Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tom's Top 15 Albums of 2016

2016 can be viewed through 2 lenses, that of national concern or those of personal concern, some intertwine but I will say it. 2016 really sucked and hard. Luckily there were plenty of moments that help me to forget this. My brothers in metal joined forces in Maryland for the annual meeting of metal known as Maryland Deathfest. I helped to cater a wonderful breakfast of Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese Sandwiches and NJ bagels. I only do this because of all you have done collectively for me in the past and has thus become inspiration for the above picture. My diner will open again soon just not in 2017... I would like to thank brothers Mick and Durf here at Brutalitopia for being the best, (the latter not so much with lists but I digress), the staffs over at No Clean Singing, Invisible Oranges, Nine Circles Heavy Music Headquarters and Metal Bandcamp. You are all incredible people and you have helped made through a year full of trials and tribulations. You know who you are and I love you all!

Now on to the list!

 Honorable Mentions
Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville Records)
Zhrine – Unortheta (Season of Mist)
Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell – Keep It Greasy (Rise Above Records)
Mantar – Ode To Flame (Nuclear Blast)

Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire (No Remorse Records)

15. Exmortus – Ride Forth (Prosthetic Records)
Exmortus were a band introduced to me very late in 2014 as a band with quite a bit of musical flourish and an affinity for artwork similar to that of Frank Frazetta's. Ride Forth is the band's 4th foray into a full length and since I have had nearly a year to digest this release, it truly feels like what an Amon Amarth album sounds like to Amon Amarth fans. What I mean is this is how I imagine it sounds like. There are crushing riffs, illusions of grandeur and it at the end it just flat out rocks in all of its neoclassical revelry. Except that Exmortus are excellent at what they do, all killer no filler.

14. Black Tusk– Pillars of Ash (Relapse Records)
On a sad note Black Tusk put forth their last material with late bassist Jonathan Athon this year in the form of Pillars of Ash. Seeing Black Tusk open a show for Cancer Bats and Kvelertak a few years ago it is clear that Black Tusk were born to rock and this most full realized album so far has them reaching new heights. Whether it be that Savannah sludge like Kylesa on 'God's on Vacation' or the excellent 'Punk Out' towards the end; Black Tusk has a firm grasp of this swamp metal game for the present and the future.

13. Martyrdod – List (Southern Lord)
Swedish hardcore veterans, Martyrdod continue to crush skulls in their infinite quest for hardcore supremacy. List follows the critical love of their previous album Elddop, which was another album that I got to, too late. For an album to be released so late in the year and to have the impact that it has in such short order is a testament to Martyrdod and their quick hitting and deep hardcore. The legend of the d-beat is not lost on the band as they could easily blend in with Discharge or Disfear and the bands would be hard to dis-cern. It is hard to pick one song that stands out, so I'll pick one with an English name in 'Wipeout', especially because the intro could easily be something from a Bolt Thrower album. Slay on, Sweden!

12. Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache Records)
This just in, sci-fi thrash veterans, Vektor return with their first album in 5 years, and not a moment too soon. Terminal Redux has the band continue their surge to challenge the limits of thrash metal, through a progressive lens. Seeing the band open for Voivod was a sight to behold in technicality on a freezing cold night in Asbury Park, NJ. Debuting songs like 'Charging The Void' and 'LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)' helped to pull in fans new and old and as components of this album they help to shine with ample riffs and pained vocals, Terminal Redux is just a blast to listen to.

11. Inquisition – Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith (Season of Mist)
Inquisition are a household name, if you are a black metal fan in 2016 for their last few albums have garnered much love and attention. Bloodshed (because I am not typing that entire name again) is a strong album overall but may have fallen short of the hype from Obscure Verse From The Multiverse. The riffs are well established again and form an integral core of the band's sound along with Dagon's froggy, Abbath-smoked 20 packs a day delivery. A solid release but in a year with so many great releases, it falls short of overall prominence.

10. Asphyx – Incoming Death (Century Media Records)
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.

9. Khemmis – Hunted (20 Buck Spin)
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 amongst the metal community, list-wise in 2016 has led to much scrutiny much like what was seen in the past with Pallbearer; which was fair in that regard, I feel that is unjust with Khemmis. You should be able to release a top quality doom metal album with melodic vocals and eschew the dissention 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.

8. Crowbar – The Serpent Only Lies (eOne Records)

Crowbar are some of the founding fathers of sludge. 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 the trio 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.

7. Anciients – Voice of the Void (Season of Mist)
A few years removed from Heart of Oak, Canada’s Anciients have put forth their sophomore album Voice of the Void, which I have been referring to as the best Mastodon album since Crack The Skye. Now all joking aside this album 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.
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6. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse Records)
A new band in 2016 that was able to crack my top 10 is a pretty rare thing, since 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 featured were 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.

5. Church of Misery – And Then There Were None (Rise Above Records)
Back to the established bands; although this iteration of Church of Misery is much different than both the one I saw at MDF X and the one that put of Thy Kingdom Scum in 2014. A big reason as to why is that the vocal duties were taken over by Repulsion frontman Scott Carlson. 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. 

4. Blood Incantation – Starspawn (Dark Descent Records)
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; it isn’t quite Demilich or Death’s Human, it is just simply Starspawn. This album may be short on time but it is heavy on atmosphere and death metal (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. At about 11:10 on the lead track you get a sense of this, but at 2:54 on ‘Hidden Species’ you really feel like you are hurdling through space and time. An album that is much more than the sum of its parts, Starspawn simply needs to be heard before you can understand.
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3. Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution (Metal Blade Records)
Truth be told I was very late to the Hammers bandwagon; about a year after the excellent 17th Street hit record shelves, did I find myself finally listening to it. For those unfamiliar Hammers of Misfortune are a wealth of different musical styles which include Thin Lizzy-like guitar harmonies and Jon Lord’s 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 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.

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2. Abbath – Abbath (Season of Mist)
Abbath giveth when Immortal taketh away; I was absolutely bummed when I had seen that my favorite black metal band were to break up. 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 shall 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.

1. Ghoul – Dungeon Bastards (Tankcrimes)
Speaking of fun, good lord was this album a romp of epic proportions. Listening 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 both. 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 has seen their Gwar-like stage show increase in ridiculousness of recent with the addition of the character Commandant Yanish Dobrunkum. The tyrannical rule of Creepsylvania seems to have a similar narrative to our president-elect with likelier worse results. 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.

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