Last year, we had a narrative. Following on the footsteps of the late, great Brian Shields, we had declared this, our time, The Golden Age™ of Metal. Releases were coming in in flurries and the quality was just as good. We got several of the best albums in recent memory from established genres and countless experimentations with new and exciting forms of metal. This year, I believe this is the first time we’ve used the term on the blog. So, what gives? Have we abandoned the narrative of The Golden Age because we forgot or did it disappear as fast as it appeared? On a cursory inspection, the latter might appear to be true while the former is always possible, since we’re human. However, neither is accurate.
For one, The Golden Age only disappeared for those who have a static ear instead of a roaming one; if you keep searching for the flow of inspiration that is The Golden Age in just one sub-genre or group of them, you’ll not find it. That’s exactly the beauty of such pulses of creativity: they move, like waves, rippling through the community. For example, the Doom Revival was all the rage last year and a big part of The Golden Age narrative. This year however, while there have been excellent doom releases, we’re not witnessing the same late blooming as we did with doom last year. But, in herein lies the rub, that awakening has simply moved on. Now, it’s thrash (with sub-genre prefixes) that’s enjoying its revival and other sub-genres which are innovating in other places.
Nor have we forgotten. It simply becomes cliche and contrite to keep pointing out the obvious. Anyone looking at metal today and seriously listening to the music being made should automatically see The Golden Age. When it was beginning, perhaps as far as 2014, you needed people like us to tell you about it, in blatant, obvious terms. You don’t need that now and we don’t like to overstay our welcome or state the obvious. Instead, you have the list below. This is just one half of 2016. There is so much more to come and already, this list has some of the best albums released in their respective sub-genres in at least a decade. So, there’s no need to tell you anymore that this is The Golden Age of metal. We hope you can see that for yourself. Just look at this list, a group effort from the blog staff, in no particular order. Just look at this amazing, wonderful list.
Aborted – Retrogore
It’s too easy to write sweet things about Aborted because they are almost the perfect modern death metal band. This bold claim is backed and backed hard by Retrogore. With all of it’s bells, whistles, blastbeats and whirlwind guitar solos, the newest offering of deathgrind is still fan-fucking-tastic even at its worst. It has aborted the tired trappings of old Aborted and given new life to a new, altogether far more ferocious beast of a newborn.
The horror samples are so on point that I bet most people have hunted each individual soundbite out. Aborted are horror nerds of the most depraved order and we as nerds — be it horror, music, gaming etc. — need to stand arm in arm. Their appreciation of the art form translates wickedly in the deranged, delightfully devilish nature of every banger on Retrogore. It’s a record that throws back to the best of times, yet still carves it’s own path for the future of an already well established band. Aborted is fundamental listening for the distinguished metal nerd. – Matt MacLennan
Astronoid – Air
Each year, a select few bands are pulled to the front of metal and labeled as leaders for their respective subgenre. It is usually said that they not only carry their genre on, but also forward. They are tasked with bearing their torch and taking it to areas that light has never touched, and to be quite honest, some bands just can’t bear to illuminate that which hasn’t already been seen. They have a certain fear of the unknown that keeps them away from it. Astronoid are the torchbearers for their own subgenre of dream thrash and not only are they not frightened to illuminate that which can’t be seen, but they are light itself, bathing the path in front of them in glorious luminescence.
Air is the soundtrack to ascension, taking elements of black metal, thrash and various ethereal genres like shoegaze/dreampop to create something wholly unique. Never has an album like this graced my ears, but I’m glad that Astronoid had the foresight to create this masterpiece. Not only does this record fill a gap in my listening library, but it also fills a gap in the world’s listening library. Mark my words, Air will be an album that pushes bands to explore every inch of their influences to make music that transcends convention and breaks through into mysterious, yet exciting new realms. Astronoid are living, breathing proof that the sky is anything but the limit. – Ryan Castrati
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The Black Queen – Fever Daydream
Not many of us saw this coming. Of course, we all had some inkling of an idea, based on Black Queen frontman Greg Puciato’s vocals in The Dillinger Escape Plan, but most just expected a cool side project and a nice, if somewhat dry, alternative to Dillinger when we needed our dose of Puciato’s signature vocal sound but without the accompanying mathcore abrasion.
