2016 Favourites – Part I

And so here we are, fast approaching the end of 2016, and what a year it has been. Leaving aside all that has happened in the world at large, there have been plenty of worthwhile releases in the world of underground music (and even some decent mainstream ones, too). Over these posts, I’ll be picking out some of my favourites – albums, EPs, and demos that kept me coming back for more, and which have shaped my impression of 2016 in a musical sense. The first few posts will go through records in alphabetical order; it’s only once we reach the end that I’ll assign a ‘top 5’, and also give a brief overview of some releases that didn’t quite make the cut, and even a handful of mainstream highlights. Just because you can buy something in a HMV, it doesn’t always mean it’s shit.

The usual disclaimer applies – these are my favourites, which means they are not necessarily the best records of the year. There’s far more released than I can keep track of, and to hold even 25 records up and say “these are the best” feels dishonest. And, as you might expect, there is some cross-over with my summer ‘best of 2016 so far‘ list. But, whatever. Enough of this. On to the first part of the list.

Ewige Schlangenkraft – Eternal Serpent Power

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Label: Yamabushi Recordings

Full review: link

Mind-bending psychedelic black metal from arguably the most underrated metal band in the UK. Hugely challenging, yet deeply rewarding, this will take you out of your comfort zone.

Eternal Serpent Power won’t be for everyone, as even by the standards of black metal it is a vicious, dangerous beast. But it could never be accused of lacking in ambition or playing it safe, and is creative and experimental with a clear aim in mind, which is worthy of praise in itself. When it’s tied to music as good as this, it makes it hard to deny that Ewige Schlangenkraft are one of UK black metal’s best bands, and deserve far more praise and recognition than they will probably ever get.”

Forteresse – Thémes Pour La Rébellion

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Label: Sepulchral Productions 

Full review: link

The latest from the grandfathers of Metal Noir Quebecois is their best since that landmark debut. Given time, it may even be judged to be better.

“It’s hard to adequately express just how stirring and powerful Thémes Pour La Rébellion is. Considering that I have no connection to Canada and do not understand the lyrics, that the album has such an effect on me is quite telling of its power. Forteresse have always been an inspirational band to the underground, but this feels like the album that could see them break out to a wider audience. Proud, strong and devastatingly intense, Forteresse have unleashed an album for the ages.”

Furia – Ksiezyc Milczy Luty

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Label: Pagan Records

Full review: link

A late addition to the list, but this daring, ambitious piece of Polish black metal is impossible to deny. This conjures a very special kind of darkness, and should put Furia at the forefront of the Polish black metal scene.

“It takes a few spins to reveal some of its more subtle details, and the inventive songwriting may take some time to fully appreciate. Such efforts are well rewarded though, as this is an excellent record, that is not afraid to take black metal in under-explored directions to great effect. Embrace the darkness, and allow Furia to take you away in to the night.”

Furze – Baphomet Wade

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Label: Freshtea

Full review: link

Hyperspeed lunacy that marries King Diamond vocals to some of the most high-speed and intense black metal riffs of the year, to hugely enjoyable effect. An album you’ll either love or hate.

“This is raw black metal possessed of a more human weirdness, inspired not so much by classic literature or demonic possession, but by the simple joy that comes of playing such music at blistering speeds and deafening volume (make no mistake, the vast majority of this album is played at frankly ridiculous speeds). Each song has moments that make it feel like a stand-out track, and there’s almost no let up during the course of the album’s 41 minutes. A dozen  listens on, Baphomet Wade has lost none of its weirdness, intensity, or enjoyment.”

It Only Gets Worse – Angels

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Label: Cloister Recordings

Full review: link

Sadness expressed in the most beautiful and haunting of ways, Angels is an album that will have you staying up late in to the night, wondering exactly where it all went wrong.

“It draws from a vast pool of influences, making me think of all different kinds of musicians at different points (including Bohren And Der Club Of Gore; the original Ghost In The Shell soundtrack; Nobukazu Takemura; and countless Warp, Tigerbeat6, and Planet Mu IDM/glitch artists from around the turn of the millennium). Whether these are accurate is kind of irrelevant; instead, it illustrates just how diverse and ambitious Angels is. That it all comes together in a unified, relatively accessible whole is utterly remarkable. That it does so whilst still possessing incredible emotional impact raises it in to the realms of the superlative.”

