(Wil Cifer delivers the third of his year-end lists, and in this one he names his top 10 black metal albums of 2016. The first installment, which focused on doom, is here. The second, focused on death metal, is here.)
Black metal continues to spread its curse, having left its stain as an influence on everything from punk rock to doom. The genre flourishes in even the most obscure corners of the world as it becomes the sound of anger for the isolated souls of this doomed generation.
The albums here have been gathered from every sub-genre. Veterans are being honored alongside new American bands who are taking risks to push their music into new places. I need more from black metal than just a collection of boring blast-beats recorded in a trash can. These albums have dynamic layers and songwriting that inspired me to return to these songs throughout the year. So here are my top ten black metal album of 2016:
10. Névoa – “Re Un ”
The atmospheric black metal duo from Portugal that brought the masterful Absence of Void are back with a darker and denser offering this time around.
In the last minute bellowing vocals come in after they have ridden a droning groove for the bulk of the opening song. There is a cleaner and more jangling guitar tone to the second song. Around the two-minute mark it begins to gain speed. These songs are looser jams than what they gave us on the first album. When the vocals come back in to help build things to more of a boiling point, the guitar gets weirder and then they continue to ebb back and forth like a breeze between roaring thunder storms.
This album is much more progressive than the first. This is both a blessing and a curse as it does push their brand of black metal into new places.
9. Deströyer 666 – “Wildfire”
It’s clear that early Slayer is engraved in this band’s DNA. I can hear a little Venom in the vocals, but right from the first falsetto scream it’s showing you no mercy. They lash out with the chemical warfare of their riffs. They keep up the speed for “Live and Burn”. The vocals are well-placed. It’s a forceful thrash narrative, snarled more than screamed or sung. Nasty and real, these song stuck to my bones.
8. Abbath – S/T
Immortal has been slugging it out longer than Queensrÿche over who owns the rights to their name. Leading guitarist and frontman Abbath Doom Occulta decided to just release this album under his own name, enlisting Creature (aka Kevin Foley, who is Benighted’s drummer) to pound along with Gorgoroth bassist King ov Hell. So, an Immortal / Gorgoroth super-group is what we are looking at here.
It is as if the material on this album are the songs that were written as the follow-up to the 2009 full-length All Shall Fall. After the intensity of the first song, I became okay with the shift away from the Immortal sound.
7. Black Table – “Obelisk”
Blast-beats do show up upon occasion, but are not the sole force propelling these songs, even when they are at their most raging. We have a dark hybrid of many styles meeting, none of them trying to be as cool as the other metal bands from New York work so hard at.
Thanks to Billy Anderson this album sounds good. The production really complements the depth of their dynamics. They get things sonically heavy; it is heavy metal with a juicy coat of darkness draping it, so all the basis are covered here. They also cover way more ground in one song than half of the bands who drag things out for fifteen droning minutes. It’s one of the more impressive metal releases I have heard recently.
6. Urfaust – “Empty Space Meditation”
This Dutch band is one of my favorite weird black metalish projects. The songs are all just labelled as meditations. The first meditation is actually just the atmosphere you might expect one to meditate to, before they blast off into the second meditation that is more snarling and finds them returning to the use of harshly screamed vocals. Keyboards hover over the blasting to create a darker web of the cavernous macabre. The more traditional style that I have come to expect from this project returns after three minutes. It’s sung a little higher than the more typical, booming, bellow-from-the chest voice. They slow out of the blasting into a sonically intense, but still melodic, movement before returning to the storm of blast-beaten madness. For me, returning to it was a little formulaic, but the trve cvltists tend to like keeping things simple, so this one goes out to them.
Overall this album is what you want from Urfaust. The band has added some new textures and layers. It might not be what you typically want from black metal, as they are not the heaviest black metal going, but they are certainly more thoughtful than most and melodic in a way that doesn’t seem like they are begging to be Opeth.
5. Darkthrone – “Arctic Thunder”
Their 16th album opens with a song that debuted on the inner-webs, “Tundra Leach”. This one churns at more of a Celtic Frost pace, even when it shifts into higher gear. Nocturno has more of a gurgling gruffness to his voice than we heard on Underground Resistance. This is a heavier and darker album that takes us back to more of a Circle the Wagons-like place. When I want to listen to Darkthrone music that is not from their classic era of second-wave black metal, I have to ask myself, am I going to reach for this album or The Cult is Alive? Only time will tell. However, fans of the band will find that this sits well next to their other work.
4. Inquisition – “Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith “
Dagon lets the chords ring out with such eerie dissonance that you know who this is right from the throttling descent into “From Chaos They Came”. Drummer Incubus brings some sinister grooves and really lays into his high hat. Vocally… well, it is what it is. The croaked vocals sound a little more relaxed on the opener while everything else is amped up. “Wings of Anu” feels like it carries a similar vibe in its throbbing power as the opener, though perhaps dialed back a few degrees. Some of their best work to date.
3. Oathbreaker – “Rheia”
This band from Belgium open their third album with an a cappella vocal before blasting into a more furious take on black metal. A minute and a half in it ebbs back down into a similar vocal to the one that opened the album. The vocals continue to be one of the things that makes this album stand out. Sometimes they go spastic, and at other moments (like the song “Being Able to Feel Nothing”) they are very emotive. Emotion and feeling drove this album to the top of the heap.
2. Tombs – “All Empires Fall”
What happens on Tombs‘ new album should not come as a surprise, considering how they have evolved with each album. The last album might not have been as dark as the previous, but Mike Hill and company continue to change.
With the inclusion of Fade Kainer into the fold on All Empires Fall it made me think that the industrial influence which has lurking under the surface would rise like Godzilla. This is not the case. They make it clear the metal isn’t going anywhere. They kick the fucking door down with a neck-crushing riff on the opening instrumental “The World is Made of Fire”. They lash into something closer to straight-up black metal for “Obsidian”. It’s not just full-blast ahead. These guys have more tricks up their sleeves. Do Kainer’s synths bring another sonic layer? Yes, but it doesn’t compromise their sound.
1. Anagnorisis – “Peripeteia”
The narrative these songs are woven around provides a more personal touch then most black metal bands allow themselves to create. There are no arctic wastelands or occult gibberish to hide behind. In some ways, were it not for the sonic storm cloud raging as this album’s heartbeat, you might mistake this for hardcore. The vocals keep their scathing snarl as a static coat of white noise, to a similar effect as Deafheaven. Their approach to black metal is less atmospheric, and the ambience is of a more emotional nature. It is without question one of the better black metal albums I have come across recently; these guys have really stepped up their game when it comes to songwriting.