UNDERGROUND METAL FOR THE TRVE CURMUDGEON (BEST OF 2016 EDITION) — A LIST BY SURGICALBRUTE
(For the 6th year in a row, I asked our old pal SurgicalBrute to weigh in with his year-end list of favorite albums and EPs. As expected, he names a lot of underground releases that haven’t appeared before in our 2016 Listmania series.)
When I was asked once again to do my year-end list (something I’m growing to suspect, more and more, is a way for Islander to get back at me for being a loudmouth in the comment section the other eleven months of the year), I honestly wasn’t sure if I would have anything to contribute. When I write a list, I don’t want it to be just about which albums I liked, I like for it to be interesting, to hopefully show people a bunch of stuff they either forgot about or haven’t heard before.
Now, for whatever reason, my interests have been all over the place this year, and it seemed to me like I wasn’t giving metal my usual level of attention… until I sat down to really look over the music I discovered this year. At this point I can only conclude that, even distracted, I’m still more metal than 99% of the planet, because the amount of music I ended up wading through was beyond ridiculous. The act of narrowing down this list would have sent the untrve among you running for the nearest door, but fear not… I’m a professional.
So, now that we’ve gotten that rambling bit of egotistical back-patting out of the way… here’s my list of the best metal albums for 2016… enjoy \m/
Altarage – NIHL (black/death)
You’ve probably heard this album by now, and you either loved it or found it completely lacking. The fact is, though, it was released very early in 2016, and almost a year later we’re still talking about it. That says more than I ever could about the quality of this release.
Bestial Raids – Master Satan’s Witchery (black/death)
War metal is one of those genres that, if you aren’t doing something to stand out, then you’re going to quickly fall to the wayside. Bestial Raids have more than earned their ranking among that select few as one of the most devestating bands going today, and this is probably their strongest album to date.
Cultes Des Ghoules – Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love (black)
This is objectively the best black metal release of the year. Yes, I said objectively, because anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. What makes it even more impressive is that it comes on the heels of a bona-fide classic like Henbane. I’m honestly starting to wonder if they’re even capable of writing a bad album
Deiquisitor – Deiquisitor (death)
If youre a fan of truly chaotic death metal, than this is the album for you. Fast and brutal with a genuinely nasty atmosphere
Demon Bitch – Hellfriends (heavy)
The first thing people will probably notice is that this is not the production you’d typically expect for this type of metal… it’s much rougher… but that’s the point. It’s meant to sound like a throwback to an old cassette dub, because that murk blends so perfectly with the old-school heavy metal riffs that it just takes you back to the early days of the genre
Gespenst – Forfald (black)
Even for lovers of the darker side of music, this one will probably disturb your peace of mind. The haunting atmosphere and cold melodies will linger long after the album stops.
Krypts – Remnants of Expansion (death/doom)
Their debut album, Unending Degradation, was a bit of a let-down for me, but the addition of a second guitarist has allowed them to expand on their sound, increasing the doom elements as well as the atmosphere, making for a much stronger release.
Lihhamon – Doctrine (black/death)
Not a lot of background on this one, as this is the band’s first release, but it’s a half hour of harsh, abrasive, blackened death of the best kind
Mentor – Guts, Graves, and Blasphemy (Black/Thrash/Punk)
Not the black ‘n’ roll style I was expecting, this is more of a hardcore band with a bit of thrash thrown in for good measure. The riffs are undeniable, and they’ll have you banging your head and stomping your foot almost instantly.
Mortem – Deinós Nekrómantis (death)
Mortem can trace their sound directly from the foundations laid by bands like Slayer and Possessed, and are quite likely the best South American band you’ve never heard of. I’ve been waiting eleven years for this one, and I am happy to say, they are still total masters of death metal.
Saor – Guardians (folk/black)
As someone who genuinely loves folk music, I’m always going to have a soft spot for this style of metal, and this is among the best. The smoothness with which the folk influences are incorporated gives an epicness to these songs that only the top folk metal albums ever seem to achieve.
Scum – Garden of Shadows (Death)
Scum is one of the forgotten death metal bands of the ’90s Finnish scene. They actually did better than most at the time, managing to release two full-lengths, including their stellar sophomore release Purple Dreams & Magic Poems, before disappearing. Recorded as a follow up, Garden of Shadows sat on the shelf for 20 years, but shows all the strengths that made the previous album so outstanding.
Seax – Speed Metal Mania (speed)
No real surprises here, just straight-forward, lets get drunk, punk-inspired speed metal made like it’s supposed to be.
