THE DGR-NCS HOLIDAY BUYERS’ GUIDE AND YEAR IN REVIEW FOR THE METALHEAD WHO HAS TO HAVE ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING 2016 EDITION (PART 2)
(DGR created year-end lists of great length. He wrote many words about each listed item. Your humble editor feared that the site would collapse beneath this great leviathan of words if it reared its bulk in a single post, and therefore decided to split it up, with one part appearing each day this week. Part 1 is here.)
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 my attempt to rationalize an enormous year of music, I’ve capped my list at fifty albums, 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.
The 50-album list continues today:
40) Distaste/Rotten Cold – Split
Speaking of grind releases sounding like they were forged in the fires of hell for maximum head bashing, Distaste and Rotten Cold put out a split earlier this year that caught my attention and didn’t let go until it had burned my face to ash.
The Rotten Cold contributions to this split come from previous releases to their name and are a pleasant ass-beating of heavy music that goes from solid riff to shout chorus in the blink of an eye, but holy shit did Distaste just come out swinging this time around. I have both Of Abyss Hearts And Falsity and Black Age Of Nihil (actually reviewed Black Age for this very site), so I knew what I was in for — but Distaste basically break out a sander and just grind every one down to dust with their contributions on this split.
Every song seems to be building from one solid chainsaw riff to another, and they make a serious mark early on with a track like “Held”, which comes the hell out of nowhere and manages to burn away the already scorched ground from the song prior to it.
The combination of both Rotten Cold and Distaste makes for a solid twenty minutes of hellfire and fury, with the back half of the album just absolutely gunning for the listener, and it is great because of that.
39) Revocation – Great Is Our Sin
At this point, Revocation are either magicians or madmen for being able to keep the schedule that they do. They function like the Japanese train lines; I’m convinced I could set my watch by the frequency with which a new Revocation disc comes out.
The fact that most of them are of damned good quality has helped show why Revocation have enjoyed the career that they have; they’ve managed to keep the main, thrashier core of their sound intact but have also adapted and embraced many of metal’s current death metal trends, leading to a Revocation who are absolutely willing to get heavy as hell in their music.
Great Is Our Sin, coming in hot two years after Deathless, is a disc that actually sees the band playing with their sound a bit. It’s still the frenetic and fast brand of metal that Revocation have always dished out, but at times they get a little prog-rock with some of their guitar solos before just as quickly going back to grinding up the ground in front of them at high speed.
With the addition of Great Is Our Sin, Revocation have built a monstrous discography that is fun to just toss on and let run from front to back. Great Is Our Sin maintains a high bar of quality all the way through, while remaining recognizably Revocation. It’s great for some high-speed fare and one of those releases made for the listeners who love guitar. It’s also a great place to jump onto the Revocation train, if you haven’t had the chance to do so before.
38) Black Crown Initiate – Selves We Cannot Forgive
I loved Black Crown Initiate’s prior album The Wreckage Of Stars enough to place it pretty high in my year-ender the year it came out, and to be honest, the group had a difficult feat ahead of them in trying to make something on par with that disc. Selves We Cannot Forgive feels like an exercise in frustration in that regard.
There are many, many moments on this disc that feel like the band are just going for it and excelling at it — but then just as quickly letting those ideas or themes fade off into the sunset without exploring them further. There’s a lot of “oh man, that’s so good, I hope this goes on for a bit”, only to have it disappear.
I still enjoy Selves We Cannot Forgive quite a bit. It had my personal favorite “whoops” moment of the year when a handful of their digital album sales (Amazon for instance) had tracks one and three suddenly ending and becoming silent for the rest of the songs’ run time. My version of “For Red Cloud”, for instance, I think ended at the four-minute twenty-second mark… on a six-minute song. Of course, that was all the more frustrating because “For Red Cloud” is a genuinely good song, so you really do want to hear all of it.
I eventually came around to songs like “Matriarch” and “Belie The Machine”, the heavy and moodier numbers on this disc, and also found myself drawn to closer “Vicious Lives” quite a bit, though that also may be the latent Tool fan in me immediately noticing some comparisons between the two groups in that song.
Like I said earlier, though, songs like “Vicious Lives” hint at building into something much greater, but then just sort of drift off. “Again” does the same thing, and it’s a bit of a bummer because I think with Wreckage Of Stars and Song Of The Crippled Bull the band have proven that when they really explore and expand upon an idea, they can absolutely kill it. And so, Selves We Cannot Forgive is a pretty good disc with some great-to-fantastic moments on it, but the bar for these guys is really, really high, and there’s a slight bittersweet tinge as Selves closes out.
Of course I say all this and still put it on my year-ender, which should help highlight just how strong the really good songs on this album are.
37) Betrayal – Infinite Circles
Betrayal, a group of young upstarts hailing from Germany, proved to be a pleasant surprise this year with their album Infinite Circles. I checked it out on a whim after we wrote about it on our site, and admittedly it took a bit for this one to click with me, but when it did it clicked pretty hard.
