When writing up our favorite EPs of last year, I dubbed 2015 as “The Year of the EP.” It wasn’t a claim supported by deep historical research or context, but just a quick observation about the apparently increasing use of the briefer album format. 2015 was absolutely packed to the brim with killer short-players, ranging from 10 minute bursts of insanity to 40-plus minute epic, artistic arcs.
“But the EP is the shorter format!” you say? And historically, that would be correct. However, many bands utilize the EP to express a different vision from that of their main albums, even if it runs far longer than the format traditionally allows. Last year, Spectral Lore’s beautiful Gnosis made our list, despite topping 40 minutes. This year, a full 40 percent of our top 10 list tops the 30 minute mark (making each of them longer than Reign in Blood), to say nothing of the hour-plus “EPs” from Moonsorrow and Reverend Bizarre from years past.
Does this destroy any notions of what makes an EP and what makes an album? In the digital age, when releases can be as long or short as the artist desires, is it stupid to even make the distinction between the two? Do bands only make said distinction so that they can enter releases on Metal Archives? Do we here at Last Rites only make a separate “Top EPs” list so that we can conveniently highlight even more great music during our totally indulgent list season?
The answers to those questions are: maybe, probably, possibly, and absolutely. Many bands obviously still see worth in making the distinction for any number of the aforementioned reasons, and the continued quality of such releases made 2016 possibly even stronger for the format than was 2015. It is no longer The Year of the EP, but maybe The Era of the EP. Silly distinction or not, the Extended Play still brings heaps of musical metal joy to our ears, whether it be some glorious, different vision or simply a quick splatter of violence.
Here are our favorites from 2016. Add yours in the comments, and as always, fire away with arguments.
10. QRIXKUOR – THREE DEVILS DANCE
“Three Devils Dance is a dense, difficult listen, but the British four-piece uses a judicious amount of early Slayer squealing guitarisms and helpfully legible drum fills and accents to ensure that the listener is never quite lost in the midst of the maelstrom. After all, what good is a Boschian hellscape if you can’t get a clear picture of the torments that await you?” [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
Released: Invictus Productions, April 30th
9. MALIGNER DEMON
“On debut EP Demon, Sweden’s Maligner call back to the golden era of death/thrash, delivering a sound that is equal parts Scream Bloody Gore, No More Color, and Darkness Descends. Sometimes the riffs get ever-so techy in their hooks, and sometimes the band drives forward with maximum brutality (the aptly-named ‘Juggernaut’), but through all things, Maligner sees little point in spending even one second on introspection or progressive flourishes. A bit more Bushwacker mosh here, an extra dose of blinding speed there, and always with an intent as malicious as those gruff, beefy vocals. Irresistible thrashing madness.” [ZACH DUVALL]
Released: Unspeakable Axe, December 1st
8. GRUESOME – DIMENSIONS OF HORROR
“I’m not sure if the metal world as a whole was clamoring for more early Death worship, but I was. Scream Bloody Gore is my favorite Death album, because it is, without a doubt, the most fun of the bunch. It’s brutal, gore-spattered fun, but fun nonetheless… …And where Savage Land had a few hints of the more technical material of Death’s later work, Dimensions of Horror has almost none. This EP leans more on thrashy ferocity to get the job done, as evidenced by the burning opener ‘Forces of Death’ and, well, pretty much everything else that follows.” [JEREMY MORSE]
7. PYRRHON – RUNNING OUT OF SKIN
“Running Out of Skin marks Pyrrhon’s third EP since they started their twisted death voyage in 2009, coming in at a very dense 16 minutes and consisting of one “standard” Pyrrhon track, two improvised songs, and a cover of Death’s ‘Crystal Mountain.’
As they continue to push the boundaries of their maternal death metal sound, Pyrrhon isn’t afraid to let their jams take them wherever they will. The studio improvisations on this EP show this quality more than any other Pyrrhon release, and how much their music functions in an avant-garde jazz frame of mind. Chaotic, progressive content, with heavy riffs, mind-mending schizoid (bass) guitar and vocals that at moments resemble Anaal Nathrakh’s Dave Hunt at his best, but within a free jazz, improvisational framework.
