SPECIAL FEATURE: Best of 2016 – TO STAFF (Combined List)

Yay! We’ve completed yet another revolution around our home star! While we celebrate this cosmically insignificant milestone by resetting our man made Gregorian calendars, the staff here at Trasncending Obscurity wanted to call attention to some of their favorite records from 2016. This combined list is split into Black, Thrash, Death, Doom / Sludge, Post Metal and Grindcore sections to reflect the tastes and preferences of our scribes in a better way. I’m sure even with all of us working together, we will not be accounting for every single standout release. So why don’t you comment below and tell us whether you agree with this list or if you had better albums in mind? ~ Shrivatsan R

Black Metal

Celestial Grave

Celestial Grave – Burial Ground Trance EP (Iron Bonehead Productions)

Maybe there is indeed a bias towards full lengths that manifests itself in the reviewing world. Most splits, demos and EPs go under the radar for the sake of convenience. Celestial Grave is one such name that simply hasn’t evoked the kind of interest that it should have. Their blistering demo titled ‘Burial Ground Trance’ is something to watch out for. Motorhead-ic speed onslaughts laced with blackened melodic progressions that bleed catchiness is what defines Celestial Graves. It’s hard to define what their sound is but then again they have a knack for melody that a band like Bolzer and fellow countrymen in Havukruunu might have. Three songs? Well it makes for a truly infectious triumvirate then. Demoing like it’s the eighties. ~ Deckard Cain

Schammasch- Triangle

Schammasch – Triangle (Prosthetic Records)

This was a really tough one for me.  It’s impossible to really choose just one standout release in a genre that just continues to grow and mature with each passing year.  But when it came down to it, how often does one truly pull off the triple LP?  Or even a double LP for that matter?  Schammasch won me over as a skeptic very quickly with this release; and they did a phenomenal job crafting an album that is atmospheric and mysterious without losing the grim and vile aspects so crucial to black metal. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Wildernessking

Wildernessking – Mystical Future (Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions)

I don’t know any other band that combines aggressive  black metal fury and melodic fragility in the way Wildernessking does. On their latest effort ‘Mystical Future’, their second full length album the South African four piece band create ghostly atmospheres that gradually, almost softly, evolve from minimalist to richly textured, with exciting dynamic build ups and melodies of extraordinary beauty.  Furious riffs,  propelling drumming and harsh aggressive vocals unleash a whirlwind of raging moods juxtaposed to the gloomy fabric of the melodies, yet complementing them ever so wonderfully. The balance of black metal violence and melancholic melodies is perfect and it’s perfectly woven into well structured songs and the album easily finds its own flow into an organic cohesion that’s totally spellbinding and of a deep emotional impact! The unique ghostly atmospheres makes the album feel like a dream…It’s a sweet dream, a sad dream , a violent and furious dream,  it’s nightmarishly scary and of poetic beauty.  ~ Ulla Roschat

Seedna – Forlorn (Transcending Obscurity)

2016 was a good year for atmospheric black metal, and one of the choicest picks of the bunch is ‘Forlorn’ by Swedish band Seedna. Infusing their black metal with large amounts of atmosphere and emotion, as well as a smattering of doom and post-rock, ‘Forlorn’ seemed to come out of nowhere and make a huge impact. This is an album that not only has instant appeal, but also grows over time, like the best albums usually do. Staggeringly good. ~ Nigel Holloway

Void Omnia

Void Omnia – Dying Light (Vendetta Records)

Californian band Void Omnia released their debut album ‘Dying Light’ this year. With the members, having been a part of various other local acts over the past, they do bring that experience on board and it really shines out on ‘Dying Light’ as it probably is one of the finest black metal album to have come out this year. The music on display is fast, aggressive and completely raw, stripped to the very basic basics. The sound being a mix of inspirations, ranging from the 90s second wave black metal to the modern atmospheric black metal. The vocals do add a slight post-rock component to the overall drive of the song structures, giving the album a different edge. Moreover, being backed with some strong song-structures and near perfect production, this album really stands out from the crowd. Highly recommended. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (Svart Records)

Anybody who has made their acquaintance with Finnish entity Oranssi Pazuzu in the past will know that these guys are anything but a regular black metal act. For the uninitiated, Oranssi Pazuzu is the result of a beautiful union between black metal, psychedelic rock, post rock and rich, grand atmospheres. The band’s most recent output ‘Värähtelijä’ is an epic journey of long winded atmospheric tracks where each note feels so organic. The psychedelic nature of the band is quite nicely juxtaposed with some of the harsher moments in the record and these moments continue to establish this band as a black metal act at it’s core. Listening to this album is like an hour long acid trip where beautiful things are revealed to those who pay attention, while a constant sense of dread looms on the horizon. ~ Shrivatsan R

