(For the years 2012 through 2015 an NCS supporter from India who went by the name deckard cain contributed some interesting year-end lists that we posted as part of our annual Listmania series, and he reviewed songs and albums for us too during that same interval. Then he drifted away, but he has returned after a six-year absence with a new YE list that’s worth your investigation.)
Ever come across that often ludicrous brand of idiot who will tell you without any scruples “Oh metal! Yes! I had a phase when I listened to Metallica when I was younger”? Suggesting perhaps that it was a phase that normal humans just wean out of? An affront to our sensibilities yes, but we reply with a modicum of decency, “Oh cool! That’s good to know”. Most of us that follow this brand of music, more often than not, respect all other genres in its variedness. But then there is this guy.
When a world is as mangled as it is today, it’s been our vaccine against the virus of life. It’s been that soothing salve. It’s been our choice of anodyne. It’s been our muse. It’s always been everything to us all.
Of course! Most of us listen to it as leisure as well and for that pure sense of enjoyment that is often our wont. Nolan Gasser, a musicologist, suggests in his book Why you like it: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste that one tends to have a particular affiliation for music we lend an ear to in our formative years (think late teens/early adulthood). To that end, I feel that while musical tastes may vary, that anger and fire we looked to in early stages of our lives is always with us to the grave. Some of us stuck onto metal and some of us found it in our later years to clearly resonate with the fire that was lit ages ago. Coloured as they are by our different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds.
I think then, it’s important to harken back to our good times and yet hold that familiar pain, that slice of reality, that these last two years have bequeathed to us….close… Holding them tight…. So tight that we may hope for a better future or be swallowed by it! Lending us, at the least, some sense of perseverance (success be damned!).
So, let’s get started shall we? Tune our channels to dread 666 and find solace within it!
But let me tell you a bit about the list that I’m about to unveil before you. It’s like basically 20 records that I really loved in no particular order. But remember that they were selectively culled and by themselves don’t make up my entire ‘best of’ list. I just focused on 20 records then that did not feature heavily on NCS or at other places. Maybe I’m entirely wrong on that count too. But it bears importance about talking about them.
That said, I must mention those records, at least in passing, which have been in regular rotation on my end but don’t necessarily appear on this shorter list because of skewed focus on relative unpopularity.
It’s been a death metal year with a ton of records out there. The crowning jewel in my list would be Dormant Ordeal who NCSers would be familiar with because DGR reviewed it here earlier. There were the usual wonderful trench warfare shenanigans from 1914 and a new band Kanonenfieber which can be best described as ‘1914 lite’.
There was a lot of variety too! From the tech death behemoths in Archspire and Ophidian I to the quirky Stone Healer and finally to some brilliant ‘disso-death’ releases from Logistic Slaughter, Sunless, Ad Nauseam and Suffering Hour. Even melodeath had the wonderful upstart Dungeon Serpent and doom/death had my ever lumbering muse Hooded Menace delivering one of their strongest records yet. Blackened metal in general, as opposed to blackened death metal, had some interesting releases like Veilburner and the thrashy Bonehunter while old warhorses like The Ruins of Beverast producing my favourite albums of theirs!
Even my long serenade with the genre of post-metal found some succour in cool releases from one of the genre’s flagbearers in Cult of Luna, broken-man wailing sludge veterans Kowloon Walled City, and in the sophomore ascension achieved by Dvne through their latest release. Hardcore shined through scene veterans Every Time I Die and perhaps the best thing mainstream hardcore might ever have in Turnstile.
Even the more accessible side of the genre, or perhaps even non-metal, that metalheads do seem to like had some stuff of interest. For instance, some of the bands I grew up with, like Chevelle and Mastodon, brought out decent/good records. Even that jaded doyen of heavy metal lore, Dee Snider, found some inspiration. Maybe all of them did have a lot of time on their hands.
Okay now let us move on to records that deserve some attention.
NOTE: I’m doing a lot of blasphemy by NCS standards here. One non-metal album and a lot of clean singing. Say hello to my grave!!!!
- The Watcher – Your Turn to Die EP
Khemmis for me was a disappointment this year. But The Watcher still scratched that itch of mine just by releasing an EP. Heavy metal laced in a certain strain of doom that reminded me of say a Psalm 9-era Trouble but with a lot more oomph translated through the modern production.
