Jeremy Morse's Best of 2016

The bander I miss the drunker I get

posted on 12/2016   By: Jeremy Morse

How to sum up 2016? How about this: One of my fondest memories of the past year involved a weekend in Chicago where I missed seeing Destroyer 666, because they went on two hours early, after which I proceeded to give myself the worst hangover I’ve had this century. Why is that a fond memory, you might ask? Because I spent that weekend with my Last Rites compadres, and also because Chicago style pizza is everything it’s cracked up to be. The moral of the story, I guess, is that a storm is easier to weather when you surround yourself with good people… and good pizza.

The other moral is, much like my weekend in Chicago, 2016 had its ups and downs. I don’t reckon I need to enumerate the downs, but the ups included some damn good metal - so much good metal, in fact, that I had a hard time keeping up. Then again, I always have a hard time keeping up. I’d be happy with half a dozen good albums a year. The amount of metal that gets thrown my way through this reviewing gig is something I’ve always struggled to get a handle on. What I’m getting at is, I don’t consider myself an authority on anything but riffs. I don’t find the ranking of albums on my personal list to be terribly important (The combined staff list is another matter. I lose my fucking mind over that thing.); I like them all to one degree or another, and hopefully you, dear reader, will enjoy some of them too.

Without further ado, on to the list.

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Sidearms

20. Dream DeathDissemination
• A bleak, bludgeoning album about how we're all being manipulated and fucked over. Perfect for 2016, really.

19. Gatecreeper - Sonoran Depravation
• I was let down by Grave's last album, but this one makes up for it rather nicely.

18. Darkrypt - Delirious Excursion
• The best Nordic death metal of the year might be from India.

17. Seputus - Man Does Not Give
• More conventional than Pyrrhon, which isn't saying much. Deeply unsettling, confrontational death metal.

16. Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule
• It'll take more than a year to plumb the murky depths of this beast. 

15. Baphomet's Blood - In Satan We Trust
• "Speed metal destroys the book of lies" - Words to live by.

14. Abbath - Abbath
• Maybe not quite on par with Immortal but a promissing debut nonetheless.

13. Ripper - Experiment of Existence
• I'm a sucker for that early Sepultura vibe, and this one has it in spades.

12. Vader - The Empire
• It's Vader; no more words are necessary.

11.Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
• Some of the shine has worn off Inquisition's schtick, but while the hype has died down, Inquisition is still bringing  plenty of monster riffs and ribbits

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The Big Guns

 

10. vektor - terminal redux

By my lights, Vektor is the best new band to come out of the thrash revival that began around the turn of the century. While most of the new thrash bands have been content to mimic the masters, Vektor was able to create its own sound and push the genre forward, without forsaking the essential elements of thrash metal (riffs; it always comes down to that with me). I was worried, however, that, as so often happens with brilliantly creative bands, Vektor would lose the plot, they’d venture too far off into outer space, and we’d never get them back. With Terminal Redux, that almost happened, reach sometimes exceeds grasp, and I would say that this album is inferior to its predecessor, but it is still a magnificent work of space thrash in its own right. 

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9. Nucleus - Sentient

Though Demilich seems reluctant to leave us for good, the band will probably never make any new music. Enter Nucleus. The band’s full-length debut, Sentient, fills a little bit of that Nespithe-shaped hole in my soul. In truth, Nucleus really has its own sci-fi death metal thing going, and it is an altogether sharper, tighter band than Demilich ever was. However, it cannot be denied that Nucleus has a knack for putting riffs together the wrong way out of the wrong notes and having them come out all right.

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8. hemotoxin - biological enslavement

What do you call this shit, progressive, technical death-thrash? Yeah, or you could just call it awesome. Part Kreator, part later-Hypocrisy, part early-Death part later-Death part Megadeth, Hemotoxin manages the difficult task of not letting its own prodigious technical prowess get in the way of effective songwriting. This band could easily go off the rails with wankery, but instead we get tasteful flashes of brilliant complexity that enhance rather than distract from what are solid, hard-hitting death-thrash tunes. 

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7. asphyx - incoming death

Although I am I big Asphyx fan, I wasn’t expecting much from this album. The first sample release, the title track, didn’t wow me, and I was, frankly, suffering from a little van Drunen-itis. With Hail of Bullets, Asphyx and the other Asphyx, Grand Supreme Blood Court, all releasing albums in a fairly short span, the market seemed over-saturated with Van Druuen product. But after a four-year lay-off, Asphyx is back, and the band sounds anything but tired (Well Martin always sounds haggard, but that's his thing.) Incoming Death is massive. 

