(Andy Synn’s week-long series of year-end lists continues with his personal list of 2016’s Great Albums. Yesterday we posted his list of Good Albums, and the list before that dealt with Disappointments.)
Well, well, well… if you’re still with me now you must be in this for the long haul, so to show my appreciation I’m going to treat you to my list of 2016’s “Great” albums, the ones which I felt were just that cut above, and that little better put together, than the ones which made up yesterday’s list of the “Good” albums.
FYI, this is also the list from which I’m going to choose my “Critical Top Ten”, which is going to be published tomorrow. However, I’ll try my best not to give away any surprises (though the eagle-eyed of you may be able to spot a few clues).
Bear in mind of course that these albums aren’t ranked at all, as this is really more of a retrospective of what the last twelve months had to offer, and that there are obviously still many albums I didn’t get around to hearing, so there’s a good chance that not everything you’re looking for will be here.
So, in the interests of transparency, here’s a quick overview of some of the bigger names which I really meant to get around to hearing, but which unfortunately ended up slipping through the cracks:
Vektor – Terminal Redux
Khemmis – Hunted
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Inter Arma – The Paradise Gallows
Saor – Guardians
Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crepuscule
Anciients – Voice from the Void
Teethgrinder – Nihilism
Anyway, now that the preamble is out of the way, let’s move on to our main event.
It’s hard to decide where to begin with a list like this, but one obvious choice was Mariner, the phenomenal collaborative effort from Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, as it’s one of the few albums I’ve seen cropping up on other “Best Of” lists that I actually agree deserves its spot.
The same goes for Insomnium and Katatonia (though I know there will be several dissenters about the latter), both of whom I honestly wasn’t expecting much from this year, and both of whom delivered the goods with more than their usual melancholy gusto.
Sticking with some of the “big” names for a bit, I feel like Borknagar deserve a lot more praise and attention for Winter Thrice than I’ve seen them getting (even if I do still prefer Urd myself), as do Ulver for their inventive reinvention of their own history on ATGCLVLSSCAP.
And though I’ve seen the name Moonsorrow pop up on a few lists here and there (and rightfully so), I definitely expected it to make a few more appearances than it has done so far.
I also thought the new Alcest was a brilliant return to form, with it’s main flaw being that it simply ends a little too soon (though the addition of the gorgeous bonus track “Notre sang et nos pensées” solves that issue), as was Ursa, the first new album from Novembre in almost ten years.
Speaking of new albums following a long-period of radio silence, the self-titled effort by the reconstituted Bethlehem was a real eye-opener, as was the astounding Pure by the reborn In The Woods…, and although it isn’t exactly a “comeback” (at all), the ever-relentless Anaal Nathrakh produced their best work since 2009’s In The Constellation of the Black Widow with their ninth album, The Whole of the Law.
Quintessential NCS-faves Oak Pantheon, Necronautical, and Harakiri For The Sky all brought their A-Game this year, with all three bands delivering easily their best albums yet, as did the annihilating nihilists in Withered and The Lion’s Daughter, two names I’ve seen being demanded by a lot of commenters over the last few weeks.
A bunch of other NCS-approved favourites also continued to kick ass and take names this year, and although both Atrophy and Afterglow fell ever so slightly short of their career-defining predecessors, they still kept Downfall of Gaia and In Mourning well towards the front of the pack.
Similarly the always enigmatic Obscure Sphinx supplied us with a worthy follow-up to their 2013 magnum opus with the slightly flawed, but still fantastic, Epitaphs, as did Norwegian doom-groovers Sahg with the somewhat grungier, proggier Memento Mori.
…and I still can’t tell you whether Zeta Reticuli by Monolithe is better than its predecessor (last year’s Epsilon Aurigae) or not, though perhaps it’s best just to treat the two albums as two sides to the same sublimely-minted coin.
On the pure and trve side of Black Metal, the notorious Dark Funeral produced what is easily their best album in years with Where Shadows Forever Reign, while the rising stars in Wode and Nordjevel both immediately marked themselves down as something truly special with their self-titled debuts.
And while the storming Sundown by Glorior Belli seems to have gone a little unappreciated and unacknowledged, Inquisition’s latest offering of arcane astral audiology certainly hasn’t (and it might just be their finest hour).
On the more… esoteric… end of the Black Metal spectrum, the tremendous triple-album by Schammasch displayed a frankly flabbergasting amount of ambition and creative vision, while Terra Tenebrosa continued to blacken and blur the lines between genres with near reckless abandon.
