(Last week we published the first three installments of Austin Weber’s year-end lists, which were devoted to death metal, black metal and grind, and mathcore and instrumental metal. This is the fourth and final installment.)
My goal has been to bring you a massive alternative list of my favorite lesser-known releases of the year, divided into several parts. Which means I won’t post a lot of releases that you see on other lists. Not because I didn’t dig a lot of them, but because you already know about them and will be seeing a lot of the same names being repeated elsewhere.
Undoubtedly some of the releases will be ones you’ll know or heard mentioned in passing, but hopefully you’ll find more new bands and music you were unaware of overall. Quotes that appear below the following releases were pulled from my reviews, multi-band articles, and song premieres from music covered here at NCS and my 2016 posts from Metal-Injection. You’ll also find some new mini write-ups for releases I didn’t get a chance to cover anywhere this year, but loved as well.
Prog and Experimental Metal
Lizard Professor – Eccentricity
“In its totality, Eccentricity covers a diverse sonic range comparable to fellow modern prog weirdos such as Between The Buried And Me, Cyborg Octopus, and The Odious. While also drawing strong comparisons (at times) to groove-oriented ethereal groups like The Devin Townsend Project, as well as sporting a strong influence and mindset from the off-the-wall multi-genre oddball music of Mr. Bungle.”
“Eccentricity also has a strong penchant for diving into segments and riffs in line with progressive death metal, modern shred-heavy melo-death like Conducting From The Grave and Flub, proggy sludge moments, plus some power metal influences in both the guitar-work and vocals at times, and also technical death metal inspired moments as well.”
“From the amazing instrumental performances of each member that deliver the foundation for the music, to the massive range of vocal styles and techniques carefully augmented by playful and well chosen vocal effects, Eccentricity is one of the best prog metal albums I’ve heard in modern times.”
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Fountainhead – Reverse Engineering
“While guitaist Tom ‘Fountainhead’ Geldschläger has been creating music for many years now, his phenomenal performance on Obscura – Akróasis earlier this year really helped raise his visibility in the metal community. Though he is no longer with Obscura, he has already contributed greatly to another fantastic record this year on the new Pitts Minneman Project full-length, The Psychic Planetarium. Apparently his creativity is limitless, because he’s already back at it again with a new solo album called Reverse Engineering.”
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Nostril Caverns – Repressed Memory Games
I struggled with where to fit this album into these year-end lists, as it doesn’t comfortably reside in any one genre — Repressed Memory Games is a chaotic puree of complex black metal, death metal, progressive metal and more. But since it’s very progressive and experimental sonically at its core, it seemed best to place it in this column.
“The music is pretty hard to explain, so the easiest way I can try to put it is to have you imagine what it would sound like if Dysrhythmia, Hella, Behold The Arctopus, and Dillinger Escape Plan joined forces with the aim of crafting bizarre and rhythmically disjointed ‘experimental technical black metal’”.
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Bearstorm – Biophobia
One of the more interesting new bands I discovered last year was the Richmond, Virginia-based act Bearstorm, who play a pretty weird mix between sludge, black metal, and prog. We were lucky enough to help the band stream their 2015 record, Americanus early here at NCS and it was one of my favorite records of the year. Somehow the band is already back at it with a freshly released five-song EP called Biophobia that sees the band diversifying their sound even further. Once again, I’ll defer to a quote from Islander who described the new effort well when premiering “Cryptobiotic Filth Destroyer” recently:
“Bearstorm have already proven that they’re genre manglers, and on this new release the music is no more easily classifiable. The band have used the phrase ‘blackened southern deathprog’. Grimoire Records has described the music as ‘somehow simultaneously inspired by classical music and southern rock — falling somewhere between Enslaved and Russian Circles'”.
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Ehnahre – Douve
I also struggled with where to place Ehnahre, as the band is overall an avant-garde death/doom group, and I don’t have a doom category. But, they are very experimental and progressive-oriented musically, so placing them in this year-end list category seemed like the best fit.
“Douve can neither be described in simple terms, nor boxed in stylistically due to its many shifts in style and genre from song to song. Taken as a whole, it’s a class-act example of musical deconstructionism, with multiple metal and non-metal influences colliding and informing the album’s schizophrenic identity.”
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Ehnahre – Nothing and Nothingness
“Ehnahre’s minimalist take on experimental doom here really does something for me. Likewise, I quite enjoy that the feeling and compositions on Nothing and Nothingness seem to come from a different place than the more eclectic leanings of their earlier 2016 full-length, Douve. Then again, the group seem to consistently shift the goal post for who and what they are, so this is somewhat oddly in line with my expectations for what a new Ehnahre release would bring.”
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Pitts Minnemann Project – The Psychic Planetarium
“With The Psychic Planetarium, they’ve brought in renowned guitarist Tom “Fountainhead” Geldschläger (ex-Obscura, and more) on both fretless and fretted guitar, as well as their longtime friend, bassist Jerry Twyford (ex-Scholomance), who has worked with Jimmy Pitts numerous times up to the present.”
“To say this is a fresh voice in the fusion-oriented prog music realms almost seems like an understatement, given the incredible nature of the music on this album. And I say that as a longtime fusion/prog fan, well aware of the all-time greats in the field, ranging from Return To Forever to Mahavishnu Orchestra, and many others.”
