El CuervoAnother year, another influx of new readers and writers at this mighty blog. Yet compared to those previously, this year has seen a significant growth in the consistency of our posts. A sad consequence of this is that EPs have increasingly fallen by the wayside as reviews of shitty full-length albums are summarily assigned to the probationary writers with reckless abandon. In lieu of those short, in-between releases which we may previously have covered, reams of noobs’ noses now litter the grindstone-room floor as they type through their tears to pull together 600 words about albums of minuscule consequence.

To address this problem – that of the EPs, not of the noses – I resolved to write a list of the great that we missed, the snippets which were superior to 60-minute albums of drivel. What follows is such an endeavor, and annexed are the few which were granted full reviews on account of their particular greatness. Without reference to the few summaries helpfully provided by my colleagues, my selections average a slimline 20 minutes, yet each stands tall over most else released this year by disregarding the need to fill a ‘full’ length with chaff. And the cherry? They’ll each set you back several dollars less too.

I love EPs.

Deadspace - GravityDeadspace // Gravity — Angst-ridden depressive black metal may not seem the most likely candidate but Deadspace takes the crown for most beautiful metal I’ve heard in 2016. Each of these 4 songs track the stages of life and death and each concludes with serene piano and synth passages which wind around haunting melodies and sink deep into your skull. It’s difficult to describe how this music makes me feel but it’s profound, whatever it is. Among some shit times towards the end of this year, this holds some personal significance. Were I inclined to include EPs on my Records o’ the Year list, Gravity would assuredly be there.

Empyrium - MillEmpyrium // The Mill — 2014’s somber masterpiece, The Turn of the Tides, blew me away so I was disappointed that this succeeding EP was only initially available in hard copy for attending a specific gig. An unexpected digital release some months later assuaged this blow and I was delighted to be once again transported to a dreary world painted with dark metal, neofolk and classical. It’s tough to easily describe Empyrium so it’s best to hear for yourself. Expect ominous calms, morose vocals, poignant contrasts but also to be thoroughly engrossed. I can hardly wait for the next full-length.

Imperial Triumphant - IncesteImperial Triumphant // Inceste — What does ‘inceste’ mean you ask? You can probably work it out. What it means to these Americans through their uniquely bizarre blackened prism is bottled insanity: lurching rhythms, atonal ‘melodies’ and zero fucks were given. There’s arguably less emphasis on the metal and more on the black compared to Abyssal Gods but it is a still a fierce release. Imperial Triumphant are truly a fascinating band and Inceste reveals to the harsh daylight another raw, infected sore which should have remained in the dark.

Dawnbringer - XXDawnbringer // XX — Chris Black has assuredly become one of the great modern purveyors of classic metal, through not just Dawnbringer but High Spirits and Pharaoh. This tasty morsel offers much the same but retains the new-found inventiveness of Night of the Hammer and Black’s smoother vocals. The short opening is exactly as saccharine as it sounds (“Why Would You Leave Me?”) yet its despondent theme leaves me wanting a fully fleshed-out track using its ideas on the next full-length. XX demonstrates Black’s ever-growing confidence and it’s an easy recommendation for those cut from the old-school cloth.

Mitch Murder - The Real DealMitch Murder // The Real Deal — My favourite synthwave producer once again delivers the goods with his zippy, fresh and unashamedly amusing new EP. An homage to the 80s on Wall Street, cute computer noises, and electronic effects adorn the smooth synths this time around. In lieu of gifting Song o’ the Year to “Outpost Alpha,” I will afford Mitch space here. Even if you’re the most pretentious proponent of the underground try this – simultaneously calming and uplifting, no one else makes music like this guy.

