We published a think piece last month that directly pertains to this list in a fundamental way. In the current digital music landscape, what exactly is the difference between an album and an EP? Strict guidelines regarding track listings and song lengths haven’t existed for some time, causing every solidified definition of these two formats to be met with a myriad of exceptions. This list is no exception, as each of our 10 favorite EPs of the year came about within a different context. But even though these EPs include a brief introduction to the scene, a split with a respected peer, supplementary material to a 2015 full-length and a collection of quick ideas meant to prime fans for an upcoming album (among other impetuses), they all bear the consistent thread of undeniable excellence. So without further ado, we present the brief collections of music that provided the perfect accent to the abundance of excellent full-lengths from the year.
If there’s one obvious observation to be made about Black Captain, it’s that Tangled Thoughts of Leaving couldn’t care less about the standard definition of a “bonus EP.” Whereas most bands slap the tag on a mixed bag of decent B-sides, instrumentals, demos and covers, TToL have crafted a lush sonic extension of the dismal post metal they established on Yield to Despair. Forty minutes of eerie drones and soundscapes – the majority of which is improvised – truly warp into an entity all its own, bearing a unique identity while clearly channeling the core of its parent full-length. The appropriately titled “Reprieve” brushes gently against Yield’s track listing and truly feels like a sixth track for the record that just barely made the cut. The remainder of the EP seemingly samples the core of Yield’s aura, stretching it out into meditative ambience and allowing the listener to feel the mood from a fresh angle. It may be largely true that most album add-ons are superfluous cash grabs, but Black Captain isn’t so much a shoddily scrawled bonus chapter than a gorgeous epilogue that contextualizes the preceding novel in an enlightening manner.
Last year, heavy blog contributor Noyan released his full length album, and it was one of the best releases that year, featuring an effortless mix of tech-death, traditional death metal, and even non-traditional elements from such genres as surf rock and power metal. This latest EP, however, is slightly more traditional and restrained than the album, and is very much in the vein of Scandinavian melodic death metal, like Amon Amarth, At the Gates, Insomnium and Dark Tranquility.
An excellent throwback to older melodic death metal, namely the type that leaned more heavily on the death metal elements. Emphasizing thick yet discernible tones, heavy emphasis on melodic leads, and a strong grasp of the fundamentals of the genre, Equivalence takes the strong foundation laid by such classics as The Gallery and the first four Amon Amarth albums and expands on them to a logical conclusion, sounding very much like a veteran of the genre.
Many “one man bands” can often fall into the trap of becoming one trick ponies and never moving outside their establishing genre or comfort zone, but the willingness to explore and experiment with new and different ideas, and to be able to make them work, sets both this EP and the debut album apart from the countless bedroom shredders eager to make a name for themselves on the overcrowded internet scene. If you have even the slightest bit of interest in melodic death metal, experimentation with established genres or even just old standbys done well, you owe it to yourself to check this EP out. You won’t be disappointed
After releasing a dense and gorgeous jazz-metal fusion debut from Stimpy Lockjaw last year, Ever Forthright guitarist Nicholas Llerandi came back this year and doubled down even further on the jazz side of things. Standby is 27 minutes of straight-up fusion, which shouldn’t be confused with straight-ahead, because if you know much about Llerandi’s work and playing, nothing is ever simple. The 5 tracks of this EP feature typically-winding riffs, blistering solos, and grooves deep enough to disappear into. Where “Cracked” and “21 Minutes” display Llerandi’s technical mastery in full manic force though, “Memphis” does something equally as important – it reveals some soul. Let’s face it: guitar virtuosos are a dime a dozen, and there are countless examples in the metal, prog, and jazz worlds that we cover of individuals who have garnered significant followings off of their ability to play fast and blend different styles and influences together. It takes something special though to move past slick playing to form compelling compositions and solos that actually communicate something. With Standby, Llerandi continues to make a case for why he should be considered as belonging in the top tier of modern guitarists.
When a band loved by many are considered “ahead of their time”, it says a lot about the talent level they have within the band. Sikth is a band that many thought would never reunite, leaving us with just two beautiful records that paved the way for modern progressive metal. However, nearly 10 years after the release of Death Of A Dead Day, their last full length, the band returned to drop Opacities. To say it’s like the band never left is an understatement. Sikth returned with fresh minds and fresh music, and produced another classic.
From the opening riff, it feels like the band are ready to pick up right where they left off. It feels as if the band took their highly successful formula from 2006 and modified it to give it a special edge on the rest of their counterparts in the prog metal universe. The mini album is brimming with super chunky riffs that combine progressive metal, nu-metal, and even some alternative metal. It’s absolutely mind boggling to me that one band can take such a long hiatus and return to make music that is not stale or rehashed in any way. This album still feels leaps and bounds above the rest of the metal world, and continues to show that the band were not simply ahead of their time; they are in the prime of their lives.
Ben Shrap. There’s a name for you that’s never obvious; ever since he launched his one man project, Cloudkicker, the hits have been coming left and right. Evolving from his modern-metal origins into all sorts of direction, the man has released post-rock albums, dreamy, ethereal, progressive works, heavier, more fast paced albums and everything in between. He always does it with his own certain attitude however, a somewhat haphazard approach to music and everything surrounding it. So, when Woum was announced we really had no idea what to expect. From the little that Sharp had said, this would be calmer, a return to his previous, more ambient works.
