Anso DF’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2016
Hi MetalSucks reader, it’s me Anso. May I say that I’m sorry that this year has been so stressful? You must be exhausted. To your ears, which lately have been absorbing so many shrill noises, music might seem less like expression and more like literal communication. What once was a tale is now a touch, a way to employ all available means to empathize with each other. That’s why I kinda sound super intense about 2016 metal’s unwavering awesomeness. Thanks for reading!!!! :)
15. Chthonic Cult – I Am The Scourge Of Eternity (Iron Bonehead)
It’s easy to see how people get addicted to unknown, unprofessional music. The chances are small that someday you’ll grudgingly share it with many other listeners. It’s anti-social, a possession. But an exclusive relationship with public art is a lot of work and heartbreak — and is so temporary — so most of us resist the impulse towards that. But then a band like Chthonic Cult arrives with no fanfare and no presence, its four epics 47 minutes of grainy action and riveting horror. There’s an otherness like Cultes Des Ghoules and the stamina of Watain. It’s not performed perfectly (esp. non-blast beats), its riffs aren’t grabby (so CC’s next album could be astounding), and their band name is a bit of a spelling headache (and similar to Chthonic from Taiwan) — it looks like they’ll remain just ours for a while!
It freaked me out: The new album by one of my generation’s defining bands — six awesome albums, one great one — was titled with the name of the guy from the most joyless band of turds ever. Once it arrived on my desk, Gore was a bit like I had feared: singsongy, its guitars a notch closer to the background, and similarly unassertive placement of drums. At least one song seems to be borrowed from one of the band’s imitators. It’s different, flattened out, there’s a few dud lyrics. But weeks after that first listen and kinda out of nowhere, I came to love Gore‘s world, though it’s a bit hard to reach and upwind. I get the evolution, the new expressions from people who have changed since 2013. Less screaming about girls, more singing to girls; a savage, abrupt guitarist Steph Carpenter; hooks out the yin yang. Now I’m hoping their next album is titled Le Bon.
13. Ayahuasca – Yin (self-released)
Somewhere around 1993, an awesome prog-thrash band parted ways with their high-impact ’80s metal singer, and now sought a replacement in the vein of new big-timers Alice In Chains. It was a wild thought. Such a change at the mic would’ve necessitated a change to the bands speedy, virtuosic metal; the “best case scenario” for fans was that the band’s more comprehensible new sound would be off-kilter like Voivod or intermittently avant like Coroner — if never again upside-down bonkers like Atheist. And at worst, our beloved band would go super basic like many bigger bands post Black Album. (No matter what, though, there’d be no more lyrics about society’s decay — just tales of personal woe.) But eventually we were spared the suspense: Realm (that’s the awesome prog-thrash band) never relaunched after all. 20 years later, however, Ayahuasca has pretty much landed on the sound once sought by Realm: sour Staley/Cantrell three-part harmonies over ripping tempos; galloping, sideways riffs and scronky turns; the personal and the inherently social. Realm was right!
Few people in our lives would get super-excited about the offer of a single potato chip, yet none would turn it down. Likewise, the music of Castle is easily defined — witchy late-era Sabbath — and addictive in a surprising intensity that you can ponder anew during hundreds of listens. Crank it up!!!
In underground metal, the most “male” style of singing is that Neurosis-style, stroke-inducing screaming bellow. That type of band is not macho or sensual, but theirs is the voice of primal, uncivilized man — not an inhuman killing machine (death metal), a storyteller (heavy metal), a psychotic (hardcore), or a beam of pure black light (black metal). But that’s why you know it’s powerful to match naturalist death-march metal to a different voice, for example a spectral new waver (ie. Isis with Deftones frontman Chino Moreno) or a powerhouse in the tradition of Shirley Manson and Kathleen Hanna. The latter is Julie Christmas’ turn on Mariner, a collaboration album with shouting bearded guys Cult Of Luna. The former aces a huge assignment, the former seems to strain less in the role of “backing band.” Don’t miss the bonus track.
It’s tempting to use a different scale to rate the albums of a veteran band. It’s based on compassion for the aged, whose energy is ever diminishing like their desire for public profile. We fans acknowledge that there’s little reason for them to make an awesome album, because the rewards for doing so are no longer meaningful to the middle-aged. So it’s hard to reconcile old-ass Testament and their tremendous third album since the return of half-alien guitarist Alex Skolnick. In many ways on a wavelength with their first third album with Skolnick like 30 years ago, Brotherhood represents a loose, open-minded Testeament. In 2016, they remind you of Dodgers TV announcer Vin Scully: He’s 89 years old, so you want to ask him to settle down, enjoy the autumn of his life, and step aside so new guys can advance. But none are better at his job.
It can seem like the members of Dust Moth are not comfortable being considered heavy music. It’s understandable, for Dust Moth music is more forceful than heavy, more exploring than morbid. For short, call them “Deftones minus testosterone.” Yet you could question the wisdom of any band (and its supporters) even drawing the distinction; of course Dust Moth belongs in the pages of Pitchfork and AV Club, but students of history know that it’s the stewards of metal that usher special heavy bands to that kind of renown.