Boy oh boy, were we misguided. Fever Daydream is a tour de force through cold, synth-based soundscapes powered as much by the instrumentation as by its all-star singer: lush, vast plains of permafrost and chrome mingle into a retrofuturist fantasy world that draws as much inspiration from Star Wars’ ice planet Hoth as it does from Blade Runner’s Los Angeles. Every track showcases a sweeping new vantage point for this eternally-chilled landscape, and Puciato’s voice as the string tying everything together takes good instrumentals and makes great songs out of them. Far from just “a Dillinger side project,” Fever Daydream is amazing in its own right as a beautiful, dark synth-pop album from a team of extremely talented individuals. – Simon Handmaker
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Cult of Luna + Julie Christmas – Mariner
Cult of Luna‘s previous album, Vertikal, was a monumental work that exceeded the expectations placed upon them based on their past output, so following it up was likely a task as daunting as the album itself. The Swedish post-metal band didn’t shy away from continued experimentation and refinement, however, and Mariner is a testament to their passion and creativity even after nearly half a dozen amazing, diverse albums.
Enlisting the vocal and songwriting abilities of Julie Christmas proves to be the element that takes Cult of Luna’s sound to the next level, and her contribution to this album can’t be understated. Cult of Luna have always been a band that excelled at atmospherics, and Christmas’s presence meshes perfectly with the band’s sensibilities, creating an ethereal, eerie masterpiece that may end up being the band’s best work. Mariner is a triumph and the best album I’ve heard so far this year. – Colin Kauffman
David Bowie – Blackstar
During the three days between ★’s release and David Bowie’s death, anyone who experienced the album simultaneously felt a subconscious “knowing.” Of course, what exactly Bowie meant by the moribundity of his swansong wasn’t fully explained until his passing, despite how explicitly death permeates from the album. In his final act, Bowie produced the culmination of his prolific career while also raising the bar for farewell albums to unreachable heights.
But one thing must be made perfectly clear: Bowie’s death and ★’s greatness are inseparable. This is not to say that the album’s acclaim stems from a desire to commemorate his musical impact; anyone who asserts that it is doesn’t understand why the album is such a profound piece of music. While albums from artists like Joy Division took on new meaning after a key member died, no album in recent memory was penned by an artist who was fully aware of their own impending mortality. ★ isn’t a juxtaposition of an untimely death and musical darkness; it contains the the sounds of a fading legend, knowingly pouring the remainder of his genius into what will be one of the greatest albums of 2016 and far, far beyond. – Scott Murphy
Deftones – Gore
Every now and then it’s important to stop and appreciate the miracle of how Deftones transcended the nu-metal scene to become a hard rock institution that earned metal credentials as a right and achieved fan favor in a way that has been extended to few non-metal acts, as was the case for Faith No More before them.
Their back catalog is a diverse wash of grooving riffs and piercing aggression as well as post-rock ambient cues and passionate and vivid lyrical imagery. Each album can be considered a classic in its own right, but their latest effort Gore may be one of the most divisive Deftones albums thus far (perhaps second to 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist). Gore feels like a natural step in the post-Diamond Eyes set of Deftones jams, with an atmosphere thick with huge yet simplified guitar and an emphasis on emotive songwriting and how the songs occupy space. Some fans felt betrayed by the almost ironic album title in Gore’s lack of extremity, and even guitarist Stephen Carpenter publically expressed some frustration with Deftones’ stripped back style. Even still, Gore still packs a punch and isn’t the neutered naval-gazer that many fans expected. Trust me, many of these songs will stand the test of time and sit well among the band’s catalogue of hits like “Change” and “Digital Bath.” – Jimmy Rowe
Entheos – The Infinite Nothing
There is simply no reason why California’s Entheos shouldn’t be huge right now. They’re tapping into the newer crop of technical death metal, no doubt, but there’s also way more surprises to be found in the eight tracks of The Infinite Nothing than countless other clones. Sporting a line-up that has been fawned over since its inception (and for good reason), Entheos have really taken the ideas brought forth on their first EP and introduced a lot more surprises on the way. There’s a lot more time for the band to weave in plenty of spine-snapping grooves, forays into electronica and jazz fusion, furies of blasting and way more guitar solos than ever before. Pair this with a much more confident and well-rounded vocal performance from Chaney Crabb and you’ve got yourself a winning recipe, friends.
