Every year I usually list the albums that left the biggest impact on me. These are from no particular genre, and fall in no particular order. As a note, while I try to listen to a pretty diverse pool of artists every year, I generally fall back into a few favorite genres. If you’re looking for a massive, all-encompassing end of the year deal, this ain’t it.
Anyway, to the albums:
Sorceress – Opeth: So, I’ll jump right to the cut: this album is the only one in Opeth’s catalog that really suffers from bad production. That might seem like an odd way to start a review, but after sitting with it for quite some time (and also having the chance to see them perform three of the tracks live), I’m convinced that something odd happened here. Tom Dalgerty isn’t a bad producer, Mikael Akerfeldt knows what a good record sounds like — and like, everyone knows Steven Wilson, right? Seriously, though. What happened?
Looking past that, Sorceress is a much more memorable record for me than Pale Communion. The title track, Chrysalis, A Strange Brew, and The Wilde Flowers are all standouts. But is the rest of the album good? Eh. I feel like it Heritage’d me, in that the record is actually really fucking good, but I can’t get past what it could have been. When the title track first dropped I thought Akerfeldt might’ve wanted to bring more doom into the mix. Sadly, that isn’t really the case. Still, it is heavier than the past two records — it feels like it should’ve been the record that came between Watershed and Heritage. I realize I’m not doing a great job of “selling” Sorceress, and there’s a reason for that. I like it, and it’s here because I’m an Opeth fanboy, but I can’t really see this being anyone’s favorite record of 2016. Choice track: Sorceress
The Fall of Hearts – Katatonia: With the exception of The Great Cold Distance, there hasn’t been a single Katatonia record I’ve really loved upon first listen. Yet, six months after the album drops, suddenly it’s all that I’m listening to. The Fall of Hearts is no exception. At release, there wasn’t a single song that caught my attention. It sounded, more or less, just like the last few albums Katatonia has released.
Yet, Katatonia has kind of quietly been killing it with their unique brand of… whatever this is. Quiet metal? Alt-rock doom? Post-doom? Heavier-than-alternative-but-still-alternative? Gothic rock? Gothic doom? Seriously, since The Great Cold Distance they’ve essentially formed a genre, party of one. There are other bands that copy their drab style, but Katatonia isn’t really about any particular feature (sans Jonas’s voice, which should probably be sold as a recommended item alongside a particular Hitachi product). There are many other bands who try to make this kind of music, but none own it like Katatonia does. This whole album drips with a weird, Scandinavian jazz swagger draped in melancholy. Choice track: Serein
Magma – Gojira: Let’s start this with a confession: with the exception of, like, two or three songs, I’m not a fan of Meshuggah. Gojira is the reason why. Gojira has always sounded like the band I wanted Meshuggah to sound like. Yes, there’s rhythmic complexity. Yes, there’s the feeling that you’re slowly being John Proctor’d by sound. But Gojira is just more interesting. Instead of settling into this place where rhythmic complexity is all there is (with everything — even the vocals — falling into a wall of chug), Gojira layers in catchy as fuck (but still brutal) little hooks. Stranded is the epitome of this, as is Pray.
I’ve seen some people say that this isn’t as good as the rest of their catalog, because it’s a tad more chuggy. Who cares. Listen to this album. Choice track: Magma
Holding Patterns – Devin Townsend Project: Wait, what? For the unaware, Transcendence’s deluxe edition contained a second CD titled Holding Patterns. It’s a scattered collection of ideas, some of which are very fleshed out. Okay, I lied: they basically are all fleshed out. Polished? Not really, but if I’m going to slip on an Opeth album that has terrible production, why not let in on a bonus disk full of demo material?
None of this is to imply that Transcendence is a bad record. It isn’t. If you are a fan of Devin Townsend, or prog metal in genre, it’s a must have. But the bonus disk? This shit, team.
There’s a song called Canucklehead that’s a metal/country mashup about how the world is garbage, but Canadians are really friendly. There’s another song called Time Overload which is an industrial track that I demand to hear live (but know I never will). Oh, and there’s Victim: a track that I’m pretty sure is a Strapping Young Lad B-side.
Oh, and Failure is a great track of the record this is attached to. Choice track: Time Overload
Lighthouse – iamthemorning: 2016 was a shit year. Surprise! I’m positive that’s a unique opinion I share with no other human. But yeah, personally it was bad, and while it’s easier to listen to something angry, hateful, or just generally CHUG CHUG CHUG FUCK THIS SHIT, WHERE’S KILLER MIKE? BURN IT DOWN FUCK, the reality is that no amount of pouring acid down your gullet into a pool of bile is going to help you with the process of dragging one stump and putting it in front of the other. That isn’t a ruler to the knuckles of anyone who surfed on seven layers of justifiable rage in 2016, though. Like, I get it. You do you.
