Angry Metal Guy’s Top 10(ish) Records o’ 2016

Angry Metal-FiTwenty-sixteen was a year that started so well. I’d recently performed a counter coup, reorganized things, appointed Steel Druhm to my Internet Banana Republic Enforcer for Life and I was reviewing a lot of stuff. The Record(s) o’ the Month were landing on time, and the trains were on schedule. Then tragedy struck… Alas, the good that was the beginning of the year turned into a fucking bullshit slog where I became progressively overcome by life. Longtime readers will know that I have been much less involved on the back half of this year than at any point in our long history.1 And I’ll just be honest, I’ve been considering even setting aside the mantle of Angry Metal Guy altogether. This year has been a year of endings, in a way. The end of my faith in humanity. The end of Agalloch’s post-Ulver reign of terror. The end of a lot of famous lives.

Yet, as is custom, when I put together a list of the stuff that’s really sat with me throughout the year I find that I cannot leave it all behind. It’s true that I haven’t been present so much recently, but I still have Very Important Opinions™, a website, and relative anonymity. What is more precious than such a position? From whence would bombs be thrown if not from positions of such privilege? Who would offend record labels by not playing the game if not me? What, I ask, would become of if Angry Metal Guy were to hang up his Lederhosen and drinking horn? Nary a website would rate things they love so lowly as we do. Who here would make snarky comments and threaten to fire everyone? Who would bitch like a bitter old man about the metal scene crawling up its own ass? (Probably lots of people, honestly. But I’ll maintain the narcissistic delusion that I’m a unique snowflake that everyone is reading this website for.2)

Still, there are reasons for this situation. I’m writing a dissertation. This means that while I’m still doing fieldwork during the first half of 2017 I’m going to be pretty absent. I will still listen to new music3, and I’ll still write occasional reviews. And I will, of course, force my opinions on you about the Record(s) o’ the Month. But you’re just going have to cope with my absence. Then when I get back I’ll probably spend a lot of time getting to know the n00bs, since I have no idea who these people are or how they ended up writing for my blog. After I’ve covered up the mass grave, I hope things will return to normal. But maybe they never will.

Because of that I just want to say: thank you all for everything. Thank you for reading this blog, for showing up every day, for being great commenters (25,000+ comments in 2016! Holy balls!) and broad listeners. Thanks for your opinions (even your contrary ones) and for all the time you have spent making Angry Metal Guy the amazing place that it is today. Watching you give great bands bumps on BandCamp, hearing about the albums you’re buying and the shows you’re seeing, and knowing that you want us all to hear the things you love, too, leaves me feeling remarkably un-angry, actually. It has been so fucking cool to watch this website grow into something that is no longer an extension of my personality, but its own thing. It’s weird, but it’s incredible. Just know that I totally love you and this blog and I plan to get back. But as I’ve been learning, sometimes things are momentary. A lot of review blogs have been born and died since I founded this website in 2009. Our longevity has been due to a single-minded stubbornness on my part, and then on the part of Steel Druhm and Madam X particularly. And the Angry Metal Guy isn’t really just me anymore. The Angry Metal Guy is an archetype we all know and love (and occasionally love to hate). And I love that this little blog that could has moved from a personal mouthpiece to an institution. And I owe it all to me being fucking amazing. Er, to you guys.


AMG >:{>

Wilderun - Sleep at the Edge of Earth#(ish): Wilderun // Sleep at the Edge of the Earth — Yeah, sure, Sleep at the Edge of the Earth didn’t come out this year, but let’s be honest with ourselves here: Wilderun produced a Multiple Year Album. The kind of record that probably belongs in one’s Top 10(ish) multiple years in a row because it’s just that good. I’ve been coming back to Wilderun more than a lot of my favorite albums from this year because it’s just so perfect. It’s a rare record, indeed, that inspires such devotion in myself and others (here’s looking at El Cuervo) and if you haven’t actually bothered to check out my Record o’ the Year from 2015, I suggest you take the time to do so now! Also, someone please organize a tour with Wilderun and Turisas so that I can die happy.

The Dread Crew of Oddwood - Lawful Evil#(ish): The Dread Crew of Oddwood // Lawful Evil — “Pirate metal” isn’t exactly something I’ve ever been into. I think it’s kitschy, one dimensional, and a bit dumb. And yet Lawful Evil is none of the above. Maybe because it’s got that D&D™ theme and I’m a sucker for nerdity, but much more likely it’s because this band is really talented. The songs are short, tight and super catchy, showing off excellent composition in addition to great musicianship. And Lawful Evil is a great change of pace when I want something epic, but a bit fun or cheesy. In a way my only regret is that they haven’t electrified this stuff, because some of these songs belong in playlists with Blind Guardian (“Heavy Mahogany”) or Finntroll (“Sulfur”). It’s hard to put this on the “proper” list because it’s not a “proper” release as such, but Lawful Evil comes highly recommended if you’re into good music.

