(Our annual LISTMANIA series includes re-posts of lists from “big platform” music sites and selected print zines, but we usually don’t re-post lists from other metal blogs because that truly would make this long series virtually endless. But we’ve again made an exception for Brutalitopia, because through a variety of MDF hijinks over the years, the NCS crew has become fast friends with the Brutalitopia miscreants. Besides, how could I resist the opportunity to post that GIF that Mick made?)
Hello No Clean Singing! We’re Brutalitopia, a Chicago/North New Jersey (not the swamp part tho) based metal blog. We put up our individual Best of 2016 lists here, here, and here, and then Islander was kind enough to let us combine our lists through the power of math and share it here with all of you (personally, I think he’s trying to get Listmania to last the whole year).
Speaking of years, 2016 was a silly year for a vast cornucopia of reasons, but I think we can all agree the metal it produced fuckin’ owned. So without further ado, here are the ten albums the Brutalitopia staff thought owned the most!
Tie Breaker: Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution / Zhrine – Unortheta
Rock, Paper, Scissors:
Round 1 Mick Rock/ Tom Scissors
Round 2 Tom Scissors/ Mick Paper
Round 3 Mick Paper/ Tom Rock
Therefore: Hammers is officially # 11 and Zhrine # 10
11. Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution (Tom # 3)
Tom: Truth be told, I was very late to the Hammers bandwagon; about a year after the excellent 17th Street hit record shelves, did I find myself finally listening to it. For those unfamiliar, Hammers of Misfortune are a wealth of different musical styles which include Thin Lizzy-like guitar harmonies and Jon Lord’s keyboards in conjunction with folkloric lyrics; comparisons to bands like Slough Feg, Brocas Helm, and Dark Quarterer are common. “Flying Alone” almost could be mistaken for a Christian Mistress cut, but it has added depth with those wonderful keyboards and Hutton’s vocal flair.
Dead Revolution might not do anything new for the band; but it’s all of the old things it does right, that help it to stand out in 2016.
10. Zhrine – Unortheta (Mick #3)
Mick: If you’re a fan of the overwhelming heaviness of a band like Ulcerate but could use less technicality and more atmosphere, the debut album from Iceland’s Zhrine is just the cure for that itch.
Unortheta mixes together black and death metal in a way that creates a listening experience that can be as calm and expansive as it can be crushingly heavy. Tracks like “Spewing Gloom” and “The Syringe Dance” feature shrill screams and faster tremolo-picked guitar sections, whereas the album’s back-half asserts lower cavernous growls and thunderous guitar riffs. It’s the seamless incorporation of all these various elements that makes Unortheta an album that sounds familiar, but feels equally as invigorating. Throw in passages of clean, and sometimes discordant, guitar notes that will endlessly echo throughout your head, and you have an album that draws you in deeper and deeper.
Unorthetha is an album that you’ll want to get lost in just as much as you’ll want to headbang to until your neck snaps.
9. Abbath – Abbath (Tom # 2)
Tom: Abbath giveth when Immortal taketh away; I was absolutely bummed when I had seen that my favorite black metal band were to break up. The oft-parodied and reluctant-to-tour band had become a staple of my music listening during the winter months for obvious reasons. Hell, I even got to see the band in NYC in February of 2011 during a 6-date US tour. All hope was lost but luckily all shall not fall! Abbath created a super black metal collective to help continue the Immortal legacy.
On Abbath we see the black metal baron in his glory, featuring material most similar to the post-Blizzard Beasts-era. Fans of Immortal shouldn’t be disappointed or surprised as to what this album is; maybe it is a little too “Immortal by numbers” for some; remind me how that is a bad thing again? I just remember the band going head to head with High on Fire on the most recent Decibel tour and being awestruck that I had seen such a show. For excellent and rocking black metal; look no further than Abbath in 2016.
Tie Breaker # 2
Ro sham bo: A battle between Tom and Durf’s #1 overall albums. Durf’s pathetic little balls were no match for the kicking torque of a size 11.5 wide shoe, and thus Tom was deemed the victor. Making Mariner # 8 and Dungeon Bastards #7
8. Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (Durf # 1)
Durf: This album. My GOD, this album. This album came out in early April, and I have been obsessed with it ever since. It is the only non-mix CD I keep in my wife’s car. It is (by far) my most-listened to album this year.
Somehow, coming off of their absolute masterpiece Vertikal, Cult of Luna managed to avoid a letdown; the sublime, perfect addition of Julie Christmas’ exceptional vocals makes Mariner a masterpiece in its own right (and honestly makes the prospect of a CoL album sans Christmas a less appealing proposition than it was last year).
