Editor’s note: welcome back to our Heavy Blog Guest List feature where we give some of the bands we covered (or just adored) in 2016 a chance to publish their own Top 10 Albums of 2016. Today, we have A Sense of Gravity, a band whose praises we’ve sung relentlessly over the last two years or so. Fresh off their release of the brilliant “Atrament”, we’ve invited these Seattle locals to share with us what albums moved them in 2016. Below is their unedited list!
Car Bomb – Meta
New contender for the heaviest album ever? With Meta, Car Bomb took a genre that’s been done to death – über heavy, breakdown filled metal influenced by bands like Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan – and somehow made it sound completely fresh and original in a way we haven’t heard in years. At first casual listen, it feels like a raw, expressive burst of aggression, yet upon careful inspection, it’s an intricately crafted masterpiece filled with dozens of musical lessons for those interested in dissecting it. Creative use of poly-rhythms, metric modulations, tempo changes, and guitar fx all combine to keep things constantly interesting. Pacing plays a crucial role for this as well, as there isn’t a single moment that feels like the same vibe has overstayed its welcome, and the occasional clean vocals and softer sections further contribute to this by giving your ears a brief rest in order to recharge for the onslaught that’s to follow. Expect this to be an influential album for many bands in years to come.
Haken – Affinity
Despite having been around less than a decade, Haken are already widely regarded as one of the leading bands in both prog rock and prog metal communities, and for a good reason: they’re simply the best at what they do. Affinity takes their “classic prog rock meets modern prog metal” approach and this time mixes in a heavy dose of cheesy 80s influences in the place of their goofy prog-circus sections and their 70s prog rock of past albums. Even those of us less fond of 80s sounds were won over due to the seamless integration of these moments, combined with Haken’s second-to-none arranging that ensures even the most unusual and unexpected of elements fit in beautifully. As expected from a Haken release, there’s a huge variety of approaches to be found here, yet nothing ever feels out of place. And perhaps most importantly, the album is filled with the epic and unforgettable choruses they’re known for.
Ihsahn – Arktis.
Ihsahn has been consistently releasing strong material since he went solo, and this is no exception. His best in years, Arktis. is a truly creative and progressive album, drawing from anthemic rock and a wide range of other influences, but still clearly showing his black metal roots. This album is filled with memorable melodies, catchy yet unusual riffs, and great vocals – both clean and in his signature black metal rasp – and features a number of great guest performances including the stunning “Celestial Violence,” showcasing the incredible Einar Solberg of Leprous.
Revocation – Great Is Our Sin
Undoubtably Revocation’s strongest release yet, Great Is Our Sin is the most pure, unadulterated metal album on our list, and it encapsulates just about everything that makes the genre so great. Firmly based on the classic thrash metal approach, with a heavy dose of modern death metal and creative use of interesting, jazz-inspired chord progressions and fantastic guitar solos, it’s hard to see how any metalhead could not love this album.
Oddland – Origins
Oddland first caught our attention in 2012 with their excellent debut, The Treachery of the Senses. For Origins, they’ve taken what on surface level is a now an over-done approach these days – djenty, down-tuned riffs and groove-based clean sections with catchy, melodic clean vocals – and taken it in a melancholic direction that often sounds more akin to classic Scandinavian bands like Katatonia and Opeth than anything in the new prog or djent scenes. Sakari Ojanen’s beautifully rich, deep voice is a big part of what helps set Oddland apart from the crowd, as the memorable melodies often focus on his low and and mid registers – a refreshing contrast for a genre so often focused constantly on absurdly high-register singing.
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Like Haken, Headspace take old and new prog and blend it together with the most satisfying of results. Featuring one of this year’s most gorgeous clean vocal performances by Damian Wilson (known for Threshold and Star One), the songs are made up of equal parts heavy Dream Theater-esque metal with touches of 8-string guitar, and light vocal-centric prog rock, further enhanced by the liberal use of classic keyboard sounds, courtesy of Alan Wakeman (son of legendary yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman). This was also our biggest grower of the year, as it didn’t initially draw any of us in fully, but proved to be one of our favorite albums after subsequent listens. An essential listen for prog fans.
Voivod – Post Society
Founded in 1981, Voivod are nearly as old as metal itself, and are one of the most influential bands in the underground metal scene. When founding guitarist and songwriter Piggy died in 2005, many feared their best days were gone, but since Dan Mongrain of Martyr (another ASOG favorite) stepped in as his replacement, all of those fears have been erased. Now on their second release with Dan, the four original songs on this 5-track EP are up there with the best work Voivod have ever released – innovative use of dissonance at its best, stronger-than-usual vocals (which can be one of Voivod’s main weaknesses), and by far the best guitar solos of any of their albums.
Winterhorde – Maestro
Winterhorde’s Maestro is an album we’ve rarely seen mentioned, despite being one of the best melodic/progressive black metal albums this year Their style on this album is reminiscent of bands like Xanthochroid and Ne Obliviscaris with its black metal roots, frequent acoustic passages, and prominent clean vocals, yet they don’t feel derivative of them or any other obvious single band. In fact, Winterhorde very gradually came to this sound over the years, as their earliest releases were much more on the black metal end of the spectrum and featured few clean vocals. Here, the clean vocals are the star of the show due to the unforgettable melodies and some of the best choruses of the year.
Thierry Maillard Trio and Philharmonic Orchestra – Ethnic Sounds
One of several great orchestral albums from this year (also check out E.S.T. Symphony), French pianist Thierry Maillard’s newest album is an impressive marriage of jazz trio with full orchestra, with prominent influences from various ethnic styles of music and the occasional nod to prog rock. Several guest soloists are featured in addition to the The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, including Didier Malherbe on various ethnic wind instruments including duduk (have you ever heard a jazz solo on duduk before?!) and one of our absolute favorite musicians, Nguyên Lê, on electric guitar for the the stunning “Zappa.”
Ikarus – Chronosome
Highly influenced by “ritual groove music/zen funk” pianist Nik Bärtsch (who also released an excellent album this year) Ikarus play a kind of jazzy, polyrhythmic music that is somewhat difficult to describe to people unfamiliar with their unique sound. Imagine Meshuggah if the music was just as focused on unusual and original polyrhythmic grooves, but they instead played with jazz piano trio instrumentation plus a male and female vocalist singing entirely in scat. The result is challenging, yet beautiful and relaxing, and those who are interested in digging deeper will find a lot to learn from musically.
Honorable Mention: Pain of Salvation – Remedy Lane Re:Visited
Though we’re not officially including this in our top 10 because it’s a 14-year-old album, this our favorite and most listened to music release of the year. Remixed by the great Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios (who also mastered our debut Travail and 3 other albums on our picks for this year), this classic prog metal album is now more enjoyable to listen to than ever before. Everything is now clearly audible while having a significant boost to power and punch compared to the original, and dozens of new details in the music are now detectable. The music itself is as great as it has always been: eclectic and catchy, filled with clever use of recurring themes, strong arrangements, and some of the best clean vocals in metal. Re:Visited also includes a second disc: a fantastic full live performance of the album from a few years ago. If you haven’t already listened to this masterpiece, now is the perfect time to treat yourself to this incredible release.