Chain Wallace’s Top Fifteen Metal Albums of 2016
Hooray! A list from the new guy. This will be how you will all judge me for the next year, right? I can just imagine what you folks will be thinking come 2017:
“Oh, that Chain guy writes some pretty interesting articles when he’s not being a complete shitter. But wait, he didn’t include [insert band name here] on the list! What a joke! Let me insult him in the comments section more than I already do, that’ll really show him. Huehuehuehue.”
Your words hurt already.
15. Mono – Requiem for Hell (Temporary Residence)
Welp, they’ve gone and done it again. Mono have released another stellar album that did more than just impress me — it never left my regular rotation once I got my hands on it. Hell, I didn’t even know they had a new album coming out this year until I wrote about Mono’s music video for “Requiem for Hell.” I’m glad I did, though. I found myself really loving what I was hearing. Their unique sense of structure manages to tell a story in a way few bands can, even the ones that write lyrics. Each track invokes a new and interesting emotion — a rare feat. It’s certainly not easy to do, but Mono sure loves to make it seem like it is.
14. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason (Nuclear Blast)
This album was a grower, not a shower. My first listen almost left me totally dismissing it. “This just sounds like more Meshuggah,” I thought. “Maybe my passionate love affair with them is over.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.
With each consecutive listen, I found myself picking out more and more groove in each track. My head started to bob, my feet began to tap — before I knew it, my neck was broken and my heels were grinding the floor into dust. It’s just so uncompromisingly heavy. It ultimately does sound like more Meshuggah, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
13. Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Mariner (Indie Recordings)
Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas announced the Mariner album early this year via the single “A Greater Call.” I loved it. It was a perfect mesh of both artists, and to this day it’s still one of my favorite tracks of 2016. When I got the vinyl in the mail, I expected to dive headfirst into bliss, but I was left feeling a bit disappointed, at least initially. I didn’t know how to digest it. The album is actually a pretty difficult listen. There’s a raw intensity that Julie Christmas brings — her vocals add a new edge on the rather thick and trance-inducing marathons CoL like to call “songs.” Once it clicked, though, Mariner latched onto me in a way few albums did this year. It was “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” that ended up hooking me. I guess the album needed to pull me down into its ocean on its own terms.
12. Conan – Revengeance (Napalm Records)
Oh, you want down-tuned guitars? Here you go. These guys are about as low as you can get without hitting the brown note. Their appeal dances between bouts of doom and stoner, two genres that have been mined to the brink of depletion at this point aside from a few key players. Revengeance sets out to prove that Conan should be considered one of the foremen. Their songwriting has improved significantly since their last release, they’re really hitting the perfect balance of meaty groove and pace, and almost every track is is a guaranteed head-bobber. I’ve always dug this band’s sound, but this record cemented them as a favorite in a scene I was getting relatively bored of.
11. Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner)
I was excited for Magma when rumors of its inception began to fly around, but when the band started debuting singles, that excitement began to wane. It definitely felt like Gojira in terms of sporadic song structure and phrase repetition, but it didn’t have the weight of The Way of All Flesh or From Mars to Sirius. I still found myself having a good time with it once I engaged with the album as a whole. It’s not bad, it’s just different. We’re seeing a softer side of them, one that’s more accessible. Sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. I equate it to light beer. It might be a bit watered down, but when all I want is something drinkable, this album ends up hitting the spot.
10. Slaves BC – All is Dust and I am Nothing (Veritas Vinyl)
I bet these guys would be a blast to talk to. No, seriously, some of their song titles would make for great conversational pieces, especially if you’re handed a blunt on a starry night and the existentialism of the looming black galaxy in front of you is just, like, blowing your mind, man! That being said, these guys come across as more than a crust band that just finished a philosophy 101. There are some genuinely crushing tunes to dig on this record. From the opening riff in “God Has Turned His Back” to the final echoing feedback of “Why Are We Here,” the album is like ingesting nails. That’s a compliment.
9. Gorguts – Pleiades Dust (Season of Missed)
I’m beginning to wonder where the hell Luc Lemay and company manage to get their inspiration. There’s an intelligence that comes with their writing style that few bands can emulate, much less generate themselves. They create challenging music that pushes boundaries and sets a new standard going forward. In short, Gorguts, along with one other band on this list, are the saviors of technical death metal. Pleiades Dust is one of this year’s crowning achievements. It topples the structure the group laid out in their previous effort, Colored Sands. Both albums are incredible within their own right, but Pleiades Dust manages to explore the unknown fringes of some truly dark material in just over thirty minutes. Our own Max Frank said the album was a masterpiece when he reviewed it, I guess I’m apt to agree.
