Dec 162016



(Andy Synn’s week-long series of year-end lists concludes with his list of The Personal Top Ten for 2016. Click these links to see his lists of The Critical Top Ten and the year’s Great Albums, the Good Albums, and the Disappointments.)

And now for my final list, the one which, following on from how in-depth and over-thought the rest of them are, is pretty much a breeze by comparison.

Because, for my “Personal” top ten of the year I like to just go with my gut, and simply pick those albums which I’ve been listening to the most, which have been my biggest surprises or my favourite new discoveries, without over-analysing the who, what, where, when, and why.

As a result I’m explicitly NOT saying these albums represent the “best” of 2016 (that was yesterday’s column). They just happen to be my favourites, and should provide a window into my tastes and my listening habits from this year.


As always, a few honourable mentions:



Fyrnask – Fórn

Black Metal at its finest, bursting at the seams with dark, elegant melodies, razor-sharp guitar work and furious, vitriolic vocals. Atmospheric, multi-layered, and ambitiously composed. Expect a Synn Report sometime in the New Year.



Mesarthim – Absence

–. .-. .. — / .- -. -.. / –. .-. .- -. -.. .. — … . / -… .-.. .- -.-. -.- / — . – .- .-.. / ..-. .-. — — / – …. . / -.. . .–. – …. … / — ..-. / … .–. .- -.-. . / -.–.- …- .. .- / .- ..- … – .-. .- .-.. .. .- -.–.- .-.-.- / … . …- . .-. .- .-.. / … …. .- -.. . … / -.. .- .-. -.- . .-. / – …. .- -. / .. – … / .–. .-. . -.. . -.-. . … … — .-. / – — — .-.-.-



Novembre – Ursa

Just a gorgeous album, through and through. Moody and melancholy, but capable of displaying more than enough metallic bark and bite when needed to balance out its more melodic sensibilities. Well worth the wait.


Phobocosm - Bringer of Drought

Phobocosm – Bringer of Drought

Gargantuan grooves, gritty, concrete-heavy riffs, and ghastly, guttural vocals. Part Death Metal, part Doom, but with a more dissonant and desolate approach than 99% of what passes for “Death-Doom”. Better than the new Ulcerate? I certainly think so.


Veilburner-The Obscene Rite

Veilburner – The Obscene Rite

An alchemical blend of extra-dimensional Death Metal and abnormal Black Metal mysticism that doesn’t sound quite like anyone else out there. It takes everything that made The Three Lightbearers and Noumenon so special and makes it bigger, better, and, above all else, stranger.


And I’d like to give a special mention to:


Be’lakor – Vessels

As it turns out I accidentally left it off my list of “Great” albums this year. All credit goes to our commenter “Ben” for pointing out this omission (and for not being an asshole about it).


And now… it’s time for the main event!


Obed Marsh-Innsmouth


One of my favourite new discoveries of the year, which shoots right in at number ten (with a bullet), this is one unsettling slab of ugly extremity, an unholy hybrid of Death, Doom, and Black Metal, and the perfect soundtrack for your descent into madness.

It’s eight tracks and fifty minutes of filthy, disease-ridden riffs and morbid, lurching drums… croaking, malevolent vocals dripping with decay… skittering half-breed melodies that creep and crawl like rats in the walls… and an overwhelming aura of looming, stomach-clenching dread.

Lovecraft himself would be proud of the atmosphere of this one.

In conclusion, allow me to quote my own review:

“…if you’re looking for something particularly foul and malevolent, something so morbidly, infectiously grim that it might also prove to be a danger to both your body and your mind (to say nothing of your immortal soul), then you should plan on making a journey to Innsmouth as soon as you can.”




Oak Pantheon-In Pieces


In Pieces is the sound of a band whose execution has finally risen to match their ambition.

Don’t take that as a criticism of Oak Pantheon’s previous output though. I still absolutely love both The Void and From A Whisper, and the latter in particular has a special place in my heart.

