Sunday, January 1, 2017


Hello, Capital Wasteland.  It is I, BastardHead, struggling once again to think of a good opening line to my annual awards post intro! 2016 was a fucking terrible year, as most of you know.  Between the stress of the election here in America, lack of motivation or free time necessary to do this whole review thing that y'all know me for, horrible gas, and just a general malaise around the entire world, not a whole lot of people are going to look back on this year as one of the highlights in recent memory.  However, it was a great year for music, in particular heavy metal.  After the low points of the first few years of the decade, 2016 seems to be continuing the upward trend of high quality releases across the board, rivaling 2012 and 2015 for the best year so far.  Weird things happened, like Sabaton apparently taking over the world despite being terrible, several bands (notably Metallica and Running Wild) releasing solid albums after decades of awfulness, and some of the most astonishingly flooring albums I've heard in eons.  I don't really know what to do for a preamble since I've been doing this for so long and you all know what to expect anyway.  So here, let's all nurse our collective hangover and celebrate:


Rules are the same as always.  No EPs, since that's just the way I do things, and now that I've been listening to enough of other genres to feel confident ranking them against metal albums, the list is not metal exclusive.  However, as luck would have it, when it comes to new albums from 2016, I pretty much only listened to metal albums, so the list turns out to be metal exclusive anyway.  Who'd a thunk?

13. Rotten Sound - Abuse to Suffer 
I'm gonna be honest, there were a whopping seven albums I wanted to put in this spot.  This year was so insanely stacked that the number 13 spot on my list was almost impossible to narrow down.  In the end, weighed against each other, none of them were quite as refreshing as the new Rotten Sound.  Granted, "refreshing" is a bit misleading since this is the exact brand of hyperviolent grindcore you'd expect from these guys, but after the underwhelming Cycles and five years of relative silence, it felt *damn good* to get an album of this consistently high quality from the frantic Finns once again.  This may not reach the same dizzying heights of uncompromising violence and devastation as their unscalable 2005 album, Exit, but it's pretty close to being right next to it.  This wrecks everything, don't listen to it near anything easily demolished.

12. Sinbreed - Master Creator 
In terms of traditional power metal, almost nothing ripped as hard as Sinbreed's Master Creator.  This doesn't break any boundaries or do anything too out of left field, and apart from the vocalist being a little more gruff than your average Europower band, this could have easily been forgotten in the yearly swamp of middling power metal.  It it broke out for good reason; the songwriting is just insanely good.  This doesn't bend your mind with subtle complexity, it's just straight ahead, meat-and-potatoes power metal with great hooks and memorable songs.  The lack of flowery bombast does a lot to accent just how good the hooks are from the ground up, with a punchy guitar tone and pummeling drum performance.  This is just straight up, classic, early Iron Savior styled metal updated with a sheen for the modern era.

11. Agatus - The Eternalist 
This is a late entry, as I usually don't add things I first heard a week or so before the end of the year, but Agatus truly ascended above that mental roadblock of mine.  I'm not familiar with the band's history, but they allegedly began as a black metal outfit, and touches of that still seep through on occasion, but this is through and through just dark and dirty heavy metal.  I love it when a band can focus on riffs and manage to make them all so uniquely their own.  It's the exact reason Mercyful Fate's initial run is so legendary.  The Eternalist is loaded down with so many riffs that it must weigh as much as an ocean.  It's a very eerie, uncomfortably dark listen that carries enough pomp and bounce in the riffs to still be something easy to throw on for a fun listen.  This laid-back approach to trad metal with a black metal spirit is one to behold.

10. Wormed - Krigshu 
Good fucking lord this is nuttier than a squirrel turd.  This kitchen-sink approach to brutal tech death that Willowtip and Unique Leader inundated listeners with in the late 00s fell out of favor with me and many others, but these Spaniards blasted through the dimensional gate to remind us all how awesome it can be when executed properly.  This damn thing just never lets up, it's non stop insanity from the word go, and I wouldn't ask for it to be anything else.  Just like Origin in their prime, Wormed finds so many different ways to pulverize your skull into dust that the unconventional tides of the runtime never become overwhelming like so many bands struggle with.  Definitely one of the best albums in the style since Hour of Penance were unstoppable (though admittedly, Cast the First Stone next year may see them reclaim the crown).

