2016 EOY Album List

12/27/16 - MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2016

Last year Iron Maiden released a two-disc album that should have been one (which has grown on me a lot over the past year, I'll say), and this year Metallica went and did the same thing. Commend Metallica for putting out their best record since The Black Album, but I can't get into it.

2016 was the second weak year in a row for doom. This year, no doom in the top ten, which is a first. The new SubRosa was the year's biggest letdown by a mile. For a band that didn't have a weak track on its last two albums, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages doesn't have a single standout on it. I'm kind of perplexed by the positive reviews cropping up on Pitchfork, MetalInjection, Popmatters, etc. What are you critics listening to?
Loss' Horizonless never dropped. Nor did Worship's Dusk of Legion, Morning of One, which preorders went up for a year ago. Cross Vault has taken a swan dive since Spectres of Revocable Loss. Disappointing.

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

As Jesus said, “ye are all gods, ye are all children of the Most High. But ye shall die like men.”

1. Yndi Halda - Under Summer  

It's been nine years since Yndi Halda released Enjoy Eternal Bliss, an emotional roller coaster surpassed in 2007 in the post-rock department only by Matryoshka's Zatracenie. Under Summer isn't a flawless record from beginning to end, but it does boast the band's best song to date, and the best song of this calendar year, "Golden Threads From The Sun," which is as brilliant an interplay between guitar, piano and strings as I'm likely to ever hear (Godspeed doesn't feature piano).

Summer isn't my least favorite season, but it's not my favorite either. At least summer is always consistent where I live, unlike winter, which is as likely to feature a cold December and a mild January as a mild December and a cold January. This album actually brings all the beautiful images I associate with summer to the fore of my mind - dandelion spores flying through the air, thick grass that smells like a drug just after a fresh cut, the salt in the ocean air on a muggy night at the beach, running for cover when an afternoon thunderstorm blows out of nowhere, parents running around with their kids at the park, etc. A listen to this album on a 55 degree Christmas Eve will have me wishing winter would stop its halfhearted attempt to bring us what its supposed to and just give way to summer, the season that always delivers.

I also like the antiquated feel of it. Not only does it bring these images to the fore, it gives the distinct impression that these things happened at some point in the past. Like they're a snapshot of a brief period in time that we can only experience iterations of in the present. And to be honest, in that sense, it makes me miss some of the summers I experienced as a child. Before kids had AAU ball and summer camps and 24-7-365 extracurriculars, they passed the summer time by playing kickball games in the backyard, jumping in lakes, catching things on fire, etc. I wouldn't trade those summers for anything. Wasn't it John Lennon who said that time you enjoy wasting isn't really wasted at all?

2. The Seven Mile Journey - Templates for Mimesis   

Here's another one I've been waiting years for. This band simply doesn't disappoint. The Metamorphosis Project and Notes for the Synthesis, the later especially, are among post-rock's best. The Seven Mile Journey's music lacks the dynamics and lavish richness of Yndi Halda's, instead working its way into the listener's head through subtlety, steadiness, patience, intricacy. This album showcases "The Oddmory Principle" -> "Tutorials" the same way Notes for the Synthesis showcased "Transits" -> "The Etiology Diaries." Both sequences ended their respective albums on especially high notes (or low, depending on the way the music is interpreted). How about the moments leading up to the 14:10 mark of "Tutorials."

Post-rock is in a strange way right now. I've been saying for years it's on the downturn, but every year it seems the genre sees one or two fantastic releases to rekindle itself with. They aren't dropping in droves like in the 2000s, so maybe the downturn speaks to a state of quantity, not quality. Post-rock was always going to be caught in a vice, a genre made finite due to its 'no outlet' nature, unlike say, rock and metal, which by every test appear timeless. It does seem that post-rock albums nowadays are either really good or just downright bad. Of course it could be my own peculiar interpretation of the music, which I won't make excuses for. pg.lost's Versus, for example, I just can't justify putting on this list even though critical opinion is that it's every bit as good as, if not an improvement over, Key. Bizarre, but true.

This is one of those rare years where #1 and #2 are interchangeable. Under Summer isn't clearly better than this album, or vice versa. Though both speak to the diversity of the genre. Two bands with entirely different sounds, cast in the same bucket.

3. Furia - Księżyc milczy luty   

I love it when an album comes out of nowhere like this one and floors me. I was not expecting this album to sound anything like this. Furia has always had stellar production value, which is nice when it often seems most BM bands try as hard as they can to sound terrible. The production on this album is even a level beyond, with a total 'in the room' feel. I'm talking George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from Love 'in the room' feel.

But the music itself is entirely new territory for Furia, even for a band that's historically delivered the unexpected. After experimenting with post-black, classic BM, atmosphere, speed, this is their first crack at bluesy blackened sludge with such emphasis on bass. The first two tracks don't sound like any Furia song I've ever heard before. Really, they don't sound like anything I've ever heard before. It's so different, "is it even black metal anymore?" is actually a valid question, though at times like 5:30> of "Zabieraj łapska" and 5:40> of "Tam Jest Tu" I'm inclined to say yes, who cares when the product is this good?

I would love for them to write another album like this, but in all likelihood they won't.

