Captain’s Best Of 2016: Temba, His Arms Open

[Darmok in a chair, his face airbrushed]

I want to live in a lighthouse. Not one of those crappy ones, either. I want to live in the sort of lighthouse that people stand beside and plaintively look out to sea while sipping something from a thermos. And I want one floor of my lighthouse to look just like the bridge of the Enterprise, so I can watch any of the various Star Trek interpretations on the big viewscreen like a proper nerd. And I want a dark blue restored VW bus with a perfect rendition of Live After Death airbrushed all over it. And I want the word “mouth-watering” stricken from the English language. Maybe next year.

Take a look around and you’ll likely notice a prevailing bitterness attached to quite a few of the 2016 recaps you’ll read in the coming weeks. Not terribly surprising, considering the passing of so many legends within the music world this year. Time and its termination are relentless and indifferent, as well they should be, but that doesn’t make the jolt and ensuing sorrow any easier to endure.

The heartache of fallen musicians aside, humans have also become more connected to negativity in general in the 21st century. That has as much to do with the fact that there’s simply more negativity to shoulder as it does with the truth that adversity is just so damn easy to peddle. Sorrow sells; grim headlines grab eyeballs faster than happy ones; and misery really, really loves company.

Clearly, metal has always done more than its fair share of adding to this planet’s Wheel of Pain, and there ain’t a one of us who’s likely to hope that direction takes a 180 in the future. Metal’s rampant negativity is a huge part of what got us here in the first place, whether it was the opening notes of “Black Sabbath” or the brutal kickoff to “Liege of Inveracity.” But if there’s one truly great thing to be associated with 2016, it’s that we’ve been handed a lot of really satisfying heavy metal that INCLUDES records from the more positive end of the spectrum. You’ll see some of that represented in my list below. Death and doom play heavily (finally, the return of great doom), but power and epic/traditional metal scored huge wins for those who appreciate a nice bit of galloping triumphantness to lift spirits.

Ultimately, what I hope for most going into 2017 is that people strive for more balance, particularly with regard to their online presence. It’s obviously great to revel in the beautiful misery of a crushing death/doom song – please keep doing that – but don’t neglect the other side of the mood spectrum. We will all need a strong force of positivity in 2017, make no mistake, and the likelihood that I’ll somehow land my very own quarters conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the holodeck and Ten Forward seems grievously slim. Great Spirit of Gene Roddenberry, please make it so. Until then, I’ll keep doing what I can to help strike a balance.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS:

20. Helion PrimeHelion Prime
• Never let anyone try to convince you that power metal is even close to being dead in the U.S. Sure, it doesn’t net a ton of coverage with most of the bigger media outlets, but power metal is as strong today as it’s ever been, and bands like Sacramento, California’s Helion Prime are helping to lead the fight. This record is heavy, melodic, infectious, FUN and absolutely essential.
Bandcamp

19. ForteresseThèmes pour la rébellion
• “Là où Nous Allons” is worth the price of admission by itself. “Proudest” sounding black metal tune in the last decade.
Band website

18. InverlochDistance | Collapsed
• I’m just here for the nightmarish forays into a funereal bone crusher in outer space. And the nachos.
Bandcamp

17. InsomniumWinter’s Gate
• To be brutally honest, I don’t believe I’ve listened to more than ten minutes of Insomnium since, I don’t know, 2004’s Since the Day it All Came Down. Winter’s Gate sure as hell fixed that. This record is the textbook definition of a magnum opus. Be sure to pick up a physical copy that includes an accompanying story written by vocalist/bassist Niilo Sevänen.
Band website

16. Demon BitchHellfriends
• You ain’t gonna land on American Bandstand with a name like Demon Bitch, but you’ll definitely land on a lot of raggedy denims that smell like a bag of ditchweed. Hellfriends is pretty much just like the Super Friends, if the Super Friends spent every Friday night bonging Milwaukee’s Best and listening to Agent Steel, Liege Lord and Arch-fronted Fates Warning. In other words, terrific stuff.
Bandcamp

