(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
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
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 OF THE UNYIELDING
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.
- ANCST – MOLOCH
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.
- RUINS – UNDERCURRENT
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.
- DORMANT ORDEAL – WE HAD IT COMING
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
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 & JULIE CHRISTMAS – 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.
- ASTRONOID – AIR
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.