As the gears in the year-clock grind slowly to a halt, Getintothis’ Mark Davies presents his Ten best metal releases of 2016
I reckon, if I took every metal-related event this year, news, album releases and so on, and crudely divided them into good things and bad things, I’d probably say “Yeah, pretty damn good”. There have been so many truly phenomenal releases across the metallosphere from bands like Opeth, Gojira, and Deftones that, if I am being candid, made compiling this list a real ball-buster.
Whittling a list that originally had around forty-eight albums down to the ten you see before you, was not a simple task. Especially when you have your curious ears diving into all kinds of weird alleyways, like I do. It’s done though, and you have a lot to look forward to, I guarantee it. I have essentially broken the year down into subcategories, something that Getintothis advised against earlier in the year (but it’s Christmas so the rules don’t count right?), and picked my favourite for each.
So without further delay, here is my Top Ten Metal Albums of 2016.
Death Metal: Wormed – Krighsu (Season of Mist)
I first heard about Wormed years ago, but back then I honestly thought Mastodon were the heaviest band on the planet, so when I gave Wormed’s Planisphaerium (2003, Macabre Mementos) a whirl I got about 30 seconds in and couldn’t hack it. I know, WUSS! Cut to March of this year and I happened across the Spanish quintet’s latest effort Krighsu, and I can now say with certainty that Wormed are the true progenitors of Brutal Slamming Space Death Metal, yeah, that’s a thing.
If a bunch of death metallers turned Paul W.S. Anderson’s film Event Horizon into music, with a hearty dose of amphetamines and nanobots thrown in for good measure, you get a glimpse of what these guys create. The claustrophobically close squealed vocals, the frenetic slamming guitar leads, replete with pick scrapes, bleeps and tapping, are all tied together with a subtle yet pervasive bass tone and impossibly fast, machine-like drumming, creating one of the most powerful and satisfying albums to date.
Production wise, Wormed are going for something closer to modern techniques, and that clarity, the attention to detail, really works in the band’s favour by augmenting the technicality and sharpening those riffs to a scalpels edge. I honestly cannot find fault with this release, it is packed with enough awe-inspiring technically brutal moments to fuel a starship’s journey into another galaxy, and enough eerie ominous passages to make you regret looking out of the ships windows into that black abyss.
Black Metal: Cultes Des Ghoules – Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love (Under The Sign of Garazel Productions)
I spoke about this band briefly in last month’s instalment of Dysgeusia, but I was not at all prepared for how fully I would get into this album. This thing is nearly an hour and forty minutes long, which on first glance sounds like a lot for a Black metal album. Once it grabs you though, there is no letting go until those final unsettling moments of cello and cymbals play out, and you are released from the satanic trance Cultes Des Ghoules had put you into. To recap, these guys are a Polish black metal group whose actual members are shrouded in mystery, and Coven is their 3rd and longest release. The album is a double-disc satanic play, in five acts, with various characters that crop up throughout all voiced by the band of course.
The musicianship on display here and the band’s ability to transcend the boundaries of what is considered proper black metal, whilst still being kvlt as hell, is honestly marvellous. Black metal lends itself so easily to theatrics that it’s a wonder this kind of thing hasn’t been done before. Or perhaps it has, but I guarantee that it wouldn’t be nearly as authentic and entertaining as what Cultes Des Ghoules have created here. From the inset we hear rain and thunder, and a demonic shrieking voice speaking of the moon and the devil. A string section builds to a crescendo, setting the scene very aptly before an onslaught of blackened filthiness is unleashed upon you. Pounding drums and horrendously groovy bass-lines pave the way for the oncoming richly textured shrieks and groans, and every moment is pure gold.
From one Act to the next, this is filled to the brim with originality and Sabbathian grooves. This is an immersive black metal masterpiece of occultist themes and musical prowess. It has been so well crafted that it needs to be heard by everybody at least once, in a darkened room, with candles, and an encircled pentagram drawn in blood upon the floor.
Post-Metal: Mono – Requiem For Hell (Pelagic Records)
Bringing back another favourite from a couple of months ago, here’s MONO’s 9th album Requiem For Hell, one I never get tired of hearing. It flows so elegantly despite being the band’s harshest and most dissonant material to date. Those imperceptible layers the band add with each track progression really pile up, you can feel yourself straining with the effort to keep afloat, until you have no choice but to be pulled, like a harpoon through the chest, deeper down into the abyss.
It’s not all doom and gloom though you’ll be pleased to hear. This being a requiem and all, it has certainly got its’ moments of joy, fleeting though they may sometimes be, such as in Ely’s Heartbeat or the wonderful build up in Stellar, which really help to emphasise how tense and unsettling this album can be. MONO are no strangers to binary opposites either, particularly the play on darkness and light, when looking at their two previous release(s) from 2014, The Last Dawn, and Rays of Darkness, which the band put out as a double album. I feel that the band have really refined and streamlined this dichotomy on Requiem for Hell, but repurposed it for the albums core conflicting themes: birth, and death.
