2016 Quarter Review: Top O’ The Bowl
2016 hasn’t seen the absurd amount of notable releases that last year did, but is that a bad thing? We’ve still had more than enough good ones. So many that we had to make lists.
Last year will go down in the officially recorded history of The Toilet as one of the craziest years for new releases. 2016 is shaping up to be a much slower one. And truth be told I’m not sorry at all if it won’t pick up the pace, as we are still looking at quite a few notable releases. Plebeian Grandstand, Gorguts, Melvins, and Inquisition among others are slated for new material. And of course the best releases of the year are never guaranteed to be the most notable ones by name, but regardless of how you choose to look at 2016, I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a huge of amount of good albums released. But when it comes to great albums, future classics, this year doth run dry. There have been multiple noteworthy debut albums including those of Nucleus (review) and Chthe’ilist, but given that they’re only the band’s first full-lengths, it’s hard not to expect even more greatness in their future.
There’s another reason why I won’t be missing being all over a new masterpiece twice a week, and naturally that’s old music. There are still albums from the last 2-3 years I need to get into, to devote more time to, and of course there are all the great albums that aren’t new. Honestly, I’ve been feeling myself drawn into music I already know a lot more than to the idea of familiarizing myself with something new, which has lead me to neglect a number of 2016’s albums I’d like/need to listen. Hell – I spent a lot of time with Kendrick Lamar around Christmas/January but no sooner than as I began to write this piece, did I play untitled unmastered for the first time (it’s aight, but not rocking my world – not yet at least). Lastly (Firstly’s cousin, I hear), but not least – I’ve been continuing to keep metal as a smaller part on my palette since last year, which undoubtedly has also led into neglect; gotta keep up with the albums I did neglect when I listened to mostly metal. I also decided to not include stuff like Moonsorrow or Tähtiportti, the year’s two best albums so far because this was supposed to be a first quarter check up.
From what I gather, not everyone here at The Golden, Porcelain Office of TovH (The Flush) shares my impressions – let’s take a look at what Boss The Ross and Rand Al’Thor have thought about this year so far, in the form of their favorite albums for Quarter 1 2016, right after mine…
Nordling Rites ov Karhu’s best ov 2016 (so far)
Stam1na – Elokuutio
Sakara Records | March 18
Quite possibly the most progressive and diverse record Stam1na has ever released. Accusations have been thrown around the releases of their last two albums of a new, more commercial direction with big hit choruses taking over (not that I 100% agree), but there will be none of that over Elokuutio. The band is pushing their own limits; straightforward song structures and catchy choruses haven’t been banned but haven’t been forgotten. But on the whole, Elokuutio lets the creative juices flow freely and shakes itself loose of traditional song format (on a regular scale, not the “C” scale of weirdness and progressiveness). It’s filled with unexpected turns and aptitude. The arrangements have been honed to a razor sharp edge rarely displayed. Stam1na is not a band in which the keyboard player would shine as (s)he would in, say, Stratovarius, though Emil Lähteenmäki’s input has never gone unnoticed, but on Elokuutio he has risen to critical importance when it comes to the setting of the songs. Having written (one of) the best album(s) of their career, they also managed to shed more of their essence in to the album than ever before.
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Century Media | January 22
I won’t be talking much about this album here (for apparent reasons), but I will say that the Norwegian Prog/folk/black masters Borknagar have been one of my favorite bands for quite some time. I’ve returned to albums like Epic, The Olden Domain, Quintessence, and Urd countless times. So one might say I had some expectations to this album. Not all were met, but Borknagar – never content to stay where they musically are – delivered a great album in ways I had not foreseen. I mean, who would have though that Borknagar, already boasting three more than capable vocalists, would actually record something that could be described as a vocal-album even on their meter? The complex songs flow naturally from one part to another, almost never playing something exactly the same way twice. And if the songwriting isn’t quite on par with their best creations, it’s made up for with the stellar performances of each vocalist. ICS Vortex is featured more prominently here than before, and Garm’s ethereal tone compliments the trilogy of vocalists perfectly. One would like to have heard a little more of Lazare (and Athera, appearing on only one song as a backing vocalist), perhaps on vocal harmonies, which are oddly not quite as plenty as one might expect. Fans of prog mixed with extreme metal? Get on this.
Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crepuscule
Profound Lore | January 29
I don’t know how much I can really say about this album after Leif’s excellent review of it, but goddamn is it a great death metal record. If you had slapped Boman’s vocals on top of it, I would’ve believed you had you sold it to me as Demilich’s comeback record. However, it’s not simple Nespithe-worship (part of why I would’ve believed you, actually); it has a definite sound of its own. The riffs are there, and their quirks aren’t far removed from the Finnish legends, but the whole has more of note to it. And man, those leads. A beast of a debut album that cashed in on every promise their demo had made. At the same time fun and serious, paying a tribute to the gods – but of its own, unique nature. 2016 has been shaping to be an excellent year for death metal, and Le Dernier Crepuscule is one of the best it has to offer, whether you enjoy the oldest ov schools or a bit of weird on the side.
David Bowie – Blackstar
Columbia Records | January 8th
What to say about Blackstar that already hasn’t been said? What to say about Blackstar at all? Electronic music, krautrock, pop and jazz meet on David Bowie’s final record, one of the finest albums he released during his long and storied career. Donny McCaslin’s
sex sax and Mark Guiliana’s drumming are as big of parts of this album as the maestro himself. The songs circulate their hit-potential until it’s almost gone – the ghost of Scott Walker keeps watch. No words are sufficient, and even if they were I can find none. Few albums will hit home this year, maybe in a multitude of years, like this one did.
Ripper – Experiment of Existence
Unspeakable Axe Records | March 4
I considered including Destroyer 666 here instead for quite some time, but in the end Ripper’s thrashing old school South American chaos meets technical sensibilities just delivered – too hard for me to ignore it. Lacertilian has already said everything that needs to be said about Experiment of Existence so instead of
trying beating around the bush, I’ll just quote him:”Everything about this album is ferocious; from the menacing vocals, the top-quality riffage, to the overall tempo in which the snare is almost never sitting at half-time, it just rips (sorry, I had to). The solos are well executed and had me getting callouses from the shredding being performed on the steering-wheel of the work truck. There were even some differing lead-tones used in parts which was a nice touch. — The bass on this album is on another level, both in terms of presence and prowess. Pablo undeniably adds more to these songs than most bass players add to entire albums. There are a plethora of moments where he not only strays from the root note pitfall but rather carves out vast expanses of space, filling them with brilliant runs and creative wizardry.” Get on it, plebs.
Boss The Ross’ best ov 2016 (so far)
Abbath – Abbath
Season of Mist | January 22
Don’t call it a black metal album, because Abbath has released a pure unadulterated slice of traditional heavy metal unto the world. Though blackened in some spots, vocals particularly, this album leans more towards Judas Priest and I than it does Dark Throne and Immortal, which I’m okay with. The concise production really makes this album stick out from Abbath’s previous releases. It still has the icy cold atmosphere, yet it feels like standing on top of an iceberg instead of in a blizzard, as with
Emperor Immortal. And the drumming, oh my the drumming. Kevin Fowley aka “Creature” hits the skins with a militant-like precision that accentuates the riffs and helps to push the album to the limits. This album will definitely be on my year end list.
Spaceslug – Lemanis
Independent | February 6
There is not much to be said about this album that I haven’t already. Featured in Doomthousandsixteen, Lemanis has stuck with me, and my appreciation for the album grows with every listen. Simply put, it jams. “This album feels like you’re sitting in on a jam session, not listening to recorded music. Spaceslug, a three-piece, know how to create an atmosphere, and that atmosphere is so thick you could cut it with a knife. The vocals, performed by all three members, meld perfectly into the music, but at the same time cut through like a whisper in a room full of conversation. And the music takes you beyond head-nodding and into the body moving state. It’s simple, almost tribal, rhythms bring you in and out of consciousness with each movement. This is an album to get lost in, not an album to listen to one song at a time.”