15. Cardinal WyrmCast Away Souls
• The Bay Area’s best active doom band. Period. And they just keep getting better with each release. Cast Away Souls sounds like the sort of moody, trippy, doomy, noisy metal record William Hope Hodgson would have listened to while doing sit-ups and writing “The House on the Borderland.” Powerfully psychotropic.
Bandcamp

14. Worm OuroborosWhat Graceless Dawn
• A handsome man had this to say about What Graceless Dawn very recently: “These songs are a curative for those fortunate enough to resonate on a similar wavelength. Steeped in sorrow, for sure, but also greatly affected by the warmth and narcotic drift at the heart of Lorraine and Jessica’s vocal accompaniment.” Given a little more time, I’m willing to bet this would climb some additional pegs.
Bandcamp

13. Quicksand DreamBeheading Tyrants
• Based on the top-shelf quality of Beheading Tyrants from front to back, I might suggest to 90% of other metal bands that they consider a sixteen year break before their next release.
Bandcamp

12. Hammers of MisfortuneDead Revolution
• Hammers of Misfortune create records I look back on in a year’s time and ask, “Why in the Hell didn’t I make this my top pick last year?” I’m already feeling dumber than a box of Scott Baios for not bumping Dead Revolution into my top ten based purely on the one-two punch of “Here Comes the Sky” and “Flying Alone.”
Bandcamp

11. VirusMemento Collider
Memento Collider isn’t metal, you say? How dare you, sir and/or madam. Okay, maybe it’s not metal in the strictest definition of the term, but Virus has always had a way of penning records that sound more metal than spiked gauntlet wearing a Kreator backpatch, and they do it in an incredibly unique, creepy, wobbly, unwell, unmetallic-but-metal kind of way.
Bandcamp

• • • • •

 

TOP 10 OF 2016 – THE BRIDGE CREW:

10. Eternity’s End – The Fire Within

Season 8, Episode 7: The Fire Within

The Enterprise loses all functionality due to a faulty modulating flux wang-doodle. During an away mission to Tandar Prime to negotiate its replacement, Lieutenant Commander Data faces a crisis when he becomes preoccupied by a Bajoran musician named Münzner who plays an aggressive form of music called neoclassical power metal. The musician becomes critically injured by Commander Data, who, due to Münzner’s ability to play incredibly fast and completely flawlessly, attempts to unscrew his head in an effort to prove he is not a human and actually a sophisticated artificial life form. Data escapes trial by using his brother Lore as a decoy, but he remains inexplicably haunted by the incident and builds an infinite supply of Ibanez RG655 Prestige guitars that eventually overrun cargo bay 3. Picard continues his attempts to sell the crew on the merits of tin whistle music.

Last Rites review
• Notes: Shredheavy neoclassical power metal with hooks, lasers, speed and 100% heart; Power Prog Records; released Mar 25th
Bandcamp

• • • • •

 

9. Khthoniik Cerviiks – SeroLogiikal Scars

Season 8, Episode 13: SeroLogiikal Scars

Doctor Beverly Crusher attends a medical conference on Risa and unwittingly becomes a courier for an invasive species of microscopic, partly-mechanized insects called the Khthoniik Cerviiks in the midst of their mating season. The insects cause the Enterprise great distress by embedding themselves in the ear canals of the entire crew to better reverberate their copulation calls. According to a visiting Lwaxana Troi, the songs “sound like a thousand Borg implants falling down an old waste disposal tube.” The noise ultimately provokes a full-scale upRRRÖÖÖAAARRR that concludes once the Enterprise finally steers itself close enough to the Queen Khthoniik’s web that the insects can escape and finally bang. Worf finds the songs soothing.

Last Rites review
• Notes: Noisy fun for dirtbags who listen to thrash in the gutter; Iron Bonehead Productions; released Feb 8th
Bandcamp

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8. Mithras – On Strange Loops

Season 8, Episode 19: On Strange Loops

A near-death experience during a rafting expedition on the holodeck causes Transporter Chief Miles O’Brien to face his own mortality and question his place in the universe. A dignitary from Coridan arrives to discuss fair labor practice negotiations regarding dilithium deposits and O’Brien aligns himself with a group of miners, inexcusably using the transporters against Captain Picard’s express orders to deliver supplies to rebels. O’Brien and the rebel miners are eventually trapped during a dangerous cave-in, but they work together to mount an escape after the chief galvanizes his comrades with a newfound vision to “strike out far for vistas new / and places only dreamed of!” O’Brien returns to the Enterprise renewed and eager to advance beyond the ranking of Transporter Chief. Picard condemns him to three months of cleaning plasma ducts with Reginald Barclay.

