Earlier this month as part of our annual LISTMANIA series I posted the names of the few metal albums that were included in Stereogum‘s list of “The Best 50 Albums of 2016” across all genres of music that Stereogum covers, while noting that their list of best metal was yet to come. Yesterday it arrived.
Stereogum is of course a “big platform” site that appeals to an audience much larger than merely metal lovers, but the site does have a heavyweight group of metal writers in its stable. They’re responsible for the “The Black Market” column each month, which has been a great source of discovery for extreme music for four years, and Stereogum‘s annual metal list has been dependably solid for just as long. Unlike metal lists at other big cross-genre sites, Stereogum’s hasn’t had the aroma of pandering and calculation hanging about it like a fresh fart.
And so I’ve been anxious to see Stereogum‘s metal-only year-end list, as I have been in past years. As usual, this year it’s accompanied by an introductory essay — which this year is especially noteworthy in its own right.
This year’s list of “The 40 Best Metal Albums of 2016” is preceded by a very long and very bleak commentary written by Michael Nelson, which bemoans not only the state of American politics but also the “macro” state of metal (“it’s hard to pinpoint any real positive gains, and all too easy to identify negative developments and trends”), and draws a connection between the two (“metal topographically bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a certain kleptocratic Manchurian Candidate president-elect of questionable integrity”).
The author foresees an imminent downturn in metal’s “domestic profile and economic viability” and expresses the view that “metal today lacks standard-bearers — and maybe even standards — and as such, it fails to meaningfully engage with the culture at large”.
There’s also a long section discussing Metallica‘s new album — which Nelson thought was great when he first heard it, and then radically revised his thinking about it after the presidential election radically changed the context of the music (“To my ears, Hardwired was the sound of four multi-millionaires trying to gin up a convincing simulation of rage for the sake of sounding vital in their final stretch, and it felt immediately irrelevant in a country that was suddenly ablaze with actual rage.”)
By the end, there’s something of a reaffirmation of the value and importance of metal, though it does have the ring of a backhanded compliment. I’ll get to that in a minute.
The Top 40 list was compiled not only by Michael Nelson, but also by the other Black Market contributors — Doug Moore, Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, and Ian Chainey. And apparently, according to Nelson, they “didn’t come to much of a consensus on anything, musically speaking”. According to him, there was even some debate about whether there was any point making a year-end list at all this time.
Obviously, they did, and one of the identified reasons was this: “Few art forms are so free to speak truth to power, so apt to channel rage. And where we’re headed, we’re gonna fucking need that.” And then Nelson identified the main reason for doing the list for one more year:
“Because even though metal had a pretty bad 2016, it still gave us a crazy bounty of great music. We loved this stuff. I loved this stuff. I’ll always love it. Because no matter how bad metal gets, it’s still — absolutely, forever — the best.”
It probably isn’t fair for me to attempt to summarize (only partially) a very long and obviously heart-felt (and heart-broken) piece. I did that because I thought it might tempt you to read the full essay for yourselves (HERE) — because it’s thought-provoking and worth discussing, even though it’s far gloomier about the current state of metal and its future than I think is warranted.
Of course, no one asked my opinion, but I just gave it. The essay comes across to me as the sentiments of someone who has been so staggered and shaken by the surprising (and awful) results of our presidential election that nothing looks good to him, and for whom impending doom seems to cloud the future outlook for… everything… including metal.
I’m just drawing inferences. I don’t really know if they’re right or not. And maybe I’m projecting a little bit too, because I’ve certainly had plenty of days like that since the election, when the ghastliness of what’s happening sucks the joy out of almost everything. But (so far) my own gloominess and disgust over the impending presidency hasn’t seeped into my thinking about the metal that came our way this year. I still think it was a year filled to the brim with amazing music. And I think 2017 will be that way, too.
It also came as no shock to me that Hardwired might be thought of as “the sound of four multi-millionaires trying to gin up a convincing simulation of rage for the sake of sounding vital in their final stretch”, because I came to that conclusion about Metallica‘s music long before this album. Not because I’m more perceptive, just more cynical.