- Mental Devastation – The Delusional Mystery of the Self (Part I)
This is some really mind-numbing techthrash, say in the vein of Killing Technology-era Voivod or say Think This-era Toxik. Fantastic stuff that manages to be quirky and yet manages to belt out riffs that just don’t get buried under senseless technicality.
- Thronehammer – Incantation Rites
This is possibly my favourite doom release of the year and prolly also has my favourite song of the year in ‘The Faded King’. Perhaps it’s that not-so-subtle reference to post–Epicus… Candlemass thanks to vocalist Kat, with her voice creating an undeniable impression of Messiah Marcolin.
- Dream Tröll – Realm of the Tormentör
Catchy classic hard rock/power metal that rides a wave of cheeeseeee and lots of cheese at that. Every single song is an anthem here, which reminds me musically of that transitionary stage in Def Leppard’s oeuvre, when that NWOBHM charm (High ‘n’ Dry) was wearing off into a more hard rock and commercial vein (Hysteria). Perhaps a modern equivalent would be when their fellow countrymen in Haken went all retro on their album Affinity. Super fun release!
- Omega – Nebra
Enough of that happy-go-lucky stuff! Let’s perhaps consume ourselves in dread as is wont. As reality endears us to. These Italian sludge doomers are able to conjure elaborate oppressive soundscapes while still retaining an ear for melody. I’m not sure whether the guy even sings anything discernible other than perhaps cries for help into the void. Suits me!
- Need – Norchestrion: A Song for the End
This Greek prog metal act started off their career with a lot of groove rock/metal in their vein but later on brought in a lot of experimentation that really elevated their music. This latest release is the final entry in a what is an elaborate yet intricate trilogy of albums. I’d highly recommend their two previous releases if you do dig this one.
- Рожь (Rye) – Вечное
I wrote about the album at The Metal Wanderlust and I think a direct quote from the same would suffice:
“Rye is more tellurian, deeply rooted in the aesthetics of a musical movement that is indebted to nature, as is common in the output of bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Panopticon. But Rye’s music is far from a stone’s throw to those styles and instead drips with melancholia that is more common with doomier variants of Black Metal. I’d in fact wager that it is more akin to a Doom/Funeral Doom release with Black Metal elements.”
- Restless Spirit – Blood of the Old Gods
If you felt, like me, that the stoner rock of Massachusetts-based Elder took a dive in quality, then you’re prolly looking for a replacement. Then look no further, Restless Spirit is here to fill that gaping void. In fact, Restless Spirit are a tad heavier, which is just perfect!
- Moral Collapse – Moral Collapse
This is a rather proud moment here for they are from my home country. And they’ve pretty much released one of the finest, if not the best, death metal records of the year. It’s eclectic as much as it is unrelenting and will bury you instantly under a barrage of riffs. I was lucky enough to have interviewed the band a few months back, over at the Metal Wanderlust, which I highly recommend reading!
- Flotsam and Jetsam – Blood in the Water
Sure, there’s never gonna be another Doomsday for the Receiver nor a No Place for Disgrace, but we all know how there is always a chance for seasoned veterans to reinvent themselves. Perhaps it needs a whole reworking of that early sound or perhaps it’s just the very same sounds employed as they are to capture the vigour of yore, albeit crosschecked for a modern sensibility. Think about what an Ironbound did for Overkill or a Worship Music did for Anthrax (or my personal favourite of what Theogonia did for Rotting Christ even!!).
For Flotsam and Jetsam, one can safely assume that it was their 2010 release The Cold which saw them having a very technically updated yet heavier sound, quite different from their usual speed metal fare. Over the years, with their self-titled (in 2016) for instance, they’ve played around that sound. Blood in the Water is certainly of that breed and yet I’ve never heard these guys with such an ominous and darker strain of their music. Just check out that opening track below.
- The Stone – Kosturnice
Now… this is their 9th album and I’m sorry to say I frankly haven’t heard about these guys earlier. I chanced upon this because one of my friends covered them over at his video channel as part of a mid-year best-of list. And I thank him for this truly wonderful find. Its like a hybrid of post-2000s Necrophobic and early Dissection and I love them for it.