Technical death metal is everywhere these days it seems, but Entheos should be one of the most essential groups to keep your eyes on in the style today. The Infinite Nothing is dizzying and dismal, sure, but it’s a consistently-enjoyable ride that’s packing more adrenaline than that syringe used to revive Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. – Kit Brown
Fallujah – Dreamless
On paper, the concept of Fallujah‘s sound shouldn’t work; the band strive to make crystal-clear and pristine atmospheric music within the context of technical death metal. Atmospheric death metal is easy enough to understand and maintain if you’re going for a murky soundscape that Gorguts, Portal, and Ulcerate have normalized. But combining dreampop and tech death is still a somewhat foreign concept that Bay Area prog metallers Fallujah have only just begun to perfect with Dreamless. The band’s past works have been great, no doubt, but Dreamless is where the band hits the right balance with a fitting production to emphasize the band’s nuanced and passionate take on extreme music. Dreamless manages to be a lot of things — sleek, futuristic, nostalgic, oppressive, intimate — but most importantly, it’s a case study on the continued evolution of death metal and extreme prog. – Jimmy Rowe
Full of Hell & The Body – One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache sounds like what you’d expect from a collaboration between two artists like Full of Hell and The Body, and that’s a very, very good thing. This album is unrelentingly bleak and nihilistic, giving no ground in it’s sonic assault on your senses. The Body’s signature shrieking vocals and outré weirdness mesh exceedingly well with Full of Hell’s noisy, thrashing antics, making for a difficult but rewarding listening experience.
ODYWALIA is a challenging piece of art that hides vulnerable emotional core under it’s brutal, bleak exterior, and plumbing its depths to experience everything this collaboration has to offer is well worth the time of any fan of either artist. This is a standout piece of music that doesn’t always go where you expect it to but always does so with the highest possible songwriting standards. – Colin Kauffman
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Gorguts – Pleiade’s Dust
To be completely honest, I feel like we as a community have run out of ways to sing the praises of Gorguts’ near-flawless back catalog and its influence on death metal as a whole. Yet where we find ourselves attempting to circumvent the problem of almost having run out of good things to say about the band’s work, it seems Luc Lemay and co. face no such shortage on their end: indeed, not one of ideas, nor of hitherto unexplored musical territory to traverse. And so, hot on the heels of 2013’s atmospheric masterpiece Colored Sands — perhaps the most well received reunion album of any death metal band ever — Gorguts shift gears from Tibet to the Medieval Islamic era, to make for a similarly daring release about the Islamic House of Wisdom that consists of a single song clocking in at a hefty 33 minutes.
A runtime that long may imply long, drawn-out passages that are not that difficult to digest, but make no mistake: Pleiades’ Dust is incredibly dense, and frequently a challenging listen, working largely with the dissonant sound to be found on Colored Sands with a few extra twists and turns to boot. Yet the cohesion at play is unmatched, with both thundering blast beats and hauntingly beautiful clean passages strung together masterfully by the band’s unparalleled grasp of atmosphere and ambiance. Easily one of the finest releases of the year so far, Pleiades’ Dust is utterly essential; a work of art only further demonstrating that two-and-a-half decades into their career, Gorguts are still decidedly in their prime, and still capable of innovating like few bands before them. -Ahmed Hasan
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Haken – Affinity
Embracing the tropes of your genre is never an easy feat to pull off. This is especially true when your genre is suffering from an identity crisis or is altogether unclear on where its lines are drawn. Such is the case with progressive metal, a genre well past its golden age. However Haken have been able to do just that; rising from the sometimes lackluster imitations of their previous releases, they have wholly embraced what makes progressive metal great. As a result, Affinity is a cohesive, enjoyable album that never misses a beat in its treatment of authentic, progressive metal.