Ripper – Experiment of Existence
Unspeakable Axe Records | March 4
Experiment is my favorite Unspeakable Axe release so far this year and possibly my favorite thrash album of recent years. It delivers everything you could want; crunchy chainsaw riffs, raspy vocals, lightning-speed drumming and an incredible bass solo. “Anatomy of the Galaxies” is an instrumental masterpiece which, on its own, will make your purchase worth it. Couple that with the extra 40 minutes of neck-breaking thrash and you will play this record until you drop dead. I pre-ordered this album on cassette before I found out about the vinyl, and I am seconds away from ordering it. I don’t normally buy albums twice, but damned if I don’t want to see this piece of wax spinning on my turntable. Thrash ’til Death!
Altarage – Nihl
Iron Bonehead Productions | February 26
There has been talk around these parts that 2016 will be a year of death metal, and Altarage helped solidify that claim with Nihl. I am by no means an expert in this matter, but I can say that this album crushes. The cavernous production has really grown on me and opened doors to other albums in the same vein. Dubya really put it best in his review of the album, “Ultimately, Nihl is an album that sounds reverent, both to the primordial powers of chaos that the band transmutes into a surprisingly refined tangle of cyclopean riffs and rhythmic changes and to the legendary bands that strode this mortal plane before them,” so I won’t try and pretend to say better things about it.
Rapid Terror – Speed Metal Bastard/Faster Master
Neverheard Distro | April 11,
I’m cheating a little with this one, but dammit I like it, and I’m going to do what I want. Technically the songs on this compilation came out in 2013, however the compilation combining Rapid Terror’s two demos comes out this year. I don’t care, deal with it. These four songs are manic old school speed metal of the highest (okay, “lowest”) caliber. I literally walk around my apartment yelling, “I am SPEED. I am METAL. I am a BASTARD. I’m a SPEEDMETALBASTARD!!!” My wife shakes her head at me constantly. If you didn’t listen to episode 2 of the Toilet Radio Show (shame on you), get into gear and jam this METAL.
RANDALL THOR’s best ov 2016 (so far)
Obscura – Akróasis
Relapse Records | February 5
The 2016 first quarter champion of the infinitely esteemed Randall Thor is a tech death album? Not power metal? I can hear you all gasping in terrible surprise. Some of the readers here may be aware that until recently, Cynic has been my favorite band. That being said, it should be no surprise that this is my favorite album so far. Obscura has always taken influences from Cynic, although in the past they have been far more subtle. This album may as well be the lost Cynic album from 1992, perfectly encapsulating the thrashing intensity of their 4 demos and the spacey jazz fusion laden Focus, all mixed with plenty of the better attributes of modern technical death metal. “The Monist” even has a section that, to my ears, is an OBVIOUS reference to Cynic’s “How Could I.” They even begin the album with ROBOT VOCALS. If this isn’t a clear nod to Cynic, I don’t know what else could convince you.
Akróasis starts off with “Sermon of the Seven Suns,” a high intensity track that sets the mood and tone of the rest of the album. Robot vocals, jazzy chords, then a transition into a frenetic and catchy riff that drives the rest of the song. The guitars wear many different masks, all with excellent timbres that match the clean sections, riffs, and leads. The fretless bass is played with excellent restraint, only giving us that lovely swelling sound when appropriate. The vocals here do a good job jumping between the lower and mid registers, never jumping into those annoying screechy highs that way too many bands think sound cool in death metal. The clean, auto-tuned vocoder is a nice touch that adds a sense of purpose to the atmosphere. The drums, much like on Cynic’s work, support the songs while frequently performing mind bending fills and rhythms that the listener may miss if not paying attention.