At least to my way of thinking, that band hasn’t been the standard-bearer of metal for a very long time, and neither have any of the other metal bands who (at least briefly) made the Billboard sales lists this year. To me, the standard bearers are the hundreds and thousands of underground bands who most people have never heard of, the ones who don’t even dream of shopping on Rodeo Drive.
We’ll probably never see another Metallica or another “Big Four”, but I don’t particularly care, and I don’t think it will matter to the health and vitality of metal either. The reasons why could be the subject of another post some day, but not this one.
Michael Nelson did identify one negative metal development that is relevant to our LISTMANIA series, and that’s the departure of Brandon Stosuy from Pitchfork last summer (he joined Kickstarter, Inc. to become editor-in-chief of a new web venture called The Creative Independent). Because of him, Pitchfork used to publish an annual list of the year’s best metal releases that was worth looking at, and that I have perennially included in our LISTMANIA series. I assume that with Stosuy‘s departure, that won’t happen this year; Pitchfork‘s list of “The 50 Best Albums of 2016” didn’t include any metal albums at all.
Okay, at long last, let’s get to Stereogum’s best-metal list. It includes a lot of what I also thought were among the year’s best albums. It also includes albums I didn’t listen to, and others that I heard but wasn’t wowed by. But that’s true of every list I’ll see this year, and I expect you’ll feel the same way (to varying degrees) about every list you’ll see, too.
I have to say that I was surprised by the order of the rankings, and especially by the results of the selection process that led to the No. 1 and No. 2 picks on the list. I didn’t expect to see those particular albums at the top of the pyramid, as good as they were. But since I’m incapable of rank-ordering my favorites of the year, or even reducing my favorites to a list short enough to be read in less than an hour, I don’t mean that as a scathing criticism. It makes me want to spend more time listening to them.
And with that, I’ll shut up now and make way for the list — though I hope you won’t shut up, but will instead leave us some comments about this list, or the thoughts in Michael Nelson’s essay, or both. To read the Stereogum writers’ lively comments about each of these selections, go HERE.
40. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason (Nuclear Blast)
39. Jassa – Lights In The Howling Wilderness (Fallen Empire)
38. Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner)
37. Batushka – Litourgiya (Witching Hour Productions)
36. Sorcery – Garden Of Bones (Xtreem Music)
35. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder (Peaceville)
34. Altarage – Nihl (Iron Bonehead)
33. Worm Ouroboros – What Graceless Dawn (Profound Lore)
32. UXO – UXO (Reptilian)
31. Kvelertak – Nattesferd (Roadrunner)
30. Tardigrada – Emotionale Ödnis (Fallen Empire)
29. Internal Suffering – Cyclonic Void Of Power (Unique Leader)
28. Violet Cold – Magic Night (Tridroid)
27. Dawnbringer – XX (Ektro)
26. Jute Gyte – Perdurance (Self-Released)
25. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse)
24. Palace Of Worms – The Ladder (Broken Limbs)
23. Wode – Wode (Broken Limbs)
22. Aureole – Aurora Borealis (Fallen Empire)
21. Furia – Księżyc Milczy Luty (Pagan)
20. Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache)
19. Aluk Todolo – Voix (The Ajna Offensive)
18. High Spirits – Motivator (High Roller)
17. Martyrdöd – List (Southern Lord)
16. Hammers Of Misfortune – Dead Revolution (Metal Blade)
15. Plebeian Grandstand – False Highs, True Lows (Throatruiner)
14. Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy Productions)
13. MURG – Gudatall (Nordvis)
12. Spiritus Mortis – The Year Is One (Svart)
11. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (Svart)
10. Mesarthim – .- -… … . -. -.-. . (Self-Released)
9. Virus – Memento Collider (Karisma)
8. Harakiri For The Sky – III: Trauma (Art Of Propaganda)
7. Astronoid – Air (Blood Music)
6. Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust (Season Of Mist)
5. Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether (I, Voidhanger)
4. Wormed – Krighsu (Season Of Mist)
3. Blood Incantation – Starspawn (Dark Descent)
2. Cobalt – Slow Forever (Profound Lore)
1. Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows (Relapse)
Uhhhhh, Batushka’s “Litourgiya” was totally released in 2015…
Yes, thank you. “Arbitrary timeframe” indeed…
“Inter Arma” That’s laughable! Fermented Fetus Orgy put out the best METAL album this year – don’t deny it. Stop trying to be different – you’re only appealing to hipsters. Have fun with that. I thought i’d found a credible metal music site to frequent. Apparently not – laters!