Stalker - Satanic PanicStalker // Satanic Panic — If a band wants to rip it up in authentic 80s speed metal fashion, I’m all over it. New Zealand’s Stalker does just that, with a three song EP that would fit in perfectly alongside Exciter’s Violence & Force and Anthrax’s Fistful of Metal. Originally a cassette release, the Bandcamp feed sounds just like my overplayed tapes from 1984, complete with a dynamic range typical of a worn-out cassette. Fast and loose with lightning guitar riffs and rough, exuberant singing, the songs blow by all too quickly. Authentic is putting it mildly, and Satanic Panic needs to be in the collection of every fan of early speed metal. — Huck N Roll

Watchtower - Concepts of Math: Book OneWatchtower // Concepts of Math: Book One — 27 years ago, Watchtower turned the metal world on its arse with Control and Resistance, an album that made Dream Theater fans’ slack jaws hit the floor like AARP knockers. Time has certainly not slowed these tech metal maestros down. Concepts of Math: Book One is pure math metal nerd porn with more chops than a kung fu flick. Unlike many technical noodle bowls, the songs are memorable and the strong dose of jazz influence never dilutes the metal. Hopefully, they gave Tecchio a writing credit for figuring out what to sing over this stuff because coming up with vocal melodies for these monsters had to be more challenging than Michael J Fox playing Operation in the back of a dune buggy. A new level of a band that set the level. I can’t wait for the next chapter. — Al Kikuras

Affliction Gate - Dying AloneAffliction Gate // Dying Alone — Affliction Gate’s Dying Alone EP is great death metal. Like an expert chef serving you a fresh dish filled with classic staple ingredients, the constant reminders of the best and brightest are a feature, not a flaw. Obituary at Cause of Death levels of songwriting prowess and energy, the best post-Realms Bolt Thrower material, and the gut-punch melodicism of the Peaceville Three in their prime combine into a cohesive whole of four relatively quick bursts of high-quality music which clocks in at less than eighteen minutes. If you like intricately and interestingly structured songs, memorable riffs, top-shelf growling, and a sure-to-be iconic lead that steadfastly refuses to leave your head (see “Devising Our Own Chains”), give Dying Alone a spin. If you don’t, you’re a lunatic but should still check this out anyway. — Diabolus in Muzaka

Kosmokrator - SupremacyKosmokrator // First Step towards Supremacy — A lot of times, listening to blackened death metal is a lot like waking up after a night of heavy drinking: you know you had a decent time, but you can’t remember much of it. Fortunately Belgian quintet Kosmokrator recognize this common pitfall and aim to combat it on debut EP First Step towards Supremacy. Moments like the ungodly, high-register tremolos that conclude “Death Worship” or the monk-like choirs of “Kosmokratoras III – Mother Whore” prove to be just the icing on the cake, however, for the Morbid Angel riffiness and echoing shouts in songs like opener “Initiate Decimation.” At four tracks and 32 minutes, Supremacy almost pushes into full-length territory, but the palpable atmosphere and sheer consistency of the material make this a sure win for anyone in the mood for something cavernous that isn’t just another piece of cookie-cutter Incantation-core. — Mark Z.

Power Quest - Face the RavenPower Quest // Face the Raven — Everyone has their “comfort food” bands they turn to in times of trouble. Cult British power metal band Power Quest is one of mine, and my world brightened considerably when they announced their return on April Fools after a three-year hiatus. Face the Raven is the first product of their reunion, a surprisingly satisfying love letter to fans composed of two great new songs and a re-recording of 2011’s “Blood Alliance.” “Coming Home (Sacred Land II)” is classic PQ to its core and my favorite of the new cuts, but the title track intrigues through its exhibition of an evolved sound that is a touch heavier and darker than the band’s prior material. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that new singer Ashley Edison is the strongest vocalist the band has ever had. With a promising new lineup and a glint in their eyes, the Quest carries on! — Eldritch Elitist

Fully reviewed and recommended EPs:

  • Steven Wilson //  — One of our community commented that “I’m fairly sure Steven Wilson exists purely to remind you that no matter how good you think your latest, prog epic is, it really isn’t very good.” Truer words have never been spoken.
  • Voivod // Post Society — Our grizzled veteran of the underground print-zine scene articulated how Voivod have retained their vim and vigor despite shifts in style and line-up for this satisfying taste of what’s next.
  • Voidspawn // Pyrrhic — If you like your death metal death-y and metal-y, look no further. This is truly evil so I’m naturally excited for this young band’s full album.

