(DGR created year-end lists of great length. He wrote many words about each listed item. Your humble editor fears that the site would collapse beneath this great leviathan of words if it reared its bulk in a single post, and has therefore decided to split it up. How many parts will be required to complete the undertaking hasn’t yet been determined — but this is Part 1.)
You knew this was coming, or you would if you had been around here the last few years. It’s been a long-standing tradition here at NCS that when the Listmania series happens, I take the filter completely off and just produce a gigantic screed of words that is occasionally interrupted with album art, music streams, and album titles with little numbers next to them. This year is no different.
In fact, this year has been insane. This is the first year amongst the now handful of years that I’ve done this where I’ve actually dreaded making the top whatever list for the end of the year. Anyone who asked me what I thought about my albums of the year basically got a shocked thousand-yard stare and me uttering “2016’s year-enders are going to be a bloodbath”.
Granted, that was prior to the clear cultural event that is the new Metallica album, but for a while, there was such a massive overload of music in 2016 — a lot of which turned out to be really, really good — from both a ton of new discoveries and a collective of old favorites, that I had figured the 2016 lists likely wouldn’t have a huge number of unifiers, just this gigantic unfiltered collection of awesome music from a variety of different publications, sharing maybe five or six albums each.
In my attempt to rationalize this, I’ve capped my list at fifty albums this year, ranked in order of whichever numbers my fingers were closest to on the keyboard. On top of that, I have my usual small collection of not-metal stuff, some fun stuff, my list of shame, a likely happy face where number 8 should be because I’m a moron and put the numbers in front of a parenthesis and WordPress translates that into an emoticon, and my personal favorite award that I hand out each year.
So I’m warning you ahead of time: You should probably check if you have any sick time and maybe take the day off, because this list is a reflection of 2016. It is ridiculous, with so much happening that it just feels like a parade from one event to the next, and seems to never fucking end.
50) Spawning Abhorrence – The Sleepless One
Leading off the glorious disaster that I’ve signed myself up for is Spawning Abhorrence with The Sleepless One. Spawning Abhorrence is the death metal project of some of the gentlemen behind black metal group Inquinamentum. The Sleepless One is an album that I took joy in reviewing, as it seemed to revel in its groovier beatdowns, and quite a few of the songs seemed built for that reason. The Sleepless One proved to be a heavy, monstrous beast that actually had a bit of a hidden knack for experimentation – which led to songs like its closer “Existent?”, which is one of the songs that proved to be a pretty consistent draw for me to come back to the album as a whole.
Spawning Abhorrence seem to be flying under the radar right now, which is a bit of a bummer, as The Sleepless One is one of the great go-to discs for just heavy-as-hell death metal, covering the various spectra that brutal death can loan itself to. It’s not afraid of being brick-stupid and it is also not afraid of being weird amongst its many low-end-heavy guitar riffs. Outside of “Existent?” you have songs like “The Writhing Rhetoric”, “Nethermost”, and “The Aeonian Dormancy” to really help hammer home the death metal fun on The Sleepless One. The album’s opening track is five minutes of it, and is the song they named the album after. That song is also is a damned good demonstration of what the rest of the slightly over thirty-five minutes you get to spend with these guys is like. I found myself enjoying the hell out of it.
49) Wormrot – Voices
Wormrot’s Voices was a very late entry to this list, having come out super-late in the year. Its placement here isn’t so much a reflection on the album more as it’s a reflection of the fact that I haven’t listened to it enough to feel confident where I really want it, other than that I want it on this list. Voices also represents what will be the beginning of a pretty solid lump of grind appearances throughout this tome.
Wormrot gained a fan base and critical adoration pretty quickly. It felt like the band were sort of a rumbling undercurrent that finally just exploded out there, and Voices is a pretty good demonstration as to why. Wormrot are a grind band with an ethos in mind, and that ethos seems to be living and dying by the circle pit. Wormrot’s brand of grind can be thought of as composed of two parts: the hyperfast fusion of death metal and hardcore punk, leading to some songs being only eight seconds long (“Dead Wrong”) and the more epic length ones barely scratching four minutes; and the solid circle-pit gallop, which Voices makes liberal use of.