Betrayal play a modern and hyper-fast style of super-sleek death metal, light on the low end and more about frenetic and angular guitar work with rapid-fire vocal delivery. You’ll notice this by the opening segments of “The Shell”, which is the first “song” song on this album after its rain intro. By the time the titular “Infinite Circles” kicks in, you get the sense that Betrayal are really going for it and that they are on to something.
There’s a lot of fulfilled potential on this album as a whole, as well as a lot of promise for the future from these guys. My only issue with Infinite Circles was that the tracks tended to blur as a listening session went on. Each track has its own particular flair, but the album is pretty much driven by a hyper-precise drum segment, where if blast beats were a currency these guys would be millionaires.
Still, there have been times when a song has popped up when I’m just letting my music player shuffle and I find myself noticing things I hadn’t noticed before, and that’s a fun experience when you’re a music listener. It has provided numerous reasons for me to have infinite listening sessions with Infinite Circles and has sparked a curiosity as to where these guys decide to go in the future.
36) October Tide – Winged Waltz
Why not have some fun and go from one of the faster releases on this list to one of the goddamned slowest?
I had a lot of fun reviewing this one alongside Novembre’s Ursa a little bit after both discs were released. Sweden’s October Tide have been a mainstay of my music listening sessions for some time, from the Katatonia-offshoot run to the reunion era that has seen both In Mourning’s Tobias Netzell on the vocals for a disc and current vocalist Alexander Högbom of Volturyon/Spasmodic for what is now two discs.
Winged Waltz follows an already miserable act in 2013’s Tunnel Of No Light – keeping the band to a pretty steady every-three-year release schedule since their reunion in 2010. In comparison to its older sibling, Winged Waltz is a little bit more of an up-tempo album, although it still keeps one foot firmly planted in the dirge that has become October Tide’s trademark.
There’s actually a couple of quicker-moving tracks, including “A Question Ignite” with its thick double-bass roll opening. Winged Waltz is a little less “being overcome by drowning in a dark swamp” than Tunnel Of No Light, so you’re not exactly drowning in misery for the entire thing — which in a way actually brings it in line a bit more with the prettier A Thin Shell.
Winged Waltz does still carve its name into the jagged rock of doom, though, so don’t get too worried about the up-tempo and prettier talk — that takes a bit of perspective, since a faster song for October Tide is more a medium-range opening and then the slow wails by which the band pay their bills. It’s nice to see October Tide continuing to make their mark within this scene.
35) Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
At this point Fleshgod Apocalypse are largely a known quantity, so the band can’t exactly get by as much as they used to on sheer bombast or their drummer moving at speeds high enough to melt everything around him (though both will still carry them for miles). In some ways, King feels like a tacit admission by Fleshgod Apocalypse that they were aware of this fact and decided instead to see how elaborate and operatic they could make their songs instead.
For the most part, it actually works, too — especially on a former orchestra geek such as myself — as King’s overarching narrative carves its way throughout the whole disc, even justifying a solo performance of “Die Leidenschaft”, in which the band themselves make no appearance.
Of course there’s still the song that feels written to make a crowd go wild, and in this case it’s “The Fool”, which is about as infectious as Fleshgod Apocalypse get. But there’s also the martial chug of “Healing Through War” and the “could almost fit alongside the Agony track list” of “And The Vulture Beholds”, where the band do give in to their propensity to have everything at max volume for a bit.
I have found throughout repeated spins of King that the song I look forward to the most has become “Mitra”, which isn’t the most bombastic or operatic track on the album but is instead probably the most death metal song on there. It actually reminds me a lot of how “Five Pointed Star” on SepticFlesh’s The Great Mass has become my favorite on that disc; it seems that those songs were written to show that the groups don’t really need to symphonics to buttress their sound, and when they want to write a high-speed blastfest they absolutely will.
Despite that, though, King fulfills its duty as a storyteller, with the album having multiple movements, moving in batches, with the opening high speed ones up front and the more grandiose tracks saved for the back half as just about everyone storyline-wise…dies. While it’s not the most over-the-top Fleshgod Apocalypse disc, King proves to be one of the most intricate and layered, and that is impressive in its own right.
34) Trap Them – Crown Feral
Trap Them arrive as a pretty late addition to this year’s festivities, as it took me a bit to get around to listening to Crown Feral. Granted, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with them as I am a giant child and found it amusing to own an album named Blissfucker, so it’s not like I didn’t know what I was in for, yet it basically took a critical wave to get me to take a look at it.
This is where I admit I am stupid and that those folks were right, because although Crown Feral may not be breaking any boundaries, holy shit is that disc a ton of fun.
I am an absolutely sucker for this brand of noisier hardcore punk v. grindier riffs. There are songs on Crown Feral that feel absolutely tailor-made for my listening habits: chief among them is “Revival Spines”, which is probably the personal highlight on this end, but then you still have the one-two punch of “Hellionaires” and “Prodigala” that can make for quite a bit of headbanging fun.
Basically, Crown Feral is the Trap Them crew just screaming over a ton of fun guitar riffs and driving drum lines meant to get people to move. It is chaotic and seething, a little acid-tinged, and absolutely worth the short time it takes to get through a whole disc-run — assuming you make it past “Revival Spines” to the last two songs, because I have been caught in the “hit repeat” loop far more times on that one than I would like to admit.
