Not to beat a dead horse, but 2016 was a motherfucker of a year. I’m not really in the mood to do a recap of all the shitty things (and good things, too, of course!) that happened this year, but I would say that it was probably one of the most chaotic years of my life… getting married, going on a (kind of) honeymoon, managing a trip to and in America with in-laws, starting a new job, moving to a different city, among many other things, ALL while trying to do my grad school work AND coping with all the nutty shit we had to deal with as a global civilization in 2016 was definitely a challenge for my sanity sometimes, but it looks like we more or less survived and made it here in one piece!! So let’s see how 2017 compares! It couldn’t have started off much worse.. I was sick as fuck for the first week of January, hence why this is coming out so late. Even though I was just laying around and doing nothing for the past few days, I literally did not have the energy to read a comic book (finishing up Preacher for the first time right now!), let alone write up this list. Therefore, while the quality of the music listed here is very high, my write-up is not. I was too pressed for time, sorry!! I suppose it kind of goes along with how shitty 2016 was, anyway. A shitty ending to a shitty year!
10. “Zi” – Negura Bunget
Time for some Transylvanian psychedelic black metal!! Unfortunately, the band has garnered a lot of negative feedback after main songwriter Hupogrammos left (starting his own band, Dordeduh), as many feel that the newer incarnation of the band (debuting with Tău (2015)) just isn’t the same in terms of quality compared to earlier recordings. While this may be so, I still find NB’s newer stuff to be quite good! While there’s still plenty of metal on this record, there is a much stronger emphasis on dark, progressive rock and ambiance. If you want to know the soundtrack to what it must be like doing heavy-duty hallucinogens at the ruins of Count Dracula’s castle in the Carpathians at midnight, then this is your best bet!!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://negura-bunget.bandcamp.com/
9. “Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith” – Inquisition
Fuck yeah!! Inquisition is one of my favorite black metal bands of all time, and this record is a great addition to their incredible discography. While this album certainly retains the typical “Inquisition sound”, the biggest noticeable difference is that Dagon’s unholy vokillz aren’t as low or croaky as they are on previous releases, although of course they still sound grim as fuck (although I think I prefer his earlier vocal style). However, everything else is here, from the typical hypnotic, droning riffs, to Incubus’ relentlessly pounding drums.
Besides the music, what really draws me to Inquisition are their fascinating lyrical themes. If you’re familiar with the band at all, you know that they’re not just heavily into Satanism, but also mythology, chaos, and the cosmos. Combining these themes, the whole album takes on a very “ritualistic” vibe (similar to Rotting Christ’s Rituals (elsewhere on this list), especially considering the eerie, ominous ambient tracks that bookend the record. Honestly, there’s a lot going on with this album so I still haven’t completely absorbed it in terms of everything that it has to offer!
While not quite as strong as their previous albums, I would say this is still a great record!!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://inquisitionbm.bandcamp.com/
8. “Torch of Our Final Night” – Woman is the Earth
Beautiful album! Combining equal parts Cascadian black metal, Instinct:Decay-era Nachtmystium, and… post-rock (I guess?), this is a great example of a band that is keeping the flame of innovation within black metal burning quite brightly indeed! This is a gorgeous album that truly evokes the majesty and haunting beauty of South Dakota. This would be the perfect album to accompany a winter stroll during a starlit evening among the Black Hills.
Listen to and purchase this album here: http://womanistheearth.bandcamp.com/
7. “Le Dernier Crépuscule” – Chthe’ilist
Normally I’m not THAT into tech death, but when it’s all cavernous (like Demilich or Immolation) and combined with a Lovecraftian theme, I’m definitely all about it!! I love the album art too, as it goes really well with the stories found in the majority of the songs on this record. Also, I find that the music reminds me a lot of the video games Dark Souls and Bloodborne in terms of atmosphere and lyrics (no strangers to video games, I guess the last song on the album, “Tales of the Majora Mythos Part I”, is based on The Legend of Zelda).