- Pharaoh – The Powers That Be
The best USPM since the turn of the second millennium has for me, quite undoubtedly, been Pharaoh’s 2012 release Bury the Light. It definitely does goes down as one of the finest revival albums ever. But one must remind oneself that perhaps there is nothing to revive. Heavy metal is an everflowing stream after all, and Pharaoh is no new guard. Tim Aymar lent his voice on Control Denied’s only release and drummer Chris Black is the main man behind Dawnbringer and High Spirits, all of which have some great releases under their belt. But to wait a goddamned 9 years for a follow-up is nothing short of draining.
The term anachronism is a joke for these guys. Time doesn’t work here, for The Powers That Be fits itself on a continuum that moves ever forward and upward.
- Knocked Loose – A Tear In The Fabric Of Life
Now this might seem like an oddball in a list that is more or less devoid of any core elements. Bear with me. We all contain multitudes. I’m a huge a hardcore fan and its different subgenres that often blur or crossover into metal. It’s at this liminal sort of phase that some of the best and worst bands exist. From metallic hardcore to straight-up generic metalcore.
Knocked Loose is perhaps in that little niche too but they are very good at exploiting that space. The added fact of having been able to see them live was one of the highlights in this live music desertland that was the last two years. Their brand of tough-guy hardcore, perhaps a little like Harm’s Way (another fun band), is breakdown-centric yet maintains that balance where it doesn’t devolve into a cringefest. On this EP they are furious, relentless, and outright stomping in their delivery, which perhaps make this their career best.
- Mystic Storm – From the Ancient Chaos
Bodies heaving, swords clanging, battle roars echoing across the landscape. This one does push you into that imaginary battlefield that we all tend to conjure up from time to time. These Russians play a brand of thrash that is reminiscent of Morbid Tales-era Celtic Frost, even with those signature Tom G Warrior ‘death grunts,’ and Show No Mercy/Hell Awaits Slayer speedthrash stretched over an epic Bathory-like scale. Gets you into that battletrance!
- Failure – Wild Type Droid
Another oddball here. But bear with me again. Failure is a band that has had a substantial influence on the growth of metal in supplying them with that brand of post-grunge or whatever that operated in the late ’90s. They did so with the other two bands that I believe are part of a triumvirate of sorts, Hum and Quicksand. Hum released their wonderful comeback album Inlet last year and Quicksand dropped what is possibly theirs too in this year’s Distant Populations. Failure continues their melancholic stride found back on The Heart is a Monster in 2015. It’s so good!
- Ekulu – Unscrew My Head
Occupying that same crossover-thrash space that fellow NY bands like Cro-Mags and Leeway did in the ’90s. This is music that walks around with an air for a brawl at any street turn.
- Somnuri – Nefarious Wave
Choosing bands that sound like Torche or are at least Torche-adjacent is a certain proclivity of mine. That’s how I found Boss Keloid (check out their career best release this year) and that’s how I perhaps found Somnuri. Somnuri does that kind of ‘hinting at something saccharine’ sort of riffing but not too much, for they do go to the darker growling depths that Torche clearly don’t.
- Wraith – Undo the Chains
This and the new Bonehunter came from that same speed metal punk forge.
- Brainstorm – Wall of Skulls
I think there are a million power metal bands who don’t give a damn for any idea of the underground or extremity or any such tags. We’re gonna just sing our hearts out with soaring melodies. Well, that’s so stereotypical of me. And I might irk the Blind Guardians or get completely obliterated by a few Gamma Rays. Either way, I’ve got a thing for this new bunch of bands like Orden Ogan and Powerwolf who perhaps, while dwelling in their own castles of cheese, are supremely fun. Now Brainstorm has been around for far longer but they’ve sort of found their form since their 2014 release Firesoul. And this is nothing less.
- Terminus – The Silent Bell Toll
While the new Mastodon kinda was a mixed bag, but was definitely better than their last few releases, that absence is filled in by the new Terminus, and yet their sound palette is far more expansive than a Mastodon. You’d be reminded of, say, Pallbearer. Progressive doom/sludge. Exactly the way I like it.