40. Virvum – Illuminance
Accepting the fact that as a genre, technical death metal is, and has been an overly-saturated market for some time now, really lends to articulating the warm, new life that Virvum has breathed into the niche with their latest release, Illuminance. They’ve successfully merged a catchy, uber-technical death metal compositional style, with the more melodious and repetitive aspects of post-rock, allowing for soaring hooks, backed by a crushing rhythm section to blend seamlessly into sparkling guitar harmonies and huge swelling walls of sound, each riff as memorable as the last.
It’s this kind of songwriting approach that places Illuminance far above other releases this year of a similar vein, using the typical TDM tropes as sparingly as possible so to always keep the listener on the edge of their seat. Whether it be filthy, spacious slams like in “The Cypher Supreme,” or unforgettably melodic chorus’ like in “Ad Rigorem,” or the cinematic orchestral tone of “I: A New Journey Awaits,” Virvum’s Illuminance delivers on all fronts. An experience administered effortlessly by the relentlessly hard-hitting production, making complete use of each instrument’s home within the frequency spectrum. A truly unforgettable album.
39. Pitts Minnemann Project – The Psychic Planetarium
Keyboardist Jimmy Pitts and drummer Marco Minnemann, from whom the project takes its name, have sought the help of guitarist Tom Geldschläger, better known as Fountainhead, and bassist Jerry Twyford to complete the lineup for The Psychic Planetarium. Despite how early in the year the album was released, it’s stuck with us as one of the most impressive examples of progressive jazz/metal fusion in quite some time.
What hasn’t been said about it? They did the impossible and surpassed their previous release, 2 L8 2 B Normal. It’s an astonishing piece of music for musicians, by musicians, that avoids the traps jointly set by their proficiency and their passion in order to deliver a smooth product without unnecessary wankery. Throw in a hefty dose of jazz, heavy and technical riffs, and mind-altering solos, and you’ve got The Psychic Planetarium. And that’s why it’s on this list.
38. Schammasch – Triangle
Avante-garde black metal doesn’t get much better than this. An ambitious triple concept album clocking in at just over 100 minutes in length, Schammach’s third full-length Triangle is truly something to behold. From the first strum of disc one’s ambient, unsettling, and chilling guitar, we know that atmosphere is going to play an enormous part in this record. It engulfs the listeners, enshrouding them in a veil and ensconcing them as they take us on a spiritual journey. Musically the record starts off as fairly standard atmospheric black metal, dedicating most of its time to permeating an eerie atmosphere, before occasionally exploding into pummeling blast beats and more urgent riffing. Gregorian chants make their entrance towards the end of the first disc, and the second disc doubles-down on the atmospherics. The black metal components are slowly stripped back, with choirs, chants and a focus on ambience becoming increasingly prevalent.
The final disc then completes this transition, as it is closer to world music than it is to black metal. The labels don’t matter here, what matters is that the chanting, mongolian throat singing, tribal percussion and all the remaining added elements perfectly fit into the record’s aesthetic. All three albums flow beautifully as a whole on a musical level, and so this record is extremely impressive before you even delve into the concept. The work is even denser lyrically than it is musically, making it one of the more difficult listens you will have for the year, but the payoff is most definitely worth it. The subject matter deals with enormously broad subjects, with lyricist CSR (who made a highly intriguing guest on the podcast) laying bare his personal philosophies on death, religion and spirituality. In what has been a tremendous year for black metal, Triangle undoubtedly stands as one of the genre’s opus’ for 2016 and beyond.
37. Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Paradise Gallows continues Inter Arma’s impeccable track record of producing expansive albums that urge a front-to-back listen. This album sees the band distilling the elements of their trademark sound to their greatest potency yet, making it less of a linear journey than Sky Burial or The Cavern, but no less unified. It’s an astounding showcase of songcraft, pushing everything to the extreme, each track sort of becoming its own voyage.