Last Rites review
• Notes: Experimental tech death that somehow appeals to those who normally don’t care about experimental tech death; Willowtip Records; released Oct 21st
Bandcamp

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7. Trees of Eternity – Hour of the Nightingale

Season 8, Episode 4: Hour of the Nightingale

Ship’s counsellor Deanna Troi has trouble sleeping after the Enterprise passes through the Alwanir Nebula en route to a Betazoid gabfest in the Gariman sector. A ghostly dryad visits Troi’s dreams night after night to recount a tragic story of her unfortunate passing before having an opportunity to share an emotional opera she intended to perform during a festival of lights on her home world. Data comes to the rescue by creating a series of complicated algorithms that translate Troi’s REM cycles into an intricate binary code that allows him to learn and eventually perform all ten acts of the opera before the crew to great applause, achieving a sense of closure for the dryad and bringing an end to the dreams. Note: Hour of the Nightingale remains one of ST:TNG’s most requested episodes, thanks in a large part to its beautiful supplemental soundtrack, but also because nerds are powerless against 45 minutes of Deanna Troi in a nightgown.

Last Rites review
• Notes: Quite seriously the most beautiful, infectious and tragic goth/doom records I’ve heard in the last ten years. Destined to be a classic. Rest in peace, Aleah Liane Stanbridge; Svart Records; released Nov 11th
Bandcamp

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6. Bestial Raids – Master Satan’s Witchery

Season 8, Episode 12: Master Satan’s Witchery

Ensign Wesley Crusher falls in with the wrong crowd after getting a ‘D-‘ on an Advanced Subspace Geometry paper. Unfortunately for the crew of the Enterprise, that wrong crowd happens to be a hoard of young, criminal-minded Hirogen visiting from the Delta Quadrant during an exchange program. Wesley and his new comrades get into deep water for stealing two cases of blood wine from Ten Forward, but things get serious after they are caught defecating on a Vulcan Voth Doctrine and attempt to flee in a stolen shuttle craft. Picard elects to destroy the shuttle craft instead of drawing it back using a tractor beam, killing Wesley instantly. The Hirogen escape in an arcane mist howling, “MASTER SATAN’S WITCHERY SHALL NEVER BE EXTINGUISHED.” Beverly Crusher mourns the loss of her son by looking off into space for five seconds.

• Notes: “Angel of the Abyss” is the heaviest song of 2016. Get this album immediately if you want to get snuggly with ugly; NWN Productions; released Nov 14th
Bandcamp

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5. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

Season 8, Episode 9: Arctic Thunder

Q underscores his knack for appearing at the most inopportune times by popping in on Captain Picard and crew while they are busy facilitating an assemblage of Ornaran doctors who need the Enterprise’s speed to deliver a medication to Felicium addicts on Delos III. Q is heavily bearded and appears guru-esque as he lustily showcases a recent obsession with an archaic form of Earth music called “speed metal” to everyone within earshot. First Officer William Riker becomes incensed after Q interrupts yet another late-night trombone jam session by forcing all com devices onboard to interminably blare an album called Skeptics Apocalypse by Agent Steel. When pressed to admit what he’s trying to demonstrate with all his gallivanting, Q replies “Nothing to prove – just a hellish rock n’ roll freak.” Things eventually return to normal, but only after Q chisels the words “INBRED VERMIN” on the ship’s view screen before speeding off into the welkin on the back of a cosmic wolf while tremolo riffing.

