Yes, it’s that time of year again. 2016 has been a phenomenal year in terms of metal releases, and here I’d like to pay tribute to my top 25.
As always, it was very tough to compile this list into any form of decent order, and I’m sure, (again, as always), that if I were to do this again, the list would look quite different.
I’ve limited the list to a mere 25 releases, so there are necessarily sooooo many good ones that have been missed out. Below are a selection of some of my other favourite releases of 2016, all of which made it into some previous version of my top 25 before I settled on the final one –
Each of these is an incredibly worthy release and deserves to be included in any self-respecting metal fan’s collection. I’ll leave it to you to explore them at your leisure.
Okay, so starting at number 25, we have the Wonderbox Metal best of 2016 list…
Blood Incantation – Starspawn
Blood Incantation start us off with their remarkable debut album Starspawn. This is such a thoroughly enjoyable slab of inventive, otherworldly death metal. With plenty of diversity and a truly Hellish vocalist, this is a fine album to get this list of to a flying start.
Demonstealer – This Burden Is Mine
The brains behind Demonstealer is a talented guy. This Burden Is Mine is almost an hour of well-crafted progressive, death, black, thrash and atmospheric metal blended together for the delectation of the listener. With depth, diversity, songs and out-and-out metal passion, this album made a very good impression on me.
Temisto – Temisto
Swedish band Temisto have produced a very insidious album. This is death metal with an exploratory, blackened, mystical side. It’s the kind of album that sounds good on first spin, but keeps pulling you back again and again for subsequent listens without you even realising it. Before you know it you find that you can’t quite get enough of its dark charms.
Vrtra – My Bones Hold a Stillness
Now, this is quite the find. It’s not often that something as sickeningly dark and twisted as this comes along. Mixing doom, death and black metal into an all-too-short first album, My Bones Hold a Stillness contains so much satisfyingly bleak and heavy music that I just can’t wait for their next release already. Tar-black distortion and nasty, ugly songs belie how sophisticated this actually is in many ways. Vrtra have hit upon a blackened goldmine with this release, and My Bones Hold a Stillness is a grim winner.
Cairiss – Fall
This talented and impressive UK black metal band seemed to come out of nowhere with this incredibly good debut EP. The band play atmospheric black metal and do so with their own personal take on the style. Rich and varied, this is a sumptuous feast that’s sure to satiate and satisfy. Taking influence from old and new, Fall displays a nascent band that have already realised something special in their ability to create engaging black metal music. One can only wonder where they’ll go from here, but I can’t wait to find out.
Zao – The Well-Intentioned Virus
As ‘comeback’ albums go, this is one of the very best. Absent form the world of metal for a good few years, The Well-Intentioned Virus sees the mighty Zao return in fine form, with some of their strongest material to date. A combination of great writing and great ideas sees this latest album full of engaging, emotive metalcore that effortlessly mixes savagery and emotive depth. Unmissable.
Polar – No Cure No Saviour
No Cure No Saviour effortlessly combines hardcore fury and post-hardcore atmospherics. It’s a very passionate release that’s raw with emotional content mixed with an inherent live appeal. If you’re into modern, emotive music then this one’s a no-brainer. It’s very easy to listen to and enjoy. Uplifting and enthralling.
Crimson Moon – Oneironaut
This is some very impressive epic, mystical black metal. Enhanced by unusual and exotic instrumentation, Oneironaut is packed to the gills with good ideas and dark atmosphere. The songs are good, the sound is good, the entire package is very, very good. This is an album that takes influence from the second wave of black metal, but then fleshes this out with their, (well, his), own style and personality.
Vanhelgd – Temple of Phobos
Now this is just a really damn good album. Vanhelgd impressed with their third album Relics of Sulphur Salvation, but Temple of Phobos is something else. The band have managed to write an album that’s so full of quality crushing death metal songs that this is a release that you can just put on again as soon as it’s finished, so enjoyable is it. With some doom elements and a firm appreciation of grim atmosphere, Vanhelgd have produced such a strong album that even now as I write this, I’m still considering placing it higher on this list.