In terms of the music itself, this baby’s got everything!! Blasts, grooves, solos, atmospheric keyboards, weird-ass riffs, etc. I don’t know, I hate describing music and reviewing albums, so just listen to the album, and make sure to read the lyrics!! You’ll most likely see what I mean!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/le-dernier-cr-puscule
6. “Magic Night” – Violet Cold
Does this even count as metal?? It’s not on metal-archives.com (even though I would argue it should be)! Either way, I found this to be a very enjoyable album and quite a pleasurable experience to listen to. It is indeed very cold-sounding and bleak, but also somehow beautiful and hopeful as well (something that is quite common in post-black metal nowadays). Highly recommended you put this on if you want some “easy-listening” metal while you do some homework or writing or something. Also, bonus points for being one of the few metal bands from Azerbaijan! Beautiful stuff!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://violetcold.bandcamp.com/
5. “Värähtelijä” – Oranssi Pazuzu
“OH MY GOD I’M TRIPPING BALLS!!!!!”-black metal is what this is called based on all the hype surrounding this album. Seriously though, it’s a great record and one that I would certainly not recommend you listen to while on hallucinogens. This is one hell of a dark, psychedelic journey, probably best listened to in the dark with candles and shit…and yeah, maybe some mind-expanding chemicals 😉 Enjoy!!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://oranssipazuzu.bandcamp.com/
4. “Coven” – Cultes des Ghoules
The mighty Cultes des Ghoules strikes again, presenting their familiar sound in a completely new and different way than before. It’s kind of a cop-out, but I don’t really know what else to say about it which hasn’t already been said (I feel like both of these Sputnik reviews really hit it out of the park, especially when referencing the fucking brilliant Robert Eggers movie The Witch (2016)), other than when listening to this record, it’s extremely important to follow along with the lyrics (an integral part of any Cultes des Ghoules listening experience, honestly), as it’s kind of like a bizarre black metal stage play or something. Also, I’d like to mention that CdG vokillist Mark of the Devil fucking slays it on here, with an incredibly versatile, insane performance. Clocking it at almost an hour and 40 minutes, this isn’t an easy listen, and requires a lot of patience and imagination. However, this kind of creativity, ambition, and atmosphere is something that I believe is truly special and unique, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the best black metal bands that the underground has to offer right now!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://cultesdesghoulesofficial.bandcamp.com/
3. “Bethlehem” – Bethlehem
I’m a big fan of Bethlehem’s earlier stuff, but never got around to checking out anything after Mein Weg (2004). However, when I heard a track off of their latest, self-titled album (on the Illogical Contraption podcast), I thought I was listening to maybe a rare track that they had recorded for Dictius Te Necare (1996) that hadn’t made it onto the album or something… therefore, I was shocked to discover that it was not only a NEW Bethlehem song, but also they had a new, FEMALE vocalist who sounded EXACTLY like Rainer Landfermann, who’s vocal performance off of Dictius Te Necare is still the stuff of legend. I couldn’t believe it! Last I had checked, Bethlehem had broken up in 2015…at what point did they re-form (with a new guitarist and a former drummer), find a vocalist who could perfectly replicate Landfermann’s tortured screams, AND record an excellent new album by the end of 2016?! Pretty fucking incredible!
The vocalist is none other than Onielar, a Polish chick from the German black metal band Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult. I’ve never checked DNS before, so I have no idea what her vokillz sound like in that band, but holy FUCK does she nail it with this new Bethlehem record!! While it’s not quite as good as Dictius Te Necare, it’s still a pretty intense, fucked up, and torturous listen. Welcome back, Bethlehem!!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://bethlehem.bandcamp.com/
2. “Rituals” – Rotting Christ
Rotting Christ have been on fire ever since Theogonia (2007), Rituals continues to deliver! While I still am not a huge fan of Themis’ drumming (that weird staccato blast beat that is, admittedly, a staple of the “Rotting Christ sound” has ALWAYS bugged me) and find the record to kind of run out of ideas (similar to Destroyer 666’s “Wildfire”) during its later tracks, for the most part this is still a badass album! For a band that has been around for nearly 30 years, it’s amazing that these dudes are still somehow able to evoke a dark, mysterious, and, dare I say, ritualistic atmosphere that really adds to the dark, theatrical mood of the record. Whether they’re conjuring forth demons (“In Nomine Dei Nostri”) or bringing to life the poetry of Baudelaire (“Les Litanies de Satan (Les Fleurs du Mal), featuring an amazing vocal performance by Vorph from Samael), Rituals is a hell of a lot of fun and definitely proves that the Tolis brothers still have plenty of fight left in them.