 Lizzies – Good Luck

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Label: The Sign Records

Full review: link

Everything that is good about heavy metal can be found on this album, from superb guitar work to life-affirming choruses. And in ‘Viper’, Lizzies have one of the best metal songs of the year.

“It’s rare to hear an album like Good Luck. It’s not just that it takes a classic style of metal and makes it sound fresh and vital, but that it takes it and makes everything else sound almost obsolete and pointless in comparison. This is one of the most exciting heavy metal records I’ve heard since I was 17 and was obsessed with Iron Maiden. I do worry that this review may be over-selling it, and I’m well aware that I’m probably not assessing it critically; but on the other hand, if an album can inspire such excitement and enthusiasm, drawing comparisons to such classics of the genre, isn’t that enough? Good Luck is absolutely superb.

Löbo – Alma

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Label: Signal Rex / Ring Leader

Full review: link

As heavy as a soul, as intense as life and death, Alma is an album for losing yourself in. Slow, deep, and full of power, this is an album that asks difficult questions, and demands nothing less than honesty.

“What is life, if not a host of messy, contradictory elements somehow coexisting? Approached from this viewpoint, Alma makes perfect sense. It is music for those reflective moments when you are forced to weigh up your life, and ask if you have been found wanting. As musically heavy as it may be, that is nothing compared to the emotional heft this album possesses. You have been warned.”

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Y Proffwyd Dwyll

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Label: New Heavy Sounds

Full review: link (written for Broken Amp)

Crushing riffs combined with angelic vocals may not be the most original of propositions, but Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard demonstrated here that it can certainly be effective. Surprisingly convincing, especially in light of that name.

“Though a lot of doom albums are enjoyable enough, they are rarely creations of bands who are truly pushing at the boundaries of what the genre can do musically and emotionally. Cathartic, cosmic doom may not be a wholly new proposition, but with Y Proffwyd Dwyll, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard have enough personality, conviction, and talent to make this sub-style of metal their own. Even if their band name might come across like a joke, the music of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard is anything but.”

Mur – Heartworn

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Label: Fragile Branch Recordings

Full review: link

Progressive music is not always the most emotionally engaging, but Mur buck that trend with Heartworn. As ambitious as it is moving, this is a record that has not gained a fraction of the recognition it deserves. ‘Wheel Of Ashen Limbs’ in particular is phenomenal. Leaving this out of my top 5 was a tough decision.

Heartworn is perhaps one of the most ambitious records to have come my way recently, and it’s also one of the more successful. The new album by one-man act Mur combines raw, atmospheric black metal with North American folk music and more besides, to create something very distinctive and captivating. The press release for the album describes it as being centred upon the themes of migration, loss, and rebirth inherent in North American fauna. As pretentious as that may sound, it makes for a remarkably powerful listen, successfully merging different genres to striking effect, resulting in one of the most exciting records of the year.”

Naðra – Allir Vegit Til Glötunar

Nadra - Allir Vegir Til Glötunar (album cover)

Label: Signal Rex

Full review: link

There’s been plenty of praise flying around this year for the Icelandic black metal scene, and Allir Vegit Til Glötunar is a perfect example as to why that is. Uncompromising, consuming black metal that asks a lot of the listener, but offers rich rewards for the devoted.

“With the band having no desire to publish the lyrics, save to state that they are highly personal in nature, it falls upon the listener to find their own interpretation of what is presented. Such is part of the appeal of the record. But regardless of how it is seen, there is no denying that Allir Vegit Til Glötunar is an album that reaches beyond the confines of this world, that seeks for something grander than is usually offered, and as such, deserves to be held in the highest regard. The sincerity of vision and devotion to craft are apparent, and the results are more than worthwhile. It will take time to unlock these mysteries, but dark treasures await those who do.”

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One thought on “2016 Favourites – Part I

  1. Pingback: 2016 Favourites – Part II | The Sound Not The Word

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