I’ve been hitting the backspace key a lot as I’m writing my Top Ten(ish). Not because of a lack of anything witty to say, or a sheepishness of my selections. No, rather it’s because I’m of two minds as I type this. At this very moment, it’s Christmas time in the Grymm household. Stockings are hung up on the chimney all kvlt and tr00ish. All the radio stations are playing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in unison, or they have some agreement where one station will play it, and then they’ll call up one of the other radio stations to let them know, “Hey, your turn.” And me? I’m in a much happier place than I was last year at this time (translated: no one close to me died, for once). I’m mixed in saying that little tidbit because, although this year was a vast personal improvement over 2015 by a colossal landslide, the world around me easily went to shit and back this year. If one train of thought can be levied at 2016, it would be this one.
That said, musically 2016 knocked it out of the park. Although I couldn’t get to all the releases I wanted due to a busy work schedule, what I did get a hold of kicked my ass in various happy ways. I know some of my selections will raise a few eyebrows and the blood pressure of some of you, but overall I’m sure you will find something to your liking. And like all lists, I’m sure I’ll kick myself for not discovering a band until after mine was completed for the year (*cough*Voices*cough*).
Above all, I wish everyone of you readers a happy, safe, and awesome holiday season, and thank you all, once again, for the comments, suggestions, and your engagements and continued readership. Y’all make this worth it for each and one of us here, so thank you, guys and gals.
(ish) Gygax // Critical Hits — When you mix the classic sounds of Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple with lyrics about questing, casting magic spells, and various other RPG tropes, and you’re named after the Godfather of Role-Playing Games, that all adds up to a “win” in my book. Easily one of the most fun records I listened to all year, and one of the most infectious, too.
#10. Vredehammer // Violator — Sure, Abbath may get a lot of camera, magazine, and meme time, but his former live guitarist Per Valla wrote the better album this year. Some of it is epic, other parts are brutal and rage-y, but all of it is hook-filled, icy, and awesome. “Cyclone” and “Ursus” make the album worth it all by themselves.
#9. Clouds // Departe — A funeral-doom supergroup, featuring members of Eye of Solitude, My Dying Bride, and Shape of Despair, among many others, Clouds snuck up on me last-minute and grabbed me by the throat for the last month or so. While a bit long in the tooth, Departe rewards with a dense, beautiful atmosphere, and some breath-taking songcraft.
#8. Zao // The Well-Intentioned Virus — After seven long years (and 2009’s Awake? leaving me a little cold), Zao came back from the dead with one of their strongest albums to date. All the key ingredients were in place (atonal riffing, chaotic drumming, Dan Weyandt’s acid-washed vocal cords), but the songwriting improved tenfold. Welcome back, guys.
#7. Vektor // Terminal Redux — I never want to picture a world without Voivod, but if it were to happen, Pennsylvania’s Vektor would make great incumbent champions to the captains’ space thrones. Mixing Canada’s favorite weird sons with the sounds of classic speed metal and touches of latter-day Death, Terminal Redux throttled Vektor into the limelight of many a listener. Great live band, too.
#6. The Reticent // On the Eve of a Goodbye — I’m not a big prog fan, but Chris Hathcock’s The Reticent delivered one of the most honestly heartbreaking albums with On The Eve of a Goodbye. Musically heavy when necessary, yet lyrically heavy all the time, On the Eve of a Goodbye paid beautiful tribute to a friend who committed suicide. A must-hear for prog fans, or those who want their progressive metal mixed with some splashes of death metal and A Perfect Circle. Just don’t listen to “Funeral for a Firefly” in public. Trust me here.
#5. Gomorrah // The Haruspex — Mixing the best parts of groove metal with some of Anaal Nathrakh‘s industrial noise, Canada’s Gomorrah quietly dropped a massive bomb with their second album, The Haruspex. Toss in some absolutely disgusting modular bends by guitarist Bowen Matheson, and you’ve got a recipe for some tasty, groovy tech-death of the highest caliber. Watch these guys.
#4. Inter Arma // Paradise Gallows — From the opening strains of “Nomini” to the final choir of “Where the Earth Meets the Sky,” Virginia’s Inter Arma deftly switched styles and moods, holding my attention in place throughout the album’s 70-minute duration. Also, “An Archer in the Emptiness” is just fucking massive in a live setting.
#3. Anaal Nathrakh // The Whole of the Law — Nice Version: Anaal Nathrakh broke out of a self-imposed cage with one of their best albums since In the Constellation of the Black Widow. Honest Version: Anaal Nathrakh broke out of a self-imposed cage with one of their best albums period. Vicious, unrelenting, and somewhat uplifting in all of its nihilistic glory.
#2. Darkher // Realms — Many of you will scoff at this making a year-end list of a metal blog, and that’s your loss. Jayn H. Wissenberg crafted some amazing doom music, perfect for a stroll in a meadow, a long walk in the middle of a December night, or drinking a beer in front of a cozy fireplace. The atmosphere conjured from such a minimalist structure is immense, to put it mildly. And “Lament” has to be heard to be believed. Speaking of doom…
#1. Vainaja // Verenvalaja — Just daaaamn, son. Finland’s blasphemous chimera narrowly missed the top spot of my 2014 list with their debut, Kadotetut. No such problem landing that spot this year, as this beast of an album straight-up dwarfed everything else this time. It’s almost unfair, to be honest. The heft of riffs, the odd singing and gurgling in Finnish, the well-played leads, the gorgeous Dan Swanö production… all of it added up to Vainaja leveling the playing field. This is the soundtrack to your impending miserable, hopeless demise. Dig in, kids.
- Spirit Adrift // Chained to Oblivion — Nate Garrett’s one-man doom machine, and one hell of an impressive debut album.
- Blood Incantation // Starspawn — Morbid Angel meets Gorguts… *booming voice* IN SPAAAAAAAACE. */booming voice*
- Adaestuo // Tacent Semitae — Short-yet-cool EP of the blackest variety, with some absolutely frightening moments provided by vocalist Hekte Zaren.
Disappointments of 2016
- Rotting Christ // Rituals — Maybe it’s age, but Rituals was one of the worst cases of self-plagiarism I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a shame too, because when they’re firing on all cylinders, Sakis and company deliver that epic, battle-ready “come at me, fucker” feeling that few bands can successfully conjure. What hurts more is that “Elthe Kyrie” showed so much promise.
- Metallica // Hardwired… To Self-Destruct — While Hardwired is easily the best album Metallica put out in almost two decades, that’s not saying much. There’s 40 minutes of new, solid self-titled-era Metallica, but the problem is Hardwired is almost 80 minutes long. “Spit Out the Bone” jams, though.
- 2016 // Seriously, fuck this year — Even with leaving out the overall dumpster fire that is American politics, any year where we lose our music heroes, such as former Megadeth drummer Nick Menza, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, and Lemmy (granted, that was late last year, but still…) isn’t going to be a great year. But combined with all the absolutely horrifying events around the world, from global warming to Orlando to Aleppo, 2016 needs to quickly (and quietly) fuck off and die already.
Song o’ the Year
Gomorrah – “Dismantling the Throne” — There were so many damn good songs this year, but Gomorrah said more in just under three minutes than most bands do with three times that length. Between Jeff Bryan’s growls and screeches, Casey Long-Read’s frenetic drumming, and Bowen Matheson’s shredding, sick chord bends, and that sweet chorus riff, “Dismantling the Throne” did what the song title says it would do. All Hail the New Large Intestine.