But In Pieces is a bolder, more dramatic, more ambitious, and more complete album in pretty much every way.

If you took the best bits of Agalloch, early-Insomnium and Borknagar, added a dash of mid-period Anathema, and served it shaken (never stirred), you might just come up with something like this if you were very, very lucky.

A phenomenal effort, and a compelling enigma indeed.




Death Fortress-Deathless March


Definitely my favourite Black Metal album produced by the American scene in 2016, Deathless March of the Unyielding is exactly what I wanted from the band as a follow-up to their extraordinary debut, Among The Ranks of the Unconquerable.

With a ferocity which recalls that of Gorgoroth in their prime, a sense of menacing melodic majesty reminiscent of vintage Immortal, and armed to the teeth with a plethora of scorching riffs (not to mention an album title) worthy of Inquisition at their best, Deathless March…

“takes what was very best in Black Metal – its raw fury, its bleak melody, its grim, unyielding nature – and refines it to near perfection.”

And that’s the bottom line.






What a kick in the teeth this one is. Right from the first note it hits you hard, hits you fast, and then barely pauses for breath for the rest of its 38-minute run-time.

Delivering a veritable blitzkrieg of blistering Black Metal fury, by way of Punk and Hardcore, with an intensity which recalls early Heaven Shall Burn and a knack for catchy melody oddly reminiscent of Darkest Hour circa-Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation, this album got its teeth into me nice and early this year, and simply refuses to let me go.

The German scene has produced some truly fantastic material in recent years, and 2016 was no exception, with both Thränenkind and Todtgelichter in particular vying for a place on this list.

But in the end there could be only one (alright, ten), and Moloch was the clear victor.






Right up there with Mantar and Cobalt in the grim and groovy stakes, but with a much more aggressive, much more blackened, vibe than either, Aussie antagonists Ruins unleashed one of their best albums this year with their latest batch of ripping, toothsome riffs and spiteful, venomous invective.

Mainman Alex Pope (he of the sandblasted, Tom G. Warrior-esque vocals) continues to prove himself as one of the scene’s most underappreciated riffsmiths, carving out (serial) killer licks, churning chugs, and tripwire tremolo melodies with the confidence and ease which only comes from years of experience, while his partner in crime Dave Haley holds down the bottom end with a mix of loose-limbed, rhythmic precision and tailor-made percussive power.

Pope isn’t just a badass riffsmith though, he’s a badass songwriter too, and every track here – from storming opener “Shadow of a Former Self” to the (head) banging “Rites of Spring”, the sinister, swaggering “Certainty the Adversary”, and relentless closer “Symbols from Intent” – is absolutely packed with barbaric hooks and savage twists designed to keep you coming back for more.






You want riffs? Well I got your riffs right here, pal!

This was, without a doubt, my favourite Death Metal album of the year. From its fret-busting, technical guitar work, to its breakneck, blast-frenzied drumming, to its angular, pneumatic grooves, everything about it just screams “resistance is futile”.

At just over half an hour (in fact , for what it’s worth, it’s barely longer than the new Gorguts EP, Pleiades Dust) it’s a short, sharp, shock to the system tailor-made for fans of Decapitated, Ulcerate, and Hour of Penance in their prime.

It’s a shame the band don’t perform live though, because I could see tracks like “The Mist” and “Conspiracy Within” causing absolute carnage on the floor.




Khonsu-The Xun Protectorate 


Shamelessly cinematic, widescreen Black Metal which refuses to be bound by the limits of convention, I think I summed up my feelings about this one pretty well in my review. But for those of you who might have missed it, here’s an excerpt:

“With their second album Khonsu (now comprised of multi-instrumentalist S. Grønbech and new vocalist T’ol) have built upon the futuristic vision first put forward on Anomalia by expanding the scope of their sound in new and innovative (if potentially divisive) ways…

“…So if you’re looking for something that doesn’t play by the usual rules, Black Metal or otherwise, something fearlessly creative and flawlessly focussed, but which never fails to deliver in terms of sheer power and enigmatic energy… The Xun Protectorate is waiting.”