Hail Spirit Noir

Hail Spirit Noir – Mayhem in Blue (Dark Essence Records)

2016 was the year where there were a lot of standout releases from the Greek metal scene. If I were to pick just one, my vote goes to Hail Spirit Noir, who released their third full length ‘Mayhem in Blue’. This is yet another group that combines black metal with 70’s occult and psychedelic rock. Unlike other bands, these guys don’t care much about maintaining that black metal flavour throughout the record and they rather prefer to glide in and out of styles with absolute nonchalance. As engaging as the music and the instrumentation are, these guys can also narrate engrossing tale through their tracks. This might not be a complete black metal record, but that is just a part of it’s charm. ~ Shrivatsan R

Thrash Metal

Nervosa

Nervosa – Agony (Napalm Records)

The second album from these Brazilian thrashers topped off a sterling year of thrash metal for yours truly. For me, 2016 was the year that I fell back in love with thrash. For far too long the scene was dominated by a lot of retro-nonsense, puerile humour and “ironic” thrashers…whatever…there’s a lot of it still around and it’s all largely crap. I love me some proper aggressive thrash metal and ‘Agony’ is the perfect example of a band doing this honestly and with much gusto. Intense, aggressive and relentless, ‘Agony’ is the sound of a great thrash metal album in 2016 rising to the challenge. Essential. ~ Nigel Holloway

ExMortus

Exmortus – Ride Forth (Prosthetic Records)

Some are going to argue that this is not a thrash album, but then again I’m not the biggest thrash fan.  You can take your Big 4 and stick it these days.  I love me some ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ and ‘Ride The Lightning’, but I don’t wave the flag for their subpar new releases.  I think the only album that really wowed me this year in the genre was Vektor, but I still had enough qualms with that release to leave it for someone else.  In any case, as a guitar player and fan of death and viking metal, ‘Ride Forth’ was an utter delight.  Neoclassical shredding and fun, campy lyrics from seasoned musicians.  Can’t go wrong. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Death Angel – The Evil Divide (Nuclear Blast)

While there are a good bunch of new bands delivering some top-notch thrash, the bands of the 80s still hold a nostalgic charm and Death Angel fall into the latter category. Although the new album does not dethrone the standard set by the classic debut ‘The Ultra-Violence’, it does showcase how bands can still deliver top-notch thrash metal in the 2010’s (*cough* Metallica *cough*). The album while bring in a bit of modern melodic vibes, manages to retain the essence of the bay-area thrash overall.  Mark Osegueda’s vocals are rock solid and powerful throughout the record, propelling the record forward. Solid Bay Area thrash metal. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Death Metal

Blood Incantation – Starspawn (Dark Descent Records)

Blood Incantation’s style of stripped down, primitive sounding cosmic death metal which sounds like a seamless blend of Incantation and Gorguts, set the standard for death metal this year, especially for the technical and progressive leaning bands . ‘Starspawn’, the band’s debut is a 35 minute riff fest, where each riff blends technicality, progression and an almost jazz like smoothness. Though the band’s style is firmly rooted in that old school sound we all love in death metal, their overall sound never sounds derived and within a span of these 5 tracks, the band manage to firmly establish a style of their own.  ~ Shrivatsan R

Necrosavant

Necrosavant – Aniara MMXIV (Kolony Records)

Never let it be said that death metal can’t push boundaries. This is a Swedish blackened death metal juggernaut and shockingly not only is it a one-man project, but it’s also only his debut album. Finely released and consisting of just one 45 minute song, the man is nothing if not ambitious. Clearly though, he has the ample talent to back up his ambition. Containing so many stand-out moments and catchy hooks it’s hard to credit, ‘Aniara MMXIV’ is an astoundingly good listen. Thick, heavy riffs and muscular progressive know-how make this an enticing and engaging listen. Throughout the album the attention doesn’t waver and the music is extremely satisfying and enjoyable. Dark, epic and evil, ‘Aniara MMXIV’ is a must-listen. ~ Nigel Holloway

Voidspawn – Pyrrhic EP (Unspeakable Axe Records)

While there’s been a spurt of relatively newer bands jumping on the Demilich / Gorguts / Incantation bandwagon only a few have really made the cut. Blood Incantation has obviously had more heads turning their way, but bands like Voidspawn need to be reckoned with as well. Subtly relaxing the pace for most times they have a doomy aura to their brand of otherworldly death metal.  Riffs wind, wriggle and wither everywhere and yet are connected by a thread of coherence. ~ Deckard Cain