Special mention, however, needs to go to the morbid mystics in Veilburner, who brought their terrifying trilogy of albums to a conclusion this year with The Obscene Rite, along with the hell-bound hippies in Hail Spirit Noir, and the blackened futurists of Khonsu.
Moving into more atmospheric, but no less awesome, realms, absolutely scintillating new releases from Ash Borer, Woman Is The Earth, and Wildernessking saw all three bands taking their sound to a whole new level, while, on the more rifftastic end of the scale, the balls to the wall triple-threat of Ruins, Mantar, and Cobalt made for one hell of a thrilling ride, each one practically overflowing with groovesome malice and spiteful swagger.
Keeping things nice and nasty, Blackened Death devastators Auroch and Death Fortress unleashed more than their fair share of aural punishment with Mute Books and Deathless March of the Unyielding, whilst both Irkallian Oracle and Phobocosm continued to drag their listeners ever deeper into the abyss with Apollyon and Bringer of Drought.
In my opinion critical darlings Zhrine deserve every bit of the praise they’ve received this year, as Unortheta is an utterly brilliant debut, though in my mind it’s at least equalled by Failure, Subside, the phenomenal first album by tormented Aussie quartet Départe, which I found to be one of the most harrowing and emotionally devastating albums of the year.
Amongst the number of other bands who also made some serious waves in the underground this year were the shadow-dancing Black Table, Prog/Death/Black Metal hybrids Fifth to Infinity, and impressively intense instrumetallers Hemelbestormer.
Oh, and let’s not forget Astronoid, Blood Incantation, and King Goat, each of whom managed to set the bar ridiculously high with their first full-length records.
I’m happy to say that the Blackened Metallic Swedish Crust Punk of Martyrdöd definitely lived up to the hype, as List is one absolute badass motherfucker of an album, and although I think some of the fanfare over Rheia was rather overblown, there’s also no doubt in my mind that Oathbreaker have really made the step up to the big leagues with their third album.
Speaking of stepping up, I don’t think I’ve heard anything else as utterly cavernous and as soul-crushing as Chasms by Lycus this year. And, considering that the album was released way back in January, that’s some feat.
We’re barrelling rapidly towards the end of the line now, so I think it’s time to touch upon something I mentioned yesterday, namely how great this year has been for the Technical Death Metal scene.
Extra-terrestrial extremists Wormed, virtuoso voyagers Fallujah, and the mighty morphin’ Mithras all returned to the fray in 2016 with the best albums of their careers, as did Obscura with their mind-blowing fourth album Akróasis, while Tech-Death/Tech-Thrash quartet Revocation picked up where Deathless left off with another killer shot of adrenalized riffage and hyper-speed hooks.
It’s not all about the big names, though, as lesser known acts like Polyptych and Dischordia gave us ample reason to hope that they won’t remain “lesser-known” for long, and debut albums from both The Zenith Passage and Deviant Process (which I should be giving the full review treatment next week) proved that the next generation of Tech Death is already in good hands.
My own country also decided to get in on the act this year, with the slam, blast, and shred attack of Venom Prison, Unfathomable Ruination, and the titanic Imperium (also featuring Doug Anderson of Unfathomable Ruination, fact fans) serving to push the brutality and the technicality up several notches towards the level marked “overkill”.
And hey, while I’m here, I might as well throw in one last recommendation for The Ghost Road, by Wretched Soul, which is without doubt one of the most shamelessly “Metal” releases of the year. And all the better for it.
So there we have it, a whole heaping of “Great” albums. Though I think we might be slightly down from last year. I haven’t actually checked. Still, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more than enough stuff in here for you all to sink your teeth into.
Obviously there’s lots of omissions. As I said at the start there simply wasn’t enough time in the day/week/month/year for me to listen to everything I wanted get round to. But hopefully you’ll be able to forgive me for that due to the sheer quality of the material on offer here.
