(Andy Synn’s week-long series of year-end lists continues with his personal list of 2016’s Good Albums. Yesterday’s list dealt with Disappointments.)
So now we’re really starting to get into the meat of things.
Unlike tomorrow’s list of “Great” albums, the list of “Good” albums covers a bit of a wider range in terms of overall quality.
Some of these albums are ones I consider to be so good as to be almost “Great”, but which are perhaps held back from true greatness by one or two inescapable flaws.
Some of them are undeniably “Good” in the sense that we’ll all doubtless be coming back to them for a long time, but probably (if we’re being honest with ourselves) with some understanding that they don’t quite hit the highest possible standards.
And some of them… are just “good enough”. They’re certainly not bad albums and are more than enjoyable enough, but they’re probably not going to be winning any awards (apart from Revolver awards, but those don’t really count).
Of course your mileage may vary. Some of these albums you may think are the bee’s bollocks (that’s the phrase, right?) and deserve to be considered “Great” albums in their own right. And some of these albums you might actively despise and not understand why anyone could consider them to be “Good”. But I hope you know that I’ve tried to be as objective as possible here, and feel like I’ve given all these releases a fair hearing.
So why not click onwards, brave traveller, and see if anything in this list strikes your fancy?
Where shall we start? How about we kick off with three albums of rib-tickling brutality —Condemnation by Antaeus, Union of Flesh and Machine by Blood Red Throne, and In His Infernal Majesty’s Service by Witchery –which only barely missed the cut for tomorrow’s “Great” albums list?
Keeping things nice and brutal, but edging away from the Black/Death/Thrash triangle, resurgent Tech/Core titans Car Bomb and Ion Dissonance left eardrums ringing with their latest slabs of sonic punishment, both of which were also very much in the running for inclusion on the “Great” list.
On top of this both Bossk and Luna’s Call released their debut albums this year, and both albums were definitely considered for tomorrow’s list, as was the second album by Polish decapitators Dormant Ordeal and the third (and slightly overhyped) album by the awfully-named, but awfully-talented, Thrawsunblat.
This year also saw several of the most well-respected acts in the underground (or, at least, non-mainstream) Metal scene – Caïna, Oranssi Pazuzu, and Ulcerate – put out albums that were borderline “Great”, but perhaps not quite as good as their best work(s), as did several more well-known names, including Dark Tranquillity, Entombed, and Testament.
And then of course there’s this little band called Meshuggah, whose new album has some absolutely breathtaking tracks on it, but also a handful that I’d call merely “Good”, rather than truly “Great”.
Living legends Ihsahn and Devin Townsend both delivered impressive albums this year that were borderline “Great”, but which fell ever so slightly short of either artist’s best, as did the Prog-Metal minstrels in Nocte Obducta and Thy Carafalque, though their similarly unconventional brethren in Barishi seemed to stumble a little with the cantankerous chaos of their second album, Blood From the Lion’s Mouth.
On the heavier and more aggressive end of things, Aborted, Vader, and Heaven Shall Burn (my personal pick of the bunch) all produced new albums peppered with multiple “Great” songs but which were slightly hamstrung by a few more lacklustre moments, with the Belgian brutes in particular suffering a notable (though nowhere near-fatal) drop in quality when compared to their last two rampaging releases.
Speaking of “Great” songs, let me ask you something – what do Magma (Gojira), Winter (Oceans of Slumber), and Rituals (Rotting Christ) all have in common? No, not just one word titles. They’re all packed with “Great” material… just not quite enough to fill a full album.
In the bloodstained arena of Blackened Death Metal the ever-more-extreme Noctem and the always esoteric Rudra continued to produce some of their best work, while both The Wretched End and Against the Plagues continued to establish themselves as names that need to be known by more people.
On the more Technical/Brutal side of things, the infamous Fleshgod Apocalypse continued to challenge the statement that “less is more” with their fourth album King, and Massachusetts murder-metallers Abnormality only reinforced the perception of themselves as a force to be reckoned with on their second album, Mechanisms of Omniscience.
Special mention, though, has to go to the ambitious double-EP/split-album by Defeated Sanity, which saw the German crushers showcasing a surprising (even shocking) amount of variety and versatility to their sound.
Keeping to the Death Metal side of things, both Gomorrah and Murder Made God made huge strides this year with their sophomore albums, while infamous Synn Report alumni Insision returned after a lengthy pause with one of their best albums yet, and killer debuts by Our Place of Worship Is Silence and Syrinx proved that there’s always new blood waiting to be shed.
On the more Core-friendly side of things, the returning Despised Icon proved that they haven’t lost a step with their comeback album Beast (though, unfortunately, they also haven’t lost the monotonous, and entirely superfluous, “ree-ree” vocals either), and unrepentant NCS-favourites Carnifex continued to blacken and sharpen their sound with the malevolent Slow Death.
A triptych of British bands also demonstrated that it’s possible to mix Death and Core elements without pandering to the breakdowns and bad tattoos crowd, and I’d recommend A Night In The Abyss, Jonestown, and From Sorrow To Serenity to anyone interested in giving their eardrums a solid pummeling.
This year was also a fantastic year for Tech Death in my opinion, with a number of albums – Illuminance by Virvum, Persistence of Thought by Burial In The Sky, and II by Vale of Pnath – coming very close to making it onto the “Great” list.