Be’lakor – Vessels (Napalm Records)

Be’lakor along with Omnium Gatherum and In Mourning, have forwarded a pincer movement into the arena where Insomnium, Opeth and Dark Tranquillity reigned supreme. They did so without the expectations any of the latter brought and in time carving themselves a little niche that has been growing in popularity ever since. A dark melancholic and brooding brand of melodic death metal that sometimes goes for non-linear song structures with ever so slightly dipping their feet into what may be termed as prog. Their 4th album is a reassertion of their craft which saw a slight dent in quality in their last album (although by no means average). ‘Vessels’ takes its time to set in. I’d say I was a bit underwhelmed on first listen but the potential to grow on the listener stands undiminished. Less heavier than past releases but fluid and airy as it draws the listener into soundscapes less traversed. ~ Deckard Cain

Wormed – Krighsu (Season of Mist)

Another near-impossible genre to boil down to just one release.  Brutal?  Melodic?  Blackened?  Technical?  Progressive?  I ultimately decided to go with the group that seemed to hit on several of those subtypes while forging one of the fastest and heaviest albums of the year.  I’ve said enough about this album already in other posts, so just stop being a pussy and listen to it already. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Virvum – Illuminance (Self Released)

Technical death metal has become clearly redundant and burned itself out before being placed on the metal afterburner. Virvum is a solid exception. They are definitely from the school of ‘Planetary Duality’ era The Faceless and Augury but with an elevated melodic quotient. Imagine the hyper technicality of Beyond Creation pared down to a more accessible form while the songwriting quality stays undiminished. This Swiss quintet capitalizes on the memorability of songcraft something quite lost on the intended audience of modern day techdeath. ~ Deckard Cain

Dark Tranquility – Atoma (Century Media Records)

The pioneers of melodic death metal have truly risen and delivered a masterpiece! Dark Tranquility’s strength has always been in the perfect balance of heavy, as well as gentle moments they bring to the table, and ‘Atoma’ perfectly showcases that.  The album is crisp and to the point, with not a single note astray or riff over-stretched. Front-man Mikael Stanne’s baritone voice leading the proceedings as always, with the trademark snarls and cleans. ‘Atoma’ truly keeps the melodic death metal flag flying high for 2016. ~ Vidur Paliwal

 

Doom/ Sludge Metal

Seven Sisters of Sleep – Ezekiel’s Hags (Relapse Records)

Horrors sublime, holy smoke and a love for Beelzebub and his nefarious minions… are what drives this band. Trampling the forces of religion under their weight, the sludge demons in Seven Sisters of Sleep deliver yet another batch of paeans in praise of the land of perdition and its lone lord supreme. While their sophomore effort ‘Opium Morals’ wore an attire of sludge finery, ‘Ezekiel’s Hags’ goes for a slight death metal slant. The sludge still moves their music and yet they’ve managed to intersperse it with lithe death metal and feral crust parts without ever sounding contrived. Tim’s vicious snarls, grunts and screams bedevil the listener’s senses, Brian’s effort on the skins controls and sets the pace of the music while riffs laced in melody and grime guide them. The amplifier feedbacks herald the second coming of a land besmirched with evil yet unspoken and a myriad horrors lurking beneath, a consummation indeed to our vapid automaton of a life. ~ Deckard Cain

Khemmis

Khemmis – Hunted (20 Buck Spin)

For what it’s worth Khemmis was usually viewed as a distant cousin of Pallbearer and for some they were actual clones. The cleans and use of slow winding melodic motifs of the former probably left impression to a style very reminiscent of the latter. And so their debut ‘Absolution’ remained in the shadow of Pallbearer’s ‘Foundations of Burden’ (although released a year earlier). But with ‘Hunted’, although nothing has radically changed, the overall delivery has. ‘Hunted’ operates well within the same thematic realm that Pallbearer did but sounds altogether different as the styles that they’ve hoped to incorporate in their brand of doom stands all the more prominent. You’d have St.Vitus like riffery, Trouble’s ‘Psalm 9’ gallops and a bit of Thin Lizzy’s heavy metal / hard rock all run through a modern system . All these were less prominent on their debut while their sophomore elicits a certain surefootedness not heard earlier. The riffs are allowed to breath and Ben’s cleans (unlike Brett’s soaring ones) seems rooted to the ground with its more baritone edge. This makes Khemmis finally stand clear of what they were once alleged of and make way for a what is going to be an interesting career. ~ Deckard Cain