Listen to and purchase this album here: http://rottingchrist.bandcamp.com/
1. “Wildfire” – Deströyer 666
Deströyer 666 aren’t the most prolific band in the world, but for whatever reason I thought the band was probably done after Defiance (2009). Maybe it’s because I don’t live in Europe, but I hadn’t been really keeping up with what these dudes were up to… so, it came as a surprise when I found that they had released a new album in 2016! And what an album it was!! Wasting no time in getting down to business, this unholy international (Australia, Chile, Sweden, and the UK) coalition unleash an absolutely RIPPING onslaught of black/thrash metal from the first track (“Traitor”), and don’t really let up until “Tamam Shud”, the final track, which is also arguably the closest thing the record has to a “ballad”.
What really gets me about “Wildfire”, besides the killer riffs and performances by all of the members of the band, is the atmosphere and attitude of the record. D666 aren’t the most “PC” band in the world, and they’ve had their fair share of controversies in the past. However, regardless of how you feel about the band outside of a musical context, you have to admit that the music on this record just bleeds arrogance and danger. Listen to the speed, the aggression, those absolutely blazing solos that are constantly shredding the song to pieces (“Live and Burn” is my favorite), the lyrics (typically involving violence, living hard and fast, etc.)… these guys know they can shred and play with the best of them. In a lot of ways the band kind of reminds me of Ragnar Redbeard’s book Might is Right (1980), racial overtones included. While this album has none of the “racial” content that is included in the latter, it is quite similar in spirit in terms of seeming to only have respect for strength, power, and debauchery.
You know how in interviews bands will talk about old bands from the 1980s as being the most extreme shit in the world at that time, but if you listen to it now it doesn’t really hold up in that respect? For example, Slayer and Morbid Angel used to be the fastest, most evil, insane metal that most people knew about or had access to before widespread usage of the internet. Unless you were into tape-trading, this was as extreme as it got for a lot of kids during that time. However, by today’s standards, while it’s still great fucking music, it’s certainly not very evil or dangerous. Ever since black metal’s Second Wave, metal has gotten faster, darker, and just more extreme in general. While D666 for sure aren’t the only band doing this nowadays, what I love about this record is that is perfectly updates the atmosphere, feel, attitude, and spirit of the more “evil” heavy metal coming out of the 80s with a more “modern” sound and production.
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://destroyer666.bandcamp.com/
Oh shit, you thought I forgot about dungeon synth, right?! Fuck that!! In honor of the 2016 Dungeon Synth Awards, here are MY picks for the Top 3 DS albums of the year!
There was a ton of good stuff that came out in 2016, so it’s difficult to narrow it down to just 3 albums. In fact, I probably listened to as much DS as I did extreme metal, so I actually had an easier time coming up with my top 10 metal albums (see above) compared to this top 3 DS albums list.
As you can see, Deivlforst Records absolutely dominated my list, and that label continues to be the best in the scene, in my opinion. I can’t wait to see what they’ve got coming up for us in 2017 (and hopefully many years to follow!)! As of this writing, pretty much everything released on this label fucking rules.
Oh, and Mortiis finally got a Bandcamp! Now you can go back and revisit (and purchase, if you like) all your favorite Mortiis material (from all eras), including his Vond, Fata Morgana, and Cintecele Diavolui stuff! Enjoy!
Anyway, here are my top 3 DS albums of 2016!!
3. “Fall of the Horned Serpent” – Medhelan
While I typically like my DS a bit more lo-fi, the quality of this stuff is undeniable. Gorgeous, epic melodies (“Land of the Ancestors” immediately comes to mind) that really let your imagination wander. Medhelan’s Bandcamp states that the album is “a Celtic fantasy tale. The events depicted are entirely fictional and open to interpretation.” Put this on, close your eyes, and allow yourself to be transported to Medhelan’s world of triumph, tragedy, and forgotten beauty.
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://medhelan.bandcamp.com/
2. “Moernvar” – Splendorius
Splendorius’ debut, Norfaragell-Thul (2015) is already a modern classic, but I found Moernvar to be even better! Every track reminds me of a mad alchemist performing strange experiments and arcane rituals high up in a crumbling tower of a gigantic castle. Also, fucking awesome album cover!!
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://splendorius.bandcamp.com/
1. “Taur-nu-Fuin” – Thangorodrim
I’ve already written plenty about Thangorodrim (and Taur-nu-Fuin) here, so all I will say here is that this is easily some of the best DS I’ve ever heard in my life and is exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to the genre. If you wish Mortiis had never stopped making DS, then Thangorodrim is your guy. In fact, I’d say this is even just as good as Mortiis’ best DS. I simply can’t recommend this highly enough.
Listen to and purchase this album here: https://thangorodrimsynth.bandcamp.com/