4. Au Champ des Morts - Le jour se lève (EP)   

I've never had an EP this high on a list before, and no I'm not doing that NBA BS of ranking based on potential; this EP is that good. No doubt though, the potential is there. This is the latest band that has me sitting on pins and needles while I wait for the first full length (which is due in January). The two tracks on this offering are the best in atmospheric black metal I've heard since the two title tracks on Écailles de Lune in 2010. That's no joke. The sweeping guitar solos in "Le jour se lève" are enough to bring me to a knee.

I've gravitated away from taking the number of minutes into account when ranking these releases. I should have years ago. A recording's real measure of importance is the number of spins it gets, not how much of it there is.

5. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker   

Best album ever written by an artist over the age of eighty? Probably.

I won't claim to know anything about Leonard Cohen's spirituality, though I know, like Bob Dylan, he's a proclaimed Jew. He's never shied away from writing lyrics with religious connotations. I can claim my own interpretation, which is that this album as the outcry of a broken and dying man who is despairing and calling out to God at the end of his life. "Hineni" is Hebrew for "here I am," famously said by Abraham to God after being called upon by God but before knowing what God had in mind for him. "Hineni, hineni, I'm ready, my lord." I know what I take from that lyric.

Cohen died four months after the album's recording and one month after its release, effectively becoming one of the elite few musicians to go out on arguably the best album of his career. It's too rare for that to happen, unfortunately, but can be seen as both good and bad. Bad because he's gone, good because if his legacy wasn't already cemented it is now. With an exclamation point no less, which you'll only see marking the names of bands like Celtic Frost, Simon & Garfunkel and Bolt Thrower.

6. Cultes Des Ghoules - Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love   
Lord Satan, he who is known as Belial by the ancients.
Demon lover, of all those who wish to live in your eternal night.
Here in your hour of deepest dark, in your temple and before your altar,
I twice bind myself to thee:
As your handmaiden and your betrothed.

That's Juliana pledging her soul in Roger Corman's 1964 classic, The Masque of the Red Death, an appropriately chosen soundbite for the intro to Scene V, "Satan, Father, Savior, Hear My Prayer," the second disc of this frighteningly evil black metal work. The honorable John P. McElwee would approve, but his father wouldn't have.

I still don't think this album achieved the occult atmosphere of Henbane, Or Sonic Compendium of the Black Arts, but it's as good an album (not better, but as good), even if an extra track was tacked on that easily could've stood alone as a separate EP. How's this for poetry:

When the moon casts ominous glow and wild winds blow,
The dreary raven sings to the rhythm of flapping wings.
Dance their round the Three in Silk,
Ethereal, fair, and white as milk.
The Three in cotton do the same,
All Six call the Devil by his name.
As long as the church tower you can see,
Six unholy sisters there will be.

7. Alcest - Kodama   

Alcest returns to <2010 form with Écailles de lune lite, even going back to harsh vocals, which Neige vowed he would never do when the recording began for Les voyages de l'âme. This album has a few highlights, one for sure being "Je suis d'ailleurs." I was pleasantly surprised with this release, thinking Alcest had taken a turn for good in the direction of shoegaze. It feels a little too forced to be a great album, lacking the natural flow and effortlessness of Écailles de lune, but nowhere near as forced and by numbers as Les voyages de l'âme.

8. Tardigrada - Emotionale Ödnis   

Fallen Empire Records put out a demo in 2012 from this then unknown and at the time I thought it was the most promising new atmospheric black metal around. But a year passed, then two, then three, and I kept checking back to see if the band had put out anything new. The longest wait is always between the promising demo and the first full-length. Finally this year they got their shit together and released this in May, which I didn't learn about until a month ago. There's no upgrade in quality or production. It's an hour of Widrstand redux.

9. Saor - Guardians   

Saor's third stellar album in four years. Andy Marshall wanted to showcase more non-metal instrumentation on this one than on Aura, and as a result there's less energy and more experimentation. At first, the slow build of "Guardians," "The Declaration," and "Autumn Rain" requires some patience, but once “Hearth” kicks in, the wait becomes worth it. It settles into the warm tremolo and rolling groove that Saor perfected with Aura, one of the best black metal albums to come out in the last five years, and when the flute melody and the clean chorus settles in with Marshall singing “there’s nowhere I’d rather be... this is my home,” I'm convinced. Maybe nationalism can be okay?

There's a beautiful soft interlude in "Hearth" that eventually erupts into a melodic hook that's the album's climax.

10. Wolvserpent - Aporia​:​Kāla​:​Ananta (EP)   

It's so cool that this band has a female drummer. I know she plays violin too, but really, how many metal bands have female drummers? I'll go out on a limb and say... not many.
The drumming isn't ordinary at that. It's very tense. And very discomforting coupled with the atonal violins and harsh vocals and other sounds that I can't even attribute to instruments.

Wolvserpent really recorded something unique here. They've always been weird, but this is their first stab at a track this long, and it's even eerier/weider than the already eerie/weird Wolvserpent we're accustomed to - a band alread eerier/weirder than most in metal. If Menace Ruine, The Melvins and Sunn O))) all poured some bisquick into Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this would be the eleven-fingered, three-eyed offspring.

11. Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat to Earth
12. Ash Borer - The Irrepassable Gate
13. Insomnium - Winter's Gate
14. Wildernessking - Mystical Future
15. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
16. Head of the Demon - Sathanas Trismegistos
17. Wędrujący Wiatr - O turniach, jeziorach i nocnych szlakach
18. Exaltatio Diaboli - The Adversarial Ascending Force
19. Denouncement Pyre - Black Sun Unbound
20. Pensées Nocturnes - À boire et à manger   

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