Spirit Adrift

Spirit Adrift – Chained To Oblivion (Prosthetic Records)

If I were to explain doom metal to someone unfamiliar with the genre and were looking for musical examples to support my explanations,  ‘Chained To Oblivion’ would very likely be among my references. Although it’s a young album from a young (one man) band, I consider it already a classic,  perfectly conveying the fundamental spirit of doom as well as a very individual realization of this spirit…. (here’s room for speculations about the creation of the band name). Expanding and exploring guitar and vocal melodies of a gloomy and haunting beauty, the warm clean vocals that radiate a sense of urgency and monolithic heavy doom riffs drenched in dirgey, melancholic atmospheres tinged with psychedelic stoner vibes are the basic elements that transport emotions unfiltered and unpolished,  yet with a great sense of majestic grandeur and triumph.  ~ Ulla Roschat

The Lion's Daughter

The Lion’s Daughter – Existence is Horror (Season of Mist)

Trekking way back to the beginning of 2016 with this one.  From St. Louis, Missouri, The Lion’s Daughter cracked me over the head with its new album, ‘Existence is Horror’, which came out January 1st via the always impressive Season of Mist.  This is the Lord Mantis album I wished ‘Nice Teeth Whore’ could have been.  The blackened, wretch vocals, swampy bass, and alternations of sludgy groove with discordant chord strikes is right off of ‘Pervertor’ with a little High on Fire or Mastodon for good measure.  TLD also incorporates a generous, but never overdone, complement of electronic guitar effects and ambience that make things even creepy-crawlier.  Wade out in the bog, never return. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Phantom Winter

Phantom Winter – Sundown Pleasures (Golden Antenna Records)

Phantom Winter’s second album  ‘Sundown Pleasures’ is the stuff that nightmares are made of. It is apt to release demons, be they  from hell or from the deepest closet of your soul and and  to evoke apocalyptic sceneries in different nuances. Depressive heavy sludge doom riffs, hypnotic mantric rhythms , ear-piercing vocals, climactic build-ups, terrifying loud low dynamics, distorted chaotic noise, and well placed word samples create atmospheres that are scary, eerie, slightly surreal and drenched in cold, black tristesse and insanity. This is a really  individual hybrid of doom, post hardcore, sludge, black metal, drone, noise elements. And those maverick vocals bring an extra dose of hysteric insanity  to the whole affair. This is one of the albums that grow on you with every listen. ~ Ulla Roschat

SubRosa

SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (Profound Lore Records)

SubRosa have always stood out from the pack of traditional doom acts when it comes to their music. Their latest album ‘For This We Fought the Battle of Ages’, sees them further hone their skills resulting in what is their best album till date. In the day and age of instant gratification and hit singles, the album is indeed a test of one’s patience and resolve. But the attention is awarded, as the intricacies of the album reveal some beautiful moments to the listener. The violin-guitar interplay, along with intertwining bass and drums, create the perfect stage for the music. If you enjoy a doze of slow melodies, and are ready to sit and give time to a record, this album is the one you should pay attention to. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Post-Metal

Obscure Sphinx

Obscure Sphinx – Epitaphs (Self Released)

The third album from Polish band Obscure Sphinx is a masterclass of how to play post-metal both individually and powerfully. The band are a perfect example of how to take a style and individualize it so that when you hear them you very much know exactly who you are listening to. Few others even come close. This is music that’s all about atmosphere, passion and weighty substance. Compelling and distinctive, with a singer that would steal the show if it wasn’t for the equally masterful music, ‘Epitaphs’ is a winner through and through. ~ Nigel Holloway

bossk

Bossk – Audio Noir (Deathwish Inc.)

While the giants like Cult of Luna and Isis were still belting out what maybe now termed as genre classics there was this little band from Kent, UK that had a rather short yet successful stint. In that time they contributed two EPs and a video of touring efforts which formed a trilogy of sorts. Eponymously titled ‘.1,.2 and .3′ got them some recognition albeit short-lived. Having been a long-time fan of the band their first full length was nothing short of a grand welcome. ‘Audio Noir’ sees the band develop the style already hinted at on their first two EPs and create an album that is their own. As the title would suggest their stretched out yet meticulously gilded post-rock sections tunes our listener into a contemplative mood guided ever so slowly by the overarching melodies. Soothing lulls that are broken by weighty yet catchy grooves and at times simply ethereal. ~ Deckard Cain

