So there’s been plenty of talk about how 2016 was bad. Plenty of reason for that, I suppose, but it was an immensely enjoyable year for me. Graduated from college, interned at the Los Angeles Times and now I’m working full time as a journalist in SoCal. I’m pretty happy.
Also the music was really good.
OK, so the accuracy and usefulness of “Best Of” lists is dubious at best, as generally-cool-person-who-I-hope-to-talk-to-one-day Fenriz said in a recent Vice interview, but damn if they aren’t fun to occasionally write. I discovered more incredible new music this year than the last several combined and if at least one reader enjoys something off this list then I’ll consider my work paid off.
10) The Black Queen – Fever Daydream (synthpop)
“Ice to Never” is best song of the year.
I can’t stress that enough. It’s not an example of a perfect pop song. It IS the perfect pop song and single-handedly worth the price of admission. It’s a testament to “Fever Daydream’s” quality that the single doesn’t completely overshadow the rest of the record. Pop, synthpop, ambient, electronica, whatever you want to call it, this is the album of the year for all of those genres.
When it works (the vast majority of the time), such as on “Secret Scream,” “The End is Where we Begin” or the aforementioned single, it’s an incredible rush. This goes without saying, but Greg Pucatio is one of modern music’s best vocalists: His frantic screaming is well known in The Dillinger Escape Plan, but his softer side is no less enjoyable and makes for some of the best vocal highlights of the year on “Fever Daydream.”
As I noted in my review, the album is far from perfect, but the highs are so memorable that “Fever Daydream” edges out more consistent records to earn a spot on the list.
9) Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis (death metal)
It’s not inventive or groundbreaking, just another slab of top-tier death metal. This is Ulcerate’s finest work, which is saying quite a lot considering the band’s impeccable discography.
“Shrines of Paralysis” uncompromisingly direct death metal at its finest. Technical, without the pretensions associated with techdeath, brutal, but not repetitive or dully straightforward like brutal or slam death metal.
For more proof, check out my review of the record. Or just buy it, because you definitely won’t be disappointed.
Put plainly, it’s really, really good and yet more proof that Ulcerate is one of the best bands producing death metal today.
8) Oathbreaker – Rheia (black metal, post-metal)
I’m sorry: Like everyone else, I’m gonna make the comparison to Deafheaven.
Oathbreaker is better than Deafheaven. “Rheia” is better than “Sunbather” and “New Bermuda” combined. Imagine all the hyperbolic claim Deafheaven wrongly receives. Now, imagine if it was all actually accurate. Apply it to Oathbreaker and it pretty much is.
That aside, Oathbreaker is one of the best female-fronted metal bands currently on the scene and … No, just one of the best bands producing this kind of post (ish) black metal in general. “Second Son of R” has been lauded as one of the year’s best metal tracks for good reason but the rest of the hour-long album is nearly as enjoyable. No small feat.
This is one of those albums that needs to be listened to with headphones in a quiet place. The patience will be rewarded.
7) Every Time I Die – Low Teens (metalcore)
If your disdain for Every Time I Die stems from Warped Tour, the band’s genre or their (relative) mainstream success, you’re an idiot.
“Low Teens” is even better than 2014’s “From Parts Unknown” — one of that year’s best albums — and a generally fantastic 40-something minutes of metalcore. No weak moments, but plenty of highlights that are still fresh months after the record’s release. The chorus near the end of “Awful Lot” is one of my favorite musical moments of the year, while the frenzied “The Coin Has a Say” is also generally fantastic. The band also flexes its melodic muscles on “Two Summers” and “It Remembers,” excellent pop-flirting tracks that offer much-needed breathers and stave off fatigue.
Few metal records are this accessible, diverse and repeatable. I expect to continue jamming to this one long into 2017.
6) Vektor – Terminal Redux (thrash metal, progressive metal)
I dislike the vast majority of thrash, but good lord, this album is fantastic. It’s appearing on many “Best Of” lists, many of which cite it as 2016’s strongest metal album. Haughty talk, but merely one listen gives those arguments plenty of credence.
Super fast, technical, plenty of shred, raspy screams. All of the expected thrash elements are here (plus a good dose of prog) but it’s so downright expansive, it grasps your attention for the entirety of its massive 73 minute runtime. That’s an amazing accomplishment for any record, especially one as consistently fast and uncompromising as “Terminal Redux.” This album is likely to become as essential to underground thrash as “Master of Puppets” and “Peace Sells” are to the mainstream side of the genre. Wow.
5) Wormrot – Voices (grindcore)
Something is deeply wrong with this album.
Yeah, yeah. Grindcore. Cold, misanthropic and violent. It’s all of those things, sure. But it’s the sheer emptiness that perturbs me: “Voices” is an unnervingly nihilistic record. Disturbingly so.
I haven’t been this unsettled by an album since I first listened to Anaal Nathrakh way back in high school. Of course, it’s all the more wonderful for that.
