THE DGR-NCS HOLIDAY BUYERS’ GUIDE AND YEAR IN REVIEW FOR THE METALHEAD WHO HAS TO HAVE ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING — 2016 EDITION (PART 3)
(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 and Part 2 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, counting down through No. 21:
30) Kunstzone – The Art Of Making The Earth Uninhabitable
The next two entries on this list might as well be titled the “Hey, DGR really likes releases by groups that strayed into Nathrakh territory this year” block.
Kunstzone, the combination of the two musicians behind Khaozone and Tyrant of Death, put out an album in the late part of this year known as The Art Of Making The Earth Uninhabitable, and although their sort of joking facade gives no hint as to what their music sounds like, the group continues to stray heavily into the industrial and death metal realms.
Kunstzone’s previous release, Eschaton Discipline, hinted at this and on The Art Of Making The Earth Uninhabitable the two musicians decide to dive headlong into it. You have sharper, groove-heavy songs like “Lamella”, “Odio Ergo Spiro”, and “Against The Sun”, and then you have tracks where the industrial and black metal shrieks work their way into the affair, like “The Great Dread” and my personal highlight “First As Play, Then As Trauma”. Both of those songs just start out moving as fast as they can and they never seem to let up.
The Art Of Making The Earth Uninhabitable is a feral experience, though the music behind it is machine-precise in how it delivers its beatings. Kunstzone are the sort of group that right now seems prone to flying under the radar, but trust me when I say that it is absolutely worth the effort to rectify that. Art Of Making The Earth Uninhabitable is a great second effort and really shows that these two know what they’re doing.
29) Noctem – Haeresis
While the Kunstzone gentlemen above may have taken the industrial and death metal train into town, Noctem jumped on the high speed black metal one and kicked that thing into gear. Haeresis kind of starts in high gear and never really lets up for the ten songs present on the disc. By the end of “Through The Black Temples Of Disaster” you have a good sense that Noctem found a formula for this disc and that the next batch of songs are going to be an exercise in it.
However, the white-knuckled, teeth-bared, wind-whipping-past-your-face, high-speed branch of black metal from which Noctem carve this year’s discproves to be a fun one. It does away with some of the bombast and the more death metal side that the band have shown previously, instead favoring a sleeker approach and one that keeps you on edge for its entirety.
Yes, the gentlemen from Spain managed to kick out another great disc this year and one that continues the trend of Noctem getting better and better with each album.
28) Mechina – Progenitor
Mechina’s one-release-per-year schedule continued in full force with the January 1st release of the eight-track album Progenitor. As was the case with the last few times I’ve had to do this, I had to make a note that the album did in fact come out this year, because when you have close to a year’s worth of time with a disc that you enjoy, you can often forget that it actually came out that year and hadn’t sort of “always been there”.
Progenitor continues adding to the already galaxy-spanning epic yarn that the Mechina crew have been weaving, this time further building into the earlier part of their timeline. Progenitor is interesting in part because it’s the first Mechina disc that kind of has Mechina doing what they do best, a heavy groove section that bounces between the many-stringed guitar pyrotechnics of djent and straightforward death metal, backed by an increasingly elaborate host of symphonic elements and continued appearances by cohort Mel Rose.
There wasn’t really anything they hadn’t tried before on this album, though one could argue that “The Horizon Effect” is probably the most traditionally electronic-backed song they’ve done yet. And so Progenitor exists as a solid slab of Mechina music. If you’re a fan like I am, you enjoyed it a ton and still have your songs to go back to, but the full album run isn’t as often an event as it should be. Then again, I’m one of those folks who liked last year’s album Acheron for how big and ambitious it was because I appreciated Mechina just really swinging for the fences.
Progenitor is the band playing it a little closer to home, giving you what their increasingly sizeable fanbase loves. It’s a great disc, but I just had a constant sense of familiarity traveling alongside me the entire time I was listening to it.
27) Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Arc
The idea that birthed Arc is an interesting one. The members of Agoraphobic Nosebleed decided to record a series of EPs in the preferred styles of specific band members, and in the case of the first one, Arc, that honor was bestowed upon vocalist Kat Katz. Arc hit earlier in the year and took a group whose music lay primarily in a chaotic noise, industrial, and grind zone and turned them into a sludge- and doom-sounding band.