Notable exceptions:

  • Krallice // Hyperion — While these New Yorkers initially impressed me with their warped and dissonant black metal, and it’s certainly more cohesive than last year’s Ygg hurr, it ultimately did not stick in my playlist for sufficient time to come unreservedly recommended.
  • Zeal and Ardor // Devil Is Fine — I am led to believe that this will receive a thoroughly deserved full TYMHM. If not, trust me and buy this to hear the best (the only?) black metal and slave music fusion currently available.
  • Pallbearer // Fear and Fury — I’m afraid to say that 2 covers and a reprint of a 2015 single aren’t sufficient to qualify.
  • Pyrrhon // Running out of Skin — Similarly, an EP comprising 1 cover, 2 improvised pieces and only 1 original track doesn’t count.
  • Ghost // Popestar — See above. Even though the 1 original track is fantastic (“Square Hammer”) there is insufficient new material here.

If your favorite EP didn’t even make this pile o’ spares, then you truly have shitty taste.

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  • Anarchist

    I was about to rant furiously about how Zeal and Ardor didn’t make the list, but then I read the rest of the post.

  • nomrom3

    Excellent stuff. I did not know about that Dawnbringer EP, and I am very excited to listen to it today.

    • gus rodrigues

      I was also very glad to find that out.

  • Kronos

    I didn’t run into a lot of good EPs this year, but that’s mostly because the good LPs kept coming. Some of these that i have heard are great, and others seem worth checking out. Z&A forthcoming.

    • John

      Fantastic. Zeal and Ardor has been in constant rotation since it popped up on my bandcamp. Looking forward to your review.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    That Watchtower platter deserves all the praise in the world and then some. Ron Jarzombek is a true guitar wizard. No one can stop that guy in terms of composition.

    • Nag Dammit

      Watchtower is totally new to me as of today. The first track off the new EP is insane. The neo-classical solo makes me think of a fairground ride run by lunatic zombie clowns, hell bent on devouring my soul alongside their candy floss and hot mini doughnuts. That said, I have been on a lot of painkillers today. Woohoo!

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Not sure if you are familiar with Jarzombek other projects but I strongly recommend you listen to Blotted Science. It’s instrumental so more room for brain fuckery!

        • Nag Dammit

          Cheers for the recommend Andre. I’ve listened to and enjoyed Blotted Science a fair bit. Guess I must have arrived at their door via Hannes Grossman / Necrophagist rather than Ron J. Will check out some of his other stuff once I’ve worked my way through the mountain of TYMHM records I need to listen to now.

          • You’ve got to check out Watchtower’s Control and Resistance. It’s old, like me, but also badass. Also like me.

  • mindbleach

    I somehow missed that Dawnbringer release, will be on that ASAP.

    Not an EP but did anyone check out the new track from Disillusion this year? It’s a very cool halfway point between BTTS and Gloria.

    Also surprised Skeletonwitch didn’t merit a mention, though I didn’t get round to listening to it yet either.

    • Levly

      The complete absence of Death Metal on Alea disappointed me at first, but the song won me over with its excellent sense of dynamic, composition, and typical Disillusion melodies. It’s wonderful, and I can’t wait for a new record :).

      The Skeletonwitch EP is even more Black Metal than the previous record (no bad thing of course) and enjoyable, but not particularly memorable IMO.

  • Hyperion is easily my favorite Krallice recording. Maybe because it’s size fits me better. I mean, size does matter: I like brie cheese in thin layers, I like speeding tickets as concise as possible, and I like a small Krallice record.

  • hallowed

    Martröð’s Transmutation of Wounds is also pretty good.

  • 1 Screaming Dizbuster

    Keep of Kalessin keep on doin’ what they do with the excellent Heaven of Sin EP as well

    • Levly

      Descendant is great, the other two songs less so IMO but still enjoyable

  • AgonMcDuck

    No The Synarchy of Molten Bones?

    • El_Cuervo

      I was under the impression that it was just a short full-length?

      • Kronos

        It is.

        • AndySynn

          Or… is it a long EP?