8. Head Wound City – A New Wave of Violence (Vice Records)
For a supergroup that hasn’t released a damn thing since 2005, these guys sure came into 2016 kicking and screaming. Blood Brothers’ members Jordan Billie and Cody Votolato join Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian from Holy Molar. Weird combination, but they proved it works once already. This record just cements their status. It’s short, sweet, and to the damn point. No bullshit, no frills, just straightforward riffs, biting lyrics, and playful presentation all crammed into a twenty-four-minute run time. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven’t given it a listen already.
7. Numenorean – Home (Season of Missed)
I reviewed Home back in July and gave it a lot of praise. There’s not much more to say that can’t be found in that article, but I’ll hit some of the points: Home is a beautiful blend of post-black and gaze that captures the somber sobriety of coming to grips with the frailty of life, love, loss, and finding a home in a world where only chaos is guaranteed. I still stand by that. You can hate the album’s controversial cover all you want to, but the music stands for itself.
6. The Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence (InsideOut)
I’m definitely on the record as a well-known Townsend fan. His humor, sound, and personality all combine to make him one of the most charismatic metal artists of our time. Transcendence is probably my “feel good” metal album of the year. Townsend manages to capture a positive vibe with this album, while still remaining true to his Heavy Devy roots. Check out “Stormbending” below. It’s a perfect example of what you can expect.
5. Colosso – Obnoxious (Independent)
This band came along and blew me away. It’s an unbelievable record. What more can I say? Vince sent me the music video for “A Noxious Reflection” on Skype and asked me to do a write up on these guys a little while back. That experience forced my year-end list to do a drastic lineup change. If you like your death metal to be a tsunami of crushing guitar riffs with some great groove thrown in like an aftershock, this is the band to listen to. Their industrial influence lends itself to their writing style perfectly, and their tone is nothing short of vicious. This band deserves its place here on the list, and they need to be on your radar.
4. Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis (Relapse)
Remember when I said there was another band on this list that I consider one of the saviors of technical death metal? Here they are. Ulcerate’s Shrines of Paralysis is a musical mindfuck from start to finish. This album is an exhausting experience in sensory overload, and its unwavering commitment to dissonance drains me more and more with each and every listen. Jamie Saint Merat’s drums absolutely blow this album to shreds. The man is a god behind the kit, and that’s no slight to Hoggard and Kelland. They’re somehow managing to keep up.
3. Sumac – What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey)
Oh, you thought you’d heard heavy music before? Aaron Turner thinks otherwise. Enter Sumac’s What One Becomes. This album isn’t just heavy, it’s weight-of-the-world-crushing-your-god-damn-skull heavy. All dat bass drops right into the pocket and sends you veering off into a world of unadulterated soul shaking, body convulsing bliss. Aaron isn’t afraid to ride that rhythm to the great unknown as he buries the guttural depths of the bass below a cacophony of noise fueled guitar. Sumac’s sound isn’t going to be for everyone, and I acknowledge that, but it really resonated with me.
2. Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows (Relapse)
Paradise Gallows follows the same suit as Sky Burial did in 2013, but it rides off in a few new, different directions, too. This allows the band to pull at the threads of their boundaries just enough to unravel a fresh sound. These guys are virtually unclassifiable. One moment they’re sludge, another doom, another blackened God-knows-what. They transcend genres, and they do it so successfully it’s uncanny. Paradise Gallows dominated my attention when it released over the summer, and because of its variety and refusal to be pigeonholed, it continues to do so to this day.
1. Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy)
The pioneers of blackgaze are back, this time with screaming! Before you jump to criticize, take a moment and separate yourself from any preconceived notions of the genre they created or how it might have given way to these “hipster” bands that are “tainting” metal as a whole. Step back, breathe deep, and listen:
This record is gorgeous. From start to finish, it’s an experiment in earnest beauty that is unlike anything else released this year. This album magnifies their complex sound while remaining firmly rooted in the dreamy qualities fans have come to expect. The lighter side that Alcest debuted on Shelter certainly makes up the foundation of their new release, but there’s an added bite. It’s nothing too hard, but it’s just enough to propel Kodama into a distinctly different direction from that which Alcest were previously exploring. It’s a great combination of new and old, a return to form. On top of that, “Je Suis D’ailleurs” just might be my favorite song of the year.