It’s interesting, given that that the crew are effectively working as part influence, part tribute on Arc. In doing so, they’ve created some songs that are better versions of what some other stalwart bands out there within the doom and sludge metal sphere are doing. The closing four minutes of “Deathbed”, for instance, has to be a better version of Black Sabbath than what Black Sabbath themselves are doing these days, and the bass guitar tone of the eleven-minute “Gnaw” feels straight out of the Godflesh playbook.
The EP deals with some heavy subject matter, and the music itself is built to crawl right alongside it. Given that the band are usually a torrent of drum-machine-fueled chaos, this EP sounds organic, which shows the talent of Scott Hull and crew and why the next handful of experiments out of this band could be just as interesting, especially if they decide to offshoot into even more genres.
Arc was a constant spin for a while this year, and although the band may currently seem unlikely to break these tracks out live, it sure as hell would be interesting to see them try that in the future. The songs are absolutely worthy of it.
26) Darkend – The Canticle Of Shadows
Italy’s Darkend are one of the many groups this year that wound up waving the banner for the “pleasant surprise” branch of the DGR list. Whilst the guest list that the group harvested for this year’s ritual may have taken a lot of precedence in the opening press-release wave, it wouldn’t mean jack shit if the music itself wasn’t good. Fortunately, The Canticle Of Shadows is a surprisingly dense and dynamic bit of symphonic black metal, featuring multiple vocal attacks from frontman Animae as well as a series of guests.
The Canticle Of Shadows feels like it fully required the four years since Darkend’s last release to forge. It’s the type of album that has so much going on that you suspect Darkend recorded it as if they believed music were going to go out of style. Every song sounds like its own miniature act, its seven tracks mostly lying in the six-to-eight minute range for about fifty minutes worth of music. The limited edition version of the album has a ten-minute Fearbringer cover on it that brings Canticle around to a whole hour.
The two-part “Inmost Chasm” songs sound as huge as their title suggests, and opener “Claivicula Salomonis” begins with pretty much every element of the band going at once — it’s one of the best examples of the first track laying the groundwork for exactly how the rest of the disc will sound that’s out there these days. While Canticle certainly requires a significant investment of your time, the journey is absolutely worth taking.
25) Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Meshuggah’s The Violent Sleep Of Reason makes it here for a couple of reasons: The main one is that this album feels like an unintentional throwback to the Chaosphere era of the band. Maybe it’s because they spend a chunk of the album going fast and a little bit more chaotic than usual; maybe when you actually get all the guys together to write songs that they tend to favor, you get that brand of auditory chaos. Either way, Violent Sleep Of Reason at the very least spends a good chunk of its time living up to the “Violent” aspect of its name.
The unintentional genre-forebears are still content to break out a hammering groove whenever they get the chance. The Violent Sleep Of Reason proves that Meshuggah know what their bread and butter is, so it has a lot to offer to those who seek that. Meshuggah are a rare band, the sort of group that have had four to five albums that could be considered landmarks, the different eras of the band seemingly shifting music around them to match. In between those huge discs, the group have put out some solid-to-great albums, and that’s how I classify this new one.
In other words, it’s a great album, but doesn’t really push too hard on their own genre boundaries. Instead they kind of sidestep it and spend their time playing around in a world that is part groove and part chaotic death metal, which is tremendously fun. It’s as if the machines that make up Meshuggah short-circuited and are currently on the fritz, and about half the time (especially in the psychotic-break-sounding mid-sections, such as the halfway point of “Clockworks”) Violent Sleep sounds like the result of that. The solos remain as indiscernible as ever and the drumming is still as complicated as can get. Meshuggah continue being one of those groups whose discography is difficult to disparage.
Of course, the huge upside of this is that it made me rediscover my love for Chaosphere.
24) Wormed – Krighsu
I imagine Wormed’s Krighsu is going to be an album that you’ll see pop up a lot on year-enders compiled by folks for whom technicality and brutality are chief among the criteria by which they judge their music. The Sci-Fi tech-death epic that is Krighsu has that in spades. It is a hammering experience and machine-like in just how precise the musicians that make up Wormed are, with vocals that are as low and guttural as they come, to the point where they often sound like the recordings of a hurricane rather than one man. The fact that the lyrics within are telling the story of a nanomachine Armageddon makes that all the more interesting.
Wormed are the sort of band who never really sit on one motif for too long, and because of that, the track-listing of Krighsu is an insane jumble of musical parts all rammed into each other, basically with the force that the core of a star applies to nuclear fusion, and then played at insanely high speeds. Watching them live, seeing people try to keep up with them is half the fun.
Krighsu is a lot like standing behind the jetwash of an airplane and enjoying the experience; the music seems capable of searing its listeners to ash. Krighsu was designed with that in mind. If you can hang with them, great, but Wormed are going to spend their time unleashing an unnervingly precise beating anyway, whether you can withstand it or not. Krighsu feels like Wormed evolving into the very machines that they have written their albums about.
23) Necrosavant – Aniara MMXIV
While I’ve got the pulpit and am talking about space-age apocalypses, let’s take some time to talk about the immensely underrated Aniara MMXIV by Necrosavant.
The Necrosavant project belongs fully to musician Jonas Martinsson, who also handles the drum work for Antarktis — formerly Majalis — a group we’ve covered frequently here. Necrosavant’s debut release came out this year as a modern death metal take on the Aniara poem by Harry Martinson. Jonas handled all the musical work and a large amount of the vocal work on this disc and expanded Aniara into one forty-minute song (something you’ll note seems to be a theme this year).
The vocal work he didn’t cover was handled by a group of people who should be familiar to those who read the site, as they’re part of a wider circle of musicians who seem to be constantly collaborating with each other; this year especially saw a ton of music from that circle. As backup for some of the growling, Jonas recruited Antarktis bandmates Daniel Jansson and Tobias Netzell, and determined-to-be-on-everything-that-came-out-this-year Alexander Högbom (I think I’m up to five appearances amongst stuff I’ve reviewed). He also recruited Gabriella Åström to handle recitation of the poem when there were breaks between movements of the overall song.
Of course, this only works if you can keep the whole trip interesting, and that he does. The constantly shifting vocalist collection works, from Jonas‘ own growls to whoever is joining him, working like a multitude of people having a conversation — though one that is growled and screamed. And on top of that, the overarching and heavy groove that continues to pop up throughout the song (there is a particular one reliant on the ride bell) serves as a constant reminder that there aren’t any sections being thrown away — they will be coming back, and because of that Aniara remains an interesting listen all the way through.
While I will own up to having some favorite particular passages — especially the one early on where Tobias lets out this ridiculously high scream — they’re basically reasons for me to go through the album as a whole and not skip around. I really have yet to hit skip whenever Aniara pops up when I’m just shuffling my music collection around.
22) Allegaeon – Proponents For Sentience
Alright, alright, alright. I promise you, this will be the last disc for now dealing with apocalyptic overtones and sci-fi themes. I swear.
Colorado’s Allegaeon had themselves quite the year it seems, and chief among the reasons was was the release of Proponents For Sentience, an album that I had expected to be pretty good, as before this I had enjoyed both Formshifter and Elements Of The Infinite. But it still proved to be a surprise in terms of 1) just how good it was, and 2) just how much of it there was.
I’m not going to lie to you, Allegaeon seem to have poured everything they have into this album and there’s a lot here, from hyper-fast death-and-groove to some pretty solid melodeath riffs, interspersed with choir and about a million other things. Like Formshifter and Elements before it, Proponents seems like the type of album that you love if you worship guitar. With so much music on here, it’s quite the feat to still have the amount of guitar work present on this disc. In that way, Proponents becomes something of an ur-release, it has elements of just about everything.
You want super-tight and impressive drumming? Allegaeon have you covered. You want some flamenco-sounding guitar playing interspersed within one of the songs? Allegaeon have you covered. You like symphonics? Boom, done. How do you feel about a really good cover of a Rush song that, granted, was already pretty goddamned good to start out with, and playing it surprisingly straight pretty much guaranteed a decent cover? Allegaeon has that, too.
My one knock against Proponents is that because it is such a thick and dense disc, it does feel like it runs a bit long. Like, one song too long. My equally great frustration is that I’m not sure which one I would cut, because on their own, the songs on Proponents stand strong and are impressive from front to back. The whole disc is a fun time and easily worth the listen. It just happens to be one of those albums where you have to prepare for your journey.
21) Oak Pantheon – In Pieces
Minnesota’s Oak Pantheon claim a victory in this here year-end roundup as In Pieces slides in neatly at twenty-one. In Pieces hit at the tail-end of May and has been in constant rotation ever since.
Its eight songs total out to about an hour and four minutes worth of music, of the sort of post-black metal that has been carving its way into the metal scene the past few years. Heavy on the echo elements, atmosphere, and the long and entrancing songs, In Pieces is of two minds when it comes to its song lengths. They’re either within the six- or eleven-minute range, with the one outlier clocking in at the almost grind-length of four-and-a-half minutes.
Oak Pantheon put some heavy folk-metal elements at the forefront of In Pieces, meaning that their brand of metal this time is very melodically charged and atmospherically enshrouded in mist. Songs like “Climb” and “Enormity” help this disc transcend into something great, though, especially the entirety of “Enormity”, as the whole composition of that song seems to cover so much ground that the journey you take with it becomes mesmerizing.
Actually, for as much joking as I do about track lengths, In Pieces is the sort of album that is hypnotic from front to back, so you don’t really notice the time passing. It just feels like it organically moves from one moment to the next, each perfectly building upon the other. It can be quiet and ambient at times and then just as quickly pass into an almost death metal double-bass roll and low grunt. In all of its facets, In Pieces proved to be an impressive piece of music this year.
I can totally tell you which Allegaeon songs you can cut, if you like?
If you say Terrathaw and the Quake I’m leaving you for MetalSucks.
Somebody fetch my fainting couch, shit just got real.
I would lean maybe towards Arbiters and Cognitive Computations, its usually during a full album run that I glance at ye olde mp3 player thinking I was getting to the last two songs and seeing I had a few left.
As long as no one touches Grey Matter Mechanics and Appassionata Ex Machina, I’ll happily grab some popcorn and watch how this plays out 😉
Close, but I’d say you lose “Arbiters” and “Demons of an Intricate Design” and dump the Rush cover (it’s good, but my general attitude towards covers these days is to disregard them from the main album tracklist… particularly because I see SO many sites focussing on covers because they’re “familiar”… it’s a cheap way of gaining goodwill from listeners/reviewers a lot of the time).
That would leave a tracklist of:
1. Proponent for Sentience I – The Conception
2. All Hail Science
3. From Nothing
4. Gray Matter Mechanics – Apassionata ex Machinea
5. Of Mind and Matrix
6. Proponent for Sentience II – The Algorithm
7. Proponent for Sentience III – The Extermination
8. Terrathaw and the Quake
9. Cognitive Computations
I feel like it would just make for a tighter, sharper album.
Now, now, there’s no need for THAT kind of language!
So good to see Darkend get a mention. I swear this is the first list I’ve seen them on. Definitely a pleasant surprise for me.. as in, brutal, slightly esoteric and relentless (aka ‘pleasant’). The vocals have this real passion behind them too, which I think is the real secret ingredient that tops it with a nice satanic little cherry.
I didn’t quite connect with Mechina’s album and now reading your description it’s like you reached into my unformed thoughts and put the reason’s why into words. It just felt a bit.. samey. Not that it’s bad, just somehow too close to safety.
Allegaeon’s album was their best so far in my humble opinion. I hope they continue. I’m going to have to check out the rest on here.
The new Meshuggah is killer 🙂
Glad to see Mechina get some love. I’m a pretty hardcore fan, every album since Empyrean has gotten an automatic buy from me. This is probably their best album yet, or at least their most consistent, overtaking Empyrean for me. Acheron was almost too ambitious and cinematic and even the best song of their career (On the Wings of Nefeli) couldn’t save it from sinking under the weight of its own synths. Progenitor is more conventional and works a lot better imo.