Pig Destroyer, Nails, pick your leading grindcore band; they’re fantastic and deserve all the acclaim they receive, but most of them have a polished, clean-cut sheen. OK, I know that’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you picture grind, but the point is that you generally know what you’re going to get when you listen to one of those bands’ records.
Conversely, Wormrot’s “Voices,” is a twisted, macabre journey into true “what the fuck is happening” territory. The closest comparison is probably Insect Warfare’s grind cornerstone “World Extermination.” The vocals are similarly horrifying, the pacing is utterly relentless and both records are flat-out nihilistically grisly affairs. Wormrot’s sound is more measured, diverse and less prone to fatigue. All of this is shocking, given that “Voices” is actually a bit longer than Insect Warfare’s sole LP.
Really though, this record is in a league of its own. It’s terrifying, evil and hopelessly empty. It’s also one of the best grind albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.
4) Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law (black metal, grindcore)
In my review of “The Whole of the Law,” I described Anaal Nathrakh as having the subtlety of a nuclear bomb and the intensity to match. I still think that’s the perfect descriptor. This is a monumental return to form for the extreme metal duo and undeniable proof that the undeniable heaviest band on the planet is still one of the genre’s best.
This must be what people that don’t listen to metal think all metal sounds like. In a good way, though. It’s oppressively loud, blisteringly fast and horribly violent. It’s the aural counterpart to your body being shredded to pieces by a horde of angry demons. “The Whole of the Law” grabs you by the balls while smashing your head to pieces, and every excruciating second of that is pure joy.
I immediately gave this album a perfect score when I reviewed it, only really criticizing the covers. They’ve aged well, though and have become some of my favorite tracks on the record.
Still, this record isn’t for everyone. If you’re not used to extreme metal this will probably sound like white noise. But if you can bear the chaos, this is quite the thrilling listen.
3) Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (hip-hop)
“Atrocity Exhibition” has shattered my perceptions of what hip-hop can be.
N.W.A. and a sprinkling of Tyler the Creator and Wu-Tang Clan are about as much hip-hop as I can typically take. But this … This is how I first felt when first discovering that all extreme metal wasn’t obnoxious noise. It’s single-handedly made me excited to dive further into the genre.
The songs are unbelievably inventive and diverse, the lyrics are equally edgy and human, the featured artists are impactful and the trippy, drugged-up atmosphere is delightfully tense and unnerving.
I can’t critically review this album to my satisfaction because I have such limited experience with this kind of music. All I know is that I can’t stop spinning this record, even after literally dozens of listens and now I want to further explore the genre that it came from.
Years from now, maybe I’ll have more experience in the genre or maybe my initial impressions will have cooled off. I don’t know. Right now, I just want to listen to it again, tell all of my friends and continue finding new ways to appreciate the record.
If that’s not a sign of a masterpiece, I don’t know what is.
2) The Dillinger Escape Plan – Disassociation (metalcore, experimental)
I actually couldn’t listen to this album in full until two weeks after its release. It was just too emotionally taxing.
I grew up with this band, am firmly convinced they are, or were, I guess, the greatest live act of their time and I generally hold them in the same level of reverence that The Beatles enjoyed from older generations way back when.
So, I’m a bit biased. Thing is, “Disassociation” truly deserves all the acclaim it has received. The Dillinger Escape Plan has put out several (near) classic records but “Disassociation” is without a doubt the band’s finest work. It’s a mature, diverse — and yes, deeply emotional — record.
The raging heaviness of past tracks such as “Sunshine the Werewolf” and “Prancer” is largely absent but that’s not to say “Disassociation” is soft. There’s still plenty of frantic metalcore and nearly every track is excellent, but the album’s remarkable scope and complexity is what really sets the record in a league of its own. “Symptom of Terminal Illness,” “Nothing to Forget” and the jaw-dropping title track closer are some of the band’s quietest, most deeply personal works and easily among the best songs in the band’s discography.
This is a majestic swansong from heavy metal’s apex performers. Thank you.
1) Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule (death metal)
Was it ever even a question that this would be the album of the year?
Shockingly, yes. The last 12 months have been jam-packed with remarkable music and half of the albums on this list could’ve easily topped a “Best Of” list almost any other year.
That said, “Le Dernier Crépuscule” is the best of the best. Every unearthly roar, the inexplicabely groovy guitar lines, the grueling atmosphere, it all blends together to create one of the most forbidding soundtracks to the arcane I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. The only real comparison would be Demilich’s metal cornerstone “Nespithe.” I never thought I’d hear another record that could match Demilich’s alien soundscape, but “Le Dernier Crépuscule” has managed the impossible. It’s hardly an imitation, though. As I wrote in January: It’s one of metal’s most inventive, exciting and downright terrifying outputs in years and an incredible starting point for the band.
I also said that the record was an early contender for album of the year. Well, it is.
It doesn’t get better than this.