Wow, to say that 2016 has been brutal is an understatement. Following on from Lemmy’s unexpected death towards the back end of December 2015, Jimmy Bain (bassist – Rainbow and Dio), Nick Menza (former drummer – Megadeath) and Aleah Liane Stanbridge (vocalist – Trees of Eternity) joined a long list of names, gone but not forgotten. Agalloch, Bolt Thrower, Blood Mortized and Twisted Sister officially disbanded, Manowar and Black Sabbath set out on their final tours and there were a host of albums (see Disappointments o’ the Year) that failed in one way or another to meet their (or is it my) expectation.
As the year winds to a close I find myself reflecting on what this year has been for me musically, and I have to say, unlike other reviewers on the site, I’ve found it extremely difficult to doll out any significantly high scores. This has led me to just one conclusion, Madam X’s Top Ten(ish) of 2016, shall instead be titled Madam X’s Least Disliked Ten(ish) of 2016 [Who authorized this?? – Steel Druhm]. Ever the contrarian, I hope my list brings you discomfort and sleepless nights over this holiday season. Jokes aside, to you our dedicated readers both old and new, thanks for your readership, your comradery and most of all, your comments and band/album advice. And to my fellow writers and contributors, thank you for making Angry Metal Guy the entertaining place it is.
Read em and weep!
(ish): Drought Year // All Symbols Are Swastikas – Dressed in the stigma of Fred Phelps and accompanied by victims of the Nazi genocide, this is an album that hovers between nihilism and pessimism, suggesting that, like the swastika, all symbols (religious, political, currency, and so on) are soaked in blood. Perfectly coupling beautiful and ghastly, memorable and discordant, All Symbols Are Swastikas combines the the dirge of Rozz Williams (Every King a Bastard Son) and the experimentation of Andrew Curtis-Brignell (Caïna) or perhaps Justin Broadrick (ex Napalm Death, Godflesh and Jesu) with the easy accessibility of Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine). I find it remarkable that Drought Year pulled together this concept with such cohesion. A late but haunting addition.
#10. Messa // Belfry – Looking at my listening habits, it’s becoming more the norm that a band will hold my interest when they turn convention on its head and establish a new way of doing things. Messa are trying to push their way to the forefront of that weirdness race by infusing Sunn O))) inspired dark ambiance and minimalist drone into old-school doom metal, and Belfry proves they’re onto something. Wrapped up in top-notch, doom-laden melodies easily comparable to those of Pentagram or Saint Vitus, and embodying all the best aspects of Jex Thoth and Avatarium, this frontwoman (Sara) concocts some of the best female vocals I’ve encountered this side of 2016.
#9. Brujeria // Pocho Aztlan – With guillotine sharpness, Brujeria dropped Pocho Aztlan on the necks of the unsuspecting masses and we at AMG were late to the bloodbath! Featuring members of Napalm Death and Carcass, it doesn’t take long to establish where Burjeria‘s catchy, head-banging core developed. With the subtlety of an out of control nail gun, Pocho Aztlan features not only a level of accessibility and catchiness that’ll attract new listeners like myself, but it’s loaded with enough brutality and warped GWAR-like comedic relief to satisfy even seasoned death fans.
#8. Votum // :KTONIK: – Certain regions have you sit up and take notice when it comes to music, Poland is one of those places. When Steel Druhm reviewed Votum back in February, I couldn’t help but get carried away by :KTONIK:. Delivering their take on sadboy post-rock prog metal, Votum put together a compelling album drawing from the likes of Anathema, Katatonia, Agalloch, Sólstafir and Chevelle. And yet, :KTONIK: never actually sounds entirely like any of these bands. This is primarily because Bartosz Sobieraj has a voice of stellar proportions. In the words of the great Steel Druhm “Now get out there and Votum!”.
#7. Vader // The Empire – Vader needs no introduction! Death metal devotees the world over are well familiar with these stalwarts of Polish death-thrash. Straight out the gate, “Angels of Steel” whips into action giving you a veracious taster of what Vader is all about. Transitioning perfectly from one track to the next The Empire flaunts warped speed, anger, abrupt tempo changes and high-reaching and oft truly magnificent solos. The Empire is the work of a band that are content to stick to their core sound while at the same time echoing just enough of their Polish counterparts to keep things appealing and outright entertaining.
#6. Source // Return to Nothing – As an avid listener of Tool‘s 10 000 Days I’m somewhat intrigued by bands that are able recapture elements of that album and cleverly apply them to their own sound. None did this more successfully in 2016 than Source. Tracks like “Memories of Yesterday,” “The Essence” and “Return to Nothing” showcase a combination of Opeth-inspired death metal, Tool‘s syncopation, and Source‘s own kaleidoscopic, experimental guitar solos and penetratingly jazzy interludes. This results in a lightly progressive treat, that though a tad lengthy, is nothing short of enjoyable from start to finish.
