In this, the first of our writers’ year end posts, a handsome bear, a handsome Ph.D., and a handsome gangster jedi share their choices for best albums of the year. Celebrate good times, come on!
30 plus years into their career 90% of bands are coasting on, at best, the first half of their discography and using newer releases as an excuse to go tour. 30 plus years into their career and Napalm Death is releasing some of the absolute finest and most essential music they’ve ever penned. They not only stick with their grindier roots on tracks like “Smash a Single Digit” but aren’t afraid make things incredibly weird and uncomfortable on cuts like the opening industrial dirge of “Apex Predator – Easy Meat.”
Listen to – “Smash a Single Digit”
9. Pale Chalice – Negate the Infinite and Miraculous | Gilead Media
The first of a lot of black metal newcomers to grace this list, Pale Chalice’s Negate the Infinite and Miraculous is lean and absolutely vicious. If Fujin’s fatality where he uses a tornado to skin his opponent alive belonged to a cooler character and had a soundtrack, it would be this album.
Listen to – “Bound by Intransigent Flight”
8. Slugdge – Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms | Independent
In the world of heavy music, where albums are routinely about unicorns and Tolkien masturbation, should we be surprised that a band themed around intergalactic slug domination has crafted one of the best death metal releases of the year? This album is so full of riffs, leads and vocal hooks that it’s almost overwhelming upon first listen. If this is what our our future sounds like under slimey rule then I, for one, welcome our new gastropod overlords.
Listen to – “Spore Ensemble”
7. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction | Metal Blade Records
Cattle Decapitation probably could have just opted to phone in the follow up to their breakthrough record Monolith of Inhumanity, but instead they trended even further into melodic territory and crafted a more cohesive album. The playing at times feels intentionally restrained, which helps the songs feel focused, but never enough to make them feel dumbed down. Another album of anthems about watching everyone die slowly and horribly. A Winner.
Listen to – “Clandestine Ways (Krokodil Rot)”
6. Blood Incantation – Interdimensional Extinction | Dark Descent Records
Yes it’s an EP, but it’s an EP containing 18 minutes of some of the most awesome (in the actual definition) and weird death metal released this year. Blood Incantation take the robes and the spaceship and continue the strange space/death odyssey that Timeghoul abandoned all those years ago and do a damn incredible job piloting the ship. It doesn’t hurt that they throw in way more ass ripping solos.
Listen to – “The Vth Tablet (Of Enûma Eliš)”
5. Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu | Terratur Possessions/Fallen Empire Records
An absolute gem of a black metal album released in a year full of great ones. The songs presented here frequently break from the black metal cold mold and are all the more infectious for it. If you’ve ever thought your tremolo picking could use some wicked circus tune injections (or more awesome guitar tone) you need this album in your life immediately. Hell, you probably need it regardless.
Listen to – “Söngur uppljómunar”
I remember telling the Masterlord not long after this album was released that it didn’t do anything for me. His heart broke and he cried for 3 months straight [W. – He’s still crying]. After his period of mourning I saw this album on sale for $6 and thought I’d give it another chance. After sitting down with some headphones and no distractions I was blown away. Vaguely black-ish death-ish metal can “rock”, and Tribulation prove it.
Listen to – “Strange Gateways Beckon”
3. False – Untitled | Gilead Media
The first full length from Minneapolis’ False is a doozy. As bleak and venomous as anything released this year, Untitled sounds like it’s covered in a haze and the only thing that can cut through is the fury of the band. Even the keyboards sound pissed off. If Pale Chalice tore your skin off, then False was wearing it eating your meat and beating strangers to death with your bones.
Listen to – “Hedgecraft”
2. Mgła – Exercises in Futility | Northern Heritage/No Solace
I’m sure there are going to be a lot more people who comment on this album with much more eloquence than myself, so I’ll leave it at this: Mgła are the best black metal band going today and Exercises in Futility reinforces this tenfold. If you don’t feel anything while listening to this record, you’re dead inside. DEAD. IN. SIDE.
