SPECIAL FEATURE: Best of 2016 – Shrivatsan R (TO Staff)
Ah 2016, how I wish I could call it as just another year gone by. This year will be remembered as one of the most terrifying and mishap filled years in recent memory. Heck, some even doubted that we will ever see the end of it! But here we are, with only a few more days left on the calendar before we take a step into what hopefully fares to be a better year.
For all it’s fault, this year had one good thing going for it. I’m talking about the music ofcourse, especially on the extreme side of things. Then again, music has always been reactionary to the events of the world. So it’s not all that surprising we got so much good music from a year so shite otherwise. There were so many good releases this year that it is humanly impossible to highlight every single one. Hence I’ve restricted myself to 20 of my personal favorite releases this year, while saving away some for the combined TO STAFF list, which should be coming out very soon. So without further ado, here is my personal year end list.
20. Church of Disgust – Veneration of Filth (Memento Mori)
Texan death metallers Church of Disgust deliver exactly what the album title and the album cover promises on their second album, ‘Veneration of Filth’. With a strong penchant for horror, this band unleashes riffs that seem to crawl out of a primordial bog. While many bands try to go for the old school death metal feel, few get it as right as Church of Disgust. The doom metal overtones helps in delivering some crushing riff with a strong horror movie aesthetic dominating most of the record. One might feel the need to take a tetanus shot after listening to this band as these are some of the filthiest sounding riffs committed to record this year.
19. Unyielding Love – The Sweat of Augury (Sentient Ruin Laboratories)
If Gridlink ever had a fascination with raw noisy black metal, they would have sounded like Belfast’s Unyielding Love. The band’s debut EP ‘The Sweat of Augury’ is loud, obnoxiously noisy and consistently atonal. Part of the album’s charm lies in how quickly the tracks fly by, save for the final two tracks where feedback drenched atmosphere tries it’s hardest to push the listener to the brink of insanity. These two sludgy tracks bring manage to have a very cathartic effect after the constant barrage of grindy riffs. The noisy production intensifies the misanthropic riffs unleashed by these guys and is probably the best use of noisy feedback in a grind album this year. Though this is a short release, the ingenuity in the tracks will keep you coming back for more.
18. Vainaja – Verenvalaja (Svart Records)
One of the most sonically heavy albums this year came from the enigmatic Finnish cult that identify themselves as Vainaja. The band’s second album ‘Verenvalaja’ has riffs that will not think twice before crushing the listener into crumbles. Inspired by early doom death acts from Finland, Vainaja put their own dark, depraved twist on things to create something truly devastating and unique. The music is not just heavy, but the doom metal influences make this a very mesmerizing affair as well. The creepy atmosphere on this record flows well with the band’s theme of a mysterious cult. The long winded tracks incorporate little moments of clean atmosphere where the chanted vocals give it a strong ritualistic feel. A worthy follow up to a stellar debut.
17. Chepang – Lathi Charge (Self Released)
Nepal has always had a better penchant for grindcore than most South Asian countries. So it’s not all that surprising that one of the most focussed and raw grind records to come out in 2016 had Nepalese roots. Chepang comes armed with two drummers, two vocalists and a guitarist. The sound is exactly as you’d expect it to be – in your face, uncompromising grind that sounds old school. At just over 10 minutes long, this is a very short release. But the amount of intense riffs packed into this one ensures that you can play this back to back for an hour and still have a good time smashing everything around you. ‘Lathi Charge’ is a fiery, pissed off debut to say the least. This is as pure as grindcore gets.
16. Weekend Nachos – Apology (Relapse Records)
2016 will go down in the history books for a myriad of reasons. Unfortunately, it will also be known as the year Weekend Nachos put out their final release. ‘Apology’, the swan song from this powerviolence / grind act is perhaps the most intense record on their discography. The band seem to have poured every ounce of hatred and rage they can muster into these 13 tracks. The face melting riffs and earth shattering breakdowns speak volumes about the band’s contempt against the world at large. This is a befitting goodbye to an incredible band. Weekend Nachos will be sorely missed as we sure can use some of their grindy powerviolence in the years to come.
15. Head of the Demon – Sathanas Trismegistos (The Ajna Offensive)
Now this is how you do a doom album! Slow, methodical and absolutely mesmerizing, Head of the Demon’s second album is like a weird creature that hypnotizes it’s prey and slowly wraps itself around it. ‘Sathanas Trismegistos’ almost feels like a minimalist doom album as the band manages to achieve so much with so little. Some of the riffs on this record are sure to haunt your dreams long after you’ve stopped listening to this album. The band goes for memorability and feel, over heaviness which sets them apart from many modern doom bands. Evil intentions dominate the tracks and the atmosphere in the album compounds the Satanic overtones. This is the kind of album that Satan gets stoned to, probably.
