For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase “jumping the shark”, let me summarize. It’s a phrase used to define/describe the moment in which something takes a turn for the ridiculous and essentially signaling the beginning of the end.
My moment began around this time last year when I decided to embrace the blitz (attempting to process a whole bunch of albums in a short amount of time, for you newbies) as the way I would compile these lists from now on. So I started compiling the list way back in January, and though I would check in on it occasionally, it mostly just sat there. Oh sure, I checked out new releases fairly regularly, but mostly on a one-and-done-for-now basis. Save it all for later, I thought. See what the impact is down the road, I thought.
Well, its getting to be rather unsustainable for several reasons, including:
- I’m getting old.
2. It gives an unfair advantage to older albums, due not only to more time available to listen, but the ever-important factor of time to grow.
3. Not everything is conducive to the inherent ADD nature of the format, including anything with track lengths averaging 7+ minutes, double albums, and doom metal in general.
4. As access to music keeps getting easier, the piles are just going to get bigger as time progresses, and eventually I’m just going to shoot myself.
5. Because of #3 and 4 above, several albums got dismissed pretty much outright as “I ain’t got time for that!”
6. Did I mention I’m getting old?
So, my early New Year’s Resolution is to put the blitz to rest going forward. It’s getting increasingly ridiculous and damn near impossible to cram everything in, even with 6-8 hours of listening a day. And am I really enjoying any of it? Is it all just in retrospect? Am I just trying to justify my misery? Hard to say.
Nevertheless, below you’ll find a whole bunch of music that separated itself from the pack this year, which was pretty awful in some ways but pretty awesome in some others. Eat Arby’s.
(PS – if you’re curious about what all received consideration, click here.)
• • • •
THE SECOND TEN
20. Devilment – II: The Mephisto Waltzes
Fronted by Dani Filth, Devilment is the stripped-down stepbrother of the over-the-top Cradle of Filth, ditching much of the bombastic theatrics in favor of just plain goth-rocking. | Facebook
19. Helmet – Dead to the World
When I first heard this, I thought there was no way it would even come close to cracking this list. Someone told me if I gave it about 20 listens it would all fall into place. Luckily, it only took a fraction of that time for the brilliance of Helmet’s best work since Betty to shine through. | Website
18. Ripper – Experiment of Existence
Early in the year, I really dug into the depths of the Kreator discography in conjunction with our Devil’s Dozen feature on them. Later in the year, this album came along and conjured up many of the same feelings as the earliest works of the teutonic legends. | Website | Bandcamp
17. Asphyx – Incoming Death
I’m sure there are many others who appreciate Asphyx on a much deeper level than I do, but I’m also sure we can all agree that the Dutch death metallers are showing no signs of age, rust, or slowing down. | Website
16. Helcaraxë – The Last Battle
Once I got over my stubbornness that there was only room for ETERNAL Helcaraxe in my life, I discovered what many have known for years: that I was a fool. The Last Battle is gloriously epic without falling into the genre’s clichés. | Website | Bandcamp
15. Death Angel – The Evil Divide
Much like Helmet, I wasn’t impressed the first time. For whatever reason, I kept giving them chances, and eventually they wore me down. For me, their most enjoyable album since Killing Season. | Website
14. Mudface – The Bane of Existence
After following this Bay Area outfit in various forms for over 15 years, this was a stunning jaw-dropper. Stalwart vocalist (and bearer of kavorka) Christopher Dinsmore at last has a solid group of musicians behind him (as opposed to a revolving door), and this album not only delivers on but expands upon the promise shown for years. In that regard, this is as much in recognition of their entire career to date as it is for the album itself. | Website
13. Vektor – Terminal Redux
Now that I’ve finally gotten on board with these purveyors of mind-bending progressive thrash, I realize that at least one of my previous best-of lists was probably wrong. | Facebook | Bandcamp
12. In The Woods… – Pure
In 2004, I wrote this. I’m not sure what happened to me or them during their 13 years of hibernation, but here in 2016, I stand in awe of the musical and emotional heaviness and rich, mournful soundscapes of Pure, and would most definitely listen to it just about anytime, anywhere. | Facebook | Bandcamp
11. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason
Just when you think it’s going to be just more djent-y (I hate that word) chaos, you’re suddenly hit with more complex song structures and riffs that are still distinctly Meshuggah – and downright crushingly infectious. | Website
• • • •
THE FIRST TEN
10. DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – TRANSCENDENCE
So I’m not 100% certain how this ended up on my list, and at this position. There weren’t many (if any) singular moments that jumped out; my recall post-listen is vague at best; and it doesn’t sound like any one Devin Townsend album I’ve heard before (I should note I’ve neglected some of his earliest work). But what I do know is this: listening to Transcendence is an experience, and a joyful one at that. It’s almost like being wrapped up in a warm blanket that can also write and play heavy yet soul-soothing music. The deluxe edition offers even more, with a variety of bonus tracks/outtakes that will liven up even the liveliest of situations.
