The fact that I’m writing this intro on short sleep less than 12 hours before this article is slated to run surprises me less than it would a year ago. I used to be so on top of this shit. But in retrospect, I had it coming; trying to cram 40 hours in 24 catches up with you. The last year whirred by so fast that my pathetic little brain stopped trying to keep up around July. Between punching my ticket into the ceaseless wonders of middle management, training for and eventually running a marathon due to an ill-paired abundance of stupidity and stubbornness, and trying to squeeze a few last moments of joy and life amid increasing dread that my days of unencumbered childlessness are very fucking numbered, it’s been a trip. I’m really tired, but I’m happy. That’s all any of us can ask for, right?
As ever, this place has been an unyielding backstop, keeping me from slipping off the cliff. The takes may be overrated, the subordinate clauses grossly misunderstood, and the metal rarely deserving of the hopes and dreams we put into it, but this is ours and it is pure. There isn’t another spot like it on the internet, and I hope it fucking stays that way; they don’t deserve us.
Mrs. Wvrm: Thank you for always pushing me to follow my dreams. I wouldn’t have ended up here if you hadn’t. Angry Metal Guy, Steel Druhm, Madam X, and Dr. Artificial Nipples: The amount of work you put in is unreal and deserves more credit than it gets. I couldn’t ask for a better crew to hold back the hordes with. The
hordes staff: To a soul, you’re the best metal reviewers on the internet. No one else puts as much effort or imagination into their work as you. As much as I want to beat you with your own commas, you should take shit from no one (but the editors). I wish I could write more than I do, but I’m kind of glad I don’t—you all put me to shame. The hordes: I don’t get into the comment section as often as I would like, but I see you, you rapscallions. Keep it up.
I probably haven’t put enough thought into this, but fuck it: have some metal.
#(ish). Sinmara // Hvísl Stjarnanna – Foreboding like the dusk and glittering like the stars that follow, Sinmara is the perfect counterbalance to the clear and present danger of guitarist Þórir Garðarsson’s other magnificent black metal outfit Svartidaudi. Hvísl Stjarnanna smothers and caresses in turn, pitting blackened tropes of dissonance and melody against one another with masterful touch. Yet another must-listen from Iceland’s booming black metal scene.
#10. Insomnium // Heart Like a Grave – One day, after the magic congeals into mere formula and the curtain drops on their last good record, we’ll grasp how just special this run from Insomnium is. Their consistency defies time and naysayers alike. Winter’s Gate may have reset the Finns’ personal bar, but Heart Like a Grave scoffs at the suggestion that any Winter’s Gate follow-up was doomed to pale. Couple that with Insomnium‘s inventive and not-so-secret Belzebubs meloblack side project, and the future looks no less bright for Finland’s favorite sons.
#9. Vanum // Ageless Fire – Saying “that volcano on the cover says it all” wouldn’t say nearly enough. For as explosive and ferocious as Vanum are—”Eternity” for Sneaky Good Riff o’ the Year—that would completely discount how superb they are at crafting atmospheres as rife with the dour as the dire. Though released early in the year, there was never a doubt Ageless Fire would stand up under the onslaught of challengers; Vanum is pure class.
#8. Thormesis // The Sixth – “The Sixth won’t be great; the last Thormesis certainly wasn’t. No band improves that much in one outing, especially when five previous outings suggest otherwise. And even supposing they can tell their arse from their A-majors, what’s going to set them apart from the rest? Hooks? Inside long-form construction? With bright, addictive melodies? Sure, and I bet you’re gonna tell me it’s better than the new Insomnium next.”
#7. Firelink // The Inveterate Fire – The Inveterate Fire is a bonafide Estus Flask. Burnout is serious business, and Firelink rescued me from my worst case of it since I started here. After two full months of barely being able to throw up some horns, this magnificent sparked a renewed bonfire in me that I feared had gone out. The improbable duo behind Firelink1 wander a winding, progressive trail from the howling dark of the catacombs to peak of the highest bell tower in its praise of metal’s favorite video game series. Imagine what they’ll do with a real drummer.
#6. Wilderun // Veil of Imagination – With how popular Wilderun is around here, you’d think list inclusion was mandatory for parking validation or something. 2015’s Sleep at the Edge of the Earth established a beachhead for serious takes in the otherwise overlooked genres of folk and symphonic metal, and led many to label the Bostonians the new Opeth. Veil of Imagination, for better or otherwise, attempts to live up to the legacy of those progressive Übermensch. The ensuing slow burn sacrifices immediacy for a heading as meticulously plotted as any ever written, perhaps too much for it to top Sleep for me. However, while your mileage may vary based on your expectations, Wilderun‘s quality is beyond reproach.