14. Skin Drone – Evocation (Bluntface Records)
Skin Drone is a band I’ve been closely following since I first heard their material back in 2014. The band finally dropped their debut full length ‘Evocation’ this year and to call this “intense” would be an understatement. Unpredictable in nature, this album brings together elements of black metal, death metal, industrial and avant-garde ruminations to create a very emotional and scathing album. The tracks here can tend to range between noisy and abrasive to emotive sections of melancholy, with both sides of the band tied together wonderfully by the excellent songwriting. It’s almost impossible to put in words what Skin Drone have accomplished here and one needs to experience this record to truly grasp the psychotic ramblings of this duo.
13. Blackrat – Hail to Hades (No Sanctuary Records)
When I initially discovered Blackrat through bandcamp a couple of years ago, they were a no nonsense blackened crust band with high levels of fun. The band returned this year with ‘Hail to Hades’, their second album. While they continue to retain that rabid bite in their music, this time around they show incredible growth in song writing. Veering a bit more towards traditional black metal grounds, the band incorporate old school black metal melodies with rabid d-beat crust riffs to create a much more dynamic album. Not only is the album fun, but it is also well written. The primitve tone on the record oozes with ill intent and Blackrat go as far to bringing in atmospheric elements into the mix. With an incredible mileage, this is not an album to miss out on this year.
12. Skaphe – Skaphe2 (I, Voidhanger Records)
Skaphe’s follow up to their self titled debut is anything but an easy listen. The dense claustrophobic atmosphere coupled with the dissonance drenched riffs create a disconcerting feel throughout the album. This is what I imagine sounds emanating from a mysterious blackhole would sound like (if such a thing is physically possible). The atonal sound of the album creates a very unsettling feeling and Skaphe capitalize on this with their cavernous vocals and reverb drenched guitar lines. This is not an album that you can casually listen to. ‘Skaphe2’ is a very cold and methodical piece of art, aimed at creating a feeling of unknown dread, and to say they’ve achieved it with this album would be to sell them short. Proceed with caution.
11. Atrament – Eternal Downfall (Broken Limbs Recordings)
If you’re looking for a no frills, pedal to the metal crust record, then look no further than Atrament. This California based four piece deliver a seamless blend of black metal, death metal and crust punk on their debut full length ‘Eternal Downfall’. This is 33 minutes of punk fuelled rage, with sharp riffs and a relentless d-beat frenzy. This is perhaps the most consistent record on this list here and it takes little to no effort, to enjoy this album. The different elements at play are bound together seamlessly, making it impossible to tell where one style ends and the other begins. Have a taste of this once and I’m sure you’ll get addicted (that is unless you’re not too fond of d-beats, in which case you’re already scoffing at most entries in this list)
10. Cara Neir / Wildspeaker – Guilt and his Reflection (Broken Limbs Recordings)
‘Guilt and his Reflection’ is one of those splits where every single track manages to stand out on it’s own merit. While 2016 had quite a few such splits, the vision of Cara Neir and Wildspeaker on this split remains unparalleled and this release is bound to standout in the collective discography of both bands. With Cara Neir going for an off kilter and dare I say rather “funky” sound, they show a side of themselves which isn’t known from the band’s usual blackened grind style. Wildspeaker’s sludgy crust that makes up the other half of the split often oversteps into black metal and sometimes doom metal territory, giving their side a very addictive dynamic. The lyrics that talk about the crumbling human condition, gives two different, yet strangely similar views. Every single second on this record is executed with perfection and should not be overlooked as just another split.
9. Ancst – Moloch (Vendetta Records)
Bursting out of Germany with an DIY, anti-facist outlook, Ancst is perhaps the most topical band on this list. The band’s debut full length ‘Moloch’ brings together the fury of black metal with the revolutionary voice of crust punk to deliver a message against everything that is wrong with the world today. This full length is a wonderful culmination of the sounds explored by Ancst in past releases and it is a statement of pure anger. The melodic inclinations of Ancst gives the music a neocrust like feeling and this is excellently juxtaposed with the raging tremolo storms conjured up by the band. Often slipping to pure black metal territory and managing to include slowed down moments of doom, this album is engaging to say the least and is a good soundtrack to let loose one’s inner demons.
8. Morrow – Covenant of Teeth (Self Released)
London based three piece Morrow’s debut ‘Covenant of Teeth’ is the most emotive punk record to come out in recent times. Comprised of members from Anopheli, Morrow follow a similar path where in they incorporate emotionally moving cello pieces into their brand of crust punk, with added doom elements to further tug at one’s heart strings. Though their debut comprises of merely 4 songs, Morrow convey so much emotion, something that most bands fail to do with 40 songs. Alternating through modes of melancholy, contemplation and rage, ‘Covenant of Teeth’ is a very personal sounding release. The atmospheric feel of the record works so well in getting across the subject matter of lost civilizations so beautifully and elegantly. The stirring cello lines on this record are sure to haunt the listeners for years to come.