Listen to – “Exercises in Futility V”
1. Horrendous – Anareta | Dark Descent Records
Horrendous have proven that they’re ready for the death metal crown, and if their output keeps trending like this I will give them every goddamn crown that they want. Leaning in a direction that more heavily favors Death and setting their sights on space, Horrendous have leapfrogged everything they’ve ever done, as well as their contemporaries. You can read more of my words on this subject here.
Listen to – “Ozymandias”
10. Ecstatic Vision – Sonic Praise | Relapse
I occasionally find myself questioning whether it’s a good thing that music fans in general, and especially those of us in the metal and hard rock scene, have embraced so many ‘70s throwback acts. Shouldn’t we reserve our money and adulation for musicians who are doing something truly original? On the other hand, this is an album of fantastic, catchy space rock that answers the question, “What would it be like if Lemmy had been a true frontman during his tenure in Hawkwind?” The answer is, of course, it would have been freaking awesome. This record rules, and this band stole the show when I saw them recently with Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats.
9. Mgła – Exercises in Futility | Northern Heritage/No Solace
This is some high-quality black metal set apart from its peers by remarkably infectious, melodic riffage and excellent musicianship. The Polish duo place an unusual emphasis on the bleak, largely comprehensible lyrics, and by leaving aside the Satanism and romantic nature worship that black metal vocalists usually croak about, vocalist/guitarist/bassist M. brings something much darker and more compelling to the table.
8. Faith No More – Sol Invictus | Reclamation/Ipecac
Just before the release of this album, I got to see Faith No More in a small club on my thirtieth birthday. That went a long way to taking the sting out of leaving my twenties behind. I find the album similarly comforting – a band I have counted among my favorites for most of my life firing off another (last?) volley of eccentrically genre-bending rock songs. It’s no Angel Dust or King for a Day, but on tracks like “Matador” and “Cone of Shame” it comes damn close.
7. Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss | Sargent House
Chelsea Wolfe collaborated with Russian Circles guitarist Mike Sullivan on her most metal album yet, and some lovely contrasts emerge as a result of the more pronounced doom metal and industrial touches. Wolfe’s voice manages to retain much of the seductive singer-songwriter intimacy that characterized material on previous records. Meanwhile, the production and instrumentation double down on Swans-influenced oppressive heaviness she previously only dabbled in.
6. Black Breath – Slaves Beyond Death | Southern Lord
Like a lot of people, I got into Black Breath when they put out Sentenced to Life in 2012. I was a little surprised when I got my first taste of their new material during their tour with Goatwhore and heard how radically they had reduced their sound’s d-beat and hardcore elements. They have become a pure death metal band on this latest record, but neither their songwriting nor the viciousness of their HM-2 assault have suffered for it.
5. Tau Cross – Tau Cross | Relapse
I like Amebix, I like Voivod, and I like bands that infuse a bit of crust into other metal and punk styles. Hence, I have greatly enjoyed the debut from this project featuring Rob Miller and Michel Langevin, along with members of crust bands Misery and War/Plague. There is a definite trend of musicians with backgrounds in heavier music showing some love for post-punk (see Publicist U.K. and Grave Pleasures), and I for one applaud it, especially when – as on this record – it comes with great hooks.
4. Panopticon – Autumn Eternal | Birdrune
Another year, another excellent seasonally themed album from this one-man project. Austin Lunn continues to display his impressive technical ability and facility for crafting compelling riffs and melodies. However, on this record he fuses his influences from atmospheric black metal, post-rock, and bluegrass more fully than he ever has before (though, to be honest, I kind of wish he would more often fully embrace the folk as he did on a couple Kentucky tracks). This was my favorite driving music in the waning days of fall, and I think it will join October Rust and My Arms Your Hearse as a perennial record for the season.