The instrumentation is also worthy of note here with the almost-clean guitars taking up much of the foreground, creating the textures and dissonance. The drums are light but become thunderous when the track calls for it, and there is also a rich use of orchestra here, with a string section, a glockenspiel and a wider percussive palette, which only further the emotional depth this album is portraying. Seminal stuff.
Avant-Garde metal: Hypno5e – Shores of the Abstract Line (Pelagic Records)
Here’s an intriguing one. Way back in February a French band going by the name of Hypno5e put out an honest-to-goodness work of art, and you know what happened? No one noticed. Except me, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I had been aching for a follow up to their sublime Acid Mist Tomorrow for four years, and thankfully I was not disappointed. Not even a little. Shores of the Abstract Line steamrollered my expectations, then launched them out of the window, and I was thrilled.
Without a doubt, Hypno5e are not a band easily approached. Track lengths vary anywhere between two and fifteen minutes, featuring voice excerpts from various English, French and Spanish sources, lyrics sometimes in any of the aforementioned, and a fondness for technical metal grooves and falsetto acoustic passages, all knitted masterfully together. You’re gonna need a few listens to process it all, but I can guarantee that after that first syncopated groove-fest of a riff on In Our Deaf Lands three minutes in, you won’t look back.
This band allowed me to reach emotional peaks that I wasn’t even aware I could achieve, and if Shores doesn’t have you screaming “Tio! TIO!” afterwards, I will eat my guitar. A French band put out the best Avant-garde metal album of the year, go figure.
Math Metal: The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation (Party Smasher Inc.)
It was always going to happen, I just didn’t think it would be so soon. In case you didn’t know, earlier this year along with the announcement of their newest album Dissociation, The Dillinger Escape Plan also told us that it was to be their last. Ever. Once the touring cycle for Dissociation has been wrapped up, they’re calling it quits, and the reason is fair enough: they want to go out while they’re at the height of their game instead of slowly fading away.
Man, what a high to go out on too, this is truly the most exciting and varied material they have ever put out. The core Dillinger tropes are still present of course, the math-y riffs with incredibly intricate beat patterns that open out into mosh-worthy grooves, Greg Puciato still has the most potent and recognisable scream in metal, and those choruses are still catchy as fuck. What we also get though, like little gifts, are moments in there that are so strikingly unlike Dillinger that you’ll have to do a double-take with your ears.
These little flourishes, like the overtly emo spoken passage in Wanting So Much To As To, the glitchy electronic instrumental Fugue, the jazzy interlude in Low Feels Blvd, or the bands final swansong Dissociation an emotional electronic strings-led ballad, in which Greg is left singing “Finding a way to die alone” as the bands final words. This album really feels like the band said “Well this is our last, so let’s do everything we’ve ever wanted and find a way to put it in there”, but it does so in a way that feels right, not shoe-horned in, or just for the sake of it. As a final statement of intent, The Dillinger Escape Plan have given us the gift of Dissociation, and said a big “fuck you” to anyone who has ever called them repetitive or same-y. I am going to miss these mad bastards.
Progressive Metal: Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason (Nuclear Blast Records)
I could talk about Meshuggah for days. You might have noticed I’m a bit of a fan. Sometimes I don’t even mean to talk about them but they find a way in anyway (much to the chagrin of my editors), and only now at years end has the Meshuggah ban been lifted, oy vey! They are everything I could ever want from a band; they are extremely heavy, technical, groovy, and consistently great, both recorded and live. What more could you ever need? Oh, and they play eight-string guitars just because.
The Violent Sleep of Reason, the bands eighth studio album, is not easy listening but it was never going to be. With each new release the band have always got to step up their game from the last, and they have done that without fail every time, and this time round is no exception. Compared to Koloss from 2012, this album is a sheer uncompromising tech-fest, one that can (and will) have you spending hours upon days picking those rhythmic patterns and time signatures apart, and it won’t be time wasted either.
This album is essentially a culmination of elements from their entire back catalogue, a distillation of each album’s essence, combined into a viscous and potent yet rewarding liqueur; one that will leave your bones aching, your head splitting and, if you’re fan, a massive grin on your face. This is a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster of an album, and I have no idea how they are going to top this in about four years, but this is Meshuggah and I know they will find a way. They always do.
Thrash Metal: Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache Records)
I will admit that thrash metal is not a strong genre for me, and whilst I enjoy some now and again, I don’t have a lot of experience with it other than early Metallica and some recent Havok, courtesy of my partner. I find thrash can get a little repetitive and also I despise Dave Mustaine, so there’s that too. So imagine my utter bewilderment when Vektor’s latest album Terminal Redux, a 74 minute prog-thrash epic found its way into my ears!