Cult of Luna doesn’t change their formula for Mariner so much as just tweak and improve it much like they’ve always done. The songs feel a bit more natural and organic than Vertikal‘s (intended) stark, industrial tone, with lush ambiance often present among/behind/over the band’s roars and riffs. Julie Christmas, for her part, drives her flag marking her staked claim as metal’s preeminent vocalist even deeper into listeners’ ears — roaring, crooning, belting, shrieking, or doing whatever else she damn well pleases.
There are no missed opportunities, no places where you think “I wish they had done this instead.” Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas have created not only the best album in the best year of music in recent memory, but also a classic that will be revered and hailed as such for years to come.
7. Ghoul – Dungeon Bastards (Tom #1)
Tom: Speaking of fun, good lord was this album a romp of epic proportions. Listening since the spectacular Splatterthrash days, Ghoul had been a little bit of anomaly. Were they a joke band? Were they a death metal band? Were they a thrash metal band? Well, I think for one that Dungeon Bastards helped to answer that question, they’re both.
I was let down by the ho hum Transmission Zero years back and thought that the band’s best days were behind them; again I was wrong. Ghoul have seen their Gwar-like stage show increase in ridiculousness recently with the addition of the character Commandant Yanish Dobrunkum. The tyrannical rule of Creepsylvania seems to have a similar narrative to our president-elect, with likelier worse results.
Ghoul do their best combination of hardcore and early Carcass, and throwing in a surf rock riff or 2, really upping their musicianship in the process. The dual vocal style creates a style of metal that is like a more thrashy Necroticism, allowing Ghoul to make this album their own. In a year during which most people would agree sucked, Dungeon Bastards is just about the most fun album out there, and that helped it edge out the other albums on my list.
6. Alcest – Kodama (Mick #11/Durf #3)
Finally an album on multiple lists!
Mick: The true beauty of Alcest’s music, which Kodama captures brilliantly, is how the mixture of heavier elements and serene ambience culminates into an experience that is borderline spiritual, something that simultaneously taps into so many different emotions that at one moment you’ll want to cry and at another you’ll want to scream. Like it or not, it’s important to remember why “blackgaze” became a thing in the first place. Kodama will help you realize that it may not be such a bad thing.
Durf: A return to the lush ambience meets black metal tendencies that Alcest do so well, Kodama is energetic, and feels vibrant, like coming home after a long journey. Ok, that might just be me projecting with an easy cliche, but honestly I’m just so over the moon having back the Alcest I know and love that I don’t care.
5. Russian Circles – Guidance (Durf #8/Mick #5)
Durf: Guidance finds the band in somewhat familiar territory, by which I mean if you like what these guys do, you’ll dig it, and if you don’t, then what’s wrong with you? Provocative, cathartic, and powerful, Guidance is a damn fine addition to an already stellar catalogue.
Mick: With Guidance, Russian Circles again demonstrate in stripped-down-to-the-studs fashion how less can be (WAY) more. Like the band’s past efforts, there’s a good heavy-to-light (read: atmospheric) track ratio, but these extremes haven’t been this on-point since Geneva. By mirroring these extremes, the band manag to seamlessly weave together the tranquil with the ominous, something that you’d be hard-pressed to find many bands pull off successfully. In Russian Circles, and especially on Guidance, you have a bassist who can deliver the thick distortion, a guitarist who can supply the heavy riffs, and a drummer who can beat the holy hell out of his kit.
4. Gevurah – Hallelujah! (Mick #2/Durf #10)
Mick: There’s no question that Gevurah dish out straight-up black metal, but it’s done in a way that is more seductive to the listener than the usual cold and grating abrasiveness of traditional black metal. Especially on the last two tracks, Hallelujah! takes simple riffs and constantly build and layer over them as songs progress, eventually building this lush soundscape that is near impossible not to become addicted to.
Acoustic instrumentals, ominous whispering over crackling fires, and Gregorian chants are also nice touches harnessed to give this album even more life. Hallelujah! is not to be missed.
Durf: Hallelujah! is not my typical cup of black (metal) coffee; usually I prefer my black metal a little more ambient, a little more shoegazy, a little more dangerously controversial (I’m talking Deafheaven and hipsters here, not Burzum and neo-nationalists). But sometimes the heart knows what the mind truly wants, or something like that I heard on Lifetime once, and here we are.
Hallelujah! doesn’t pull any punches, pummeling you right out of the gate and barely giving you time to catch your breath. There are some absolutely fantastic riffs and melodies in this one, and the vocals are superior to a lot of similarly styled bands.
3. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Tom #6/Mick #4)
Tom: The vocals lead the charge and the guitar melodies weave their way into your eardrums. ‘Seventh Seal’ and ‘Timelash’ might be the strongest tracks here, as their main riffs are absolute earworms; the latter of which uses the drums to help convey a change in tempo to add to the overall variety and strength in musicianship. Metal dorks can look to Sumerlands and Eternal Champion to be your new Visigoth in 2016. Trust me, it can only be a good thing.
