Top Albums of 2016, by Chris Rowella
Were there any trends in the heavy metal landscape this year? I haven’t the foggiest. Despite being “in the loop” as someone constantly barraged with music, music news, music opinions, etc. I still tend to only pay attention to what I historically enjoy. Sometimes that puts me in strange (hip) company, but mostly I’m out in the ether with old Grand Funk records but without a clue as to why so much terrible black metal exists. That being said, 2016 did produce some bangers. Newer bands hit their stride, older bands proved they still had some gas in the tank, and reliable standbys kept the fires burning. These are my completely unsurprising favorites.
20. Wo Fat – Midnight Cometh (Ripple Music, USA)
19. UXO – UXO (Reptilian, USA)
18. Conan – Revengeance (Napalm, UK)
17. Wormrot – Voices (Earache, Singapore)
16. Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Arc (Relapse, USA)
15. Graves At Sea – The Curse That Is (Relapse, USA)
14. Rotten Sound – Abuse To Suffer (Season Of Mist, Finland)
13. Cough – Still They Pray (Relapse, USA)
12. Bellringer – Jettison (Rock Is Hell, USA)
11. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse, USA)
(Hells Headbangers, USA)
Speedwolf is dead, long live Nuke! The world will always need sleazy speed metal, and Detroit’s bastard sons are delivering it here in spades. They’ve been kicking around long enough in other great bands (Shitfucker, Acid Watch) to know what they’re doing, and also pay homage to the Eighties without coming across as disingenuous. Metal is still allowed to be fun, right? Nuke is A LOT of fun.
After a few missteps on 2013’s Thy Kingdom Scum, Church Of Misery returned with a brand new lineup and one of their best albums to date. With Scott Carlson in ‘tortured doom’ mode on vocals, CoM added a more streamlined approach to their sound and we’re all reaping the benefits. Serial killers, samples and sludge still reign supreme; Tatsu Mikami & Co. are just elevating their game.
I, for one, welcome our new prog-rock overlords.
(Nuclear Blast, USA)
After all the hype, the jokes, the drama, the breakup, the reformation, one thing remains: this album will still kick your teeth in and not give it a second thought. Expanding the band’s sonic palette was risky, given their signature blistering aggression, but Ballou and Jones managed to find a place for melody in the chaos. It’s still surreal to see music like this covered so extensively by mainstream publications, but that’s just another testament to its excellence.
(eOne Music, USA)
Signing to a bigger label doesn’t quite have the negative connotations it used to, but that won’t stop some keyboard warriors from slinging “sellout!” at whomever. But with the changing face of the record industry, some labels are more willing to let bands with proven track records keep doing their thing, and that’s exactly the case for Whores. The noise rock knights of Atlanta finally put together a full-length, and it lives up to the expectations of previous EPs Clean. and Ruiner. It’s an ugly duckling that you can’t help but love.
(Bad Omen, USA)
Karl Simon transferred anguish and loss into one of the most soulful, beautiful doom albums in years. The inherent elements of the genre - swinging Sabbathian riffs, galloping drums, groove for days - are out in force, but with an even more melancholic, slightly sinister vibe permeating the proceedings. If this is Simon forgoing fantasy for reality, I’ll take it.
Tribalistic but not simplistic, melancholic but not melodramatic, End Of Mirrors is what Alaric has been building towards in their impressive eight-year career. Each instrument, as well as personal-new-favorite singer Shane Baker, contributes an equal yet unique element to the songs, creating a democratic sound rare for its genre. Drawing equally from the wells of post-punk, goth and doom, the album drives straight to the emotional core of how music can affect the listener; it creates a mood and transports one into its truest form. RIYL: rainy days, “me time”, hope and despair in equal measure.
(20 Buck Spin, USA)
Destroying any notion of ‘sophomore slump’, the band responsible for my favorite metal album of 2015 came roaring back, grand scope and thunderous riffs intact. Right from the opening moments of “Above The Water”, it’s apparent Khemmis have no plan to scale things back or mess with their winning formula (that formula being Warning + Thin Lizzy + High On Fire x Denver elevation). I’m not the only one to latch onto this worthy bandwagon, but there’s still plenty of room and the soundtrack will never suck. Jump in!
Trading in the suffocating density of Honor Found In Decay for a return to more visceral pastures, Neurosis return from a rare misstep and find their focus on Fires Within Fires. It benefits greatly from more streamlined songwriting, which in turn created accomplished, memorable songs. “A Shadow Memory” and “Fire Is The End Lesson”, especially, carry the hallmarks of classic Neurosis, with Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till trading off vocals and that trademark psychedelic heaviness bringing it all home. This band is almost incapable of making bad music, just different variations on good and great. Fires Within Fires is incredibly great.
(Southern Lord, USA)
I get it: not many bands/labels/releases have a lot of readily available capital to spend on exposure. There are only 24 hours in a day, *insert cliche platitude*, etc. But, holy shit, how are so many people sleeping on this album? OK, it’s been four years since Like Rats had an album out. (That album, by the way, is a vicious slab of primitive death metal that you owe yourself to seek out.) II retains the ‘death’ tag, but it’s been shaped, refined and sharpened to a fine point. Imagine Tom G. Warrior writing songs for Obituary, then said songs being covered by Gehenna (the Norwegian one) and also Gehenna (the American one). There is an undeniable groove pervading the entire album as well; sometimes it swings like an Asphyx hammer (“Dissociate”), other times like a hardcore circle pit (“Primeordial”). Not a second of filler is to be seen, which makes the entire album eminently replayable. It came out in March and I’m still spinning it on a weekly basis; that really says it all.