Ihsahn - Arktis10. Ihsahn // Arktis. Ihsahn’s latest album got relatively high praise from me earlier in the year. Yet, it’s a bit of a spotty record and it even includes one full song that I skip entirely every time. The problem is that I just keep coming back to it anyway because Ihsahn gets riffs (and writes them) and composes excellent music. And Arktis. is hardly a perfect album, but it is one that loaded with more than enough riffs and great compositions to justify its place on this list. Tracks like “Mass Darkness” or “Celestial Violence” are pure and epic, great songs the like of which I haven’t heard rivaled this year. So while Arktis. might not be angL, it continues to call me back and is one more example of why Ihsahn continues to be one of the most respected musicians in heavy metal.

Oceans of Slumber - Winter9. Oceans of Slumber // Winter — Once in a while I write a positive review and people (and bands) react like I wrote a negative one. I feel like people’s response to my Oceans of Slumber review was that I did not actually like this record because I had some critiques of it. Contrary to popular belief, however, this isn’t the case! I adore Winter and think it was easily one of the coolest albums I heard this year. I fell hard for the sultry vocals, the great riffing, and the genuinely unique soundscape that these Texans built. In a metal scene that tends toward imitation, Oceans of Slumber is a breath of fresh air. They are totally unafraid of doing what they do well and it marks Winter as a great album. I strongly recommend Winter if you haven’t already heard it, and I look forward to whatever these guys do next.

8. Anciients // Voice of the Void Anciients sophomore album is one that has not received the kind of fanfare their debut did. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why that would be. Voice of the Void is a stronger set of songs than the debut, and one thing that Anciients has in spades is riiiiiiiiiiffs. I cannot listen to this album without being impressed again and again by the intense, groovy, brutal, sweet, fat chops these dudes have. Pop on any song on Voice of the Void and you will find a riff that will give you a sore neck the morning after. These guys have mastered the art of the riff better than almost any band in recent memory, and Voice of the Void features nine songs which demonstrate this with alacrity. This album is a pummeling from start to finish, and Anciients should be proud of this effort. I hope it’s getting a lot of love out there, because it’s a damned fine record.

Sunburst - Fragments of Creation7. Sunburst // Fragments of Creation — Goddammit I love this album. There’s a soft spot deep in me for power/prog that has heft and great songwriting. And yeah, Fragments of Creation has irritating modern power metal production—but it also has awesome songs and one of the best metal vocal performances of 2016. Littered throughout the album are a bunch of top notch riffs, great solos and excellent compositions. In the tradition of Nocturnal Rites, Sunburst knock out anthemic, but heavy and occasionally impressive, songs that are anchored by truly top notch vocals from Vasilis Georgiou. I wrote in my initial review that these guys “buck the trend of testicle-less prog and power” and I still stand by that totally sexist trope. Fragments of Creation flows perfectly from start to finish, is heavy, engaging and impressive, and marks one of the first genuinely required power metal albums for me in a very long time.

6. Katatonia // The Fall of Hearts — As with several Katatonia albums before it, I did not like The Fall of Hearts when it was released. If I had reviewed it at the time, I would have easily given it a 2.5. I thought the album was flat, I didn’t think they had managed to justify the progressive bits, and I hated the production. And while the last bit is true—because I do still hate the production—I kindly beg to differ with my earlier opinion. The Fall of Hearts sees Katatonia progressing as a band in ways that I think do them real credit. Three important things stand out about the album. First, as songwriters, Katatonia has progressed a long ways since its earliest days of its post-doom metal. What once was minimalist to the point of simplicity, has become mature and complex. Second, The Fall of Hearts has a Jazz på svenska feel to it that I absolutely adore. There’s a jazzy, piano-driven melancholy that is subtle at first, but has become a defining feature that I love about this album. Third, I saw the band live in Stockholm and the songs there absolutely popped with energy. They were heavy and they made me need to go back and listen. Once I pushed beyond the production, I became addicted to these songs. Katatonia is at their peak right now and The Fall of Hearts is 68 minutes of evidence of that thesis. I just wish they’d produce the next album to sound more live, so that it wouldn’t take me 6 months to figure out that their albums are this good.

Vektor - Terminal Redux5. Vektor // Terminal Redux — If you’d have told me that a 74 minute thrash metal record was going to get anywhere near my Top 10(ish) list I’d probably have not included it just to spite you. I’d also have been surprised. Vektor is not a band that I previously had spent a lot of time with, but Terminal Redux is a totally ridiculous and fantastic album across the board. Even at 9 minutes tracks like “Charging the Void” and “Collapse” are immensely engaging—with the Lion King blast beat will go down in history as one of metal’s most surprising and endearing moments—and the whole album is a remarkable piece of progressive thrash metal. Terminal Redux rocks a near black metal intensity, but the songwriting chops of guys who don’t wear corpse paint. I also quite like the tone of the production on this album, even if it did end up a DR6. The album is kind of raw, with a ‘natural’ sound that suits it well. And when all is said and done, Terminal Redux is going to be remembered as one of 2016’s finest moments. The whole band quitting, on the other hand, is going to sour 2017 a bit for fans of the band.