But is that really what we got? Sure, Woum is quiet and relaxed but it’s much closer, more intimate than releases like Let Yourself Be Huge. It doesn’t have as much fuzz, as much scatter or as much scope. Instead, we got an EP that speaks close to your ear, whispering its guitar repetitions and melodical ideas. It’s very endearing for all of that: it somehow sneaks up on you. The composition, like a lot of Sharp’s works, isn’t anything too innovative or wholly exciting. And yet, it sticks with you. And yet, it moves you. Long story short, it’s a Cloudkicker release. It has all those qualities which make it completely recognizable and, for some reason, too addictive to justify. For an EP, that’s damn impressive.
Yautja has been one of the most savage and interesting bands to emerge from Nashville’s oft-overlooked metal scene over the past few years, and with their latest EP Songs of Lament, they’re quickly on their way to becoming one of the best new faces in the mathier side of hardcore. With just seven songs and a little over twenty minutes in length, this modest yet monolithic record has simultaneously condensed and expanded the band’s caustic and chaotic style.
Songs of Lament is certainly not for the weak of heart, but it still delivers plenty of moments that are easy to sink into and instantly be drawn in by (the album’s final track, “Crumbling,” being their finest example). This EP also sports one of the finest mixes you’ll hear within the confines of heavy music this year, as it manages to keep all of the snarl and grit from the band’s live performances but delivers it with a crisp and clean polish to keep things as audible as necessary. All three members of the band are an absolutely stunning vocal unit, trading off duties as necessary but always knowing when you bludgeon the listener into blissful submission. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a crowdkilling maniac or an introverted post-metal fan, there’s something on Songs of Lament for just about any fan of extreme and challenging heavy music.
Sometimes we all get to be surprised by a band that seemingly pops up out of nowhere. When Entheos announced they were about to release a new EP, much of the metal world lost its mind. It was comprised, at the time, of ⅗ of the legendary Animosity, which meant that the album was sure to be great. However, after a few quick listens, it became clear that this album is not simply an Animosity side project, but the start of a band that has no ceiling with what it might be able to accomplish in the coming years.
While only four songs in length, it manages to leave a very large footprint on the metal world. Combining elements of death metal, progressive metal, and even some thrash metal, it paints a very accurate picture of where the future of metal is headed. Frank’s guitar work is absolutely crushing, and Chaney does an amazing job on vocals. It was to be expected that the band still had some chemistry left, as they all stayed in contact after the disbanding of Animosity and have constantly been in the music industry, either playing, producing, or both. However, for the band to hit the nail on the head with their first attempt is a feat not many can say the achieved. We’re expecting a new release from them early next year, and if this EP is any indication, it’s gonna be absolutely killer.
Pyrrhon is fucking weird. There’s really no other way to describe them: this group of bizarre musicians mix together the dissonant technical death metal of Gorguts or Gigan with blistering fast mathcore in a combination that as heavy and chaotic as it is totally over the top and in your face. The drums are constantly at a pedal-to-the-metal pace, the vocalist voices ire in the most extreme manner possible, and the guitars screech and squeal their way across the tracks in reverberating, feeback-laden agony.
Subtlety is a concept totally foreign to the mind of these musicians; Pyrrhon want nothing more here than to hit you over the head with five tracks, a grand total of 14 minutes, and they certainly accomplish their goal. The biggest part of Growth’s success is that it is exactly the right length: any longer, and it would overstay its welcome, any shorter, and the ideas at play here wouldn’t feel fully realized. If EPs are espressos, then on Growth Without End, Pyrrhon has crafted the universe’s ultimate cup of coffee.
Cryptopsy had a big job on their hands after their self titled return to form, and with this first in a planned series of EPs, they’ve proven it’s one they’re well suited to tackling. Expanding on the frenetic, relentless tech-death of that previous album, while bringing back elements of their storied back catalogue, The Book of Suffering is somehow even better than their older material, and elegantly combines stunning technicality without becoming messy or overbearing, qualities that sometimes creep into music made by even the best of the genre.
There’s absolutely no filler here, and if anything, it’s too short, as my almost one hundred scrobbles on Last.Fm from this EP alone can attest. It leaves me hungry for so much more, and I can’t wait to see where the band go from here. If they can iterate on the success of this EP with the next, they’ll have once again positioned themselves to be one of the top tech-death bands in the world.
It’s sometime necessary for bands to take risks in order to survive in the world of music. While there are some bands that can capitalize on a certain sound for years without it becoming stale, the majority of them become very boring. The bands that are able to evolve their core sound into something bigger tend to be very innovative. They seem to hear something that other cannot. This split covers both sides of the same coin, in a very interesting way.
The first side, Mono’s side, is fantastic. It’s classic Mono in almost all facets: it’s heavy, it’s emotional, and it’s everything the band has built themselves up to be since they began years ago. The band has been at their peak for the better part of a decade now, carefully refining their sound to create some absolutely monstrous post-rock, and their last studio record is a testament to that. On this release, Mono decided to stick with their heavier side, and use their uncanny ability to create massive walls of sound to their advantage. The music Mono creates is equal parts compelling and mysterious, and it enables you to paint your own picture using their music. The band are constantly at work, touring and soaking up new forms of music, but it’s always a relief to see that when push comes to shove, you can count on the band for consistently turning out high quality post-rock.
The second side, on the other hand, has The Ocean taking a step into new territory. While they have always experimented with post-metal in the past, they never really let it fully overtake their sound. On Transcendental, however, the band plays at a noticeably slower tempo, Loic’s cleans are as prominent as ever, and the band creates something that’s entirely new for them. The roots they began with are still present, but you can tell that a lot has changed since Pelagial was released, with members leaving and new members bringing in their own influences. The combination of these factors led the band to create one of the best songs they have ever written, and point to the path they might take in the coming years, which sounds extremely promising.