Affinity is an album which does not fear multiple inspirations, fanbases or sounds. From 80’s hype music to modern chugs, it weaves expertly between retro perspectives and current affairs. As such, it breathes a much needed freshness and frivolous joyfulness that has been perhaps missing from most progressive metal albums in the recent years. Instead of a stale focus on technicality, we find a dedication to what each track and moment on the album need. If a composition calls for a light-hearted break then that’s what it’ll get, expectations and cliches aside. If a composition calls for a straight-forward, classical line (like a shredding solo or a “djent” chug) then that’s what it will get, expectations of the fans and music industry aside.
In short, it’s its own creation. Whether in synths, vocals, drums, guitars, electronic breakdowns or pop bridges, it knows what it’s doing and why. That’s what makes it one of the best albums of the first half of 2016: there’s a vision, a direction and a plan, and they’re all fully expressed and realized. – Eden Kupermintz
If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones of a Dying World
Bands exceed their own expectations constantly. It’s what makes music so enjoyable these days. I can think of countless bands that set themselves a bar and surpassed it not long after they set it, becoming even bigger and better. If These Trees Could Talk set a pretty high bar with Red Forest, their last record. The bar was so high that I honestly did not see them surpassing it. However, I was proven wrong in the best possible way with The Bones Of A Dying World. Not only is it an album worth your time, but it’s an album that absolutely needs your time.
From the opening track’s heavy “chorus” riff (I use this term superficially since there are no vocals present and it’s merely a refrain that occurs throughout the song) to the last ringing note on the closing track “One Sky Above Us”, the band paints a picture unlike they ever have been able to before. The trio of guitars is at its most effective here, utilizing each one to the fullest by having them create a lush atmosphere that doesn’t need any overdubs or effects. It’s just straightforward greatness. It’s difficult to put into words how effective this really is, partly because each song is such a journey that it will take multiple listens to catch every little minor detail. However, at the end of the day, one thing becomes clear: the band has created their opus, a pure masterpiece free of flaws that will surely stay as a gem in the post-metal and post-rock world for generations to come. – Spencer Snitil
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Ihsahn – Arktis
Let’s set this straight right from the start: Arktis. is a masterpiece, and a certain album of the year contender. Continuing in the progressive direction of his solo work, the ten tracks penned here serve as a veritable mini-encyclopaedia of metal, such is the vast array of influences contained therein. The opener “Disassembled” sees the intertwining of bluesy guitars and prominent synths, Ihsahn’s piercing harsh vocals interspersed with both his own cleans and those of the supremely talented Einar Solberg of Leprous. Next we have the melodic black metal of “Mass Darkness”, featuring Trivium’s Matt Heafy, where twin guitar leads are juxtaposed against eerie atmospherics and pummelling drumming. An organ which would have found itself at home in a ’70’s prog rock band shows up in “My Heart is of the North”, whilst “In the Vaults” contains some of the most gorgeous harmonies you can find. “Until I Too Dissolve” opens with a catchy, hard rock guitar riff and… you get the picture, the breadth of sonic territory covered here encapsulates a wide range of the spectrum that is rock and metal. Thankfully thought that’s not all Ihsahn has in store for us, as he adds a couple of different elements into the mix as well.
