Late, as always. I’m just never prepared for end of the year lists and then I see them pop up in November and I start cramming all the releases of the year in like I’m studying for an exam. I’d feel a little dejected if receiving an incomplete wasn’t a common occurrence for me in my college career. Anyway, I had a list of 20 records for 2015 and was going to do the same this year, but that would mean I would include Every Time I Die’s latest album and I don’t want to talk about it. All that needs to be said about Low Teens is “Petal”. It would also mean I would include Tired of Tomorrow by Nothing and I don’t want to do that either because everyone gave that record so much praise and it’s nowhere near as good as Guilty of Everything. 2016 seemed like a good year for music, but it was mostly just slightly above average releases from seasoned veterans and then a few knock out punches from some beneath the surface lurkers who have paid their dues. The immense list of honorable mentions at the end of this post may serve to contradict/confirm that. So here we go, a top 16 for ’16.
Since this list didn’t come out until 2017, I added a #17, but it’s just a couple of demos. Memoriam, the band and the name, is a product of the passing of the last Bolt Thrower drummer, Martin Kearns. Bolt Thrower fans will find a lot to like here as Memoriam enlists BT’s vocalist, Karl Willetts, and golden age drummer, Andy Whale. Add a couple of death metal’s battle-scarred shredders and those longing for classic death metal will have something to look forward to in Memoriam’s debut LP this year.
Does anyone remember when Julie Christmas performed guest vocals on a Mouth of the Architect song? This is basically an album’s worth of material like that.
I’m not trying to suggest that these bands sound the same, but they have very similar styles of down tuned death/grind influenced metallic hardcore and I couldn’t put one above the other. Plus, they tour together.
If you were redecorating your kitchen and a demolition crew came in and started while all your appliances were still on your counter and/or in your cupboards I imagine it would sound a lot like Arms. Blackout is pure chaotic hardcore. The high point of the record, for me, are the several breakdowns in “Ceremonial Monster” that sound like Pac-Man dying in an imploding steel warehouse.
Though still ominous, Endless Light, as the name might suggest, isn’t as dark as its predecessor. O’Brother has a few more pop sensibilities on this record, but manage to still lurk in the swampy depths of alternative rock.
I slept on Pup’s debut self titled album, but it’s now one of my favorites. The Dream Is Over isn’t quite as ambitious, but most sophomore releases aren’t. It is, however, still filled with almost as much punk angst, desperation, and, more importantly, fun as their debut, so it belongs on a 2016 best of rotation.
I fully bought into tech metal in the early 2000s after the release of Calculating Infinity and Ion Dissonance was near the top of list of worthy imitators, but I never liked them. I don’t know what changed between then and Cast the First Stone. Maybe just my expectations, but I was very impressed with the attack mode fury displayed by Ion Dissonance on their first release in 6 years.
There’s often an air of youthful playfulness on an emo band’s earlier material. Perhaps it’s the want to try to mask the aching agony below the surface with pop punk tendencies. Goodness exudes maturity right from the outset, and that might be what initially turned me off to this record (I promise it wasn’t the cover art). Eventually, we all, well, some of us, accept maturity, if not revel in it, and that’s about the point that the latest record from The Hotelier begins to resonate.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been on the tech metal bandwagon since Dillinger’s debut LP. I don’t know where Dissociation will rank in The Dillinger Escape Plan catalog when history settles, but their swan song finds them still exploring where the limitations only set by themselves exist. They’re at a disadvantage, though, as they have already smashed everyone over the head with the unexpected, both on recording and live, so what’s left to impress? On One of Us Is the Killer the unexpected was Greg Puciato’s further development of catchy hooks. On Dissociation, it’s his unrehearsed spiral into unhinged vocal madness, most prevalent on the opening track “Limerent Death” which calls to mind some of the evil released by mid-90s acts like Bloodlet. Everything else you’d expect from Dillinger is here; crazy time signatures, spastic riffs intertwined with thoughtful choruses, electronic experimentation, etc.
Try to pigeonhole Death Grips into a genre and they’re just going to rip your face off with their next release. Their base is in electronic hip hop, but simplifying it that much is a disservice to how much this group pushes their idea of art with each record. Bottomless Pit adds a bit more industrial metal influence to a growing list of styles Death Grips is willing to experiment with and if you don’t want your favorite genre morphed into something that becomes more Death Grips’ than yours then stay far way.