I know exactly what I’m going to get with Voices and that is part of the reason why I’ve found myself continually going back to it. The band aren’t really breaking new ground but they’ve found some solid magic in songs like “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Grind” (which I partially adore for having a title that takes about 20% of the song’s length to say), “Fallen Into Disuse”, “God’s In His Heaven”, “Defaced”, “Still Irrelevant” (with it’s five-second noise blast in case you thought “Dead Wrong” wasn’t a good enough “fuck you” to the listener), and “Descending Into The Unknown”. Voices is one of those grind albums that feels like it would give you an excellent impression of a Wormrot live show. You can see the pit riffs coming from a mile off, but god be damned if you don’t find yourself feeling like you should throw some elbows during some of these songs.
48) Aborted – Retrogore/Termination Redux
I am copping out insanely hard here, and that I do so early is a mere preview of some of the mental gymnastics I will be attempting throughout this glorious mess that I have gotten myself into. I’m combining both of Aborted’s 2016 releases right here and I do so because I didn’t want to split the Termination Redux tracks from the Retrogore songs — and the two come paired together as a special edition anyway, which is the one folks really should’ve bought because the one song that SHOULD have been on Retrogore didn’t make the cut, but it does lie within Termination Redux.
That song is “Bound in Acrimony”, which is this sudden near-three-minute expulsion of violence that really should’ve made the main album, because even amongst Retrogore’s blast-happy tracklist, “Bound” is still the Aborted song that I keep going to over and over this year.
I enjoyed Retrogore on its own merits, and thought that the album’s promotional campaign — which featured the band in place of various horror-film protagonists in the style of that film’s movie poster — was amazing. But the music itself felt like about as far as Aborted could carry themselves with the sound that they found on Global Flatline and Necrotic Manifesto. Retrogore being more Aborted wasn’t a bad thing, and the guest appearances were actually really fun, including the hyper-kinetic appearance on “Coven Of Ignorance” by David Davidson of Revocation and the universe sort of folding up its own asshole style of having Julien Truchen of Benighted growling alongside the Aborted crew during “Termination Redux” proper. Hell, even Travis Ryan’s appearance is fun.
The twelve songs on Retrogore are still a meaty slab of fun, and they include a handful of standout tracks, hence its placement on this list, because I go back to the combo of album + EP often, though they just didn’t quite click with me as much as Aborted’s previous two albums.
Also goddamnit “Bound In Acrimony” is a great song.
47) Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Placing the ultra-talented vocal attack of Borknagar on a list is a fun exercise; partially because it feels like the band are cheating by having the vocal lineup that they mustered on this album. It’s not enough to have a regular rotation of three absolutely killer talents up behind the microphone, they had to ratchet it up and add guest appearances to the group’s shockingly early 2016 release Winter Thrice.
Borknagar have made themselves increasingly hard to categorize, veering into a handful of different genre realms over the years — leading to word-salad labels like progressive/black and a helping of others to really confuse the hell out of everyone. Marking the band as progressive seems like a good way to go, because on Winter Thrice the group put out a strong collection of songs that seem to have one foot buried deep in folk metal this time around — there’s a surprising amount of the classic hurdy-gurdy melodies buried underneath — but on top of it they bounce between some classic death metal gallops, some great screaming, and enough clean singing that were it not for us joking about our mission statement as the site title, I would’ve been burned at the stake halfway through this paragraph.
I would argue that the opening three-hit combo of “Rhymes Of The Mountain”, “Winter Thrice”, and “Cold Runs The River” might be a little too strong; it makes the disc feel a little front-loaded. But the back half has some highlights in tracks like “When Chaos Calls”, “Noctilucent”, and “Dominant Winds”. Winter Thrice makes damned good use of its talented lineup and it has been a great disc to give a full run every once in a while, which happened often enough that it made it onto my yearly tome.
