Kronos’ Top Ten(ish) of 2016

In what can only be called an uncannily swift imposition of the law of averages, this year’s release schedule was a near-amaranthine1 stream of high-quality releases. By June, I’d reviewed more good albums than crossed my path in 2015 and most of the releases I had been anticipating wouldn’t be released until fall. Short of an Altar of Plagues/Genghis Tron/Fair to Midland reunion/new album tour, I really can’t think of what more the metal universe could have placed at my door. With the exception of Pyrrhon2, every one of my favorite (extant) bands released an album this year,and they were all, at the very least, very good.

But, this being a Kronos feature, I must first launch into a brief and hateful tirade against an absurd and laughably incompetent enemy. Towards that end, I’d like to alert an Angry Metal Guy staffer that we are now officially beefin’. And that staffer is… 2015 Kronos. How on Gaia’s free-range Earth did I miss so much top-notch shit last year? Not only did I not find out about Kardashev, Dendritic Arbor, and The Crinn until early this year, but I whiffed on plenty of music that AMG and Metal-fi staff highly recommended, like Cruciamentum, Archivist, and Abyssal. The emergence of Frontierer as a mathcore juggernaut also eluded me, despite Orange Mathematics being an obvious album of the year contender based on energy alone. Seriously, go buy it. This list won’t go anywhere, I promise.

And towards that end of endlessness, I present to you Kronos‘ totally obvious list of Kronos-bait albums released in 2016, delivered in order of how deeply the hooks are embedded in my cheek.

(ish) WormedWormed - Krighsu Cover // Krighsu I was really hoping 2016 would be the year for slam. It wasn’t, but at least we got a few good albums out of Wormed and Vulvodynia. This spot could have gone to either band, honestly, since Psychosadistic Design turned out to be the slam album to end all slam albums. But the point goes to Wormed; Krighsu’s tight pacing and mind-boggling tech-heft might not quite beat out Exodromos, but it’s a fitting follow-up, and brutal as they get3.

#10. Départe // Failure, Subside There have been some really stunning album covers this year, and Failure, Subside is one of the prettiest. What’s within is just as crisp and beautifully forlorn as those grasping hands on the cover. This LP establishes Départe as a force to be reckoned with in atmospheric black metal, and the band’s mix of influences from Dodecahedron to Dark Tranquillity set them apart from the genre’s more common Deafheaven and Alcest4 homages.

#9. Wormrot // Voices This Singaporean trio are the torchbearers of grindcore, and it’s damn near impossible to find fault with their oeuvre. Their latest outing flaunted post-black metal influences that fit the band’s snappy but sophisticated style like fingerless, street-urchin gloves. Voices turns around 20 songs in 26 minutes, and it’s nearly all peaks, pitting searing black metal against crusty aggression. It’s difficult to believe that all of the harmonic content here is delivered by a single guitar, but like everything else about Wormrot, excellence is the expectation.

#8. Zealotry // The Last Witness The only album on the list to feature newfound guitar god Phillipe Tougas, The Last Witness initially seemed like the weakest of the three albums he shredded on this year5. Yet its unabashedly progressive sound and outright weirdness contributed to a slow creep upwards in the list. Zealotry draw from some of the same influences as Chthe’ilist but take them to a wholly different place, and the whole album reeks of sci-fi horror done just right.

#7. Plebeian Grandstand // False Highs, True LowsPlebeian Grandstand gets ever so slowly less awesome with each release, so the inclusion of False Highs, True Lows on this list should, at the very least, clue you in to how fucking excellent their last two records were. Even at the bottom of the heap, this album is a true spectacle, weaving together the hideousness of Deathspell Omega with a reeling disregard for meter that brings to mind modern Nile. It’s intense, disturbing, and enveloping, and though it suffers from the mastering job, I’m drawn back to False Highs time and time again.

Vektor - Terminal Redux#6. Vektor // Terminal Redux — Yeah, I’m a total poseur and just jumped on the Vektor train this year. When the AMG staff heard tell of a 75-minute thrash album, we were quick to lampoon the very concept. After all, that’s like 2 & 1/2 rotations of Reign in Blood. Thrash for that long was obviously unsustainable. We were sorely mistaken. Terminal Redux hooked me immediately and still hasn’t let go; a captivating piece of twisted ’80s sci-fi narrated by what I can only assume is a singularly talented ocelot and his roving band of soul singers.

