Top Albums of 2016, by Tom Campagna
2016 was a very odd year. Whether it be the rash of unexpected deaths of famous people or the silent majority (and even that's questionable) speaking up in favor of a huge question mark as Commander-In-Chief; everybody experienced 2016 in their own, unique way. So how was the music? I found myself less enthralled with individual releases than I had in years previous and picking the top albums became all that more of a tall task.
By the time this list comes out, many other lists will have preceded it, and some are great, but as usual there will be those albums that really hit home with others, that just fell flat with me. I’m sure this list is a bit different than most, although it will likely include quite a few pieces with which most are familiar. There also might be some things that you missed out on and owe at least a listen to; I promise you it won’t hurt too badly. Now let the list commence.
20. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville, Sweden)
19. Zhrine – Unortheta (Season of Mist, Iceland)
18. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell – Keep It Greasy (Rise Above, United Kingdom)
17. Mantar – Oath To Flame (Nuclear Blast, Germany)
16. Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire (No Remorse, United States)
15. Exmortus – Ride Forth (Prosthetic, United States)
14. Black Tusk– Pillars of Ash (Relapse, United States)
13. Martyrdod – List (Southern Lord, Sweden)
12. Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache, United States)
11. Inquisition – Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith (Season of Mist, Columbia)
(Century Media, Netherlands)
An Asphyx album in the past might have been tough to come by, but since it is now vocalist Martin Van Drunen’s main vehicle, he has dedicated himself to this band first and foremost. Their 9th full length, Incoming Death has the band full entrenched in their old school assault. whether it be the fury and speed of “Candiru” or the plodding “Wardroid”; Asphyx do both well and showcase their doom in step with their death. 2016 may have been lean on death metal as a whole but Asphyx are clearly one of the stronger parts of this overall collective.
(20 Buck Spin, United States)
Absolution was one of my final cuts from the 2015 list and I said to myself, “If they out do this album, it’ll have to make my list.” So enter a year later with Hunted and Khemmis did just that. Being a popular pick list-wise in 2016 has led to scrutiny much like what was seen in the past with Pallbearer; which was fair in that regard, but is unjust with Khemmis. You should be able to release a top quality doom metal album with melodic vocals and eschew the dissension in the ranks. “Three Gates” is nearly a song of the year candidate, leading with growled vocals and then moving towards the melodic, combining elements of Neurosis with soaring vocals of Candlemass and more recently Crypt Sermon. A varied song on a very strong and varied album, I see you too peanut gallery.
(eOne, United States)
The genre may not be for everyone, but what is found within sludge in general and this album in particular is a bunch of tortured souls who want nothing more than to show their emotion in sonic excess. This might be the best album that Crowbar have been released in the last five years (Sever The Wicked Hand and Symmetry In Black were their previous two full-lengths) and one of the best albums Crowbar have released to date. Musically it falls somewhere between Crowbar and Time Heals Nothing. No stone is left unturned and Crowbar just play the sludge they were born to play and suffer through.
(Season of Mist, Canada)
A few years removed from Heart of Oak, Canada’s Anciients have put forth their sophomore album. I have been calling it the best Mastodon album since Crack The Skye. All joking aside Voice of the Void is densely packed with progressive riffs and excellent vocals. “Ibex Eye” which is just a tad short of a 10 minute track is the perfect showcase for what this band can do. Even during more ambient and instrumental passages of the song, Anciients is able to progress their sound before dropping in the main riff of the song for mass consumption. This should be your new favorite prog metal band, bar none.
(Relapse, United States)
2016 was really about established acts continuing their overall dominance. However Sumerlands were a bit different, cut from the a cloth that includes more classically styled artists like Slough Feg with touches of grandiosity. I also found myself at their debut live concert at the Union Pool in Brooklyn (also featuring Eternal Champion and Crypt Sermon) and hearing this relatively bite sized album played live solidified to me that Sumerlands were a unique and excellent entity. The vocals lead the charge and the guitar melodies weave their way into your eardrums. “Seventh Seal” and “Timelash” might be the strongest tracks here as their main riffs are absolute earworms; the latter of which uses the drums to help convey a change in tempo to add to the overall variety and strength in musicianship. Metal dorks can look to Sumerlands and Eternal Champion to be your new Visigoth in 2016. Trust me it can only be a good thing.