Last Rites review
• Notes: Ted doesn’t care for the orange logo; Peaceville Records; released Oct 14th
Band website

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4. Blood Incantation – Starspawn

Season 8, Episode 16: Starspawn

The Enterprise must travel to the outskirts of M-Zed V in an attempt to rescue Gowran, son of M’Rel at the demand of the Klingon High Council, who, after a flimsy investigation, accuse Starfleet of purposely dosing Gowran with Gorn acid in hopes of disrupting his campaign for Chancellor. Upon reaching M-Zed V, the crew finds Gowran deep in the jungle gibbering about doorways, stargates and glowing chaoplasm. Following a violent ion storm, Worf, Riker and La Forge also become trapped on the planet and discover that Gowran has actually been binging on a large bag of rare meth scored from the Crystalline Entities. It is not clear if the away team also partakes in the drug, but an emotional scene that features a warm embrace between Worf and Riker while softly complaining about frozen glass in their veins develops. Back on the Enterprise, Guinan brutally crushes the skull of a young Alexander Rozhenko after he remarks that his prune juice is a little on the warm side.

Last Rites review
• Notes: My God, it’s full of stars and riffs; Dark Descent Records; released Aug 18th
Bandcamp

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3. Dark Forest – Beyond the Veil

Season 8, Episode 20: Beyond the Veil

The crew of the Enterprise is shocked to discover that Lieutenant Worf is indeed a merry man and regularly steals away to the holodeck to partake in a mythical realm where woodland heroes fight for shrinking territory in a vast forest, faerie-folk flit from glen to glen, and the only weapon the son of Mogh brandishes is a vintage lute made from the wood of the blackthorn tree. Geordi La Forge slips in unnoticed during one of Worf’s escapades and immediately falls for a wrinkled infantryman with a bad bow arm that he mistakes for a beautiful maiden after his visor is stepped on by an Oilliphéist. Once outed by a grinning Commander Riker in front of everyone in Ten Forward, Worf goes on a rampage and knocks one of the warp nacelles offline by jumping through 5 inches of plate glass on the engineering deck to avoid spending even ten seconds in the presence of Keiko O’Brien.

Last Rites review
• Notes: There was a man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wasdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time; Cruz del Sur Records; released Aug 26th
Bandcamp

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2. Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire

Season 8, Episode 22: The Armor of Ire

A much deserved shore leave finds Captain Picard fleeing the Enterprise in order to lead an archaeological expedition in a newly discovered cave on Relva VII. Unfortunately for the Captain, the trip also includes Wesley Crusher, who’s just been informed by the head of Starfleet’s Astroscience department on the planet’s surface that he hasn’t been accepted to their campus. Feeling pity, Picard allows Wesley to join him on the expedition and immediately regrets the decision upon discovering that the only thing the young Ensign does is complain about “how unfair life is.” In a sudden turn of luck, Picard unearths a black-bladed sword and discovers that it is christened “Stormbringer” when he is visited by the forces of Chaos during a dream. He also learns that he is next in line to become the Eternal Champion, a role he is hesitant to take, despite being a heroic albino. The Captain uses Stormbringer to accidentally sever Wesley’s head from his body, and then unintentionally kicks the head into a roaring campfire. Upon learning of her son’s death (again), Beverly Crusher rearranges her spice rack.

Last Rites review
• Notes: WILL I EVER KNOW PEACE? You will sometimes know peace. FOR HOW LONG? For a while. WHERE DID I COME FROM? You have always been. WHERE WILL I GO? Where you must. FOR WHAT PURPOSE? To fight. TO FIGHT FOR WHAT? To fight. FOR WHAT? Fight!; No Remorse Records; released Sept 27th
Bandcamp

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1. Spiritus Mortis – The Year Is One

Season 8, Episode 14: The Year is One

Commander Riker falls into a deep depression after penning a letter to his estranged father that details his decision to pass up yet another promotion for command of a different starship. Questioning his own purpose in Starfleet, Riker becomes more and more reclusive, opting to spend all of his free time alone in his quarters with sedative Miles Davis bootlegs, kor’tova candles and a pile of Ketracel-white. A concerned Deanna Troi visits in hopes of helping Will to break free of his gloomy abjection, but he only raises her concerns further by confessing a fascination with the mystery beneath tombstones and catacombs, and by asking her to seduce him while wearing nothing but a Bajoran funeral rites veil. Captain Picard promptly demands a closed door meeting with his first officer, and Riker arrives wearing heavy eyeliner, nothing below the waist, and a shirt that reads “Blacker Hallow, White Powder.” Picard is forced to place Will on administrative leave. Data’s cat, Spot, becomes assimilated by the Borg and shoots an impressive laser from his rear that snuffs Reginald Barclay.