          The lines are blurring, the centre cannot hold!

          • gus rodrigues

            they are so avant garde that they created a new category: long extended play. it would be even nicer if they released in vinyl as a double EP. just to be against the norm. as satan dictates… probably another crack at immanentising the eschaton, by doing so.

          • manimal

            +1 for Illuminatus reference.

          • Reign in Blood’s 28:59 should be considered the benchmark limit. For some reason, though, nonconforming creative artists just refuse to adapt into uniform bricks in the wall. Go figure!

          • iiixf

            The time constraint criterion to differentiate EPs from full-lengths is just so judgemental, discriminatory and unreliable a metric that it should be abandoned altogether; one can mention Slayer’s RiB, another Pestilence’s Spheres, yet this totally goes bust when one recalls Moonsorrow’s Tulimyrsky, a minialbum (virtually an EP, right?) clocking in at 68 minutes – and what about the latest Behold…the Arctopus’ release the band is asking not to discriminate and treat as an LP? At 19:19 (that’s right, nineteen minutes, nineteen seconds).

    • gus rodrigues

      came here to ask the same question… it seems to me that we just have a shitty taste. By the way, despite finding it uninspiring at first, now I find it one of their best (easily comparable to Paracletus, Drought, Kenose or Chaining the Katechon, IMO)

  • AndySynn

    Zeal and Ardor is a good EP stretched out to an album.

    Karnon put out a damn fine first effort this year too with Le Temps Sombre.

    And Mesarthim KEEP releasing awesome short burners.

  • Reese Burns

    Holy fuck, I wanna thank you so much for pointing out DeadSpace and Empyrium. This is some amazing, beautiful stuff. I would have missed both if it weren’t for this article. Also, even though it didn’t get a proper entry, Fear and Fury was also amazing, as was its vinyl pressing.

  • mtlman1990

    If you are counting short splits as well, Mare Cognitum/Aureole split is my favorite of the year.

  • Zach Ward

    I’d expect a band named Deadspace to make space themed technical death metal, based on the game. Depressive Black metal doesn’t seen to fit that well, but they good.

  • Wow, can’t believe I missed that Deadspace! Good catch.

    • Reese Burns

      Hey Madam, you’re sorta the local black metal expert, I was wondering if you’ve heard Liberation by The Soulscape Project. It’s a really, really good album and if you’ve heard it, I was wondering what you thought of it?

  • Luke_22

    Nice list. Mephistopheles also released an EP this year but unfortunately I’m only just getting around to checking it out now. Sounding pretty solid on early impressions though.

    • Kronos

      Oh yeah! I’ve been meaning to check that out. Sounds of the end has really grown on me. Very unique sound.

  • iiixf

    Speaking of Watchtower, you absolutely MUST do a Ron Jarzombek retrospective (was going to namedrop his other creative outlets, but you should know better)

  • Ferrous Beuller

    That Affliction Gate knows how to touch my special place.

  • Eli Valcik

    I was wondering when you guys would get around to mentioning Imperial Triumphant again, this was no Abyssal Gods but it was still pretty darn good.
    edit: also how the fuck did I miss deadspace, thanks guys.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Nails don’t make it?
    My picks this year would be the kralkice and Voivod eps.
    I also really enjoyed the Dawnbringer Ep and I gotta say I think the shorter format may work better for that ‘band’, all killer no filler…

  • The Unicorn

    Hey! What about that Dead Congregation EP? SHIT SLAYS. m/

    • Reese Burns

      Pallbearer got a mention at the end about how it was good, but didn’t qualify for the list (one “new” song, two covers). Though it absolutely rocks.

      • The Unicorn

        haha! I edited my stupidity out before you commented. Dude, the TO- cover is great!

  • DrChocolate

    One of those Pallbearer covers was a Type O song though… that was pure gold and worth the purchase price alone.

    Also, I heartily concur with Zeal and Ardor. That is pretty special stuff. Shame most of it’s been pulled off the net (Bandcamp, Spotify, etc.) until next year. Gagneux signed a distribution deal and the label isn’t releasing it until Feb 24, 2017; there’s only 2 songs available right now. Seems like a poor business decision to make the album unavailable right as EOY lists and reflections are hitting (I’ve seen it in metal and non-metal press alike). Build that buzz, then just disappear it from everywhere; can’t buy it if you want too? Silly.