Babymetal is no longer novel. They must now win with material not imagery, or risk a lifetime lease with Kiss, Rob Zombie, and Marilyn Manson in the home for weak gimmicky bands that seem cool at first. So the trio and their band dutifully win a lot across Metal Resistance‘s 53 awesome minutes. It begins with five straight J-pop power metal mega-jams — each worthy of infinite repeats — then pivots from thrust to style. “Meta Taro” conjures Edo-period folkies wielding sun-soaked swords; “From Dusk Till Dawn” is theme music for a breathless epic about stoic robots; “Sis Anger” could be covered by a chorus of sailors; backing singers go big on charm and chanting on “Gj!” On its own and as counterpoint to the five pop gems that precede it, this section of songs works awesomely (though “Tales of the Destinies” is exhausting). And in case anybody gets lost in all those turns, a massive finale arrives to beckon us back. Babymetal is real.
“And so I learned, he said, that it is impossible to improve things, and that good people are just as responsible for it as bad, and that improvement itself is perhaps a mere personal fantasy. … We are all addicted to it, he said, the story of improvement, to the extent that it has commandeered our deepest sense of reality … This sense of life as progression is something I want no more of.” – Outline, Rachel Cusk
“It is counting aloud
‘Til the battery dies.”
– “Get On With Your Life,” Stina Nordenstam
5. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard –Y Proffwyd Dwyll (Cargo)
An oddly-named band’s unpronounceable instant classic — Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s Y Proffwyd Dwyll — seems to isolate the most profound moments of last year’s best metal album and then pounds them out to album length, while also forcing a heaviness missing from the otherwise perfect peaks of ’90s shoegaze. It’s the hammering at the soles of your feet and the nails across your back, the ghostly robes trailing around a corner and the blinding afterimage observed through layers of gauze. Do you get the feeling that Peter Steele would’ve worshipped this album?
4. Cantique Lépreux –Cendres Célestes (Eisenwald)
I’m giggling as I re-visit my MetalSucks story from March 22 about the new, welcoming world for awesome foreign-language bands like Cantique Lépreux. In it, I predicted a coming Age of Demystification, in which “unknowns and unknowables hardly seem threatening. In a few seconds, the biggest differences in culture and lifestyle can be studied deeply from a distance, privately, and for little money. Every year, millions are born who will do just that: react to our world’s novelty and weirdness with a bit of research and an open-ish mind. Fewer will find it easier to live ignorant and angry, and it will be harder to assign one’s inward anger to irritants in the outside world. Every year, there will exist fewer people who know too little about gays, reverse racism, religion, cigarettes, pollution, nutrition — fewer to squeeze shut their eyes to reality lest their scapegoats go up in smoke. So, lies and distortions will fall flat; scaredy-cat types will have died out. A lost cause, literally.” Lol, it turns out I was a bit premature about all that, but the rest of my story has aged way better: Cantique Lépreux is one of the awesomest parts of an awesome year for rough underground metal with mega-guitar solos. I can’t wait for the next CL album already. I can’t wait for the next everything :)
3. Decomposed – Wither (Chaos)
If asked, I might have offered a recommendation to Decomposed mastermind Jesper Ekstal Lundstedt. I’d state that his album Wither sounds like the work of four or five smart people who boast awesome chemistry — not one person who composes, produces, and plays at least three instruments. In Lundstedt, each discipline seems distinct and sympathetic, like the same name signed in five different colors. But anyway I’d advise that we divert from that fact, lest it obscure the whole point about Wither‘s perfection. That is, let’s avoid the impression that Wither is an awesome “one-man metal” album; it would be an awesome achievement for a team of ten.
I’m beloved among fancy metal musicians and all, yet I sense that a small handful of my most revered artists would hate me. Maybe they hate everybody, but that’s not what I mean. It’s obvious that my bimbo vibe would sicken guys like Waxen’s Toby Knapp, author of a caustic, discomfitting extreme metal classic Weihung Auf Satan. I worshipped this album even before I noticed the surprising Malmsteen-ian guitar solos amid the acid-splash of scum black metal. Such an awesome idea, like Bathory featuring John Sykes. So, since Weihung is mind-blowing and without precedent, my chances at an acquaintance with Knapp grow even slimmer, because I would spend our first meeting wearing the expression I reserve for when a routine massage somehow causes a tingle in my bottom, and Knapp would break a chair on my back. He’d have to!
It’s a perfect time to become a superfan of the greatest band ever to do almost everything wrong, Lacuna Coil. After all, any of us can reset our attitude now that LC parted with half of their members, their new album Delirium is a big step forward, and — keeping with this year’s theme of shred guitar popping up in weird places — its guest guitar solos are game-changers. We should’ve known that a Lacuna Coil song needs gritty, brash leads; it tempers all the passion (like Whitesnake), legitimizes unambitious riffs (like AC/DC), and battles electronic clattering (like Devin Townsend). But a trio of moonlighting Italian guitar aces (and Myles Kennedy!) aren’t the only ones propelling Delirium to peerlessness; dude singer Andrea Ferro goes hard into scream mode, and notches his most convincing vocal in “Take Me Home.” His energy is great, his parts no longer need to race to a finish. Elsewhere, singer Cristina Scabbia sounds furious, either coiled and quaking (“You Love Me Because I Hate You”) or spitting mad and spine-tingling (“Claustrophobia”). She’s confrontational and unambiguous, and singing more high, strenuous parts in every song. The fucked up thing is that, yeah, Lacuna Coil is fucking awesome with Scabbia, yet without her they’d still be pretty awesome: Nothing could sink any of Delirium‘s 11 songs. So because songwriting does so much of the work, LC didn’t need to get way angrier, way heavier, and way more ambitious. It’s awesome that they did.