#5. Dot Legacy // To The Others – Dot Legacy is their name and fuzzed-out eclectic energy rock is their game. Tipping all that you know on its head, from genres to arrangements, “Horizon” gets this colorful parade on the road, the bluesy transmission even adopting some Blues Pills hum and familiarity. A minute and a half in, Damien Quintard invokes his inner Beastie Boys, turning to rap of all things. This shouldn’t work and on first listen it doesn’t, but through Dot Legacy‘s clever innovation and ongoing listening it eventually does! Though each track on To The Others quickly works their way into your resistant noggin, it’s “Grey Cardinal” and “Pioneer” that brings this odd journey together.
#4. Caïna // Christ Clad in White Phosphorus – Though unlike anything Caïna have undertaken before, this most resembles the flow of Mourner but with increased tenebrosity and fewer enticing melodies. “Oildrenched and Geartorn” begins by mechanically working its way under your skin, an understated throwback to the minimalism of the 80s darkwave scene and bands like Bauhaus. Carving away parts of Ulver (and more importantly, Kristoffer Rygg), Skitliv and Igorrr, Caïna presents you with 4 tracks of pure sound effect and noise element, broken by ruthless Norwegian-styled black metal tainted with some of the foulest doom and black ‘n roll experiments, all brought to a close with a seemingly misplaced 80s darkwave styled excursion. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Christ Clad in White Phosphorus is a hellish and demanding trip, well worth taking.
#3. Insomnium // Winter’s Gate – It was Omnium Gatherum that stole the show with their live performance when the bands played together in August of 2015, but it’s Insomnium‘s epic new tragedy, Winter’s Gate that’s the showstopper of 2016. A track that spans a gargantuan 40 minutes from start to finish – to many this would seem a daunting undertaking. In reality, the weightlessness, subtle acoustics and vocal varieties envelope you in a way that has the track ending, dare I say, prematurely. Winter’s Gate proved unusual, not only embodying all I’ve longed for in Insomnium, but also showcasing a band skirting stagnation. With the suggestion of Opeth early on, Insomnium successfully incorporate my favorite elements of In Flames Sounds of a Playground Fading before delving into the creativity of Ghost’s psychedelic rock base. Insomnium‘s Winter’s Gate proved a high point of a truly unforgiving year.
#2. Anthrax // For All Kings – Initially lured in when Steel Druhm referred to Anthrax as the “good times thrash band with the New York attitude” “Blood Eagle Wings” and “Monster at the End” quickly confirmed that nowhere is this more apparent than on For All Kings. Driven by sheer force, For All Kings begins with a tension-building drum roll and a war cry, and what follows is 60 minutes of pure adrenaline jam-packed with hooky, heavy choruses, crunchy riffage, dizzying guitar solos and lyrics that burn straight through you like demon eyes. Anthrax found the fountain youth and they’re selling it for a nifty $9.49 on Amazon. Best you get yourself some!
#1. Sink // Ark of Contempt and Anger – If you set out to buy a single unconventional metal album this year, let it be Sink‘s Ark of Contempt and Anger. Rising to the challenge set by artists like Tiamat, Sólstafir and Chelsea Wolfe, Sink patiently lure you into their world of discord using surreal melodies and sensual vocals, sugar-coated in atonal droning discomfort. Skillfully weaving the diversity of Tom Waits, New Keepers of the Water Tower, Hexvessel, Ulver, Andreas Vollenveider and My Dying Bride, Ark of Contempt and Anger develops into an extraordinary intoxication, brought to life with a production style so immaculate and dynamic, it perfectly exhibits every nuance and quirk.
Honorable Mentions: (in no particular order)
- Sarke // Bogefod – Though much of Bogefod feels expected for the genre, moments like “Barrow of Torolv,” “The Wickeds Transient Sleep” and “Burn” elevate flaunting subtle similarities to the likes of Eudaimony, Celtic Frost, Borknagar and A Forest of Stars.
- The Black Scorpio Underground // Necrochasm – This grinds away using only industrial noise and shock tactics delivering the kind of album that transports you into the ugly side of life.
- Ranger // Speed and Violence – “This is music for the chronically hyperactive, tasteless, toothless retro-mongers, and as dumb as it is, I wouldn’t want it any other way.” – Steel Druhm
- Avantasia // Ghostlights – An attention-seeking symphonic metal harlot flaunting the over-sized bombast of Meatloaf, Savatage and Nightwish. What’s not to love?!
Disappointments o’ the Year: (in no particular order of suckitude)
- Metallica // Hardwired…To Self Destruct – Suffers more bloat than a refloat.
- Pain // Coming Home – Nothing more than delivery on a record label commitment.
- In Flames // Battles – Aimed at radio play for angsty teens, this a battle lost.
- Avenged Sevenfold // The Stage – This city has lost its evil.
- Alter Bridge // The Last Hero – Fails to uphold the Fortress or hold my attention.
- Avatar // Feathers & Flesh – The Black Waltz has ended.
- Opeth // Sorceress – The Baying of the Hounds are silent on this one.
- Blaze Bayley // Infinite Entanglement – No blaze of glory here, just cheese.
- Crematory // Monument – In the words of Steel Druhm “Poppy techno-death tailor-made for metallized strip clubs and sketchy back alley discos”.
Song o’ the Year:
- Anthrax – “Blood Eagle Wings” – NSFW.