Furthermore, if you isolate the guitar or bass guitar on ‘Motivational Speaker II,’ you could easily include it Miles Davis’ Agartha or some of the more “out there” John Zorn releases. (That is a compliment if I’ve ever written one.) And the cover of ‘Crystal Mountain’ gives so much freshness to a beloved song that it isn’t until you’ve heard it that you realize how much you needed Pyrrhon to cover it. Thumbs up fellas. Keep it the fuck up.” [MIRE TRAVAR]
Released: PRC, March 20th
6. GRAVE MIASMA – ENDLESS PILGRIMAGE
“…what Grave Miasma does so well: balance. While at times it’s the band powering ahead as on all cylinders, their default mode is a balanced approach where one instrumental section takes the lead while the others play a supportive role. Thus, Grave Miasma come across as a polished, skilled band rather than a group attempting to produce chaotic, evil sounds.” [MANNY-O-WAR]
5. DAWNBRINGER – XX
“As Dawnbringer continues playing spiritual counterpoint to High Spirits’ celebration of Life, XX is pointedly ‘Dedicated to Death.’ The 5 track, 20 minute EP’s opener is a natural extension of Night of the Hammer’s final track. Both are brief, slow, poignant responses to Death, first as it comes down, then as an emotional response to it, and set the stage for Dawnbringer’s most concertedly epic offering yet. Dark, intense and deep, XX maintains the project’s ties to Metal’s glory days with classic riffs, evocative soloing and durable melodies, most notably in the haunting chorus of ‘Into the Maze’ and the chanted refrains of ‘North by North,’ a song that reflects both sadness and indisputable strength. Fitting then, as the ripping closer, ‘The End of the Beginning,’ reminds us that sometimes even Death can’t keep a good man down.” [LONE WATIE]
Released: Self-released, February 23rd
4. SOLSTICE – TO SOL A THANE
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.” Barring those awkward moments where you just know the guy forgot the keys to the Camaro back in the cabin, what we can take away from a statement such as this is that if you’re patient, well-informed and determined, confidently walking the walk is a snap. England’s Solstice are, without question, the crowned kings of taking their time to get to a long ago entrenched destination. They haven’t exactly been dormant since their last epic doom showpiece, 1998’s New Dark Age, but they’ve been taking it…….slow. Some would have you believe that this is due, at least in part, to the challenges of working with headmaster R.M. Walker (guitars/songwriting since day one), which very well might be the case if you’re willing to investigate the noticeable clue that is “twenty-three ex-members” attached to the band’s long history. But this ain’t no gat-danged TMZ report, and I don’t give two plops from a goose about gossip as long as the goods are great.
Thankfully, the goods are great. Actually, things are greater now than they’ve ever been, credit due vocalist Paul Kearns, who joined the ranks around 2011. The music of Solstice has never faltered, not even a single step, thanks to Walker’s slow-walking, but Kearns finally adds the perfectly epic voice to match the noble gallop. The band will (they by-god WILL) release a new full-length next year under the equally noble flag of Dark Descent, and if this year’s To Sol a Thane EP is any indication of what’s to come, it’s going to be an absolute skull-crusher for anyone interested in arrogant HEAVY METAL worthy of trampling foes under hoof. To put it simply, To Sol a Thane does more with three songs and 24-minutes than most bands do with a double-disc. [MICHAEL WUENSCH]
Released: White Horse, May 29th
3. CROSS VAULT – MILES TO TAKE
“Always a promising band, these German purveyors of traditional doom have never ascended the pinnacle of their worth. Often falling a tad short due to poor production, Miles To Take gives Cross Vault the chance to up its epic game and reach towards such hallowed acts as Primordial with two tracks of pristinely produced, vocally dominant, and compositionally sound doom metal that is sure to compete for spots atop year end EP lists.” [MANNY-O-WAR]
2. VOIVOD – POST SOCIETY
“There’s obviously no shortage of 80s metal bands still attempting to kick up dust out there, but few of them manage to crank up the intensity as the years progress with results truly worthy of soiling your britches over. Voivod is one of those bands. Post Society is noisy, proggy, thrashy and as Voivital as ever, proving without a shadow of a doubt that there’s still tons and tonnes of tread left on this tank.” [MICHAEL WUENSCH]
1. GORGUTS – PLEIADES’ DUST
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is a greater achievement than the entireties of either Obscura or Colored Sands, because I don’t need too. All are such monumental, unique works of music that they stand strongly on their own. Pleiades’ Dust is simultaneously Lemay’s ‘Crimson’ and his ‘Echoes,’ and yet it is neither of those things, coming from a source that is as singularly inspired as any artist can realistically be. As a result, it is a staggering accomplishment for Lemay, for Gorguts, and for music.” [ZACH DUVALL]
Stay tuned, we’re just getting started with the 2016 list-o-rama.