(So far, our LISTMANIA series has mostly been devoted to year-end lists from other sites and print zines, but today we begin rolling out our own lists. As has become customary, we start with the first of six year-end lists that Andy Synn is preparing. Every day next week we’ll post his remaining five — along with other staff and guest lists.)
Somehow another year seems to have passed by, which means it’s almost time for my annual, week-long round-up of the year’s best and brightest (and most disappointing) releases.
For those of you unaware of how this whole thing works, I split my assessment of the year into three categories initially:
The “Great” albums, the ones which I honestly consider the true cream of this year’s crop, regardless of fame, fortune, or style.
The “Good” albums, which vary between solid (but not necessarily stunning) morsels of metallic goodness and those which (arguably) come within a hair’s breadth of greatness.
And the “Disappointing” albums of the year, the albums which, while not necessarily bad, I feel don’t live up to the standards which the band(s) have set for themselves, or which their listeners have come to expect.
Then, finally, I put together my two Top Ten lists. The “Critical Top Ten”, where I try to be as objective as possible in selecting ten of the year’s finest albums to serve as a representative sample of the best which 2016 has to offer, and my “Personal Top Ten”, which are simply the ten albums which have tickled my fancy the most over the past twelve months.
But first, how about we have a little round-up of some of the best EPs of the year?
I’m going to start with five EPS which we haven’t (as far as I’m aware) reviewed here before. I’m not saying these are the “best” EPs of the year by any means. In fact I purposefully haven’t ranked them this year. But I do think that every one of these choices is worth your time.
KARNON – LE TEMPS SOMBRE
In 2015 I selected the fantastic debut by Barús as my favourite EP, and this year that honour goes to Canadian quartet Karnon and their debut release Le Temps Sombre, which hits a lot of the same sweet spots as their French counterparts did last year, but is still very much its own bloodthirsty beast.
While you can pretty much ignore the “blackened” tag which people seem to have been misapplying to this EP, as the most Black Metal thing about it is its artwork (which is stunning, by the way), the four tracks which make up Le Temps Sombre plough a deep, dark groove of ominous, doom-laden Death Metal whose chunky, chugging intensity and subtly complex construction (not to mention frankly massive guitar tone) reminds me in some ways of the underappreciated In-Quest (RIP), but with a touch of savagely technical thrashwork reminiscent of early Lamb of God circa As The Palaces Burn.
It really is one hell of an opening statement, and bodes well for the band’s next release, which I, for one, am already champing at the bit to hear.
GIANT OF THE MOUNTAIN – THE EMPTY QUARTER
Future Synn Report candidates Giant of the Mountain have been plugging away in laudably DIY fashion for a number of years now, and already have an impressive back catalogue of albums and EPs to their name. And I have to say, their latest release, The Empty Quarter, might just be their best yet.
Hefty growls, morose clean vocals reminiscent in places of the phenomenal Mikko Heikkilä (Black Sun Aeon), speedy blasts, complex fills, extravagant riffs, evocative melodies… yep, this is Progressive Death Metal alright, tinged with bits and pieces of Doom and Stoner for added flavour, and fans of bands like Cormorant, Edge of Sanity, early Mastodon, and the much-missed Iron Thrones… or indeed anyone who likes things a little bit clever as well as a little bit heavy (not to mention pleasantly rough and raw in the production department)… would do well to check these guys (and girl) out asap.
THE HUDSON HORROR – RUINER
Remember The Hudson Horror? I reviewed their debut album last year and made specific mention of the fact that their sound, though pretty good, was still a little too derivative overall.
Thankfully their new EP, Ruiner, is a big step up in practically every aspect, dropping some of the more generic Metalcore tendencies of their debut in favour of a meatier, more Death Metal flavoured, approach reminiscent of both Vehemence and The Black Dahlia Murder.
The drums in particular (provided on this release by Alex Cohen of Pyrexia/Imperial Triumphant fame) seem to have a lot more flair and character to them, which helps songs like the attention-grabbing title track (chuggy, technically proficient, coldly melodic in all the right places) punch well above their weight.
It’s in the second half/last two-thirds of the EP where the band show the most promise and improvement, however, with the rumbling Death-grooves of “His Most Beloved”, the grimly infectious “The Hunt”, and surprisingly atmospheric closer “Into the Crawling Chaos” making up for what they lack in originality through the simple expedient of simply being really fucking good songs.
INFINITE EARTHS – INTO THE VOID
Into the Void is the second EP by enigmatic Tech-Death heads Infinite Earths and, if the suitably psychedelic artwork wasn’t enough of a give-away, it’s a bit of a mind-bender.