9. The Infernal Sea - The Great Mortality 
Y'all can accuse me of cheating on this one if you want to.  Technically, this was first released in May of last year, but it was limited to a paltry 100 cassette tapes with no online presence, sold only on tour.  The band was basically completely hidden from the world until Cacophonous Records came around and give it a proper worldwide release in February of this year, so I'm going to allow it.  This is some brutally vicious black metal, and maybe it's because of the bubonic plague theme running throughout the album, but it calls to mind the unending ferocity of a band like 1349.  Some of the longer tracks flirt with gloomy clean passages, but the glut of this album is chock full of blistering intensity, and there is almost nothing I like more in my black metal than that sort of frantic insanity.  

8. Sarcoptes - Songs and Dances of Death 
I normally tend to stick to more popular, visible releases in terms of my listening cycle, simply because randomly digging for obscure gems usually turns up so much forgettable nonsense.  But frequently, an underground band will generate enough hype to land a blip on my radar, and this year the biggest one in that department was Sarcoptes.  These Californian freaks delivered a frighteningly tight and percussive slab of black metal with little sprinkles of thrash riffing and epic choirs.  All six tracks on here are blistering and otherworldly, remaining grounded with instantly memorable riffs and soaring melodies.  With only six tracks to choose from, I amazingly still can't decide on a favorite.  They're all of such a stunning consistency that it's truly a sight to behold.  One of the most vicious and epic albums of the year, at the same time no less.

7. Desert Near the End - Theater of War 
If there's any album that defied my expectations in such an extravagant fashion, it's Desert Near the End's Theater of War.  I'd heard their debut years ago and promptly forgot about it, so coming across their third album here was basically a shot in the dark to see if they'd improved at all.  The answer is a resounding holy shit yes they did. This is a masterful, bizarre blend of Iced Earth riffing, harsh screaming, and death metal drumming that somehow all coalesces into this sublime collection of songs that beat the listener into the ground.  This is almost painfully aggressive and destructively hooky at the same time.  Really, the cover art sums up the overall feeling of the album quite well.  This is what dark forces completely leveling a grand city sounds like, and I love every second of this malicious blend of conflicting influences.

6. Death Fortress - Deathless March of the Unyielding 
I already gave this a full review, and I stand by everything I said in it.  I actually probably never would have heard this if it wasn't for a friend and I swapping albums to review for some silly game we play sometimes, and fucking hell I'm glad we did this time.  I've been using a lot of the same words to describe albums as I go on down the list, but trust me when I use them all again in a row here.  Deathless March... is a fucking blistering, pummeling, ferocious blast of dissonant black/death, completely, well, unyielding in it's assault on the senses.  Honestly, the best way to describe it is to just use the song titles.  "Merciless Deluge", "Scourge of Aeons", "Power from Beyond the Stars", "Deathless March of the Unyielding", etc.  If that doesn't give you an idea of the single minded focus of completely destroying everything you see, nothing will.

5. Blood Incantation - Starspawn 
Coming into the top five, we meet one of my most anticipated releases of the year.  I don't normally hype myself up for upcoming releases just because I'm let down so often, but their EP last year, Interdimensional Extinction, crushed me so fucking hard that I just couldn't wait for their debut full length.  One of the biggest problems with modern death metal is that too many bands sound alike.  Most are at the very least good, but too many sound like an interchangeable mashup of Demilich and Incantation.  Blood Incantation here doesn't have that problem.  They take those influences and blend it with such twisted, extraterrestrial morbidity that you don't doubt for one second who you're listening to.  Nothing else released this year riffs nearly as hard as this one does.  It's Morbid Angel on meth cut with Kryptonite, and it rules.

4. Anaal Nathrakh - The Whole of the Law 
I haven't cared much for Anaal Nathrakh since the stunning In the Constellation of the Black Widow seven years ago, but holy hell did they pull themselves from the swamp of mediocrity with this one.  Everything that made them so good in the 2000s is back in full force here, with all restraint flung straight out of the fucking window.  The endless insanity permeating through every note of this album makes this their strongest in a long time with little doubt.  The furious percussion, distorted howling, and frantic riffage behind the epic, cleanly sung hooks sound like the chanting druids as meteors rain down and bathe the entire planet in fire.  This is a musical extinction level event, and any self respecting metal fan should love it.  Also, "Hold Your Children Close and Pray for Oblivion" is the most badass song title ever.