Unearthed Elf – Into the Catacomb Abyss
2016 has not brought a lot of power/heavy metal for me to get excited about, unfortunately. There have been some really good releases, of course, but nothing that really made me sit up and pay attention. Into the Catacomb Abyss is the exception to this. There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of Unearthed Elf. If this is the case, please rectify that as soon as possible, as this album is an absolute corker. Top songs, luscious harmonies and thick, meaty guitars…there’s so much to get your teeth into on this album. Over the top and quite essential listening.
Tides of Sulfur – Extinction Curse
Do you like filthy, sludge-infused death metal? Of course you do. Extinction Curse is the best example of this I’ve heard all year. The album is a hideous mix of the two, bubbling with foul sickness and old hatreds. The band manage to pack in a fair amount of variety in the album too, and your attention is held throughout by its vice-like pestilent grip. Extinction Curse is surprisingly more-ish; it’s heavy, addictive and infectious. Tides of Sulfur are a band that are not content with being average, and this is an album that exemplifies that.
Seedna – Forlorn
Seedna play atmospheric black metal and Forlorn is a comprehensive exploration of misery and darkness in musical form. With a healthy appreciation of other genres, (progressive, post-rock and doom influences), this is a journey into blackened atmosphere that’s a real treat to experience. There’s something special about this album, something that speaks of black metal’s origins, while simultaneously having a timeless quality to it. Seedna made a big impression on me this year. If you haven’t experienced them, get listening.
Necrosavant – Aniara MMXIV
Wow. That’s still my reaction when I listen to this. Here we have a single 45 minute blackened death metal song. Yes, you read that right. That would be impressive in its own right if it wasn’t for the fact that this is also a one-man project, and, importantly, it’s absolutely brilliant. When I first came across this release I wasn’t expecting to love it anywhere near as much as I do. The riffs, the vocals, the drums, the dynamics, the sequencing, the atmosphere, the pacing…this album succeeds in so many ways. Aniara MMXIV is just bloody great.
Nadja – Sv
Nadja are such a prolific drone/doom band that you can blink and you’ll miss about 100 new releases from them. An exaggeration, of course, but one used to highlight the fact that you most definitely should keep an eye out for Sv. Containing just one 41 minute track, this is a stunning example of how to use mood and tension across a sprawling quasi-industrial doom piece. The song/album is a real experience, one which any fan of challenging, interesting, atypical music should have. Impressive and absorbing.
Forlet Sires – Journey Towards Ruin
Now this is an album I’m especially fond of. This is black metal with added doom and post-hardcore influences. The walls of blackened distortion are overpowering and draw you in almost completely. The raw, blackened atmospheres that the band create on Journey Towards Ruin are finely realised and the entire album is satisfying in a very deep, involving way. This may only be their debut album, but already Forlet Sires have crafted somewhat of a dark masterpiece.
Todtgelichter – Rooms
If avant-garde/progressive black metal is your thing then the fifth album from Todtgelichter is quite the gem. With progressive structures, reflective post-metal workouts and some unusual structuring, riffs and ideas, Rooms contains a lot of different content, all gathered together and delivered with all of the style a band as experienced as this can muster. Showing off many different forms of extremity and musical exploration, this is a multifaceted release that owes as much to experimentation as it does to black metal. Rooms deserves to be heard far and wide.
Ultha – Converging Sins
A relatively late addition to this list, when I first heard this album I knew it was something special from the start. This is an album of deeply engaging and nuanced atmospheric black metal, the kind of which I simply adore. Mixing old and new into a rich, textured and dark release, Converging Sins is over an hour’s worth of sheer top class music. This album is extremely special, and one that you simply can’t miss.