Sludge and doom are reduced to their most ultimate slow and heavy, forcing things to become singular and fully diminish. Blackened passages provide a suitable counterbalance, obliterating space and silence with dense and blistering chaos. Death metal and noise elements churn with dissonance, lending a crooked lurch over T.J. Childers’ cacophonous (and underrated) drumming. The ethereal psychedelics lather up into rich and more elaborate arrangements than on previous albums, giving a gloss to Paradise Gallows, an iridescent sheen atop their inky and grim palette.
This omni-metal style is even augmented by ventures into some uncharted territories, most notably by Mike Paparo’s addition of clean vocals, humanizing songs and making them more tangible. Breathtaking guitar harmonies and solos add contrast to the crushing riffing, imparting perspective to the scope of their sound, from brilliant beauty to violent and pulverizing heaviness, from minimal to avant-garde. Paradise Gallows parallels the opening scene of Contact, where it’s impossible to really understand how things can be so granular until you can grasp the enormity of it all.
36. Anciients – Voice Of The Void
The echoes of rock still chime through metal today, especially as stoner influences intensify. After all, all that which might nowadays might be considered “stoner” was, back in the golden age of rock, just mainstream. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and more were household names and their sound was tinged with far-flung feedbacks and fuzzy chords. Perhaps that’s what many bands within stoner metal forget; what they’re doing isn’t exactly very innovative but it is very powerful when approached with the right mindset.
A mindset which Anciients have in droves. Voice Of The Void is chuck full of giant riffs, monoliths of groove that hit again and again as they carry you away into the belly of the album. The progressive tendencies, which have earned them the Mastodon comparison again and again, are just enough to keep things interesting but not too much to take away from the immediate power of groove and punch. Thus, Voice Of The Void is one of the best progressive stoner metal albums in recent years, as it remembers and reconnects with the basics of what makes (and made) the style work while layering growls, impressive guitar techniques and modern production over it all.
35. GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object
Of all the terrific albums that made it onto our list this year, I have to say that the third album from the UK jazz trio GoGo Penguin was the one that surprised me the most to see on here. This isn’t at all a reflection of the quality of the music on Man Made Object or my personal feelings on it (it landed pretty high up on my personal list), but more that it doesn’t really fit the mold of anything else included in this list. Unlike the other jazz albums we’ve included here previously or this year (Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and BADBADNOTGOOD’s IV), Man Made Object is far less fluid or conventionally jazz-like, indebting itself as much to classical and electronic influences as traditional jazz or the spirituals, r&b, and hip hop that can felt throughout the other two albums mentioned.
These are the aspects that also make Man Made Object and GoGo Penguin stand out from the rest though. Deriving its strength primarily from its intense rhythmic play between bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner, GoGo Penguin’s compositions build upon themselves like grand mechanized structures, with pianist Chris Illingworth providing the flesh and warm exteriors to wrap the rhythmic bones and muscle. It manages to succeed both as music to chill out to in the background or to 100% get invested in. Tracks like the skittery “Weird Cat,” triumphant “Protest,” and absolutely explosive “Smarra” demand your attention and will consume you if you allow them to. Regardless of how you choose to listen to them though, we can guarantee that Man Made Object will be a rewarding listen time and time again.
34. Textures – Phenotype
I wasn’t hugely into Textures prior to Phenotype, having only heard a few singles here and there, their sound never really capturing my attention for all that long. That all changed with this release, however, with it confidently taking out #13 on my personal AOTY list. While there is an obvious air of density surrounding this album, requiring multiple listens to fully grasp its girth, the carefully-crafted nature of this release lends itself to situations where similar bands/albums simply wouldn’t be appropriate for the setting. Simply put, Phenotype is chock-full of catchy riffs, easily-recognisable motifs and rhythmic prowess, whilst still retaining a very approachable listening curve.
The band have implemented a meticulously thought out approach to songwriting, creating a deceivingly simple package that nearly anyone could rock out to. It holds appeal from not only a rock and metal perspective, blending shouted gang vocals, blues-derived rock riffs and blistering guitar solos, with the more avant-garde rhythmic complexity and progressive leanings that fans have come to expect from the band. What listeners get with Phenotype, is an album of single-worthy songs, each building upon slightly different facets of the Textures sphere, straying from the largely-divisive reception of the band’s previous release to favor the more successful sound of their second album, Sillhouettes. If you’ve always been a fan of Textures, this album is a must. If you’re not familiar with the band, then there is no better place to start!
33. Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
For the better part of three decades, Dark Tranquillity has consistently delivered at high standards. Having been an integral part of the Gothenburg scene in the early-to-mid 90s, the band has repeatedly refined its sound while becoming the proverbial yardstick of Swedish melodic death metal. Every fan of the band has fallen in love with their sound as a result of listening to one album or another, but a few things are certainly in common. A Dark Tranquillity album will grab your attention from the first spin with its memorable melodies while the perfectly balanced aggression and somber melancholy will have you coming back time and time again.
So what does a band do after ten full-lengths? Well, when in contact with people from the outside world, many Swedes have the habit of saying “In Sweden we have a system” when describing how things work in their idyllic Nordic nation. Dark Tranquillity’s eleventh release Atoma is a perfect example of that. Atoma is built upon the Dark Tranquillity blueprint from top to bottom with plenty of aggression on the likes of “Forward Momentum” and “Force of Hand”, brooding darkness of “Faithless by Default” and “Our Proof of Life” and overall genre-defining mastery on “Atoma” and “When the World Screams”. Dark Tranquillity has always been an exciting band and Atoma is definitely the kind of album that makes them worthy of a place on this list.
-Aly Hassab El Naby
32. Trap Them – Crown Feral
Are you starting to get the picture that we can’t get enough of Kurt Ballou’s impeccable mixes? Well, that and the fact that he consistently works with some of the most exciting bands in modern metal. While Trap Them haven’t exactly broken new ground with Crown Feral, they’ve certainly outdone their previous LP Blissfucker and cranked out arguably their most consistent batch of tunes yet. Trap Them has always been straddling the lines between old school death metal ala-Entombed and Dismember and the immediacy of the punk rock greats of the late 80s and early 90s, but this time it really feels like the band has reached the perfect middle ground between the two.
There’s even occasional forays into more black metal territory and a few fist-pumping breakdowns that will surely get crowds moving worldwide, but for the most part Crown Feral is an unstoppable juggernaut of deathpunk with Ryan McKenney’s greatest and most throat-shredding vocal performance in years (and arguably ever). Anyone looking for incredibly charismatic vocals paired wonderfully with lyrics that don’t rely on fantasy to be truly horrific have got both in spades right here. Look no further than “Twitching in the Auras,” one of the year’s absolute best songs in metal if you’re looking for something downright creepy. Or if you’re just in the mood for an uptempo ripper to shotgun a beer to, “Prodigala” is exactly the blistering banger you’ve been looking for. Crown Feral isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but it’s definitive proof that Trap Them are a well-honed bulldozer of a band that is better at this fusion of metal than most of their peers.
31. Shokran – Exodus
The whole package. Shokran haven’t simply outdone themselves here on their latest offering, but they’ve outclassed an entire genre. Containing every possible thing you could ask of deathcore, Exodus is a masterpiece. From the head bobbing breakdowns to the sweeping, synth laden choruses. Each song has such a standout moment; one of the fatal flaws of the album is you’ll be so engrossed in hooks, choruses and riffs that you’ll find yourself struggling to isolate one in your mind. It’s tough to really latch on when each moment gives way to the next in terms of sheer quality. What a wonderful problem for an album to have. But it mostly ensures that repeat listenings will have huge returns. It will be so easy to come back to Exodus on a week-by-week and year-by-year basis and find something new crammed between the dense expertly crafted songs. Between the layers of synths, technical riffs, punishing breakdowns and insane rhythm section, it so easily appeals to anything you’re craving.
Truly standout on this album is Andrew Ivashchenko’s vocals. Each chorus is sung beautifully. Each verse is growled or screamed with an unmatched range. Seemingly never using the same technique twice. The man is at the absolute top of the metal vocal hierarchy and our only question here at Heavy Blog is where the hell did he come from? It’s also worthmentioning that the solos are incredible. Ultimately, Exodus is an instant classic of it’s genre and I think, despite not being part of the more forward thinking genres of metal, it will hold up for decades to come.