Though everything else crumbled into sad ashes this year, 2016 had some pretty spectacular records across the board. For my money I’ve been particularly excited to see the twinkly side of black metal expand; though they’re not included here, I loved the new Downfall of Gaia and Alcest albums, and I’m excited to see other bands continue this theme. As a harsh winter rounds off a turbulent year, the bleakest records are the ones that I find myself revisiting the most.
Looking back on the list, I mostly used these releases as a way to a) find a grain of life to get excited about or b) enjoy for their bleak catharsis. 2015′s list was just fun stuff! Next year is likely to be even grimmer, but I’m sure the Mastodon record will be enjoyable whilst we fight bears in the Tar Pits. Merry Christmas everyone.
10. Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Weapons-grade sugary shoegaze-y pop, packed full of sweet hooks and shimmery textures. Weighing in at around the 30 minute mark, Japanese Breakfast‘s Psychopomp is a perfect breeze of candyfloss pink distraction from the awful grind of 2016.
9. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Surf-leaning cacophonous experimentation wrapped in a black metal package. Zorn-tier madness but cohesive and organic; Oranssi Pazuzu‘s Värähtelijä shouldn’t work, but it’s our treat that it does.
8. Tides of Sulfur – Extinction Curse
Explorative guitar passages pepper Extinction Curse, a disarmingly thoughtful record, though this doesn’t stop it bursting into barely-contained violence. Tides of Sulfur flirt with lots of genres but the record seems spiritually to drift towards forward-thinking sludge; it’s the play between influences and the quirks this produces that makes this record so compelling. Also featuring some of the warmest drum production in 2016′s extreme metal catalogue.
7. Venetian Snares – Traditional Synthesizer Music
Cascading synth layers and unpredictable drum patterns make Venetian Snares‘ latest an excellent cerebral companion to 2016′s retro synth explosion. I had a lot of fun with Perturbator and the Stranger Things soundtrack but anyone who’s feeling run down by weaponised nostalgia will find this a welcome, challenging break.
6. Bossk – Audio Noir
Audio Noir is pacy and kinetic, which allows it to repeat long passages without being tiresome; all the self-indulgences of the genre are either shed or re-imagined as more interesting. It’s song-y enough to be engaging whilst allowing itself room to be expansive and features a stack of bangers. All the risks pay off; we waited a long-ass time for a full-length from Bossk but it was worth it.
5. Slomatics – Future Echo Returns
The capital-D Doom release of the year, Slomatics have dropped their most expansive, fun record of their careers. Any release that features a 10-minute song where the lyrics are solely “yeah!” is a win. In a year of strong releases, this was the best thing on Black Bow.
4. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Meme kings 2k16. Bottomless Pit is clever and also kinda dumb. Bleakly confrontational but with languid detours; there was plenty of great hip-hop this year but I kept coming back to Death Grips, and it helped that there were memes ngl
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Skeleton Tree was the hardest thing for me to listen to in 2016. Written in the wake of his son’s death, Nick Cave is at his most tender; never a technical singer, his voice is often stretched to near-breaking point. Instrumentally sparser even than Push The Sky Away, Cave’s poetry takes centre stage to devastating effect; a compelling and harrowing listening.
The most effectively delicate post-black metal record in living memory, Rheia is a rager in its own right but also undeniably a benchmark for the movement. Both a thinkpiece record and a hugely successful, enjoyable endeavour.
1. Mamiffer – The World Unseen
Mamiffer drift delicately through pastoral warmth and into bleak noise, presenting a disarming taken on light/ dark post metal. Despite how charming and touching The World Unseen is, Mamiffer somehow manage to communicate a looming sense of dread that lingers throughout the entire record. This is in no small part thanks to Aaron Turner’s midas touch but Faith Coloccia is spectacularly spectral, on a wavelength with Chelsea Wolfe and Björk‘s work with Icelandic choirs.
In a year of Worm Ouroboros and SubRosa releases, there were plenty of adjacent records, but none that hit a nerve or took well-calculated risks quite like this. Also, their shirts have cats on. The best record and cat-related media of 2016.
Stay tuned for further lists from The Monolith staff, including our overall Best of 2016 list!