For the sake of clarity and simplicity, here’s the full list, with Bandcamp links where available:
Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law
Ash Borer – The Irrepassable Gate
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner
Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign
Death Fortress – Deathless March of the Unyielding
Fallujah – Dreamless
Fifth to Infinity – Omnipotent Transdimensional Soulfire
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Hail Spirit Noir – Mayhem In Blue
Harakiri for the Sky – III: Trauma
Inquisition – Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts
The Lion’s Daughter – Existence is Horror
Moonsorrow – Jumalten aika
Necronautical – The Endurance at Night
Novembre – Ursa
Phobocosm – Bringer of Drought
Polyptych – Defying the Metastasis
Terra Tenebrosa – The Reverses
Unfathomable Ruination – Finitude
Wildernessking – Mystical Future
Woman is the Earth – Torch of Our Final Night
Wretched Soul – The Ghost Road
The Zenith Passage – Solipsist
Tomorrow it’s time for the “Critical Top Ten”, where I try to pick a selective sample of ten of the absolute best albums of the year.
It won’t cover all the bases of course… ten albums really isn’t enough to encompass the vast wealth and variety of the modern Metal scene after all… but I’m hoping it will at least provide a vital snapshot of the very best that 2016 had to offer.
As always, of course, comments and questions are welcome.
Unless you’re an asshole.
That Teethgrinder disc is so fucking good
Don’t rub it in!
Seriously though, them screaming ‘The pain of living exceeds the fear of dying’ is so goddamned good.
Wode and Venom Prison – you didn’t disappoint!
One of those MIGHT be making a further appearance.
Tune in next time, same bat-place, same bat-channel, to find out!
Get out the pitchforks Vektor didn’t get a write up :<
Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever even HEARD a single Vektor song. They’ve just completely passed me by. I mostly get my thrashier kicks from Revocation, Hellish Outcast, Witchery, etc these days.
Vektor is my favorite of the year. Definitely check it out if you can.
As above, but with the added proviso that I will definitely try.
Can’t really argue with those choices, as Schammasch, Hail Spirit Noir and Borknagar being my probable top 3 for the year (judging by the number of repeated listens so far). Great article. Listening now to Départe, it’s a real keeper also.
I honestly think Triangle is actually a step behind Contradiction overall, despite being a bigger, more ambitious affair. But then I think Contradiction is practically unfuckwithable.
Great to see Zhrine and Departe getting praise here, both of those are going to feature on my end of year list. Zhrine’s album is actually probably my favourite album of all time, and I go into quite a lot of depth about why that is on my blog in the review and my end of year list on Friday. Lots of great albums here and throughout the year. Dark Funeral’s album only recently clicked with me but I really enjoy it. I went through a phase of living that mid-90s melodic black metal sound (Dissection, Sacramentum, etc.) and this scratches that itch really well, plus the Necrolord art is beautiful. Insomnium’s album was also a real stunner, though the production could have been a bit warmer and organic I think.
I’ve had Sacramentum in the queue for a Synn Report for… literally years now. One day I’ll have to actually get round to writing them up. Though it probably won’t be any time soon, as I already have the next two editions blocked out as it is.
It’s pretty essential stuff if you are a fan of the Dissection/Dawn/Vinterland sound.
So is a band called Clouds.
Wormed rules. I’ve really enjoyed Unfathomable Ruination and Khonsu – “The Xun Protectorate” is one of the most creative albums I’ve heard in a while, reminds me of what I wished Dødheimsgard had done with Supervillain Outcast. I’m still giving Mithras a chance to sink in, not entirely sure what I think of it. Zhrine’s album is solid and enjoyable, though I wouldn’t call it great.
…in fact – “Zhrine”? That’s laughable! Plebeian Grandstand put out the best METAL album this year. Etc etc etc. (Seriously though… Plebeian Grandstand…)
Of the ones I disagree with, Katatonia stands out. I’ve been following them since Discouraged Ones and this is the dullest and least inspired I’ve heard them. I honestly don’t get what people like about it. Ah well.
I was actually listening to Supervillain Outcast again a few days ago. True story.
As for Katatonia… as much as I am a long time fan of theirs, I had in fact pretty much totally checked out after Dead End Kings and all the line-up changes, so was really late to the party with this one, but ended up thinking it might just be one of their best.
That being said, it’s nowhere near my FAVOURITE of what they’ve done, but in terms of melody and mood and the overall intricacy of the compositions (which remind me of Tool and Opeth at various points) I felt it really raised the bar for them.
And here is where we agree. While it does not match Viva Emptiness for me, it is the first time I have been genuinely interested in new music from Kataonia for over a decade.