Safe Hands had all their fingers dipped into Norma Jean-ish metalcore on their previous releases. When they dropped their first single from Tie Your Soul to Mine they prefaced it by saying they would be taking a softer, less violent, and more reasonable approach to their music. At first, this sounded very disheartening, and said first single tackled fatherhood in a pragmatic way while lamenting a punk lifestyle. While maturity and growth might be the focus of this record, its heart is in 90s style post-hardcore ala Hot Water Music. And if the want is to stay a band, but grow from hardcore, what’s a more natural progression than post-hardcore? Safe Hands was anything but safe in leaping from their past, though not totally abandoning it, and wrote something thoughtful and memorable rather than another cookie cutter metalcore record.
Shoegaze has moved itself into the forefront of a coveted punk subgenre. A handful of bands have even modified their definitive style to fit into it. As far as I can tell, though, Pity Sex has maintained their sad, fuzzy, lethargic sound since their inception. I’m not going to let their live performance influence my opinion here as I really like this record and Pity Sex’s dueling male and female vocals, which is even more reminiscent of how the genre played out in the 80s. I’ll just say one of the vocalists tries a little less live.
I’m also not going to let Fero Lux’s live performance influence their ranking on this list either, but for different reasons. They were already locked in at #5 when I watched them play to an empty room, claimed to be sick, and still flung themselves across the stage like they were dodging baseballs in a malfunctioning batting cage. Fero Lux borrows quite a bit from late 90s-early 2000s mathcore and then slides in some well-timed atonal singing to keep it fresh. There’s a sense of uneasy urgency throughout, aside an obligatory cool down track towards the end that typically appears on a record like this, leaving them with an apt (11 out of 12) album title.
Alright, I might have let Khemmis’ live performance influence their spot on this list. I’m not really into doom metal, but when a band from a genre I don’t listen to releases a demolishing and transcendent album sometimes I’ll take notice. Khemmis is the quintessential doom band; heavy, plodding, and enduring, but with a lead singer who’s got some goddamned pipes. And he pulls it off live with perfection. They still occasionally have the guttural screams that the genre is known for so that they don’t stray too far, but this is the doom metal record for people who don’t like doom and its enthusiasts alike.
As I said in 2015, I don’t really listen to much death metal, at least with the intent of finding new death bands or staying up to date with the more current acts. I’ll still pay attention to what some of the legends are doing and then, seemingly annually, a new band will slither through. This is Murder Made God’s second release, but it was my first introduction to them. They toe the line of almost slipping into deathcore pitfalls, but swing over Carnifex crocodiles with the sheer brutality akin to technical pioneers like Suffocation and Cryptopsy. Enslaved isn’t revolutionizing death metal, but the precision and consistency is something to be marveled at.
On paper, nothing about Astronoid reads like something I would ever bother giving a listen. I don’t even know how I read a description of them and decided to press play. It’s as if I looked at a stranger across the bar in a tie-dyed Phish shirt and immediately thought, “This guy is going to be my best friend.” Not that Astronoid sounds like Phish, I just don’t think the disparity between me and someone wearing a Dream Theater shirt is as obvious. Anyway, Astronoid blends thrash, black metal, space rock, and prog metal into a beautifully sculpted sound they like to call “dream thrash”. It’s like taking all the non-screaming moments of Between the Buried and Me with extra reverb on the vocals, the speed riffing of Dragonforce, and the shoegaze over blast beats of Deafheaven then launching it into space.
I spent a lot of the 2000s-decade campaigning against breakdowns. I thought they were a cheap ploy to get simpleminded music fans to like your band. As I only seem to get dumber with age, it would make sense that my top album of the year is just 11 tracks of breakdown fueled… “ANGUISH!” Laugh Tracks is what happens when you let a bunch of longhairs write a hardcore record: “tasty slams”.
Other bands with 2016 releases worth checking out:
Nothing | Every Time I Die | Tiny Moving Parts | Cinemechanica | Sleep Therapy | Primitive Weapons | Mouth of the Architect | Wrong | Meek is Murder | Wren | Conan | Bossk | Explosions in the Sky | Plebeian Grandstand | The Fall of Troy | Native Daughters | Modern Baseball | Sumac | Vale of Pnath | Joy | Sianvar | Jinjer | Neurosis | Candiria | Frameworks | Junior Bruce | A Tribe Called Quest | Heck | Dust Moth | Zao | Mono | Russian Circles