3. Tribulation – The Children of the Night | Century Media
There’s probably no band save Gwar whose stage attire so perfectly matches their sound as Tribulation. The combination of 70s-style rock star attire with corpse paint nicely sums up the approach of their latest album at a glance. Bands like Satyricon and the now-vilified Nachtmystium approached similar territory, but Tribulation have crafted a truly great album out of thoroughly melding their newly dominant talent for psychedelic rock riffs with their background in blackened death metal.
2. Horrendous – Anareta | Dark Descent
This prolific band continues to refine its prog-tinged old-school death metal, increasingly reminding me of prime Death and Pestilence. Like those bands, they have a knack for mining surprising melodies out of raw extremity, losing none of their aggression in the bargain. Where they may have even two of the best bands in death metal history beat is their talent for inserting a seemingly infinite array of hooks. Plus, they called a song “Ozymandias,” and you guys know how I’m a sucker for Romantic poetry references in my metal.
1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly |Interscope
In case you haven’t noticed, issues of race, civil rights, and police authority have been on a lot of people’s minds this year. That has especially been true here in Chicago over the past couple months. Many artists have had things to say on these topics, but no one captured the emotional and political complexities of the individual reacting to systemic racism and unrelenting violence in the way that Kendrick Lamar did on this record. Of course, Kendrick tackles plenty of other subjects, and there is as much to be said for production that synthesizes the history of American black music and his attention to treating the album as a unified piece of work as there is for his lyrics. That sociopolitical relevance, however, makes this unquestionably the album of the year for me, even when I’m listing records for a metal blog.
Believe it or not, album rank number ten was the hardest one to choose because it meant that some other worthy contenders were going to have to be left out. Of Feather And Bone have been on my radar since their demo days, and their talents are on full display in their debut album, Embrace The Wretched Flesh. It’s the type of band I enjoy because their genre mashing of grindcore, hardcore, crust and a small touch of black metal are all jammed into ten songs that generally clock in at three minutes or less. Their onslaught is relentless as they are either pummeling your ear drums with breakneck speed or smashing a cinder block over your head with ruthless breakdowns. Doesn’t matter what they’re doing, there’s not a dull moment on this album, and the short run time works in their favor.
Another hybrid band that excels by engulfing you with their sludgy hardcore coupled with bursts of furious grind. This is a worthy successor to 2012’s Dragged Down A Dead End Path, and at the very least, this album is as good as that one. “Old Hate” kicks off the album with its droning intro that creates a moment of calm before Call Of The Void starts flipping over tables and berating you like an angry football coach who just lost the big game. From that moment until the end of the record, it’s one beating after another. No filler, no interludes, just straight adrenaline with a total disregard for your well-being. There’s a certain intensity on this record that is not difficult to quantify. I mean, have you heard the blast beats on this thing?
A band as prolific and legendary as Faith No More is bound to have high expectations from its fan base when it announces that they are getting back together and recording an album after seventeen years of inactivity. Their return reminds fans why they enjoyed FNM in the first place. Their unique brand of genre-defying music is something that only they could produce, and we welcomed them back with open arms. Whether you’re singing along to the hook in ” Motherfucker” or envisioning yourself at a jazz lounge while listening to “Sunny Side Up”, you take notice of the fact that Faith No More is bringing you a unique and memorable experience on each and every song on Sol Invictus.
Prior to this album’s release, Intronaut promised that the songs were leaning in a “heavier” direction, and they made good on that promise as the album delivers moments that hearken back to their material from their earlier days. Thankfully, they did not abandon their more melodic side that was explored on 2013’s Habitual Levitations, and the payoff is huge as they balance the aggression and melody perfectly. Danny Walker puts on a clinic behind the drum kit while meandering bass lines compliment meaty riffs and proggy jam sessions without ever losing sight of quality songwriting. The Direction Of Last Things is a great addition to an already impressive discography.
