Riley's Top 20 Albums of 2016
Good grief, I can't wait to say bye to this stinky year. Too many deaths, too many tears shed, and too many electoral college votes. But on the bright side, there's always Satan and death growls to cheer us up. Picking my favorite albums of the year is always a daunting task. It's like when that little kid asks his dad which child of his is the favorite. Sometimes you just have to do the whole 'eeny-meeny-miny-moe' thing.
But in all seriousness, there was a ton o' terrific releases this year and I'm relieved to say I'm finally happy with my list. I also find it sort of necessary to begin with a silly lil' preface stating that the content in this article is the result of pure opinion and subjectiveness. The twenty picks below (plus some more!) are based upon personal impact, so if you disagree with em', that's all good. But hey, I'd suggest giving them a try because this is some rad music.
20. After the Burial – Dig Deep
Just to make clear, this isn't a sympathy or pity choice due to the extremely unfortunate passing of guitarist Justin Lowe (even though I feel very much for the band and family members' loss, I'd believe it to be best to leave emotional aspects out to avoid bias). I honestly feel that this is an amazing record and easily the best effort from the band so far. Not only does After the Burial provide a larger amount of songwriting skills and dynamics on this release, but there's so much raw emotion as well. From the opening riff on "Lost in the Static" to the groove on "Heavy Lies the Ground," this record signifies mature progress for the group and the djent/deathcore genre.
19. Witchcraft – Nucleus
It always impresses me when a band has the power to teleport the listener to another time or place. In the realm of Witchcraft, you are brought back to the dark, but mysterious Middle Ages. The psychedelic doom mixed with folksy strings and horns gives off a truly magical atmosphere. As other groups within this scene have chosen the sludgy route, Nucleus' clean production allows for each riff to come off more crisp and stunning.
18. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason
At first I was reluctant to jump on the hype and praise bandwagon, but once I sat down and really listened to this album front to back, I became aware of all the captivating intricacies in here. The Violent Sleep of Reason isn't super high up on my list as I see the majority of this material to be typical Meshuggah and the raw, live production doesn't seem to benefit, but overall this record is beastly and a grower with each listen.
17. Car Bomb – Meta
The placement of Car Bomb right under the Meshuggah is quite significant. Plenty of tracks on here had Meshuggah vibes, yet took the experimentation one step further. Heck, there's even some Gojira in there as well. Now don't let these comparisons sway you. This group layers their own unique style on top of the similarities. Also, Meta is perfect workout or clean your room music (or both at the same time).
Self-released / Listen to: "Black Blood"
16. Schammasch – Triangle
Fair warning, this record isn't exactly one you can causally try. Triangle is all or nothing. You must experience all 16 tracks in succession as they are cohesively engaging. There surely is something to be said about an artist's ability to blend beauty and darkness, which Schammasch successfully did with this fluid flowing record. I'd recommend for meditation while simultaneously scaring your neighbors.
Released via Prosthetic Records / Listen to: "Metanoia"
15. Binary Code – Moonsblood
Every time I make the decision to delve into this record, I'm delightfully surprised and reminded how spectacular of a debut Moonsblood is. Although there's actually a bit more debut LPs down below, this one has such a distinct style to it. Binary Code blends progressive with metalcore so smoothly that it feels like a new genre. I really look forward to what is next for these guys as they have much promise and potential.
14. Twelve Foot Ninja – Outlier
When we speak about metal, the terms heavy, fast, or intense are common in describing an act's sound. Yet as we approach a time where the heaviest, fastest, and most intense of music is in fruition, it is important to explore other avenues. Regarding Twelve Foot Ninja, I view them as the current metal masters of the "weird" factor. As Mr. Bungle brought about the peak of eccentricity, this group has taken the reigns with Outlier.
13. Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence
I'm a pretty big Devin fan. I've seen him live a couple times, interviewed him a couple times, and created a couple shrines dedicated to his bald head in my closet. Er, scratch that last one. But yes, the Canadian lad will always have a special place in my heart as I'm sure other fans will understand. Anyways, I thought this album was very inspiring. The deep lyrical content only adds greater depth to the dynamic songs. Overall, Transcendence is the ideal mix of Epicloud and Accelerated Evolution.
12. Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
You gotta have some pretty big balls to include a full orchestra and choir in with your death metal nowadays. I mean, the concept has been executed plenty well before, but I believe the symphonic metal trend has died out a tad. Luckily, Fleshgod Apocalypse knows exactly how to keep the genre fresh and exciting with this release.
11. Oni – Ironshore
Being released late last month, the taste of this record is still on my tongue. As I'd advise to check out my full review of the album to understand my perspective on the nuances, I'd best summarize the music as progressive talents from the likes of The Faceless meets the metalcore aspects of Born of Osiris. Oni truly is another new act that will likely be a huge band down the road.