But I aint that, and I have reflux, and once the agony and pH just tap my esophagus in just the right way, I’m not getting anywhere (though the contents of my stomach might).
Lighthouse is piano heavy. It’s very acoustic, very contemplative, and very playful (even when it’s nibbling at very dark bits of story). But it’s creative, fresh, and just good in ways that are very unique to my ears. Choice track: Libretto Horror
Outer Edges – NOISIA: A lot of people are pretty happy with considering NOISIA “bass music” and, hey, why don’t we talk about The Avalanches? Or Elysia Crampton? But nah, that ain’t my jam. To the former: alright, but disappointing. The latter, on the other hand, reminds me of being in a particular grad class as a student gave a presentation on his end of semester paper. I remember feeling uncomfortable as he read through his plans. It wasn’t coherent. It was just a mess of ideas, loosely used out of context, with no form or reason or purpose. I was expecting some sense of worry from the professor. None came. A fellow student told me later that he thought it “sounded interesting.” We attended a conference together later, and I got to hear his finished product. It was not interesting.
Outer Edges, though, is. NOISIA have essentially made a career out of picking off sounds from neurofunk and darkstep drum and bass, mixing in their own taste, and then just letting ‘er rip. The end result isn’t always to my taste, but it always gets my attention. Outer Edges is an album that’s more or less full of tracks like that: I don’t necessarily like them all, but they deserve to be listened to. Much like Deadmau5, they have a lot of critics, but there’s no doubt that you can hear a single blip from a track of theirs and know exactly who it is — even if you don’t know where it’s going to go. Choice track: Collider.
Voice of the Void – Anciients: This list isn’t in any particular order, but if it was, this would be my number one — and while RTJ3 comes close, nothing else does. When Anciients came out in 2013 with Heart of Oak, they received a ton of attention. This release, for whatever reason, didn’t receive as much. That’s fucked up, though, because this is a better record. With Void of the Void, Anciients have cut out a huge chunk of the Mastodon influence that hung over their past record. In that same place, they’ve put riffs. Just riffs. Just a lot of fucking riffs. Oodles of riffs. Riffs of riffs. A volcano of riffs. Just a fucking lot, okay?
Anciients lives or dies by the strength of those riffs. That isn’t to discount the rest of what’s here, but hey, the band knows what you like, and they throw them at you knowing full well this is what you came for. One of the reasons I’m so okay with Opeth going full-on prog is because Anciients popped in to fill the void that they left. Just listen to the choice track if you don’t believe me: there are like a million Opeth-clones now (or at least bands that are so very obviously influenced by repeated listen-throughs of Blackwater Park), but Anciients shits on all of them and deserves your ear. Choice track: Following the Voice
As far as other stuff, there are a few mentions:
Eponymous – Cabinets of Curiosity: This is the debut EP of MY WIFE’s band. It’s good, obviously.
Thief – Thieves Hymn in D Minor: I ordered this EP on a whim earlier this year, and I love it. It’s chilled out, dark triphop that heavily samples Gregorian chants. Outside of a spin of Tarkus (:(), it was the only thing that sat on my turntable all year.
From Wolf to Peacock – The Vision Bleak: This song, off of The Unknown, is awesome. I wasn’t huge on the rest of the album, but… yeah. It’s gothic metal that’s a little harder than most of what’s out there — very much in the vein of something like Ghost Brigade.
Winter’s Gate – Insomnium: This gets its own space, not because it doesn’t deserve to be up there with the other albums, but because it’s just… different. First, a bit on Insomnium. As a band, Insomnium has always had a special place in my heart. Above the Weeping World is, easily, one of the best melodeath albums of all time. It’s perfect. With that said, since that album, Insomnium has been opposite In Flames. Instead of evolving, they’ve stayed in their lane. As is such, they’ve released a bunch of average albums. When someone asks me about ’em, I say grab Weeping World, and stream the rest to find a few songs you like.
Winter’s Gate, though, is different. They didn’t just make an album that includes a few new melodic tools, they made a 40 minute long song that twists and turns, bringing in every trick they’ve ever learned in their career (and a few new ones). The result is a project that is just purely memorable. It’s weird to be proud of a bunch of dudes you don’t know, but yeah. That’s this album.
Into the Night World – Machinae Supremacy: Another one that (probably) would have been up there, but two things: first, I’ve only really listened to it twice since it came out. Second, following Phantom Shadow, it’s a much less ambitious record. It’s catchy, and it delivers everything you’d want from a Machaine Supremacy album (and if you’re new to the band, it’s as good of a place to start as any), but man, Phantom Shadow was such a high point that it’s hard not to compare this to it.