Skáphe – Skáphe² (black)
Chaotic and dissonant, this is an incredibly dense album that’s extremely difficult to penetrate even after repeated listenings… and that’s what makes it so great. For those who give it a chance, it’s the type of album that will continuously draw you back, always looking for a deeper understanding of what you’re hearing
Stillborn – Testimonio de Bautismo (black/death)
After nearly two decades of existence Stillborn are hardly newcomers, but all that time has allowed them to perfect what they do best — play blistering, raw, blackened death metal. Which is not to say the album is a repetitive blast fest, on the contrary each song has its own nuance that keeps the album moving nicely from start to finish.
Solothus – No King Reigns Eternal (Death/Doom)
I was a huge fan of this band’s debut full-length. They came out of the gate swinging as far as I was concerned, so I had high hopes for this release… and truthfully they surpassed them at every turn. The leads are tighter, the riffs are stronger, and the songs are just all around better. It’s clear now that Solothus are just hitting their stride
Uškumgallu – Rotten Limbs in Dreams of Blood (black)
It doesn’t matter whether it’s death metal, black metal, or a combination of the two, the guys from Triumvir Foul seem to do no wrong. Not the most accessible project they’ve released, this is raw and deranged black metal meant to inspire nightmares.
White Medal – Lyke Wake (black)
They take a unique approach to their lyrics by focusing on the history of Northern England, specifically Yorkshire. The raw production will probably turn a lot of people off, but there’s a surprising bit of melody to be found on this album.
Wode – Wode (black)
When it comes to, well, just about anything, I rarely buy into hype. It’s actually one of the quickest ways to make me ignore something. So I went into Wode with lowered expectations… and was completely blown away. Really great slab of true-to-its-roots black metal
Zhrine – Unortheta (black/death)
I was aware of Zhrine when their album came out. They were another name on the long list of bands I keep meaning to listen to, but usually never do. Then a last-minute set as a fill-in at MDF 2016 proceeded to drop my jaw on the floor. Everyone talks about their sound…”its heavy, its discordant”… but the thing that really just blows my mind is, at times, how delicate it can be. Forget about Blood Incantation, forget about Chthe’ilist, as good as those albums were, Zhrine owns them all.
A.M.S.G. – Hostis Universi Generis (black)
Asphyx – Incoming Death (death/doom)
Death Fortress – Deathless March of the Unyielding (black)
Hostium – The Bloodwine of Satan (black)
Temple Nightside – The Hecatomb (black/death)
Best EP’s 2016
Cadaveric Fumes – Dimensions Obscure (Death)
It’s getting harder and harder for death metal bands to carve out a new path for themselves, but that’s exactly what Cadaveric Fumes seem to be doing. While still firmly grounded in the old-school style, the strong influence of ’70s psychadelic rock has put them on a truly unique path. They’re more than worth keeping an eye on.
Kosmokrator – First Step Towards Supremacy (black/death)
Honestly, all I’m going to say here is that this is the album I wish Bölzer had released this year.
Qrixkuor – Three Devils Dance (death)
While we’ve been almost overdosed on this style of cavernous metal recently, I for one never get tired of it… and with a release like this, I’m more than happy to make room for Qrixkuor. Powerful and disturbing, this album puts them in a league of their own.
Tortorum – Rotten. Dead. Forgotten. (black)
Absolutely relentless Norwegian black metal. The band are doing nothing revolutionary, but the songs are enjoyably dark and bleak.
Vircolac – The Cursed Travails of the Demeter (Death)
Debut EP by this Irish five-piece. Vircolac place the emphasis firmly where it belongs, on great songs and strong atmosphere.
There are a few things here I really wanted to like, that didn’t wind up clicking for me – Qrixkuor, Wode, AMSG, Altarage. In some cases I may just need to keep listening; Altarage in particular left me cold. I know I’m in the minority but I didn’t get into “Henbane” and so I’ve failed to follow up on the new CGD.
I’m enjoying the raw sound of White Medal, it’s a bit amateurish but it’s not just a sack full of weasels having hate sex in a steel drum. Scum may be a little too overtly “melodeath” for my taste but I like their sound as well. I’ll give it more of chance. 90s Finnish DM has always been a favorite of mine and I’ve been digging deeper into the scene over the past year.
Loving this Skaphe album, abrasive yet somehow not too hard on the ears, and just to the right side of being incoherent. It’s a fine line and they walk it well. I feel like the drums hold it together.
I, too, was completely floored by Zhrine’s live set; the musicianship was top-notch (goddamn that drummer is a beast), and their vocalist has a great presence and seems to take real joy in performing. I honestly don’t feel like the recording quite does them justice. Really good album nonetheless.
