Long-winded intros are for jabronis, so without further ado and in no particular order, THKD nails the lid shut on 2016 with a list of ten metal albums that grabbed a hold of my crank and kept on yankin.’
1. Church of Misery – And Then There Were None… (Rise Above)
For And Then There Were None…, Church of Misery’s founding bassist and primary songwriter Tatsu Mikami brought together an all-star lineup, featuring Repulsion vocalist Scott Carlson, Blood Farmers guitarist Dave Szulkin and Earthride drummer Eric Little. The result of this gathering of some of heavy music’s finest is nothing short of the best damn doom album of 2016, a Sabbath-y serial killer celebration featuring odes to the likes of “The Acid Bath Murderer” John George Haigh and “The Cross Country Killer” Tommy Lynn Sells. But most of all, And Then There Were None… is all about great riffs, with Carlson’s vile and menacing vocals serving as bloody icing on the cake. [full review]
2. Deranged – Struck By a Murderous Siege (Agonia)
Sweden’s Deranged play death metal just the way I like it, gory, no-frills and brutal as hell. In spite of their country of origin, the band has more in common with the gruesome, pummeling ultra-violence of American death-dealers such as Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation, and they’ve honed it to perfection over the span of twenty-five years. Deranged aren’t out to reinvent the torture wheel on ninth album Struck By a Murderous Siege, but they’ve got riffs galore and possess the songwriting prowess to give each track its own unique character; not an easy task when it comes to brutal death metal. So put down whatever overly dissonant, Neur-riffless influenced fake-ass death metal album the internet hive mind told you to buy and pick up this catchier-than-herpes slab of pure murder.
3. Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct (Blackened)
Let’s get it out of the way; Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is not a perfect record. It’s too damn long and the second disc gets bogged down with too many similar sounding slow to mid-paced songs. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can make a playlist consisting of the entire first disc + the barn-burning “Spit out the Bone” from the second disc and whip up a forty-five minute album’s worth of straight heat from the biggest metal band in the world. It still won’t satisfy basement-dwelling internet troglodytes, but those of us that have stuck with Metallica through thick and thin can let loose with a “You’ve still got it!” chant and enjoy those sweet, sweet Heltfied riffs on tracks such as “Moth Into Flame” and “Atlas, Rise!”, which haven’t been this sweet in a long, long time. And if you’re not down with that, I got two words for ya…
4. Profanatica – The Curling Flame of Blasphemy (Hells Headbangers)
Profanatica are among the godfathers of USBM; indeed, they’ve been cranking out the filthiest of filthy black shit off and on for a whopping twenty-six years. Their fourth full length The Curling Flame of Blasphemy finds the band still at the height of their evil powers, conjuring forth an album full of sludge-soaked, bottom-heavy black metal that puts just about every other USBM band to shame in terms of both eerie atmosphere and crushing musical heft. If staunchly primitive and traditional black metal is your bag, it’s about time you stopped fucking around and got down with these OGs of Satan worshipping depravity. Accept no substitutes. [full review]
5. Brujeria – Pocho Aztlan (Nuclear Blast)
After a sixteen year layoff, everyone’s favorite satanic Mexican drug cartel finally came out of hiding in 2016, and with a KKK approved dingbat who earlier this year threatened to build a wall between the US and Mexico now preparing to become the leader of the free world, the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. Brujeria’s latest features their signature blend of death metal, groove and grindcore, as well as lyrics that address the current socio-political climate by tacking subjects such as the perils of the drug trade, illegal border crossing and the plight of Mexican Americans who often find themselves being treated like outcasts by people on both sides of said border. Pocho Aztlan proves that even after a decade and a half of being MIA, Brujeria still have cajones the size of grapefruits.
6. Wormed – Krighsu (Season of Mist)
Is there another brutal/technical death metal band that has set the bar time and again the way Wormed has? The answer is “no” and the proof is Krighsu, an album that’s so many light-years ahead of the curve it seems unlikely that any other group in the subgenre could even hope to keep up with these futuristic Spaniards. Indeed, Krighsu is a mind-flaying display of intense instrumental dexterity, but the emphasis on technical playing never comes off as mere wankery; instead, the album is chaotic and crushing yet also precise and calculating, like the sounds of a space station where killer robots are being assembled getting sucked into the unforgiving maw of a black hole. [full review]
7. Inquisition – Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith (Season of Mist)
Inquisition have been the masters of USBM for nearly two decades now; over the course of seven albums, they’ve done nothing but improve to the point where they are the gold standard by which all American black metal bands should be judged. Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith might not be as immediate as some of its predecessors, but what it sometimes lacks in intensity it makes up for with the superior songwriting that has long been Inquisition’s trademark. Dagon and Incubus have learned to temper their blackened assault with a degree of texture and nuance that most other USBM bands either couldn’t or wouldn’t even dream of on tracks such as “Wings of Anu” and “A Black Aeon Shall Cleanse.” All of this is to say that Inquisition are at once the past, present and future of black metal. [full review]
8. Aborted – Retrogore (Century Media)
Belgian death metallers Aborted hit a bit of a rough patch after releasing their masterpiece Goremageddon: The Saw and the Carnage Done back in 2003. It took them until 2012’s Global Flatline to finally get their mojo back, and with Retrogore they’ve at long last released an album that aspires to the same level of catchy, brutal brilliance that Goremageddon did. By mixing bulldozing blasts with a dash of Carcass-esque melodicism, Aborted have managed to get back to that sweet spot that made them such a standout back in the day. The album might be called Retrogore, but make no mistake, Aborted are crafting some seriously state-of-the-art brutality. [full review]
9. Embalmer – Emanations From the Crypt (Hells Headbangers)
On Emanations From the Crypt, Cleveland death metal legends Embalmer combine a doggedly old school approach with hints of modern brutality to create an album that’s so goddamn filthy you can’t help but feel like you need a very long, very hot shower after listening to it. There is nothing pleasant or polished about Embalmer’s sound, and that is exactly the way death metal should be, the musical equivalent of a splatter film with a shoe-string budget and gallons upon gallons of blood and guts. Even in the world of metal, it can’t be easy to make music that sounds so completley and utterly disgusting, but Embalmer pulls it off in spades with Emanations From the Crypt; the soundtrack to smashed skulls and eviscerated torsos.
10. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason (Nuclear Blast)
Prior to The Violent Sleep of Reason, I hadn’t checked in with Meshuggah since 2005’s Catch Thirtythree. I can’t say exactly what caused me to fall out of love with the band’s polyrhythmic, hammering monotony, nor what prompted me to dive back in after a decade-long break, but I’m glad I did, because The Violent Sleep of Reason flat-out crushes. By ditching some of their cruel precision in favor of a “live in the studio” approach to recording, Meshuggah not only re-upped on heaviness, but also imbued the music with a looseness that makes their down-tuned attack that much more savage-sounding. The Swedish quintet are still a well-oiled war machine, but this time the machine sounds like there’s a human heart beating underneath the heavy metallic shell.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
1. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville) – Combining gothy gloom with progressive metal, the sad Swedes strike back with what might be their finest work since Viva Emptiness. [full review]
2. Goatblood – Defiance & Intolerance (Dark Adversary) – Scuzzy, lo-fi and sketchy as all hell black metal from the infernal pits of the land down under that ain’t afraid to ride a sweet riff. Sounds like a more rockin’ Satanic Warmaster.
3. Vader – The Empire (Nuclear Blast) – Still the most consistently great band in old school death metal, damn near cracked the top 10. Also, maddest of props for quoting the “Imperial March” during “Genocidius.”
4. Lord Time – Mandatory Human Livestock Reduction (Universal Consciousness) – A brain-melting brew of lo-fi black metal and corrosive noise manipulations designed to leave you a gibbering wreck, wallowing in a pool of your own piss, shit, blood and vomit.
5. Melvins – Basses Loaded (Ipecac) – The ever-prolific Melvins continue their hectic release schedule with one of their best records in ages, which sees them cranking out thick ‘n’ chunky riffs that recall their trilogy of classic Atlantic Records albums.
6. Destroyer 666 – Wildfire (Season of Mist) – KK Warslut doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings.
7. Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast) – The best dad thrash album of 2016. Unlike their Bay Area peers, Testament have actually gotten heavier and meaner with time; these dudes still sound hungry in their fifties and prove that mellowing out with age is bullshit.
8. Boris / Merzbow – Gensho (Relapse) – Spread out over two separate discs meant to be played simultaneously, Gensho is just the sort of experimental, mind-warping motherfuckery I just can’t seem to get enough of from two of Japan’s finest. [full review]
9. Dark Fury – This Story Happened Before (Lower Silesian Stronghold) – One of the longest-running and sketchiest bands in the Polish black metal scene, Dark Fury whips up thirty-three minutes of raw, methodical riff-craft.
10. Grave Desecrator – Dust to Lust (Season of Mist) – The legacy of Sarcofago’s Brazilian barbarity lives on in Grave Desecrator, and they have a song called “Mephistophallus in Occultopussy,” so, there’s that.
Top 5 albums that were a hair shy of making the top 20
1. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder (Peaceville)
2. Metal Church – XI (Rat Pak)
3. Ghoul – Dungeon Bastards (Tankcrimes)
4. Abbath – s/t (Season of Mist)
5. Crowbar – The Serpent Only Lies (eOne)
Top 5 albums I liked that no else did
1. Rotting Christ – Rituals (Season of Mist)
2. Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign (Century Media)
3. Sourvein – Aquatic Occult (Metal Blade)
4. Desaster – Oath of An Iron Ritual (Metal Blade)
5. Merzbow / Keiji Haino / Balazs Pandi – An Untroublesome Defencelessness (Rare Noise)
Top 5 splits and EPs
1. Earthless / Harsh Toke – Acid Crusher / Mount Swan (Tee Pee)
2. Satanic Warmaster / Archgoat – Lux Satanae: Thirteen Hymns of Finnish Devil Worship (Hells Headbangers)
3. Scour – s/t (Housecore)
4. Vircolac – The Cursed Travails of the Demeter (Sepulchral Voice)
5. Graveland / Nokturnal Mortum – The Spirit Never Dies (Heritage)
Top 5 reissues
1. TAD – God’s Balls (Sub Pop)
2. TAD – 8-Way Santa (Sub Pop)
3. TAD – Salt Lick (Sub Pop)
4. Harassor – Harassor / Hater of Man (Universal Consciousness)
5. Black Witchery – Evil Shall Prevail (Nuclear War Now!)
Top 5 2015 albums that I didn’t hear until 2016
1. Bode Preto – Mystic Massacre (Iron Tyrant)
2. Serial Butcher – Brute Force Lobotomy (Unique Leader)
3. Bong – We Are, We Were, We Will Have Been (Ritual Productions)
4. Dragged Into Sunlight / Gnaw Their Tongues – NV (Prosthetic)
5. Kampfar – Profan (Indie Recordings)
Top 5 Shows
1. John Carpenter @ Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
2. Sunn O))) @ Oakland Metro, Oakland, CA
3. Dragged Into Sunlight @ Starlite Lounge, Sacramento, CA
4. Pentagram @ The Ritz, San Jose, CA
5. Cradle of Filth @ Ace of Spades, Sacramento, CA
Thanks to everyone that made the launch of Doomsday Device so successful this year. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out DD’s Top 5 Pro Wrestlers of 2016 list.