The songs themselves are, as mentioned earlier, very reminiscent of early Cynic. They often transition from melodic tech death riffs into more traditional death metal riffs, then into a jazzy section led by the bass. I wouldn’t necessarily argue that the song structures themselves are ultra progressive, despite the progressive nature of the fretless bass, vocoder vocals, and chord progressions. However, music does not need to be progressive to be enjoyable. This wouldn’t be my favorite album of the year so far if these songs weren’t good. Expect plenty of riffs, soloing, and counterpoint. If Akróasis represents the direction Obscura is pointed towards for future releases, I am sure they will become one of my favorites in the years to come.
Chthe’ilist – Le dernier crépuscule
Profound Lore | January 29
I’ve known about Chthe’ilist for a while thanks to my Maryland Deathfest friends keeping me posted on some of the best underground death metal coming out over the past few years. Their previous demo was a massively Incantation / Demilich inspired death metal riff fest, so I was definitely hyped for this album when I heard about it. It totally deserved it.
A lot of people will immediately pick up on the Gorguts and Demilich influences, particularly on “Voidspawn” and the “Voices from Beneath the Well,” but I’ve noticed quite a few fail to pick up on how huge of an influence Incantation is here. When the band aren’t blazing through angular, bass snapping riffs, they’re churning out mid to slow tempo riffs of inescapable doom. The tone here isn’t quite as dark and heavy like other bands following the cavernous trend, but still plenty thick enough to put a dark cloud over the listener’s head. The vocals pretty much stay on the low growl the entire album, minus a few bestial snarls and some layered vocal effects.
Of particular note is the standout track, “Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1.” As mentioned by W earlier, the lyrics cover not Lovecraftian horrors, but instead the clandestine lore surrounding The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. This track begins with a dreadful choir drenched in reverb hovering over the muddy tremolo picking, until the song crashes into a high speed riff that evolves through multiple creative variations. The snarling laughter around 2:25 lays down the horror in a supremely satisfying fashion. The track swirls through a few riffs and continues to build until the masterful solo. Around 9:30, we catch a hint of the beginning of the song just before it begins rapidly growing into a cancerous, blast beat laden, whammy bar divebomb hell fest. This album is for those who like their death metal with tons of riffs slowly sauntering out of the darkness.
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
Century Media | January 22
Winter Thrice represents a huge accomplishment for Borknagar and progressive viking/folk/black/whatever metal as a whole. In an unusual opening, they waste no time getting right into the main theme of the first song, “The Rhymes of the Mountain.” At first, this put me off a bit, but on repeated listens it became increasingly valuable to me. Borknagar aren’t really big fans of repeating themselves, and nearly every time you hear a musical motif repeated on this album, something is different about it than the previous performance. The song structures themselves are complex and confusing if you’re trying to work them out in your head, but never in a way that compromises the progression of the piece. Quite the opposite; the songs themselves flow in an extremely appealing fashion that won’t leave a new or repeated listener scratching their head or shaking from a jarring transition.
As far as the performance of the members themselves, this may be the most impressive group on my list. Despite plenty of standout moments for each member, the band displays resplendent unity in presenting what must have been a challenging album to record. The polished production lends itself well to the compositions. The guitar/bass tones are nothing to write home about, but have solid, warm tones that serve their purpose in supporting the music and, most importantly, the vocals. The combined vocals of Vintersorg, Lars Nedland, and ICS Vortex are overwhelmingly well done. They harmonize with each other for almost the entire duration of the album, whether in sweet intervals or at octaves, providing a majestic, nearly regal tone on top of the music. As I mentioned before, the band achieves a unified sound that very, very few bands can manage. I have heard few albums where each member of the band is simultaneously present and easily heard in the mix while never once overpowering another instrument or voice. Borknagar made an excellent decision in hiring Jens Bogren to mix and master their album.
If you’re looking for potentially the progressive album of 2016, start right here.
