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 went beastmode when it comes to shredding and/or drumming. Be sure to also check out my list for the FIRST half of 2016 and also the lists for Musicianship and Enjoyability coming tomorrow and Friday.
Spurn is a mathcore/grind group from Calgary, Alberta. The maniacal chugging riffs and disconcerting time signature assault the listener like repeated kicks to the ribs. Comfort in Nothing sounds like the lovechild of Converge and Ulcerate. The influences from various mathcore forerunners come through strong, but I don't think I've ever heard a release in the genre of this caliber when it comes to both musicianship and sheer noise. Spurn take dissonance to new levels, but never at the expense of strong songwriting. I live for mathcore, and Spurn proves that it is a genre that still has new heights to reach.
I think that Virvum's death growls and occasional clean vocals on this album are performed with great finesse and strong production, but this album could easily stand just as high without them. So much is said between the lines with the ridiculously fast bass play and endless guitar sweeps. This is made clear right from the beginning with the largely instrumental intro, "The Cypher Supreme." But like I said, it's not just about the sheer speed and number of notes: it's about how every single one of those notes seems to be painstakingly chosen to convey ideas and draw the listener in. Whether it's a sudden break of mathy chugging or a full-on spiritual experience via effects-laden shredding, you are going to feel something. I'm on the cusp of using the word "psychodelic" at times, as dropping acid to this album wouldn't be all that unlike doing the same to a Hendrix record. Similar imagery...different approach.
Seputus have an uncanny ability harness pure chaos. The level of drum and guitar mastery leaves me scratching my head every time. Pressing play on Man Does Not Give is like opening Pandora's box or the Ark of the Covenant. You know you probably shouldn't do it, but curiousity will get the better of you every time. And you know what they say about curiousity... This album is a one-way ticket to having the flesh melted from your twisted and mangled bones. "The First That Makes Flesh" is merely the beginning of your destruction. These guys display an extremely impressive level of songwriting and performance skills that never cease to induce unadulterated horror.
The French avant-garde black metal legends Deathspell Omega ninja-dropped their new album like a silent shadow with a knife. Oh the anarchy! This is unstoppable. The Synarchy of Molten Bones shows the band distilled down to just a few tracks and foregoing pretty much anything outside of bulldozing the listener with technical mayhem. All of the post-metal influences have been abandoned in favor of drumming that is absolutely bonkers. With a similar sonic approach as the most recent release from Imperial Triumphant, it's a delightfulful cacophony of technical black metal madness. If you prefer Deathspell Omega's later output like the previous EP, Drought, then you should be pretty happy.
"The Conception" has one of the most dramatic openings I have heard this year; one on par with classics like "O Fortuna." And then, BAM, melodeath riffs pick up and never let down. I feel like I have used words like "dizzying" and "proficient" far too often in some of my other progressive metal reviews, but they are still highly applicable adjectives here. The entire album is stuffed like a damn Turducken with hooks within hooks within hooks. There are even some flamenco sections on "Grey Matter Mechanics - Appasonata Ex Machina." Allegaeon's standard lineup is incredibly talented, but it doesn't hurt to get Soilwork singer Bjorn Strid and guitarist Benjamin Ellis (ex-Bloodshot Dawn) in on the action with "The Extermination."
If you were a fan of The Malkuth Grimoire and noticed the alarming number of shared musicians on this album, I think you will find yourself very much at home. The Crypts of Sleep features many of the elements that made that album such a hit with the progressive metal crowd. The vocals maintain the same approach, oscillating between a trippy BTBAMish clean and gruff death metal growls. Guitars are at times dizzying with solos and sweeps, others lumbering like an enormous beast (see the conclusion of "Hail Satan"). It should go without saying by now that the drumming is phenominal. Hannes has had years of practice, and you would be hard pressed to find a more eclectic, proficient performance.
Produced by Converge's Kurt Ballou and fitting to the album title, DEP's swan song is by far the most schizoid release of their entire career. That's a tall order for a band famous for their already accomplished jazz-infused mathcore and chaotic live shows. Even as a longtim fan, I was left scratching my head after a few of these tracks. In a good way, of course. The bizarre spoken word of "Wanting So Much As To," the purely electronic instrumental "Fugue," the very abrupt transtion to strings on "Nothing To Forget"; being experimental is still very much something this band is capable of after over 20 years. Even the more standard "Limerent Death" has an insanely abrasive, haphazard approach to songwriting that leaves me unsettled every time. Mike Patton may have planted the seed, but the rest of these guys cultivated the s#%t out of it. You will be missed.
Once more, Dendritic Arbor shows that they are one of the most creative, technical, and experimental metal bands out there right now. They get first dibs on this split release with "Ishi." The opening bass line followed by the typical onslaught of dissonant distortion and shin-snapping drumming is an utter delight to my masochistic ears. "Snake Oil" is another huge victory leaning heavily on the more mathematical side of things. It is a challenging track, but one that still manages to engage me intensely at all levels. By comparison, Infinite Waste comes off as sounding a bit tamer of a group. But make no mistake, this is purely due to their placement on side B. Even Frankenstein looks less threatening when standing next to today's typical movie monster. Taken in isolation, this is still more impressively extreme grindcore with some further black and death metal overtones.
Coma Cluster Void is a maniacal tech death/math metal collective with members from USA, Canada, and Germany and features Mike Disalvo (Ex- Cryptopsy), 10-string guitar, and mind-breaking drumming. Coma Cluster Void is kind of like Meshuggah meets something like Krallice. Some tracks are mathy groove, others are avant-garde devastation. Ulcerate may be another fair comparison for the the latter. At times, compositions seem to be held together by the finest silk thread. Normally I start to get put off when things get so technical as to abandon any level of convention, but Coma Cluster Void manages to creep right up to that precipice without ever quite diving over the edge. A wonderful surprise this year, and the gift that keeps on giving.
In short, Ulcerate is possibly the fastest, mathiest metal band around. The vocals are insanely brutal, complimented by guitar and drum work that is quite simply insane. If the riffs previously drilled, here they sear; if time signatures were previously devoured, here they are consumed. Many of you fans out there likely caught a listen of the leading single, "Abrogation." This track is a freakin' colossus and remains my favorite on the record. It seems to be the perfect fusion of their bleak and disturbing controlled anarchy with some mildly conventional song structures. There are actually a few notable hooks and grooves to speak of on this track, and those sudden breaks and eruptions towards the end are worthy of Vesuvius. However, for those who were concerned about some of these more (tenuously) marketable directions, fear not. There is still plenty of bitter and desolate terrain to explore.