The first big surprise is “South Winds”, a track whose electronic beat and synths make it a perfect fit for those metalheads who love a good rave, and it really is a challenge to listen to this song without obeying the urge to move your body. The guest appearance of Shining saxophonist Jurgen Monkeby on “Crooked Red Line” also adds a beautiful touch, the melancholic crooning and soaring wails of his instrument perfectly complementing the track. Finally, this masterclass of an album concludes with a lesson in how to write an album closer, “Celestial Violence” meeting and exceeding every lofty expectation that the album had hitherto established. Despite the disparity of sounds and genres to be found, as if by witchcraft the album still manages to flow beautifully as a whole, and those who have yet to hear it have done themselves a serious disservice. – Karlo Doroc
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
Even with songs that aren’t mastered, Kendrick Lamar proves that he’s closer and closer to becoming a master of his craft. The songs present on untitled unmastered are only strung together by their titles, or lackthereof, yet this collection still manages to have enough quality and coherence to end up on our top 25 releases of the year so far. I can’t think of many artists who can put out what is essentially a collection of rough cuts and b-sides, only to make it to the top of the Billboard charts. It speaks volumes as to how much care Kendrick puts into the music he makes.
In nine tracks, Cornrow Kenny goes from off kilter/elegant jazz instrumentals to trap flavored bangers with ease and aplomb. There’s even a jam that’s just him, a guitar and a room full of people enjoying Kendrick’s over the top croon of “Head is the answer; head is the future.” Watching him work without limits or constraints shows just how strong of an artist he is and only further solidifies him as one capable of taking multiple mediums and putting them in tight headlocks, refusing to let go until they scream, “Uncle!” The best part is that it doesn’t feel phoned in. The project is treated with just as much care as any major release he would put out and it’s palpable. Kendrick believes his children deserve love and care, even if they don’t have names. – Ryan Castrati
Magrudergrind – II
Three people from Brooklyn have the kind of worldwide appeal that very few on this planet will ever realize. These three people are Magrudergrind and with II, they have systematically destroyed their own brand and given it a facelift with no anaesthetic. For fans of the band’s previous releases, new fans and fans who don’t even know they are fans yet, 2016 is the year where a fledgling, underground grind band can turn their hostility into brief, stabbing moments of utter audio carnage.
Boosted by the wizardy of one Kurt Ballou, II is just as much of a fuck you to genre pigeon holers as it is to the establishment. It’s a record dripping in hostility. The boot in the face hardcore moments are countered masterfully with frenzied passages of d-beat destruction and there’s next to no breathing room between each track. It’s hard to put a finger on the pulse of Magrudergrind because it’s either not there or pounding so hard that their kick drum is in the first few rows of the crowd. It’s messy and it’s frantic and it’s catchier than Zika without all the unnecessary side effects. Listeners will need a repeat prescription of this beautifully crafted beration. – Matt MacLennan
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Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us
Nails have been an unrelenting and vicious act in since their inception in 2009. You Will Never Be One Of Us has Nails creating crushing walls of sound filled with gritty, distorted guitars, bouts of noisy feedback and pummeling blast beats. Instead of being a filthy sound entrenched in turning things to 11, they’ve opted to clear up the production to give each instrument its own space. Specifically, they’ve toned down the violence and sheer distortion just a notch or two. That’s not to say YWNBOOU is Nails going soft or selling out though. They’re only making distinctions in their wall of noise. Such a massive and dense sound essentially guarantees that, at 21 minutes, it doesn’t indulge in excess. These are choice riffs and cuts that let each track stand on its own legs, but also contribute equally to the sum of its parts.
At the end of the day, YWNBOOU continues to make Nails a staple in the hardcore and metal scenes. You can still headbang to Nails. You can still mosh to Nails. You can still feel pissed off and Nails can be the cathartic plane crash that you turn to on a bad day. Just like each of their releases before this one, YWNBOOU is an essential part of the band’s discography. Although this time, they’ve made the “Nails” version of a stepping stone to their more violent releases and this achievement ensures YWNBOOU a spot on this list. –Cody Dilullo
Obscura – Akroasis
After rising to tech death stardom following 2011’s critically acclaimed Omnivium, Obscura may well have become the single biggest tech outfit in Europe — perhaps even the world, at that. Enter 2014, however, and the simultaneous departure of both lead guitarist Christian Muenzner and drummer Hannes Grossmann — arguably the two more famous members of the band — seemed, at the time, to have suddenly left the project floating adrift where it once roared full steam ahead. Undeterred, ringleader Steffen Kummerer quickly found replacements from musicians within his orbit, and so Akroasis came to be hardly two years later.