Released: HevyDevy Records, September 9th | Website
• • • •
9. VADER – THE EMPIRE
I’ve always enjoyed Vader, but no album of theirs has really grabbed me since De Profundis (and even that was years after its release.) That’s all changed with The Empire. Maybe its because I’ve stayed away from death metal lately, or maybe its because it’s just really fucking good. Whatever the reason, Vader hit hard out of the gate and hasn’t stopped yet IF YOU STRIKE ME DOWN, I SHALL BECOME MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE. Oh come on – they set themselves up for that, pairing that title with that moniker. There’s no way they didn’t catch it in the board room.
Released: Nuclear Blast Records, November 4th | Website
• • • •
8. RUNNING WILD – RAPID FORAY
Context. That’s become important for me to truly get my head around recent works from long-running bands (more on that later down the line). At first, Rapid Foray feels a bit dull and flaccid, devoid of any of the charm of the band’s earlier works; even Shadowmaker and Resilient showed glimpses of that. Once I started listening to the tracks mixed in with the rest of their catalog, though, a connection was made – they’re still the same old Running Wild, and that’s a good thing for them to be. Don’t get me wrong, this ain’t no Under Jolly Roger or Death or Glory, but I don’t need it to be. In a year that saw offerings from several pirate-themed metal bands (Silverbones, Lagerstein, Lords of the Drunken Pirate Crew, and The Dread Crew of Oddwood), Rock ‘N Rolf proved that he is still the Pirate King.
Released: Steamhammer, August 26th | Website
• • • •
7. ABORTED – RETROGORE
“The band that used to take great delight in doling out its aural punishment in a manner almost haphazardly reckless is now doing it with thoughtful precision. The end result is the same (for them), but rather than feeling physically and psychologically broken, you find yourself feeling disturbingly comfortable. You’re not begging for mercy this time – you’re begging for another round.” My full review here.
Released: Century Media Records, April 22nd | Website
• • • •
6. IHSAHN – ARKTIS
I remember listening to this the day it came out and thinking, “Hey that was pretty good!” I said that a few more times between then and when I started working on this list, and realized that I hadn’t actually listened to it much since then. Trying to keep up with new releases, scratching itches for old stuff, and reviewing things can be taxing on one’s listening time. At any rate, Arktis made a definite first impression, and that sort of impact usually results in this sort of recognition. Ihsahn seems to revel in being ridiculously schizophrenic musically. You may find yourself reveling in it, too, as he bounces between genres and subgenres effortlessly and seamlessly. It was once said that the true spirit of metal is to be free of any boundaries – Arktis gives that spirit a tangible form.
Released: Candlelight Records, April 8th | Website
I remember a time when I used to laugh at the mere mention of the name “Anaal Nathrakh”. It had nothing to do with the music, it was just the name. That was a long time ago, and may well have never happened at all had I stopped laughing for a moment to actually listen. Passion pulled me in, but Vanitas was the clincher (and I still haven’t gone back to anything before that – lots of work still to do on my life). This blows everything else I’ve heard away. It’s fucking angry and fucking violent – and it helps you find beauty in the world by tapping into the ugliness within yourself and completely destroying it. Not the kind of thing you’ll want to listen to all the time…just most of the time.
Released: Metal Blade Records, October 28th | Website
• • • •
4. NAILS – YOU WILL NEVER BE ONE OF US
“The first time I listened to You Will Never Be One of Us, I had a pounding headache by the end of track 3 (roughly three minutes in). Rather than tear the headphones off or reach for the aspirin, I closed one eye and kept on going with a thank-you-sir-may-I-please-have-another defiance. My entire being was being punished, and in a sick way, I was enjoying every minute of it. When I reached the end, though, I knew I had to step away.
