I haven't really been to many shows this year; in fact I don't think I attended any since MDF in May. Truth is, I'm an old bastard who has already seen "all of the cool bands" and often I'd rather just go have a steak and a beer in a quiet restaurant than battling DC/Baltimore traffic to see a band for the 8th time. That doesn't mean my fandom has become entirely casual; by my estimate I've purchased 62 albums released in 2016 alone, which is to say I've voraciously been listening to and supporting a lot of great bands. Since it's the end of the year and the appropriate time for "Best of" lists, here's mine.
Rotting Christ Rituals
Rotting Christ experienced a revival around 2007 when they released Theogonia with its ethnic Greek influences. To me, it was their best album since their very early days. Unfortunately, each successive album by the band has attempted to plunder this well of creativity with solid but declining results. On Rituals, it has become clear that there just isn't more juice in the path the band started with Theogonia. It's not that there aren't cool moments contained here, but just nothing in the way of memorable songcraft. It's more like this album was created as background music for a God of War video game than a stand alone work meant to captivate your undivided attention. When this record ends, you know you listened to something that sounds like Rotting Christ, but you don't remember much else. These guys are capable of more and given their history of reinvention, I suspect we'll get it soon enough.
Blasphemer Ritual Theophagy
Blood Incantation Starspawn
Blood Red Throne Union Of Flesh And Machine
Darkthrone Arctic Thunder
Dark Tranquility Atoma
Dehumanized Beyond The Mind
Glorior Belli The Flock That Welcomes Sundown
In The Woods.. Pure
Inquisition Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith
Injury Deepen Anthropophagous Realm
Inverloch Distance / Collapsed
Neurogenic Ouroboric Stagnation
Pighead Until All Flesh Decays
Russian Circles Guidance
10.) Anaal Nathrakh The Whole Of The Law
Anaal Nathrakh was a band I kinda came to lately, but when I heard Vanitas a few years ago it clicked perfectly. This is band is a desperate scream in a cacophonous fury. It's a sound that's dense and overwhelming yet grandoise, epic, and even a slight bit triumphant at the same time. That's a lot of adjectives. But in it's mix of black metal, grindcore, and industrial elements, they all fitting describe The Whole Of The Law.
9.) Anciients Voice Of The Void
I had kinda written these guys off as some sort of hipster nerd metal bullshit until this album came up on autoplay on my ipod recently. You could waste your time with Opeth's Sorceress and lament about how far that band has fallen...or you could check this out instead. It's an ambitious sort of blending of bombastic Opeth-y prog and stoner rock, complete with the clean vocal/growling dynamic. This one shouldn't take long to grow on you.
8.) Embalmer Emanations From The Crypt
Awash with grisly sounding vocals, old school riffs, trigger free blasts...this is an ugly sounding band, playing what may be loosely considered "music" but really is just an aural fist to the face by a band that treads close to the edge of recklessness...at any time this sounds like it could fall of the rails into noisy oblivion but never does.
7.) Ulcerate Shrines of Paralysis
Perhaps one of the most influential new bands in the scene, Ulcerate isn't the first band to play this sort of dischordant death metal; Gorguts and Immolation before them had elements of this sort of clangy, atmospheric sound. Certainly bands like Portal and Mitochondrion were intense and foreboding as well; but as a complete package it's Ulcerate who have really made a name for themselves with this style. This is less jarring perhaps than their previous efforts and slightly more orthodox in it's death metal, but as a non-musician who just wants to hear good riffs and be captured by dark atmospheres this might be their best effort to date in my opinion.
6.) Mithras On Strange Loops
Morbid Angel done Willowtip style might be the exact best way to describe this album. Vocals that remind me a bit of Behemoth, the riffs are largely from the Trey Azagthoth school of lava (or whatever he calls it.) with memorable leads and harmonies layered on top. Conceptually, this is a bit ambitious as moments of fierce brutality transition seamlessly into wandering melodic grandeur. If looking at the stars and wondering how human life came to be could be expressed thru early 1990's death metal...I suppose this is about what that should sound like.
5.) Destroyer 666 Wildfire
The most controversial band of 2016? Earlier this year they were engaged in quite a pissing contest with the SJWs at Metalsucks over their past history of less than PC statements that hilariously ended when D666 released the personal information behind the aliases of Axl Rosenberg and co. Now let me be very clear that I probably don't have too much in common with these Aussies with regard to their political views but if we're going to hold bands to task for problematic content in their lyrics then holy shit we've got problems because basically EVERY METAL BAND HAS PROBLEMATIC CONTENT IN THEIR LYRICS OR PERSONAL VIEWS. Songs about murder, violence, politics and revolution, sexual perversions of a wide variety, intolerant anti-religious viewpoints, etc...if you can't take all of this subject matter with a grain of salt then the metal scene probably isn't for you.
Back on topic, none of that is why Wildfire is one of the best albums of the year. It's one of the best albums because it's a rambunctious booze fueled good time. Blackened thrash delivered with irreverent attitude, this album has cross over appeal. And album closer "Tamam Shud" is one epic finale.
4.) Khemmis Hunted
Thin Lizzy meets The Obsessed? Plenty of dirty, sludgy heft with a bit of southern rock swagger and an emphasis on guitar harmonies. Where a band like Pallbearer aspires for grandiose and majestic, this Colorado band aims for something a good deal more rock n roll. This was a late discovery in 2016 for me, so perhaps there's a tinge of recency effect going on, but it definitely hits the spot for me.
3.) Katatonia The Fall Of Hearts
The review here is simple. This is the best album they have done since Last Fair Deal Gone Down.
2.) Zhrine Unortheta
So I left MDF right after Mitochonrion's set before a band I never heard of performed (M was waiting for me and it was kinda rainy outside, so I wasn't going to be a dick...) That band was Iceland's Zhrine, and apparently they created a bit of a buzz from their performance. Based on said buzz, I made the effort to pick up Unortheta and I've regretted missing these guys ever since. Elements of post-metal mesh with somber doom and Incantation/Ulcerate inspired death metal. This isn't meant to be digested in pieces or by individual tracks, but as an entire listen. A few nights driving across the sparsly populated regions of the Western United States I put this on, and it effectively matched the feeling of discomforting solitude one feels journeying along an empty interstate in Montana, racing to avoid a super-cell thunderstorm. Sometimes you hear an album and just connect with it.
1.) Wormed Krighsu
The 2016 undisputed kings of death metal, IMO. Full of rapid fire stop and go transitions that would make Cryptopsy cream themselves, this is a mightily satisfactory slab of brutal riffing, ferocious drumming, gutteral vocals, and technical virtuosity. They do this while retaining a distinct sound, one that makes you imagine being sucked into a black hole. When an album has stayed in my car since February...not much else needs to be said.