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Non-Metal Stuff n’ Thangs
Moon Hooch – Red Sky
The dueling saxophone-focused electronica mimicking dance music from New York based trio Moon Hooch has been a huge favorite of mine ever since I was lucky enough to catch them live about four years ago. While the band has long since included vocals into the mix on a few songs on the last album and also on this one, they’ve lost none of their initial inventive spark. Red Sky is yet another intriguing effort by a forward-thinking group that defies easy categorization while still delivering an upbeat and unique listening experience.
Perhaps – 4
When Boston-based modern prog wunderkinds Perhaps called it quits about two years back, I was crushed. Having seen them live multiple times and loved all their prior records, losing them felt like a big deal in a modern prog-rock landscape more often infatuated with re-creating retro sounds over modern original re-combinations of ideas and styles into something new. And then seemingly out of nowhere, the band started back up again and dropped their fourth album this October, aptly titled 4.
Like all their prior releases, 4 is a single-song composition that’s dense and lengthy, clocking in at 40 minutes. With 4, the band have eschewed some of their prior prog-rock leanings in favor of a prog sound more laser-focused on hybrid psychedelic and jazz-heavy loose jam-oriented material. Get into the weirdness; acid optional, but suggested.
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A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Growing up as a teenager, the music of A Tribe Called Quest was very important to me as it captured something unique that no other group has replicated. Call it jazz-inflected hip-hop or whatever you want, the group have always defied conventional thought and shied away from easy-to-sell, surface-level material in favor of music on the chill and introspective side of things in an authentic way. And this year’s surprising new comeback album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, is a worthy addition to their highly praised prior discography that I love so much.
They Might Be Giants – Phone Power
I’ve got a very “un-metal” confession to make: Alternative rock weirdos They Might Be Giants have consistently been my favorite rock band since I was a small child. Their brand of nonsensical-meets-high-brow-art take on experimental and eclectic rock and roll always made me happy. And somehow, even in their advanced age, the main two Johns behind it have yet to lose their creative touch.
Phone Power is the culmination of their latest adventure into creating one-of-a-kind custom songs available when you call a special number, something they’ve been doing for decades under the title Dial-A-Song. The songs here are quite catchy as per usual, and laced with the band’s signature wit and bizarre lyrics that always add a special touch that separate them from the majority of their peers.
Phish – Big Boat
A lot of people knock Phish, and while I don’t agree with them, I guess I can see why the group gets a bad rap since they certainly aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. That said, I’m one of those rare fans of the band who have never seen them live, but always loved their studio album output across multiple decades, as the band is composed of endlessly talented musicians who play very eclectic music. Big Boat is their latest jaunt, and true to its name, it’s both extensive and feels like a meticulously constructed vessel with the purpose of sending you on a journey that will frequently surprise you.
Westworld Season One Score by Ramin Djawadi
While this may come as a surprise pick to some, I’m secretly a TV/film-score junkie at heart, and the score for Westworld is an impressive and emotive experience that has a subtle epic quality to it that I love. Making do with a “less is more” ethos, not every piece of the score is the most complex, but each contains recognizable melodies that worm their way into our hearts and minds. Plus, I’m a sucker for piano-driven music in general, and the soundtrack for the shows’ score also features some interesting instrumental piano-only versions of pop songs too.
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Having covered previous Childish Gambino records on my NCS year-end lists, I knew I’d be doing the same for the new one, “Awaken, My Love!”. What I didn’t know ahead of time was how far a departure from his prior hip-hop roots this album would be.
“Awaken, My Love!” is more experimental, mainly rooted in soul, psychedelic funk a la Funkadelic and Parliament, and R & B overall. In addition, Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) sings the whole time on this record as opposed to rapping like normal on prior records. The overall result works far better than you might imagine, and “Awaken, My Love!” showcases a musical depth that surprised even me after getting into his music mainly due to his skills as a lyricist and rapper.
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always had a split relationship with the music of Aesop Rock, one divided between recognizing his ridiculous level of talent and skill as a rapper and lyricist, but often feeling nothing from many of his songs. But given that he’s always been less “hook”-centered musically than most rappers, I suppose this is more a testament to his willingness to buck trends and less about my ability to adapt to what he does differently from others. Still, his latest album, The Impossible Kid, has struck a deeper chord for me than prior albums did.
ToneDeff – Polymer
Some of you may recall the 2013 EP Demon by NYC-based phenomenally talented singer/rapper/songwriter/producer ToneDeff since I covered it here at NCS two years ago after stumbling onto it in 2014, mainly due to its somewhat angry feeling, absurdly fast delivery, and the “metal” feeling of its philosophically entrenched lyrical themes.
At the time I was unaware that said EP was but one of four envisioned in a conceptual cycle of releases exploring a completely different style and sound on each EP. Like the brilliant musician he is, ToneDeff has now packaged all three prior EPs together with the final EP of material in this year’s finished and fully compiled four-part Polymer album (in a smart marketing move, the final EP of material is only available when you purchase a physical copy of Polymer, and the Bandcamp page for Polymer only contains songs from EPs 1 through 3, except for the first song, which I’m pretty sure is a new one, as a teaser). Given the massive contrast in the material from EP to EP, this is quite the eclectic release that should appeal to a wide swath of hip-hop heads.
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