Top Albums of 2016, by Bruce Hardt
2016 has been a mixed bag of a year. I’ll leave what was bad about it up to you, enough has been said by everyone on that. On the good side, thankfully, we exist in a world where music still has its place as modes of escapism. In a year fettered with distasteful politics, it has been refreshing for me, personally, to see artists continuing to hone their crafts, dispelling any notion that extreme music can be controlled. We’ll see what the future holds, but until then I’ll reflect on the releases I enjoyed most this year, however small or wide swept their reception may have been.
(Frigid Misery / Self-released, United States)
A four song EP stuffed to the brim with grimy death metal, 80s horror tones and Gundam references, this Massachusetts trio put out Lotus way back in January through limited cassette and 7”. Calling to mind early Morbid Angel with newer hardcore punk trappings, Lotus barrels through its length with feral efficiency. As their third official release, Lotus’ signature sound is all the more impressive given Fuming Mouth’s youth. Keep an ear out for this band.
(Self-released, United States)
Like Fuming Mouth above, California’s Vamachara followed their eponymous left-hand path with their four track course of hyper violent hardcore. Armed with knuckle swing and dragging breakdowns, a deeply resounding guitar tone and viciously spat vocals, Vamachara calls to mind the best material of Buried Alive and Disembodied while also planting their own foot firmly on their style’s throat.
(Total Negativity, United States)
In a year rife with fear induced by conservative overreach, bands like G.L.O.S.S. are important. An acronym for “Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit,” this Washington quintet was the fanged mouthpiece for LGBTQ+ rights that 2016 needed. On a level with the seminal Limp Wrist, G.L.O.S.S.’s second release is just as loud and affirmative as their debut demo, though more refined in its rightful fury. While this year also saw them close their book, their impact will remain felt like a hot pink third degree burn.
(Nuclear Blast, United States)
Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny that Nails are among the most pissed off bands in hardcore right now. While You Will Never Be One of Us may reek of elitist sentiment, the views contained therein are inclusive, though that theme may be lost amid the album’s gunfire drums, serrated guitars, asphyxiating bass and teeth gnashing vocals. While not quite reaching the lofty point set by 2013’s Abandon All Life, their third LP is testament to a band that cares not what you think and will continue not giving a fuck.
(Self-released, United States)
Last year saw this Colorado trio release their first full-length, Embrace the Wretched Flesh, which brought their signature style of grinded, crusted over hardcore to its extremes. Pious Abnormality stampedes past that marker with Of Feather and Bone treading through deathgrind territory. This demo’s tracks are breathless, taking no time to offer respite from a band that was already merciless. As this is but a mere taste of what is to come, like Fuming Mouth, keep this band in your sights.
(Norma Evangelium Diaboli/The Ajna Offensive, France)
As mysterious as ever, France’s enigmatic Deathspell Omega unleashed The Synarchy of Molten Bones to much surprise earlier this fall, finally closing the gap left by their fifth album, 2010’s Paracletus. This long awaited outing carries over the bizarre and esoterically grim black metal that has made Deathspell Omega releases so highly anticipated. Synarchy is their most relentless collection, taking only small passages to exhale their ashen breath before diving headfirst into their own unique hell that never ceases to impress.
With a collection of impressive demos, EPs and splits under their belt, this Manitoban quintet was long overdue for a full-length. Here we have Never, which was well worth the wait. Always flagbearers of the Holy Terror sound pioneered by Integrity and Gehenna, Withdrawal have always armed their metalcore with woeful melody, bleak worldviews and unbridled energy. Never is Withdrawal in their prime and most primal, melding both qualities to create a sound that is simultaneously as elegant as it is brutal. Welcome back.
(Relapse, United States)
Tired of Tomorrow saw Nothing tighten their shoegaze and alternative rock sound by reigning in the swirling expanses and wavering guitars that permeated their prior releases. The result is a second album that dabbles in shoegaze, 90s alternative and dream pop in equal measure (with a dash of hardcore punk structure), forming a collection soaked in world weariness and existential objection. Nothing’s penchant for coating their bouncing sound in bleak lyricism is also improved, affording Tired of Tomorrow a place as their best work to date.
(Dark Descent/Woodsmoke, United States)
What we have here is among the best death metal records to come this decade. Following last year’s Interdimensional Extinction, Starspawn builds upon that release’s sturdy foundations in every way. Progressive and succinct, Blood Incantation infuse their debut LP with Death’s heaviest and most melodic moments while nodding to the celestial riffs of early Cynic within its five tracks. There is much happening here between their spatial guitars, demon croon vocals and meteoric drums, with each piece coalescing into a thoughtful and brutal whole.
(Relapse, United States)
This album had me hyped before it was even announced. Riding on the success of their four song EP, this Arizonan fivesome carved their name into the US through years of aggressive touring and finally came home with this death metal jewel. Full of ugly HM-2 fueled riffs, Gatecreeper pay homage to the best of Entombed and Dismember while also forging a scorched earth sound all their own. Fitted with hardcore’s most mosh-worthy moments, Sonoran Depravation is violent as much it is inspired by its towering riffs and doomy passages. Among the most accessible death metal releases of the year, there is something here for every heavy music fan.