Last Rites review
• Notes: Unquestionably funereal and as grim as Mortiis’ nose, but equally jubilant in its celebration of the exquisite side of death and decay. A true grand leveler from one of doom’s greatest windfalls. Keep it slow, doomy and rotten, friendly friendletons; Svart Records; released Nov 11th
Bandcamp

• • • • •

 

TOP EP OF 2016:

IotunnThe Wizard Falls
Released: Independent,  February 18th

Hey, maybe you hate having fun and air-guitaring and banging your head against the stage like you never did before. That’s the only reason I can think that more people didn’t jump up and down like idiots over The Wizard Falls. As I said in my description of the EP earlier this year, “It’s as if Iotunn snuck into my brain while I was asleep, chucked out all the miscellaneous visions of animals, nachos, Yngwie Malmsteen and Frank Frazetta women, then molded any remaining thoughts about what I’ve been missing in metal lately into an ideal musical blueprint.”

• • • • •

TOP 10 NON-METAL ALBUMS OF 2016:

10. Ensemble Kolossus and Michael FormanekThe Distance
• Perfectly quiet and loud and soothing and usettling jazz delivered by an 18-piece ensemble. ECM strikes again.
Artist website
9. EluviumFalse Readings On
• Driftyfloaty waves that swell and ebb and wrap you in a warm blanket. Ambient music that’s not meant to be relegated to the background.
Bandcamp
8. Claire M SingerSolas
Solas will serve as a perfect companion to happily getting lost in the wilderness.
Bandcamp
7. VirtaHurmos
• Not sure what  got into Svart Record’s tea, but they KILLED it this year. Fantastic jazz for those who also dig moody post-rock.
Artist website
6. Nathanael LarochetteEarth and Sky
• Classical guitar with a deceptively uncomplicated design that could mellow a wolverine with impacted molars into a purring lap cat.
Bandcamp
5. ForndomDauðra Dura
• The calm before the storm where you tighten the gauntlents and steady yourself before flanking the enemy from the woods.
Bandcamp
4. David BowieBlack Star
• He left a hole in a lot of hearts this year, but holy shmoly does Black Star ever do an amazing job of patching up the suffering.
Artist website
3. Jóhann JóhannssonOrphée
• Jóhannsson’s first studio album in six years. A beautiful interpretation of the Orpheus myth with a decidedly Icelandic touch.
Artist website
2. New Model ArmyWinter
• Over 30 years of existence and NMA remain as relevant as ever. Winter is dark, exhilarating and riveting from front to back.
Artist website
1. Tigran Hamasyan, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Jan BangAtmosphères
Atmosphères was my most listened to album in 2016. Dark and nostalgic without necessarily sounding sad.
Artist website

• • • • •

FINAL ODDS & ENDS:

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: UrfaustEmpty Space Meditation. This is the first release from the band that sounds like 15 minutes of greatness followed by 27 minutes of soundcheck. Also, I appear to be in the minority with this revelation, which makes me happy. I am also a jerk.

IF I’D ONLY GOTTEN TO IT SOONER: BehexenThe Poisonous Path. I don’t know what kept me from it for so long, to be honest. Poisonous in the most perfect way, but with a splendid pinch of melody to offset all that ugly damnation.

LABEL OF THE YEAR: Svart Records. Crazy diversity and top-shelf quality.

FAVORITE SONG OF THE YEAR: So many come to mind, but Ihsahn’s “Until I Too Disolve” takes home the prize for being so unexpectedly Ratt-like. I’d take a full album of –> that <–.

• • • • •

::THANK YOU::

To my fellow Last wRiters: It ain’t always easy, but it’s perpetually fun. Past and present, your friendship is a shining light in the darkness to me.

To our readers: I appreciate you more than you might know. Your names are etched in my brain, even if they’re often hidden behind funky disqus aliases. I wish I could share a barstool beside you all. (Hint hint, make it to MDF 2017 – I’ll be the guy in the black shirt yapping about Malmsteen’s Marching Out.)

 

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Handsome & Interesting Man; Just get evil all the time.

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