I loved “Henbane”, but its more of a traditional occult black metal album. While it still fairly slow paced black metal overall, I think the new one is a bit more dynamic, with some elements of punk and even black n’ roll coming out at times.
Scum is indeed on the melodic side of things, but I wouldnt consider them a melodeath band. I think they have far more in common with a band like Desultory than they do with the numerous Gothenburg knockoffs that came out after At the Gates. If youre curious though, try out their first album “Mother Nature”…still melodic, but far more primitive than “Purple Dreams & Magic Poems” or “Garden of Shadows”
..and I agree with you about Zhrine, as good as the album is, it dosnt really hold a candle to their live show
I guess I saw “forgotten 90s Finnish DM” and went into the Scum album making unfair assumptions. 🙂 I like it on second listen, although it does seem a little too mid-paced; I honestly wish it had the energy of early Desultory, or some of the heavier Finnish groups like Adramelech or Demigod. I suppose the rock stylings in some of the tracks were to be expected by that time. I will definitely check out their earlier recordings, thanks for the recommendations.
FWIW I do like a fair amount of the early Gothenburg scene, the first two or three releases from ATG and Dark Tranquillity and A Canorous Quintet in particular. But man, did that scene ever shit the bed.
Yeah, I could have made that clearer. Musically, they have more in common with some forgotten Finnish death metal bands like Frozen Tear (similar, but quicker paced) or C.O.D.’s “Monolith Empire” (though not quite that melodic) who both released around that time (1995ish). The Desultory comparison had more to do with how I see them more as a Death Metal band that used melody as opposed to a melodic death metal band, if that makes sense.
…and again, I completely agree about Gothenburg melodeath…some of those early albums were enjoyable, but it was hammered into the ground, and then the whole melodic metalcore thing came along and beat the corpse into dust
Fuck man I love that you added Cadaveric Fumes. I really love that band and that EP was a diversion I didn’t expect at first, but was quickly hooked on. I love how loose and ghoulish it is. Cant wait to see what they’re up to next.
Really loved that Uskumgallu record too. Those guys are best in forms other than Ash Borer. And Urzeit was great this year too.
Lots of stuff I need to check out now. Thanks for another great list of wry wit and musical gold.
Yeah, Ive been relatively resistant to the whole 70’s rock + death metal thing that some bands have been trying, but Cadaveric Fumes really nailed it on that EP
I had Urzeit on this list for a good long time as well, but ultimately I liked Uskumgallu just a bit better…As much as I joked about it in my intro, I really did have a ton of good music I had to wade through and at some point you just kind of throw your hands in the air and go…”You know what…I really liked this album, but somethings got to go”
Id say thats exactly what happened with Urzeit and my list as well. I had it hovering for a while and then decided if I had to pick one Id go with the drugged out vibe of Uskumgallu.
In fact, as a year I found that I had a lot more records to listen to, but in comparison not a ton of bests. Still more than enough to make a list a hard bargain, but it was my “Almost made it” list that was very impressive this year.
I have this huge list of things Im probably going to end up loving that I just didn’t have the time to absorb.
Cultes Des Ghoules is one of those. I suspect I’ll be singing its praises come mid year.
“In fact, as a year I found that I had a lot more records to listen to, but in comparison not a ton of bests.”
I felt this way about last year…lot of very solid albums but nothing was really blowing my mind. This year I thought there was some really great stuff, but I just felt more distracted from digging into new releases like I have in the past
Kosmokrator sound great. And nice to see AMSG getting a little sick, perverted love.
Kosmokrator is indeed the tits…glad you liked them! That was one I knew was going on this list no matter what…
…and Im actually surprised at the lack of attention that A.M.S.G. album got as well
Coincidentally I just got back from Germany and found my new copy of that Wode album on my mat. Das ist gut, ja?
Im holding out hope that they re-release this in vinyl as I love that cover art so damn much
Beksinkski has adorned a number of covers this year, from Mizmor to Darkend and Wode and I believe a few others.
Im only just hearing about him because of the Wode cover and Im an instant fan. He’s like a Polish HR Giger, but maybe even a bit more horrific.
Holy cow, the Deiquisitor LP just kicked the crap outta me!!!
Its pretty awesome, right? 🙂
As expected, your list generates my longest queue of “stuff to check out”. And I’ll probably like it all, too, you son of a bitch.
Then my work here is done for another year 🙂
I dont always fully explore every post or comment section on this site, so I apologize if this has been answered previously, but I was wondering about the omission of the Deathspell Omega EP. Is it not considered underground? Were you just not a fan of it?
Also I forgot to say, really cool list! You definitely added a few new bands to my playlist. Love that Solothus album.
Glad you found some stuff you liked!
