30. Sumac – What One Becomes
When almost any band announces that they’re dropping another LP a year after their previous effort, it’s usually a red flag. Luckily for Sumac, they’re an incredibly experienced power-trio in every sense of the word. The band has proven with What One Becomes that they’ve started to find their groove, learned from the mistakes of the criminally-underrated The Deal, and expanded their sound into much more cinematic and adventurous territory. While their debut was already masterfully fusing forays into full-blown math rock with Aaron Turner’s (ex-Isis, Old Man Gloom) signature take on sludge metal mayhem, What One Becomes feels like a much grander and cinematic experience when taken as a single and monolithic piece of work.
Oh, and by the way, this album packs in some of the most spine-splitting slews of savage riffage you’ll be likely to encounter this year. If you can find something that tops the cacophonous and polymetric end to “Image of Control,” please let us know. “Blackout” seamlessly flows between numerous thematic changes throughout its 17-minute runtime without ever getting boring, and “Will to Reach” closes the record out with a blistering blast-beat section that will bring even the most seasoned metal fan to their knees. On top of that, What One Becomes is loaded with an incredible drum performance that’s as flashy as it is reserved, bass that rumbles and sizzles at exactly the right moments, and loads of improvisational moments, What One Becomes is an album that will challenge you as often as it will reward you for your patience. Sumac is the future.
29. Mithras – On Strange Loops
This one definitely came out of nowhere. Mithras were a relatively underground band who did old school tech death in the vein of Atheist and Nocturnus, and even Lykathea Aflame around the early 2000s. Now, suddenly, after a 9 year hiatus they return with On Strange Loops and they’re still excellent. Tech death has become standardized since its revival in the mid 2000s, and hearing the old, raw experimental sound from before that brought back to life by Mithras is a delight.
The album is entirely made by founding member Leon Macey, who plays the guitars, drums, and does the vocals. This is one of those albums that only happen when an experienced mastermind just dumps their raw creativity. Full of melodic work that is both disturbing, upbeat, melancholic and alien; On Strange Loops is unashamedly weird and unique. It harkens back to the era of death metal where young musicians who didn’t care for genre conventions pieced together a large array of influences. However, it isn’t a completely archaic relic, as the speed of the playing and the ingenuity of the writing is up to par with modern bands. What we have here in the end is what almost sounds like an updated version of a classic album from an amalgamation of the 90s tech death scene. In a way, this is weirdly circular, or, in other words, on a strange loop…
28. Cyborg Octopus – Learning To Breathe
Learning to Breathe is a succinct sampler of progressive metal. Showcasing a genre hopping troupe performing tracks that are clear cut genre worship while maintaining an impressive amount of their own identity. Each track is solid and super fun. Whether it’s the classical and pristine composition of “Divine Right (in D minor)” or the funky “Discobrain”, Cyborg Octopus have proven themselves a dynamic group. Each member has a knack for lending their prowess to the things they’re best at (which is seemingly everything) giving the album a really charismatic charm. When you set out to write a bunch of songs a certain way and are really careful to craft them with unique identities, it’s really easy to lose some humanity in that process or just misstep entirely. Cyborg Octopus however, don’t fall so easily to those pitfalls.
It’s most exciting seeing a band not strive to be any particular thing. It’s so cool to have your expectations tossed on their head. At Heavy Blog, Learning to Breathe is a breath of fresh air. It’s the fun hokey parts of Between the Buried and Me without the danger of being hamfisted. It’s the frantic goofiness of iwrestledabearonce but doubled down to the point of sheer sincerity. It’s irreverent in its ambitions but dead serious on delivering. To put it simply, this album is a Jack of all trades but master of none, and it’s fucking awesome for it.
27. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
It’s not much of a stretch to say that Radiohead are among the most beloved bands in the world, and one of the few that still exude a larger-than-life aura through everything they touch upon. Recent times, however, had seen even the group’s most dedicated fans put to the test. With just one album released in the span of eight years – met with more scorn than praise – it started to look like what was once an immaculately consistent band had begun losing gas. Under these circumstances, A Moon Shaped Pool had some high expectations to fulfill, and thankfully it delivers in spades.
Apart from being a great album in its own right, it proves that Thom Yorke & co. still had another masterpiece in them. Where The King of Limbs’ prominent electronics made it distant and impersonal, A Moon Shaped Pool feels warmly intimate, inviting the listener to explore a sense of fragility that even Radiohead have rarely displayed to such an extent. It also improves on the former’s brevity and lack of direction, but merely comparing it to its predecessor does the album a disservice, as this is an effort that demands it be judged by its own merits. Both on an album and song basis, A Moon Shaped Pool manages to strike the perfect balance between uniqueness and recognizability. With a distinct identity achieved through the melancholic tone, orchestral elements and recurrent lyrical themes, as well as a myriad of anthems, it manages to carve out a spot in the highest tier of the Radiohead pantheon. More than anything, it signals a kind of rebirth that is refreshing to hear in a year where many widely lauded albums happen to be swan songs.
26. Swans – The Glowing Man
Out of all the albums on this list, there aren’t many which are as sprawling and unhinged as The Glowing Man. That is a compliment of course; Swans have a distinct aura about them which makes their work so fascinating, but they don’t exactly strive to make music that’s easy to listen to either. The Glowing Man ended another strong chapter of their career quite brilliantly and definitively; mastermind Michael Gira has promised more new music under the Swans moniker, albeit with new collaborators to help him unleash his bizarre, demented vision.
Essentially two hours of pummelling noise and droning with a post-punk flavor, you better be ready to devote some time and effort into this album if you want to reap the full benefit of it. Like most great albums, it just gets better with replay value, and The Glowing Man possesses that grand ability to take the listener on a sonic adventure. But come the end of it you’ll feel spit out, exhausted and left for dead.
