I swear this is the hardest thing I have to do all year… Trying to narrow down the best releases within a year can get quite tough at times especially in a year that offered many high-quality releases. This is always a fun task, though. It allows for the opportunity to reflect on the year gone by and rediscover some albums that may have been missed or overlooked. My hope is that maybe in reading this, someone discovers an album they haven't heard of or finds a new favorite band. As with any of these lists, this is entirely subjective and a reflection of my personal tastes in music. This is not the end-all for metal in 2016. "List Season" to me is a great time for diversity in musical tastes and discovery. My colleagues at Metal Injection and I have been discussing what our favorite releases have been this year and it is really intriguing to see how wildly different our choices have been. Enjoy the selections and let us hope for a wonderful 2017!
15. Uškumgallu – Rotten Limbs in Dreams of Blood
The man behind the shrouded Vrasubatlat label also spends his time in its various, vile projects. One of the most prolific being the nightmarish black metal of Uškumgallu. Rotten Limbs in Dreams of Blood is a terrifying collection of six songs that, as the text for the album says, "embodies the psychedelic horror of mangled existence and corroded life." The duo of R.F. and M.S. used their first full-length record to personify mental disease, making it a horrific being all its own. The product is vitriolic, depraved, and impossible to stop listening to.
14. MAKE – Pilgrimage of Loathing
Chapel Hill, NC's MAKE is compiling a strong case to be a leading figure in the post-metal genre. Their powerful, third full-length album delivers a very strong message. Pilgrimage of Loathing comes at a time when metal used to combat corrupted politics seems nonexistent or lacking. The trio lashes out at bigoted government through six compelling songs (one of which being a cover of The Stooges' "Dirt".) MAKE isn't shy. Songs like "Human Garbage" directly target vile politicians like former North Carolina governor, Pat McCrory, through forceful sludge. Other tracks, see "The Somnambulist", rub elbows with former post-metal greats ISIS over atmospheric wizardry. Holistically, Pilgrimage of Loathing continues to build on the Tarheel trio's towering sound by combining greater accessibility and aggression.
13. SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
I love this album, but not as much as Matt Bacon loves this album. The Salt Lake City troupe constructed their newest album with inspiration from a century old dystopian novel by the Russian writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin, entitled, We. SubRosa's avant-doom is a truly captivating listen as thunderous metal collides with the serenity of dueling violins. Songs like "Despair Is A Siren" and "Troubled Cells" were highlights in the dark, broad scope of metal this year and For This We Fought the Battle of Ages in its entirety was vivid and unique in only a way this talented quintet could craft.
12. Ustalost – The Spoor of Vipers
Ustalost is the name of the solo project of Yellow Eyes vocalist/guitarist, Will Skarstad. His individual work contrasts the music he makes with his brother, Sam, and others in Yellow Eyes. The Spoor of Vipers sees Will continue to show his dominance of black metal guitar and atmosphere. Yet, where Yellow Eyes feels expansive, Ustalost seems to wall off the outside world. Claustrophobia and unease run rampant through Skarstad's six compositions. Eerie synths and Will's splitting shriek conjure weariness and anxiety over frigid tremolo. Since I discovered his work in various projects, the music he makes has always been able to move me to complex emotions. It is a tall task for much of music, but Skarstad does it well through endeavors like Ustalost.
11. Alcest – Kodama
The Alcest that spurned the (I hate this word) Blackgaze movement has returned. Kodama is beautifully composed post-black metal that was inspired by the great Hiyao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke film. Niege and Winterhalter's newest iteration of their brand serves as a reminder of where the bar truly sits amongst their imitators. This artfully crafted album brings back the band's darker mystique from their earlier work. It is cinematic in its execution and wildly imaginative throughout its entirety. I used Kodama on a number of occasions for meditation.
10. Hammers of Misfortune – Dead Revolution
This one was a grower. I initially wrote this album off in the first few weeks following its release, however, the riffs to songs like "The Velvet Inquisition" and "The Precipice (Waiting for the Crash…)" found their way into my brain. John Cobbett, Leila Abdul-Rauf, and Paul Walker are exceptional guitar players. The multiple types of percussion from Will Carrol and the piano and organ from Sigrid Sheie breathe unique light into Hammers of Misfortune's music. On top of the catchy rhythms within Dead Revolution is Joe Hutton's soaring vocals that give the entire album a feeling of masterful, progressive triumph.
9. Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether
Invisible Oranges recently named Jacob Buczarski, the man behind Mare Cognitum, the best one-man black metal project of the 21st century. Luminiferous Aether solidifies this sentiment. The California man has made astronomical strides towards greatness in his five years as a project. His cosmic black metal transports listeners to the very brink of a black hole, teetering on an event horizon of beautiful, spacious atmosphere and chaotic, blackened sound. This was one of my most anticipated albums this year and Jacob certainly did not let me down.