I thought this gag was wearing thin for a minute but it actually gets funnier every time.
I try my best to keep it fresh.
That was pretty fresh. So fresh that I spit up a little in my mouth.
Honestly wish he had ended the original comment with “toodles” instead
“Toodles”? That’s laughable! “Sayonara bitches” is the best way to sign off on a METAL comment thread – don’t deny it. Stop trying to be different – you’re only appealing to hipsters. Have fun with that. I thought I’d found a credible metal music comment thread to frequent. Apparently not – toodles!
None of these lists include howls of ebb which is surprising given the press at the time of release.
VERY cool to see Plebeian Grandstand getting a writeup. I’m disappointed they took a pass on Ulcerate. I need to be fair to that Furia album; their first two LPs are untouchably awesome, but I only get along with “Nocel” when I’m in the right mood and I suspect the new one will be the same. I agree with the assessment of the Meshuggah album.
That Batushka album, aside from being a 2015 release, tread on a lot of safe melodic ground and only engages me because of the quality and prevalence of the baritone chanting. I like it, but I don’t love it. It’s a cool idea that could be done in a much more interesting way.
The essay about “Hardwired” was… interesting. Ruminations on the context surrounding the album and the idea that it “would probably be on this list” if it had been released in September struck me as a little too abstract; those bits combine with the comments on “shitkicking separatists” and “soft-ass woke bros” to paint a picture of someone whose worries about the state of the world have deeply colored everything he sees. I understand that feeling, but it’s a narrow field of view (although, what’s more narrow than a year end list of metal albums?) I’m reminded of a piece I read making fun of David Brooks, something along the lines of “guys, I’m worried about Dave, I don’t think he’s ok”. I don’t think this guy is ok.
Metal, on the other hand, is doing great. I’ve heard loads of vital and innovative music this year. Maybe he’s right about its commercial viability, I wouldn’t know, but the underground is doing better than ever, and I don’t think it’s only flourishing on the backs of the larger and more mainstream acts or because of the actions of a couple of metal-friendly editors.
He’s not the only metal writer who yearns for metal to become more socially relevant and culturally engaged, and I guess to have a broader impact on the listening public. This perspective may come with the territory of being a serious, professional writer as opposed to amateurs like me who just want to have fun and be moved by the experience of listening, and rarely overthink anything. 🙂
Or, as opposed to commenters like me, who are basically just spitballing… point taken. But I see some irony in there, because he may want for metal to be more engaged and engaging, but he himself seems detached and numb, at least when it comes to the music. The quote about “design sensibility” also had a tinge of hopelessness to it, it seems like a very negative take on what I see as fertile diversity. I can understand the hopelessness, but I think it’s a problem with him and not with the state of “metal in 2016”, which is creative and energetic, and has seen the sound of a few influential bands get picked up by younger acts who are starting to turn yet another style into a thriving subgenre. Metal’s appeal to the mainstream has been in much worse and more tenuous situations before. Also, I don’t think forthright political statements will necessarily make any given band, or metal as a whole, more relevant.
“Also, I don’t think forthright political statements will necessarily make any given band, or metal as a whole, more relevant.”
Admittedly this is a bit anecdotal, but something that I find kind of interesting is that I dont think metal has ever been the major player in social/political commentary as some people seem to think. Now please dont get me wrong,,.Im not saying there havent been songs or even whole bands that have explored these ideas, but in the past its just been one of a huge variety of subjects metal tends to examine.
