Another 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 // 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 // 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 // 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 // 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 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 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 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 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 // 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 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 // 4½ — 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.
- 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.