Honestly, while my tastes do tend towards the more underground side of things, whether something is really considered underground dosnt have a lot of bearing on what I listen to (Saor is downright un-kvlt 🙂 ). The title is really more of an inside joke with some of the people here who have known me for awhile and know how I view certain bands or genres.
As for the Deathspell Omega EP, for the most part Im just not a real big prog, technical, or avant-garde kind of guy…just not my style
I think I counted five releases from my own album list. I’m simply giving up compiling an EP list.
Also, a few overlooked gems like Lihhamon, Mortem & Scum. Damn fine list.
Basically I cheated with the EP list. When I write these year end lists I just go in with a set, arbitrary number…usually twenty releases…and work from there. This year I noticed a higher level of EP’s popping up, so rather than try and bump even more full lengths (which was already making me nuts) I just gave the EP’s their own section.
If you check back, Id be curious about which releases we had in common
Cultes Des Ghoules, Gespents, Krypts, Saor & Zhrine.
Skáphe and Wode have been on my wanted list for a long time, but Santa didn’t seem to like my behavior.
There’s a fair chance some of said overlooked gems would have made it to. If only they weren’t overlooked.
For the hell of it, in the category for EP, Single & Split, here are the nominees:
Nocturnal Graves – Lead Us To The Endless Fire/Sharpen The Knives, Selbst – An Ominous Landscape, Barús – Barús, Ifrinn – Ifrinn, Voodus – NightQueen, Deathcult – Demo ’12, The Hexagram – Demo MMXVI, Voidnaga – Demo MMXVI, Assailant / Ubiquitous Realities – Bringers Of Delusion, Putrisect / Scorched – Final State of Existence, Necrosic – Putrid Decimation, The Vision Bleak – The Kindred Of The Sunset, Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust,
Grave Miasma – Endless Pilgrimage, Lucifericon – Brimstone Altar, Au Champ Des Morts – Le Jour Se Lève, Uttertomb – Sempiternal, Maleficence – Realms of Mortification, Light of the Morning Star – Cemetery Glow, Zørormr – The Aftermath, Eyestral – Beware The Rat King, Drudkh / Hades Almighty – One who Talks With The Fog / Pyre Era, Black!, Cloak – Cloak, Astrophobos – Enthroned in Flesh, Firtan – Innenwelt, Zornheym – The Opposed, Lux Absentia – Antignosis, Sorcier des Glaces / Ende – Le puits des morts, Aethernaeum – Zwischen zwei Welten, Drudkh / Grift – Betrayed By The Sun / Hägringar, Ur Draugr & Haar, Cynabare Urne – Fire the Torches, Kosmokrator – First Step to Supremacy, Lebenssucht – Fucking My Knife, Sorguinazia – Sorguinazia, Venefixion – Armorican Deathrites, Sepulchral Curse – At the Onset of Extinction & In Aeternum – The Blasphemy Returns.
Nice!…Im going to have to dig through this a bit when I get a chance
Oye! Long time man! This is one list I always look forward to and can count on. On a personal note I just haven’t had time this year to look into the newer stuff, explains the lack of a list. Made more of a concerted effort to go back in time and dwell on the older records. For sometimes you end up grabbing onto all the new stuff and just failing at delineating their roots. Desultory, for instance. I’ve always been fond of ‘Into Eternity’ but then the early demos and their later records, or how they sounded , or how you chanced upon a band like ‘Utumno'(for at least the Simarillion reference) while looking into more Desultory. This kind of exercise was at least lacking, reflexively, to me. So have been majorly trying to improve in that department.
I can definitely sympathize with this. I never used to treat music as research, so I’d wind up loving a band or a particular album and not digging any further. To be fair, there’s a lot of hit-and-miss in those 90s scenes, between a number of honestly shitty demo releases and the massive influx of rock riffing and simplified songwriting that swept over nearly everything. I’m trying to dig around a lot more these days, though ultimately I have to follow my taste, and there are only so many hours I can put into listening.
And “Into Eternity” kicks ass. 🙂
“between a number of honestly shitty demo releases and the massive influx of rock riffing and simplified songwriting that swept over nearly everything.”
I love going through those old demo’s though. Theres some really great music to be found underneath the shitty production values.
Agreed about the whole rock-riffs and simplified songwriting though. It was the rise of those so-called “life metal” death metal bands that really did in the scene back then and caused people to gravitate towards the black metal scene that was popping up at the time
Oh, for sure, there’s some awesome stuff in there – Disgrace, Depravity, Phlegethon – some fantastic dark riffing and really compelling energy. That’s the kind of thing I wish the Finnish scene never lost, it seems like that sound dried up so quickly. I don’t even usually mind the recording quality. I’m more talking about cases where the music doesn’t hold up, like August Moon. I’ve definitely learned to keep my eye on the ball and not get turned off by a few substandard releases. It was hard to research and comparatively easy to get turned off by a bad purchase when I was younger, and that became a habit that I have to work against sometimes when finding more music, new or old.