Historically its been punk music thats much more likely to be involved in the sociopolitical movements, and while I dont know what Nelsons background is specifically, from what Ive seen, the people who have come out of that music scene and made their way into the metal scene seem to be the ones pushing for metal to take a stronger political direction
I would tend to agree with that, yeah, although I also think it’s bled down from mainstream music/art criticism. It’s been weird reading through some year-end reviews that seem to see anything other than political engagement as navel-gazing. This election has seemed to hit pretty hard with people who weren’t previously very interested in politics, at least in my personal experience.
One of the only lists I’ve seen that has included Wormed, and ranked highly too. Surprised I haven’t seen them pop up on more lists, given how much praise the album received upon its release.
The Black Market is one of my favorite monthly post’s and I agree with a lot of these releases. One of the more solid of the big publications. I have close to 200 that I am trying to dwindle down to 40 witch I will be posting today or tomorrow. I like the fact that nobody is carrying the “Torch” so to speak and I think the last 3 years for Metal has been absolutely phenomenal and I see it as a good thing that artistically Metal has been a bigger melting pot than any other genre.It will be interesting to see how 2017 fairs.
“To me, the standard bearers are the hundreds and thousands of underground bands who most people have never heard of.”
That perfectly sums it up for me and is the reason why 2016 was a great year in metal. One thing to add: Metal is as international as its ever been. Tired of American politics (and who isn’t)? Put on your headphones and take a trip around the world. Not to escape, but to explore.
Oh and this is a very solid list. I hope it’s not their last one. I’m looking forward to hearing that new Murg!
Need a tissue because Clinton lost
Is this meant to be a question?
Some sort of abstract, one-line piece of poetry?
The lack of punctuation and disregard for grammatical convention itself raises so many questions!
Some great stuff on this list. So happy to see someone else loved Palace of Worms. One of my tops.
And Wormed for that matter.
Now I need to go check out Worm Ouroboros, because almost any band with ‘worm’ in the band name is usually great. Haha.
Jassa, Furia and Plebeian Grandstand all figure prominently on my list as well.
Jassa, Furia, and Plebeian Grandstand — I was so excited and happy to see these three names on the list, as well as Murg. I can’t think of any other high-profile list that included even one of those.
No Vektor? Get the pitchforks!
Nummer twenny brah.
Vektor is on there, though! #20. No need for preemptive pitchforking, pal.
Geez, that is a bleak essay. As if our dystopian election wasn’t enough, he needed to bring up the closing of the Edison Lot? (I have to say that bummed me out too.) I think we need more Neill Jameson! His blend of humor and misanthropy could be a palliative for dark times ahead.
But as I dig through all these end-of-year lists, I can’t say this is a bad year for metal. I’m always astonished by the amount of creativity. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches, which, I think we like secreted underground.
Yeah, I suffered a big internal groan when I saw the reminder about Edison Lot being absent from MDF next year. I do think that’s a huge loss to the MDF experience as a whole. But I don’t know enough about the causes to tell whether it’s a hallmark of a general sinking spell for the economics of US fests and tours.
Nah, I think 2014’s attendance was over-inflated due to that stellar lineup…Without seeing another lineup like that the last couple of years, I think MDF has just returned to their more realistic crowd numbers.
Closing of the Edison lot sucked, but it does make sense…The festival had long since outgrown the Sonar, and after the clusterfuck of 2013, they stacked the 2014 festival with a banner lineup which inflated interest even more…2015 and 2016, while I enjoyed those festivals, didnt even come close to matching and attendance suffered because of it.
The Rams Head, while not ideal, is the best compromise between where they were at the Sonar, and where they realistically are now with attendance….Hopefully we’ll start to see slow, steady growth again, and we’ll get the Edison lot back in a couple of years
Very logical. I’m just being selfish. And I also hope you’re right that they will build back to the point when Edison becomes economically justifiable again.