Rhapsody of Fire – Into the Legend
AFM Records | January 15
I already wrote a mini-review covering why I love this album, and now I get to ramble on more about why this one totally rules. Rhapsody has had a long career and established themselves as kings of symphonic power metal. Their last album was a total dud, with barely anything present to keep any listener, let alone (Luca Turilli’s) Rhapsody (of Fire) fans around. Expectations weren’t very high, but there was hope! Rumors began spreading that our lord Fabio himself was telling fans at shows that their upcoming album was more like their masterpiece Power of the Dragonflame, and hope began to swell in the hearts of many a warrior! But alas, expectations can be risen to impossible standards, and many people who were expecting the same level of quality as the olden days of yore were, obviously, disappointed. These people are wrong and dumb. Rhapsody is probably never going to write another album on that level again, and that’s okay, because the Power of the Dragonflame will always burn in our hearts. Despite it not being a 5/7 flawless power metal album, Rhapsody of Fire have absolutely returned to us with the power and grace of the best symphonic power metal band from Italy.
First, the guitar is back to shred-tastic levels. Right out of the gate with “Distant Sky,” guitarist Roberto De Micheli rips right into us with a fantastic solo. He’s no Luca Turilli, but he’s LEAGUES AND LEAGUES AND LEAGUES beyond the horrible, terrible waste of human flesh Tom Hess. The entire album is filled with dozens of examples of his talent. Next up, Rhapsody’s chorus game is STRONG on this one. Since this is power metal, choruses can often make or break a song, and they’re not breaking anything here. Most of the tracks stay pretty fast here, with only “Winter’s Rain,” “A Voice in the Cold Rain,” and “Shining Star” slowing us down. These tracks remain compelling if you’re into ballads or slower symphonic tracks, which I am, so they rule and you’re wrong. “Kiss of Life” is the epic song for this album, and while it does drag a bit, the main theme and chorus more than make up for that. I’d love to talk about every single member’s performance, but there are about 30 different people contributing on this album outside of the main Rhapsody line-up. Oh, I almost forgot Fabio Lione. Despite the stellar performances by everyone else, Fabio continues to be the biggest star of the show with a voice that doesn’t seem to have aged a day since Legendary Tales. Fabio is the central reason why this entire album is so exceptional. His vocal melodies, harmonies, distinctive vibrato, timbre, and performance are the absolute pinnacle of Italian power metal.
Rhapsody of Fire have proven with Into the Legend that even if they put out a crappy album every now and then, they will never lose their ability to write top-tier symphonic power metal.
Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika
Century Media | April 1
I’ve not found much black metal this year that’s satisfied me quite like last year (MGLA, Misþyrming, Blaze of Perdition, for starters). So far this year has been completely overshadowed by an overwhelming amount of excellent death metal. I finally got around to checking this out, and black metal is definitely not sleeping on 2016. Even more appealing to me about Moonsorrow is their grandiose song lengths and atmosphere. Every song on this album is an epic: five tracks of heartfelt folk and black metal that never once approaches pretension. Like Borknagar, this album comes late in their career, but it may also be their very best. Moonsorrow have created for us not just an album, but a sonic adventure and story that I have yet to fully explore and will continue to enjoy for many months to come.
Let’s talk details. Jumalten Aika is an epic black/folk metal album. The production here is clean enough to hear anything you want to focus on, but also raw enough to grant it that black metal atmosphere we all love. From a songwriting perspective, they’ve completely outdone themselves and the overwhelming majority of black metal bands in creating such long tracks that remain interesting throughout their entire lengths. While obviously not a progressive band, the songs themselves progress intelligently while retaining an alluring and fun environment for the listener, often feeling quite mythical. The pairing of instruments like the keys, accordion, Jew’s harp, flute, violin, and choral effects blend seamlessly with the music. Moonsorrow know how to write these instruments into the music without ever forcing it in a way that seems like they were obligated to use them. They also use the song lengths to build musical themes up into satisfying cadences that will leave fans quite entertained. Definitely not an album anyone should be missing this year.
Honorable Mentions – Eternity’s End, Zephaniah, Temisto, Lycus, Oranssi Pazuzu, Horrified, Death Fortress, Protector, Deadly Nights.
Dishonorable Whiff – Cobalt is not good you people are crazy.
Well, Randall delivered late, but at least he delivered more than the rest put together. How has your year been so far? That bad, huh?