  • dedseed1

    “coming up with vocal melodies for these monsters had to be more challenging than Michael J Fox playing Operation in the back of a dune buggy” gets my vote for top comparison of 2016.

  • Levly

    Holy cow, both Dawnbringer and Empyrium released EPs this year and I missed them?! Thanks for the heads up :).

  • brklyner

    Also worth checking out this year: EPs from Tombs, Martröð, Cancer, Adaestuo, Wayfaerer, Cloak, Torrid Husk/ End and the Innumerable Forms demo. Plus Chepang for your grindcore needs.

    • Dudeguy Jones

      That Torrid Husk/End split was really good. As was the Wolfcloak/Dumal/Windfaerer split.

  • Wilhelm

    Empyrium needs to be more active, I just love everything that they do.

  • James Utvandraren

    I’m obviously blind or illiterate, but I don’t see the best EP release of the year on that list:

    Candlemass – Death Thy Lover

    Just an awesome little thing with four exceptional songs, which is also the first thing we hear from them in four years. Mats Leven absolutely shines on these solid and very “tru” Candlemassey creations. With Leif Edling’s recent struggles (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – a condition, not his new band), I think this release should be at least as noteworthy as most of the others on that list.

    • GardensTale

      Not a bad band name though.

  • lennymccall

    Hmm Some good stuff here but shouldn’t Lord Mantis and Skeletonwitch both have mentions? Those were my top EPs of the year. Perhaps those were not assumed “missed”? If so my bad.
    And yeah that Pallbearer is barley a release but OMG the majesty of that ToN cover!

  • Dudeguy Jones

    Drudkh put out two amazing splits with four of the best song they’ve ever recorded. If they were all one EP that would be EP of the year for me.

    As it stands, VRTRA probably gets that designation, with special mention to Fluisteraars and may as well toss two other best songs of the year from Ur Draugr and Slidhr. The splits they came from were only okay as a whole, but their contributions were pure fire.

    If demos count than High Command put out one of the coolest demos along with that Voidspawn you mentioned.

  • contenderizer

    Great list, El Cuervo!

    XX sticks yet another feather in Chris Black’s overfletched bycocket. It may not represent the pinnacle of Dawnbringer’s achievement (Sun God!), but it’s still got a good half head on the competition. And “North by North” is a fucking monster. Kinda sad to see another excellent DB release relegated to a hurried note in AMG’s year-end wrap-up, tho :(

    Plus also thanks for the Imperial Triumphant review! Hadn’t heard anything by the band, and if not for your mention, I doubt I’d have ever given them a shot (kind of hated that Pyrrhon LP from a couple years back). Two listens in, and I’m already a drooling, dead-eyed cultist. But in all candor I would tell you it’s, it’s outrageous filth.

  • Chigo

    WTF is that photo? While I don’t think Jar Jar is the worst thing to ever happen to Star Wars (that honor goes to casting Hayden Christensen as Darth Fucking Vader), this shit’s still going to haunt my dreams.

    • El_Cuervo

      I was going for haunting of dreams :)

      • Chigo

        You nailed it. Bible thumping Jar Jars are the worst; they’re always protesting outside Naboo’s Planned Parenthoods and shit.

        Great segment, btw. Some really good stuff here I was not aware of. Thanks for the recommendations.

  • Chigo

    Also, the combination of album title and artwork on that Imperial Triumphant EP is pretty unsettling. OK, I’ll stop focusing on the imagery now, and start listening to some of the music.

  • Aguy

    Mitch Murder? Really?

    Well, uh, if you like him, check out Sellorekt/LA Dreams as well.

    • El_Cuervo

      Duly noted.

  • Requiem

    Advice to anyone listening to the deadspace ep:
    I know the vocals grated like fuck at first for me. Give it at least the first track. It’s actually gorgeous. I adored everything on this list tbh.