33) Heaven Shall Burn – Wanderer
We move from the world of metal-tinged hardcore to the world of hardcore-tinged metal, with Heaven Shall Burn slotting themselves in neatly in the middle pack of this-here list with their 2016 release Wanderer.
Having evolved into something of a melo-death band over the past few albums, Heaven Shall Burn have found themselves straddling the line between their more metalcore, chug-heavy earlier era and their current thrashier, melo-death, lead-filled later career; that has been a fight that has manifested itself throughout much of the Heaven Shall Burn discography. In fact, that’s probably part of why they’re so much fun — one of the few bands who can straddle the line between those genres easily and have enough crossover appeal to both audiences (at least enough to justify affording pyro at their shows, it seems).
Wanderer, of course, is partially Heaven Shall Burn in their comfort zone, especially so if you thought Invictus and Veto were great discs, but even so, the band still manage to throw a few curveballs — from a super-solid cover of Sodom’s “Agent Orange” to a guest appearance by Cannibal Corpse frontman George Fischer on “Prey To God”, and even managing to jam a My Dying Bride cover (“The Cry Of Mankind”) in there to close the whole thing out.
It’s not just the smattering of covers and guest appearances throughout the disc that make Wanderer fun, though. You also have the driving one-two opening of “The Loss Of Fury” and “Bring The War Home”. Later tracks like “Save Me” and “Extermination Order” are both massive guitar-driven headbangers, and “Downshifter” should feel right at home for those of you who really loved Veto, because holy crap does that song feel like they resurrected their exact sound from that one.
There are times when Wanderer gets a little stock (“Corium” being chief amongst those), but overall, Heaven Shall Burn put out a pretty good disc this year in Wanderer, one that helps underscore just how good their discography is as a whole.
32) Gorguts – Pleiades Dust
I’ve often wondered if this is the case with many other listeners or is strictly a dumbass habit that I’ve developed — where there’s always an album that you’re not sure you really enjoy winding up on your year-end list because it fascinates you. Pleiades Dust is that way for me.
Admittedly, I do enjoy the angular death metal in which Gorguts entrenches itself — but Pleiades Dust is not a disc that I approach lightly. Instead, it’s one of those things that I find myself intensely focused on, because for the thirty minutes or so that Pleiades Dust asks of you, it makes an ugly and discordant romp of the whole experience.
I genuinely enjoy the blastier sections on the front half of the song, but there are points when Pleiades Dust becomes an angular and shuddering beast, and you can tell that a ton is going on within the song, or that Luc Lemay and the Dysrhythmia crew are trying something immensely different from what you’re used to. But I’d be lying if I said I was able to fully wrap my mind around the hurricane of sound that Gorguts created the first few times I listened to it.
Pleiades Dust isn’t something that I’ve gone to whenever I’ve found myself looking for something catchy. Instead, I’ve found myself coming to the song because it is a “heady” death metal release and challenges me as a listener. There are times when it sounds like death metal from the void even though its subject matter deals with more philosophical and historical subjects, and other times when it sounds like instruments clanging against each other in an empty hallway. It is one of those albums that lives up to metal’s maxim of challenging its listeners to the fullest.
31) VRTRA – My Bones Hold A Stillness
Honestly, VRTRA were about as underground kvlt as I feel I got this year on the absolutely abyssal death metal front. The largely Sacramento-based group — which I’ll own up to, feels good to say — put out a three-song EP known as My Bones Hold A Stillness this year, and those three songs total out to about a half hour’s worth of smoke-filled, darkness-drenched death metal.
Part hypnotic, part despondent, and wholly heavier than hell, VRTRA proved to be a fantastic surprise when I finally got the chance to review it. There’s actually a surprisingly meditative aspect to My Bones Hold A Stillness, because its three songs are the sort of music built for the listener to just put on the headphones and get lost in the drift of it. The constant background chanting adds to the whole experience, so as the songs rumble along, you can’t help but feel like My Bones Hold A Stillness is slowly enveloping you.
It’s the sort of release that will likely see VRTRA landing themselves a bunch of live gigs here in the future (hopefully), and it’s the sort of thing I would love to see played live, front to back; even though the individual songs on My Bones Hold A Stillness are strong, the whole EP experience is what kept this one relevant from its moment of release to the end of the year for me.
I totally get what you mean about pleiades’ dust. It’s still very Gorguts-y sounding which i like.
Also, nice to see VRTRA appear here. Been meaning to get that one!
Vrtra proved to be a pleasant surprise this year.
BLACK CROWN INITIATE NOT AT NUMBER 1??? LIST INVALID!!!!
Anyhoo… I’d say “Downshifter” is the most “stock” HSB song on “Wanderer”. If you told me it was made up from bits of previous songs all stuck together, I wouldn’t be surprised.
But Black Crown Initiate are #1 at being number 38 on this list! That’s gotta count for something.
It’s amazing how many responses we’ve gotten this year on par with ‘that’s laughable!’
Gorguts review/description is perfectly spot on !