7. Thrawsunblat – Metachthonia (Ignifera Records)
After listening to ‘Metachthonia’, I always feel the compelling need to abandon my life in the urban environment and become a hermit in the woods. Such is the effect Thrawsunblat has on me. Comprised of the remnants of Woods of Ypres, these guys manage to fill the void left by Woods. Instead of doom, they play a form of moving, melodic pagan black metal with strong folk overtones. The melodic undercurrents are given a very epic and grand treatment by the accompanying cello. The band also shows a penchant for conjuring tremolo happy, black metal storms, which they seamlessly meld with the folk elements. One can’t help but croon along with Joel Violette as he delivers the choruses in beautiful clean vocals. This album’s been on my playlist since June and it manages to move me emotionally even today.
6. Martyrdod – List (Southern Lord)
By this point in this feature, it should be fairly obvious that I’m a sucker for d-beat and other crusty things. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to find Martyrdod’s latest release ‘List’ featured here. One of the best bands today, that mixes hardcore punk with metallic elements, Martyrdod have been consistently releasing stellar records. This time it’s no different and you’ll be surprised as the blackened melodies have a moving effect on you (a rare feat in crust bands these days). The band seldom deviates from their established style, but it is insane how much they’re able to convey with this style. The addictive d-beat frenzy and the memorable melodic overtones is a standout among metallic hardcore releases this year.
5. Xoth – Invasion of the Tentacube
Like a Lovecraftian elder God rising from the depths of the ocean, Xoth’s emergence was unexpected and the insane skills showcased on the debut album ‘Invasion of the Tentacube’ was unanticipated. Playing an eerily melodic, insanely technical form of black / death metal, this band seems to have an unhealthy obsession with tentacles. That seems befitting considering the free jazz like fluidity in the riffs can only possibly be created by someone playing the guitar with actual tentacles. Striking a balance between mind provoking progressiveness and plain old fun, this album is truly one of a kind. There seems to be a underlying cheekiness to the way the riffs are presented and yet the entire album holds up an air of enigmatic dread. A truly bizarre creation, this is.
4. Piss Vortex – Future Cancer (Self Released)
Danish grind band Piss Vortex will beat the shit out of you like any other grind band. What earns them a place on my year end list, is the way they seamlessly meld jazz influences and complex structures into the short tracks on ‘Future Cancer’. Even with all the smoothness in the riffs, the music continues the pummeling intensity throughout this release. This band is forefront in making grindcore more than mere blastbeats and aggression. Backed by technical drum beats, odd time signatures and a claustrophobic atmosphere, this is a pissed off, impenetrable work of art that will reward the listener more with each repeated listen.
3. Vermin Womb – Decline (Translation Loss Records)
After a shitty year like 2016, all one needs is a channel to vent one’s frustrations. The black grind style of Vermin Womb offer exactly that. The band’s debut ‘Decline’ is a statement of misanthropy where the band does not care for fancy aesthetics. There is nothing in terms of technicality or progression or any of that frilly stuff. This is hatred in it’s unadulterated form and as a result, this is not an album that might sit well with everyone. To me however, this is the perfect grind record. Every single riff is exudes unforgiving rage and the chaotic atmosphere does not let up even for a single second. Perfection.
2. Throes – This Viper Womb (Aesthetic Death)
Tasmania based Throes is easily the biggest surprise of 2016. The first few listens to the band’s debut full length ‘This Viper Womb’ can be challenging experience. But once you start to appreciate the different layers at play here, the rewards are endless. For starters, I still can’t classify this album and that is exactly what the band is going for. With a smorgasbord of influences ranging from black, death, thrash, groove and doom, this is an album by someone who is tired of the usual tropes heard in metal today. Utterly unpredictable, unabashedly dissonant, this album will contort your minds in ways you didn’t think was possible. By assaulting the listener with an impenetrable wall of vocals and dissonant riffs that slither like snakes, the band break all expectations one might have and show that it is not all that impossible to create something totally unique.
1. Seputus – Man Does Not Give (PRC Music)
Listening to Seputus’s debut release ‘Man Does Not Give’ is always a kind of transcendental experience for me. The way this band puts a technical twist to a noisy black / death metal / grindcore hybrid beggars belief. The dense atmosphere and the deliberately inaccessible sound makes the listener take some effort to get into this record and boy, was it worth it! It’s difficult not to get lost in the riffing that darts across styles like a coked up bunny rabbit (although maybe not as cute and rather, a lot more terrifying). Technical proficiency aside, the lyrics on this one is as deep as it gets with commentary on today’s state of the world and philosophical ruminations galore. Then again, what else can you expect from an offshoot project of the sentient creature that is Pyrrhon. Seputus however, establish themselves as an altogether different beast with this record and if you’re up for challenging extreme metal, this band’s got you covered.