4. Witherscape // The Northern Sanctuary — When I finally got my hands on The Northern Sanctuary this year, I listened to it non-stop for days. I e-mailed Dan Swanö and said something in the style of “Holy shit, man, this new record is amazing.” He responded with (I paraphrase): “I know it is, I wrote it!” Touché, Mr. the Man, touché. The Northern Sanctuary is another incredible album from Witherscape, who I’d say has melodeath down to a formula—except this album is anything but formulaic! The Northern Sanctuary is laced with surprising riffs, beautiful melodies and all the Metal Michael Bolton vocals you could soak a middle-aged lady from the ’80s in. And I keep coming back to The Northern Sanctuary because I just can’t get enough of the unabashedly catchy music and one of the best sounding metal albums of 2016. Honestly, that there isn’t a statue of Swanö in Gothenburg only demonstrates that Swedes don’t realize they’re in the presence of a living legend.

Mistur - In Memoriam3. Mistur // In MemoriamMy favorite black metal record of the year is, unsurprisingly, historically attached to one of my favorite black metal bands of all time: Windir. While Mistur’s In Memoriam is not a clone of the legendary band by any means, it hits all the right notes for me. The songs are sweeping, epic affairs without ever falling back on the “atmospheric” approach (read: same riff, 15 minutes, lots of misty-eyed feelz). Instead, In Memoriam has a distinctly Scandinavian feel and while it’s not raw, it still feels like it would be crushing live. Mistur writes great riffs that never grow stale in spite of the sweeping breadth of their songs, and In Memoriam clearly demonstrates the power of the riff in a tour de force of superb songwriting, fantastic performances, and sweeping epicity. In Memoriam is one of the best black metal records I’ve heard in years, not just in 2016.

Fleshgod Apocalypse - King2. Fleshgod Apocalypse // King — I have been waiting literally years for Fleshgod Apocalypse to produce King. Neoclassical death metal is kind of becoming a thing, but the finest renditions of the genre are still Fleshgod’s own Oracles and the Mafia EP. Since then, the band has been trying to evolve and, frankly, failing. King set all of that right and we have none other to thank than Jens Bogren—who probably gets more shit on this blog than he deserves.4 Rather than suffering from the heinous production jobs of the past, King features Fleshgod doing precisely what they do best: blending their classical sensibilities with brutal death metal in an epic, soaring and beautifully intense album without the drums being STUCK ON CAPSLOCK. There is not a weak moment on King and the album flows perfectly. Kudos to the band for not backing away from opera, too. King is epic and pretty much perfect.

1. King Goat // Conduit — The biggest surprise of the year has turned into my favorite album of the year. Slowly, but surely, it became clear to me that I was not going to get better than King Goat’s Conduit in 2016. Every time I put on Conduit, I am impressed again by its details and flow. I know the other guys in the band is going to hate reading this—because singers, man—but while King Goat’s music is great, this album is transcendent because of a near-virtuoso vocal performance by Anthony Trimming. I don’t mean virtuoso necessarily in terms of the ‘difficulty’ of the material that Trim is performing, but rather the way in which he navigates all the different sounds and feels with the grace and emotionality required of each moment. The vocals range between Messiah, Johan Hegg, and the dude from Ofermod without seeming to blink an eye. As the compositions swell and fall, the band is held on course by one fantastic moment after another emanating from the throat of one guy. Such powerful, evocative vocals help the band’s own grungy doom to shine. And shine, Conduit does. I have listened to it dozens of times this year and I cannot get enough of it. Every song is great, but it’s meant to be listened to from start to finish; a complete album from a band just getting its footing.

Top 5(ish) Unicornings of 2016

Reviewing ain’t easy. But it’s especially difficult when you’re trying to fill out a website with imagery and promotional material for bands or labels, and those bands or labels don’t want to give you promotional material to help promote them. Particularly, the promotional photos of bands have become sillier and sillier as time has gone on. Initially, the kvltish black metal bands were the only ones who would send no photos or stupid photos where you can’t see the band. But now it feels like it’s every goddamned band. And if you’re too cool for promotional photos? We here at Angry Metal Guy aren’t afraid of public shamings. So let’s rack up our favorites from the year.

#(ish): Cryfemal // D6s6nt6rro

#5: Unbegotten // Proem of the Unborn

#4: Pogavranjen // Jedva čekam da nikad ne umrem

#3: Brainstorm // Scary Creatures — To be fair, we didn’t really unicorn them. They unicorned themselves, we just helped them complete the picture.

#2: King Goat // Conduit — Being my Record o’ the Year doesn’t make you exempt from unicornings

King Goat 2016

#1: Chthe’ilist // Le Dernier Crépuscule — From Kronos, the artful turn in Unicorning was begun in earnest after this

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Except the one period when Druhm wrote all the reviews and I listened to nothing but Camel and Meatloaf for an entire summer. Ahh, memories I’ve tried to repress.
  2. And don’t you try to disabuse me of that notion.
  3. The new Soen is fucking awesome, you guys, soooo awesome…
  4. Though, that fucking Haken master…
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