I've decided to forego genre lists this year in favor of focus on our three rating scales" enjoyability, musicianship, and innovation. This list is focused on albums that display exciting levels of speed, songwriting, and otherwise technical ability of the members in playing their instruments. For the other two parts: ENJOYABILITY, MUSICIANSHIP
Bushwhacker is a massively talented group of musicians that can play a variety of different styles. "Tower," the colossal opening track, features thrashy riffing and intense vocals that would fit in perfectly on a recent Lamb of God record. The following interlude, as well as tracks like "A Path" and "The Return" are much more grounded in a post-metal aesthetic. Then there's the Mastodonish tracks like "Dead Man's Waltz" and "Perfection." And no matter what style they happen to be playing, the drumming is INSANE. His style matches the variety of Rush with the intensity and speed of Chris Adler. There's an almost tribal element to the snare hits that, when matched with the rest of the music, also brought me back to comparisons with Sadist's Hyaena.
Needless to say, Aborted is heavy as f@#k. The title track kicks your legs out from under you and never lets you get back up. It's an extremely consistent barrage of ineffable drum speed, demonic growls, and groove-ridden death riffs. I especially love when the grunts, growls, and shrieks are layered to add to the otherworldly effect. So many solos! And not just "we need another solo in this one," but perfectly-placed, well-timed, appropriate use of killer shredding. The speed of the other riffs is an accomplishment in itself along with the always impressive work on the kit from Ken Bedene. Even when things slow down into more of a blackened, ominous build ("Divine Impediment), the choice of melodies and vocal intonation is always engaging. This one could've easily made top 3 of the "Enjoyability" list as well.
Time for some intense, brain-grinding death metal courtesy of Slovenia. Within Destruction alternate all of the heaviest, catchiest elements of brutal, tech and deathcore to annihilate your senses. While "Dark Impairment" relies on speed and bloody-finger-inducing guitar wankery, tracks like "Desecration of the Elapsed" utilize the slower pace and foreboding atmosphere of beatdown and deathcore to an equally impressive effect. Sometimes these styles are interspersed or juxtaposed within the same song. Meanwhile the drums beat the hell out of various time signatures, swapping clicky onslaughts of bass pedal back and forth with ominous, reverb-ridden snare and cymbal breaks. Voids can't seem to decide if it's a lumbering T-Rex or or lightning-fast velociraptor.
Willowtip is another metal label with a reputation for having a solid roster of bands on the precipice of greatness. Colorado's Vale of Pnath are certainly another strong testament to that fact. This was certainly a late entry having just come out in June, but goddamn did they earn their place on this list. I held off covering II for a while partially because...they didn't really need my help. There was scarcely a purveyor of metal out that who was not singing this album's praises. And rightly so, Vale of Pnath have not only knocked it out of the park in terms of gnarly shredding, but also keeping all of that amazing musicianship boiled down into a meal that you are going to come back for again. Sure, cavier is interesting every now and again, but if I find a Kuma's-level burger, that's what I'm going to be craving. Personal fav's: "A Nightmare Phantasm," "Klendathu," and "The Horror in Clay."
Once again, the genre of atmospheric, blackened death metal in the style of bands like Portal, Abyssal, and Vorage continues to grow and expand. An army is being built, and Nihl is the latest set of enlistment papers. The drums are a chaotic mix of shifting, Ulceratey blastbeats and powerful, moody sections of gargantuan bass and snare hits. These transitions are complemented well by contorting riffs of deep tremolo akin to Portal and Malthusian. So deep, in fact, that using this as background music nearly reduces the dark melodies to a drone. But a more focused listen will reveal a wealth of style and songwriting that is more than initially meets the eye.
After over 10 years together, Massachusetts DM band Abnormality is releasing what is quite possibly their best material yet. Under the effective use of hooks and grooves to draw the listener in, there is a foundation of the early Florida death metal scene. I would venture to say that this album may be darker, heavier, and more aggressive than Cannibal Corpse's last outing. The snare drum bites like a junkyard Rottweiler and the squeeling, chugging guitars maintain a certain ugliness that never seems to let up. This is probably the best album I have heard in the genre since last year's Church of the Five Precious Words. Fast, brutal, and bound to leave guitarists and drummers alike with bloody, mishapen hands.
I was so busy in April that I just never got a chance to do a full review of this one. Such is the way it goes sometimes. However, it would be amiss to not include Naples' The Zenith Passage in a list of the best technical albums of 2016. What I love about this album is that it not only exhibits all of the best aspects of the genre, but also does a lot to carve a niche for itself with little stylistic touches. There are some killer freeform jazz sections, great use of proggy riffs that never sound quite the same, and use of electronic effects that reminds me about why I voted A Ritual Aura for the same reasons last year. "Holographic Principle II: Convergence," "Deus Deceptor," and "The Dissension Consensus" are all total shredders without losing sight of the songwriting. You also need to give props for invisible orange-inducing snarls and occasional symphonic additions. Sorry I missed you guys before, consider this an apology.
Inceste is an interpretation of the works of French aristocrat, libertine, and sadist, Marquis de Sade. I think NYC black metal band Imperial Triumphant have set out to pull some heads forcefully out of the sand to acknowledge the darker sides of society and human nature we like to pretend don't exist. But more importantly, the medium with which they have chosen to portray this information is a highly technical one. Compositions contort, twist, and lurch their way through a gauntlet of hedonism sometimes akin to Malthusian. Guitars have a vile, bent, out-of-tune sound that reminds me of French avantgarde acts like Peste Noire, and the drumming displays a dizzying array of approaches from blastbeats to a wonderful little jazz segment. Simply unmissable.
CB Murdoc's Here Be Dragons is filled with mind-bending extreme music that is not for the faint of heart. Like the creatures themselves, these tracks smell of brimstone and twist their scaled bodies through the darkness. And at the first opportunity, they will burn your sorry ass to the ground. Guitars spiral through various acrobatics of tapping, screeching, and djenting. Oh yeah, and on that last made up word, there is certainly some Meshuggah influence to the music as well. The weird rhythms, syncopated shifts in signature, and even some of the guitar riffs and vocals are all right out of the fellow Swedes' wheelhouse. Other fast favorite "Dither" sounds like it could have been included on Koloss. The embed for this one is not cooperating, so here's a DIRECT LINK TO THE ALBUM.
Could it really be anything else? Wormed is a scifi-themed brutal tech/death/grind band from Madrid, Spain. If you can decipher a single word from Phlegeton's performance (aside from the brief spoken word additions), you clearly have more metal ears than I. It is a cacophony of early Cannibal Corpse grunts and various other guttural noises. These songs do everything right when it comes to being extreme and technical. The drums are amazingly varied with a lot of great breaks and changes to emphasize the performance. The guitar licks are utterly insane both in their evil-sounding qualities and confusing-orgasm inducing speed and technicality. Krighsu is quite simply on another level.