Wildernessking-Mystical Future Cover


Here’s a fun story for you. When NCS first received our advance copy of this album it was SO early that the tracks themselves didn’t even have any names attached. The mp3s were simply labelled “Track 1”, “Track 2”, etc. I don’t remember if the album even had a title at that point.

So, as you can imagine, of all the albums on this list this is the one which has been marinating in my mind for the longest. And I love it just as much, if not more, now, as I did when I first heard it, so many, many moons ago.

Evocative and atmospheric, fluid and organic, brooding and hypnotic, these five tracks are the sound of a band on a journey of discovery, musical nomads following their muse wherever it takes them.

And if that sounds pretentious, well… what can I say? This album brings out the frustrated poet in me.




Cult of Luna-Mariner


How much do I love this album?

Enough that I ordered my CD copy from Japan just because it includes the extra track “Beyond the Redshift” (which, like a good rug, really ties the room together).

There’s simply so much depth, so much emotion – sorrow, anguish, rage – and such a unique, collaborative vision at work here that I honestly can’t get enough of it.

It’s an album of peaks and troughs, give and take, dizzying highs and rumbling lows, with the dynamic interplay between Cult of Luna’s electrifying power and Julie’s soulful charisma and scalding vocals paying off handsomely.

And though I still contend that Vertikal is Cult of Luna’s best all-round album, there’s not a shred of doubt in my mind that Mariner is probably their most special and unique release.






Easily the most gloriously anthemic, unrepentantly infectious, and least stereotypically “heavy” or “extreme” album on the list – yet absolutely loaded with nimble, lightning-fast riffs, gleaming, iridescent melodies, and high-octane blastbeats – Air is a veritable enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a gossamer blanket of pure, progged-up energy.

And, yes, it most definitely breaks ALL the rules about “no clean singing”.

Fans of Physicist/Terria-era Devin Townsend, mid-period Alcest, and latter-day Cynic – not to mention bands like Coheed & Cambria and From Autumn To Ashes (that one’s for you Joseph) – would be well served to check this one out asap, if they haven’t done already.

I, for one, simply cannot get enough of this album, and I just keep returning to it, again and again. No matter how dark the days, no matter how tired or worn down I feel, listening to it just gives me that extra jolt of life and that extra pick-me-up I need to help me stand that little bit taller.



So there we go. Another year done and dusted. Thanks to everyone who’s read my ramblings, and (almost) everyone who’s commented with their own suggestions, etc. I still have a lot to catch up on it seems… some of which I’ll be dealing with next week, hint, hint.

In the meantime, check out all those albums above if you haven’t already done so. And spread the word if you can.

  36 Responses to “2016 — A YEAR IN REVIEW(S): THE PERSONAL TOP TEN”

  1. If I could make an “OK hand” emoji for your top 3, I would. Those albums are fucking fantastic, all on my personal list as well. Cult of Luna in particular. If Julie could become a permanent fixture in their line-up I’d be a very happy man. But I know deep down it’s unlikely for both logistical reasons and the fact that CoL approach every album completely fresh and never compromise their artistic vision for it. Mad respect.

  2. I’m giddy that Oak Pantheon made another one of your lists. Maybe my friends will stop looking at me as a weird trees ‘n shit fetishist now.

  3. but wheres Clouds

  4. I’m in a fairly unique position in that the only time I’ve ever listened to Mariner from front to back was at their live performance at Damnation Festival this year when they played it in full. And I kind of… don’t want to listen to it again? It was such a stunning, powerful performance. Reminds me of how I played The Last of Us once and never touched it again. Just didn’t want to tarnish my original, very special experience. I may well do in the future though. Some really interesting picks here though, a lot I didn’t expect you to go in for. I suppose I was expecting your ‘personal’ list to more closely resemble your ‘critical list’ based on my conversations with you in the past. Been meaning to check out the Astronoid and Khonsu albums at some point!

