Dave Schalek's Class of 2016

Choose your lab partner wisely

posted on 12/2016   By: Dave Schalek


2016 was a year in which I felt that I just fell further and further behind. This was a very strong year for metal; as a consequence, I just didn't have time to get to a number of releases. Many albums that made the lists of other writers here at Last Rites were albums that I never managed to get to; or, at best, I was just able to devote a single, soliatry listen to. Khthoniik Cerviiks, Opeth, Quicksand Dream, Insomnium, the list seems endless. Even the new album from Asphyx ended up as a blip on my radar. 

I find all of this both encouraging and disheartening. Of course, I celebrate the wide range of great albums, indicating that the art form is strong. But, I end up chastising myself for simply not doing all of my homework. Students, especially physics students, MUST do the work in order to demonstrate mastery. I feel like I've not done that this year. I also juggled the bottom end of this list a few times, even after submitting my votes for the Staff List. For example, I ended up removing Graves Of Ceaseless Death from Ruinous, but it still gets a "well done" from this teacher. 

Today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun reaches its southernmost extent south of the celestial equator at 2:44 AM, PST.

I present to you the Class of 2016.




20. SubRosa - For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages
• Soft, melodic, clean vocals sitting alongside a series of cascading, hard hitting riffs and booming percussion forms a striking juxtaposition. The two sounds complement each other very well, and SubRosa take a bit of a softer approach than, say, Windhand. But, the results are just as massive.

19. Monolithe - Zeta Reticuli
• This is the first entry on this list with astronomical themes, themes which played a big role in metal this year, much to my delight. I'll continue writing Death From Above in 2017; I hope that you get something out of it.

18. Negura Bunget - ZI
• ZI is defintely the best album from Negura Bunget since an acrimonious band split that occurred a few years back. What makes ZI really shine is its cohesiveness. Melodies, atmosphere, and folk instruments weave together to produce a memorable listening experience.

17. Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder
• I must admit that I've not been much of a fan of the more recent albums from Darkthrone, but Arctic Thunder strikes just the right balance between multiple eras. There's something here for everyone. A pure metal album.

16. Spiritus Mortis -The Year Is One
• Spiritus Mortis straddles that line between traditional heavy metal and melancholic doom, sitting comfortably alongside such classic heavyweights as Black Sabbath and Candlesmass. Spiritus Mortis doesn’t shy away from lightening the load a bit and adding plenty of melody and hooks to the mix, and this album just gets better and better with each listen. One of the best melancholic/semi-melodic doom albums of the last decade.

15. Mithras - On Strange Loops
• Astronomy, physics, and mathematics collide with angular riffs and a sense of barely controlled chaos. A welcome comeback from a band that makes super tech-death appear effortless. This is the soundtrack to a submission to ApJ.

14. Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows
• Prog/sludge is not really my thing as most bands that play it fall flat, but Inter Arma is an exception. After they delivered one of the standout performances at MDF 2015, I was really looking forward to Paradise Gallows. The obvious nods to David Gilmour in some of the soloing are oustanding.

13. Inquisition - Bloodshed Across The Empyrean Altar Beyond The Celestial Zenith
• This album jumped a bit higher on this list than its original place near the bottom, and not just because of its obvious nods to cosmology and astrophysics. I'm not quite sure why, though, since, compared to its two immediate predecessors, the melody on this album is more muted. But, the power is huge, elevating its status with more listens. Admittedly, though, it is a bit too long and could have benefitted from a trim. 

12. Inverloch - Distance| Collapsed
• If you simply want to be crushed by gigantic riffs and a bludgeoning percussion, look no further. This is probably the most "keep it simple, stupid" album on this list.

11. Wormed - Krighsu
• Speaking of being crushed, here we have the soundtrack to a dystopian singularity scenario. Imagine if Samantha from Her was Big Dog, instead. And it doesn't like being kicked.

