(Wil Cifer delivers the first of several year-end lists, and in this one he names his top doom albums of 2016.)
This was a rough year for the genre and the universe. By the end of it I needed my doom to be even darker and more more dismal than what I was finding. These albums are what I felt to be the best gems of the year’s doom crop that I did come across. There are many shades of doom here — a sense of loss and mourning is what I need from doom, more darkness than death metal, so that is reflected here. Abandon all dope ye who enter here, for here lies my top 10 doom albums of 2016.
10. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – “Y Proffwyd Dwyll”
This band’s name is almost too over the top for me to take them seriously, but you don’t have to get more than halfway into the first song before it’s hard to deny them. Hailing from Wales these kids have only been at it for a couple of years, making this their second album. The guitar sound is big and dense like sludge, but they have enough somber atmosphere to qualify as doom.
The croon of the female vocals is not what you would think to pair with the music churning under their melodies. Jessica Bell’s voice sets this band apart in a way that leaves the bulk of their more burly barking counterparts in the dust.
9. Swamp Witch – “The Withering Bog”
The hunger for new doom awoke in time for me to dip into the new album from Oakland’s Swamp Witch. The vocals are a low death metal growl, but everything else paints the perfect picture of doom. From the first song I was delighted to hear that the album cover perfectly matched the murky darkness being dragged from these sonic waters.
8. The Howling Void – “The Triumph of Ruin”
The album cover doesn’t lie. What is inside sounds just like the images appearing on the fifth full length from this one-man project out of Texas. The album opens with a weird mix of tremolo-picked guitar running over a track that is otherwise doom-paced to create a unique dynamic tension. The vocals are sung, but low in the mix and used more as a passing texture.
This is a beautiful album. It walks the line between black metal and doom, with the doom side winning out so, if you are a fan of either genre then this is worth a listen. A word of warning to those who prefer the harsher side of either genre, this album really cares about its lushness.
7. Lycus – “Chasms”
An album that defied the boundaries of my favorite sub-genre, but undertook the task so masterfully that it’s hard to complain. Where 2013’s Tempest had a more mournful elegance, the new slab of density from this band finds a more aggressive and raw rumble.The drums give the thundering opener “Solar Chamber” more propulsion than the band found on the entire last album, just in the first nine minutes.
Some of the shift in sonics is due to line-up changes with bassist Brett Tardiff and guitarist Dylan Burton joining the band. Overall it was mesmerizing.
6. Naga – “Inanimate”
The third album from this Italian trio opens up with a throb, showing that it’s possible to still be a doom band and not have to crawl along. It’s about as fast as a band wants to be without crossing over into sludge.
A very hateful mood carries a darker attitude than many black metal bands who lose the mood because they are so preoccupied with blast beats. It’s what I want out of bands that go in this direction — dark as it is dense and not so rough around the edges that it loses its ambiance and kills the mood. If you like doom with teeth and devoid of Black Sabbath worship, these guys got ya.
5. Spirit Adrift – “Chained to Oblivion”
Found myself a little torn between whether this band wants to be Candlemass or Pallbearer. Granted, everyone one knows Candlemass came before, but there is something in the moody way the vocals are delivered that makes me think they might owe more to Pallbearer, who have been out long enough now that we will start to see other bands aside from Khemmis come out trying to cop their sound.
Spirit Adrift aren’t afraid to pick up the pace, and the overall end result was pretty rocking. If you are looking for some melodic doom, this is worth your time.
4. Heavydeath – “In Circles We Die”
A raw Celtic Frost-like vibe haunts the brand of deathly doom this Swedish band has returned to grind out. Very rough around the edges, there is still a well-balanced sense of atmosphere even when they chug into the more sludge-like “Slumbering Monolith”, though I prefer what they were doing on the album’s opener.
The growls are low and gurgling, though still deliver the lyrics in a way that can be understood in one listen.Overall the production on this album is a notch above their previous full-length. They incorporate a wide range of guitar tones and atmospheric sounds, making for a more well-rounded experience.
3. Obed Marsh – “Innsmouth”
With nasty rasped vocals, this sludge-dipped doom band delves into Lovecraft. It sounds like their singer is being turned into an aspect of Dagon as he croaks his guts out. It’s the gloomy lethargy in the pacing of the opening song that solidifies this as doom in my book.
Going into this, know that for the duration you are in for crushing doom with the filth of death metal coating it. These guys should get props for having some of the wickedest growls set to record this year. Normally after a few songs growling can get old for me if it is not varied, yet here it works.
2. Beastmaker – “Lusus Naturae”
While this band from California indulge in the Sabbath-worshiping lumber of your more mainstream doom, they manage to have a sound that sets them apart from their peers. It’s by the third song “Arachne”, when the vocals are beginning to sound like Acid Bath-era Dax Rigg’s drugged-out baritone, that this is most evident. This is fine with me as I prefer this to someone doing a half-ass Ozzy impersonation.
The band’s strengths lie in not playing by the doom rule book and dipping into this darker sound. Still, fans of more traditional forms of doom will find lots to love about this album.
1. Khemmis – “Hunted”
At times more NWOBHM than doom, and “3 Gates” starts off too up-tempo to be doom at all, but in the end it got the most play time and had enough melancholy to qualify as doom. After all, Black Sabbath albums didn’t always crawl all the way to the finish line, so something can be said for the dynamics.
This one earned itself space at the top, not because it was the most dismal, but because I listened to it the most, which at the end of the day is what matters.