(2016 was the year when I discovered Montréal’s Tumbleweed Dealer through their very cool new album Tokes, Hatred & Caffeine. The band’s main man Seb Painchaud has very expansive and very eclectic musical tastes, and in this year-end list he pulls us off our usual beaten paths by highlighting favorite releases that are outside the usual metal lists… including a lot of Not-Metal.)
To be honest, I fucking hate Christmas. Yup, that’s how I’m going to start this article. I fucking hate the holidays. I hate the parties, the gift giving and the family gatherings. It’s cold as fuck up here at this time of year and snow isn’t the beautiful white flurries you see in Christmas movies in a big city like Montreal, it’s just grey, wet mush that ends up everywhere, ensuring wet socks from the second you leave the house until the moment you brave the arctic winds once again to make it home.
The one thing I actually enjoy about the holidays: End of year list season.
I love going through every list I can check out and every album I haven’t heard yet, and try to agglomerate everyone else’s discoveries into my own list. That’s why I put out a top 100 list every year. Not 25, 50, or even 75. 100. And I always end up cutting albums to bring it down to 100.
But 100 is a bit much for here and there’s no point in mentioning the same albums as everyone else. So I offered NCS to write a list of albums you won’t find on most metalhead’s lists.
So before we start, I need to show some love to the albums that made it on everyone’s lists with reason. My top 3 currently stands at Oathbreaker, Ulcerate, and Meshuggah, the order in which I rank them changing on a daily basis.
Some brutal albums I’m disappointed are not getting MORE love at the end of this year are Sarabante, who have finally return to deliver more of their brand of evil-as-fuck d-beat/grind from Greece, Ancst with their blackened hardcore from Germany, and Vale of Pnath, who I consider to have put out THE best tech-death metal album in a year full of great albums in the genre (with First Fragment coming in a close 2nd in that category).
This year has also brought us more amazing black-metal-rooted albums that expand the genre’s sound beyond anything its creators could have ever imagined (and probably would never condone!), like Mare Cognitum and the new Alcest album, but some post/shoegaze black bands sadly missing from many lists are Astronoid, who play a style of blackgaze that is more gaze than black while being full of blast beats, Trna from Russia, whose second album doesn’t rank as high as their debut in my book but still hits pretty high on my list, and the badly named but oh so good Show Me A Dinosaur, who bring more post to their post black metal sound than most bands in the genre. I also really enjoyed the new output by the always dependable Sorrow Plagues.
This was also the year I renewed my love of brutal shit, and got over my blockage with terms like ‘deathcore’ and ‘slam’. At the end of the day, it’s all brutal shit. Infant Annihilator is getting lots of attention, rightfully so, for the amazing album they put out. One band that doesn’t seem to crossover as much, but should, is Vulvodynia. Just labeling it slam is not doing their music justice. Another band that crosses genre thresholds to mix all things violent is Within Destruction. Shadow of Intent put out some of the best tech deathcore, if you can call it that, this year. Some more obscure gems in the genre really worth digging up are Swine Overlord and Daedalvs.
This is the year I also stumbled onto something called Downtempo Deathcore. Its detractors would call it all breakdown deathcore, but the good bands are more like deathcore’s answer to doom metal. Humanity’s Last Breath and Cabal put out the best records this year in that genre.
Getting further and further away from the standard metalhead picks, this year spewed out a LOT of generic, by-the-numbers stoner rock, but it also had a few brave bands pushing the genre boundaries and producing material that is utterly original, and some were just too catchy to ignore no matter how typical it is.
Green Leaf fall into the 2nd category but also managed to crack my top 20 along with Khemmis. The lesser known Wolf People need to be checked out. Imagine if Uncle Acid had a child with Camel’s ’70s albums and it ended up being Hexvessel’s, who are in my top 10, dirtier and more old school cousin. Mondo Drag blurred the line between retro prog and psychedelic rock and delivered a monolith of an album, while Mars Red Sky and The Myrrors offered us the perfect soundtracks for lazy Sunday mornings.
Although most lists included Nothing, and understandably so, they failed to include more ‘straight up’ shoegaze bands that drenched us in that hazy reverb we love so much, bands like DIIV and Pinkshinyultrablast (don’t let the name stop you from listening to them, their debut EP is my favorite piece of shoegaze music ever).
Math rock brought us my Number 4 pick of the year, TTNG, with their third album Disappointment Island, which ended up being a grower on me and kept crawling up the ranks after every listen. The initial disappointment (which I guess they anticipated, thus the title) came from the fact that it’s hard to top yourself when you just put out what I consider to be THE best album in the genre EVER a few years ago.
For lesser known acts, Brightest Color released a short but spellbinding EP of melodic math tracks, and He Was Eaten By Owls brought us an album that is as experimental as you’d expect from a band with a name like that.
For bands more Indie Rock (dare I say Emo…) than Math, I fell in love with Pity Sex last year, and this year’s full-length just kept our love affair going. Half retro grunge, half modern indie rock, this album is firmly planted at Number 6 in my list despite being surrounded by much heavier material. Similar, while a bit poppier, The Joy Formidable’s new record scratchs a similar itch. Deer Leap also brought us an excellent album, being something one could call post-indie rock, and For Everest, despite being unapologetically Emo, have one of the catchiest albums of the year with their constant trade-offs between male and female vocals, while having a much more riffy guitar style than most bands in the genre.
In a genre most commonly labeled Post-Hardcore, Sianvar (a super-group featuring members of most of the genre’s top bands) made a progressive masterpiece, and their genre pioneer counterparts Dance Gavin Dance released an album that pushes their ‘prog riff mixed with Justin Timberlake hooks’ sound even further. Hey, I wouldn’t think it sounds like a good idea either if I read it on paper, but as far as I’m concerned it really works. Surprisingly, we also got treated to a return to form with Protest the Hero releasing an EP that is grade A from top to bottom after a slew of subpar albums in the last years.
While we’re touching on genre names that might trigger the more close-minded metal fans out there, the Screamo scene brought us three amazing and diverse records which prove that their scene deserves to be subdivided into as many categories as ours. Hotel Books outdid themselves with their spoken word over post rock that grows into catchy hooks sound being pushed further towards more tangible tracks, while Old Soul reminded us with their new EP that the line that divides Screamo from Grind is thin and blurry. Sweden’s Suffocate for Fuck Sake crept into my list towards the end of the year with an album of shorter tracks than before that forgoes the long Godspeed You Black Emperor build-ups for a more immediate impact.
Did you know Punk Folk was I thing? I didn’t. Check out We The Heathens, it’s basically acoustic d-beat.
And now to close the list, my top rap albums of the year. Aesop Rock came back in force and cracked my top 20 with his new album. Although it lacks the stand-out tracks of the earlier albums (I must’ve played the song “Daylight” over a hundred times…) it’s a much more balanced affair, and every song is great and the production is a lot more modern.
Just the opposite, Ill Bill’s new album has an old school ’90s GZA production that makes it the most relevant record he’s released since The Hour Of Reprisal. And finally, La Coka Nostra delivered another top-notch record this year, with the song “Stay True” being my favorite LCN song ever not to include Everlast or Snoop Dogg!
Check out our Facebook page where I’ll be posting my whole top 100 list: