(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. Follow these links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. And guess what? There’s still one more part left to come after this one.)
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 the top 10. What’s left after that will come your way on Monday.
10) Winterhorde – Maestro
Israel’s Winterhorde have charted themselves quite the interesting career path during their existence, having shifted genres multiple times. They are currently something that is hard to define, as the band pack a ton of different elements into their 2016 concept album Maestro. There’s symphonic work, folk work, death metal, and some of their roots as a melodic black metal band still show through. There’s also a saxophone in one song. Basically, Maestro was written using the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, and the neighbor’s kitchen sink, method of songwriting. That the Winterhorde crew manage to make it work is truly an impressive feat.
Maestro moves its tendrils in a bunch of different directions and Winterhorde are happy to follow along, whether it be with some added Theremin or a multi-pronged vocal attack that can feature some powerful clean singing or some hefty mid-range growling. Music video single “Worms Of Soul” doesn’t even hint at a quarter of what Winterhorde have managed to pack into Maestro, as they have made a disc that could be defined as an epic — with a heaping helping of Satan just to really seal the deal.
You have powerful songs like “Antipath”, which I couldn’t even hope to caterwaul the chorus of, and it’s paired with sibling “Chronic Death”, whose chorus does almost the same thing. Then you have the epics, like the titular “Maestro” and “Dancing In Flames”, which are both seven minutes long, and the eleven-minute centerpiece “The Heart Of Coryphee” — which like many of the longer songs featured on this list becomes a journey in its own right.
Part of the joy of Maestro for me came from seeing that these guys were still going after the six years since the release of Underwatermoon, and now it seems like they must have been writing and refining music the whole time. Maestro is a fantastic release.
9) In Mourning – Afterglow
This list is filled to the brim with bands that have had massive amounts of time pass between albums. But only a few of those truly made me feel the passage of time quite like the four years between In Mourning’s Afterglow and the group’s prior album The Weight Of Oceans. Serving as a continuation of The Weight Of Oceans, Afterglow sees the band travelling further down its doomier sort of post-suffix prog death rabbit hole into seven awesome songs (two of which will be fighting out for our Most Infectious list, I imagine) totaling out to about fifty-three (!) minutes of music.
Afterglow is a slow mover for sure, but the music within is gorgeous and layered, with In Mourning spending a lot of time picking and choosing the best elements of their previous albums and contorting them into their current shape. If you loved The Weight Of Oceans (I did) you should be right at home, but if you also have a soft spot for the quicker melodeath of Monolith (as I do), then Afterglow also has something for you. It basically feels like the truest evolution of the group’s album The Shrouded Divine (which I also enjoy — is Afterglow’s inclusion here starting to make sense yet?), except with a penchant for story-telling slipped in.
The group make full use of the vocal talents that they have available, and each bit seems to happen naturally, so any clean singing fits in perfectly alongside the harsh yells and death growls. With fifty-three minutes of time to use, the band cover a lot of ground, and that makes Afterglow a fun and interesting listening experience. It’s another amongst my growing collection of “constant discovery” albums, but even at first blush, hearing the band deliver a slightly more up-tempo take on the dramatics of The Weight Of Oceans was enjoyable in its own right.
I have a suspicion Afterglow would’ve placed much higher were 2016 not such a massive year for music, but even so, it managed to hijack a bunch of my time.
8) Dormant Ordeal – We Had It Coming
Look, there are absolutely some shortcuts for a band to take in order to weave its way into my heart. Naming your disc something like We Had It Coming may in fact be one of them. And if you can make your disc sound like Dormant Ordeal’s 2016 release, then that aforementioned heartworming is goddamned guaranteed.
We Had It Coming is an excellent release by the Polish death metal group, and one that I checked out based upon the review on our very site. Like a lot of Polish death metal, it’s filled with massive riffs, and the group spend a large amount of time sounding like a combination of Decapitated, Hate, and Ulcerate (the last one obviously not being fellow countrymen, but they share the same sense of noisy and discordant riff work).
The album has some absolutely massive grooves buried within it. “A Dim Reminder”, for instance, has one that the group hint at in the opening before fully playing it out much later, and it has cored itself into my skull. The two-part “Derangement Zone” tracks are both equally as ear-wormy, but the album as a whole feels like one crushing guitar groove after another being layered on top of you. The massive blastbeat sections make Dormant Ordeal sound absolutely huge and full of the disdain that would lead a band to name their album something like “We Had It Coming”. We Had It Coming is one of those albums that seems to trigger an almost Pavlovian response in headbanging; it is so percussive in nature that you can’t help but nod along with it.
Put one on the board for the Dormant Ordeal crew. because they nailed it to the wall this year.
7) Volturyon – Cleansed By Carnage
One of the things you’ll learn about me throughout the top end-of-the-year list is that I absolutely love a relentless snare drum sound, so if your disc is just full of wall-to-wall blasting then at the very least you have my ear. Volturyon took full advantage of that, building upon the foundation they laid with their 2014 EP Human Demolition and kicking out a massive full-length in Cleansed By Carnage.
You can tell with one glance at the cover art that these guys are going to be some solid and relentless Swede-death, and they are that to a “T”. Cleansed By Carnage had me constantly headbanging all through the year, with its driving guitar sections in songs like “Pile Of Human”, “Fungus Coat”, the titular “Cleansed By Carnage”, and “Cocoon”, and with the more twisted and murderous takes in songs like “To Starve You” and “Hinterkaifeck”. Of course, the Hypocrisy cover at the end certainly didn’t hurt things one bit. My personal favorite song award has to go to “The Capital Of Perverse Punishment”, though, as its chugging and percussive “PUNISHMENT” section seems built for both crowd interaction and headbanging, and you can just feel that in your veins as you listen to the song.
Volturyon are one of my go-to headbang bands for sure, as the guys have the chainsaw groove down pat and Cleansed By Carnage is just full of it.
6) Gadget – The Great Destroyer
Okay, wait. I’ve still got your attention right? We’re almost there, I swear. How do you feel about one more grind disc? Let me spread the gospel of Gadget’s The Great Destroyer to you.
The Great Destroyer found itself being ratcheted up in plays as the year went along. Like Teethgrinder’s Nihilism above on this list, it just seems to be seething with absolute rage. It actually reminded me a bit of Exhale’s When Worlds Collide in that regard. It is one massive blaster after another, sounding as if the band are just launching endless orbital strikes on the planet; by the end of The Great Destroyer, you can imagine that the Earth has reverted to a state of molten rock.
“Enemies Of Reason” opens things up incredibly strong, but the following four or five songs all seem to spill into it as well, one crashing guitar section after another and the barely restrained vocals on top clinging on for dear life. For a while, it was Gadget and Rotten Sound running side-by-side for me, as both of them felt like riff-fest- and circle-pit inciters. But Gadget won out due to the fact that it never EVER seems to slow down — whereas I think Rotten Sound did once. Plus, “Enemies Of Reason”, “The 02666 Heritage”, and “Choice Of A Lost Generation” were proving to be songs that were tailor-made for my listening taste as the year went on.
The Great Destroyer became a highlight for me as the year progressed and a constant go-to to help me pass the time at work, as multiple listens came fast and easy.
5) Khonsu – The Xun Protectorate
I know I promised an end to the apocalyptic and sci-fi themes earlier on, but let me get one more sci-fi release past you — featuring the death of a space colony! — with Khonsu’s 2016 album The Xun Protectorate.
I’ve long said that Khonsu makes music that is absolutely fascinating — it has been really nice to see NCS as a whole rally around this disc — and the project does so again by providing a concept album in The Xun Protectorate. Based in the far future, the album is referred to as experimental black metal, but it is much more than that because it covers so much ground. There’s a ton of clean singing on it, but an absolutely harsh and deafening vocal performance as well. There’s elements of industrial, elements that are more death metal, and the requisite black metal core.
Basically, Khonsu are one of the few groups out there that when given the freedom to experiment, with few boundaries, seem able to crank out very high-quality material. The heavier songs like “Visions Of Nehaya” (which I was familiar with from the Traveller EP), “A Jhator Ascension”, “Liberator”, and “Death Of The Timekeeper” are all a joy to hear, but even the more epic numbers like “Toward The Devouring Star”, “The Tragedy Of The Awakened One”, and “A Dream Of Earth” are undeniable as well. Hell, even the electrified groove of “The Observatory” is a lot of fun.
Khonsu remains an amazing project with a fantastic discography, where just about everything they’ve done is worth listening to — especially if you’re a fan of experimentation within the black metal realm as a whole.
4) Gloria Morti – Kuebiko
I mentioned earlier that I am a huge fan of a tightly-wound snare attack, and Finland’s Gloria Morti have got me covered with their release Kuebiko. Kuebiko is absolutely relentless. For much of it, the band pick one terrifically bludgeoning tempo and stick to it. It is so blast-heavy that I can’t help but wonder if this is what it sounds like from the inside of an empty oil drum as it is riddled with bullets. Basically, Gloria Morti ignited the absolutely primal aspect within me this year, as so much of the album feels like windmilling guitar riffs and massive rhythm-section pummelings that you can’t help but go kind of caveman on the album as a whole.
The first three songs of the disc are simply murderous, one launching right into the next, and you really don’t get a breather until the massive “Chimeral Form” kicks off. It and the song “Executioner” both have the white-knuckle, accelerating-full-speed-at-a-brickwall songwriting down pat. So much of the album is a high-speed nightmare that you can’t help but be impressed. And then you hit the twelve-minute closer of “The Termination Of All Bonds” and you can’t help but wonder where the fuck that came from.
Kuebiko feels like one of the more underrated releases this year, though it has to have been one of my most-listened-to discs for an adrenaline rush this year. Yes, there probably isn’t a proper pit groove in sight. Instead, it is just a maddening blast all the way from start to finish.