Then a funny thing happened when I came back to it the next day: that didn’t happen. As those first notes hit, I slipped into that calm, comfortable bliss and just soaked in the cacophony. I’ve been doing that on the regular ever since.” My full review here.
Released: Nuclear Blast Records, June 17th | Website
• • • •
3. WITCHERY – IN HIS INFERNAL MAJESTY’S SERVICE
Another late year entry, Witchery came roaring back with a vengeance in 2016 with an album that should make everybody forget about depressingly tepid Witchkrieg. With new vocalist Angus Norder in tow, Patrik Jensen and crew rediscovered the fire that that made Restless and Dead and Symphony for the Devil burn like the title character’s domain itself. Nobody can ever really replace Toxine, but Norder is making it easier to let go, something his two predecessors could not accomplish. Ripping, slightly blackened thrash that will make you proud to be a fan of not just Witchery but the entire genre of metal.
Released: Century Media Records, November 25th | Website
• • • •
2. MITHRAS – ON STRANGE LOOPS
People have been trying to get me into Mithras for years. I’d heard a couple of albums (Forever Advancing Legions and Behind the Shadows Lie Madness), and though I thought they were good, I didn’t hear anything special about them. I expected the same results in listening to On Strange Loops (after the same level of prodding). I didn’t get them. Whether it was just me trying to be part of the cool crowd, or whether I was actually impressed could be up for debate, but I’m gonna go with the latter, as On Strange Loops left me with little choice but to stand at the edge of sensory overload in stunned silence as a masterwork of progressive death/thrash played out before me.
• • • •
1. PRONG – X – NO ABSOLUTES
OK, let me explain. This was not a decision I reached lightly. In fact, I resisted mightily. But no matter how much I tried, I could not find a path to #1 where Prong was not the last band standing. It grabbed my attention the first time I heard it, and though it took several listens to wrap my head around, I came to find this to be their finest work in over 20 years. I felt the same way three, six, and nine months later. I’m still going back to it today and nothing has changed. I’ve listened to over 200 albums this year, and there are not many of them I can say that about. Of those I can, this is the best. Here’s to you, Tommy – even if you are a Dodgers fan.
“Prong sounds like a band rejuvenated, reinvigorated, and once again hell bent on musical destruction.” My full review here.
Not surprisingly, no one else here even mentioned it. After 13+ years, I’ve grown comfortable with my place.
Released: SPV/Steamhammer, February 5th | Website
• • • •
BASKET OF HONORABLES
|Almanac – Tsar||In Extremo – Quid Pro Quo|
|Chronos Zero – Hollowlands||Insomnium – Winter’s Gate|
|Conclave – Hollow Spirits||Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows|
|Cult of Luna/Julie Christmas – Mariner||Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts|
|Diamond Head – S/T||Knives Out! – Left in the Lurch|
|Dynazty – Titanic Mass||Ravencult – Force of Profanation|
|Fates Warning – Theories of Flight||Spinebreaker – Ice Graves|
|Flotsam & Jetsam – S/T||Surgical Meth Machine – S/T|
|Hammerfall – Built to Last||Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake|
|Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution||Venomous Concept – Kick Me Silly VC3|
• • • •
TOP TEN EPS
- Karma to Burn – Mountain Czar
This five song EP both captures their classic essence and forges new ground. Especially take note of their Italian-language version of Tom Petty‘s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”.
- Arterial Atrophy – Into the Atrophy
Blistering blasts of brutality featuring past and present members of Agenda of Swine, Vulgar Pigeons, and Benumb.
- Sick of It All – When the Smoke Clears
Thirty years later, and Sick of It All are still clobbering fans with reality checks.
- Dawnbringer – XX
I got into Dawnbringer by way of High Spirits but a bit too late to do much with Night of the Hammer at the time. Based on that as well as this optimistically bleak offering, I don’t expect that to be a problem going forward.
- Voivod – Post Society
Remember when we all thought Voivod couldn’t carry on without Piggy? Boy, were we wrong.
- Gruesome – Dimensions of Horror
Old-school death metal is still the best death metal. I’m also a sucker for anything featuring Matt Harvey on vokills.
- Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
I can already hear the outrage. Nonetheless, a truly impressive work deserving of the near universal praise it’s received.
