Another year, another orbit around the sun. And yet another massive argument over what music was good, what music was bad, and what music was disappointing. It was a great year for music, which is something I think we need to get used to. The Internet has made it possible for so many bands to find an audience and I don’t really think there will ever be a “bad” year for music anymore.
That’s not to say there weren’t bad things happening. The music world lost a number of legends, and the world in general just seemed to have trouble with 2016. But we’re not here to focus on the bad things. You all know what events happened. We’re here to celebrate the best music that the year had to offer.
I had a tough time picking my top ten this year. I had a list of 40 albums that I really liked by the end of it, so cutting that down was tough. Here are the other 30 – call them ‘honourable mentions’ – in alphabetical order.
An Endless Sporadic – Magic Machine (progressive rock/metal/jazz fusion)
A Sense of Gravity – Atrament (modern progressive metal)
Aureole – Aurora Borealis (space black metal)
Auroch – Mute Books (occult death metal)
Brain Tentacles – Brain Tentacles (???)
Cetacean – Breach | Submerge (slower version of Intronaut or The Ocean)
Drudkh/Grift – Betrayed By the Sun/Hagringar split (black metal)
Fates Warning – Theories of Flight (progressive metal)
Forteresse – Themes pour la rebellion (black metal)
Gorguts – Pleiades Dust (avant-garde death metal)
Helion Prime – Helion Prime (power metal)
Imperial Triumphant – Inceste (avant-black metal)
Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether (space black metal)
Mavradoxa – Sojourners (Agalloch-worship but better than the last Agalloch album)
Mice on Stilts – Hope For A Mourning (progressive rock)
Oskoreien – All Too Human (black metal but kinda doomy)
Perturbator – The Uncanny Valley (retro-synthwave)
Pitts-Minnemann – The Psychich Planetarium (jazz fusion)
Plini – Handmade Cities (nu prog)
Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape (progressive rock/ambient)
Sleep Token – One (alt/modern prog)
Striker – Stand in Fire (heavy metal)
Sumerlands – Sumerlands (heavy metal)
Textures – Phenotype (progressive metal)
Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP (who the fuck knows)
Vanhelga – Ode & Elegy (DSBM)
Vektor – Terminal Redux (progressive thrash metal)
Watchtower – Concepts of Math: Book One (progressive thrash metal)
Thrawsunblat – Metachthonia (folk black metal)
Zhrine – Unortheta (death metal)
Top 10 Songs
I also think there are individual songs that deserve recognition. Some of these are found on albums in my top 10, but others are not. In some cases such as Disillusion and Ghost, there wasn’t really even a full release to make it on an albums list; Ghost’s EP was one new song and four covers, while Disillusion was just a single. Meanwhile, Perturbator‘s new album didn’t quite take me to the heights of Dangerous Days but it still had a banger of a track. Links included for each:
And finally, the list you’re all waiting for; my Top Ten Albums of 2016!
10. Mithras – On Strange Loops
Death metal had a good year in 2016 and Mithras delivered the best of the bunch. On Strange Loops is a mind-bending album that breaks physics; each note seems like a lightspeed blast to the face and the drumming is ludicrous. Cosmic death metal at its most intense and very best.
9. Ihsahn – Arktis
There are still some who long for Ihsahn to go back to black metal.
Not me. His solo work has been consistently some of the most creative and interesting progressive metal out there. Arktis is a fantastic entry in his discography, with a wide variety of sounds and a beautiful mixing job. Jazzy and heavy yet still with his black metal influences.
8. clipping. – Splendor & Misery
The world needed a hip hop album that took influences from gospel and had lyrical themes of afrofuturism and parallels to the modern social climate in America. clipping. have created a fantastic album that keeps things interesting musically and gives the listener a clinic in rapping. It really needs to be experienced as an album, but it’s still a great listen.
7. Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail
A hot new rising star in progressive rock, Thank You Scientist have made something that feels modern and original. The songs are upbeat and poppy yet can go technical when they desire to. The horn sections and the catchy songwriting are what really sets this album above its peers. Stranger heads have definitely prevailed with this one.
6. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts
The Fall of Hearts was the most ‘dark horse’ album to appear on my list; it slowly climbed up as the year went along and I found I couldn’t cut it. Heavy riffs, and memorable melodies are all over it, along with a nice proggy leanings. It’s a fantastic return to form for Katatonia after what I felt was a fairly boring effort in Dead End Kings.
5. Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Dan Swano, why are you so talented? The picture of consistency through more than two decades of metal with various projects and sounds from death metal to arena rock, the second album from his newest project, Witherscape is one of the best of his career. For Opeth fans that want them to growl again, this might be worth checking out as an alternative.
4. Deathspell Omega- The Synarchy of Molten Bones
In the four years since the last time Deathspell Omega released anything, a wave of imitators and copycats have sprung up. Out of almost nowhere, Deathspell Omega release The Synarchy of Molten Bones to show that, not only are they still relevant, but they are still hopelessly ahead of everyone else.
3. Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika
Every so often, from the icy northern lands of Finland, folk metal legends Moonsorrow arise to bless us with a new album of crushing blackened folk metal. It’s been four years since their last effort, and Jumalten Aika did not disappoint. In fact, it might hold up as their best among a discography full of fantastic releases.
2. Schammasch – Triangle
Triangle was a very ambitious move from Swiss Schammasch. Three sides, each representing different sounds. However, they kept each side short displaying a willingness to self-edit that so many bands could learn from. There are so many little hooks, melodies, and riffs all over this thing that it takes many listens to digest, and it gets better with each listen.
1. Haken – Affinity
This was going to take the top spot right from its release.
Haken have forcefully taken the throne of prog metal. With Affinity, they prove that they can keep their sound fresh and modern without losing that charm that they’ve always had. The combination of their distinct sound with the sheen of the 80s was a brilliant move; it could have turned out so badly, but they sound so sincere and happy that it just works. The chorus on “Earthrise” is one of the most unabashedly happy things I’ve ever heard, and my god they’re all wizards on their respective instruments. There are a few moments where it feels like they’re dragging on a bit, but those are few and far between, and everything else is just way too good for those to matter much; an easy choice for album of the year.
Phew. What a year. Now we get to do it all again next year. See you in December 2017!