On top of this, impressive second albums by The Binary Code (or just “Binary Code” as apparently they’re now calling themselves) and Bushwhacker made a serious impression on me this year, as did the rather blistering debut from Sacramento’s Wastewalker, whilst Brit Tech-tykes Invocation showed a lot of promise on their debut Atlas.
On the Black Metal side of things the long-awaited and star-studded Aeons In Sodom from Norwegian legends Urgehal scored some major points with me, and was certainly a fitting tribute to the band’s now deceased frontman Trondr Nefas.
I’d also highly recommend checking out From The Vastland’s latest effort, Chamrosh, as well as Bahrrect’s L’aube glacée, and Black Sun Unbound, the third album by Australia’s darkling lords Denouncement Pyre.
Also hailing from the barren plains of Australia, the ever-prolific Mesarthim gave us the enigmatically-titled .- -… … . -. -.-. . (aka, Absence), which is quite possibly their best yet (and was a serious contender for the “Great” list), while their countrymen in Spire went for a more ambient, but no less dark, approach with Entropy.
Oh, and Mare Cognitum continued to both amaze and astound with Luminiferous Aether, albeit not quite as amazingly or astoundingly as on Phobos Monolith or An Extraconscious Lucidity.
The British Black Metal scene was well-represented this year, with new releases from Terra, Old Corpse Road, and Eastern Front rattling the most cages (though the latter was definitely the weakest of the three), while both Trivax and Burial delivered some slightly more Death-tinged goods in their own inimitable way.
Germanic grimsters Ultha put their best foot forwards with their debut Converging Sins, while their countrymen in Imperium Dekadenz delivered yet another slab of epic darkness with the brilliant (if slightly bloated) Dis Manibvs.
And while we’re in Germany I can’t fail to mention just how good both King Apathy by Thränenkind and Rooms by Todgelichter are, as both albums have become firm favourites of mine. Though I will still disagree with anyone who tries to call either of them “Black Metal”.
Speaking of albums that arguably aren’t really Black Metal, this year also saw yet another release from the always fertile minds behind An Autumn For Crippled Children, who remain as oblique and divisive as ever on their sixth album, Eternal.
If you were looking for some doomy delights, then the UK really delivered some gems this year, with the latest releases from the NCS-approved Eye of Solitude, The Drowning, and The Wounded Kings all producing some of their best work (though Cenotaph isn’t quite the revelation that Canto III was).
Their countrymen in Garganjua also put out a killer album in the shape of the burly, moodily melodic A Voyage in Solitude, as did Finnish fatalists Kyrck, and it would be a mistake to forget about the sorrowful Swedes in October Tide and Apathy Noir, as both Winged Waltz and Across Dark Waters provided a hefty dose of metallic melancholy to soothe even the most savage of souls.
However, my personal favourite of this year’s crop of doom-laden dirges was the crushing, crawling horror of Innsmouth by Obed Marsh, which is the sort of album that makes you afraid to be alone in the dark…
From Doom we move towards Sludge, where we find the nasty boys in Allfather and Seven Sisters of Sleep cranking out another batch of bloodsoaked metallic moonshine with Bless The Earth With Fire and Ezekiel’s Hags, whilst somewhere between Post- and Sludge Metal we find the manifest density of Octopus Kraft and their second album, Through A Thousand Woods.
Picking up the pace a little, the groovetastic XII Boar brought the swagger with Beyond the Valley of the Triclops, while Rotten Sound and Hierophant brought the venom with their violent injections of Grindcore adrenaline.
On the proggier side of things, Prog-Thrash quintet Shatter Messiah continue to prove themselves to be one of the most underrated acts on the scene today with the rather epic Orphans of Chaos, while the sheer extravagance of The Roads Leading North found our old friend Brett Windnagle of Lascaille’s Shroud spreading his wings even more (though occasionally flying a little too close to the sun).
Moving into the home stretch now, debut albums by Blackened Death-Groove duo Yliaster, shameless Dissection-disciples Hyperion, and nuanced New York nihilists Anicon caused something of a stir in all the right circles, and if you elected to pick any of these albums as “Great” I wouldn’t necessarily argue against that too hard, even if they didn’t quite make the cut for me.
And I feel like special consideration needs to be given to Ancst, Fyrnask, and Ast — each of whom put a singular spin on their own particular brand of German Black Metal — British metal-monsters The King Is Blind, and French Post-Metal/Post-Hardcore troubadours Lessen, as each of these bands stood out from the pack for me this year.
Oh, and also some band called Metallica released a new album that was actually, for the most part, pretty good. Quelle surprise…
Coming tomorrow is my list of what I consider the truly “Great” albums of 2016, the ones that went above and beyond the call of duty.
In the meantime however here’s the full list of “Good” albums, with bandcamp links where available, alphabetised for your pleasure.
Aborted – Retrogore
Bahrrecht – L’aube glacée
Blood Red Throne – Union of Flesh and Machine
Carnifex – Slow Death
Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
Despised Icon – Beast
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
Eastern Front – Empire
Entombed – Dead Dawn
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Garganjua – A Voyage in Solitude
Gojira – Magma
Heaven Shall Burn – Wanderer
Ihsahn – Arktis
Ion Dissonance – Cast the First Stone
The King Is Blind – Our Father
Luna’s Call – Divinity
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason
Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
Murder Made God – Enslaved
Nocte Obducta – Mogontiacum (Nachdem Die Nacht Herabgesunken)
Oceans of Slumber – Winter
Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
Witchery – In His Infernal Majesty’s Service
The Wounded Kings – Visions In Bone