Indeed, much like the lineup that spawned it, Akroasis is very different from any of the band’s previous efforts, eschewing a blast beat-laden, razor-sharp tech death sound in favour of a more restrained approach to songwriting, complete with warm-sounding analog production. The latter of these things particularly stands out in an era of increasingly robotic-sounding tech death: while there isn’t necessarily something wrong about that, finally hearing tech death that accomplishes a spacey, atmospheric aesthetic while remaining human-sounding feels incredibly fresh, and the production combined with Linus Klausenitzer’s fretless bass lines has Akroasis sometimes harkening back to Cynic’s seminal 1993 album Focus like few albums before it. Finally, lead guitarist Tom Geldschlager’s ever-present fretless guitar parts are plastered in liberal amounts all over the record, adding a fearless and brilliant new sonic dimension to what was already a solid album, in addition to bringing us the masterpiece that is Akroasis’ 15-minute closer “Weltseele”. It’s not often that lineup turmoil results in an album that is this much of a triumph, but Akroasis’ dynamic songwriting and frequent musical risks only make for a stellar end result. –Ahmed Hasan
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Pitts Minnemann Project – The Psychic Planetarium
The challenge of balancing theatrics with expression is one which plagues many a creator, above and beyond metal. The everyday scope of human emotion tends to be mundane and yet, we come to art seeking both grandeur and sympathy. How do you make something that’s accessible, human and majestic? I, for one, stand always in awe of projects that are able to do so and thus, my jaw is agape at The Pits Minnemann Project. Perhaps, when considering the individuals involved, I should not be as surprised. But even for such veteran and proven musicians, The Psychic Planetarium is an amazing achievement. Spanning nearly an hour, it crosses the influences of progressive rock, progressive metal, jazz fusion and much more. It has fretless guitars, insane keyboards, countless guitar solos and the drum composition of one of the greatest drummers in metal.
So what makes it work? Simply enough, you can’t see the seams. You listen hard, trying to pick up on jarring in the transition, a place where the composing minds somehow did not communicate perfectly. But, you come out empty handed: even when moving from furious blastbeats to charming piano, or from a deconstructed, polyrhythmic pattern to a simple riff, everything just seems organic. Thus, this condense and ultimately progressive album somehow whizes by you. Usually these things generate a fair amount of fatigue; not so here. The intricacy is there and you can hear it if you’d like, by focusing on each instrument. But by taking a longer view and allowing everything to bleed together, you’ll get a convincing, approachable, beautiful whole. For that act of additive magic, it’s without a doubt that The Psychic Planetarium deserves a spot on this list and a spot in your listening rotation for years to come. –Eden Kupermintz
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Slice the Cake – Odyssey to the West
Progressive deathcore is somewhat of an oxymoronic term, and whilst deathcore may be one of the most polarising genres out there, let us preface this piece by assuring you that this album should appeal to any fan of progressive music – even those who dislike deathcore. The recently defunct, inter-continental online outfit that was Slice The Cake returned in controversial circumstances in 2016 with their third full length Odyssey to the West, which is the focus of this piece, and its companion EP Odyssey to the Gallows. Taken together, these records represent a 100-minute concept album of truly epic proportions, with a continuous narrative throughout and the interweaving of musical and lyrical motifs between the songs of both these records and, on occasion, even those that have come before.
Musically speaking, the highlight of the record is the strength of the composition, courtesy of Jack Magero Richardson, and how he straddles the inherent dichotomy between their two genre tags. Yes, it is founded in deathcore and so there are breakdowns and chugs to be found, but they’re far from the derivative, uninspired passages which blight the genre. Instead, they’re interspersed within a progressive structure with plenty of variation. The riffs are actually memorable and only grow on you with repeat listens. In addition we encounter various elements of death metal, black metal and post-metal, with frequent, effortless transitions between extreme metal and softer, more mellow territory with acoustic guitars, pianos and harps. No transition seems forced and despite its length, rarely does a passage outstay its welcome.