This is the band’s third and most expansive release, and though I knew about Space Death Metal, and Space Progressive Metal (duh) I was unaware that Space Thrash was also a thing, so there you go. We all learned something. All of the familiar thrash elements are there, the high pitched screamed vocals of David Disanto (who sounds strikingly similar to Death’s Chuck Schuldiner), the catchy guitar riffs played at breakneck speed, and d-beat drumming, but they are so well interspliced with the progressive and death elements that it becomes hard to tell what you are listening to, but you know that it’s cool and you like it.
Through my research, I have found that thrash likes to concern itself with questions of politics, ethics, and real state-of-the-world-today stuff, and though Terminal Redux may be about an astronaut and his search for immortality, they still manage to use this as a platform to discuss the protagonists abuse of his power for political and financial gain. The band’s ability to weave modern political issues into such a brilliant story, one so massive in scope, without losing itself along the way to pretension is honestly masterful. A lot of straight-up prog bands should really be taking note here. Superb.
Tech Metal: Car Bomb – Meta (Self-released)
Well, when it comes to technical metal, it don’t get much tech-ier than Car Bomb my dudes. “What even is 4/4 timing anyway” is something I found myself asking as the final track played out, and once I found where I had left my jaw. There are time signatures in here that I don’t even understand and still don’t after two months, yet somehow my limbs were doing their best to move to the ridiculous grooves Car Bomb were laying down, almost of their own volition. That’s how catchy their third and latest album Meta is.
The music this band create, if I were to attempt to describe it, would be a kind of Frankensteining of some sounds that Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan make. However, in true Frankenstein tradition, the grooves and technicality of ‘shuggah chopped together with the catchiness and math of Dillinger, a dash of ring modulation and a pinch of DMT, have taken on a form and a life of their own in the shape of Car Bomb. This is mind-altering stuff, and you need it in your life.
Metalcore: Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us (Epitaph Records)
This is a rather bittersweet entry in my top ten, if I am honest. Back in May of this year the metalcore act from Brighton released their seventh album All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, garnering both critical acclaim and praise from fans as being their strongest material yet in a discography already full to the brim with strident and powerful releases.
I am definitely in wholehearted agreement, Architects’ fury is completely palpable and on full display here, in addition to their technical prowess. The members have been vegan for the past few years for both ethical and environmental factors, as well as taking a strong stance concerning environmental and political issues in the UK and worldwide, giving them plenty of fuel for the fires of their collective ire. With cutting lyrics such as “maybe we’ve passed the point of no return, maybe we just want to watch the world burn” and “No Love. No empathy, our fellow man is now our enemy” it’s fair to say they weren’t messing around when they put this album together.
Tragically, on August 20, 2016, the bands lead guitarist, and songwriter, Tom Searle who formed the band with his drummer twin brother Dan back in 2004, lost his three-year battle to skin cancer and passed away at the age of 28. He hadn’t gone public with his illness, though alluded to it in their previous album Lost Forever//Lost Together from 2014. This brutal loss also had the effect of adding poignancy to tracks such as Gone With the Wind with lines such as “A sickness with no remedy; except the ones inside of me” and “what a waste of time I was in retrospect” written by Tom himself, as he fought a losing battle with an illness he kept to himself, and continued touring.
This is an album and a band you cannot ignore. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is an unbridled expression of contempt for the world, and the unsustainable ways in which we live our lives. Rest in peace Tom.
Instrumental Metal: Plini – Handmade Cities (Self-released)
How does one guy go from writing and releasing EPs from his bedroom in Sydney to touring the world with bands like Animals As Leaders and Periphery in the space of a couple of years? By being Plini of course! Just the other day I caught a Facebook post from Steve Vai (yeah, that Steve Vai) calling Plini’s debut album Handmade Cities “one of the finest, forward thinking, melodic, rhythmically and harmonically deep, evolution of rock/metal instrumental guitar records I have ever heard”. I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
Plini has this uncanny ability to write instrumental guitar music that is original, inventive and soulful without ever devolving into the wanky drivel the genre is known for. Handmade Cities presents a fresh and unfettered outlook on the progressive metal scene, without a doubt. It is astoundingly catchy, like the rest of his back catalogue, but compared to his previous material feels like a polished and natural step upwards. The bass work is superb, the drums are bouncy and retain a sense of jazzy fun, and the extra instrumentation such as the as previously unheard group vocals in Every Piece Matters, and the synths Plini has a fondness for, are tastefully implemented.
This is one of the best pieces of songwriting I have heard in years. Each song flows wonderfully from one to the next, and when Steve Vai is praising you on your shredding, you know you’re clearly on the right track. Things are only going to get better for Plini, and you should make sure you’re along for the ride!