Unyielding Love – The Sweat of Augury
The Sweat of Augury is one hideously nasty album. As far as grindcore goes this is right up there with the best of them, all teeth, nails and rending chaos. All of this blistering aggression, electronic mayhem and blackened grinding fury results in 20 minutes of utter horribleness that’s so utterly savage it’s hard to overstate. The musical equivalent of getting your skin ripped off.
2016 was the year that I rekindled my love of thrash metal in many ways, and Agony exemplifies a lot of what I love about the style so very well. Nervosa have produced an album that’s so extremely enjoyable that it’s impossible not to get caught up in their passion for all things metal as you listen to it. It’s a wild ride and through the adrenaline-soaked stupor you find yourself in it can take you a moment to realise just how good the songs actually are, which, of course, means that the album’s a definite keeper and has plenty of longevity in it. Aggressive thrash metal has rarely sounded as good as this.
Wayfarer – Old Souls
I love this album. There’s no better way to say it than that. Old Souls is the follow up to Wayfarer’s debut full-length Children of the Iron Age, which itself was a fantastic album. Old Souls builds on this first release and manages to achieve the very hard task of actually improving on it. This is atmospheric black metal of the best variety, full of expansive, emotive soundscapes, painted in blackened hues and delivered with talent and ambition. Get this. Get both of their albums. Wayfarer are currently at the height of their powers; long may they remain there.
Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
Winter’s Gate is one 40 minute track and it’s an absolutely essential listen for anyone into atmospheric metal. On this work Insomnium’s melodic death metal reaches its highest peak of development, and across this sprawling, epic song it’s great to hear what the band are truly capable of. I love this album in so many ways. It’s so very well put together, played and packaged that everything about it just screams of the highest quality imaginable. Winter’s Gate is ambitious and grand in all of the right ways.
Obscure Sphinx – Epitaphs
Obscure Sphinx are one of the most criminally underrated metal bands out there in my opinion; they’re nothing if not an amazing band. Epitaphs is the band’s third full-length outing and contains such a wealth of post-metal/progressive/doom/whatever music that it’s enough to satisfy even the most jaded of palates. Weighty, atmospheric and achingly emotional, Epitaphs sees the band once more producing an album of real scope and substance. As I stated in my review of the album; this is a full-blown musical experience. If you’re not already, then I insist that you must get into this band.
Venom Prison – Animus
This album is soooo good. Nasty, underground death metal with just the right amount of hardcore bile added into the mix; Venom Prison’s debut album is an essential listen for anyone into extreme metal as far as I’m concerned. This is an album that keeps on giving; just when you think you’ve cracked its ugly charms, you’ll listen to it again and unexpectedly find yourself discovering something new about it, some previously hidden facet of brutality you had somehow overlooked. One of the best things I can say about this release is that Venom Prison sound like Venom Prison. Animus is a storming album.
Schammasch – Triangle
For Schammasch’s third release the band have clearly pulled out all of the creative stops. This is an absolute monster of an album. Clocking in at 105 minutes long, the album is divided into three parts, each with its own flavour. Despite how long it is Triangle is such a tour de force that the playing time is not the barrier that it might initially appear to be; this album is just that good, and you actually want more of it, not less. Highlighting only one black metal release in 2016 as the overall best is a pretty damn tall order, but Triangle genuinely stands apart from most others. Schammasch have produced a stunning album here.
Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Mariner
If there is only one album that has stayed constant in all of the various iterations of this list then it’s this one. Mariner is just that good. Seriously. It’s ridiculous. I mean, how on earth are they going to follow this? Well, that’s a problem for the future. Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas working together…it’s a match made in Heaven. Both are superb artists in their own right, but when you mix the two of them together on this release, then apparently pure magic happens. Yes, this is my firm pick for the best album of 2016, hands down. This is an absolutely fantastic album in every way, and I can’t say enough good things about it, nor can I get enough of it. A flawless masterpiece.
So there you have it. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.
I’ll leave you now with The Wreck of S.S. Needle, which is my favourite track off Mariner. Enjoy!