Released via Metal Blade Records / Listen to: "Eternal Recurrence"
10. Destrage – A Means to an End
As I stated in my review, this band feels like the next generation's Dillinger Escape Plan. The unexpected melodic twists and turns are sensational. I wanted to use the word 'unique' in a lot of these album descriptions, but I'd say that A Means to No End deserves it most. Although I'm not sure if there is a lyrical concept behind this album, these 13 tracks give off a very whimsical and comprehensive effect.
9. King 810 – Le Petite Mort, Or a Conversation with God
I might get some flack for this pick, but gosh darn't, this LP is put together way too well. And while their first release was a guilty pleasure of mine, this follow-up is easily twice as strong. The songwriting, production, and message has matured so much in the mere span of two years. While this record continues the awkwardly soft segues that Memoirs of a Murderer had, the ones here are fleshed out and use classic rock or soul elements very tastefully.
8. Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon
You know that whole 'love at first sight' thingymajigger? Well for me, Moon Tooth was 'love at first listen.' The vocals are so peculiar they evoke a nostalgia and empowerment feeling. This may cause a slight controversy because the band is mostly leaning on the rock side of the spectrum rather than metal, but there are a decent amount of intense mosh moments, so don't even come at me like that. Even more impressive is the fact that this is the group's debut full-length album. I can't even fathom what the band has in store next.
7. Cyborg Octopus – Learning to Breathe
Alright, so as I was fanboying over Moon Tooth's debut LP above, I gotta mention that Cyborg Octopus' debut LP is even crazier. They take avant-garde metal to the next level by fusing progressive metalcore with the most bizarre of genres. You can expect jazz, classical, hardcore, disco, and more! No matter how many times, I listen to this record, the stylistic transitions and genre blends will always shock, confuse, and amaze me.
Released via ApeWhale Entertainment / Listen to: "Data_M1nefield"
6. What Escapes Me – Egress Point
Sometimes the best surprises are from where you would have never expected them. Hailing from India, What Escapes Me is a progressive, djent-y group that uses elements of their country's traditional music as well. Besides the musical aspects, Shourav Kumar Dey's vocal range of cleans and growls reminds me of Periphery's Spencer Sotelo. We'll be posting an article on the Indian metal scene soon including this group and many other significant groups from the area.
Self-released / Listen to: "The Truth of a Lie"
5. Rotting Christ – Rituals
Being a metalhead from humble beginnings of grunge and alternative rock, the transition to black metal isn't a simple one. I picked this guy up on a curious whim at the local record store as I wasn't extremely familiar with the band's back catalog, but aware of their presence and appeal. The satanic stars must have aligned for me though because randomly choosing this record feels incredibly lucky as this album has had a huge impact on my impression of the genre. There's always at least one black metal band a year that blows me away and Rotting Christ takes the cake.
4. Primitive Weapons – The Future of Death
From the second I heard this one, I knew it would inevitably find its way onto this list. The raw aggression in every vocal hook combined with the grinding machine of a rhythm section makes for an extremely bold and haunting album. Delving into this record, I get this dystopian nightmare vibe, which both frightens the hell out of me, yet entices me.
3. Textures – Phenotype
Ever since receiving a copy, this album has been played in my car so many times I almost have all the words down. Belting out each verse of "New Horizons" with my window rolled down in hopes of somehow impressing the neighboring car at the stoplight has occurred far too often than I'd like to admit. Phenotype evolves so naturally to the point where it's emotionally moving. "Oceans Collide" is undeniably an invigorating song where "Zman" forces you to into a contemplative state. I truly am excited to see the other half of this album, Genotype, but can't imagine how it could surpass the power and beauty contained in these songs.
2. Toothgrinder – Nocturnal Masquerade
Debut records are always tricky as they can really make or break a band into mainstream. And fuck, did this one make it for me. Simply starting with the album title, Nocturnal Masquerade gave my imagination some serious stimuli. With songs such as "Dance of Damsels" or "Waltz of Madmen" create for the perfect imagery that my mind conjured up. Regardless of my fascination with the mental images that this release provokes, the music is spot-on. The opener has one of the most iconic riffs of the year and the infectious vocal melodies are honestly addictive.