- Eat the Turnbuckle – The Great American Bash Your Head In
Some would call it a kayfabe tribute/homage, others would call it shoot/gimmick infringement. I’ll just say some of the most fun wrestling has seen since the Monday Night Wars.
- Iotunn – The Wizard Falls
I had to check three times that this wasn’t my old friend Andy Giardina on vocals. Even so, this powerful, epic traditional metal from Denmark has left a definite impression.
- Aborted – Termination Redux
Celebrating their 20th(!) anniversary and offering a taste of what was to come on Retrogore, this was Aborted at their bloody, concentrated best.
Note: my original list had Deathspell Omega‘s The Synarchy of Molten Bones, but apparently they consider it an album, and I don’t care enough to make a statement to the contrary like I did previously with Immortal Bird.
• • • •
A DEVIL’S DOZEN OF NON-METAL
Ricky Warwick – When Patsy Cline Was Crazy and Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues / Hearts on Trees
Massive double album from the frontman of Black Star Riders. Disc one is a hard rocking collection in the tradition of the Thin Lizzy offshoot, while disc two is more mellow and introspective. Probably best taken one at a time, but either one is a hell of a ride.
Glenn Hughes – Resonate
Even with my Deep Purple rennaisance of 2015, I’ve never been a big Glenn Hughes fan, going so far as to roll my eyes at the mere mention of how great he was. Well, he sure shut me up with this one, backing up that legendary voice with heavy grooves and much rock n’ roll swagger.
Heldmaschine – Himmelskorper
To be fair, this was about the only industrial metal album I heard this year, but it was a doozy. Very reminiscient of old school Rammstein, with a bit more of a live musician feel.
Mina Caputo – Love Hard
Her work with Life of Agony has always been deeply personal; her solo work is exponentially so.
Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What You’re Not
Hey, any year that brings a new Dinosaur Jr. can’t be all bad, right? This one gets you right in the 90s nostalgia feels. It’s not that they’re retro now, it’s just that they’ve never changed.
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Simpson escewed all the trappings of modern-day Nashville in painting this rich, soulful tapestry of sound and emotion and creating the only country album that mattered in 2016. Not to take anything away from…
Shooter Jennings – Countach
Shooter continued to keep his father’s outlaw spirit alive with this predominantly non-country album that serves as a tribute to 80s synthpop, adding yet another genre to the list of those that he can excel in.
Wardruna – Runaljod Ragnarok
You could make an argument that this is a metal album, but I’m going with tribal pagan instrumental, if for no other reason than just so I could include it here.
The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Monolith of Phobos
Les Claypool and Sean Lennon get beautifully weird and just a little psychedelic on this collaboration.
Neil Young – Peace Trail
Age ain’t slowing this man down a bit. He goes the solo route this time on a mostly acoustic album that recalls his similar work from the 70s.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
If you can believe it, Nick Cave got even darker this time around. Then he goes and succinctly summarizes 2016 when he sings “All the things we love / we lose”, including…
David Bowie – Blackstar
It’s been almost a year and I’m still trying to wrap my head around this album (and the reality that the man is no longer with us). So many layers, so many emotions, so much to appreciate – just like Bowie himself.
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Dark, classy, and sophisticated to the end, Cohen’s mesmerizing swansong has a distinct film noir vibe running through it.
• • • •
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN SONGCRAFT
George Costanza and heavy sludge riffs go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Why isn’t anyone forming an entire gimmick band based on him? I think he’s earned that with his 34 years (and counting) of misery.
• • • •
ANTHEMS OF THE YEAR
• • • •
ARTWORK OF THE YEAR
I was supposed to write this up for the team’s year-end piece on album art, but… I didn’t. If I had, though, it might have gone something like this:
Right Brain: I sense great vulnerability, a man-child crying out for love; an innocent orphan in the post-modern world.
Left Brain: I see a parasite, a sexually-depraved miscreant who is seeking only to gratify his basest and most immediate urges.
Right Brain: He is grody and unattractive, yet I detect a nobility of attitude, and unwavering loyalty – much like a Saint Bernard.
Left Brain: But note the eyes. He’s a creature barely hanging on to existence, like a cockroach clinging to a sewer grate.
Right Brain: His struggle is man’s struggle. He lifts my spirits!
Left Brain: He is a loathsome, offensive brute – yet I can’t look away.
Right Brain: He transcends time and space.
Left Brain: He sickens me.
Right Brain: I love it.
Left Brain: Me too.
• • • •