(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:
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign
Fallujah – Dreamless
Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts
Moonsorrow – Jumalten aika
Necronautical – The Endurance at Night
Novembre – Ursa
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.