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10. moonsorrow – jumalten aika 

A journey through Jumalten Aika is a journey through storytelling, stories based upon old pagan myths. The incorporation of traditional folk elements is an important part of that storytelling; Jumalten Aika probably contains those elements more so than in any other Moonsorrow release since Verisäkeet.

Released: April 1st on Century Media Records

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Terminal Redux cements Vektor’s position at the top of the re-thrash heap with a progressive, aggressive album that incorporates songwriting and musical elements of many different subgenres into a tightly wrapped, cohesive package. A few critics dumped this album because of the last song, but, to me, it works and fits in quite well. This a sci-fi tech-thrash lover's dream. The cover art would be right at home on a James S.A. Corey novel.

Released: May 6th on Earache Records

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There were a few other burped/belched/puked death metal albums descended from Demilich released this year, but the weird technicality of Chthe'ilist opens up portals that are probably best left closed.

Released: January 29th on Profound Lore Records

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A different beast than Mithras, this brand of death metal devastatingly resonates, and has ascended to great heights very quickly with its take on cosmic horror rooted in death metal. Starspawn shows Blood Incantation taking a huge stride forward in songwriting.

Released: August 18th on Dark Descent Records

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Why didn't this get more notice? I mourned the demise of Necrite; this was a roar to fill the void of its absence. The sheer power of this album has to be heard to be believed.

Released: June 24th on Osmose Productions

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There wasn't much to smile about in 2016, but this album was an exception. Abbath displays a certain good natured silliness and charm within black metal, something that is not usually present; in just about anyone else’s hands, that would result in being ostracized almost immediately. Abbath is just a goofball and he's obviously having fun on this album. That's not the vibe that I got from the last few Immortal full-lengths.

Released: January 22nd on Season of Mist Records

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Sure, this album is made up of hired guns just blatantly ripping off the glory days of Black Sabbath, but, damnit, it's just done so well. Scott Carlson is a perfect fit, and the Heaven's Gate track just gives me the chills.

Released: March 4th on Rise Above Records

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Some critics will tell you that Goatess is a knock off of Sleep and Black Sabbath and they’re right. But, damn it all, Purgatory Under New Management is absolutely LOADED from top to bottom with kick ass stoner jams with unbelievable riffs.

THIS is the the underrated album of the year, Ravencult (see below) notwithstanding. In my opinion, this may be the best stoner/doom album since Dopesmoker, I kid you not. I guess I'm virtually the only one who feels this way, though.

Released: April 15th on Svart Records

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Slow Forever is visceral; humanity as the ultimate apex predator on the planet. Species dominance seems to be the more obvious theme present. Erik Wunder’s goal with Cobalt is to rally the listener into living a life that matters, one that has an impact, even if it’s one of moral ambiguity.

Even so, I KNEW that everyone at Last Rites was gonna hate this album. I love it. But, my admiration is tempered somewhat by a lackluster concert performance from Cobalt back in September.

Released: March 25th on Profound Lore Records

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Värähtelijä is a harrowing journey into the deepest and darkest recesses of your psyche. Oranssi Pazuzu fully embraces the weirdness with dark ambient moments and horrifying vocals to complement the layers and layers of rhythm, strange riffs, and non-traditional instrumentation. One of the most hautning pieces of music that I've ever heard.

Album of the year? Forget it. Album of the decade.

Released: February 26th on Svart Records

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I also gave consideration to albums from Deathspell Omega, Mare Cognitum, Testament, Megadeth, and Metallica. 

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Other Distinguished Students

• Best EPs:
Necrosic - Putrid Decimation, Gorguts - Pleiades' Dust, Voivod - Post Society, and Pyrrhon - Running Out Of Skin. I'm a bit surprised that the Necrosic EP didn't get more notice.

• Best Compilation:
Black Twilight Circle - Desert Dances And Serpent Sermons. Artistically, the Black Twilight Circle is very dynamic, original, and just downright interesting. The vinyl packaging of this compilation is glorious.

• Best Reissues/Throwbacks (tie):
Opprobrium - Serpent Temptation  and Sindrome - Resurrection (The Complete Collection). I was really pleased to see Sindrome finally get its due. I grew up in the same area at the same time as a few of the band members, and, to me, Sindrome was always an example of great potential unfulfilled. That strikes a chord in this teacher.

• Label of The Year: Svart Records.

• Best Concert (tie):
Venom, Inc. and Necrophagia at the Glass House in Pomona, CA on January 21st, and Demilich, Hooded Menace, and Vastum at the Complex in Glendale, CA, on  October 19th.

My concert going screeched to a grinding halt this year. I hate to say it, but Maryland Death Fest 2016 was a letdown. Attendance was way down, the crowd vibe was poor, and the same-old-same-old merch/food vendors ran out of gas for me. I missed seeing a number of my far flung friends, many of whom took the year off. Seeing them at Metal Threat Fest in Chicago a couple of months later made up for it, though. MTF was fun, but that looks like a one time shot.

After MTF, I reached a state of quasi-burnout. At 48, I almost feel as if I've seen it all. Most of my local metal posse/circle of friends here in SoCal have become more entrenched in their personal lives, and tour announcements these days are greeted with a yawn. Los Angeles desperately needs a metal festival of its own. We had Murderfest and/or Gathering of the Bestial Legion back in the day, but neither shows any realistic signs of returning.

I guess that I'm also becoming a bit more particular about who I traipse out to go see, especially on a school night (literally). Ash Borer's new album is pretty good, and Ash Borer is doing a short West Coast tour after the new year. Volahn from the Black Twilight Circle opens. I'll probably head out for that.

I've decided to skip MDF in 2017. However, I do plan to make California Death Fest a priority next year. I didn't attend the first two incarnations of CDF as it falls on a bad weekend for me, work wise, but I plan to adjust my schedule for next year. Maybe I'll have my students take their kinematics exams early. I'm kicking myself for not getting out to see Frost & Fire II in nearby Ventura, if for no other reason than to see Zach.

• Best Comeback:
The re-emergence of my love for collecting vinyl. When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s, I had it all. I had first pressings of just about EVERYTHING. Metal Blade, Combat, Death, Megaforce, New Renaissance, Music For Nations, you name it. In an act of extreme shortsightedness, I sold my entire vinyl collection (500 albums or so) to a used record store on Belmont Avenue in Chicago in 1994 when vinyl was DEAD. I needed the money to go to graduate school (I also sold my extensive Marvel Comics collection a few years later; I miss that less so, but I still think about it).

I'm trying to get back some of what I lost. Some of it involves, yes, Discogs and eBay, but I've managed to find a few gems in some of the local independent record stores here in SoCal, as well as in a few garage sales through Craigslist. I'll skip the New Renaissance stuff this time around, though (except for the debut from Blood Feast, if I can find it again).

• Most Overrated Album:
Bölzer - Hero. The first half of this album is quite good with "Phosphor" being a standout track, but portions of this album are utterly unlistenable.

• Most Underrated Album (tie):
Goatess - Purgatory Under New Management  and Ravencult - Force Of Profanation

• Biggest Disappointment:
Anthrax - For All Kings. Megadeth and even Metallica delivered strong albums this year. Testament just narrowly missed being named Magna Cum Laude. Anthrax, however, delivered a lackluster album that was nowhere near the quality of albums from bands of the same era. For that matter, even the new albums from Destruction and, especially, Sodom were much stronger.

• Men of the Year:
Travis Moore, Mike Maglieri (the owner of the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip), and Katon W. De Pena. To everyone else sitting on the curb between the Rainbow and the Roxy, though, stop pissing and puking in the gutter and in the alleyway.

• In Memoriam:
Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister, Phil "Philthy" Taylor, Jimmy Bain, and Jerry Paradis. 

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Thank you for reading. Although I no longer engage in social media, I appreciate your attention and input.

Let's hope for a more positive 2017 for our society.