46) W R I T H E – W R I T H E
We go from an album that makes just about every use of every minute that it can fit onto a CD to a release where the entire run-time almost wouldn’t even fit into the opening song of that disc.
W R I T H E is a side project of Départe/Separatist vocalist Sam Dishington and it basically is just a real quick hit of violence and noise, suitable to stand right alongside Wormrot’s Voices, were it not for the fact that I actually blasted this one a lot due to the convenience of it being sub-six minutes long and the fact that somehow Sam has a really good knack for a solid guitar-and-blast riff. The opening and closing bits don’t even have titles; it has been hilarious fun watching an mp3 player try and sort a song named ‘ – ‘ so that it has proper placement within the track list.
The three songs with names, “Silent”, “Malice”, and “Failure” all blur into one song, and now that I’ve typed it out, likely are one. The self-titled W R I T H E EP is a quick explosive blast to the system that seemed perfectly built for my music tastes this year.
45) Fleshgore – Denial Of The Scriptures
Moving on from the world of hyperfast grind into something a little bit more bludgeoning, Ukraine’s FLESHGORE — which has to be typed in all caps — put out a monstrous groover this year in the form of Denial Of The Scriptures. Featuring a fantastic opening song in both musical form and title with “Talk To Me About God”, the near forty minutes of death metal that FLESHGORE have packed into Denial is about as brutal as they come. The whole album is propelled forward on a thudding baseline and a drum section that has the precision of a piston engine. FLESHGORE are all about the low-end on Denial Of The Scriptures, so if you find death metal at its most enjoyable when it seems to move with a knuckle-dragging thud, then Denial is for you; it’s one of the more Cro-Magnon death metal discs that came out this year.
Denial actually set off a string of reviews of different brutal death releases for this site on my end. Because it was so packed with hefty guitar work and songs that seemed to drag the headbanging part of one’s brain out kicking and screaming, I found myself romping around in the genre for quite a bit this year. My review proper for this one had me deep-diving into FLESHGORE’s offerings more so than I can do here, but the one-two punch of “New Ordeal Comes Into The World” and “Numinosum” is still a really fun eight minutes of blast-happy groove, and the two songs following “Talk To Me About God” both help to buttress the album as a whole, as a collection of heavy guitar and ultra-low growling.
If FLESHGORE flew under the radar for you this year, I highly recommend you take some time to help rectify that, as Denial Of The Scriptures is as beefy as they come.
44) Evergrey – The Storm Within
My soft-spot for Evergrey in general might as well be a 30′ by 30′ neon billboard at this point, because I will find some way or another to mention these guys on the site — an act made tremendously easier by 2014’s excellent Hymns For The Broken and this year’s release, The Storm Within. The Storm Within doesn’t leap too far from what made Hymns For The Broken great, with the band somehow managing to find even more glorious power-choruses to pack within this disc, although Storm Within does lean a little bit more ballad-heavy than that album was.
However, Evergrey managed to keep the same crew together this time around as well, and Storm shows that it came from that same solid-songwriting base that Hymns did. There’s ultra-chug-heavy “Distance” as its opener before you hit one of the catchiest songs Evergrey have done in some time with “Passing Through”, and then you get some more traditional Evergrey fare in “Someday” and “The Impossible”. There’s even a couple of duets on Storm Within that have vocalist/guitarist Tom Englund paired up with Floor Jansen for a song and longtime Evergrey hidden weapon Carina Englund as well.
The Storm Within is a little fan-servicey, in that Evergrey pulled out all the guns this time around, but it still works as a great disc, tremendous amount of clean singing and all.
