Top 10 Albums of 2016

I should probably make a few comments pertaining to the lack of posts the past few months. I have nobody to blame but myself for that. A lack of motivation combined with a post-graduate student work ethic means that I never really feel like writing anymore. Needless to say, I finally fucking finished this one though. I apologize that it’s four months too late, as we are already a quarter of the way through 2017 (fuck…) but better late than never right? I apologize to anyone that might have actually wanted to see more posts from me. I will do my best in the future to make these blog posts more often. But with all that being said, here is my Top 10 Albums of 2016 ranked with a little write-up about each album. There might be a few surprises in here for some people who know me, and I’m sure that there are several albums out there that I have overlooked that would cause me to rethink this list, but I wrote this list back in December and fuck it.

It might come as a surprise to see an almost complete lack of attention to death and black metal on my list, but I have an easy answer to that: I don’t give a shit. Okay, it’s not that I dislike those genres or anything, I just fail to really care enough to actively keep up with new albums from bands in those genres. It’s nothing personal, it is just where my musical tastes have evolved to now. However, I do give a shout out to one of my all-time favorites so whatever. Feel free to comment your own top 10 albums or rail me a new one for forgetting some future classics in my list. 

10) Church of Misery – And Then There Were None…

I was never too keen on Church of Misery until I heard this album and I’m not entirely sure why. I think I lumped them in with all the other stoner doom bands that are around and never found any standout material, but then I saw that their new lineup features members from Blood Farmers and Internal Void and my interest spiked. Dave Szulkin’s influence oozes through Tatsu’s typical doomy riffs and I just cannot help but bang my head furiously. Some of these riffs sound like they could be a part of some Blood Farmers b-sides or something and anything Blood Farmers related gets an A in my book. I have since explored the rest of their discography and found what I was missing. This is aggressive, dark, and doomy doom that is almost impossible not to enjoy. 

9) Blizaro – Cornucopia Della Morte

I was a big fan of “City of the Living Nightmare” so it came as no surprise that Gallo’s second album pleases on all fronts. It was certainly worth the 6 year wait. “Cornucopia Della Morte” channels that old Italian doom of Paul Chain and Black Hole people seem to overlook these days. Gallo’s doom jams are soaked in layers of organs and keys that are reminiscent of old Argento and Fulci film soundtracks and perfectly capture that strange, psychedelic atmosphere. Mike and Mark complete the rhythm sections adequately but the real highlight here is the riffs and those keys. I’m a sucker for cheesy Casio keys in my doom. Oh and John, if you do read this, we should work on getting that Orodruin/Olórin tour going or at the very least a split release! 

8) Wretch – Wretch

It’s kind of interesting that my top 10 list begins with these doom releases considering that doom happens to be my favorite genre, but hey, sometimes you really cannot compete when you have the following 7 albums. Karl Simon’s “Wretch” follows the heels of The Gates of Slumber and the passing of the great Jason McCash. This is a deeply personal album for Karl as it recounts his struggles with loss, depression, and drug addiction. It is kind of a hard album to get through as the music draws the listener into the same world and I can see it becoming one of those albums that just keeps getting better and better with age. 

7) Angel Sword – Rebels Beyond the Pale

There is not much to say about Angel Sword’s “Rebels Beyond the Pale.” The album doesn’t particularly new or all that interesting, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for by just being so damn fun. Harkening back to the glory days of 80s hard rock and metal ala Manilla Road and Trance, Angel Sword pounds its listeners with heavy riffs and deliciously catchy hooks. The album will not disappoint any who digs the aforementioned bands and any and all things 80s metal. Don’t skip this one.

6) R.I.P.- In the Wind

R.I.P.’s “In the Wind” isn’t your typical doom album. Gone are the drugged out dirges and the sorrowful elegies that plague the genre. Instead, R.I.P. replace them with mid-paced, ball cracking jams like “Smoke and Lightning” and “Black Leather.” The band clearly takes a big influence from the faster Saint Vitus tunes and the punky Obsessed songs that are often overlooked in this style. Each song is layered with that thick, Reverend Bizarre-style bass and Fuzz’s vocals sound like a tortured Bobby Liebling. “In the Wind” sweats gasoline and bleeds oil. Unique and refreshing, “In the Wind” is the perfect album to check out if you’ve been sick and tired of your usual tunes and want something a little different. I love this stuff.