3. Dynazty - Titanic Mass 
With so much of my list dripping in bleak, dark, and extreme metal, I almost forgot that melodic metal even existed.  Dynazty here beats the same path basically every hook-centric heavy metal band has beaten for decades now, but the execution is so grand, the songwriting so tight, the hooks so fine tuned, none of the simplistic retreading is worrisome in the slightest.  Basically every song follows the same formula, but the band is so energetic that it breaks out of the mold it put itself into. Each and every song is played with so much gusto and confidence that I can't help but buy into every note.  On one hand, it's a shallow heavy pop metal album.  On the other hand, it's one of the best ones released in a decade.  Fill your heeeeart with gasoliiiine!

2. Deathspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Yes, it's a full length.  I don't care if it's 4 tracks and under a half hour, it's a full length release and a monster one at that.  I'm not familiar with DsO, for whatever reason I just never gave them the time of day despite their reputation in the scene.  With this release, the almost impossibly awesome album title intrigued me enough to finally give them a listen, and lord have I been missing out.  After dozens of spins and an almost instant "this is going to be a top five album" reaction, I still don't exactly know how to describe it.  It's bizarre, dissonant black metal that relies on off kilter, angular riffing and frenzied drumming.  The whole thing is so frenetic, everything sounds like it's just two inches off to the left, if that makes sense.  It doesn't, but that's the point.  Think about it.


1. Avantasia - Ghostlights 
I am just as surprised as you are, truly.  I have been very public about how wholly snore inducing I've always found Avantasia to be, and I only gave this a listen out of a sense of some sort of obligation simply because it was being talked about so much, but god dammit, it not only surpassed my admittedly quite low expectations, it utterly shattered them.  Somehow, this droning, dull ass power metal pet project that was always too full of itself to ever create anything truly compelling managed to craft an album that not only finally got what they were going for right, but made it so fucking undeniably great that I couldn't help but rank it as the absolute best album of the year.  Tobi's neverending rock opera reaches it's indisputable apex here, with all of the overwrought Meat Loaf-isms begging to be gesticulated along with, all the ballads (barring one) being soulful delights, and every legit power metal track being the catchiest song of the year simultaneously.  The centerpiece epic, "Let the Storm Descend Upon You" is the best longform epic that Tobi has penned since "The Seven Angels" (previously one of the only Avantasia songs I could ever bring myself to like), and the speedy metal numbers like "Unchain the Light", "Babylon Vampyres", the title track, and especially "Master of the Pendulum" are just unreal with how well written they are.  The guest vocalists all knock it out of the park, "Lucifer" is one of the greatest ballads written in a decade, "Draconian Love" was so great that it made me check out Sinbreed up there in the first place, "The Haunting" manages to use Dee Snider masterfully, just god dammit I love this album and I almost hate myself for it.  Astute readers may remember that I've actually reviewed this album already, and gave it a score lower than the album I put at number six here, but that really just speaks to how incredible this is.  It's done nothing but grow on me more and more in the following months and I don't even care how boring "Seduction of Decay" and "Isle of Evermore" are, everything else is so good that they don't even detract from the overall product.  I can't stop gushing.  This really fought with DsO, but at the end of the day, the BH Award for Album of the Year goes to Avantasia.  Dammit.

And now for something completely the same.