I wonder how much of the rock influence in the 90s was due to market forces, pressure from labels, etc, in the wake of the MTV-driven grunge explosion. The death n’ roll thing sucked, by and large, but I feel like even bands that didn’t overtly dive into rock had a period of dumbing-down that coincided with greater commercial success. I’m happy (from a musical standpoint) that that phase also proved to be short-lived.
For my money, Funebrarum/Disma have done an awesome job of carrying that classic Finnish sound forward, and I recall liking the Vacant Coffin album, but I’m unaware of other bands really mining those veins these days, would love to find more if you have any suggestions.
I wasnt too taken with August Moon either. Musically, they werent very memorable, and with that combination of melody and technicality, its one of the few times I think the low production really hurt a band. As much as I prefer rougher more natural sounding production on albums, I think tech and melodic bands benefit from the opposite.
On the other side though, Im honestly stunned that the likes of Carnifex or Cartilage never got past the demo stage, because some really great music came from those bands.
I wouldnt be surprised to hear that at least some of the simplifying of metal during that time was an attempt to remain relevant. I think groove metal in particular was an attempt by other bands to ride the coattails of Pantera into a wider market.
As for new stuff, Im not sure which bands youve heard and which you havent, so apologies ahead of time if i hit a bunch you already know.
If you like Phlegethon and Vacant Coffin theyre actually done by the same guy, Lasse Pyykkö, and you really cant go wrong with any of his bands…Hooded Menace, Claws, even the early Acid Witch material. I usually find anything he’s involved with is at least worth checking out.
From off my list up above, both Krypts and Solothus are part of the new Finnish death metal scene, and Id also recommend Swallowed and Stench of Decay as well.
…and if you can track them down, Slugathor’s three full lengths are completely unfuckwithable (seriously…check out Echoes From Beneath). Theyve since broken up but a new band called Desecresy spun out of it, and while not as good, they make some solid death metal as well.
Oh hell yeah, thanks for the recommendations. 🙂 I didn’t realize Vacant Coffin was connected to Hooded Menace. The only Cartilage that I have is the split with Altar, which is great. Several here that I’m not familiar with, including the Finnish Carnifex. Found Slugathor online, and it sounds awesome so far, hilarious band name too… I’m glad some bands are carrying the torch, looking forward to hearing this stuff. Cheers dude.
I’d second the Slugathor reference. Great stuff. Desecresy too. Got a bunch of their cds last year. Basically a stripped to the bare bone Slugathor. a very hypnotic take on that style I’d say. Almost mantra like, Desecresy that is.
oh hell it does!
As far as the ‘research’ thing this year. I’ve been really grateful for it. Fell in love with a lot of bands and rediscovered some great ones. The demos in particular. Yes tons of it are drab and some of the tracks are better performed in the following releases of said bands. But sometimes there is pure gold. Like how Thergothon’s demo(..Yog Sothoth) for me sounded better than the ‘still’ seminal Stream from the Heavens. Some of Demilich. Fast forward today and there was this kickass demo release from by Celestial Grave(which has received very little attention) from the larger metal crowd. Totally different genre though.
and oh on a different note that Voidspawn EP.
I get like that a lot…it just really depends on my mood. I love digging through the old Finnish death metal scene because there are a lot of great bands that basically disappeared before getting past the demo or EP stage of their careers…so theres tons of forgotten stuff there….and the last couple of years, where I live has been hit with some nasty cold weather during the winter…stuff that was out of the ordinary for us. It basically put me in a mood to fill in some of the holes I had in my 90’s black metal collection, so I totally get where youre coming from
Really, glad you enjoy my lists though, Ive always enjoyed reading your in the past as well!
Interesting point, as much as the environment affects the make of the music so does the listening experience I guess. I live in a hot and humid part of the world. Its when it rains here like cats and dogs that stuff like this mostly appeal to me. You literally can’t venture out, that depresses you, and you’d want to go all out smash things – sounds cheesy and yet that mood helps. On the other hand I do fear that sometimes great records pass me by if listened to in a rather dull mood. The same goes for absolutely reviled records getting a plus if I am in the mood for it.
Yes that Gespenst album is extraordinary.
Indeed…top notch album!
best best of list for me so far
nice death taste
Hey..thanks. Glad you liked it!