Instead of genre breakdowns, and given the impossible task of boiling down the hundreds of albums I reviewed this year down to just 10, I have opted to make 3 to cover our 3 ratings scales and also broke the year into two halves. This particular list is for albums in the second half of 2016 that just plain got me headbanging and also may have been just barely bumped from the other two. You'll also find more major label releases here as that is really what they do best: make marketable albums. Be sure to also check out my list for the FIRST half of 2016 and also the lists for Musicianship and Innovation.
Drummers rejoice once more; this album is for you. From the kinetic performance itself to the crisp production, the kit is on lock. Whether the song is slowly meandering as on much of the opening track, or barreling forward full force; the technical prowess never seems to take a day off. The vocals maintain a pretty hefty Mastodon vibe with their gruff delivery, sludgy sustains, and sudden bursts of aggression. Do these guys have beards? They must have beards. The guitars carry some similar influences, but there is plenty Meshuggah in these hooks as well. They had me at hello, and by the time the delectable groove of “Self Destructive Haze” rolled around to wreck my neck, there was no turning back.
Hunger is a truly sickening display of aggressive math bludgeoning. Bands like Ilenkus are the reason I don't feel all that sad about losing Dillinger Escape Plan. They've got the spirit, they've got the technical chops, and they've got the songwriting skills. And all of this is proven in just 4 songs clocking about 15 minutes. No time wasted, no bulls#!t. Nothing but solid, dark mathcore rivaling both old standbys like Botch and newcomers like Torrential Downpour.
After destroying my mind thoroughly with the EP Permanence, the trio has returned to bring us Decline. Fronted by ELM of Primitive Man, the group possesses an animalistic energy and savagery that captured my perverse little mind very quickly. Decline has all of the elements I enjoyed about the previous EP, but there are some improvements as well. Where Permanence focused on D-beat driven crust seemingly delivered by punk rock zombies, this LP has cranked up the technical elements. There are still grinding, balls-to-the-wall tracks like "Disrepair" (runtime: 1:04, survivors: 0), but there are also ones like "Rank & File" that elevate the align the group stylistically with others like Malthusian and Abyssal.
I was never a fan of Be'lakor's...until this album. There is a renewed energy in these compositions. Where I found myself uninspired by past arrangments, these lengthy passages take me by the hand and pull me through some very engaging territories. Something about the proggy guitars on "An Ember's Arc" or the gorgeous Dark Tranquillity-esque piano on "Roots to Sever" is just so alive. Though the death growls are well-executed, the soaring Gothenburg harmonies and hooky riffs convey more than enough on their own. And aided by the ebb and flow of pacing and volume, everything just falls into place.
I continue to be inspired by the balance this group achieves between the depressive and the aggressive. It is something unique that pulls on a plethora of influences but becomes trademark Barishi in the process. So much so that I find it rather difficult to use any single genre tag. Post-black, post-metal, sludge, progressive, experimental...all seem equally applicable, but none capture the full scope of the journey that is Blood From The Lion's Mouth. It falls somewhere amongst bands like Deftones, Vattnet Viskar, Glassjaw and WRVTH; but never sounds much like any of them. The compositions continue to be very eclectic and somewhat mathy when it comes to the guitars and drums. Math metal for the clinically depressed.
For a long time now, I've remained on the sidelines with Insomnium. I have wanted to like them, but their albums have always left me feeling bored. But with Winter’s Gate, Insomnium has vastly improved my impression of them as both writers and musicians: a complete rebirth. This singular composition running just over 40 minutes is one of the most impressive achievements of the year, and Insomnium’s finest hour by a large margin. It feels like the Opeth comeback long desired by those of us yearning for the days of Blackwater Park. This album is heavier and more progressive than anything Insomnium has embarked on before; and as a result it seems like an entirely different band than the Finns that I have come to know. The second movement in particular with its bouncy riffs and mixed vocals just screams Åkerfeldt, albeit with some Moonsorrow epicness thrown in.
The kings of melodic death metal have done it again. "The Pitiless" is just one of many stellar tracks to get those little cartoon berries chanting "'Member!? 'Member!? 'MEMBER!?" The hooks and atmosphere on tracks like "Encircled," "Atoma," "Forward Momentum," and "Neutrality" are all just as engaging and memorable as classics like "Monochromatic Stains." As always, the gorgeous keyboard compliments of Martin Brändström along with Mikael Stanne's unparalleled command of his vocal range make for some stunning melodrama. From the gothy death growls to the soothing baritone, Stanne is the master of making me simultaneously throw up the invisible orange while crying my shameful eyes out.
Another amazing album from the polyrhythmic masters from Sweden. I could have included them for musicianship, but I chose instead to highlight the simple joy of banging my head to this one over and over again. The true genius of this particular album is that Meshuggah have used cold, analytical strategies to painstakingly construct what should be an unfeeling automaton, and yet the end result feels very organic. Cronenberg, eat your heart out. The cyborg has gained sentience. You can hear it in every djenty blast and freeform jazz solo. The latter sometimes sounds like self-aware robo chatter. You can feel it as the drums simply compell every muscle in your body to move. Just listen to "MonstroCity." That song is a f#$king masterpeice. Possibly their best yet.
Periphery III picks up right where the last one left off: with a strong foundation of killer hooks and catchy vocals. As if the band didn't already have enough strings to go around with their 3 guitar players and bass, Periphery III takes the next step with a truly epic touch of classical musicianship. Plenty of bands will end up doing a song with string accompaniment in their career, but few do it as well as this. But of course, there are still the heavier arrangements we have come to know and love, and I dare say that they are better than ever. Traversing stylistic choices between mathcore bands like Sikth and more extreme mainstays like Meshuggah, these riffs are sure to get your motor running. Complacency is clearly not in this band's vocabulary.
The Whole of the Law is not the wildest thing I have heard in 2016, but I'm pretty sure it's the heaviest. Or perhaps a better descriptor would be the sharpest. Plenty releases this year have had a deep, crushing kind of sound, but Anaal Nathrakh prefers a razor-sharp dagger thrust repeatedly into the flesh... Preferably done while crouching atop your gushing meat sack. This is a hell where the Red Wedding is repeatedly re-enacted by a troupe of cenobytes. The fusion of chaotic, industrial guitars and repugnant, blackened vocals is impeccably violent.