I’ve recently watched Banger TV’s program dedicated to the best metal albums released over the past year.
Here is the list they’ve come up with (in no specific order):
- Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
- Vektor – Terminal Redux
- Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
- Gojira – Magma
- Khemmis – Hunted
- Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
- Korn – The Serenity of Suffering
- Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us
- Rotting Christ – Rituals
- Devin Townsend – Transcendence
I cross referenced this list with a few other places and, other than a few differences here and there, this is it – you behold the cream of the crop in Metal in 2016. Despite hearing of most of these bands, I was not familiar with their music. The exceptions are DsO and Korn, but I haven’t been following their new albums so all of the music on the above list was new to me. Now, as a general comment, if you’ve got Korn on your best of Metal list, it’s either you don’t understand the first thing about Metal or something is very amiss in the scene today. Sadly, it’s the latter that’s true in this case – I wasn’t able to get past the first song on most of these albums. Here is my take on these works:
Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
DsO used to play a raw and primitive form of Black Metal with a very heavy Darkthrone influence. This sounds simplistic, but the band managed to create some very good music: Inquisitors of Satan and Manifestations 2002 are some of my most favourite albums in Black Metal. But then came along Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice. where the band started changing their approach and I’ve never bothered to check out the subsequent releases.
The Synarchy of Molten Bones is an experimental album where the band mixed Black Metal and Mathcore. The result is a horrific pile of incoherent filth; on top of that, the production is an absolute joke for any Metal album, never mind Black Metal. One might argue that the album was meant to have an incoherent, chaotic feeling, but no – listen – check out The DEP’s Calculating Infinity and you will notice that it the most coherent collection of songs you’ve ever heard despite the dissonant sound. It takes real talent and a bit of insanity to make this type of music. This is the reason why there are so few good Mathcore bands and so much worthless garbage. Calculating Infinity was released 17 years ago in 1999 and it is still the best album in Mathcore.
Vektor – Terminal Redux
I’m no expert on Thrash Metal, but this album sounds fairly generic to me, it is certainly no match for the likes of Kreator, Sodom or Slayer in their prime. I think only the most devoted Thrash Metal fans would appreciate this.
Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
A lame album with a lame name. You can listen to the title track on Youtube – it’s extremely generic with that modern production that robs music from any identity whatsoever. I will need to listen to the band’s earlier albums as they are supposed to be quite good.
Gojira – Magma
This album sounds absolutely terrible, it’s nothing else but Nu Metal disguised as some progressive bullshit. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of Gojira’s earlier albums and they sounded a bit better than this. My guess is this band has reached its selling out point.
Khemmis – Hunted
This is the first album where I did not want to vomit after the opening 30 seconds. In fact, I think the album is quite good. Unfortunately for me, Doom Metal is not my cup of tea, so I will have to accept that this record is simply not for me. I would not rule out going back to this band at some point in future.
Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
My understanding is that some people were upset in 1995 when At the Gates released Slaughter of the Soul, where they switched to a much simplified approach compared to their earlier works. Some people described the new sound as ‘instant gratification’, the term I disagree with, but what is usually implied is the music lacks in terms of song writing and structure. Having said that, many many more people preferred this new simple Melodic Death Metal approach. Fast forward 20 years and we have this joke of a band, Insomnium, spewing out an even more simplified and pussified ‘opium for the masses’ music.
Korn – The Serenity of Suffering
Remember my comment at the beginning of the post about Korn? Yea, the sad part is Korn’s 90s albums were probably better than most of the stuff on this list. What’s more, modern Metal bands like Gojira and Insomnium have absorbed this Nu Metal influence in their music and in doing so justified Nu Metal’s inclusion in the Metal genre as a whole. This is what happens when musicians only look at their contemporaries for inspiration and can’t be bothered to look back at what the ones before them were doing. This is evident because it’s impossible to create such horrific discharge if one were to get their influences from Motorhead, Venom, Bathory, Slayer, Kreator, Darkthrone, Dissection and other notable bands from 80s and 90s.
As far as Korn’s album goes – it’s terrible, as expected, just like everything they released since Issues in 1999.
Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us
Finally comes an album that jibed with me. Having said that, about halfway through the album, the music got a bit irritating. Not sure if it’s the result of production or that I haven’t listened to Grindcore in a bit. The album is only about 20 minutes long though.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: there is not a single Metal riff on this album. It is exactly the way Grindcore was meant to sound: an extreme version of Harcore Punk, played at the fastest speed possible. While it is ridiculous that many metalheads consider Grindcore as a sub-genre of Metal, it is understandable. After all, if you look at the pioneers of the genre, Napalm Death and Carcass, the former started incorporating a lot of Death Metal elements into their albums once they’ve improved their musicianship and the latter switched to a technical variation of Melodic Death Metal altogether.
At any rate, I don’t really care where Grindcore belongs and I do not wish to limit myself to any specific genre. Nails is a good band and I will be listening to their earlier stuff as the time and resources permit.
Rotting Christ – Rituals
Not sure what to write about this album as I wasn’t able to listen to it for very long at a time before turning off. The only observation is that the whole record sounds like one very long and boring song. The production here is a joke for a supposedly Black Metal album. Stay away from this putrid pile of trash.
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
People usually talk about Devin Townsend in the context of experimental music. Despite having heard quite a bit about Devin Townsend in the past, this is the first time I’ve heard anything from him. While there are some interesting moments here, that actually manage to create an atmosphere of something grandiose and epic, it’s all ruined by the pathetic signing, guitar work and plastic production. It doesn’t take long to realize that this is another glorified Nu Metal ‘creation’.
Now, this blog post would be useless if it didn’t end with something positive, so here are some releases from 2016 that might actually be worth checking out:
Exalt – The Shape You Took Before The Ache
This album actually came up in the Banger TV video above. I feel apprehensive recommending this because of it’s basically a Nu Metal album, even though it also borrows heavily from the 90s Metalcore. The production is quite good for a change. In the end, I don’t think I will come back to this album, but it wouldn’t be a bad starting place for someone new to Metal, if they insist on listening to modern stuff. The music is accessible enough to draw in a large audience and has enough good qualities to push people in the right direction.
Having said all this, if you must listen to recent albums, stick with Ghost and go see them live – you will not regret it.
Cough – Still They Pray
Somehow none of the websites I checked listed this album in their Best of 2016 compilations. This album had me banging my head from the first riff. This band plays the most divine (in the most Satanic way) Stoner/Sludge/Doom music and was a real gem I accidentally discovered this year. Give this a listen, if you dare.
Still They Pray was my best 2016 album, but, to me (and I could be very wrong), this is not Metal by the strictest of standards because despite having a Doom Metal framework, Stoner Rock and Sludge are integral parts to this album. By the same argument I wouldn’t pigeonhole Electric Wizard into the Metal genre, but I know a lot of people will argue otherwise. My opinion is that Stoner/Sludge/Doom triad deserves its own category, but most often you see the 3 styles treated as Metal sub genres.
On that basis, my Best 2016 Metal Album nomination will go to:
Destroyer 666 – Wildfire
From the opening riff and that classic, Mercyfull Fate-like falsetto howl, this album drags you 30 years back into mid-80s where it wouldn’t feel out of place with the likes of The Day of Wrath, Seven Churches and Show No Mercy. The album possesses that raw, dirty, Blackened Thrash/Speed Metal sound that was common to the first wave of Black Metal bands. To my shame, this is the first album I’ve heard from this group, but now I’m very curious. If this was the only record I had to listen to in 2016, I wouldn’t be too disappointed.