Just as deathcore can be polarising, so too can the vocals here courtesy of Gareth Mason. STC have continued to vary their approach with the use of harsh vocals, clean vocals and spoken word passages. The theatrical, melodramatic delivery of the latter, coupled with somewhat pretentious lyricism drawing heavily from Shakespearean tragedy, religion, philosophy and mythology, could be a major turn-off for some listeners. However, those who don’t mind some theatre will doubtless agree that the spoken word sections are executed extremely well, bringing the listener into the protagonist’s state of mind as he abandons his lover and forsakes his people in order to undertake a journey of self-discovery and transcendence. -Karlo Doroc
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Sumac – What One Becomes
Sumac did a pretty good job with The Deal, but there was still something I desired from them. A year later, they gave me exactly what I wanted with What One Becomes. This album is more angry, more heavy, and sounds more full than The Deal is all aspects. Sumac’s members are all members of heavy bands in some way, but I think that this is by far the heaviest album any of them have ever been a part of, and it feels like they all have this bottled up rage that they needed to expel on this album. From the end of “Rigid Man” to the entire closing track “Will To Reach”, the album pummels you for what seems like forever, with breaks in between. It’s the equivalent of being beaten to a pulp, and just when you’re starting to heal again, you get beat to hell again. This album is the sonic equivalent of being left for dead over and over again.
Part of what makes this album so great is the step up in production. It feels more put together than The Deal, and has some of the best production in the genre. It also feels more like a collaborative effort this time around, taking more influences from Russian Circles and Baptists since two of the three members (Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn, respectively) comprise those bands. Some of this material sounds like it’s influenced by them directly, which is awesome. It’s great to see them taking their main projects and infusing them into this one because it makes the band stronger. Now the only question is how the band will top this, and I’m excited to see what the future holds. -Spencer Snitil
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Swans – The Glowing Man
Excluding any of Gira’s ambiguous plans for Swans’ future, the powerhouse-trio of The Seer, To Be Kind and The Glowing Man will remain the center of any band-related discourse for years to come. Thus far, critical reaction to The Glowing Man has been noticeably mild, particularly in comparison to the reception for the band’s preceding two masterpieces. It’s understandable, in a way; The Glowing Man is the fraternal member of inbred triplets. But anyone truly doubtful of the album’s worthiness owes themselves another listen of what the bands Swans(-ish) son has to offer.
The Glowing Man is the definition of a slow burner. As we detailed in our review, the vast majority of the album sees Swans focusing more on atmosphere, spirituality and subtler development rather than their typical tension-ridden delivery. But easing on the torque only acts to the Glowing Man’s benefit, with a collection of tracks that feels truly transcendent of everything Swans has accomplished before. And for fans truly cobing over the trilogy to pass out gold, silver and bronze medals: why choose? Just clear six hours out of your schedule to experience Swans’ reunion in all of its glory, with The Glowing Man acting as an immaculate finale. -Scott Murphy
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Textures – Phenotype
Funnily enough (or not, seeing as how I am Heavy Blog’s Prog Man™), this entry corresponds with my earlier ones. However, it does so not in the sense that you might expect; I’m not about to laud Textures for their reconnection to progressive metal roots. Instead, they are somewhat of an opposite to Haken or Pitts Minneman Project. They’re different in what they do with their progressive metal foundations. While subgenres can be carried forward by experimentation or a reconnection to the roots, they can also be made compelling by simply executing them perfectly.
That’s what Textures do on Phenotype. All progressive moments on the album are ushered in when their time is due, without seeming forced or artificial. Whether it’s a breakdown, an aggressive solo or soaring vocals, everything seems to fit together seamlessly. This can be best evidenced by how time seems to go by when you listen to the album. You’re caught in this stream of constant movement and progress, each note or line leading to the next. And that’s perhaps the best criterion by which to test progressive metal: does it flow? Does it work with itself, does it internal sense?