8. Predatory Light – Predatory Light
The self-titled full-length from blackened doom project, Predatory Light, was another one of my most anticipated once I heard of its impending release. The band had released a couple brilliant demos and a split with Vorde that primed Predatory Light for their first full-length album. The group channeled much of Italian, Greek, and South American black metal and fleshed out the production of the album so that each instrument was audible on its own. The self-titled debut is incredibly visceral, which parallels the band's narrative on the album of shedding a physical shell to pass through the psychic membrane and rejoice in the beyond.
7. Blood Incantation – Starspawn
Denver's Blood Incantation does death metal right. A little off-kilter, a bit of atmosphere, and a healthy dose of 90's death metal thrown in. Starspawn is the cosmic debut for the quartet and follows a crushing EP, Interdimensional Extinction. While it may be a little on the shorter side, it still was the best death metal album that 2016 had to offer. Blood Incantation is primed to take the reins as a future titan in modern death metal, consider Starspawn the launching pad for this greatness.
6. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
From my review of Värähtelijä: "This newest installation into the Finnish, cosmic black metallurgists' discography is deeply immersive and a stellar display of genre contortion. Värähtelijä follows up their 2013 album, Valonielu, which now sounds like a roughly recorded demo after hearing Oranssi Pazuzu's newest album. This is not to slight their prior efforts, but to heap praise onto how great Värähtelijä truly is. The group has taken massive strides forward in the last two to three years. The album spans seventy minutes over the course of seven separate journeys. Every moment puts massive torsion on black metal purity and stretches the genre to its outermost limits."
5. Inter Arma – The Paradise Gallows
From my review of Paradise Gallows: "While it emanates many hues of the Heavy Metal spectrum, it should be known as just such. This is not just what Post or Sludge or any subgenre of Metal should be, this is what all of Heavy Metal should strive to be. A diverse, holistic album that radiates with vibrancy and ferocity from beginning to end. Every song is orchestrated in such a powerful and precise manner, that these pieces make an absolutely satisfying whole. Inter Arma have crafted a truly captivating album that fans of any kind of Rock or Metal can love and appreciate. Paradise Gallows is a marvelous plumage of musicianship, intelligence, and creativity that rivals anything that has been released this decade. It stands to be the Richmond group's opus until they decide to top themselves again."
4. Cobalt – Slow Forever
The first release from a reconfigured Cobalt is one of a few records that is still in constant rotation from the opening months of 2016 and one of a few albums that can keep my attention for almost 90 minutes.
From my review of Slow Forever: "Cobalt's newest effort is its own brutal beast, a double-album animal. Slow Forever sheds the black metal moniker in favor of a more encompassing style of metal that draws inspiration from everything from different extreme metal genera to Americana, psychedelic/progressive rock, and punk. Wunder handles all instrumentation for Slow Forever while Fell focuses on all of the vocal arrangements. It is a new start for Cobalt."
3. Ash Borer – The Irrepassable Gate
The gold standard of United States Black Metal returned in 2016. The mysterious Ash Borer arrived in the dying weeks of this year and created a reminder for how the frigid, unforgiving expanses of black metal can be altered to force introspection. Their long-form approach makes for personal journeys into not only the quartet's music but into the listeners themselves. The Irrepassable Gate sees Ash Borer tinker with their formula a bit, bringing a darker flair to their music than on prior releases. It pays off in heaps as this new album is their best work yet.
2. Khemmis – Hunted
Khemmis doesn't need me to say anything else about how great they are, but I'm going to. Hunted was electrifying. The Denver quartet channeled more of the classic rock and metal titans like Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden for their sophomore album. In turn, they gave rise to the year's most infectious riffs and melodies. Hunted was the result of a total group effort from Phil, Ben, Zach, and Dan during the album's creation. It is wonderfully reflected in its five songs. Every moment is focused, exacted, and executed in clinical fashion. Khemmis are in the early stages of building a monumental legacy. The maturity in their sound and knack for excellence are highly indicative of it.
1. Mizmor – Yodh
I attempted to write a review for this album around its official release date. Yet, every time I tried to organize my thoughts on it, I could not fix the jumbled pile of emotions and cogitations that Yodh created. This hour-long slab of "wholly doomed Black Metal" was one of my few subjectively perfect albums this year.
Mizmor is the Portland-based one-man black metal project spearheaded by A.L.N. who has been creating music under this moniker for over four years now. Yodh is his second full-length album, following a self-titled LP and a handful of smaller releases. Within this beast is an intense battle with existentialism. Yodh asks the question of "why humankind continually chooses life each day in the face of adversity, pain, depression, and suffering." A.L.N.'s massive vocal range and masterful execution of all instruments made this one the single-greatest displays of musicianship and my favorite record of 2016.