6. Disrule - Omen Possessor
Stoner metal, as a genre, is so oversaturated with boring run of the mill bands with no artistic vision and no sense for crushing riffs. Many make the mistake of dragging their stale riffs on for far too long. Consider it a breath of fresh air (or some much needed CPR if you will) when Disrule with their debut album spend only about 30 minutes pummeling you with their 10 no-bullshit stoner metal slabs. The shorter play times (most songs aren't even 3 minutes in length) are highly justified by their straight-to-the-point approach - Disrule never meander, they're always on the move.

7. Grand Magus - Sword Songs
Grand Magus don't try to hide their love for cheese and heavy metal - Instead, they embrace it more and more with each album. Sword Songs is refreshingly honest in its claim for glory, and far surpasses the recent efforts of most of the bands from which they take their cues. The crowning achievements are the interplay between their deviously simplistic riffs and the ever-marching double beat of their kick drums, embodied most ably on Forged in Iron, Crowned in Steel. This trio is definitely a torch bearer for true heavy metal in 2016.

8. Ranger - Speed & Violence
Speed & Violence is truly a comeback - Where their previous album Where Evil Dwells lacked the sharpened fangs that made the band's earliest efforts stand-out performances, Speed & Violence aptly sinks its teeth into the raw meat of 80s speed metal once again. In a scene where the bands are a dime a dozen, Ranger keeps it real and ferocious with each high pitched scream and each violent riff, making Speed & Violence a devastating, furious assault on the senses.

9. Deathspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones
One of the latest released albums on this list, it didn't take long for Deathspell Omega to once again constrict themselves around the metal community's collective neck. Their music has in the past been something that took a while to get into, but The Synarchy of Molten Bones is in all honesty probably the band's best material yet. Having evolved from the basic black metal that forms their origin, this feels incredibly far away from where the French band is now. The Synarchy of Molten Bones hits the sweet spot between experimentation and listenability where there is something for everybody. 

10. Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä
Laden with cosmic fear, Oranssi Pazuzu's fourth album set an extremely high standard for black metal early on in 2016. Arguably Värähtelijä is their most eclectic album, in no small part due to the all-encompasing black hole reverberations that they put forth with their dense nebulas of washing distortion and abstract drones. It expands and contracts in wild convulsions, making it an enticing journey through the all-encompassing roar of space.

Honorable mentions
Trap Them - Crown Feral
Though they had been going at it with their crust punk-infused grindcore since 2001, their first major breakthrough didn't come until 2011's Darker Handcraft which took the world by storm with its intense noise. Crown Feral continues in the same style and is as uncompromising as ever, showing that Trap Them are still at the top of their game, and a competitive force in the world of international grindcore. 

Cultes des Ghoules - Coven
We have been absolutely spoiled with phenomenal returning efforts from awesome black metal bands, and while Cultes Des Ghoules' newest effort was among my most highly anticipated, the 1 hour and 38 minute opus dragged on for too long and didn't have the same concise and weird riffage that the previous album, Henbane, did.

Dark Funeral - Where Shadows Forever Reign
For a band that has had an incredibly high standard throughout their career, Dark Funeral continues to produce high grade black metal in 2016, 20 years after the release of their first album. Lord Ahriman and company shows the importance of captivating riffs in black metal, and considering the fact that a great deal of black metal bands today rely on atmospheric swarthes rather than actual riffs, Where Shadows Forever Reign proves Dark Funeral's rightful place among genre legends.

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