Phenotype most certainly does and it makes into more than the sum of its part, more than just cool moments strung together. It gives it momentum and a strange agility when looking back and talking with itself. It has pieces of the start at the end and vice versa, becoming like a folded organ, many times its volume than it originally appears. As such, it survives many re-listens, as there’s always something new to hear. Couple that with smoothness of execution and production and you’ve got a really earworm on your hands, catchy and compelling. –Eden Kupermintz
Ulver – ATCGLVLSSCAP
ATCGLVLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ is somewhat of an oddball release here: built on studio improvisations and live jams cannibalized from previous tracks across the multiplicitous Ulver discography, it’s not entirely new material. That doesn’t prevent it from being a phenomenal release from this year, though, which is why it’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all of the other crazy albums on here. It’s a monolith of music, too, coming in at around 80 minutes across 12 expansive songs.
Ulver redefines themselves on every album, and ATCG is no exception. Built on a base of spacey, lumbering drone rock, heavy with synths and wavering guitars, the pulsing percussion is what leads across every track. The rhythm section is hypnotic and unrelenting, beating a pulse to which the music bends and twists, the band all contorting themselves to fit the thrumming constancy of the drums and bass. Although this album’s weak point is in its cohesion — each track is entirely different from what came before it, sans genre — having so much excellent and self-contained music is a virtue in of itself. Highly, highly recommended for a listener with plenty of time on their hands and a strong sense of patience. –Simon Handmaker
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Vektor – Terminal Redux
Sometimes a five year period between albums can really break a band, particularly if they’re tied to a scene that’s the most current (and fickle) trend. Luckily for Vektor, they’re not sticking to any current fads and have been proving their allegiance to 80s thrash and 90s death metal since their inception. Oh, and they just happen to be one of the most consistent bands in their style. With their latest outing, Vektor have proven to both old fans and newcomers alike that they’re an absolute musical juggernaut destined to end up on year-end lists the world over. Terminal Redux is a 70 minute metal manifesto of a fully-realized musical unit that knows exactly when to soar into the stratosphere, drop in a couple of hooks or kick up the technicality to Mach-5. While most of the band’s contemporaries would inevitably fall short delivering such lofty lyrics and progressive musical concepts into such a dated style of heavy music, Terminal Redux is a clinic on dynamics and surprises in a genre often devoid of such things.
This album has been on tons of websites and getting lots of hype for a reason, folks. Almost nothing else in 2016 has matched Terminal Redux‘s level of innovation, excitement, and fist-pumping riffage. So put on some headphones and prepare to get wrecked in a place where no one can hear you scream. – Kit Brown
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Wormed – Krighsu
Had Gorguts not put out a release this year, Krighsu was shaping up to be the indisputably best technical death metal release of the year. It’s calculated mayhem to cosmic proportions. Each track on Krighsu has Wormed slaving over every second of their music creating a complex whirlwind of brutal death metal.
Their knack for rhythm never hesitates to catch you off guard and up the ante. The riffs transition frantically between technical runs, furious tremolos and breakneck slams. Phlegeton’s signature vocals are a suffocating bellow that pierce the soundscape with inaudible lyrics about the space god Krighsu and ensuing cosmic terrors. Even the weird experimentation is present. Most notably, strange bits of tapping that sound like a laser gun, clean guitar passages and keys that convey the vastness of space. It adds up to a fresh and unique take on death metal that we’ve seen only once on their previous release, Exodromos. It doesn’t sell us short, however. It manages to live up to the standard set Exodromos in every possible way. It proves that there is real substance in their sound. In the years to come, we’ll be looking back on both Exodromos and Krighsu with the same reverence we have for them today. Krighsu is a modern staple in death metal much like it’s predecessor. It’s everything you could ask for from a death metal record. There’s no doubt that Wormed have a career of continued brilliance ahead of them. –Cody Dilullo
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