Gomorrah - The Haruspex#5. Gomorrah // The Haruspex This album was definitely the surprise of the year. Unlike 2015, 2016 had a packed release schedule, but that somehow made it a bit less exciting – my expectations were rarely exceeded, and the bands I thought were good put out albums that I thought were good. But Gomorrah came out of nowhere and delivered some of the catchiest and most original death metal the year had to offer. Between Grymm and myself, half of this album was in contention for Song o’ the Year slots. The Haruspex is tight and dominated by monster riffs marked by a heavy use of pitch-shifting that makes for a completely unique sound. Synced up with a hideous vocal performance and excellent songwriting, it’s a recipe for success.

#4. Ulcerate // Shrines of Paralysis The band that upended death metal seven years ago with Everything is Fire delivered once again with Shrines of Paralysis. It’s leaner than Vermis and less expansive than The Destroyers of All, but all the same delivers intense emotional peaks and the full-album experience that we’ve come to expect. Yet it’s not the be-all, end-all of 2016. In a way, this is Ulcerate’s business as usual, and though it’s an incredible work, the experimentation of the last two albums isn’t there, and with plenty of imitators nipping at their heels, the band will have to really turn heads in the future to stay at the top of their game.

#3. Dark Tranquillity // Atoma — The world is an unfair place, and just days after stricken fans witnessed In Flames [take] over Hot Topic’s Snapchat … at the Call of Duty Infinite Warfare Battle Royale,” fellow Gothenburg pioneers Dark Tranquillity released one of the best albums of their career. Atoma is all about songcraft, and the band’s experience writing depressive anthems for the last twenty years is on full display with songs like “When the World Screams” and “Faithless by Default.” This is the album I wanted from them, but was worried they couldn’t deliver, and it’s a true credit to the band that they can still sound like Dark Tranquillity even as their sound subtly changes and finds new expression.

Unfathomabe Ruination - Finitude Cover#2. Unfathomable Ruination // Finitude I was all excited for more of the slam-adjacent pigsquealery of Misshapen Congenital Entropy, but Unfathomable Ruination’s move back to a more traditional brutal death sound turned out to be a complete success. This band can write riffs like nobody’s business, and in a time when I’m bombarded by wanky tech death and bad Meshuggah impersonations on a monthly basis, that really matters. Finitude is a masterclass in brutality and some of the riffs on “Thy Venomous Coils” and “Neutralizer” are irresistible and executed with not just precision, but a passion that feels lacking in so much modern death metal.

#1. The Dillinger Escape Plan // Dissociation This list was a lot to sort through, and with the glut of quality releases, picking one winner out of the pack is near impossible. But when I look at these albums side-by-side, I can’t find one that beats Dissociation. It’s a swansong of incredible scale, and maybe one day I’ll see it in the same class as Teethed Glory and Injury, Board up the House, and Arrows and Anchors. But it’s hard at the moment to think of it as anything but another mind-blowing, top-shelf album that’s the norm for The Dillinger Escape Plan. If this album came from any other band, it would have been an instant pick for album of the year, but Dillinger’s flawless track record makes the greatness of Dissociation hard to grapple with in the abstract. It opens with the most intense freakout in the band’s history, and closes with one of the most beautiful songs I think I’ve ever heard. What’s in between are a pack of idiosyncratic yet earworm-producing cuts that deliver everything in the band’s playbook and more. This is the right note for the band to go out on; completely unparalleled and as musically and emotionally powerful as they’ve ever been.

Honorable Mentions

  • Chthe’ilist // Le Dernier Crépuscule — This album didn’t stick as well as I suspected it might, but when it decides to actually pile on those mildewy riffs, it kicks serious ass.
  • First Fragment // Dasein — Like the above album, there’s a lot of spectacular shredding on here from Tougas and pals. Heads up, tech death bands.
  • C.B. Murdoc // Here Be DragonsMeshuggah-esque prog metal with a great sense of energy and texture – this band are only getting better.
  • Obsidian Kingdom // A Year With No Summer — This band is quite the enigma, and the Pink Floyd meets Sunn O))) meets Swans approach on this 2nd LP is a real must-hear.
  • Zeal and Ardor // Devil is Fine — A good God is a dead one.

Best Thing We Missed Last Year

Frontierer // Orange Mathematics — This is the heaviest album the world has ever known6.

Song of the Year

The Dillinger Escape Plan “Limerent Death”

Show 6 footnotes

  1. We didn’t cover it, bit I’m sure it was lovely.
  2. On a technicality.
  3. That being said, Vulvodynia’s lyrics are as absurd as anything out of Wormed — but in a more offensive way.
  4. I ran out of bands that start with D.
  5. The others being First Fragment’s Dasein and Chthe’ilist’s Le Dernier Crepuscule
  6. I think the guitarist plays actual notes about 50 percent of the time and the other half is the sound of strings being fucking tortured.
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