Japan - The Usual Suspects:  This is just a general catch-all for the three Japanese bands I always gab on about, since all three released great albums this year and all three wound up JUST missing the list.  They're seriously entries 14, 15, and 16.  First is Ningen-Isu with Kaidan Soshite Shi to Erosu.  Their inimitable brand of progressive trad/doom metal is just as great now as it was nearly thirty years and six hundred albums ago.  There are some amazing songs here, but overall it just barely missed the "it factor" that I feel Rotten Sound had, so here they are.  Next are the death metal giants in Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, with Where Warriors Once Dreamed a Dream.  This is actually almost disappointing since it's a bit of a regression back to the more organic fluidity of Legend of Shadow mixed with the tight ferocity of Retributive Justice and it's more of a mixed bag than it is a "best of both worlds".  Even though I was slightly disappointed, this still ranks extremely high up on the list of albums I've heard this year.  And lastly there's obviously Gargoyle, with Taburakashi.  This is probably the most straightforward and heaviest album they've ever penned, and that's awesome on paper.  But unfortunately, despite the stratospheric highs of the standouts like "Dragon Skull", "Be Daring", and "Yaban Kaito", it just doesn't stack itself up to be quite as memorable as other Moderngoyle classics like Kisho and Geshiki.  So there, all three of my Japanese favorites missed the cut this year.

Unfathomable Ruination - Finitude: This is one I didn't expect to be nearly as good as it was.  Their previous album was certainly good, but this was something else entirely.  Everything has been ramped up, and this should help cement them as one of the premier brutal death metal bands in the scene today.

Mithras - On Strange Loops: I'd never actually heard this band before, but my unabashed love of Sarpanitum's album last year led to more than a few recommendations to keep my eye out for this one.  Honestly, this is an amazing album and might have ranked on the final list if I had only heard it earlier, as it stands I only heard this less than a week before the year turned and I just don't feel confident ranking it above great stuff I've listened to all year just yet.  It sounds like Steve Tucker era Morbid Angel: Live from Neptune.

Protest the Hero - Pacific Myth:  Protest once again tried blazing a path in terms of how the release was handled, with each song being issued as a single over the course of months before finally giving us the full package late this year.  It's a great EP, loaded with their signature stylistic quirks that make them so fun to listen to.

Ripper - Experiment of Existence:  You'll notice there are no pure thrash albums on the list this year, but that doesn't mean there weren't any great ones.  Ripper is one such example, as this is easily one of the most unrelentingly vicious albums the genre has seen in years.


Vader - The Empire:  This one was just a victim of expectations being way too high.  It's a solid album I suppose, very serviceable.  But after how stunning Welcome to the Morbid Reich and Tibi et Igni were, this is just bland.  Some albums have filler songs, but Vader has introduced us to a discography with a filler album.

Furia - Księżyc milczy luty:  Disappointment of the year for me right here.  Their 2007 album cemented them as one of the all time standouts of Polish black metal in my eyes, right up there with Cultes des Ghoules, Plaga, and Mgla.  But with this one they dropped the ball hard.  Most of it isn't even metal, which isn't necessarily a problem, but the clean parts that dominate the album should have at least been interesting.  This is a very significant flop, and that's heartbreaking to me, because they had a ton of promise.

Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us:  Also a contender for disappointment of the year.  I don't know what it is exactly, but this just sounds so weak compared to Unsilent Death and Abandon All Life, two of the most unremittingly devastating and violent albums of the decade.  Maybe it's the heightened grooviness taking away from the violent grind, but this just feels wrong somehow.

Serious Black - Mirrorworld:  Touted as a power metal supergroup and fronted by the underground legend that is urban breed, this is just much too weak and unmemorable to be acceptable.

Serpentine Dominion - Serpentine Dominion:  Another supergroup, this time consisting of Shannon Lucas of The Black Dahlia Murder (who I love), motherfucking Corpsegrinder (who I love), and Adam Duckywicks of Killswitch Engage (who I couldn't care less about).  It's an interesting combo and the music is just as interesting as you'd expect based on the personnel.  Unfortunately, the cool death metal parts are totally soured by the Killswitch-isms stinking up the joint.  The melodic sections and clean vocals could have been an interesting contrast to the blasting death that makes up the rest of the record, but they're far too frequent, far too jarring, and just far too out of place and it just wrecks everything.  Rare case of an album that actually gets worse the more you listen to it.

That's all for this year folks!  I'm still busy with all kinds of assorted nonsense so pardon me for cutting this a bit shorter than usual, but I want you all to know that you're beautiful and I love ever last one of you idiots.  See you as the new year keeps chugging on!

1 comment:

  1. Happy new year Bastardhead! Great list - there are a ton of bands I haven't checked out here yet, so this is going to keep me busy for the next few weeks.