#5. The Great Old Ones // Cosmicism – The Great Old Ones make things easy: they release album, album good, no mental gymnastics required. Their riffcraft defies the constellation of color-coded spreadsheet cells filled with genres and rating and the names of terrible doom metal bands hawked on this site. There is no better blend of urgency and weight this year than the 12 minutes of “A Thousand Young.” I’ve supped of The GOO in the past, and thought their capabilities well-understood. Turns out I didn’t give them enough credit for how strong their ceiling-smashing capabilities are. Cosmicism is yet another reminder of who the black metal scene needs to be watching for over their collective shoulder.
#4. Paladin // Ascension – In my estimation, modern power metal falls down because it too often forgets the “metal” aspect. Paladin have no such shortcoming, and the payoff is immense. From the onset, Ascension rips ahead in an such unforgiving fashion that you’d think each riff a part of a vendetta against the rest of power’s Charmin-soft scene. The Atlantans’ thrash-tinged sound is fresh and exciting in a way that power hasn’t been for me since… well. In fact, given the sorry state of the genre, Ascension is one of the top thrash metal records of the year too. Hell, they’re a hair off the year’s best debut; oh right, this glimmering, polished monster is a debut. All of this is to say: if there’s one band this year clearly destined for the top of the mountain, it’s Paladin.
#3. Idle Hands // Mana – Given Idle Hands‘ past life as the supremely decent Spellcaster and the entire staff’s absurd infatuation with Mana, my interest wasn’t so much piqued as red flags raised. I can stand nothing less than everyone having a good time, and Mana would be be oh so hateable… if it wasn’t so damn irresistible. Who do you think I am? I’m the guy who says no to singalong hooks now? To sad dragons bois and hitchhikers without their guide to the galaxy? To the the world’s most perfect verbal hip thrust in “Jackie”? Fuck no. There aren’t principles or antibodies strong enough to resist this infection, and anyone who says otherwise has my raised eyebrow.2
#2. Xoth // Interdimensional Invocations – The relationship between potential and kinetic energy can be complicated in physics. In metal, Xoth simplify it for us knuckledraggers: it’s a 1:1 relationship. Since the first bars of their debut, their Vektor-meets-Skeletonwitch melo/tech-thrash has been a dream pairing given oodly noodly life. With Interdimensional Invocations, Xoth did more than I imagined possible. This is the case study on how to go from a good premise to a great act. It would have been all too easy to stay pigeonholed as an X-meets-Y band. Instead, Xoth goes all-in on their identity, a dorky, ridiculous overload of antediluvian antics. Pair that with a beefed-up arsenal of songwriting chops and technical firepower, and the result is a brutal, hilarious, wonderful mess of terrifying tentacles and melted face.
#1. Aephanemer // Prokopton – Surprise, surprise. I’m sure this is going to fall on deaf ears for most of you, but Prokopton is one of the strongest markers in the genre that I’ve heard in since starting here. No caveats: no 120-minute runtime; no gimmicky joke track; no living up to glories past; just pure, unfiltered greatness. No strangers to the banger riff, Aephanemer launch enough fireworks to light up a black hole, but their true strength lies in their cohesive writing. Every single track feels like a fully-formed tour-de-force, never sacrificing individuality while contributing to the pro-tier presentation of Prokopton. Leverage that unifying capacity to tie a bow on some of the most deliciously catchy melodies you’ve ever had poured down your throat and it’s no wonder that my initial enthusiasm hasn’t faded one bit. The sky can’t be the limit for Aephanemer; they’re already soaring across that big blue, brighter than the sun.
- Plaguebringer // Diabolos
- Dream Tröll // Second to None
- Necropanther // The Doomed City
- Gygax // High Fantasy
- Megahit // Not Your Action Hero
- Waveshaper // Artifact
Disappointment(s) o’ the Year
Songs o’ the Year
- Aephanemer – “The Sovereign”
- Idle Hands – “A Single Solemn Rose”
- Xoth – “Melted Face of the Soul”
- The Great Old Ones – “A Thousand Young”
- Thormesis – “Chor der Toten”
- Sinmara – “Crimson Stars”
- No Spirit – “Leaves Covered by Snow”
- Dream Tröll – “I Will Not Die Today”
- Gygax – “Hide Mind”
- Týr – “Gates of Hel”
- ish: After the Rain – “1・2・3”
- Honorable Mention: Every single release by Turbo. Seriously, I’d have dropped dead on the side of the road in the middle of my marathon if not for them.