Somewhere between Gorod and early Cynic, latter-day Death and Decrepit Birth, the quintet unleash a veritable whirlwind of Proggy, Techy, unorthodox Death Metal dementia on Into the Void, mixing and matching dizzying dissonance and spiralling, skittering fretwork, limber, jazzy bass-lines, intricate acoustic interludes, and drums that switch from devastating to delicate at the drop of a hat. Or, more likely, at the drop of some acid.
As deranged as things sometimes get (as on the appropriately named “Amalgam of Madness”), there’s always sense of order underlying the chaos. As a result, the rolling, grandstanding grooves which conclude “Chaotic Good” transition into the off-kilter, Opeth-esque acoustics of “The Whirling Doorway” in practically seamless style, after which the colossal “Grave New World” looms out of the mist to put the icing on the cake… so to speak.
It’s a weird EP, make no mistake. But there’s something incredibly catchy about it too. And it should definitely be getting more love than I’ve seen.
THRALLDOM – TIME WILL BEND INTO HORROR
It’s been ten years since Ryan Lipynsky and Jared Turinsky last got together to inflict Thralldom upon the world, but the band recently released an all-new EP entitled Time Will Bend Into Horror, and it seems like they’ve lost none of their morbid mojo.
Horror is definitely the name of the game here, as these six tracks — part Black (Metal) Mass, part droning industrial hellscape, and part Doom-shrouded suicide note – definitely aren’t meant for the faint of heart.
The guitars creep and crawl and slither, the drums pop and snap like arthritic joints, flashes of mangled electronica or cold waves of bleak ambience spark and smother. It’s frankly a rather harrowing experience, and definitely not an easy listen.
But if you want something ugly to really sink your teeth into (and vice versa), then this might be just what your’e looking for.
Now of course those weren’t the only killer EPs released this year by any means, so the following is a quick round-up of some of the best extended players I happened to encounter this year. Where appropriate I’ve also included a link to either the appropriate Bandcamp page, or to our previous coverage of the EP in question, so you can click on those if you want a bit more context and info.
Living legends Gorguts and Deathspell Omega both produced some of their signature metallic magic this year, though both releases managed to blur the line between EP and album into near incomprehensibility too. Either way I felt like they deserved special mention (and I’d imagine most of you will agree).
Their disciples in Krallice (Hyperion), Imperial Triumphant (Inceste), Pyrrhon (Running Out of Skin), and Shrine of Insanabilis (Tombs Opened by Fervent Tongues) all put out some great releases too, each one a scorching slab of progressive, aggressive, transgressive Metal mayhem.
And, speaking of “proggy” stuff, Swiss instrumetallers Khaldera, provided a more than worthy follow-up to their 2013 debut with Alteration, while 2016 also saw the return of German Prog-Metallers Disillusion with the stunning Alea.
Moving from the “proggy” to the “technical” side of things, Singularity stepped up their game on their new EP Void Walker, while, on the more blackened end of the scale, Australia’s Mesarthim (Pillars) continued to take their listeners further into the depths of the celestial abyss.
In terms of split releases, the most notable for me were:
Acherontas/Slidhr – Death of the Ego/Chains of the Fallen
Auroch/Mitochondrion – In Cronian Hour
Blut Aus Nord/Ævangelist – Codex Obscura Nomina
Haar/Ur Draugr – split
Mare Cognitum/Aureole – Resonance: Crimson Void
All of which offered a compelling mix of metallic delights, as well as ample material for future arguments about which band “did it better”.
On the more famous (or, should that be, infamous?) side of things, multinational monsters Aborted brought some of their customary nastiness with Termination Redux, as did the reconstituted Lord Mantis with Nice Teeth Whore (which would, unfortunately, be the band’s last release before the untimely passing of drummer Bill Bumgardner), while the always reliable Skeletonwitch continued to deliver the goods with The Apothic Gloom, their first release with new vocalist Adam Clemans (Wolvhammer, ex-Iron Thrones).
And, finally, this year also saw the release of several debut EPs that particularly grabbed my attention, the sado-masochistic Black Metal of Lebenssucht (Fucking My Knife), the blackened post-metal of Remember That You Will Die (s/t), the terrifyingly atmospheric Pupil of the Searing Maelstrom by Almyrkvi, and the fantastic Sludge/Death/Doom hybrid of Conjurer (I).
If I’ve missed anything particularly notable… that’s probably just because I didn’t have time to listen to it this year. So let me know about what’s worth catching up on in the Comments below and, if you have any questions, feel free to submit them in the usual manner.