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6. Ravencult- Force of Profanation

Black metal, despite being the biggest repository of hipster nerds and white-power assholes in all of metal, and despite bringing the worst elements of punk (purposely shitty musicianship, scene politics, and Nazis) to metal, can still succeed in the same way that other, less pretentious genres succeed: Get some good riffs together and rip Unholy Hell with them. With Force of Profanation, a ferociously intense record that emphasizes the metal in black metal, Ravencult does just that, and it works like a charm.

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5. Wormed- krighsu

When the machines eventually rise up and enslave us, these will be their battle hymns.

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4. Darkthrone- Arctic Thunder

When I heard that Fenriz would be relinquishing all vocal duties to Nocturno Culto on this album, I was pleased. I thought the move heralded a return to a grimmer, more serious Darkthrone, and, in fact it has, but, you know, I kind of miss Fenriz’a caterwauling. However, what Arctic Thunder lacks in goofiness, it more than makes up for in riffs, and riffs are kind of my thing. And underneath all the window dressing, riffs have always been Darkthrone’s thing. 

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3. Defeated Sanity -
disposal of the dead / dharmata

So Defeated Sanity decided to a do a split album... with itself. Side one is, to borrow a phrase from Last Rites alumnus Chris Redar, a "super fucking ignorant" take on the band’s usual brutal, technical death metal. Defeated Sanity’s chops can’t truly be hidden, but the Disposal of the Dead tunes are buried in a pretty thick layer of mud and the focus certainly seems to be on inflicting maximum punishment. Side two, Dharmata, finds the group conjuring the spirit of classic Florida tech-death, like Cynic, Atheist, and later Death. The band even got a Chuck-sounding vocalist to sing on it. The Dharmata tracks are free-flowing and full of dazzling performances from all the players, but, honestly, for me its just a breather before I dive back into the maelstrom of Disposal of the Dead.

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2. blood incantation - starspawn

One of the things I appreciate about Starspawn is that it proves that plain-old-regular death metal can still take you places. That is not to say that Starspawn isn’t special; clearly, the Blood Incantation boys have a knack for exceptional riffs. This riff odyssey, however, is neither particularly technical, nor particularly brutal. To be sure it has its own unique atmosphere, but at its heart Starspawn is built from the same bricks as so many other death metal albums, and yet it towers over them.

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1. DestrÖyer 666 - wildfire

Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. To my ears and neck, Wildfire is an exhilarating slab of pure heavy metal just the way Satan intended it, but nobody else on staff gave enough of a shit about this album to even put it on their list. I’m not saying Wildfire is perfect; there’s a couple duds on an already short album, but it’s shitloads of fun, and I’ve spun this damn thing more than any other record this year, by far. If “Hounds At Ya Back” doesn’t make you feel like you could wrestle a bear and win, I don’t know if we’re looking for the same things out of our heavy metal.

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biggest misfire
Metallica - Hardwired to Self-Destruct

 

Did I expect something great out of this album? Hell no, but I was hoping for better, and this seems like a good place to bitch about it. With Death Magnetic I felt the band made significant progress towards recapturing some of its former glory. On the surface Hardwired to Self-Destrucmight seem a continuation of the progress, but it is not. It is stagnation at best. Everything that was wrong with Death Magnetic is still wrong with Hardwired. The sad part is most of the issues could be easily addressed if Metallica hadn’t become too big to hear the word no.

Allow me, if you will, to play armchair producer. First, almost all of these fucking songs are too long, and this has been a problem since Load. There are simply not enough interesting ideas to keep any of these tunes afloat for over four minutes. Second, Dear James, STOP FUCKING SINGING. At some point you got it into your head that you can carry a tune. You can’t, and you don’t need to. Yelling worked fine on your finest work; stick to that. Third, tighten up the riffs. Despite the fact that all the members of Metallica were raised on rock, Metallica is a frightfully shitty rock band. The group needs to stop trying to grove, on those god-awful nu-metal/blues-rock riffs it picked up in the nineties and go back to palm-muting the shit out of everything. Furthermore, while James’s right hand has to some degree returned to form, his left hand is still pretty lazy, making most of the band’s attempts at thrashing feel half-assed. Finally, if you are going to have a Lemmy tribute song on your record, at least have the god-damned decency to play it fast.

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That'll do it for me, folks. Before I go, I would just like to say thanks to my last Rites pals, and, in particular, thanks to Danhammer Obstkrieg and his family for their generosity, hospitality and good company. I've seldom spent a more pleasant Sunday afternoon than at the Obstkrieg homestead this past July.

Finally, thanks to you, gentle readers, for giving me and all of us here at Last Rites a good reason to spout off about metal on the internet. Admittedly, things are not looking so great, but I hope 2017 treats you and yours well. 

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