Mick: While some of Arthur Rizk’s guitar work reminded me of bands like Ratt, there’s more to Sumerlands that also brings to mind classic metal that was being made in the ’80s. Phil Swanson’s vocals are reminiscent of Ozzy on numerous occasions, for instance. But regardless of who I draw comparisons to, it doesn’t change the fact that this album is tons of fun. If there was a “best album to throw in your car while driving around during the summer” award, Sumerlands would win hands down. From track to track, the guitar rhythms have an infectious energy that is heightened with lively vocals.
2. Khemmis – Hunted (Mick #10/Tom #9/Durf # 4)
Here here the gang’s all here now!
Mick: If there’s any band that is completely deserving of any hype they’ve received this year, it’s unquestionably Denver’s Khemmis. I wasn’t so keen on their debut, Absolution, but Hunted has converted me 100%. What’s great about Hunted is that it takes doom and gives it a rock and roll vibe. Grungy guitar tones can quicken the pace at one point with harmonized riffs, or slow things down with guitar solos. The vocals have similarly improved this time around. Clean vocals dominate the album, but the reverb they employ delivers the perfect amount of echo, allowing the vocals to blend into the grooves forming around them.
Tom: Absolution was one of my final cuts from the 2015 list and I said to myself, “If they out-do this album, it’ll have to make my list.” So enter a year later with Hunted and Khemmis did just that. Being a popular pick amongst the metal community, list-wise, in 2016 has led to much scrutiny, much like what was seen in the past with Pallbearer; which was fair in that regard, but I feel is unjust with Khemmis. You should be able to release a top quality doom metal album with melodic vocals and eschew the dissention in the ranks. ‘Three Gates’ is nearly a song of the year candidate, leading with growled vocals and then moving towards the melodic, combining elements of Neurosis with the soaring vocals of Candlemass and more recently Crypt Sermon.
Durf: Khemmis‘ 2015 debut album Absolution was one of those records that never seemed to click for me, quite possibly because Tom and everyone else in the blogosphere kept telling me how good it was and how I needed to love it. Hunted, however, I’ve loved from first listen. The riffs are crisp, the songs lengthy yet concise, and the vocals are on point. This is one of those albums where it really pays to listen to the whole thing, as the finale of “Hunted” packs a huge wallop after listening to the hypnotic opening of “Above the Water” and the crushing, High on Fire-esque “Three Gates.”
1. Anciients – Voice of the Void (Durf: #2/Mick #1/Tom #7)
Durf: When Anciients‘ debut Heart of Oak came out three years ago, iit diidn’t floor me; iit was a soliid album that Ii liistened to a few tiimes before losiing iin a shuffle of other records. So when Voice of the Void was announced, my response was tepiid at best. But then Ii liistened to it, and holy smokes, what an album. Blendiing the ferociity of early Mastodon with the heart-on-your-sleeve emotiion of Baroness and a liittle biit of Blackwater Park-era Opeth progresiive tendenciies, along with a segment or two that are probably the best new Tool musiic we’ll ever get, Voice of the Void is a revelation, and Anciients iis poiised for a massiive breakthrough.
Mick: The maturation between Heart of Oak and Voice of the Void is truly staggering. Keeping true to what made their previous release great, Voice of the Void is an absolute riff-fest, a la Leviathan-era Mastodon. While Heart of Oak featured great riffs, they ultimately felt too few and far between. Anciients doesn’t necessarily do anything groundbreaking, but you have to love and appreciate an album that does so many different things extremely well.
Tom: A few years removed from Heart of Oak, Canada’s Anciients have put forth their sophomore album Voice of the Void, which I have been referring to as the best Mastodon album since Crack The Skye. Now all joking aside, this album is densely packed with progressive riffs and excellent vocals. ‘Ibex Eye’ which is just a tad short of a 10-minute track is the perfect showcase for what this band can do. Even during more ambient and instrumental passages of the song, Anciients are able to progress their sound before dropping in the main riff of the song for mass consumption. This should be your new favorite prog metal band, bar none.
And there you have it, the Top Ten (Eleven) Albums of 2016 as compiled by the Brutalitopia staff. If we missed anything between the three of us, let us know, because we do so love checking out new music that we neglected to listen to. A HUGE thank you to Islander and the rest of the NCS staff for hosting us here today as part of Listmania, and a normal-sized thank you to you for reading this list!
Also, Durf wants everyone to know he doesn’t have “pathetic, little balls.” They’re more like “pathetic, regular-sized balls.” Have a happy new year everyone!