3) Necronautical – The Endurance At Night
The UK managed to score one for the symphonic black metal scene with the release of Necronautical’s The Endurance At Night. Now, I did a very deep dive on this album in my review, but the shorter version of it is that I love the hell out of this disc and was impressed by it.
I had thought the group’s last release Black Sea Misanthropy was a ton of fun, but The Endurance At Night is a much more mature and focused album, one that starts out with a handful of catchy songs but then goes for the full-on grandiose theatrics in its back half with longer songs like “Strom” and “Theia”. “Strom” especially has proven to be one of my favorite songs that the band have put out, though the doomier “Theia” and the title track also rank pretty high.
Basically, Endurance At Night doesn’t have a bad song among its seven tracks. Each one holds something different and they all prove to be a surprise at one point or another. “Nihilarkitel” is infectious and catchy as hell, “Strom” is heavier than hell with some fantastic screaming, “Endurance At Night” is simply glorious… the list goes on and on.
Put bluntly: The love affair with The Endurance At Night has been rather torrid on this end, and since its July release has seen constant play for me. In fact: I wrote a large amount of this list listening to it. Now I should probably go back and make sure that my descriptions of other songs don’t have me describing this disc instead.
2) Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole Of The Law
We now get into the section of the list that I affectionately refer to as the DGR-albums list, in that these are albums that could not be any more in my wheelhouse than if I had written them.
I adored Anaal Nathrakh’s previous release Desideratum. It is still a go-to quick hit to my system. It was at the top of my list the year it came out. Anaal Nathrakh are one of those bands who seem to scratch an itch for me like few others; their nihilistic industrial, death, black metal, everything at a million miles per hour, songwriting style holds instant appeal for me. That said, I had no idea where the hell The Whole Of The Law was going to travel.
After Desideratum it seemed like every individual element that made up the band’s sound had been cranked to the max, so what do you do when you don’t have sheer bombast as propellant anymore? On The Whole Of The Law, the band apparently decided to basically strip away some of the polish that had been applied to Desideratum (even I can admit that disc was very “shiny”) and make things a little bit more raw and chaotic.
There are whole songs on this album that feature no clean singing, instead just the music moving at a million miles an hour and Dave Hunt screaming over the whole thing until it sounds like the man has no voice left. It has delightfully twisted songs like “…So We Can Die Happy”, “You Will Beg For Our Secrets”, and “Extravaganza!” in its mix, as well as relentless tracks such as “On Being A Slave” and “Of Horror And The Black Shawls”. “The Great Spectator” is definitely one of the catchier songs on the album for sure, but that’s assuming folks can get past the initial love affair with “Depravity Favours The Bold”, itself an infectious-as-hell song.
As stereotypical as it sounds, Nathrakh seem to have found the keys to my musical taste, and the group’s extended discography has been one of my favorites to go into and romp around in for a while.
Also, “…So We Can Die Happy” has the goddamned best ending you guys. That whole song is just delightful.
1) Harakiri For The Sky – III: Trauma
This album right here. This disc has to be the absolute champion of discs that I listened to this year. The depressive black metal (self-described, I’m not sure where I stand on that) of Austria’s Harakiri For The Sky and their album III: Trauma was one that I listened to CONSTANTLY from the moment we received the promo. If there was any disc I was prone to spreading the gospel of this year, it was this one. III: Trauma is probably the only album I can honestly say that I have listened to once a day, every day, since it came out this year.
It’s a little bit more up-tempo and melodically minded than the group’s previous release Aokigahara, and there is just so much in Trauma that I kept going back to it. Hell, I felt like I was screaming from the rooftops when I was trying to tell people just how goddamned good “Funeral Dreams” is, and absolutely elated when we got to post the lyric video for it.
Trauma seems like an album where the songs were written in pairs. “Funeral Dreams” and “Thanatos” feel like two sides of the same coin; “This Life As A Dagger” and “The Traces We Leave” sound like siblings; “Viaticum” and “Dry The River” are so tied together in my mind that I absolutely can’t listen to one without the other; and the spillover from “Bury Me” into “Calling The Rain” is one of the most perfect segues for repeats that I have ever heard.
Every song on this disc is over six, and close to ten, minutes in length, yet the Harakiri For The Sky crew seem to know the exact perfect part to play to keep the song going — just when you think a song is getting a little long in the tooth, here comes an obvious-from-a-mile-away two-step guitar riff. Hell, “Funeral Dreams” seems to fold in on itself so many times that after a while you feel okay just letting that one play over and over again. “Viaticum”, with its eight-plus-minute length keeps growing and evolving during the whole listening session with it.
As its placement on this list signifies, I will say that Trauma was hands-down one of my favorite releases of this year. My top five in general all come as incredibly easy recommendations, but in terms of the one that I listened to the most, know the most about, and am still liable to listen to a shit-ton (outside of my prescribed-by-the-doctor Anaal Nathrakh hit to the system?), it’s going to be Harakiri For The Sky’s III: Trauma.