Entropia

Entropia – Ufonaut (Arachnophobia Records)

I cheated a bit here to get another one of my black metal-infused favorites on the list.  But make no mistake, I argue that the level of psychedelic experimentation and songwriting choices make this a fair entry.  If you really want to split hairs about it, the tag is right there in the album’s Bandcamp page.  Entropia blew me away with this delightful release that is full of equal parts hook and introspective journey.  Every single song is amazing.  My only complaint is the lack of US distribution for physical copies right now.  But you can pick up the digital below for a bargain given the quality.  ~ FlightOfIcarus

Make

MAKE – Pilgrimage of Loathing (Accident Prone Records)

‘Pilgrimage Of Loathing’ is MAKE’s third full length album. It is also their most angry, aggressive and abrasive album yet and they make totally clear that their anger is aimed at repressive and corrupt politics and politicians. Stylistically it’s mainly doom, drone and post-metal, richly flavored with psychedelic sludge and black metal elements. The album is loaded with emotions and they are unleashed upon the listener with a powerful violence, yet the band don’t forget to evolve and interlace everything to create multi-layered and varied soundscapes. Each of the six tracks, definitely has its own mood and stylistic focus, but there are main threads that weave everything together and make it cohesive and organic. MAKE’s blend of styles work extremely well and they get their angry message across with a concentrated urgency and a clenched fist.  ~ Ulla Roschat

Cult of Luna

Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Mariner (Indie Recordings)

Over their career, Cult of Luna have been quite instrumental in the very definition of what post-metal is. With their seventh full length, the band took a new creative outlook by teaming up with Julie Christmas and hence bringing in a complete fresh perspective to their sound. The result is a beautiful amalgamation of two separate forces. Julie’s delicate vocals perfectly oppose the harsh sounds of the band, creating something bigger than the individual parts. A beautiful sonic experience, that only goes on to shows that post-metal is more of a concept than an identifiable genre, with its boundaries being ever stretched by bands like Cult of Luna. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Grindcore

Endorphins Lost

Endorphins Lost – Choose Your Way (Six Weeks Records)

The most recent release featured on this list, Endorphins Lost’s debut full length ‘Choose Your Way’ is a diabolical mix of grindcore, hardcore punk and powerviolence. This Pacific Northwest group is not a band to be taken lightly and the sheer passion that they pack in this debut release is quite staggering. Delivering a potent brew of manic, high speed powerviolence riffs and skull crushing, sludgy breakdowns, this release is quite the brilliant achievement. With not a single second wasted, Endorphins Lost pack in so many riffs and the unpredictable tempo shifts does well to keep the listener on his / her toes. ~ Shrivatsan R

Anaal Nathrakh

Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole of the Law (Metal Blade Records)

Some of you might look at this entry in this list and be inclined to immediately type “but, this belongs under black metal!”. Considering that 2016 marked the release of Anaal Nathrakh’s most grind heavy album since 2009, I feel OK including this here. Every Anaal Nathrakh record that has ever been released guarantees one thing: total fucking mayhem. The 9th full length in the band’s discogprahy, sees them return with a record that is more focused on creating an apocalyptic whirlwind of riffs instead of worrying about hooks, which seemed to hamper the band’s output before this. With each track offering new ways of disseminating one’s sanity, this is a chaotic record for an equally chaotic year. ~ Shrivatsan R

Wake – Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow (Sentient Ruin Laboratories / EveryDayHate)

The fact that grindcore as a style would continue to grow and evolve in different ways in 2016, was heralded early on in the year when Wake’s third full length came out. ‘Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow’ is more than just your run of the mill grind records. These Canadian  grindheads give the music a much more crustier edge with moments of dissonant riffing giving way to atmospheric segments. The tech-death like touches to the hardcore / grindcore riffs bring to mind the unpredictability of acts like Gridlink and Discordance Axis, albeit with a stronger dissonant leaning. ~ Shrivatsan R

Wadge

Wadge – The End of Enthology (Mortville Noise)

Wadge are one of those bands that are known wide in underground grindcore circles, but are not known at all in the mainstream metal circuits. It’s a shame considering Wadge are one of those bands whose outputs are guaranteed to be spectacular. Though the band have been experimenting with incorporating Hawaiian elements into grind over the past few years, 2016 saw a full length release from these guys that is much more focused. The record still contains the tongue in cheek humor that permeates almost all records on the album. However, it doesn’t distract from the pummeling intensity of the spastic riffs and the ingenuity of the drum machine driven song structures. ~ Shrivatsan R