    I hope you don’t mind me posting this link, but if you or anyone else is at all interested, here’s my top ten. I’d be interested in your thoughts Andy!

    • Mithras, Mantar, and In The Woods were all very much in the running to be honest. But a lot of these albums have just been sat with me for so long this year they’ve become part of my bones.


  6. I may have said this before, but I swear if you play that Astronoid loudly enough it will reverse the aging process. That album has saved my sanity repeatedly during this shit year. Hopefully we can form a cover band in the sprawling Dakota prison camps where reasonable folks will soon be sent when they’re dumb enough to speak their minds. Thanks again for turning me on to so much great music.

  7. I’m pleased to see Moloch here. As someone who came to metal as a skate/hardcore kid, Darkest Hour was my gateway drug, and hearing those reminiscent melodies–as you note–was immediately enticing.

  8. Thank you for listing the Fyrnask album. That one had had gone under my radar. Just tracked through it though and had to grab a copy. And this time the Wildernessking album finally clicked with me. I had come across it earlier in the year but reading about it here and tracking through it again finally opened it up. What an incredible album.
    Oh, and the Cult of Luna + Julie Christmas album is most definitely in my top 5 this year. Might even take the top spot.

    Thank you for all the reviews! Much appreciated.

    • You are very welcome. I went and tracked down the previous two Fyrnask albums myself after discovering the latest, and now I’m just waiting for them to arrive.

  9. Great work all around, Andy! I’m going to be poring over your lists for weeks trying to catch up on all the stuff that I somehow completely missed, such as Astronoid.

    • You’re welcome. It’s always cool when anyone comes away from any of these lists with a bunch of new bands to try.

  10. Fuck, new Ruins have past me by unnoticed, and now I discover that the same label have also released a third album from Albez Duz. Drool…

    • Don’t worry, there’s SO many albums that passed me by this year. Going to try and catch up with a couple of them this week and next.

  11. Death Fortress, Khonsu and Dormant Ordeal! Well done! That Dormant Ordeal lands at #2 on my list of the year’s best albums. More people need to know how good it is and buy that thing! I think yours is the only list I’ve seen it on so far!

  12. I always feel so mainstream when I look at your lists and compare it to mine which has “superstars” like Gatecreeper and Vektor and Nails and Alcest and Chthe’ilist, haha. Goal for 2017 – dig even deeper!

    • That’s… oddly flattering? I honestly don’t consider myself that much of an “underground” guy really. Not purposefully/consciously anyway. There’s always a ton (or, tonne) of “big” albums I love each year. I guess it just happens that sometimes I stumble over certain artists/albums totally by accident (as was the case several times this year) and fall for them hard.

      There are definitely many people I know who I would consider to be much more underground (and would probably consider me “too mainstream), the sort of people who only listen to REALLY brutal Death, or the sort who have now shifted to believing that “only crust is real”.

  13. Hey Andy
    Thats a really interesting list.
    There’s a stack of stuff I’ve missed here. I’ll be checking out that Khonsu album as soon as possible. I’ve been skipping Astronoid as I had the impression they were a teenage techy metalcore type band… Will look into it as well.

  14. I agree on Astronoid. One of the most uplifting pieces of metal to come along in a while.

    • I was actually a little concerned about putting it at no. 1 here, but it does seem like going with my gut has paid off!

  15. I always look forward to your lists. Out of your top 10, I have only heard 4 of them. I forgot about Death Fortress. It seems I haven’t listened to that one in a while, but there are many on the list I now must check out.

  16. Whoa! You went and did it. Astronoid at number one. Ive been toying with the idea myself. Its definitely my most listened to album.
    Glad to see someone did it. 🙂

    Dormant Ordeal is monstrous. I think I have you to thank for tipping me off to them in the first place.
    Love the rest of the list! Ive got some more things to look into now.

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