23 Dec 2016

2016 Top 10 - Part II: The Non-Metal Part

Here is the second Top 10 for 2016 - The non-metal part. Again, there has been several worthy contenders, and some must be left out. After all, there's not much sense in the end of the year list if you're not forced to make some choices. And in 2016, these choices are as follows:

1. Wardruna - Runaljod: Ragnarok
Ragnarok concludes the Runaljod saga that Wardruna started in 2009, and what an epic end that it is. The album trilogy as a whole is incredible, and the final chapter encompasses the entire journey while fitfully putting it to an end. Einar Selvik's compositions are as down to earth as ever, permeated by the usual authenticity and will to create. Wardruna's music is ritualistic and spiritual both in essence and aesthetic, but also in execution. Ragnarok isn't as apocalyptic as one would assume from the title, but it is highly evocative of the Nordic past in a way that is just amazing.

2. Black Mountain - IV
What many of the albums on this list have in common is the fact that they are among the best efforts from bands that already have a catalogue of releases behind them. This goes especially for Black Mountain's fourth album IV - Though the Canadian group has dabbled in hardened, trippy indie rock for quite a few years with many a great composition behind them, I noted with IV in the original review that this is their most concise, adventurous and confident album yet. I stand by these words, and IV has only grown more on me since its release.

3. Blaak Heat - Shifting Mirrors
As Blaak Heat Shujaa this outfit released a few albums before unleashing Shifting Mirrors in 2016. Though signed to and released by the prestigious stoner rock label Tee Pee Records, Shifting Mirrors isn't wholeheartedly stoner rock - at least not in the same way that the band's previous albums were. Their latest offering is substantially more progressive in tone than both many of their label mates, but also than their own earlier efforts. Shifting Mirrors is mystical, spiritual, and foreign yet profoundly familiar. Unreasonably fantastic.

4. Joel Grind - Equinox
To get all the mandatory stuff out of the way: Bla bla bla John Carpenter, bla bla bla minimalistic soundscapes. Joel Grind is mostly known for his thrashing death machine Toxic Holocaust, but the American musician and producer is a man of many talents. Equinox lets us bear witness to his forays into synth-laden darkness with an impressive array of analogue synthesizers and keyboards. Though his pulsating rhythms and notes sometimes drag on into predictability, he gets himself lost in nostalgic noir cinematics with deepfelt melancholy and crisp phases with such excellence that it's hard to overlook.

5. Dynatron - Aeternus
Jeppe Hasseriis - AKA Dynatron - is arguably one of the synthwave heavyweights, his trademark throbbing synthworks hitting home more or less every time. Aeternus, however, isn't as hard and heavy as previous releases from the Dane. Instead he leans heavily towards more classic aspirations reminiscent of Jean-Michel Jarre, allowing for a larger soundscape with greater breezes of electric keys and computerised effects. The latest album has a more cosmic feel, but still retains the classic Dynatron sound that the musician had cemented on previous efforts - Let the synths flow!

6. Bombino - Azel
Warm desert winds carry you through foreign skies by way of Omara Moctar's bluesy guitar vibes. There can be no doubt as to Moctar's talent as a musician and songwriter, and if his many previous albums didn't convince you with their classic guitar-wrangling, Azel surely must. As far a Tuareg music goes, Bombino has become pretty hyped these last few years, but this band differentiates themselves as being more upbeat, more western, bluesier and more guitar-focused than bands like Tinariwen. Mind you, this isn't to say that Bombino are superior - Just that they are in essence more of a traditional (although very modern in sound) rock band with a worldly feel. And Azel is the epitomy of that sound.

7. John Carpenter - Lost Themes II
John Carpenter is a master of his craft - His films are dark, paranoid and claustrophobic masterpieces in horror, more often than not accompanied by his stark, minimalist synth soundtracks. Lost Themes from 2015 opened up a Pandora's Box of music composed in the same style, but with no specific film in mind, and in 2016 Lost Themes II follows up on like a vicious stalker in the night. Carpenter's oppressive moods have found their home among a cult following, and Lost Themes II is yet another huge achievement from the director/composer.

8. Slasher Dave - Exorcisms
Though best known for his work with psychedelic death/doom metal outfit Acid Witch, Slasher Dave's solo outings are not to be underestimated. Paying tribute to the greats of horror film soundtrack composers like Fabio Frizzi, Goblin and the abovementioned John Carpenter, his music touches on much of the same instrumentation and similar moods and atmospheres. Dave's music on Exorcisms is vibrant with gothic imagery, blood-drenched synths and grim soundscapes, ambitious and far-reaching in its execution. There is a definite degree of cheese, but it goes well with the theme without ever being too much of one thing. He handles his inspirations with passion and interest, and it shows on Exorcisms.

9. Messenger - Threnodies
Ethereal and intangible, but so very very real with an enormous presence. Messenger from UK have found a new home on legendary progressive rock and metal label Inside Out Music with their latest album, which erases the lines between indie, folk rock and prog. The group are strong as ever and manage to seamlessly sway between gentle frailty and heavy handed swings, lead singer Khaled Lowe's vocals rummaging through far away recesses of your brain accompanied by eerie guitars and off-kilter drumming. Threnodies perfectly encompasses what I fell in love with on their debut, and yet manages to elaborate on the sound and concept in ways that are wonderfully obvious yet surprising.

10. Wovenhand - Star Treatment
Over the course of over 20 years David Eugene Edwards has released an impressive body of work with an even more impressive standard of quality with both 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand. These last few albums, however, failed to hold my interest as Edwards delved more and more into varying stylistic approaches that in my mind didn't fit very well together. Star Treatment, too, is pretty far removed from classic Wovenhand albums like Consider the Birds or Mosaic, but at the same time it is refreshing and fully lives up to the gothic alt-country themes that Edwards usually portrays.

Honorable mentions:
Waveshaper - Station Nova
Synthwave as a genre has truly emerged in 2016, and the future is looking bright with some of the originators coming out with new albums in 2017 as well. Sweden's Waveshaper is behind one of 2016's strongest synthwave albums with Station Nova, merging 80s nostalgia with a modern neon-soaked beat at a level that most musicians in the genre should strive to achieve.

RJD2 - Dame Fortune
Dame Fortune is quite a journey through various genres and styles, all held together by RJD2's well-defined sound and modus operandi. Songs like the slithering The Roaming Hoard and the lazy The Sheboygan Left stand out as some of 2016s best standalone tracks, and while the album works well as a whole it does perhaps draw a bit too much in different directions, meaning that your listening mood has to be as diverse as the album's many facets.

Justice - Woman
The French duo offer slap-bass aplenty in what Pitchfork and others have called a boring album. True, Woman is no Cross, but the poppier feel they've acquired on their latest album feels true to their concept, and their sound adapts well to these frequencies. It's a fun album that isn't all too serious, and a colourful addition to 2016 immense album roster.

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