Click on the Bandcamp link above and you’ll see yours truly singing the praises of this album from around the time I bought it, and I’m not backing down off that claim. Grindcore and hardcore are married on this album in a way that takes all the best parts of those genres and makes for one wild ride that has the listener engaged at each and every turn. The way in which they blend the two genres seems natural, and it’s hard to fault them for wearing their hearts on their sleeves as they volley between top tier grind elements and unabashed hardcore breakdowns. The formula works extremely well, and it’s the type of album that rightfully puts these guys on the map of bands you should pay attention to.
If you are a regular reader of this site, then you know that I spoke highly of Employed To Serve’s debut album, Greyer Than You Remember (full review here) for channeling the likes of bands like Botch, The Chariot and Converge while carving out a sound of their own from those influences. Eschewing traditional songwriting structure works in their favor by transitioning from one part to the next with fluidity as every riff, drum hit and bass line has meaning and purpose. They reviewed the checklist for what it takes to make a meaningful chaotic hardcore album and ticked off every item on the list. If we were handing out individual achievement awards, I would nominate Justine Jones for “Best Vocal Performance” because you can practically feel her reaching out through the speakers and screaming at you. The music itself is carries plenty of weight on its own, but the vocal performance on this album brings things to another level entirely.
What do you get when you combine Cave In’s Steve Brodsky spitting out super sweet melodies and Converge’s Ben Koller going apeshit behind the drum kit? A god damn catchy record that takes rock, prog, metal, punk and hardcore, throws it in a blender and dares you not to have ear sex with it. Every time you put this record on, it has you hanging on every word, every riff, every solo. This album is just a good time, and I’ve listened to it quite regularly since it came out. Bleeder sends out good vibes that are more than enough to snap me out of a crappy mood no matter how awful the situation may be.
A handful of both writers and commenters here at the Toilet declared our love for Lightless Walk when it dropped in October (shameless self promotion, review here). The expectations for this album were high, and said expectations were met as Cult Leader delivers an album that touches on a wide range of genres and infects them all with hopelessness and despair. There’s not a band out there right now that is doing what Cult Leader is doing. I had the pleasure of seeing them live shortly after the album was released, and these songs in a live setting will floor the casual observer. “Progressive Crust” the band calls it, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree with that description. On Lightless Walk, we are witnessing heavy music evolve, and it truly is a sight to behold.
Napalm Death gonna be Napalm Death. They continue to prove time and time again why they are masters at their craft. There’re not many bands you can point to and say that they have a massive discography and there is nary a weak spot to be found within it. Napalm Death makes an innovative and forward thinking album every single time out, and they do it so consistently that you’d think they were doing this stuff in their sleep. Business as usual for Napalm Death is good business. Everything you could possibly want in a Napalm Death album is in there; Barney Greenway pirate barking the shit out of you, distorted bass lines, blast beats and the beloved riffs that have everyone from crust punks to metal heads singing their praises. If I was a bettin’man, I’d bet on Napalm Death every time and feel pretty good about the risk I took.
I was not aware of the existence of Harm’s Way until this album came out in March of this year. At first, I was drawn to it for its stellar recording, but that was just a tactic to lure me in and get me to know the real Harm’s Way. With each successive listen, Rust‘s corrosive blend of massive breakdowns, buzzsaw guitars, a pounding rhythm section, tactful use of industrial influences and all out assault makes you forget those things individually. Collectively, Harm’s Way pummels you in ways you’ve never imagined. We talk a lot around these parts about “dick crushing” and when those words are uttered, they reverberate amongst us as something that has reduced us to a useless pile of nothingness. When Harm’s Way gets their hooks into you, they treat you as if you were the ground that is routinely stampeded by wild elephants. Plenty of bands are “heavy” or however you want to characterize it, but Harm’s Way are legitimately benching 500 lbs with ease and throwing the rest of you around like a pathetic rag doll.