1. Fallujah – Dreamless
Thinking back one year, I recall The Flesh Prevails getting large amounts of praise. Admittedly, I never quite understood the hype, but after giving this one a chance, I was floored with the band. It's also quite fitting that my #1 pick of this year opened for my #1 pick last year, Between the Buried and Me. Popping on some headphones and hearing this from front-to-back on a short airplane ride up to San Francisco was quite an out-of-body, spiritual experience. No, seriously. That transition from "Fidelio" to "Wind for Wings" while 45,000 feet in the air is heaven.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (basically, #21 – #35 Best Metal Albums of the Year):
15. SKIN DRONE – EVOCATION (this shit is fucking intense, end of story)
14. KING GOAT – CONDUIT (an album that struck me as a really unique blend of doom, progressive, and classic heavy metal)
Self-released / Listen to: "Flight of the Deviants"
13. NEW KEEPERS OF THE WATER TOWERS – INFERNAL MACHINE (perhaps the most progressively experimental release of the year)
12. ENTHEOS – THE INFINITE NOTHING (Navene's electronics on here are sometimes even more interesting that the crazy jazz-tech-death)
Released via Artery Recordings / Listen to: "New Light"
11. HELMS ALEE – STILLICIDE (many have claimed these guys to be a post-rock or shoegaze version of sludge metal, which maybe makes sense on earlier releases, but I think they took to the sludge to the next level here)
Released via Sargent House / Listen to: "Tit to Toe"
10. THE ZENITH PASSAGE – SOLIPSIST (I think it's safe to say that everyone was floored with this release, but I'm almost looking forward more to the follow-up)
9. MAMMOTH – DEVIATIONS (the addition of a weird factor to the instrumental prog riffing made for a very enjoyable listen)
Self-released / Listen to: "The Hilarity of Singularity"
8. MARS RED SKY – APEX III (PRAISE FOR THE BURNING SOUL) (sweet bass grooves, soft clean vocals, and a ton of head bobbing)
7. WINTERHORDE – MAESTRO (Israeli melodic black metal group who's sophomore release is best described simply as 'epic')
Released via ViciSolum Productions / Listen to: "Worms of Souls"
6. PLINI – HANDMADE CITIES (this Australian guitarist has been on my radar for awhile, but this album goes a tad on the heavier side at parts, which is exactly what we all secretly wanted)
Self-released / Listen to: "Electric Sunrise"
5. TERRORWAY – THE SECOND (an Italian group that truly deserves more attention because this record has some killer grooves and intricacies)
Released via Bakerteam Records / Listen to: "T.F.B.T.M."
4. THE SCHOENBERG AUTOMATON – APUS (just like my view on Car Bomb up above, I see this group as an alternative death metal variation of Meshuggah)
Released via Lifeblood Inc, Entertainment One / Listen to: "The Fragile Ones"
3. JASON RICHARDSON – I (impressive amount of instrumental tracks by the former Chelsea Grin and Born of Osiris guitarist with plenty of guest musicians as well)
Self-released / Listen to: "Tonga"
2. SPOTLIGHTS – TIDALS (an intriguing cocktail of shoegaze and post-metal that just makes you feel on cloud nine)
1. ALLEGAEON – PROPONENT FOR SENTIENCE (similar to The Faceless' Autotheism, this record is packed full of progressive tech-death)
NON-METAL (I'll state what genre I believe applies):
15. S U R V I V E – RR7349 (electronic)
Released via Relapse Records / Listen to: "A.H.B."
14. DEATH GRIPS – BOTTOMLESS PIT (experimental hip-hop)
Released via Third Worlds, Harvest Records / Listen to: "Hot Head"
13. RADIOHEAD – A MOON SHAPED POOL (indie rock)
Released via XL Recordings / Listen to: "Burn the Witch"
12. DJ SHADOW – THE MOUNTAIN WILL FALL (hip hop, electronic)
Released via Mass Appeal Records / Listen to: "Nobody Speak"
11. RIVAL SONS – HOLLOW BONES (rock)
Released via Earache Records / Listen to: "Hollow Bones Pt. 1"
10. THRICE – TO BE EVERYWHERE IS TO BE NOWHERE (alternative rock)
Released via Vagrant Records / Listen to: "Black Honey"
9. JUSTICE – WOMAN (electronic)
Released via Because Music, Ed Banger Records / Listen to: "Safe and Sound"
8. IGGY POP – POST POP DEPRESSION (rock)
Released via Caroline International, Loma Vista Recordings / Listen to: "Sunday"
7. THE CLAYPOOL LENNON DELIRIUM – MONOLITH OF PHOBOS (psychadelic rock)
Released via ATO Records/ Listen to: "Bubbles Burst"
6. O'BROTHER – ENDLESS LIGHT (post-rock)
Released via Triple Crown Records / Listen to: "Deconstruct"
5. SWANS – THE GLOWING MAN (noise rock, post-rock)
Released via Young God, Mute Records / Listen to: "When Will I Return"
4. BANKS & STEELZ – ANYTHING BUT WORDS (alternative rock, rap)
Released via Warner Bros. Records / Listen to: "Love + War"
3. WES BORLAND – CRYSTAL MACHETE (experimental, ambient)
Released via Edison Sound Records / Listen to: "Main Titles"
2. IF THESE TREES COULD TALK – THE BONES OF A DYING WORLD (post-rock)
Released via Metal Blade Records / Listen to: "Solstice"
1. DAVID BOWIE – BLACKSTAR (experimental rock)
Released via Sony, RCA, Columbia / Listen to: "Lazarus"