43) Rotting Christ – Rituals
The idea behind Rotting Christ’s 2016 release Rituals is a fun one: a collection of songs about Satan pulled from academic literature and various written media, be they plays, poems, or novels, to form the album’s “Rituals”. It makes Rotting Christ not only some of the best guitar-riff writers out there to date, but also a band who can make you look highly intelligent as you explain that the song “For A Voice Like Thunder” is basically a musical performance of King Edward The Fourth by William Blake.
The cover of “The Four Horsemen” by Aphrodite’s Child is immensely fun, but the main collection of Rituals stands as a solid gathering of songs in its own right. The more meditative interstitial-sounding songs help break up the more straightforward and pyrotechnic tracks like opener “In Nomine De Nostri” and the manic “Elthe Kyrie”. I have a deep love for the percussive and militaristic exercise of “Apage Satana” as it spills over into chant-heavy “Tou Thanatou”.
Rituals lives up to its name in that it isn’t just a collection of really good songs, of which Rotting Christ have many at this point — seeing them live is like seeing a band custom-built for crowd interaction at times with how percussive and march-heavy their music is — but an actual collection of “Rituals”, so that the album itself feels like the completion of one when its closing minutes arrive. Rotting Christ find clear inspiration in Satan this go ’round and run with it for nearly fifty-minutes.
42) Départe – Failure, Subside
Sometimes you want a death metal disc that sounds like a combination of the apocalypse and absolute misery. Failure, Subside is one of those albums. Départe are a newer band, with only a demo prior to the release of their full debut this year, but Failure, Subside is a dense disc that hybrids death metal and the more theatrical and echo-effect-heavy side of black metal into an album that sounds like the end of the world. It also marks the second appearance on this list by musician Sam Dishington, who handles the vocal work here.
Failure, Subside is one of those albums built to be played while the band is covered in fog for the entire time that the group are on stage. It has a haze about it that seems to give the whole experience a sort of pall that is difficult to describe. It’s an intense listening experience that is equal parts fascinating and hypnotic as the group grind their listeners down to a smooth edge by the time they wrap up.
The songs run long on this one, with only the instrumental “Mara’s Choir” being sub two minutes, with the rest mostly in the six-to-eleven-minute range. Opener “Seas Of Glass” is an outlier at three and half, and the main bulk of the disc’s music is to be found in songs like “Ruin”, “Wither”, “Ashes In Bloom”, and the much-talked-about “Grief Echoes”.
Failure, Subside is a dark album and one that doesn’t really leave you feeling great when it wraps up — but the experience of it is one that keeps drawing you back, and that is what made it great; once “Seas Of Glass” wraps up, it is hard not to be locked in for the whole thing.
41) Asphalt Graves – The New Primitive
The grind kids claim another victory as Asphalt Graves made a serious mark in my listening this year. The album’s heavy political leanings are fitting, given that you have Jason Netherton of Misery Index fame doing the vocal work of this disc, and the whole Asphalt Graves experience feels more like a throwback to the punk rock side of grind than the more death metal oriented brand that Misery Index have been travelling in. He teams up with journeyman drummer Shannon Lucas (formerly with Black Dahlia Murder, and currently in Serpentine Dominion), Gwar’s Brent Purgason on bass, and Adam Faris on guitars for this one.
The New Primitive lands you in a pretty big collection of songs, all of them going off like miniature explosions. It has certainly made for a lot of fun conversation when trying to explain to people why you think a track called “Stop Resisting” is a great song, outside of its obvious subject matter. The New Primitive turns a very ugly mirror on the current state of society and became a very fitting album to be released in 2016 — although I could argue that The New Primitive would’ve worked excellently over the entire course of my lifetime at this point. The New Primitive is angry and fast — basically a perfect companion to the huge collection of angry and fast ones that I’ve placed throughout my year-end collection as a whole.
“Scapegoat” is basically an experiment in what would happen if you removed absolutely every ounce of subtlety left in the songwriting process. The opening two words, as well as the two that punctuate most of the verses during the minute and half you spend with that song, really hammer home its title – but a lot of The New Primitive is that way. It hammers its messages into the listener, over and over, and as angrily as it can.