25. yndi halda – Under Summer
Over the past few years, I’ve tried very hard to move post rock closer to the core of the blog’s works. I’m happy to say that I have been somewhat successful, even if most posts are under my name. I’m happy because of albums like yndi halda’s Under Summer and the legitimacy I have to write about them. Simply put, Under Summer is a wonder of an album which shouldn’t exist; it was released almost a decade after their previous, debut release. It came out of nowhere to completely upend what I thought I knew about post rock in 2016. It’s the Album of the Year on my personal list. And it just keeps getting better.
Something about Under Summer, an album which eschews many of the accepted structures of how post rock works, is deeply in tune with what the genre is about as a whole. It’s about something softer and yet intensely solid and present. It’s about the balance between guitars, strings, bass, drums and vocals but it’s also about singular moments, like the crescendos at the end of opener “Together Those Leaves” or the last moments of the album, that stand out and breathe life into each instruments. It’s simply post rock at its best, unapologetic and yet, somehow, subversive and genre irreverent. It’s one of the best things to come out of the murky 2016. Please listen to it.
24. Plini – Handmade Cities
Plini Roessler-Holgate, better known to the world as simply Plini, has made a name for himself in the last few years through his YouTube channel, exemplifying his smooth, soulful style in progressive instrumental music that echoes the greats like Joe Satriani and John Petrucci, but manages to be entirely his own. Handmade Cities is a culmination of years of work.
Single after single, EP after EP, there just never seemed to be a coalescing dream with Plini’s work. However, after much thought and time, Handmade Cities came to be and it’s dreamy and beautiful and all together wonderful. The fantastic overtones combined with the gentle guitar work merge so diligently, elegantly painting this imaginary, dainty playground among the stars in the sky. Even at a mere seven tracks, Handmade Cities manages to be huge in spirit and quite unlike anything Plini has released prior.
23. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Musicians with a career as long and fruitful as Aesop Rock’s seem to be left with two options: to sink or swim. Their new music seems to either disappoint a majority of fans or becomes a well of renewal for their artistry. Thankfully for Aesop, his latest release The Impossible Kid was the latter—it’s an album that has refined the style of abstract and/or alternative hip-hop he’s become famous for, but also redefines his self-perception in a huge way, offering new meaning to his past.
Simon put it best in Heavy Blog’s mini-review of The Impossible Kid earlier this year when he essentially described the album as a midlife crisis, wherein Aesop is constantly looking back and reevaluating everything about his life, from the fact that he’s now forty to his regrets as an art school dropout to his tattoos. Despite his tendency to overanalyze, The Impossible Kid showcases Aes starting to get past this speed-bump of neuroticism and (perhaps grudgingly in some places) accept his age and his life—some of his failures have become accomplishments, and vice-versa. Add to these overarching themes Aesop’s signature verbose flow and production that utilizes a veritable potpourri of styles and sounds—analog synth samples, horn stabs, chunky guitar riffs, classic hip-hop beat-boxing, record scratches, and intricately composed drum beats—and you’ve got yourself one of the best hip-hop albums of the year, period.
22. Wormrot – Voices
Wormrot have stepped up their game immensely, and in Voices have delivered the best grind album since Maruta’s Remain Dystopian (the best grind album of 2015), and Gridlink’s swansong Longhena (the best grind album of 2014). In fact, it’s as if Wormrot have noted the nearly unfuckwithable level of ferocity and riff creativity on display by their peers and fought to either reach a level playing field, or simply surpass them. It depends on who you ask of course, but this album expands into territories that in some ways help it rise above the pack. The slight black metal overtones scattered throughout, the occasional mosh riff, powerviolence yells, and the most surprising element of all: the melody. The fucking melody! A typical grind fan might cringe at this idea, and certainly bands like Gridlink are no strangers to it, but songs like “Compassion is Dead” are rife with the risks needed to propel grindcore forward. This is the seminal album highlight: 0:46, a super fast D-beat foundation, topped with a post rock infused melodic riff and the most impassioned and furious screaming since we last heard Jon Chang. Voices will be hard to top for both Wormrot and their fellow grind comrades, and they are here to let the world know they are not to be fucked with.
21. The Black Queen – Fever Daydream
Metalheads aren’t always the most open-minded of music listeners. They know their main genre of choice, and many don’t even venture too far from a handful of specific subgenres. Yet, if ever there was a non-metal, non-rock adjacent record that would appeal to us, The Black Queen’s Fever Daydream is it. Best described as dark synth-pop, this predominantly electronica based record is fronted by none other than Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Killer Be Killed. The record exclusively utilises his clean vocals, his voice delivering precisely what each track needs. He can be melancholic and somber, or dreamy and ethereal. He can yearn lustfully, or wistfully. He can croon longingly, or withdraw and give the music space to breathe. His performance is exceptional, yet he is not a lone hand and it would be an injustice not to give credit and praise to his bandmates.
Steven Alexander and Joshua Eustis round out the trio, with the latter a former member of both Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer. These associations will come as no surprise to those familiar with the record, with its lush synthscapes, heavy use of samples, and dark, brooding atmosphere typical of NIN. The music makes you want to reminisce. It makes you want to reflect. It makes you want to cry. It makes you want to dance. It does what great music should do, working in perfect harmony with the vocals to elicit emotional reactions and make us want to move our bodies. If none of the above sounds like it appeals to you, then join the club. I don’t like electronic music or pop, and the above write-up probably wouldn’t convince me to check it out. But I did. And I fucking love it.