(Rise Above, International)
Back to the established bands; this iteration of Church of Misery is much different than both the one I saw at MDF X and the one that put out Thy Kingdom Scum in 2014. A big reason as to why is that Repulsion frontman Scott Carlson took over the vocal duties. So how does a grindcore legend handle the vocals in a doom metal band? Quite well as a matter of fact; especially when the band’s core lyrical content has been about death and murder. Carlson sounds like he is giving a testimony to a police officer behind bars during most of this album and And Then There Were None feels like a 40 minute plus confession to some truly heinous crimes. The riffs are huge slabs of Sabbath and the addition of cowbell on “Make Them Die Slowly” is just another in a long line of pluses for this album.
(Dark Descent/Woodsmoke, United States)
It took me a while to decipher that band name from their logo, that is the band’s name, right? Blood Incantation are cut from the mold of the early ‘90s in terms of their particular progressiveness and death metal. Starspawn may be short on time but it is heavy on atmosphere (They even did the merchandise right, and yes I own it). The first of the “Vitrification of Blood” duo is a complex 13 minute dirge of ebbs and flows, from the intense death metal riffs to those that may be indebted to the late great Chuck Schuldiner; a man who really made death metal soar. There are touches of desolation, think “Cosmic Sea” albeit on a much grander scale. An album that is much more than the sum of its parts, Starspawn simply needs to be heard before you can understand.
(Metal Blade, United States)
Truth be told I was very late to the Hammers bandwagon; about a year after the excellent 17th Street hit record shelvesI finally found myself listening to it. For those unfamiliar, Hammers of Misfortune play with a wealth of different musical styles which include Thin Lizzy-like guitar harmonies and Jon Lord-ish keyboards in conjunction with folkloric lyrics; comparisons to bands like Slough Feg, Brocas Helm and Dark Quarterer are common. “Flying Alone” almost could be mistaken for a Christian Mistress cut, but it has added depth with those wonderful keyboards and singer Joe Hutton’s vocal flair. Dead Revolution might not do anything new for the band; but it all of the old things it does right, that help it to stand out in 2016.
(Season of Mist, Norway)
Abbath giveth when Immortal taketh away; I was absolutely bummed when I had seen that my favorite black metal band were to split with their founding vocalist and later-guitarist. The oft-parodied and reluctant to tour band had become a staple of my music listening during the winter months for obvious reasons. Hell I even got to see the band in NYC in February of 2011 during a 6 date US tour. All hope was lost but luckily all did not fall! Abbath created a super black metal collective to help continue the Immortal legacy. On Abbath We see the black metal baron in his glory featuring material most similar to the post Blizzard Beasts-era. Fans of Immortal shouldn’t be disappointed or surprised as to what this album is, maybe it is a little too “Immortal by numbers” for some; remind me how that is a bad thing again? I just remember the band going head to head with High on Fire on the most recent Decibel tour and being awestruck that I had seen such a show. For excellent and rocking black metal; look no further than Abbath in 2016.
(Tankcrimes, United States)
Speaking of fun, good lord was this album a romp of epic proportions. Since the spectacular Splatterthrash days, Ghoul had been a little bit of anomaly. Were they a joke band? Were they a death metal band? Were they a thrash metal band? Well I think for one that Dungeon Bastards helped to answer that question, they’re all three. I was let down by the ho hum Transmission Zero years back and thought that the band’s best days were behind them, again I was wrong. Ghoul do their best combination of hardcore and early Carcass, and throwing in a surf rock riff or 2; really upping their musicianship in the process. The dual vocal style creates a style of metal that is like a more thrashy Necroticism allowing Ghoul to make this album their own. In a year during which most people would agree, sucked; Dungeon Bastards is just about the most fun album out there and that reason helped it to edge out the other albums on my list.