I enjoy Viva Emptiness, but it took me a while to come arrive to it and even now it sounds forced and a bit awkward. Their awkwardness is something I’ve always found endearing; however I remember reading a review at the time that said something like “Katatonia has given us one for the ages”… which struck me as vaguely ridiculous. They were reaching towards something that they found with Great Cold Distance, and for my taste, haven’t recaptured since. Dead End Kings was a step in the right direction. I’m a longtime fan and I’m rooting for them, but this new album sounds like table scraps.
I have not commented on any of the various sites I read in, at best guess, between 12 and 15 years. I’m doing so now to second Plebeian Grandstand. I get that these particular lists are limited to records heard and not “all releases,” so no knock here, but that one is getting no love anywhere. It’s mindboggling.
That Khemmis album is fantastic top to bottom. They are only trumped IMO at this point by Yob as the best thing that stoner/sludge/doom metal has to offer right now. The Sword and Witchcraft should be taking serious notes.
Fifth to Infinity was hugely underrated and overlooked. Excellent album.
I have to second this. Only list I’ve seen thus far to recognize how great that album is.
Great album, but I had to concede that it’s actually a December 2015 release as the digital release on bancamp came out earlier than the physical release.
Well that certainly throws a wrench into the works. I was certain it was a 2016 release (I’m going to count it anyway).
As far as I’m concerned, these lists usually come out late-Nov early-Dec, so in reality the year that is eligible is technically Dec 1st ’15 through Dec 1st ’16. So bring on the Dec ’15 releases! Otherwise, those get the shaft.
I’m especially pleased to see Oak Pantheon make the list, and pleased in general at the amount of trees ‘n shit included. The only thing I’d say is lacking from the good or great lists is Old Graves.
If I could have shoehorned in some more trees ‘n’ shit, I would have. Just for you.
Ah, my favorite list of the year. Im happy to see Mushroom up here. Ode to the Flame was a lot of fun.
I’m going to assume that “Mushroom” is autocorrect for Mantar.
Well it’s a good list. I just want to mention Winterhorde-Maestro is also great you should check it out.
I have to say, it really didn’t grab me when it first came around, so I never went back to it.
It’s a slow grower but I understand that you’re short on time with so much music coming in.
I absolutely agree that 2016 has been a banner year for tech-death; that said, if you haven’t heard First Fragment’s Dasein yet…just find time to listen to it. Wildly creative, truly head-spinning guitar work is the obvious selling point – but the composition is incredible and the production work is wonderfully warm yet detailed. For my money, it was the best tech release of this fantastic year.
The lack of Darkthrone is disgusting and an act of blasphemy!
I’m ok with that.
Nope. Mantar is Turkish for Mushroom.
I’ve counted three cases of “Blackened”. Wasn’t that word on some kind of quarantined list? Are we allowed to use it now? Do I have to go back to Andy’s Law and read up on the rules before I can continue reading more posts on NCS, or what?
Sincerely, Dazed and Confused.
I’m allowed to do what I want.
You, unfortunately, are not.
We call this “Andy’s Law”.
I don’t pretend to understand “Andy’s Law”, I merely enforce it.
So, kind of like the Bible?
I think this is my favorite comment.
Yes, it actually made me laugh. To my surprise, it sounded a lot like Muttley.
No Cultes des Ghoules No Party
the new deathspell omega must be on every best of list. Or they will come after you in your sleep!
It’s on my Best EPs list from Friday last week.
Still no Clouds!?
A good and album, by an awesome assembly of artists, but unfortunately not an outstanding one.
It makes for a very comfortable liste, though.
I did say very clearly at the start that these lists were just a list of the albums I’ve listened to this year, not every album released this year. So if it’s not on any of these lists you should probably be able to infer that I simply didn’t get around to hearing it.
This is why I hate the internet, can never tell if someone is just on a high horse or fucking off as well.
Ha, you just reminded me that Wode came out this year. I should have had it on my list probably as yes, it’s fantastic. I was also reminded today that the new Forteresse is out and ripping. Totally forgot about that one so now I’m all set for some new listening.
I missed out on that one myself. I’ll have to try and catch up on some of the ones I’ve missed at some point… but I’m already into listening to and reviewing 2017 albums now!
Thanks for putting this list together! A lot of stuff I really like, plus plenty more I apparently missed out on, which will give me something to do in the next couple weeks.
A bit surprised Be’lakor’s Vessels didn’t make either this or the “good” list, but I didn’t see it in the “dissapointments” either. Did it get mentioned in some other list or category?
Ah, shit, you’re right. That should have been on this list! There’s always something that gets missed out. I’ll get the boss man to add it in when he gets chance.