While I defended Islanders right to how he felt after the election, and I support Nelsons right to feel how he does here, I really think people need to step back a bit and take a deep breath. For better or worse, Trump is going to be president now, but at this point he is also a complete unknown. So rather than assume everything is going to be a direct flight straight to hell, I think we really need to try and hope for the best while simultaneously preparing to call him out on whatever shit he tries to pull…allowing things to affect you to this level, at this point, isnt helping anyone.
I also dont buy into the need for some kind of band to carry the flag of metal. This has always struck me as a purely mainstream idea that seems to think our music needs to be more visible to the masses..it dosnt. Musically, metal has survived, and actually thrived, longer as an underground genre than it ever did in the mass market.
Finally, theres a lot of fluff on this list, and the only thing surprising about those top two is their placement, but its cool to see stuff like Sorcery, Wode, Altarage, and especially Murg pop up on here
Agree completely about those four names you mention at the end. And higher up this thread I was also applauding the appearance of Jassa, Furia, and Plebeian Grandstand.
I don’t particularly want to get off into a deep discussion of politics, but I would say that Trump is not a complete unknown. Yeah, it’s already very clear that huge chunks of his campaign rhetoric turned out to just be cons that he apparently never intended to follow through on, but man, his cabinet appointments are real, and they do look like a bunch of direct flights straight to hell from where I sit.
Yeah, I guess my point right now is, worrying yourself sick about things that havent happened yet isnt going to help anything. I think its more important now, that we just try to be as vigilant as possible against what may come and be ready to speak out against it as loudly as possible if and when it does happen
Still no love for Gruesome, but a lot of great picks 🙂
I remember seeing a column a while back – I can’t even remember where – which was talking about all the WWII movies that come out, and have been made over the last few decades. It was really quite interesting, saying that initially, in the decades after the war, there was hardly anything about it. Then I guess people overcame the immediate aftershock and started to reflect, and there started to be more WWII movies. But the point of the whole column was that fast forward to the present time, and it’s like these movies aren’t actually about the war at all – it’s just become a backdrop, a set piece which allows filmmakers and scriptwriters to explore different aspects of the human experience. The war has basically become a stage upon which directors can cast their own ideas and projections, rather than examine the war in itself.
I read that only a few months before Trump won the Republican nomination. I don’t really want to bring up whether people support Trump or not, but I couldn’t help but think of that WWII and film analysis after seeing opinion piece after opinion piece and columns which seemed to link the rise of Trump to any manner of social undercurrents, psychological impediments or world events. I couldn’t help but think I was seeing the same thing play out with the Trump nomination/presidency as with WWII movies; it seems whenever I read anything about it, all I’m reading is the projections of the author. Trump has become like the backdrop against which people can link his rise to almost any issue that has been burning at the back of their mind. That’s not to say there won’t be any real world effects, but that the columns that spring up seem far more about the author’s personal anxieties than anything. And that’s the feeling I get from reading Nelson’s column.
That said, it did make me sad and wonder about the future of things when this year (or even last in the case of Ne Obliviscaris?) that both NeO and Allegaeon are now trying to fund their existence by patronage. Maybe it’s a model we’ll see more of. But I really thought Allegaeon’s release this year was the strongest of their career, and damn, a few months later you see this video where they’re trying to plan out how they’re going to pay all their debts while on tour. Perhaps the future will be in the underground simply because there’s no way anyone can really make a living off this, and hence, there can be nothing but underground.
I honestly think this is the best metal end of year list I’ve seen so far from any major publication. I didn’t love the Inter Arma or Cobalt records as much as others seem to have done, but I think those are two really cool, interesting albums.
Brandon Stosuy’s departure from Pitchfork really is a huge shame, and I agree that it seems to be why there hasn’t been any metal end of year list from them, and – to my knowledge – a complete lack of any metal albums on any of their lists so far. Pitchfork used to be a publication I enjoyed reading for their feature articles on metal, reviews, and end of year lists, but now there’s not much left for me.
The new Murg is fantastic. I’ve listened to it twice now and it’s probably better than the Wode s/t LP as much as I liked that one.