5) Eternal Champion – The Armor of Ire

It’s my own fault that this album isn’t higher up on my list. I was obsessed with Eternal Champion’s breakout demo back in 2013. I followed the band religiously and found every youtube clip I could find so when they announced that their full-length album was finally going to drop I had the highest expectations. It certainly delivers on them, but I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve heard half the songs before the album was even released. “The Armor of Ire” features one song from their 2013 demo, another live favorite that I used to blast on youtube daily, and the band released the first two tracks on the album shortly before it’s release. When I sat down to listen to the album, I kind of felt that the remaining songs weren’t as good as what I’ve already heard, especially considering that two of the remaining songs are instrumentals. I know, I know. This is my fault, and not a fault of the albums so despite my own personal problems, the album absolutely slays. Tarpey’s vocals channels old Mark Shelton put through a series of effects that perfectly accompanies the atmosphere of the album. “I Am the Hammer” and “Invoker” are particularly noteworthy songs that really shows Tarpey’s talent as a lyricist and a vocalist. The backing band is excellent as well, and Rizk’s production expertly captures that old school vibe without sacrificing quality. I just couldn’t help but want more.

4) High Spirits – Motivator

Professor Black and Chicago heavy metal heroes High Spirits are back with what might be their best album yet. Like the jet that adorns the cover, “Motivator” takes off with a punch and soars high. Songs like “This is the Night” and “Do You Wanna Be Famous” showcases the band’s trademark sound: stupid catchy hooks and delicious guitar harmonies at their finest. Black’s vocal performance is as good as ever and his lyrics are at their all-time best with songs like “Haunted By Your Love” and “Down This Endless Road.” Any longtime fan of the band should be pleased with this record. If other bands on this list please you (like Eternal Champion or Angel Sword) then High Spirits should be among your top priority.

3) Tarot – Reflections

In 2015, longtime vocalist Terry Jones of Pagan Altar fame passed away. However, his spirit seems to have left one body only to occupy Will Fried (AKA The Hermit), guitarist and vocalist for modern classic doomsters The Wizar’d and his new project Tarot. “Reflections” sounds like it could be some long-lost Pagan Altar tracks, and anything Pagan Altar is always a good thing. “Reflections” makes excellent use of Uriah Heep-esque organs and keys that really enhances the old school 70s rock feel. Everything about “Reflections” just feels like it was written and recorded in the 70s. The production sounds a little thin at times and perhaps even a bit dry, but it works and is just part of what makes this album special. Seriously, go listen to it.

2) Sumerlands – Sumerlands

When Sumerlands first hit the buzz was huge, and for good reason: this album floors its audience with massive riffs and insanely catchy hooks. The album features Phil Swanson of Hour of 13 and Briton Rites fame on vocals and he kills it with his typical, howling wail. However, Phil really shows off his range with a few well-placed falsetto lines that sound eerily alien for him. “Sumerlands” also features the excellent guitar work of Arthur Rizk, drummer of the previously mentioned Eternal Champion. Rizk’s guitar tone sounds incredibly massive and in-your-face and perfectly matches the modern but throwback atmosphere of the album. There has been some criticism of the album, however. Some people have complained that the production is too clean and the album sounds overproduced, but that is sort of the point of the album. “Sumerlands” attempts to mimic the old arena-rock bands with their huge snare sounds and overly clean guitars and vocals. Perhaps more convincing is the argument that all the songs sound the same, which is true as most of the songs are written in the same key. However, this doesn’t bother me so much because the album is short enough that it never feels dull or samey. I do admit that its initial appeal has worn off a bit since its initial release, but the album is still a powerful and catchy listen from start to finish.

1) Wytch Hazel – Prelude

If you can imagine that the NWOBHM hit during Middle Ages, the bands would probably sound like Wytch Hazel. Dual-guitar harmonies coupled with catchy hooks and cheesy vocals make up the appeal of this album. It’s like if Thin Lizzy and Jethro Tull had a child that was really into Christianity. Yes, Wytch Hazel are quite Christian in their lyrical concepts. I know that a lot of people have a hard time looking past that, but if you can get past them then there is a lot to love with this album. A problem I have with a lot of christian music is that it can sometimes sound too preachy in their message, but I feel that this album does a good job praising without casting judgment. The production is super clean but it never feels like it’s “too clean” or anything like that. The real draw with this album is just how damn fun it is to listen to. Songs like “Mighty King” and “He Shall Reign” are simply too catchy not to belt the lyrics at full volume in your car. More importantly though is how I feel after listening to the album. Too many metal bands have such an angry and negative message behind them, so it is nice to see an album that is promising and hopeful. I genuinely feel good after listening to this album. Perhaps that has something to do with the lyrical content, but I’d like to think it’s just because the album is simply too fucking fun. “Prelude” is not an album for everyone, but if some positive messages and a little spirituality do not bother you, then this album should be right up your alley. I fucking love this stuff.

Honorable Mentions:

Spiritus Mortis – The Year is One

Antaeus – Condemnations

Gehennah – Too Loud to Live, Too Drunk to Die

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